25 October 2012

Sausage Pinwheels - A Delightful Savory for Cocktails or Teatime

As you know, one of the most delightful repasts for me is a traditional British-style afternoon tea. A beautiful table laden with sandwiches, savories, scones, pastries and a big pot of properly made black tea is truly comfort food to those of us who have developed the habit. I made these for an afternoon tea party last week, and they were a hit!

These savory spirals are also a perfect little cocktail bite to go with your preprandial beverage of choice. Made with frozen puff pastry (homemade or storebought), they're quick and easy to put together. I wasn't able to find any sausage that day that met my requirements (ethically, humanely, sustainably produced pastured pork), but I found pork shoulder that did. So I bought a pound of it and made my own homemade sausage. Made it a little spicy since each pinwheel has just a couple teaspoons of sausage.

If you're using a sausage you haven't tried before, be sure to cook up a bite of it to see how it tastes. Then season it to suit yourself before proceeding with the recipe. What kind of sausage do you like? Mild or spicy? In casings or not? Pork, poultry, game?  

Sausage Pinwheels

(Makes 24)

1/2 pound bulk sausage, cooked and cooled
1 sheet (1/2 package) frozen puff pastry
1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water

1 In small skillet cook sausage, breaking it into small pieces, until browned. Drain any excess fat on paper towels. Set aside to cool. While sausage is cooling, thaw pastry at room temperature for 40 minutes.

2 On very lightly floured 12x12-inch square of foil, roll out the 10x10-inch square of pastry to 10x12-inch square. With long side toward you, sprinkle Parmesan evenly over pastry, leaving a 1-inch border on the long edge farthest from you. Repeat with the cooled sausage

3 Roll evenly toward the clean edge, wet that edge lightly with water and seal the roll. Wrap it in the square of foil. Place in freezer for 45 minutes before slicing. If you're as persnickety as I am and want to ensure perfectly round slices, split an empty paper towel roll and place your wrapped pastry roll in it, holding it closed with a couple of rubber bands or pieces of kitchen string.

4 Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a large baking sheet (I use an 18x13x1-inch heavy-duty half-sheet pan) with parchment paper. Whisk together egg and water. Cut the partially frozen roll into 24 1/2-inch slices. Place slices about an inch apart on prepared baking sheet; brush with egg mixture. Bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Can be reheated at 300 degrees for about 5 minutes just before serving.

Note: Another cocktail or teatime savory made with puff pastry is this Tomato Tart. 

18 October 2012

Perfect Mashed Potatoes - The Perfect Accompaniment to, Well, Everything!

It is no exaggeration to say that I love mashed potatoes (aah ... fluffy, buttery comfort food) and could happily eat them every day. I can't tell you how many meals I've been served where I've said to myself, "This would be sooo much better with mashed potatoes" than whatever side dish the chef had chosen. But you might be saying ...

"Mashed potatoes? Who needs to read a blog post about, or get a recipe for, mashed potatoes? You just make them, right?" Well, judging by all the bad ones I've eaten in my life, No! Though, truth be told, I even rather like some of the bad ones. But plain old mashed potatoes--not a fancy, enhanced version--can be stellar.

If you grew up with really good mashed potatoes, as I did, you know what I'm talking about. My mother made them so well that when I had them away from home I was stunned to discover mashed potatoes could be bad in any number of ways: bland, watery, lumpy, gummy, gluey, gooey, runny.

Of course, there's nothing difficult or even tricky about making mashed potatoes. It's just a matter of making them with care. I learned that from my mother, who had a way of making everything taste better than anyone else's version, even something with identical ingredients. Just taking an extra few seconds to dry out the boiled potatoes, an extra few strokes of the masher to get out those last lumps, another moment to taste and adjust the seasoning--a little care makes all the difference.

Apologies to many of you, I'm sure, but why put garlic in mashed potatoes? I'm sure there's garlic in the main dish. A meal should have a variety of flavors. If one dish has garlic, the others need not. I've been disappointed by many an expensive meal where everything--bread, main dish, side dishes and salad--was loaded with garlic. C'mon ... there are other flavors! 

Perfect Mashed Potatoes

(Makes 4 to 6 servings)

3 pounds russet potatoes
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter
1/3 cup milk, perhaps a little more
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 Peel, rinse and quarter the potatoes (cut large potatoes into 6 pieces). Put them in a 3-quart saucepan and add 1 teaspoon salt and cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer, loosely covered, about 20 minutes or until potatoes are very tender.

2 During the last 5 minutes, heat the butter and 1/3 cup of milk until the butter is melted. You may need to add up to another few tablespoons of milk at the last to get the proper consistency, but don't heat it with the butter as you might not need it.

3 Drain the potatoes and return them to low heat to dry the moisture out of the potatoes. Remove from the heat. Put the potatoes through a ricer or food mill, as I used to do when I was really fussy, or use a potato masher to mash them thoroughly. With wooden spoon, beat in the heated milk and butter and 1/2 teaspoon each salt and coarsely ground black pepper (maybe start with 1/4 teaspoon). You may need to add a little more milk to get the consistency you like. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Note: A few things that go beautifully with mashed potatoes: Chicken Fried Steak, Boeuf Bourguignon, Braised Brisket, London Broil, Pan-Seared Ribeye Steaks, Pork Chops and Gravy, Short Ribs Braised in Wine.

11 October 2012

Chicken Fried Steak - The Southern Comfort Food Classic

Though I don't subscribe to the old Southern saying, "If it ain't fried, it ain't food," I do occasionally indulge. But only if it's worth it. And a properly made chicken fried steak is definitely worth it. Also known simply as CFS among those who really love it, it's the ultimate comfort food in certain parts of the country.

I don't think it deserves its reputation as a greasy, high-fat food. At least not the way I make it. I use organic grassfed beef, all organic ingredients, and shallow-fry it. The oil needs to be good and hot (or you will end up with greasy steaks!), but you can't really get a temperature reading on such a shallow depth of oil; just aim for something less than smoking hot. I add back just 3 tablespoons of the pan drippings for 2 cups of gravy. Sounds pretty healthy to me!

Of course, my Southern grandmother used Crisco, bacon grease or lard for all her frying. But I like to think she'd be on board with my healthed-up versions of her food.

Chicken Fried Steak

(Makes 4 servings)

The Steak
1 pound top round steak
1 1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt plus more 
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper plus more
1/4 teaspoon cayenne 
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup organic canola oil

The Gravy
3 tablespoons pan drippings
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (or replace 2/3 cup with beef broth)
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 Cut the round steak into 4 pieces. With the textured side of a meat tenderizer (OXO Good Grips Meat Tenderizer), pound each piece (on a meat-only dishwasher-safe cutting board) until almost double in size and about 1/4 inch thick. 

2 In shallow dish combine the flour with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt, coarsely ground black pepper and cayenne. In another shallow dish beat together the egg and milk.

3 Working with one piece at a time, season both sides with salt and pepper, dip into the egg mixture, dip into the flour mixture, dip into the egg mixture again, dip into the flour mixture again. Really press the flour in. This really goops up the hands, so just use one hand and keep one hand clean; you'll need it.

4 When all meat is coated, heat oil to a depth of not more than 1/16 to 1/8 inch. You just need enough oil to cover the pan generously. In my All-Clad Stainless 12-Inch Fry Pan, that's 1/2 cup. When the oil is hot, put in two pieces at a time; don't crowd the pan. Cook for about 3 or 4 minutes, or until well browned and crunchy. With tongs, turn steaks and cook second side for about 3 or 4 minutes. Turn carefully so as not to lose the crust; chicken fried steak is all about the crust.

5 Drain on a paper towel-lined plate (wad up the paper towels; don't just lay them flat on the plate). Repeat. Then proceed to the most important part of chicken fried steak--the cream gravy! Pour off the fat in the skillet, then measure back into the skillet 3 tablespoons of the pan drippings. Use the ingredient list above, but go to my Cream Gravy post for the directions (and a little story about a real pioneer woman, my great grandmother).

6 Plate up the steaks with a generous serving of Mashed Potatoes on the side. Pour the gravy over both. Biscuits and a bowl of collard greens on the side round out this classic Southern meal.  

04 October 2012

Banana Pudding Ice Cream - Frozen Version of Southern Classic

Summer might be over, but it's still ice cream weather. My Southern genes have been coming out lately, so I made my banana pudding ice cream, the frozen version of that quintessential Southern dessert. And I used all organic ingredients, including the vanilla wafers.

Really ripe bananas have the most flavor, but my organic bananas were still a bit green in spots and not quite soft enough. To instantly "ripen" bananas and intensify their flavor, just put them on a foil-lined baking sheet in a 400-degree oven for about 10 minutes, or until the skins blacken. Let them cool while you make the custard. Three medium bananas, just over a pound total, made one cup mashed.

This is my new favorite hot weather comfort food dessert (if you don't count watermelon, that is). What's yours? Check my Recipes index page for more ice cream, sherbet and frozen yogurt flavors. And come back next week for my current favorite Southern comfort food meal! 

Banana Pudding Ice Cream

(Makes about 5 cups)

1 cup milk (I use 2%)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 large egg yolks

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup coarsely mashed very ripe banana, mashed with 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 or 2 tablespoons dark rum, optional

1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely crushed vanilla wafers

1 In heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan, heat milk just to a simmer.

2 While milk is heating, in 1.5-quart bowl whisk together sugar, cornstarch and salt. Whisk in the egg yolks until mixture is smooth.

3 Whisk hot milk into egg mixture, then pour mixture into the saucepan. Over medium-low heat, stir constantly until mixture thickens and registers 170 degrees on instant-read thermometer, about 10 minutes; do not boil.

4 Stir in cream. Strain custard into medium bowl (I use a 2-quart glass measure to make pouring into the machine easier); whisk in mashed banana, rum (if using) and vanilla extract. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 8 hours or overnight.

5 Assemble the Cuisinart ICE-21 Frozen Yogurt-Ice Cream-Sorbert Maker; turn it on. While it is running, pour the chilled mixture through the spout. Let mix until thickened, about 20 minutes. Or follow the directions for whichever brand ice cream maker you have. If you have a KitchenAid, you can use their KitchenAid Ice Cream Maker Attachment.

6 Transfer the soft ice cream to a freezer-safe airtight container, layering in the crumbled vanilla wafers as you go, and place in freezer for at least 4 hours. Even after days in the freezer, this ice cream was very scoopable and did not need to be left out for 15 minutes before serving.

Note: The scoop in the photo above is the OXO Good Grips Solid Stainless Steel Ice Cream Scoop, the best I've ever seen; even works on hard ice cream.
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