Portugal: Pasteis de Nata

#49 in my 50 Country Challenge, y'all.... can you feel the excitement?!

Today I bring you Pasteis de Nata from Portugal. These little custardy treats are remarkably similar to the Melktert from a couple weeks ago. Instead of being on pate sucree, they are on puff pastry. Of course, they're also individual servings instead of an entire tart. But like Melktert, they are a common dessert in Portugal, and are often served with tea or coffee--warm or cold.

I was entirely certain that I'd failed with this recipe on multiple levels. I defrosted my leftover puff pastry only to find that it was dessicated. So, I went out to buy more and defrosted it while I made the custard. The recipe I used noted that it is VERY important to heat the custard slowly over low heat, because if it's heated too quickly, you'll end up with scrambled eggs. Knowing that my stove top's "low" heat is "warm," I put it on medium-low. You have to stir continuously. About 40 minutes later, I had something between scrambled eggs and custard--that is to say, somewhat grainy custard. That's frustrating for 40 minutes of constant stirring. I read after the fact (in "Martha Stewart's Cooking School") that the best way to do this is to heat the cream/milk mixture and pour spoonfuls over the eggs to warm them slowly, which prevents curdling. Well, hell. I wish I'd read that first. Ultimately, I think that you can't taste the slight graininess once it's been heated.

The other issue was actually noted in the original recipe. The recipe's author said to set the oven at 225 degrees, and after multiple complaints that it didn't work, rewrote it to say 300 degrees. After 15 minutes at 300 degrees, I saw absolutely nothing--the custard wasn't a different color, the pastry wasn't puffed. I upped it to 350 degrees and about 15 minutes later, light brown appeared on the custard and the pastry was cooked. I was also momentarily worried because the custard puffed way up above the pastry, but once you take it out, it falls. Whew. Multiple crises averted.

Pasteis de Nata (from Algarvebuzz.com)
- 1 sheet prepared puff pasty – defrosted, but kept cold
-1 ¾ cups whole milk
-¼ cup cream
-4 egg yolks
-3 Tbsp white sugar
-Pinch salt
-2 Tbsp Plain flour
-½ cinnamon stick
-2 strips lemon peel
-½ tsp vanilla extract

Pastry Cream Instructions
1. In a sauce pan add milk, cream, egg yolks, sugar, salt, flour mix well with a whisk to ensure all the ingredients are well combined, do not turn heat on yet.

2. Once all ingredients are combined and there are no lumps of sugar or flour add cinnamon stick, lemon peel and vanilla.

3. Turn heat on to low stirring continuously and gently with whisk. *Note it’s very important to heat the milk slowly, if the milk is heated too quickly, egg yolks could coagulate like scrambled eggs and ruin the consistency of the custard.

4. Continue stirring until it cream becomes quite thick and resembles a rich pudding. Watch for thickening around the edges of the pan, you want a really smooth cream so make certain to get in the sides and bottom edges of the pan.

5. Let cool completely. When cooled, remove cinnamon stick and lemon peel.

6. To avoid milk skin from forming on custard you can place parchment paper on top of warm custard and it will lift out easily when you go to use it to fill puff pasty shells.

Preparing Pastry Shells
1. Preheat oven to 325-350 degrees (you will have to monitor the temperature/doneness carefully).

2. Roll out cold puff pastry dough with pin on floured surface, until 1/4 cm thick.

3. Once rolled out thin, dusk off excess flour and begin rolling puff pastry like a long cigar. Roll pastry snugly but not tight, just enough to avoid a lot of space or air pockets in roll.

4. Place pastry roll length wise and cut in 4cm lengths (**this means cut it into 12 equal pieces**).
5. Then take each cut piece in hand and push down center of roll to meet center of opposite side, gently press pastry with fingers to spread out dough to create what will feel like half of a hallow pastry ball.
Work in circular pattern and pastry will start to thin and from a cup shape. If dough gets sticky use a little flour to help it along. Finished shells should be about 1/4cm, thin but not enough to see your hand through. If you like puff pastry you can make the shells a little thicker, but a couple of tries of the finished version will let you know your preference.

6. Place pastry in muffin tray, and spread out to sides but don’t stretch dough upward, just gently press against side of muffin tin to ensure it won’t shrink too much when baking.

7. When all pastry shells are ready fill with pastry cream, do not fill to top. Fill to ¾ or a bit more but leaving 1- 1.5cm at top of pastry.

8. Place custards in oven and bake for 15min, but keep eye on custards as some ovens can burn top quite quickly, while others don’t cook the pastry quickly enough. If pastry around sides looks deep golden color pastries are done.

Verdict: These turned out super delicious. I am looking forward to tasting the cold version tonight. But for the time being, I can say that warm Pasteis de Nata are the perfect combination of creamy and crunchy and not too sweet. I like you, Portugal. You make great party desserts!

Ooey Gooey Pesto Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Merry belated Christmas to all of you in majestic Blogreaderland! I hope your holiday season is going well--and if you're in the northeast, that you're safely tucked away in your home or hotel with a bottle of wine, dodging 15" of snow and 55mph winds. 'Cause that is not fun and I am not jealous of you, and that is coming from a midwesterner.

We've been having a delightful holiday and I've been cooking up a storm for my family. Greg and I stayed a night longer than expected, so tonight I created a combination of two totally awesome sounding meatball & marinara recipes. One was from Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice, the other was from Cozy, Delicious. These two recipes have been haunting me with their gorgeous photos and fabulous sounding ingredients. So, I thought I would kill two birds with one stone and just make one, ultimate meatball: Turkey-Pesto Mozzarella-Stuffed Meatballs. Or, to be less wordy, "Ooey Gooey Meatballs." In yummy sauce.

Ooey Gooey Pesto Meatballs in Tomato Sauce (a frankenstein-ish combo of this recipe and this recipe, from two fabulous blogs, as cited above)
For the meatballs:
-1 pound ground turkey
-1 cup fine breadcrumbs
-1 egg and 1 egg white
-1/3 cup pesto
-1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
-1/2 teaspoon dried basil
-1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1/4 teaspoon pepper
-About 8-10 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2" pieces

For the sauce:
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 medium or large onion, diced
-3 large cloves garlic, minced
-1 green pepper, diced
-28 ounce can whole tomatoes, undrained
-1/4 cup red wine
-3 ounces tomato paste
-3/4 cup water
-1 teaspoon dried oregano
-1 teaspoon dried basil
-1 teaspoon dried parsley
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-1/2 teaspoon pepper

1) Mix all ingredients (except mozzarella) for meatballs together in a large bowl with fork. Place a chunk of meat in your hand and flatten with your other palm. Put a piece of mozzarella in the center and gently form the meat around the cheese. Roll into an evenly sized ball. Place each finished meatball on a baking sheet. Preheat oven to 425. Once all meatballs are rolled, bake for 10 minutes. Set aside.

2) Saute onion, garlic, and green pepper in a preheated pan with olive oil. Add tomato paste and saute for 2 minutes. Add all spices, the can of tomatoes, water, and wine, mixing well. Break up the tomatoes into pieces with your spoon/spatula. Carefully add all the meatballs. Bring to a simmer and let cook for 35-45 minutes.

Serve over spaghetti or bucatini....then enjoy thoroughly!

For fun, I also recreated my Chocolate Filled Croissants:

And my Murgh Makhani, this time with chicken over red quinoa:

As you can see, my mom did a lovely job setting the table.

And a merrily gustatory holiday was had by all.

Creamy Pasta with Tomato Confit and Fresh Goat Cheese

Let's read the title of this recipe again: Creamy Pasta with Tomato Confit and Fresh Goat Cheese.

Okay, WOW.

What about that doesn't sound like a jaw-dropping rollercoaster ride of utter deliciousness?

The interesting thing about this dish is the way it's prepared. First, you poach fresh tomatoes in a hot bath of olive oil, garlic, and fresh herbs. The smell is intense and makes your stomach rumble with anticipation. Then, you take short-cut pasta and prepare it like risotto, adding broth in 1/2 cup increments until the pasta is al dente. The pasta creates its own slightly creamy sauce due to the starch being released into the broth, but then it's thrown overboard into creamyville with the addition of soft, tangy goat cheese and shredded parmesan.

Are you drooling yet?

Creamy Pasta with Tomato Confit and Fresh Goat Cheese (from Food & Wine)
-1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, for poaching (**I used less than 3/4 cup and it worked fine**)
-3 plum tomatoes—peeled, quartered and seeded
-2 thyme sprigs
-1 bay leaf
-2 garlic cloves, minced
-2 tablespoons unsalted butter
-1 small onion, coarsely chopped
-Kosher salt (**1/4 teaspoon should suffice for the whole recipe, unless you're using unsalted broth**)
-1/2 pound ditalini or other small-cut pasta (1 1/2 cups)
-3 1/2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth (**Obviously, you can easily make this a vegetarian meal by using veggie broth instead**)
-1/2 cup soft fresh goat cheese (4 ounces)
-1/2 cup tightly packed freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (2 1/2 ounces), plus more for serving
-Freshly ground pepper
-2 tablespoons fresh snipped chives (**or 1 teaspoon dried**)
-2 tablespoons finely shredded basil leaves (**or 1 teaspoon dried**)

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the olive oil with the tomatoes, thyme, bay leaf and half of the garlic and bring to a simmer. Cook over low heat until the tomatoes are very tender, about 15 minutes. Discard the thyme and bay leaf. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to a work surface and coarsely chop them; reserve the olive oil for another use.

2. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, 5 minutes. Add the pasta and cook, stirring, until golden in spots, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining garlic; cook for 1 minute.

3. Add 1/2 cup of the chicken stock to the pasta and cook over moderately high heat, stirring constantly, until nearly absorbed. Continue adding the chicken stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring and cooking until it is nearly absorbed between additions. The pasta is done when it is al dente and suspended in a lightly thickened sauce, about 17 minutes total.

4. Stir the tomatoes into the pasta. Off the heat, add the goat cheese and Parmigiano-Reggiano and stir until melted. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the chives and basil and serve right away, passing additional Parmigiano-Reggiano at the table.

-Serves 3-4 as a main dish, 6 as a side

Verdict: So, it truly was an awesome pasta dish. The flavors managed to be subtle and sharp all at once, and it was totally tantalizing. Both Greg and I *loved* it. But, I did feel like there were two major flaws: First, there is MAYBE enough for 3 full portions, definitely not 4. 4 small portions is more like it. Considering there is no protein or extra veggies in this, you would need a nice big salad and bread to supplement this as a entire meal for 4 people. I think it wouldn't hurt to add more pasta than the recipe specifies, just to stretch it a bit more. Secondly, I think it is really unattractive for such a fancy and delightful dish. Its appearance reminds me of a mayo-rich pasta salad that you might see at a corporate picnic, just begging to give you food poisoning. BUT. I can get over those two flaws, because this is seriously tasty stuff.

Salted Chocolate-Dipped Caramels


Yesterday was Attempt #2 at making caramels. I used the same recipe as the pomegranate caramels, except that I stuck with using honey instead of pomegranate molasses. As you might recall, the pomegranate caramels were very soft, and my suspicion was that honey (as the recipe specifies) would make everything alright. And so it did. These caramels came together quickly and perfectly--they are the exact right texture and thickness, and the honey flavor really shines through.

Today was my first actual attempt at tempering chocolate. However, my electronic probe thermometer clearly crapped out on me in the midst of it, so I was not getting appropriate temperature readings. This was very sad, because you really need exact temperatures to temper properly. Nonetheless, my end product has a nice snap to the chocolate shell, even if it's a bit streaky.

Salted Chocolate-Dipped Caramels (from the NY Times and a tempering tutorial from About.com)
-Vegetable oil
-1 1/3 cups heavy cream
-2 cups sugar
-1/2 cup light corn syrup
-1/3 cup honey
-6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-3 tablespoons fleur de sel or sea salt
-24 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

1. Line a 8x8" baking pan with parchment paper that extends over the sides. Grease with vegetable oil or cooking spray. **Please note that the original recipe says to use foil, which I did the first time...it's a terrible idea. It sticks and you have to cut it off.**

2. In a heavy 4-quart saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Add the sugar, corn syrup and honey, and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes to a boil. Cook over medium to medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reaches 257 degrees on a candy thermometer--about 15-30 minutes.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in butter, vanilla, and 2 teaspoons salt. Pour into the prepared pan and let cool. When completely cool, coat a cutting board and the blade of a large knife with vegetable oil. Invert the caramel onto the cutting board; peel off parchment paper and invert again. Cut the caramel into eight 1"-wide strips. Cut each strip into 1/2" or 1" pieces.

Your cat may take great interest in these tasty treats...

4. To coat with chocolate, melt 2/3 of the chocolate in a double boiler set over simmering water. Stir gently but steadily with a rubber spatula as the chocolate melts. Bring the chocolate to 115 degrees for dark chocolate, or 110 degrees for milk or white chocolate. Do not allow chocolate to exceed this temperature. When it reaches the right temperature, remove from heat, wipe the bottom of the bowl, and set on a heat-proof surface.

5. Add the remaining chunks of chocolate to the bowl and stir rapidly to incorporate. The melted chocolate will melt the chopped chocolate and bring down the temperature. Cool this mixture. Once the mixture gets below 84 degrees, reheat the chocolate by placing the bowl back over warm water in the double-boiler for 5-10 seconds. Remove, sir, and repeat until the temperature reaches 88-89 degrees (or 87 for milk and white chocolate). Do not leave the chocolate over hot water or allow it to exceed 91 degrees.

6. Your chocolate should now be tempered. Keep it warm, but not hot, ideally in the 85-88 degree range (or 86 degrees for milk/white chocolate) You can either keep it over a pan of warm (but not simmering) water, stirring occasionally, or try placing it on an electric heating pad set to low. Remember to stir often so that the chocolate remains a uniform temperature throughout.

7. Once the chocolate is tempered, use a fork to dip one piece of caramel in at a time. Gently shake the fork back and forth to expedite excess chocolate dripping off. You may gently scrape the bottom of the fork on the top of the pan. Set them on a parchment-lined baking sheet to dry. After dipping 4 caramels, sprinkle each with a little sea salt. Let cool completely.

-Makes between 64-128 caramels, depending on the size you cut them to.

Heather the Fancy Lady Receives a Blog Award

Lynn @ I'll Have What She's Having very generously bestowed me with my very first blog award! Wheeee! It's nice to feel loved. Thanks, Lynn!

Because blog awards come with lots of fun, "share the love"-type stipulations, I will outline them here and then follow them like the good little blogger I am.

Awardees – Accepting this award is based on the following criteria:
1. Thank the person who gave you the award.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass the Award on to other bloggers you follow and who have inspired you.
4. Copy the award from my blog and then you may display it on your own blog.
5. Notify your selected recipients.

So, first, 7 things about myself. I do believe I will do this with photos, because it's more fun:

1) I am a Wisconsin girl (please see hockey photo below). Here, I am pictured with beer and free (yes, that's right: FREE) bacon. I don't fear you, cholesterol, because I am from Wisconsin.

2) I have two super-precious and hilarious cats, Dexter and Ishii. They are named after Dexter Morgan, television's most beloved serial killer, and O-Ren Ishii from Kill Bill. Despite their vicious names, they are clingy cuddle monsters.

3) I got married in September to the infamous "Hubster" aka "Hubby" aka "The Boy" aka "Greg." Here he is, promising to go to the ballet with me once a year and make popcorn on the stovetop whenever I want it. I've got it good.

4) I had this little bundle of joy for 6 1/2 years and I miss him all the time. His name was Monkey and he was the absolute raddest guinea pig EVER. He was cuddly (to the point of being needy) and intelligent enough to be manipulative (strange for having a brain the size of a pea), and very sweet. Every time I'm cooking and have fruit and veggie scraps, my gut instinct is to march them straight over to his cage. Aww. I need a guinea pig again...they're the most adorable composters ever.

5) I. Love. Hockey. I should qualify that by saying I *LOVE* Wisconsin Men's hockey. Other hockey is swell and all, but I loves me some Badger Hockey. Here I am, super-duper skinny in college, dressed like an ass to support my team. Wooo!

6) I've only been out of the country once so far. I was taken on a trip to St. Lucia. It was absolutely ridiculously beautiful and I sooo wish I had the cashola to go back!

7) Every Christmas Eve for the past several years, my brother and I play ridiculous games. Here, we are shown playing our version of Guess Who. Our version entails asking questions like, "Does your guy look like he could have a prostate the size of a cantaloupe?" and "Does your guy have a molester moustache?" It works surprisingly well if you have the same sense of humor.

NOW! On to the awards I am oh-so-giddy to bestow. I have so much love for my fellow bloggers, and I'm happy to have the chance to give a few of them a little bling for their blogs. While I read copious amounts of cooking blogs, these ladies hold a special plate in my little foodie heart. (**Please note: I just read that I wrote "Plate" and not "Place." It is so funny and fitting that I'm keeping it there.**)

Azmina at Lawyer Loves Lunch

Amanda at The Cilantropist

Sydney at The Crepes of Wrath

Reeni at Cinnamon Spice & Everything Nice

Annalise at Knead to Be Loaved

Megan at What Megan's Making

Ladies, do not feel the need to create a similar post. I just wanted to let you know that your blogs are gorgeous and inspiring, and that you are all totally awesome. The end.

Farfalle with Spicy Sausage and Butternut Squash

How cold has it been in your city lately?

We've been experiencing unnaturally low temperatures for Champaign in December. Champaign has very mild winters in general, but December is usually in the 30s. After we got pounded with over 8" of snow on the 4th, we got even more snow this past weekend, followed by a few days of single-digit temps and a -16 windchill! Mmmm....terrible. I was going to gripe about how unfair it is that the weather followed me from Wisconsin to Illinois, but then Wisconsin got profoundly snowed in this past weekend (with even worse windchills!), so I can't complain too much.

All this nippiness has left me with warm food on the brain (I know--not that different than usual). This pasta has all of the qualities one looks for in a soul-warming winter dinner--spicy meat, squash, and cheesy pasta. I enjoyed it with a nice Sprecher Black Bavarian beer. By the end of the meal, I was 100% warmer all around.

Farfalle with Spicy Sausage and Butternut Squash (from Food & Wine)
-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
-3/4 pound peeled butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (2 cups)
-1 onion, diced
-1 pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed (**Hot turkey sausage works great here, and you can save some calories!**)
-12 ounces farfalle
-1/2 cup freshly ground Pecorino Romano (**I am cheap and didn't buy this...but I did have parmesan, so I used that instead.**)
-1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. In a large, deep skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the squash, season lightly with salt and cook over high heat, stirring, until tender and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the squash to a plate. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet. Add the onion and sausage and cook over high heat, breaking up the sausage with a spoon, until lightly browned and cooked through. Return the squash to the skillet.

2. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the skillet along with the reserved cooking water and the cheese and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until the sauce is thick and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the pasta to a bowl, sprinkle with the parsley and serve right away.

Serves 4-6

Ecuador: Llapingachos with Salsa de Maní

My dear sis-in-law, Patti, has spent quite a bit of time in South America. Naturally, when I began this 50 Countries challenge, I shook well-traveled people down for recipes. Patti was no exception. She sent me a recipe for Llapingachos and Salsa de Maní from a cookbook called "The South American Table" by Maria Baez-Kijac.

If you're anything like me, you probably looked at the word Llapingachos and were like, "Uhhh...in the what now?" Allow me to break it down for you: Potato and Cheese Patties. With peanut sauce. Seriously--what else could you want from life?

These would make an excellent brunch food. In fact, I read that they're often served with an egg and/or sausage. I was on the fence about making eggs with them, so I didn't (I really thought it would be too much), but now I can see why eggs would be the perfect accompaniment. As it was, I made this with a carrot and cabbage salad and served sliced tomatoes and avocados. It was a substantial meal without feeling heavy--the perfect balance! Woohoo!

Llapingachos (from "The South American Table" by Maria Baez-Kijac)
-2 pounds Idaho potatoes, peeled and quartered (**Note: Eh, I think peeling is a waste of time. I did not peel my potatoes--yay for extra nutrients--and it was still good.**)
-1 teaspoon salt
-1/4 cup canola oil mixed with 1 teaspoon sweet paprika, plus extra for brushing
-1/2 cup minced scallions (white part only)
-8 ounces Mozzarella, Chihuahua, or Muenster cheese, shredded
-4 cups mixed shredded cabbage (**or lettuce--but cabbage is more flavorful!**) and carrots
-2 tablespoons canola oil (**I only used 1 tablespoon in the salad**)
-Juice of 1 lemon or lime
-2 medium ripe-but-firm tomatoes, sliced
-2 ripe-but-firm Haas avocados, peeled, pitted, and sliced

1. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the salt and potatoes, cook until soft, about 30 minutes. Drain thoroughly and mash with a potato masher.

2. In a small skillet, heat the oil-paprika mixture over low heat. Add the scallions, stirring, for a couple minutes. Add to the mashed potatoes, combining well. Let the mixture cool, then stir in the cheese. Shape into patties about 3" in diameter and 1" thick. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

3. Heat a griddle over medium heat. Brush the griddle with extra oil-paprika mixture. Add the patties and cook until browned and crispy on the bottom, about 5 minutes. Brush the tops of each patty with more oil-paprika mixture, turn over, and brown the other side. When done, the patties should have a beautiful brown crust and should be tender inside. Too much fat in the pan will make the patties fall apart, which is why a non-stick griddle (as opposed to a skillet) works best.

4. Place the cabbage and carrots in a large bowl. Add the oil and lemon/lime juice and toss. Line a serving platter with the salad and top with the Llapingachos. Decorate with tomatoes and avocados before serving.

-Recipe says it makes 20 patties, but unless my measurements were off (VERY possible, btw), it made about 9 hefty 3x1" patties. They're prettier when they're big, anyway. ;)

Salsa de Maní (from "The South American Table" by Maria Baez-Kijac)
-2 tablespoons canola oil
-1 teaspoons sweet paprika
-1/2 cup finely chopped scallions (white part and 1" of green part)
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1/4 teaspoon pepper
-1/4 teaspoon cumin
-1 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts, pureed with 1 1/2 cups milk
-2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
-Hot pepper sauce (**I just realized I forgot this! Whoops. I don't actually have any hot sauce at home, but I was going to add cayenne. Ah well. Still good!**)
-Optional: 2 scallions (white part and 1" of green, minced) or 1 hard-cooked egg, peeled and chopped for garnish

1. Heat the oil and paprika in a small, heavy skillet over low heat. Add the chopped scallions and cook, stirring, for a couple minutes. Add the salt, pepper, and cumin and cook, stirring constantly for 15 seconds.

2. Stir in the peanut puree and cilantro. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently so it doesn't stick to the pan. If it's too thick, add a little more milk or water. The consistency should be like heavy cream. Season with salt and hot pepper sauce to taste. You can serve garnished with minced scallions or chopped eggs.

Verdict: Holy AWESOME, Batman! I was truly and exceptionally pleased by how delicious these were. Greg said they were quite possibly in the Top 10 of all the countries we've tried so far (and there are only 2 left to do now, mind you, so it's quite an honor). Also on this recipe's side is how very, very easy they are to make. Sure, they might dirty a bunch of your dishes in the making, but if you have a food processor/blender and a griddle, these are a snap. They look gorgeous and would be palatable to just about anyone, which is why they will be on a brunch-for-guests menu in our household in the future.

Evil Shenanigans' Bock Beer Pizza Crust

Have you ever been to Evil Shenanigans' blog, where the theme is "Sometimes it's good to be bad"? If not, you're missing out. Her recipes are spectacular--so innovative and so very naughty.

I was struck through the heart by one of her entries for Project Food Blog: "Sweet, Smokey, and Spicy Pizza on a Bock Beer Crust." Imagine a Heather-shaped hole in the wall as I ran to my nearest grocery store upon reading that recipe. I actually did not act upon that impulse for nearly 2 months, a fact which shames me greatly. The important thing is that, at Greg's behest, I did make the crust this weekend. While we love Bock beer, we did not have any to put into the pizza crust (and I dunno if you've looked around this weekend, but it's not worth going outside in IL). So, I used Sam Adams, which is flavorful enough to pretend like it's a Bock beer (it flounces around in Bock beer's petticoats, acting like it's a fancy lady and everything. On second thought, I might need to get out of the house...).

I want to give my verdict on this crust now and not at the end of the post. Ready? Okay.



But for serious. It is everything a pizza crust should be and more. Even the dough before being cooked is perfect. It stretches exactly like pizza dough in the movies (like, I'm pretty sure I could've hand tossed it). It smells like yeasty perfection. The cooked crust is the perfect texture--crisp and chewy, dense and airy, and so flavorful. I cannot even put into words how pleased I am with this crust. Did I mention how easy it is if you have a stand mixer?? Well, it is. It takes no effort from you, the crust maker. But you come up smellin' like roses. It is a little yeasty miracle that you can keep in your freezer and pull out whenever you want professional tasting pizza (which, if you are me and Greg, is quite often).

Evil Shenanigans' Bock Beer Pizza Crust (from the lady herself)

For the Bock Beer Crust:

-3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

-1/2 cup semolina flour

-1 teaspoon baking powder

-2 teaspoons kosher salt

-1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

-2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (or 2 teaspoons instant yeast)

-1 1/2 cups Shiner Bock, or any bock beer
-1/4 cup water (**or less--in my case, I didn't need any)

-Olive oil for brushing

For the herb sprinkle:

-1/2 teaspoon dry oregano

-1/2 teaspoon ground fennel

-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

-1/4 teaspoon dry thyme

For our pizza toppings:
-1/2 thinly sliced and halved yellow bell pepper
-1/2 can of sliced black olives
-1/2 package of pepperoni
-A blend of shredded mozzarella, sharp cheddar, and parmesan

For our pizza sauce:
-1/2-3/4 of a 8oz can tomato sauce
-About 2 tablespoons tomato paste (depending on your liking for sauce viscosity)
-Salt & pepper to taste
-A mix of oregano, basil, marjoram, and granulated garlic to taste

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, with the hook attachment, combine the flour, semolina flour, baking powder, and salt.

2. In a small bowl proof the yeast, if using active dry, in 1/2 cup of beer. Once foamy, about ten minutes, add it to the dry mixture along with the remaining cup of beer and the olive oil.

3. Mix on low speed for three minutes. The dough should be fairly sticky but form a smooth ball. If the dough seems dry add the water one tablespoon at a time until no dry flour remains. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 5 minutes.

4. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and form it into a smooth ball. Place in a greased bowl, turn once to coat, and cover with plastic until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

Look at how flippin' smooth and perfect that dough is. I wish computer monitors could be scratch 'n sniff, because the smell was incredible.

5. Heat the oven to 500 F with a pizza stone on the lowest rack of the oven for thirty minutes before you are ready to bake. (**NOTE: I don't have a pizza stone, so I just preheated the oven for 30 minutes. It was fine.**)

6. Once fermented turn the dough out on a lightly floured cutting board. Gently press the dough to degas then divide into four equal pieces (**OR, 2 pieces for a large, 'normal' sized pizza**). Round the pieces and let rest, covered, for ten minutes. (You can place any dough you don’t need in a freezer bag and freeze for up to two months at this time.)

7. Once rested form the pizza crust to your desired size and thickness by picking up the dough and gently stretching in a circle. (**NOTE: You may want to round the edges to prevent any sauce leakage.**) Transfer the dough round on a semolina dusted square of parchment on a pizza peel or the back of a baking sheet. Brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with the herb mixture.

I won't lie, I kinda wanted to eat this after it had baked for 2 minutes....

8. Bake for two minutes, then remove the crust from the oven, discard the parchment.

I said "Do you wanna make the sauce?" And he enthusiastically did. Love him.

9. Spread as much of the sauce as you desire over the pizza crust. Place your peppers first, then sprinkle with cheese. Repeat with olives, cheese, pepperoni, and your last cheese sprinkle.

10. Bake the pizza for an additional 8 to 10 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling and the crust is crust is brown.



If there is but one cookie that reminds me of my childhood, it is the Snickerdoodle. They score points for hilarious nomenclature, sure. But as a child, they're one of the funnest projects to help your parent out with. You get to roll the dough into balls, roll the balls in sparkly cinnamon-sugar mix, and then press little crosshatches on the tops with a fork. And OK, yes--I may have been an easily amused kid, but you get the point. Anyway, they are totally delicious for all ages--the perfect combination of light, crunchy, and chewy.

I have an inexplicable link to these cookies and the holidays in my head. I am fairly certain my family made these all year round, but I could be wrong. Either way, something about the cinnamon-sugary-ness of these just screams Christmas to me. And so, I am making these, eating a few, and stashing the rest away in the freezer to bring to my family in a week and a half. Yum.

Snickerdoodles (from Allrecipes.com)
-1/2 cup butter, softened
-1/2 cup shortening, room temperature
-1 1/2 cups white sugar
-2 eggs, room temperature
-2 teaspoons vanilla extract
-2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
-2 teaspoons cream of tartar
-1 teaspoon baking soda
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-2 tablespoons white sugar
-2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).

2. Cream together butter, shortening, 1 1/2 cups sugar, the eggs and the vanilla (do this by hand!). Blend in the flour, cream of tartar, soda and salt. Shape dough by rounded spoonfuls into balls.

3. Mix the 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon. Roll balls of dough in mixture. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets.

4. Bake 8 minutes (pretty much exactly 8 minutes--they will look like they're still soft, which they are a little bit, but they will harden in just a few minutes after being out of the oven! Promise! If you leave them in longer, they will be too hard). Remove immediately from baking sheets and place on cooling racks.

-Makes approximately 48 cookies.

This is a great Snickerdoodle recipe. It is not the one my family used, but it is perfection.

Iceland: Kjötsúpa


Do you remember how I subjected this blog to a vote to decide 10 final countries for the 50 Countries Challenge? No? I'm not surprised. BUT--this recipe was one selected by the majority (read: 3 or 4) people. So, naturally, I felt obligated to proceed with making it.

I love lamb. I like root vegetables. I like hot soup when it's 5 degrees outside and the sidewalks are encrusted with ice because no one in Champaign salts. Obviously, I was excited about the prospect of a dish that incorporated all of these things and landed squarely in my belly.

The sad news is that for how much I built this dish up in my mind, it fell really short of my expectations. Well, no...that's just being nice. I REALLY do not like this soup. It's too much lamb flavor (apparently there is such a thing--who knew?) and not enough spices, despite my adding far more than the recipe called for. It's really fatty, too, despite my having skimmed the crap out of it. I actually said something along the lines of "Needing water to wash the taste out." Friends, I like pretty much everything. So, this is a sad incident, indeed.

I am willing to venture a guess that Kjötsúpa is an acquired taste. Hell, there's an entire Facebook group devoted to it. But, I've also heard undesirable things about Icelandic cuisine. For instance, in a book I read recently ("Boozehound" by Jason Wilson), it was said that an Icelandic festival delicacy was rotten shark meat, washed down by a burning, highly alcoholic liquor. I can imagine that in comparison to the rotting flesh of sea creatures, Kjötsúpa would be quite delicious.

I am (mostly) kidding. This is not inedible. But it is definitely not to my taste. Sad day.

Kjötsúpa (from about.com)
-2 Tbsp. olive oil
-1 tsp. finely chopped garlic
-3 pounds lamb, on the bone (thick chops or shoulder … whatever is cheapest!)
-1 medium onion, sliced
-1/3 cup brown rice (traditionalists use rolled oats as an alternative)
-6 cups water
-1/2 tsp. dried thyme
-1/2 tsp. dried oregano
-1/2 cabbage, roughly chopped
-3 carrots, diced into 1/2" pieces
-1/2 rutabaga, uniformly diced
-1 cup cauliflower florets (optional)
-4 potatoes, scrubbed well and diced into uniform 1/2" pieces (see alternative note below)

1. In a large pot or dutch oven, briefly sauté the garlic in the olive oil for 1-2 minutes over medium heat (do not brown). Add the lamb pieces and brown on all sides. Add the sliced onion to the pot and sauté very lightly (about 1 minute), then pour in the brown rice and water. Raise heat to high, bringing the soup to a low boil; allow to boil for 5 minutes, skimming away the froth as it rises.

2. Reduce heat to medium, stir in dried thyme and oregano, cover pot, and cook for 40 minutes.

3. Add cabbage, carrots, rutabaga, cauliflower (if using), and diced potatoes. Cook, covered, for an additional 20 minutes, or until vegetables are fork-tender.

4. Remove meat and bones from pot, chop meat coarsely, then return. Warm for an additional 5 minutes. (Alternatively, some Icelanders will remove the lamb and potatoes from the pot and serve these on a plate, separately from the soup. If presenting the meal this way, chop the potatoes into larger, 1" chunks).

Yield: 6-8 servings of kjötsúpa.

South Africa: Melktert


I am down to the final 5 countries in my 50 Country Challenge! Today, I present you with a Dutch-influenced South African treat: Melktert (Milk Tart). Tomorrow, I will bring Kjotsupa (Lamb Soup) from Iceland. Following that, Llapingachos from Ecuador, and on New Year's Eve, Tapas from Spain and Pastels de Nata from Portugal. December is shaping up to be a pretty tasty month!

Melktert is ubiquitous in the South African home. And, as with all ubiquitous things, it seems everyone has their own take on it--for both the filling AND the crust. This makes it difficult for the amateur chef/foodie researcher person to figure out what's the best/most authentic recipe. My pal T.J. (an authority on all things South Africa) sent me four different recipes for Melktert (thanks, T.J.!), but none made enough sense to me that I could be confident in trying them. I finally found a recipe today that seemed easy enough. I tried it out along with my first stab at Pâte Sucrée.

Melktert (from eHow.com)
-1 recipe for Pâte Sucrée (recipe follows)
-4 large eggs, separated
-2 Tablespoons all purpose flour
-2 cups heavy cream
-3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
-1 cinnamon stick
-1 vanilla pod, open
-½ cup white, granulated sugar
-2 Tablespoons cornflour
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-2 tsp ground cinnamon
-½ cup brown sugar (soft, packed)

1. In a medium saucepan, add heavy cream, butter, cinnamon stick, and the vanilla pod. Over low heat, bring slowly to a boil while stirring. Immediately remove from heat, and set aside for at least 10 minutes. This gives the vanilla a chance to properly flavor the mixture.

2. Separate the eggs into yolks and whites. Set the whites aside.

3. Mix together the egg yolks, sugar, flour and cornflour. Using a strainer (to remove vanilla pod and cinnamon stick), pour the heavy cream mixture into this dry mixture. Add vanilla extract.

4. Whisk or beat the remaining egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Fold these egg whites into your custard mixture.

5. Pour the filling into your pie crust. Sprinkle lightly with the cinnamon and brown sugar.

6. Bake for 25 minutes, or until Melktert is set. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

-Serves 8.

Pâte Sucrée (from Culinary Alchemy)
-3 cups (11.5 oz) (320g) AP Flour
-1 cup (8 oz) (228g) Unsalted Butter
-1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
-1/2 cup plus 2 tsp (3.5 oz) (100g) Granulated sugar
-2 Large Egg Yolks - Cold

1. Slice the butter fairly thin, and place it in the freezer for 15-30 minutes.

2. Mix the flours and salt with a whisk together very lightly and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.

3. Add slices of butter and toss briefly to coat them. Work the butter through the flour with your finger tips, sort of rubbing the flour into the butter or use a pastry cutter until fairly mealy. (you do not want little flakes of butter in this dough)

4. Add the sugar and mix thoroughly.

5. In a small bowl, beat the Egg Yolks together. Add the eggs and mix quickly until the dough hold together.

6. Knead the dough mass three times with long kneading strokes to smooth it out cause it will still be a little mottled.(it helps if you have a bench scraper and can literally "smear" the dough across the board, scrape and repeat)

7. Gather the dough into a ball and flatten it. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour.

8. Preheat your oven to 375. Spread dough out evenly in a tart pan. Using a fork, poke holes in the bottom of the crust. Use pie weights or a foil packet filled with dried beans/rice in the center of the tart. Bake for 15 minutes and set aside on a cooling rack. You may need to cover the edges with tin foil when baking the Melktert again.

Verdict: My verdict is of two minds. First, things went wrong on both ends with today's project. There was WAY too much filling for an 8" tart pan (even though I believe the original website calls for an 8-9" cake pan). I mean, like, 2x too much. Secondly, the Pâte Sucrée recipe was far too dry to come together at all. As a result, I added a little water and another egg yolk. That made the dough come together, but it still broke in giant chunks with even the slightest bit of pressure. I do not know WHY I so totally suck at making doughs, but this was by far the worst attempt yet (and I followed the directions, I swear!). So. Who knows.

On the OTHER hand, both the filling and the Pâte Sucrée turned out DELICIOUS. Super, super delicious. So....I consider it a win. ;)