chicken empanadas

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Dave got yelled at over these empanadas. I’m not much of a yeller normally; I’m more of a silent treatment and glower type of person. But there was no time for that; action needed to be taken immediately.

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It’s all because I made the filling a couple of days before I planned to form and bake the empanadas. The filling isn’t the most simple thing to make. There’s all kinds of chopping, browning, simmering, and meat shredding. And I was a little short on chicken, so I didn’t end up with as much filling as I’d hoped.

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That night, Dave needed to heat something up for himself for dinner, so I told him there was some extra brown rice with black beans in the fridge. I walked away for a few minutes, and when I came back, he had dumped my precious empanada filling onto a plate, microwaved it, and was scooping it up with a fork.

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Hey, guess what there is none of in this filling? 1) Brown rice. 2) Black beans.

“Damn!” he exclaimed. “This is good!”  That’s when I yelled, because I just needed him to stop eating it right away.

And then he was so apologetic and I felt like a jerk. He kept saying, “It really was tasty!” as if that was supposed to make me feel better about it.  Yes. I know it’s tasty.  I spent some good time making sure it was.

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And what can you do to make something so delicious even better? Wrap it in pastry and bake it until it’s browned and flaky and crisp. Oh wow, these are good. And apparently that’s true whether they’re wrapped in pastry and baked or just dumped onto a plate and microwaved.

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One year ago: Comparison of 2 chocolate cake recipes
Two years ago: Cream cheese chocolate chip cookies (and my very first blog entry)

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Chicken Empanadas (adapted from Smitten Kitchen and epicurious)

Makes about 18 empanadas

I didn’t actually measure anything in the filling. I had to leave the olives out because Dave hates them.

As I formed each empanada, I put it in the freezer while I worked with the rest. That way the dough didn’t get too soft and it baked up flaky.

After forming the empanadas, I baked about half of them immediately. I froze the rest for a couple of months, then baked them straight from the freezer. They were perfect.

Dough:
4½ cups (21.6 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 large eggs
⅔ cup ice water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

Filling:
3 whole chicken legs, including thighs (2 to 2¼ pounds total)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, halved lengthwise, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California
⅓ cup (1½ ounces) finely diced Spanish chorizo
½ teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (not hot)
¼ cup chopped pitted green olives
¼ cup golden raisins
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup reduced-sodium chicken broth

Egg wash:
1 egg
water
salt

1. For the dough: Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl; blend in the butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-sized butter lumps. Beat together the egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl. Add it to the flour mixture, stirring until just incorporated. The mixture will look shaggy. Turn out the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather it together, kneading gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring the dough together. Form the dough into two flat rectangles and chill them, each wrapped in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour or overnight.

2. For the filling: Pat the chicken dry and season it with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking, then add the chicken, skin-side down. Cook it without moving for about 3 minutes, until dark golden brown, then turn it and continue cooking for another 3 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside.

3. Add the onions, garlic, and bay leaves to the skillet and sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the chorizo and paprika and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the olives, raisins, wine, and broth and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring and scraping up any brown bits. Return the chicken to the skillet along with any juices accumulated on the plate, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, turning the chicken once, until the chicken is tender, 25 to 30 minutes total.

4. Transfer the chicken to a clean plate. The sauce remaining in the skillet should be the consistency of heavy cream; if it isn’t, briskly simmer until it’s slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones and coarsely chop the meat. Stir the chicken back into the sauce. Discard the bay leaves and season the filling with salt and pepper. Let the filling cool for 30 minutes, uncovered.

5. To form and bake the empanadas: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking pan with a parchment paper or a silicone mat. Divide the dough into 24 equal pieces and from each into a disc. Keeping remaining pieces covered, roll out 1 piece on a lightly floured surface with a lightly floured rolling pin into a 5-inch round (about 1/8 inch thick).

6. Spoon about 2 tablespoons filling onto the center of each round of dough and fold the dough in half, enclosing the filling. Press the edges together to seal, then crimp decoratively with your fingers or the tines of a fork. Transfer the empanada to the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining dough. You might have extra dough.

7. Beat the egg with 1 tablespoon of water and a pinch of salt. Brush the empanadas with the egg wash, then bake one sheet at a time until the empanadas are golden brown, about 25 minutes. Transfer them to a cooling rack and let them cool for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm.

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carne adovada

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A carne adovada comparison post is a very bad idea because:

1. I don’t love cooking with meat, with the constant hand-washing and being careful not to contaminate cooked meat tools with raw meat tools.

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2. My limited counter space makes working with large roasts difficult.

3. The oven was on for four hours – in July.

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4. One of the recipes includes the warning “Don’t breathe the fumes!”

5. Another warning, this time from my sister: “My coworker said to be careful because red chile can give some people the runs if they aren’t used to eating it.”

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6. Carne adovada is red. Deep, dark red, and yes, of course it stains.

7. Who, outside of New Mexico, has even heard of carne adovada?

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Oh, and then, the outcome?

8. Dave thought all three recipes tasted the same anyway.

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Carne adovada is pork marinated in red chile sauce, then slow roasted. It isn’t something that I’ve eaten a lot of; my dad made it once when I was young and it was crazy ridiculously painfully spicy, and I’ve pretty much been scared of it since. Of course now I realize that the level of spiciness will vary with the heat of the chiles.

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Unable, as usual, to decide on a recipe, I decided to compare a few. The meat in all recipes is marinated and cooked using the same method and cooking time; the difference is in the red chile sauce. At its most simple, the red chiles are soaked in hot water to rehydrate them, then blended with onions, garlic, and salt. Jen’s method is only slightly more complicated, with the added step of toasting the dried chiles before soaking them.

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Kate’s recipe is a little more complicated – and uses far, far more red chiles. It’s similar but significantly more fussy, with a soak followed by a simmer instead of just a soak, and then the blended ingredients need to be pushed through a sieve, a step I find tedious in most recipes that call for it.

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I let the meat marinate for about 24 hours, but if you can swing longer, up to 2 full days, I really think that’s the way to go. The more red chile flavor, the better.

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After finding enough properly-sized baking pans, jigsawing the pans into the oven, roasting the meat for hours, letting it cool slightly, and shredding all three pans of meat while trying to keep straight which was which so I could identify the photos, Dave and I decided that they were very, very similar.

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Dave would say identical. I would say that they’re oh-so-slightly different, but equally good. Kate’s recipe, which used so much more chiles, was spiciest. The recipe that did not require toasting the chiles tasted lighter and fresher, while the recipe with toasted chiles had a deeper flavor.

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My favorite was probably the simplest recipe; I liked that fresh flavor. Plus, if they all taste essentially the same, I might as well make the easiest, right? I guess a comparison was necessary, just so I know that, in this case, simple works just fine.

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Update: I thought I should add that neither of us had any, ah, digestive issues after eating the red chile, despite the concerns of my sister and her coworker.

One year ago: Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms

Serving suggestions: Burritos, stuffed sopaipillas (shown in the top photo), quesadillas, tacos, breakfast burritos.  You can also add potatoes to the mixture before cooking, and then serve the potatoes and meat as a main dish with beans and rice as sides.

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Carne Adovada
(adapted from Simply Simpatico, by the Junior League of Albuquerque)

16-18 dried red chile pods
hot water
3 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon dried oregano
4 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed of thick layer of fat and sliced ½-inch thick

1. Remove stems and seeds from the chile pods. Place the pods in a large bowl or pot and pour in enough hot water to cover them. Soak for 1 hour. Strain, reserving the soaking liquid.

2. Place the chiles, garlic, and salt in a blender and add enough soaking liquid to just cover. Making sure there’s about two inches of headspace, blend until the skins disappear and the mixture is smooth, 2-3 minutes. Pour the sauce over meat, cover tightly, and marinate in the refrigerator for 24-28 hours.

3. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350ºF. Place the meat and chile sauce marinade in a baking pan and cover tightly with foil. Bake the carne adovada until the meat is falling apart tender, about 4 hours. (You can also cook the carne adovada in a crockpot on low heat for 7-9 hours.) When the meat is done, shred it or cut it into 1-inch pieces. Serve.

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Carne Adovado
(adapted from Jen at Use Real Butter, who adapted it from Sante Fe Recipe)

16 dried red chile pods
1 tablespoon salt
4 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons oregano
5 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed of thick layer of fat and sliced ½-inch thick

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 325ºF. Remove the stems from the chile pods; place the pods in a pan and bake for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the chiles are lightly roasted. Leave the oven door open, and don’t breathe the fumes! Shake the seeds out of the pods and discard them.

2. Place the chiles in a medium bowl and cover them with boiling water. Let them sit for 30 minutes. Drain the water, reserving about 2 cups. Place the chiles in a food processor or blender; add the salt, garlic, and oregano. Cover the mixture with the reserved chile water, and blend or process for 2 minutes or until the skins disappear.

3. Pour the sauce over meat, cover tightly, and marinate in the refrigerator for 24-28 hours.

4. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350ºF. Place the meat and chile sauce marinade in a baking pan and cover tightly with foil. Bake the carne adovada until the meat is falling apart tender, about 4 hours. (You can also cook the carne adovada in a crockpot on low heat for 7-9 hours.) When the meat is done, shred it or cut it into 1-inch pieces. Serve.

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Carne Adovada
(adapted from Kate in the Kitchen , who adapted it from Sante Fe Hot and Spicy Recipes)

12 ounces dried red chile peppers
1 large onion, chopped
8 cloves fresh garlic, smashed with skins removed
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoon kosher salt
3-4 pounds pork shoulder, trimmed of thick layer of fat and sliced ½-inch thick
4 teaspoons red pepper flakes
2 sticks cinnamon

1. De-stem and de-seed chile peppers; place in a large stock pot and cover with hot water. Soak for 30 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 30 minutes.

2. Strain, reserving liquid. Allow to cool slightly, then process solids in batches in a food processor using reserve liquid for proper consistency. Strain through a wire sieve, pressing on the solids to extract the liquids.

3. Pour the sauce over meat, add the cinnamon and red pepper flakes, cover tightly, and marinate in the refrigerator for 24-28 hours.

4. Adjust a rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350ºF. Remove the cinnamon stick. Place the meat and chile sauce marinade in a baking pan and cover tightly with foil. Bake the carne adovada until the meat is falling apart tender, about 4 hours. (You can also cook the carne adovada in a crockpot on low heat for 7-9 hours.) When the meat is done, shred it or cut it into 1-inch pieces. Serve.

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pork chops loco moco

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I feel a little guilty when Dave and I spend most of the weekend sleeping in, watching football, reading books, and, in my case, cooking. We are booooring.

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But then I figure that someday, if everything goes as planned, we’ll have kids and then we won’t be able to spend all weekend being lazy. I don’t think I’ll be cooking from Cooks Illustrated’s Restaurant Favorites at Home very often when we have kids, which is a shame, because it’s a fun cookbook and I haven’t used it as much as I should. I better take advantage while I can.

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Although really, this meal didn’t take nearly as long to prepare as I thought it would based on the length of the recipe. It’s true that there are five parts – rice, pork chops, scrambled eggs, mushroom gravy, and fried onions. Fortunately, the rice, meat and eggs are as simple as they could get, and the sauce is pretty quick as well. That means that only the onions take some time.

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Loco moco is a Hawaiian dish that, as its most basic, is rice, a hamburger patty, gravy, and a fried egg. For their cookbook, Cooks Illustrated adapted the recipe from Sam Choy’s, who replace the hamburger with a pork chop, the fried egg with scrambled, and the brown gravy with a mushroom cream sauce, in addition to adding the fried onions.

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Hoo boy, I like this kind of meal anyway, where a bunch of different stuff all meshes together, but this in particular was fantastic. So many textures – the meat, the rice, soft eggs, crunchy onions. So many flavors – nutty white rice, sweet fried onions, savory pork, all coated in a rich mushroom sauce. Even if it had taken most of a day to make, which it didn’t, it would have been worth it. Especially since I would have just been lounging around in my pajamas anyway.

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One year ago: Pumpkin Pancakes

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Pork Chops with Rice, Eggs, Onions, and Gravy
(from Cooks Illustrated’s Restaurant Favorites at Home)

This is the recipe straight from the cookbook. However, next time I plan to use a boneless pork chop. I think it will brown better in the pan, plus it was a little hard to see where the bone was versus the meat once the pork was covered in sauce and other goodies.

Also, I think it makes more sense to cook the pork chop before the eggs. And, in step 3, I don’t see why you’d want to dirty an extra dish by transferring the sauce to a measuring cup; just cover the pan you cooked it in. Finally, the recipe calls for both the eggs and the pork chops to be cooked on high heat, but I’ve had better luck with medium-high heat for both.

Fried Onions:
3 cups vegetable oil
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon ground black pepper
1 small yellow onion, halved and sliced thin

Rice:
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 cup long-grain white rice
½ teaspoon salt

Sauce:
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced thin
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
salt and ground black pepper

Eggs:
4 large eggs
¼ cup whole milk
pinch ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Pork chops:
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 thin bone-in center-cut loin pork chops, about ½ inch thick
salt and ground black pepper

1. For the fried onions: Heat the vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it reached 350 degrees. (Use an instant-read thermometer that registers high temperatures or clip a candy/deep-fat thermometer onto the side of the pan before turning on the heat.) Meanwhile, mix the flour, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl. Add the onion to the flour mixture and toss thoroughly to coat. Transfer the floured onion to a large strainer (or colander) set over another bowl (or the sink) and shake vigorously to remove the excess flour. Add the onion to the oil and fry until golden brown, 2 to 2½ minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain the cooking temperature. Remove the onion from the oil using a spider or slotted spoon, tapping the handle several times on the rim of the pot to drain any excess oil, then transfer to a large plate lined with several layers of paper towels. Set aside.

2. For the rice: Heat the vegetable oil in a small saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, until transparent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add 1½ cups water and the salt. Bring to a boil, swirling the pan to blend the ingredients. Reduce the heat to low, cover tightly, and cook until the liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover the pan with a clean dish towel and then the lid. Let the rice stand, covered, to finish cooking, about 15 minutes longer. Fluff with a fork and set aside.

3. For the sauce: Mix the cornstarch and 1 teaspoon water together in a small bowl and set aside. Heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Stir in the shiitakes, cover, and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the mushrooms release their moisture and begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cream, soy sauce, and oyster sauce, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture and return to a boil, whisking constantly. Cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is slightly thickened, about 30 seconds. Remove the sauce from the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the sauce to a liquid measuring cup, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside.

4. For the eggs: Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and add the milk, salt and pepper. Beat with a fork until the streaks are gone and the color is pure yellow; stop beating while the bubbles are still large. Melt the butter in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until foaming, swirling it around and up the sides of the pan. Before the form completely subsides, pour in the beaten eggs. Using a heatproof spatula, push the eggs from one side of the pan to the other, slowly but deliberately lifting and folding the eggs as they form curds, until the eggs are nicely clumped into a single mound but remain shiny and set, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl and cover to keep warm.

5. For the pork chops: Wipe the nonstick skillet clean with a wad of paper towels. Add the vegetable oil and heat over high heat until smoking. Season the pork chops generously with salt and pepper. Lay the pork chops in a single layer in the skillet and cook until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Turn and cook on the second side until lightly brown and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes longer.

6. To serve: Divide the rice among 4 individual plates. Lay a pork chop on top of the rice and top with equal portions of scrambled eggs. Pour about 3 tablespoons of the sauce over the egg and pork on each plate, and sprinkle with the fried onions. Serve immediately.

sweet potato hash

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While I can be, shall we say, particular about preparation, I think keeping an open mind is so important when it comes to both ingredients and certain dishes.

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For example, stuffing. There’s nothing unpleasant about bread, seasonings, aromatics, and broth baked until the flavors are blended and the top is crispy. When people say they don’t like stuffing, I really think they just didn’t like the stuffing they had when they were young. They just need to try a different recipe (add bacon!) to enjoy it more.

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As far as ingredients that often inspire pickiness, sweet potatoes have a bad name. For a lot of people, one of the only ways they’ve seen sweet potatoes prepared is in that sugary, marshmallow-topped weirdness at Thanksgiving. Hey! Let’s take something already sweet, cook it in sugar, top it with more sugar, and serve it with dinner! Blech.

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Because I don’t like those sweet potatoes and wasn’t exposed to them prepared other ways, I always assumed I didn’t like sweet potatoes at all. But now I know better! I like them quite a bit in more savory preparations.

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Take this dish. Salty bacon, flavorful slightly caramelized vegetables, and browned sweet potatoes. What is there not to like, especially when the whole thing is topped with an egg? It goes to prove that I could miss out on some great meals if I don’t remember that just because I don’t like an ingredient prepared one way doesn’t mean I won’t like it in other dishes.

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One year ago: Peter Reinhart’s Pizza Dough

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Sweet-Potato Hash with Bacon (adapted from epicurious/Gourmet)

Serves 4

These are the same ingredients in the same proportions as the original recipe, but I’ve tweaked the preparation a bit because a number of reviewers complained that the original was too greasy. Adding eggs on top is also my addition, but Dave and I tried it with and without the eggs, and while it was good without, it was even better with.

½ pound sliced bacon, cut into ¼-inch strips
2 medium onions, chopped
1 large red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
salt and pepper
2 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
4 eggs (optional)

1. Cook the bacon in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until it renders some fat and begins to brown. Drain off all of the fat except for a thin coating on the pan, then add the onions, red pepper, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are softened, 7-8 minutes.

2. Stir in the potatoes and ½ teaspoon salt. Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender and starting to brown, 10 to 14 minutes. Stir in the thyme and season to taste.

3. If you’re adding the eggs, create four indentions in the hash and break an egg into each. Season the eggs and cover the pan. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook without removing the lid for at least 6 minutes, when you can start testing for doneness. I like my eggs without any runniness at all in the white but with gooey yolks, and it takes around 8 minutes.

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casatiello

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This is the third time I’ve made this bread, and the first two times just didn’t do it for me. It seems like a given, right? Bits of sausage and cheese dispersed in a tender buttery bread? What isn’t to like?

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The first time, it was the type of cheese I used that ruined it. I generally like provolone, but I’d accidentally grabbed an exceptionally sharp specimen, and it was way too intense. The next time…I don’t know. Maybe it just didn’t fit the occasion. I just remember it seeming a little too rich, maybe even greasy.

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Reinhart does compare this bread to brioche, and while not all brioche is as rich as the one I made a few weeks ago, you’ll never hear one described as lean. But once you add sausage and cheese to the bread, I don’t know that much butter in the dough is necessary.

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In fact, I didn’t add butter at all. I added bacon fat instead. Yeah, bacon fat doesn’t sound like much of a health improvement over butter, but I did use half the amount of fat called for in the recipe. I really prefer this slightly leaner version.

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Especially because I probably doubled the salami. I wasn’t so much measuring at this point, and I just figured that the more add-ins there were, the more the bread would resemble a built-in sandwich. Which – yum. I admit that I had trouble keeping all of the tasty bits from falling out of the dough, but I’m not complaining about the excess.

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This was by far the best casatiello I’ve made. The bread was tender and light, but not greasy like I remembered from when I’ve made this before. We ate it on a roadtrip, and the muffin-size was perfect for a quick and easy on-the-road lunch. I have a few more casatiello rolls waiting in the freezer, and I think they’ll be great for a plane ride next week. These are my new favorite travel food.

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One year ago: Pain a l’Ancienne – another Reinhart recipe, and probably the one I make the most

Casatiello (from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

I prefer this dough to be a little leaner, so I like to cut the fat in half. I also like both the sausage and the cheese chopped into about ¼-inch cubes.

Sponge:
½ cup (2.25 ounces) bread flour
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 cup whole milk or buttermilk, lukewarm

Dough:
4 ounces Italian salami (or other similar meat)
3½ cups (16 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
¾ cup (6 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup coarsely shredded or grated provolone or other cheese

1. To make the sponge, stir together the flour and yeast in a bowl. Whisk in the milk to make a pancake-like batter. Cover with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. While the sponge is fermenting, dice the salami into small cubes and sauté it lightly in a frying pan to crisp it slightly.

3. Stir together the flour, salt, and sugar with a spoon. Add the eggs and the sponge until the ingredients form a coarse ball. If there is any loose flour, dribble in a small amount of water or milk to gather it into the dough. Mix for about 1 minute, then let rest for 10 minutes. Divide the butter in 4 pieces and work into dough, one piece at a time while mixing. After mixing about 4 minutes, the dough will change from sticky to tacky and eventually come off the sides of the bowl. If not, sprinkle in more flour to make it do so.

4. When the dough is smooth, add the meat pieces and mix until they are evenly distributed. Then gently mix in the cheese until it too is evenly distributed. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

5. Ferment at room temperature for about 90 minutes, or until the dough increases in size by at least 1½ times.

6. Remove the dough from the bowl and leave as 1 piece for 1 large loaf or divide into 2 pieces for smaller loaves. Bake in 1 large or 2 small loaf pans by misting the pans with spray oil, shaping the dough, and placing it in the pans. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover.

7. Proof for 60-90 minutes, or until the dough just reaches the top of the pans.

8. Place pans in a 350F oven and bake for 40-50 minutes until the center of the loaves registers 185-190F. The dough will be golden brown on top and on the sides, and the cheese will ooze out into crisp little brown pockets.

9. When the bread is done, remove the bread from the oven and from the pans and cool for at least 1 hour before slicing or serving.

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pork tenderloin with rhubarb sauce

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For years, before I had a food blog, I primarily cooked Cooks Illustrated recipes. I did worry about whether I was relying on them too much and if I was creative enough, but because I was making great food and learning useful tricks, I didn’t think too much of it. The main problem I had was that CI’s schtick is to perfect common recipes, so while I was making very good versions of familiar foods, I rarely tried unfamiliar flavor combinations.

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To solve this problem, I bought their Restaurant Favorites at Home cookbook. And then I started a food blog, found other fun recipes to try, and this cookbook mostly got ignored. Feeling uninspired recently, I did a quick flip through it and lucked into something perfect – an opportunity to use rhubarb while it’s in season, plus a type of meat that I underutilitize.

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Pork tenderloin seems underappreciated, considering that it’s the pig version of filet mignon. Plus one tenderloin is such a perfect serving size for two people, and it’s easy to cook. Season, set in a hot pan, flip. Then maximize flavor by using the fond in a sauce – a sauce with reduced port and rhubarb.

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As much as I do like sweet sauces with pork, the ratio of rhubarb to meat was too much for me. I’d prefer about half of the amount of sauce because it overpowered the meat. The other, less important, change I needed to make was to cook the rhubarb for a lot less time, previous to adding it to the rest of the sauce ingredients. Reaching the recommended “softened but still retains its shape” texture took about half the time as the recipe implies.

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With those very easy adjustments, this was a simple and elegant seasonal main dish. I love rhubarb, so I’m happy with any chance I get to eat it, and especially with one of my favorite cuts of meat.

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One year ago: La Palette’s Strawberry Tart

Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Sauce (from Cooks Illustrated’s Restaurant Favorites at Home)

6 servings

This is the original recipe. Next time I make it, I’ll halve the rhubarb and the sugar (using 3 stalks of rhubarb and 6 tablespoons of sugar) and keep a close eye on the rhubarb while it cooks in Step 1, counting on it being tender after about 15 minutes of cooking. Also, I found it unnecessary to pound the meat – I just squashed it down a bit.

6 large rhubarb stalks, cut into ½ inch dice (about 4 cups)
¾ cup sugar
3 small pork tenderloins (12-16 ounces each, for a total of 2.5-3 pounds), trimmed of silver skin and excess fat
salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
½ cup ruby port
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1. Cook the rhubarb and sugar together in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat until the rhubarb has softened but still retains its shape, 25-35 minutes.

2. Cut each pork tenderloin crosswise into six 2-inch-thick slices. With a cut side facing up, lightly pound each slice into a round ¾-inch-thick medallion. Season the medallions generously with salt and pepper.

3. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 200 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a 12-inch skillet (not nonstick) over medium-high heat until just smoking. Lay 9 medallions in the pan and cook until lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Flip the medallions and cook on the second side until lightly browned and nearly cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes longer. Transfer to a clean plate and keep warm in the oven. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to the skillet and repeat with the remaining 9 medallions. Transfer to the plate in the oven.

4. Add the port and bring to a simmer. Simmer until the port is thick and syrupy, about 2 minutes. Stir in the broth and any accumulated rhubarb juices and return to a simmer. Simmer until the mixture is thick and has reduced to about ½ cup, about 12 minutes. Stir in the rhubarb mixture and any accumulated juices from the pork medallions and heat through, about 30 seconds. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Arrange 3 pork medallions on each of 6 individual plates and spoon about ¼ cup of the rhubarb sauce over the top. Serve immediately.

pasta with broccoli, sausage, and roasted red peppers

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Wow, New Years Resolutions are seriously unpopular this year. While I understand that January 1st isn’t a magical date where you get to start over with a clean slate, and it isn’t the only day of the year where you’re allowed to resolve to better yourself, I do think that it’s a good date to start thinking about new goals. For one thing, there is something to having a fresh new year to focus on. For another, it’s the official end of the holiday season, during which it can be difficult to focus on new goals because of travel and parties and other things that disrupt normal routines.

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This isn’t to say that I’ve always been a hard-core New Year’s resolver. I don’t usually bother, and last year I kept it very simple with the intention to start flossing regularly. This year, however, I have a categorized list of goals. 2008 wasn’t my best year, and I’m eager to make up for it in 2009.

One of my resolutions is actually to cook less, or at least to be more reasonable about cooking, by focusing on quick weeknight meals and making enough for leftovers. This pasta fits in perfectly with that mindset, because it can be made in the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta and uses only a few ingredients.

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There’s nothing complicated about this recipe. Brown some sausage, stir in garlic and roasted red pepper, and then add broccoli with some water to help it cook. Mix all that with pasta, add some cheese, and there’s dinner – you have starch, protein, and vegetables, all in one very easy recipe. And there’s the added bonus that both broccoli and garlic are even more nutritious than your average vegetable.

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The recipe recommends orechiette (an ear-shaped pasta), but I don’t generally get hung up on pasta shapes. My favorite brand of pasta doesn’t come in orechiette, so I tend to use whatever short tubularish pasta I happen to have. Also, this time I used Cento jarred roasted red peppers, and I hated them. They were so soft and slimy. Cooks Illustrated recommends them, so I don’t know if I got a bag batch or I’m a bad judge of roasted red peppers or what. Since roasting my own peppers complicates this simple meal, I might just sauté some fresh red peppers with the sausage in the future.

I find that I often like recipes with quite a bit less pasta than the original version calls for, and this recipe is no exception. I reduced the pasta to 12 ounces, plus I wouldn’t have minded more sausage and red peppers. Either way you prefer it, this meal is quick, tasty, and healthy.

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One year ago: Pad Thai – one of my favorite meals

Orecchiette with Broccoli, Sausage, and Roasted Peppers (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish

CI note: In this recipe, begin cooking the broccoli immediately after putting the pasta into boiling water. When cut into small pieces, the broccoli takes only a few minutes to cook through.

Bridget note: I reduce the pasta to 12 ounces (¾ pound), and I’ll probably add more peppers in the future. More sausage couldn’t hurt either.

table salt
1 pound orecchiette
4 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casing removed
9 medium cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press or minced (3 tablespoons)
1 cup roasted red peppers (8 ounces), cut into ½-inch squares
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pounds broccoli, florets cut into bite-sized 1-inch pieces, stalks peeled, halved lengthwise, and cut into ¼-inch thick pieces
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese (2 ounces)

1. Bring 4 quarts water to rolling boil, covered, in stockpot. Add 1 tablespoon salt and pasta, stir to separate, and cook until al dente. Drain and return to stockpot.

2. While pasta is cooking, cook sausage in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking it into small pieces with spoon, until browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic, roasted peppers, ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper; cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Increase heat to high; add broccoli and ½ cup water, then cover and cook until broccoli begins to turn bright green, 1 to 2 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring frequently, until water has evaporated and broccoli is tender, 3 to 5 minutes longer. Add broccoli mixture, oil, and cheese to pasta in stockpot; toss to combine. Serve immediately.

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sausage apple hash

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I’m not the most creative cook ever. You may have noticed that most recipes on my blog are from some other source – very few are my own creations, and even those are pretty much just heavily adapted versions of ideas I got somewhere else. So when I am actually creative, I’m very proud of myself.

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I saw this sausage apple hash on Mark’s blog last summer, and put off making it until apple season. I decided to add potatoes to Mark’s recipe – that would make this a complete meal, and potatoes just seemed to make good sense here. I was pleased with my mild creativity.

Oh, except when I read the recipe closer, I saw that it originally included potatoes, and Mark just left them out for convenience. Phooey. So much for it being my own idea.

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Oh well, at least I was right that potatoes were a good fit for this. The sausage and onion are sautéed together until browned (or until the onions are black if you’re me and Mark), then the potatoes and apples are sautéed until browned and cooked through. Then everything is mixed and a simple sauce of ketchup, mustard, and thyme is stirred in. I raised my eyebrows at the ketchup and mustard, but they gave the hash nice tang and spice.

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The whole thing was very good, and pretty easy. I think there’s a lot of room for adaptations too, if you do happen to be the creative type. I was thinking that squash would be a nice addition, or maybe a poached egg served on top.  Or bacon instead of sausage.  Things to think about for next time.

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One year ago: Lemon Squares

Sausage and Apple Hash (from Mark’s No Special Effects)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 pound Italian sausage (bulk, or links with casings removed)
1½ pounds russet potatoes, cubed
1 large apple, such as Rome or Braeburn, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tablespoons tomato ketchup
2 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Heat half the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the sausage and onion and cook, breaking up the sausage, until the sausage is golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Park the sausage and onions into a separate dish.

Add the remaining oil in the skillet, then add the apples and potatoes. Cook until the apples are golden brown, about 10-12 minutes. (I covered the pan for a bit in the beginning because I was worried about the potatoes cooking through.) Meanwhile, mix the ketchup, mustard, thyme, parsley, and water in a small bowl. Return the sausage and onions to the skillet and stir in the ketchup mixture. Cook until the hash has browned nicely, about another 5 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper before serving.

chanterelle salad with speck and poached eggs

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I don’t know if there could be a less appetizing name for a more delicious food than there is for Speck. When I hear Speck, I think of Star Trek or maybe dust particles – I do not think of spicy smoked ham.

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I almost dismissed the Speck in this recipe entirely. I figured that proscuitto or pancetta, both of which I can get at my regular grocery store, would make a convenient substitute. But then I was right near an Italian butcher, and it was no big thing to go in and grab some Speck. I’m glad I did, because I love the stuff. I wish I’d had some proscuitto to taste alongside it, because I feel like I liked the Speck more than I normally do proscuitto, but I haven’t eaten enough proscuitto to really remember.

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After my first uncertain egg on salad experience, I seem to have become somewhat enamored with the idea. In this salad, I really enjoyed the warm savory egg on the tart dressed greens. The Speck, sautéed until crispy, was of course delicious. I wasn’t crazy about the cooked chanterelles in the salad – they seemed a little too chewy to fit in with the other ingredients. Dave really liked them though.

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I didn’t follow the recipe exactly – I had just made fresh bread, so I skipped the toasting step. I also made a different dressing. As if one hard-to-find ingredient in the recipe wasn’t enough, you’re also supposed to reduce Vin Santo, an Italian dessert wine, for the vinaigrette, and mix it with walnut oil. I made a simple balsamic vinaigrette and was happy with it.

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Notwithstanding the chewy mushrooms, this salad was very good. This was a nice, light meal that left me plenty of room to eat some of the chocolate chip cookies that I have coming out the wazoo.

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Warm Chanterelle Salad with Speck and Poached Eggs (from Bon Apetit December 2008 )

6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 fresh thyme sprigs
3 garlic cloves, divided
1 pound fresh chanterelles, cleaned, cut into ⅓-inch thick slices
nonstick cooking spray
4 ounces ⅛-inch-thick slices Speck, rind trimmed
6 ¾-inch-thick slices ciabatta or pain rustique
½ teaspoon salt
6 large eggs
2 small heads butter lettuce, coarsely torn (about 11 cups)
6 cups mâche or arugula (3½ ounces)
Vinaigrette

Preheat oven to 500F. Combine 4 tablespoons oil and thyme in large bowl. Press 2 garlic cloves into oil with garlic press; whisk to blend. Add chanterelles and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Spray rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Spread mushroom mixture on sheet. Roast mushrooms until tender, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes.

Cut Speck crosswise into ¼-inch-thick strips. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in small skillet over medium-high heat. Add Speck; sauté until crisp, 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels.

Toast ciabatta slices until golden; rub with remaining garlic clove. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil. Halve each slice lengthwise.

Fill large skillet with water and bring to boil. Add ½ teaspoon salt. Crack eggs, 1 at a time, into custard cup, then slide egg from cup into water; reduce heat to low. Poach eggs until whites are set and yolks are softly set, 3 to 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss lettuce and mâche with enough vinaigrette to coat. Mound salad on 6 plates. Using slotted spoon, remove eggs from water, dab with paper towels to absorb excess liquid, and place atop salads. Garnish with mushrooms and Speck. Place ciabatta fingers around salad and serve immediately.

Balsamic Vinaigrette (from Cooks Illustrated)

Serves 4

¼ cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar , or wine vinegar
½ teaspoon table salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
⅔ cup olive oil

Whisk first 2 ingredients with salt and pepper in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil, so the vinaigrette emulsifies. Serve.

bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin medallions

copy-of-img_8222I almost never serve meals that consist of a meat, a starch, and a vegetable. This was never a conscious decision on my part; it was more of a slow realization. I’ve not sure why I don’t, but I think it’s because they’re usually more work. I tend to save meat-starch-vegetable meals for the weekend when I have more time. And when I do, I find it’s best to wrap the meat in bacon.

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Okay, so this is the only meat I’ve ever wrapped in bacon. But I can’t deny that it made for some tasty pork tenderloin. Bacon makes everything better.

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The recipe is not difficult at all. It only has a few ingredients, so it’s kept very simple. The only time consuming step was wrapping the bacon around the pork tenderloin medallions, but it takes less than a minute per medallion, and if you were serving this for guests, I don’t see any reason why that couldn’t be done ahead of time.

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The tenderloin was, unsurprisingly as it’s wrapped in bacon, very good. However, next time I think I’ll brine it before cooking it, as maybe it was a little dry. (I might have overcooked it though – cooking big chunks of meat is probably my weakest skill in the kitchen.) The recipe is supposed to be served with a pan sauce, but somehow I missed that until too late.  I didn’t miss it.

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Bacon-Wrapped Pork Tenderloin Medallions (from Cooks Illustrated)

CI note: We prefer natural to enhanced pork (pork that has been injected with a salt solution to increase moistness and flavor), though both will work in this recipe. Begin checking the doneness of smaller medallions 1 or 2 minutes early; they may need to be taken out of the pan a little sooner.

12-14 slices bacon (1 slice for each pork medallion)
2 pork tenderloins (1 to 1¼ pounds each), trimmed of fat and silver skin, cut crosswise into 1½-inch pieces; thinner end pieces scored and folded
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. Place bacon slices, slightly overlapping, in microwave-safe pie plate and cover with plastic wrap. Cook in microwave on high power until slices shrink and release about 1/2 cup fat but are neither browned nor crisp, 1 to 3 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels until cool, 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Wrap each piece of pork with 1 slice bacon and secure with 2 toothpicks where ends of bacon strip overlap, inserting toothpicks on angle and gently pushing them through to other side.

3. Season pork with pepper. Heat oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add pork cut side down and cook, without moving pieces, until well-browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn pork and brown on second side, 3 to 5 minutes more. Reduce heat to medium. Using tongs, stand each piece on its side and cook, turning pieces as necessary, until sides are well browned and internal temperature registers 145 to 150 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 8 to 14 minutes. Transfer pork to platter and tent lightly with foil; let rest 5 minutes, then serve.

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