Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Low-Down on Roll-Ups (Tortilla Pinwheels)

Call 'em "pinwheels" or "roll-ups" or "spirals", simple ingredients wrapped inside a tortilla is the easiest appetizer you'll ever make. I've got no idea why anyone would buy these things pre-made. They take no time, no skill and no weird ingredients. Depending upon your degree of imagination, they can range from simple and tasty, to devine and sublime - and they are always a hit.

Things to keep in mind:
1) Always warm the tortillas just a bit in the microwave before you try to roll them (that way they don't "break") - about 7-10 seconds per tortilla.
2) ALWAYS prepare them in advance. It makes them hold together better.
3) Less IS more. Both in quantity and variety of ingredients.
4) Color counts - a sliver of red bell pepper goes a long way in both taste and presentation.
5) Keep all ingredients to 3/4 of the tortilla; there's always some "smudge" as you roll it and you'll need the extra 1/4 tortilla to keep it all wrapped.

Secret tips:
1) Wrap each rolled-up tortilla in a paper towel. It keeps them fresh & tight, plus it provides a barrier from the cling wrap AND/OR a hand-held eating device. (Works great for sandwiches, too!)
2) When making a bunch for a party, vary the ingredients. Guests love the variety, even if they don't know what they're tasting. Use cucumber in one, onion in another and pickle in a third - just don't get crazy and throw all the ingredients into each one. Trust me, less really IS more.
3) Cream cheese is a requirement. Use a little, or use a lot - vary it depending on the other ingredients. But the cream cheese is what really makes it. (I use fat-free - you don't have to put on pounds to enjoy this!)
4) Try Corn tortillas for a different taste and texture. Just be SURE to soften them first between damp paper towels (& have more patience).

1) For a truly memorable presentation, toast the rolls before you cut them into pieces. Use a toaster oven on the roll and do each side to a light toast - yum!
2) Don't overload them on the meat - 6 thin slices or 3 standard slices is more than enough. Additional cheese should be thin and minimal.
3) Deli mustard makes a nice addition, but use it sparingly.
4) Mayonnaise is a no-no; not only does it not travel well, but it negates the nice cream cheese flavor.

Deli meat - thin-sliced chicken, turkey, ham, roast beef, pastrami
Cheese - keep it simple: cheddar, mozzarella, provolone, maybe swiss
Veggies - cucumber, bell peppers, onions, celery, radish, perhaps pickles (if you're making a "pickle dickle")

Best Spread Ever:
Before I even understood how good this spread was, I was using it. I've had spirals since that were good, but it took me awhile to realize that the SPREAD was what made the old ones so incredibly yummy. It takes more effort than the standard "Pinwheel," but it is so worth it - try it once & you'll understand. [Original source: "Great Cooking For Two" - one of my two favorite cookbooks EVER!].

RECIPE for AWESOME Cream Cheese Spread:
Combine -

  • 1/3 Bar Cream Cheese (your choice - fat-free, with chives, whatever!)
  • 1 regular Carrot, peeled & shredded (use a cheese grater over a bowel)
  • 2 Tbl. Bell Pepper, any color (about 1/4 a standard pepper), finely minced - or grated on the cheese grater if you prefer
  • 1/8 tsp. Wasabi powder (OR 1 tsp. cream-style prepared Horseradish OR 1/2 tsp. Horseradish mustard)
  • If using Horseradish mustard, nothing else needs to be done; if using Wasabi powder, add 1/4 tsp. Deli mustard; if using prepared Horseradish, add 1/8 tsp. brown Mustard) - each will produce different results, all good.

Spread on "standard size" flour tortilla. Top with a thin layer of meat, cheese & a veggie. Roll, cigar-style, wrap in a paper towel and slice the next day (or a few days later) and serve!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

High-Altitude French Bread Recipe

My previous post talked about FINALLY having success getting bread to rise. Here's the recipe that I use (at 7,200 ft):

High-Altitude French Bread
(makes 1 small loaf; double for store-sized French bread loaf)

  • Pour 1 Cup WARM Water (NOT hot - hot will kill the yeast; think baby bottle temperature or just a tad warmer - about 92°-95°F) into a LARGE non-metallic mixing bowl
  • Sprinkle 1/2 Tbl. (rounded) Instant Dry Yeast over the water and
  • Add 1/2 Tbl. (level) Granulated Sugar

Using a wooden or silicone spoon, stir to dissolve the sugar and "wake up" the yeast. Let sit about 3 minutes to give the yeast time to get active.

When the bowl is "frothy,"

  • Add 1 Cup Flour (whatever you have is fine; I used all-purpose white). Don't waste time sifting it, just dump it in.

Stir well, until the flour is absorbed and there are few lumps left. It will be runny.

  • Dump another 1/2 Cup Flour right in the center,
  • Sprinkle 1/2 tsp. Sea Salt over the Flour 
  • Plus 1/2 Tbl. (melted) Butter-flavored Crisco (or whatever shortening you have on hand)
  • Then 1/2 Cup Flour more and

Stir until all Flour is mixed in; be sure to scrape down the sides too.

Allow to rise until about double in size (approx. 1 hour). If your kitchen is chilly like mine, stick it in the oven with the light on, right under the bulb. Oh, and you don't have to cover it. First, it's not necessary, and second, you might forget when you go to turn the oven on later.

When it's risen sufficiently, stir the dough down (I know, it's depressing - but have faith, it will rise again!), and prepare to transfer to your desired baking vessel. Either butter the pan or line it with parchment paper (the best stuff in the world!) or non-stick foil. If you want, sprinkle some Yellow Cornmeal on the bottom of the pan; it will help keep the bottom from getting too brown, but it's totally optional. Shape to the pan as best you can (either use a silicone utensil or floured hands; this dough is sticky!).

Stick it back in the oven and allow to rise, about 1 more hour.

Without removing the pan - just situate it in the center of the top rack - turn on the oven to 400°F (375°F if your oven is propane like mine), and bake for 30 minutes.

Allow to cool on a rack - if you can wait that long - slice & enjoy!

*For a crispier, more golden crust, bush with an egg wash (1 beaten egg + 1 tsp water) about halfway through the second rising period. Don't wait until the end because brushing it on tends to deflate the dough somewhat.

The Yeast and I

Yesterday I woke up in the mood for some good, homemade spaghetti sauce. It's always nice when I have a plan for dinner sometime before my husband gets home, so I went with it. But - and there's always a but - I had no bread to go with it. Bummer!

You must understand, I am NOT a baker. I'm starting to make my peace with yeast (as you may have read in my Sourdough Starter posts), but I have never been able to get any of my breads to actually rise. The flavor is good, but the texture is something akin to dry cottage cheese. Add to that the additional challenge of being at high altitude (7,200 feet), and you can see why this is something that I don't try on a regular basis. Still, I decided to give it a try.

A quick search of the internet yielded several high-altitude recipes for French bread. I picked two that were very similar, required no kneading nor a bread machine, and took very little time. I started with "Recipe #2" because it called for 2 periods of rising. Then while it was doing its thing, I worked on "Recipe #1".

The results were surprising. Despite using nearly identical amounts of water, yeast and sugar, Recipe #2 rose, but Recipe #1 did not. Still, I baked the "loaves" (and I use the term VERY loosely, since I didn't have a french bread pan and they were really just pools of batter) and checked the results. Yep, #2 was somewhat fluffy inside and #1 was most definitely not. Odd.

I decided to repeat the recipes, but do them at the same time so that the water and yeast temperatures would be exactly the same. (I also decided to use standard loaf pans, since the flat, "panini" style bread really wasn't what I was after.)
The results...
#1 (left) barely rose, while #2 (right) mushroomed above the pan.

I am truly shocked that such minute differences would lead to such different rises! But, I guess yeast works in mysterious ways. As for flavor, #1 was slightly better - it had more salt and a bit of shortening. But #2 had a much better crust. I am going to combine the recipes for all future efforts and now have the perfect, high-altitude French bread recipe - yay!

And just in case you're wondering what I did with the "mistake" bread... not to worry. We don't waste a lot around here. I turned them into a huge platter of finger sandwiches...
and sent them to work with my husband. Now everyone gets to enjoy my efforts :)

Happy Kitchen Time, everyone!

...Pulled Pork Perfection

When we parted back in January, I was pondering how to cook a huge pork roast.

I'm pleased to report that it was a raging success! I decided to get a jump on cooking and I put it in the oven before I went to bed. It ended up cooking for 18 hours before the thermometer read 160° F. (Yes, I know that pork is generally considered safe at 145°, but I'm always wary about pork.)

The result... 6+ lbs. of the juciest, tastiest pulled pork you've ever tasted! The kids couldn't get enough - I was sick of it by about the third serving - but it froze beautifully & now we've got pulled pork "on demand".

We will definitely be doing this dish again!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Pulled-Pork Problem...

So I thought I was being absolutely brilliant by planning pulled-pork sandwiches for this week's "unplugged" night. [My teenage daughter suggested that once a week we "unplug" - no phones, computers, TV's OR lights (that part's just an excuse to have candles) - and play games. It's awesome!] This week she'd invited many friends, and we had no idea how many would show up, so pulled pork was a natural. Easy, enough for any size crowd, great leftovers and everybody loves it. Perfect, right?

The best laid plans...

Problem Number 1: My local grocery store had no "4-5 lb." boneless pork shoulder roasts; the smallest I could get was 9 lbs. Oh well, the more leftovers the merrier, right?

Problem Number 2: A million different ways to cook it! My recipe called for using the slow-cooker. And while I do have an overly large crockpot, it's still not going to hold 9 lbs. One recipe says braise overnight, another says pan-sear then put in a dutch oven (which I do not own); many use a smoker or a charcoal grill (also don't have either of those). Then there's...

Problem Number 3: Cooking time. I seriously underestimated the amount of time this baby's gonna take to cook! (Luckily, I'm finding this out tonight; much better than tomorrow around Noon - right?) One recipe says 225 degrees for 1-1/2 to 2 hrs. a pound (so 14-18 hours???). Another says 300 degrees for 8 hours (does this cover larger roasts too?). And apparently, the meat is subject to its own timeline - there's no cut-and-dry like there is for turkey. Dang it!

With no time to change my meal plan, I have done some serious research. I have now perused twenty different pulled-pork recipes and have formulated my plan of attack:

Solution Number 1: Use my hubby! "Honey, this has to cook all day and I don't like to get up before Noon. Will you put it in the oven when you leave for work?" (It looked better when I dotted all of my "I's" with hearts - jk!)

Solution Number 2: I have learned to make KILLER ribs - seriously, fall-off-the-bone melt-in-your-mouth ribs. I shall apply what I have learned to this cut of pork. Oh yes I will!

Solution Number 3: A wing and a prayer!

Since we do ribs a lot, I already had my trusty "rib rub" at the ready.

It's my proprietary blend, but it includes the usual stuff: some brown sugar, various chili powders, herbs, etc. (If you're really interested, post & I'll share, but for now it's kind of long and I want to knock this post out.)

Since foil big enough for this monster roast simply doesn't exist, I'll use my tried-n-true "dollar store foil pan" lining my roasting pan solution (it makes for zero clean-up - a huge plus in my cookbook).
Just look at this bad boy (that's a Full-Size roasting pan, folks):
I'm still going to wrap it in foil - tightly - but that's for "steaming" purposes, not for liquid containment. [Notice the box of wine in the background - it's a requirement; according to Julia Child: "I enjoy cooking with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food I'm cooking."]

Covering it in dry-rub, heavily, both sides, then making sure it's "fatty" side up:

Now I'll wrap it as tightly as I can in the foil (using a second sheet on top), leaving a little "funnel" at one end to pour the braise in in the a.m.

I'm leaving the braise and the start to hubby when he leaves for work. I'm going with 250 degrees pretty much all day. Stay tuned for how this all turns out...