Tuesday, May 27, 2014

May Daring Bakers' Challenge - Pao De Queijo

This month's Daring Bakers' Challenge took us on a trip to beautiful Brazil! Renata of "Testado, Provado & Aprovado!" taught us how to make Pao De Queijo, tasty cheese buns that make the perfect snack or treat, and that will make your taste buds samba!

I don't know a lot about Brazilian food. I mean, aside from the feijoada challenge from a year and a half ago, I've never specifically had Brazilian food.

But when the awesome Renata introduced these little cheese breads to us as this month's challenge, I couldn't wait to try them.

The recipe looked super simple, but the main ingredients was something that I have never used before - tapioca starch (flour).  But I knew just where to find it, and was soon ready to rock.

The other main ingredient in these buns, as their name (and translation) would suggest, is cheese. I chose Monteray Jack. Lots of it, all shredded up.

The dough actually comes together pretty easily, and soon turns from this dry mix...

...into an almost-dough.

Now, you are not supposed to over-work the dough, because you don't want the finished buns to be too heavy or dense.  So for me, it was still a little shaggy. I was a little worried about whether my little buns would hold their shapes.

But guess what happened when I started rolling it into balls?

It smoothed out beautifully and I had no problem at all!

Now, with little man's milk allergy, I didn't want to make too many of these - I didn't think it would be fair. So I froze half of the shaped balls right away, seeing as Renata told us that they bake up straight out of the freezer really well.

Then the other half went into the oven.

And they puffed and baked up beautifully!

These little buns are so delightful and so amazingly easy to eat, they're almost dangerous.  Little miss wasn't a huge fan, but I think it's just because she knew there was cheese in them (she doesn't like cheese except on pizza and in macaroni and cheese... I don't get it...). But I loved them. And so did my neighbor, who happened to stop by a few minutes after these came out of the oven. I can't wait to bake up the second half of these.

Oh, and Renata graciously found a dairy-free version of these treats which I had every intention of trying, but time totally ran away from me this month. But I still plan to try them at some point, and will definitely share the results here when I do.

Renata, thank you for this amazing challenge - I can't wait for my next taste of Brazil!

To see the challenge as Renata presented it to us, check it out here.

And to see the other awesome results this month, check them here.

Pao De Queijo
(from the Daring Bakers' Challenge)

500 grams tapioca starch
1 cup whole milk
2 3/4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste depending on how salty your cheese is)
3 cups Monterey Jack Cheese (or another cheese of your liking, or a mix of cheeses), coarsely grated
1 to 3 large eggs (I needed all 3)

Heat milk, butter, and salt in a small sauce pan until it comes to a boil. Watch closely as it may boil over. Remove from heat and set aside.
Sift tapioca starch into a large bowl.
Pour the boiled (hot) mixture over the tapioca and start stirring with a fork. The milk mixture will not be enough to form a dough yet. The mixture will be lumpy and that is okay.
Keep stirring with the fork, breaking down the lumps as much as you can, until the mixture cools down to warm.
At this point, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Add the grated cheese to the tapioca mixture and mix well, now using your hands.
Add one egg at a time, mix with your hands until dough comes together. Renata suggested that we lightly beat the egg(s) with a fork and add little bits until the dough comes together into a soft but pliable dough.  This worked out really well for me. You only have to knead it a bit, not as much as you knead a yeasted bread. It's OK if it is slightly sticky.
Form balls with the dough and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicon mat or lightly greased with vegetable oil. If necessary, you can oil your hands to make shaping easier. The size of the balls may vary from small bite-sized balls to the size of ping pong balls. They will puff up quite a bit after baking.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until they just start to brown on the bottom. You may have golden spots of cheese on the crust. Don't over-bake as they will get hard and bitter.
They are delicious served warm, soon out of the oven, or room temperature.


Friday, May 23, 2014

Chicken Tikka Masala

I've been on something of and Indian food kick recently.

Okay, I can't, in all fairness, call it a kick... but it might be turning into one! We've had a few Indian Daring Cooks' and Bakers' challenges, which all sparked my interest. But, particularly since the biryani challenge, I've really wanted to try more Indian cooking.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, daddy and I wound up at a new Indian restaurant on date night.  And it was delicious.

So when I came across a (very simplified) recipe for chicken tikka masala, one of the dishes that daddy and I had enjoyed on our date, I knew I wanted to try it.

As I said, it was super simple. The main ingredients were coconut milk and tomato sauce. And spices. Actually, just a few. Curry powder, a touch of salt and then some heat. Cayenne, to be precise.

Not sure if you can tell from the photo above, but the cayenne came out a little faster than I wanted it to.  Oops.

The whole thing cooks down and comes together nicely.

And that was the sauce! So all that was left was the meat. As it so happens, I threw some boneless, skinless chicken breast in the crock pot that morning.  All I had to do was cut it up...

...and add it to the prepared sauce!

I let the whole thing simmer lightly for half an hour, and then we were ready for dinner.

Authentic? Not so much. But I have to say - it was delicious. And flavorful. And, yes, a bit hotter than I usually go for (though, to be honest, I'm a bit of a heat wimp, so it's good to spice things up once in a while... literally...), but the flavor was good. And daddy and I both enjoyed it very much. It was actually even tastier the next day, too.  We offered the kids a taste, but were prepared (rightly so...) when they declined. Their loss. Hopefully when they get a little older they'll give it a shot.

So hopefully this is just the start to a new culinary adventure! Can't wait to try more!

Chicken Tikka Masala
(slighlty modified from A Happy Lass)

1 onion, sliced
1 can coconut milk
1 cup tomato sauce (I used canned crushed tomatoes)
2 tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
a dash of cayenne pepper or 2-4 green chiles, cut into strips
approximately 2 pounds cooked chicken, cut into about 1 inch pieces

In a medium saucepan, lightly sautee the onions in extra virgin olive oil until softened and translucent.
Add coconut milk, tomato and spices. Stir to combine.
Cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a boil.
Add cooked chicken, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes.
Serve over cooked rice.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May Sourdough Surprises - Hamburger Buns

This month's Sourdough Surprises was a fun one. Being the start of the summer season, we decided to make hamburger buns. Or hot dog buns, but I went with hamburger buns.

Now... I know... buns... enriched rolls... how is that "fun"?

Well, first of all, making them is actually pretty simple.

Combine all of the ingredients...

...and knead it all together until it becomes a nice, smooth dough.

(it takes a while, but be patient - it's worth it!)

Let it rest, shape as desired, and rest again.

Seriously, that easy. I extended the rest times to achieve a richer, fuller, more developed flavor. But with a strong enough starter, you'll get good buns even with a shorter rest.

Then bake!

And then comes the real fun. Filling them.  We had these several different ways.

Started with chicken patty burgers.

Then cheese steaks.

And then, of course, actual hamburgers. Stacked miles high, of course.

Oh, and I also shared some with a friend, who made turkey sandwiches on them.

Now, I wish I could say that they were a huge hit with the whole family, but daddy is still doing his no-carb thing, little miss wouldn't even try them when she heard they were sourdough, and little man will follow suit with little miss... But that's okay. I somehow managed to... ahem... finish them anyway.

Sourdough Hamburger Buns
(from Amish365)

2 cups sourdough starter
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup milk, lukewarm
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
3 cups all-purpose flour (up to half of flour could be whole wheat)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, stir together all of the ingredients except for the flour.
Add the flour, mixing just until it comes together.
Knead until dough is smooth and satiny. Be patient - it will come together. At this point dough may be refrigerated up to 24 hours for a more flavorful bread. Bring dough back to room temperature before continuing with shaping. I just let it rest for a few hours at room temperature.
Shape buns as desired.
Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk. I let mine rise for about an hour and a half or so.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Bake buns for 15 to 18 minutes (mine were a little bigger, but were still done in 19 minutes).  Cool on wire rack.


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

May Daring Cooks' Challenge - Maftoul

The May Daring Cooks' Challenge was hosted by the incomparable Sawsan from chef in disguise. Sawsan challenged us to try our hands (literally!) at making maftoul - hand-rolled Palestinian couscous that is as versatile as it is tasty!

Did you read that?  It said couscous.  Our challenge was to make couscous. 

What?? You can do that??

Well, according to Sawsan and this challenge, you certainly can!

The key ingredient, which makes the core of the coucouc, is ground bulgur.  I couldn't find that, but I did find bulghur wheat grains, which is, as far as I know, the same thing, just not ground.

But I can  handle that part.

Making the couscous (maftoul), requires only the ground bulgur, salt water, and a combination of flours (half all purpose, half whole wheat).

The process involves wetting the bulgur and building it up with the flour by swirling things with your fingertips, adding water and flour alternately.

It sounds complicated, and it's a bit confusing, but it makes sense once you get started.  And after a few iterations, believe it or not, it actually starts working!

Now, my maftoul granules weren't as consistent or nicely shaped as many others' who shared their results on the forum, but they weren't too shabby, especially for a first effort!

I had a little trouble steaming them, too, because I don't have a good pot/colander setup (there is a traditional couscous pot that is used for this, with a colander type top over a larger pot, double boiler style), so it needed a little extra help after it's initial steaming.

So I chose to cook it further and turn it into a side dish with our chicken dinner inspired by a Lebanese rice and lentil dish called mujadara. Lots of caramelized onions, lots of yummy spices and...

Yum! The further cooking of the maftoul was exactly what it needed, and the resulting dish was super yummy. 

I definitely want to try this again - I feel like trying it once and reading about other peoples' experiences on the forums will definitely help to make my next effort a bit more successful.

Sawsan, you are awesome and I am so amazed by what you do. Thank you for this super challenging challenge.

To see the full challenge as Sawsan presented it to us, check it out here.

And to see the impressive results of the other Daring Cooks, check them out here.

(from the Daring Cooks' Challenge)

1 cup fine bulgur (I found bulghur wheat, which I ground myself)
1 tablespoon salt
2-3 cups water
4 cups whole wheat flour
4 cups all-purpose flour

Add the salt to the water and stir to dissolve the salt (I usually do this in a measuring cup for easy pouring) set aside.
Mix the whole wheat and all-purpose flour in a separate bowl, set aside.
Add 1/4 cup of water to the bulgur.  Rub the water into the bulgur with your finger tips just enough to moisten the bulgur granules to allow the flour to stick to them.
Sprinkle the bulgur over the bottom of a wide tray, pan or large bowl. (You want something large, with a rim and a flat base)
Sprinkle half a cup of the mixed-flour over the bulgur.
With your finger tips start swirling the bulgur granules in a circular motion. The aim is to evenly coat the bulgur granules with flour. Keep swirling until all the flour is taken up by the bulgur. If you get any big clumps, break them down by gently rubbing them between your finger tips.
Collect the bulgur to one side of the pan.
Pour 1/4 cup of water in the empty side.
Use the circular swirling motion again to wet the bulgur granules.
Sprinkle another half a cup of flour and swirl using your finger-tips again.  You will notice that the maftoul granules will start to grow in size.
Repeat the steps of wetting the bulgur granules, rolling, sprinkle with flour, and rolling again until the maftoul granules are the size you want them to be.

Please note that the water and flour amounts provided in the recipe are for guidance, you may need more or less depending on how big you roll your maftoul pearls

Cooking the maftoul
There is a traditional couscous pot that is generally used to steam the maftoul. It consists of 2 parts on top of each other. The bottom part is a large pot and the top part is a colander that holds the couscous or maftoul. 
I don't have one of these (nor does our host, who makes this quite often with amazing results). Instead, you can use a regular metal colander that fits over a large pot. Try to find a colander that fits your pot as closely as possible because you don't want any steam to escape between the pot and colander

To steam the maftoul, you will need:
1 stick of cinnamon (optional)
5 cardamom pods (optional)
10 all-spice pods (optional)
2 bay leaves (optional)
Prepared maftoul

In the bottom part of the couscous pan (or in a pot) add 2 inches of water.
Add the spices to the water (if you are using them) and bring the water to a boil.
Brush your steaming colander (or the top part of the couscous pan) with olive oil generously.
Place the maftoul in the colander and then place it on top of the pot with boiling water. Make sure that the bottom of the colander does not touch the water. If you notice steam escaping from the space between the edges of the colander and the pot, use a kitchen towel to seal the edges. Do not cover.
Leave the maftoul undisturbed for 5 minutes or until you see steam coming through.
Using a fork gently stir the maftoul in the colander.
Sprinkle 1/4 cup of water over the couscous and continue to gently turn the maftoul bringing the steamed maftoul from the bottom to the top and allow the top granules to steam.
The total steaming time is around 15 minutes. The maftoul granules will change color from white to a light golden color. (My bulghar was darker, so the color was different from this, but it did change!)
Take the maftoul off the heat and empty it in a large pan.  Add a 1/4 cup of olive oil and gently toss the maftoul granules to coat them in olive oil and fluff them.
Allow the maftoul to cool down.
You can use it immediately, store it in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for up to three months.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Mexican Cinnamon Cookies

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a wonderful Mother's Day yesterday - all you moms, all you friends of moms, all you teachers and nurses and doctors and amazing folks who help moms do what we do.  I hope you all gave yourselves a big hug yesterday, realizing what an amazing job you do every day, growing the next generation.

Being the second Monday of the month, today's post is the reveal for the Secret Recipe Club.  And doesn't really have to do with Mother's Day.  Actually, it has to do with last week's holiday, Cinco De Mayo.

My assigned blog this month was Jane's Adventures in Dinner, written by the amazing Jane.  She's a chef, a teacher, a mother and an absolute wonder. Her blog is a real delight and her recipes all look absolutely delicious.

But, I kind of knew what inspiration I'd be looking for this month, regardless of what blog I was assigned - I knew I'd use this month's SRC as a way to find something new and fun to make for Cinco De Mayo.

And Jane didn't disappoint. She had several recipes to choose from, but I wound up choosing these, delightful looking Mexican style cookies that looked like they'd be the perfect Cinco De Mayo treat.

They came together super easily. 

Like other Mexican style cookies (called Mexican wedding cookies) that I've seen, these use powdered sugar as the sugar, rather than granulated. And these have a lovely helping of cinnamon, making them spicy and delicious.

I mixed the batter...

...and little man mixed up some cinnamon-(powdered) sugar, which we then used to coat balls of the dough.

 Little man got a big kick out of helping me make sure each of the dough balls was thoroughly coated. He used a fork to, as he put it, give each dough ball a hat of the powdered sugar/cinnamon mix. I know it's a blurry photo, but it was seriously adorable.

The prepared cookies were then placed on a cookie sheet...

...and baked to light-golden perfection.

And we all loved them! They're light and crisp, with a slightly spicy sweet taste from the cinnamon - the perfect end to our Cinco De Mayo meal!

And, by the way, I also tried one other recipe from Jane's blog. Well, sort of.  She has this delicious sounding Black Bean Soup recipe that just looked amazing. But I knew I'd be the only one in the house to eat it, no matter how good it was. So I used it as the inspiration for a black bean side dish that I served with our Navajo stack tacos.

Definitely repeating that - so delicious. And I also want to try the slow-cooked pork taco recipe she has at that same link with the black bean soup. As I said - there was no lack of inspiration this month!

Thanks, Jane, for the delicious recipes, the awesome inspiration, and for your super fun blog!

Mexican Cinnamon Cookies
(from Jane's Adventures in Dinner)

1 cup butter
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease cookie sheets, or line them with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, cream together the 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar and butter until smooth. Stir in the vanilla.
Combine the flour, salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon, then stir the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture to form a stiff dough.
In a separate bowl, mix together the 1 cup confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon cinnamon.
Shape the dough into 1 inch balls and roll each ball in the powdered sugar/cinnamon mixture, then place on prepared cookie sheets.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in preheated oven, or until nicely browned. Cool cookies on wire racks.


Monday, May 5, 2014

Navajo Fry Bread

You know what I love?

Any reason to celebrate something with food.

And today being Cinco De Mayo, well, it was a perfect excuse for a foodie celebration. Now, I know that Cinco De Mayo is actually not celebrated much (read: at all) except in the one area of Mexico that was involved in the vicotorious fight against the French, but for some reason, we gringos have latched onto it as a reason to celebrate all things Mexican. So... I go with it.

I have been in something of a creativity rut with food and cooking and blogging... so I was pretty sure I was going to go simple with my Mexican dinner celebration... but I still looked around for potential inspiration... and found some!

My original plan, boring as it is, was tacos. (I say boring... I just mean uncreative. We love them.)

Then I saw these. Navajo Tacos. Meaning... same taco "stuff," but instead of using either a hard or soft tortilla shell, you use Navajo fry bread - a fried, crisp, golden, puffed kind of flatbread.  I know they're not authentically Mexican, but hey - neither is making a big deal out of Cinco De Mayo!  So I went for it.

The process is simple, but takes a bit of time and concentration.

Flour, baking powder and salt are mixed together, and then you dump in one cup of water.

This is then mixed together loosely to form a ver sticky dough.

Very. Sticky.

But you don't want to knead this - it's not "real" bread where you want to strenghten the gluten and develop strong bonds and all that scientific bread-making stuff. You just want to be able to work with it, to shape it into rounds.

Umm... kind of rounds. Close to rounds. You get the idea.

And then, the time consuming and must-be-careful part - you fry.

And they become beautiful and puffy and golden.

And then we just treated them like taco shells!  Well, ones you can't roll up... so... taco bases.

And let me say - they were delicious! SO worth the frying time (and minor burn... who said being a food blogger wasn't hazardous??). Even daddy, who is still doing his low-carb thing, snuck a taste and loved it. I actually am curious what else I can put on these... I bet they'd make a great base for, say, a breakfast sandwich (eggs, cheese and bacon, anyone?) or even for egg salad or something. Or just with some butter next to a salad!

So I hope you had a lovely day, whether you celebrated the faux-Mexican holiday or not. But I'll keep celebrating.

Navajo Fry Bread
(from Tips From A Typical Mom)

2 cups flour (all purpose)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons powdered milk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup water
extra flour for hands and dusting surface
vegetable oil for frying

Whisk all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
Pour the water all at once into the dry ingredients and stir with a fork until combined.
Flour your hands and continue to squeeze the dough until it’s mixed well. Do not knead the dough or it will be heavy.
Cut the dough into 8 equal pieces and on a floured surface and press each piece into a flat, circle shape.
In a deep heavy pot, heat about 2 inches of vegetable oil on medium high heat until it reaches 350 degrees (you can test it by adding a small pinch of dough and see if it bubbles).
Fry the bread one or two at a time until browned on one side, then flip over and repeat.
Remove from oil with tongs and place on double layer paper towels to cool. You can keep the finished breads on a baking sheet in a 200 degree oven to keep warm while frying the rest of them and waiting to eat.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Easy Rice Flour Snickerdoodles

So,  a couple of months ago, I made cookies for a new friend as a thank you. Because... it's what I do.

But then I found out that she eats gluten free.

Oops. I mean, she said that her family enjoyed the cookies, but I still felt bad. And told her that I'd take it as a new personal challenge to make yummy treats that she could enjoy, too.

Now, I do happen to have a few gluten-free flours in the house - coconut flour and rice flour.  So, between google and pinterest, I started searching for recipes that I could easily try.

When I came across this recipe for simple rice flour sugar cookies, I thought I'd give it a shot. I mean, it looked super easy and I had all of the ingredients. But I thought I'd take them a step further and turn them into snickerdoodles. I mean... a snickerdoodle is basically a sugar cookie rolled in cinnamon sugar, right? How bad could it be?

Now, when I say that the recipe is easy, I mean it. No mixer needed. One bowl.

Using a spoon, cream together softened butter and brown sugar.

See? Easy! Just make sure the butter is soft enough. Or else you're in for a really good arm workout.

Add in an egg, rice flour and some baking soda and mix again.

And then the dough is done!  Roll the dough into little balls, then roll the balls in cinnamon sugar.

Then bake!

It's that easy.

And guess what? They're delicious! And have a good texture! And you'd never guess they're gluten free!

And the best part? My friend liked them! Woo hoo!

I am definitely looking forward to trying other gluten free recipes - both to share and for us. Because if these are any indication, it's not as scary as it sounds!

Easy Rice-Flour Snickerdoodles
(only slightly adapted from Yummy Laura)

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cup rice flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup cinnamon sugar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheet with parchment or silicone baking sheet.
Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in egg, then stir in flour and baking soda. Mix until all ingredients are fully incorporated.
Scoop dough and roll into balls approximately one-inch in size. Roll each ball in cinnamon sugar and place on prepared baking sheet.
Bake cookies for 12 minutes until golden.
Cool on cooling rack.

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