Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Taste of Home: Spiced Up Fried Cheese Curds

Do you know what a cheese curd is?  If you don't, I'm sorry. You should go find them immediately.

Seriously, you can read this later.

They are the little lumps of cheese that have not been shaped into the bricks we usually buy them in.  They are good, better then a slice off one of those bricks, and they are highly appreciated in the Minnesota/Wisconsin area. 

They are good eaten fresh.  They are really good battered and fried, and this is the #1 item at any summertime festival in Minnesota with food vendors.

I have a co-worker also from Minnesota, and thru some favor trading I received a bag of cheese curds this week straight from home.  (For people outside the mid-west, I have also seen them at Trader Joe's.)

I ate a bunch of them fresh, but I could not resist the urge to fry some up.  Especially with a batter recipe right on the bag! I also could not resist the urge to add some cayenne pepper to the batter.

Things were a little tricky and messy at first. I don't fry things very often. And I found the batter recipe on the bag a bit too thin, so I added some more flour to thicken it up. This helped things a lot, and by the second half of my batch they were coming out beautifully.

I'm really happy with the added spices too. It wasn't too much pepper, just enough that you get a little tingle in your throat.  

Spiced Up Fried Cheese Curds

1lb Cheese Curds
2/3 cup Milk
1 cup Flour
¾ tsp Baking Powder
¼ tsp Salt
½ tsp Chilli Powder
2 tsp Cayenne Pepper
Vegetable or Canola Oil (for frying)

Heat oil in a pan or deep fryer

Combine flour, milk, baking powder, salt, chilli powder, and cayenne pepper.

Coat cheese curds in mixture.

Fry in hot oil, flipping if needed, until batter is golden and transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

Eat while still warm. I would recommend ranch if you want to dip them in something, but I enjoyed mine plain.

Cheese Curd on FoodistaCheese Curd

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Favorite Meal of Convenience: Shrimp Succotash

I really wish this dish was as easy to photograph as it is to cook.

This is my #1 go-to convenience dinner. It's easy to keep the ingredients on hand and I can make it from start to finish, in one pan, in 30 minutes. (Including washing the pan.) AND it tastes great!

It should have been one of the first food I wrote about. It is one of those meals I truly wish to share with everyone on earth. But it is just so damn hard to photograph. Seriously, this is the third time I have tried and this is the best I can come up with. I am not sure it will ever get better then this.

So here it is.

Shrimp Succotash

1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
½ cups Onion (About Half Of A Medium-Sized Onion), I Use Sweet Yellow Onion, Finely Chopped
2 whole Cloves Garlic, Finely Chopped
1-½ cup Zucchini, Cut Into 1/4-Inch Thick Half Circles (about 2 Medium-Sized Zucchini)
1 cup Corn, Canned
1 cup Peas, Frozen
1-¼ cup Lima Beans (Full-Sized Are Better Than Baby) OR Edamame Beans
Fresh Ground Pepper
30 whole Medium-Sized Shrimp, Fully Cooked Frozen Shrimp With Tails Removed, Thawed
1 cup Cherry Or Grape Tomatoes, Sliced In Half
2 Tablespoons Apple Cider Vinegar
½ cups Fresh Basil, Coarsely Chopped (loosely Packed Before Chopping)

Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.

Once oil is hot, add onion, cooking for about 3 minutes until it softens.

Add garlic and cook for about 1 more minute, stirring constantly so garlic does not burn.

Add zucchini, corn, peas, and lima beans or edamame. Generously season the entire pan of vegetables with pepper. Stir to combine with the onion and garlic. Turn heat up to medium-high.

Stir in thawed shrimp. Continue cooking until zucchini softens and is just short of done.

Add halved tomatoes. Thoroughly season with pepper and saute again. Gently stir to combine tomatoes. Cook until tomatoes are just warmed.

Add apple cider vinegar. If the vegetables are sticking to the bottom of the pan, use it to scrape everything up from the bottom. Mix gently to thoroughly combine the vinegar without crushing the tomatoes.

Mix in the chopped fresh basil. Remove from heat and immediately transfer to bowls.

Sometimes I don't manage to keep basil around, since I killed a basil plant in under two weeks and bunches of it in the fridge don't last long. I make this without in that case and it still tastes great.

I am sure this would be good with other proteins too, if shrimp is not your thing I would try chicken, scallops, or maybe even salmon.

You could also use fresh shrimp if you prefer and have the time, (I like frozen because it is easy to keep on hand) just add it to the pan before the veggies and give it a few minutes to cook.

I have also made this, omitting the shrimp, as a really flavorful vegetable side dish.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cherimoywhaaa? Cherimoya Pie

One of my favorite things about my neighborhood is the awesome farmers market I can walk to every Sunday. I like to wander around at every single stand and make sure I get the best of whatever I am looking for. The only problem I have is carrying it all home!

This also allows me to discover new offerings. Like these cherimoyas. I had never heard of or seen a cherimoya but I thought they tasted pretty good so I was immediately determined to make a pie with them. I bought 5 big ones and headed home. (I am not even going to try and describe the flavor, I have heard everything from bubblegum to pineapple.)

I bought them a bit under ripe so I would have a few days to do my research. When they are ready to use they yield just a bit to pressure, similar to an Avocado. They also have big black seeds that are somewhat poisonous and function as an insecticide when ground- I sure was glad I did my research on this because my first inclination had been to separate them from the fruit with my food mill.

A good web search also revealed that there is a pretty standard cherimoya pie recipe floating around out there. It is similar to how I planned to go about making them into pie, using pureed fruit in a custard. The custard usually used for these involved separated the egg whites, beating them, and folding into the rest of the custard mixture in the last step. This produces a very light texture. The only change I made to the recipes I found was to add some nutmeg, because I thought this would work well with the cherimoya.

Cherimoya Pie (seems to be the standard recipe, found on many cherimoya recipe websites)

1lb. Cherimoya (about 1 and 1/2 large cherimoya for me) seeded and pureed until smooth
3 Eggs, separated
1 cup Evaporated Milk
1/2 cup Sugar
1/2 tsp Vanilla
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1/8 tsp Salt
10 inch deep dish pie shell

Line deep dish pie plate with crust. Bake at 450 degrees for 5min. (These are the original directions, which I followed. Based on my experience I recommend a standard par bake until the inside is golden brown. Directions are provided in My Cherimoya Pie Recipe)

However you bake your pie shell, set your oven to 375 when you are done.

Whisk egg yolks, evaporated milk, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt into the pureed cherimoya.

Beat egg whites just until soft peaks form. (Do not do this until just before you are ready to use them, or they will fall.)

Fold beaten egg whites into fruit mixture until combined and no white streaks remain. Resist the urge to stir! Have patience, keep folding. When combined pour mixture into pie shell.

Bake at 375 degrees until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. The custard will puff up and turn golden brown on top. The recipe I used said this should take about 35 min but it was much faster for me (I'm talking 15min, yikes!). This could be a symptom of ghetto oven, so watch yours closely.

The results:
Despite my concerns after it cooked so fast, this pie came out alright. The crust was a bit undercooked, hence my suggestion to pre-bake the bottom crust.

The filling came out pretty good. This pie was very light and fluffy. I cannot emphasize this enough- VERY FLUFFY. And some people really liked that. I thought the texture was fine, it was the incredibly light flavor accompanying it that I was less excited about.

Luckily, I had more cherimoya to use up so I decided to make another. This time I opted to make it using a recipe similar to a traditional pumpkin pie, in the hopes that this would produce a more dense custard with a more pronounced flavor to go along with it.

My Cherimoya Pie

2 cups pureed Cherimoya (from 2 large cherimoya)
1/2 cup Sugar
2 Eggs
14.5 ounce can Evaporated Milk
2 Tbsp Flour
1/8 tsp Salt
1 tsp Vanilla
1/4 tsp Nutmeg
1 pie shell

Pre-bake pie shell. Poke holes in the crust, line with foil and weights and bake at 375 for 20 min. Remove foil and weights, then continue baking until inside of shell is golden brown.

I used my 9-1/2" pyrex pie dish, and it worked well. This does not make enough filling for a deep dish pie, but there may be some filling left over if you use a standard 9" pie plate. Just fill it with as much as you can.

Beat together pureed cherimoya, evaporated milk, eggs, sugar, nutmeg, vanilla, salt, and flour.

Bake at 375 until a knife inserted comes out clean, approximately 25 min. The filling will puff up above the pie crust, but settles when it cools. The top will turn a light golden brown.

My results:

This pie was more dense then the original recipe produced, but still significantly lighter then a typical pumpkin pie. This must be the way the fruit cooks, but I may try reducing the recipe to one egg in the future to make the texture even more dense.

I felt this method did enhance the flavor somewhat. It still was quite light, but I was happier with what this produced. It tasted good, but I'm not sure it is as good as simply eating the fruit raw.

And at least one person compared it to cheesecake, THAT certainly isn't a bad thing.

Cherimoya Pie on FoodistaCherimoya Pie

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Summer Already? Strawberry Sour Cream Pie

I generally judge produce based on price. If it's cheap, it's probably good. So when I saw the first cheap strawberries of the year, I was thrilled. It seemed a little early, but I figured that maybe all the rain this year brought might account for that. I sniffed the packages, they smelled good and that should mean they taste good. So I bought 2 pounds.

Last year I spent about a month perfecting a fresh glazed strawberry pie recipe but never got around to actually baking them. Since it is still cool enough to roll out pie crust, I wanted to do something baked. Awhile back I had been promised some rhubarb and picked out a Sour Cream Rhubarb Pie recipe, but the rhubarb never came thru.

My interest in the sour cream pie has persisted, so I decided to make one with strawberries.

Unfortunately, I started cutting up the strawberries, and tasting them and they weren't good. They didn't taste like anything! (I still don't understand how they could smell delicious but have no flavor.)

Luckily I had purchased some blackberries the same day, and they were awesome. (Wish I had just stocked up on those. They followed the cheap rule.) I also had some frozen cherries in the freezer. I've always been suspicious of the frozen fruit pie idea but intrigued to try it, it could really open up the possibilities when things are out of season and I figured this was as good a time as any to give it a try.

First Try: Mixed Berry Sour Cream Pie

9” single crust

2 cups sliced strawberries
1 cup frozen sweet cherries, thawed
1 cup blackberries
1 egg
½ cup sugar
1 cup or 8 oz sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup flour
¼ tsp salt

Crumble Topping:
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup oats
4 Tbsp butter

Roll out crust and line pie dish, use a fork to poke holes in the bottom of the crust

Line with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights. Bake 20 min at 375°

Remove foil and bake another 10-15 min

Meanwhile, combine sour cream, sugar, vanilla, flour, salt, and egg

Soften (but don't melt) butter for crumble topping. Blend with sugar, flour, and oats using a fork or you hands

Fill pie shell with fruit

Pour sour cream mixture over the fruit

Spread crumble mixture evenly across the top

Bake at 425° on bottom oven rack for 20min, then lower temp to 350° and bake until edges puff and top turns golden brown (about another 15-20min for me, but that is ghetto-oven time, so yours might take longer)

The Results:
The flavor was good, but overall this pie did not meet my standards and expectations. I chose to use an egg in the custard mixture for this pie. Looking thru the recipes some people did this to ensure it would set, and I suffer from soggy bottom crust fear so this convinced me to use an egg. Unfortunately, his produced a VERY firm custard, I was looking for something softer.

Also, the amount of crumble I used completely covered the top of the pie. I was looking for a sparser covering of crumble.

Finally, this really needed a fully blind baked bottom crust. I went for more of a par-bake. Easy fix.

The frozen cherries worked wonderfully though, and may be enough evidence for me to give a full-on frozen fruit pie a try sometime.

Luckily for me, there were lots of beautiful strawberries at the farmers market the following Sunday. And of course, in this case, I got to taste them first and pick out some really delicious fruit. So I made this pie again, adjusting according to my previous results.

My second recipe is very similar to the first one. I decided to use all brown sugar, because I thought that would be a better complement to all strawberries. I omitted the egg from the custard and scaled down the crumble. If you want complete crumble coverage, stick with the previous portion.

Second Try:
Strawberry Sour Cream Pie

9” single pie crust

3 cups sliced strawberries
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup or 8 oz sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup flour
¼ tsp salt

Crumble Topping:
2 Tbsp brown sugar
3 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp oats
2 Tbsp butter

Roll out crust and line pie dish, use a fork to poke holes in the bottom of the crust

Line with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights. Bake 20 min at 375°

Remove foil and bake another 20 min or until the inside is golden brown

Meanwhile, combine sour cream, sugar, vanilla, flour, and salt

Soften (but don't melt) butter for crumble topping. Blend with sugar, flour, and oats using a fork or you hands

Fill pie shell with strawberries and pour sour cream mixture over the fruit

Sprinkle crumble mixture evenly across the top

Bake at 425° for 20min, then lower temp to 350° and bake until top turns golden brown and strawberry filling bubbles from underneath the custard

The Verdict: This pie came out awesome. I love the sour cream custard flavor with the strawberries. The only change I would make is to next time cut the strawberries into smaller chunks instead of just slicing because I think smaller pieces would be easier to eat.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Breakfast For Dinner: Eggs Goldenrod

This is one of my absolute favorite foods in the world. I grew up eating it for dinner, even though it would traditionally be considered a breakfast dish.

It is also one of the recipes I struggled to learn, even though it really isn't too hard. Being a family recipe, there were no measurements recorded. My sauce got too thin, too thick, too thin, too thick...Until I had way to much of it and I was thoroughly frustrated.

After I went off to college and didn't live at home any more this was one of the things I always asked for when visiting. Finally, after living across the country for a couple if years, I learned to make it for myself.

It's pretty simple really. A peppery white gravy, like sausage gravy but we never made it with breakfast sausage, just butter. (You could definitely use sausage grease if you were making some.) With hard boiled eggs. All over toast.

Eggs Goldenrod
(This recipe makes 2 servings with pretty generous helpings of sauce. That's how I like it, but it may make more servings for you if you like less, just add additional eggs.)

4 whole Hard Boiled Eggs
4 Tablespoons Butter Or Margarine

6 Tablespoons Flour
2 cups Milk
4 slices Bread (Not TOO Crusty)
Salt As Needed
Pepper To Taste
4 dashes Cayenne Pepper (Optional)

Hard boil the eggs. (I have had a lot of trouble getting hard boiled eggs just perfect. Recently I got this cool gadget, pictured with my eggs, from crate and barrel. It lets you know when your eggs are done by measuring how much heat it had absorbed. I waited until the whole egg turned black and they were just right.)

Peel eggs. Separate whites from yolks, slicing the whites into big chunks and reserving yolks. (If you are preparing this alone, it is a good idea to get the eggs to this point before starting the sauce.)

Melt the butter in a sauce pan over low heat.

Add flour, whisking until smooth and thick.

Add 1 cup of milk. Whisk to completely combine. Turn the heat up to medium-high and continue stirring constantly until it thickens. Add the remaining milk 1/4 cup at a time and allowing it to thicken before adding more each time.

If you are using white flour, keep repeating until the mixture is white like milk. If you are using whole wheat flour, look for all the yellow color from the butter to disappear.

This sauce is very forgiving. If it becomes overly thin to the point that it will not thicken enough, add 1/8 of a tablespoon more flour at a time. If you have already added the 2 cups of milk and it thickens up again while adding the spices, just add more milk a splash at a time. In the end, it should be the consistency of thick country gravy.

Use your non-stirring hand to toast the bread. Put two slices on each plate and top with the sliced egg whites.

Add salt, a little at a time. The amount will vary depending on whether you use salted or unsalted butter, but taste as you add because it will change from under-salted to overly salty very quickly.

Add pepper to taste. Lots of pepper. Cover the surface with ground pepper, mix, repeat three of four times. The gravy at this point should be quite peppery.

Add about 4 dashes of cayenne pepper, adjusting to taste. The goal is to have a good balance of heat and pepper. You should be able to taste both in the final sauce.

When sauce is done immediately spoon out to cover the toast.

Top it off with egg yolks, either simply crumbled and sprinkled, or worked through a fine strainer for fluffy, fine yolks.