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May 31, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Grilled Mushroom Salad Subs

My last test from the Rachael Ray chapter of Food Network Favorites . Portobello mushrooms are marinated and grilled, then mixed while hot with spinach leaves to create a slightly wilted warm salad that's served in a hollowed-out baguette. There are no problems with the recipe; it's a fine, albeit not terribly exciting, sandwich.

The grilled portobellos are very good, and the mixture of the mushrooms and spinach is tasty. The recipe suggests using Manchego cheese to top the sandwiches, and adds that sharp cheddar can be substituted if Manchego is not available. If you do substitute cheddar, be sure to use a white one, as orange slices of cheese will look weird on top of the green spinach.

Crisping the bread in the oven causes it to become rather hard; if you prefer a softer texture, reduce or eliminate the bread's time in the oven.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

2 baguettes, halved lengthwise, split, and some of the soft insides scooped out
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
2 rounded Tbsp spicy mustard
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
8 portobello mushrooms, stems removed, wiped clean with damp cloth
Coarse salt and coarse black pepper
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
6 cups spinach, coarsely chopped
3/4 pound Manchego cheese, thinly sliced (use sharp yellow cheddar if Manchego is not available)
4 piquillo peppers, pimientos, or roasted red peppers, patted dry and cut into strips

Preheat a grill pan to medium-high heat or prepare an outdoor grill. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Place the hollowed out bread in the oven to crisp for 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sherry vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire, olive oil, and garlic. Put the mushrooms in the marinade and season with salt and pepper. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Grill the mushrooms 4 to 5 minutes per side and remove to a cutting board. Thinly slice the mushrooms and return them to the marinade dish, layering with the parsley and spinach. Once all the hot sliced mushrooms are mixed with the spinach, the greens will wilt slightly. Toss the salad and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Pile the salad into the crispy bread and top with Manchego and red pepper strips. Set bread tops in place and serve.


May 30, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Shrimp Dean Martinis

Because it's shrimp cocktail served in martini glasses, get it? And Dean Martin loved shrimp cocktail!

Er...maybe not, but that's all I've got as far as making sense of the Rachael Ray trademark "cute" recipe title. This is a very simple appetizer, consisting of large, tail-on shrimp hung around the rim of a martini glass that's filled with Ray's version of cocktail sauce. Is it worth the effort to make this sauce?

Honestly, I didn't really think so. It's certainly not a time-consuming recipe, so if you haven't found a commercially made cocktail sauce that you like, you should give this one a try. But if you already have a favorite brand, there's nothing so special about Ray's version that puts it above any other cocktail sauce out there.

The suggested presentation, with the shrimp around the edge of the glass, is a classic. But it's not required; you can always serve the shrimp and sauce more simply, on plates with the sauce on the side.

Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: about 5 minutes, if you're cooking your own shrimp
Yield: 4 servings

1 1/2 pounds very large jumbo shrimp, peeled, deveined, tail on, OR buy them precooked
2 ribs celery, finely chopped
2 rounded spoonfuls prepared horseradish
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp hot sauce
1/2 cup chili sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup vegetable juice, such as V8
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, in wedges

If you bought raw shrimp, steam them until pink, about 5 minutes, then run under cold water. Chill until ready to serve.

Mix the celery, horseradish, lemon juice, hot sauce, chili sauce, ketchup, and vegetable juice together and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the sauce into 4 martini glasses and surround the rims with chilled shrimp. Serve lemon wedges on cocktail forks alongside the glasses.

May 26, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Hot Fudge Sundaes

From Rachael Ray, a quick and easy sauce, delicious over ice cream. The coffee and cinnamon flavors are a nice touch. It's not as thick as I expect hot fudge to be, however. The consistency was more like chocolate syrup.

A second test with half the amount of coffee produced a somewhat thicker, fudgier sauce. I've left Rachael Ray's original amount of coffee in the ingredients list, and added my suggested, smaller amount. For a thicker sauce, use the lesser amount. Ray says to use chocolate ice cream, but any flavor you like would be delicious.

I've added the emphasis that the coffee should be hot when added to the chocolate. Cold liquids added to melting chocolate can cause the chocolate to seize, so be sure the coffee is piping.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped (use chocolate morsels if you don't want to chop chocolate
1/4 to 1/2 cup very strong black coffee, hot
3 Tbsp salted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 pint chocolate, vanilla, or other flavored ice cream
Toppings: whipped cream, chopped nuts, maraschino cherries (optional)

In a heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the chocolate with the hot coffee. Once chocolate melts, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the butter, cream, and cinnamon.

Scoop the ice cream into serving dishes and top with warm sauce and toppings of your choice.

Food Network Favorites: Marinated Flank Steak with BLT-Smashed Potatoes

Another test from the Rachael Ray chapter in Food Network Favorites . It definitely took longer than 30 minutes to cook this one, and while the marinade for the steak is delicious, the potatoes are merely okay. And the instructions for the recipe are baffling.

I had a similar problem with Ray's recipe for Cod with Burst Grape Tomatoes, Parsley-Mint Pesto Broth & Roast Fingerling Potato Crisps with Herbs. In that one, the sequence seemed out of order; the way that the recipe was written did not seem to me to be the most efficient way to produce the dish. In this steak recipe, the sequence is backwards, meaning that if you follow the instructions the way they're written in the book, your steak will be cooked long before your potatoes are tender.

Ray's original recipe has the cook make the marinade and start the meat marinating first. Then you get the potatoes started. This is problematic, because a big pot of water with 2 1/2 pounds of potatoes in it is going to take several minutes to come up to a boil. My potatoes boiled after about 15 minutes. Then they require another 15 minutes of cooking time. Ray's recipe says that the potatoes will be tender in 12 to 15 minutes, but your potatoes may take longer than that to get tender enough to smash. The potatoes should be the very first thing you get started. Before the marinade, or anything else, you've got to get them cooking.

I also don't like the way Ray puts unrelated instructions together. She'll tell you to heat the grill pan in one sentence, and then move on to the way to prepare the leeks in the very next sentence. Since these instructions are given in numerical blocks, it seems to me to be an attempt to reduce the apparent number of steps, even though it would be more logical to separate the pan preheating instructions from the leek preparation instructions. At any rate, I've reordered and reorganized the instructions for clarity in the recipe below.

The marinade is fantastic and the flank steak is delicious. The original recipe's cooking times are a bit too long: 6 to 7 minutes per side is likely to give you steak that's medium or medium-well. Check the flank steak after about 4 minutes per side, for medium-rare. One trick that I've learned to use with flank steak is to score it crosswise across its surface before marinating. This helps to tenderize the meat. I've added this suggestion to the recipe.

The potatoes were fine, if not terribly exciting. They definitely need the sour cream topping, since by themselves they are pretty lean.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

2 1/2 pounds small red skin new potatoes
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or pressed
1 Tbsp grill seasoning (such as Montreal Steak seasoning)
1 tsp smoked paprika, ground chipotle or pasilla chili powder, or ground cumin
2 tsp hot sauce
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
2 pounds flank steak
1 leek, tough top trimmed
4 slices thick-cut smoky bacon (such as applewood smoked bacon), chopped
1 3/4 cups chicken broth, heated
1 vine-ripe tomato, seeded and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup sour cream, to pass at the table

Cut larger potatoes in half, leaving very small potatoes whole. Place the potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until very tender, about 15 to 25 minutes depending on the size of the potatoes.

Mix the garlic, steak seasoning, smoked paprika (or chili powder or cumin), hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and vinegar. Whisk in the olive oil. Score the meat on each side in a crosshatch pattern, to tenderize and help the marinade flavor the meat. Place the meat in a shallow dish and coat evenly with the marinade. Let stand for 15 minutes.

Heat a grill pan or outdoor grill to high heat. Grill flank steak about 4 minutes per side for medium rare. Remove from the grill and let stand for about 10 minutes before slicing.

While steak is cooking, finish the potatoes: Cut the leek in half lengthwise and chop into 1/2 inch pieces. Put leeks into a big bowl of water and swish them around to get all the grit out. Lift the leeks out and drain in a colander. Put a drizzle of olive oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the bacon for about 5 minutes, until it begins to crisp and has rendered most of its fat. Add leeks and cook about 5 minutes more, until leeks are tender.

Drain the potatoes and return them to the hot pan. Smash the potatoes with the chicken broth. Stir in the bacon, leeks, and tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Slice the flank steak thinly against the grain, on an angle. Place a dollop of sour cream atop the smashed potatoes and serve with the sliced steak.

May 25, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Cod with Burst Grape Tomatoes, Parsley-Mint Pesto Broth & Roast Fingerling Potato Crisps with Herbs

Even when Rachael Ray's recipe titles aren't aggressively cute, they're ridiculously long. Once again, however, a few gripes about the title are all I can muster up; this dish is very good, and for once, it actually does take only 30 minutes to prepare.

Well, okay -- I do have a couple of other gripes...

One very big complaint, which isn't specifically about this recipe, but rather about the picture on the facing page: there's a photo of Rachael Ray doing that "handful" thing she does. Instead of measuring, she likes to just toss in ingredients. That's part of her thing, and it works for some people, so hey, more power to them! But the caption reads thusly: "Rachael liberates cooking from measurements, one 'palm-full' at a time. See that spice in her hand? That's a palm-full, or about a tablespoon." But the photo doesn't show how much she's got in her hand! Her fingers are bent up, and all we can see is a jar and her fingers! Clearly there was a big disconnect between the photo editor and the caption writer. How much does she have in her hand? Your guess is as good as mine.

And my other complaint: the instructions for this dish seemed unclear and out of sequence. I have almost completely rewritten the instructions to make them clearer. The potatoes should be put in the oven, then while they're cooking for 20 minutes, you should make the broth, then sear the fish. By the time the broth is simmering on the stove and the fish has seared, there should be just about 7 to 10 minutes of potato-cooking time left, which is just enough time to roast the fish. While the fish and potatoes are in the oven, make the garlic chips and chop the herbs for the potato crisps. Everything should come out of the oven at just about the same time.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

Potato Crisps
4 large fingerling potatoes
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon (or 2 tsp dried)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh chives (or 1 tsp dried)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley
1/4 cup mint leaves
1 cup chicken broth
1 small or 1/2 large shallot
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 3/4 to 2 pounds cod fillet, thick center cuts, in 4 portions
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Olive oil
1/2 pint whole grape tomatoes

Garlic Chips
4 Tbsp light olive oil or vegetable oil, for frying
4 cloves garlic, peeled and very thinly sliced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prick the potatoes 3 or 4 times each and cook them in the microwave on high for 5 minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, slice them lengthwise into 1/4-inch pieces. Coat with olive oil and salt and pepper. Arrange on a cookie sheet in a single layer and roast for 20 minutes. Do not move or turn the slices as they cook.

After you put the potatoes in the oven, make the broth. Combine the parsley, mint, chicken broth, and shallot in a food processor or blender and purée until smooth. Transfer to a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper and keep warm until ready to serve.

Once the broth is simmering, prepare the fish. Place an oven-proof skillet over high heat. Pat the fillets dry and squeeze lemon juice over them. Season with salt, and drizzle with olive oil. Add the cod, seasoned sides down, to the very hot skillet and sear without moving for 2 minutes. Drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and add to the skillet with the fish. Sear the tomatoes for 1 minute, then transfer the pan to the oven and roast the fish and tomatoes until the fish is firm and opaque and tomatoes have burst, about 7 to 8 minutes.

For the garlic chips: Heat the frying oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic to the hot oil and fry until crisp and golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain the garlic chips on a paper towel and reserve.

When the potatoes are very brown and crisp on the bottom side and tender on the top side, remove them from the oven. Coat them liberally with the fresh chopped herbs.

To serve: Pour warm parsley-mint broth into 4 serving plates. Remove the fish from the oven. Place the fish (seared side up) onto the broth. Arrange the potato slices and tomatoes around the fish. Scatter garlic chips over the top, and serve.

May 24, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Quick Peaches & Golden Raisins Cobbler

Another very good recipe from the Rachael Ray chapter in Food Network Favorites . The cobbler is pleasantly spicy and easy to put together. I have just a couple of quibbles about ingredients.

Ray's recipe specifies "5 to 6 cups of frozen peaches (1 large sack)." Sack isn't a terribly helpful or descriptive term, however. An indication of how many ounces of peaches are needed would be handy, since that's how frozen fruit is sold. At my market, peaches were available in 16-oz bags, which I could tell would not make up 5 or 6 cups, so I bought 2 bags. It turned out that a 16-oz. bag equaled 4 cups of peaches. You'll need about 1 1/2 bags (at 16 oz. per bag) to get 6 cups. I highly recommend you use the larger amount of peaches, for the best ratio of fruit to crust.

Another ingredients quibble: the ingredients list calls for a 2-oz. package of sliced almonds, adding in parentheses that that is about 1/4 cup. Diamond, a very large packager of nuts, sells sliced almonds in a 2.25-oz. package that says "1/2 cup" on the front. When I measured the nuts in the package, they equaled slightly more than 1/2 cup. So there's no way that 2 ounces of nuts can equal 1/4 cup (the .25 ounce difference is miniscule). I think the error came about because 1/4 cup is generally considered to weigh 2 ounces, but that's when measuring fluids. In this case, someone (Rachael Ray, possibly, although more probably one of her assistants, or an editor of Food Network Favorites) just plugged the number in without having tested to see if it was accurate. At any rate, I used the entire 2.25-oz. package and had good results.

The recipe calls for a final topping of 2 Tbsp sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon. This amount seemed excessive, so I used about half of it. It's a matter of personal preference; you could mix 1 Tbsp of sugar with 1/2 tsp of cinnamon and see if you think it's enough to add a bit of sweetness and spice to the top of the cobbler. If you want more, you can always add it.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 to 25 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

5 to 6 cups frozen sliced peaches (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 8-oz. package complete biscuit mix (such as Jiffy)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup plus 1 to 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 to 2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp black pepper
Pinch salt
About 1/3 cup golden raisins
2.25-oz. package sliced almonds (about 1/2 cup)
Ice cream or whipped cream, optional

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the frozen peaches in an 8-by-8-inch glass baking dish and microwave on high for 3 minutes to defrost.

In a bowl, combine the biscuit mix with water. Stir until thoroughly combined but do not overwork. In another bowl, combine the 1/2 cup sugar, 1 tsp of the cinnamon, the nutmeg, allspice, black pepper, salt, and raisins.

Remove the peaches from the microwave and combine with the sugar mixture in the baking dish. Top the seasoned peaches with the wet biscuit mix, dropping it in dollops onto the fruit. Smooth the biscuit batter out evenly with your fingers. Top with almonds. Mix the remaining sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle over the top. Bake until the cobbler top is firm and golden and peaches are bubbling, about 20 to 25 minutes. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

May 23, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Cream of Mushroom Egg Noodle Fake-Bake, Hold the Canned Soup

Seriously, that's the title. And when you've got a cutesy title and a recipe that takes way longer than 30 minutes to prepare, you know you're in Rachael Ray territory.

However, aside from the title ("Fake-Bake"? Really?) there's not a lot to fault this recipe for. It's a tasty combination of egg noodles, mushroom béchamel sauce, and sautéed mushrooms.

Food Network Favorites emphasizes the "30-Minute" element of Rachael Ray's persona in their asides and blurbs in this chapter. It's her hook, and I understand why she sticks to it so fiercely, but I've got to wonder if there's eventually going to be a backlash against the notion that all of Ray's recipes can be prepared in 30 minutes. Because they can't. This one is a case in point.

You've got to chop, slice, and then sauté several different kinds of mushrooms, boil noodles, make a sauce, assemble the casserole, and broil it. It took me about an hour from start to finish. The end result is worth the effort; the flavors are excellent. But I wish that Rachael Ray and the Food Network weren't trying to sell me so hard on the idea that it would only take 30 minutes to prepare.

A minor quibble; it's annoying to have to buy 2 packages of pasta in order to get 1 pound of noodles, which is what this recipe calls for. Most egg noodles in my area are sold in 12-oz. packages, so to get 1 pound, you need to eyeball about 1/3 of a second package. I think it wouldn't make a huge difference to prepare this recipe with a 12-oz. package of egg noodles.

I've added dry vermouth as an option for deglazing the mushroom sauté. Ray's recipe calls for white wine or chicken broth. If you don't usually keep white wine around the house, dry vermouth is an excellent alternative in recipes like this, since it keeps indefinitely in a cupboard, and gives a nice flavor to the mushrooms.

One more thing: Rachael Ray refers to extra virgin olive oil as "EVOO." And every single time it's called for in one of her recipes, it appears thusly: "1 Tbsp EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)." I don't quite see the purpose of using an acronym if you're just going to spell it out anyway. In my transcription of the ingredients list below, you won't be seeing any instances of EVOO. Olive oil is what you need; olive oil is what it's going to say.

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Mushroom Sauce
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
12 button mushrooms (about 8 oz.), brushed clean and finely chopped
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream or whole milk
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mushroom Sauté
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 portobello mushroom caps, stems removed, halved and thinly sliced
8 oz. mixed wild mushrooms, such as shiitakes, oyster, woodear, chanterelles, lobster (use whatever wild mushrooms are available), stems trimmed and caps thinly sliced
1 Tbsp fresh thyme (from about 4 sprigs), finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup white wine, dry vermouth, or chicken broth

1 pound extra-wide egg noodles
Softened butter (about 1 Tbsp)
3/4 pound Gruyère or Swiss Emmentaler cheese, shredded
3 Tbsp chives, chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

For the mushroom sauce: Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil and butter. When butter melts, add the chopped button mushrooms and cook until just tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with the flour and cook 1 minute. Whisk in the chicken broth and bring to a bubble, then stir in milk or cream. Reduce heat to low and gently simmer. Season with nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.

For the mushroom sauté: Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil then add the shallot and mushrooms. Cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Season with thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Deglaze the pan with white wine, vermouth, or broth. Reduce heat to medium-low and let the liquid cook off.

Preheat the broiler to high. While the mushrooms cook, drop the egg noodles into the boiling water, add some salt, and cook the noodles to al dente. Drain the noodles and return them to the hot pot. Add the mushroom sauce to the pot and toss the noodles to coat.

To assemble casserole: Lightly grease a casserole dish (about 9-by-13 inches) with softened butter, then transfer the noodles and sauce to the dish. Top with the mushroom sauté and the shredded cheese. Put the casserole under the broiler and melt the cheese until it bubbles and browns at the edges. Garnish with chives.

May 22, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Eggplant Pasta

My last test from the Alton Brown chapter in Food Network Favorites. The success of this dish all hangs on how you feel about eggplant. It's a polarizing vegetable; people who like it tend to really like it, while those who hate it...well, they loathe it. If you fall into the latter camp, this recipe is not for you.

I'm not a huge eggplant fan myself, so I enlisted the help of an eggplant-loving neighbor to taste this dish and give the recipe a fair shot. His verdict? "Good, but kind of boring." And that's what I would say about it too, once I get past the initial "eggplant, ick" moment. The book once again tries to play up how "original" Alton Brown is, claiming that by cutting the eggplant into noodle-shaped strips, he "turns our notion of Eggplant Parmesan upside down." Eh, I wouldn't go that far. This is pretty much a sauté of eggplant in creamy tomato sauce. Not terribly exciting, but it makes a serviceable side dish.

The only change I have suggested is to salt both sides of the eggplant. Brown's recipe merely states to sprinkle salt on the slices, but I think you'll get better results by salting one side, turning them over, and salting the other side. Don't skip this step, as it is crucial in removing the excess (and somewhat bitter) liquid from the eggplant.

Prep Time: 60 minutes, including a 30-minute rest for the eggplant
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

2 medium-to-large eggplants (about 2 pounds total)
4 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
4 small tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 Tbsp basil chiffonade
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper

Peel each eggplant, leaving 1 inch of skin unpeeled at the top and the bottom. Slice the eggplant thinly lengthwise, about 1/4 inch thick. Lay the slices on a wire rack atop a sheet pan. Evenly sprinkly with salt, then turn the slices over and sprinkle the other side with salt. Let rest for 30 minutes.

Rinse the eggplant slices with cold water and roll in paper towels. Slice the pieces into thin fettucine-like strips.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and crushed pepper and cook until garlic is lightly golden and aromatic. Add the eggplant and toss to coat. Add the tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes. Add the cream and increase heat to thicken the sauce. Add the basil and Parmesan and toss to combine. Season with black pepper to taste. Add additional salt if necessary, but be sure to taste first as the eggplant may be salty already.

Food Network Favorites: English Muffins

An Alton Brown recipe from Food Network Favorites . The "Note from the Kitchens" blurb next to this recipe says, "They were just delicious. They even looked like English Muffins!" Well, yeah. That's what they are. Says it right there in the title: English Muffins.

Aside from the editor's bizarre jubilation that these muffins actually look like they're supposed to, this is a very good recipe. The muffins are tasty and they do, indeed, look just like English muffins you'd buy at the store. (Amazing!)

There is some annoyingly unnecessary complexity to the instructions; Brown says to use a #20 ice cream scoop to place the batter onto the skillet. There's a "Kitchen Tip" explaining what a #20 ice cream scoop is (it gives you 20 scoops per quart) and that the bowl contains approximately 1 ounce. But there's no alternative given for the ice cream scoop, so if you don't have one, you'll have to figure out for yourself exactly how much batter is supposed to go into each muffin. I've added an alternative in my revised instructions below. Each muffin needs about 2 ounces, or 1/4 cup, of batter. The benefit to using an ice cream scoop is that it's easier to get the batter out, but it's not a real hardship to scrape the batter out of a 1/4 cup measure with your fingers or a spoon. And I find it a bit presumptuous to assume that everyone's got a #20 ice cream scoop lying around their kitchens. The book should have offered an alternative in the recipe.

Like many batter-based recipes that are cooked in a skillet (pancakes, crèpes), these muffins can take a bit of fiddling with the amount of batter, griddle heat, and cooking time, before you find the correct combination. There's not a lot of extra batter here, however, so I recommend that you do 1 test muffin first, to see if you've added enough batter to the metal ring, and if you've cooked it long enough. My muffins needed to cook somewhat longer than the recipe specified in order to be fully cooked in the center.

Alton Brown's "unique" touch in this recipe is the use of empty tuna cans for the muffin molds. The "Kitchen Tip" says to make sure you use the kind of cans that have flat, crimped tops and bottoms, and I have to emphasize that you'll need to check your cans carefully to make sure you have the right kind. Many cans are now made with the bottom and sides as all 1 piece, with just the top crimped on. Make sure the cans you buy are the old-fashioned kind, made of a ring around the center, with both the top and the bottom crimped on. If you already have 3-inch diameter metal rings (they are readily available at home-supply stores like Target or Bed, Bath, & Beyond), use those instead, to avoid the tuna can purchase.

The recipe doesn't specify that you should toast the muffins before serving, but the accompanying picture clearly shows toasted muffins. I think they tasted much better after they were lightly toasted.

Prep Time: 45 minutes, including 30 minute rest period for the batter
Cook Time: 12 to 15 minutes
Yield: 8 to 10 muffins

1/2 cup nonfat powdered milk
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt, divided
1 Tbsp shortening
1 cup hot water
1 envelope dry yeast
1/8 tsp granulated sugar
1/3 cup warm water
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
Nonstick cooking spray

In a bowl, combine the powdered milk, 1 Tbsp sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, shortening, and hot water. Stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Let cool.

In a separate bowl, combine the yeast and 1/8 tsp sugar. Add the warm water and set aside until yeast is dissolved, about 10 minutes. Add this mixture to the powdered milk mixture. Add the sifted flour and beat thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Cover the bowl and let it rest in a warm spot for 30 minutes.

Preheat the griddle to 300 degrees. Add the remaining 1/2 tsp salt to the batter and mix thoroughly. Place 3-inch diameter metal rings onto the griddle and coat lightly with nonstick cooking spray. (Use tuna cans with the tops and bottoms removed, see note above. Or buy metal baking rings.) Using a #20 ice cream scoop, place 2 scant scoops of the mixture into each ring and cover with the griddle's lid. (If you don't have a #20 ice cream scoop. use a 1/4 cup measure and add a generous 1/4 cup of batter to each ring. You may need to scrape the batter out of the measuring cup with your fingers.) Cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the cooked side looks deeply golden when checked. Flip the rings over using tongs, cover again, and cook for an additional 5 to 7 minutes, or until both sides are deep golden brown.

Place each ring on a cooling rack, remove the English muffins from the rings, and let muffins cool. Split with a fork when cook enough to handle, and serve as is or broil until golden on top.

May 04, 2006

Food Network Favorites: French Onion Soup

A delicious rendition of the classic, from the Alton Brown chapter in Food Network Favorites . The "twist" is that the onions are cooked slowly in an electric skillet, rather than in a pan on the stove.

The book tries to play up this use of a different piece of equipment as a "brilliant" move by Brown. There's an entire page devoted to Brown's way of "getting to the conventional via the unconventional," which feels a tad hyped-up to me. I love Alton Brown's show and certainly believe he's a clever and innovative chef, but I tend to cringe a bit at the way the Food Network is trying to force the "brilliant" angle. That's not a knock on Brown, by any means; I doubt he had any control over how the Food Network is hyping him in this book.

While using an electric skillet is certainly a clever idea, I'm not so sure that it's as earth-shattering as the Food Network's editors would like me to believe. I do, however, highly recommend using one if you've got one, since there's no way to burn the onions in it, and they will caramelize beautifully.

The ingredients, proportions, and results were all fine; the only change I have made is to allow for a somewhat longer cooking time. Alton Brown's recipe states that the onions will caramelize to a deep mahogany brown in about an hour, but my onions needed almost 2 hours total before they were dark brown and completely caramelized. Don't rush this step, because the flavor of the soup comes from the sugars in the onions. Blond onions will lead to bland soup.

As with all classic French onion soups, this version is topped with broiled bread and cheese. You can certainly skip this step if you'd like, but it adds something special to the soup.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: about 2 1/2 hours
Yield: 8 serving

5 sweet onions (such as Vidalia) or a combination of sweet and red onions (about 4 pounds)
3 Tbsp butter
Kosher salt
2 cups white wine
10 oz. canned beef consommé (1 1/4 cup)
10 oz. chicken broth (1 1/4 cup)
10 oz. apple cider (unfiltered is best) (1 1/4 cup)
Bouquet garni: thyme sprigs, bay leaf, and parsley tied together with kitchen string
1 loaf country-style bread
Freshly ground black pepper
Splash Cognac (optional)
1 cup grated fontina or Gruyère cheese

Trims the ends off each onion, then halve lengthwise. Remove peel and finely slice into half-moon shapes (a mandoline is an excellent tool for this job).

Set electric skillet to 300 degrees and add butter. Once butter is melted, add a layer of onions and sprinkle with a little salt. Repeat layering onions and salt until all onions are in the skillet. Don't stir until onions have sweated down for 15 to 20 minutes. After that, stir occasionally until onions are a dark mahogany color and reduced to approximately 2 cups. This could take from 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours.

Add wine and turn heat to high, reducing the wine to a syrupy consistency. Add consommé, broth, cider, and bouquet garni. Reduce heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. (You will need to experiment to find the proper simmering temperature on your electric skillet. Try turning the temperature down to 325F, and if the soup is simmering too rapidly, reduce even further.)

Place oven rack in top third of oven and heat the broiler. Cut country bread into rounds large enough to fit the tops of oven-proof soup crocks. Place the slices on a baking sheet and broil for 1 minute.

Season soup with salt and pepper to taste. Splash with a bit of Cognac, if desired. Remove bouquet garni and ladle soup into crocks, leaving 1 inch of room below the lip. Place bread, toasted sides down, on top of soup and top with cheese. Broil until cheese is bubbly and golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve immediately.

May 02, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Lemon-Ginger Frozen Yogurt

Another dessert from Alton Brown. This frozen yogurt requires a bit of advance planning, but it's worth it. The end result is pleasantly tangy and fresh-tasting.

The yogurt is drained in a cheesecloth-lined colander overnight to create yogurt cheese, a thick, almost cream-cheese-like product that forms the base for the dessert. Alton Brown does not specify what milkfat percentage of yogurt to use; I used full-fat, which gave me good results. I wouldn't recommend nonfat yogurt, as the end product may be somewhat icy-textured and not as smooth as you'd like.

If I were to make this frozen yogurt again, I think I'd chop the crystallized ginger finely, rather than simply slice it, as Brown's instructions indicate. I've offered both options in the ingredients list.

Prep Time: 15 minutes, plus 12 hours draining time
Cook Time: 20 to 25 minutes in an ice-cream maker, plus 2 hours chilling
Yield: 1 1/2 quarts

8 cups plain yogurt
1/2 cup light corn syrup
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup sliced OR finely chopped crystallized ginger

Place yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined colander set over a bowl and refrigerate for 12 hours. At the end of 12 hours, discard the liquid and cheesecloth.

In a bowl, combine the drained yogurt, corn syrup, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and fresh ginger. Transfer mixture to an ice cream maker and process per manufacturer's instructions, about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer frozen yogurt to an airtight container, fold in crystallized ginger, and freeze for 2 hours.

Food Network Favorites: Moo-Less Chocolate Pie

A rich, creamy, intensely chocolate-flavored dessert from the Alton Brown chapter, next up in Food Network Favorites . The surprise ingredient? Tofu.

This dessert couldn't be simpler to make -- just melt the chocolate chips with the Kahlua, mix it together with some tofu, vanilla, and honey, and pour it into a purchased chocolate crust, such as Oreo. After chilling, the pie is silky smooth and deeply chocolately. I highly recommend it.

Prep Time: 10 minutes, plus 2 hours chilling
Cook Time: about 5 minutes
Yield: 8 to 12 servings

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup coffee liqueur
1 tsp vanilla extract
16-oz. block silken tofu
1 Tbsp honey
9-inch prepared chocolate wafer crust

Place a metal bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Melt the chocolate chips and coffee liqueur in the bowl. Stir in vanilla.

Combine the tofu, chocolate mixture, and honey in a blender. Blend until smooth and liquefied.

Pour the filling into the crust and refrigerate for 2 hours or until the filling is set.

May 01, 2006

Food Network Favorites: Stuffed Chicken Legs in Puff Pastry with Andouille Cream

My last test from the Emeril Lagasse chapter in Food Network Favorites. In this dish, whole chicken legs are boned, filled with a cornbread and andouille sausage stuffing, wrapped in puff pastry, and served with an andouille cream sauce. There are several steps, and it's definitely not fast food, but the end result is very good. There is, however, a glaring error in the ingredients list.

The list as printed in the book calls for two 17.3-oz. packages of puff pastry. That's the size that the Pepperidge Farm puff pastry comes in, so I think I'm safe in assuming that that's what Emeril has in mind. However, there are two sheets of pastry per 17.3-oz. package, which is where the error lies. The recipe tells the cook to roll out each sheet of pastry and then cut it into 2 triangles, each of which is intended for a chicken leg, of which there are four. So if you start with two packages, you have four pieces of pastry to begin with, and after cutting them into triangles, you have eight. Twice as much as you need. That's a pretty big mistake. I've changed the ingredients list to reflect this, calling for one 17.3-oz. package, which will yield 4 sheets of pastry with which to wrap the chicken.

The stuffing and wrapping are a bit time-consuming, but not terribly difficult. You'll most likely have to request the chicken legs from a butcher, since this cut isn't a standard one. You need whole legs, thighs and drumsticks together in one piece, completely boned save for the very bottom knuckle of the drumstick, which sticks out of the pastry wrapper.

This dish is extremely rich, but the flavors are excellent and it's worth the effort to make it.

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: about 90 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

4 boned (except for the knuckle or joint at the bottom of the drumstick) chicken legs, the thigh and the drumstick all in one piece
2 tsp Emeril's Essence
Andouille Cornbread Stuffing (below)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
17.3-oz. package frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 large egg, lighty beaten with 1 tsp water
Andouille Cream (below)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the meat of the chicken legs open and sprinkle the inside of each with 1/4 tsp of the Essence. Sprinkle the outside of each leg with another 1/4 tsp of Essence and use your hands to coat thoroughly.

Divide the Andouille Cornbread Stuffing into 4 portions. Stuff the cavity of each leg with 1 portion of the stuffing and close the skin around it. Use kitchen twine to tie the legs together. Season with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken legs, in batches if necessary, and sear until well browned on all sides, 2 to 3 minutes per side. (If searing in batches, wipe skillet clean before searing second batch.)
Remove the chicken legs from the skillet, place on a baking sheet, and refrigerate until completely cool. Remove twine before proceeding with the next step.

Place the pastry sheets on a lightly floured surface and roll out to 1/8-inch thickness. Cut each sheet into 2 equal-sided 9-inch triangles. Place 1 leg on each piece, seam side down, with the joint hanging over the edge. Brush the edges with the egg wash and fold the edges over to create a wrapper. Pinch the edges together to seal and place, seam side down, on the baking sheet. Bake for 40 minutes, remove from the oven, and brush with the remaining egg wash. Bake an additional 15 minutes, or until the crust is brown and the chicken is tender.

While the chicken is baking, prepare the Andouille Cream and keep warm until ready to serve.

To serve, spoon 1/2 cup of the Andouille Cream onto each of 4 serving plates and place a baked chicken leg on each.

Andouille Cornbread Stuffing
1 tsp olive oil
4 oz. chopped andouille sausage
1/4 cup chopped onions
1/4 cup chopped green onions
2 Tbsp chopped celery
2 Tbsp chopped green bell pepper
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1 tsp Emeril's Essence
1/2 tsp kosher salt
3 turns freshly ground black pepper
1 cup coarsely crumbled corn bread
1/2 cup chicken stock

Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the andouille and cook until rendered and brown, about 3 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Stir in the green onions, celery, and bell pepper and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute.

Stir in the Essence, salt, pepper, cornbread, and stock, and cook, stirring and shaking the skillet, for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Andouille Cream
1 tsp olive oil
2 oz. andouille sausage, casings removed, then chopped
3 Tbsp peeled and chopped plum tomatoes
3 Tbsp chopped green onions
2 Tbsp chopped onions
1 Tbsp minced garlic
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
2 tsp Emeril's Essence
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over high heat. Add the andouille and saute, breaking up the sausage with the side of a spoon, for 1 minute. add the tomatoes, onions, green onions, and garlic and stir-fry for 1 minute. Stir in the stock and deglaze the bottom of the pot. Add the cream, Essence, and salt and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced and slightly thickened, about 30 to 35 minutes. Keep warm until ready to serve, or store, refrigerated, in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Reheat in a saucepan over low heat.




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