Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Homemade Refried Beans

My mom and I love Mexican food, but sometimes refried beans can be very bland. This recipe was not only easy, but it gave our dinner a fabulous flavor!

Refried Beans (Serves 4 to 6)

3 (15 oz) cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed (I used light red kidney beans)
1 cup water
5 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 large jalapeno chile, stemmed, seeded, and minced
2 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
Hot pepper sauce (optional)

1) Process the beans and water in a food processor until smooth, scraping down the sides of the workbowl with a rubber spatula as necessary, about 30 seconds; set aside.

2) Put the oil, onion, chile, and 1/2 tsp salt in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and just begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cumin and cook, stirring frequently, until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Stir in the bean mixture until thoroughly combined, then reduce the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans have thickened and the flavors have blended, about 10 minutes. Stir in the cilantro, if using, and adjust the seasonings with salt and hot pepper sauce to taste. Serve immediately.

Observations/Suggestions: My biggest mistake was not using a jalapeno. When I went to make the recipe, that was the one ingredient that I had failed to purchase. (Urgh, right?) But, I will definitely add it next time. As a substitute, I increased the cumin to a heaping tsp and added some cayenne pepper. Then, at the end, I also added about 1 tsp of a spice mix designed for bean dips. It really kicked up the flavor. Instead of stirring in the cilantro leaves at the end, I let everyone decide whether or not to add them on top. (I don't mind cilantro, but I by no means prefer it). In this recipe, there is a lot of room for interpretation, so feel free to have some fun!

Recommended? A cautious yes. Although refried beans are great homemade, I felt it could have had more to offer. Next time, I'm adding additional spices and mixing salsa into it.

Glazed Maple-Pecan Oatmeal Scones

Not only do I love scones, but I've had a recent infatuation with maple flavoring, so this seemed an instant hit.

Glazed Maple-Pecan Oatmeal Scones

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats or quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup chopped pecans
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
       *I substituted the whole milk and heavy cream for 1/2 cup half and half
1 large egg
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cups lower-protein unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar, plus 1 Tbsp for sprinkling (Omit the 1/3 cup sugar if maple syrup is very sweet)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
10 Tbsp (1.25 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

3 Tbsp maple syrup
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar

1) Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Spread the oats and pecans evenly on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven until they are fragrant and lightly browned, 7 to 9 minutes; cool on a wire rack. Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Line a second baking sheet with parchment paper (or nonstick cooking spray). When the oats and pecans are cooled, measure out 2 Tbsp (for dusting the work surface) and set aside.

2) Whisk the milk, cream, egg, and maple syrup in a large measuring cup until incorporated; remove 1 Tbsp to a small bowl and reserve for pre-bake glazing.

3) Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade and process until combined, about four 1-second pulses. Scatter the cold butter evenly over the dry ingredients and process until the mixture resembles course cornmeal, twelve to fourteen 1-second pulses. (A hand mixer will work fine as well) Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl; stir in the cooled oats and pecans. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the liquid ingredients until large clumps form. Using your hands, gently knead the mixture in the bowl until the dough forms a cohesive mass.

4) Dust the work surface with half of the reserved oats and pecans, turn the dough onto the work surface, and dust the top with the remaining oats/pecans mix. Gently pat the dough into a 7-inch circle about 1 inch thick. Using a bench scraper or chef's knife, cut the dough into 8 wedges and set on the parchment-lined baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Brush the tops with the reserved milk-egg mixture and sprinkle with 1 Tbsp sugar. Bake until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes. Cool the scones on the baking sheet, set on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then remove the scones to the rack and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

5) When the scones are cool, whisk the maple syrup and confectioner's sugar in a bowl until combined; drizzle the glaze over the scones.

Observations/Suggestions: First off, I used quick-cooking oats and felt that the consistency was just fine, no worries as to using the old-fashioned. Also, the half and half mixture was amazing because it cut costs and cut calories (we only use fat free half and half). My baking time for the scones was probably only about 10-11 minutes, so you may want to keep an eye on them in the final minutes. Lastly, the glaze was delicious, but horribly sticky. In fact, it never quite set up due to the maple syrup. Next time, I'll try using maple flavoring instead.

Recommended? Yes. I found them to be delicious (and impressive to our guests), but I did feel that the glaze was way too sticky. The consistency of the scone was just right because it was dense, but flaky. Delicious!

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

Honestly, who doesn't love a warm chocolate chip cookie? It's taken me a while to find a recipe that keeps the center chewy without it being undercooked. Overall, a great recipe!

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies (Makes 3 dozen)

2 cups plus 2 Tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
12 Tbsp (1.5 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until just warm
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

1) Adjust the oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and heat the oven to 325 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or spray them with nonstick cooking spray.

2) Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.

3) Either by hand or with an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugars until thoroughly blended. Beat in the egg, yolk, and vanilla until just combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat at low speed until combined. Stir in the chips to taste.

4) Roll a scant 1/8 cup of the dough into a ball. Hold the dough ball with the fingertips of both hands and pull into 2 equal halves. Rotate the halves 90 degrees and, with jagged surfaces facing up, join the halves together at the base, again forming a single ball, being careful not to smooth the dough's uneven surface. Place the formed dough balls on the prepared baking sheets, jagged surface up, spacing them 2 1/2 inches apart. (Sounds complicated, but you can do it!)

5) Bake until the cookies are light golden brown, the outer edges start to harden, and the centers are still soft and puffy, 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the sheets. Remove the cooled cookies from the baking sheets with a wide metal spatula.

Observations/Suggestions: Overall, I didn't change a thing. My one warning is to make sure that you pay attention to when the cookies are done. The insides will look puffy, but the outer edges will harden up. Just remember, they will continue cooking on the baking sheet. The brown sugar makes the batter darker, so also keep on eye on the edges for browning. Next time, I may try oatmeal to add a little more texture.

Recommended? Definitely. Relatively easy to make and very soft/chewy. They really tasted like cookies you buy from an upscale bakery. I made them last minute for a party and they went immediately! (That's why I have no pictures to share, I'm sorry!)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Wonderful Meal by a True Culinarian

Last night, I had the wonderful privilege of enjoying food cooked by a true culinarian, my good friend, Cori. What's great about Cori is that she has the natural talent of traveling recipeless. She can sense a recipe's ingredients and recreate it with her knowledge of basic ingredients. And yesterday, for dinner, she created one of our favorite appetizers, Applebee's Chicken Wonton Tacos. (Except she made the recipe into tostados and they were even better!) Her recipe was very simple and it let the ingredients speak for themselves. In fact, the whole meal tasted like summer with its fresh ingredients and vast textures.

Chicken Wonton Tacos - (Deep-fried wonton wraps, grilled marinated chicken, an Asian coleslaw, fresh cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh lime)
Zucchini and Snow Peas (Fried in soy sauce, garlic and butter)
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

If that doesn't get your palate excited, then I don't know what can. It was delicious!

* This recipe was incredible, so I shall consult the chef to see if she is willing to share.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Kettle Corn -- My First Recipe Disaster!

Popcorn is one of my true food loves. It has been a constant classic in my home for as long as I can remember and it is a staple for nights/weekends. My recipe totally exists out of habit. The butter isn't measured, the salt isn't measured, and the popcorn is measured by the hot air popper cup. It is one of the few recipes that I add ingredients without needing to taste.

When I saw this recipe by an esteemed chef friend, I was immediately interested. (Plus, I'm going through a kettle corn phase due to the number of events we've been to lately!) Although I love my popcorn buttery and salty, I decided to try this recipe as an afternoon sweet 'n salty snack. And tragically, I ran into my first recipe disaster...

Kettle Corn

*You'll need a large pot with a handle or lid and a large bowl

1/8 cup canola (coconut oil was suggested)
1/8 cup butter
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1/4 tsp salt

In a large pot, melt the oil and butter over high heat. Add the popcorn, sugar, and salt, and stir constantly until you see the first pop. Immediately turn off the heat, and vigorously shake the pot so the popcorn won't scorch. Transfer immediately to a large bowl.

Observations/Suggestions: FYI - I have a gas stove, so I'm not sure if that affected my recipe results or not. Everything was going well until the first pop. I followed the directions and started to shake my arms off only to realize that it was no longer popping. So, I hesitantly placed the mixture back on the burner and kept stirring it. (Note: Be careful, the oil mixture is extremely hot! I received four lovely burn welts during the stirring process.) Finally, after some minor additionally popping, I decided that the mixture must be hot enough and began shaking again only to realize that the mixture was semi-stuck to the bottom of the pan. So, I proceeded to shake it upside down. By this point, I realized that the popcorn was scorched and shamefully put it on the deck to cool off. Fortunately, the lid was on for the last part so the smell did not permeate our kitchen. Whew!

Recommended? Wholeheartedly yes. Just because I ruined this batch does not mean that it's a bad recipe or not worth trying. I know the chef and she is amazing, so I trust this recipe. I encourage you to try it and share your tips, suggestions, techniques, etc. I want to try it again and will not be defeated, so I need your help!

*No image was included for this recipe because the popcorn looked pretty ugly.