Eggplant Parmesan with Roasted Red Pepper Tomato Sauce

Throwdown-Eggplant-Parm

 

This was the best Eggplant Parmesan I have ever had. It was a little time consuming to make but well worth the effort.
I used a jar of roasted red peppers, to make the prep time a little shorter. There were no leftovers.
My son and his friends almost licked the pan clean.
It was throwdown of Bobby Flay’s. I can’t say enough how great this recipe is.

 

 


Madhur Jaffrey’s Lemony Chicken With Fresh Coriander

This chicken is wonderful. I had forgotten about the recipe and I was digging through a box of cookbooks
and this cookbook ( Madhur Jaffrey’s)  was on the bottom. I pulled it out and was thumbing through it and the page that was super dirty
was this recipe. I use to make it all the time. So it for sure, needs a place on my blog of favorite recipes.
It calls for jalapenos but if you don’t like your food too spicy, you can leave it out.
I also salt the chicken before I cook it. It adds another layer of flavor.
I serve this with Basmati rice and a salad.
Recipe for Lemony Chicken with Fresh Coriander


Paul Prudhomme’s Sweet Potato Pecan Pie

This bar none is the best sweet potato pie I have ever had.
It has been served at K Paul’s Restaurant in New Orleans for the last twenty
years. You can order one already made, from his restaurant and have it shipped.
Though it isn’t too hard to make and the results are very yummy.


Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Capers, Walnuts and Anchovies

We were looking for a new and different Brussel Sprouts recipe, to serve at Christmas, with our Italian feast this recipe fit the bill.
It was different yet super yummy. The anchovies were a great addition, don’t leave them out you can’t taste the anchovies. Even people
who didn’t like anchovies ate them without knowing there were anchovies in the recipe.
 There were no leftovers of Brussel Sprouts. I would definetly make this again.
Recipe for Brussel Sprouts with Capers, Walnuts and Anchovies

 


Italian Cream Cake

This is an awesome recipe for an Italian Cream Cake, that a friend, Mary Berkery gave me a long time ago. I thought I had lost the recipe but it reappeared, along with a few others, in a stack of old magazines. I was so happy that I immediately posted it so it would never be lost again.
this cake is dense, moist and is best when made the night before. It is a family and potluck favorite!
Here is the recipe for Italian Cream Cake 

 

 


Pie Crust 101

This is a repost from The Food Lab, very good information on the science of pie crusts.

His recipe : http://www.networkoffood.com/pies/food-lab-pie-crust/

If there’s one thing that instills fear into the hearts and minds of American cooks, it’s pie crust. I know. At one time, I was one of those people. Pie crusts were the Mumm-ra to my Lion-O, and it was all because they were a mystery to me. What makes them flaky? What makes them tender? And most importantly, how come mine used to come out like pliant pieces of leather instead of buttery and delicious?

What I’m after: The kind of crust that’s substantial enough that it doesn’t sog-out from a juicy filling but tender enough that it flakes in your mouth into buttery shards. A crust with substance, but not chew. A crust that divides along deep faults into many distinct layers separated by tiny air spaces and that cracks when bent. A crust that is never leathery or pliant, but not so tender or crisp that it crumbles instead of flakes. And of course, it should have a deep butteriness coupled with a balanced sweet and salty flavor.

Easier said that done, right? For many people, making pie crust is a crap shoot. Sometimes it comes out perfectly flaky, other times tough. Sometimes you need just a couple tablespoons of water, sometimes a full 1/2 cup. What gives?

Turns out that the science of pie crust is really not all that complex, and once you get a grasp of what’s really going on in between those flaky layers, then making a perfect crust becomes a matter of smarts, not luck.

Life of Pie

On paper, a classic American pie crust is a mind-bogglingly simple recipe. Combine flour with a bit of salt and sugar, cut in some butter and/or shortening, then add just enough cold water to get it to come together into a disk. Roll it out, and bake. That’s it.

20110629-food-lab-pie-crust-07.jpg

Perfectly incorporated butter

The underlying difficulty in the technique comes during the first stage of cutting the butter into the flour. It’s simply impossible to accurately cut butter into flour to the same degree on a consistent basis. Don’t cut it in quite enough, and you need to add extra water to absorb the excess dry flour, resulting in the over-formation of gluten, and a tough, leathery crust. On the other hand, cut it just bit too far, and you end up with way too little dry flour. Rather than having well-structured flaky layers, you end up with a crust that crumbles into sandy pieces.

20110629-food-lab-pie-crust-14.jpg

Overly-incorporated flour leads to a crust that’s short and crumbly

This is the reason why you sometimes need to add a couple tablespoons of water and other times up to twice as much to get the dough to come together—it’s got nothing to do with the relative humidity of the air as many books will have you believe. Indeed, in the short time that it takes to make a pie crust, flour will absorb approximately 0.1 percent of its weight in water, even in the most humid of environments. That’s a small enough amount to effectively be zero.

So how does the simple action of cutting butter into flour result in layers and layers of flaky pastry? It’s all got to do with the balanced interaction of gluten and fat.

Old school pastry books will tell you that when you cut butter or some other solid fat (like shortening or lard) into flour, what’s happening is that you are encasing pockets of flour inside a shell of fat. Add water, and the flour is moistened, whereupon gluten—the network of proteins that lend structure to baked goods—is formed. When you subsequently roll this dough out, these pockets of fat stretch and stretch, eventually forming sheet of fat that separate sheets of gluten-enforced flour. Then, as the pastry bakes, the fatty layers melt, allowing the floury layers to separate from each other, solidify, and form the layers you see in a great pie crust.

20110629-food-lab-pie-crust-06.jpg

nice and flaky

 

It makes sense. Sort of. Unfortunately, it’s not a particularly accurate picture of what’s going on. For starters, how could the action of cutting a solid fat into a relatively fluid mass of flour possibly cause it to coat pockets of flour in distinct bubbles? And even more importantly, if the fat is really coating these pockets of dry flour, then how would they get moist when you add water to the mix? Wouldn’t the fat prevent any water from reaching the flour?

How Pie Crust Really Works

Let me digress for a moment. A few years ago, I developed a pie dough recipe while working at Cook’s Illustrated (you can find that recipe here). The one trick that got majorly hyped up about it was the inclusion of vodka in place of some of the water in the recipe. It was a pretty neat trick, if I do say so myself, and it solved one of the major problems people have with pie crust.*

* Unfortunately, due to some legally binding document I signed, ironically, as the creator of the recipe but not the owner, I am now the only person in the universe who is not allowed to write about it. Never mind that. You can read about the science of it over at The Kitchn. Gotta love lawyers.

But there’s a good chunk of that article that seemed to have gotten glossed over by pretty much everyone, and I believe that it’s a far cooler part than the headline-friendly vodka trick, and it has to do with the basic structure of dough.

You see, it turns out that when it comes to pie dough, our existing model has it wrong. In fact, it’s not the fat that’s coating pockets of dry flour. It’s the reverse. It’s the flour that’s coating pockets of pure fat. With this model, things make much more sense. You can easily and intuitively see how fat gets coated with flour (think about dropping a pat of butter into a pile of flour, but on a much smaller scale), and with this model, when you add water, you are indeed moistening dry flour so that it can form sheets of gluten.

But there’s a third element at play here that’s been ignored: the fat/flour paste that forms at the interface between the pure fat and the dry flour. With this paste, what you’re getting is essentially single particles of flour that are completely coated in fat. Since they can’t absorb any water, they end up behaving in much the same way as pure fat.

20110629-food-lab-pie-crust-09.jpg

This over-processed dough is mostly composed of a fat/flour paste. Even without adding water, it’ll come together into a ball, though when baked, it won’t form flaky layers. Or will it?

To summarize, here’s what we’ve got as we’re forming a pie dough: Dry flour, completely uncoated by fat, that absorbs water when you add it, forming gluten that then gets stretched out into wide layers. Pure pockets of fat that will flatten out into long, wide, thin sheets as you roll out your dough, separating the layers of gluten-enforced flour from each other so that rather than forming a solid, leathery mass, they separate and gently puff as they bake. A flour/fat paste that functions much in the same way as pure fat does. As it bakes, the fat melts and a tiny amount of individually separated flour bits will deposit themselves and become incorporated into the gluten-enforced layers.

And if this flour/fat paste functions similarly to pure fat, doesn’t that imply that we can completely replace the pure fat with this paste? Indeed, we can.

Don’t believe me? Take a look.

20110629-food-lab-pie-crust-15.jpg

This beautiful looking pie crust was made with the overprocessed dough you see in the image directly preceding this one. (You know, the one that is pretty much a solid paste of flour and butter?) But there’s got to be some trick going on. Simply bake that dough above, and you end up with a short, sandy, crumbly cookie-like crust. Not the beautiful flaky layers you see here.

In order to get this crust here, all I had to do was add some extra plain dry flour to the fat/flour paste I’d formed, pulse it a couple times in the food processor just to distribute it evenly, then proceed just like an normal pie crust: I added water, chilled it, rolled it, and baked it.

Any baker would have taken a look at the finished dough and declare it a failure without even bothering to bake it. After all, how could a crust come out flaky if there aren’t even visible bits of fat left in it? By classical pie crust definitions, it can’t. Yet we’ve just proven here that it can indeed, and when physical evidence indicates that an existing model is wrong, it’s time to modify that model.

Why Do I Care?

So it’s all very interesting, but the question here is, why should you care? How does this make forming pie crust any easier?

In two ways. First off, it completely removes the variability of a traditional pie crust recipe. By measuring out a given amount of flour and fat and combining them together until they form a near homogeneous paste and then adding the remaining dry flour to that paste, you are very strictly defining exactly how much flour is used for gluten formation and how much ends up coated with fat. No more trying to visually judge whether your fat is properly cut. No more adding ice water a drop at a time until a dough is formed. The dough comes out the same, every single time.

20110629-food-lab-pie-crust-slideshow-11.jpg

The other key advantage is that your dough becomes much more pliable. The fat/flour paste formed at the beginning is much softer and more malleable than pure butter is, which means that your final dough rolls out smoothly and easily with little to no risk of cracking like a traditional pie crust, even without the vodka.

How’s that for pie flinging?

On Butter, Shortening, and Lard

There’s still a number of questions that come up in regards to pie crust. Which fat makes the best crusts is prime stomping grounds for eternal debate between bakers, and it comes down to a battle between texture and flavor.

20110629-food-lab-pie-crust-16.jpg

Butter:

    • Pros: Excellent flavor, forms distinct, large flaky layers.

 

  • Cons: Difficult to work with. Butter melts at a relatively low temperature (below body temperature) and has a very narrow workable range. It’s also got a relatively high water content (about 15 to 17 percent), which can cause excess gluten to form and turn your crust leathery if you aren’t careful.

 

Shortening:

    • Pros: Very easy to work with, produces crusts that are extremely tender.

 

  • Cons: It has no flavor at all other than grease. It’s also soft over a wide range of temperatures, greatly increasing your chance of overworking your dough and turning it crumbly instead of flaky.

 

Lard:

    • Pros: The best for working with—it has a wide workable temperature range and is not nearly as soft as shortening within that range. Creates very tender, flaky crusts.

 

  • Cons: Unless you slaughter your own pigs and render your own leaf lard, it’s extremely hard to find good lard. The stuff sold in supermarkets has a very piggy aroma, which makes for very piggy-tasting crusts. Most of the time, that’s not good.

 

Because of these various characteristics, most recipes call for some combination of butter and shortening. Because shortening is so much softer than butter at room temperature, it’s much more likely to form the fat/flour paste while the butter remains in discrete chunks. But here’s the good news: with the method I’ve outlined above, you can cut the amount of shortening down to virtually nothing. Depending on how tender you want your crust to be, anywhere below a 4:1 ratio of butter to shortening will work. To be honest, most of the time I’ll make pure butter crusts, simply because shortening is just not something I keep lying around the house.

Tips To Perfect Pie Crust

Finally, let me offer you a few tips to make the most out of your crust, no matter what recipe you decide to use.

1. Weigh Your Flour

20110629-food-lab-pie-crust-01.jpg

Get yourself a scale, then do yourself a favor and throw out your dry measuring cups. Honestly. Do it. You will not regret it. Weighing dry ingredients by volume is simply not accurate. Depending on how tightly packed it is, the weight of a cup of all-purpose flour can vary by as much as 50 percent. 50 percent!!!. No such problems with a scale. Five ounces of flour (the equivalent of one cup) is five ounces of flour, no matter how tightly it’s packed.

2. Use a Food Processor

20110629-food-lab-pie-crust-02.jpg

If there’s one reason to own a food processor, it’s to make pie crust. Nothing is as efficient or as consistent at cutting fat into flour. A stand mixer will do the job reasonably well; a pastry cutter will, too, though it requires much more work. You can even get a decent crust using just your fingers. But if you’ve got the processor, use it.

3. Keep Everything Cold

20110629-food-lab-pie-crust-04.jpg

Just like with grinding meat, the key to great pie crust is to make sure that your fat doesn’t melt too much. If your home is too hot, make sure that you re-chill your dough as you work with it. In the summer with my oven on, the apartment pushes 80°F. Under these conditions, I’ll put my dough back in the fridge for ten minutes immediately after incorporating the fat, for at least 2 hours after forming the dough into a disk and wrapping it, and for another 10 minutes after draping it in the pie plate before trimming and fluting the edges.

The temperature of your water has less of an effect than people lead you to believe. A couple tablespoons of warm water won’t significantly chill a pound or two of butter and flour. Still, it doesn’t hurt to use cold water or even ice water.

4. Use a Spatula to Incorporate Water

20110629-food-lab-pie-crust-05.jpg

Your processed flour and butter are sitting there in the bowl of your food processor and you’re tempted to save yourself a bit of cleanup by just adding the water directly in there, right? Don’t do it! Sure, it’ll work out ok, but you won’t form nearly the same level of flakiness as you do if you incorporate with a spatula. Here’s what a crust made 100 percent in the food processor looks like:

20110629-food-lab-pie-crust-13.jpg

Compare that to the crust I made above with the spatula:

20110629-food-lab-pie-crust-15.jpg

See the difference? By using the spatula to fold the water into the crust, you give flaky layer formation a head-start even before you pull out the rolling pin.

5. Use a Tapered Rolling Pin

While the ball-bearing-based heavy-duty cylindrical rolling pin might be better for whacking husbands over the head in cartoons or fitting into Norman Rockwell paintings, the slender, slightly tapered French-style rolling pin offers far more control, is easier to clean and store, and is cheaper to boot.


The Best Apples for Apple Pie and to How to Keep them From Getting Soggy

The best apples for apple pie are either Golden Delicious or Braeburns, displaying the best single-apple flavor balance of all the varieties tested. The only problem is that their texture is not perfect. This article addresses this problem.

20111002-apple-pie-food-lab-composite-6.jpg

See how they get just a bit too soft in the pie? I want apple slices that retain their structure as they bake, fully softening so that there is no crispness remaining, but still remaining firm enough that an individual slice retains most of its initial shape. That’s exactly what we’re going to address this week.

Apple Anatomy, 101

The basic structure of an apple is simple. Like all plants and animals, it consists of teeny tiny cells—imagine them as tiny water balloons all bundled up really close to each other. Inside these water balloons is a number of things. The cytoplasm makes up the majority of their filling and is mostly comprised of water. This is the part that houses all of the cell’s active mechanical parts, as well as all of the apple’s flavorful compounds. In addition to the cytoplasm, there’s a small air bubble called the vacuole.

Destroy either one of them and the apple collapses

The exterior of these water balloons—the rubber part, if you will—is called the cell wall, and it’s mostly comprised of cellulose and pectin. These two compounds behave differently from each other, and the simplest way to think of them is to imagine cellulose as the bricks and pectin as the mortar that’s holding them together. Destroy either one of them and the apple collapses, rapidly losing volume, and releasing its liquid in a torrent of juice that saturates the bottom crust.

You end up with a pie with a huge space between the upper crust and the apples, the bottom crust swimming in soupy apply liquid, the slices reduced to mush. This is not my idea of fun, and I seriously hope that it’s not yours either.

So the question is, why does this happen?

Pie Times

Let’s consider the case of an apple pie made by placing raw apple slices tossed with sugar, a bit of cornstarch, and a touch of cinnamon directly into the empty pie crust. Before the pie even hits the oven, the sugar will begin to draw out some of the moisture from the apples via the process of osmosis—that’s the tendency of a liquid to travel across a permeable membrane (in this case the cell wall) from an area of low solute level (the interior of the cells) to an area of high solute level (the exterior of the apple slices—sugar being the solute).

This process is mainly a surface treatment. The exterior of the apple slices may soften ever so slightly as the balloon-like cells partially collapse when they’re robbed of liquid, but the cells on the interior are still totally intact. So the apple slices will remain firm and crunchy.

As the pie starts to bake, the first thing to happen to the cells is that the air inside them (the vacuole) will begin to expand as it heats up (a given volume of air will expand greatly when heated, while a volume of water will stay the same size). This expansion puts a lot of pressure on the cell walls. The balloons are literally ready to burst, and indeed some of them do. The apples soften a bit and turn from opaque and crisp to slightly translucent and softer. The only thing holding them together at all is their pectin and collagen-based walls.

Now, it’d be great is we could keep our apples in this exact state—they’re soft, but they still have some structure. Unfortunately, at this stage, your pie crust will still be completely pale. You have no choice but to continue baking.

As the filling reaches 183°F, we reach a critical point. This is the temperature at which pectin begins to break down. When the mortar in a brick building beings softening, there’s suddenly nothing holding the bricks together. Cells collapse, liquid gushes out, and you’ve got apple sauce on your hands.

How do you prevent this from happening?

Well, we’ve already learned that lowering the pH of an apple pie filling (that is, making it more acidic) can help matters a bit. Pectin is stronger in more acidic environments, which is why tart apples like Granny Smith tend to hold their shape better than purely sweet apples like Red Delicious. Many recipes call for adding lemon juice to pie filling for this very reason.

Problem is, I’m 100% happy with the flavor of my pie filling as-is. It’s intensely apple-y, and already has a good balance of sweetness and tartness. Adding lemon juice or another acid would throw this balance off. There must be a different way.

Half Baked

20111012-food-lab-apple-pie-2.jpg

Par-cooked apple slices

Pop quiz: you start with two identical batches of apples. One of them you slice, season, and throw raw into a pie shell and bake. The other you slice, season, par-cook in a skillet for a bit, then throw into a pie shell and bake. Which comes out softer?

Obviously the one that was cooked more should come out softer, right? Wrong!

Well, really, it depends. Cook a pot of apples on the stove too hot and indeed, they’ll eventually break down into apple sauce. But cook them more carefully, and a pretty awesome thing happens: an enzyme naturally present in the apples will convert the pectin in the cell walls into a heat-stable form, very much like curing the cement mortar in between the bricks and allowing them to fully harden.

This process takes both careful temperature control and time. Ideally, you want to hold your apples in the 140° to 160°F temperature range for around 10 minutes before allowing them to cool. There are a few ways to accomplish this.

  • On the stovetop is very difficult. Your heat source is unidirectional, meaning that it comes only from the bottom. You have to stir pretty much constantly in order to prevent the bottom of the pan from getting above 160° before the apples on the top have been heated through. Once you get to the requisite temperature, you need to perform some pretty tricky acrobatics with the burner and the pan to keep it there for 10 minutes. Not ideal.
  • In the microwave things are much easier. Microwaves heat much more evenly than burners do. You can throw a bowl of apples in there and microwave it at three-minute intervals, stirring in between sessions until it gets up to the right temperature. After that, just let it rest, giving it the occasional zap at 3 to 4 minute intervals to keep the temperature in the right range. Better, but it still requires a bit of vigilance.
  • In a sous-vide set-up is by far the most reliable and easiest way, and if you’ve got one, use it! Just seal your apples with their sugar, cinnamon, and cornstarch, bag ‘em up, and cook ‘em at around 155° for an hour or so before baking them as usual. You can, of course, do this in a beer cooler as well. But if you want the absolute easiest method, go for the…
  • Hot water pour-over method. This is by far the simplest. All you’ve got to do is heat up a pre-determined amount of water on the stovetop to a boil and pour it directly over your room temperature apples in a bowl. If everything is measured right, you end up with apples sitting right at around 160°F. Cover the bowl, let it rest 10 minutes, drain the apple slices, and you’re good to go.

20111014-food-lab-apple-pie-crumble-1.jpg

You can see air coming out of the apples as the vacuoles expand and expel some of their air.

The beauty of this method is that by using a pre-determined amount of hot water for a certain amount of apples, you don’t even need to use a thermometer to check on their temperature (of course, I do anyway). Just pour, wait, and proceed.

20111014-food-lab-apple-pie-crumble-2.jpg

After ten minutes in the bowl, your slices will have softened ever so slightly, but still retain most of their form. After this point, even if you bake them into a pie, they still pretty much retain their basic shape and a bit of pleasant al dente firmness.

Check out this side-by-side of apples treated with hot water vs. those put into the oven raw.

20111002-apple-pie-food-lab-cooked-compare-1.jpg

This article is from The Food Lab’s Blog



Old-Fashioned Chicken and Dumplings

This was a great recipe for chicken and dumplings, My granddaughter was listening to the song “She’ll be coming around the mountain” and in the song the say “We’ll have chicken and dumplings when she comes” She asked to have some.I used half stock and half chicken broth, instead of just broth and the chicken flavor was intensified. I would definitely make this again. It is my new “go-to” recipe for chicken and dumplings.

http://www.networkoffood.com/poultry/old-fashioned-chicken-and-dumplings/

Recipe for Old-Fashioned Chicken and Dumplings