Monthly Archives: May 2009

Chicken and Broccoli Penne in a Bacon Cream Sauce

Food 1747Did I have your attention at the mention of bacon? The other day, when I was brainstorming names for this dish, I rattled this one off to my husband, to which he replied “I’d order it off of a menu.” Sold.

Pretty fance name though. Sounds like I spent hours on the dish. To be perfectly honest with you, this quick recipe was born out of necessity. See, I had planned to make an easy, family-pleasing Skillet Cordon Bleu, but arrived home from work to find that not only was the Canadian bacon bad (just bought it the other day, don’t know what happened there. Ew.) but in addition, I grossly overestimated how many chicken breasts we had remaining in the freezer. (I had forgotten to defrost the chicken the night before, triple whammy!) There were only two in the house. Obviously poor planning on my part. Time for Plan B.

Let’s see…Plan B…what was Plan B?

Thinking…thinking…thinking… (Just imagine me, standing in the pantry, then staring at the fridge. Back to the pantry. Fridge. Pantry. Fridge. Pantry.)

Pasta!

Pasta is always easy, and it is one way to stretch a small amount of meat (and the budget!) without complaints from the family. Plus, I earn bonus points with our oldest whenever I make pasta. The boy could eat his weight in pasta if we let him. (Which, if it was a whole grain pasta, that might not be the worst thing I could do…) Anyway, what else to add to the pasta and chicken? I had some fresh broccoli, a little bacon, cream cheese, and Parmesan, so we were in business!

This dish took around 30 minutes from start to finish, and was satisfying and tasty! The parsley, which came from my garden, really made the dish fresh and bright. The addition of the beer (I didn’t have wine on hand, so I improvised) and the Parmesan really added depth and fullness to the sauce, without making it heavy. I always consider pasta dishes to be comfort food, although in this instance, the addition of broccoli, the use of chicken breasts and a high-fiber pasta makes me feel a little less guilty about the nutritional content. Does this mean that I can rationalize my way into having seconds? Why yes, I believe I can!

8 oz penne pasta

2 chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch dice

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

¼ t crushed red pepper

1 T olive oil

1 large head of broccoli, cut into florets (can include stems too!)

2 strips bacon, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 c beer (or white wine, if you prefer)

3 oz cream cheese

½ c milk

¼ c Parmesan, grated

1/3 c parsley, chopped

 Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook penne pasta according to directions.

 Meanwhile, bring a large sauté pan to medium-high heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and the crushed red pepper. Add olive oil to pan, and once shimmering, add chicken, spreading out into a single layer. Allow to cook, untouched, for 3-4 minutes, and then stir to turn pieces over. Cook until no longer pink, about 6-7 minutes total. Remove from pan and set aside.

 Using a medium saucepan and a steamer insert, steam broccoli until crisp-tender.

 Add bacon to sauté pan. Turn heat down to medium, and cook bacon for 4-5 minutes or until crisp. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute.

 Add beer and scrape bottom of pan to remove brown bits. Let reduce until beer is almost evaporated, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add cream cheese and milk, and allow cream cheese to melt and milk to warm without boiling, stirring occasionally. Once completely warmed and simmering, add parmesan, and stir to incorporate. Add chicken, pasta, and broccoli and stir. Add parsley and stir.

 Serves 4.

The Best Brownies in the World

Food 1667

Yes, I realize that I am sounding quite complacent, announcing to you that these brownies are “The Best Brownies in the World.” After all, how many brownies have you enjoyed in your lifetime? If you are like me, likely you cannot recall each brownie, and likely, you couldn’t even begin to rank them from worst to best. I doubt I could list my top 5 brownies ever. So, you ask, how can I be sure that this is the best brownie? Well, my best, most well-thought-out answer?

Because I say so.

But I will explain more about that in a moment.

Of course, we as a society cannot even agree on what makes a brownie “the best brownie.” It’s definitely a subject for debate. Some insist cakey brownies are king. Some love fudgy. Some are purists and insist chocolate-only, some enjoy nuts. And let’s not even get started on whether frosting, cream cheese, or fruit belongs in or on a brownie. For a dessert that is so universally loved, it’s hard to define exactly what makes that dessert so great.

What makes a brownie the “best brownie in the world”, for me? I’m a bit of a purist. Nuts are acceptable (not preferred), but a real brownie does not have frosting, cream cheese, or any creative, extravagant ingredients. I enjoy those things at times, but when I think of a brownie, this is the criteria: The brownie must be chewy and fudgy. No cakey brownies for me – I like cakes that are brownie-like, but not brownies that are cake-like. And they must be intensely chocolatey, so I very much prefer those made with a high-quality melted chocolate. Cocoa powder just cannot deliver that chocolate flavor that makes your knees go weak and your eyes roll back in your head. In order for a brownie to be the “best”, it must consume me with its chocolatey-ness.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have delayed in sharing this recipe with you. Not because I don’t care. I do. I want you to enjoy the pleasures that this brownie has to give. It’s just…well…I made the recipe the first time, and was so impressed with it, that we ate all of the brownies before a picture was taken! And the second time? You would think I would have learned my lesson, especially with children around, but I didn’t get a picture taken that time either! So, third time is a charm. If it is any consolation, they are well worth the wait.

This recipe originally came from Saveur magazine, and were named Katherine Hepburn’s Brownies. I modified them to include the addition of miniature chocolate chips, and I cut the quantity of nuts back (or omitted them entirely, as I did with the most recent batch). These brownies are dense, with perfectly chewy edges (my favorite part) that almost remind you of a chocolate biscotti, only moister and chewier. They are just sweet enough, with enough salt to really allow the chocolate flavor to sing. And that delicate, glossy, crackly crust! Of course, they taste amazing on their own, with a glass of milk, or as my husband requests, still warm, with ice cream on top.

After this most recent batch, I announced to my husband that I had just made the best brownies in the world. My rationale, besides “Because I say so”, was that I could not think of a thing to do to improve them. They were perfect. I’m sure I’m biased, but I hope you agree!

8 T unsalted butter, plus more for greasing

2 oz. unsweetened chocolate

1 c sugar

2 eggs, beaten

1/2 t vanilla extract

1/2 c chopped walnuts (optional – I did not include them in this batch)

1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used the mini ones)

1/4 c flour

1/4 t kosher salt

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease an 8″ X 8″ baking pan with butter. Line the pan with parchment paper, grease the paper. Set aside.

Melt the butter and the chocolate together in a 2-quart saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and stir to make a smooth batter. Add the nuts, if using, the chocolate chips, flour, and salt, stir until incorporated. Pour the batter into the baking pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Let cool on a rack. Cut and serve.

Hint – letting brownies cool is the hardest part. The smell will be amazing and overpowering, and it will require all of your willpower to resist. But if you wish to cut neat, square brownies, then wait you must. The brownies will cut (instead of crumble) with a sharp knife once they are mostly cool. Of course, if you don’t care how crumbly your brownies are, then dig right in!

Memorial Day and Southwestern Coleslaw

Food 1700

What comes to your mind when Memorial Day comes around? For many of us (myself included), Memorial Day marks the beginning of summer. This means flip-flops, barbequing hamburgers and hot dogs, picnics, homemade ice cream, and ice cold buckets of beer. For most American children, it means that school is almost out. And of course, for many of us, it is a three-day weekend that we spend with our friends and families.

Over time, many of these holidays seem to lose their meaning and importance for a lot of people. Of course, I enjoy all of the above-mentioned aspects of Memorial Day as much as the next person. But Memorial Day holds a lot more meaning than that. Memorial Day is a day of reflection and of rememberance. It is a day to honor those who have given their lives defending the freedoms that we as Americans enjoy every day, and sometimes even fighting for those freedoms for people in other countries. Regardless of political views on war, we are all so profoundly indebted to these soldiers. In honor of their sacrifice, Memorial Day should give us an opportunity to reflect on the most sacred of human ideals: family, faith, honor, commitment, and heroism.

There are a lot of traditions that accompany this day. Parades often are held. A “National Moment of Rememberance” is held at 3 p.m., giving Americans a chance to pause and think about the true meaning of the day, and for Taps to be played. The graves of our fallen heroes are decorated and visited. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, flags are to be flown at half-staff from sunrise until noon, and then briskly raised to the top of the staff until sunset, in order to honor our nation’s battle heroes. Artificial poppies, produced by veterans at Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities and veterans homes,  are distributed throughout the country. Donations received for these artificial poppies are to help veterans and their widows, widowers, and orphans.

However you choose to celebrate Memorial Day, whether it’s with a beer in hand, grilling a hamburger, or enjoying a picnic with your family or friends, take a moment to remember its true meaning, and honor those who have given their lives for our country.

If you’re looking for a dish to bring to a celebration, why not coleslaw? This isn’t just “any ol’” coleslaw, however. I was inspired by Elise’s Southwestern Coleslaw at Simply Recipes and decided I’d make a similar version. I changed it up a bit by using red cabbage, and made a mayonnaise-based dressing. The dressing actually is quite light on this coleslaw. (I hate coleslaws where the mayo overwhelms the dish!) I also added some fresh sweet corn, cut right from the cob. The garlic greens came from my garden, (I didn’t have a green onion handy, and thought this would make a tasty substitute) but I’m sure you can find green onions much more easily in the grocery.  I was so happy with this rendition of coleslaw, I plan to make it several times throughout the summer. It was a breeze to put together, and was so bright with flavors, thanks to the cilantro and hint of lime, and so deliciously crunchy! I couldn’t stop eating it as soon as I tossed the ingredients together!

4 c thinly sliced red cabbage

2 carrots, grated

2 radishes, thinly sliced and quartered

Kernels from one cob of fresh corn

1 green stalk from garlic (or green onion), sliced

¼ c cilantro, chopped

3 T mayonnaise

¼ t chipotle chili powder

½ t sugar

Juice from one lime

Freshly ground black pepper

Place cabbage, carrots, radishes, corn, garlic greens, and cilantro in a large bowl and toss to mix. In a separate bowl, mix mayonnaise, chipotle powder, sugar, and lime juice. Toss cabbage mixture with dressing, and season to taste with black pepper.

Serves 4-6.

Chipotle Chicken Tortilla Soup

Food 1750For the past few months, time seems to have flown by at an incredible rate. It seems as though I barely have enough time to complete the “must-finish” tasks each day. Work, family, lawn work, the garden, dishes, the shed that still remains half-painted…and let’s not forget feeding the family with reasonably healthy meals, all the while minding the budget. And of course, I must devote my time to the blog. It holds me accountable. It forces me to improve myself, in the kitchen, with the camera, and in my writing. I have to admit, I am addicted. I think this is a good thing.

But I do strive to keep a balance. Okay, so I sometimes slip. (full disclosure: ate Taco Smell Bell last week for dinner one night, and visited the snack machine at the office on more than one occasion, in order to complete meals for myself. As if M&Ms and Rice Krispies Treats count as part of a meal.) But I do keep trying. This week, I was determined to create healthy dinners that took minimal time in the kitchen, freeing me up to tend to other duties.

One of my no-brainer sources for inspiration in this area? Cooking Light magazine. Did you know that you can now find a huge number of Cooking Light recipes online? MyRecipes.com offers recipes from Cooking Light, Southern Living, Sunset, Coastal Living, and more. Even though I subscribe to Cooking Light magazine, this website allows me to be lazy and just search for what I want, instead of flipping through the growing piles of magazines at my house searching for “dinner inspiration.” This soup was one recipe I came across, and thought it would be a perfect solution for dinner. (Yes, I realize that it is yet another chipotle recipe. I just can’t stay away!) The meal came together in no time, and was inexpensive. (Especially since chicken breasts were on sale at Sprouts for $1.88/lb, score!)

I did make a few slight modifications. I added a bit of onion for flavor, and I increased the cumin, because I love the earthy depth it adds. I also used regular tortilla chips, as I had them on hand. It was a great weeknight dinner, full of smoky flavor and just the right amount of heat. Of course, we tend to like things pretty spicy in our house, so if you’re a bit nervous about adding all of the chipotle chile powder, I suggest starting with half, and add more at the end if you feel the soup needs more kick.

The next time I make this, I think I would prefer the chicken to be shredded, rather than cubed. You could even use a rotisserie chicken (or leftover chicken) instead of sauteing the breasts, if you prefer. We also served it with a bit of shredded cheese and sour cream in addition to the cilantro and limes. Overall, this was a delicious and easy dish – and it left me with plenty of time to catch American Idol. (Because yes, American Idol is a priority as well!)

1 T canola oil

¼ c onion, chopped

1 lb chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

1 ½ t minced garlic

1 t chipotle chile powder

2 t ground cumin

1 c water

¼ t salt

1 14 ounce low-sodium chicken broth (if you need it to be gluten-free, check the label!)

1 14.5 ounce can whole or stewed tomatoes, undrained

1 c crushed tortilla chips

¼ c chopped fresh cilantro

1 lime, cut into 4 wedges

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and chicken breasts, sauté 2 minutes. Add garlic, sauté another minute. Add chile powder and cumin, stir well. Add water, salt, broth, and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Top with tortilla chips and cilantro, and serve with lime wedges.

Serves 4.

Kids in the Kitchen: Grilled Citrus Teriyaki Shrimp Kabobs

Food 1658Before I start on talking about the kids or shrimp kabobs, I have to tell you…

I won an award! Kelly at Evil Shenanigans so graciously shared the Premio Meme Award with me! Thank you Kelly!

premio_meme_award

Along with this award, I am to tell you seven things about my personality, and then pass the award on to seven other bloggers. The seven things about my personality will be listed after the recipe. As for the seven winners of the Premio Meme Award, they are:

Amanda at Amanda’s Cookin’

Terry B at Blue Kitchen

Dan and Joy at Gourmeted

Cindy at Jacob’s Reward

Sharon at Jefferson’s Table

Ryan at Nose to Tail at Home

Peter at Kalofagas

Every one of these bloggers has an incredible blog that I really enjoy, all for very unique reasons.

And now, onto the other reason for this post…

 I am a bit of a control freak. I admit it. When we’re going somewhere, I have to drive. I prefer that I pay the bills. (Well, let me clarify. I would prefer that the bills did not exist at all, but if they must be paid, I would like to be in charge of ensuring that they are handled.) I love to have my hands in everything in the kitchen, making sure everything is “just right”. So when the kids come into the kitchen while I’m cooking, and proclaim “I want to help!”, there are times when I don’t allow them to help as much as I should. I get wrapped up in what I’m doing, and have this crazy feeling that if I don’t do it myself, some horrible thing will happen and the dish won’t turn out. Shame on me!

I came to this realization a few weeks ago. The kids are interested in what’s going on in the kitchen. They want to be involved. From a parenting perspective, I certainly need to teach them basic kitchen skills, so that one day they might be able to survive without regular trips to McDonald’s. But most of all, they might just share in my passion for cooking, if I’d only let them, and how wonderful would that be?

With this in mind, I told John that I had decided to start teaching the kids to cook. Of course, in order for me to commit myself to this task, I decided to designate the Saturdays that we have the kids as the “Kids in the Kitchen” days. Each one of them was to select the meal they wished to prepare for the family, and we would come up with the recipe, and I’d have the ingredients ready for us on Saturday. Yesterday was the first “Kids in the Kitchen” Saturday, and it was Brittany’s turn to cook. She chose Shrimp Kabobs.

This recipe, compared to a lot of others she could have chosen, was relatively simple to prepare, as there were relatively few ingredients, and a short marinade time. (I did “cheat” more than I usually would on a recipe, and used bottled teriyaki sauce, in order to simplify the dish.) It would actually be a great weeknight dinner, and a relatively healthy one at that. The citrus teriyaki marinade is a wonderful combination of sweet, salty, and spicy, which perfectly compliments the succulent shrimp without overwhelming them. Add the grilled factor, and you have a colorful, fresh, flavorful meal, excellent for spring or summer!

Brittany zesting an orange

Brittany zesting an orange

When asked, Brittany said that the hardest part of preparing the meal was cutting the onion and bell pepper. (We’re just beginning to learn knife skills.) She really enjoyed putting everything on skewers, however, and of course, loved eating it! This recipe would serve 6-8 people easily, unless you have teenage boys, and then, maybe 5 people. (Let’s just say our middle son, Brandan, enjoyed the dish a little too much.) We served the kabobs with steamed jasmine rice, and the simmered marinade as a sauce on the side. The best part, in my opinion, was that I actually really enjoyed teaching, rather than doing, with Brittany. We both had a lot of fun. I suppose I don’t have to be a control freak all of the time!

 

1 c Kikkoman’s Teriyaki Marinade

Juice from one orange

Zest from one orange

¼ t crushed red pepper

2 cans pineapple chunks, drained, ¼ c juice reserved

2 lbs shrimp, peeled and deveined

3 red bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 red onion, cut into 1-inch pieces

 

 Also needed: skewers

 

If skewers are wooden, soak in water for at least 30 minutes. This will help prevent the skewers from catching on fire.

 Mix Teriyaki sauce, orange juice, orange zest, reserved pineapple juice, and red pepper to create marinade. Place in large Ziploc bag, and add shrimp to marinade. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Remove shrimp from marinade. Place marinade in a small saucepan, bring to a boil, and reduce to simmer. Keep warm while you prepare the remainder of the dish.

 Thread shrimp, bell peppers, onions, and pineapple onto skewers.

Grill kabobs over medium heat, about 2-3 minutes each side, until shrimp turn pink.

 Serve simmered marinade as an accompaniment.

 

Okay, as I mentioned above, here are the seven things about my personality.

1. Not athletic. I try to be. (I play amatuer indoor soccer) I am just a bit envious of those that actually are. But this is something I have accepted, that I am a bit more of a klutz than an athlete, and so I enjoy myself.

2. Boring. I would prefer most times, to be at home with my family, in the kitchen cooking, reading (about food or cooking), and getting to bed at a reasonable hour. Not a party girl. See? Boring.

3. Analytical. Not all the time, of course, being in the kitchen allows me freedom to use my creativity. But during the day? I’m paid to be analytical. What’s bad about analytical? When I over-analyze…which I have been known to do.

4. Emotional. I have always been the one that is most likely to cry at a sad movie. I am quick to tears, even if they’re angry tears, sad tears, or happy tears. I used to dislike this attribute, but as I grow older, I realize I don’t mind showing my emotions so much. Of course, there’s always a time and place…

5. Talkative. My husband teases me sometimes about this one…that I have a comment about everything. Maybe that makes sense, as now I have a blog, where I can share what I want to say to all of you?

6. Easy-going. I know, that kind of conflicts with “control freak”. But I really don’t like drama, and I would much rather let the small stuff slide off of my back, rather than let it bother me.

7. Stubborn. If something does matter to me, I like to have it my way. Maybe that’s where the “control freak” part fits in.

Well, that’s it! Aren’t you excited?

Tamales

Alta and Grandpa

Alta and Grandpa

Don’t stand by my grave and weep,
For I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glint of snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning, hush.
For I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circle flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand by my grave and cry.
I am not there, I did not die.

~Mary Frye/Hopi Prayer

 When someone you love becomes a memory, the memory becomes a treasure. 

~Author Unknown

Alta "doing up" Grandpa's hair

Alta "doing up" Grandpa's hair

Last week, I learned that my Grandfather, Erwin LaVerne “Verne” Chambers, passed away. For the past week, I have spent time reminiscing, sharing memories of him with my family and loved ones. He was an amazing man, always outgoing, always making silly jokes, and he always had a story. He loved geneology, and he and my father spent hours discussing family and doing research, and they were always excited to “find” various relatives. When I was a little girl, I liked to “do up” Grandpa’s hair, putting my barrettes in it and playing with it. I remember his garden. I remember being young and sneaking strawberries when I wasn’t supposed to, and I remember the smell of the dill he had growing. To this day, dill always brings me back to Grandpa’s garden. When my younger sister was a toddler, and we came to visit, it was time for her to choose a cereal to eat for breakfast. She chose “Yucky Charms” (she couldn’t pronounce “Lucky”), so of course, at every subsequent visit, Grandpa would tell her that he bought her “Yucky Charms”, because she loved them so much! He loved to sing, and was likely a large influence in my Dad’s love for music, and mine as well. I could go on and on. He was a great man.

After reminiscing a bit, I got to thinking of how I can pay tribute to his life and the wonderful, profound effect he had on everyone around him. As I told my Dad, since food is my “thing”, why not find out some of his favorite dishes, and re-create them and blog about it? My Dad and Aunt had some great ideas, but one of the first things mentioned were canned tamales.

Dad's version of canned tamales

Dad's version of canned tamales

Dad's interpretation of nutrition and ingredients for canned tamales

Dad's interpretation of nutrition and ingredients for canned tamales

How to prepare canned tamales

How to prepare canned tamales

Canned tamales? Yuck. As you can see by my Dad’s unique contributions (he created a personalized label for canned tamales, so we could show a *ahem* fair comparison) these are not exactly gourmet. But apparently, when my Grandmother was away, Grandpa ate canned tamales. My Grandmother cooked all the time, of course, but she did not prepare Mexican foods, and especially not anything resembling tamales. Pretty funny, if you ask me, because like most canned, processed products, canned tamales are pretty gross. (Sorry to any of you that actually like these things.) Mushy, greasy stuff, wrapped in parchment paper. Appetizing. So I decided I would make real tamales, in memory of Grandpa.

I have always had it in my mind that tamales were a serious task. Tamales are usually reserved for the holidays, when a large group of people can be gathered to help, and it’s made into a big event. Thankfully, around here (in Texas) there is usually someone around that makes them from scratch (I have regular “suppliers” myself!), so you can buy a few dozen, but again, outside of restaurants, only around the holidays. But they’re so worth it, because there is nothing like a steaming hot, spicy tamale! Except maybe another one…or two…

Honestly, these were not all that difficult to make. Time-consuming, yes, but not difficult. Having a few people to help would, of course, make the time go by more quickly. I had some good music playing, (a little Bob Marley, B.B. King, ZZ Top, Pat Green, too many artists to name on the ipod!) so for me, it was relaxing and therapeutic. You can also opt to break the work up over two days, which is what I did. (I prepared the meat the first day, and prepared the tamales the next.) These tamales are made with pork, but if you choose, you can substitute beef brisket or chicken. I based this recipe loosely off of Diana Kennedy’s recipe, changing up the filling ingredients to suit my taste. (Which also included sending text messages to a friend of mine. Her Grandma makes tamales every year and they are the best I’ve eaten! Had to ask what type of chiles she used. Turns out – just chili powder, and then cascabel chiles as well. If you can’t find cascabel chiles, just use chili powder.)

I also made things easier by using my slow cooker for the meat. If you don’t have a slow cooker, simply add the ingredients for the meat in a large stockpot, and you’ll need a bit of additional broth, bring to a boil, and reduce to low and simmer for 2-3 hours or until the meat is fork-tender. But I strongly suggest the slow cooker if you have one, then you can dump everything together and leave it, saving your energy for the next day!

The amount of chili powder I use here makes the tamales pretty spicy. If you prefer a milder tamale, reduce the chili powder to 1/3 cup.

These turned out pretty tasty! My parents came over to help us eat them, and we all stuffed ourselves with as many tamales as we could. I honestly can’t think of what to change, except to consider making more next time. Certainly, there was no real comparison to the canned stuff! I hope that Grandpa would have enjoyed them as much as we did.

For the filling:

1 triangle of Ibarra or Abuelita chocolate

1 onion, chopped

5 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 c chili powder (a mix of half chili powder and cascabel chili powder)

1 ½ T cumin

1 t salt

4 c chicken broth

5 lbs pork shoulder, cut into 1 inch cubes

Additional chili powder, cumin, and salt (to taste)

 

For tamales:

2-3 bags (1 lb each) corn husks

 

For masa:

8 c Masa harina (I used Maseca brand)

2 c Lard or vegetable oil

1/2 t salt

4 ½ c pork broth

 

Add filling ingredients together in slow cooker and turn on low, cook for 6-8 hours. Refrigerate overnight if desired. When removing from refrigerator, skim fat from top. Reheat gently.

 Soak corn husks in water for at least 30 minutes or until pliable.

 Remove pork from broth and set aside. Strain broth and reserve, you’ll need this for your masa. Shred pork and chop until as fine as desired. Taste and adjust seasonings. (I added another 2 tablespoons of chili powder and about ½ teaspoon of cumin, plus a bit of salt.) Keep warm.

cooked pork, chopped and shredded, ready to go in tamales

cooked pork, chopped and shredded, ready to go in tamales

 Mix masa harina, lard, and salt together, and mix in pork broth, one cup at a time, until dough comes together and resembles cookie dough. (You should be able to roll a ball in your hands and it will stick together.) If it does not hold together, add more broth. If too sticky or thin, add more masa.

 

Masa, ready for tamales

Masa, ready for tamales

Remove corn husks from water and let drain on paper towels. Take a few corn husks and rip into thin strips. These will serve to tie together the tamales. This is an optional step, but it makes the tamales look like a nice little present.

 Now is the time you’ll want to set up your “assembly line”. Set up the corn husks, then masa harina, then meat mixture, and have a place to set the finished tamales.

 Spread masa harina on corn husks about 1/8 inch thick, leaving at least ¾ inch on each side of the corn husk, and about 2 inches from the ends. Add about 2 T pork down the middle of the masa harina. Fold the masa over so the ends meet, and then roll the corn husks up snugly (like a cigar). Fold the narrow end over, and tie with a thin strip of corn husk. Fold the other end over and tie this end with a thin strip of corn husk as well. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

 

Spreading the masa and topping with pork

Spreading the masa and topping with pork

 

Folding the rolled-up corn husk

Folding the rolled-up corn husk

 

Folding the other end

Folding the other end

 

tamales waiting to be steamed

tamales waiting to be steamed

Once all tamales are done, fill a large steamer with enough water so it just comes below the bottom of the steamer insert. Line the steamer insert with corn husks (this is so the tamales won’t get soggy). Place the tamales on end in the steamer. Place a damp cotton towel over the tamales and cover with the lid.

 

placing tamales in the steamer

placing tamales in the steamer

Bring water to a boil and reduce to medium-low, and steam for 1 ½ – 2 hours, checking the tamales after 1 ½ hours to see if the masa is firm and no longer mushy. When the tamales are done, remove them with tongs.

 Food 1611

You can serve them now, or you can opt to place them in a Ziploc bag and keep them in the refrigerator for a few days, or freeze for up to 6 months. To reheat, place in a single layer on top of damp paper towels and cover with more damp paper towels. Microwave, rotating the tamales frequently, until warmed through.

 Serve as is, or with whatever condiments you desire. We frequently eat them with hot sauce or salsa.

 Makes about 3-4 dozen tamales.

Devil’s Food White-Out Cake

food-1516This year, for each of our kids’ birthdays, I will bake a cake. Not just a cake-in-a-box, with store-bought icing, no, no, no. I must step outside of my comfort zone in the kitchen, and *gasp* actually bake.

Baking, to me, is scary. You have to measure. You have to follow steps. I know that experienced bakers can improvise, but I’m not there yet. I must follow each and every step, which forces me to read, and read again, just to make sure I know what I’m supposed to do. And the worst part? There’s not a lot of places where I can “taste test” and understand what the finished product will be like. I just don’t have the experience.  Sure, I can make cookies, banana bread and Angel Food Cake  (my Mom made these so much for us when I was little, so I learned) and that kind of stuff, but fancy cakes? Breads? Pastries? Those are foreign to me.

I’ve made a commitment to learn, however. Learn to bake. Bake yummy breads, pretty cakes, and I dream about being able to do so one day with nary a glance at a recipe. I envision myself being able to feel the dough, and know just how much I need to knead it, if it needs more flour, and understand how the bread will bake. I imagine myself relaxing while baking, the way I do when cooking other, more familiar dishes. I will get there. I am determined!

So, for now, I have committed myself to birthday cakes. There will be other experiments, of course, but for me, built-in expectations help me stay on track with my goals. This cake was for Matt’s 14th birthday. He wanted chocolate. (smart boy!) So I found Dorie Greenspan’s Devil’s Food White-Out cake, found in her cookbook Baking: From My Home to Yours. What a delicious cake! It has fudgy, moist chocolate layers, and a fluffy, marshmallow frosting. For someone like me that has little experience decorating cakes, this one’s easy to decorate: simply crumble part of the cake and sprinkle over the frosting. Easy! It’s not the most elegant cake out there, but it is indeed delicious. I opted to go the easy route and made only 2 layers instead of Dorie’s 3, partially because I used 9-inch round pans instead of 8-inch and my cakes were relatively thin, and because it made things easier. Dorie suggested slicing each cake in half, and using one half for the crumbled topping. For my crumbled topping, I simply used the leftovers from when I sliced the domed tops from the cakes off to level them.

All in all, this is the best cake I have baked so far. I was happy with it, so I will chalk that up to a success in the baking department!

For the cake:

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled

1/2 cup buttermilk or whole milk, at room temperature

1/2 cup boiling water

4 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate, finely chopped, or 2/3 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

 

For the filling and frosting:

1/2 cup egg whites (about 4 large)

1 cup sugar

3/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup water

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

 

GETTING READY: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 8-x-2-inch round cake pans (I used 9-inch), dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess and line the bottoms with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

 

TO MAKE THE CAKE: Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugars and continue to beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate. When it is fully incorporated, add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. At this point, the batter will be thick, like frosting. Still working on low speed, mix in the boiling water, which will thin the batter considerably. Switch to a rubber spatula, scrape down the bowl and stir in the chopped chocolate. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with the rubber spatula.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Don’t worry if the tops have a few small cracks. Transfer the cake pans to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up. (The cooled cake layers can be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature overnight or frozen for up to 2 months.)

 

When you are ready to fill and frost the cake, inspect the layers. If the cakes have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. With the same knife, slice each layer horizontally in half. (I did not do this, so I only had 2 layers) Set 3 layers aside and crumble the fourth layer; set the crumbs aside. (I crumbled the crowned tops only)

 

TO MAKE THE FILLING AND FROSTING: Put the egg whites in a clean, dry mixer bowl or in another large bowl. Have a candy thermometer at hand.

Put the sugar, cream of tartar and water in a small saucepan and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, cover the pan and boil for 3 minutes. Uncover and allow the syrup to boil until it reaches 242 degrees F on the candy thermometer. While the syrup is cooking, start beating the egg whites.

When the syrup is at about 235 degrees F, begin beating the egg whites on medium speed with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer. If the whites form firm, shiny peaks before the syrup reaches temperature, reduce the mixer speed to low and keep mixing the whites until the syrup catches up. With the mixer at medium speed, and standing back slightly, carefully pour in the hot syrup, pouring it between the beater(s) and the side of the bowl. Splatters are inevitable — don’t try to scrape them into the whites, just carry on. Add the vanilla extract and keep beating the whites at medium speed until they reach room temperature, about 5 minutes. You should have a smooth, shiny, marshmallowy frosting. Although you could keep it in the fridge in a pinch, it’s really better to use it right now.

 

TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE: Put a bottom layer cut side up on a cardboard cake round or on a cake plate protected by strips of wax or parchment paper. Using a long metal icing spatula, cover the layer generously with frosting. Top with a second layer, cut side up, and frost it. Finish with the third layer, cut side down, and frost the sides and top of the cake. Don’t worry about smoothing the frosting — it should be swirly. Now, cover the entire cake with the chocolate cake crumbs, gently pressing the crumbs into the filling with your fingers.

Refrigerate the cake for about 1 hour before serving.

 

SERVING: I think the cake is best at room temperature or just cool, but many people prefer it cold (the texture of the cake becomes fudgier after it has been refrigerated). No matter the temperature, the cake is so pretty it should be cut at the table, so bring it out on a platter and cut it into generous wedges using a serrated knife and a sawing motion.

 

STORING: The frosted cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days; let it stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving, or longer if you have the time.