Friday, March 30, 2018

Pre-Holiday Post-Holiday Planning (aka "What to do with the dyed eggs.")

I know that we've kind of covered this in the past, but this time of year I always think about hard-boiled eggs. Lots of them. And all of the cool colors.

For instance:
From a post I put up 5 years ago: The Wonderful World of Color.

I'm sure that some of you are wondering why a grown man would dye eggs. (Those of you who know me, however, know that this is one of the less-odd things I might do to amuse myself around a holiday.)

And, yes, I must also admit that I seldom dye them for the sake of an Easter egg hunt (after all - Cadbury eggs are just as easy to hide - and you can put them in more interesting, precarious locations.)

This year, for instance, I'm not doing any dyeing. (Is it just me, or does that word look really weird?) But I still want the eggs.

Yes, I know we've talked about egg salad before. Or, rather, we've talked about Faux Tofu Egg Salad before. But that recipe went for bigger flavors, and today I'm going basic. So basic, in fact, that this is a photo of eggs, just barely covered with cold water, in a pan:

You know the old adage "A watched pot never boils"? Well, that has nothing to do with simply staring at a pot on the stove. It has to do with an uncovered pot on the stove. Because a pot with a lid will boil faster than an open pot. In our case, we can watch the pot as much as we want, because the lid is clear.

I guess that - since we're waiting for things to boil - this is as good a time as any to mention that the first time I ever really thought about making egg salad was in college. I'm sure I'd had it sometime before that, but I'd just never thought about making it on my own. But one day I was in some friends' apartment, and one of the guys just threw things in a bowl and mashed them up. It was the oddest "a-ha" moment. And I've been making it ever since.

And, yep, even while watching it, it boiled:

Immediately after it started, I turned off the heat, and turned on the timer.

I don't know where I learned this technique - I just know that it works better for me than the "boil the eggs for X minutes" version of timing.

As soon as the timer started to beep, I took the lid off the pan and started running cold water in on top of the eggs to cool them and stop the cooking. (This can be helped by actually dumping the hot water out - if you're feeling brave about not accidentally dumping the eggs into the sink, as well.)

Once they've cooled to a touchable/holdable temp, you can start working with them. Which means it's time for... EGG WARS!!

Having lost the war, the first egg gets well cracked (all over, so that the shell will hopefully come off easier), and then it's all about trying to get the shell off without getting it everywhere - and without losing too much of the egg to the trash bin.

You can see which egg got peeled first - it was probably too warm, and I lost about 1/8 of the egg into the trash along with the shell.
And - finally - we have all of our ingredients together:

By the way... Here's what you get when your eggs cook to the right temp, in the right time, and peel nicely:

I'm so proud of the fact that there's no gray ring around the yolk. That's what happens if you cook them for too long.
At this point, it's really just about mashing everything together.

Oh - I did chop the pickles, first, since I didn't have any relish on hand.
Did you notice the extra yolks on the top in the bowl, above? They came from the one egg that I hollowed out to devil.

I'd love to say that I had a recipe for this, but I don't. The proportions change depending on my mood. But it's almost always bright yellow... (I've tried using other mustards, but I really like the basic yellow.)

And, yes, I did actually devil that egg. I didn't sprinkle it with paprika (because I'm not doing a retro post), but I certainly could have!

How did I do?

I must admit that, while I was looking into this, I was trying to think of other things to do with "leftover" cooked eggs. One of the things I found was Scotch eggs - which are basically a not-quite-hard-boiled egg, encased in breakfast sausage, breaded, and fried. I've never had one, but - as with the a-ha moment when I realized I could make my own egg salad - I may need to try them sometime soon.

And, yes, I'll happily try to make any of your a-ha foods, if you want! Let me know what it is/was, and I'll see what I can do - then post about it on here. Or else maybe I could just make another bunny cake
Geez. This is from 2011! Time flies when you're blogging!

Friday, March 23, 2018

Beginner's Baking - Going to the Dogs

It’s pretty rare that I make a recipe that requires too much technical skill. Most of my kitchen skills fit a bit better into the “chop, drop, and stir” cooking method than the “chiffonade, foam, and flooferdoo” school. Lord knows I’d never make it past the knife skills (or clean work area) portions of most cooking shows.

That being said, this recipe is even easier than most that I do. It’s also seriously hands-on and messy.

So if you’ve got beginning cooks (or bakers) in the house, who are learning about measurements and doing recipes in the right order, this might be a good place to start. It’s also good for experienced cooks who just need a chance to relax in the kitchen for a bit and don't want to worry about calories.

And it’s good for people with dogs.

Someone was a little over-excited. Can you guess who?
Let’s look at what we’re working with. (And - tell me - does it sound like I mis-spell an important word in this? I'd swear I said it all, but it sounds odd to me when I listen back...)
For anyone who has ever wondered what is in the dish that often shows up in the lower right corner of my videos. Now you know - dog treats!

As I mentioned in the video, I don’t know the exact origin of this recipe. I got it from a friend when – a few years ago – I put out a social media call for gluten-free dog treat recipes. (You’d be surprised how many dogs have grain allergies – or you might not, depending on your household pet situation.)

As someone who already has a bunch of gluten-free baking supplies on hand, this was easy for me to tackle. If you’re not stocked up on things like brown rice flour or powdered milk, I’d recommend buying in bulk from a local food co-op (that’s where I go), or – if your grocery store doesn’t have these things (they actually might, these days) – you could look for the flour online. (The powdered milk really ought to be in any grocery store.)

A bigger concern, depending on when you’re making these, might be the canned pumpkin. It’s incredibly easy to find (and really cheap) around Thanksgiving, but can be a bit of a bugger to track down in spring. (Is it in the canned vegetable aisle? The canned fruit aisle? The baking aisle? Wherever it is, it’s probably either on the top shelf or the very bottom shelf – no wasting top-selling shelf space for an out-of-season item!)

You want to make sure you get the plain pumpkin – not pumpkin pie filling (which typically has spices, etc.) – and you’re baking for the dog, so don’t worry about it being high-end. (I know… the stuff I’m using for this is organic. I was in the co-op buying the brown rice flour and didn’t want to go to another store on my way home, and this was all they had.)

Because you won’t be using a full can (unless you at least double the batch), you might consider other things to do with the rest of it. I’ve heard that it’s good as a thickener in soups. Or you could have it as a warm side dish (think pureed sweet potatoes). Or maybe you could also make a pie or dessert roll or something. Or – as I’m going to try to do this time around – you could freeze it in appropriately sized amounts for next time.

As promised, this is a really easy recipe, which is part of why I’ve been stalling.

Here’s my bowl with all of the “first set” of ingredients in it:

Here's what it looks like when you're whisking:

Here are the other ingredients going in. It says you should just stir them in, but since the whisk is already dirty, I just used it.

The parsley is supposed to be good for your dog's breath. It also adds visual interest to this photo.

At this point, as you can tell, it's really liquid-y. Which is where the flour comes in, and turns it into this:

And this is where the messy part comes in. You see, it doesn’t all really want to mix together right away, so you need to go in there with your hands and work with it, and then even knead it a bit.

Before we get to the next step, a caution: Pumpkin has natural colors in it. Those natural colors may transfer onto and into your counter if you’re not careful. I recommend working with these on a cutting board (or even a sheet of waxed paper), so that you can avoid that.

Because the dough can be sticky once it's all worked together – and you want to get it fairly flat – you might need some leftover flour on the surface.

The next few steps are good practice for anyone who wants to make pastry: it’s all about rolling out the “dough,” shaping it, and getting it from the counter to the pan. Basically, it’s the same things you do with pie dough, pizza dough, or rolled/cut cookie dough. Just… simpler.

Honestly, it looks a lot more orange than that in real life.
Here’s something that I was a little confused by the first time I made these: How big should they be?

That’s both a thickness question and a surface area question. First, about the thickness: These are not going to rise at all in the oven. They’re just going to sit there and get drier/harder/crunchier. If you know that the dog you’re working with really likes crispy treats, then thinner is better. If you think the dog really likes stuff she can chew on, thicker would be better. I tend to aim for about 1/4” thick. That seems like a decent thickness to hold them together, without being too thick for an older dog to get through.

As for the surface area – I thought that would be really easy to take care of, but I was sorely mistaken. You see, dog-bone-shaped cookie cutters tend to be pretty big, and we tend to have smaller dogs. So I wasn’t going to buy one of the 4-inch bones and spend all my time breaking the treats into smaller pieces. I eventually just dug around in my Christmas cookie cutters and found the smallest ones I had:

I tend to prefer the star, simply because it's easy to get the dough out of the cutter. 

Yeah... the necks on the people were a little hard to work with. Hence the headless form in the upper-right corner of the photo. 
After the first round of cutting, you can mush the dough all back together and press it out, again.

This same process works over and over until you're left with barely enough to cut out.

If you’re used to baking cookies, you’ve probably dealt with them puffing up and expanding in the oven – and sticking together. Trust me when I say that you don’t have to worry about that with these. They aren’t going to grow. You can put them millimeters apart on the sheet, and you’ll be fine.

Did I mention that you’ll be making a lot of these?
Halfway through the baking, you take them out of the oven and flip them over. I highly recommend using a spatula for this. However, if you’re having trouble getting them onto the spatula – and having them stay there long enough to flip – they are solid enough that you can use a pair of tongs. (Or – though I would not recommend this for kitchen novices – you can flip them with your fingers. Just be very careful not to touch the pan, the oven rack, the interior of the oven in general, or… well… anything that might be 300-plus degrees.)

Back into the oven they go for the next round of drying.

And then onto a rack to cool. Unlike most cookies for people, these must be fully cooled before you give them to a dog.

I actually left them on the pan and set it on the rack. It was easier than making the rack dirty.

By the way, these are – technically – people-grade and edible. I mean… all of the ingredients are in other things that we eat, just not in this combination. (In fact, I’ve heard that – because they are a bit bland – the thinner ones work well with a good Brie.)

For my part, I think I’ll leave the taste-testing to the pooch.

And there we go! All the stress relief of baking and no extra calories for me. It's like the perfect setup. (And I think the pup would agree.)


Is there anything you've been looking for a recipe for? I found this recipe by calling out to the cybersphere and asking for help. If there's something you're hoping to find, let me know and I'll see what I can do!

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!