Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Is it too hot to cook?..... You're still hungry, right?.....

Yes, it is really hot. Supposed to be 104F today with an expected high tomorrow of 109F (yes, crazy... I know), and you can't just hole up at home, become "mole people", crank up the AC and wait it for to pass.... no matter how much you want this to be.... Just think of others that are under hotter conditions than you, like my friends in Merida, Yucatan where their summer is hot and humid, Yikes!!!! Gets so hot and feels much hotter than here, although I miss them all the time, the weather is worth it just to be there, really.....

Anyhoo, let's get back to living in Hades.... the weather does not keep up from eating, it should and we should just stop eating, I know, but we don't and have no plans to either, so we scurry out past sunset, quickly grill and run back. Luckily we like our meat rare so it doesn't take too long either, but even if you don't cook outside, meals are still de rigeur (required) so whatever, we're cooking but maybe we can make cooler foods that will allow us to eat yummy foods while trying to keep the house cool (have to conserve energy, AC is expensive after all... and so nice), so I've got some great options for you..... And no, we won't be eating just salads and ice cream either, we want real food after all.....

This traditional dish is supposed to cook in a Dutch Oven, first searing the meat stove top and then finishing it up in the oven for h o u r s, but here is where having a bomb at home is worth its weight in gold. Instead of heating up the house and the oven for hours, you can use the good 'ol Pressure Cooker (no heat felt) and cook for about 30-40 min max.... pretty nifty I say.

Traditional Italian Pot Roast.- Wonderful flavor, hearty meal and sure to become a favorite.

1 boneless beef chuck-eye roast (3-4 lbs), tied
2 tbls vegetable oil
1 med onion, rough chop
2-3 carrots, rough chop
2-3 turnips, rough chop
1 rib of celery, chopped
1 pound cremini or white mushrooms, in large pieces
2 tbls tomato paste
2 cups tomatoes, medium dice or 1 (14 1/2 oz) can diced tomatoes
1/2 fresh tomato sauce or 1/2 cup canned tomato sauce
2 tsp sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup red wine, Merlot or Beaujolais preferably
1 large head of garlic, remove the outer paper skin, then cut in half
1 sprig thyme, fresh
1 sprig rosemary, fresh
salt & pepper to taste

If using regular method, but you will begin the same for both techniques:
Put your oven rack in the middle position and heat the oven to 300F. (If using bomb, don't turn on the oven and you will sear the roast in the pressure cooker pot). Pat fry the roast with paper towels and salt and pepper liberally. Heat some oil in the Dutch oven (or pressure cooker) over med-high heat until just smoking and brown the roast on all sides, about 10 min. Transfer roast to large plate until you're ready to put it back in the pot.

Reduce heat to medium and cook the onion, celery, mushrooms, and tomato paste until the vegetables begin to soften, about 6 min. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, sugar, water, 1/2 cup of the wine (reserve the rest), garlic, and thyme. Return roast and the juices in the plate to pot and bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Place piece of foil over pot, cover with lid, and transfer pot to oven. (If using the pressure cooker, turn the heat to high and cover. Wait for the pot to come up to temperature and once the cooker begins to hiss, lower the heat to low and set the timer to 30 min.)

If using the oven: Cook until roast is just fork-tender, 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours, turning the roast after 1 hour. Uncover pot and let the roast rest in its juices for 30 min, skimming any surface fat after 20 min. Transfer the roast to a carving board and cover with foil. Remove and reserve the garlic head and skim any remaining fat from the pot (once you open the cooker you can skim off fat too). Add remaining 1/2 cup wine to pot, bring to boil over medium-high heat, and cook until sauce begins to thicken, about 12 min. Meanwhile, carefully squeeze garlic from the halves and mash it into paste, it should be very soft. Add the rosemary to the pot and simmer about 2-3 min. Remove and discard the rosemary and thyme sprigs, stir in the garlic mash and season with salt and pepper.

Remove the twine from the roast and cut the meat against the grain into 1/2" thick slices, or you can pull it apart into large rustic pieces. Transfer the meat to a serving platter and pour some of the sauce over the meat. Serve the rest of the sauce at the table.

Or maybe you just want to grill or pan fry a steak (chicken or pork even) and just get it over with yet it still has to taste great.... How about a great "Chimichurri Sauce":

Chimichurri Sauce.- We all know Argentina is known for its beef (amazing!!!), here's their traditional accompaniment to beef, which I use on almost everything:

1/4 cup hot water
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/3 cups loosely packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
2/3 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine hot water, oregano and salt in small bowl; let stand 5 minutes to soften oregano. Pulse parsley, cilantro, garlic, and red pepper flakes in food processor until coarsely chopped, about ten 1-second pulses. Add water mixture and vinegar and pulse briefly to combine. Transfer mixture to medium bowl and slowly whisk in oil until incorporated and mixture is emulsified. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature at least 1 hour (if preparing sauce in advance, refrigerate and bring to room temperature before using).

Zucchini and Leeks en Papillote.- A traditional French technique that can be applied to many different dishes, is very healthy and locks in flavors and prevents food from drying out:

2 zucchini, cut in long, thin strips
1 leek, cut off the tough tops and slice the white in fine juliennes
1/2 lb asparagus, trimmed into 2 parts
4 sprigs tarragon, fresh
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
salt & pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten optional
water (optional)
cornstarch (make paste optional)

Preheat the oven to 400F. You can use a potato peeler to slice the zucchini lengthwise into thin strips.

Cut 4 sheets of parchment paper, 12 x 15 inches in size. Fold it in half. Draw half a heart shape when folded so it will be a whole heart unfolded. Cut along the inside of the line and open out.
Divide the vegetables between each heart. Position the filling on the right side of the fold line and top with tarragon and the unpeeled garlic clove. Season to taste.

Brush the edges of the paper with the beaten egg and fold over. You don't have to use the egg and can fold it without using the egg. I found this site on the web which I thought was a really good explanations of how to accomplish this technique. Cut and paste onto your browser http://www.sundaysupper.com/parch.htm gives directions and shows photos of the no egg technique, it will make you an expert at "Papillote".

Pleat the edges so it is sealed. Put it on a cookie sheet and bake for 10 min. It will puff up so make sure to move the oven racks and leave room. Serve immediately. You can let each person open their own packet on their own with scissors, but be sure and tell them that heat will escape and could burn, so open with care and enjoy the lovely aromas this technique gives.
NOTE: Once you've mastered the making of the packets this way, you can use it for fish and vegetables giving you a clean and very healthy alternative to cook.

In keeping with "cool" foods, here are two desserts which can be made ahead and will deliver flavor and comfort in a refreshing dish. First of all I want to give you a "foolproof" pastry crust you can use for all types of pies, you'll love it:

Foolproof Pie Crust.-This pie crust can be pressed into the pie plate and refrigerated for up to 2 days or double wrap in plastic and freeze for 1 month. Once baked, cool, the shell can be wrapped tightly in plastic and stored at room temperature for up to 1 day.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp table salt
8 tblsp butter (1 stick), softened but still cool (I've used shortening too)
2 oz cream cheese, softened but still cool

Lightly spray 9" glass pie plate with cooking spray. Whisk flour, sugar, and salt together in a bowl. With an electric mixer at med high speed, beat the butter and cream cheese, scrape down the beaters and sides of bowl, and beat until completely mixed, about 2 min. Add the flour mixture and combine on medlow until it looks like coarse cornmeal, about 20 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl. The mixer speed now to med high and beat it until dough begins to forms large clumps, about 30 seconds. Set aside 3 tblsp of the dough.

Turn the remaining dough onto a lightly floured surface, gather it into a ball and flatten into a 6" disk. Transfer this disk to greased pie plate.

Press the dough evenly over bottom of pie plate toward sides, using heel of your hand or the bottom of a smooth cup (you can also roll out the pastry with a rolling pin as usual and then place it on the pie plate). Make sure that the dough is evenly distributed yet should be thin. Continue to work the dough over the bottom of the pie plate and up the sides until even. On floured surface, roll the reserved dough into a 12" rope. Cut into three pieces, then roll each piece into a 8" rope to form a fluted edge. Wrap it in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

With the oven rack in the middle of the oven turn oven to 325 F. Lightly prick the bottom of the crust with a fork. Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 min. Cool on wire rack. (If large bubbles form, wait until the crust is fully baked, then gently press on bubbles with a kitchen towel or back of spoon. The bubbles will settle as crust cools.)

Amazing Lemon Pie.-This simple recipe forms a custard type filling. You need 6 tablespoons of lemon juice for this recipe so have an extra lemons on hand in case the 3 sliced lemons do not yield enough juice.

1 double-crust pie dough (see above and make 2 batches)
3 large lemons, sliced thin and seeded (I use Persian Lemons)
1 cups sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 tbls cornstarch
4 large eggs
1 tbls heavy cream

Adjust your oven rack to lowest position and heat the oven to 425 F. Line a 9" pie plate with 1 dough round and refrigerate for 30 min.

Squeeze the lemon slices into fine strainer set over a bowl; reserve the juice (you should have 6 tablespoons). Put the drained slices and 2 cups water to boil in a saucepan, then reduce the heat to med low and simmer until slices are soft, about 5 min. Drain the slices well and discard the liquid. Combine the softened lemon slices, sugar, salt, and 1/4 cup reserved lemon juice in a bowl; stir until the sugar dissolves.

Whisk the cornstarch and remaining lemon juice in a large bowl. Whisk the eggs into the cornstarch mixture, slowly stir in the lemon slice mixture until well combined. Pour into the chilled pie shell. Brush the edges of the dough with 1 tsp cream and top with the remaining dough round. Seal, crimp edges, and brush the top of dough with remaining cream. Using a paring knife, cut 4 vents in the top of the dough.

Bake until light golden, about 20 min, then lower the oven temperature to 375 F and continue to bake until golden brown, 20 to 25 min. Cool on wire rack for at least 1 hour. Serve. Pie can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for 2 days after baking.

NOTE: Found some tips on pies and it said that using a knife to evenly cut the lemons into paper-thin slices was a difficult and time-consuming task. You get better results with a mandoline (or V-slicer), which produced perfectly thin. But, if you didn't have a mandoline, putting the lemons into the freezer for about 30 minutes firms them up for better hand-slicing, which is best accomplished with a serrated knife. But same goes when you want to thin slice other things too, like fish or meat.....
Perfect Strawberry Pie.-Here is a strawberry pie that truly delivers, but you have to make sure you have 2 cups of the berry mixture and you need to measure! The frozen fruit helps develop flavor and texture.

2 lbs frozen strawberries
2 tbls lemon juice
2 tbls water
1 tbls unflavored gelatin
1 pinch salt

1 lb fresh strawberries, cleaned and sliced thin
1 9" pie shell, baked and cooled

4 oz cream cheese, softened
3 tbls sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup heavy cream

Cook the frozen strawberries in a large saucepan over med low heat until berries begin to release juice, about 3 min. Increase the heat to med high and cook, stirring, until thick and jam like, about 25 min (should be 2 cups).

Put lemon juice, water, and gelatin in small bowl. Let stand until gelatin is softened and mixture has thickened, about 5 min. Stir gelatin mixture, sugar, and salt into cooked fruit mixture and return to simmer, about 2 min. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature, about 30 min.

Fold the fresh berries into the filling. Spread evenly in the pie shell and refrigerate until set, about 4 hours or even overnight.

With an electric mixer on med speed, beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until smooth, about 30 seconds. With mixer running, add cream and whip until stiff peaks form, about 2 min. Serve pie with whipped cream topping.

NOTE: Be sure to m
easure the reduced strawberry mixture: You need exactly 2 cups. Put the strawberry mixture into a measuring cup. If its more than 2 cups, return it to the pan and cook it down. It may seem OCD to to measure, but the pie won't set or slice properly if you have more than 2 cups of the strawberry mixture, so take the extra couple of minutes to insure a perfect pie.

So far this is as far as I got this time, took too long and put other things on hold so now's the time to get going on the rest. The house is very smoky with the aroma of roasting Poblano's and the heat isn't letting me open windows for now so whatever.... at least I like the smell, right? But I've been whipping up some batches of some "fun food" from way back: jello & pudding shots in some creative flavors since these popular "kid friendly" foods grew up.... you'll see, I'll send you some ideas as soon as I finish this up later. Until then, relax and enjoy!......

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