Beer-Cheese Bread

I’ve been meaning to post this recipe since I wrote about it last month and, well, I’m scatterbrained.  But a few lovely readers have taken advantage of the shiny, new EMAIL ME! feature to the right to remind me.  Thank you, readers!

So without further ado, I present:

Beer-Cheese Bread
Serves: 6

1 bottle of beer (12 oz)
3 cups self-rising flour (King Arthur makes the best…)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 tablespoons butter (melted, divided into two portions)
1 cup grated or shredded cheese (optional)
 
Mix together all ingredients until well-blended, including the first half of the melted butter.  No kneading necessary, but I do mix it with my hands a bit towards the end.  It will be nice and sticky when mixed together.

Pour/scrape into a lightly-greased loaf pan (2 small loaf pans or one large) and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

Halfway through baking, take the bread out of the oven and pour the rest of the melted butter on top.  You’ll know the bread is done when the top is golden with a bit of brown.  Remove from oven and serve warm.

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To me, the best part of this recipe is the fact that the bread is incredibly versatile.  You don’t have to knead it, you don’t have to let it rise and you can either make a sweet, breakfast bread by leaving out the cheese or a dusky, savory bread by using a darker beer (say, Shiner Bock or St. Arnold’s Amber) and an adventurous cheese.

Lately, I’ve been using finely grated sheep’s milk romano, which of course pairs nicely with the hearty bean and vegetable soups that I’ve been making to accompany the bread.  The romano is sharp and salty, which contrasts nicely with the sweetness of the sugar and the yeasty taste of the beer.  All in all, I’m quite a big fan of the romano cheese in the bread.

But there are also the good standbys: mild Cheddar and finely diced chives (about half a cup) make a delicious appetizer-style bread.  And Monterey Jack or Colby Jack with minced jalapeños makes a great Mexican-inspired bread, especially if you use Dos Equis or Tecate for the beer.  And you can always leave the jalapeño seeds out if you’re seeking flavor instead of fire.

Leave out the cheese entirely for a light, slightly crumbly bread that’s great to serve with jam and butter as a breakfast treat.  And if you use the cheapo beer (like Miller Light, which — normally — blech, but it’s okay here), there’s almost no taste of beer whatsoever — just a light, yeasty taste which is very refreshing and clean tasting.  So no one needs to know that you’re serving beer bread for breakfast!

Have fun, experiment and let me know what you come up with!  I’m always interested to see what concoctions people create out of this simple recipe.

Happy baking!

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Chicken Rogan Josh

Okay, back to business. The business of food.

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I love my gigantic cutting board!

Last night, I made a slight variation on lamb rogan josh. As referenced in an earlier article, we keep our grocery budget pretty tight as a general rule — around $30 to $35 per week. And lamb doesn’t always fit into said tight budget. That doesn’t bother me too much, since I’m just as happy substituting and creating new dishes out of whatever looks good in the produce and meat sections during any given week.

This week, I was in the mood for some rogan josh, especially after discovering a jar of Patak’s rogan josh hidden towards the back of my pantry. It was set to expire in March 2008, so I figured there’s no time like the present. We always get chicken, potatoes, carrots and onions each week, so there were my rogan josh ingredients ready to go. Except for the lamb, that is… But rogan josh can be just as good with chicken, right?

As far as the hubby and I are concerned, the answer is yes. Maybe he wouldn’t make an ideal Iron Chef judge or anything, as he’s been known to eat Heinz baked beans on toast with mustard and barbecue sauce for lunch and dinner, multiple times in one week…but I’ll still take his hearty appetite for the meal and disappointment at my refusal to give him seconds (hey! we needed something to take for lunch the next day!) as approval for the chicken rogan josh.

Here’s the rough recipe (please note that I utterly ignored the instructions on the jar; you are more than welcome to follow those serving instructions if you wish):

Chicken Rogan Josh
Serves: 4


1 jar Patak’s rogan josh cooking sauce
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup water
1/8 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
1 medium white onion, chopped
6 carrots, peeled and chopped
6 small Yukon Gold potatoes, chopped
4 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces

Combine the rogan josh sauce with the chicken stock, water, cream and butter over medium heat in a heavy saucepan until well mixed. Add onion, potatoes and carrots. Season with a few pinches of koshering salt. Cover and simmer over low heat for twenty minutes, or until potatoes are softened.

Meanwhile, you might want to cook some rice. Your call. I just cooked some brown rice down in a mixture of half chicken stock and half water with a pinch of garlic.

When the potatoes are softened, add the chicken pieces and continue cooking over low heat until chicken is done and has absorbed some of the rogan josh, for about eight to ten minutes. Serve over rice. Garnish with cilantro (which I totally didn’t have last night but would have been fantastic, dammit).

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It may not be the healthiest recipe in the world — you can certainly cut out the butter and cream, and simply add more chicken stock and vegetables as you see fit — but it’s savory and warming and delicious and comforting, which makes it a winner in my book.

Happy eating!

New Year’s Nosh

It’s the last day of 2007, ladies and gentlemen! And you can’t ring in the New Year properly without the appropriate New Year’s Nosh.

An old tradition in the South (and here in Texas, which I don’t really consider to be a part of the South, but that’s a whole other story…) is to have black-eyed peas on New Year’s Eve. A New Year’s Eve spent without black-eyed peas all but guarantees that you’ll have bad luck in the coming year, so I suggest you get yourself down to the grocery store ASAP for some black-eyed peas and saltpork and fire up that crock pot. You’ll thank me next year.

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Another tradition around our house is to have caviar on New Year’s Eve, as a once-a-year indulgence. We hit up Liebman’s for some divine sevruga caviar a few days before and keep it nice and chilled until the day of. Serve the caviar with wooden or mother-of-pearl utensils (so as not to spoil the taste) on pieces of mini-toast with a glass of champagne, and even if you’re just sitting in your living room watching yet another Dick Clark’s Rocking New Year’s Eve, it’ll be a smashing time.

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However, if caviar isn’t an option for you (for monetary, dietary or moral reasons), then let me provide you with a third option for your New Year’s fare which combines my two favorite New Year’s dishes into one: Texas Caviar.

Texas Caviar is a savory, spicy dish reminiscent of fattoush, except that it’s made with black-eyed peas instead of stale pita bread.  You can serve Texas Caviar and kill two birds with one stone: your black-eyed pea-induced luck will be taken care of, as will your desire for some luscious caviar.  It’s a winner all around!

Here are some recipes to get you started, but remember that Texas Caviar is ultimately a salad and therefore can be interpreted rather loosely, and no two recipes are the same.  Don’t like avocado?  Leave it out.  Prefer it less spicy?  Forget the jalapeños.  Try a bunch of recipes until you find one that you like; they’re healthy and delicious and will please a crowd, so you can’t really go wrong.

Texas Caviar from Allrecipes.com

Texas Caviar from Southern Living

Texas Caviar II from Southern Living (my old favorite!)

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Have a wonderful and safe New Year’s Eve!  As my extremely astute cousin always says, it’s amateur night out there tonight, so be extra careful on the roads and highways.  But above all, have fun!

The wonderful photo of Texas Caviar, above, is courtesy of Jason Perlow at Off the Broiler.

Spaghetti Bolognese

Last night was a complete 180 from my cookbook recipe adventures of the night before.  I elected instead to make a simple, hearty bolognese from scratch, adding whatever I felt like adding in the process.  The “recipe” began — I believe — as a Giada de Laurentis recipe for marinara sauce, but was heavily altered by my mother and then further altered by me.

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This is probably my favorite dish to cook and for a really weird reason.  And that reason is that I get to chop mounds upon mounds of veggies, which is somehow therapeutic and relaxing for me.  It’s like the same calm that people get from gardening or knitting — I enjoy prepping food.  Maybe I would’ve made a good entremetier in another life.

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I don’t normally add meat to the sauce; this was a special request of Richard’s, who wanted “spag bowl,” his weird nomenclature for spaghetti bolognese.  He also calls bœuf bourguignon, “beef boingy-boingy” and — just the other day — I caught him trying to slice off a piece of Grueyere cheese to put on his ham and ketchup sandwich for lunch.  These are just some of the reasons I maintain that I married an eight-year-old in a thirty-two-year-old’s body.

Anyway, the three most imporant things in this sauce are:

  • good Italian D.O.P. tomatoes
  • plenty of koshering salt
  • good butter and/or heavy cream (I use both)

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I also added some cooked ground turkey to the sauce after all of the other ingredients had been added and had simmered for a while.  I would have preferred beef or pork, but we figured that since the rest of the dish included enough butter and cream for ten people, perhaps going with a lower-fat meat would even everything out.  The turkey — being rather bland on its own — added nothing in the way of flavor to the sauce, but at least it didn’t detract from it.  And it was nice to have the additional protein and texture.

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If you’re going to make this at home, I recommend simmering the entire concoction for at least three hours before serving.  I didn’t have that kind of time last night and was only able to cook it for about an hour, but I’m very much looking forward to the leftovers tonight.  The “recipe” (if you can even call it that) is after the jump.

Continue reading Spaghetti Bolognese

Porkchops and Spinach

Last night, I did something that I absolutely dread: I cooked a recipe out of a cookbook.

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This may not seem terrifying to the rest of you, but there’s something about cooking while reading while measuring while stirring while pouring while flipping that completely destroys any normal cooking ability that I have.  I think it’s the reading part that gets to me.

Baking something out of a cookbook?  No problem.  That’s normal.  I can’t just stand there in the kitchen and decide, “You know, I think I’m going to put this flour together with this cocoa powder and see what comes of it!”  Baking is more science than art, and for that you need a recipe.  Sure, you can fiddle with the recipe as you go or modify it later to your liking.  But baking is simple and straightforward: stir things together in bowl, bake.  Throwing “reading” into that mix doesn’t make too much of a difference.

Cooking, however, is different for me.

I’ve always been the kind of person who cooks in the same way that I play piano — by ear.  Now, I don’t have the incredible palate that my mother has, where she can visualize a meal and all of its ingredients in her mind and know exactly how everything will taste together before she’s even bought the groceries.  But I know what goes together and what doesn’t.  And I usually make our meals out of whatever’s in the pantry at any given time, a practice which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to following a recipe out of the latest issue of Bon Appetit.

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Weirdly, I own a massive collection of cookbooks (again, not as large as my mother’s collection which — at last count — numbered 258 tomes).  But instead of using them for their intended purpose, I read them like you would novels.  And I suppose that somewhere in the back of my mind, I ferret away little chunks of cooking knowledge that present themselves when I’m poking aimlessly through my pantry and trying to figure out what I can make with a can of butterbeans and some leftover baby spinach.

That said, I am determined to start cooking with actual recipes.  And to that end, I chose a very easy porkchop recipe with a caramelized onion sauce (a Rocco di Spirito recipe) and a side of creamed spinach (my mother’s recipe).  And I have to say, I was impressed with the results.

I don’t know if it has more to do with the fact that I’ve finally got decent appliances and cookware (I love you, All-Clad) or that I’m a calmer person in general than when I first started cooking in college, but everything turned out exactly as planned.

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The recipes are after the jump.  Yes, they’re ridiculously easy.  But for someone like me, they were quite an accomplishment. Continue reading Porkchops and Spinach

On Scones

One of my favorite things to do on weekend mornings (and one of Richard’s favorite things for me to do) is to bake scones.

Growing up, my mother made fresh buttermilk biscuits on the weekends and sometimes even during the week if we were lucky.  Her biscuits have layer upon delicate layer of melt-in-your-mouth goodness.  They are little, delicious dollops of true Southern comfort food baked upon a seasoned iron skillet.  And I remain unconvinced that I’ll ever be able to make anything as perfect.

What I can make, however, are scones.  Richard, being English, prefers this — his own little nook of food-induced comfort on the weekends — so I revel in preparing them on Saturday mornings, before anyone else has gotten up, when I can open the windows and hear nothing but the soft sounds of wind through the pine trees and the chirping of sparrows.

I’ve tried many different scone recipes in the pursuit of something that I’m truly proud to present in the mornings.  Some recipes turn out scones that are too hard; others are too light and crumbly; still others are too cake-like.  One day I found a recipe that called for strawberry yogurt in lieu of milk or eggs, in an attempt to make the scones fruit-based without using any actual fruit.

That sounded rather disgusting to me, and I didn’t have any strawberry yogurt anyway.  But I did (and always do) have a large tub of vanilla yogurt on hand and decided to give it a try with a few modifications.  What emerged from the oven after ten minutes were the best scones that I’ve ever tasted.  What’s better, they were the best scones that Richard had ever tasted.  And if that isn’t a seal of approval, I don’t know what is.

Here’s the recipe:

Continue reading On Scones

A Sunday Afternoon Curry

From the delicious shrimp curry I made for dinner last Sunday (try to ignore the completely unrelated cookbook page with masa boats in the background):

 

I served the curry over some brown rice with a little dollop of the mango marinade on top (didn’t have any chutney, so this worked quite well in a pinch).  If you’re going to make this recipe, which I highly recommend as an easy, delicious and very healthy meal, I would make the following substitutions:

  • Use light coconut milk instead of 2% milk; the coconut milk is a bit more in keeping with the other flavors of the dish and imparts a much richer, sweeter taste to it.
  • If you like a bit more crunch (which I do), make it a full cup of diced celery.
  • I used Maharajah curry from Penzey’s, which is sweet instead of hot.  It’s also chock-full of saffron (*swoon*) and it’s salt-free!  If you prefer a hotter curry, well…use a hotter curry powder.
  • I added a teaspoon of powdered ginger root to give the otherwise sweet curry more of a pop.  You may not like this much ginger, but it sure did make the curry hum.
  • Finally, because a little butter never hurt anybody, I added an extra tablespoon of butter while I was sauteeing the shallots, celery, apples and garlic.  But please, people, if you’re going to do this — use good butter!!!  If you’re not going to use good butter — real butter — and are instead going to poison your body with margarine or oleo, why are you even bothering to cook?  Just go to KFC, buy a family-sized bucket of wings and thighs and just get it over with.

Enjoy, folks.