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Friday, February 22, 2013

Chuckwagon Stew

My husband loves his comfort food.  Recently, I have been making what I call “Chuckwagon Stew.”  It’s a beef stew made with ground beef.  It’s quick, easy, cheap and, a term I heard once, ghettolicious! 

The last time I made it, I thought I would like to try it with dumplings.  I haven’t had a dumpling since I was perhaps 8 years old.  I wasn’t even sure I remembered what they were supposed to taste like.  I have heard of dumplings that were heavy and doorstop-ish so care must be taken to avoid that dumpling recipe! 

As I usually do when I have an idea for a recipe, I research the food on the web and then I improvise.  They turned out light, velvety, and delicious.  I was impressed with my dumplings, so I am sharing.  I hope you like them too. 

1 ½ c all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp white sugar
½ tsp salt
2 TBS cold butter
1 egg
½ c milk
*** 1 TBS parsley flakes

1. Sift or stir together flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in medium size bowl with wire whisk until light and well blended. I use my Kitchen Aid Mixer with whisk attachment.  I hate sifting, so I just whip on low until my dry ingredients are light and fluffy.  *** To make parsley dumplings, add 1 tablespoon parsley flakes to the dry ingredients.
2. Cut in butter until crumbly.  I also use my whisk attachment for this.  I whisk on low until the butter and flour mixture resembles cornmeal.  
3. With a hand held wire whisk, whip egg until well blended.  Whisk in milk until thick and fluffy. 
4. Add egg and milk mixture to dry ingredients and whip for 30 seconds to blend and make a soft dough.
5. Drop by spoonfuls into boiling stew or soup. Cover and simmer 15 minutes without lifting lid. Serve.

Chuckwagon Stew
1 lb lean ground beef
1 large onion, diced
4-6 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, minced
2 ribs celery, chopped
2 carrots, sliced thin
8 oz sliced mushrooms
¼ c flour
½ c green beans, cut (optional)
2 large potatoes, cubed
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 lbs canned diced tomatoes (+/-)
2 c water
2-3 tsp beef base or 3-4 beef bullion cubes
1 TBS flaked parsley or minced fresh parsley
2-3 bay leaves

In Dutch oven or large pot, brown ground beef with onion and garlic.  Add celery, carrots and mushrooms.  Cook until softened. 

Sprinkle on flour and stir with wooden spoon until incorporated.  Add remaining ingredients.  Mix well, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until potatoes are softened. 

Once potatoes are softened, add dumplings, cover and simmer another 15 minutes. 

Makes 4-6 servings depending on how hungry you are.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Sweet Treat for You & Your Sweetheart

Valentines day is a wonderfully romantic date night that I love to celebrate.  What I don't love is dining out in crowded restaurants and paying exorbitant prices for sometimes mediocre food.  One year, I decided that it would be my gift to my husband to cook and serve him a 12-course meal.  I set a pretty table with candles, chilled several types of wines for the various courses, bought expensive cigars, a nice port, and then cooked my brains out.

If you have never done this, I will advise you to plan ahead and begin eating early.  If you start with the appetizer around 6:00 PM, you may get to the final course by 11:00 PM.  We have done this several times.  It is something that is a lot of fun to do with a group of friends.  Well, a group of friends who can have a few glasses of wine and still be fun, that is.  Do not try with moody drinkers.  Take your time between courses and make your portions small or you won't make it to the end!  

The one thing I have made more than once and is now the one dessert that I think of every Valentine's Day is a Mocha Truffle Cup.  The little cups are made of chocolate, the filling is mocha mousse and it is topped with a chocolate covered coffee bean.  It was a simple but sophisticated little dessert that I found in an old cookbook.  I now see that another site has posted it word for word, but doubled, and is claiming it as their own.  They have requested that it be attributed to them if copied.  Since it was mine first and someone else's before that, I do not feel the need.  I will share it with you and I hope you and your sweetheart will enjoy it as much as we do.

After Dinner Mocha Truffle Cups

18 Chocolate cups
                1 cup chocolate chips
                ½ Tbs shortening
Melt over low heat or in double boiler, stirring constantly to prevent scorching.  Remove from heat as soon as chocolate melts.  Spoon about ½ TBS melted chocolate into each of 18 small foil candy cups.  Brush chocolate up the side of each cup with a clean paintbrush, coating foil completely.  Carefully wipe off any chocolate that may have run over top of foil cup using tip of finger.  Place cups on a baking sheet; let stand in cool place until firm.  Do not refrigerate.
½ c whipping cream
1 egg
½ c semisweet chocolate chips
1 TBS prepared espresso, cooled
½ TBS coffee flavored liqueur
Sweetened whipped cream
Chocolate covered espresso beans for garnish (I get mine at Cafe Ah Roma in Berea)

* Prepare chocolate cups and set aside. 
* Place large bowl and beaters in freezer until cold.  Pour whipping cream into chilled bowl and beat with mixer at high until soft peaks form.  Refrigerate.
* Beat egg in separate bowl at high about 5 minutes or until thick and lemon colored. 
* Melt chocolate chips in double boiler .  Add a small amount to egg and stir to blend.  Add egg mixture to remaining chocolate and cook over medium heat 1 minute stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.
* Place espresso and liqueur in small saucepan and sprinkle with gelatin.  Let stand 1 minute to soften.  Heat over low heat until gelatin is completely dissolved, stirring constantly.  To test for undissolved gelatin, run a finger over the spoon.  If it feels smooth, the gelatin is completely dissolved. 
* Gradually add gelatin mixture, a few drops at a time to chocolate mixture, whisking until smooth. 
* Gently fold ½ of chocolate mixture into chilled whipped cream with rubber spatula by gently cutting down to bottom of bowl, scraping up side of bowl, then folding over top of mixture.  Repeat until chocolate is incorporated.  Add to remaining chocolate, gently folding until combined and no steaks of chocolate remain. 
* Spoon chocolate mixture into reserved chocolate cups with small spoon, filling to top; refrigerate at least 3 hours or until firm. 
* Garnish with whipped cream and beans.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Quest for Coffee

I have declared myself on a quest for the perfect cup of home brewed coffee.  I am a coffee lover.  I love the aroma, flavor and the community of a well brewed cup of coffee.  I like it strong but smooth.  I like my roast dark, but not burnt. (Sorry, Starbucks.)  I use small batches of whole beans kept in an airtight vacuum canister and grind them fresh to order.  I use cold filtered water and favor a stainless or glass coffee urn, no plastic or aluminum, if you please.  I will likely try roasting my own beans soon.

I had a Kitchen Aid automatic drip brewer that we used for several years.  It brewed average to above average coffee into a stainless steel thermal carafe.  One day, something went wonky with the clock and without being able to get it to stop flashing, the coffee wouldn't brew.  I tried everything.  Finally, out of frustration, I smacked the button of the clock with the back of a spoon and it stopped flashing.  We were back in business!  We were never able to set the clock again, but we at least could brew our coffee.  I don't know why everything in the kitchen needs a clock anyhow.  There's the clock-clock, the coffee maker clock, the stove clock, the microwave clock, the phone clock...  Why do I need all this?  I think simple is better.  But, I digress.

After a couple of months of brewing with a mis-set clock, the clock went out entirely.  That was it.  We could no longer brew.  I got online and began researching coffee makers.  I spent time learning what makes good coffee so I could narrow down my choices.  One thing I kept reading over and over again was people declaring percolated coffee to be the best they ever had.  Suddenly, it occurred to me that I had an old percolator.

It was a Corningware pot that I had picked up at a garage sale years ago when I was maybe 13 and stored it in my "hope chest" for my first place.  I used it a couple of times when I was 16 but then soon got my first automatic drip brewer and packed it away again.

I pulled it out, ran it through the dishwasher, and brewed a pot.  It made the most amazing coffee ever.  It was smooth and rich and so perfect.  I was in love.  I would never need to buy another coffee maker again.  It had no electronic or moving parts to break.  It was a simple, practically indestructible stoneware pot with a stainless steel basket.  What could go wrong?

Well, unbeknownst to me, about 37 years ago, these pots were recalled.  It seems that the plastic they used to make the ring that gives the grip between the stoneware pot and the stainless steel collar melts.  I was leaving for an appointment one morning.  My pot finished brewing and I removed the basket, replaced the lid and began to fill my to-go cup.  Suddenly, the pot began sliding out of the collar.  I couldn't set it down fast enough to prevent the pot from dropping to the counter and the just boiled coffee from splattering all over my arm, melting my skin.  Honestly, I was more sad to be losing awesome coffee than the skin on my wrist.  Is that wrong to say?

My quest continued.  Now I was sure I wanted to buy another percolator but I didn't want an electric one.  While it may brew amazing coffee, the heating element in the base would continue to "cook" the coffee and spoil the flavor within minutes of the end of the brew.  I hate cooked coffee.  It had to be a stovetop version.  I didn't want aluminum due to the connection with Alzheimer's disease, which I already suspect is creeping up on me.  Plastic tends to transfer tastes so no plastic either.  I found a Coleman all stainless pot that looked beautiful, appeared well made, had good reviews, and could make 12 cups.

It's pretty, right?  It was about $40 on Amazon.  I couldn't wait for it to arrive.  As soon as I opened it, I washed it out and brewed a pot.  Just a short pot of 4 cups.  It was awful.  It never really perked and all I achieved was slightly brown water.  Then I tried an 8 cup pot.  Also awful.  It brewed, but it just wasn't good.  I experimented for days tweaking this and that trying to get it right.  It just never happened.  It took a long time to percolate also, so my husband never had time to make it in the morning to take on the train to work with him.  I wasted $40.  I am sad again.  The quest continues.

The more I research, the more I learn what I want and what I don't want.  First, I don't want a clock.  Evidently, they are trouble makers.  I want a cone shaped filter basket rather than a flat bottom basket, as I understand that this allows for a richer brew.  I want a permanent filter because they don't absorb the oils from the beans that should be in the coffee and there is no taste transfer.  I want the option to brew 2 cups or 10 cups as needed and still be happy with the results.  I want a thermal carafe.  I do not want a heating plate or element of any kind.  I want a water filter, if possible.  I have decided that a percolator requires more personal involvement than is practical for our lifestyle, particularly my husband's, so in fairness to him, I am seeking an automatic drip brewer again.  Most importantly, I want a brewer that operates at the correct brewing temperature for ideal flavor extraction.

Every time a found a recommendation, I would read the reviews on various sites, like Amazon, Zappos, and Bed Bath & Beyond, only to be dissuaded.  People like to complain about their coffee makers.  Through a site I found called Hula Daddy which sells my favorite, Kona coffee, 8 brewers were recommended as being able to brew at the proper 200˚ F.   I read the reviews and researched them all.  The Krups recommendation was non-specific and I was not sure which model was being recommended, so I researched several.  One sort of stood out.  It was the Krups KT720D50 10-Cup Thermal Filter Coffee Maker.  

I found the negative reviews to be whiny and annoying and didn't really deal with the coffee brewer and the positive reviews to be very good.  And it didn't hurt that I loved the look.  I was just a little worried, by the photo, that it was going to be too huge for my counter or possibly not fit under my cabinets.  I pulled the trigger.  As you can see by the photos, it fit just fine under the cabinet.  The photos on the web made it appear from the side view that it would protrude on the counter also, but it didn't.  And look at the cool blue lights.  One light is under the water reservoir to illuminate the water so you can see how much is left to brew during the brew cycle.  I am really thrilled with the aesthetics of this machine.  

When it arrived, I couldn't wait until morning to brew a pot and try it out so I washed it out and made a pot immediately.  For some reason, I thought that this machine came with a water filter, but I was mistaken.  That was the only real let down upon unpacking.  I used the Aroma setting for our first pot, which is supposed to produce a richer brew.  It took approximately 10 minutes to brew approximately an 8 cup pot.  The manufacturer says that it brews 10 cups but don't believe it.  The water measures less than an 8 cup pot by Mr. Coffee standards.  I will measure tomorrow as my experimentation begins.  I used 8 scoops with the measuring scoop that came with the machine.  It was the equivalent of 4 regular coffee scoops.  The brew was a tad strong and a little bitter.  I tested the temperature immediately after brewing and it registered somewhere between 155-160 F.  

After a few days of breaking it in, I have decided that this machine makes pretty good coffee.  It's not the same smooth, rich brew we got from the Corningware pot, but then it doesn't fall apart and melt the skin off my wrist, either.  I am happy, for now.  I hope after some more time of breaking it in, the brew temperature will improve, as I have read that this happens.  As it stands, I give this brewer pretty high marks.  If you are in the market for a pretty and fairly good coffee brewer, I would suggest that you give this one a try.  I will post any updates that may change my recommendation in the future.  Stand by...