Monday, October 31, 2005

Cooking Re-Runs

Sorry folks, but the new recipes have been few and far between this past month.

I've basically been doing two things--re-cooking stuff that I've already published to check the ingredients and step-by-step instructions; and doing a lot of baking.

Bread baking.

Last week I made a crusty walnut/raisin whole wheat bread and a couple of loaves of french bread. I also baked the chewey double chocolate chip cookies again.

I made a pretty unspectacular chicken and rice soup for dinner last night that featured home made stock from a whole chicken and Mediterranian spices like Ginger along with lemon juice. It was sorta funky tasting, to say the least.

I think that it needs more work before publishing.

So any way, please bear with me and I promise to have something new written up in the next week or so.

Regards Y'all,

The Redneck Gourmet

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Spicy Banana Nut Bread

Got Bananas?

Twice in the past year I’ve been given free bananas. Once I received bananas that were left over after a weekend race for charity. I must have had a dozen and one-half bananas sitting on my countertop turning black ripening. I couldn’t possibly eat that many bananas and I didn’t want to throw them away, so I decided to figure out how to make banana bread. And I did, I just didn’t publish the recipe at that time.

On Sunday my 84 year old neighbor “Bucky” told me that someone had given him a big bunch of bananas and asked me to take some. I immediately thought of making banana bread, so I took home some really ripe bananas.

Here is what you need to make one 5” x 9” loaf:

3 medium bananas, pealed and mashed

1 cup of whole wheat flour
1 cup of plain flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cinnamon

½ cup plain sugar
½cup (1 stick) butter-cut into 1/8” slices

2 eggs—lightly beaten

½ cup walnuts-diced
½ cup currants (small raisins)
½ cup dried apricots, diced
2 tbsp brandy

First toss your butter out on the counter and let it warm up to room temperature. Turn on your oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Grease the sides and bottom of your 9” x 5” loaf pan with butter.

While your butter is warming, mix together the whole wheat flour, the plain flour, the baking powder, baking soda, the salt, and the spices in a medium mixing bowl.

Peal your bananas in a small bowl and mash them up real good with a fork.

Put your walnuts, currants, and diced apricots in a small bowl and drizzle the brandy over them.

Redneck Tip: You can skip this step if you don't have any brandy, but it adds a subtle flavor to the finished bread that I like. Heck, if you like brandy, use a little more if you want.

Once your butter has warmed up, put your sugar in a separate mixing bowl, and add the butter slices. Now cream your butter and sugar together with an electric mixer.

Now add your eggs and whip with the mixer until fluffy, then start adding small quantities of the flour mixture and the mashed bananas as you keep mixing with the electric mixer.

When everything is nice and smooth, dump in your walnut/currant/apricot mixture and mix a little more, but don’t over do it—you just want to evenly mix everything.

Pour your batter into your loaf pan and spread it out evenly with a spatula. Pop it in the oven and cook until golden brown, about 60 minutes in my oven.

Enjoy Y’all,

The Redneck Gourmet

Sunday, October 16, 2005

PiZZa—Phase II

As I wrote back in April when I first tried to cook it: I love good pizza.

Not just any pizza, I want good pizza.

I’ve cooked pizza at least once a month since then, and I’ve finally gotten the crust making process down to an art. Having modified the quantity of ingredients and understanding the method a little better, I feel like it is worth writing about it again to bring the recipe to the attention of my new readers.

If you have never had what I consider to be good pizza, you are missing a real culinary treat. This means that if you eat pizza you are probably happy having Pizza Hut, Dominoes, or Pappa John’s deliver some mishy-mash of cheese stuffed crust with cinnamon sticks and a large bottle of flat soda to your door for $13.98 (such a deal) with a coupon. Every time I try this approach, I swear to myself that I’ll never do it again.

Making home made pizza dough is not something that you can do in thirty minutes after you get home from work and the kids are screaming, but you can do it on a Saturday afternoon when you have the time to let the dough rise.

I said LET THE DOUGH RISE. The first time I made the recipe I was hard headed and rushed the process, didn’t let the dough rise fully, and used all of the dough to make one really fat, 2” thick crust 14” pizza. The dough tasted fine, but it was way too much crust for a single pizza.

This afternoon I again took my time, let the dough rise properly, and made one nice thick crust 13” pizza. Mama Mia…It Worked—I can hardly believe that I made this pizza myself.

Here is what I did:

For the Dough Starter—

¾ cup plain flour (not self rising)
¼ cup warm water
1 pack of fast acting yeast

For the main dough—

1-1/2 cups plain flour
3/4 cup room temperature water
1 tsp salt

For the Tomato Sauce—

(1) 8 oz can Hunts No Salt Tomato Sauce
(1) 6 oz can tomato paste
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried parsley
A couple twists of fresh ground black pepper

Toppings—Take your pick, you know what you like…I used

Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Sliced pepperoni
Spicy Italian Sausage
Sliced black olives
Sliced mushrooms
Marinated artichoke hearts, sliced
Sun dried tomatoes
Shredded mozzarella cheese
Crumbled Feta cheese

Making the dough is a two part process.

First you make the starter by combining the warm water and the yeast in a small glass measuring cup. Stir the mixture up and let it set for ten minutes. This activates the little yeast beasties and gives them a chance to stretch their legs and get ready to do some work for you.

Once you have a ¼ cup of hungry yeast, howling for something to eat, pour your water yeast mixture into a small mixing bowl containing ¾ cup of flour. Take a wooden spoon and stir everything up until the dough starts to pull away from the walls of the bowl.

Knead the dough a little with your fingers, shape into a ball, and then put your dough ball on a plate and cover it with a clean dishtowel. Now let it rise for thirty to forty-five minutes. Fix yourself a drink and get the rest of your ingredients ready. Watch a little TV if you want to.

When you starter has risen, add 3/4 cup of water into your starter and stir it all up to dilute. In a large mixing bowl combine the 1-1/2 cups of flour and the 1 tsp salt and mix thoroughly. Now slowly add your starter/water mixture to your flour/salt mixture and mix it all together with a wooden spoon or, if you’re brave like me, with your bare hands.

Redneck Tip: Wash your hands, then dry them and pour a teaspoon of olive oil into one hand and oil your hands before working with the flour. This will cause the dough to not stick as badly.

Keep working your dough until it starts pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Lightly dust the clean countertop or a large cutting board with flour, then turn out your blob of dough and knead it lightly. I mean LIGHTLY. I’m not going to try to tell you exactly how to knead dough here, it’s not rocket science, but it is important to work your dough to mix the ingredients but not over work it—else it will be TOUGH. As I’ve said earlier, practice makes perfect.

Now put your dough ball on a cookie sheet, cover it with a clean dishtowel, and allow it to rise from 1-1/2 to 2 hours. The dough should double in size, so you can adjust your “rise” time based on what your eyeballs tell you.

While you are waiting, make your sauce by combining the tomato sauce, tomato paste, and spices in a small boiler over low heat. Heat until you want to use some, but don’t let it boil.

When you are close to having the dough ready, kick the heat on your oven up to 500 degrees F.

When your dough has adequately risen, uncover it, move it to the side, and re-flour your work surface. Now place your dough in the center of the work area and fold the dough back onto itself from four directions, trying to maintain a round shape. Now kneed the dough gently and work it out with your hands (or use a rolling pin) into a 13” or 14” round shape, maintaining a thicker rim and a thin middle section.

I actually picked my crust up and worked it with my knuckles in the air like the pizza guys do on TV. If you tear a little hole in it, just place it back on the work surface and pinch the hole closed. When you are happy with your crust or afraid to mess with it further, place it on your pizza pan or pizza stone.

Now this step is important. Drizzle a little olive oil over the center of the crust, omitting the outside edges if you want them crispy. Smear the oil around with a spoon or your fingers to evenly coat the crust. This oil is important in order to keep the tomato sauce and other juices from soaking into your crust while your pizza cooks in the oven.

Now smear the tomato sauce over the center of your crust. Use a large wooden spoon to evenly spread the sauce over the area—not too thick. I like to cook my pizza with a thin coating of sauce and place extra sauce on the side on the table.

Sprinkle a thick layer of Mozzarella cheese over the sauce, add your other ingredients, and another layer of cheese if you want. It's your pizza--be creative.

Here is something else that I've started doing that helps thicken the crust. Let your finished pizza sit on the counter for fifteen minutes or so before you put it in the oven to cook. The yeast in the dough will continue to make the crust rise and you'll get a nice, light, fluffy crust interior with a crisp exterior as a reward for your patience. I really like the consistency that results.

Now you are on the downhill stretch. Toss your pizza in the oven, pour yourself a glass of wine, and do a few dishes while your pizza cooks. My oven takes about 20 minutes at 500 degrees.

Pay attention to your crust after about 18 minutes of cooking--don't burn your masterpiece.

Pull the pizza out and place on a cutting board, place your extra sauce in a bowl on the table, slice your pizza, toss it on plates, top off the wine glasses, and EAT!

Enjoy Y’all,

The Redneck Gourmet

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Chewy Double Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, Oatmeal Cookies--UPDATED!

(More than a mouthful)

I first wrote about these cookies back in November last year right after I started writing The Redneck Gourmet. This is my own original recipe that I've developed in an attempt to duplicate some cookies that I used to buy at Harry's Farmer's Market in Atlanta back in the late 1980's.

I have cooked several batches since I first published the recipe and I have slightly refined the ingredient list and the process, so I thought it would be worthwhile to write about them again after cooking my latest batch last night.

I'm not just saying this because I cook them, but believe me--these are some of the best darn cookies you will ever put in your mouth. YOU NEED TO TRY COOKING THEM.

Here is what I use to make my cookies:

2 sticks butter + 1/4 stick

2 eggs
1 cup white crystal sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup Quaker oats

1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup walnut pieces

1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
1/2 cup whole wheat flour

3 squares unsweetened baker’s chocolate

According to my Betty Crocker Cookbook, there are a couple of details that ensure good cookies. I followed Mrs. Crocker’s instructions and my cookies came out perfect.

Betty Crocker Tip: First, let your butter soften at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before you use it. Second, if you don’t have flat cookie sheets (I don't,) turn your sheets upside down and cook your cookies on the back of the sheet.

Now, as to making great cookies, in a double boiler, combine ¼ stick of butter and three squares of unsweetened baking chocolate and heat over medium heat to melt, stirring occasionally.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the white crystal sugar, the brown sugar, the oats, and the cinnamon. Mix everything together with your hands to combine very well. Slice your softened butter into 1/8" thick pieces and slowly add it to the sugar/oats mixture as you beat it with an electric mixer on low speed.

Do not over beat, just break up and distribute the butter evenly. Now add the eggs and vanilla and beat some more.

Sprinkle in your chocolate chips and walnuts and beat lightly with the mixer. Be careful to not break up your chocolate chips.

Finally, once the chocolate and butter mixture has melted, add it to the sugar/oats mixture and beat lightly.

In a separate medium mixing bowl, sift and measure the cake flour, the whole wheat flour, the salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix everything together with a spoon.

Now it is time to think—you might not need all of your flour mixture--so pay close attention. Add half of your flour mix to the wet mix and beat it all together with the mixer. Take a spatula and scrape the sides of the bowl to get the dry stuff off of the edges. Keep adding the flour mixture a little at a time and beating it with the mixer until you have a very stiff dough.

As I said, you might not need all of the flour, depending on room temperature and your accuracy of measuring the ingredients.

I said VERY stiff's important.

When you are satisfied with your dough, cover the mixture with Saran Wrap and sit it in the refrigerator for ten or fifteen minutes to chill. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Open a beer or mix yourself a drink while you wait.

Redneck Tip: My Betty Crocker Cookbook had another idea I liked. Instead of cooking a whole batch of bad cookies, spoon out a little ball of your dough on to a cookie sheet and test-cook one cookie to see what you’ve got. If your cookie spreads out too much and is flat, add a little flour to your mix. If it is too dry and cooks like a golf ball, add a little more butter, a dash of milk, or another egg and try again. Mine worked great the first try. Also, allow your cookie sheets to cool off between batches so that your cookies don’t spread too much while cooking—remember, that’s why we chilled the dough in the first place…

Spoon out even globs of your cookie dough onto your cookie sheets. I wanted real thick, 4” cookies, so I used big portions. I left the dough in even globs--almost "balls" of dough standing up 1-1/2" to 2" high. Trust me here. The dough will spread out as it cooks, but the cookies will still be almost 1/2" thick when you're done.

For large cookies, cook them for fifteen to seventeen minutes, until you see the sides of the bottoms starting to get real dark.

Allow the cookies to cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then slide them off onto a cooling rack. Repeat the cooking process until you run out of dough, or make some more dough and keep going.

I made about a dozen and one-half 4" diameter, super fat cookies, and between the real estate agents and other victims I ran into today, I only have four left.

I had ZERO complaints.


Enjoy Y’all,

The Redneck Gourmet