Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Spicy Mexican Meat Sauce

So you might be asking yourself, isn't a spicy tomato meat sauce just chili? I say that it most certainly is not. In my opinion, chili is an entirely different kind of stew made with cubed chuck shoulder and thickened with corn masa (or chips). This is a much simpler sauce, designed to be quick and easy. You could serve it on a hot dog or hamburger with cheese, or if you're feeling adventurous, put it over spaghetti (Cincinnati style).

  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground dried chipotle chiles (freshly ground or from a jar)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can diced green chiles
  • 1 large can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Cook the beef over medium heat in a stew pot or dutch oven until it loses the raw red color. Add the onion, bell pepper, salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, turmeric, chipotle chile powder, and oregano. Continue to cook until the onions have softened and the bell pepper is crisp-tender. Add the garlic and green chiles and cook for one more minute. Add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, lime juice and cilantro. Simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until the flavors are well blended. Add additional salt and pepper to taste. Serve on a hot dog in a toasted bun with shredded cheddar cheese.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Foil Dinners

Cooking in foil has a lot of advantages: very little mess to clean up, it's very moist and juicy, and it can be done outdoors without a kitchen. Since I'm going camping, I thought I'd share my recipe for a great foil dinner that makes camp cooking a snap.

Ingredients (per person)
  • 8 ounces ground chuck or sirloin (do not use round - it's too dry!)
  • 1/2 small envelope instant onion soup mix
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 1 small clove garlic, pressed/minced fine
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chile flake
  • 1/2 small onion, sliced thin
  • 1 carrot, quartered and cut into 2 inch sticks
  • 1 potato, sliced thick
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons water

Mix the ground chuck, soup mix, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, garlic, and chile flake in a medium bowl with your hands until combined, working it into a large loose patty about 2 inches thick (do not tightly pack the meat together). On the middle of a 18 x 24 inch piece of aluminum foil, combine the carrots and onions in a pile that is roughly the same diameter as the beef patty (if not a little bit larger). Drizzle the water onto the vegetables and sprinkle with half the salt and pepper. Place the beef patty on top of the pile. Season the potatoes with the remaining salt and pepper and place on top of the beef. Tightly wrap up the foil, making a pouch - I like to crimp together the sides over the center line of the foil and then fold over the top and bottom flaps. At this point you can either bake your pouches in the oven for 30-45 minutes or you can put it on a bed of coals in a grill or campfire for 25-35 minutes per side, or until the meat reaches 150-160 degrees. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes before serving in the foil pouches.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I went on vaccation and didn't cook anything...

...so I have absolutely no idea what to post! My Dad grilled some wonderful tri-tip. My sister cooked a variety of awesome dishes ranging from sauteed green beans to cocoa nib cake (and I have no idea where to get those recipes). My Mom made pancakes and french toast and popcorn (with her new fancy movie theater popcorn popper). The one thing I did cook while visiting was German pancakes, which is just like Yorkshire pudding, but with butter instead of beef drippings. Anyways, I didn't want to miss posting today, but you'll have to wait till Thursday for an original recipe. Until then, try the ones I just linked to!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Triple-Tomato Pizza

I don't like a lot of meats on my pizza. In fact, my favorite pizza has very little other than tomato-based products.

  • 1 recipe pizza dough from Tuesday
  • 1 tablespoon plain olive oil
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced/pressed fine
  • 1 can (14 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • a hunk of Parmesan cheese rind (off of a real hunk of parmigiano reggiano, if you can get it)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped (if packed in oil, drain and rinse off the oil)
  • 5 Roma tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 tablespoons basil, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (from the aforementioned hunk!)

Prepare the dough through the rise step, but do not shape it. Heat the plain olive oil over medium heat and sweat the onions with the salt and red chili flakes. When the onions are soft and translucent, add the garlic and cook for 30-45 seconds, until fragrant. Add the tomato sauce and oregano and reduce heat to medium-low. Add the cheese rind and cook for 5-10 minutes at a low simmer, reducing heat if it starts to boil.

Shape the dough according to Tuesday's recipe and place on the pizza peel as instructed. Remove the cheese rind from the sauce and discard. Brush the dough with the extra-virgin oil and spoon on 2-3 tablespoons of sauce. Spread the sauce to evenly cover the crust. Sprinkle on the sun-dried tomatoes. Evenly spread the mozzarella and cover with Roma tomatoes. Bake as instructed on Tuesday. When the pizza is done, pull from the oven and sprinkle on the basil and Parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pizza Crust

Most people think that homemade pizza won't be as good as one from a real pizzeria. Really, there are very few things that you need to make excellent pizza at home: a pizza peel (you gotta get the pizza in and out of the oven), a pizza stone (or some ceramic tiles from a hardware store), and a good dough recipe. Now while you need to spend money on the first two, I've got you covered on the last one!

  • 4.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup warm (not hot) water
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or 1/2 teaspoon fine salt)
  • 1 package instant yeast
  • cornmeal for the pizza peel and stone

Put about half the flour into the work bowl of a stand mixer. Add the water, salt, and yeast and stir to combine. When it is all combined, put a greased dough hook on the mixer and put on medium speed. Slowly add flour, increasing power as needed to keep the hook moving, until the dough climbs up the hook and is not very sticky (you may need only 4 out of the total 4.5 cups this recipe calls for - don't just add it all as you don't want the dough too dry). Knead for 5-10 minutes, or until you can pull a little piece of dough off and stretch it into a thin membrane (known as a "baker's window" because you can almost see through it). Put the dough into a bowl more than twice its size, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for an hour. If you do not want to start cooking after an hour of rise, place in the refrigerator until you want to start cooking.

Put your pizza stone on the bottom rack of a cold oven and remove any other racks. Set the oven to 450 and turn on.

Lightly flour a clean countertop or large cutting board. With floured hands, place the dough ball on the work surface and start stretching to match the size of your pizza stone (if you want thin and crispy crust, only use half the dough per pizza). When the dough is stretched out almost as much as you need, pull the edges out a little bit and pinch together a lip of dough for the crust on all sides. Lay the dough flat on the work surface and make it bumpy by "knocking" it with your knuckles or fingertips. Put a thin layer of cornmeal on the pizza peel and carefully move the crust to the peel. Add sauce (sparingly), cheese and a topping or two. Sprinkle a thin layer of cornmeal onto the hot pizza stone and carefully slide the pizza off the peel onto the stone. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the crust is crispy.

SPECIAL PREVIEW: If you wait for Thursday, there will be a post for the best set of sauce and toppings for this pizza you can do!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stovetop Popcorn

So air-popped popcorn is a great treat. Fat-free (until you add butter), quick, easy - I'm a fan. However, it is lacking in the flavor department. Also, it is really hard for salt to stick to dry popcorn, and popcorn needs at least a little salt to be all that it can be. Alton Brown developed this procedure for doing popcorn on the stovetop, and I must say that it is the best popcorn I've ever had. Since supermarket kernels are bred for bulk and poppability, you might want to consider specialty kernels on the Internet or a health food store - they actually have a flavor of something other than butter and salt!

A Note on Popcorn Salt
I only buy two kinds of salt: kosher and pickling. I really dislike the metallic taste that iodized salt has. Kosher salt is very cheap and tastes great on most stuff. However, you should not use kosher salt on popcorn, it's too course. You can make the fine powdery popcorn salt they use at movie theaters by putting regular kosher salt in a blender and grinding it down on high power. If you don't have any kosher salt, you could use pickling salt, but it's still a little course for me.

  • A large stainless steel mixing bowl (available from the restaurant supply store for cheap)
  • Heavy-duty aluminum foil
  • An oven mitt, hot pad, or welding glove
  • 3 tablespoons vegatable, canola, or peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup good-quality popcorn kernels
  • 1/2 teaspoon popcorn salt
  • 3-4 tablespoons melted butter (optional)

Pour the oil into the bottom of the mixing bowl. Add the popcorn kernels and sprinkle on the salt. Tightly seal the bowl with foil and poke 15 holes in it with the tip of a knife. Put on the oven mitt, put the bowl over medium-high heat and gently shake back and forth (if you've ever done Jiffy Pop, you know what I'm talking about). When the kernels start to pop, shake vigorously (this is the part where it might burn, so keep the popped kernels moving)! As soon as the popping stops, immediately take off the heat and remove the foil. Gently stir/toss in the butter and serve hot.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Orange Slush

There's nothing like a delicious fresh-squeezed orange drink, especially when you've kicked it up by making it frozen! Your frozen dessert will taste much better if you use fresh squeezed OJ, but from the carton is OK too.

  • 1 ice cube tray of frozen orange juice
  • 6 tablespoons (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) orange juice (non-frozen, but cold as possible)
  • 1 cup cold whole milk
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix in a blender until smooth and frothy. Serve immediately. Makes about 4 cups.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Slight Format Change (Sorry)

As of late, I've been having trouble making 3 posts a week. I figure consistency is more important than volume, so I'll be making new posts on Tuesday and Thursday.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Mexican Lasagna

I love enchiladas. The one problem is that they are messy and hard to make. Why go through all the trouble of rolling up tortillas with cheese, meat, and sauce if it's just going to ooze all over the place when you eat it. Why not forgo the filling and rolling and just layer it - like lasagna! (Why should the Italians have all the fun?) I know this is really just "enchilada casserole," but "Mexican Lasagna" sounds so much more exotic!

Taco Seasoning
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin (freshly toasted and ground would be nice)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Mexican Lasagna
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 (15 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 1 (4 ounce) can hot green chilies
  • 1 recipe taco seasoning, see above (or cheat and use a packet of prepared taco seasoning - but it won't be as good!)
  • 15 corn tortillas
  • 14 oz farmers cheese, chopped/crumbled (or use 15 ounces of cottage cheese, queso fresco, or any soft and mild flavored cheese)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 (14 ounce) can of black beans
  • 1 cup shredded Mexican cheese blend (more if you like it)

Season beef with salt and pepper.
In a large skillet, cook beef and onion over medium heat until no longer pink; drain (a stainless steel colander works well for this). Add the tomato sauce, tomatoes, and taco seasoning. Simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

In a small bowl, combine farmer's cheese and egg; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9x13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray. Put down a layer of 5 slightly overlapping tortillas (you may need to tear a couple in half to get them to fit and cover evenly). Evenly spread a third of the beef mixture into the dish, half of the cheese/egg mixture, and half of the beans. Repeat with another layer of tortillas, meat, cheese, and beans. Add one more layer of tortillas, the remaining meat sauce, and all of the shredded Mexican cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly.