Sunday, May 12, 2013

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

The other day I bought a head of cabbage, because it was on sale. I wanted to do something new . . . something out of the ordinary for me. I thought I would try my hand at Cabbage Rolls. I've never made them before, and I've only eaten them a couple of times. I did some research, looked up a few recipes and then decided to wing it. It turned out really well! My awesome husband told me, quite a few times, how much he enjoyed them. The kids ate it well, except the three year old. She wasn't fond of the cabbage, but ate the filling right up. (I completely pleased 5 out of 6 family members - and mostly pleased everyone - so that's a win in my book.)
    I was trying to get dinner done quickly, so I didn't take step by step pictures this time, but the meal was too good not to share the end result with you.
   If you've never enjoyed stuffed cabbage rolls before, I highly recommend it! It's cabbage leaves filled with a savory and slightly sweet mixture of ground meat (usually beef), onion, garlic and a little tomato. The cabbage rolls are cooked covered in a sweet tomato sauce. I made extra sauce and served it over some buttered noodles. It's so delicious I had seconds . . . and thirds. :)

   Try it out and let me know what you think!

Here's the recipe:

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

8 cabbage leaves (boiled until pliable), plus more for lining the pan
1 lb organic ground beef (or any ground meat)
2/3 cup cooked rice
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1 package dry onion soup mix
1/4 cup Worchestershire Sauce
1 egg
1 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp brown sugar (I always use dark)
1 14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 10 3/4 oz can condensed tomato soup
2/3 cup water
freshly ground black pepper

Fill a large pot 1/2 way up with water and bring to a boil. Gently place a whole head of cabbage in the boiling water, and simmer for about 8 minutes (until the outer leaves are pliable and easy to peel away from the head). Cut and peel away at least 14 leaves, and reserve 8 of the largest leaves for filling.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the meat, rice, onion soup mix, Worchestershire, egg, garlic, sugar, black pepper and about 1/3 can of the crushed tomatoes. (I just mix it all together with my hands.) Preheat oven to 350F.
Line a 9x13 bakind dish with the smaller cabbage leaves. Pour over 1/3 of the can of crushed tomatoes over the cabbage leaves.
Take one of the largest reserved cabbage leaves and lay it out flat. Place 1/8th of the meat mixture into the cabbage leaf and roll the leaf around the filling (making sure to tuck in the sides). Place seam side down in the lined baking dish. Repeat 7 more times until you have 8 stuffed cabbage rolls.
Pour the last 1/3 of the crushed tomatoes on top, as well as the entire can of tomato soup. Spread it out evenly over all the cabbage rolls. Add 2/3 cup of water to the dish. Cover the rolls with more cabbage leaves. (These leaves will turn dark in the oven, but that's o.k. They are protecting the rolls underneath.) Bake @350F for 30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the filling is cooked through. Serve warm over buttered noodles.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

(On the fly) Chicken Pot Pie

So, this morning I was informed (reminded really) that I was signed up to bring the main dish for the PTO lunch today. I started wracking my brain for everything I had in the fridge/freezer and what I could make in the next 3 hours. The entire time I was on my run this morning I was thinking of what I could make.
  (My thoughts were something like: I have chicken in the fridge. . . .o.k. do something with chicken. . . . What could I make for a crowd that would also be tasty, that includes chicken? . . . I don't want to do pasta; we always have pasta . . . . I have puff pastry in the freezer. . . . Chicken pot pie? . . . Yeah, I'll do chicken pot pie . . .) And then the rest of my run was planning out the logistics of it all.
   Since I never make this meal with a recipe (I just cook, taste, and adjust as I go) I wasn't sure if I was going to blog it, but I thought if I just measure everything out as I go and write it down it should be good. It's always a good idea to have a recipe for something I bring to the PTO meetings, because I usually get asked for the recipe. :) It makes me feel good to know that people enjoy my food. :)
   The hubby thought that we would have the left-overs for dinner, but it's all gone. People had seconds and that warms my heart even more. I'll just have to whip something else up for dinner . . .

So, here is how I made my "On The Fly" Chicken Pot Pie today; but it's not a hard and fast recipe that I adhere to. I use all the same ingredients, but the amounts may change from time to time - depending on what I have on hand.

I'm going to give you the recipe for the 10x15 casserole dish that I brought to the meeting, but it can easily be halved to make a normal "family" sized meal.

First things first, take the puff pastry out of the freezer. If you thought ahead of time, you can thaw it out in the fridge. If you are making this last minute like me, you'll want to follow the directions on the box for a "quick thaw" on the counter. Now you can forget about this and come back to it later.

In the pan, it all starts with 1 stick of butter. (Remember, that's only 1/2 stick for one family-sized meal, which is really only about 1 Tbsp per person.)

Then I diced up an onion. (I used one medium brown onion, but use what you have.) Just like my recipes vary from time to time, so do my knife cuts. Sometimes I dice and onion as is demonstrated here, and other times (like today) I employ the "Rachel Ray Hack." It's probably the simplest and fasted way to dice an onion.
Just cut both ends off, and cut the onion in half. Then peel the skin off and lay each half, cut side down, on the cutting board. Next, make slices (starting at one of the cut ends).

Then turn the sliced onion and slice again in the opposite direction.
Ta-Da! Dices.

Add the onion to the pot with the butter.

Add in one dry bay leaf, along with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.

Continue to cook over medium low to low heat, and add in 4 cups of frozen mixed veggies. (You can also add in 1/2 cup of chopped celery and 1 tsp minced garlic. I forgot, and added mine in later, as you will see.)

When the veggies are warmed through, add about 1 1/2 tsp of dry thyme (rub it between your hands first, to wake up the flavor).

Then comes the secret ingredient. It's that thing that will make people say, "Mm, what is that?" It's Tarragon. It has a slightly licorice flavor and it goes wonderfully with chicken. I always include it in my chicken pot pies. About 1 tsp of this goes in. Again, rub it between your hands before adding it to the pot.

 Next, add in 1/2 cup of flour. This will thicken your sauce/soup later.

Stir until no more flour is visible and cook for about a minute, to get rid of that raw flour taste.

Then add in 4 cups of chicken stock. (Today I used the organic kind from Costco, but you could use any you have on hand. Homemade Chicken Stock is always best.)

Also the juice of one lemon goes in (about 2 Tbsp).

Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the liquid begins to bubble and thicken.

This is when I remembered that I didn't add my celery. So I chose a few small stalks from the heart of the celery bunch; washed and chopped them up fine . . .

Leaves and all please. (The leaves have wonderful flavor.)

I added the celery to the pot with 1 tsp of minced garlic (that's about 1 large clove minced).

Next comes the cooked chicken. I didn't want to add this earlier, because then the chicken would be over cooked and dry. If I was using raw chicken, I would have added it to the pan when I started everything - with the butter and onions.
  I used 2 large chicken breasts that I removed from a chicken I previously roasted. The bones and skin were removed after cooking. (I only pictured one chicken breast, so you could see how I cubed it up.) You could substitute with boneless, skinless chicken thighs as well. You would need 4 of those to equal the same amount of chicken as 2 large breasts.

Cut up the chicken into chunks. (I just slice it length-wise two or three times and then turn the breast clock-wise 90 degrees and slice it into bite sized pieces.) The technique isn't that important. Just make sure the pieces will fit on a spoon.

Add the chicken to the pot and continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is at a rolling boil (can't be stirred down). Then ask yourself: Is this thick enough for me? If you like it this consistency, then you can leave out the last 1 cup of stock. If it is too thick for you, then stir in the last of the stock. If by chance you want it thicker -as I did- then combine 1 to 2 Tbsp of cornstarch with the reserved 1 cup of stock to make a slurry. -The more cornstarch you add, the thicker it will be.- Make sure the cornstarch is completely dissolved in the stock before you add it to the pot. Otherwise you will have lumps.

Add in about 2 tsp of parsley (I always have dry on hand).

And 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of cream (depending on taste). I just pour and then taste to see if it is where I want it to be.

Turn off the heat, and take out the bay leaf. Taste it for any final seasoning adjustments. Need more salt? Pepper? You want more of one herb or another? Add it now, because you can't add it later.

Pour it into you serving dish (10x15 casserole for me) and turn your oven to 400F.

When the oven is almost hot, carefully unfold the puff pastry and pinch together the folds. (Do this on a floured work surface, or it will stick!)

Then dust a little flour on top and roll it out just a little, to seal the folds together.

When the oven is hot and ready, gently place the puff pastry on top of the pot pie mixture - making sure to fold the corners over the edge of the casserole dish (These edges will stay especially crispy and light, whereas the pastry that is touching the chicken mixture will be a little soggy on the bottom.)
I used 1 3/4 sheets of the puff pastry to cover my casserole dish.

The last 1/3 you may do with as you wish. I just put it on a cookie sheet as baked it up as is (400F for 15 minutes). You could eat this light and airy pastry along with your pot pie, or you could go another direction and satisfy your sweet tooth. :)
I baked it, cut it in half and filled the newly formed cavity with vanilla Greek yogurt and some of my Homemade/Homegrown Peach Preserves. Delish! You could also make a small Strawberry Thyme Cheese Strudel, or anything else your heart desires and your imagination cooks up. (Nutella might be nice!)

The chicken pot pie goes immediately into the 400F oven to bake for about 25 minutes (until the pastry is puffy and golden brown). If the edges are getting too brown before the pastry in the center is ready, just cover the edges with a little aluminum foil.  When it comes out of the oven it is ready for consumption - but you should probably let it cool for a bit, so you don't burn your taste buds off!

You can serve it out of a bowl . . .

or on a plate.

The camera seemed to like the plate better. 

It really is delicious. Try it out and let me know what you think!
 As with all my recipes, please feel free to change it up to suit your needs and likes. Most ingredients are easily interchangeable.

Here's the recipe:
*Remember, this is enough to feed a crowd - 10x15 casserole. If you are only cooking for your family, you can easily half the recipe and it would do nicely. :)
It takes about 45 minutes and feeds about 10-15 (depending on how hungry everyone is)

**Update: 5/16/13 I just made this recipe for my family tonight. I halved everything exactly (except for the bay leaf, I just used a whole small leaf) and it worked out beautifully! I used 2 1/2 cups chicken stock originally and then did thicken it with the optional 1 Tbsp cornstarch mixed with my reserved 1/2 cup chicken stock. I used 1/4 cup of cream. I baked it in a round 2 quart casserole dish with 1 sheet of puffed pastry on top. There was enough to feed us (2 adults and 4 little ones) with enough for my wonderful husband's lunch tomorrow. Just FYI. I hope you all enjoy it!! :)

(On The Fly) Chicken Pot Pie

2 sheets of frozen puff pastry, thawed but still COLD
2 large chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
1 stick (1/2 cup) of butter
1 medium onion diced  
1 large or 2 small ribs of celery, diced, leaves included (about 1/2 cup)
1 tsp minced garlic
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp salt (plus more to taste)
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper (plus more to taste)
1 1/2 tsp dry thyme (to taste)
1 1/2 tsp dry tarragon (to taste)
4 cups frozen mixed vegetables
1/2 cup flour
6 cups chicken stock, divided *
juice of 1 lemon (about 3 Tbsp)
2 tsp of dry parsley (to taste)
1/4 cup to 1/2 cup heavy cream (to taste - I did 1/2 cup)
*1 to 2 Tbsp cornstarch to thicken, if desired (combine with 1 cup of the stock)

 In a large soup pot, over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, celery, garlic, bay leaf salt and pepper. Cook until the onions start to get soft (just a couple minutes) and then add in the thyme, tarragon and mixed vegetables. Stir well and continue to cook until the vegetables are warmed through. Then stir in 1/2 cup of flour and cook for 1 minute (to cook out the raw flour taste). Pour in 5 cups of the chicken stock and lemon juice and stir well. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture boils (and can't be stirred down) and thickens. If the sauce looks too thick, then add the other 1 cup of chicken stock. If you want more of a thick "gravy" texture rather than a soup texture, you can stir in the cornstarch with the 1 cup of chicken stock and then add that slurry to the pot. Add in the chicken and parsley. Return to a boil and then turn off the heat. Stir in the cream and remove the bay leaf. Taste for final seasoning (add more salt, pepper, or herbs depending on your tastes). Pour the mixture into your serving dish (10x15 casserole dish). 
   Turn the oven on to 400F. When the oven is almost hot, unfold the COLD puff pastry sheets onto a floured work surface and pinch the folds/seams together. Roll it out, to set the seams and gently place it over the hot chicken mixture - folding the corners over the edges of the casserole dish. Use as much puff pastry as you need to cover your dish (I used 1 and 3/4 sheets). Any unused pastry can be baked off by itself @ 400F for 15 minutes, or it can be put into a zip-lock bag and refrigerated for later use.
  Put the pastry topped chicken pot pie into the 400F oven and bake for about 25 minutes - until the pastry is puffy and browned all over and the chicken mixture is bubbly. (If the edges of the pastry get too brown, cover them with aluminum foil.) Serve warm.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Caramel Chocolate Pretzel Bark

This recipe can be made in different forms. I'm partial to making on a sheet tray and then cutting it up into smaller pieces, (because it's faster) but it would also work really well as caramel and chocolate coated pretzel rods. That is actually what got me wanting to make this.
   Last Christmas, my dad received a box of coated pretzel rods. I looked at them (while in mid-hunt to find something to satisfy my sweet tooth) and thought, well I guess these will suffice. With the first bite I was hooked. It was nothing special. Just a large pretzel rod, drizzled with caramel and then drizzled with semi-sweet and white chocolate, but the taste was amazing! They were undoubtedly expensive to purchase, but incredibly easy to make. So, I was on a quest to find a good caramel recipe. I found one that I liked, made a few minor tweaks and then my pretzel bark was born.
   This sweet confection is crunchy and chewy. Salty and sweet, creamy and satisfies most every textural sensation I look for in a candy. The first batch I made with regular shaped pretzels, and I thought that the caramel over powered the pretzels too much. So, then I made a second batch, with two layers of pretzels. I liked the flavor much better, but they were a mess to cut. So, I was determined to try again with the stick shaped pretzels, but it would have to wait. I had eaten almost all of the first two batches that I made - within a matter of a week or two - along with many other holiday treats, and I was slowly creeping back up to my "fat" weight. SO, I had to put the treats making on hold until I got a better handle on my waistline.
   Now that it has been a few months, and I am back down to my "ideal" weight I tried my hand again at my pretzel bark. It's just as amazing as I remember it to be. Which is also very dangerous. I made this batch two days ago and it's already half gone. (No one else but I have been eating it.) So, today I packaged the rest of it up and am going to hand it out for teacher gifts. (This weeks is teacher appreciation week after-all.)
  So, I encourage you all to make this. (I don't know how one's dessert life could ever be complete without tasting this at least once.) But, you have been warned. Package this up and give it away quickly. Perhaps even before your first bite. Because once you start you may not want to stop!
  Just sayin'. :)

Here's how it starts:
  You need a candy thermometer. Once you have a thermometer, you need to test it. Attach the thermometer to the pot you want to use for you caramel making and fill it with a few cups of water (enough so the thermometer can get an accurate reading). Bring the water up to a boil and check the temperature on the thermometer. The water should start to boil @ 212F. If it starts to boil at a different temperature, you'll need to adjust the caramel recipe to fit your thermometer. My thermometer is about 12 degrees off. (My water started to boil at around 200F). So I had to adjust the recipe and only cook my caramel to about 233F. Just test your thermometer before you start, so you will get the optimal results. The recipe is really easy, but if you cook the caramel too long you'll end up with hard crunchy candy instead of a chewy caramel.

Get your sheet pan and your pretzels ready. You'll want to generously butter your pan. Do this even if you are dipping the large pretzel rods, because you don't want the caramel to stick. I forgot to butter my pan and it was a pain (to put it nicely) to get the candy to come up.
I'm using a large sheet pan that is roughly 15 3/4 by 21 3/4 inches (it just fits in my oven). Two cookie sheets would work too.

Once the pan and the pretzels are ready, it's time to make the caramel. 2 cups of sugar, 1/4 tsp salt and 1 cup of light corn syrup go into a medium to large heavy pot.

2 sticks (1 cup) of butter also goes in. 

Turn the heat to medium high and stir everything together.

Keep stirring as the butter melts.

When everything is combined, stop stirring and bring it up to a boil.

When it boils rapidly, let it go, untouched, for 4 to 5 minutes.

Turn off the heat and add 1 can of sweetened condensed milk.

Stir it really well, and turn the heat back on.

Attach a candy thermometer to the pot and cook, while stirring, until your thermometer reaches 245F (firm ball stage). (Remember to adjust this to your thermometer testing you did earlier.)

When it reaches 245F (or 233F in my case) turn off the heat and remove the thermometer. Be careful!

Add in a splash of vanilla, and stir well.

Slowly pour the caramel over your prepared pretzels, trying to pour it evenly. (If you are dipping your pretzel rods, pour the mixture into a tall glass or measuring cup and keep warm. Dip your pretzel rods in one at a time - leaving a couple inches un-dipped, where you are holding it, and place onto the buttered pan to set up.)

Spread the caramel out evenly.

Sprinkle on some chocolate chips. (If you are doing large pretzel rods, you'll need to melt the chocolate and either put into another tall glass for dipping, or into a piping bag for drizzling.)

I used about 2 cups to fill my tray. You just want to lightly cover the caramel.

Let the chocolate sit for 2 minutes to melt and then spread it out into an even layer. (I just use the same spoon that I used for the caramel.)

When the chocolate is spread out evenly you are done!  Just let it sit (or put it in the fridge) until the chocolate is set.

You can spread a few chopped pecans over the top if you want. (I only did half with nuts. I prefer the candy without the nuts.)

When the chocolate is almost set you can start to cut your pieces. (If you wait until the chocolate is completely set, if may shatter off of the caramel and not be so pretty.)

This was my first (of many) pieces.

You can see all the beautiful layers. 

My favorite part is the pretzels on the bottom. :) It reminds me of a raft they would make in Candy Land. I love that game! Many times in my childhood I wished that game was real. :)

These are 4 (of the 6) jars I packed up to give away. I'm telling you, this stuff is dangerously addictive!

I took a couple shots so you could see how pretty they package up. The pieces aren't uniform, but that is part of their charm. Like peanut brittle or my English Toffee, the pieces are irregularly beautiful.

One last shot - because this candy is pretty to look at, as well as insanely tasty to eat.
Here's the recipe:

Caramel Chocolate Pretzel Bark

10 oz pretzels (any shape)
2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup light corn syrup
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, cubed, plus more butter for pan
1 (14 oz) can of sweetened condensed milk
splash of vanilla (1-2 tsp)
about 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Generously butter a large sheet pan (or two cookie sheets). Lay out your pretzels in an even layer. (Some overlap is o.k. I've put a double layer before too.) In a medium to large heavy bottom pot, add the sugar, salt, corn syrup and 2 sticks of butter. Stir and cook over medium high heat until the butter is melted and everything is combined. Stop stirring and bring to a full boil. Boil for 4-5 minutes and then turn off the heat. Stir in the sweetened condensed milk and attach a candy thermometer to the pan. Turn the heat on to medium low and cook until the temperature reaches 245F. Turn off the heat, stir in the vanilla and pour the caramel over the prepared pretzels - trying to get them covered evenly. Use the spoon you stirred the caramel with to evenly distribute the caramel over the pretzels in an even layer. Sprinkle on the chocolate chips as evenly as possible. Let the chips sit for 2-5 minutes (until they look melted) and then spread the chocolate out into an even layer. Let sit on the counter until mostly set (or refrigerate for 10 minutes) and then cut into pieces. (I like to lift it out of the pan and cut it on a cutting board.) Store in an airtight container. If you live in a warmer climate, keep it in the fridge so the chocolate doesn't melt.

*Always test your candy thermometer before cooking. Bring water up to a boil. It should be @ 212F when it starts to boil. If your thermometer reads a different temperature, make the adjustments to your recipe. (For example, my water started boiling @ 200F so I cooked my caramel to 233F instead of 245F.)

**This recipe can easily be used to make pretzel rods. Just pour the caramel into a tall glass or measuring cup and keep warm. Dip each rod individually (leaving a 2 inch "handle") and place on a buttered cookie sheet to set. Once they are set you can drizzle with melted chocolate of your choosing. (Dark and white chocolate look nice together.)