Saturday, March 29, 2014

7-Up Biscuits ~ Easy, Light, Tasty

These are wonderful as dinner rolls, used as a base for creamed chicken or beef, or served with jam for breakfast. You can make a sweet version for berry shortcake by adding sugar. You may remember them from years ago when they were commonly found at school and church gatherings. They really are delicious and simple, taking only four ingredients! Bisquick, 7-Up, Sour Cream and Butter.

Julian's Large 7-Up Biscuits
The sour cream keeps them soft and the 7-Up (lemon lime soda) keeps them light and helps them brown. You really couldn't ask for an easier recipe that is perfect every time. The only thing you really have to decide is how large you want them to be. I made big ones (above) to serve with creamed chicken, each split in half and topped with chicken. The recipe made 8 large rounds. One serving per adult was plenty.

When I serve them as dinner rolls I use the same recipe and make 18 squares in a 10" x 15" pan. (See image below.) This is also a good size for serving whole biscuits with berries on top. These biscuits are rich and flavorful and if you serve as dinner rolls you won't need to put butter on them. They are delicious just as they are. If you want a taller/thicker biscuit because you prefer to split them in half for butter or jam, use a 9" x 12" cake pan, cut them into squares that fit the pan, three across.

18 Dinner Roll Size in a 10" x 15" Pan
Shown here ready for baking.
You can cut them out with a round cutter or glass, or you can just cut them into squares. The key really is making sure they fill your baking pan almost completely. In other words having the biscuits touch one another just a bit as they expand during baking is important to maintaining their shape and not spreading. It is for this reason you often see them cut into squares instead of rounds.

Ignore Rolling Pin, Prop Only

4 cups Bisquick brand baking mix
1 cup sour cream (8 ounces)
1 cup (8 ounces) 7-Up
1/2 cup (1 stick) melted butter
1/3 cup sugar if using them for shortcake

Preheat the oven to 425F degrees. Place the Bisquick in a large mixing bowl. Add the sour cream and 7-Up. Stir to combine. Dump the dough onto a work surface coated with Bisquick or flour. Kneed the dough a couple times and with your hands, form into a 1 to 2 inch thick piece. I prefer to make them square and, using my baking pan as a guide, make the dough just a bit smaller than my pan. Pat with extra Bisquick or flour to reduce stickiness. Use a knife or pizza cutter dipped in flour/Bisquick to make them square. Or use a round cutter or glass, to make the round version. If you do this, use any last pieces of dough to form the final round biscuit. Do all of the cutting before placing any in the baking pan to ensure proper organization and pan size.

Shape the Dough to Fit Your Pan
for Square Biscuits (preferred)
Place the melted butter into a 9" x 12" or 10" x 15" ceramic or metal baking dish/pan. Place the biscuits one by one, evenly spaced within the pan, so they are not quite touching but still close together, so they can expand a little during baking. Do not spread them out into a larger pan or they will spread as they bake and become wider/thinner.

Place in the preheated oven for 12-15 minutes or until brown. They bake more quickly in a metal pan than ceramic. Remove and let cool in pan. Remove and serve warm or at room temperature. Store any extra in an air tight bag or container.

Julian's dinner roll (small) size 7-Up Biscuits. 10"x15" pan.
They remove easily from the baking dish.
For use as a Dessert
If you are using them in a dessert, perhaps in place of a traditional shortcake which I often do, follow the above recipe and simply add 1/3 cup of granulated white sugar to the mixture. Sprinkle sugar on top before baking. Let sit at room temperature uncovered for 8-12 hours before serving if you prefer a more dry short-cake texture. I usually make them in the morning for use as short-cake after dinner.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Best Meatloaf ~ A Classic American Dinner

Over the years I've modified my meatloaf recipe in an attempt to make it more moist and tender. Most meatloaf is dense, dry and tough, especially when re-heated. This recipe, which takes into account the techniques of America's Test Kitchen, Martha Stewart and Julia Child, makes a delicious dinner for which you can be proud and that your family will love and request time and again.

Julian's "Best Meatlof" with mashed potatoes and green beans.
A classic American dinner.
So what keeps it moist and tender? The sauteed vegetable mixture. Do use the mushrooms, as no one will realize they are there as they do their part to keep the texture correct but are not so many as to impart a mushroom flavor. I always use them unless someone has an allergy to them. You'll note the mixture is very soft when you form it into the classic loaf. It is for this reason I cover the rack with foil, which provides for structural support and keeps it up out of any pan drippings.

One word of caution. People are quite particular about the meatloaf topping. Some prefer none at all, others the classic red ketchup. Here I prepared a barbecue topping. Delicious! Most however, prefer what their mother used to make. Give them what they expect and they will be happy. Below I give you my favorite version of the ketchup topping, which seems most common and is better than just spreading plain ketchup over the top.

Ingredients (8 Servings)

1/2 cup colby, jack or cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 celery rib, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
4-6 large white mushrooms, finely chopped
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 cup chicken broth
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 tablespoon A1 or soy sauce
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons dried parsley
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 1/2 pounds lean ground pork
26 saltine crackers, crushed

Classic Glaze
1/2 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
1/4 cup cider vinegar
3 tablespoons light brown sugar, packed

Julian's Moist Tender Meatloaf
Preheat oven to 375F degrees and place oven rack in center of oven.

Prepare your cooking pan by placing a cooling or roasting rack over a baking pan with sides, then cover with aluminum foil; poke small holes for drainage and spray with cooking spray. Chop all your vegetables, ideally to a fine dice using a food processor for speed and consistency. Set aside.

Any size/shape rack will work, big enough for your meatloaf.
Place the grated cheese on a plate and place in the freezer until ready to use. Heat a skillet over medium high heat, add butter and olive oil. Heat until foam forms and add finely chopped onions and celery. Cook, stirring regularly, until they begin to caramelize slightly, about 6-8 minutes.

Add in chopped mushrooms, garlic, thyme, basil, oregano and paprika. Stir in and cook 5 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir in tomato paste. Cook 2-3 minutes and transfer to a small bowl and let cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and broth; sprinkle with the gelatin and let sit 5 minutes. Do not stir. Then stir in A1 or soy sauce, mustard, saltines, parsley, salt, pepper, and the onion/mushroom mixture. Sprinkle in the frozen cheese, breaking up any larger chunks that may have formed during freezing. Add ground beef/pork and mix with hands until well combined.

Transfer meat mixture to prepared foil lined pan and form into a loaf about 2-3 inches high. See photo.  While the meatloaf bakes, combine glaze ingredients in a small saucepan, bring to a simmer. Stir until syrupy, about 5 minutes. Bake meatloaf to an internal temperature of 140-150F degrees, about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Remove meatloaf from oven and set oven to broil.

Spread half the glaze over the meatloaf and broil until bubbly and beginning to brown at the edges; repeat with remaining glaze.  Let sit 20 minutes before slicing.

Baked and ready for glazing.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sauces, Gravy and Separating the Fat

Making gravy and other thickened sauces is not difficult but a surprising number of cooks fear this activity. I suppose we've all had lumpy gravy and wondered what went wrong, or the sauce that seemed properly thickened only to turn back to a loose liquid minutes later. So today I wanted to share with you my thoughts on this important subject, and perhaps the most important tip of all in making gravy, how to separate the flavorful sauce from all that fat.

Thickening Techniques
Today's post is not just for gravy, because you may also need to thicken a soup, a stew, sauce or even a pie filling. To thicken these, I use one of three basic techniques. The roux, the beurre manié, and the slurry. Don't let the names scare you.

Roux:  A roux is simply equal parts of flour and butter that are cooked in a pan until they are completely combined, thick and smooth.  The mixture is then cooked briefly, just long enough to remove any raw flour taste. The word "roux" is French for "reddish-brown", and the longer you cook the mixture, the darker the color and the nuttier and more complex the flavor. Most of us simply cook it quickly until it is light tan, and then the hot liquid is whisked into it, in batches, returning it to a simmer prior to each addition, until the desired consistency is reached.  It is done in batches and returned to a simmer each time because a roux's full thickening power is not realized until the liquid is brought back to a simmer. But of course, this only works if you know you need more thickening up front when you first prepare the dish. But what if you decide at the end of the dish, it isn't thick enough. Then it's on to the below two options.

Beurre Manié: This is a mixture of equal parts flour and softened butter, which, when whisked into hot sauces, acts as a thickener. This is also easy to prepare and again I don't measure. Just aim for equal amounts of butter and flour by weight, and using a fork work the flour into the butter until you have a pasty dough. The beurre manié is traditionally dropped into the hot (but not boiling) liquid a piece at a time and whisked in for a minute or so to see if the sauce is thick enough. If not, more can be added. Continue cooking the sauce for another 10-15 minutes over low heat to ensure the flour leaves no taste in your sauce.

Slurry or Whitewash:  This is the home cooks 'go to' method for making gravy and thickening sauces when they are nearly completed. A slurry is simply a 1:4 ratio of starch and COLD water, broth or juice that is mixed together in a small bowl or lidded glass until they are combined. The ratio is forgiving and I never measure it. If you add the starch directly to the hot liquid it clumps. But it does not do so when first mixed with a cold liquid. Once you combine the slurry, slowly pour it into the simmering hot liquid a bit at a time while whisking until you reach the desired thickness. (Note, do not pour it into a rolling boil, just heat until simmering and near but just under the boiling point for best results.)

Flour is the most common starch used in American slurries, although corn starch, potato starch, arrow root or tapioca can also be used for thickening. Use my table below to determine your preferred thickening agent for the slurry. I keep all of them on hand. Also note, you cannot thicken a sauce twice with the same thickener. For example if you made a roux with flour to begin your dish and toward serving time feel it needs to be thicker, use corn/potato starch as it will not thicken again with flour.

Know Your Thickeners 
Understanding the different thickening agents is not only important for sauces and gravies but also for thickening pies, custards and other dishes. Each have their own benefits and drawbacks and understanding them will help you to determine which container to pull off the shelf when you have the need for thickening.

Flour: Opaque mat finish. Tolerates prolonged cooking. Favorite use: meat gravy.

Corn Starch: Clearer and more efficient than flour with a glossy finish. Don't use in acid dishes or sauces you intend to freeze. Does not tolerate prolonged cooking. Favorite use: Asian sauces. 

Potato Starch: Translucent glossy sauce. Gluten-free starch, permitted ingredient for Passover. Do not boil. Thickens at lower temperatures. Silky mouth feel. Favorite use: soups, gravy, pies.

Arrowroot: Tasteless and translucent. Shiny sauce. Freezes well. Do not use in dishes with cream. Thickens at a lower temperature. Tolerates prolonged cooking. Silky mouth feel. More expensive. Favorite uses: Fruit pie fillings.

Tapioca Starch: Don't by the little balls. This is a powder. Makes a clear, shiny sauce. Freezes well. Tolerates prolonged cooking. Glossy sheen with silky mouth feel. Favorite uses: pies and fruit sauces.

Food Grade Gums:  You might wonder why restaurant and pre-made foods have no trouble holding their thickening. That's because they use commercial grade products like gums.  Food grade gums are are the thickening agent of choice in commercial food preparation. They’re gaining popularity in the home kitchen because they are extremely neutral in flavor and are added in such low concentrations they have no effect on color or flavor. Xanthan gum, which can be found in health foods stores because it is gluten free, is even sold on Amazon.

Separating Fat from Flavor
Liquid fat must be separated from the drippings of a roast before making gravy or from a pot stock before turning it into soup. In looking back at my prior posting on making Stock, Broth and Soup I told you to remove the fat from the broth, but I didn't explain how. So today I will correct that and give you my two favorite methods; the specially designed fat separator (or gravy strainer) and the fat mop. Both work well.

Oxo Good Grips Separator
As you probably know fat separators work because 1) fat and water do not mix and 2) because fat rises above the liquid. As such both of my tools remove the fat from the flavorful broth. You may wonder why you would want to do this if you are not worried about your health, as fat transmits flavor in your mouth. Unfortunately it also makes the mouth and tongue feel greasy, which is not what you want in your soup, stew or sauce.

The classic 'gravy strainer' (shown right) works well but only if you select the correct model. I strongly prefer the large, 4-cup model with a strainer on the top, like the Oxo Good Grips Fat Separator.  The large opening is easier to fill and the plastic cup less likely to break as they can become slippery, and solids are more easily trapped.

The Fat Mop, which has a mop head made of plastic fibers that attract fat, is great for removing fats from soups, stews and gravies when it is not possible to use the traditional fat separator. You simply run it across the surface and it collects the fat. Use it any time you have a sauce or other dish that is already prepared and needs the fat removed from the top, but not for a large quantity of liquid for which the traditional separator works best.

Fat Mop

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Noodles with Bacon and Cabbage

Bacon lovers rejoice! Your favorite food is now on the dinner menu. I was skeptical when I first heard of this dish, but it actually is quite tasty. It's also quick and easy to prepare. Once you've made it the first time you won't even need the recipe going forward. So if you have a bacon lover in your house (and who doesn't) make his dream come true. Fill the house with smells of bacon at dinner time and give him this special treat.

I label it as a casserole, but it really is prepared entirely on the stove top not in the oven. But if 'feels' like casserole when you are eating it. Friends told me about it originally and said it was eastern European. Another friend insisted it was Irish. When I researched it I did find individuals that said their grandmothers from that region did make similar dishes, but that it has changed over time. I tested with and without the optional Asian ingredients below, and found it much more flavorful with them. I  recommend you use them. The dish won't taste particularly Asian, but they will add enough flavor and color to make the dish more appealing to your eyes and palate.

If you have the 'cabbage hater' in your family (and again who doesn't) you need not fear. In fact if you don't mention it they won't realize it's a key ingredient. It doesn't add a strong cabbage flavor or smell and goes wonderfully well in the dish. Do include it because without it I fear the dish would be too rich to consume.

1 head of cabbage
1 pound of bacon
1 large onion, chopped
12 ounces wide, curly egg noodles
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pinch of salt
4 tablespoons soy sauce (optional)
2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce (optional)
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
Black pepper

Cut the cabbage in half and remove the core. Cut each half in half again. You now gave four quarters. Cut each piece into strips about one inch wide, or about the size of your cooked egg noodles.

In a large deep skillet over medium-high heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Pour the bacon dripping into a Pyrex (heat proof) measuring cup. Using a slotted spoon remove any large burned pieces. Rinse or wipe the skillet to remove any burned surfaces.  Return about four tablespoons of the bacon grease to the skillet and heat for 2-3 minutes. Roughly chop the onion and add to the skillet and cook while stirring occasionally, 3-4 minutes until the onions are tender.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water with one tablespoon of olive oil to boil for the egg noodles. Add the noodles and cook until done. Drain the noodles reserving one cup of the starch water and set aside. Stir periodically to prevent sticking.

Add the cut cabbage to the skillet and cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 7-10 minutes, until tender but not mushy.  Stir in the optional soy, Hoisin and red pepper.  Add the egg noodles and bacon, and combine. Stir in the starch water, more or less as needed for a moist but not soupy finished dish. Season with ground black pepper and serve.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Quick and Easy Lasagna ~ Oven Ready Noodles

I was amazed at just how quick and easy this recipe is to prepare. My classic recipe takes several hours of work so I rarely make lasagna. But this recipe that uses the "oven ready" lasagna noodles came out very well and took me only 45 minutes to prepare prior to baking.

Julian s' Lasagna made with "Oven Ready" noodles
I was always suspicious of these noodles, which require no pre-boiling. But when my niece made lasagna which was ever-so-good, she told me that she had used this relatively new product. I had heard people talk of crunchy lasagna made with these, and all types of special methods that had been employed to make them soft, none of which sounded appealing. But Julie's lasagna was quite delicious so I asked her for a copy.  Before I could try it, my friend Judy asked for the recipe and reported good results as well.

Now I've made it several times and my slightly modified recipe is below. I used Creamette brand "OVEN READY" lasagna noodles, and have not tested any other brand. I'm sure you will have great results as well and won't spend half of your day in the kitchen getting it ready to bake.

Ingredients (8 servings)

1 8-ounce box uncooked "oven-ready" lasagna noodles
1 to 1 1/2 pounds ground meat (see below*)
1 large onion, chopped

1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 can (12) tomato paste
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
15 oz reduced-fat ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon dried (or fresh) minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3-4 cups, prepared Italian pasta sauce

*Any combination of ground beef, Italian sausage or pork may be used. I try to use half and half if possible. Purchase lean ground beef if available.

In a large deep skillet or dutch oven, brown the meat over medium-high heat. Drain excess fat leaving 1-2 tablespoons in the meat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for about 3-4 minutes, stirring regularly. Stir in tomatoes, tomato paste, water sugar, basil, oregano and pepper. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 15-20 minutes.

In small bowl, combine the egg, ricotta cheese, parsley, and salt.

Ready for cheeses and meat sauce.
Using the prepared pasta sauce, coat the bottom of a 9" by 13" baking pan/dish. Add one layer oven-ready noodles (no pre-cooking required) on top of the sauce. Place them about 1/4" apart and do not overlap. Fill in larger gaps with broken noodle pieces to complete the layer. Spread half of the cheese mixture over the noodles, 1/3 of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, and top with 1/3 of the meat mixture. Add another layer of noodles, the remaining cheese mixture, 1/3 of the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and 1/3 of the meat mixture. Add the final layer of noodles, topping with the remaining meat mixture. Top with the remaining shredded cheeses. Reserve the remaining prepared Italian pasta sauce for topping during serving.

Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 50 minutes, removing foil during last 10 minutes of baking. Remove from oven and let cool for 15 minutes. Cut into 8 pieces and serve with extra pasta sauce.

Make Ahead Notes
Prepare as noted above but do not bake. Cover with plastic wrap, then foil. Refrigerate up to 48 hours or freeze up to two months. Remove plastic wrap; replace foil.  Bake refrigerated lasagna at 375F about 60 minutes, removing foil during last 10 minutes of baking. Bake frozen lasagna about 1 hour 30 minutes at 375F, removing foil during last 10 minutes of baking.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Beer and Onion Pork Shoulder Roast

With St. Patrick's day coming up I'm cooking with Irish beer. You might be surprised at what a delicious sauce beer and onions can make for a pork roast, especially with the addition of Savoy cabbage and carrots.

Julian's Beer and Onion Pork Roast with Savoy Cabbage
This hearty dish is similar in technique and cut of meat to my Pumpkin Braised Pork, which I made back in December and even to the Italian Style Pork Shoulder I made prior to that. But Kevin thought this dish was actually better than both, particularly because of the addition of the Savoy cabbage.

If you are wondering what the difference is between Savoy, Napa and regular green or red cabbage, Savoy cabbage is a milder and sweeter and has no noxious odor when cooking. Savoy cabbage cooks much more quickly than regular green cabbage, so I added it to the roast only about an hour before the roast was ready. If you haven't tried Savoy cabbage, make sure you do. Your family will enjoy it.

Carrots with Savoy cabbage added for the last hour of roasting.
Beer seems to go particularly well when making pork and you can use really any type you prefer. I used an amber ale in this recipe, but you could as easily use a very light or even a dark beer with similarly good results. You can use more or less beer than stated below, but you must do this before it goes into the oven. If you need more liquid as it roasts, add water. As I often say, use whatever ingredients you have on hand. It will make cooking easier and more fun when you don't find you must buy a large list of special items. In fact, you need not follow my recipe at all. Just read through it and do something similar. Most combinations work well and you'll enjoy the cooking experience. The general braising technique is more important than the ingredient list.

Ingredients (serves 6-8 adults)
Ready to begin
4-6 pound pork shoulder roast (bone in or boneless)
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 large sweet onion, more finely chopped
3 large carrots, cut into bit-sized pieces
16 ounces beer (or more)
6-8 ounces white mushrooms (optional)
Savoy cabbage, core removed cut into wedges
water as needed

Trim any excess fat and cut the pork into large chunks, about 2" by 2". Pat pork dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. In a Dutch oven or other flameproof roasting pan heat oil over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking and brown pork on all sides. Do not overcrowd the pan as this will prevent browning. Remove to a separate dish and hold until all the pork is browned.

Do not overcrowd the pan during browning.
Preheat the oven to 325F degrees. 

Drain all but two tablespoons of fat from the roasting pan and add the two onions and salt/pepper lightly and cook for 3-4 minutes stirring regularly. Add 2/3 of the carrots and all of the optional mushrooms.  Cook 3-4 minutes more. Browning will occur and there will be some sticking to the pan. This is normal. Add the beer and scrape the bottom of the pan to release browned bits from the surface. Continue cooking 5 minutes more until the beer begins to simmer. Return the browned pork to the pan and stir to combine. Cover and roast for 2 hours. Check hourly and add some water if necessary to ensure the pork remains partially submerged during cooking. 

Cabbage and remaining carrots added during final hour.
Add the Savoy cabbage and the remaining 1/3 of the carrots. Do not stir but rather push these ingredients down into the sauce partially. Cover and continue roasting, about 1 hour more, until the meat is tender but not falling apart.

Serve with mashed potatoes.

Makes a nice family-style presentation.

Also makes a delicious gravy for potatoes.