Real Food for Real Life

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving (or, Did I really just spend two days cooking?)

Well, another Thanksgiving has come and gone, with good company and good food aplenty, although it continues to amaze me that I can spend two days preparing for this meal to see it disappear in a mere hour. Then, between parents and grandfathers and daughters in from school, all taking food home, we have not enough leftovers to get tired of (and alas, no Bubble and Squeak this year). But I can't complain, I love to host this meal and my family loves to eat it (and they are very generous with the praise which makes any cook feel grand).

Most of my family are strict traditionalists when it comes to this meal, but I have been able to change things a little as time goes by- they will eat my mashed potatoes even though I leave on the skins and throw in a whole head of garlic, the gravy is made with white wine, but no (nasty) giblets, and the green beans are sauteed, not boiled into submission. I have done away with that quivering can shaped cranberry sauce of my childhood in favor of a fresh whole berry sauce, this year making a spicy version with jalapenos and crushed red pepper that my grandfather loved (it needed to be spicier still in my opinion). Our Thanksgiving dinners have always been alcohol free events (at least in my family), but this year I had a blackberry wine from the nearby Hanover Winery that I really wanted to serve, and I'll be damned if grandpa didn't have a glass. I about fell off my chair for I have never seem him drink an alcoholic beverage, ever. The pumpkin pie was made with the white pumpkin I put up in the freezer last month, and it was the best one I have made to date (just ask my dad, he'll tell you so 8 or 20 times :).

I was able to get a lot of the work done the day before- the stuffing, baked asparagus, and escalloped pineapple prepared for the oven, the pies made, the trifle ingredients prepared for layering on Thanksgiving morn, the cranberry sauces made, the salad and dressing made, the green beans prepped, and even the potatoes scrubbed. The dining room table was set with the silver, crystal, soft cloth napkins and lots of candles and greenery. The real work is in the juggling done on Thanksgiving day in trying to have all these dishes cooked and hot at the appropriate time. Ben and I have been talking for a while of replacing our electric range with a gas one, placing the electric in the basement for our future kitchenette (that is actually going to be a second full kitchen). The decision was finalized Thanksgiving morning when I couldn't get both the turkey and the ham in the oven at once without a last minute change of roasting ware. I'll have that gas range (and thus the use of two ranges) after Christmas. In all the hustle to get everything done the photography was sporadic, but I did manage to get a few good ones.

The Menu

Herb Roasted Turkey Breast
Bourbon and Brown Sugar Glazed Ham

Whole Grain Bread Stuffing
Baked Asparagus
(I tweaked this old family recipe)
Garlic Smashed Potatoes
Pan Gravy with White Wine

Escallopped Pineapple (a recipe from Ben's family)
Garlic Sauteed Green Beans
Triple Green Salad with Sweet and Sour dressing
Dinner Rolls
(I cheated and bought these)
Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce, two ways
Pickled Crabapples (the ones Chris had me make last month)

"White" Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin Butter Cream Trifle

Pecan Tartlets
(cheated with these as well)
Fresh Whipped Cream

Herb Roasted Turkey Breast
I usually don't roast a whole turkey because any more Chris is the only one who like the dark meat, so I just find the largest turkey breast I can , a 10lb. whopper this year. A breast this large takes a few days to thaw in the fridge, just a a small turkey would, so be sure to allow ample time. Quarter a small peeled onion and place it into the cavity. Place the breast meaty side up in the roasting pan, you may have to wedge the bottom bone at the opening in the bars of the rack to get it to stand straight (I did, see the photo). Pat the breast dry with paper towels and then rub liberally with olive oil. Sprinkle all exposed skin very generously with herbs and seasonings of choice- I used kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper, garlic powder, rubbed sage, thyme, and oregano. Don't worry if extra falls into the roasting pan, it will further flavor the dripping that you will use later to make the gravy. Pour a cup of water or stock into the bottom of the pan; roast in a 325 degree oven approximately 20 minutes a pound, or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part reads 170 degrees. There is no need to baste during the roasting, nor a need to cover it with foil at any time- the skin will be left crisp and tasty for those who like it. Remove to a platter and cover tightly in foil until serving time. Reserve the pan and drippings. This method also works well with roasting chickens- you may want to add lemon and garlic cloves to the cavity for chicken.

Bourbon and Brown Sugar Glazed Ham
Again, not a recipe so much as just a way of doing things. We have ham as well on Thanksgiving because my dad won't eat turkey (gasp!), and the last few years I have been buying spiral cut hams. They do cost a little more, but they are so much easier to serve that I find them well worth it. Place the ham cut side down in a roasting pan and cover the pan tightly with foil. Roast at 325 degrees (with the turkey) for 10 to 12 minutes per pound. When there is approximately 30 minutes cooking time left, remove the foil and move the ham into serving position. Brush with one half the bourbon sugar mix, making sure some gets in between the slices, roast for 15 minutes, remove and repeat. The glaze consists of about 1/2 packed cup brown sugar (light or dark), a couple tablespoons spicy brown mustard, and a couple tablespoons of bourbon; stir well to combine. Remove to a serving platter and cover with foil until serving time. Reserve the drippings for another use like yummy ham gravy or adding to the stock for bean soup; the same goes for that meaty ham bone you are left with at the end.

To be continued...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Timely Tip

We have been so busy lately that there has not been time for involved cooking, although I did (at Christopher's request) make a pretty tasty batch of Sloppy Joes (no Manwich here, please).

What I did manage to do this week was clean out my bread drawer of all those odds and ends of leftover bread. I don't throw these out, I instead cut them up into small cubes and dry them on a pan for a day or two before storing away in a plastic canister. The dried cubes I can use to make stuffing, or throw in the blender and make my own bread crumbs. I do this with all sorts of breads (except sweet ones- but those are good for bread puddings), and the resulting mix is tastier than what you can buy at the store, not to mention, much more economical. I keep a small canister of the bread crumbs around to use in recipes as needed, and it makes a good easy breading. With Thanksgiving arriving soon, start now saving those bread cubes, a mere 10 cups (not as much as you think) will make a nice pan of stuffing for your holiday meal.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Kid Food Good Enough for Grownups

With Chris and I on our own for dinner again last night, and a basketful of bargain apples in the pantry, I thought it would be a good time to make a dish that the kids all love, but Ben won't eat, cinnamon apples with noodles and smoked sausage. I came up with this dish when Nicole and Matt were quite young (thus, before the Christopher), and it has been a kid favorite ever since. Nicole even called from school a few weeks ago wanting to know how to make it. She will be coming home this weekend to watch Chris for us, so I decided to make enough that she could take the leftovers back to school with her. Chris and I also decided to eat steamed green peas with our dinner - another thing his dad won't eat. I like to say that I haven't met a vegetable I didn't like (except beets and fennel that is).

I can really only give general guidance on this one- the quantity & type of apples used is for you to decide, although I do like to use a mix of apples as some apples break down more with cooking, and this leaves a nice variety of texture. The amount of sweetener used is personal preference, and while I use brown sugar, I imagine a lo-cal sweetener would work too. I have added apple juice before when the apples have seemed a little dry in the pan, so that is another variable
What is great about this dish is that YOU control what is in it. Chris really likes the cinnamon apples at Chili's, but I can't help but think they are not very good for him. When I make my own I know what he is eating. Leftover apples with noodles are also good for breakfast, and the basic cinnamon apples make a great breakfast topper for hot biscuits, or just about anything else.

Basic Cinnamon Apples

apples (quantity/variety up to you)
lemon juice
butter or margarine
brown sugar (or other sweetener)
ground cinnamon
apple juice, cider, or water (if needed)

Wash and dry the apples well. Quarter lengthwise and cut out the core, but leave the peel (this adds not only nutrition, but also color and texture, plus, it's easier). Slice the quarters and toss the slices with a little lemon juice as you work; this not only prevents browning, but adds a nice contrasting tartness under the sweetness of the dish. Melt some butter in a large non0stick saute pan over med-high heat; swirl to coat the bottom before pouring in the apple slices. Let cook for several minutes before stirring. Turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook until the apples start to soften and release their juices- if the apples seem dry, which they might if you are using a lot of Granny Smiths, add a little apple juice, cider, or water. Once the apples are softened and juicy, add the sweetener of choice, not too much all at once, you can always add more. Add the cinnamon at this time, start with about a tablespoon, you can add more later. Cook until the juices are thickened, tasting for sweetness and cinnamon along the way. Don't worry if some of the apple slices seem to dissolve into the juices, this is a good thing.

Cinnamon Apples with Noodles and Smoked Sausage

prepared basic cinnamon apples
1 pkg. substantial egg noodles (I like Reames frozen homestyle)
1 pkg. smoked sausage

Slice the smoked sausage into thin half rounds; saute over med-high heat until browned; remove to another dish with a slotted spoon and set aside. If making the apples for the purpose of this dish, use the drippings in the pan to cook the apples (whether you add the butter as well is completely up to you - I did). Cook the egg noodles according to package directions. I like to use a substantial noodle for this, either homemade, the frozen, or a dry spaetzle or kluski type; the inexpensive thin dry egg noodles will work, but only in a pinch. Once the noodles are cooked, drain well, then toss with the apples; when the noodles are thoroughly coated with the apples, toss in the sausage and serve.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Mexican "Sushi"

Yesterday was Ben's birthday, and we had intended to go to BD's Mongolian BBQ for dinner, but instead, Ben came down with the flu. Mind you, he made it through the whole month of October, when Chris and I were ill for so long (well, me anyway, the kiddo rebounded quickly). Ben could not even face a bowl of soup and with the other kids not home, Chris and I were on our own. He decided that he wanted Mexican again (thank goodness for those leftovers). With the little guy having spoken, that is what we had. Chris took tortillas and layered them with rice, the carnitas shreds, and cotija cheese, before rolling them up and having me slice them into rolls for him. Declaring them delicious, he called these rolls "Mexican Sushi," and was so proud of them he wanted me to take a picture and put it here to share. Notice the dribble of taco sauce on top - he said that was like his "wasabi paste." Gotta love the cuteness of the whole thing.

While on the subject of leftovers, Ben and I had a really delicious lunch (before he got sick) made from the leftover cider braised chorizo. I crisped up a small baguette in the oven before slicing it horizontally. On the bottom half I layered the remaining chorizo and onions (warmed in the microwave), and dribbled some of the juices over the top half. After adding sliced Swiss, I put the top on and warmed the whole thing in the oven until the cheeses melted and the sandwich was crisp. The resulting "bullet" sandwich was super tasty and a great way to finish those leftovers (as well as provide an easy, no fuss lunch).

Monday, November 9, 2009

Carnitas Dinner

Shopping at Aldi this past week, I bought a very nice whole pork loin for $1.99 a pound. I sliced a couple of nice thick chops off one end earlier this week, but was still left with a nice big piece of loin. Contemplating what to do with this, my mind turned to carnitas, one of my all time favorite foods (I kind of think of it as a food group all of its own). Whenever we eat at Taqueria Piasano's I usually order something involving this tasty pork (side note - if in the Hamilton, Ohio area and you love comida mexicana, this is a must stop). Often thought of as fried pork, it is really a slow cooked pork roast (usually a fairly fatty butt or shoulder),that is then chopped or shredded before a final roasting in the oven. The resulting mix of tender and crispy bits is a pork eating delight!! While a much leaner cut of pork then the traditional roasts, I have made carnitas quite successfully in the past using loin, and being the weekend with ample time for preparation, I decided to do it again. I prepped the loin and cooked it in my crockpot on Saturday, shredding it up and getting it all ready for its final roasting that night before putting in the fridge. The fresh salsa and everything else I made Sunday afternoon. Give this a try, I'm sure you'll enjoy it, and with a little planning, not to difficult to make.


1 whole pork loin (4 to 5 lbs.)
1 onion, sliced into fairly thick half rings
3 or 4 poblano chilies, sliced into strips
6 large garlic cloves, peeled & halved lengthwise
1 orange, sliced & deseeded
1 can/bottle beer
kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper, & ground cumin

Slice the onion and peppers, peel & halve the garlic cloves and toss it all in the bottom of a large crockpot. Season all sides of the pork loin liberally with the salt, pepper, and ground cumin; place into the pot fat side up. Place a couple of the orange slices onto of the loin, tuck the remaining slices around the sides. Without disturbing the seasonings, pour in the beer, cover, and cook on low for 6 hours (no peeking, the smell will be enough to hold you).
Remove the loin from the pot and let cool until cool enough to handle; slice into approximately one inch slices and without removing the remaining fat, break these slices up with you fingers. Toss the pork with the onion, peppers, and garlic from the pot with about a cup of the cooking liquid. Cover and refridgerate until the next (or another) day.
On the intended day preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spread the pork and veggie mix onto a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes to one hour, or until you get the desired amount of brown crispy bits (it should still be moist underneath).

Salsa Ranchera

1/2 lb. tomatillos
1 small onion
4 large garlic cloves
3 (or 4) canned chipotle peppers & some of the adodo sauce
3 tbs. lime juice
1/3 to 1/2 a bunch of fresh cilantro

Peel the papery outer covering off tomatillos, wash and dry well; halve horizontally and place on a baking sheet (I use a foil lined one for easy cleanup). Peel and quarter the onion, scatter large pieces on the sheet. Peel the garlic cloves and add whole to the sheet. Broil several inches from the element until the veggies start to char; check frequently, it will not take long. Remove from the oven and scoop everything into a blender; pulse a few times. Add the lime juice, salt, chipotle (at least 3 for proper color & taste, more if you desire to turn up the heat), and some of the adobo sauce from the can; pulse a few times. Add the fresh cilantro (I use what is left after using the topmost sprigs for chopped onions and cilantro), a few small stems are no harm as they will be processed. Pulse a a few more times to desired consistency; do nit make it too smooth, you still want to see some individual bits of color and the salsa should have texture. If it is too thick add a small amount of water and stir to combine.
It is best to make this at least a few hours before you intend to use it; it will keep for a week or so tightly covered in the fridge. After the big meal I like to put the remains in a squirt bottle (you may want to thin it a little at this time) so it is easy to store and use for the rest of the week. This is a wonderful all purpose salsa and is very good on those morning eggs. Makes about 2 cups of salsa.

"Refried" Beans (Frijoles)

2 small or 1 large can of beans of choice
1 large onion, diced
1 generous tbs. adobo seasoning (a Cuban seasoning available in most grocery stores)
1 can/bottle of beer

While not authentic, this is the easiest "refried" bean recipe, and the recipe tastes great, no matter the type of bean used (I've used pinto, black, red, and great northern beans).
Saute the onion in a medium saucepan just until softened ad beginning to turn golden. Add the adobo and saute for a minute to release the fragrance; add the beans with the canning liquid and the beer (slowly for the beer), stir to combine. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to medium and cook until most of the liquid is gone (this will depend on the desired consistency of the finised product). Mash about 1/2 of the beans in the pan, but still leave a lot of texture and large bean pieces.

"Spanish" Rice

This is so easy I really can't even call it a recipe. To cooked white rice add a few large spoonfuls of your favorite bottled salsa, then toss in some thinly sliced fresh scallion and serve. This is also very good with diced hard boiled egg scattered over the top at serving (store any leftovers separately).

For ServingWhenever we eat like this we do it family style, with bowls of the pork, beans, and rice on the table. We also have warm tortillas (I like corn, everyone else likes flour), as well as an assortment of delicious items with which to dress our plates. Above we have finely diced onion with fresh cilantro, the salsa ranchera, grated cotija cheese, juicy lime wedges, pickled jalapenos and carrots, and diced avocado.
A cervesa or margarita for the adults, and some agua fresca or horchatta for the younger set and you have the makings of a fine feast. Enjoy.

Easy Avocado Tip

Avocado can be slippery to deal easy way around this is to halve the avocado lengthwise, remove the pit (if you reserve this and place it into your guacamole bowl it helps inhibit browning somewhat). Slice or dice the avocado while still in te skin - for the dices, just run a spoon around the skin and pop the dices right into a bowl - for the slices, just run your thumb between the skin and the flesh and the slices come right out. If only using 1/2 the avocado, do not remove the pit - store that half in the fridge wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Lazy Sunday mornings...

Ben and I used to always spend Sunday mornings lingering over the paper and perusing the ads, all accompanied by a pot of good coffee. As we have gotten older though, neither of us wants to leave the comfort of home to purchase a paper, and reading the news via the internet is so easy and convenient. But, despite the convenience, reading the pixels on my laptop screen lacks the tactile sensation of holding the paper in my hands, and the printed word is certainly easier on the vision. With Christmas approaching faster than we dare admit, and without many ideas this year for gifts, we decided the time has come to resume the Sunday paper routine (and all those holiday ads). I declared that if Ben would go for the paper I would make one of our favorite breakfasts - sausage gravy and biscuits. Ben readily agreed and the aforementioned breakfast even dissuaded Chris of his planned breakfast of cold pizza. With our biscuits and gravy I also made some ultra easy scrambled eggs in the microwave. With some cinnamon spice coffee (Dunkin' Donuts brand, yum), we were ready for that lazy Sunday morning.

Sausage Gravy and Biscuits

1 lb of your favorite bulk sausage
1 heaping half cup of flour
1 qt. of milk (skim, 2%, whole- whatever you have)
fresh ground black pepper
warm biscuits of choice, homemade or not

In a large saute pan, brown the sausage over med-high heat, breaking it up into small pieces. I used "hot" sausage to make this today, but have used all kinds of breakfast sausage, even turkey, with good results. Once brown, sprinkle over the heaping half cup of flour; stir to combine completely with the meat and drippings, cook for a minute or two to avoid a raw taste to the flour. Turn the heat down to medium and stir in about a cup of the milk to get everything wet and make sure there are no flour lumps. Slowly stir in the rest of the milk. As the gravy heats it will thicken, but do not let it boil. Once thickened, stir in a good grinding of black pepper and leave over low heat until needed. Be sure to stir well before serving
No-fuss Scrambled Eggs

6 eggs
1/4 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

Break the eggs into a large microwave safe bowl and whisk in the milk. Microwave on high for 3 minutes; remove from the oven and with your whisk, pull the cooked egg away from the sides of the bowl and break it up into large pieces. Microwave another 3 minutes on high and remove immediately so the eggs do not overcook. Season with salt and pepper and serve. Six eggs will serve 3 or 4 people. We often make egg sandwiches for a weekday breakfast by beating an egg in a small microwave safe bowl, no milk, and microwaving (nukerating as we call it) for one minute. The result is one perfect and round egg, just the right size for a bagel or English muffin.

A beautiful day for grilling...

The weather this weekend has been a wonderful respite from the cold dreary fall we have had so far. Indeed yesterday was so nice that we decided to throw some steak on the grill, and to end the perfect day we spent some time lounging on the deck after dinner, Ben with a cigar and me with a glass of wine. What a wonderful evening, and probably one of the last uses of the deck for the year. I did not have to spend much time in the kitchen at all for this wonder repast - a flat iron steak with an easy marinade, simple steak fries, chopped romaine salad, and a whole grain baguette from the bakery. To make it completely decadent we had some of the Manchego left from the other evening, good olives, some cimichuri and a bottle of wine - dining heaven.

Red Wine and Rosemary Flat Iron Steaks

2 lb. or so flat iron steak (or other of choice)
1/3 cup dry red wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon
1 heaping tsp. dried rosemary, crumbled
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. good quality salt
fresh ground black pepper, generous amount
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. dried parsley

Mix the wine and seasoning in a one gallon zippered bag; add the steak, seal the bag and turn to coat the steak. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 6, turning the bag occasionally. One half hour before grilling set the steak on the counter to come to room temperature, then grill to desired doneness. Let the steak rest for 10 minutes, then slice thinly against the grain. A 2lb. steak will feed 6, but if not using it all, leave the remains unsliced. Once chilled it is possible to make almost paper thin slices - perfect for topping a salad or making a wonderful sandwich.

Easy Steak Fries

1 large potato for each person
cooking spray
seasoning of choice

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Spray a baking sheet generously with the cooking spray. Wash and scrub the potatoes (I actually use my kitchen scrubby for this) and dry well. Cut each potato in half lengthwise; place cut side down on your cutting board and cut in half again. Cut the halves again - you will have 4 fries of equal width from each potato half. This is perfect for steak fries, but if your potatoes are exceptionally large you may want to cut them a little thinner. Lay out on the baking sheet and spray the surface of the slices with the cooking spray. Season as desired and put into the middle of the oven for 15 minutes, flip the slices, season again, and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. If you would like the fries to be a little browner after the cooking time, just turn on the upper broiler for a minute or two. Serve hot.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fall Crabapples

We have in our yard a species crabapple tree (now about 4 years old), and each fall it has produced more and more pretty dark red apples. Chris has been studying trees in is 4th grade science class and has become very interested in all the different species of trees we have planted in our yard (12 or 13) in the six years we have been here. He brought into the house the other day a perfect unblemished crabapple and wanted to know if it was edible. Being a species (wild) variety, not one of the abundantly blooming but tiny fruiting ornamentals, the answer was yes. I told him that years earlier I had pickled crabapples and that they had been quite good, like miniature spiced apples. He wanted me to do this with these apples so I agreed, provided he did the harvesting. After he and his friend Grace rattled all the branches with large yard implements he presented me with a bowl of apples. Well, after picking out the bug eaten and badly misshaped ones, we were left with about 3/4 lb. of apples. The recipe I have calls for 5 pounds, so I told him that I would see what I could do. After some math to figure how much to reduce the recipe I pickled Christopher's crabapples. Too many for one jar, too few for two, I went with two and made up the difference with the syrup. The pickled apples should be ready by Thanksgiving, when we will serve the pretty little apples as part of our holiday meal.

Pickled Crabapples

5 lbs. crabapples (the large wild ones, not tiny ornamentals)
1 qt. apple cider vinegar
7 cups sugar
2 tbs. whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks (more for your jars)

Wash the crabapples, leaving on the skin and the stem. Pierce each crabapple with a fork, puncturing the skin in several places, you can cut out any small
blemishes if desired. Bring the remaining ingredients to a boil and add the crabapples. Reduce the heat and cook just until the crabapples are tender.Pack the apples into sterilized jars and fill with hot syrup to about 1/2 inch from the top of the jar. Place the cinnamon sticks in two of your jars and place a fresh stick into any remaining jars. Seal securely and let sit a month or so before serving. The syrup will be a lovely shade of red, and by time the apples are ready to eat they will have turned pink inside.

Habanero what?

We spent last Christmas in Minneapolis where my sister-in-law lives (after having lived in Miami, Florida - six years later and I'm still trying to wrap my mind around that one). During the one (very cold) week we spent there, we ate at many very good restaurants, but one in particular stands out in my mind. We like to watch the show Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, which, by coincidence, has featured many restaurants in the Minneapolis area. One episode featured Town Talk Diner, a very retro cool establishment, but what made my husband really want to go there was some huge burger involving sauerkraut, and a cocktail made with bacon infused whiskey (yes, I did say bacon). The opportunity presented itself one evening to have dinner there, so obviously we jumped on it. The diner was certainly very cool, and the waitress was full of attitude (in a very friendly way) that very much suited the place. We had frickles and cheese curds to start (fried pickles and cheese), Ben got his burger and I ordered the bleu cheese meatloaf (unfortunately no longer on the menu); both were absolutely finger licking delicious. Ben ordered his bacon whiskey drink which, unfortunately, did not live up to the hype (Ben's dad even slid his over Ben's way for him to finish). I however, ordered a cocktail made with habanero infused scotch and a mango syrup; loving spicy and sweet together, this was one I had to try. IT WAS GOOD, or at least to my reckoning it was. It was passed around the table, and all but Ben and I deemed it too warm for comfort, but I truly liked it a lot and vowed to try to make it at home.

Well, almost a year later, I still occasionally think about that cocktail, so it's finally time I do something about it (other than make that 15 hour drive to hell and back - that - could be the subject of a very long entry all of its own!). I took 2 bottles of inexpensive Canadian scotch from the grocery and poured them into a large sterilized jar. I took ten (10!!) habaneros, cut several small slits into each, and blanched in boiling water for several seconds. I drained the chilies and dropped them into the jar with the scotch, covered the jar in plastic wrap, and put on the lid. I am going to store this jar in the basement until the holidays, and after I have made myself a cocktail (or two) I shall report back on the results. Fingers crossed it is as good as I remember :) Here's the link to Town Talk if you would like to check it out for yourself :

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Pumpkins, Pumpkins, Pumpkins

Halloween is past and some of our collection of pumpkins needed to be used or shortly tossed, so I decided to spend some time roasting both the flesh and seeds for later use. I used to cook pumpkin for freezing by cubing it and then cooking in boiling water. This however proved to be unsatisfactory. not only did boiling add unnecessary moisture to the end product, it also washed away much of the nutritional goodness contained within those pretty orange skins. For several years now I have been roasting them instead; this not only does away with the added moisture, but it concentrates and intensifies the pumpkin flavor, never a bad thing. I was surprised, however, when I cut open the white pumpkin and was greeted not by a happy orange interior, but a bone white one. Chris had asked when we got it if it was white inside too, and I had told him no, that all pumpkins are orange inside (as are, I thought, all the winter squashes). When Chris got home from school I showed him that mom had been wrong and that not all pumpkins are orange.

Roasted Pumpkin (and Seeds)

Wash and dry your pumpkins; cut in half as illustrated above, and scoop out the pulp and seeds. Don't worry about getting every bit of pulp, but do remove all the seeds. Reserve the seeds in a colander. Place the pumpkins, cut side down, onto foil lined baking sheets and place in a 350 degree oven. Roast until you can push the flesh in easily with your finger. Different size pumpkins will take different amounts of time, so be sure to check them regularly. When cooked, remove from the oven and let cool on the pan until cool enough to handle. With a spoon, scoop out the flesh into a large bowl, scrapping the skin to get it all, then dispose of the skin, as well as the foil and any collected liquid. Liquid will start to pool around the flesh in the bowl; if you intend to use the pumpkin for pies, spoon it off, for any other uses it is fine to leave it. Puree the pumpkin with an immersion blender until it is smooth like baby food. It is now ready to use for recipes, or package into freezer bags or containers. I find that 2 cup quantities are the most useful size for the freezer. I packaged the white and orange pumpkin separately. Chris wants me to make a white pumpkin pie; I'll have to keep you posted on how that turns out.

Now for those reserved seeds..Roasted pumpkin seeds make a tasty, salty snack and are so easy to make it is a shame to waste the seeds. Be aware though, these still retain the hull, not like the Mexican pepitas that are hulled. Pick the seeds from the larger pieces of pulp; dispose of the pulp. Then, under a thin stream of tap water, rub the seeds together between your hands and through your fingers, This will loosen the remaining pulp so that you can easily pick it out. Give the seeds a final rinse - a few pulp strands left behind will not hurt anything -and spread on a parer towel lined plate to dry overnight. The next day turn the seeds into a bowl and add a small amount of olive (or canola) oil, just enough to lightly coat the seeds when you stir them. Spread onto an ungreased baking sheet and put into a 250 degree oven. Bake until the seeds have turned a golden color, stirring on the pan occasionally to ensure even browning. Remove from the oven, salt while still warm, and let cool on the pan. Once cool, store in an airtight container. They will stay fresh for several months- if they last that long (they can be quite addictive).

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Inspiration from Emeril

Tonight's dinner was all planned- grilled ginger sesame pork loin chops, steamed broccoli, and brown rice tossed with sliced scallions. Very easy and very good for us. After assorted chores, I ventured upstairs and turned on the television while getting ready, catching a portion of an episode of Emeril Live. Emeril was cooking dishes from Spain, and the particular dish I caught the end of was an apple cider braised chorizo - "hmmmn," I said to myself, "that certainly sounds good." Later in the kitchen,with the broccoli prepared for steaming, the scallions sliced,and the rice measured out into a pan, it started to rain. As rain and grilling are not happy partners, my thoughts turned again to chorizo. No Spanish chorizo was to be found in the house (we generally eat that up as soon as we get it), but I did find in the freezer a package of Johnsonville chorizo links (it's kind of like chorizo anyway), and in the fridge we had almost two gallons of cider - it was destiny.
Now, how to recreate it with only seeing the end result...a search of the internet revealed only an Emeril recipe for cider glazed pork butt with chorizo seasoning- not quite what I was looking for, There were various recipes involving sausage and hard cider, not the kid friendly kind I had so much of, so the thinking cap went on. First thing, defrost the chorizo in the microwave, then brown it in the oven- easy enough. Butter or olive oil? Butter sounded better for the cider so I went with that. I remembered onions in the served dish so that was easy. Being an Emeril recipe, garlic was a given, as was the use of alcohol, so out came the sherry (which is also very common in Spanish cooking). To cut the sweetness- a bit of apple cider vinegar and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes (yes, I do like to use those in cooking).
For serving I found two baguettes to crisp up in the oven, perfect for those tasty juices I was imagining. In the fridge I also found a wedge of manchego, a Spanish sheep's milk cheese- things were looking better and better. An easy salad of romaine, red onion and grape tomatoes, tossed lightly with a bottled Italian dressing (we like Kraft Tuscan House Italian). Now for the wine (and this meal seemed to call for wine)- I had two Italian whites (Fiano and Pinot Grigio), a dry Italian rose, an Argentienian Malbec, a French Beaujolais, and a cheap American Shiraz- no Spanish rojas, and my sherry was not of a quality that I wished to drink. Not being able to decide, I went with pragmatism and chose the Beaujolais (I had four bottles of this and only one or two of the others). The adventure was about to begin...

Cider Braised Chorizo

1 pkg. Johnsonville fresh chorizo links
1 large onion
2 tbs. butter
minced garlic, to taste
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
red pepper flakes
2 cups apple cider
1/2 cup dry sherry
2 tbs. apple cider vinegar
crusty bread to serve

Brown the chorizo links on the grill or in the oven; cut thinly on the diagonal and set aside. Peel and cut the onion in half lenghwise, then slice into thin half rounds. Saute the onions in the butter over med-high heat until they turn golden. Add the minced garlic (I used two spoonfuls from a jar of minced garlic), salt, pepper, a sprinkling of peper flakes, and the reserved chorizo slices; saute for a minute or two, until the garlic is fragrant. Add the cider, sherry, and vinegar and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the liquid is reduced by half and syrupy. Ladle into bowls and serve with a crusty bread to sop up the juices. Serves 4.

This was absolutely delicious, and the bread was a must for the juices. I think I might be on to something with this one for a Johnsonville recipe contest! Sorry for the lack of pictures with this post, my camera battery died, so these were taken on Ben's phone.

Grocery Bargains

I love looking for bargains in the grocery store; even if I am just picking up an item or two I will usually take the time to make my "bargain round." Bargains, in the form of sometimes quite dramatic mark-downs, are usually found in the fresh, or perishable, areas of the store, located around the perimeter. So if, for example, I am at Kroger, I will start in the produce and organic foods section, on to the bakery, then the deli and cheese cases, the meat section, on to dairy, and before I make it back to the check out lanes there will be a table of non-perishable bargains.
In produce I will often find reduced price apples, potatoes, and red bell peppers (one of my favorites), which if unblemished I find that I can easily keep around for a week or two. More fragile items like lettuces, greens, mushrooms, and bananas I will put into the fridge and plan to use in a day or two. The so called "day olds" at the bakery are perfectly good, and if I want to keep them for more than two or three days I put them in the fridge. Meat markdowns I stow in the freezer until needed, and most dairy markdowns still have useful life, just check the expiration labels. I know I haven't covered them all, but please don't be afraid of those mark-downs, they are very friendly to your budget, can be sources of inspiration (aw, what to do with this beautiful bag of chilies?); just look them over before you buy and use common sense.
Last week I scored a huge bag of yellow bell peppers at Meijer for $2, as well as a 5lb. bag of apples for $1.41. All were in perfect shape and went right into my shopping cart! We have been eating the apples and I have been cooking with the peppers, but with five left, they needed now to be used. One of my all time favorite dishes is a spicy red pepper sauce over pasta, so I decided to make that and substitute the yellow peppers for the red, and while I was at it, substitute red wine (I already had an open bottle) for he white. This is one of those dishes that quantity varies with what I have on hand, some I'm just going to give the ingredients and some general guidance here.

Spicy Red Pepper Sauce

red bell peppers (yellow or orange will work), diced
a large onion, diced
tomatoes, preferably romas/plums, diced(about 1/3 as much as the quantity of bell pepper used)
extra virgin olive oil
garlic, minced
kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper
red pepper flakes
dry white wine (or red)
tomato paste

Dice the peppers, onion, and tomatoes, but not to small, this sauce should be chunky. Saute over med-high heat in olive oil until softened and the onion is starting to turn golden. Stir in the garlic (as little or as much as you like), salt and pepper, and as much red pepper flake as you dare (or not, if you like it mild). Saute a minute or two, until the garlic is fragrant, then stir in a cup or so of wine and bring to a boil. The amount of wine you put in is determined by how "saucy" you want the final product, more sauce = more wine. Stir in a tablespoon or two of tomato paste, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for at least 1/2 hour, or until the sauce comes together.

Serve over pasta of choice- if the sauce is lighter (w/o much tomato paste )a fine pasta such as angel hair is appropriate), a heavier suace (more tomato paste) really needs something more substantial. Tis sauce freezes very well and that is exactly what I did with the leftovers this time around. Substituting the yellow peppers and red wie created a sauce just as tasty as the red peppers and white wine, but I think I find the vibrant ed of the original sauce more visually appealing.
This is one of the most versitle dishes, as long as you have the basic ingredients, how much you use is up to you. The sauce can ultimately be thick or thin, and "saucy" or a bit drier. It is good with some grilled (or browned in the oven) Italian sausages, sliced and simmered into the sauce. Also good is to use the tomato paste sparingly, leaving a lighter sauce and serving with grilled shrimp. And always, always bring extra pepper flakes to the table for serving.
The original sauce, with sliced Italian sausage added.

The substitution sauce, no meat added, but served over another bargain buy, Butoni spicy sausage ravioli that I got for 79 cents a package (I bought enough for several meals and put them in the freezer).
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