Sunday, March 24, 2013

Glazed Pork Chops

Michelle, we're trying your pork chop recipe today.  It smells delicious, and they look wonderful.  Thanks!

Glazed Pork Chops

6 pork chops (boneless or bone-in) (We had boneless ones)
2/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon sage
2 Tablespoons water

1.  Place pork chops in 9x13 pan.  (There was a lot more glaze than I was anticipating, probably why it was so good, so I would suggest putting some of it at the bottom of the pan before putting the pork in so that the whole pork chop is covered with the glaze.)
2.  Mix remaining ingredients, adding more water if necessary to make a glaze that is thin enough to pour (I think we added a little bit more, but it was not super thin or runny).  Pour over pork chops.

NOTE: Cooking time will vary based on the thickness of the meat, the pan you are using, and how closely you place the pieces together in the pan.  Use a meat thermometer to test internal temperature (160°) (We actually did use a meat thermometer and checked the temperature, who knows if that made a difference)

3.  Bake at 350°, uncovered.  If thick pork chops (greater than 1-inch thick), bake for 45-50 minutes, or until meat tests done.  Check at 20 minutes to see if the meat is properly cooked.  Check every 5 minutes thereafter.  If thin pork chops (less than 1-inch thick), bake for 20-30 minutes, checking with thermometer for doneness.
4.  A visual check helps, too.  If, after you cut the pork chops into smaller pieces for serving, you feel they are a bit too pink, put back in oven for a few more minutes.

Note: We tried these by cooking on the stove - brown the chops in a bit of oil then pour the sauce over and cook until done - and that worked well also.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Great St. Patrick's Day Experiment

A few weeks ago the subject of the tradition of corned beef for dinner on St. Patrick's Day came up in our conversation.  Although I remember having it every year as a child, I also remember the reaction of my own family being such that many, many years ago I decided never to serve corned beef again. Wayne said it must have been the kids' reaction, because he didn't mind having it once a year.  So, this year I decided that we would give it another try.  I figured maybe one reason we didn't like it was because I wasn't preparing it properly, so I decided to do some internet research to see what I could learn.  I learned a lot!

First off, it's called "corned" beef not because there's actual corn in the recipe (that always confused me) but because the preservation process of the meat included salt, or kernels of salt, which were also called "corns" of salt.

Next I learned that you don't have to buy it at the grocery store, you can make your own corned beef. That was so intriguing that I decided to go that route.  Here's the recipe I found:

4 pounds beef brisket
2 1/2 quarts water
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon red chili pepper flakes
8-10 whole cloves
8-10 allspice berries
2 bay leaves, crushed
1 cinnamon stick
5 garlic cloves, crushed.

Combine everything but the beef and the garlic in a large pot and heat until the salt and sugar are dissolved.  Cool to 45° then add the garlic.  Place the beef in a large container (a plastic bag could work) and pour the brine over it.  Soak for several days in the refrigerator.  Rinse the beef and simmer for several hours.

Next I learned that corned beef is not a true Irish tradition.  In Ireland they use pork.  However, in America beef was less expensive than pork, so that's what the poor immigrants could afford, and the tradition was born.  The cabbage and potatoes are added to help dilute the saltiness of the dish.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that of the lengthy list of ingredients, the only spices I didn't have were mustard seeds and allspice berries.  Wayne must have made a recipe years and years ago calling for coriander and fennel, because that's definitely not something I use every day.  My grocery store had mustard seeds but not allspice berries, so I omitted that ingredient.
When I went to Costco to buy the brisket, I was surprised to discover that it cost more per pound than the packaged corned beef.  Maybe it was just a St. Patrick's Day special.  I also didn't see a four pound brisket, the largest was three pounds.  So, I decided to add to the experiment.  I bought one of each and determined to have a taste test.  If we liked the Costco version better, I would know next year to just get that.  If we didn't, we'd know that it was worth the extra expense.  Do you want to know what the results were?  Keep reading.

Tuesday when I got home from the store I made the brine.
Poured it over the beef brisket and stuck it in the fridge.
Sunday morning I removed it from the fridge.  It was no longer pink.  However, that's what I was expecting, because I also learned in my research that corned beef stays pink because of the saltpeter (or potassium nitrate) that is added to the brine.  I didn't want to bother with that, so I didn't.  Besides, I figured it would be a good way to tell the difference between the two once they were on the dinner table.
In my research I also read about a "rinse, cook, repeat" process to help cut the saltiness of the dish, and I decided to give that part a try as well.  So, I removed the beef from the brine, added it to the skillet, covered it with water, and simmered it for about an hour.
Then it was time to leave for church, so I removed it from the skillet, put it in the crock pot, covered it with fresh water, turned it on low, and left for several hours.  
This is what it looked like when I got home from church.  I tasted the broth and it was quite delicious, so I saved it to turn into soup later in the week.
The next step was to chop up some onions, carrots, potatoes, and cabbage.
Then, about 45 minutes before we wanted to eat, I transferred the beef back to the skillet, added fresh water, and the vegetables, and cooked it until the vegetables were tender.  And that was that.  Kind of a long process, isn't it?  If I'm home all day, in the future I may skip the crock-pot step, and just keep it all in one pan, pouring off the old broth and adding new.
But what about the other corned beef?  I cooked it using the same process.
First, remove from the package, set aside the seasoning packet, and simmer it for an hour on the stove.
Second, move it to the crock pot, cover with fresh water, and add the seasoning packet.
Third, put it back in the pot on the stove with fresh water and simmer for another hour or so.
And forget to take a picture of that pot.  There wasn't room to add vegetables, and I was pretty sure we prefer roasted over boiled, but I decided to verify that and do another taste test at dinner.  To roast vegetables, I find it easiest to cut them into chunks, place into a ziploc bag, drizzle with olive oil, then shake and pour into the baking pan.
Sprinkle with salt and pepper and place in a 425° oven for 25-30 minutes.
Don't those look gorgeous?
 And here's the corned beef platter all ready to serve.
Here's the verdict:
We do prefer roasted vegetables over boiled vegetables.  However, for a once a year St. Patrick's Day tradition, I'll stick with the boiled ones. After all, there's already a pot of boiling water going, so that saves dirtying a dish or two.

We liked the homemade version of the corned beef better.  The other one was fine, but there was a slight "chemical/preserved" taste that the fresh one didn't have.  However, since I recall the "pickled" taste being quite prominent in the previous corned beef I've had, I really think the process of "rinse and repeat" definitely helped dilute that.  (I didn't actually "rinse" the beef, just moved it to fresh water.)

We rounded out the meal with Irish Soda Bread and Mint Zebra Cake. We'll have the bread again, but next year will come up with a different dessert.  There you go!  Now you don't have to go to all the work of comparing different recipes, unless of course you want to.  Happy St. Patrick's Day!

30 Minute Breadsticks

This week I pinned the Pizza Factory Bread Sticks recipe and actually got around to making them.  Here's the proof:
They were pretty good, yet they kind of fell apart as we were eating them.  They were too long and the "twist" separated.  So I decided to see how they compare to our "family favorite" bread stick recipe.  The only difference is an extra tablespoon of sugar and the twisting.  I think we'll stick with our original recipe next time we make bread sticks!

This is a recipe my sister gave me when we were still in college. (At least that's what I remember.)  Even if you don't have time for the Pretzel Dogs, you might be able to make the time for these.

30 Minute Breadsticks
1 tablespoon yeast
1 ½ cups warm water
1 tablespoon honey or sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 to 4 ½ cups flour
2 tablespoons melted margarine

Dissolve yeast in water. Add honey, salt and half the flour. Beat 3 minutes. Stir in rest of flour. Knead 10 mintues. Roll dough into an 8x10” rectangle and slice into sticks. Place in buttered pan and brush with melted margarine. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, garlic salt or sesame seeds if desired. Let rise 15-30 minutes. Bake at 400° for 12 minutes. Makes 18 (at about 125 calories each).This time around I divided the dough into 18 little balls and rolled them individually before placing on the cookie sheet. Then I sprinkled them with grated Parmesan cheese. Here's the finished product!
They're great with spaghetti :)

Monday, March 18, 2013

Zebra Cake

How To Make Zebra Striped Cake | Recipe By Photo
A little while ago I came across this pin for a "Striped Zebra Cake" and was intrigued by the concept.  It's been years since I've made a marbled cake, and this technique looked like it deserved a try.  St. Patrick's Day provided a good excuse to make the attempt.
I just used the regular Better Homes & Gardens Vanilla Cake recipe, divided it in half, added green food coloring and peppermint extract (a little more than I had planned!) to one bowl and a square of unsweetened chocolate, melted, to the other.
You can see the process in the pinned strip, but basically you alternate pouring a little bit of batter into the center of each prepared pan.  I didn't bother using a spoon, just poured carefully.  Then you bake it as normal.
 This is what it looks like when it's baked. Isn't that a cool design?
I frosted it with regular buttercream frosting.  Originally I thought about making it mint flavored, but that was before the extract came out of the bottle into the cake batter too quickly.  We're glad I left it plain.
One of the recipes I saw when I was looking for ideas had a chocolate ganache drizzle along the edge, so I gave that a try as well.  I think I liked it plain better, or maybe with some green sugar crystals.
Anyway, this is what it looks like when you slice into it.  If I ever do a jungle/safari themed birthday party, this would definitely be a fun way to make the cake.  Since the odds of that happening are pretty slim, I figured I'd share it with those of you who still have plenty of birthday parties in your future!
One other note - I used my 9" round cake pans.  I think using 8" cake pans would make the design look better because each layer would be a touch higher.  Maybe I'll have to try it again some time anyway!

Irish Soda Bread

We first tried this recipe many years ago, and were surprised at how good it actually was.  It had a chewy, saltine-cracker taste which is out of the ordinary for bread, at least in our house. Although it takes a bit of time to cook, it doesn't take much time at all to prepare.  It was a nice addition to our St. Patrick's Day dinner yesterday.
Irish Soda Bread

4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1 1/4 cups buttermilk (or soured milk)

Combine the dry ingredients.  Rub in the butter.  (Note: some of the recipes I looked at omitted this ingredient.)  Stir in the buttermilk and mix until combined.  Knead lightly and form into a ball on a greased cookie sheet.  Pat into a circle about 1 1/2" thick.  Score the top in an X shape.  Bake at 425° for 30 minutes. Cut into wedges to serve.  (And use lots of butter and jam if you want.)


Note: You can cut the recipe in half, or even in quarters, and bake the bread as individual rolls, and they still turn out nicely.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Pistachio Buttons

A while ago I pinned the following recipe and I decided that with St. Patrick's Day around the corner, now was a good time to try it.  I thought of my two boys who hate mint the whole time I was baking these.  If you lived nearby, I would have given some.  Instead, I shared them with my seminary class.  Maybe you can talk your wives into making a batch for you some day.

Pistachio Buttons

1/2 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 - 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (remember in Florida I need to increase this)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, melted
1/3 cup finely chopped pistachios
10 drops green food coloring, optional

Cream the butter and sugar.  Beat in the egg and extracts.  Combine flour, baking powder and salt and stir into the sugar mixture.  Divide in half.  Stir the chocolate into one part and the pistachios and food coloring into the other.  (Note: at this point I chilled it for just a bit.)  Then divide each into four parts.  

Pat the chocolate dough into a rectangle about 8x3".  I did this on plastic wrap and that made the next step easier.  Roll the green dough into a log.  Place on top of the chocolate dough and roll carefully to encase it.  Wrap in plastic and chill for an hour.
Heat the oven to 350°.  Slice each roll into 1/4" thick cookies.  (Mine were just a touch thicker.)  Place on the cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes.

You can see that they're quite tiny.  Normally I only fit one dozen cookies on the baking sheet, not two dozen.
They're not super sweet, so I thought about drizzling some chocolate over them, but that's an extra step and I was tired.  Maybe later.
I think these will make a nice addition to the Christmas cookie platters as well, don't you.  And because they're bite-sized, you don't feel quite so guilty eating one or two!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Treat for a Bridal Shower

The invitation to the bridal shower stated to bring a treat to share, and I thought it would be fun to take "All-to -Myself Cheesecakes" (find the recipe here).  However, I didn't know how many would be attending, so I was afraid twelve wouldn't be enough, and I also figured even though they're "mini" they would be too large for our appetites at 8 PM, especially if there were a lot of other yummy goodies to try.  So, I experimented.
Instead of making 12 individual cheesecakes, I baked the recipe in a 9x9" pan, using foil "extensions" so I could remove it in one block.  And then I cut it into 1" squares.  It worked!  Next time I'll drizzle the chocolate on after it's been cut (because it hardened too quickly and made a huge mess when I tried to cut it), but other than that, I'm glad I tried it this way.  I'll definitely try this again!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Four Layer Dessert

One of our favorite desserts over the years has been something with the plebian name "Four-Layer Dessert." The last time we had it I tried using our favorite brownie recipe (half the recipe so it wouldn't be too thick) as the bottom layer, instead of the normal flour/nut/butter crust.  It was actually pretty good, although I kind of missed the crunchiness factor.  
Here's the original recipe if you want to give it a try some day.

Four-Layer Dessert

1 cup flour
1/2 cup nuts, chopped
1/2 cup margarine, softened
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup powdered sugar
1 (8 ounce) container Cool Whip, divided
2 (3 1/2 ounce) packages instant pudding mix (any flavor is fine)
3 cups milk

Combine the flour nuts and margarine and press into a 9x13" baking pan.  Bake at 350° for 10-15 minutes and then cool.  Cream together the cream cheese, powdered sugar and 1 cup of Cool Whip and spread over the crust.  Mix together the instant pudding and milk and spread over the creamy layer.  Chill for several hours.  Top with the remaining Cool Whip before serving.

Variations: If using vanilla pudding, add a layer of bananas under the pudding.  Sprinkle the top with chopped nuts or cookie crumbs or sprinkles or toasted coconut.

Chocolate Cream Dessert
Another time we tried the following for the bottom layer: Cut 3/4 cup cold butter or margarine into one package dry chocolate cake mix. Add one egg and mix well. press into a greased 9x13" pan and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until set. Cool completely, then follow directions above for the remaining layers.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Black Bean Soup

Can you believe this has been sitting in the drafts folder for five years? I really need to get better at finishing things, but at least I'm making progress now.

This was actually a really yummy recipe. It's not much different from my recipe, but it's always nice to have someone else do the cooking. We had it twice, once as is served over rice, and then another time pureed. Both variations are delicious.

Puree of Black Beans with Sherry

2 quarts cooked black beans (see recipe below)
Chicken broth
1/2 cup dry sherry (substitute apple juice if desired)
Garlic bread croutons

Puree beans in blender. Transfer to saucepan and add enough broth to give it the consistency of a cream soup. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and add sherry. Serve with croutons.

Serves 4. 
690 calories per serving

Black Bean Soup

1 pound dried black beans
2 quarts water
2 medium onions, chopped finely
1 bay leaf
2 green peppers, cut in strips
1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon oregano
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
White rice, cooked
Chopped onions for garnish

Soak beans overnight in water in a large pot. The next day bring to a boil. Cover and cook over medium heat.

Meanwhile, sauté onions and green peppers in olive oil in a skillet until light golden. Add spices and herbs, then stir into beans. Cook slowly over low heat until beans are tender, at least one hour. Serve over rice, garnished with onions.

Serves 4.
665 calories per serving without the rice

Using Up Leftovers

A lot of our meals currently are chosen because there's something in the fridge that needs to be used before it spoils.  This time there was a partial can of crushed pineapple.  The salsa was also nearing its expiration date.  So, I combined the two, and served it over chicken and rice.
Quick and easy and delicious - the perfect choice for a Sunday dinner!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Holiday Cookies

I found this recipe for "Marbled Cookies" while doing a search for St. Patrick's Day treats, and it looked like a great recipe to try, so I did.  I think we'll make them again some time.  Colorful and chocolatey - what more could you want in a cookie?  And they're easily adapted to whatever holiday you want!
Marbled Cookies

1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon almond extract (can substitute peppermint extract instead if desired)
2 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup chocolate chips, melted
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
green food coloring (can substitute any other color if desired)

Cream butter and sugar; stir in egg and almond extract.  Combine flour, baking soda and salt and mix in.  Divide dough into two bowls.  Add chocolate and cocoa to one and green food coloring to the other and mix well.  Chill until easy to roll into balls.
Using about 1 teaspoonful of dough, make balls.
Then take one chocolate and one green and combine gently into a larger ball.  Roll in sugar and place on cookie sheet.
Flatten slightly, then back for 8-10 minutes at 350°.
Cool on rack.
Depending upon the size of your balls, this recipe will make 2-3 dozen.