Friday, April 29, 2011

Summery Strawberry Pie

I thought I was done making pies for a while. But I was at the grocery store this week and had strawberries on my list for a salad. Turns out that strawberries were on sale--a 4 pound box was $3.99! And they looked beautiful. How could I pass them up? It sounded like a great deal. That is, until I got home and realized that I had 4 pounds of strawberries :P

My neighbor recently had surgery and I wanted to bring her dinner. And what better dessert to bring than a strawberry pie?

I had a premade pie crust left over from The Kid's pie fundraiser, too. How perfect!

The directions on my crust said to let it rest at room temperature for 10 minutes, and then poke it all over with a fork to make sure it baked evenly. Then it baked for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Just follow the directions on your pie crust for a prebaked pie shell.

Also, just a warning. Those roll-out crusts are worthless for prebaked shells. They may have directions on the box for that use, but every time I've tried, the sides of the crust have fallen and melted into the bottom of the pie pan. These frozen, pre-formed shells work much better. Unless I'm doing something wrong. Am I doing something wrong?

While your pie crust is prebaking, you can work on the filling. A cup of strawberries with some sugar go into a sauce pot.

Use a fork or potato masher (or, if you want, you could use a blender or food processor) to mash up the strawberries.

I added the zest of a little less than half a lemon. Then I turned on the heat to about medium.

It smelled sooo good, like homemade strawberry jam. I wish I had had the foresight to buy another package of strawberries and made jam.

While the strawberry mixture was heating up, I measured out some corn starch.

The corn starch will help the strawberry sauce thicken.

I mixed in some water to make a slurry with the corn starch.

A drop of red food coloring went in, too, just because I felt like it.

Once the strawberries begin to boil gently, pour the corn starch mixture in. Let everything simmer for 10 minutes.

With the strawberries on the stove and the corn starch slurry standing by, the pie crust should be ready to come out of the oven.

To keep the strawberry filling from making the crust soggy, I painted the bottom of the crust with some chocolate.

I would have used plain chocolate chips, but I couldn't find any (I did find three opened bags of butterscotch chips, though...huh.) I had this yummy bittersweet baking bar, though, so I broke half the bar into little pieces.

The pieces with into the bottom of the pie crust while it was still hot.

The heat from the crust melted the chocolate.

I used a spoon to gently spread the chocolate along the bottoms and sides of the pie shell.

I trimmed about 3 cups of strawberries and arranged them in the pie shell.

The hot, thickened strawberry, sugar, and corn starch mixture was poured over the top of the strawberries in the pie shell.

Smooth the filling out and put your pie in the fridge. It needs at least 2 hours to cool and to set up.

Once your pie is fully cool, you can top it with whipped cream and serve it! I can't tell you how heavenly and fresh it smells. It's a simple way to bring a bit of summer into your kitchen (and into your stomachs!)

Recipe: Summery Strawberry Pie
1 pie shell, prebaked (follow the directions on your pie crust recipe or on the label if using store-bought)

2 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, broken into small pieces

1 c. strawberries
1 c. sugar

3 tbsp. corn starch
1/2 c. water
dash red food coloring

3 c. whole strawberries, cleaned and hulled

whipped cream, for garnish

Bake pie shell according to recipe or package directions. After removing pie shell from oven, sprinkle the bottom of the shell with the chocolate. Allow the heat from the pie shell to melt the chocolate; use a spoon to spread melted chocolate on the bottom and sides of the pie shell.

In a sauce pot, combine 1 c. strawberries and sugar. Mash strawberries and sugar into a paste. Heat over medium until mixture begins to boil gently.

In a small bowl, combine corn starch, water, and food coloring. Pour into strawberry mixture. Reduce heat to simmering. Allow mixture to simmer for 10 minutes.

Arrange cleaned and hulled strawberries in the pie shell. Pour strawberry/sugar mixture over the top. Let cool for at least 2 hours. Garnish with whipped cream.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

BBQ Baked Beans

Beans in a can are great, but nothing is more rewarding than making a pot of your very own BBQ baked beans. It may take a little longer, but you won't mind when your house smells like these tangy and rich baked beans.

You can use any kind of dried beans or dried bean blends you like. I had a blend of beans intended for bean soup (sometimes I make Ham and Lentil Soup with regular beans) so I used them.

Here's something that's really important. You want to make sure you use fresh beans. I know this sounds like a misnomer--fresh dried beans? But it's true. Apparently if beans get too old, they lose the ability to fully rehydrate and no matter what you do, they'll still be hard in the middle. Check the expiration dates on the beans (if there are any) and get the freshest you can find.

The night before you plan on making your beans, measure them out and give them a quick scan for anything that isn't supposed to be in there (like rocks.)

Put them in a large bowl and cover them with 3 to 4 times the amount of water.

Let them soak overnight (at least 12 hours.) This seems like a long time, but if you think about it, you could cover them with water before going to bed and they'd be done after you get up. You don't have to do a thing with them while they're soaking.

The next day, drain the beans and put them on standby  while you start the good stuff.

What goes better with beans than bacon? Grab yourself some of the thick-sliced stuff.

Cut them into larger pieces and start them in a pot over medium heat. You just want to render the fat and soften the bacon a little, not get the pieces crisp. If it colors around the edges that's fine, but you want to remove it while it's still limp.

While the bacon is rendering, roughly chop half an onion.

Do the same to half a pepper. I used orange and red, because that's what I had frozen and on hand.

Remove the still-limp bacon from the pan and toss in the onion and pepper.

Once the onion and pepper have softened, add the beans to the pot.

Now you can start seasoning your beans. Start with your favorite BBQ sauce--mine is from Roscoe's Root Beer and Ribs.

I just bought this bottle a month ago and it's already almost gone. Uh oh.

A tablespoon of molasses sweetens the pot.

A couple more tablespoons of brown sugar makes things nice too.

A shot of Jim Beam makes these beans a little more grown up.

You don't argue with Jim.

Dried mustard is next. You could use prepared mustard, or Dijon mustard, too.

Throw in a bay leaf.

A couple big splashes of cider vinegar gives the beans some tang.

Oh. My. Goodness.

At this point, you could do a number of things with the beans. You could leave them in the pot and let them simmer for 30-45 minutes. You could move them to an oven-safe dish (if your pot isn't oven-safe) and cook them low and slow at 250F for 2-3 hours. You could throw them on the grill at the same temp for around the same time. You could even throw them in a crock pot.

I moved the beans to an oven-safe dish and topped them with the bacon pieces. The heat from the oven let the bacon render more and it got nice and crispy.

And, with just a little oven time, I got a pot of rich, tangy baked beans with a thick, sweet sauce, great bits of bacon, and deliciously seasoned beans. They make take a little longer, but oh my gosh, they are so worth it!

Recipe: BBQ Baked Beans

1 c. dried beans
3 c. water

5 slices bacon, cut into large pieces
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
1/3 c. BBQ sauce
1 tbsp. molasses
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1 shot bourbon
1 tsp. mustard
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp. cider vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste

The day before you intend on preparing your beans, soak them in water at least 8 hours. After they have soaked, drain the water and rinse the beans to make sure they are clean.

In a large pot, gently render the fat from the bacon. Remove bacon from pot while still limp.

Saute onion and peppers in the rendered bacon fat until softened. Add in beans.

Add BBQ sauce, molasses, brown sugar, bourbon, mustard, bay leaf, cider vinegar, and salt and pepper. Top with rendered bacon pieces. Follow one of the options to finish cooking beans:

* Leave beans in the pot and let them simmer for 30-45 minutes.
* Move beans an oven-safe dish (if your pot isn't oven-safe) and cook at 250F for 2-3 hours.
* Move beans to a grill-safe dish and leave in a covered 250F grill for 2-3 hours.
* Move beans to a crock pot and cook on low for 7-8 hours.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Beer-Braised Brats

Recently I took a trip to New Ulm and made a stop at The Sausage Shoppe. They had a package of beer brats that were calling my name. I decided to give those brats a good home.

Usually when we have brats, Mr. Kim Chee just tosses them on the grill. But I wanted to do something a little special with these guys. So I decided to braise them in sauerkraut and beer before giving them a quick toss on the grill. The result--amazing!

You can braise the brats on the grill, on the stovetop, or even in the oven. I went with on the stove, just because it was the easiest for me, but if you're having a large party, a big roasting pan full of the braised brats right next to the grill would be the perfect place.

To start, slice an onion into thick rings.

Lay the rings across the bottom of whatever pan you choose to hold your braising liquid.

The onions add flavor and they also help keep the brats off the bottom of the pan.

Lay a bed of sauerkraut over the top of the onions.

Is there somewhere in New Ulm that sells homemade kraut? I'd love to have some but don't know where to look. Suggestions would be welcome!

Stick a bay leaf right in the center of the kraut.

Here are the beer brats. You can use any fresh, uncooked brats.

Use the tip of a knife to gently poke the brat casing. This will help your brats absorb the braising liquid, as well as prevent them from bursting when on the grill. Make about a dozen small holes all over the brat.

Arrange the brats on top of the bed of sauerkraut.

Nestle a couple of well-smashed garlic cloves in with the brats, if you so desire.

Now for the beer. My brats were made with Schell's beer, and I would have loved to use some of the same beer to tie everything together. But Schell's has gotten a bit expensive and we didn't have any in our fridge. We did have Killian's, so I used that.

I poured in the whole bottle.

Those look like happy brats.

I turned on the stove and let the liquid come to a boil. Once it did, I turned the heat down to a simmer and covered the pan.

After about 10 minutes, I took the pan off the heat and let the brats hang out for a bit. You could let them rest as short as 5 minutes; mine rested a bit longer, as we had to pick up The Kid from preschool.

If you wanted to skip the grilling part, I would recommend letting the brats simmer for another 10 or so minutes, to make sure they're fully cooked through. If you were having people over and were grilling brats as-needed, you could just leave them in the cooling liquid until they needed to go on the grill.

The brats got grilled on medium-high heat for a few minutes a side--just to get some nice grill color and flavor.

Mr. Kim Chee topped his brats off with plain ketchup and some of the kraut used for braising the brats.

If you wanted, you could pick out the onions that were used for braising and cut them into more manageable pieces. Then you could cook them on the stove over low with maybe a little butter until they became caramelized.

My brats got dressed in ketchup and relish and some pieces of Red Dragon cheese (which is, by the way, amazing! It's a creamy, cheddarlike cheese made with brown ale and mustard seeds. We had burgers a few nights before that were topped with this cheese. It's great.)

Whether you go fancy or simple, these Beer-Braised Brats are sure to be a hit!

Recipe: Beer-Braised Brats

1 onion, sliced into thick rings
2 c. sauerkraut
1 bay leaf
2 cloves garlic, well smashed
6 brats

1 bottle beer

Lay onion slices along the bottom of a pan. Cover the onions with sauerkraut.

Nestle bay leaf and garlic in the sauerkraut.

Lay brats over the top of the sauerkraut. Pour beer into the pan.

Turn on heat under pan; once the braising liquid begins to boil, decrease heat so liquid simmers. Cover pan and let simmer for 10 minutes.

Turn off heat and let brats rest in liquid for at least 5 minutes.

Grill brats 3-4 minutes per side to get nice grill marks. Top with favorite condiments and serve!