Friday, March 16, 2018

Weeknight cooking - Mock Enchiladas

(Note: the new dog does make a cameo in one of the videos this week. I figured I should mention that considering how many people checked her out last week!)

We're obviously too early for Cinco de Mayo, but if you're looking for a meal
to wash down with your green beer this weekend, maybe some cross-cultural Mock Enchiladas will fit the bill.

If my family had named these in the current decade (instead of back in the 1970s), they might have been "Faux Enchiladas" ("Fauxnchiladas"?), or they could be "Mexican Lasagna" or something. For that matter, since I live in Minnesota, they could be "Enchilada Hotdish." But, in my family, they will always be Mock Enchiladas.

And what are Mock Enchiladas, you ask? Let us explain…

I should point out that I really don't have a recipe for this, but here are the ingredients I used in making them this time around. (Note: This filled a 6x9x2 pan - which yields 4-6 servings. If you're using a bigger pan, you'll need to plan accordingly.)

  • 2 cans enchilada sauce (if you have a favorite, use it - whether it's red or white or green)
  • 1 medium can sliced black olives (drained)
  • 1 small can chopped green chilies
  • 2 cups shredded cheese 
  • Soft corn tortillas (I used 6 or 8 of the 6-inch ones)
  • 2 cups (approximately) pre-cooked meat of your choosing (or vegetables or drained cooked beans or lots more cheese)
I should mention that the fact that the meat is pre-cooked is kind of important. Otherwise, it's going to take a lot longer to cook this so that you get the meat to a non-illness-inducing temperature.

You all know that I'm not the greatest at mise en place, but for this recipe it's kind of important because… well… it's messy. You're dealing with tomato sauce and it gets all over your hands, so if you're not ready with your other ingredients, you'll either be getting the sauce all over the counter or using up half a roll of paper towel.

Here's my layout:
In case you can't tell, in the photo the bottom of the pan has been coated in enchilada sauce. This keeps the tortillas from cooking to the bottom of the pan.
The process is a bit like when you're breading chicken - you want one hand to stay dry at all times, just in case.

Depending on the size/shape of your pan, you might be able to just lay the tortillas in whole. For my pan, I tore them in half, so that the flat side would be up against the flat sides of the pan.

You dunk the halved tortillas in the sauce, then place them in the pan.

If you look behind my serial-murder looking hand, you can see how I'm starting them out in the pan.
A layer of sauced tortillas is followed by a layer of filling(s). In my case: pre-cooked hamburger (with onions, garlic, and spices), some green chilies, some olives.

Then - cheese.

Then some extra sauce.

And then you do it all again.

Finally, when you've reached the top of the pan (but not gone over - kind of consider this like being on the Price is Right), you add a final coating of cheese and some extra sauce (if you have it - I was down to just drops by the time I got to this point).

I covered mine with foil to keep the top from browning too early - and also to keep it from oozing everywhere in the oven.

Into the toaster oven (or a regular oven) at 350 for about half an hour. (Remember - we're only heating this through - everything was already cooked.)

Oh - And have I mentioned how easy this is to clean up? Because we've mainly been opening cans - and then using leftovers - this is the total clean-up I needed to do while it was baking.

After the first 30 minutes, I like to uncover this for about 5 more minutes to let the cheese get seriously bubbly and brown.

Now, doesn't that look tasty?

I'm guessing that this is one serving size (it's about 1/6 of the pan, so about 3x3).

Did it taste as good as it looked?

The rest of the pan is headed for the fridge, and will become lunches this week at work. (Because you're not really worrying about textures at this point, this also works really well in the freezer.)

Speaking of re-heating this, I should mention that it's also good as a prep-ahead dish. I've actually put it all together and taken it to friends to cook on their own. (Not just, you know, randomly showing up at their door and saying "Here, cook this!" but as part of a planned meal-taking calendar. Does everyone know what that is? If not, ask me and I'll explain.)

For now, though, I'm just bringing this to myself. So you'll forgive me if I tuck in before this cools off too much!

Did you know that some people call this stuff social media? I'd love to hear from you! Tell me what you'd like me to whip up - is it a recipe you'd like me to hunt out? Something you'd like me to try so you don't have to? Let me know!

Friday, March 9, 2018

Gratuitous Dog Photos

I have been so ready to put together a cooking post this week.

I've had ingredients stacked on the prep table in the kitchen since at least Tuesday. (Christopher can attest to this - he was trying to cook dinner last night and kept running out of workspace.)

I've stocked up on ingredients we don't usually have on hand. We've had our oven temperature recalibrated (it's been having issues for a few months).

I was ready.

And then this happened:

We've had a dog in the past (many of you read about her - or met her in person), but our house has been pet-less since last summer.

We started looking a few months ago, and stumbled across this girl at the end of February. She's a 6.5-year-old rescue from a local service called Underdog Rescue. (Consider this my not-so-subtle push for adopting pets, not shopping for them.)
BTW: She snores.
She's adorable. And loving. And - because she was a "breeder mom" for most of her life - is having a great time figuring out what it's like to just be a dog.

But... She's also a brand new dog, with minimal "people skills." So she's been taking up a lot of the time I might otherwise spend in the kitchen.

I've got time set aside this weekend, though. So by next Friday we should be back up and running. (We'll see if we can get this sweet face to make a cameo.)
She was wagging so hard that I'm amazed she's not just a blur in the photo.


With Easter fast approaching, do you have any foods that really make you think of the holiday? Or maybe you're more Seder-inclined? I'd love to hear about your favorite spring holiday foods!

And, okay, one more photo, just because she's so danged cute: 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Limited Edition Chocolate Hazelnut Oreos

This is going to be a really quick post. Not even any video.


Because these cookies were too much of a let-down for me to even waste your time on a video.

I loved the idea. I love Nutella. (And, really, if a company is marketing something as "chocolate hazelnut" - with a jar of spread on the label - we all know what they're aiming for, right?)

I also love Oreos. Regular. Double Stuf. Triple Stuf, even. I'm fine with the "Golden" ones - though I think the classic flavor can't be beaten.

I've enjoyed a lot of the random flavors they've tried. Birthday cake? Sure. Caramel Apple? Really oddly enjoyable with the blend of flavors.

I first posted about them back in 2009: Got Milk?

(Holy crap - that's almost 10 years ago!)

And less than a year ago I trusted them enough to try the Peeps version: Peeps Oreos Because (You Knew This) I Had To. (That was the bright-pink-tongue post.)

I've celebrated their 100th birthday on this blog - and cheered their support for gay pride.

But this round… yeah… I'm not even going to show a video of me dunking one in milk. (Which you know is bad considering how much I like to dunk things.)

What I will say is that they tasted kind of metallic. Dunking them in milk didn't help this. It kind of made it worse - though I don't know how.

I really wanted to like them. Instead, I ended up throwing out more than 2/3 of the (albeit small) package. That may have been the first time in my life that I threw out a partial package of cookies.

Seriously. I'm usually a "I think I'll have one of those cookies - or, since I have milk, maybe the whole package" guy. (You've seen me - you know what I'm like.)

So what is there to do after the Chocolate Hazelnut Oreo flop?

Thankfully, I saw that Spring Oreos are back in the stores. I may have to pick up some of those to get the other (literally) bad taste out of my mouth.

I just checked, and my first blog post went up on 8/25/08 - just about 9 years and 6 months ago. I've been blogging for almost 10 years! 

Is there some food you'd like me to blog about - either making it or tasting it? Or something editing-related? Maybe travel-related? (I've covered a lot of topics in 10 years.) Let me know!

Friday, February 23, 2018

Cinnamon Streusel Coffee Cake

Spoiler alert - in case the name of the post didn't clue you in already - this is what we're aiming for in this post: 

Allow me to explain why a coffee cake (which is typically made in a 9x13 pan) looks much more individual-size in that photo: 
(So, Mom, any idea where the recipe came from?)

Do you ever watch those cooking shows where the chefs really want the average people to do good mise en place and also keep really clean and tidy cooking stations?

Well, at least I've gotten better at amassing my ingredients and doing the really basic portions of the mise en place...
No, it's not your imagination. The egg on the right does have a dent in it reminiscent of the side of the Death Star. (Once I noticed that I tossed it and got out a non-pre-cracked one.)
 Step one: Creaming the butter and sugar.

Step two: Adding the milk and eggs.

Step three: Adding in the flour (half at at time), salt, and baking powder.

Yes, I know that the recipe simply said to mix up all of those ingredients, but it just felt better to do it in stages.

Though... it didn't really look all that great:

Somewhere around this point, Christopher walked through the kitchen and I admitted that possibly using the mixer would have been faster. (And you all know how seldom I say things like that.)
It did turn out pretty well, though.
Now came one of the more challenging bits: getting the waxed paper to stay still while trying to scoop batter into the pan. I'm really glad I chose the scoop, though, because I'd never have been able to use a spoon - which I would have had to scrape each time.
If I didn't have this pan, I might have tried lined cupcake pans. 

The batter will spread when it heats up, but in order to get a relatively even "streuseling" I wanted to get it pretty close to the corners from the outset.

Oh. Wait. The streusel! How could I forget!?
Don't worry. I didn't actually forget. 
If you wanted to put together ingredients that look like late fall, I think brown sugar, cinnamon, flour, and butter would be the ones:

A quick mix, and this all comes together pretty fast.
I know that it looks like brownie batter, but it smelled like cinnamon heaven.
You're supposed to "sprinkle" the streusel over the top. But - as you might have guessed from the photo above - this isn't exactly conducive to sprinkling. So I kind of pick up small amounts of it and roll it back and forth between my fingers and thumb to get it to drop onto the batter.

(I mention in the wrap-up video that I changed things out just a little in this step. In a larger pan, you would spread out half of the batter, then do a scattered layer of the streusel, then the rest of the batter, and finally the rest of the streusel. For these shallow pans, I just did one layer of each.)

Here's what they looked like at the halfway point.
This is why I always end up opening the oven door to take photos. 

*So* much easier to see when you're not photographing through the window.
I don't mean to get ahead of myself but, while the first batch was baking, I added some raisins to the remaining streusel to be used in the second batch.

I took the first batch out of the oven after about 14 minutes. The recipe - if working with a full-size pan - calls for about 25 minutes. But I did the finger test (bouncing your finger on the top of them to see if they spring back) and these were definitely done.
One caveat: The brown sugar/cinnamon/butter on top of these is pretty much molten lava when it's in the oven. Be very careful when you choose which areas to test with your fingertip.
The waxed paper "handles" did a great job, and all that was left on the pan was some of the over-spill streusel.
It's probably just me, but does that look like some kind of old-school video game layout?
Here they all are, with their "handles" still attached.

You can see me remove some of the waxed paper in the wrap-up video (it came off really easily... mostly), but here is the aftermath:
Why do I say only "mostly"? Because in some cases the sugar had already hardened and attached itself to the waxed paper. There are a couple of "torn" cakes as a result...
 Tell me, now, is that a cute little breakfast square, or what?

And just look how tasty that looks when you open it up! It's spongey and cinnamony, springy and full of warm flavor.

The second batch - because the raisins held the streusel in place a little better (I think - at least that's my theory), had a more centralized streusel look when it came out of the oven.

On the plus side, people should have no trouble guessing which is which!

If you scroll up to the earlier one, you can see that the raisin streusel really stayed in place, and kind of "sank in" as opposed to the way the regular streusel sat on top of the batter and rode it out that way.

So, how were they (aside from being individually sized)?
*Note: I did not decide to glaze them after all. They seemed fairly moist without it - and I have the feeling they'll be easier to eat in a meeting without that.

Oh, and, yes, by the time you're reading this, they will have been served at my work meeting. If anything goes horribly wrong - or incredibly right - I'll update this and let you know.

UPDATE: These little hand-sized coffee cakes were a HIT! They flew out of the tray during our meeting, and by the time I was back to my desk there was only one left. Since most of these ingredients are probably in your pantry - maybe this would be a good weekend to see how happy you can make the people in your life. 

Have a recipe you want me to try to miniaturize? Or something you've always wanted to try but were slightly afraid to? Maybe something you're considering taking to work? Let me know! I'll gladly try to put it together and share it in a future blog post!

Friday, February 16, 2018

When the Brownies Go Too Fast

I'd love to be showing you photos of the brownies I made last night. (Granted, they weren't from scratch, they were from a box, but we all know I wouldn't hold that against them.)

A few years ago, I started making them in mini-muffin tins, so that you end up with "brownie bites."

Christopher isn't sure about my brownie bites. And I completely understand. There's a very short window of time between done and overdone. And they can end up feeling almost a little dry because there's so much exterior exposed to the pan. After all, crunchy/crispy exteriors are great - but dry interiors are not.

But I like to make them - and friends seem to enjoy them.

Last night, unfortunately, I got a bit distracted while making them and forgot to document the process. And then I packed some up for shipping. And… well… we may have eaten most of the rest. Which left me with the possibility of a photo of an unwashed bowl, which I opted against.

So, instead of sharing those brownies in all their glory, I'm offering you this image which I found while working on a project at work this week:

Apparently "purple squirrels" are a hiring thing. Who knew? 
I shall try to be better prepared next week - and add my camera to my mise en place list.

In the meantime, enjoy your leftover Valentine's candy, your non-meat Lenten Friday, and - frankly - any other food that might make you happy (like slightly over-crispy brownie edges).

And... I'll see you in a week!

Have anything you'd like me to put together in my kitchen - assuming I remember to also document it and post about it - let me know! 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Product Review: Trader Joe's Frozen ("take-and-bake") Croissants

A few pieces of background info that may help this post make more sense:
  • I lived in Paris for a year between college and grad school and became mildly addicted to pretty much every bread-based product available. 
  • I really enjoy lazy weekend mornings with Christopher (and pastries).
Oh, and...
  • I am a glass-skeptically-half-full diner when people tell me that some quick and easy frozen food product is as good as the real thing.
Thus, when I found a social media post online stating that a frozen, heat-and-eat croissant was as good as the real thing that takes hours of pastry-making time, I was understandably intrigued - and also afraid to get my hopes up.

Having seen the post - and with a Trader Joe's between work and home - I decided to try these mythical beasts out and see how they were.

They looked fairly promising in the store, so...

Let me explain what happened:

**NOTE: They were $4.49 for a box of 4 - not $3.

The package they come in is small. Like, scarily small. Four croissants in a box that is the size of about one and a half traditional pain au chocolat? That did not seem to bode well. But the price was good - and I knew I could blog about it - so I figured what the heck.

I went ahead and bought a box of each - one chocolate and one almond (see above).

In case you're really wondering about these, here is the basic "recipe" from the back of the box:
With their 9+ hour wait time, Christopher declared them a bit putzy.
As you might expect from the boxes (and the video), these started out pretty small. Small enough to put four of them on the pan that goes into our toaster oven.
Okay… they were supposed to be multiple inches apart. I cheated on that.
I mean… really small:

Yes, I got out one of our kitchen rulers. Basically, I wanted to be able to do a before-and-after comparison. This is obviously the "before."
And flat. Geez. They were flat.

So, I left them on the counter - uncovered - for the night.

(Next time, I might at least put some waxed paper loosely over them. It felt kind of strange to not even do that.)

You're supposed to let them proof for about 9 hours. I think these probably sat out for about 10.5. (I started them before getting ready for bed, and then didn't bake them right away in the morning.)

They rose quite a bit:

I feel I should mention that our house goes down to about 60 degrees at night in the winter - and the counter in the kitchen is near a window that gets even cooler when it's Zero degrees outside.
Following the recipe, I beat up an egg to baste the tops of the croissants before baking.
I apparently didn't shoot that one as a square. Weird.
Action shot!
One thing confused me a little with this. The baking instructions talk about not taking them out of the oven when they are light brown and having to wait until they are dark brown.

Here's the thing: They brown more with the egg wash on them (as well as getting shiny). So they may not get as brown if you don't use the egg. Also, I feel like I'm wasting egg when I have so much left in the bowl after basting.

It's a conundrum.

Either way, though, they did rise even more in the oven, and came out a very respectable size.

You can see that the almond oozed out of the side of one of them a bit - it actually happened to both, you just can't see it because of the ruler.
They were admittedly very pretty when they came out - and the house smelled amazing.

The hardest part was letting them sit on the pan for a bit to set up. (Because puff pastry may "deflate" if you cut into it too soon after it's out of the oven.)

So, how were they?

Well, the one I cut looked like this (for about 5 seconds):
Fair disclosure: One of my favorite foods of all time is an oversized almond croissant that is still warm from the corner patisserie. (Mon dieu! I'm literally salivating while thinking about it!)

Yeah. I admit it. I was incredibly impressed with them. (Even at $4.49 for 4 - not the $3 that I keep saying in the videos.)

Christopher's opinion (which, honestly, was probably less emotionally invested than mine was) was also favorable. He didn't rave about them, but he did say they were a good approximation of a patisserie-born pain au chocolat, and that he'd happily eat them again.

And, for now, I think these may become a new Trader Joe's staple in our freezer.

Is there a product you've seen that you're too scared to try - and want me to try instead? Or is there something on the market you really want people to know more about? Let me know and I'll see about reviewing it in a future post!