Thursday, December 27, 2012

I am late on my posts X's two.

I have two posts to catch up on, the first is the Daring cooks challenge of Pate Chinois a Canadian sort of Sheppard's pie.

Our Daring Cooks’ December 2012 Hostess is Andy of Today’s the Day and Today’s the Day I Cook! Andy is sharing with us a traditional French Canadian classic the Paté Chinois, also known as Shepherd’s pie for many of us, and if one dish says comfort food.. this one is it!

Between being sick, the holidays, and well just life in general it has been near impossible to get on here and get things posted. I was not terribly crazy about this because I dislike this type of meal, but I did it. I did a sort of Mexican inspired Pate Chinois with taco meat, beans, corn, tomatoes, and a mashed potato with Mexican blend cheese. It was okay. Here is a photo.

Meat mixture cooking.

Meat and veg in the casserole.

Ooey Gooey Cheesy.

A little too watery, but okay.
For my Daring Bakers Challenge we completed Panettone, an Italian fruit bread.
Blog-checking lines: The December 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by the talented Marcellina of Marcellina in Cucina. Marcellina challenged us to create our own custom Panettone, a traditional Italian holiday bread!
I love this challenge, and in light of being sick, and super busy I made two batches! I did the traditional fruit filled one, then one that I filled with chocolate pieces both milk and white, as well as some dried cherries. The Chocolate Cherry was my favorite though less traditional is my guess.
I did the traditional version first and tried to do it all in one day! It was time consuming and it turned out, but for one day it was a lot of work! I started at about 8am on Wednesday, and finished at 2am on Thursday. I will never try and do something like this in one day. So initially I could only find a fruit blend, then I located the citron and candied orange peel; I learned that I dislike citron. I also realized after the fact that I neglected putting in the orange and lemon extract, not that this took away from it. I took the bread to work and shared with many friends and co-workers. One of my girlfriends who I cook with regularly felt the bread was a bit dry; she was right. I think I over cooked the first batch. The other thing that was frustrating, is that I tried hanging the bread upside down in some stock pots, I was so excited to check on my work when I woke that I was near devastated when I found that the breads had broken away from the skewers and the tops had crashed into the bottom of the stock pot causing a slight collapse.
The many ingredients.

Blooming yeast.

This is incredibly sticky dough.

Doubled in size.

The dough laid out with fruit filling.


Waiting for the final rise. 
This is after cooking, before falling into bottom of pan.

This is what the final looked like from the bottom, also a bit too done.

Here is the bread with a slice out of it.

I do have to say that I was thrilled with the end results as I had a friend who came by to drop of a cookbook and I had her try a piece. She is Italian as in her parents immigrated to the US shortly before her birth, anyway she has had a number of Panettones and i am pleased to say that she reports it tastes just as it should! I was pleased about that.
The last version I did was with, as I said, Chocolate and Cherry. This was my favorite version. I took the two days to complete this one, did not rush it, and used the alternate cooling technique where I rotated the bread every 30 minutes. I used the recipe above but substituted the cherries and chocolates for the dried fruit, and I used cherry and almond extract instead of the citrus extract and I left out the zest. Additionally made three smallish panettone instead of two largish. The Chocolate Cherry was perfect not dry at all!
The three rising.

Three baking.

Three after baking.

Such a rich slice!  

This is a whole loaf sliced in half!

YUMMM, with a warm cup of coffee or cold glass of milk this is how one should end the day!
So I have a large amount of both left over and I plan on trying the whole bread pudding or French Toast casserole. I will have to keep you all posted about the outcome.
So sorry to have two challenges in one post, hope you all don't mind. I can't wait for the next challenges in both areas cooking and baking. Hope that your winter and New Year are fantastic. Fun cooking to you and yours! 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dining out around our town.

So while I was home after Thanksgiving enjoying time with my family my dad made a suggestion to help me with posting more frequently on my blog. Then after we returned our monthly version of Community Impact Newspaper (Impact) arrived; there was a supplement in it that reinforced the suggestion my dad had made. He suggested that I do a weekly blog about the local restaurants; I took it a step further and thought about just starting with the A's in the phone book and going down the list. Well when the Impact arrived that little publication made it so much easier with the supplement listing most of the restaurants in the Hutto, Pflugerville, and Round Rock part of central Texas. So I decided why not just go for it.

This week Ashley and I went to dinner at one of our quick and easy restaurants in Hutto, Rio Grande Tex-Mex, I feel like they are moderately priced and we generally can have dinner for the 2 of us between 25 and 30 dollars, depending on a couple of things, do we get an appetizer and do I order a cocktail.

There are a couple of things to know about this place, it reminds me a bit of the Mexican food I grew up eating in South Texas, now it is not a perfect reminder but it is close. I get their cheese enchiladas often and while it is not perfect I am not disappointed. I have tried the chicken enchiladas and those are actually very good. Ashley gets the fajitas or the nachos most often. The fajitas are just okay in my opinion, but he seems to like them. I will eat their queso however it is not my favorite appetizer at this restaurant. We have recently discovered their Mexican Egg Rolls, which are not bad at all, they are a gooey combination of taco meat, cheese and rice; rolled in a spring roll wrapper and deep fried; they serve them with a jalapeno ranch dressing. These things a pretty good. Their salsa seems to be made homemade as the quality changes regularly, some days it is great others it is not; so if you are a salsa fan and you are trying them out, just know that it is hit or miss.

This week while we were there Ashley ordered his regular chicken fajita for one, and I decided to try something new, the stuffed avocado. Ashley was appropriately satisfied with his fajitas and seemed to enjoy them as normal; a trick we have learned is you need to ask for a few extra tortillas when ordering other wise you will not have enough to go with the meat you get.. Since I was contemplating starting my new weekly topic with the restaurant blog I thought I would order something I have never had before and went with the stuffed avocado. I had very high expectations as I had seen this thing before on other diners plates causing intense plate envy. It with a giant avocado which I had stuffed with chicken and cheese, then deep fried with what appeared to be the same batter used in the chili relleno (stuffed pepper). The difference with the avocado is that it appears to have cheese around the exterior of the avocado and then the breading, initially I thought the batter had not been cooked all the way. The avocado was okay actually, not great and I do not have any great plans to order it again. The chicken that was used in the center of the avocado seemed to be chunks of fajita chicken that the spooned in with the queso, again this is not my favorite queso. The meat to avocado ratio was very off, as the avocado was a giant one. The whole meal came with rice, beans, queso, and a cheese enchilada.

The general thoughts on the restaurant are these, we always have great service, we feel like it is an affordable quick place to grab dinner that is very close to where we live, the food is just okay, and there are many dishes we would order again, but really nothing that makes me say I have to go to Rio to get "X" dish. Here are a few photos from our dinner.

Ashley's Chicken Fajitas
 This is the dinner, stuffed avocado on the left, cheese enchilada in the back right.

A cross section of the stuffed avocado.

This is the end result of my plate.
As always we will return to Rio Grande as it is a close restaurant, affordable, and we generally enjoy our dinner. The meal I had has an "I would not order this again" feeling with a caveat that I would try it one more time with the beef filling. I hope that you are willing to go out and try a few restaurants in your area and I hope you find something new to taste. Not sure where Ashley and I will go next, but I do have a lengthy list, hope you enjoy. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas....Cookies that is.

Blog-checking lines: Holiday season is the time for sharing and Peta of Peta Eats is sharing a dozen cookies, some classics and some of her own, from all over the world with us.

Christmas cookies!

I was so excited when I saw this month's baking challenge, as I love to make Christmas cookies for people. It is a fond memory for me to have where my mom and I and my sister would all spend hours making various Christmas cookies for friends and family. The ones that we always make every year would be sugar cookies with a butter cream frosting, and Spritz cookies. I have a very distinct memory of the flavor of the Spritz cookies and well as bad as it is, butter is nice, but margarine is the only way to go. Now my mom's sugar cookies make a ton, and the dough is so tasty. For this challenge I was excited to look at all the different types of cookies. I had big plans, I planned to complete three different types of cookies, Mexican Chocolate with Caramel filling, Layer Christmas Cookies, and then finally some Rosemary Lemon Thumbprint cookies; I completed the first two and am still planing on the Thumbprints just not this week.

The first the Layer Christmas cookies are cookies that I have looked at for years and thought I really should try to make those one day so I was thrilled when I saw that one of the suggested cookie recipes included Layer cookies, I however used a recipe from I read and re-read the recipe to make sure I understood it, and to my surprise I did not. I prepared the cookies wrong, but they came out correctly. The Epicurious recipe that I used said to add the sugar to the egg whites a 1/4 cup at a time; later in the recipe when you are using the almond paste it says to add the remained of the 3/4 cups of sugar. There is a possibility the cookies would have had a bit more loft had I mixed the sugar correctly but they are still amazing! The flavor is phenomenal. I have shared them with family, friends and co-workers. I love it when I get to take cookies in to work as they all enjoy the treats.

 Egg whites, pre-whip. 
 Egg whites, post whip.

Cookie batter for the layer cookies.

Red layer after baking, it is hard to tell, but these are pretty thin layers.

The layers once they have the apricot jam has been added.

Yes it took 13 cans to ensure a level pressure on the cookie layers.

Layers after the chocolate had been done. Really beautiful cookies!

The Mexican Chocolate cookies came out the the 100 Best Cookies from Better Homes and Gardens. They have cinnamon in them as well as cayenne pepper; spice like Mexican hot chocolate. These cookies are incredible as the recipe suggests that you use high quality dutch processed hot chocolate; which I did. The cookies had an amazing chocolate smell and were incredibly rich. These cookies are icebox cookies that you chill and cut; they were not difficult at all to make. Once baked and cool it was time to fill with the caramel filling, I used the dulce de leche which is VERY sticky, but very worth it. The cookies tasted fantastic and were the perfect amount of sweet, chocolate, and spice.

Cocoa, butter, and sugar.

Cookie dough once the flour has been added.

The dough was split into two piles to be rolled into a log and chilled.

Cookies cooked.

This is a local brand of Cajeta, dulce de leche, or caramel; it is very very sticky!

Cookies after cooling, don't they look great!

Only one casualty of the entire batch, fortunately it was the perfect size to just sandwich it's self.

Spooning the cajeta.

Spreading the cajeta.

You will notice the caramel is all over the place on the cookies, and the layers started to slide quickly.

I generally don't care for chocolate when it comes to cookies, cakes, or desserts however these were all great. I have had the chance to share them like I said with my family. Additionally my mom and I had gone to the military post here where they live, and when we were in the commissary we saw some of the layer cookies, my mom and I both thought mine looked so nice in comparison to the ones at the commissary. The joys of being able to make a quality product! The final photos.

Nothing better then holiday cookies with the ones you love.

Layer cookies with some hot chocolate.

Layer, Mexican Chocolate and hot cocoa.

Thanks mom for letting me take your photo while giving the cookie a taste.
I cannot wait to make these all again, I would not make them in bulk though as both sets require a bit of time for setting up and chilling. I will have to post a note about the rosemary lemon ones once all done. Hope everyone else enjoyed the cookie baking as much as I did. 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

French Pastry my favorite...

First off, I am sorry to my friends at the Daring Kitchen as I am posting this very late. But posting none the less.

Blog-checking lines:Our October 2012 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Suz of Serenely Full. Suz challenged us to not only tackle buttery and flaky puff pastry, but then take it step further and create a sinfully delicious Mille Feuille dessert with it!

I have said it before and I shall say it again, pastry, primarily French Pastry are my favorite. And this months challenge was for just that Mille Feuille, or to those of us here in America often referred to as Napoleon. I am not entirely certain how they obtained that alternate name; and frankly if I were not already late I might take the time to look it up, for now my short and sweet post will have to do. What I can tell you about my efforts are the following...

My husband loved them, and has asked when might I make them again.
I took them to work and got many ooohs' and awes' from the folks who got to sample them there. Then the last final appearance was at a friends birthday dinner, where I made paella and served these along side birthday cup cakes. I got a second marriage proposal. Aw to be happily married and to have others almost begging. I don't have many photos of the process as my phone and camera were acting up, but I was able to get a few almost completed photos. I will have you know I did make my own puff pastry, and it is just a touch easier then the croissants I have made before. I know I will be doing these again in the very near future, I have family coming to visit soon and I would like to have these for when they get here. Anyway here is a photo to show the success. I had every intention of cooking a second batch before I realized the end of the month was here.

I know there should be more, but I just did not get them. They were delicious.
I will be excited to see what the next daring bakers challenge has in store for us. I may try and add an additional blog up regarding these when it comes time to make them again. Thanks for looking, if you want to try your hand at these please follow the link to the Daring Kitchen. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Brazil is where its at!

Blog-checking lines: Rachel Dana was our October 2012 Daring Cooks' Challenge hostess! Rachel brought Brazil into our lives by challenging us to make Feijoada and Farofa along with some other yummy side dishes traditionally served with Feijoada, which is a delicious black bean and pork stew.

So this months (September 17- October 15) challenge was a complete Brazilian meal of Feijoada and Farofa, along with sides that were, I will just tell you now, out of this world! The Feijoada is a rich and hearty bean stew with many pork ingredients added to it, the Farofa is a grain dish that just really adds a wonderful texture to everything that we had with the dinner. A little more on that later.

So those who know Ashley know that he was raised all over, having been born in New Orleans and then growing up in Venezuela, England, and Norway it goes without saying that his appetite is pretty adventurous. The one thing that was a given for them, I was told in our dating early on, was that when they would return to New Orleans for holidays red beans a rice was a common dish served. One would naturally assume then that Ashley is fond of bean and rice combinations, alas he is not, so I was worried when this challenge came up. I fretted a bit and wondered would my sweet husband who is willing to try just about anything I make need to call upon our McDonald's pact when it came to dinner.. What is a McDonald's pact you ask, well when we have a meal that is not really edible by choice or kitchen catastrophe you can call upon the McDonald's pact for rescue dinner. I will wait at this point to tell you if he had to do that or not...

Now about the dishes, we were to make the Feijoada, the Farofa, some collard greens, a Vinagrete, and some rice. Sounds like a lot and frankly I was thinking I would be in the kitchen most of the day. Our hostess Rachel though she had a wonderfully planned write up to help along, which you can find here. So I started with the Feijoada, soaking the beans in a quick soak method. I put them in a pot brought the water to a boil and let them sit on the stove for a little over an hour. I looked several places that recommended not pouring out the water that they had soaked in, so I did not. Then it was on to the meats, I used, bacon, sausage, pork for carnitas, and some Smithfield smoked pork chops. The recipe called for many meats that I could not find that were salted or smoked, so I had to do some improv. I have several other meats in the photo that I thought I might use, some salt pork, and additional spicy sausage, but frankly after I had cut up all that I listed I felt like for the two of us, that was PLENTY of meat. Once the meat was cut on to the browning chore we went, which I did while the beans were completing their first simmer. I browned and browned until really I could brown no more, but this assisted in sealing the meats just as Rachel had suggested so they maintained their wonderful colors inside.

After the beans I started on the Vinagrete which I initially thought would be a dressing type accompaniment that would go with the greens. It was roughly chopped tomatoes, onions, and bell peppers along with fresh herbs and vinegar and oil. I think this was by far my most favorite easy addition and I plan on using this over and over again when I have a rich meal to assist in balance of flavor.

I made the collard greens and the Farofa last. Now the collards are pretty self explanatory for anyone who has prepared greens. You must rinse them well, and I do the rinse in cold water in the sink to let the dirt and grit sink to the bottom, I could have cheated and used pre cut, pre washed collards but I wanted to stick with the plan of fresh and prepared in my kitchen! The Farofa though OMG was that a wonderful addition. All crumbly and toasty with the flavors of onion, butter, bacon, and egg. I did not have the yucca flour that the dish is regularly made from so I used some of the corn flour/Masa that I had, this is also a suggested substitute from Rachel. It was PERFECT! There is nothing much more I can say about that other then really really perfect. I would make the entire dinner again just to have the Farofa and the Vinagrete!

On a side note, the original recipe calls for this wonderful garlic onion paste that you make and use in the beans, the greens, and you can add it to your rice. Now Rachel I think may be become a little overzealous in the writing up of her recipes and she informed us daring cooks that we would be adding 4 BULBS of garlic to the onion paste. While reading the recipe I thought okay, we love garlic in this house but that is a lot of garlic; thinking Brazilians were going to give Italians a run for their money in the use of the most garlic in one dish. While at the store I picked up what I felt were three huge bulbs, and ended up deciding on using only 2.5 bulbs of garlic in my paste. On later discovery through the closed forums of Daring Bakers, Rachel shared that this was an error on her part, and that the intent was to use only 4 CLOVES of garlic. On a personal note, we loved the amount of garlicky goodness that was present in the dishes and I really don't think I would change it the next time I made this dish. Just be aware if you plan to attempt this menu that if you go my route you will have a lot of garlic, if you go the way it is intended just 4 cloves..

No on to the photos.

The meats pre chop.

My garlic and onions, see how big those garlic bulbs are.

Some of my meats after the chop.

Here are my greens all ready to go.

This is my garlic past, which I had so much left over it is in the fridge where I have used it in other dishes.
You can see the browning on the (from left to right) bacon, smoked chops, and sausage.

This is the pork for carnitas which is browning nicely.

Closer browning photo.
This is the Vinagrete, don't the vegies look so yummy in there!
This is a photo of the complete meal, it looks so yummy! 

On the left is the farofa, on the right the greens, in the back the vinagrete.

so the beans in the bowl are about half of what was in the pot.

here is a close up of the plate, sorry for the blur. Yes mom my foods are touching, now go show daddy!
For those wondering I am kinda a freak about my foods touching, but it was the way it's suppose to be with this meal.
This final photo is to just show how pretty the meat remained on the inside thanks to the browning.
Now to the final thoughts. The meal was fantastic and I can not wait to do it again! Did Ashley go to McDonald's, NO he loved it. I think it was such an assortment of things that it was near impossible to not love it. Also I learned that the left overs are pretty good to take to work the next night! Anyway this was a fun challenge and I am eager to see what the next one will have us do. I could have looked this morning since I am posting late, but I wanted to get this post up before taking a look. I hope you all will give some or all of this a try. Thanks for reading!