Sunday, August 30, 2009

Three-Berry Clafouti

It's strange that of the dozen cookbooks I own, I really only regularly use about three of them (two books about baking and a pasta cookbook which contains one of my favorite tomato sauces). Occasionally, I'll pull out one of the four Rachael Ray books I own to look for a new recipe, but most of my favorites from those books I've committed to memory.

A couple of weekends ago, I got the hankering to bake a dessert. We already had cookies in the freezer, and I really wanted something fruity. I immediately thought of the raspberry clafouti we had been served at the bed and breakfast in Montana. "A clafouti is healthy," I rationalized. "If I use blueberries, blackberries, and some raspberries, I'll get my daily dose of antioxidants." So I began my quest for a recipe...

I began searching the internet for recipes. I remembered that clafouti is a French dish, and then I remembered that Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking had been sitting on my bookshelf for over a year. I looked through it for fun every now and then but I had yet to try out any of her recipes. Surely Julia would have a recipe for this pastry in her book. I was in luck, she had several variations on the classic dish.

I decided to use three berries because a) I needed an excuse to use blackberries (my favorite), b) blueberries are in season and somewhat inexpensive and c) I'm not a huge fan of raspberries but like the color.

The recipe couldn't be simpler to make. The ingredients for the "dough" are all combined and blended. Flour, sugar, milk, vanilla, and eggs are processed until smooth.

As you can see, it's kind of frothy.

Next, you pour a thin layer of the batter into the bottom of the pie plate, just enough to coat the bottom. The pie plate goes into the 350-degree oven for a few minutes, just enough time for a film to set on the bottom of the pie plate. Then you remove the plate from the oven, add the fruit and more sugar, and pour on the rest of the batter.

It kind of looks like a giant pancake...

Then you bake the clafouti for about 45 minutes, until it's set. Let it rest for a few minutes before slicing into it.

I really like this dish. It would be great served warm with some ice cream, or with whipped cream. We didn't have either of those in the kitchen, so we ate it plain. It was a light dish that didn't leave a heavy feeling in your stomach. In fact, it reminded me of a thick, giant berry pancake. And with all those great berries, you don't have to feel guilty about eating a big piece!

For the batter...
1 1 /4 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon of vanilla
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 cup of flour

For the filling...
3 cups of berries
1/3 cup sugar

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Black Bean Chimichangas

Do you have a word that you just love to say? A word that just brings a smile to your face? A word that just wants makes you want to celebrate? If not, don't fear-- I bring to you the word "Chimichanga!" C'mon, say it out loud. You're smiling now, right? Chi-MEE-chang-ah. Chi-me-CHANG-ah. (I know, I'm having a little too much fun with it).

According to Wikipedia, a chimichanga is traditionally a fried burrito that got its name when a cook dropped some dough into a vat of oil, and (instead of saying a very bad word in Spanish), exclaimed "Chimichanga," which is loosely translated from Spanish as "thingamajig" in English.

I had never eaten a thingamajig (that's kind of a fun word, too) until a few weeks ago when my cousin Maria converted leftover chili verde into baked chimichangas. Boy, were they good-- a crispy tortilla crust enclosing pork, onions, tomatoes, and cheese, and topped with a spicy sauce.

Her idea to use leftover chili got me thinking-- what other kinds of foods could one put in a chimichanga? It didn't take long for an idea to come-- black bean and bacon smash! It's one of my favorite go-to meals, but we usually just eat it with rice, or I occasionally will use the beans as a "sauce" for pizza.

The beans are perfect for a chimichanga because they already have a Tex-Mex flavor from the cumin and chipotle in adobo sauce. And turning them into chimis couldn't be easier-- all you have to do is assemble.

So, obviously the first thing to do was cook the black bean & bacon smash in the slow cooker during the afternoon while I was at work (I know, it's pretty ugly, but looks can be deceiving!). Then I reserved half of the black bean mixture for dinner the next night. With the remaining mixture, I mixed in some roasted corn kernels (this is enough filling for 4 chimis). I baked frozen corn kernels in a 350 degree oven for about 15 minutes to thaw them out and give them a little bit of color. The corn added crunchy texture to the bean filling.

Then I set about getting the rest of the ingredients together: tortillas, a bag of Mexican blend shredded cheese and cooking spray.

I wrapped the tortillas up in a damp kitchen towel and nuked them for about 30 seconds in the microwave, just to get them very pliable. I also sprayed a small baking sheet with the cooking spray.

Next, I spooned about a 1/4 cup of the bean filling onto the tortilla...

... and then sprinkled on the cheese...
... and then rolled them up, just like a burrito, and placed them on the baking sheet.
(obviously I need a little more practice rolling them up! Fortunately the taste wasn't affected.)

Before putting these in a 350 degree oven, I sprayed the chimichangas with cooking spray.. I baked them for about 15 minutes. They were crisp (not quite as crispy as a fried one would be), but I think you could achieve mucho crispiness if you baked them in a hotter oven (around 425-450 degrees).

I didn't have a recipe for sauce, so I set out two jars of salsa from Frontera Foods instead: the salsa verde and the Guajillo salsa. The side dish is sauteed peppers and onions seasoned with chili powder and cumin! Yummy!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I have to come clean. From July 28-August 7 I didnt cook AT ALL. I ate ice cream almost every day. I ate foods with no regard to their nutritional content. And I loved every minute of it. Of course, my waistline would beg to differ now that it is holding up an extra 5 pounds (5 is just a guessit could be more but Im scared to step on the scale!)

During those 12 days, I was on vacation in Montana with my hubby, Will, and my parents. We had a fantastic time, and enjoyed great restaurant and home-cooked food along the way. Im not sure if we hit the best of the best restaurants during our visit, but I would highly recommend all of the restaurants where we ate.

At any rate, here is a recap of our travels!

South Carolina/Georgia

My husband, Will, and I began our trip with a breakfast stop at Chick-fil-A, the home of the best chicken biscuits in the world, on our way to my parents house in Georgia. From there, the four of us departed for Atlanta and the airport. But, before we headed to the airport, we ate a late lunch at the OK Café. This place is great if you want to quelch a craving for classic southern food. I usually get the broiled salmon, but on Tuesday I got the veggie plate with squash soufflé, macaroni & cheese, a baked sweet potato, green beans, and a corn muffin. They have fabulous desserts, but since we were so full from our meal, we decided to forgo the brownie sundaes, chocolate ice box pies, and carrot cake. I did pick up a super-sized Rice Krispie treat from the OK Take Away for a snack on the plane.

Red Lodge, MT

After arriving in Billings on Tuesday, we went straight to the hotel for a good nights rest. The next morning, my Aunt B picked us up and took us to Red Lodge, which is at the foot of the Beartooth Mountains. We ate at a cute little café in Red Lodge (I cant remember the name, but will post it once I do). I had a bison burger with sweet potato fries, which were surprisingly crispy.

Will is enjoying a Moose Drool ale from Montana's Big Sky Brewing Company. We decided that we would only drink MT beer during our trip (but that ended for Will when he met Cousin D and got free Busch Light).

Before we roamed the streets of Red Lodge and took a drive up the Cook City Highway, dear hubby and I split a rich piece of chocolate cake. By the way, if you ever are in Montana and want a scenic drive, take this road. The views of the mountains are spectacular, and you may see a bear like we did!

View from an overlook on the Cook City Highway.

The bear!

Lewistown, MT

After a day of sightseeing outside of Billings, the four of us headed to Lewistown, MT, for our three-day family reunion! It was very exciting to see all of our relatives, many of whom we hadnt seen in several years!

We stayed at the Pheasant Tales Bed & Bistro, where our rooms were very spacious, and breakfast was included. Among the offerings were scrambled eggs, bacon, French toast, raspberry clafouti, pancakes, and breakfast casserole.

Pheasant Tales Bed & Bistro

Needless to say, we got off to a great start each morning (and so did the turkeys).

Since Pheasant Tales is located a bit off the beaten path, so we got to see lots of deer, a porcupine, turkey, and a garter snake (well, I didnt see the snake but I heard all about it).

The ownersof the B&B also breeds English Setters, so we always received a warm, rousing welcome from the four-legged residents.

When we werent at the B&B, we were at my Aunt M and Uncle Ls house, which was a relatively short drive from Lewistown. We had some of the best food of the trip there because most of it was homemade by my aunt and cousins, who were kind enough to share their recipes with us. (Look for those on upcoming blog entries!)

Of course, no summer vacation would be complete without ice cream! We soon found that the best place to swing by and pick up an ice cream cone or an Artic Freeze (similar to a DQ Blizzard) was the Dash Inn, located on the main street of Lewistown. Not only was the ice cream good, it was lots of fun to sit in the parking lot and watch the local teens and Harley Davidson enthusiasts cruise the strip.

On our final night in Lewistown, we were treated to dinner at Pheasant Tales by my parents. Aunt B, Aunt M, Uncle L, and Cousin M joined us for a fabulous meal that began with pheasant and duck ravioli in a sun-dried tomato, basil, and garlic sauce (this may be my favorite dish of the trip).

Pheasant and duck ravioli

Next, we enjoyed freshly sliced cucumbers and tomatoes with a poppy seed dressing. The main course was a beef tenderloin with a sauce (sorry, I can't remember what kind), but it was made with Madeira and plum syrup. On the plate it looked like a plain brown gravy, but when it hit your mouth you got a subtle sweet flavor that was wonderful surprise! On the side was a zucchini cake that was comprised of pine nuts and bread crumbs, and topped with a remoulade sauce.

Dessert proved the point that simple is sometimes best-- it was a raspberry crepe with a brandy cream sauce.

Chris, the chef, said it best: "Everything is better with brandy cream sauce." I couldn't agree more and am definitely hitting the internet to find a recipe for it!

Great Falls

On Tuesday morning, we bid a fond farewell to our family and Pheasant Tales and headed to Great Falls to visit the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center on the banks of the Missourri River.

After a jaunt through the museum, we headed to Dante's Creative Cuisine for lunch. Everyone was very pleased with their dishes. My hubby had shrimp pasta with a four-cheese whiskey sauce, my dad had broccoli and pasta with a Gouda cheese sauce, my Mom got a great bowl of hot & sour soup, and I had a veggie burrito with salsa verde.


We drove from Great Falls to Helena, and made another stop at an educational site in Ulm, MT, at the First People Buffalo Jump.

That's me standing in front of the buffalo jump!

We stayed at the Best Western Great Northern in Helena--it is a very nice hotel and I would highly recommend it. My husband and I headed out on our own for dinner that night, and ended up at the Brewhouse Pub and Grille on Lyndale Avenue, a very short walk from our hotel. The beer was okay and the food was good by bar standards.

We stopped at the Great Northern Carousel to get ice cream for dessert. I had a scoop of chocolate chip cookie dough and "hot" chocolate (chocolate ice cream with cayenne pepper-- it was interesting but left a burn in my mouth). While the ice cream was good, the price was a little outrageous. Each of us got two scoops in a waffle cone, and the total was over $10! We failed to see that the ice cream shop charged by the ounce, not the scoop! The next night we had ice cream at Dairy Queen.

Can you find the Sleeping Giant in the distance? I took this photo while hiking up Mount Helena.

On Wednesday morning in Helena, the four of us got a brief tour of the city from a Helena-native, and then headed out to the Gates of the Mountain boat tour. But, before driving to the dock, we picked up sandwiches for lunch from the Staggering Ox. I wish I had thought to take a photo of these specialities (there is one on the website). The sandwich loaves are baked in a cylinder, and then hollowed out. The bread is filled with any kind of filling you want. I got the the vegi sandwich which included veggies (duh) and cheese. The Staggering Ox has several sauces (really, they are more like salad dressings) you can drizzle on your sandwich as you eat it. Our clerk gave us lots of different sauces to try, and my favorites ended up being the sesame dressing and the wasabi.

Will and I split off from my parents that afternoon to go hiking on Mount Helena. Following our hike, we were ready for a good meal so we went to On Broadway for dinner. We had a great meal-- we split a crab and potato cake appetizer. Will got seafood alfredo for dinner and I had pasta puttanesca. While the $16.95 price tag for pasta seemed steep, the portions where HUGE, and a roll and big green salad were included in the meal. After dinner we walked around Helena for a bit before retiring to the hotel to prepare for our last day on the road in Big Sky Country.


The day before we flew home, we left Helena for Billings. However, we had to make a stop at the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman. The Museum of the Rockies has a terrific exhibit on dinosaurs and has great displays about the region's geological history.

One of my favorite parts of the museum is Mike the T-Rex, who greets visitors at the museum's entrance.

My mother got a suggestion from a museum employee for lunch, and we hit The Nova Cafe in downtown Bozeman for a late lunch. We all really enjoyed our food (Nova serves breakfast all day as well as lunch items) even though the service was slow. I had a California sandwich that was comprised of roast beef, avocado, lettuce, and tomato on ciabatta bread. It came with baked fries that were actually crisp (my baked fries at home always come out kind of soft), so I ate up! We walked off our lunch downtown and got ice cream cones before getting on the road to Billings.

Aunt B was kind enough to take us out to eat at the Windmill Restaurant in Billings on Thursday night. We all had fantastic steaks for dinner, along with salads and rolls. I had chocolate lava cake and vanilla ice cream for dessert.

Even though our trip lasted almost two weeks, it still wasn't long enough. it was great to see our grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers & sister, but parting ways again just reminds us how spread out across the country we are.

We've been back from vacation for almost one week now, and my mind still drifts to the wide open spaces and mountains. I think it's time to start planning a return trip...