CHILE DE ARBOL SALSA

When I was visiting Eric in LA a couple weeks ago he bought a salsa from Super King, the Armenian grocery store near his house.  They also have other Ethnic foods there as well, and we fell in love with this salsa!  I brought a couple containers home in a small insulated bag with a blue ice pack, because I was so determined to try and duplicate it.  JT loves it as well, so I read the ingredients on the container and got to work.  We sampled both the bought version and mine with tortilla chips and decided this was a pretty close duplicate.  This only makes about 12 oz. so you might prefer to double it.  I will cut back on the chiles because it is too hot for JT again (Sissy), but it hasn’t stopped him from eating it!

 3 Roma tomatoes
3 lg. garlic cloves
5 chiles de arbol (dried in a package)
½ t. kosher salt
1 t. apple cider vinegar
¼ c. water

Wrap the tomatoes and garlic cloves loosely in foil, making sure to seal the foil so the veggies will steam.  Set them on a comal (or black skillet) over low heat for about 20 minutes.  About every 5 minutes unseal the foil and turn the veggies as they begin to blacken on the bottom; reseal the foil.  After about 15 or so minutes set the chiles on top of the tomatoes so they can steam and soften a bit.  You don’t want them to get black so don’t let them come into direct contact with the pan.  Once everything has softened a bit, take them off the stove.  Cut off the ends of the chiles and shake out the seeds.  Put all the ingredients into a blender, including any juice that might have been created from the tomatoes.  Add salt, vinegar and water and barely blend until all ingredients are well blended.  Refrigerate until ready to eat and store in the refrigerator for about 2 weeks.

ROSVELIA'S SALSA

Frequently when Rosvelia is here cleaning I pick her brain on Mexican food.  Remember when she taught me how to make corn tortillas?  For JT’s big 60th bday party I wanted a variety of salsas so she made one for me, and I watched and took notes.  It’s really yummy and authentic-tasting, but her version was super hot.  I will list it exactly as she made it, but you will probably want to cut back on the number of Serrano peppers and maybe even the jalapeno peppers like I will do when I make it.  As it is, it is not for the average Texan – JT couldn’t eat very much of it.  Sissy… Actually if I'm being honest it was too hot for me too, but I will never admit that to him!

7 Roma tomatoes
5 Tomatillos, rinsed well after husks have been removed
3 fresh jalapeno peppers (maybe less)
3 fresh serrano peppers (probably less)
3 garlic cloves
Salt

Loosely wrap the tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers in foil and set them on the comal over low heat.  Be sure to seal the foil so the veggies will steam inside it.  About 5 minutes unwrap and turn the veggies as they blacken on the bottoms.  Reseal the foil.  Do this for about 20 minutes, checking to be sure everything has softened a bit.  Pour everything into a blender, including juices that might have been created from the tomatoes.  Add the raw garlic and season with salt.  Barely blend just until all ingredients have been blended.  Taste and probably add more salt. 

CAST IRON STEAKS WITH HERB BUTTER


I never spend the money to buy a nice steak which is kinda crazy because I will spend lots more on good cheeses and other ingredients to make a good meal.  So for Valentine’s Day this year I decided it would be a nice splurge and an easy meal to have steak.  I also wanted an excuse to finally open the nice bottle of Cakebread Cellars Syrah I had bought in Napa 6 years ago.  I love cooking with my cast-iron skillet so I was dying to try to cook steaks in it.  This recipe came from America’s Test Kitchen, and I have made some of their recipes before and knew they had tried every method and timing to make the best steak in a cast-iron skillet.  It was really tasty with a perfectly browned, crisp crust and a juicy, evenly cooked interior.  Served with sour cream potatoes and wilted lettuce (which are both on the blog), the steak dinner was deemed a huge success by my Valentine of 40 years!

2 – 1 lb. boneless strip steaks, 1-1/2” thick
Salt and pepper
2 TB vegetable or canola oil
4 TB unsalted butter, softened
2 TB minced shallot
1 TB minced fresh parsley
1 TB minced fresh chives
1 garlic clove, minced

Set butter out early to soften, about an hour or so.  Once it is soft enough combine it with the shallot, parsley, chives, garlic and ¼ t. pepper; set it aside.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and place a 12” cast-iron skillet on a rack in the cold oven.  Heat the oven to 500 degrees.  Meanwhile season steaks with salt and let sit at room temperature.

When the oven reaches 500 degrees, pat steaks dry with paper towels and season with pepper.  Using potholders, remove the skillet from the oven and place over medium-high heat; turn off oven.  Being careful of hot skillet handle, add oil and heat until just smoking.  Cook steaks, without moving them, until lightly browned on first side, about 2 minutes.  Flip steaks and cook until lightly browned on second side, about 2 minutes.

Flip steaks, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, flipping every 2 minutes until steaks are well browned and meat registers 120-125 degrees (for medium rare), 7-9 minutes total.*  Transfer steaks to carving board, smear 2 TB herb butter on each steak, loosely tent with aluminum foil, and let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

*My steaks came from the meat counter and were about 1-1/2” thick but not quite a pound each.  I set my timer for 2 minutes and flipped them so that each side was cooked twice, which was a total of 8 minutes, and they were perfectly medium rare.  I did use my meat thermometer and they were between 120 and 125 degrees.

STUFFED ANCHO CHILES


My dream vacation of going to San Miguel de Allende finally happened!  It was a wonderful Christmas treat for all five of us, and we created life-long memories.   The first day we were there Eric, Lauren, and I took a cooking class from Gaby Green, the chef/owner of the restaurant Aquamiel.  It was so much fun!  She picked us up at the house we rented (It was fabulous btw!) and took us to the market.  We spent a couple hours there tasting unique items and learning about the different kinds of chiles and special ingredients.  While there we decided on our menu and bought the groceries before heading back to the restaurant to cook.  It was such a unique way to shop and of course everything was so fresh, including the meat.  Justin tagged along and took pictures and videos for us, but his only participation in the kitchen was to shred the chicken after it was cooked, and then of course he loved eating the food!  Logan chose not to take the class and instead explored the city on his own.  We actually ran into him at the market where he had bought a huge bouquet of flowers for $13!!  What he bought would have cost well over $100 if he bought them in the states.  They adorned our living room and made me smile every time I walked in the front door.  We made several dishes, and I will blog all our favorites, but I have made this dish twice since we returned home, and honestly both times someone at the table moaned when they took the first bite.  You know how I like moaning when it comes to food!!  One time I topped it with a Tomatillo sauce, and the other time with a Ranchero sauce.  Both were wonderful.  It is a simple recipe so don’t be afraid to try it.  The flavors are unique and so far I haven’t served it to anyone who didn’t love it. 

Dried ancho chiles (1 per person; choose the largest ones)
10 oz. pkg. Ranchero Queso Fresco, grated*
Pkg. Oaxacan cheese
Fresh epazote leaves, optional**
Tomatillo sauce or Ranchero Sauce
Mexican Crema or sour cream

Spray a glass baking dish with Pam and set aside.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bring a sauce pan of water to almost boiling.  One by one using tongs dip the ancho chiles into the water for a couple of minutes.  They should soften a little but don’t leave them too long or they will fall apart.  You want them pliable.  Slit up one side and remove all the seeds.  If there is a stringy red vein in a couple of spots gently remove it as well with a sharp knife.  Trim the stem of the chile to about 1” and set them aside until all the chiles are softened.

The Oaxacan cheese appears to be a ball of cheese that is made like a rope.  Unwind the ball so that you have a rope.  Open the slit of the chile and put pieces of the Oaxacan along the bottom of the chile.  Fill in around it and generously on top of it with the Ranchero cheese.  Lay an epazote leaf on top of the cheese and invert the chile so the slit is on the bottom of the glass dish.  Continue until all the chiles are in the dish.  Cover generously with the sauces and along the bottom of the dish so that each person will get more sauce when served.  Bake about 30 minutes or until it appears that the cheese has melted inside the chile.

To serve put a chile on each plate and generously cover with the extra sauce that was on the bottom of the glass dish.  Drizzle with a little crema or sour cream, and if desired sprinkle with a little more Ranchero cheese.  Serve immediately.

*In Mexico the cheese was referred to as Ranch cheese; here I found it as Ranchero Queso Fresco.  I also saw Queso Fresco without the word Ranchero on it so I am thinking that it is somewhat different than regular Queso Fresco.  I have never gotten a good answer from anyone at Fiesta or HEB so I just continue to make sure I am buying Ranchero Queso Fresco.

**Fiesta is the only place I have found fresh epazote leaves, and it seems almost silly to drive over there just for one leaf per chile; however, there are a few other dishes that call for it so I try and make them while I still have the huge bunch of epazote.  Gaby’s recipe noted that cilantro could be substituted for epazote, but I haven’t tried it yet.

TOMATILLO SAUCE:

2 lbs. tomatillos, husked and rinsed
2 serrano or jalapeno chiles
2 cloves garlic, peeled
½ medium onion, cut in half
½ c. chicken broth
1 t. salt
1 TB lard or canola oil

Place the tomatillos in a large saucepan.  Add the garlic, onion, and chiles and cover with cold water.  Bring to a boil, then simmer on medium heat until the tomatillos turn pea green and soften, about 10-12 minutes.  Transfer to a bowl and let cool slightly.  Stem the chiles, and if desired to cut back on heat remove the seeds, and chop roughly with the garlic.  Add to a blender half of the tomatillo mixture and the chicken stock.  Blend until smooth.  Add the remaining tomatillo-onion mixture and salt and blend again until smooth. 

Warm the lard or oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  When hot, add the sauce in one quick pour, being careful as it might splatter.  Cook until the flavors meld, about 5 minutes.

Any leftover sauce can be used on top of grilled chicken or fish or even on a fried egg.  Be creative with it, but just don’t waste it!

RANCHERO SAUCE:

2 lbs. Roma tomatoes
2 medium serrano or jalapeno chiles
1 large clove garlic, peeled
¼ medium onion
1 TB lard or canola oil
¾ t. salt

Place the tomatoes, chiles, garlic, and onion in a Dutch oven and cover with cold water.  (The tomatoes will float.)  Bring to medium heat, simmering gently, until the tomato flesh softens, about 8 minutes.  The chile and onion may take a few minutes longer.  The chile is done when the skin darkens and becomes slightly matter; the onion should be translucent.  Drain and transfer the tomato mixture to a bowl, reserving ¼ c. of the cooking water.  Let cool to room temperature.

Stem the chiles, and if desired to cut back on heat remove the seeds, and chop roughly.  Place them in a blender with the onion and garlic.  Slip off and discard the tomato skins; add the tomatoes to the blender and blend until smooth.  (This may need to be done in batches depending on the power of your blender.)  If the sauce seems very thick, add the reserved cooking water and blend again until smooth.

Heat the lard/oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  When it melts, add the sauce in one quick pour, being careful as it might splatter.  Season with the salt or more to taste.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer gently until the flavors meld, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.  Keep warm if using immediately.

COUNTRY COLLARD GREENS

I made these for New Year’s Day along with black-eyed peas, and they were devoured.  I like to mix greens sometimes (see Winter Greens), but my favorite greens are collards.  I also posted another recipe for collards that are not cooked long, which I love.   In this recipe the collards are cooked longer and get much softer, similar to the ones the old-time country cooks used to make.  Both are good, and the more I make these and tweak them the better I like them.

Olive oil
4 slices center-cut bacon, diced, optional
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 ham hock
About 2 cups chicken broth
2-3 TB white, red wine or balsamic vinegar*
2 TB light brown sugar
1 TB red pepper flakes
3 bunches collards, rinsed, center vein removed, and chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

In a Dutch oven heat a small amount of olive oil.  If using bacon, cook it until it is shriveled but not crispy.  If trying to be healthier skip the bacon, but the bacon does add another layer of flavor.  Add the onion and sauté it until it is carmelized, adding the garlic in the last couple of minutes.  Put the ham hock in the pan and then deglaze the bacon remains with the chicken broth.  Stir in the vinegar, sugar and red pepper until the sugar is dissolved. 

Add the collards a little at a time, stirring until they begin to soften enough to be able to add more.  Once all the collards have been added, season with black pepper and lightly season with salt because the chicken broth is somewhat salty.  At this point you may need to add more broth but you just want about an inch and half of broth – you don’t want it soupy at all.  Cook the collards about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more broth if they are running out of liquid.

*I have used both white vinegar, red wine vinegar and balsamic vinegar on different occasions.  Experiment to see which you prefer!  I like them all but lately I have preferred red wine vinegar.

SUSIE’S JALAPENO RANCH DIP


This recipe is totally addictive.  It makes a lot so if you want to put your math skills to test you can cut it down.  I usually make it for a crowd and then enjoy the leftovers for a couple of weeks.  Once you start eating it, you will have a difficult time stopping.  It is supposedly the recipe from Chuy’s, an Austin Mexican restaurant.  The dip is not at all spicy so if you are wanting some heat you might want to switch a few of the jalapenos out for serranos.  The flavor is superb, and I have never made it that it wasn’t the favorite appetizer of the party.  Thanks Susie for sharing!  Now that I have it on the blog I can quit asking you to send me the recipe again!

1 Qt mayo (I use Hellmann’s)
1 c. buttermilk
1 c. chopped fresh jalapenos
1 c. green tomatillo sauce (I use Herdez green salsa)
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
3 – 1 oz. packets dry ranch dressing mix

Mix the first 5 ingredients in a blender until smooth.  Stir in the ranch mix with a whisk.  Chill before serving and keep refrigerated. 

THANKSGIVING DRESSING


There are many varieties of this recipe, and every year I look at my mom’s recipe, Aunt Clara’s recipe, and even KK’s mom Ople’s recipe and I usually try to take some of all their ideas.  Some of them add crushed saltines or stale buttermilk biscuits as well, and sometimes I add them.  This is the one I generally end up doing, and we are very happy with it.  My mom’s recipe, as well as others, call for raw eggs to be added, but I have found that it makes the dressing too “congealed” for my taste, so I don’t add them.  Justin used to beg me to add oysters at one end of the dressing, and for years I used giblets at the other end; however, I am happy using the Italian sausage in this recipe and foregoing the other protein choices.   Also diced, boiled eggs were added by all of the moms, but I put them in my giblet gravy so I don’t think they are necessary in the dressing either.  If your memory is of boiled eggs in your dressing, then by all means boil and dice about 6 eggs and add them.   The bulk of this recipe came from a Food Network Magazine of several years ago, and I tweaked it to include some of the mom’s ideas.  Tasting it as you go is the best way to ensure you are happy with the seasonings; others are always happy to give you their opinions as well if you are lucky enough to have someone in the kitchen with you while you are cooking.

2 pkg. Martha White Cornbread mix (should make about 6 c. crumbled cornbread)
8 c. stale, good-quality white bread, toasted, and torn into small pieces
1 lb. Italian sausage
6 TB butter + more for dots on top
2 c. diced onion
2 c. diced celery
Bunch of green onions, diced, optional
4 c. chopped, fresh spinach
About 1 TB minced sage
About 1 TB minced thyme
Cayenne to taste
About ¼ c. chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley
About 1/3 c. pine nuts, optional
About 1/3 c. grated parmesan
About 6 c. chicken or turkey broth (homemade if you can; if not then store-bought)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Poultry seasoning, optional

Make the cornbread according to the recipe on the packages a day or two before you are making the dressing so that it has time to get stale.  Do the same with the toasted bread (and biscuits if you decide to try them.)  Crumble all of it into a very large bowl and cover with a tea towel.  At least once a day stir it so the bread on the bottom of the bowl gets a chance to dry out as well.

The day you are making the dressing sauté the sausage in a skillet, crumbling it as it cooks completely.  Take the sausage out and leave the drippings in the pan.  Add the butter and once it is melted, add the onions and celery, and cook until soft, stirring occasionally so it won’t stick.  Pour them over the bread mixture and stir in the rest of the ingredients except the broth.  Begin pouring the broth over the mixture, stirring as you go.  You want it to be soupy so it will stay moist while it cooks.  Add salt and pepper and taste for seasoning.  At this point you may want to add more sage or even a small amount of poultry seasoning and of course salt and pepper until you like the flavor of it.

Butter a 9X13 baking dish and transfer the dressing into it and dot with butter.  Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes; uncover and bake until golden and firm, about 30-40 minutes.

BRAISED TURKEY LEGS & THIGHS

Our family prefers the dark meat of chickens and turkeys, so cooking a full turkey for Thanksgiving is just a waste.  I recently read an article in the Fine Cooking magazine that confirmed my suspicions why the breast gets so dry.  By the time the legs and thighs are done, the breast is overcooked and usually becomes dry.  Brining helps, but again we all prefer the dark meat anyway.  This recipe is cooked on the stovetop which frees up the oven, and it can be done the day before and gently reheated in the braising broth.  I love the flavor of this turkey so much that I can’t stop eating it – and I have never been a huge turkey fan.  My family has declared that this is our new Thanksgiving turkey recipe, and I agree completely.  I doubled this recipe for Thanksgiving because we had 8 people, but a single recipe is perfect for a dinner with  leftovers.

2-3 TB olive oil
2 skin-on, bone-in turkey legs (about 1-1/2 -  2 lbs.)
2 skin-on, bone-in turkey thighs (about 2-3 lbs.)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large white onion, chopped
4 large cloves garlic, peeled and slivered
3 whole clove
2 dried bay leaves
1 t. dried oregano
2 TB tomato paste, optional *
3 c. turkey or chicken stock
1-1/4 c. dry white wine
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

In a large 7-8 qt Dutch oven or heavy-duty pot, heat 2 TB of the oil over medium-high heat.  Season the drumsticks and thighs with salt and pepper.  Working in batches, sear the turkey parts until well browned on both sides, about 8 minutes per batch.  Transfer the turkey to a rimmed baking sheet.  Add the onion, garlic, cloves, bay leaves, and oregano to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion begins to brown, about 5 minutes.  It may be necessary to add more olive oil at this point.  Stir in the tomato paste, if using, and cook for 1 minute.  Add the stock, wine, and pepper flakes, and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot.  Bring to a boil.  Return the turkey and any juice to the pot, reduce the heat to medium low, partially cover, and simmer gently until the turkey is very tender, 1-1/2 – 2 hrs. 

Remove from the heat and let the turkey cool, covered, sitting in the braising liquid for 1 hour.

Transfer the turkey to a cutting board.  Remove and discard the skin, then take the meat off the bone in large pieces and put back in the sauce.  (The turkey may be cooked up to 2 days before serving.  Cover and refrigerate.)

To serve, gently reheat the turkey and sauce, if necessary.  If there is a significant amount of sauce serve it on the side.  The recipe states that there should be enough to strain and use as gravy, but both times I made it there was just enough in the bottom of the pan for me to stir into the turkey pieces for flavor.

*The first time I made this recipe I added the tomato paste, and it gave it a hint of sweetness that we really enjoyed.  However, when I made this recipe for Thanksgiving, I omitted the tomato paste so it would be more traditional and would go better with the cornbread dressing.  We love it both ways.

BACON CHEESEBURGERS WITH BOURBON SAUCE




If you like a smokey burger this one is right up your alley.  I have made them twice, and both  times we loved them.  Since Jack Daniels is our drink of choice, we knew we would like the bourbon sauce, and all the smokiness from the sauce and the smoked cheddar really pushed them over the top.  Actually I would use the smoked cheddar even when I don’t have the sauce, and the sauce even when I don’t have the cheddar.  They are both yummy enough to stand alone, but together, all I can say is Wow (and so did everyone who has eaten them)!

SAUCE:
2 t. canola oil
2 slices bacon, cut into ½” strips
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
¼  c. bourbon (Of course I used Jack)
1 c. ketchup
¼ c. water
3 TB cider vinegar
3 TB unsulfured molasses
2 TB dark steak sauce (I used A-1)
1 TB spicy brown mustard
1 t. liquid smoke
½ t. hot pepper sauce (I used Pete’s)

BURGER:
8 slices bacon
1-1/2 lbs. ground chuck (80%lean)
1 t. kosher salt
½ t. freshly ground black pepper
4 oz. smoked cheddar cheese, grated
4 leaves lettuce (I used Romaine)
8 slices ripe tomato
4 hamburger buns

IF you have a smoker box, soak hickory chips in water for at least 30 minutes.  If not, you will still be happy with your burger.

In a heavy, medium saucepan over medium heat on the stove, warm the oil.  Add the bacon strips and fry until browned and crisp, 3-5 minutes.   Remove the bacon from the pan to drain on paper towels; leave the drippings in the pan.

Add the onion to the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until soft and golden brown 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add the bourbon, increase the heat to medium-high and boil to reduce slightly, about 1 minute.  Add the remaining sauce ingredients and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the mixture thickens and is reduced to about 2 cups, about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Turn off the heat and stir in the fried and cooled bacon.  Cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a skillet over medium heat on the stove, fry the 8 bacon slices until browned and crisp, 8-10 minutes, turning occasionally.  Transfer the bacon to paper towels to drain.

Mix the ground chuck with salt and pepper, then gently form four patties of equal size each about ¾” thick.  With your thumb make a shallow indentation about 1” wide in the center of the patties to prevent them from forming a dome as they cook.  Refrigerate the patties until ready to grill.

Prepare the grill for direct cooking over medium-high heat (about 400 degrees).

IF you are using a smoker box, drain and add the wood chips to the smoker box and close the lid until smoke appears.  If you aren’t using a smoker box of course skip this step.  Grill the patties over direct medium-high heat with the lid closed until cooked to medium doneness (160 degrees), 8-10 minutes, turning once.  During the last minute of grilling time, place 1/4th of the cheese on each patty to melt, and toast the buns, cut side down, over direct heat.

Build each burger on a bun with lettuce, tomato slices, a patty, 2 bacon slices and sauce.  Serve warm. 

COCONUT CAKE WITH BERRY FILLING



I admit this cake is a bit time-consuming, but it isn't difficult.  If someone you love loves coconut and you want to do something especially nice for them, this is the cake.  I made it this weekend, and JT said it might be the best cake he has ever eaten; Scott said it was a “moaner”; Logan said it was “damn good”; and Kim thought it was light and airy and absolutely perfect.   The recipe called for raspberry preserves, but Logan wanted blueberry preserves, so honestly any berry that you like will be enjoyable.  Trust me, if you like coconut this cake is for you!

3 c. sifted cake flour (sift before measuring)
2 t. baking powder
¼ t. salt
1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 lb. powdered sugar
4 egg yolks, well beaten
1 c. coconut milk
1 t. vanilla
1 t. coconut extract
14 oz. shredded coconut, divided
4 egg whites, well beaten with a mixer, almost to meringue stage
Good quality berry preserves of choice, at least 1 cup *

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour 2 – 8 or 9” cake pans.

Combine the cake flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.  Sift these ingredients together 3 additional times.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter thoroughly adding sugar gradually.  Continue creaming until light and fluffy.  Add the egg yolks and beat well.  Slowly add the flour mixture alternately with the milk, beating well after each addition.  Stir in extracts and 1 c. shredded coconut.  Fold in the egg whites gently until well combined.

Pour into prepared pans and bake about 35 minutes for 8” pans and about 30 minutes for 9” pans, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.  Don’t overbake.  Cool in pan about 10 minutes and then remove from pan and cool completely, covering cake with a light tea towel to keep it from drying out.

*If you choose raspberry, blackberry, or strawberry, you might want to press it through a sieve slowly to get out all the seeds.  Blueberry doesn’t have seeds so it is an easier yet delightful choice.

FROSTING:

1 c. whole milk
3 TB flour
1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 c. white sugar
½ t. vanilla extract
½ t. coconut extract
1-1/2 c. powdered sugar
Rest of 14 oz bag of shredded coconut

In a saucepan, use a whisk to blend flour into milk.  Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly.  Reduce heat; cook and stir 2 more minutes.  Remove from heat and cover the surface with plastic wrap.  Cool to room temperature without stirring.

In a medium mixing bowl beat butter, white sugar and extracts until light and fluffy.  Add cooled milk mixture a quarter cup at a time, beating on low speed after each addition until smooth.  Add powdered sugar ½ c. at a time, beating well afterward.  Beat until mixture is light and fluffy.

Slice each layer in half.  Spread a thin layer of preserves on the bottom layer and lightly sprinkle shredded coconut.  Put on second layer and spread with frosting.  On third layer do preserves and coconut again.  Top with fourth layer and spread entire cake with frosting.  Sprinkle coconut on top of the cake and lightly press coconut into the sides of the cake.

GRILLED CABBAGE “STEAKS”



If you like cabbage, you will enjoy this version of it.  Leo told me about it while we were grilling chickens, and I decided to try it.  Last night I was grilling my chicken over indirect heat at 300 degrees so I set these on the direct heat and cooked them about 15 minutes, turning them once.  If I was just grilling it I would probably do it at 350 degrees and it might get done a little faster and with a little more brown.  It wasn’t extremely tender, but I really liked the flavor – and also how easy it is for a side dish.  We had to cut it with a knife to eat it, but that didn't really bother us. 

1 head of green cabbage, rinsed with outer leaves removed
Olive oil
Season-all seasoning of choice – I used Uncle Chris’s Gourmet Steak Seasoning by Fiesta

Slice the cabbage into “steaks” about 1” thick.  Brush olive oil on both sides or spray them heavily with a spray olive oil if you have it.  Heavily season both sides.  Put them directly on the grill or on a grill pan.  The trick will be to keep them from falling apart, hence one reason for slicing them so thick.  Once the bottom has browned a bit, carefully flip them over until the other side has browned.  I cooked them about 15 minutes at 300 degrees, but if you like your cabbage more tender you might want to cook them a little longer or at a higher heat.

MUSHROOM BRUSCHETTA


For our 36th anniversary I decided to make a nice meal at home and have our kids join us since this is the first year Lauren has lived in Austin since 2005.  We love mushrooms so I found this recipe in my Weber’s grilling book since I am all about grilling this summer.  I cheated and bought jar roasted red peppers rather than grilling them, but other than that I followed the recipe.  With shitakes, pine nuts and goat cheese I knew we would love it – and we did!  It was a superb appetizer with our cocktails to begin our celebratory evening.

½ c. dry white wine
1//4 c. extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
2 t. minced garlic
2 t. finely chopped fresh rosemary
½ t. kosher salt
¼ t. freshly ground black pepper
 ½ lb. large shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
2 roasted red bell peppers
20 slices good-quality French bread, each about ¼” thick
EVOO
¼ c. pine nuts
2 TB finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
4 oz. goat cheese

To make the marinade whisk together the first 6 ingredients.  Place the mushrooms in a large ziplock bag and pour in the marinade.  Press the air out of the bag and turn it several times to distribute the ingredients.  Allow the mushrooms to marinate at room temperature for 1-2 hours, turning the bag occasionally.

Shake any excess moisture from the mushrooms and grill over Direct Medium heat (350-450 degrees) until tender, about 8-10 minutes, turning occasionally.  Lightly brush or spray the slices of bread on both sides with olive oil.  Grill over Direct Medium heat until lightly toasted, 1-2 minutes, turning once.

In a medium pan over medium heat, cook the pine nuts until lightly toasted, 5-10 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally.  Very finely chop the peppers, mushrooms and pine nuts and combine all of them in a bowl.  Add the parsley and stir.  Spread a thin layer of goat cheese on one side of each slice of bread.  Arrange about 1 TB of the mushroom mixture on top of each and serve at room temperature.

COCONUT-CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY SHORTCAKES


I love reading the Food Network Magazine and sometimes a recipe jumps out at me.  When I saw that these shortcakes had chocolate and coconut in them, I knew I had to make them.   The texture is somewhat dense, similar to a scone, but it was a perfect summer dessert.

SHORTCAKES:
1 c. heavy cream, plus more for brushing
2 TB sour cream
1 t. vanilla
2-1/2 c. flour
¼ c. sugar
1 TB baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 1” cubes and frozen
1 c. semisweet chocolate chips
1-1/2 c. sweetened coconut

TOPPINGS:
2 lbs. strawberries, hulled and sliced
½ c. packed light brown sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 c. heavy cream
½ c. sour cream

Preheat the oven to 375.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Whisk the heavy cream, sour cream and vanilla in a small bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

Pulse the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor until combined.  Add the butter and pulse until the mixture looks like fine meal.  Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the chocolate chips and 1 c. coconut.  Gently fold in the heavy cream mixture using a rubber spatula until just combined.  Divide the dough into 6 pieces on the prepared baking sheet.  Pat into 3” rounds about 1” high.  Brush the rounds with heavy cream and sprinkle with the remaining ½ c. coconut.  Bake until lightly browned and slightly firm to the touch, about 30 minutes.  Let cool on the baking sheet.

Meanwhile, make the toppings.  Toss the strawberries, ¼ c. brown sugar and the vanilla in a medium bowl; set aside.

Just before serving, beat the heavy cream, sour cream and the remaining ¼ c. brown sugar in a large bowl with a mixer on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 2 minutes.  Split the shortcakes in half; sandwich the strawberries and cream between the halves.  

GAS-GRILLED BARBECUED CHICKEN


Don’t let the length of this scare you away – as usual I am just terribly detail-orineted.  Recently I have been on a quest to grill barbecued chicken.  My dad rarely cooked, but usually once every year he would barbecue for us, and memories of his barbecued chicken still linger in my mind.  Of course he only had an inexpensive old barrel-type grill that he built a fire in just  using wood.  This was in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s before much of anything fancy was out there and besides my dad was not into fancy.  I just remember him sitting out there occasionally adding wood, and I wasn’t interested in cooking back in those days so I have no idea what wood he used, how long he cooked it, or actually anything about the process.  I only know that I’ve never had any chicken like it since.  Since I am only using a gas grill it is of course impossible to duplicate what took him hours to cook over wood, but I have been trying to come as close to it as I can with my gas grill.  I haven’t perfected the smoker box/tube yet but I am getting better at it – and actually for the first time ever Justin is finally interested in the grill.  You see I don’t have one of those husbands that grills – I can’t even ask him to watch the grill for a few minutes while I am doing something else in the kitchen.  He has good intentions, but his short attention span always gets the best of him and something in the distance will catch his eye and he’s gone.  For some reason he has taken an interest in helping me figure out how to get more smoke from my gas grill, so he went and bought a tube from a BBQ store that holds wood pellets and a torch to light them.  It is a cool concept, but so far I haven’t gotten as much smoke out of it as I would like.  Then we bought a triangular-shaped box that holds wood chips and sits directly between two of the flame deflector bars under the grate.  It took a few tries, but the last time we used it we got the most smoke we have gotten so far – just not as much as I want.  SO, I am still working on the smoking part, but I think I have everything else down pretty well. 

KK's husband Leo is a master at grilling, so recently I watched him and took notes while he grilled chicken halves.  He grills them on foil, on indirect heat, never flips them over and occasionally sprays them with garlic-flavored olive oil.  So I used those tips, added brine and barbecue sauce and must admit I am pretty impressed with the results.   When I grilled chicken on July 4th, my friend Kim told me it was the best grilled chicken breast she had ever eaten – so I decided it was time to blog it – mainly for myself so I know what is working for the flavor and texture of the chicken.  Oh yeah, a grill with a thermometer is essential, and keeping an eye on the temp is critical.  In this brutal Texas heat I have actually had to turn a burner off for a while and then back on 15 minutes later to regulate the temperature.  I will continue working on the smoke, but this grilled chicken is pretty darn tasty.  Brining it is essential as well so be sure you have all your ingredients together the night before so you have plenty of brining time.  I have read many articles on various amounts of time to brine – some say 4 hours and others say up to 2 days! Then there are those that believe if you brine it too long it changes the texture of the chicken too much.  My “perfect” July 4th chicken was brined about 10 hours, but that was because I had too much fun on the 3rd and forgot to put it in the brine before I went to bed!  I think you can probably put it in the brine first thing in the morning and cook it late afternoon and be fine.  I honestly think the brining of the chicken is why Kim thought the breast was so good, because chicken breasts generally get dry before the leg quarters get done when cooking a chicken half.   As usual I forgot to take a picture, and today I only grilled leg/thigh quarters because we prefer dark meat, so that is why the picture isn’t of half chickens.   I highlighted the essential words in this long narrative so after you have read it once, you only have to go back and see what’s most important to you instead of having to reread it all.  If I ever get the smoker box the way I want it I will update this and also put it in bold.

BRINE for 2 chicken halves or up to 6 leg/thigh quarters or probably 4 bone-in breasts*:
1/3 c. kosher salt
1/3 c. white sugar
1/3 c. soy sauce
2 TB olive oil
1 gallon warm/hot water

You want the salt and sugar to totally dissolve, so some recipes say to boil all the ingredients, but I just used hot tap water and whisked them together until the water looked clear again and then added the soy sauce and oil.  The beauty of not boiling it is that it takes so long for the brine to cool, and I have never been good at waiting.

OR:

½ c. salt
2/3 c. brown sugar
1 TB garlic powder
1 TB onion powder
2 Bay leaves
1 gallon warm/hot water

Same hot water rule applies here.  Whisk the salt and sugar in the warm water until totally dissolved (Or put all in a pot and boil it).  In a small jar with a lid, put in the powders and some of the water out of the brine and shake until well dissolved.  This will keep the powders from lumping.  Add this into the brine and drop in the bay leaves.

Once the brine is room temp, add in the chicken.  I usually put it all in a jumbo-size ziplock (2-1/2 gallon) bag because it takes up less space in the frig.  Brine half chickens at least 10 hours and preferably overnight.  Brine bone-in chicken pieces at least 4 hours and preferably 8-10 hours.  Be sure and rinse off the chicken after taking it out of the brine and pat it completely dry with a paper towel before seasoning.

SEASONING:
2 Gringo’s Chupacabra Rub
or Rudy’s Turkey Rub

I have used both but everyone’s favorite was the Chupacabra Rub which is sold with all the spices at our HEB.  It only comes in a large 12 oz bottle, but it’s “chupalicious” so it’s worth the expense.

Heavily rub both sides of the chicken with the seasoning.

SMOKER BOX – You may skip this step if you don’t have one:
Soak wood chips in a bowl in water for at least 30 minutes.  I have used hickory and oak, but I’m told cherry and apple both are good with chicken.  Pour off the water and put them in the smoker box.

While they are soaking get your foil ready.  Take 2 pieces of the extra heavy duty foil that are large enough to hold your chicken and lay them on top of each other.  Fold up about an inch on each side to create a lip that will keep any juices from spilling over into the grill.  Spray the foil lightly with Pam.  The last 15 minutes of soaking time you should preheat your grill to about 500 degrees.  This will help get the wood chips to begin smoking.

When the temperature  reaches 500 put the smoker box down under the grate.  As soon as it begins to smoke turn off the middle burner and put your foil in the middle on the burner that is not lit and place your chicken on it, bone-side down.  The goal is for the chicken to cook on indirect heat.  You may have to occasionally open the grill to cool it down but your goal is to cook the chicken at a temperature between 300 and 325 at the most.  I have even had to turn off an outside burner to get it cool enough and then turn it back on to keep the temp stable.  Just be sure you don’t turn the one off that has the smoker box on it or it will quit smoking.  At most my smoker box has only smoked about 30 minutes, so I am working on getting more smoke.

If you have skipped the smoker box step, just get your foil ready and preheat your grill to about 300 degrees using the outside burners only.  Then read the previous 2 paragraphs about the foil, controlling the temperature, and the placement of the chicken.

GARLIC OIL SPRAY
YOUR FAVORITE BARBECUE SAUCE:

Never flip the chicken over.  It stays bone-side down the entire cooking time.  About 30 minutes into it lightly spray each piece with oil.  If you don’t have garlic oil then just use Pam Olive Oil spray.  If you choose not to use barbecue sauce then spray the skin side up again in 15 minutes.  If you want to use barbecue sauce (which we love) lightly brush both sides of chicken with the barbecue sauce instead of the garlic spray.  I have a cookie sheet on the side of the grill that I temporarily put the chicken to brush both sides with the sauce, so I don't have to move the foil and can keep the lid closed to keep my temperature stable.    If you don't keep the lid closed you will have to re-regulate the temperature, and that is a hassle.  Put the chicken back on the foil, bone-side down, close the lid and cook another 10 or so minutes.  If the meat on the bottom of the leg is beginning to pull away a bit the chicken should be done.  Take it off the grill and again lightly brush both sides with barbecue sauce. 

Get your napkins ready and Enjoy!!

*If you are only cooking bone-in chicken breasts you will definitely decrease the cooking time.  We aren’t white-meat fans so I haven’t experimented with it.  Good luck!

MARTINA’S PEACH COBBLER



On The Chew one day Martina McBride was making her mom’s peach cobbler that was a family favorite.  It was interesting to me because she poured boiling water over the top crust.  The Chew hosts appeared appalled at how much sugar she poured over the top crust before the boiling water, and liking things really sweet myself, I knew I had to try it.  It was a bit too sweet for Justin, but I loved it.  What I especially loved was that the top crust was almost crispy with a sugar coating.  I might try and do a little less sugar next time to appease him, but I would be happy with it just the way it is.

Cobbler:
6 medium ripe peaches (peeled)
Juice of ½ lemon
1/3 c. sugar (plus ¾ c.)
3 TB melted butter
1 t. baking powder
¼ t. salt
½ c. whole milk
1 c. sifted flour

Topping:
1 TB cornstarch
1 c. sugar
¼ t. cinnamon
2/3 c. boiling water
Vanilla ice cream (to serve)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Preheat gas grill to medium-high heat.  Place halved peaches on grill, cut-side down, and cook until charred.  Remove peaches to a cutting board and allow to cool slightly.  When cool enough to handle, slice the peaches lengthwise into ¼” slices.  To a large mixing bowl, add sliced peaches, 1/3 c. sugar and lemon juice.  Let macerate for 30 minutes then arrange them in the bottom of a 13x9” baking dish.

Combine the remaining ¾ c. sugar, butter, baking powder, salt, milk, and flour in a medium bowl.  Pour the batter over the peaches.  It’s okay if the batter doesn’t cover all the fruit; it spreads during baking.    

To make the topping combine the cornstarch, sugar and cinnamon together and sprinkle over the top of the batter.  Pour the boiling water evenly over the topping.  Bake for 45 minutes or until browned and bubbly.  Serve with vanilla ice cream.

TIP:  If the peaches are not ripe enough, toss one quart of peeled peach slices with the juice of half a lemon and 1/3 c. sugar in a large bowl and let macerate for about 30 minutes, or use canned peaches.  For an added treat add a cup of raspberries to the peaches.

WATERMELON & ARUGULA SALAD



Summertime means watermelons – juicy, crisp watermelons.  My Daddy was a farmer and rancher.  When I was young he farmed 200 acres of watermelons.  As he got older and became more of a rancher he only farmed about 30 acres as a hobby – and also so he could enter one in the annual Watermelon Thump in Luling.  He has been gone for 23 years, and I am still proud to say that he won this festival with the biggest black diamond melon 8 times – more than anyone in its 64 year history!  So obviously I like watermelon.  This salad piqued my interest because I was grilling ribs and I wanted something cool to offset the heat from the grill.  We all really enjoyed it.  Of course the trick is to pick a ripe watermelon that is still crisp – too ripe and the texture isn’t crispy.  My mama knew how to thump a melon and pick out the perfect one.  She always said it should sound flat when it was ripe.  I have never perfected that theory and usually just look for the white spot on the bottom where the watermelon sat in the sand long enough to ripen.  Good luck in picking a good one!

8 c. cubed seedless watermelon
1 small red onion, cut into thin rings
1 c. coarsely chopped macadamia nuts or sliced almonds, toasted
1 c. fresh arugula or baby spinach
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
3 TB canola oil
1 c. (4 oz.) crumbled blue cheese

In a large bowl, combine the watermelon and onion; cover and refrigerate until cold, at least 30 minutes.  Just before serving, add the nuts and arugula to the watermelon mixture.  In a small bowl whisk together the vinegar and oil then drizzle over the salad and toss to coat.  Sprinkle with the cheese.   

PATSY’S DEVILED EGGS



In our neighborhood Patsy is known for her deviled eggs.  Her sweet husband Bob helps her peel them, which of course is the least fun part and why most of us don’t make deviled eggs more often.  BTW I have tried every single suggestion on the internet on how to get the eggs to peel easily and nothing works consistently.  Have you ever known a man who could pass by a platter of them without popping one in his mouth?  I have made them my whole life, but now they are always compared to Patsy’s – even my friend Scott tells me Patsy’s are the best.  SO, I got the exact brands she uses and tried measuring amounts hoping to duplicate hers.  It’s a simple recipe, nothing out of the ordinary, but I have hopes of some day my guys eating them and saying “Yes, you finally can make them as tasty as Patsy does!”

12 large eggs, boiled and peeled
3 TB Vlasic sweet pickle relish*
3 TB Kraft mayo
1 TB French’s yellow mustard
Salt and pepper
Paprika, optional

Slice the eggs in half and pop out the yolk into a separate bowl.  Arrange the whites on a serving platter.  Into the yolks mash in the pickle relish, mayo, mustard, and salt and pepper until the yolks are smooth.  Spoon the filling into the egg whites.  If desired sprinkle lightly with paprika.  (Patsy only does it when she is trying to be “fancy”.)

*Sometimes I like to use sweet jalapeno relish instead of pickles for a little kick – my idea, not Patsy’s.  Yep I’m a rebel!

ROASTED CHICKEN THIGHS WITH CREAMED SHALLOTS AND BACON


This recipe came from Cooks Country, and every time I have made it, it has been a big hit.  My boys love it, and I recently made it for friends, and the husband referred to the meal as a “feast”.  The first time I made it I didn’t realize I didn’t have Brandy so I substituted Sherry and loved it just as much as when I have made it with Brandy.  These will go on the frequent rotation list for sure.  Kim made them recently and even Mark (a picky eater) loved them – enough said!

8 (5-7 oz) bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed
S&P
1 TB canola oil
4 slices bacon, cut into 1” pieces
8 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
½ c. brandy*
¼ c. water
½ c. heavy cream
1 TB minced fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 450.  Line rimmed baking sheet with foil.  Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with S&P.  Heat oil in 12” skillet over med hi heat until just smoking.  Cook chicken, skin side down, until well browned, about 8 minutes.  Transfer chicken to prepared sheet, skin side up, and roast until chicken registers 175 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour off fat from skillet.  Add bacon and cook over med high until crisp, 6-8 min.  Using slotted spoon transfer bacon to paper towel-lined plate.  Add shallots to now-empty skillet, cut side down.  Cover and cook until well browned, about 3 min.  Off heat, add brandy* and water.  Return skillet to heat and cook, covered, until shallots are tender, about 5 min.

Stir in cream and thyme and simmer, uncovered, until thickened, about 3 min.  Season with S&P to taste.  Transfer creamed shallots to serving platter, arrange chicken on top and sprinkle with bacon.  Serve.

*May substitute Sherry.

FUNFETTI CUPCAKES




Who doesn’t like funfetti cupcakes?  They are Lauren’s favorite so I went to the Brown Eyed Baker’s blog, and these were listed in her top ten favorite cupcakes.  I knew I had a winner and as usual her cupcakes are flavorful and moist.  For the first time though I wasn’t blown away by her buttercream frosting, so I have instead listed a more flavorful frosting.  These were taken to a crawfish boil at Zeke and Kenzie’s, and I swear I don’t remember seeing so many children 3 years old and younger in one place in a very long time!  I did hear one Dad say to his young daughter “Look me in the eye and say I agree not to have another cupcake.”  He actually made her stand there until she said I agree! – Awww Dad :-(

1-3/4 c. cake flour
1-1/4 c. all purpose flour
1-3/4 c. sugar
2-1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. kosher salt
1 c. unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into ½” cubes
4 eggs
1 c. whole milk
2 t. vanilla extract
½ c. rainbow sprinkles (approximately 1 bottle)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a cupcake pan with paper liners.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flours, sugar, baking powder and salt and mix together on low speed for one minute.  With the mixer on low, add the butter a few cubes at a time, continuing until all the butter has been added and the mixture resembles coarse sand.  Keeping the mixer on low speed, add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions.  Slowly pour in the milk and vanilla and mix until combined.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes, until the batter is smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.  Using a rubber spatula, gently stir in the sprinkles.

Fill the liners two-thirds full (about ¼ c. of batter) and bake for 15-20 minutes, until the centers are set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  (My oven took 15 minutes so be sure and don’t overbake them.)  Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting:

1 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
4 c. powdered sugar, SIFTED
¼ t. table salt
1 TB vanilla extract
Up to 4 TB whole milk or heavy cream
Rainbow sprinkles, for decorating

Beat the butter for a few minutes with a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed.  Turn the mixer speed to the lowest setting and slowly add the powdered sugar until the sugar has been incorporated with the butter.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and add the vanilla extract, salt, and 2 TB of milk or cream and beat for 3 minutes.  If you want a thinner frosting add more milk/cream 1 TB at a time.

Either spread the frosting on the cupcakes or pipe it on and garnish with additional sprinkles.  Store them in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.