Real Food for Real Life

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Bones and shells...

Here is the process I used in dealing with the ham bone I used in the jambalaya.  This same method will work for other dishes, but if you are making bean soup, you may just wish to cook the bone with the beans (just remove the bone at the end and add back the meat).

Whenever we have ham, I intentionally leave quite a bit of meat on the bone- not only is serving easier this way, but it leaves the bone meaty for other uses.  I simmered the bone covered all morning while I was busy with other things and just checked it every now and then, turning the bone around in the stock each time.  The water covered about 3/4 of the bone when I started and used no added seasonings, ham having plenty already.

I removed the bones and meat to a plate to you can see, the meat fell off in pieces.

Once it was cool enough to handle, I shredded up the meat, leaving it in fairly large pieces, and discarded the fat, bones, and silver skin.  I ended up with roughly 2 cups of meat.

I strained the broth into a large bowl- this removes any small bones, as well as pieces of fat that have broken off unto the stock.

A few hours in the fridge solidified the fat.  This I skimmed off to brown the ham for the jambalaya.  This fat can be reserved to cook with, just make sure to refrigerate it, or discarded.  The stock below is gelatinous, like loose jello, a good sign that it simmered a long time.  If not using the stock now, just ladle into freezer containers for later use, I find 2 cup portions to be most helpful.

I used 4 cups for the jambalaya and still had 2 cups leftover for the freezer.

I have been saving the shells from shrimp in the freezer with the intention of making stock.  After peeling the shrimp for the jambalaya I had the shells from 4 pounds of shrimp and decided to go ahead and make it.  I put the shells in a medium pan with about 5 cups of water, a teaspoon of salt, small handful of whole black peppercorns, and a Bay leaf.

 I left this to simmer while I made dinner (about and hour).  I turned off the heat and just left it until I was leaning up after dinner.

Strain the broth into a bowl, pressing on the shells with the back of a spoon to get out all of the liquid.  I tasted the stock, and with the addition of a bit more salt, would have been perfectly good to sip on its own.  I can't wait to see what idea hits me to use this wonderful stuff.

I ended up with 4 generous cups of stock to tuck away in the freezer.  This took practically no effort.  And to think, I could have just thrown the shells away, which is what I have done for years :-(

Friday, July 30, 2010

A frozen treasure...

 Cajun (Brown) Jambalaya with Ham and Shrimp
(And yes, I know that my place setting is mixed up.)

Finding all that 10 month old zucchini in the freezer last week sent me on search to see what else had been stashed for too long. meaty ham bone from Easter...not terribly old, but I felt I should use it anyway.  The first use that comes to mind with a ham bone is a bean or lentil soup of some sort, but it is really, REALLY hot and humid (75% yesterday), and who wants to eat a heavy, rib-sticking bean soup in this kind of weather? (Do rhetorical questions get a question mark?)

I considered the contents of the freezer (the one in the kitchen where things don't get "lost"), and a bag of shrimp made me think jambalaya (yes, I still seem stuck down south, I need to move there already).  I'm sure most are familiar with this rice dish of Louisiana fame, or at least of Zatarains fame (watch the commercial here)...

Jambalaya is an infinitely versatile dish (and one that can be made to fill the hungry tummies of many, if needed).  "Creole," or "Red," jambalaya is made with tomatoes, while "Cajun," or "Brown," jambalaya is made without.  I asked the boys which they preferred and they voted for the no tomato variety (I should have guessed that without asking), so Cajun it was.  This dish turned out every bit as rich and tasty as I had hoped, with the sweet shrimp contrasting beautifully against the overall "haminess" of the dish.  Chris thought it a bit spicy, so I would probably cut the cayenne by half in the future, especially considering that Ben and I added Tabasco anyway (Crystal Hot Sauce would have been a better choice).  I used okra here, but if you don't have it readily available, or don't like it, substitute a scant pound of whatever veg you do have.  Today I am just going to give you the jambalaya recipe, and the next post will cover the process to get here, as well as the shrimp stock I ended up making as well :)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A boy's request...

Banana Smoothie

Christopher has been on a banana smoothie binge this week (but who could argue a healthy treat like this?).  Every morning this week he has started his day with a smoothie accompanied by a peanut butter chip waffle (I made a stack of these on Monday).  He was pestering me this morning to put this simple breakfast on the blog, so I got out the camera and here it is :)

Banana Smoothie

banana (frozen or not)
low-fat or fat-free vanilla yogurt (I buy this in 32oz. containers)
low-fat or skim milk

This is not really a "recipe," I just drop things in and blend away.  This vanilla yogurt and milk base is good for amy variety of smoothies (we've tried a bunch).
Drop a few spoonfuls of yogurt into your blender (maybe 1/2 cup or so).  Add one banana broken into pieces (frozen ones are particularly nice for this) and 1/2 cup or so of milk.  Blend until smooth and pour into a tall glass; stir in a little additional milk to reach the desired consistency (think milkshake).  If I have them around, Chris likes a maraschino cherry on top with a bit of the syrup drizzled in (a trick to make any kid drink "fancy").  Serve

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A potato salad time of year...

Potato and Green Bean Salad 
with a Lemon Vinaigrette

Summer is the season for potato salad, and there have been an abundance of them in the food blogs and magazines as of late.  While I like all sorts of these salads, my preference is for those that don't use much (if any) mayonnaise (same for slaw).  The August edition of Food and Wine magazine had an interesting dish using potatoes and green beans.  Called a "salad," it really didn't seem like one to me since it was served hot and the vegetables were buttered (?), but liking the flavors used, I decided to make my own, one I felt comfortable calling a salad.  We had this with Ina Garten's Tuscan Lemon Chicken, another of her recipes that has become a family favorite (we really like Ina, and yes, we also love the flavor of lemons!).  The only thing I would change in this recipe is to maybe whisk in a teaspoon or two of dijon mustard into the vinaigrette.   Please give this picnic friendly potato salad a try...

A note about that nifty green colander you'll see below...this Tupperware colander was my mom's and may quite possibly be as old as I am (gasp)...all I know is that this thing has always been around, and now it's mine.  This colander has been in weekly use since at least the early 70's, a testament to the durability of old Tupperware (don't think the same can be said for the new stuff).

Potato and Green Bean Salad with a Lemon Vinaigrette

1 1/2 lbs. small red potatoes
3/4 lb. fresh green beans
1/3 cup finely diced red onion
1/3 cup (tightly packed) finely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 clove garlic minced (1 tsp.)
coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper

Prepare the vinaigrette first and let it sit on the counter while you prepare the rest of the salad.  In a medium sized serving bowl, combine the red onion, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic: season fairly generously with the salt and pepper before setting aside.

Scrub the potatoes, and leaving on the peel (I leave on the peel more often than not, even for mashed potatoes), cut into bite sized pieces; place into a pan of cold water, bring to a boil, and cook until tender, 8 to 20 minutes.  Drain the potatoes well and toss in the serving bowl with the vinaigrette while still warm, this will help the flavors absorb into the potatoes.  Set aside to cool, tossing occasionally.  

Wash the green beans, snap the ends and then into bite sized pieces.  Place in a small microwave safe bowl, cover with a saucer, and cook on high for three minutes.  Remove immediately and rinse with cold tap water until no longer warm to the touch- this stops the cooking while setting the bright green color, and is a whole lot easier than that whole ice bath thing.

Once the potatoes have cooled to room temperature, toss in the green beans and serve.  If you are making this ahead and have refrigerated it, let it come to room temperature before serving.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

And now for the piccata...

This  is one of our Ina Garten favorites, and one that I have been making for a few years now.  This chicken is simple enough for a weeknight, but delicious enough to serve to company...who could ask for more in a dish (Christopher, age 10, asks for seconds of this one).  I think the next time I make this I will make the chicken pieces even smaller and triple the amount of sauce ingredients, before serving it all over angel hair pasta (I think this will be sooner, rather than later :)...

Chicken Piccata
adapted from Ina Garten

1 1/2 lbs. (about) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper
1 cup all purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups seasoned bread crumbs*
good olive oil
3 tbs. butter
1/3 cup lemon juice 
2/3 cup dry white wine
1 small lemon, halved and thinly sliced
chopped fresh parsley for serving 

*I used my own dried breadcrumbs and added a generous amount of black pepper, sweet paprika, and garlic powder.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a baking sheet waiting inside.  If the chicken pieces are large, cut them to desired size (we prefer smaller pieces); using a large, very sharp knife, slice each piece of chicken in half horizontally, then, with your palm of the back of the knife, gently press each piece to a relatively uniform thickness (I really don't like pounding meat and this method works just fine).  Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

In one bowl, mix the flour with 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper.  In a second bowl, beat the eggs until lemon colored with about 1 tbs. of water.  In a third bowl place your breadcrumbs (mix them here if preparing your own).  Dip each chicken piece first in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs, ensuring even coverage at each step.  Set the chicken aside for 10 minutes or so to allow the crust ingredients to adhere to each other.

In a large non-stick saute pan, heat 2 tbs. olive oil over medium heat.  Once the pan is nice and hot, start browning the chicken, about 2 minutes per side.  Work in batches so as to not crowd the pan, and as they are finished, place them on the baking sheet in the oven, adding more oil as necessary.  Once the chicken is done, add the lemon juice, wine, and lemon slices to the pan; increase the heat to med-high and cook until reduced by half; stir in the butter until melted and turn off the heat.

To serve...Using kitchen tongs, dip each piece of chicken into the sauce in the pan, turning to coat both sides.   Spoon a bit of the sauce over and sprinkle generously with the chopped parsley.

Monday, July 26, 2010

That darn zucchini...

Roasted Zucchini Pasta and Chicken Piccata

Last summer and fall I was gifted with a super abundance of zucchini (the darn rabbits kept eating mine), and I was putting that wonderfully versatile veg into everything.  Unfortunately, I used this veg so much that the family revolted and called a moratorium on its usage.  "No big deal," I thought, "I'll just put the rest up in the freezer."  Over the winter I was able to start using zuchs again, using the little baby ones from the grocery store and not a complaint was heard.  

The downside to having that freezer in the basement is that I sometimes forget what I have down there.  I was rooting through it last week to see what I had and found the zucchini I had put away last fall.  Goodness, it was 10 months old!  Should I keep it or just toss it?  I decided to try using it...

Knowing that frozen zucchini releases much of its water when thawed, I decided to take advantage of this.  I let it thaw on the counter and then dumped all 16 (!) cups into a colander.  After giving it all a squeeze, much like you would frozen spinach, I was left with about 7 cups which I tossed in a large baking dish with some finely diced red bell pepper, ivadalia onion, lots of garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, and about 1/2 cup of olive oil.  I roasted this at 450 until all tender and starting to brown- concentrated zucchini goodness.  Now, while I wouldn't recommend keeping your veggies frozen this long, it turned out tasty indeed.  (I would, however, recommend roasting up some of the FRESH zucchini abundance in this same manner, and abundance that you will surely have before summer ends.  This would be good tossed with pasta, served as a side, spooned onto crostini, or tucked a lasagna or other casserole.)

I put this away in the fridge and pulled it out later in the week for dinner.  Warmed up and tossed with cooked whole grain rotini and plenty of grated parmesan, it made a fine dinner.   With Ina Garten's chicken piccata, it gave me all the lemony, buttery, and garlicky goodness I had been wanting since I ate that braised artichoke.

Next time around, I'll share that piccata with you..

Saturday, July 24, 2010

9 ears of corn (continued)...

 Succotash, Grilled Turkey Tenderloin,
Buttermilk Biscuits, and Southern Cream Gravy
(and oh yeah, that's bacon on there too)

Thursday night was time for succotash!  Succotash is a dish made with corn and beans, usually lima beans, but really, any shell bean will work.  This is another beautiful, infinitely versatile and economical dish, in that as long as you have corn and beans, you have succotash...toss in whatever veggies you have around and you have a dish sure to please.  Succotash is not a "southern" dish per se, in that it is made all over the States, but it has that feel to me.   A dig through the freezer uncovered a package of turkey tenderloins, just as easy as chicken breasts marinated (canola oil, minced garlic, salt, pepper, and onion powder) and thrown on the grill, just bigger.  I felt the turkey needed some kind of sauce, and wanting to go with the southern vibe, I decided on Southern cream gravy (hey, it's a sauce!).  But what is cream gravy without buttermilk biscuits?  So we had biscuits too (I cheated here, because, alas, I do not possess the art of biscuit making, and it is, indeed, an art!).


Corn...fresh off the cob is best if you have it, but I have made pretty good succotash using frozen corn
Beans...again, limas are usual, but use what you have and like (I used cannellinis)
Diced Veggies...onion, bell pepper, zucchini, tomato are all good 
Salt and Pepper, to taste... (I'd tell you to use a nice coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper, but my grandma used iodized salt and pepper from a tin and it still tasted damn good)
BUTTER, not browns while you cook and adds a taste that you just can't get with margarine  (I used 4 tbs. with this big amount I cooked).
Cream...optional, but adds a very nice richness if you have it around...alas, I did not :(

Saute your corn and veggies in butter over med-high heat until cooked to your liking (I like them starting to get little brown caramelized bits).  Toss in the beans (rinsed and drained, if using canned ones) and continue to cook until heated through.  If using the cream, add with the beans (not too much), and cook it off until it has disappeared into all the other goodness (you'll know).

Southern Cream Gravy

Diet Warning...this is strictly delicious comfort food, no "diets" allowed...

In case you are not familiar, cream gravy is what you would get if you ordered country/chicken fried steak, and serves as the base for sausage gravy (of sausage gravy and biscuit fame).  This simple gravy can taste like paste if you don't treat it right, but if you take the care and time to get the roux just right, it is heaven on your plate.

Basically, you want to start with an equal amount of fat (bacon, sausage, or even butter) to flour and cook the roux over medium heat until it is a nice golden brown (if you don't, it will taste all "pastey").  Then you will want to slowly whisk in half your milk (no less than 2%),  Cook until VERY thick and then whisk in the rest of your milk...cook until it coats the back of a spoon very nicely.  Season with salt and pepper (be generous with the pepper) to taste (think about what I said with the succotash).  Serve over what ever in the heck suits you at the moment :)

Here is what I used this time around...

1/2 lb. peppered bacon, diced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk (I used 2%)
coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper (hey, they are on my counter next to the stove!)

In a medium saucepan, cook the bacon over medium heat until brown and crispy.  Remove the bacon from the pan, leaving as much of the fat behind as you can (I held the spoon up against the side of the pan to drain it).  Add the flour and stir until smooth; continue to cook until nice golden brown, stirring occasionally (this will take a while, but this is the love).  Whisk in the remaining milk and cook until it thickly coats that spoon.  Season with salt and pepper (you gotta taste it for perfection) before serving it over whatever you wish...

Now for that can put it away for another use (on a salad would be good), or you can say "what the heck," and scatter it over whatever you have covered in the gravy (that's what I did darn it, and the succotash too!)

Friday, July 23, 2010

9 ears of corn...

I had nine ears left from a big bag of sweet corn, and I could not possibly let these go to waste so I got out 2 big bowls and started shucking.  I cut the kernels off the cobs into one of the bowls, making sure to scrape each cob with the back of my knife to get all the sweet juices as well.  I didn't measure the corn when I was done, but as you can see, I got a lot :)

I mixed into the juicy kernels some diced sweet vidalia onion, red bell pepper, and jalapeƱos from my deck garden before spooning half the mixture into another large bowl.  In one bowl a added chopped fingerling zucchinni and tucked it away in the fridge to make succotash later in the week.  

 Isn't that future succotash pretty?

Into the other bowl I added a rinsed and drained can of black beans, 3 cloves of minced garlic, and a large tomato, seeded and diced.  I seasoned this with cumin, crushed red pepper flake (yes, in addition to the jalapeƱo), salt, and black pepper before drizzling in some olive oil and lime juice.  Viola!!  A corn and black bean salad or salsa (I have called it both).  

 The beauty of a clack bean and corn salad/salsa, like everything else I made on this busy day in the kitchen, is that there are no hard and fast rules to making it.  Use what you have and what you like, in whatever proportions you prefer, and it will be good.  

This was scooped up on corns chips all week, and one afternoon served as a pizza topping for lunch (with some grated cotija and montery jack cheese, yum, yum).

This was just a refrigerated pizza crust (the kind in a can), but the final pizza was so delicious, and perfectly topped by a little dollop of fat free sour cream.  The "sauce" was just a thin spreading of prepared tomato salsa found lingering in the fridge as well.

Nest up will be the succotash and all the yummy food we had with it...think southern comfort food (the feeling, not the beverage :)...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Minimalist Artichoke...

Artichoke braised in butter and lemon
with a bit of grilled steak.

"Minimalist Artichoke," sounds like an artwork or something, doesn't it?  I cooked this big beautiful artichoke using Mark Bittman's, aka "The Minimalist," method.  I love Bittman's approach to food, few ingredients and simple preparation that brings out the most in whatever is being prepared.  If you aren't familiar with him, I suggest you get yourself right over to The New York Times and check him out.

Braised Artichokes

4 medium artichokes (I used 1 huge one)
4 tbs, butter (I used 2)
chicken stock, as needed Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
Zest and juice of 1 lemon (I used 1 sliced lemon)

 Cut each of the artichokes in half; remove the toughest outer leaves, use a spoon to remove the choke, and trim the bottom.  Put 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. When it melts and foam subsides, add artichokes, cut side down. Cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add stock (it should come about halfway up the sides of the artichokes), bring to a boil, and cover; turn heat to medium-low. Cook for about 20 minutes or until tender, checking every 5 or 10 minutes to make sure there is enough liquid in the pan, adding more stock if necessary. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and transfer artichokes to serving platter.  Raise heat to medium-high and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to a sauce. Stir in lemon zest and juice and remaining tablespoon butter; taste and adjust seasoning. Serve artichokes drizzled with sauce.

I added the sliced lemon to the stock when I was simmering the artichoke (I love lemony flavor), and increased the cooking time for my over-sized thistle.  I think this recipe would be amazing using the little baby artichokes that you can eat whole. Make sure you have some crusty bread handy to sop up any of the juices left on your plate (I had steak and the lemon butter sauce on my plate, oh my :).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ideas for fresh green beans...

A friend wrote today on the blog's Facebook page, looking for ideas on how to what to do with fresh green beans.  This is so timely and in keeping with my earlier post about summer abundance, that I though I would share the post with you.

Question:  I keep looking over the fresh green beans @ the Farmer's Market but I have no idea how to cook them or season them other than to boil. Any ideas?

Answer:  They are great right now, just like everything else this time of year. I just bought some today that I am going to include in a potato salad. Here's some ideas, and a lot of these, if you type "green beans" into the blog's search bar you can get more details...

1. Along the lines of boiling them, you could try what Ben calls my "Hillbilly"green beans, long cooked with bacon fat (and maybe ham bits, bacon, and potatoes)...this is the way I had green beans growing up.

2. Snap the ends and leave whole (how I like them), or break into smaller pieces. Rinse well and place in a covered microwave safe container with just the water clinging to them. Cover and microwave on high for 5 minutes. remove immediately and they will be crisp tender- just cook a bit longer if you want them softer. Like this I usually just season with a bit of salt and nothing else.

3. Toss with a bit of olive oil and season with coarse salt and fresh ground black pepper. Roast in the oven at 45o degrees until starting to brown, but still crisp. Or...toss on the grill, especially easy if you have a grill basket to toss them around in as they grill.

4. Use the microwave method, but only cook 3 minutes before draining well; pat dry with a paper towel. Saute in extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat until starting to brown, throwing in some minced garlic the last few minutes. we seem to eat them this way in the winter for some reason.

5. Use the microwave method, then plunge into cold water to stop the cooking and set the bright green color. Drain and add to any variety of salads.

6. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice is a happy addition to any of the above mentioned cooking methods. The acid adds a very nice bite and fresh taste.

7. On the blog is a recipe for Indian style green beans that the boys really liked- it has a few more seasonings than the above super simple methods, but was still not difficult or time consuming.

I hope that helps. Let me know how it works out.

 Here's another one...Sauteed mushroom are really good with the garlic sauteed green beans, Cook the sliced mushrooms first until they have released their liquid, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside, reserving any oil/liquid in the pan. Saute the beans and add the mushrooms back in at the end to heat through.

Summer bounty...

 Blueberry and Nectarine Crisp
with vanilla ice cream

Yesterday was pretty dismal around here...dreary, humid, and threatening to rain the whole day (the rain held off UNTIL Ben stepped outside to use the gas grill and then the sky opened up).  Not feeling up to time outside, but not particularly motivated to dive into my list of projects (sigh), I decided to just spend the day puttering around he kitchen, and I'm so glad I did.  Summer offers and abundance of fresh and delicious produce to create with, with seemingly endless possibilities and variations.

I made cucumber salad again, which Christopher promptly ate up at dinner time.  Next year I shall have to grow my own cucumbers so that I can keep up with the boy's appetite  for this simple salad.  I braised a big beautiful globe artichoke, using Mark Bittman's method, and had it with a small grilled steak for dinner (the lemony, buttery goodness is the inspiration for the chicken piccata I am making today).  I made a blueberry and nectarine crisp that we enjoyed after dinner with some vanilla ice cream (and Chris had for breakfast, sans the ice cream).  I'm not a big maker of sweets, so this one made the family VERY happy.  For later in the week, I used some summer sweet corn to make succotash, as well as a corn and black bean salad- readers outside Ohio may not know that we grow some of the best sweet corn ever.  I also used the ubiquitous zucchini (who doesn't have an abundance of that in the summer) to make a roasted zucchini pasta sauce.  Over the next few days I'll be sharing some of these dishes with you; the true beauty of these dishes is that they are completely adaptable to what you have on hand, there are no rules here other than using what is fresh and delicious...

Blueberry and Nectarine Crisp

1 pt. blueberries (or raspberries, blackberries, or mulberries)
4 ripe nectarines (or peaches, or apricots)
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tbs. cornstrach
2 tbs. lemon juice
1 cupall-purpose flour
1/2 cup quick oats
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 stick butter

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Using some of your stick of butter, very generously butter a small baking dish; set aside.  In a bowl, toss the blueberries, pitted and sliced nectarines (keep the skins), the 1/4 cup brown sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice to combine.  In another bowl, combine the flour, oats, remaining sugar, and salt.  Cut in the remaining butter (7 tbs, or so) until the texture of coarse crumbs.  Spoon the prepared fruit evenly into the buttered baking dish, then cover evenly with the crumb mixture.  Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until bubbly and the top is golden brown; baking time will vary according to the "juiciness" of the fruit, and the surface area of your baking dish.  Let cool a bit before serving.  Best served warm, with a bit of vanilla ice cream, if desired (slightly sweetened cream would be good too, whipped, or not).  Note: when I make this again, and I have been instructed that I WILL make this again, I am going to decrease the flour to 3/4 cup, while increasing the oats to 3/4 cup, to achieve a more "crumby" topping.
 Oh my!!  Doesn't that look good?
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