Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Asian Flavored Pork Burgers

I made these burgers for the first time last year, and I'm really surprised I didn't blog about them that time. Wrapping the mini burgers in lettuce leaves is such a fresh surprise, and the sauce on top is absolutely to die for. I always feel like a pretty badass chef when I make these, because I have to trim and grind the pork myself. Thank goodness for my KitchenAid pasta making attachment-- it is pretty much worthless for pasta, but the food grinding feature works great! If you looked hard enough, you could probably buy pre-ground pork, too. The flavor combination in this recipe is flawless, and I really wouldn't change anything! And if it happens to be raining like crazy when you're ready to grill, these work just as well under the broiler.

Asian Pork and Mushroom Burger Wraps
from Bon Appetit, July 2008
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil or peanut oil
  • 2 tablespoons minced lemongrass (from bottom 3 inches of about 4 stalks)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps chopped
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt, divided
  • 1 3/4 pounds ground pork shoulder (Boston butt)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
  • 3 teaspoons Asian sesame oil, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 cup hoisin sauce*
  • 1 tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)*
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 2 heads of Bibb lettuce, cored, leaves separated
  • 1 cup matchstick-size strips red bell pepper
  • 1 cup matchstick-size strips peeled carrot
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves

Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add lemongrass and garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Add mushrooms. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt; sauté until mushrooms are tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat; cool in skillet.

Place pork in large bowl. Mix in 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, cracked pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt, then fold in mushroom mixture. Using 2 generous tablespoonfuls for each, shape into 18 patties, each about 2 1/4 inches in diameter; arrange on plastic-lined baking sheet.

Whisk hoisin sauce, ginger, vinegar, chili sauce, and remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 2 teaspoons sesame oil in small bowl for sauce. DO AHEAD: Burgers and sauce can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover separately; chill.

Spray grill rack with nonstick spray. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Grill burgers until cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Arrange burgers on platter; set out sauce. Place lettuce, bell pepper, carrot, and cilantro in separate bowls. Serve, allowing guests to wrap burgers in lettuce and add sauce and vegetables as desired.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Daring Bakers: Creative Cheesecakes!

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
This challenge was so fun! I have always enjoyed cheesecake, but it seemed like something that was hard to make at home. I'd seen stories about cracked cheesecakes, soggy crusts, or weird textures, so I had previously decided to leave cheesecake to the pros. This is exactly why I love the Daring Bakers, because they challenge me to try recipes I'd never pick out on my own. And now there are Daring Cooks, too! If you're interested in joining either group, click on the link on the right side of my blog.

I enjoyed this challenge for many reasons. First, it really wasn't too hard! It was one of those recipes that sounds a lot harder than it actually is, and once I started baking I was plesantly surprised. Thank goodness the Daring Bakers got me to try baking cheesecake, because now I've discovered the best dessert to bring to any party where I want to impress the crowd! :) This challenge was pretty basic to start off, and then Jenny pushed us to add our own creative flavors. I feel comfortable being more creative with my cooking, because it doesn't need to be precise in the first place. My cooking style is along the lines of "a little of this, a little of that... play around until it's right". I am much more cautious with baking, because the exact measurements are what makes it work. But I threw caution to the wind this time, and did the crust I wanted with the flavors I wanted... and it all turned out great!

I'm posting the original recipe below, so you can start there and then play around like I did. My cheesecake was inspired by chocolate covered strawberries. I couldn't find chocolate grahams at my grocery store (really! Weird, huh?! I live in the heart of American, and my Jewel didn't have chocolate grahams!), so I did an oreo crust. I crushed about 2/3 of the package of oreos in my food processor, to equal 2 cups. Then I mixed in 4 Tbsp of melted butter, and pressed the mix into the bottom of my springform pan.

For my cheesecake, I left out the lemon juice and liquor. I mixed the batter, and put half of it in a separate bowl. Then I added about 1/2 cup of melted chocolate chips to the batter that was left, and mixed it until the chocolate was incorporated. I was using the wisk on my Kitchen Aid, so it did whip the chocolate batter to be thicker than the vanilla batter. I scooped spoonfulls of chocolate batter into the pan, then poured the vanilla around it. Then I swirled a knife through the batter to get a marbled effect.

I wrapped my springform pan in multiple layers of plastic wrap and foil, yet some water still leaked in. The crust was not crisp or firm, but it still tasted like Oreos, so I wasn't really too upset! I think the water bath was the key to a crack-free top of the cheesecake, so I will play around with other ways to make the water bath work.

If you ever thought cheesecake was hard to make, I urge you to try this recipe. I was so proud of my results, and I bet you would have the same success. Thanks Jenny for a great challenge!

Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake
2 cups / 180 g graham cracker crumbs
1 stick / 4 oz butter, melted
2 tbsp. / 24 g sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract

3 sticks of cream cheese, 8 oz each (total of 24 oz) room temperature
1 cup / 210 g sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup / 8 oz heavy cream
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (or the innards of a vanilla bean)
1 tbsp liqueur, optional, but choose what will work well with your cheesecake


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (Gas Mark 4 = 180C = Moderate heat). Begin to boil a large pot of water for the water bath.

2. Mix together the crust ingredients and press into your preferred pan. You can press the crust just into the bottom, or up the sides of the pan too - baker's choice. Set crust aside.
3. Combine cream cheese and sugar in the bowl of a stand-mixer (or in a large bowl if using a hand-mixer) and cream together until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating each before adding the next. Make sure to scrape down the bowl in between each egg. Add heavy cream, vanilla, lemon juice, and alcohol and blend until smooth and creamy.

4. Pour batter into prepared crust and tap the pan on the counter a few times to bring all air bubbles to the surface. Place pan into a larger pan and pour boiling water into the larger pan until halfway up the side of the cheesecake pan. If cheesecake pan is not airtight, cover bottom securely with foil before adding water.

5. Bake 45 to 55 minutes, until it is almost done - this can be hard to judge, but you're looking for the cake to hold together, but still have a lot of jiggle to it in the center. You don't want it to be completely firm at this stage. Close the oven door, turn the heat off, and let rest in the cooling oven for one hour. This lets the cake finish cooking and cool down gently enough so that it won't crack on the top. After one hour, remove cheesecake from oven and lift carefully out of water bath. Let it finish cooling on the counter, and then cover and put in the fridge to chill. Once fully chilled, it is ready to serve.

Pan note: The creator of this recipe used to use a springform pan, but no matter how well she wrapped the thing in tin foil, water would always seep in and make the crust soggy. Now she uses one of those 1-use foil "casserole" shaped pans from the grocery store. They're 8 or 9 inches wide and really deep, and best of all, water-tight. When it comes time to serve, just cut the foil away.
Prep notes: While the actual making of this cheesecake is a minimal time commitment, it does need to bake for almost an hour, cool in the oven for an hour, and chill overnight before it is served. Please plan accordingly!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Inspired by Bloggers!

Do you ever feel like there are just more recipes out there than you'll ever have time to cook? Like many of you who visit my blog, I'm pretty much obsessed with food. I read magazine articles, check the newspaper food pages (Chi Tribune is nominated for a James Beard award this year!), and talk about food with anyone who will listen. And of course, blogging is a two way street. I tell you about what I'm cooking, but I also read lots of great blogs about what's going on in other people's kitchens around the world. I find that I rarely cook what I find in other people's blogs, though, because there's just not enough time to try it all!

Every Sunday I plan my meals for the week before I do my weekly grocery trip. This week I was feeling in the mood for something different, though, so I decided to actually plan some menus based on tasty sounding recipes on other people's blogs. I picked five menus that were inspired by other bloggers recent posts, and let those recipes guide my cooking for the week.

Tonight's dinner was Pasta alla Puttanesca, from the Amateur Gourmet, paired with Zucchini Oven Fries from On My Plate. Both were not bad, but also not mind blowing. The pasta was tasty, with a vinegary, salty tang from the capers and anchovies. But it still felt kind of plain; after all, it was just pasta with tomato sauce. I might make it again, but I don't expect to find myself craving it. The zucchini were also not bad, but it was a lot of effort to dip each piece in egg and then in the breadcrumb mixture. And Bea's were waaaay prettier than mine! I might do this again, but with planks of breaded zucchini, instead of individual "fries". Do you guys have any suggestions about the best recipe on your blog for me to try?

If you want the recipes, click here for the pasta, or here for the zucchini.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

'What's in my fridge?' Chicken Burgers

I have had a pound of ground chicken in my freezer since right before I gave up meat for Lent, and this past week I decided I needed to do something with that chicken before the ice crystals took over for good. I was inspired by Elly's Chicken Parmesan burgers, and originally wanted to just replicate her delicious sounding recipe. But looking in my fridge revealed a lack of the ingredients any Italian American like myself should have-- no marinara sauce (at least thawed sauce) or mozzarella cheese! So I pushed the Chicken Parmesan idea to the back of my mind, and took a survey of what ingredients I did have in stock.

The Mexican grocery store by my house is amazing for a lot of reasons, and their huge tubs of sun dried tomatoes for about $3 is on the top reasons I love going there. I've always loved sun dried tomatoes, but the price seemed a bit restrictive in the past. Now, however, I have sun dried tomatoes on hand all the time, and they find their way into more dishes than you would expect! Combining chopped sun dried tomatoes with a healthy amount of green onions sounded like a great combination for the chicken burgers I was dreaming up. I figured an egg, some bread crumbs, and seasoning of choice (lots of herbes de provence) would complete the ingredient list for these experimental chicken burgers.

These burgers were a home run! The chicken was so moist, and the flavors were light and fresh. Joe and I both loved these, and they were just as good leftover for lunch. I would love to serve these at a summer bbq, and think I could win over a couple of my beef eating friends!

Sun Dried Tomato Chicken Burgers

-1 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
-6 green onions, white and light green parts, chopped
-1 lb ground chicken
- 1/3 cup breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbsp Herbes de Provence
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- salt and pepper

- buns
- goat cheese
- tomato slices
- mayonaise

Place chopped sun dried tomatoes and green onions in a large bowl. Add ground chicken, and other ingredients through onion powder. Mix gently with your hands, until ingredients are just combined. Do NOT overmix. Form into patties (I did five medium sized ones), and season with salt and pepper. Cook on the grill or under the broiler until cooked through. I had to slice one open to determine for sure they were done. Top burgers with goat cheese and tomato slices.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tempeh Stir Fry with Moroccan Cous Cous

If you ever want to show someone that meatless meals can be delicious and satisfying, this is the dish to cook. I'd tried tempeh before, and wasn't thrilled with the results. This dish, however, showed how preparing the same ingredient two different ways can have completely opposite results. I won't tell you about the first tempeh dish I tried, because it would not sell you on trying this vegetarian protein source. This dish of marinated tempeh and vegetables was bursting with flavor, and blended north African and Asian flavors seamlessly.

Are you wondering what tempeh even is? That was my question up until a couple weeks ago. It's a fermented soybean cake, and it is sold in health food stores. Maybe if you're lucky you can find it at your regular grocery store, but I didn't have that much luck. I bought mine at Trader Joe's, and you can also find it at stores like Whole Foods. Tempeh tastes nutty and mushroom like, and has a more firm texture than tofu. I've never been thrilled with the mushy tofu experiences I've had in the past, and think I'll try experimenting with with using tempeh in place of tofu in upcoming dishes. (Like Alton Brown's Bar-B-Fu, which was disgusting. Mushy tofu that was supposed to turn firm enough for sandwiches. Not a good dish at all... but tempeh in it's place might be delish!)

I did tweak this recipe a bit. First, I decided to follow other reviewers advice and skip the skewers. Stir fry worked just as well, and was a lot easier. I also only marinated the tempeh over night. Then, when I got home from work I added the chopped veggies to the marinade, and let it soak for about 45 minutes. I thought mushrooms and eggplant were way too sponge-like to be marinating overnight, and the shorter time seemed to work perfectly. I plan to make this recipe again in the future, and don't think I'd change anything at all.

Tempeh Stir Fry with Moroccan Cous Cous

1 (8 ounce) package tempeh, cut into 1/2 inch squares
16 fresh white mushrooms
1 medium eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces
16 cherry tomatoes
8 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons teriyaki sauce
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt to taste
1 cup dry couscous
3/4 cup raisins (I like golden raisins)
3/4 cup drained canned chick-peas (garbanzo beans)
1 lemon

Place tempeh in a large resealable plastic bag. In a mixing bowl, whisk together olive oil, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and honey; season with 1 tablespoon ginger, 1 tablespoon garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Pour mixture over tempeh, seal, and shake to coat. Refrigerate for 2 hours, or overnight.

45 minutes before cooking, add the mushrooms, eggplant, and red bell pepper to the tempeh mixture. Shake to coat, and marinate another 45 minutes.

Place about 1 tsp of vegetable oil in a wok or large saute pan, and heat on medium high. Using a slotted spoon, remove the tempeh and vegetables from the plastic bag. Add to the saute pan and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until vegetables are cooked. Add the cherry tomatoes for the last minute of cooking.

(Original Kabob recipe-- Preheat grill for medium-high heat. Thread tempeh and veggies on skewers. Reserve remaining marinade. Grill skewers, turning often to make sure everything is cooked evenly. These can also be done in the broiler.)

Meanwhile, combine vegetable stock, 1 tablespoon grated ginger, cumin, and salt. Bring to a light boil. Stir in couscous, raisins, and garbanzo beans; cover, and remove from heat. Let sit for five minutes, or until fluffy. Just before serving, squeeze lemon over couscous and stir. Serve tempeh and vegetables over cous cous, with reserved marinade.