A Harmony of Flavors

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Maraschino Cherry Cake for my Hubby

My husband loves maraschino cherries. He is a true cherry-holic. Most years when I've asked him what kind of cake he would like for his birthday, he asks for carrot cake. The recipe i use to make carrot cake is absolutely exceptional, true. For a time there, I was really getting sick of carrot cake. He wanted it for Fathers' Day and then his birthday and for any other celebratory occasion. Long ago, he would ask for white cake, which is also my favorite cake, and I loved that. 

This year he totally surprised me! He said he wanted either a cherry cake with white icing or a white cake with cherry icing. And by "cherry" he meant maraschino. 

Long ago I had found a recipe for a chocolate cake that used a whole 10-ounce jar of maraschino cherries AND the juice. Anyone reading this with an objection to the dye in these cherries - understand, he just doesn't care. I like them too. The difference is that I like them. Just "like". If it was me, I might buy a jar of cherries once every few years. If I have cherries around at all, they are fair game, and my husband will eat them all, along with the juice in very short order. They go in soft drinks (10 or more in a glass of coke, along with some juice), in his coffee and in anything else he thinks of. Not me. Too sweet. I might eat one or two if I have a jar around for something. I make Cherry Bon Bon cookies for him for Xmas, and a couple of the cherries are usually too smashed to use in the cookie, so those go in my mouth. I am no cherry-holic.

Now the thing is, neither of us is too overly crazy for chocolate. I know; heresy! Still, neither of us likes chocolate ice cream, and we will take a white or yellow cake over chocolate any day. Chocolate bars only once in a great while. I like dark chocolate, the darker the better. He likes milk chocolate. This is kind of how it is around here. In many ways we are like Jack Sprat and his wife. What I don't eat, he will and what he won't eat, I usually love. We only agree on a very few things in matters of food, and I am grateful for many of them, like the chocolate issue. Wine is another where we pretty much agree. We both like really strong, peppery, red wines. Whites only if the occasion really warrants it.
Maraschino Cherry Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

So back to that chocolate cake with the whole jar of cherries and juice. I made that one year for his birthday. It was an exceptionally good cake. But it was chocolate, and while the cake was good, the cherries were less noticeable, so it was only a so-so on the "how much he liked it" scale. It never occurred to me to try making a white cake with a jar of cherries. 

I sat down with a white cake recipe I love, altering it to where I could use some of the cherry juice and the whole jar of cherries. I made the cake on Sunday, cooled and wrapped it, then iced it on Monday. Monday was his birthday and I was making him a dinner of his own choosing. He asked for pork chops, sugar snap peas and oven roasted potatoes. 

After dinner, we had the cake and I was disappointed. It was certainly cherry, though mostly the cherries fell to the bottom of the cakes as they baked. But the part that was most disappointing was that the cake was relatively dry. I didn't think I over baked it. I tested the layers with a toothpick at 30 minutes and they still had some crumbs, so I set the timer for 3 more minutes. At that point the tester was clean. The flavor is good. But, the cake is more dry than it should be. It will be eaten, despite that. I may have to make another cake sometime soon to try again on the moistness aspect. But for now, here is the recipe; feel free to experiment:

Maraschino Cherry Cake

makes two (8-inch) layers

5 large egg whites (6 fl. oz. / 177 ml.)
1/2 cup milk (4 fl. oz. / 118 ml.)
1/4 cup cherry juice (2 fl. oz. / 59 ml.)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (10 ml.)
3 cups cake flour (4.2 oz. / 119 g.)
1 1/2 cups sugar (10.5 oz. / 298 g.)
4 teaspoons baking powder (0.56 oz. / 16 g.)
3/4 teaspoon salt (0.14 oz. / 4 g.)
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (6 oz. / 170 g.)
1  jar maraschino cherries (10 oz. / 283 g.)

At least 1 hour before making the cake, set a sieve over a bowl or measuring cup and drain the cherries. Reserve the cherry liquid. Shake the sieve a few times during the hour, to drain thoroughly.

Cut the cherries into quarters and set aside. Measure out 1/4 cup of the cherry juice. Save the remainder of the juice for another application. With cooking spray, grease two 8-inch round cake pans. Cut parchment to fit the bottom of the pans, then spray the parchment also. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 on Convection). 

In a bowl, combine the milk, the reserved 1/4 cup of cherry juice and the vanilla. In another bowl or measure, whisk together the egg whites with 1/4 cup of the milk/cherry mixture, keeping the remaining 1/2 cup of milk/cherry liquid separate. 

In a mixer bowl combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Turn on the mixer to low and combine these dry ingredients. Turn mixer off. Add in the soft butter and the reserved 1/2 cup of milk/cherry liquid. Starting very slowly, turn the mixer on until the dry ingredients are just moistened. Increase speed and beat for another 1 1/2 minutes, until smooth. Add in the egg white mixture in three parts, beating about 20 seconds after each addition. Add in the cherry pieces and fold to combine. Divide the batter equally between the two prepared pans. Tap the pans on the counter to release any large air bubbles. Bake the layers for 25 to 35 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the pans for 7 to 10 minutes before turning out on racks to cool completely before frosting.  If the cakes want to stick in the pans, run a sharp knife around the edges of the pan to release the cake. The bottom will release easily, with the parchment. Discard the parchment.

This cake is wonderful frosted with cream cheese frosting.  It is best to use a good cream cheese, such as Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Softer versions will make the frosting too soft, necessitating the addition of more confectioners' sugar to thicken.

Cream Cheese Frosting

makes enough to frost one 8-inch cake

2 sticks unsalted butter, very soft, at room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
4 cups / 1 pound sifted confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place the butter and cream cheese into the bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer and beat these ingredients for 8 minutes on medium speed, until almost white and very creamy. If the butter and cream cheese are not soft enough, the mixture will not achieve this creamy state.

While the butter is beating, sift the confectioners' sugar with the salt. Once the 8 minutes have elapsed, turn the machine off. Add the confectioners' sugar mixture all at once and begin to mix on very low speed for about a minute, until moistened. Increase speed and add in the vanilla and heavy cream. Beat for at least 6 minutes more. The frosting will have increased in volume and will be very light and fluffy. The texture will be very soft, but hold stiff peaks and any designs piped on.

NOTE: For added vanilla flavor, scrape the beans from 1/2 of a vanilla bean and add to the mixer bowl when adding in the confectioners' sugar..

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Chicken and Grape Salad Makeover

I have made versions of Chicken & Grape Salad for a long, long time. Generally throwing things together last minute, using whatever is at hand, this is a wonderful cool summer salad that eats like a meal. At its absolutely most basic, the ingredients are as simple as cooked chicken, grapes, and nuts, sometimes with celery or green pepper, and held together with mayonnaise. From there, one can personalize it as desired. 

Chicken and Grape Salad, with many additions
I had some rotisserie chicken left over from the night before. A rotisserie chicken is a great way to have this recipe come together quickly. I did not have any grapes. I walked to the grocery and picked up some grapes, along with a little package of fresh dill, one of the few herbs I do not have growing this year. While dill is not usually a part of this salad, I was considering adding in a little Feta cheese still left in the fridge, and dill seemed like the pairing flavor I was looking for. For nuts I used pecans. My preference, hands-down, would be walnuts, but my husband dislikes walnuts with a passion, so pecans it is! I had gotten a couple of bell peppers at the Farmers' Market this past week. One of them was a deep purple in color, and I thought this would lend nice contrast in this salad. Celery is one of my least favorite vegetables, but when mixed with a lot of other flavors, it is a good filler. 

The Feta cheese is certainly not a common ingredient in this salad, and neither are the craisins (dried cranberries). Even more uncommon is the jalapeno & cheese brat I added. This last was just because I wanted to taste this particular Frohling Cheese & Jalapeno Brat. I bought a package while shopping for the other ingredients because I had tasted some of the brats and summer sausages at the Brown County Fair this past Saturday. Frohling makes some wonderful deli meats and they are South Dakota based. One I tasted at the fair and particularly enjoyed was a Cranberry and Wild Rice Summer Sausage, and that was the one I was specifically looking for at Kessler's local grocery, but those were not in evidence that day. Meanwhile, wanting to taste the brats I bought, I cooked one. After tasting an end piece, I just cut up the rest and added it to my "Chicken and Grape" salad. The ingredient list just kept growing. My recipe ended up like this:

Chicken and Grape Salad

makes about 10 cups

3 cups cooked chicken, cubed
1 1/2 cup grapes, cut in halves
1 cup bell pepper, in chunks
1 cup pecans, broken
1 cup celery, sliced
1 cup cubed Feta cheese, 4 ounces
1 cooked brat or smoked sausage of choice, optional
1/2 cup craisins / dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped scallions
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
2/3 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons lemon or lime juice

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except the mayonnaise and lemon juice. Separately whisk together the mayo and lemon juice and pour over the ingredients in the large bowl. Toss well to completely combine and distribute the ingredients with the dressing. 

Chicken and Grape Salad
My husband and I have always loved this salad, even if made at its most basic, as mentioned above. All the extras just made it that much better. We both served ourselves what should easily have been one large portion, and we both came back for seconds. I would estimate that this should be able to serve 4 to 6 as a meal, or more if it is portioned smaller for a summer brunch or lunch dish. It could be scooped onto a bed of greens, or into lettuce cups or on an open-faced sandwich. 

In researching what others have used in this type of salad, salt and pepper are generally a part of the recipe. I find store bought rotisserie chickens as well as Feta cheese, brats and mayonnaise to be quite salty on their own. I am not one to add extra salt to a meal at table. I believe in seasoning properly while preparing the food. If an ingredient is already salty, I taste before adding any more salt. Salt is not in my ingredient list above for this reason. If you feel it is needed, please feel free to add salt at your discretion.

This recipe is gluten free unless your mayonnaise and or brats/smoked sausage have gluten in their ingredients. If you are gluten-intolerant, I am sure you will already have a favored mayo to use. The brat was optional anyway.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.  

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Greek Style Stuffed Chicken Breasts for Dinner

Long, long ago, I made something similar to this, and it stayed in my memory. I remember the flavors being great. The most likely reason I never went back to make it again is because I dislike frying food. I really dislike the cleanup afterwards, with everything grease-spattered. Considering it has been at the very least 30+ years since the last time I stuffed chicken breasts and fried them, I thought maybe it was time to revisit this idea.

Clockwise from top: thyme, marjoram, oregano, rosemary
I had skinless boneless chicken breasts to use. My recollection from that last time was cutting a pocket into the meat. Basically, lay the breast flat on a cutting board and with a small, sharp paring knife, knife blade parallel to the cutting board, cut into the thicker side of the breast, keeping the opening small, but sliding the knife towards the top end and then see-sawing to the bottom end, creating a pocket. The most important thing is not to poke the knife out the other side, or even worse, through the top or bottom of the meat.

I chose Greek flavors to stuff the chicken, mainly because I already had a block of Feta cheese in the fridge. I thought about what else to use that would be Greek or Mediterranean and since my sister-in-law has all my herbs growing at her house, I took a walk over there and picked marjoram, oregano, thyme and rosemary. I particularly wanted marjoram for the flavors because of its somewhat more floral scent. If marjoram is not available, just use the whole amount of oregano. Along the way home, I stopped in the grocery for a lemon. Thinking of the possibility of using sun-dried tomatoes, I thought that oil packed would give more concentrated flavor. I considered capers, but left them out this time.
Greek Style Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Putting the whole thing into practice was relatively simple. I made the pockets in the chicken breasts and set them aside. I put a chunk of the Feta into the food processor to break it up finely, adding minced garlic to ensure it was evenly distributed. I did the chopping of herbs by hand. I had more than I needed, and since I was steaming fresh green beans to accompany the chicken, I added the leftover chopped herbs to the beans when they were finished. I used seasoned flour and egg to make the outer coating for the chicken; first in flour, then egg, then flour.
Chicken, frying

Actually frying the chicken took longer than I wished, but I kept the heat on medium low because I wanted the chicken cooked through but not burnt. I did not time it precisely, but I would estimate at least 15 minutes per side, before it reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees on my Thermapen instant-read thermometer. I realize how expensive this little tool is, but it is worth its weight in gold. Truly!

Ultimately, despite the mess all over the stove to clean, the chicken was most delicious. My husband again was thrilled with the outcome. My photos did not come out as I had wished, but hopefully they give enough of an idea of the great outcome of this dish.

Greek Style Stuffed Chicken Breasts

makes 4 servings

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts 
2 ounces Feta cheese
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh, minced rosemary leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh, minced thyme leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh, minced oregano leaves
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh, minced marjoram (OR use 3 teaspoons fresh oregano, if marjoram not available)
1 tablespoon minced oil-packed sun-dried tomato

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 egg
1 - 2 tablespoons milk or water
2 tablespoons oil, for frying, as needed

Pat dry the chicken breasts with paper toweling. With a very sharp paring knife, insert the knife tip into the thicker side of the meat. Slide the knife upwards first to the rounded end of the meat, being careful not to poke all the way through. With a gentle, back-and-forth, sliding motion, slide the knife blade to cut a pouch, extending down as far as comfortable into the narrow end of the chicken. Try to keep the original opening no more than 2 inches wide. Do this with all 4 chicken breast pieces and set aside.

Cut a 2" slit, slide knife blade upwards and down to make pocket
Place the feta cheese into a food processor with the garlic and lemon zest and process fine. Chop all the herbs and add them to the processor and pulse once or twice. Pour the mixture into a bowl and add the minced sun-dried tomato, stirring to combine. Divide the cheese and herb mixture into 4 portions. With one hand, open the pocket of one chicken breast and with a small spoon, insert one portion of the cheese herb mixture. Use a fingertip to push the mixture both upwards and downwards in the pocket. Press the edge of the pocket to close and press the surface gently with fingers to spread the mixture to lay smoothly inside. Do this with the remaining 3 chicken breasts and filling.

Combine the flour, salt and pepper on a plate. In a separate, wider container, mix together the egg and milk or water with a fork to combine. Dredge the chicken breasts first in the flour mixture, then in the egg mixture, then back in the flour mixture. Set them aside for at least 20 minutes to set the coating. If longer, place them in the refrigerator.

Heat a large skillet and add the oil. Place the chicken breasts smooth side down into the hot oil. Start with medium low and fry the meat until very golden, about 15 minutes. Turn gently and fry the opposite side until golden and the internal temperature is at least 160 to 165 degrees. Do not cover the pan to speed the cooking as this will make the coating soggy and the cheese will ooze out.

NOTES: If other herbs than used in this recipe are desired, I would recommend using 1 - 2 tablespoons fresh dill instead and 3 - 4 teaspoons chopped capers instead of  the sun-dried tomatoes. This will be my next experiment!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tomato Season is Upon Us with Exciting Heirloom Varieties

Old German, Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, Yellow Pear
Up in the northern US, it is finally tomato season. The Farmers' Market is now being flooded with produce of all sorts, and tomatoes are making a real splash. Some of the tomatoes I grew from seed a few years ago are now finding their way, along with a lot of other varieties, to a lot of market stands here. Some of these are heirloom, though some are just new hybrids. I grew Green Zebra, Cherokee Purple and Old German. Those, along with others like Mortgage Lifters, Green Grape, Indigo Blueberry, Black Cherry and others are now making the most interesting stands to visit. The colors alone attract with plain old eye-appeal. Once tasted, it is really hard to go back to enjoying a supermarket hybrid. One stand this year is specializing only in these heirloom or similar types of tomatoes and it is the first place I go.

My little crop, picked just last evening
I have no real open space in my current yard where tomatoes would get enough sun, except right smack in the front yard. So this year, my sister-in-law is hosting my tomato plants and a lot of herbs, along with her tomato plants. She has Romas and Early Girl and a few other varieties of red tomatoes. She lives about 6 blocks away, so it gives me an opportunity to go walking, for a good cause. I took a quick walk over there yesterday to pick some herbs to use in a new chicken dish I was creating for dinner, and there were a cluster of Yellow Pear Tomatoes ripened or ripening, so I brought them home with the marjoram, oregano, thyme and rosemary that I had gone there for. She has told me to pick some of the red varieties also, as they are generally more abundant, and I have quite a few Romas in my bowl of fresh tomatoes just now!
From Top: Cherokee Purple, Old German, Green Zebra

Salsa is a popular use for fresh tomatoes. The ingredients are pretty straightforward, though there are lots of possibilities for new mixtures. I mixed up a quick batch of fresh salsa the other morning and used it over my fried eggs. I love salsa over eggs, but obviously it is great as a standard dip with chips. Salsa is wonderful over most "Mexican" style dishes, of course.  Generally green pepper is used in making a salsa, but I had also bought a few very large jalapeno peppers at the Farmers' Market. These really large jalapenos are also usually much less spicy-hot. Instead of green pepper, I just used the large jalapeno, minced. Obviously, green pepper would work perfectly in this salsa, but with only 3 Roma tomatoes, the one large jalapeno made more than enough of a pepper to tomato ratio. This is what I did for my Salsa Fresca (Fresh Salsa):

Salsa Fresca

Salsa Fresca

makes about 1 1/2 cups

3 Roma tomatoes
1 large jalapeno pepper (or 1/2 green pepper), minced finely
1/2 small onion, minced
1 - 2 cloves garlic, minced
chopped cilantro, to taste
salt, to taste
2 tablespoons lime juice, or as needed

Dice the tomatoes, removing the wetter seed sections over the sink if you want a less watery salsa. Place the diced tomatoes in a bowl with the remaining ingredients and mix well. Set aside for a few minutes to allow flavors to meld.

BLT on homemade bread
Any tomatoes can be used to make salsa. When there is a glut of cherry tomatoes, I cut them in halves or quarters, depending on their original size. I used a mix of red cherry tomatoes and Yellow Pear tomatoes to make a salsa last summer. Larger tomatoes are just excellent on a BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwich, most particularly if the bread is freshly made and the bacon is meaty. Avocado is also a wonderful addition to a BLT. Or if you are of the vegetarian persuasion, just make a lettuce and tomato sandwich, adding avocado, sprouts and/or fresh sliced cucumber.

Green Zebra, top, with 4 Green Grape tomatoes
Above I mentioned a variety of tomato called Green Grape tomatoes. I had never seen this type before this summer. They are green, of course, and a small tomato, somewhat like the size of a slightly elongated ping-pong ball. I have Green Zebra tomatoes growing at my sister-in law's house, but they are not ripe yet, so I bought some of those at the market as well as the Green Grape and a Black of Tula. The Black of Tula are similar looking to the Cherokee Purple, with a dark flesh and a wonderful deep smoky flavor.
Old German with large red starburst

Old German is a variety termed heirloom at the local nursery. I grew these a couple of years back and the plant yielded some smaller specimens that were entirely yellow, as well as some that grew very large. The large ones were bright yellow, and at the bottom had a large, red starburst. When cut, the red starburst pattern radiated into the whole tomato. They were most beautiful to behold.

When taking the time to cut and separately taste each of these different varieties of tomatoes, it is obvious they all have very distinct flavors, none of which remotely taste like the bland, red supermarket varieties. I find the Green Zebra have a light, almost citrus-like flavor, while the darker tomatoes like Cherokee Purple or Black of Tula have a deep, smoky-berry like flavor. The red varieties like Mortgage Lifter taste like a red tomato in comparison with these others, but still have most outstanding flavor in comparison to the blandness of supermarket varieties.

In the dead of winter, when the tastebuds have become complacent, these supermarket types of tomato are fine. Once summer hits and the fresh, right-from-the-plant tomatoes are in season, it is time to glory in their magnificence.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Cornbread Taco Casserole - a Fiesta of Flavors

I have been trying to get this recipe out for days, and one thing or another has seemed to prevent me getting it here. First off, when I created it last week, it was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I created it late in the day, tired after standing in the kitchen all day doing other things like making bread, pesto, cake, etc. I was hot and tired. I "knew" I had a Cornbread Taco Casserole recipe somewhere, one I'd made nearly 20 years ago. Do you think I could find it? Of course not. I just didn't know what to do with the hamburger I had thawed. I thought, "I don't need a recipe. How hard could a taco casserole be?"

I thought about what ingredients would be good here: onion and garlic of course. I had fresh thyme in a vase on the windowsill, so I could use that. My husband dislikes meat sauces that are runny, so I would thicken it slightly with flour, though cornstarch would work too. Tomatoes or tomato product of some sort. I had some Tostitos Salsa in the fridge, so I used some of that. Chili Powder would also be a must. I thought corn and kidney beans would be good. I love green chiles in a can, so I would certainly use those.

For the cornbread part, I wanted it to be on top of the casserole. It was already quite late in the day, so I opted for a box of Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix. At some point I do want to make this with my own cornbread recipe, but that was just not the day for it. Then, CHEESE! Oh boy, I had no shredded cheese. Drat. I thought about that and wondered if there was any in the freezer. Sure enough, there was some shredded cheese, a Mexican Blend. It was a bit old, but I wasn't using that much. Perfect.

Cornbread Taco Casserole, too brown
When I got all the taco casserole ingredients together, it made a lot! I used 2 pounds of hamburger meat, and with everything else going in, it completely filled my large skillet. I would suggest the possibility of using a large pot instead of a skillet, especially if one does not own a really large skillet. The casserole part is already cooked through by the time it goes in the oven, so all the oven accomplishes is baking the cornbread topping.

Okay, so I mentioned how tired I was from all the cooking & baking I had done that day? I had just pulled out a batch of bread from the oven shortly before the casserole was to go in. I had planned to set the oven at 375. Actually, anything I bake that is not covered, I set the oven to Convect Bake. On Convection, the temperature needs to be set 25 degrees lower than the recommended temperature to offset the faster baking and browning time. Meaning, I needed to set the Convection Bake temperature to 350 degrees. What, exactly, I was thinking when I set the oven temperature to 475 on Convection Bake, is beyond me. Obviously, I was not thinking at all by that time. When making a recipe for the first time, I set the timer for a certain amount of time as a baseline, but then check carefully to make sure everything is baking properly, adjusting the time as needed. I set the timer for 25 minutes, figuring it would probably be done at about 25, but it was a large casserole, so it was uncertain.

I checked once at about 15 minutes, noting that though not yet browned on top, it was certainly bubbling very furiously. It still did not occur to me that the temperature was ridiculously high. At 23 minutes, I checked again. This time I noticed that the top of the cornbread was now a definite mahogany color. Oops! I pulled it out and went to shut off the oven, finally noticing the temperature I had set. Good heavens. Still, while the top was very dark, it was not actually burnt. We ate the casserole and it was absolutely delicious, browned top notwithstanding. My husband particularly loved it. We polished it off in about 3 days, and I asked him if it would be okay to make it again, since I wanted to get photos of a better looking outcome! He said I could make it 3 times in a row if I wanted, he liked it that much! Alrighty then!

I made the casserole for the second time on Saturday for dinner. I had not spent the whole day in the kitchen. I was well rested. I baked it at the temperature I originally planned and it baked perfectly in the same amount of time as the last one, but this time without over-browning the top. The flavors were the same. I used Chi Chi's Salsa this time. I had bought a new bag of Mexican Blend shredded cheese, so it melted much more nicely. 

Cornbread Taco Casserole; perfectly golden top
In all, it is a really wonderful dinner, ready to eat in right about an hour. Have the meat thawed and cooking while chopping the onion and garlic. Then open all the cans and have them ready. Chop at the meat to make it into small bits. Add in the ingredients as they are needed. The whole thing comes together quickly. Mixing up the Jiffy Cornbread Mix takes seconds. Sprinkle the cheese on top and bake and dinner is served.

Cornbread Taco Casserole

makes one (very full) 9 x 13-inch casserole; 
Cornbread Taco Casserole

6 large or 12 small servings

2 pounds ground beef
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup water
2 cups Chunky Salsa of choice
1 small can tomato paste
2 (4-ounce) cans diced green chiles
1 can whole kernel corn (no salt added), drained
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 box Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
(1 egg + 1/3 cup milk)
1 1/4 cup shredded Mexican Blend Cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 (350 on Convection Bake). Spray a 13 x 9-inch oven safe casserole with cooking spray and set aside. 

In a very large skillet, or a wide soup pot, heat the oil and begin browning the meat over medium to medium high heat. While the meat is cooking, chop the onions, mince the garlic, chop the bell pepper and strip the leaves from the thyme stems. Get out the flour, chili powder and salt. Check the meat and break it up periodically so it browns evenly. Open the cans of tomato paste, diced green chilies, corn and kidney beans. Drain the corn. Rinse the kidney beans in a colander under copious quantities of running water. Measure out the salsa.
finishing in pan      |    Cornbread batter spooned on   |   sprinkled with cheese      |           just baked        |        served     

Once the liquid in the pan is almost evaporated, add in the onion, garlic and bell pepper and continue to toss and cook for about 5 minutes more. Sprinkle in the chili powder, salt and thyme leaves, stirring to combine.

Remove the pan from the heat and add in the flour, stirring until no longer visible. Add in the water, the salsa and the tomato paste and stir carefully, until completely combined. Return the pan to the heat. Stir in the diced green chilies, corn and kidney beans. Once bubbling, very carefully pour or spoon the mixture into the prepared casserole dish.

In a bowl, mix together the Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix, the milk and egg. Drop the mixture from a large spoon evenly all over the surface. About 12 little piles of the mixture works well. Sprinkle the surface evenly with the shredded cheese. Bake the casserole for 20 to 25 minutes, until the casserole is bubbling and the cornbread top is golden.  

Serve with sour cream and sliced avocado, if desired. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Kale in a New Cole Slaw

I might have mentioned before how much I love cole slaw. There has hardly been a recipe I have not liked. Recently I got the idea for cole slaw with the addition of mango and radicchio, which I called Tropical Slaw. I have been using the same basic dressing ingredients, since they serve me well in cole slaw; why mess with a good thing? Changing around the slaw ingredients is where I have had some fun. 

Enter the Farmer's Market

In our small town, we do have a Farmer's Market, and I appreciate and attend every week all summer, when possible. It gives me a good chance to get in a little walking, for one thing. It is about 4 1/2 blocks to the Farmers' Market from my house, then another 2 1/2 blocks to my sister-in-law's house, where she is hosting my tomato and herb plants this year. It's another 4 blocks to the closest local grocery, where I usually stop for a couple of extra things on the way, then back home, another 2 blocks. This makes one big rectangle; a walk of about 13 blocks. While the Farmers' Market may not be huge, it certainly yields options for fresh produce. While these things may be available all year long in the grocery, the flavor is never the same as fresh-picked. Tomatoes are the most radical taste difference, for sure.
Our Farmers' Market: some of the many things available

So as I was walking around the market this past week, I bought some kale, as I was going to  make myself some of the RAW Cool Cucumber Soup I last made in May. I had added kale to that recipe, and I loved how the soup came out. A friend gave me some large cucumbers and I was all set. The bunches of kale at the stand where I bought it, were just huge. I was going to puree the soup, and I just didn't need that much. The rest of the kale was left in the fridge, along with cabbage and radicchio from the last batch of Tropical Slaw I'd made. And I wondered...

A First TIme for Everything

I know kale is good raw. Empirically. I had never eaten it raw. I always put it into a stir fry or just make the kale cooked on its own. Never raw. I thought I would use some of it in a slaw recipe. I pulled out the cabbage and radicchio, along with the kale and got it all nicely shredded. The colors were lovely together. When something looks so pretty, it makes it all the more appetizing. Though with cole slaw and me, there is no problem on that score. Looking through the fridge for ideas on anything else I might add to this slaw, I thought to add my Pickled Mustard Seeds to the slaw dressing. Then I saw the pickled onions I had leftover from making Bread and Butter Pickles recently. I added a healthy dose of those to the slaw. These onions are yellow, because of the turmeric in the Bread and Butter Pickle recipe. I could have as easily used the Pickled Red Onions

Kale Radicchio Slaw with Pickled Onions
Once the slaw was done, I ate a healthy portion for my dinner. It is so delicious. If you happen to have these ingredients on hand, or choose to get them, do try this recipe. I think next time I will add a larger ratio of kale to the mix. It was that good. If you are a cole slaw fan, try this. Even without the added pickled mustard seeds, though I do believe the pickled onions make a wonderful addition.

Kale and Radicchio Cole Slaw with Pickled Onions

makes 10 cups (which shrinks down considerably)

Kale Radicchio Slaw with Pickled Onions
4 cups shredded cabbage
2 cups shredded kale
2 cups shredded radicchio
1/2 cup Pickled Onions (red or yellow)

1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 packets Stevia
2 tablespoons Pickled Mustard Seeds 
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Toss together the first 4 ingredients in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients to combine. Pour the dressing over all the shredded vegetables in the bowl and toss repeatedly, until the dressing has reached all the vegetables. 

This slaw still tastes great after 4 days, though it looks its best right after mixing.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

No Sugar Mocha Spiced Angel Food Cake Not Quite Up to Par

Ever since making the two Mocha Spice Blends, I have been thinking about making an angel food cake using this nice warm spice. Also recently I have had more difficulty with high blood sugar and have been looking at different ways to cut sugar and carbs from the diet where possible. I already know from various attempts recently that going no-sugar sometimes has some serious effects on a recipe. I also know that low carb can give a strange texture to cakes, cookies or breads.

Online Research

Going online to research angel food cakes in general, it is quite remarkable how they are almost all identical. Slight variations in the amount of egg whites will make adjustments to the other ingredients, but the most common recipe is about 1 1/4 cup of egg whites, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 cup cake flour, 1 to 1 1/4 teaspoons cream of tartar, and vanilla. To use 1 and 1/2 cups of sugar is a lot when one has high blood sugar. While 1 cup of flour is not a whole lot in comparison to other cake recipes, it still adds up in the carb department.

Low-Sugar, No Sugar?

My next search was for healthier options. One person used entirely maple syrup instead of cane sugar, but a rose by any other name - and all that. And then I came across a site from the Portland Press Herald, written by J.M. Hirsch. He wrote about creating a gluten-free, low-carb, no sugar angel food cake for his mother. Whoa! What is left in the recipe, I wondered, besides egg whites? 
No-Sugar Mocha Spice Angel Food Cake

The recipe intrigued me. I saw a couple of others, but there were few that really seemed to go healthier than just lowering the overall sugar amount from 1 3/4 cups to 1 1/3 cups; not a significant drop, when trying to lower blood sugar. Hirsch used 8 packets of stevia. I like stevia, but I am terribly new at using it in baking. I didn't specifically need a totally gluten free cake, for myself. Gluten-free flours still have carbs, so that didn't help much one way or other. His recipe used 2 cups of egg whites, the high side of egg white quantity for the recipes I reviewed. To that, he adds powdered egg white and whey protein, along with xanthan gum and guar gum for structure. If you are interested in that recipe, please go here. I decided to substitute his use of the whey protein powder and almond meal with cake flour. I kept the beginning of the recipe just as he has it. My changes revolve around the dry ingredients and flavoring.

As I was writing the above paragraphs, the cake was baking. Hirsch's recipe said to bake at 350 for 35 minutes. I noticed that the cake was smelling really good, usually a sign that a cake is near done. There were 13 minutes left on the timer, but when I inserted a tester, it was completely done. In fact, it probably had been done for a few minutes already. The top crust was actually crisp, as the tester was inserted. It is currently turned upside down, cooling. This is what I did:

No Sugar Mocha Spice Angel Food Cake

serves 8

2 cups egg whites / about 12
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon guar gum
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
8 packets stevia
1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 cup cake flour
4 tablespoons powdered egg white
1 1/2 tablespoons Mocha Spice Blend II

Carefully separate the eggs, ensuring that no yolk gets into the whites, or they will not whip properly. Reserve the yolks for another use. Set the whites into the bowl of a stand mixer and allow them to come to near room temperature before proceeding.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (325 on Convection Bake). Have ready an angel food cake pan with removable tube insert. Lift out and lightly spray the bottom of the insert with cooking spray. Set the insert back into the pan and set aside. Sift together the cake flour, powdered egg white and Mocha Spice Blend into a separate bowl and set aside. To the room temp egg whites in the mixer bowl, add the cream of tartar, xanthan gum, guar gum, baking powder, stevia and vanilla. Beat the mixture on low speed for a minute. These ingredients do not like to combine, so they will not completely mix in until on high speed. Increase speed of mixer to high if using a hand mixer, and only to about 3/4 speed on a heavy duty mixer such as a Kitchen-Aid. Beat until the whites have just attained stiff peaks. 

Remove the bowl from the mixer. Sprinkle about half the dry ingredients over top of the whites and with a spatula, fold in the dry ingredients gently, until combined. Add the remaining dry mixture and fold until combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.

When out of oven, invert the cake, still in the pan, to cool. If your angel food cake pan does not have little feet sticking up to hold it, set the pan upside down over a funnel or the neck of a bottle. Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan.

Once cooled, run a knife around the inner edges of the pan, outer edges as well as around the center tube. Lift out the insert and run the knife under the cake as well. Invert the cake onto a plate to serve.

Next Day . . . 

I had high hopes for this cake. It came out of the pan perfectly, had a good height, the texture was lovely. Just perfect, empirically. I mixed together some coconut oil and agave nectar to put on top of the cake as a sort of "icing."  I cut a couple of slices. I tasted.

Alas, the stevia in the recipe is completely undetectable. I cannot taste sweetness of any kind in the cake. I had no fresh fruit to offset the lack of sweetness. The coconut oil / agave nectar topping was the only saving grace. I can taste the Mocha Spice Blend II, with the added cocoa and coffee. It is not overwhelming. It is, however, hard to really place it in proper context, without any sweetness to offset. 

I believe that making this again - and I most certainly will - I may add about 1/4 cup of confectioners sugar to the flour, or even add in the "cup-for-cup" Stevia in the Raw that I still have in my pantry to use up. The overall outcome was more perfect than I even hoped. Lack of sweetness was the one and only factor needed to tweak.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.