Kelly the Culinarian: January 2008

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I've been quite the delinquent blogger lately, my apologies. But, fabulous news. I've got myself a full-time job and to celebrate, Tim and I are going on a fabulous Bahamas cruise! We're stopping in the Grand Turks, Nassau and Half Moon Bay. I'm now taking suggestions on activities and food as we've never been to any of those places. I'm so excited!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Apple cinnamon muffins with butter

Katie is a good helper. When she was home for a holiday recently, she picked out this recipe to make with my mixer. She peeled, chopped, mixed and lined the pans. It took 10 minutes. Delish.

Here's the muffin recipe:

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 large apple, peeled and diced
1 egg
2/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon brown sugar

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder cinnamon and salt. Use the whisk attachment to cut in the butter at the slowest speed. Set aside a quarter cup of this mixture for topping. Add the apple to the remaining mixture and blend.

In a separate bowl, beat together the egg and milk, then add to the flour mixture and stir at lowest speed until incorporated.

Add cinnamon and brown sugar to that quarter cup you set aside. To assemble, put a spoonful of the batter into a cupcake liner until it's about 2/3 full. The recipe says it makes 16, but I only got 12 out of it. Distribute the topping evenly on the muffins and place in a 425 degree oven for 17 minutes.

This makes a moist, tasty muffin with a crunchy top. Tim loved these.

If you're feeling festive, I encourage you to try making your own butter. It doesn't save any money, but it's cool to try. Let a cup or so of heavy cream come to room temperature while you freeze the bowl and whisk attachment. Put the heavy cream in and crank up the speed. You'll have whipped cream in about two minutes, then it will start to break down into chunks. Quickly knock the speed down to level two or else you'll have butter all over the kitchen. Not chill.

It will turn yellow and separate into solids, the butter fat, and a liquid, buttermilk. You can save the buttermilk for later, but pour it off. Then, fill the bowl with cold water to rinse off the remaining dairy. Do it until the water runs clear, maybe three times. Then dump out the butter on the paper towel and ring it dry, then you can store it in Tupperware for a week. It will make about half as much butter as what you started with.

It's pretty cool to make your own butter, give it a try sometime.

NEXT WEEK: Homemade sourdough

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Food find: The Patio

I love going out and trying something new like The Patio, a Chicago chain. And there's something really cute about going to an eatery inside in the dead of winter that's decorated like an outdoor patio in the middle of the summer. They have bistro tables with umbrellas, indoor trees and booths.

You order at a central counter and then they bring the food out to you, just like at Panera. Tim and I went with summer classics -- a beef brisket sandwich with fries for him and a 1/3-pound cheeseburger with garlic mashed potatoes for me. Although this place is famous for ribs, I had to pass because they were kind of expensive for a Sunday lunch.

Tim's lunch was super tasty -- great beef brisket with a smokey, slow-cooked flavor and amazing barbecue sauce. Really, the sauce is what made it. Not too sweet, just a little smokey and tangy. The fries were also great with a crunchy exterior and soft middle without being too dry or overcooked. They were also salted nicely.

My burger was great too. The patty was tasty and moist. It would have been nice to have crisper lettuce, but it is the dead of winter after all. I didn't really like the mashed potatoes, they were instant and not that tasty. But hey, no one's perfect.

Definitely give it a try and be sure to get something that goes with barbecue sauce!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Drink discovery: Premixed crantini

I'm not a big fan of the girly drinks. They're nice, but you can only ever drink one because they're so sweet that it makes you feel like your stomach is rotting. It's really unpleasant.

But hey, I'm all about trying new things. When Tim and I saw these Crantinis by Mike's Hard Lemonade at the store the other day, we thought we'd give it a try. Be forewarned -- these are tiny little bottles and it's $7.50 for four. At that price, it might be cheaper to mix your own cranberry martini.

They did taste pretty nice -- a real cranberry taste and a little kick from some alcohol. The bottles were tiny but cute. It was nice to have bubbles in the drink, but I think I could have made a similar cocktail for about the same price.

If you're in a hurry and want something other than beer, this might be a good choice though.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Honey oat bread

I'm not perfect at this baking thing yet, but I sure do like giving it a try. I was ready for a sweeter bread that maybe my family would actually eat with dinner. My problem so far is I can't get the timing right -- because this house is so cold and drafty, my bread isn't ready until 8 p.m., way past our normal dinner time.

So to be safe, I started making this honey oat bread shortly after breakfast. I was going to be victorious this time!

Start by warming up the following in the microwave until everything is incorporated:

1 and 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup butter

And put into the stand mixer bowl:
4 cups flour
1 cup oatmeal
2 teaspoons salt
1 package yeast

Using the bread hook on the lowest setting, incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry. Add 2 eggs to the mixture and add 1/2 cup flour as needed until it's a smooth, elasticy dough.

Turn out into a greased bowl, moving the dough around to grease the top. Put the dough in a warm, draft-free place in your kitchen, like an empty microwave or oven turned off. Allow it to rise for about an hour or until it's doubled in size.

Punch down the dough and knead it for a couple of minutes. Divide it into two parts and form into loaves, then place in greased loaf pans. Allow to doubled again.

Whisk together one egg white and a tablespoon water. Brush the top of the loaves with it and sprinkle oatmeal on top.

Cook in a 375-degree oven for 35 minutes. It will look quite brown on the top, but it's not burning. Remove from the pans and let them cool on wire racks.
This yielded a delicious bread that was slightly sweet and very filling. It had a toasty crust and looked good on the table.
Next week: Apple cinnamon muffins with homemade butter

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Media meal: Restaurant Empire

OK, I'm way too into this game. I'm not a game person. I've had two computers in the past five years and this is the first one I've put any type of game on a computer I own. I probably haven't gotten into a game since Mall Madness.

I got this on Sunday and I'm quite enthralled. It's essentially like the Sims except you're building a restaurant, complete with interior decorations, recipe selection, themes and staffing. It has two modes -- game and sandbox. There's also cooking competitions and challenges built in. I made the mistake of going straight to the sandbox mode and I couldn't figure out what the hell was going on. If you start with the normal game mode, it has a scenario in which it walks you through the entire game and all the functions, which is good, because the game doesn't come with any printed instructions.

So in the game mode, the scenario is that you're a recent graduate of a French cooking school who is trying to revive the family business. In the process, you meet investors, find special ingredients and recipes and open more restaurants. Beware; if you fail at one stage of the game, you start all over again. Bummer.

Here are my complaints -- in the sandbox mode, you can pick your chef avatar. Out of 32 choices, there's only one woman? Really?

Also, there's no printed instructions. I could really use those. If you're using a laptop mouse like mine, it's a little more difficult too, so get yourself a $10 mouse when you pick up this $10 game.

And about these recipes -- I'd like more and I'd like them to be real recipes. They already let you tinker with the quality of the ingredients, why not take it one step further and allow you to change the proportions so there's something real to learn here?

But hey, I guess I'm too demanding of a gamer. It's fun regardless and I'm a big fan. But just so that you know, this is a total time sucker that will pull you in!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Media meal: Everyday with Rachael Ray, February

In addition to my amazing stand mixer, Tim also renewed my subscription to Everyday for 2008. I just heart Rachael Ray. I got my first issue of the year a few days ago and here's what you can expect out of the February issue:

  • A review of different kinds of oatmeal. It's cold outside, you need some food that sticks to your ribs.
    A day in the life of Ashanti, specifically, what she eats all day (it isn't much).

  • A review of juicers
  • 10 ways to use granola -- delicious ides abound.
  • Valentine's Day dishes for two, all with cutesy names.
  • Mardi Gras and Oscar party recipes
  • Interesting places to stay, such as renting an igloo in Canada or trailer in Bisbee, Ariz. I'll have to try that if I ever get back to Arizona.
  • Reader-submitted tips of what to see in Fort Lauderdale.
  • A peek at Al Roker's fridge. With all that weight that he's lost, I'm surprised it isn't empty.

There are quite a few recipes I'll be clipping out from this issue. Enjoy!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Food find: Momotaro Japanese Restaurant

My goodness, it's been a long time since I had sushi. Too long, that's for sure.
Tim and I decided Saturday night was the night for sushi. After seeing the crowd at that sushi chain place I'm sure you've heard of, we decided to do something a little more low key. We went to Momotaro Japanese Restaurant on Butterfield Road in Lombard/Oak Brook. I've heard rich people really love their sushi, so in that neighborhood, it couldn't be half bad.

It's in a weird location -- an empty-ish strip mall. But there was plenty of parking. Inside, there's nothing too impressive to look at; a few sushi posters, a neon beer sign and a few tapestries are all there is to see, but it did appear as though there were private dining areas separated with rice paper screens if you're a VIP.

On to the food: We ordered some favorites and house-recommended items. For the sushi, we ordered pieces of tuna, salmon and barbecue eel. For the maki, we got a spicy tuna roll, a J.B roll with smoked salmon, cream cheese and scallion and a summer roll, which came with cilantro and chili oil as well as salmon and tuna.

It was all delicious, every piece. The sushi rice was prepared well and the seafood fresh. The summer roll was a but odd with the cilantro and Tim didn't like the cilantro stems in his roll. I really liked the J.B. roll, it was a nice combination and presented elegantly.
But be warned, this place is no secret to suburbanites, apparently. Tim and I got there around 7 p.m. on Saturday but by the time we left, it was hopping. Make reservations, if you go.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Lemon scones

This one didn't quite turn out the way I thought, but I know how to fix it. I was originally perplexed by this recipe because it had no leavening agent and relied on frozen lemonade concentrate for flavor. But here it goes:
6 cups sifted self-rising flour

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 teaspoon salt

12 ounce can of lemonade concentrate

Put the flour in the mixing bowl and attach the dough hook. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix on lowest setting until fully incorporated. Turn out on a floured surface and roll into 3/4-inch. Use a sharp knife to cut triangles out of the dough or use a coffee mug to make circles. Place on a floured cooking sheet, brush with milk and bake in a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Here's what I'd do differently -- warm cream, lemonade and 2 tablespoons butter in the microwave until very warm. After cutting into shapes, allow to sit for 45 minutes to rise and rest. There's always a next time.

Either way, the lemonade is a great flavoring agent and I'd try it again.

Next weekend: Honey oat bread

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Drink discovery: Lingonberry cocktail

In the words of my colleague Lis, momma needs a cocktail. No, I didn't have a hard day or anything. I just really wanted to find a use for this lingonberry juice that I got at IKEA. I'm sure you're all sick of stuff you get at IKEA used in recipes, but I really wanted to find a use for this stuff.

So here's the recipe:
1 part light rum
1 part lemon-lime soda
2 parts lingonberry juice
Strawberry slices or lime wedges, for garnish
OK, so I didn't have any limes, lemon or strawberries. I'm already leeching off whatever my parents have in the pantry, so I can't be too choosy. But it would have been a cute garnish.

About the flavor -- I found the lingonberry juice to be very similar to cranberry juice but without the bitter or gritty kind of flavor I find with cranberry juice. It was really pleasant and not sickly sweet. The soda gave it a nice sparkle and fizz and the rum was a good choice.

A must-try, if you get the chance, but don't try and order this in your favor pub or night club because I'm not sure if this is a legitimate cocktail creation that you can get anywhere besides Chateau de Mahoney.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Cooking with Kelly: IKEA ingredients

In addition to the tasty cafe in IKEA, they also have a food section with all types of yummy items to take home. At my last visit, I picked up all sorts of things, including lingonberry juice and this soft flat bread. I found it in the freezer case and I wanted it, even though I didn't know what I'd do with it.

This morning was my first little experiment with the stuff. I made a peanut butter and jelly pinwheel roll for lunch. I figured it I wanted to try this out, I'd go with ingredients that I know so that I could taste what I didn't.

Turns out the bread tastes kind of licorice-y. It had a nice texture and a was soft but had a bit of bite to it. Pretty tasty stuff overall. So I'm thinking that my next experiment with this stuff will be pizza or maybe rubbing it with olive oil and spices then sticking it in the oven for a foccacia-type preparation. Who knows, it's a bit of a blank slate.

Monday, January 7, 2008

I'm working on a big freelancing project and won't be cooking tonight. Have a good one!

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Stand mixer Sunday: Onion and cheese bread

Ever wonder how to get the most out of your new stand mixer? Well here's your resource. I got one for Christmas and I'm bound and determined to find every possible use for it. This is the first installment in what I intend will be a regular feature, so please check back every Sunday for a new idea.

I came across the book Flavored Breads by Linda Collister and I got some great ideas from it. She has this delicious cheddar and onion bread and I made a few tweaks for a tasty batch of rolls that my co-workers said were akin to the bagels you can get at Einstein's, except I made a dozen for the price of one of their bagels.
Here's what you need:
4 and 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon mustard
1 and 1/2 cups plus 1/2 cup strong cheese, such as colby, cheddarjack or aged extra sharp cheddar
1/4 finely chopped green onions
1 package active dry yeast
3/4 cups lukewarm skim milk
3/4 cup room temperature water
Mix the flour, salt, yeast cheese and onions in a large bowl, set aside. Place mustard, water and milk in the stand mixer bowl and stir in the dry ingredients a quarter cup at a time using the dough hook on speed two. After all ingredients are incorporated, continue to mix on the lowest setting for five more minute until the dough is smooth and sticks to the dough hook in a ball. You may need to add extra flour or water to get the right consistency. The dough should be slightly sticky but smooth.
Put the dough in a greased large bowl and turn to coat all sides of the dough ball with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a draft-free place to rise for one to two hours or until the dough has doubled (I put mine in the microwave with a cup of warm water because my house is drafty).
Punch down the dough and then turn on a floured surface and knead lightly for a minute or two. Divide the ball into twelve pieces and form into ovals. Arrange on two oiled baking sheets and brush with a bit of milk. Garnish with the remaining half cup of cheese and allow it to rise until doubled in size. It took mine 45 minutes in my cold kitchen.
Press your thumb into the center of the ovals and bake in a preheated 425-degree oven for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a rack or towel.
I was a big fan of these rolls -- they were cheesy and savory. The dough formed a crunchy exterior and soft, airy middle. Sure beats a bagel any day.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Food find: IKEA cafe

I love IKEA. It's just a great place for all types of cheap housewares. It also combines my love of shopping with my love of food. It's just a marvel of layout really -- the way the store is designed, it forces you to walk through the whole store and stop for a bite.

I went with my family earlier this week to look for stuff for my sister's dorm and for my newly redecorated bedroom. We also stopped for a bite to eat, which is also an experience.

Very much like the cafeteria you visited in middle school, patrons line up under the picture of the food they want and then are served up plates. And the food here is a great value -- penne pasta with sauce for $1.99 and kids meals for $.99, to name a few. Then you pay in a checkout line per item and clear your table when you're done.

I got the ham and cheese on baguette you see in the first photo. The sandwich was tasty and the ingredients fresh, but I wasn't a fan of the bread, it was a little dry. We all shared that deliciously decadent chocolate cake and it was a highlight. The consistency and flavor reminded me of a thick chocolate pudding with crushed oreos on top. Delicious.

Both my sisters went with the chicken finger meal, which was another hit. The breading on the chicken was crispy and a little spicy too and the fries salty and crunchy. My mother tried the penne pasta with Alfredo sauce and Parmesan cheese. For as unattractive as the plate looked, it was pretty tasty. The creamy sauce was well seasoned and had a great cheesy flavor without feeling to heavy. If you're a serious shopper, you know you can't eat too heavy before shopping.

We got all of this and drinks for $24. I say it's a bargain fit for IKEA with tastes like a cafe. I must go again soon and come hungry.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Food find: Bahama Breeze

This is another unfortunate event in which looks don't match up to substance. It's like driving a hot looking car that sputters and stalls all the time, except the food equivalent.

Tim and I went to the Bahama Breeze in Schaumburg with high hopes -- we both like Caribbean-inspired food and bold, smokey and spicy food. I'm not sure if we got any of that here.

We went New Year's Eve for a quick bite before a fabulous party and hoped to get something tasty. I got the jerk chicken pasta, which is supposed to be sliced chicken breast, asparagus, mushroom and bow tie pasta in a Parmesan herb sauce. Now everything was cooked well -- crunchy asparagus, not chewy chicken and well done pasta. However, there was no spice in the jerk chicken and no herb in the sauce. I just wanted more bite!

Tim ordered a Cuban sandwich and it was all bread, no substance. There was just no flavor -- in the cheese, the meat or the condiments. Sigh. I had such high hopes. At least we had a gift card, a holiday gift from Tim's work place.

But come back tomorrow, I'll be offering some considerably tastier dishes!

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Food find: The Fox and the Hound Schaumburg

Tonight's a busy one in my business. The Iowa Caucus is a bit of a watershed for the 2008 election -- it doesn't really tell you who will get the presidential nod, but if you do horribly tonight, you probably won't be moving to the White House. I even had a dream last night I was at a caucus ... I may need a vacation.

But let me take you to a magical land that doesn't include politics. Last weekend, Tim and I and a few friends ventured out in freezing temperatures to watch the UFC Fight at The Fox and the Hound in Schaumburg. I'm not big on any of those violent shows, but it was something social. And it was kind of exciting as well.

This particular bar is a chain throughout the Midwest and Southwest. My particular location is an upscale kind of bar -- bar wood interior throughout and nice pool tables and darts. And now thanks to smoke-free Illinois, I'm thinking it's cleaner than your average bar too.

On this evening, we all opted for the drink special of Bud Lite pints, except for someone who went with an MGD bottle. We also opted for some snacks -- we got 30 buffalo wings, half mild and half medium, and spinach and artichoke dip. We also got nachos and this skillet cookie topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce that was superb, but I missed out on the picture of that.

Anyone, the difference between the mild and medium sauce was negligible -- I was hoping for more of a kick, but oh well. The spinach dip was tasty but all cheese and very little veggie. I like dips that are topped with cheese, not entirely made of cheese. The tortilla chips they were served with were quite tasty though -- a good crunch and balance to salt.

The food wasn't amazing, but I think better than your average bar food. Go with the skillet cookie though, it's amazingly sweet and a great combination of fresh out of the oven chocolate chip cookie and freezing ice cream. With the hot chocolate on top, you really can't go wrong.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Food find: Market Square Cheese

Another great thing about a vacation to the Dells is Wisconsin cheese and chocolate. Maybe I'm just a die hard tourist, but you really can't leave Wisconsin without partaking in some cheese.

Tim and I made a short stop at Market Square Cheese in Lake Delton, Wisc. It's a cute little shop that sells general convenience store stuff along with cheese, homemade sweets and mementos. Tim and I got a pack of cheese curds, again, and it was quite tasty.

Also, we picked up some handmade peanut butter cups -- they taste so much better than he one you get in the checkout line. The chocolate was hardened and a bit crunchy, compared with the creamy and pliable peanut butter center. It was an interesting textural element, plus the chocolate was of a better quality than the store-bought peanut and chocolate snacks.

There was also all kinds of fudge, which I will have to try the next time we're in the neighborhood.