Saturday, June 23, 2012

28 by 28: Panzanella

It's no secret that I'm a tomato fiend. I'll eat tomatoes plain with salt and pepper or stacked high on sandwiches, hamburgers, wraps, you name it. My husband, on the other hand, is not a fan. This usually serves me well, as I get his castaways to add to my own grub. (Score!) The game changed this week, though, with the gift of farm-fresh tomatoes from my dear in-laws. He's been snacking on them like nobody's business! I decided this afternoon that, if I was going to knock out the panzanella on my 28 by 28 list, I'd better act fast. It was delicious! Light and refreshing, the addition of the balsamic vinegar and basil transformed a standard tomato salad into something special.

Adapted from Simple Recipes

4 cups tomatoes, cut into large chunks
4 cups day old crusty bread*, cut into large chunks
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
1 bunch fresh basil, stems removed
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Chiffonade the basil. (Stack the basil leaves on cutting board. Roll tightly and slice into thin strips.)

2. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Allow to marinate, covered, at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour.

3. Serve at room temperature.

* If you don't have hard old bread sitting around, you can take fresh crusty bread, cut it into big cubes, lay the cubes out on a baking sheet, and place in a 300°F oven for 5-10 minutes, until the outer edges have dried out a bit (not toasted, just dried). If you use fresh bread without doing this, the bread will turn to mush in the salad.

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Sunday, June 17, 2012

SoCo Cherry Cordials for Dad

My dad doesn't eat many sweets, but he can't seem to resist the Queen Anne Cherry Cordials that come out around Christmastime.  I whipped up a batch of homemade cherry cordials to bring him for Fathers' Day, and boy are they delicious!  I opted to bathe my cherries in a bit of Southern Comfort, but you can choose any liquor you like. 

Things I learned by making chocolate cherry cordials:

- Some food is just magical! I was skeptical, but the thick fondant really did liquify, and within a day at that.
- Fondant burns hurt like you would not believe. I'm currently nursing a wicked blister on my right pointer finger, which has made note-taking a little more challenging than usual.
- Scraping fondant is quite the workout!

And a few notes: 
-  I could not find maraschino cherries with stems, so I dipped my cherries with a toothpick.
-  It helps to have an extra set of hands around during the fondant-working and chocolate-dipping stages.
-  You will get tired while working the fondant.  It's okay to take a break! 
-  I found these pictures of the fondant-making process very helpful, although this recipe produces a fondant with a pink hue due to the inclusion of cherry juice.  (Remember, it's okay to take a break!)
-  The longer you soak your cherries, the stronger a liquor flavor they will have.  I soaked mine for two hours and the flavor comes through well but is not overpowering.
-  Make sure that there are no holes in your chocolate covering, or the liquified fondant will leak out.  You may find it necessary to remelt some chocolate and fill in some gaps as they dry.
From Serious Eats


To soak the cherries:
24 maraschino cherries with stems
3 tablespoons Southern Comfort, or liquor of choice

For the Fondant:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
4 tablespoons liquid from maraschino cherry jar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup

To Dip the Cherries:
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1. Place cherries in small bowl with liquor. Cover and rest two to twelve hours, stirring occasionally.

2. Place cherries on paper towel lined pan to dry, standing each cherry upright. In small saucepan, combine sugar, water, cherry juice, and light corn syrup. Cook over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. When mixture comes to boil, stop stirring and continue to cook until mixture registers 240°F on instant read thermometer, occasionally brushing edge of pan with water to dissolve crystals.

3. Pour sugar syrup onto a rimmed baking sheet set over a towel, and let cool until just barely warm, about 25 minutes. Using a pastry scraper (or sturdy metal spatula!), scrape syrup up and over itself. Continue this motion while moving mass of thickened syrup back and forth across pan. Syrup will begin to thicken as it cools. Use offset spatula or to remove buildup from pastry scraper as needed. Continue working fondant until mixture begins to turn from translucent to opaque, about 15 minutes.

4. Continue to work mixture back and forth across baking sheet until it begins to thicken considerably, to the point of becoming a thick paste, about 15 minutes more. Transfer fondant to small saucepan and set over low heat, stirring until just melted. Remove from heat.

5. Line baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Holding cherry by the stem, dip in fondant to coat, and set on prepared sheetpan. Remelt fondant if it thickens before cherries are finished being dipped. Let fondant dry onto cherries, about 10 minutes.

6. Place chocolate in heatproof bowl set over pan of barely simmering water. Stirring gently, heat until about half of chocolate is melted. Remove bowl from heat and continue to stir chocolate until completely melted.

7. One by one, dip fondant covered cherries in chocolate, covering completely and then allowing excess chocolate to drip from cherry. Set each cherry back on parchment lined sheetpan. Chill at least 48 hours before serving.  As the cordials chill, the fondant will liquify into a sweet syrup.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Pork Florentine

It's swap time again!  This time, I was paired up with Joelen over at What's Cookin' Chicago.  I knew exactly what I would make when I got my match- I had been drooling over this pork florentine dish since it crossed my Google Reader a few weeks ago.  I was not disappointed!  The flavorful sauce was the perfect accompaniment to seared chops and mashed potatoes.  (And the inclusion of all that spinach surely takes away some of the cream-induced guilt!)

As always, thank you to A Taste of Home Cooking for hosting another wonderful swap!

From What's Cookin', Chicago?, originally from America's Test Kitchen

1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 pounds baby spinach
1 1/2 pounds pork chops (about 4-6)
1 onion, minced
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups low sodium chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream
pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

In a 12 inch skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium high heat. Add the spinach in four batches to the skillet and cook down until all the spinach is wilted and decreased in volume by half. Transfer the spinach to a colander and press through any excess liquid. Place spinach onto a cutting board and coarsely chop. Return the chopped spinach to the colander and press through any excess liquid again; set aside.

Pat the pork chops dry with paper towels and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Heat 1 tablespoon in the now empty skillet over medium high heat until smoking. Cook the seasoned pork chops in batches and brown on each side, cooking until the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees. Transfer the cooked pork chops to a warm plate and tent with foil to keep warm.  (The internal temperature will continue to rise once the chops are off the heat.)

In the now empty skillet, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over medium high heat. Add the onions and cook until softened. Add the flour and garlic and cook until fragrant. Slowly add the broth and heavy cream, stirring constantly. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper and nutmeg and simmer until sauce thickens up. Remove from heat and stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan and spinach to create the sauce.

To serve, plate the pork and top with the Parmesan spinach sauce.

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Spinach Strawberry Salad with Homemade Raspberry Vinaigrette

I'm sorry I left y'all hanging with my other post!  This salad just screams summer.  From the fresh strawberries to the tangy vinaigrette, you won't be able to get enough!  I didn't include measurements for the salad- we just eyeballed it.

Summery Spinach Salad

Baby spinach
Sliced fresh strawberries
Cooked, cubed chicken
Crispy bacon pieces
Sugared pecans
Homemade raspberry vinaigrette, recipe to follow

Raspberry Vinaigrette
Adapted from The Taste of Home Cookbook

1/2 cup raspberry vinegar
1 tbsp white sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp dijon

1 tbsp minced shallot
1 clove garlic, minced
 Dash pepper

 1.  Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.  Whisk well to combine.  Refrigerate until serving.

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Monday, June 4, 2012

Sugared Pecans

After a hectic week of preparations, school is out for summer!  There's no feeling quite like that first Monday morning you wake up and realize you've got nowhere to be.  :-)  I plan to throw myself at several cooking and sewing projects over the next two and a half months, so stay tuned!

Speaking of cooking, let's talk about today's treat!  Maybe it's just a southern thing, but it seems like every mall, craft show, gun show, carnival, and holiday market has at least a couple peddlers stirring giant vats of candied pecans.  The aroma usually hits my nose about two steps in, and I find myself turning out my pockets and digging in my purse for loose change.

I cooked up some sugared pecans of my own this afternoon, and I'm proud to say they were just as delicious as any I've had out.  Be sure to come back tomorrow, as I'll be sharing a dinnertime recipe featuring these little guys.

From Southern Food

1 egg white
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups pecan halves

Beat egg white until foamy; slowly beat in the brown sugar and flour. Add salt and vanilla flavoring, then fold in pecans. Transfer pecans to a greased baking pan and bake at 250° for about 45 minutes.

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