A Harmony of Flavors

Monday, May 25, 2015

Rhubarb in Cheesecake Bars Naturally Gluten Free

Continuing with the rhubarb theme, and the need to use a large amount of rhubarb that was given to me already cut up, the latest endeavor was Rhubarb Raspberry Cheesecake Bars. To up the interest, I used a swirl pattern in the cheesecake. Only one word for these bars: YUM!
Rhubarb Raspberry Cheesecake Bars, with whipped cream and fresh raspberry. Chiffonade of mint for color.

Gluten Free Recipe

For this recipe, I wanted to go gluten free. Not because I need to have a gluten free dessert, but only because there are people who do need things gluten free. There are so many wonderful foods, including desserts, that are naturally gluten free. While my kitchen is not a gluten free zone, and wheat, rye and barley are used almost daily, if you are on a gluten free regimen, you will already have a gluten free kitchen, or the means to make this without contamination. 
Rhubarb Raspberry Cheesecake Bars

When I was visiting with my sister in November, she made an offhand comment about anything gluten free tasting just awful. I tried to speak with her on this, to say that there are many things that are gluten free by their very nature, but she would hear none of it. This recipe is gluten free just because the ingredients needed are gluten free. It uses a little cornstarch as a thickening agent in the sauce and also in the cheesecake as I feel it gives a silkier texture. So with that in mind, I hope this recipe will tempt everyone, and not just the Gluten Intolerant

Most bars or cheesecakes have crust made with cookie crumbs or graham cracker crumbs or other wheat based crumb mixture. For most of my cheesecakes, I have used an almond or other nut based mixture, and this is what was used in this case. The recipe for the almond crust tastes excellent  and it holds up just as well as the cookie crumbs types. If you have a nut allergy, then this particular crust is not for you. For my purposes, this worked spectacularly. This recipe can be used for a cheesecake baked in a spring-form pan also, and the crust will extend up the sides of the pan to about 1 or 1 1/2 inches. If it is used in a 9 x 13-inch pan as I did here, it is pressed only onto the bottom of the pan.

Almond Crust

makes enough for a 9-inch round spring-form pan or a 9 x 13-inch baking dish

1 1/3 cups whole, raw almonds
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat oven to375 degrees. Place the almonds and sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process to very small bits. Add the extract and the butter and continue to process until very fine. Press this mixture into the pan of choice. If using a round pan, press the mixture partway up the sides. In a 9 x 13-inch baking dish, press evenly into the bottom. Bake the crust for about 15 minutes, until set and slightly golden. If the mixture pushes up during baking, press it back into place with a glass or other flat object as soon as it comes from the oven. Set aside to cool.

Crust crumbs pressed into parchment-lined pan         |  crust is baked, and then pressed back into shape                 
Using this crust in a 9 x 13-inch pan for this recipe, I chose to line the pan with parchment, so the dessert could be lifted out cleanly. In a spring-form pan, obviously the rim is detachable, so this is not necessary. If you are leaving the dessert in the pan and cutting it there, the parchment liner is unnecessary. 

When planning the cheesecake filling for this dessert, I wanted a pink swirly pattern, so I first created the rhubarb and raspberry sauce. I made the crust and this sauce both the evening before, so they both had adequate time to cool. This cheesecake could easily be made in a round, spring-form pan if desired. Baking time may be different, and it would be best to use a water bath to ensure the filling does not get overbaked. It was easy to watch in this low baking dish. In a deeper pan, it is more important to keep an eye on the filling as it bakes.

The cheesecake part of the mixture is pretty straightforward. Cream cheese and sour cream, eggs, sugar, a little cornstarch and flavorings are the basis. Making the rhubarb raspberry sauce takes no time at all. Five minutes to cook, and then it is just a decision of how to puree. I have an old food mill, and this kept most of the raspberry seeds out of the mixture. Pressing through a sieve would take a little more time, but work equally well, if not better. If desired, simply puree in a blender. With a Vita-Mix blender, it would puree the seeds completely. However this is done, the mixture must be cooled down before proceeding with the recipe. If desired, a drop or two of red food color can be added to make the color more vibrant in the final product. I did not add food coloring; what is seen in the photos is the natural fruit color.

Rhubarb Raspberry Cheesecake Bars

Rhubarb Raspberry Cheesecake Bars
makes one 9 x 13-inch pan

Almond Crust above (or crumb crust of choice)

2 cups fresh rhubarb, cut in small chunks
1 cup fresh raspberries, lightly crushed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
pinch salt
1 tablespoon cornstarch

3 (8-ounce) blocks cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup sour cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs

Prepare the crust and allow to cool completely. 

In a medium saucepan, mix together the Rhubarb Raspberry Sauce ingredients and bring them to a boil. Cook, stirring for 5 minutes, until the fruit has broken down and the sauce is thickened. Pass the mixture through a food mill, sieve, blender or food processor (depending on how fine you prefer the cheesecake filling to come out). Cool the mixture and chill completely.
Sauce ingredients in pan              |          sugar stirred in creates juices          |          sauce is cooked and pureed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the room temperature cream cheese (very important it be at room temperature or the cream cheese will stay lumpy) in the bowl of a mixer and beat until smooth and creamy. Add the sour cream and sugar and beat at low speed to combine. Add in the cornstarch, vanilla and salt; mix well. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing gently after each addition, until well incorporated. It is important to not over-whip the cheese mixture as this tends to cause the cheesecake to puff up while baking and then crack. Mix gently, so as not to incorporate too much air. 

Divide out about 1/3 of the cheesecake mixture. To this 1/3, add all the Rhubarb Raspberry Sauce and whisk well to combine. Drop about 1/2 of the pink mixture onto the crust Do not spread. Drop on about 1/2 of the white cheesecake mixture, without spreading. Repeat this process once more with the pink mixture and then the white mixture. Once all the cheesecake batters are in the pan, use a table knife to gently swirl figure-8 patterns through the mixture. Do not over mix. 
dropping dabs of cheesecake mixtures in pan       |            all in the pan                 |           swirled in figure-8 pattern             

ALTERNATELY: Combine the fruit sauce with all of the cheesecake and stir well, making a pale pink cheesecake.

Tap the pan 2 or 3 times sharply on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake the cheesecake bars for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees, then lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees for 20 minutes more. The cheesecake may be a little jiggly in the center, but set at the edges.

Allow the cheesecake to cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 3 or 4 hours, or overnight before serving. To make clean cuts, use a knife that has been run under hot water and wiped dry after each cut.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Excess Rhubarb Results in Jam

Rhubarb & Blood Orange Jam
My friend Tetiana gave me a large bag of rhubarb the other day. Unfortunately it was all nicely diced. Meaning, it has to be used, and relatively quickly before it all goes bad! Whole stalks would have been ideal, giving me time to work with it. A few days ago I made a test run of Raspberry Bars. This was ideally to have been Rhubarb Raspberry Bars, but Tetiana had not brought the rhubarb yet, and even the grocery still had none in stock. Once I had all that rhubarb to work with, what to do with it became a pressing matter. 

The first thing I did was to make a jam, or maybe marmalade? Anyway, I had seen some blood oranges at the grocery, and while not inexpensive, I had never worked with them before and I thought the added red of the oranges would enhance the rhubarb's pale pinkish color (when cooked). Tossing around ideas, I used 4 of the blood oranges to 6 cups of rhubarb. I used the peels from 2 1/2 of the oranges for both flavor and texture. The oranges, called "Sanguinellas" on their little stickers, were a deep purple inside. The mixture in the pan all together was really pretty, with the pink and green of the rhubarb, the deep purple of the oranges and the bright orange of their peels.
"Sanguinella" Blood Oranges          |          colorful ingredients in the pot          |          with sugar added in            
I haven't made much jam that is cooked the long way for many years. Mostly I use Sure Jell Packets and have done with it. In this case I had no real idea about how much Sure Jell to use, so I just went the long route and cooked until done. 


The thing about this is knowing precisely when the jam is "done". Theoretically, this is when the boiling mixture coalesces into two thick drops when holding a spoon up on its side, as demonstrated in this picture I made at right. This is called "sheeting", as when the jam falls in a near-solid "sheet" from the spoon. The reality is not always so clear cut as this. In cooking my Rhubarb & Blood Orange Jam, it stayed looking far runnier than this. Once I decided that it absolutely "had" to be done, it was already cooked for longer than needed. The jam is delicious, and I am happy with flavors. It is, however, a bit too thick and harder to spread than it could be. I would still recommend this recipe. It is worthwhile, and doesn't really take all that long.
How the bubbles look when done     |   the thin "sheeting" of my jam               

Bubble Pattern

Another thing to watch for when cooking jam is the bubble pattern. We all know what it looks like when a mixture boils, with the thinness of the liquid and flimsy bubbles. As a sweet mixture cooks down, the bubble pattern becomes more dense, the bubbles finer and more closely spaced. In these photos here at right, observe the pattern of teensy bubbles, interspersed with some larger ones breaking surface. 

Canning and Jars

When making jam, jelly, preserves, conserves, the most important thing is the jars and canning process. When I was growing up in the 1950s, my Mom made jams and jellies every summer. Generally, she used hot paraffin wax to "seal" the jars. None of us ever got sick from her canning methods, so I have to assume it worked well. She did also can foods in Mason or Ball jars, with the typical ring and lid mechanism. For jams and jellies, she poured the boiling jam mixture into the sterilized jars, topped with a sterilized lid and ring to seal it and waited for that familiar loud "pop", indicating the jars had sealed. For other fruit or vegetable canning, she did use a boiling water bath. Again, we never became ill from her canning, so we all assumed this was fine.

These days, no matter what one is preserving, the boiling water bath or pressure canning is de rigeur. This consists of setting the jars of preserves or other food into a large kettle tall enough to completely submerge the jars. The jars are set onto or into a rack to keep them upright and separated, so water can flow freely around the jars. Keeping the jars at the prescribed temperature in the boiling water is the important part, and the timing starts at the point where the pot is at a rolling boil. For most jams and jellies, a safe timing of this water bath is as follows:
  • 10 minutes at up to 1,000 feet above sea level
  • 15 minutes if between 1,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level
  • 20 minutes at higher than 6,000 feet above sea level

And then there are Weck Jars

Behind, sealed Weck jars, clamps still on with the gasket tab pointed downwards
Weck is a German brand of particularly lovely jars. They come at a price. The plus side is the loveliness of the canned goods and the reusable lids and rubber gaskets. The cons with these jars, I found, is getting them to seal properly. I had bought a box of the Weck mini tulip jars, to ease myself into using them. At the very least, they make a lovely presentation. The jars come with 2 clamps apiece to hold the lids in place during the water processing. In theory, the lids seal, and the little tab on the rubber gasket points downwards, indicating a proper seal. Once the jars have been processed, the clamps are removed, to use for other canning, and the tab is tugged gently to insure there is a good seal. If the tug on the tab lifts the lid off the jar, obviously there is not a good seal and the food must be refrigerated and used. 

I read online that other people were having difficulties with Weck jars and getting a good seal. The ratio of jars that did not seal properly was quite high, in comparison with the regular Ball jar lid and ring mechanism. Someone suggested that if the clamp was not clamped all the way down to the jar, this allowed better expansion and contraction of the contents while processing. Once removed from the water bath, the clamp is pressed down all the way and left to cool. 

I tried and tried to see a way of only partially pressing down those clamps, and let me say, I don't know if it is just the small size of my jars, or something I am completely missing in translation. "Not all the way down" for me, resulted in the clamp setting right on the rubber gasket. There is no possible way it can set on that gasket and not lift the lid off. Being submerged in a water bath would have resulted in all my jam leaking out into the kettle of water. Oh well. Out of 6 Weck jars, four of them sealed properly and two did not. Not the best odds. The one little Ball jelly jar sealed perfectly. I guess I will stick with Ball jars for my canning and use the Weck for pretty presentations.

Rhubarb & Blood Orange Jam
Rhubarb & Blood Orange Jam

makes about 5 1/2 cups

6 cups chopped fresh rhubarb
2 cups blood orange (or other orange) fruit
1/2 cup orange rind, julienne cut
6 cups sugar
1/2 cup orange juice or combo of juice and water

Find the widest large pot possible for cooking jam. This helps with surface evaporation, making the jelling process go more quickly. Place the rhubarb in the pot. Using a potato peeler, pare off a thin layer of rind from well-scrubbed oranges. Peel all the rind in strips about 3/4-inch wide at a time, down the length of the orange. Once all the rind is off, without the white pith underneath, slice the strips across into very thin julienne slices. Do this with as many oranges as needed to make the half-cup of julienned rind. Add this to the pot with the rhubarb.

I found the orange peels very easy to pull off, much like tangerines. Once the skins are removed, coarsely chop the fruit and add 2 cups of the fruit to the pan. Add in the sugar and the orange juice (or water, or a mix of the two), and stir well. Set the pan onto medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Once the mixture is boiling, maintain the heat at medium or just slightly less, keeping a good boil. Stirring need not be constant; stir only occasionally to make sure the mixture is not sticking. 

Cook the jam for about half an hour, or until it sheets from a spoon, as shown in the pictures above. If using a lower temperature, or if using a narrower pot, this process may take up to an hour. While the jam is cooking, place all the jars, lids and rings into a boiling water bath for at least 10 minutes. When the jam is done, using tongs, carefully remove one jar from the boiling water. Fill the jar with the hot jam to about 1/2 inch from the top. Have a clean, damp cloth ready and wipe down the rim of the jar before setting a lid in place and tightening down a ring to seal. Repeat with all the mixture. When all jars are sealed, make sure the canning pot has water deep enough to accommodate completely submerging the jars in the boiling water. Set jars onto a rack in the pot. Bring the water to a full boil and cover with a lid. Time the water bath for 10 minutes, or follow the table above for your altitude. Once finished processing, use tongs or canning tongs to remove the hot jars from the bath. Set them on a damp towel to cool.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Raspberries on Sale Equals Raspberry Bars

I think raspberries have been top of my list of favorite fruits, like forever. Growing up we had a yard with so many fruits already growing there, it was a little paradise. Raspberry bushes had taken over a large area, and there were also some black raspberries. We were sent picking for Mom to make raspberry jam every summer. A friend of mine, Tetiana, had given me a bunch of raspberries after the open house last Sunday, and I said something about raspberry pie. She said, "Make bars. They are so much prettier when cut!" 

And I thought, wow, I guess bars have so rarely been in my vocabulary, that might just be an excellent idea. I had been hoping to combine raspberries and rhubarb, and I still probably will, but yesterday, on a trip to the grocery, there was NO RHUBARB! Gasp! 

My Raspberry Bars
Okay then, raspberry bars it would be. But just as bars have not been part of my vocabulary, neither has that kind of crust been. Most every recipe I read online had some mixture of flour, sugar and butter. Some had eggs. Some had oats. Actually a lot of them had oats. And there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for the amounts. Some had a recipe (that would be part bottom crust and part topping) using 4 cups of flour to be crust and topping for a 9 x 9-inch pan, and some had 1 1/2 cups flour to make crust and topping for a 9 x 13-inch pan. This made me wonder, for sure. That is quite a spread between extremes.

I really like crusts. And I love things like streusel. In my recipe for my Best Apple Crisp, Ever, the topping mixture is quite unusual, in that almost every apple crisp has oatmeal in the topping. I love oatmeal; truly love, love oatmeal. For some strange reason, it just is not my "cup of tea" when it is in Apple Crisp toppings. Since the topping for my Best Apple Crisp Ever is such a spectacular (oat-less) mixture, I thought I would try a sort of riff on that concept. 

Making the Crust and Topping Mixture

I wanted to use the same idea for bringing the mixture together into a streusel-like mixture as I use in the Apple Crisp Recipe. Eggs are whisked together and then tossed in to moisten the flour, butter and sugar until crumb-like. The difference is that the topping on the apple crisp has melted butter poured over top before baking. That wouldn't work for the raspberry bar crust, so I opted to grate in the cold butter and cut it in quickly with a pastry cutter. As an alternative, just pick up handfuls and rub the butter between the palms to combine with the dry ingredients. 
In the photos here:
  • #1 dry ingredients in the bowl
  • #2 the cold butter grated in
  • #3 toss the dry ingredients over the butter shreds
  • #4 cut in with pastry cutter or hands
  • #5 pour whisked eggs over the crumbly mixture
  • #6 mix quickly with a fork to moisten
This method worked excellently, and the crust is both flavorful and perfectly textured. On this method I would not change a thing.

Thoughts on the Filling

In early April, I tried to make a raspberry pie for the first time, ever. I had 4 little packages of the most perfect raspberries I had seen for a long while. I read about a dozen recipes for raspberry pie. Why in the world would I never have made a pie of raspberries? Mom never did, in my memory, even with all those berries growing in the yard. Somehow, this was just missing from my childhood, and after that never came up as a concept. So I was all ready one morning. We still had our guests visiting, so I thought I would get a jump on the pie while it was still quiet, before breakfast. I mixed up a recipe as I had it created, adding in some sugar and cornstarch to the berries and set them aside while preparing the crust. I was all set, bottom crust in pan, and I looked at the berries, expecting a soupy mixture. 

Bottom crust partially baked, the berry mixture poured over and the topping set in place, ready to bake

Imagine my shock when they were totally dry, and the sugar and cornstarch still all there, dry as can be. Well, I figured (wrongly, as it turned out), they will surely burst open and mix once in the oven, so I proceeded, pouring in the berries and all the dry sugar and cornstarch, then topping with a pretty lattice crust and popped it in the oven. Nearly an hour later the very first tiny bit of bubbling occurred. The crust was way done. The berries and sugar were still dry for the most part. There was a soupy mess in the bottom, but it never got a chance to thicken. A total disaster. It was great scooped over vanilla ice cream though!

Perfection! Raspberry Bars
I have not made a second attempt at a raspberry pie, though I will sometime this summer! I believe that partly crushing some of the berries and mixing in the sugar and cornstarch  to combine would aid in making the proper outcome. This is what I did for the bars. Half the berries went in a bowl with the sugar and cornstarch and once mixed well, the remaining whole berries were added, and the mixture, while completely watery going in, came out perfectly thickened once baked, as shown here in this gorgeous photo.

Here is my recipe, which came out wonderfully well and is most decidedly one of my new favorite desserts. I am looking forward to rhubarb raspberry bars, and peach bars . . .  Here is my recipe:

Raspberry Bars

makes one 9 x 13-inch pan


4 cups fresh raspberries (from 3 1/2 to 4 six-ounce containers)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated finely
pinch salt
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon rosewater, optional

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups cold, unsalted butter
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Place 1/2 of the berries in a medium mixing bowl. Using a potato masher, a spoon, or hands, partly crush the berries. Add in the sugar, ginger, salt, cornstarch and rosewater, if using. Mix well until all the dry ingredients are moistened, and then add the remaining berries and toss to combine. Set the mixture aside to macerate while making the topping.

Parchment-lined pan                                 |               berries partly crushed with sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees (350 on Convection Bake). Line a 9 x 13-inch baking dish with parchment, allowing a 2-inch overhand on the long sides. Use cooking spray to coat the inside of the parchment lined pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the crust. Grate in the cold butter on a large holed grater, or cut the butter into very small cubes and add to the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry cutter, or rub mixture between palms to incorporate, until the mixture will briefly hold clumps. In a small bowl, whisk together the 2 eggs and the yolk. Pour this into the bowl and using a fork, quickly toss the mixture until it is fairly moistened. Scrape up dry bits to moisten as well as possibly. Use fingers to bring the mixture to point, when it will hold clumps very easily, but is still loose. 

Pour about 2/3 of this mixture into the prepared pan, gently maneuvering the crust to the edges and corners. Do not tamp down, but just use fingertips to press down slightly. Bake this crust for 10 or 15 minutes. It will still be soft and only have a spot or two of golden to the top. Remove from the oven. Stir the berry mixture once more and pour the berries over the partly baked crust, gently pushing the fruit to the edges and corners without disturbing the crust too much.

Add the sliced almonds to the bowl with the remaining crust mixture, tossing to combine. Sprinkle this mixture over the top of the berries. Bake the bars for 25 minutes at 375 degrees, then lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for about 20 minutes more. The top crust should be golden and the filling bubbling. Allow the bars to cool completely. The parchment overhang can be used to lift the entire dessert free of the pan, making for easier slicing.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Chicken and Grape meets Waldorf Salad

As I have written before, I make versions of chicken and grape salads. I change what goes in them based on what is on hand at the time it is being made. Sometimes there aren't even grapes in it! I don't believe I've ever specifically gone to the store and said, "hmmm, I need this, this and this for a Chicken and Grape Salad." It just happens sometimes that I have leftover chicken, usually from a rotisserie chicken I bought for another reason and this salad, which my husband also loves, is always a sure bet in our household.

So last November we took a road trip and were in Denver visiting two of my sisters. One of them, whose house we stayed at, has some complete taboos on things like mayonnaise and mustard. This tends to limit making certain recipes, including chicken and grape salads. So, she had some leftover chicken and she said we could put together a sort of chicken and grape salad or a play on Waldorf with chicken. All this sounded great. She was at work, and I was at home to make the salad. As I started assembling the ingredients on the counter, it suddenly hit me! She doesn't eat mayonnaise, so what in the world makes her Waldorf or Chicken Grape Salads?
Waldorf-ish Salad

I called her up and she had a couple of suggestions, one of which was using Ken's Lite Sweet Vidalia Onion Dressing. And I thought, hmmm....well, I guess that could be good. It's not mayo, and I am not one to buy many salad dressings, as I'd rather make them myself. Still.... if we were to have dinner, at least this dressing would probably be acceptable to my husband. As it turned out, I was really taken with the flavors of the salad. I can't recall exactly what ingredients went into the salad that time, but when we got back home I went and bought a bottle of the Ken's dressing, so whenever the time came, I could use it again. 

Last evening was finally the time.

My husband eats a little salad with his dressing. Literally, there is usually more dressing than anything green. Many salad dressings just aren't thick enough to suit him, so he sticks to things like Thousand Island or one of the thickened (preferable sweet) French dressings. With mayonnaise in the Chicken and Grape Salad, it is no problem, as long as everything is well coated. I had wondered (at my sister's house) if the Ken's Lite Sweet Vidalia dressing would be thick enough, but apparently it was, plus it is sweet, so I felt safe in getting the dressing to have on hand here at home. 

Last week I made a Chicken Enchilada Casserole and used a rotisserie chicken for that part of the recipe. To make the amount of chicken I needed for the recipe, I used the whole (admittedly quite small) chicken - all but one little lonely breast that was left over. It sat in the fridge all this time, so last night, while it was a little bit of meat, it is easy to stretch when adding other things. I had one handful of grapes left in a bowl on the counter. I had some dill left from making the Herbed Goat Cheese Ball or Spread I wrote about yesterday. I thought finally the time had come to make this salad again and use the Ken's Dressing!

A Waldorf Salad is comprised of apples, walnuts and celery in a mayonnaise dressing. Chicken and raisins or grapes are sometimes added. It is usually served over lettuce or in lettuce cups. As I use whatever is on hand, I had no lettuce on hand so no lettuce bed. In the spirit of all this, I am dedicating my version of a mayo-less and lettuce-less "Waldorf-ish Salad" to my sister Michele.

Waldorf-ish Salad

Waldorf-ish Dinner Salad

Serves 2 or 3

2 cups cooked chicken, cubed
1 1/2 cups celery, sliced 
3/4 cup green bell pepper, cubed
3/4 cup green grapes, halved
1/2 medium apple, cored, cubed
1 - 2 teaspoons lemon or lime juice
1/2 cup walnuts, broken
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup loosely filled with fresh dillweed
1/3 - 1/2 cup Ken's Lite Sweet Vidalia Onion Dressing
extra dill fronds for garnish

Combine is a bowl the first 8 ingredients, sprinkling the apples with the lime or lemon juice. Toss well. Mince the dillweed and add, along with the dressing and mix well. Serve as is, or serve over a bed of lettuce if desired. Garnish with dill fronds. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

New Cheese Ball or Spread for an Open House

Guests enjoying the foods we prepared
Yesterday my good friend Tetiana, of Re/Max Preferred Choice here in Aberdeen, asked if I would come with her to help out with food for an open house she was hosting at 1620 Mel Ros. I had made little appetizer foods for an open house here last summer. Despite being a truly lovely home, it is still on the market as of today. Tetiana assured me she was making the foods this time, but would appreciate help with serving, while she was busy with potential buyers. Still, I wanted to bring something, so I elected to make a version of some little filled sweet peppers I had made for the holidays a while back. 

Little Sweet Peppers
I started out with the idea of making them just as I made the ones back in December of 2013, but true to form, I cannot even follow my own recipes, even if they were great. Those appetizers were wonderful. I used a cheese ball mixture but softened it to fill those little sweet peppers that are available everywhere now. In lovely colors of red, orange and yellow, and perfect sized for appetizers, they are really attractive. In reading the mixture I made for the cheese ball, I immediately thought of substitutions. And more substitutions. And pretty soon it was such a different recipe that here I am, writing about it. 
My Cheese Mixture in little Sweet Pepper halves

Cheese Balls and Variations

Cheese Balls come in so many types and styles that there is really no particular way to make them. Almost any cheese, as long as it is either a smooth, soft type like cream cheese, chevre, blue, Gorgonzola and the like, with something that can be shredded, like cheddar, Jack, Parmesan or others, can be bound together into a cheese ball. It seems that little individual cheese balls have started popping up lately in magazines and on TV, but I came up with this concept on my own a little over 2 years ago. I thought of making tiny individual balls for this Open House, but then remembered those little sweet peppers and went that direction instead. 
"Cheese Ball" Filled Sweet Pepper

Many recipes for cheese balls, if left to soften at room temperature, are also good as a spread, or can be if thinned a little with milk or oil. In this case, I opted to leave out the bacon and go for a more herbal mixture. It seems that cream cheese is a sort of universal "base" or binder for other things. I really wanted to use goat cheese, but chevre tends to be a little crumbly, so cream cheese came to the rescue once again. I had planned to use plain chevre and add my own herbs. I did add more of my own herbs, but while perusing the options at the local grocery, I decided on a 4 ounce log of lemon flavored chevre and a 4 ounce log of garlic and herb flavored chevre. Between these two, there would already be a tasty base for the mixture. Other things to add to a cheese ball are so numerous it hardly seems possible to ever cover them all. I chose dried cherries for a sweet note, and used dill and parsley as the extra herbs. 
Tetiana made these Mini Cheesecakes with Jam and Raspberry 

Though this new mixture was used to fill little sweet peppers, it could just as easily be formed into a ball and rolled in more herbs or nuts or cheese. Once chilled it is plenty firm enough to be used this way. Additions to this cheese ball recipe could be things like cracked black pepper (which I meant to use and forgot!), finely chopped fried bacon, nuts left in small chunks instead of ground. Cooked chicken could be finely chopped and added, or smoked salmon or trout. For more ideas see the recipe on my website here

If the mini sweet peppers are not available where you live, regular bell peppers of assorted colors would also work. They would need to be cut into approximately 1 1/2 x 2-inch sections. If the cheese mixture is fine enough, it could also be piped or scooped onto endive leaves, cucumber or zucchini medallions, celery sticks or even carrot coins. These ideas can be seen here.

Herbed Goat Cheese (Ball or Spread)

Herbed Goat Cheese Filled Sweet Peppers
makes enough to fill one (1 pound) bag of sweet peppers 

8 ounces chevre such as lemon and/or herb flavors
8 ounces cream cheese
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons finely minced fresh dill
1 1/2 tablespoons finely minced fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, or more, if desired
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1/4 cup chopped dried cherries
1/2 cup nuts, chopped or ground (I used walnuts)
1 pound bag mini sweet peppers

Allow the cheeses to soften at room temperature for about 1 hour. Place all the cheese into a bowl and with a hand mixer whip the cheeses until smooth. Add in all the remaining ingredients except the peppers and mix again to evenly distribute. 

Cut off stem end of the peppers, then slice them in half lengthwise. Remove any seeds and membranes. With a small knife, fill each pepper half and smooth evenly. They can be served as is, or topped with a dill or parsley sprig. if desired.

If making a cheese ball, once all the ingredients are well blended, allow the mixture to firm up in the fridge. Once firm, scrape all the mixture together and roll into a ball. Roll the ball in one of the following: ground of chopped nuts, minced herbs (for this recipe, a combination of more minced dill and parsley), or shredded cheese such as finely shredded Swiss, or Parmesan or Romano.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Chicken Enchiladas from Easy to Complex at Whim

Yesterday I spent all morning researching Enchiladas, then I sat with ideas and fleshed them out, till I had a recipe I thought was do-able, then walked to the grocery for the things I was missing and spent the next couple of hours implementing and refining the recipe. All in all, I am very happy with the recipe. I believe the only thing I would do differently next time is to make a whole batch of my Red Enchilada Sauce. At minimum I wanted the equivalent of a can, usually 10-ounces, but all I had left was one cup, just barely full. And then at another time, I would like to try these with my Green Sauce (Salsa Verde - see recipe here), and have them more in the line of Enchiladas Suizas.

Chicken Enchiladas
There was nothing wrong with the recipe as I made it. They were really good, and I am looking forward hungrily to leftovers for dinner this evening. A few things I did are things not everyone may have the ability to duplicate, depending on where you live and what sort of grocery stores are available. I am relatively fortunate in that, even up in northern South Dakota we have a really great grocery store; Kessler's. Kessler's is not an inexpensive place to shop, but they really do have an amazing selection of foods. But even in Kessler's it is sometimes chancy whether a certain thing will be available, so I just try to go with the flow and get what is available.

Tortillas, and then Tortillas

I had totally and completely fallen in love with the La Tortilla Factory brand green chile corn and wheat four tortillas. I bought them over and over again over a period of time . . . and then suddenly Kessler's stopped carrying them! If I had access to these tortillas, I would absolutely have used these for this Enchilada recipe. As it happens, Kessler's and even Wal-Mart, have been carrying ever-changing versions of corn and flour tortillas. For preference, I want corn tortillas. I learned to eat corn tortillas in Guatemala, where at the time, they were made fresh, from hominy that was just cooked, ground and skillfully hand-patted and baked on a comal into tender, flexible, amazingly-flavored rounds of goodness. And then, to come back to the States, only to find that any corn (or flour, for that matter) tortilla has been pressed out into perfectly round, perfectly flat and brittle things that bear so little resemblance to the real thing that aside from some little corn flavor, well, there is just no resemblance.
Excuse my rant, there. My husband will only eat flour tortillas. To me, wheat can be had anywhere, all the time. We have far too much wheat in our diets as it is. A critical difference of opinion, but that is par for the course, with us. So when one day I was wandering in Kessler's, and found these La Tortilla Factory corn and wheat tortillas, I was at first taken with the look and feel of them. Even through the bag they were in, I could tell they did not have that friable quality most store-bought corn tortillas have. The look and feel was similar to real hand-patted corn tortillas. There was enough flavor of corn to satisfy, and obviously enough flour to make them pliable and differently textured.

Inside my Enchiladas
. . . And then they stopped carrying them. I was really frustrated. No other brand, to date, even comes close to the flavor of La Tortilla Factory brand. One other brand, which I was lucky enough to find at Kessler's yesterday (they are not there all the time, by any means) is Don Pancho. The biggest difference with the Don Pancho brand of corn and wheat tortillas is that they are the larger sized ones, about 8-inches in diameter, rather then the smaller normal corn tortilla size of about 6-inches.

On to the Enchiladas

This brings me to the recipe and why it may not be a completely simple "follow-the-directions" sort of recipe for some. If one makes this recipe using flour tortillas, there are flour tortillas in the 8-inch size, readily available in most places. However, if an 8-inch corn and flour tortilla is not available, you might have to resort to the little 6-inch corn tortillas, and that way this recipe will make a whole lot more than the 10 large enchiladas from my recipe. I would venture to say that the recipe might be doubled (in amount of tortillas used), if using the small ones.

If perchance you are using all-corn tortillas, you will absolutely have to first pass them briefly through a small bit of hot oil to make them:
  1. more pliable and
  2. less apt to burn in the oven
I did this step anyway, just in order to have the tortillas less prone to dryness and burning at the edges. All that is needed is a tiny amount of oil in a hot skillet large enough to accommodate the tortilla. It takes maybe a minute or so per side. They don't need to really brown, but they become far more pliable and easy to work with. As each one came from the skillet, I filled and rolled it, then set into the casserole dish.

Chicken Enchiladas, fresh from the oven

The Mixture for Enchiladas

I am in no way Mexican, and have only Guatemalan cooking background. There were no such things as "enchiladas" in Guatemala in the '70s that I ever saw or heard of. With that in mind, I used things in the filling for my enchiladas that seemed right to me. I used black beans, because I prefer them. I added cream cheese, in the belief that it would melt well and make the insides nice and gooey with cheese. Chopped green chilies from a can were used because I love them and the flavor they give. A store-bought rotisserie chicken was used in the interest of time savings! Of course, cooking up a little bit of chicken ahead and shredding is also an option.

Chicken Enchiladas

Chicken Enchiladas

makes 10 large

2 1/2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
8 ounces (2 cups) shredded cheddar Jack 
   cheese, divided
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, drained and 
   rinsed, divided
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, divided
1/2 cup chopped scallions, divided
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies
8 ounces cream cheese or neuchatel
10 (8-inch) corn/flour tortillas
oil, as needed for frying tortillas
1 (10-ounce) can red enchilada sauce
1 cup favorite salsa
cilantro leaves for garnish
sour cream and/or avocado to serve

In a large mixing bowl, combine the shredded chicken, half each of the shredded cheese,  cilantro and scallions, and the green chilies. Set 1/4 cup of the black beans aside and add remainder to the bowl. Cut cream cheese in small chunks, or just break off small pieces into the chicken mixture and toss to distribute. 

In a separate bowl, stir together the enchilada sauce, salsa and remaining half of chopped cilantro.

chicken mixture     |    reserved beans & scallions  |  sauce mixture  |  fried tortillas rolled with filling    |     sauce added 
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Heat a 10-inch skillet over medium high heat and add in a teaspoon or so of oil. Fry each tortilla briefly. It will take longer for the first side, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Flip the tortilla and fry for another minute. They should not be too browned or hard, but very pliable. Once fried, measure out about 2/3 cup or so of the chicken mixture onto the tortilla and roll tightly. Set the roll in a casserole dish, flap down. Continue with all the tortillas, frying, filling, rolling and placing in the casserole or casseroles, as needed. 

Bake the enchiladas without sauce for 10 minutes at 400 degrees, then remove from oven. Reduce heat to 375 degrees. Divide the sauce mixture between casseroles and spread to cover. Top with the remaining shredded cheese. Cover the casserole(s) with foil and seal the edges. Bake at the reduced temperature for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes, until bubbling and the cheese is nicely melted. Toss the remaining black beans and scallions over top of the casserole(s), then garnish with cilantro leaves. Serve with sour cream and/or avocado. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.