Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
PA Dutch Baked Oatmeal
PA Dutch Baked Oatmeal

Baked oatmeal sounds like a bland boring dish, but when basic comfort food is embellished PA Dutch style, it becomes a delicious and unusual way to serve this breakfast staple. Somewhere between hot cereal and a soft granola bar, these fragrant squares are served warm with milk or cream poured around them. The oats are soft but still satisfyingly chewy and the surface develops a bit of a crunchy crust from the brown sugar and cinnamon topping. Each bite has all the flavors and textures of a warm oatmeal cookie.

Baked oatmeal is very popular breakfast fare in the family-style restaurants across the river in Lancaster County where it is served in all sorts of variations. Every local church’s fund-raiser cookbook includes several recipes for this dish. I adapted my version from several of them to come up with this recipe, significantly reducing the amount of sugar and converting it to use regular oats instead of the quick-oats

Despite those changes this oatmeal dish cannot really be considered a particularly healthy breakfast due to the oil and sugar. But it is so delicious that even oatmeal haters love it. It is so good, in fact, that some people serve this as dessert. Well, I guess it does make a healthy dessert.

Because you must assemble it the night before (it takes just minutes) it is an easy dish to serve overnight guests. This basic recipe may be embellished by adding ½ cup dried fruit, such as raisins or dried cherries after mixing it up. You may also get creative with nuts and different spices, but I find this basic version so satisfying I always come back to it.

Baked Oatmeal
Yield: 8 servings
(but everyone will want seconds so it really only serves 4)

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a large mixing bowl, mix together the oil and sugar. Beat in the eggs, milk, salt, baking powder, and oatmeal and mix well. Pour into a greased 8 x 8 inch baking pan. Sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake the oatmeal in preheated oven until firm, about 35 minutes. Let rest about 10 to 15 minutes to firm up. Cut into squares and serve in bowls with milk or cream poured around it.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Convenience Food Confessions - Fast & Hearty Pasta with Lentils
Convenience Food Confessions - Fast & Hearty Pasta with Lentils

I am not a fan of convenience foods, so I rarely use them. Most of those shortcut products are over-salted and laden with chemicals and preservatives that I cannot pronounce and certainly don’t wish to eat. And they are never anywhere near as good as what I can make myself, from scratch.

That said, I must confess that there are a few favorite convenience products that I use on a regular basis and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’ve previously sung the praises of Mae Ploy curry paste here and DaVinci flavored syrups here and here .

Here is another one I recommend, along with the simple recipe in which I use it. The secret convenience ingredient of this pasta dish with a savory lentil sauce is a can of Progresso Lentil Soup. Not only is this dish so delicious that I often crave it, it has many other redeeming values. It requires only a handful of ingredients (all pantry staples), it takes just minutes to prepare, and it can satisfy multiple dietary preferences including low fat and vegetarian.

The finishing touch of a few drops of sherry vinegar tossed in at the table really brightens it up.

Fast & Hearty Pasta with Lentils
Adapted from The No-Time-To-Cook Cookbook
Yield: 4 servings

12 ounces small shell pasta or other pasta
1 19-oz. can Progresso lentil soup
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
sherry vinegar

Bring a 4-quart pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta, and cook according to package directions.

While the water is heating up, place the soup in a 1-quart saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until hot. Stir in the garlic powder and black pepper.

Drain the pasta well, and return it to the pot. Pour the soup on top, and toss well.

Spoon the pasta into individual dishes. Top each with a tablespoon of Parmesan, and a few drops of sherry vinegar.

Yield: 4 servings

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007
The Best Use for a Can of Sweetened Condensed Milk – Chocolate Coconut Miracles
The Best Use for a Can of Sweetened Condensed Milk – Chocolate Coconut Miracles

It was a close contest between these amazing chocolate coconut cookies and Banoffee tart, but the tart recipe cheated by first turning the milk into a rich caramel toffee sauce and then adding sliced bananas and mountains of whipped cream to tease, so the award goes to the cookies, for their outstanding flavor and incredible texture despite their simplicity (only 3 ingredients). But Banoffee Tart is definitely the second best use for a can of sweetened condensed milk.

Since I’ve been writing this blog I’ve noticed how frequently I describe food in terms of texture, and more specifically, contrasts of textures in the same bite. I’ve come to realize that texture plays as important a role in good food as flavor.

These cookies are a perfect example. They are crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, with an intense chocolate coconut flavor. Just imagine the flavors of a Mounds bar, the rich chocolate denseness of a brownie and the chewiness of a macaroon, all enclosed in a shiny crunchy outer shell. Each bite begs to be followed by a long swallow of cold fresh milk.

The only downside to these cookies is that they are best eaten the same day they are made. They can lose their crispness if stored tightly overnight and although they are still delicious, their magical qualities are gone.

Chocolate Coconut Miracles
Inspired by a similar cookie recipe from Maida Heatter.
Yield: 2 dozen cookies

The desiccated unsweetened coconut is the fine flaky kind, available in health food stores and most grocery stores in the produce or bulk foods section.

You must use parchment paper otherwise the cookies will refuse to leave the baking sheet. Be sure to follow the instructions about how to store them to retain the best texture.

2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
1 - 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup of desiccated unsweetened coconut.

Place the chocolate in the top of a large double boiler over warm water on moderate heat. Cover for a few minutes, with a folded paper towel (to absorb steam) and the pot cover, then uncover and cook until the chocolate is melted. Raise the heat to high (the water in the bottom of the double boiler should boil after the chocolate has melted). Add the condensed milk. With a rubber spatula, stir and scrape the bottom and sides of the pan, cooking (over boiling water) for 5 minutes, during which time the mixture will thicken very slightly.

Remove the top of the double boiler; stir the mixture briskly a bit with a wire whisk until very smooth. Let stand, stirring occasionally with the spatula, for 10 to 15 minutes, during which time the mixture will thicken considerably more.

Meanwhile, adjust two racks to the two top positions in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

By now the chocolate mixture will have thickened still more. Stir in the coconut. Transfer to a small bowl for easier handling.

Use two teaspoons to shape the cookies, one for picking up with and one for pushing off with. Use a rounded teaspoon of dough for each cookie. Place them 1 1/2 to 2 inches apart on the bakng pan liner paper. You should get 12 cookies on each sheet.

Bake for 15 minutes, reversing sheets top to bottom and front to back once during baking to ensure even baking. During baking the cookies will flatten and spread out only slightly. They will feel very soft when done but will become more firm as they cool.With a wide metal spatula transfer the cookies to racks to cool.

These are best eaten right away or within the same day. Do not store them airtight or they will get soggy and lose their crispness. Simply place them on a plate, uncovered (or covered loosely with wax paper) until ready to serve.

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Jewish penicillin by another name - Thai Style Chicken Rice soup
Jewish penicillin by another name - Thai Style Chicken Rice soup

I’ve always been a big believer in the prescription of chicken soup for curing colds, flus, and other illnesses. Countless generations of bubbies can’t be wrong! And nothing soothes the soul and smoothes jangled nerves on a cold rainy day more than a bowl of homemade chicken soup.

This past year I discovered the chicken soup of another ethnic cuisine that just blows away all the rest; Thai style chicken rice soup! Although it seems somewhat exotic, it is definitive comfort food with a cultural twist. It is also the perfect tonic for the spring fever some of us may be experiencing right now, with sunny 70+ degree days sandwiched between snow storms.

This incredible elixir is complex in flavor but still soothing to the soul. Fragrant with ginger, lime and cilantro, one whiff will perk up the appetite of the even the most sluggish illness-numbed taste buds. A gentle spiciness, compliments of the Thai green curry paste, opens up clogged sinuses. That spiciness is tempered by a small amount of coconut milk, which also adds a light creaminess without the addition of dairy.

And the recipe is so easy even a cook burdened with a cold can prepare it. But don’t wait for foul weather or a bad cold to try this.

This takes less than an hour to make, but may also be prepared in two steps of 25 minutes each.

Thai Style Chicken and Rice Soup
Adapted from Gourmet magazine

Yield: 4 servings

4 cups chicken broth (I like Better Than Boullion)
2 cups water
1/2 tablespoon Thai green curry paste
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1 (1-inch) piece peeled fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro (leaves and stems)
1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breast
1/2 cup raw jasmine rice
1/2 can (3/4 cup) unsweetened coconut milk, shaken
3 oz fresh snow peas, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1/4-inch strips
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves
Salt to taste

Accompaniment: lime wedges

Combine stock, water, curry paste, garlic, ginger, coriander seeds, and whole cilantro leaves and stems in a 3- to 4-quart saucepan. Simmer, uncovered, until ginger is softened, about 15 minutes. Strain mixture through a sieve into a large bowl or other container. Discard solids, rinse sieve and strain again, back into the pot.

Bring to a simmer and add chicken breast to the pot. Return to a simmer. If making the soup in advance, cover the pot, turn off the heat and allow the chicken breast to cook in the residual heat of the broth. When cool place in refrigerator and complete recipe at a later time.

If making soup immediately, simmer chicken until cooked, about 8 minutes. Remove chicken from broth and set aside.

Return broth to a simmer. Add rice and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut and pull cooked chicken into small bite-sized pieces.

When rice is tender, add snow peas and cook until crisp tender, about 2 – 3 minutes. Add chicken to pot. Stir in coconut milk and fish sauce and cook until heated through. Add lime juice and salt to taste. S

tir in chopped cilantro and serve with fresh lime wedges on the side.

Note- The rice in any leftover soup will absorb the broth, making it thick and no longer a soup. If making to serve on a different day, follow the instructions to make it in two steps.

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