Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cook like it's 1924

There is something about a "mold" that just doesn't sound appealing to me.  Moldy bread, moldy cheese, you get the idea.  This is a real appetizing start to this post, isn't it?
As you may know by now, I'm cooking my way through the decades with America's Test Kitchen's The Feed.  We are now up to 1924, and the challenge posted by The Feed was for Ambrosia Fruit Mold.  The photo of this recipe really drew me in, there was something about the cherries and marshmallows floating in a pale yellow opaque gelatinous form that actually made me want to try it.  In the end though, I really don't know if I should call my attempt a success or not.

I have never made a Jell-O or any other kind of mold before, but I got over my fears and attempted the recipe, because the photo looked so cool. First, the recipe called for pineapple Jell-O. Where you find that flavor is beyond me, so I just got strawberry instead figuring it would still go okay with the coconut milk featured in the recipe.

I boiled the water, dissolved the gelatin and added two cans of coconut milk.  Then I was instructed to refrigerate for an hour until it was slightly thickened.  This was when I realized that I really shouldn't have started a Jell-O mold at 8:30 in the evening.  The instructions said that the texture should resemble egg whites.  I checked on it after an hour and it really hadn't changed much, so I left it in the fridge and continued to wait.  I checked it after another half hour, and it had thickened a little, but was nowhere near egg white consistency.  Finally around 11, I gave up and just stirred the fruit and marshmallows in.  They pretty much just floated on the top and wouldn't really mix in to the Jell-O.  After getting ready for bed and reading a little, I gave it one last peek, and noticed it had firmed up a little more, so I stirred it, which managed to distribute the fruit a little better but those darn marshmallows just wouldn't sink in!

When I took it out of the mold the next day, it looked pretty, but when I went to serve it, it didn't hold up well, and it seemed like there were far too many maraschino cherries than anyone would need in a serving.  The flavor was alright, but didn't feel worth all of the hassle for me to want to make it again.  I think I'll let my mother-in-law do the Jell-O molds from now on; she makes an unbelievable cranberry one for Thanksgiving that I just can't get enough of.

If you don't think Jell-O is just for hospital patients, give this recipe a try and let me know how it turned out for you.  If you can't access the recipe, leave me a message and I'll forward you a copy.

Next stop: 1933 - Chicken in a Pot

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cook like it's 1917

I have made a promise to challenge myself while following along with America's Test Kitchen's "The Feed" as it cooks through the decades one week and one recipe at a time.  The first was Cold-Oven Pound Cake from 1905, which was not a great success in my kitchen.  The second recipe challenge was from 1917; Chicken a la King.

According to The Feed, Chicken a la King starting appearing on restaurant menus in the 1910s, but the exact origins are difficult to trace. The dish isn't descended from royals, but is instead believed to be attributed to a restauranteur by the name of King. Original recipes called for egg yolks and sometimes even truffles.

In my family, Chicken a la King was one of those things that got thrown together as a way to use up cooked chicken, vegetables and bread that was starting to get a little dried out.  The America's Test Kitchen version of Chicken a la King definitely falls into the "not the easiest to make" category.  It was a lot more laborious than my usual throw-together recipe (or non-recipe as it were).  In the end, it had good flavor and texture, with a nice finish of lemon juice and fresh parsley.  Using Italian bread which is buttered on both sides and toasted in the oven was one of my favorite parts of the recipe, which resulted in a nice crunchy yet "fork-friendly" base for the velvety sauce.

All in all, this recipe was a success; so much so that I submitted this photo of me, my darling daughter and the dish to The Feed.

It won me an America's Test Kitchen apron signed by Bridget Lancaster and a copy of the "From Our Grandmother's Kitchens" cookbook.  You can see us featured here:  Cook Like It's 1917: Winners!

Feel free to try the recipe and let me know how the dish turned out for you.  If you can't access the recipe, leave me a comment or shoot me an e-mail and I'll share it with you.

Next stop:  1924 - Ambrosia Fruit Mold

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cook like it's 1905

I love America's Test Kitchen.  Love it.  Their recipes may not always be the easiest, but they never disappoint.  Until recently that is, when I tried to make a Cold-Oven Pound Cake.  One of America's Test Kitchen's websites, "The Feed" is doing a "Cooking Through the Decades" series.  They are exploring the 20th century, 100 years worth of American cuisine, one decade at a time, through weekly challenges to the site's visitors.  The first challenge was Cold-Oven Pound Cake, a recipe from 1905.   

What the heck is Cold-Oven Pound Cake you ask?  I asked that too, with my initial thought being "How can you cook something in a cold oven?"  According to The Feed, when gas ranges were initially being sold, they didn't appeal to women who were used to oil and coal ranges.  So, as a marketing technique, these new ovens were billed as time savers, because you didn't have to preheat the oven to start baking.  As was the case with this cake.  You just throw it in the oven, turn the oven on and check on it when the time is up.  So I resisted the urge to preheat my oven and started whipping together the recipe.

America's Test Kitchen cake

The recipe itself looked delicious, loaded with butter and sugar, with the appearance of a chiffon cake but without all of the effort.  I mean, look at that photo.  Doesn't it look amazing?

I followed the directions perfectly, but in the end, I was disappointed.  I can't quite describe the "crumb" that I ended up with.  The center was like hardened gelatin or something, the whole cake was far too dense and it ended up being a squat cake instead of the high, fluffy one pictured.  I knew I didn't do anything wrong, so why would my cake have turned out this way?

Delicious Dairyland cake

One of the things I love about America's Test Kitchen is that when something doesn't work out, you can e-mail them, Tweet them, Facebook message them, whatever, and you actually get a response.  From a real person.  Here's what Belle at America's Test Kitchen had to say regarding my failed attempt at the recipe:
"We have not had similar experiences with this cake so I cannot tell you for certain what may be going wrong, but I think it may have something to do with the heating cycle of the oven you used. Some ovens cycle very high and then shut off to maintain a constant temperature of say, 350 degrees. If this happens the cake will overbrown on top and will “set” before it has time to cook through, thus the heavy, flat cake you described.  Unlike most of our recipes, the novelty of this cake’s cooking method, ie beginning in a cold oven, does present an unknown variable that cannot be avoided...And in this case, you can blame your oven, not your baking skills."

Okay, so the cake didn't technically turn out, but that didn't stop me from eating pretty much the whole thing within a couple of days.  The flavor was awesome (it can't be all that butter and sugar, can it?), so I am sure I will try to make this again sometime down the road.  Maybe after I have bought a different oven.  So now, I implore all of you, try the recipe and let me know what kind of results you get.  And don't forget to bring me a slice!  If you can't access the recipe, leave me a comment or shoot me an e-mail and I'll share it with you.

As for me, I plan to try every historical recipe in this series.  Next stop:  1917 - Chicken A La King.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Balsamic Grilled Chicken & Vegetables

I am always looking for new recipes for chicken.  It can get a little "blah" when you have it over and over again.  Since it's the middle of summer, it just seems so easy to throw some boneless skinless chicken breasts on the grill, which is great because it limits the amount of dirty dishes you have to take care of once meal time is over.  Unfortunately, you can sometimes end up with dry, flavorless chicken breasts that no one really wants to eat, except for the fact that they have those nice little grill marks on them.  I recently threw together a marinade that gave chicken breasts amazing flavor and kept them moist throughout cooking.  I didn't plan ahead, so the chicken didn't have much time to marinate, but the flavor was great and a real surprise.  It went together quick and there was zero clean up.  I also threw some veggies in a similar marinade then skewered them to make kabobs.  Again, zero clean up.  Score!

The next day I had some leftover balsamic grilled chicken on top of my strawberry spinach salad with poppy seed dressing, and it was TO DIE FOR!  I recommend you give all of these simple recipes a try.  You'll be glad you did.

Chicken Ingredients:
1 1/2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. olive oil
2 T. brown sugar
1/2 t. garlic powder
1 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper

Preheat a charcoal grill or indoor grill pan set over medium heat.  Slice chicken breasts in half lengthwise to create two thin chicken pieces (Doing this will help the marinade permeate the meat and they will cook faster, which means eating sooner).  Set aside.
Combine vinegar, oil, sugar and seasonings in a large zip-top storage bag.  Shake bag and knead with hands until ingredients are well-combined.  Add chicken and toss to coat.  Store in refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour, or as long as it takes your grill to get going.  Remove chicken from marinade and grill over medium flame/heat until cooked through, turning once about halfway through the cooking process.  This took about 5 minutes per side over direct heat on our charcoal grill.   

Vegetable Kabob Ingredients:
1-2 lg. sweet peppers (red, yellow, orange, green), cut into chunks
1 lg. onion, cut into wedges
1/2 lb. cremini mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed
1 small zucchini, cut into chunks
1 small yellow squash, cut into chunks
1/3 c. olive oil
1/4 c. balsamic vinegar
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 tsp dried rosemary

Preheat a charcoal grill or indoor grill pan set over medium heat.  Combine oil, vinegar, garlic and seasonings in a large zip-top storage bag. Shake bag and knead with hands until ingredients are well-combined. Add vegetables and toss to coat. Store in refrigerator alongside your chicken until you're ready to grill.  Remove vegetables from marinade and place on wooden skewers that have been soaked in water for 15 minutes (or if you have one of those fancy metal kabob sets, that would be awesome).  Grill over medium flame/heat until vegetables are tender, turning occasionally, about 10-15 minutes.

Click here for the printable recipe!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Flag Cake - My Way

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, and there is no better reason to make a dessert inspired by Old Glory.  There are tons of recipes out there for various flag cakes, but I didn't feel like making a standard rectangular sheet cake, I instead wanted a layer cake with a berry filling, so there would be red, white and blue throughout the cake.  I found a great filling to use on YumSugar using fresh blueberries and strawberries.

Then I had to figure out what cake to make.  I feel like if you are making a layer cake, you have to make it from scratch. Every time I have tried to use a boxed mix to make a decorated cake, it falls apart because the structure of boxed cake mix is just too weak.  I chose my grandmother's recipe for white cake.  I was lucky enough to get a handwritten cookbook from her as a wedding shower gift a couple of years ago and couldn't wait to give her cake recipes a whirl.  I think there are members of my family who don't even have my grandmother's cake recipes, so hopefully I won't tick anyone off by posting it online for the world to see.  It ended up being one of the easiest cakes I've made.  In so many cake recipes, you have to cream the butter and sugar, then add dry ingredients alternately with liquids.  This one uses vegetable shortening instead of butter and sort of just gets dumped together, so you don't end up with a bunch of extra bowls unnecessarily dirtied.  The most difficult part of the recipe was separating the eggs since I decided to make a white cake which doesn't have egg yolks.

Now, for the frosting.  I'm not a huge frosting fan, I'm always the one asking for a middle piece of cake because I want as little frosting as possible with my cake.  I really didn't want a cake that was sickeningly sweet, so I made a little whipped cream to layer with the berries, and then a cream cheese frosting for the outside of the cake.  I love cream cheese and I really think the tanginess of it cuts through some of the sweetness in a standard buttercream.

Decorated with blueberries, strawberries and raspberries, the cake looked almost too good to eat.  Once I brought myself to cut into my masterpiece, I was so glad I did, because it was probably one of the best cakes I have ever made.

Triple Berry Flag Cake (printable recipe)

For the Cake
2 1/2 C. cake flour
1 2/3 C. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 C. milk
2/3 C. vegetable shortening
4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
5 egg whites
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 360 degrees.  Grease and lightly flour two 9-inch round cake pans.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine cake flour, sugar, salt, 3/4 C. milk and shortening.  Beat vigorously for 2 minutes.  Stir in baking powder.  Add egg whites, remaining 1/2 C. milk and vanilla.  Beat for 2 minutes more.  Evenly distribute batter between prepared pans.  Bake for 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of cake comes out clean.  Let cake cool completely before filling and frosting/decorating it.

For the Filling
1 C. heavy whipping cream
4 T. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 C. fresh blueberries
1 C. fresh strawberries

Place 1/2 C. of each berry along with 2 T. sugar in a medium saucepan.  Using a fork, roughly mash the berries.  Cook the mixture over medium heat until it starts to simmer, stirring often, for about 5 minutes.  Set a mesh strainer over a medium bowl and pour mixture through it, using a rubber spatula to push as much of the mixture as possible through the strainer.  Stir in the remaining berries and set mixture aside to cool.
Beat whipping cream with remaining 2 T. sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Set aside.

For the Frosting
1 C. butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 pkg. cream cheese, softened (8 oz.)
3 C. powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1-2 T. milk
1/2 C. fresh blueberries
1/2 C. fresh strawberries
1/2 C. fresh raspberries

Combine butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment.  Cream together on medium speed, then add vanilla.  Turn speed to low and gradually add powdered sugar.  Add 1 T. milk and beat on high speed until mixture gets fluffy and and is perfect spreading consistency, adding more milk if necessary.

Assembling the Cake
Trim rough edges from cakes using a serrated knife.  Place first layer, bottom side up, on a serving platter. (*Tip - put strips of parchment paper under cake edges for easy clean up without ruining your platter).  Using an offset spatula, spread cake with whipped cream.  Spoon the berry mixture over the whipped cream.  Top with remaining cake layer, bottom side up.  Using about a cup of frosting, spread a thin layer over top and sides of cake (this is a crumb coat - it is a must unless you want little pieces of cake poking through your final product).  Refrigerate for at least an hour, or overnight.

Spread entire cake with about 2/3 of the remaining frosting.  Place remaining 1/3 into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.  Use a toothpick to outline the shape of a flag on the cake.  Just before serving, fill the upper left corner with a layer of blueberries, then place a row of raspberries across the upper edge of the cake and pipe one row of frosting below it.  Repeat process, alternating raspberries and strawberries until you have covered the cake.  I didn't worry about making sure there were 13 stripes.  Depending on the size of the strawberries and raspberries you find, you may get more or less than I did.  Pipe a row of frosting around top and bottom of cake, just to finish the edges.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday Morning Sticky Buns

It didn't take me long after seeing a pin for "Fastest Cinnamon Rolls" someone posted on Pinterest, to try them for myself.  The recipe was originally from Fine Cooking, then adapted by Don't Forget Delicious, then pinned by Jane Wang.  Now that you know where it came from, wait until you see where it is going.  Don't get me wrong, I love my Super Size Cinnamon Roll recipe and find the dough really easy to work with, but it takes a little planning since it does take some time to proof.  When I saw this yeast-free recipe, it seemed like a perfect dough to whip together this morning.  Only, I didn't want to betray my usual cinnamon roll recipe, so I opted to use the dough and make pecan sticky buns instead.  I had a few bobbles in the kitchen so the recipe wasn't as easy to put together as it should have been and the rolls probably didn't have the texture they should, but they were still delicious!  It's saying a lot when you can screw up a recipe and still want to eat the whole batch.

The recipe called for buttermilk, which I pretty much never have in the house unless I know I am going to use it for something.  I do however always have milk and lemons.  So instead of buttermilk, I made a little "sour milk" by combining lemon juice and milk and letting it sit for a few minutes.  The recipe calls for 9 oz. flour, which should be about 2 cups.  Maybe it was because I was going back and forth between putting the dough together and tending to my 3-month-old daughter, but I forgot to zero out the scale when I was measuring the flour.  I only ended up putting about a cup and a quarter or so of flour into the mixture.  I think this made the dough a little more difficult to work with and made the end product a little too soft.  I should have known, but the recipe said the dough would be soft, so I just went with it.  I realized later what I had done.  The rolls themselves were tender, but were just a little doughy in the centers.  I bet if I had used the correct amount of flour, the rolls would have seemed a little less gooey in the end.  The dough comes together really quickly in the food processor and since they don't have to proof, you can make the rolls and have them eaten in under an hour.

I surfed around the web to find different combinations to make the "sticky" part of these buns, ultimately settling on one from Simply Recipes that included honey and light corn syrup.  I love using honey in anything I can.  My spatial reasoning not being what it should at 7:00am, I poured the mixture into a 9x13 pan as the recipe stated, but then realized I only had enough rolls made to fill a 9x9 square pan.  So, I scraped the caramely-pecany filling out of one pan and into the other.  In the end, it was just a little too much "sticky" in the buns.  I should have halved (have halved? sounds funny, doesn't it?) the topping recipe.  So, if you're going to try this recipe, do as I say and not as I do.

Sunday Morning Sticky Buns (printable recipe)

3/4 c. whole milk ricotta
1/3 c. milk
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
1 tsp. vanilla
9 oz. flour (just shy of 2 c.)
1 T. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda

2 T. unsalted butter, melted
1/4 c. sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon

1/4 c. plus 2 T. firmly packed brown sugar
2 T. unsalted butter
1 1/2 T. honey
1/2 T. light corn syrup
3/4 c. pecans, coarsely chopped

Heat the oven to 400 degrees and prepare a 9" square baking dish by coating it with cooking spray.  Combine lemon juice and milk in a glass measuring cup and let sit a couple of minutes.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine ricotta, milk mixture, sugar, melted butter and vanilla.  Process until smooth (about 10 seconds).  Add the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda.  Pulse the mixture until the dough starts to clump together.  The dough will be soft and moist.  Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and kneed it with floured hands until smooth.  It should only take 4 or 5 kneads.  Roll the dough out until it is about a 12 x 15 inch rectangle.
Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl. Brush the dough with melted butter, leaving a half inch border on one of the long edges.  Sprinkle the buttered area with the cinnamon sugar, then roll the dough tightly and evenly starting from the buttered long edge.  Slice the roll into pieces about 1 3/4 inches wide (I got eight).

Place the brown sugar, butter, honey and light corn syrup in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until the butter and sugar are melted and well combined.  Pour mixture into prepared pan.  Top with chopped pecans, then top with the rolls.  I did two rows of three on the sides and then two in the middle.

Bake until golden brown, about 22 minutes.  Immediately turn the rolls out onto a plate or serving platter.  Let cool slightly, then serve warm. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing

The Brookfield Farmer's Market opened the first Saturday of May and I have gone a couple of times this year...not as many times as I would have liked, but when you have a newborn in the house, things don't always go according to your plans.  The first couple times I went, there wasn't a whole lot available in terms of produce, and not all of the usual vendors were present.  It was just a little too early in the season, so it was mostly onions, radishes, rhubarb and some asparagus, along with a lot of potted plants and herbs (and of course, the tomato guy with a wide array of hydroponically grown deliciousness).

When I made my way to the market this morning, I was very pleased to see a lot more produce available than when I last went.  In addition to beautiful plants, I noticed lots of garlic, lettuces, swiss chard, purple and white onions, leeks, turnips, beets, kohlrabi and more.  I was ecstatic to see several vendors with strawberries, sugar snap peas and spinach, so I picked those up in addition to some bread from my favorite bakery, tomatoes (of course) and a mixture of lettuces.  I didn't go too crazy, but what I did buy was great.

Once I had all of the items in my bag, I couldn't get the thought of making a strawberry spinach salad out of my head.  Now, I know I am not the first person to make strawberry spinach salad, it is a classic.  It just hit the spot so much, I couldn't help but share.  The only "twist" I would say I made was to add a few sugar snap peas to the mix.  I popped the peas out of the pods and then snacked on the pods.  The peas were probably the sweetest I have ever tasted.  I think I'll go back next week and get double the amount.  There is a pea, mint and Parmesan crostini recipe from Bon Appetit that I have been dying to try.

Back to the salad.  Who can resist eating a salad that almost tastes like a dessert?  Vitamin rich spinach and sugar snap peas topped with sweet strawberries and a homemade poppy seed dressing, this salad just tastes like a summer treat.  My version is below, which goes great on a summer dinner table, or as a lunch with a little bit of grilled chicken (see my Balsamic Grilled Chicken post that will be coming up soon).  The recipe could serve two to four, depending on who's eating and whether it is a side or more of a main dish.  To be truthful, I can't claim the poppy dressing recipe as my own.  I had it on a romaine, pear and apple salad my cousin made, and she got the recipe from someone else, who probably got it from someone else and so on.   It was perfect on the spinach salad.

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Poppy Seed Dressing (printable recipe)

4 c. fresh spinach, cleaned and chopped
1 c. fresh strawberries, sliced
1/4 c. fresh sugar snap peas, shelled
1/4 c. sugar
1 T. poppy seeds
2 1/2 T. lemon juice (approx. 1 lemon)
1 T. Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/3 c. vegetable oil

Combine spinach, strawberries and peas in a large bowl.  Combine remaining ingredients in a mason jar, put on the lid and shake it up.  Pour half the dressing over the salad and toss.  Save remaining dressing or add it the salad as you feel necessary.  I'm a less-is-more kind of person.  Enjoy!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Feast Like You're On Vacation: Dessert

In May of 2011, I took an amazing vacation to West Palm Beach, Fl. that included a cruise to Grand Bahama and Nassau.  The beaches were beautiful, the food and drinks were spectacular, and it was great to be able to relax with my family.  Even though that trip was a year ago,  my husband and I are constantly trying to relive it through food and drinks.  We have cloned the Goombay Smash from the Iguana Cafe in Nassau and the guacamole from Rocco's Tacos in West Palm Beach.  We've learned how to cook plantains two ways, and made a delicious main course of jerk chicken and Bahamian peas rice.  What could possibly be missing, you ask?  Only what I deem to be the best part of any meal...the dessert!

One of my memories from our cruise was when we stopped in at the Tortuga Rum store in Nassau.  The store was packed with so many different flavors of rum and rum cake, I didn't even bother to count them all.  We purchased multi-packs of varying flavors and then rushed back to our ship, kicked off our shoes and dug in to the little cakes (expertly carved into five equal pieces by my brother with a plastic knife).  They were so good!  When we returned to the states, we wished we had purchased more.  After every crumb of Tortuga rum cake had been eaten, we set out on a quest to find a recipe that would give us the perfect rum cake (or, as perfect as we could get without going back to Nassau).

First, for the perfect rum cake, you need the perfect rum.  After searching the internet and doing a little (or a lot) of taste testing, we arrived at a clear winner.  This cake cannot be made with anything but Cruzan Coconut Rum.

So now, after months of waiting...without further ado...

Coconut Rum Cake (printable recipe)

For cake:
  1 box Betty Crocker Butter Recipe cake mix
  1 box vanilla pudding mix, cook and serve type (not instant!)
  4 eggs
  1/2 c. Cruzan Coconut Rum
  1/2 c. vegetable oil
  1/2 c. water
  1/2 c. shredded coconut
For glaze:
  1/2 c. butter (1 stick)
  1 c. sugar
  1/4 c. water
  1 c. Cruzan Coconut Rum

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine cake mix and pudding mix in a large bowl.  Add the eggs, rum, oil and water.  Using an electric mixer, mix the ingredients until well blended (about 3 minutes).  Prepare a bundt pan by spraying it with cooking spray and sprinkling coconut on the bottom and sides of pan.  Pour batter into pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes.  Cake is done when a toothpick comes out clean.

Remove cake from oven and immediately begin the glaze.  Melt the butter in a saucepan, then stir in the water and sugar.  Boil for 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and let the mixture sit for a few minutes to cool.  Slowly stir in the rum.  If it starts to bubble, let the mixture cool a little more before adding the rest of the rum.

Remove the now slightly cooled cake from the pan and use a skewer to poke holes all over the cake.  Pour half of the glaze into the bundt pan and then carefully place the cake back in the pan.  Pour the remaining glaze over the cake and let it soak in.  Once all of the glaze has been absorbed by the cake, turn the cake out of the pan and let it cool completely.

Grab a fork and go to town!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Feast Like You're On Vacation: Main Course

Happy New Year!  As we rang in 2012, I resolved to finish things I start.  Now that we're a few days in to the new year, I thought a good place to start would be this blog, since I left it hanging half way through our Caribbean dinner.  After a six month hiatus, it's time to wrap up this four part series.

On the cold, cloudy and snowy days ahead, it wouldn't hurt to remind yourself of warmer weather and flavors of the Caribbean.  In part three of this four part series, I will share a main course menu that will have you feasting like you're on vacation.  Our beautiful dinner plate consisted of Jerk Chicken served with Bahamian Peas-Rice and Sweet Plantains.  The combination of flavors was fantastic and a great ode to the Caribbean islands of the Bahamas and Jamaica.

Jerk Chicken, Bahamian Peas-Rice and Sweet Plantains

Jerk Chicken (printable recipe)
This chicken was so delicious, it doesn't deserve to be called Jerk. It was wonderfully seasoned with a perfect blend of sweet, spicy and smokey flavors and beautifully grilled by my wonderful husband. He was actually the one who made the marinade too, so I can't really take the credit on this.

1 Tbsp. ground allspice
1 Tbsp. ground thyme
1 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. ground sage
3/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp. salt
2 Tbsp. garlic powder
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. soy sauce
3/4 c. white vinegar
1/2 c. orange juice
Juice from 1 lime
1 jalapeno pepper, finely minced
1  medium onion, chopped
1/2 bunch scallions, chopped
1/4 c. cilantro, chopped
1 whole chicken, cut in pieces

Combine all of the spices, sugar, oil, soy sauce, vinegar, orange juice and lime in a large bowl.  Then add the jalapeno and onions,  mixing well.  Add the chicken and toss to coat.  Cover and refrigerate over night, or for at least two hours.

Using a charcoal grill, cook chicken over direct heat, basting occasionally with the marinade and turning over once or twice.  Since grilling temperatures and flames vary, move chicken around as necessary until browned and cooked through.  The pieces should register 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer.

Bahamian Peas-Rice (printable recipe)
At the Iguana Cafe we stopped at for lunch while in in Nassau, part of the meal was Bahamian Peas-Rice, a nod to black beans and rice with a twist.  It is a delicious blend of long-grain rice, pigeon peas, onions, and a hint of tomato and smokey flavors.  One tip to get you started on this one:  If you don't have a saucepot with a tight fitting lid, get one!  My saucepans have pour spouts on them, so it allows too much steam to escape during cooking, often resulting in undercooked rice.

1/4 c. butter
3 slices bacon, diced
1 large onion, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 Tbsp. ketchup
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
15 oz. can pigeon peas, with liquid
1 2/3 c. water
1/2 c. uncooked white rice
1 sprig fresh thyme, chopped

In a large saucepan with a tight fitting lid, melt butter over medium heat.  Add bacon and cook until evenly brown.  Stir in onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.  Mix in the tomato, tomato paste, ketchup, salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes or until tomatoes have softened and mixture is somewhat homogenous.

Stir in the pigeon peas (you can use blacked eyed peas if you can't find something labeled "pigeon peas") and their liquid, water, rice and thyme.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to low.  Cook 40 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed.  Fluff with a fork and serve.

Sweet Plantains (printable recipe)
For an appetizer, we had tostones: twice-fried green plantains.  For the main course, I decided to make sweet plantains, to compliment the spicy and smokey flavors in the chicken and peas-rice.  There are three major differences between tostones and sweet plantains; you use plantains as ripe and black as you can find them instead of green, you cut them lengthwise instead of into slices, and lastly, you only fry them once instead of the double-fry we did on the tostones.  That makes them healthier, right?

3 ripe plantains
2/3 cup corn oil
Brown Sugar

Peel the plantains and slice into 1/4 to 1/2 thick slices lengthwise.  Fill a large skillet with enough corn oil to go a little over half way up the plantain slices you have made, and set it over medium heat.  The oil is up to temperature when you can place a drop of water in the pan and it pops and sizzles.  Fry the plantains briefly in batches, for a minute or two per side.  Reduce the heat to low and continue cooking, turning occasionally, until they are brown and caramelized.

Transfer the plantains to paper towels and sprinkle with white or brown sugar.  Let cool slightly and serve with the main dish.