~ "By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; Through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures." ~ "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing" ~ "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy." ~ "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths."~

Monday, January 30, 2012

English Scones...or Chrissie's Scones

English Scones... or Chrissie's Scones. I've been blogging for some time now... well, since Sep. 2008, if you can believe it! I've enjoyed blogging, more as a personal hobby of mine... as a way to document the recipes I try... and to share them(mostly with my immediate family). I never once thought I would have a follower... or that someone would take the time to leave an encouraging comment. Truth be told, I never expected anyone to be interested in my little corner of the world... I blogged because I wanted to. Not because someone made me... or because "everyone" was doing it. Cooking and baking has been a passion of mine since childhood... I wasn't a picky eater(my mom can attest to that:))... and I loved food. Loved to watch cooking shows...
We hardly ever watched t.v. while growing up, so it was a special treat when my parents allowed us to watch a few select shows... once a week, on PBS, at 5:30 p.m. Floyd on France would come on. We left all school work aside and gathered as a family to watch. Later on, we watched Julia Child and Jacques Pepin... and so on. I grew up eating healthy, homemade food... so I was always interested in food. I found out I LOVED being in the kitchen.... and could spend hours cooking or baking all by myself.
I've been blogging about recipes that I personally love... not knowing that others, all over the world, would ever be interested in the recipes I posted. I've truly been overwhelmed... but I know full well, that God deserves the credit in all this. When I realized that traffic was increasing on my site, I slowly "cleaned house" and tried my best to be hospitable... to answer questions the best I could, to take better photos, to write recipes in a more detailed fashion, and to share tips and ideas, as well as step-by-step photos. I wanted my blog to be a warm and inviting place... a place where others would get inspired. Ultimately, I wanted my blog to be a blessing.... and nothing more than that.
I realize that not all of the recipes I've posted will have been a success for everyone... all of us have different tastes and preferences... and sometimes ingredients and various factors(I live at 5000 ft) don't allow us to duplicate the recipes exactly... "like in the picture". I'm not the type of person that will withhold a "secret" ingredient from a recipe.... just because I don't want someone else to duplicate it. On the contrary, I'll try my best to reveal all that I know...despite my limited knowledge. Nonetheless, I've been thrilled to hear the success stories from my readers.
Over the years, I've been blessed to "meet" other bloggers who share the same passion as myself.... But I never expected to hear from readers expressing their thankfulness for a recipe they've tried and enjoyed immensely. I've received many emails that have humbled and overwhelmed me... appreciated the fact that someone would take the time to write. I've been truly thankful! You know, blogging isn't an easy "job"... there's lots of editing, taking photos, rearranging, writing, and finally posting. Sometimes I overdo all this... too many photos, too many tips, too many words. But my purpose is to make the recipes as user-friendly as possible. All this takes time... but it's something I do because I love to... not because I expect a reward from others.
Sometimes though, you do get rewarded... in ways that just humble you. Readers share some of their favorite recipes with you... because they noticed you've been looking for a recipe... or maybe because they think you would love to try a new recipe. Such was the case recently...
Chrissie noticed that I was looking for a "mile-high" scone recipe(see FAQS)... and she instantly emailed me her recipe( along with a few other recipes). I tried the scone recipe... and simply loved it! Chrissie makes really beautiful cakes... and she was willing to share some of her favorite recipes with me. Not everyone does. She did. She even let me post it. Chrissie, thank you for your kindness.
Though I've posted other scone recipes in the past, I just feel you can't have too many scone recipes:)...scones are probably one of my weaknesses. I simply love to relax with a cup of tea and a scone. This scone recipe reminds me of the scones I had while in London... a little sturdier in texture(probably because of the strong flour)....but definitely not crumbly. It's not overly fluffy, but tender enough... It's the type of scone that requires some clotted cream and jam... sort of reminds me of the NY Times Version. I love this recipe because it makes plenty of large scones... and they come out looking so beautiful! The scones are best served a bit warm. Hope you enjoy...

Note: For the flour, I used KAF bread flour, though you can easily use all purpose flour as well...which is more widely used. Also, as I didn't have any whole milk on hand, so I used 3/4 cup (2% milk) + 1/4 cup heavy cream = 1 cup whole milk.
The extracts are my addition.... add if you like, or simply omit.
It is best to weigh the ingredients, but I have included the cup measurements(as I measured)... for those who don't have a scale.
The butter wasn't overly soft... soft, yet slightly firm( sort of like the consistency of shortening).

Tip: I noticed that a tall, sharp biscuit cutter will make the scones rise much higher. My biscuit cutter had a handle that sort of got in the way and pinched the sides of the scones a bit. Also, I noticed that if you cut the biscuits inside the border... and not cutting right at the edge, you'll have better rising scones. That's because the edges have been handled a bit and can "seal"...which can impede the scones from rising to their full potential. I noticed that with mine...
~I think a fluted tall biscuit cutter works even better... as well as cutting the scones a bit smaller. I used a 1 1/2 inch square fluted biscuit cutter with the re-rolled scraps( placed the scraps on top of each other, then gently rolled out the dough). Those scones rose very high... even when re-rolled!
~Though I didn't refrigerate the cut biscuits before baking...I don't think it would be a bad idea to do so( for 20 -30 minutes).

You will need: adapted from Chrissie of Manx Classic Cakes... makes 9 large(3 inch) scones and a few smaller scones from the scraps. Obviously, if you make the scones smaller, you'll
get even more.

450 g(3 1/3 cup) strong white flour, plus an extra 50g for dusting*
5 tsps baking powder
75 g(5 TBS) softened butter(or at cool room temp.)
75 g(1/3 cup) caster sugar
2 large free-range eggs, beaten (mine were from the fridge)
250 ml( 1 cup) full-fat milk, (mine was cold)
1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tsp milk, to glaze
1/2 tsp almond extract, optional
1 tsp vanilla extract, optional
* I didn't use all 50 grams of extra flour... just enough so that the dough wouldn't stick to the work surface.

clotted cream, mascarpone, or creme fraiche
jam, preserves
lemon curd

1. Preheat the oven to 220C/200C fan/gas 7.( or 425 deg F) I cooked mine at 400F, though I think 425 F is best.

~Line a large baking tray with parchment paper~.

2. Put the flour and baking powder in a large mixing bowl and add the butter. Rub the butter and flour gently between your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.

3. Mix the sugar and eggs... and extracts, if using. Pour over the butter/flour mixture, stirring and turning the mixture with a wooden spoon....or you could use a fork here.

4. Add the milk, in two or three equal amounts, turning the mixture gently with each addition until you have a wet dough.

5. Scatter some of the extra flour onto a work surface and tip the dough on top... scraping any dough that may have stuck to the bottom of the bowl. Using your hands, gently fold the dough into the flour, turning as you go to create a smooth, airy, soft dough.... you can accomplish this by folding the dough in half, then turn the dough 90 degrees and repeating. Folding and turning the mixture will add air. Do this a couple of times until you’ve formed a smooth dough. Try not to overwork the dough....or the scones will come out tough.

6. Scatter any remaining flour onto the dough and your rolling pin, and lightly roll the dough to about 2.5cm(1 inch) thick, taking care not to stretch the dough, and allowing it to relax back into shape once rolled by gently lifting the edges.

7. Cut out circles with a floured 7cm( I used a 3 inch) pastry cutter, making sure you don’t twist the cutter. You want to use a sharp biscuit cutter, so that the edges of the scone will have a clean cut...which ensures your scones will rise evenly. If the edges of the dough gets pinched down, the scone won't rise as high.

8. Put the scones close together on the prepared tray and gently re-roll and cut the remaining dough until you have used it all. I placed the scraps on top of each other and then rolled it out gently.

9. Brush the tops of the scones only with the egg wash and leave them to sit for 1-2 minutes. Try to keep the egg wash on the top of the scones only... if it runs down the sides it will stop them from rising evenly.

10. Bake in a preheated oven... middle rack... for about 15 minutes, or until golden and risen.

11. Cool just slightly before serving.

12. Serve the scones with the jam and clotted cream.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Romanian Oriental Potato Salad... or Salata Orientala

Romanian Oriental Potato Salad... or Salata Orientala
I decided to post yet another Romanian dish... a potato salad I made recently. It's an easy salad to make....well, as long as the potatoes and eggs are cooked correctly:). But it's a salad both my husband and I grew up with...and enjoyed very much. We always liked it better when the salad had plenty of olives and eggs. Sometimes I made it a point to choose the eggs and olives over the potatoes.... "fished" them out of the salad when no one was looking... but I was a kid back then:). Now I enjoy the potatoes as well....
I have no clue why the salad is called, Oriental Salad....except that maybe during the earlier, earlier days when the word "orient" would have described what was known as Egypt, Syria and the surrounding areas. The name would then make sense... because of the olives in the salad. Well, that's my explanation anyway:)...
In any case, we LOVE this salad...a rustic-looking one at that...but delicious nonetheless. There's something special about a dish that uses just a few simple ingredients.... and ends up tasting incredible. The flavors of the briny olives, with the onions and eggs make for a different sort of potato salad...a potato salad that's packed with a ton of flavor. And even though we might normally associate a potato salad with mayonnaise... the oil and vinegar dressing is all the salad needs.
I am posting the recipe as I knew it growing up...there might be other versions... some with chopped pickles, other vegetables, with mayo, or even omitting the vinegar. I personally love the tartness of the vinegar, and couldn't possibly omit it. So I usually adjust the oil and vinegar amount according to our tastes. The vinegar tends to mellow out a bit as the salad sits.
Even though this salad is quite simple to make, and I've made it many times, I thought it would be nice to add it to my Romanian section. At the same time, introduce it to those of you who haven't come across it before. This tasty dish can be eaten on its own.... or even used as a side dish. Hope you enjoy...

Note: Feel free to adjust vinegar and oil amounts to preference....you may need to add more or less. The amount also depends on how many potatoes are used....and russet potatoes, in general, tend to absorb more liquid.
~You can opt to use a rice vinegar, which is milder in taste.
~I love the salad the following day...the flavors intensify.

You will need:

4-5 baking potatoes, boiled till fork tender
1/2 of a large red onion, sliced
4-5 hard boiled eggs, sliced, or to taste
1/2 -3/4 cup whole kalamata olives, or to taste
4-6 TBS olive oil, or to taste
4-6 TBS apple cider vinegar, or to taste
salt and pepper to taste

1. Boil potatoes in salted water until fork tender, but not falling apart....I used my pressure cooker to do this(about 12-15 minutes or so depending on the size of potatoes). While the potatoes are cooking, cook the eggs until hard.
2. Peel and slice the potatoes while still warm and place them in a large bowl. Drizzle a bit of oil over them( 1 -2 TBS) and toss gently.
3. Slice onion thinly and run hot water over the onion... this is optional, but this step takes the "bite" out of the onions.... add the sliced onion to the potatoes.
4. Add the olives and toss gently to combine.
5. Peel and slice the eggs, and add to the potato salad... you can reserve a few slices for garnish if you like.
6. Mix oil and vinegar( use the lesser amount, as you can always add more oil or vinegar at the end) and pour over the potato mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
7. Mix everything gently... trying to keep the potatoes intact as much as possible....the potatoes and eggs will still crumble, but you just don't want a mushy salad.
8. Adjust seasoning... add more vinegar or oil as needed. You want the salad to have some moistness... I find the salad takes in more vinegar than other salads. The salad should have a tinge of tartness. As the salad sits a bit, the potatoes will absorb quite a bit of the dressing.
9. Garnish with extra egg slices/ olives.... and serve warm...or cold.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Homemade Sausages/Hot Dogs....or Romanian Carnati/Crenvusti

Homemade Sausages/Hot Dogs....or Romanian Carnati/Crenvusti. I was blessed to spend some time together with my parents recently... enjoyed Christmas and New Year's together. Precious time. Time that I don't want to take for granted... it was also a time where I spent New Year's eve with my mom... making sausages. Earlier during the week, we had talked about making some traditional Romanian dishes... carnati, or sausages, was one of the things that came up. But we wanted to make the sausages using chicken as the main meat. An even though pork is most often used, my mom has been making chicken sausages for years... We grew up eating her delicious homemade chicken sausages. They were simply the best!
My mom and I settled on having a sausage making day... and got ready for that. But we decided to try something new.... to experiment and have some fun together. Now I know where I got this from...the experimenting and trying out new recipes, I mean:). In any case, we really wanted to make some homemade hot dogs or crenvusti. So we ended up doing a trial run... ended up looking for a hot dog recipe... noticed that egg white and milk were used in some of the versions, so we added them to the meat. We also used a few spices from the pantry, and then ended up grinding the meat twice.... just so that we could get that finer texture found in hot dogs. We made a few other batches of homemade sausages/hot dogs... and in the process adjusted a few things along the way. I don't know if we made hot dogs....maybe a cross between hot dogs and sausages. But regardless, we had fun together:).
Making the sausages took some time, but it was worth it. It was a real special time for me, as I spent a few good hours with my mom. Just having her by my side... would have been enough. But she helped me stuff the sausage casings, and then she tied each sausage link with thread so they wouldn't unravel... I loved our time together. Loved hearing her share stories of her own childhood...the days when her family would butcher the pig for the winter...along with pretty much everyone in their town. Plenty of sausages were made...to last through the cold weather months. All the neighbors would have sausage links hanging outside to dry... a sign they had butchered their pig:). I could see my mom enjoying our time together... making sausages from scratch...just the two of us. We made a memory.... one that I'll cherish.
I've decided to post this recipe for myself...as a memory...and also because I will be using the recipe and technique again. I'll admit this recipe may not be "professional" in nature(see note below).... but we liked them nonetheless. Hope you enjoy...

Note: I tested a new idea when making these sausages....using unflavored gelatin to hold moisture, as well as to bind the meat together.... similar to my Romanian mititei. It worked for me...the sausages weren't dry, but moist and "bouncy". This may not be the way others make sausages... there are plenty of recipes online. Most recipes require you to use plenty of fat...or at least a 4:1 ratio of meat to fat. I prefer to not add too much fat... but you can certainly do so. Also, the meat and fat should be kept cold at all times... even while mixing/grinding. I have to admit I wasn't so strict with that....

~While I posted the recipe as we made them....I am planning on making other versions(still using the gelatin technique)... but using other spices and flavors. Would love to try a sundried tomato/pesto, mushroom, roasted pepper, spinach, cheese, cumin/curry version, etc... I think I got the sausage making "bug":)

You will need:

Version #1...without gelatin

2 lbs boneless chicken thighs(no skin, but with all the other fat)*
*you can use a mixture of other meats, as well...

seasonings: feel free to add your own seasonings... fennel seeds, dried sage, dried marjoram are all good to use.

1/4 cup onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsps kosher salt, or to taste
1 tsp pepper, or to taste
1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cimbru(or summer savory)
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsps sugar
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/4 cup cold water

1/4 cup milk
1 egg white

casings of choice...if using natural salted hog or sheep casing, soak in water and a bit of vinegar to de-salt, and then rinse.

Version #2...with gelatin powder

2 lbs boneless chicken thighs(no skin, but with all the other fat)
3 slices of bacon, optional

seasonings: feel free to add your own seasonings... fennel seeds, dried sage, dried marjoram are all good choices.

1/3 cup onion, chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsps kosher salt, or to taste
1 tsp pepper, or to taste
1 tsp hot smoked paprika
2 tsps sweet paprika
1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cimbru(or summer savory)
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsps sugar
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/4 cup cold water

1 tsp unflavored gelatin powder
1/2 cup milk
1 egg white

casings of choice...if using natural salted hog or sheep casing, soak in water and a bit of vinegar to de-salt, and then rinse.


For Version 1:
1. Grind meat 2 times... if you like your sausages to be more chunkier, opt to grind only once. You want to grind the meat... as well as any fat pieces that are usually attached to the chicken thighs. Don't remove it, as it gives flavor and moistness to the sausages. You can opt to use whatever meat you want here. I used an equal amount of chicken and veal meat for one of the versions I made .... found it a bit drier with the veal because my veal was very lean and I added no extra fat...but you can use all chicken, turkey, pork, lamb, veal or a mixture and add a bit of fat.
2. To a food processor/blender, add seasonings with the water. Process/blend till until you get a smooth paste...or as smooth as you can get it.
3. Add spice paste, milk, and egg white to ground meat. Mix until thoroughly combined. Take a bit of meat and fry in a pan to check for seasoning. Adjust if necessary.
4. Fill sausages using a sausage maker( I used my Kitchenaid attachment) by loading the casing onto attachment nozzle. Tie end of casing before starting and stuff meat into casings, trying to avoid air pockets and not overstuffing. I usually use a needle to poke small holes if I find air pockets.
5. When finished with the stuffing, tie off end and pinch and twist to form 4-6 inch sausages....or you can make them smaller/bigger. Air dry in a cool place for 24-48 hours(make sure it is cold to at least 40 deg F...My garage is cold in the winter, so I'll use that). But you can also hang the sausages in a refrigerator. Or you can simply wrap in parchment and refrigerate. The sausages will sort of wrinkle after 24 hours of air drying...and even more so after 48 hours. They won't wrinkle as much if kept covered and refrigerated
Store in refrigerator for use within 2 to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

For Version 2:

1. Grind meat once...then place meat aside.
2. Make gelatin mixture.... add 1 tsp gelatin powder to 1/2 cup milk and stir to dissolve. Heat milk/gelatin till very hot, but don't boil....and don't stir it. Allow the gelatin mixture to cool slightly.
3. To a food processor, add seasonings with the water. Process till until you get a smooth spice paste...or as smooth as you can get it.
4. Add the ground meat to the food processor( where you have the spice mixture) and then add the slightly cooled gelatin/milk mixture. Process everything together until you get a fine paste. If you have a smaller food processor you may have to process the meat in batches as you don't want the meat to get too hot... and then combine everything by hand.
5. Take a bit of meat and fry in a pan to check for seasoning. Adjust if necessary.
6. Fill sausages using a sausage maker( I used my Kitchenaid attachment) by loading the casing onto attachment nozzle. Tie end of casing before starting and stuff meat into casings, trying to avoid air pockets and not overstuffing. I usually use a needle to poke small holes if I find air pockets.
7. When finished with the stuffing, tie off end and pinch and twist to form 4-6 inch sausages....or you can make them smaller/bigger. Air dry in a cool place for 24-48 hours(make sure it is cold to at least 40 deg F...My garage is cold in the winter, so I'll use that). But you can also hang the sausages in a refrigerator. Or you can simply wrap in parchment and refrigerate. The sausages will sort of wrinkle after 24 hours of air drying...and even more so after 48 hours. They won't wrinkle as much if kept covered and refrigerated.
Store in refrigerator for use within 2 to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Brined Shrimp.... and Chinese Eggs with Shrimp and Scallions

Brined Shrimp.... and a simple recipe for Chinese Eggs with Shrimp and Scallions
Since I've brought up the topic of brining in my last post, I thought to also share one my favorite ways to "perk" up un-cooked frozen shrimp.... accomplished by using the brining method once again. We all probably know about brining a turkey, chicken, even pork chops... more common meats to brine. But brining seafood isn't as widely known, or talked about. Or maybe I just didn't know about it....
I grew up thinking you weren't supposed to soak seafood in water(especially fish)... reason being that the water would leach out all the flavor from the seafood. But soaking seafood in plain water isn't the same as using a brine. Interestingly enough, years ago when I used to teach at an elementary school, I had a teacher's assistant whose husband always used to go to Alaska for salmon fishing. I remember her saying the fish tasted best when soaked in salted water before cooking it... at the time I thought the idea was a bit strange, though I have to say that it did make me think... and that's why I never forgot about it. Sadly, I didn't try brining seafood until about a couple of years ago.
In any case, I love to apply the brining method to shrimp. It not only firms up the flesh of the shrimp, but it makes them have that "pop" when you bite into them. They're just nice and plump without being dry or limp....and it just gives them a ton of flavor. The brine also helps the shrimp to retain moisture, which is especially great when you're planning on "dry" cooking the shrimp... such as grilling, pan frying, or broiling the shrimp. Brining and blanching isn't really recommended. But you know, I'll also use the brining technique even when blanching shrimp.... just because it's quicker, and the method allows me to use the shrimp in a variety of dishes.... and well... it works for me:). I'll use the brined blanched shrimp when making shrimp cocktail, or in the dish I'm sharing today. But do feel free to skip the blanching and just broil the brined shrimp if you like... or quickly panfry the shrimp.
So I used the brined blanched shrimp to make a quick and tasty dish called, Chinese Eggs with Shrimp and Scallions. The final photo I took of the shrimp and egg dish was taken in quite a hurry... seconds before sitting down to eat:), so it's not the best photo. But I really wanted you to see how I used the brined shrimp.
I love making this dish because it comes together rather quickly, making it ideal for those busy weeknights...or when you're too tired to make a complicated meal:). The dish can be served on its own... or even used as a side dish to other Chinese dishes. You can easily adjust the recipe to include ingredients you like... so feel free to add some spinach leaves, steamed bok choy, or other vegetables of choice. And if you don't care for shrimp, or are allergic to it, you can opt to just make the scrambled eggs alone. It's still delicious:)...
So in case you've never brined shrimp before, you might want to try it out and see the difference. It really doesn't take long to brine the shrimp... and the result, I think, is worth it. Actually, I've been using the brining method on my shrimp ever since I was introduced to it. Hope you enjoy...

A great read on basics of brining: Cook's Illustrated notes

Note: I have used the brining method on frozen fish fillets as well....it works especially great on large pieces of fish used in "dry" method cooking(grilling or roasting)....though I won't blanch the fish:)

~You can add a bit of sugar to the brine, if you like...but I prefer not to, just because it works without the sugar as well:). But in case you are interested in the salt and sugar ratio, you can see the cook's illustrated version above or Alton Brown's version... HERE

Tip: When brining seafood, take care not to have the seafood sit in the brine for too long or it will be too salty. A general rule: do not brine seafood for longer than 30 minutes.


You will need:
1/2 lb shrimp*
3 cups water
1 TBS kosher salt
* I'll often use frozen shrimp and allow the shrimp to defrost in the brine... and then rinse.


1. In a bowl add water and salt . Mix until salt dissolves.

2. Add shrimp to brine and let sit for about 20 minutes( if peeled) or 30 minutes if unpeeled....
~I often just place frozen shelled shrimp in the brine and allow the shrimp to defrost completely( it can take a bit longer than 30 minutes)... then remove from brine.

3. Remove shrimp from brine and rinse quickly. Cook as desired.

For blanched shrimp: feel free to place shrimp under the broiler for a few minutes until pink...or quickly panfry.

1. Bring water to a boil and remove from heat.
2. Add shrimp. Remove shrimp when they have turned pink... they will cook quickly in a matter of a couple minutes or so. Don't overcook...

To make Chinese Eggs and Shrimp.... using blanched shrimp

Tip: you can add some peas along with the shrimp, if you like.

You will need:
4 eggs
1 TBS milk( or stock)
1 tsp soy sauce
1/4-1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
3 TBS chicken stock
1/3 cup chopped green onion
chile flakes, to taste
salt and pepper to taste
8 oz cooked (shrimp from above)
2 TBS oil

1. Crack eggs in a bowl and add milk( or stock, if using), soy sauce, sesame oil, the additional stock, chile flakes, salt and pepper.
2. Beat until frothy. Stir in onion.
3. Heat a non-stick skillet pan on med/high until hot. Add oil.
4. When oil is hot, add a bit of the egg mix...if it sizzles and puffs up, it is ready.
5. To the hot pan, add the egg mix. With a spatula, bring in the egg from the sides... to the middle of the pan to form large curds. Do this from all sides until the egg is nearly set, but not quite. This shouldn't take longer than a couple of minutes on med/high heat.
6. When eggs are nearly set, but still a bit wet, add the shrimp and fold them in gently.
7. Turn off heat and cover. Allow to sit covered for a couple of minutes or until the top of the eggs are set and they have puffed up a bit. Serve immediately.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Pressure Cooker Beans...and beans soaked in a brine solution

Pressure Cooker Beans.... and beans soaked in a brine solution. Ah, right when you think you've mastered cooking beans... you encounter yet another method to cook them. Could there possibly be a better way to cook beans? I mean really... beans? All you have to do is cook the beans in water until done. Right?
Well, there's actually a different technique that's applied to the beans... unexpected... but the result yields beans that are creamy, and oh-so tasty. So... the trick is to soak the beans in a brine. That's right... soaking the dried beans in salted water.
For the longest time, I thought you weren't supposed to add salt to beans when cooking them. Reason being is that the salted water may toughen the outer skin of the beans and make them hard. But that's debatable...as some actually say the salt aids in cooking the beans faster. But for me, the idea of never cooking beans in salted water has sort of gone out the window recently. Well, sort of...
Some time ago, I was reading an article on how to cook beans...soaking them or not. The article was favoring the soaking method...and I agree. Not that you can't cook them unsoaked... it's just that I prefer them soaked, as your body can digest them better. So I just plan accordingly. In any case, I happened to read the comments to the article, and one particular comment stood out. The person had recently come across America's Test Kitchen's method of brining beans before cooking....which helps the beans retain most of their skins while cooking and making the inside creamy and more flavorful. No skins floating around. Well, my ears perked up (or my eyes widened) when I read that...What, brining beans?! No, no,no... you aren't supposed to add salt to beans! But then I thought about it...maybe, just maybe I could try it and see for myself. And so I did...
I didn't exactly know the amount of salt to water as it wasn't stated in the article... so I just made my own ratio. Tasted the water and salt...adjusted it until I felt it was sort of like sea water... more or less:). Made my own brine and applied the method to 3 different beans. The beans were incredibly tasty, kept most of their skins on, and most of all they didn't taste bland. I loved how flavorful they were... the salt from the brine penetrates the whole bean. So yes, I didn't actually cook the beans in salted water... rather, I soaked the beans in salted water. A different technique.... that works! There were a few stray skins floating around, but most beans actually had the skins intact.
I'm now a firm believer in brining my beans before cooking them. And since I always use my pressure cooker when cooking the beans, I chose to use the same method. But you can still brine your beans and cook them in a traditional pot... obviously they will take longer to cook.
I haven't bought canned beans in years, and now I have found a way to get those creamy and flavorful beans...without them tasting bland. I'll freeze the beans... for those days when I need some for a dip, salad, or main dish. Very happy with the result... I'm sharing my find, and passing it along for those of you who wish to try it. Hope you enjoy...

Note: Overcooking the beans will make the beans burst, regardless of the brine solution...but they will still taste delicious:).
All beans are different...older ones always tend to need a bit more cooking....and really old beans are more likely to split their skins and remain tough.
After making my batches...I did a bit more research and found ATK's brine solution, which I'm posting below, along with the one I made.
The brining method is supposed to work for all beans...except lentils.

Tip: You will notice there is a bit of oil added to the pot when cooking the beans... this helps with having less "foaming" which can occur while cooking the beans in a pressure cooker.

You will need: inspired and adapted from America's Test Kitchen

My Version: before I found ATK'S version, but worked really well....

Overnight Soak Method

12 oz bag of dried beans
2 TBS kosher salt
5 cups water

America's Test Kitchen's Version: haven't yet tried this version

Quick Soak Method

3 TBS kosher salt
2 quarts of water
2 cups dried beans
~Bring 2 quarts of water and 3 tablespoons of salt to a boil. Pour the hot water over the beans and let them sit for 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans well before proceeding with recipe.

To Cook:
2 cups soaked dried beans
6 cups water
2 TBS oil
flavorings( carrots, onion, garlic, bay leaf, etc...)

1. In a large bowl add beans, water and salt. Mix thoroughly.
2. Soak beans overnight(8-12 hours). With my brine, I left mine about 8 hours or so. Drain and rinse well....or do ATK'S quick soak method above.
3. Add beans to pressure cooker, then add water and oil ... the oil keeps the foam from bubbling up.
  • for 1 cup of soaked dried beans I use 4 cups of water...if using more than 1 cup beans, I use 3 cups of water for each cup of soaked beans....
  • add 1 TBS oil for every cup of soaked dried beans to the water... so 2 cups beans will have 6 cups of water and 2 TBS oil.
  • add any flavorings of choice, bay leaf, carrots, onion, celery, garlic. Do not use acidic products when cooking... such as tomatoes....add them at the end.

4. Close lid, heat on high until pressure is reached. Lower heat to low and cook for 10-15 minutes...depending on beans.

If you want to use the beans in a salad, cook the beans using the minimum time... if using the beans for a dip, cook the beans a bit longer.
Time is approximate...for my electric stovetop, at my altitude. You may need to adjust...but start with the less time, as you can always cook further, if need be.
  • Northern/Navy takes about 10-12 minutes
  • Pinto takes about 11-13 minutes
  • Garbanzo takes about 12-15 minutes
  • Black beans takes about 10-12
5. Turn off heat ...and release pressure.

5. You can make a larger batch...which is what I ended up doing for mine. Freeze in small containers/bags. ~No more canned beans... ok, maybe if you must:).

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Greek Avgolemono....Lemon and Orzo Soup

Greek Avgolemono....Lemon and Orzo Soup. I came upon this soup recipe some time ago... loved the simplicity of the ingredients used... eventually jotted down the recipe to try later.
I most always have homemade chicken stock in the freezer.... sometimes even turkey stock and beef stock. Chicken stock is much easier for me to make, as I use chicken meat more often in the dishes I make. I've learned years ago to never throw away any bones... not even from baked chicken. And when I have leftover turkey bones( from Thanksgiving, or other occasions), I'll split them up in bags, freeze them, and later pull them out to make stock. I most always have some carrots, onion, garlic, and celery... basic ingredients for making stock. Sometimes I'll toss in a couple of bay leaves to the pot... I much prefer homemade stock, as I can season to my liking.
It's become a ton easier to make the stock ever since I've started using a pressure cooker. What used to take me a couple of hours, now takes me 40 minutes using the pressure cooker. It's really easy to make...not to mention that nothing gets wasted. I simply add the bones with a few vegetables, cover with water, and season it with salt.... then I bring the stock to pressure and cook it while I do other things around the house. When it's done, I'll place the stock in ice cube trays.... for pan sauces.... in small 1 cup containers.... for soups.... and in 2 cup containers.... for risotto and other dishes.
In any case, this soup comes together rather quickly. It's a lighter sort of soup...no cream involved or half-and-half.... not even milk. The white color actually comes from the egg and lemon juice mixture. This soup is a play on the popular chicken noodle soup... except for the tart and fresh taste the lemon juice imparts to the dish....making it a bit different:). The orzo gives the soup extra body as well as great flavor. Actually the soup reminds me just a bit of the Romanian orez cu lapte we used to eat as kids... similar to a rice pudding.
While I kept the soup rather simple, other versions also use chunks of chicken for a heartier version....even cut up vegetables. Sometimes the orzo pasta is substituted with rice...making the soup gluten -free.
It's a lovely soup that can be used as a starter to any meal... I personally like to serve it in smaller portions, just because a little bit goes a long way. If you like, you can serve the soup as an amuse bousche... in espresso cups. But a big bowlful isn't bad either... as it can brighten a dreary and cloudy day:). Perfect for the winter months. Hope you enjoy...

Tip: Make the soup gluten-free, by using rice instead of orzo.

You will need:

4 cups chicken stock, homemade preferred
1/2 cup orzo pasta, or rice*
2 eggs
2-3 TBS lemon juice
1 tsp grated lemon zest
2 TBS fresh parsley or dill, chopped
salt/pepper, to taste
* if using rice, add 1 cup extra stock

1. In a large saucepan, add chicken stock and bring to a boil.... if using rice, add 1 cup more stock
2. Add orzo(or rice, if using) and cover. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.... if using rice, simmer for longer, 15+ minutes or until rice is tender.
3. Remove from heat(do not drain). Set aside.
4. Add eggs to a bowl and beat until thick. Whisk in lemon juice and zest.( it's best to start with 2 TBS and add remaining juice at the end, if you feel it needs it... this way, the sourness can be adjusted to preference.)
5. Gradually add 1/2 cup hot broth from the saucepan, whisking constantly.
6. Add 2 more 1/2 cups broth, whisking after each addition.
7. Pour mixture back into saucepan and reheat on low, stirring with a wooden spoon until egg cooks(the egg foam dissipates)... and the soup just slightly thickens. ....Do NOT boil or eggs will curdle.
8. Add salt and pepper to taste....and a bit of parsley(or dill).
9. Garnish with more parsley...or dill right before serving. You can even add a bit more lemon zest, if you like.
10 Serve hot in the winter...or cold in the summer.