Saturday, February 6, 2016

Southern Pecan Bars

Just a little square is plenty--

Pecans are best used when fresh.  Nothing is worse than eating a stale pecan.  Or any stale nut for that matter.

And I have ruined several recipes by not tasting the nuts first, going ahead and putting them in, and then being very disappointed with the outcome.  Plus nuts are expensive and I hate to see them go to waste.

So, I make an effort after the holidays to use up the partially opened bags, especially the pecans, which seem to go "off" quickly.

I found this recipe in the Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook. It had to be easy.  Something I could whip up easily.  Southern Pecan bars fit the bill perfectly.

"This recipe comes from Pillsbury's 5th $100,000 Bake-Off contest, which was run in 1954."

Southern Pecan Bars
(The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook, page 258)

Makes about 36 bars, 1.5 inches square

1 cup flour
1/4 t. baking powder
4 T. (1/2 stick) butter, softened
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup pecans, finely chopped

For the topping:
2 eggs
3/4 cup dark corn syrup
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 T. flour
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
3/4  cup pecans, chopped

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  (note from B: Be sure that your butter and eggs are at room temperature)
Grease a 9-inch square pan.

Sift together the flour and baking powder.
Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and brown sugar together for 3 minutes.

Add the flour mixture and continue beating until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Stir in the pecans and mix with a wooden spoon.
Pat firmly into prepared pan -- a measuring cups works well for making a compact, flat crust---
and bake for 10 minutes.  Remove from oven.  It will be pale brown.
For the topping, whisk the eggs in a medium bowl until foamy.
Add the next 5 ingredients (corn syrup through vanilla) and whisk until combined.
Pour over baked crust.
Sprinkle with chopped pecans.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.
Let cool in pan, then cut into bars.

I also made an almond variation using leftover almonds.  Substitute toasted almonds for the pecans, light for the dark caro syrup, and almond extract for the vanilla extract.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Fajitas - Homesick Texan

Skirt Steak (and Chicken) Fajitas - Homesick Texan

I remember fajitas arriving on the scene in the late 80's or early 90's and coming out on sizzling platters at Mexican restaurants.

I don't remember them growing up in Texas.

In Mexico, the closest thing I ever had to them was in Monterrey, in Northern Mexico on the Texas border.  There they served little tacos with thin strips of steak and guacamole.  Simple and delicious!

So, I looked in all of my Mexican cookbooks and indeed could not find them.

Then I found a great article from the The Austin Chronicle on fajita history.  They say that they originated in Texas. You can read the full story here.

Tom loves fajitas so they are in his rotation of meals he likes to cook.

He makes his own version of Fajitas using El Paso seasoning plus lime and tequila. Also, he posted this recipe from Cooking Light: Tequila Flank Steak Fajitas.  And yet another of his concoctions, he posted Far-jitos.

With fajitas, I think it is all about the marinade.  I found this delicious one in the Homesick Texan's Family Table cookbook by Lisa Fain.  It is her second cookbook.  Her first cookbook was Homesick Texan Cookbook.  And she has a successful blog and website:
She (the Homesick Texan) makes them with chicken breasts, so I am posting her original recipe, but don't hesitate to make them with skirt steak, if you can find the cut in your grocery store.

I made both skirt steak and chicken thighs.  And I preferred the skirt steak because it was closer to what I remembered having in Monterrey.  (And now I know skirt steak was used in original fajitas.)

Chicken Fajitas
(adapted from Homesick Texan)

Serves 4 to 6

Chicken marinade:

1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 T. balsamic vinegar
1 t. Worcestershire sauce
6 cloves garlic
1 t. ground cumin
4 dried chiles de arbol, stems removed(I used jalapeno)
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 t. black pepper
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs

for the fajitas:
2 T. oil
2 bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
flour tortillas, warmed
guacamole or sour cream or both

In a blender or food processor, mix together the lime juice, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, cumin, and chiles de arbol.  Blend until smooth and add the salt and black pepper.
Pour the marinade over the chicken and marinate, refrigerated, for 1 to 2 hours.
Prepare the onions and the peppers before you start to cook.

To make the fajitas, drain the chicken from the marinade.  In a large, heavy skillet, heat up 1 T. oil on medium heat.
Add the chicken and cook, covered, for about 5 minutes per side, until the internal temperature is 160 degrees.  I added the flank steak (which takes only a few minutes towards the end of the chicken cooking time.)
Remove the chicken from the skillet, and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
If making the skirt steak, continue to cook it until browned, but rare.  You can tell by pressing on the meat. If it is soft, it isn't cooked enough.  It it starts to firm up then it is ready.  Or you can cut into the meat a little to check.
Remove the beef and allow it to rest, too.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 T. of oil in the skillet.  Add the bell peppers and onion and cook until tender and soft, 7 to 10 minutes.
Add salt to taste.  While the peppers and onions are cooking, heat up the flour tortillas.  This can be done in a skillet or by wrapping them in foil and placing them in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 5-10 minutes.
Slice the chicken and steak into thin strips across the grain.  Add the fully cooked chicken and meat back to the pan.  Note that the meat is still rare but it will continue cook as it is tossed with the peppers and onions.
Toss it all together.
Turn it out onto a large platter to serve at the table.

Serve with warm flour tortillas, guacamole, and whatever else you like.
Some people add sour cream. And salsa. Others add grated jack cheese.
Wrap and eat!


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Jambalaya by Tom

Shrimp and Andouille Jambalaya by Tom

When I think of jambalaya, I usually associate it with Louisiana Cajun or creole recipes.  But this recipe came from a cookbook titled "The Homesick Texan's Family Table:  Lone Star Cooking from My Kitchen to Yours".  As it turns out, the author, who is from Houston, used to have this while growing up there.  From Houston, just shoot across the Gulf and you are in Louisiana.  So this recipe rationally can fit in a Texas cookbook.

This is a pretty easy one-skillet dish.  It is a bit "looser" or wetter than a traditional jambalaya, but very tasty and filling nonetheless.  It took me about one hour in total from the time I started prepping, to serving and eating at the table.


Smoked Paprika - A Key Ingredient

Sausage and Shrimp Jambalaya
(an adapted Homesick Texan recipe)

Serves 4 to 6

2 ounces of pancetta or bacon
1 yellow onion, diced
2 jalapenos peppers, stemmed, seeded and diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded, stemmed and diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 pieces (12-14 ounces) Andouille sausage, sliced into rounds
2-14.5 ounce cans, or one 28 ounce can, diced tomatoes including the liquid
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 cups chicken broth...I used one 14.5 ounce can and added a little water
1 cup white rice...Basmati or Texmati are best
1 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt, to taste

In a large, deep skillet, render the fat from bacon or pancetta over medium-low heat. 

Add the onions, jalapenos, and the red bell pepper, and cook until the onions are translucent and the peppers are softening.  This will take about 7-10 minutes.  Stir occasionally to prevent burning.

Stir in the garlic and the Andouille sausage. 

Continue to cook for an additional 5 minutes or so, just until the sausage begins to crisp a bit.
Add the diced canned tomatoes along with all of their juices.

Next stir in the chopped parsley, dried thyme, dried oregano, cayenne pepper, chicken broth and rice.

Stir the entire mixture very well.  Increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil.  Once boiling, turn the heat down to low and cover the skillet.  Cook until the rice has absorbed a lot of the liquid, which will take about 20-25 minutes.
 Remove the lid and stir in the shrimp.
Cook until all of the shrimp are pink, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the smoked paprika.  Taste to determine if some salt is required.  I probably added about 1/2 teaspoon.
The mixture will be a bit loose as all of the liquid will not be completely absorbed by the rice.

And that's it!  We really enjoyed this Texan's version of a Louisiana staple.


Monday, February 1, 2016

Coffee Hazelnut Crescent Cookies (Chifferi)

It was Italian month in December so we made Italian cookies for our Christmas cookie exchange, and this was the pick of the litter.

Coffee Hazelnut Chifferi
(adapted from Fine Cooking, Dec 2015 - Domenica Marchetti)

Makes 48 cookies

1 cup whole hazelnuts, toasted skins removed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 T. instant espresso powder
1/4 t. table salt
8 oz. (1 cup) unsalted butter, cut into pieces and slightly softened
9 oz. (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup superfine sugar
1/2 t. ground cinnamon

Toast the nuts and remove the skins by wrapping the hot nuts in a clean towel and let sit for 1 minute. Roll the towel back and forth vigorously to remove the skins.  Not all the skins will come off, which is fine.  Discard the skins and let the nuts cool.

Pulse the nuts and granulated sugar in a food processor until the nuts are coarsely ground.  Add the espresso powder and salt, and process until the nuts are very finely ground, but not pasty.

Scatter the butter around the bowl and pulse until it becomes a smooth mixture.  Sprinkle in the flour and pulse just until incorporated.  The dough will be very soft.

Scrape the dough onto a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap, form it into a disk, wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, about 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees.  In a small bowl, mix together the superfine sugar and cinnamon.

Divide the dough into quarters.  Divide each quarter into 12 equal parts.  Roll each piece of dough into a ball and then roll each ball between your palms to make a cylinder about 3 inches long, with tapered ends.  Bend the cylinders to form crescents and place them, 1 inch apart, on ungreased baking sheets.

Bake the crescents, 1 sheet at a time, until set and just beginning to brown around the edges, 15 to 20 minutes.

Transfer the baking sheets to wire racks and let the cookies cool for 10 minutes. With an offset metal spatula lift each cookie.  Very gently dip each cookie in the bowl of cinnamon sugar, taking care to coat it on all sides.

Set the coated cookies on racks to cool completely.

Store the crescents in an airtight container in layers between sheets of waxed paper for up to 2 weeks.