Friday, June 21, 2013

Doughnuts (or Donuts) for Dinner!

It turns out that June 7 was actually “National Donut Day” here in the United States. For many, this designation is akin to a “National Breathing Day” – in other words, donuts are celebrated each and every day of one’s life.  Why do so many have this unwavering devotion to these little fried cakes? I’m guessing the primary reason is because they taste so darn good! Plain, glazed or dusted, filled with jelly, custard or cream, round or rectangle, in all variations the donut has become a part of regular indulgence for many of us.

Some spell it doughnut, which I understand is the proper way. My Webster’s New World College Dictionary lists it as “doughnut” and notes that “donut” is the informal spelling. It is defined as “a small, usually ring-shaped cake of sweetened, leavened dough, fried in deep fat.” Sounds good to me! But for our purposes, I’m going to refer to these little delights as “donuts,” because we are fairly informal about such things here at Cavalcade of Food.

In honor of the donut, we decided to make our own from scratch. I researched a number of recipes, and found that donuts generally fall into either the “cake” or the “raised” category. It depends on whether you use baking powder or yeast as your leavening. We opted to make the cake-style donuts, which seem more old-fashioned and better matched for coffee dunking. 

Making donuts from scratch takes time and preparation. But for special occasions, or if you have some extra helping hands around the kitchen and you want a fun project, homemade donuts are well worth the extra effort. Our “research” indicated that these donuts are best when eaten warm, with coffee, tea or apple cider. They are not good the next day (on the off chance that you have any leftovers), so make a point of eating them all soon after making them!

Homemade Donuts
3 eggs
2 TBSP butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup buttermilk or sour milk
3 ¾ cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
¾ tsp ground nutmeg
¾ tsp cinnamon
Vegetable oil for frying
½ cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Using an electric stand or hand-held mixer, beat the eggs, butter and sugar together until well combined. 

In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking powder and spices. Set aside.

Add the buttermilk or sour milk to the other wet ingredients and beat together until well combined. To make sour milk for this recipe, put two teaspoons of white vinegar or lemon juice in a measuring cup and then fill with room-temperature milk to make 2/3 cup. Let stand for about 10 minutes.

Gradually add sifted dry ingredients to wet ingredients beating together until dough forms. The dough will be on the loose side and very sticky. Scrape down bowl to get all the flour incorporated. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour – two hours is even better.

Prepare your rolling surface. I use a very well floured pastry cloth on top of a board, and a rolling pin cover that is also well floured. This is a sticky dough, even when chilled, so keep some extra flour handy. You will also want to dip your donut cutter in flour prior to each cut. Put some flour on your hands, too – this will help it from sticking so much to your fingers.

Start bringing your oil up to temperature. A frying thermometer is an excellent tool here, but you can also use an electric skillet or fryer set to 375 degrees. It is very important that the oil gets to 375 and stays there – if the oil is too cool the donuts will absorb a lot of oil making them greasy.  You want the oil to be at least 2-inches deep in whatever utensil you end up using (a Dutch oven will also work fine). 

Remove half the dough from the refrigerator (leave the rest chilling until you are ready for the second batch).  Roll the dough out on floured surface until it is ¼ inch to ½ inch thick. Start cutting out the donuts, dipping cutter in flour before each cut. If you don’t have a donut cutter, you can use a biscuit cutter and then just cut out the center hole with a knife. Place cut donuts on waxed or parchment paper. 

Gently drop donuts one at a time into hot oil. DON’T CROWD THEM – you should only fry three or four at a time. They will first sink and then pop up to the surface and begin frying. When they have turned a nice golden brown on one side, gently flip them over (I use a slotted spoon) and fry the other side. Donuts fry up quickly, so this will go fast. 

When both sides of the donuts are done, remove from oil and place on a sheet pan with layers of paper towel or brown paper bags. This will draw some of the oil out of the donuts.

In a large bowl, combine ½ sugar and two teaspoons cinnamon. When donuts are still warm, toss them in this coating and it will stick to them.  You could also toss them in a bag of powdered sugar, or make a glaze for them – this is where you can really get creative!

These are best when still warm!

Monday, June 10, 2013

BBQ Chicken Spaghetti

A few years ago we were in Memphis, which is a great food town, and were sitting in one of the local barbeque joints that the car rental agent recommended. Looking over the menu, I wanted to try it all! This was real Memphis-style barbeque and something that is not only difficult to find in Michigan, but food that I don’t have any knack for preparing myself.

Between Ralph and I we probably ordered four or five different things. Among them was something called “BBQ Spaghetti.” I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when it arrived there was a plate full of regular spaghetti noodles, coated in the restaurant’s famous barbeque sauce, and it had pieces of meat mixed in (probably the scraps). I can’t begin to describe how delicious this was! 

There is a popular (particularly in the South) dish called “Chicken Spaghetti,” which is a casserole made with pieces of cooked chicken, broth, cheese, pimentos, condensed soup and other things. This is a good dish, but it wasn’t quite the route I wanted to take. I kept thinking of that BBQ spaghetti back in Memphis, and so I decided to create something that delivered the chicken, the BBQ sauce and the pasta. 

There are a number of reasons why I don’t prepare real barbequed meats. First, I have some idea but don’t really know how (I would love to learn). Second, I don’t have the right equipment. Third, I’ve had some barbeque that, while very tasty, was extremely dry. Instead, I chose to cook the meat in moist -heat and then broil on the sauce (I cook ribs the same way). I know this is a long way from actual barbeque, but the meat is super moist and tender, and I also get my BBQ fix.

Get out your slow-cooker or “Crock Pot.” Every time I use this appliance I wonder why I don’t use it more often. It will cook the chicken beautifully and insure it remains moist and tender. I used drumsticks and thighs, but if you prefer white meat you could just as easily use breasts (use smaller ones or cut large ones in half).  I also doubled this recipe as I had a few people coming for dinner!

BBQ Chicken Spaghetti
4 chicken legs (skin removed)
4 chicken thighs (skin removed)
2 medium onions, diced
1 cup liquid (use chicken stock/broth, apple juice, or water)
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
2 cups BBQ sauce
½ lb spaghetti

In a slow-cooker, put down the chicken thighs, top with half of the diced onions. On top of that, add the chicken legs and then top those with the rest of the onions. Add liquid. Sprinkle in salt, pepper and paprika. Place lid on slow-cooker and cook on high for five hours.

After the chicken is cooked, turn on the oven broiler. Using a large slotted spoon, carefully (the chicken will be very tender) transfer chicken to a baking sheet lined with foil. Brush ½ cup of BBQ sauce on cooked chicken. Before you put the chicken under the broiler, have a large pot of water boiling for your spaghetti. Drop the spaghetti in the boiling water and cook as directed on package. Place chicken under the broiler.
Go back to the slow-cooker and using a slotted spoon, transfer the onions and any pieces of chicken meat that may have fallen off the bone to a sauce pan. Add 1 ½ cup of BBQ sauce to the onions. If you want to thin it out any, you can add some of the liquid from the slow-cooker, but I like my sauce thick.  Place sauce pan on low heat just to warm up the sauce. 

The chicken will be ready before the spaghetti is done. Keep an eye on the chicken. You want the BBQ sauce to bubble and start to brown, forming a nice crust on top of the chicken. Once this happens, remove chicken from oven and set aside. 

When the spaghetti is done, drain pasta from water and return to large pot. Add BBQ onion sauce to the spaghetti and toss around to coat all the noodles. Turn out into a large bowl or platter and top with whole pieces of chicken. Serve immediately.

Monday, June 3, 2013

All Kinds of Goodness - Corn & Bacon Casserole

One of the best parts of summer (and fall) is the fresh produce. We have worked with fresh sweet corn a number of ways, and they all let the wonderful corn flavor shine through. This dish uses some other vegetables – celery and onion – but is flexible enough to for variations. You could use green peppers, jalapenos, carrots, peas, whatever you have on-hand. 

This casserole could also be made meatless if you preferred, or you could use something like diced ham instead of the bacon. Since the corn is naturally sweet, something salty pairs well. You could also make this super-deluxe by adding in crab meat or lobster! 

A white sauce, or b├ęchamel, serves as the binder for all the ingredients. I use fresh bread crumbs on the top, which browns and crisps while the casserole bakes, creating a “crust.” The corn and celery bake in the sauce, but maintain enough crunch to provide a mix of textures throughout the dish. Once all the ingredients are assembled, this dish comes together easily and bakes in less than a half hour. Let it rest and cool off a bit before serving – this will allow it to firm back up a little. 

Corn and Bacon Casserole

½ lb. bacon – cooked semi-crisp and roughly chopped
3 TBSP. butter
3 TBSP. flour
1 ½ cup milk (at room temperature)
½ tsp. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. dry mustard
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. black pepper
¼ tsp. crushed red pepper
1 small onion – diced fine
½ cup chopped celery
5 ears of fresh corn – corn removed from cob OR 1 bag (12-16oz.) frozen corn, thawed
½ cup grated cheese (your choice)
1 ½ cups fresh bread crumbs (if you can make fresh crumbs, use Panko-style bread crumbs or another topping you like)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cook bacon until most of the fat has rendered out and it is starting to crisp. I use the “oven-fry” method for bacon because I find it make a lot less mess than frying bacon on the stove top. Once the bacon is cooked, chop it roughly with a knife and set aside. 

In a large sauce pan, make your roux for the white sauce. Start by melting the butter over medium heat. To the melted butter add the flour and whisk until the flour has been absorbed into the butter and the mixture is smooth. Add milk and continue to whisk over medium heat until mixture begins to thicken (this will happen as it approaches the boiling point). Turn heat to low and add in salt, black pepper, dry mustard and red pepper. Blend in. Add celery and onions and stir in for a minute, then add corn and bacon. Remove from heat.
Pour mixture into a well-greased two quart casserole dish. Sprinkle grated cheese on top (cheddar, Colby-jack, pepper jack, whatever you like) and then cover cheese with bread crumbs. Place in oven and bake for 25 minutes.

Topping should be browned. Remove from oven and let rest for 10-15 minutes and serve. Enjoy!