Monday, June 20, 2011

OMG: Homemade Pop Tarts with My Quick and Simple Blueberry Refrigerator Jam

I’ve mentioned on here before that once a month I attend a meet up with a group of other food bloggers at fellow blogger and author of Creative Culinary, Barb Kiebel's home. We usually spend the better part of an hour visiting with each other before we talk about how to make our blogs just a little bit better, and hopefully it shows.

During our hour of visiting we also share the snacks that everyone brings. I’m not just saying this to butter up my fellow bloggers, but there are usually some great tasting and beautiful looking treats on this table which really ups the ante for each of us every month.

Feeling uninspired this month I was really struggling as to what I was going to bring, so I did what I often do and searched Google for ideas. After about 10 minutes of searching I found a recipe for homemade pop tarts on Smitten Kitchen’s site. It fit my criteria of being quick and relatively easy and I had all of the ingredients so I quickly pulled everything together and started baking.

Mini Blueberry Pop Tarts hot from the oven. Drizzle or smooth icing over while still hot and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before eating.

Not just kid food, these tarts are a wonderful adult treat too.

I’m here to tell you that these little tarts are pretty close to heaven and even at that, this is an understatement. The crust is sweet, buttery, flaky and tender. I deviated from SK's recipe just a bit by opting to fill mine with my own blueberry jam that I quickly mixed up from a huge Costco container of berries that I had in the fridge. If you have some fresh fruit around, don’t be intimidated by making your own jam. It is really easier than you think. Finally, as if they could get any better, I drizzled them with just a little bit of icing.

I often brag here about how good each of my recipes are, but this is one that I can’t encourage you enough to try. If you want to make something really fun and special this is the recipe.

Pop Tarts

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup (2 sticks, oh yeah, you read right) cold butter, cut into small cubes
2 eggs, divided and beaten
2 tablespoons milk
Cinnamon Sugar
Blueberry Jam

Place flour, salt, sugar and butter in the bowl of a food processor; process until the mixture looks like cornmeal (this can also be done with a pastry blender in a large bowl as well). Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and add one egg and milk. Mix well. Divide in half. Form into two rectangular blocks about 1” thick; wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. The dough can also be refrigerated like this for up to two days but once you are ready to use it remove it from the fridge and let it warm to room temperature for about 15 minutes before rolling.

Remove blocks from the refrigerator, unwrap and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll out to 1/8” thick; using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, trim dough to measure 9 x 12”. Cut each piece of dough into thirds making nine pieces that measure 3 x 4”, repeat with the other piece of dough. With the blunt end of a skewer poke vent holes in the top to let the steam escape. I made mini pop tarts by using a 3” square cookie cutter which yielded about 22 little pop tarts. I opted to reroll my pastry scraps amd make additional mini pop tarts from them. While I prefer the smaller bites, they are certainly more time consuming than the larger ones.

Brush 1/2 of the rectangles with the remaining beaten egg (these will become the bottoms of the tarts). Spoon one heaping tablespoon (or one teaspoon for the mini pop tarts) of your desired filling into the center of the bottoms, gently smooth filling out from the center leaving a 1/2" border all the way around. Place one piece of pastry with the vent holes on top, pressing the edges with your fingers to seal. For a finishing touch press the edges with the tines of a fork. Transfer tarts to a non-stick baking dish, cover and place in the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake pop tarts in the preheated oven for approximately 25 minutes or until they are a light brown. Remove and drizzle with icing if desired. Cool for approximately 10 minutes before eating being careful as filling might be hot.

If you would rather use store bought jam, mix 1 tablespoon cornstarch with 1 tablespoon of water, add this to 3/4 cup jam and stir well before spooning onto the center of the dough.

Quick Blueberry Refrigerator Jam

1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 - 2" sprig fresh rosemary

Place all ingredients in heavy bottom sauce pan set over a medium high heat. Stir well to bruise the blueberries and release their juices to dissolve the sugar. Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture comes to a boil; reduce heat and simmer uncovered until the mixture is thick, this may take up to 25 minutes. When the jam is almost done, add the rosemary sprig and cook for 5 minutes before removing.

To determine whether the jam is ready or not, place a small plate in the freezer to chill. Remove from the freezer and drop a dot (about 1/4 -1/2 teaspoon) in the center. The jam is done when you drag your finger through the center of the dot the two sides will stay separate and have a thick profile instead of running back together. This will give you some idea of the consistency it will have when it is cooled. You really want this to be pretty thick so it isn’t runny when you bake your pop tarts.

This may make a bit more than you need but all the better since you’ll have some to use later on toast. Just keep any leftovers sealed and in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Cinnamon Sugar Filled Pop Tarts

Cinnamon Sugar Filling

1/2 cup brown sugar
1 – 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.


1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place sugar in a small bowl. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the milk and the vanilla. Stir until smooth, adding small amounts of the remaining milk until the mixture reaches the consistency of heavy cream. Drizzle or spread on top of the warm pop tarts.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Low and Slow: Smoked Pork Loin Roast and Bacon Wrapped Chopped Steaks

Mr. H used to do all the barbequing at our house until it became obvious to everyone that he seemed to burn pretty much everything. In all fairness, I’m not sure how he got roped into being the official barebquer at our house in the first place, but after 10 years or so of blackened everything and an unfortunate salmon incident, he was asked to surrender his tongs. Funny thing is, I was so worried about hurting his feelings by firing him from his post but when we finally had the “Honey your barbeque really sucks” talk he almost seemed relieved. For some reason barbequing is looked upon as such a guy thing that I was concerned about somehow emasculating him, but he took it really well and has never even acted like he wants his old job back. I think this decision liberated us all. He is now the official family fire builder and a damn good one I might add.

Some of the greatest female cooks I know that perform no less than miracles in the kitchen are often shooed away from the barbeque like they are incompetent toddlers. Then their husband, who can’t even make his own cup of coffee, is trusted to throw a $100 beef tenderloin on a roaring fire. I’m not saying that men can’t barbeque and barbeque well, what I’m saying is that we women can do it just as well. For generations in my family the ritual has always been much the same. After choosing the perfect cut of meat and lovingly rubbing it with a special blend of every herb and spice in my mother’s kitchen it would be thrown on the pit and tended to for hours by a crowd of men getting their drink on. I mean how can you go wrong with alcohol and prime meat? Well, just don’t ask my husband that question.

Female barbeque on the other hand is a quite a bit less glamorous. Since cooking is an everyday occurrence, most women don’t seem to want to break the bank when it comes to buying a piece of meat. Personally, I find it a challenge to turn a cheap cut of meat into a succulent thing of beauty in between picking my son up from practice and scrubbing the toilets. This actually works in perfectly with this lifestyle because the secret comes down to two words, low and slow. The other factors that I believe play an important part in barbeque success is mounding the coals in just the right way so that you have a hot area for browning and searing and a warm area for slow cooking, just the right amount of wood chips for that perfect smokiness, and just a tiny sprinkling of MSG. Yep, that’s my secret weapon and I make no apologies, for MSG is what makes my barbeque superior to all others and as you may have heard, all is fair in love and barbeque.

Last week we had beautiful weather here and I made the most of it by firing up my grill a couple of times. I picked up a 2.5 pound pork loin roast and 3 pounds of 80/20 ground beef all for around $10.00 and with a little finesse, managed to make a couple of inexpensive meals that were company worthy. For both I lit a chimney starter full of charcoal and soaked a couple of handfuls of hickory wood chips. When the coals were ready I mounded them slightly in the middle and thinned them out on the outside for a lower temperature for slower cooking. I sprinkled some extra coals from the bag to keep the fire going longer and then just before adding the meat I sprinkled the drained wood chips over the coals. I always sear my meat first, cook it until it is a golden brown and then I move it towards the outside to finish cooking for as long as possible, and don’t think you need a big fancy grill either. Even though I often threaten to run out and buy a sleek new stainless steel model, I never do because my grungy old beat up little charcoal kettle style grill never fails to please. This is the method that I use for most everything with the exception of steaks which I prefer grilling by searing and cooking much quicker over a high heat, but more on that in a future post.

Before I placed my pork loin roast on the hot grill, I rubbed it with a combination of paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, coriander, MSG (Accent flavor enhancer), a little salt, freshly ground black pepper and just a touch of granulated or brown sugar and set it aside while I waited on the coals. Then I placed it on the grill and seared all sides before moving it off center and slow cooking it for about another 1-1/2 hours checking it often to make sure it wasn't burning or drying out. I removed it and wrapped it in foil and let it sit for about 20 minutes before cutting and serving it. The result was a succulent and tender piece of meat that had everyone asking for seconds.

Smoked Pork Loin Roast

If you look closely you can make out a very desirable light pink smoke ring just beneath the bark on the outside of this pork loin roast. This $3.00 piece of meat turned out tender, flavorful and moist. You just can't rush it.

Bacon Wrapped Chopped Steaks

1 slice white or wheat bread, crumbled
1/4 cup milk
2 pounds 80/20 ground beef
5 teaspoons beef bouillon granules, divided
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
6 slices thin bacon
Montreal Steak Seasoning to taste

Place breadcrumbs and milk in a small bowl and set aside to soak for at least 5 minutes.

In a large bowl, place the ground beef, 3 teaspoons of the beef bouillon, pepper, garlic, onion powder and thyme. Add the breadcrumb mixture and mix well being careful not to overwork the meat which will make it tough.
Divide the meat into 6 equal portions. Roll each portion into a ball and flatten to about 1-1/2” thick. Wrap each portion in a piece of the bacon, secure with a toothpick and sprinkle each with Montreal Steak Seasoning or any other favorite to taste on both sides. Repeat with the remaining meat.

Heat a barbeque grill to very hot and oven to 300 degrees. Place the chopped steaks on the hottest part of the grill and sear on each side for approximately 5 – 8 minutes (depending on the heat of your grill) or until they are a golden brown. Move steaks toward the outside of the fire to a cooler part to slow cook. Cook until you reach the desired doneness for your taste. I cooked mine for an additional 30 minutes turning once after 15 minutes. If needed turn steaks to the side to cook bacon.

Just before the steaks are done, boil 2 cups of water. Dissolve the remaining beef bouillon in the water and pour into a large baking dish. Remove the steaks from the grill and place in the hot bouillon. Cover the dish with foil and place in the oven for approximately 15 minutes before serving or reduce the heat to 250 degrees and keep warm for up to an hour.

Place uncooked steaks in the center of the hot grill to sear.

Gently turn steaks and sear on the other side until they are golden brown.

Move seared steaks toward the outside edges of the grill to slow cook for approximately 20 minutes on each side.

Place cooked steaks in the bouillon bath, cover and bake at 325 for 15 minutes before serving or keep warm for up to an hour at 250 degrees. Serve with au jus.