Archive for April, 2012

Homemade tortillas in 5 steps

Your kids will love making tortillas

Cinco de Mayo is Saturday! I’m counting down the days until this American celebration of all things Mexican by posting ideas and recipes every day.

Today’s post is all about homemade tortillas. These are so easy and perfect for kids who want to help out in the kitchen.

These pictures will guide you through making tortillas. Easy peasy!

Step 1:

Mix water and PAN (white corn flour, NOT Masa which makes for harder tortillas) according to package directions.

Step 2:

Make dough into 1-inch balls and place at the center of your tortilla press that has been covered with plastic wrap on both sides (cutting boards will work too, but it’s a little harder to get the tortillas as thin).

Step 3:

Press the tortilla ball until thin.

Optional step: Use a large biscuit cutter to make the tortillas uniform in size.

Step 4:

Bake the tortillas on a preheated cast iron or other heavy-bottomed skillet.

If you've never purchase PAN, here's what to look for at the store.

Step 5:

Keep the cooked tortillas in a tortilla warmer or a clean kitchen towel until you’ve worked your way through all of the dough.

Here's what my $10 tortilla press looks like.

Looking for more specific directions? No worries, check out my detailed post about making homemade tortillas at Wandering Educators.

Having fun making tortillas

Kids’ reactions:

“Mom, we should have made more.” That says it all.

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Foodie ideas from The North Carolina Museum of Art

Iris restaurant inside the North Carolina Museum of Art

My kids couldn’t join me on my trip to Raleigh and Fayetteville, North Carolina, for the Midwest Travel Writers Association conference. But, I’m trying to get as many ideas from my travels–and tastes–as I can to bring back and try with them.

Here are just a few from my stop at Iris, the North Carolina Museum of Art‘s restaurant where I had lunch. The seasonal menu had plenty of tempting dishes, but I always try to choose something I can’t do at home, so I went for the risotto. From the menu: farro piccolo risotto, lemon, thyme, dijon parmigiano-reggiano cheese garlic sauteed broccolini crispy fried leeks.

Whew, what does that translate to on your plate? A whole grain cooked like risotto, generously doused with Parmesan cheese, fresh lemon and hints of thyme and mellow dijon mustard. To the side, the tender broccolini, slightly cooked in butter and garlic, all topped off with thinly sliced, fried leeks (think gourmet French’s fried onions).

At home: I’m going to try using whole wheat berries more in savory dishes. My kids grind wheat berries for flour, but I’ve been meaning to try them

Farro risotto

toasted then tossed into salads. Maybe one of these days I’ll even try making them into risotto…

For dessert at the NCMA (you didn’t think I was going to skip it, did you?) I had the apple tarte

tatin with roasted cinnamon ice cream. Presented in deep white bowl with a web of spun sugar, the combination of warm apples and cool cinnamon paired perfectly. Now, if I were to try spun sugar at home, I’d like set off all the fire alarms with the smoke I’d create trying to get the cooked sugar to that just-right temperature where it was melted, but not burned.

At home: For all the flavor of this dish, without all the work, you could peel then saute apple slices in butter and sprinkle them with a little fresh lemon and cinnamon before serving. Instead of making cinnamon ice cream from scratch, soften vanilla bean ice cream until you can stir in ground cinnamon (I’d throw in a little nutmeg and a hit of cayenne too). Then you can either re-freeze the ice cream or serve it just after you mixed in the spices. Place the ice cream atop the sauteed apples and in lieu of the more dramatic spun sugar, my thought is to dress up each individual portion with a cinnamon stick.

Apple tarte tatin

Your turn: do you have a family favorite dish (or dessert) inspired by one of your travels?

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Can the toothfairy help your kids eat better?

The other day my daughter desperately wanted her tooth to come out. She wiggled it. Pulled at it. She even went digging for dental floss to try the whole attach-it-to-the-door-and-slam technique. (Does that ever work? Really?)

I gave her a different idea: eat whole foods. Apples. Carrots. Pears. Biting away at fruits and vegetables, I explained, might bring that tooth out. Her face lit up and she went for the bowl of fruit I try to keep stocked on the kitchen table (admittedly, sometimes it becomes the depository for coupons, orphaned paper clips and the like, but I do try).

First bite of the Empire apple didn’t bring out her wiggly tooth. Neither did the second, third, and we both lost count. You can see what remained of her apple. And the tooth? It’s still in, but hey, my daughter now has a great excuse for taking big bites of fresh produce.

Your turn: Anyone else ever enlisted the fruit bowl to help your kids lose a tooth?

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Thai coconut soup

Two months. It took nearly two months for The Sriracha Cookbook by Randy Clemens to work its way through the library system and into my waiting hands. Not familiar with Sriracha? Also called “rooster sauce,” this addictive, spicy Asian sauce perks up any dish. For me, Sriracha sauce has an instant heat that hits in the back of the throat, but goes away quickly. Really. I don’t like it straight, but mixed into dishes it adds that layer of interest that only chiles can.

I tried out Clemens’ Thai Chicken-Coconut Soup recipe. I found it was easy to put together but next time I’d definitely make some adjustments. Here are my notes:

  • The mixture of chicken and fish sauce didn’t seem to fit. I’d use shrimp in the recipe instead.
  • I didn’t buy the extra, pricier ingredients like lemon grass and kaffir leaves. Maybe one of these days, but the substitutes work well and the soup tasted nearly as good as the coconut soup from our favorite Thai restaurant.
  • I didn’t want to bother with mincing the ginger so instead I put it on a skewer and let it simmer with the soup while it cooked then just threw it out before serving.

    Ginger flavor, no mincing

  • Looking at the fat content of regular coconut milk, I opted for the lite version.
  • Clemens calls for a whopping 1/3 cup Sriracha in the soup. I like things hot, but my thought is it’s much easier to ADD more heat than to try to take it out so I used a couple teaspoons.

Recipe

Prep & cook time: 20-30 minutes

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients

3 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 stalk lemongrass, white part only (optional)

1 (2-inch) knob galangal (or ginger)

3 kaffir lime leaves or 1 tablespoon finely minced lime zest

1 (14-ounce) can coconut milk

1/3 cup Sriracha (uh, I used about 2 teaspoons)

1/2 pound skinless, boneless chicken cut into 1-inch cubes (I used leftover cooked chicken)

Juice of 1 lime

Salt and pepper to taste

Fresh cilantro sprigs

Directions

  1. In a medium-sized pot add the chicken broth, fish sauce, lemongrass (if using), ginger and lime zest and bring to a boil.
  2. Turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes. (Clemens points out you can strain out the galangal, lemongrass and lime leaves at this point but since I wasn’t using them, I didn’t have to.)
  3. Add the coconut milk, chicken and Sriracha and return the soup to a boil for 4 to 6 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Again, I used leftover chicken.
  4. Remove the soup from the heat and stir in the fresh lemon juice. Serve garnished with cilantro.

    Soup's on!

Kids’ reactions: Okay, I wasn’t expecting rave reviews from the kiddos on this one. I thought the soup was excellent–soothing, spicy. The teen thought the soup was good but pointed out that shrimp would work better than the chicken. Agreed. My two younger kids thought it was on the spicy side and asked for extra servings of rice instead of seconds of soup. If only you could eat soup with chopsticks I think they would have given it more of a chance.

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Buckwheat crepes

My teen had one request for her birthday–breakfast in bed. And she wanted crepes. Mr. Squid usually handles crepe duty around our house. See he can flip the crepes in the air and have them land right back in the pan. Mine tend to land on the counter, when they don’t fly off to the floor.

But I’d been wanting to try a new buckwheat flour crepe recipe. At the Cleveland’s West Side Market one of the most popular booths is Crepes De Luxe, which touts their “authentic, Parisian style” crepes. (If you go, just ask someone to point out where “the crepe place is” then look for a long line.) I find that buckwheat crepes are thicker, bigger and heartier than your all-purpose flour variety. I like it. Usually buckwheat crepes are reserved for the savory fare. And you can use this recipe for a savory meal, I’ve melted fontina and roasted asparagus in these crepes for dinner. But this time it was all about something sweet for a special breakfast.

Notes:

I don’t use a crepe pan, I just bake ‘em in my regular, non-stick 9″ saute pan.

Recipe

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cleveland's Crepes De Luxe

Servings: about 15 crepes in a 9″ pan


Ingredients

2 eggs

1 cup milk

1/3 cup water

2/3 cup flour

2/3 cup buckwheat flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled

2 teaspoons sugar (optional)

1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender, puree until smooth. I didn’t use sugar, but you could if you want these a little sweeter. (I was saving some for dinner and I don’t like too-sweet desserts anyway.)
  2. Refrigerate the batter for 30 minutes to an hour.
  3. In a 9″ saute pan or crepe pan melt 1 teaspoon butter to medium-high heat.
  4. Pour about 1/4 cup of the batter into the pan and swirl until it stretches out over the pan. Cook until the edges begin to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 60 seconds then carefully flip. I no longer try to toss mine in the air, but rely on a large spatula.
  5. Cook for 45 seconds on the other side then transfer to a plate. Repeat with the rest of the batter, placing pieces of waxed paper between the crepes so they don’t stick.

To serve:

For a sweet crepe I keep it simple: I cut up strawberries and let them sit in a sprinkling in sugar and fresh lemon juice while I was preparing the crepes. On the plate I swirled Hershey’s chocolate syrup just for decoration then slathered Nutella on the still-warm crepes. I also tucked strawberry slices inside before rolling them up, placing them on the plate and garnishing them with another strawberry and a sprinkling of powdered sugar, just cuz.

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Basic chile salsa recipe

Have you ever tried making salsa from scratch? I’m not talking about pico de gallo, the chopped up tomato-onion-cilantro combo that sometimes gets mistaken for salsa. Nope, I’m thinking of Mexican salsa that comes in endless varieties and has as its base dried chiles.

Making salsa is actually easy–promise!–and doesn’t take much time. I had fun whipping up a batch yesterday with my teen and her friends. It took all of 20 minutes. We probably could have made it faster but we were chatting and sampling as we went.

Here are the basics:

  • You can find dried chiles usually in the produce section or in the Mexican food aisle of your grocery store.
  • My suggestion would be to start with larger chiles, like Ancho (my fav) or Mulato. They’re easier to seed than the smaller (but still tasty) Arbol chiles. Guajillo is right in between, but for newbies Ancho is also milder.
  • You’ll need to remove the seeds from the chiles before pan roasting them.
  • Plan on tweaking the salsa to suit your tastes: If you want to add some tomatoes to the mix, canned or fresh, by all means, go for it. If you want it sweeter, a little honey; more tart, a little vinegar. You get the idea. (I added sundried tomatoes to this batch.)
  • I triple the recipe below and then save the extras in cleaned out raspberry jam jars.

My salsa recipe turns out differently every time, so I’m passing along a tweaked version of Rick Bayless‘ Toasty Arbol or Guajillo Chile Salsa from his excellent cookbook Mexican Everyday.

Recipe

Prep time: 20 minutes

Servings: About 1 cup

Ingredients

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 dried Ancho chiles

3 garlic cloves, peeled

4 medium tomatillos (or Roma tomatoes), cut in half

Directions

  1. Remove the stems and seeds from the Ancho chiles. How? I use kitchen shears to cut around the stem and then shake the seeds onto a paper towel, then discard.
  2. Bring the oil to medium-high heat in a heavy bottomed skillet.
  3. Add the chiles and watch carefully until they begin to soften, then remove (about 1 minute). Submerge the chiles into a bowl of hot water and let them sit while you’re preparing the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Wipe the oil out of the pan and add the garlic and tomatillos (or tomatoes), cut side down. Cook for about 2-3 minutes then place the tomatillos and garlic in a blender.
  5. Drain the water from the chiles and add them to the blender.
  6. Pour in 1/2 cup water and puree until smooth. Continue adding in water until the salsa reaches your desired consistency. I like to make it a little runnier since it will thicken a bit as it cools.
  7. Now for the tweaks: I usually add salt, a teaspoon or two of red cider vinegar and a pinch of sugar or a drizzle of honey.
  8. Serve with tacos, chips, or tostadas.
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Basket cookies & bunny bread

Anybody want a cookie?

For Easter I wanted to pass along a couple ideas I came up with while roaming through our neighborhood Italian shop, Alesci’s. Over the holidays, the bakery puts out their version of pupa cu l’ova, or basket cookies, a traditional Italian Easter treat. The idea behind the cookies is to bake an egg tucked into a cookie dough “basket.” Roaming online recipes, I found various ways to do this–sometimes the egg was hard-boiled, other times it wasn’t. Sometimes the egg was already dyed, others went sans color.

The sizable basket cookies at Alesci’s are made with a stiff biscotti dough that’s thickly glazed with powdered sugar and then tossed with multi-colored sprinkles. From what I could tell (and I’d have to happily research this by eating more), the cookies are baked, glazed, and then while still warm the hard-boiled egg is pressed into the cookie. Some recipes call for baking the cookies with the egg inside. My thought is if you want to try this at home, you could make a regular sugar cookie dough spiked with a little bit of anise. I’m going to have to try that for next year.

Don't eat the egg in the middle--it's just for decoration!

But what I did make with my kiddos is some bunny bread. We used pizza dough to create our edible bunnies. I rolled out the dough and then had the kids use a biscuit cutter for the bunny heads and simply cut the ears out with a kitchen knife. For the eyes we used black beans, but olives would work well too. We experimented with the nose and teeth. An overturned mushroom stood in for teeth on a couple of our bunnies. My daughter made a pepperoni smile for another. We did make one big bunny by stretching the dough out into a circle but in the end my teen noted it looked more like a pig than a bunny. Ah well, I wanted some sort of Easter treat for my kids that didn’t involve sugar and this one turned out tasty–and fun. Happy holidays everyone!

The floppy eared bunny

This one looks more like a pig, huh?

Bye bye bunny!

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Guest post: Brette Sember, The Muffin Tin Cookbook

Just in time for Easter, Brette Sember, shares some recipe ideas for making much more than sweets and sides in your muffin tins–you can make your whole meal! Thanks Brette, and make sure to check out her newly released The Muffin Tin Cookbook for more recipes.

Easter in a Muffin Tin

After the baskets have been found, eggs have been hunted, and chocolate has been consumed (or at least the ears bitten off), it’s time for Easter brunch. By the time I get through the festivities of the morning, I want something simple and delicious, and I’m thrilled if it’s a dish my kids want to help make. This Easter, I’m going to be cooking brunch in muffin tins. Muffin tins are my new go-to kitchen cooking item. Your muffin tins can do much more than just cupcakes and muffins! This versatile pan can be used to make entrees, appetizers, breakfasts, sides, breads, desserts, and much more.

One at a Time

Muffin tins are a handy way to cook a variety of dishes easily, but are also a great way to manage portion control. You can’t fool yourself by saying you’ll just have a little more—one “muffin” cup is one portion.  Muffin tin cooking is easy to serve too. You can bring the whole tin to the table (cute if you have a blue stoneware muffin tin), or arrange the cups on a plate. Perfect for Easter brunch are the pretty cupcake “trees” you can buy; display your brunch delectables this way.

Kid Friendly

Muffin tin cooking is a great way to get your kids interested in cooking and eating healthy foods. They love choosing the liners, arranging food in the cups, and seeing the transformation when it comes out of the oven. There’s something about food that is round, small, and perfectly shaped that appeals to kids. They’ve been conditioned to believe that anything served in a cupcake liner is fun and delicious, so they’ll be willing to try many new foods this way. Since Easter is already a day filled with surprises and the unexpected, build on this excitement by serving up brunch gorgeous muffin tin cups.

Variety Makes Muffin Tin Cooking Fun

There are so many types of muffin tins available now. Not only can you buy cast iron, nonstick, and silicone tins, but they come in so many sizes: regular, jumbo, mini, and even in squares now. Everyone grew up with paper muffin cup liners, but today there are many choices in that realm as well. You can buy colored or patterned paper liners, foil-lined paper liners, and reusable silicone liners. The reusables are my favorite because not only are they nonstick, colorful, and green, but you can even use them by themselves on a baking sheet without a muffin tin pan. You can even use things like slices of ham, tortillas, and pie crust as your cup liners, for tasty results.

Recipes

Ham and Egg Cups

Makes 1 (make 1-2 cups per person at your table)

Ingredients

1 slice round or oval deli ham

1 egg

Salt and pepper, to taste

½ tablespoon shaved Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. Prepare 1 regular muffin cup by spraying it or using a muffin cup liner.
  3. Place the center of the ham into the middle of the cup, and arrange the edges along the inside of the cup. If it sticks up a bit above the cup, that’s fine.
  4. Crack the egg, and place it inside the ham.
  5. Season with salt and pepper, and add the cheese.
  6. Bake for 15 minutes, until the white of the egg is set.

Buckwheat Pear Muffins with Glaze

Makes 12

Ingredients

1 egg

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons skim milk

¼ cup vegetable oil

½ cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup buckwheat flour

½ cup flour

1 pear, peeled, cored and chopped (about 1 cup)

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

Glaze (recipe below)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F, and prepare 12 regular muffin cups by spraying with cooking spray.
  2. Mix egg, milk, oil and sugar, then add dry ingredients.
  3. Stir in pear and spices.
  4. Divide among muffin cups and bake for about 16 minutes. Drizzle with glaze if desired.

Glaze

1 cup powdered sugar

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon milk

  1. Completely combine in a bowl, then drizzle over the tops of the muffins. Serve.

Along with The Muffin Tin Cookbook, Brette is also the author of The Parchment Paper Cookbook and The Organized Kitchen. Her web site is BretteSember.com and she blogs at MarthaAndMe.net and NoPotCooking.com.

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