Rugelach and Thumbprint Cookies

Both these cookies are made with the same cream cheese dough and are addictive whichever version you choose to try.

I haven’t made rugelach in ages. The recipe for the cream cheese pastry is very easy but the actual assembly is kind of fiddly. Don’t be intimidated as you can use the basic dough to make thumbprint cookies instead of the rugelach.

The picture (thumbprint cookies on the top row and various rugelach in the other 2 rows) below shows all of the cookies I made from 1/3 of the dough plus the trimming scraps. The yield varies but after making and eating the first batch, you’ll want to whip up another one immediately. :)

Making Rugelach

Rugelach with preserves or jam spread on pastry as a glue, ground nuts and sugar, and chocolate chips

Cutting the triangles

Rolling up rugelach

Rugelach Pastry

1 cup (8 oz.) butter, softened slightly
8 oz. cream cheese, softened slightly
2 tbsp (increase to 1/4 cup) granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cups sifted all purpose flour (plus extra for rolling)

1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tsp cold water for egg wash

Walnut filling recipe follows

NOTE: This is a very soft dough and should be handled as little as possible while chilled, using lots of flour on the working surface and on top of the dough while rolling.

In a food processor, cream together the butter, cream cheese, sugar, salt, and vanilla until they are well combined. Add the flour and pulse just until a dough forms. (If you’ve left the butter and cream cheese at room temperature for a couple of hours it will seem overly soft, more like a batter than a dough, but will firm up during refrigeration. If you are using butter and cream cheese straight out of the fridge, it will be more dough like.)

Divide the dough in half; flatten into disks and wrap each disk in plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days, or freeze up to 3 months (thaw before baking).

Preheat oven to 350° F, with racks set in upper and lower thirds. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper; set aside. In a small bowl, combine egg with 1 teaspoon water to make an egg wash.

Working with one disk at a time, cut in half, place dough on lightly floured parchment paper and roll out into a 9-10 inch circle about 1/4″ thick, dusting with more flour if needed. If it cracks at the edges, bring it back together or patch if there are large tears. Using a large dinner plate as a guide, cut around the dough to make a perfect circle; trim off scraps. You can refrigerate this circle before filling if it seems to have gotten too soft.

(Combine all the scraps and form into balls for thumbprint cookies at the end of baking)

Brush the circle with egg wash, if your filling is a dry one, so as to have something for it to stick to. Divide the filling ingredients evenly among the circles made, and sprinkle on the walnut and brown sugar mixture. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut each circle into 12 equal triangles. Starting from the wide end, roll up each triangle of dough. Place the crescents on the lined baking sheets, seam side down. Brush the top of the rolls again with egg wash. Bake until golden brown, 20-22 minutes. Transfer the rugelach to a wire rack to cool completely.

Walnut Filling

1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

Mix the filling ingredients together in a small bowl.

Thumbprint Cookies

1 recipe of Rugelach pastry

1 cup of finely chopped or ground walnuts or almonds
Preserves of choice – apricot, plum

Take a piece of rugelach dough and roll into a small ball (1″ in diameter). Roll in chopped nuts. Place balls about 2″ apart onto a baking sheet which has been lined with parchment paper. Make a small depression in the ball with your thumb and fill with a scant 1/2 tsp jam. Bake for 12-15 min at 350 degrees F.

Tamales Day #2 – From Making the Masa to the finished Tamale

Picture Heavy Warning: Many pics … everywhere! I proof read this post as carefully as possible, but, if something is confusing, please ask for clarification.

The finished tamales with various sauces (from left to right): Strained pork braising liquid, salsa (Hot Old El Paso cause I didn’t have the energy to make any from scratch) and a mole made with 2 parts pork braising liquid and 1 part Dona Maria mole sauce. They were all good.

Possible servings photo IMG1082_zps4c816d30.jpg

Tamale with mole sauce

Tamale with mole photo IMG1085_zps7279a2a3.jpg

Inside the pork with mole

Inside the tamale photo IMG1088_zpsd062b3a7.jpg

Day 2

Now that you’ve got your pulled pork filling ready, it’s time to make the masa, assemble your tamales, steam them and then, FINALLY, it’s time to EAT.

Assembling the steamer basket:

Steamer inserts from left to right: steamer stand, collapsible steamer and cake cooling rack

Stand, collapsible steamer basket and cooling rack photo IMG1012_zpse8248f34.jpg

Stacked steamer set up

Steamer assembly photo IMG1013_zps57f1265d.jpg

Steamer Assembly in Stockpot

Inside the stockpot/steamer photo IMG1014_zpse932e648.jpg

By the way, I let my steamer run dry because it vented steam like mad and I didn’t realize that most of the water had evaporated so quickly, though I suspected something had happened from the burned smell. Scrubbing the black crust of burnt corn when I was done was NOT fun. :(  It’s hard to believe that 12 cups boiled away in about 90 minutes but it happened.

For the 2nd batch of tamales, I added at least 4 cups of boiling water every 15 minutes.

Another way to make sure that your steaming pot DOESN’T run dry is to put a couple of pennies in the bottom of the pot full of water. As long as the water is boiling, the pennies will jump around and make a noise. When the noise slows down or STOPS, you’ve run dry.

There are lots of videos about how to assemble the tamales so I’m not going to post any pictures, even though I have a TON. Instead, these are my finished tamales.

Steamed tamale still in the corn husk

Steamed tamales photo IMG1069_zps4d447ea9.jpg

Peeling open the corn husk – the not pretty side of the tamale

Steamed with husk removed photo IMG1070_zps88e21d86.jpg

Pretty side of the tamale ready for saucing

Tamale ready for saucing photo IMG1084_zps8fbcfd6d.jpg

Masa – makes 20-24 tamales

24-28 dried corn husks
4 cups masa harina for tamales (Maseca brand is good)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cup lard
3 1/2 – 4 cups water or stock (chicken or pork), warm

Rehydrating the corn husks

Bring a pot of water, large enough to hold the husks, to the boil. Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the burner, gently submerge the husks, and let them soak for 20-30 minutes. As with pasta, it will take a little while for the husks to become pliable enough to be fully submerged. When ready to fill the husks, drain off some of the hot water and replace it with enough cold water to be able to handle the husks.

NOTE: You can take some of the smaller (narrower) corn husk and tear them into 1/8″ strips for tying or overlap two husks if you run short at the end. For the giant husks, tear off an inch on the side and use that for the ties. Always soak more husks than you need.

Preparing the masa

Whisk together the masa harina, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.

Whip the lard in a kitchen stand blender with the paddle for at least 5 minutes to incorporate as much air as possible into the lard.

Gradually add the masa mixture to the lard, a cup at a time, until it has all been mixed into the lard.

With the mixer turned on, gradually add 3 cups of the warm stock to the masa in the bowl. Then add, more stock, 1/4 cup at a time, until the mixture is about the texture of soft cookie dough. Let the dough stand at room temperature (covered with a damp cloth) for 5-10 minutes so that the masa absorbs the liquid evenly.

Assembling the tamale

To wrap the tamales, place 1 soaked corn husk (drain off the excess water or blot a little off if you wish), with the narrow end pointed towards you and the smoother cup shaped side up, on the working surface in front of you. Using a soup spoon, scoop out a heaping tablespoon of the masa and place it down on the husk in about the middle. With your fingers, pat down the masa mixture into a roughly 3×3″ circle (with the lower edge about 1″ from the pointed end of the husk). It should be about 1/4″ thick and as even as you can get it.

Place about a tablespoon of the filling in a strip in the center third of the masa circle. Leave about an inch or less of the masa at the bottom edge (closest to you) free of filling.

Use the husk to enclose the filling. Start by folding up the bottom edge of masa opening up the husk again so that you can see your masa/filling before you fold the next edge. Repeat with the right edge and finally the left edge. Check to make sure that your filling is well covered by the masa and an even log about 1″ inch wide and 3″ long results.

Refold, starting at the bottom, then the right edge and rolling over the left edge to form a snug but not tight bundle.

Tie with a strip of torn corn husk just above the top of the filling.

Repeat until you’ve used up all your masa dough. If you run out of filling, make ‘empty’ tamales. They taste just as good with some sauce on top.

Steaming the tamales

Once you’ve wrapped all the tamales, prepare a deep pot with a steamer insert by filling the pot with water until the waterline is just below the level of the steamer insert. Place the tamales in the steamer vertically, with the tied end facing up.

Wet a kitchen towel, and cover the pot with the towel before covering it with the lid. This prevents condensation from forming on the lid, which will drip down and make your tamales watery if you chose NOT to tie them up. Make sure to fold the bits of towel hanging out of the pot up over the lid so they do not catch on fire.

Bring the pot to a boil, then turn down the heat so you can barely see a steady stream of steam escaping. Steam the tamales for 1 1/2 – 2 hours. (I let mine go the full 2 hrs though it would have been fine 15 minutes earlier.) Make sure you check the steamer periodically to make sure you don’t run out of water.

For a sauce, either use the strained braising liquid from the pork filling, a mole sauce (home made or purchased) or a salsa (home made or purchased).

The tamales will keep for about 1 week in the fridge, or for a few months in the freezer. You can re-steam or heat them in the microwave wrapped in a damp paper towel to warm them up.

In conclusion, I want to say that making these tamales was worth the time and effort it took. They’re actually better than ones I’ve ordered in a REAL Mexican restaurant, where they were under-seasoned and less than generous with the filling. These tamales were great without any sauce at all.

For the next batch, I’ll probably try a chicken chile verde filling. I learned a lot and, after eating 3 tamales, I still have 22 left so it’s a good ‘make ahead and freeze for later’ recipe. I also had enough pork filling for about 5 generously filled pulled pork buns. And you can even make vegetarian tamales with baked squash and cheese, if that’s your preference.

Now, I just need someone to come over and do my dishes cause I’m BUSHED and full. :)

Tamales Day #1 – The Pulled Pork

Back in 2013, I made one of the items on my food bucket list … tamales.  But, first, I made the pulled pork filling to put inside them.

Making tamales is a multi-step process, especially if you want to make the best darned tamales EVER because you’ve been looking forward to making them for so long.

Day 1

CREDIT: Although I used a combination of several recipes to come up with the pulled pork recipe below, the basic recipe I started with was found here on Ashlee’s “I’m Topsy Turvy” blog. Her green enchilada sauce sounds pretty good for a future chicken tamale filling … when I recover from this marathon session. :)

Making a pork filling for tamales can be as simple as roasting a piece of pork seasoned with some salt, pepper and maybe a bit of garlic and then sticking it inside your tamale, or as elaborate as making a braising liquid for the pulled pork using chiles, herbs and spices and then a laborious mole sauce with more chiles, ground seeds etc. and using the spiced meat and sauce to fill your tamales. I chose a method that was somewhere between the two extremes in the number of ingredients and techniques used.

This is the boneless pork shoulder blade roast I started with. The marks are from the large netting while held it into a roast shape.

Whole Pork Shoulder photo IMG120_zps9232ec6c.jpg

The result, almost 3 hrs later, was a pulled pork which made me want to eat the whole thing in buns and forget making the tamales. By the way, it’s amazing how much shrinkage you get from a 3 pound pork shoulder, once you braise it and get rid off all the remaining fat and connective tissue. I can understand wanting to stretch the tasty meat by putting it inside a tamale. :)

Pulled Pork Sandwich photo IMG1051_zps22897f8c.jpg

Red Chile Pulled Pork

3 – 3 1/2 pound pork shoulder blade roast, boneless
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 each ancho, guajillo and red chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 medium onion, quartered
5 whole garlic cloves, peeled
5 whole cloves
3″ cinnamon stick
4-5 whole bay leaves, dry toasted
6-10 whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
1/2 tsp dried Greek oregano (Mexican, if possible)
1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 cup diced tomatoes, with liquid
1 tsp salt

Chiles used for the Chile Colorado (red chile) braising liquid: Anchos (dark fat ones), hot red chiles (little ones) and guajillo (long reddish brown ones)

 photo IMG113_zps1bc78d3a.jpg

In a medium sized bowl, break up the chiles and pour in enough boiling water to cover well (1-2 cups). Use another weighted bowl on top to make sure the chiles are submerged. Soak for about 30 minutes, then remove the soaked chiles to a blender. Pour the soaking liquid through a strainer, leaving the grit on the bottom behind, and reserve the liquid to help puree the chiles later.

Cut the pork shoulder into 4 x 1 1/2-2″ thick strips. Brown all sides in vegetable oil in a Dutch oven at medium high heat. A couple of chunks at a time would be best as you don’t want to crowd the pan or lower the heat. Transfer browned pieces to a large bowl until they’re all done then drain off all the accumulated fat in the dutch oven, blotting off any remaining gently with a paper towel so as to retain the browned bits on the bottom.

Sprinkle the salt evenly over the 4 chunks of pork and place them into your dutch oven.

In a dry frying pan, char the quartered onion and the garlic cloves turning over so all sides are done. Remove to the blender with the chiles. Add the oregano and thyme as well as the diced tomatoes with any liquid. Add a bit of the chile soaking liquid and puree until you get a fairly even mixture. (I used all of the draining liquid and it was thick but pourable.) Use 1/3 of this mixture (about 1 cup) to braise the pork. Keep the rest (~2 cups) for another day.

Ground chiles, tomatoes and herbs

Chiles and tomato sauce photo IMG1037_zps8d3171e7.jpg

Charred onions and garlic cloves

Charred onion and garlic photo IMG115_zps9443e726.jpg

Preheat the oven to 325 deg Fahrenheit.

In the same frying pan, toast the bay leaves until just beginning to bubble and brown. Add them to the dutch oven with the pork. Also add the chile-tomato mixture, the coriander and cumin seeds, peppercorns, and the cinnamon stick. If the pork isn’t covered by the mixture, rinse your blender with some water to get the rest of paste dissolved and then add more water as needed. You want to have enough water so that the pork just barely peeks out and is in only one layer in the bottom of the dutch oven.

Toasted bay leaves, cinnamon stick, black peppercorns, cloves, cumin and coriander seeds

Herbs and spices photo IMG118_zps8b99a148.jpg

Place the dutch oven on the stove and heat the contents until they come to a boil. Cover and transfer to the preheated oven. Braise for 2 hrs or until the pork falls apart when you stick a fork into it.

Pork ready for braising

Pork ready for braising photo IMG1035_zpsb305c31f.jpg

Remove the dutch oven to the top of the stove, tilt the pot and, with a large spoon, carefully remove as much of the accumulated fat on top as you can. Return the dutch oven to the oven and cook for another half hour, uncovered, to concentrate the braising liquid. You want about 2 cups of concentrated liquid to be left.

Remove the dutch oven from the oven to the top of the stove again. With a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the meat into a large bowl so that it can cool enough to be handled. When cool, remove fat from the meat and then, very coarsely, shred the meat.

Strain the braising liquid so as to remove the seeds, peppercorns, bay leaves etc. Refrigerate the liquid so that any remaining fat hardens and can be removed and then use the liquid to moisten your pulled pork.

Finished pork ready to be ‘pulled’ or shredded with 2 forks

Finished pulled pork photo IMG1047_zpsd6c1241b.jpg

Satay: Beef, Chicken or Pork

Even though satay (sate) refers to to skewered, grilled meat served with one of a variety of sauces (ie. sweet or regular soy, pineapple, tempeh) , most people have come to expect satay to be served with a peanut sauce. It’s this most well-known type of satay that I’m going to make in this post.

Satay consists of two components: first, a marinade that flavours and tenderizes the meat before threading the meat onto skewers and grilling it. Second, a sauce (usually peanut based) to serve with the skewers. I’ve been using a jarred satay bbq sauce which can be used for both purposes with some additional ingredients added to the sauce before using it as a marinade. However, I decided to make everything from scratch for a change using a recipe that I found on Fridgg.com.

Although I chose to make my satay with pork tenderloin, it can be made with boneless, skinless chicken thighs (more flavourful than breasts and won’t dry out as much) or thinly sliced beef tenderloin.

Pork Satay with Peanut Sauce – makes 16 skewers, serve 2 per person as an appetizer and 4 per person as a main

1 pound of pork (loin or shoulder cuts)

16 6-8 inch wooden or bamboo skewers, soaked in warm water for 20-30 minutes

1/2 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp ginger root, chopped
2 tbsp lemon juice**
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp vegetable oil (or peanut or olive oil)

** I didn’t have any lemons in the house so I used 1/2 tsp of the tamarind concentrate in the picture below, diluting it with enough water to equal 2 tbsp total. It’s normally used to make the sauce for Indian panipuri … not that I’ve ever made them.

If you have a small food processor or blender, dump in everything except the pork and blend until smooth. Otherwise, chop the onions, garlic and ginger really fine then mix it all together in a medium to large bowl.

Cut pork into 16 x 1 inch wide and 1/4 inch thick strips. (My tenderloin was about 10 inches long and 2 inches wide, so I cut it in half,  and then I cut each half lengthwise into 4 x 2 inch wide planks. Each plank was then cut in half.)

Cover pork with marinade.

You can place the pork into a bowl, cover/seal and chill, or place the meat and marinade into a ziplock bag, seal and chill at least 4 hours or overnight.

Pat the soaked skewers dry and gently and slowly slide meat strips onto the skewers. Discard the leftover marinade.

Broil or grill at 550°F (or pan fry on medium-high) for 8-10 minutes or until the edges just start to char. Flip and cook another 8-10 minutes.

Serve the satay with Basmati or jasmine rice and sauce (recipe below) for dipping.

Peanut Sauce – makes about 1 cup, enough for a tablespoon per skewer.

3/4 cup coconut milk
4 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1-2 dried red chilies, chopped (keep the seeds for heat)

In a small saucepan combine the dry ingredients with the soy sauce and lemon juice, mixing well. Add the coconut milk and peanut butter, stirring again and then place over medium low heat. Stir the contents often so you get a smooth mixture.

The peanut sauce may be made ahead of time so as to let the spicy chilies infuse the sauce. Reheat before serving in that case. If needed, you may thin the sauce with a tsp or two of water. Make extra as it’s delicious over the accompanying rice or dipping.

Basic Cheese Sauce: One Dish Ham and Pea Mac and Cheese Bake

My cooking strategy for the past few years has focussed on the 3 R’s – Reuse, Recycle and Repurpose. I try my best not to waste food that I’ve bought though fresh leafy herbs and vegetables are still my great failing.

A basic cheese sauce is the start of many a great meal, snack or veggie side dish. Start with a bechamel sauce. After that, you have a world of possibilities.

This cheese sauce started with 1 1/2 cups of pepper jack, 1 cup of old cheddar, a couple of slices of American cheese and a few tbsp of grated Parmesan cheese.

I took one of these containers and turned it into a main dish for 3 people.

Basic Cheese Sauce – makes 2-2 1/4 cups of cheese sauce

2 tbsp butter, salted or unsalted
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 – 2 cups milk
3 cups or more grated cheese
salt, if needed
ground black pepper or a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

In a medium sized saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and as it starts to bubble a bit, stir in the flour until it’s all been blended into the butter. Whisk in the milk, about a half a cup at a time. Keep stirring and bring to a boil.

When the sauce has thickened sufficiently, in a few minutes, take the saucepan off the heat and stir in grated cheese a handful at a time. When all the cheese has melted, taste for seasoning. You may have to add a bit of salt but generally that’s not the case. Some ground black pepper and or nutmeg may also be added.

Cheese Sauce Variations:

Mexican cheese sauce (Monterey or pepper jack, white or yellow Cheddar cheeses and some salsa) – nacho dip or Nacho grande
Italian cheese sauce (Mozzarella, Parmesan, Romano, Asiago, Provolone) – meat or veggie lasagna, over pasta
Swiss cheese sauce (Gruyere) – veggie dip ie cauliflower or broccoli, Philly cheese steak

One-Dish Ham and Pea Mac and Cheese Bake Pictorial Recipe

I used one of these containers (half of the cheese sauce made previously), 1 cup of thawed peas, 4 oz (~1 cup) diced cooked ham and another tbsp or so of Parmesan cheese over the top before it was put under the broiler for a couple of minutes. I cooked 1/2 a pound (200 gm) of elbow macaroni and the result was enough for 3 servings.

Combine and pour into a buttered baking dish.

Sprinkle the grated Parmesan cheese on top and place under the broiler until browned and bubbly.

Add a salad, and a soup, and a cookie or two and you’re all set

Chicken and Vegetables in Black Bean Sauce over Rice Noodles

Another quick work day meal, that’s fast and not too expensive to serve. The trick to getting it on the table fast is to prep your veggies and meat ahead. The night before is advised or in the morning if you have some free time. It’s even more economical if you use thigh meat instead of breast though 200 gms of meat serves 2-3 people.

For company, serve this dish restaurant style on a pretty serving plate.

Chicken and Vegetables in Black Bean Sauce – serves 2-3

1 tbsp vegetable oil
~1/2 pound (200 gm) boneless and skinless chicken breast or thighs
1 clove garlic, if not using the garlic version of black beans
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp black bean sauce, with or without garlic
1/4-1/2 water
1/2 onion, or substitute with 2-3 stalks of green onion, cut 1/4 inch long on the diagonal
2 peppers (red, green or yellow)
2 stalks broccoli, florettes and stems
1 thumb’s length (1 inch) fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped, if black bean sauce doesn’t have any (optional)
salt and ground black pepper, if needed
~1/2 pound (200 gm) large rice noodles
1-2 tsp toasted sesame oil

Thickener for sauce: 1 tbsp cornstarch, 1/4 cup cold water

Combine cornstarch and water in a small bowl and set aside.

Preparing the vegetables: Cut the broccoli florettes off the stems, about 1 1/2 inches in length and break up into manageable pieces. Peel stems and cut into planks of about the same length and 1/4-1/2 inch thickness.

Core and seed peppers and slice into same thickness as the broccoli stems

Peel onion, if using, and cut into 1/4 inch thick slices

Preparing the chicken meat: Slice chicken into strips 1/4-1/2 inch thick and about 1 1/2 inches long, as with the veggies.

Cooking the rice noodles: Follow package instructions for cooking time depending on the width of the noodles. (Red package: 5-6 minutes in boiling water). Make sure you break up the noodles well as they soften so that they cook evenly. When tender but still retaining some texture, drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking. Drain and keep until needed. You may drizzle the sesame oil over the noodles and toss a bit so they don’t stick while standing.

Heat the vegetable oil in a saute pan or wok over medium high heat, add the sliced chicken and cook just until no longer pink. Transfer meat to a bowl and reserve. In the same saute pan, add the sliced onions, ginger and garlic and saute until the onions are no longer translucent.

Add the broccoli and 1/4 cup of water, cover with a lid and let steam for 1 1/2-2 minutes until the broccoli is a bright green but still crunchy. Add the pepper strips and toss through, cooking for another minutes or so.

Return the cooked chicken to the pan, along with the black bean paste and soy sauce and stir together.

Stir the cornstarch/water mixture until it’s smooth and pour into the middle of the saute pan. Watch carefully as it bubbles and thickens. Stir the sauce so that it coats the vegetables and meat. If needed add the remaining 1/4 cup of water, or more.

Taste the meat and vegetables adding salt and pepper, if needed. You may also add an additional dash or so of soy sauce.

Stir the cooked noodles into the saute pan or place the noodles on a serving plate and pour the meat and vegetables into the middle.

Serve

It’s even pretty if you toss the noodles in with the meat and veggies and let everyone fill a bowl. I like a bit of spicy Sambal Oelek on my portion.

Rigatoni with Spicy Italian Sausage Tomato Sauce

It’s been a while since I had a pasta with a simple tomato sauce. This is a pretty simple one as most of the ingredients, other than the hot Italian sausages, came from a well-stocked pantry.

Rigatoni with Spicy Italian Sausage Tomato Sauce – serves 4

4 (1/2 pound) hot Italian sausages
1 28 fl. oz can whole plum tomatoes
1/2 cup water
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed through a garlic press
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2-1 tsp dried parsley
1/2-1 tsp dried oregano
1/2-1 tsp dried basil

1 pound rigatoni, cooked according to package directions
4 tsp grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Skin the sausages into a large saute pan. Discard the casings and break up the sausage meat with a large wooden spoon. Over medium heat brown the sausage meat, (~5-7 minutes) then add the crushed garlic and cook for another few minutes.

Crush each whole canned tomato by hand into the saute pan. Rinse the can with about half a cup of water and add to the meat in the saute pan.

Sprinkle the salt, black pepper, parsley, oregano and basil over the sausage mixture. Raise the heat to medium-high until the contents come to a boil. Break down the tomatoes a bit more with the wooden spoon.

Cover saute pan with its lid, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring through several times breaking down the tomatoes as necessary and making sure the sauce doesn’t stick.

Add cooked and drained rigatoni to saute pan and stir through the sauce.

Divide the pasta and sauce among 4 plates and sprinkle a teaspoon of the cheese over each plate.

Serve

Romanian Pork Crackling Biscuits (Repost)

Recently I noticed that all the picture links on this post in LJ from Jan. 2012 had expired. So, I went back and re-uploaded the pictures to another archive. And then decided to share the post for these wonderful pork crackling biscuits here.

Enjoy.

When I was growing up, my mother would make these wonderful rich biscuits made with ground pork cracklings. Recently I was reminded of this dish by a post on Eva’s Kitcheninspirations and decided to try and make them based on advice from Eva, searches on Hungarian and Romanian blogs and my own memories of the biscuits I had enjoyed. Yesterday, I bought a pound of the cracklings and today I attempted the recipe.

In case you don’t know what pork cracklings look like, here are pictures of the whole and ground porky goodness. :)


I think my first attempt at these was a success on the whole.

Pork Crackling Biscuits – makes ~3 dozen 3″ biscuits

Romanian – Pogacele cu jumari
Hungarian – Töpörtyus Pogácsa

4 – 4 1/2 cups (~550 gm) all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 package ( 2 1/4 tsp) instant yeast
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup warmed milk
2 tablespoons fat (pork lard, regular lard or unsalted butter)*
1/2 pound (250 gm) ground pork cracklings
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup (200 ml) warm water (or milk)

* I used butter for this but will probably leave it out in the next batch as I don’t think it added much to the end product.

Egg glaze for biscuits
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp cold water
cumin seeds, optional

Chop pork cracklings roughly and then grind them in a food processor in batches, if necessary, so as to get an even granular mixture.

In a small bowl, dissolve sugar in 1/4 cup milk and sprinkle the instant yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5-10 min until the yeast gets foamy.

In a second bowl, combine the egg with 3/4 cups warm water (or milk).

Sift together the flour, salt, pepper and baking powder and place in a large bowl. Cut in the fat or rub it into the flour so it’s evenly distributed. Make a well in the center and pour in the yeast/milk mixture and egg/water mixture. Knead for 5-6 minutes until you have a soft dough.

Let rest for 15 minutes.

Roll out about 1/8″ thick into either a square (~16″x16″) or rectangle (~12″x18″).

Spread 1/3 of the ground pork crackling mixture over the top.

Fold over opposite sides so you get 3 layers. Fold over the other 2 sides so you have three equal layers. Wrap up with saran wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Roll out again, spread with half of the remaining ground pork crackling mixture. (Sorry for the out of focus picture, I almost forgot to take it)

Fold, wrap and refrigerate. Repeat.

Preheat oven to 350-400 deg F.

After the last 30 minutes of refrigeration, roll the dough out 1/8″ thick. (For the Hungarian presentation, score the top of the dough with lines 1/4″ apart, making sure that the lines only go about halfway through the biscuit.) Cut biscuits out with a 3″ diameter biscuit cutter.

Let rest for 30 minutes. (NOTE: Did not do this.)

Brush top of the biscuits with the beaten egg mixture. (For the Romanian presentation, sprinkle a pinch of cumin seeds (8-10) in the center of the biscuit, if desired.) Bake 15-20 min or until lightly browned on top.

Trial 1: 400 deg F. Took 13-15 minutes until done. I estimated the amount of salt needed perfectly so I was very pleased with the taste. Unfortunately, they didn’t rise as high as I would have liked though they were the same height as the ones my mom made.

Biscuits – Hungarian style on the left and Romanian style on the right

Cream Puffs Revisited

Making cream puffs is one of my favourite ways of whipping up a quick and fancy dessert. It takes about the same amount of time to make the choux pastry as it does to preheat my oven to 350 deg F. Even though I prefer to fill them with a pastry cream, a sweetened whipped cream filling is much faster. You can make the cream puffs ahead of time, throw them in the freezer and then when you want to eat them, take out a couple and while they defrost, whip up the cream.

Cream Puffs with Pastry Cream Filling – makes 12 2″ cream puffs

1/4 cup unsalted butter (vegetable, olive and coconut oil works too)
1/2 cup water (or milk or half each)
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Put butter and water a saucepan and cook on medium-high heat until the butter melts and the mixture comes to a boil. (If using milk, be careful that it doesn’t foam up and boil over.)

Add flour and salt all at once to the pan, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture forms a ball. (Take the saucepan off the heat if you’re concerned about not wanting to add the flour to the boiling pan and then return to the heat.)

Continue stirring and cook another minute or so until a thin film just starts to form on the bottom of the pan. (This step “dries out” the mixture and helps with the incorporation of the egg. At least that’s what I understand.)

Remove the pan from the heat and allow the contents to cool for 5 minutes. You may transfer it into a medium sized bowl and spread it out a bit as well to help in the cooling process.

Beat one whole egg in a small bowl and then add it to the mixture. Beat vigorously with the wooden spoon from above. (You can use a sturdy whisk if you want to but why dirty another utensil and it’s harder to get the batter off the whisk than it is off the wooden spoon.) It will look all lumpy and disgusting at first but the egg WILL incorporate into the batter. Add a second beaten egg and beat some more. Again, it will look pretty lumpy but it will smooth out.

The mixture should be fairly stiff but will fall off the spoon leaving an inverted triangle-like bit hanging from the spoon.

Lightly grease a cookie sheet with butter or line the sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat sheet.

Pipe or spoon out the cream puff batter by filling one teaspoon (from your cutlery set) that you’ve dipped in cold water and scraping it out with a second wetted teaspoon. Leave at least 1 inch between the puffs. Try to make sure all the piles are a similar size and more or less circular in shape.

I piped this batch because I felt like it.

I used a wet finger to pat down the pointy tops of the piped choux pastry.

You can brush the tops with a whole egg beaten with a tbsp of cold water if you want a shiny top. However, if you’re going to sift icing sugar over the top, or glaze with a chocolate mixture, there’s no point. :)

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is browned and when you pick them up the puffs feel light. Tapping the bottom of the puffs lightly gives you a hollow/dull sound.

Cut the puffs open and fill with sweetened whipping cream, or a scoop of ice cream. Or, use a piping gun to fill every last hollow inside and get a neater cream puff.

Cheese Puffs (Gougeres)

I love cheese and have come home having spent $20 or more on an small assortment of the fattening goodies. When the cheese monger at the farmer’s market closed up shop a year or so ago, I was very sad. The meat/deli vendor next door bought their stock and started carrying the top selling 20-25 varieties but the pricey specialty varieties disappeared … like that black truffle filled Brie that I only had once.

Recently, I came home with a 4 oz chunk of creamy blue cheese, similar to a Cambozola, a combination of Camembert and Gorgonzola cheeses.

I have been having a cream puff craving lately so I made a batch.

But I also made a batch of gougeres, which are a savoury version of cream puffs in which cheese is mixed into the choux pastry.

And because one batch of 12 puffs only used 2 oz of the blue cheese (I crumbled in some Parmesan shavings from my fridge as well), I thought about making something else with the rest. However, I ended up doing another batch of gougeres with vegetable oil in place of the unsalted butter. I also played with the way I formed the gougers and the baking temperature: one batch was spooned out and baked at 425 deg F for 15 min, and then the temperature was reduced to 375 deg F for 15 minutes, while the other batch was piped and baked for 42 1/2 minutes at 350 deg F.

Cheese Puffs (Gougeres) – makes about 12 2″ puffs or 24 mini puffs

1/2 cup water, milk or half milk/half water
1/4 cup unsalted butter or vegetable oil
1/8-1/4 tsp salt1/2 cup all purpose flour, presifted
2 large eggs
1/2 cup (~ 2 oz) grated sharp cheese (cheddar, gruyere, or crumbled blue cheese)
1 tsp freshly picked thyme leaves  or 1/8 tsp dried)
1/4 tsp freshly coarsely ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 deg Fahrenheit.

Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper or use a Silpat sheet.

Bring the water, salt and butter to a simmer over medium-high heat.

Pour in the flour all at once and beat in using a wooden spoon until it’s well incorporated and has formed a ball. Cook for a couple of minutes longer to make sure that the raw taste has been cooked out of the flour.

Scrape out the dough mixture into a glass or metal bowl so that it cools faster, add the thyme and pepper and mix well.

In a small bowl, break and egg and beat it well with a fork.

After 5 min, turn the beaten egg into the flour mixture and beat well with your wooden spoon until the egg has been incorporated into the mixture. Break a second egg into the bowl and then add it to the flour mixture. Beat well until the mixture is smooth.

Fold in the cheese. (Reserve some cheese for the top if desired.)

Scoop a rounded teaspoon of the choux pastry mixture using a wet teaspoon and scraping out onto your prepared baking sheet with a second wet teaspoon.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

Bake for 35-40 min. Depending on the cheese used, you may want to extend the baking time to make sure the middle dries out.

Rewarm leftover gougeres for 5-10 minutes in a 350ºF oven.

Alternate gougere variations – cheddar and bacon; smoked bacon (2 cooked strips diced) and some gr black pepper/pinch nutmeg, sage (1 tsp minced fine) and 1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola

Turn a simple ham and bean soup into an elegant meal by serving a couple of these cheese puffs on your good china to family, friends and company.