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Sunday, March 2, 2014

International Pancake Day -Mardi Gras-Shrove Tuesday

     March is a month in transition being the end of winter, and the beginning of spring, it sometimes hosts Mardi Gras and sometimes Easter. It always hosts St. Patrick's Day, and Dr Seuss' birthday (March 2). This year Mardi Gras, also known as Shrove Tuesday and Fat Tuesday,  is on Tuesday, March 4th with Ash Wednesday on the 5th. Shrove Tuesday is also International Pancake Day, oh, yeah, and do I love pancakes.
     Pancakes are by no means a gourmet item, however, I have seen some concoctions that just make me wonder if the people who come up with some of these recipes really like pancakes because when you add a bunch of other stuff you are missing out on the pancake.
     Personally, I am a pancake snob. I am a Bisquick pancake snob, however, I do not completely follow the box instructions--and once you get to know me, you will realize I cannot leave well-enough alone. Not me. Not ever.
    The original Bisquick pancake recipe, as it appears on the box, calls for 2 eggs, however, I only use 1 for the 2-1/4 cups of baking mix. My batter is very thick and I have to add more milk to get it to the right consistency however, my batter still is on the thick side, and please remember not to overwork the batter, lumps are a good thing in pancake batter. What I love about the pancake recipe is that when you flip them (only once) you watch them rise to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Oh, man, and then after they come out of the pan I slather soft butter on them. Most of the time I do not bother with syrup, and I prefer the real stuff, but mostly I just want lots of butter. Yes, I know about the cholesterol, and my doctor is on my case about cutting back, so I eat whole grain and use a drinkable fiber trying to wash it out of my system. I also don't eat pancakes very often, only once or twice a month, everything in  moderation, I guess.
     Another little trick I have picked up with cooking pancakes is that I use an 18/10 stainless steel skillet that I do not wash in a dishwasher, and grease it lightly with real Crisco shortening. (Oopps, there's that cholesterol again). When I say lightly, I mean it, though. I take a paper towel and pick up about a tablespoon of the shortening on the paper towel and wipe the skillet with it. I continue to use the same piece of paper towel and the shortening stuck to it for each of the subsequent batches. Also, be sure you skillet is hot enough. How do you tell if it is hot enough? Well walk over to the kitchen sink and turn on the faucet. Wet your index and middle fingers. Walk back over to the stove and "flick" a few drops of the water onto the pan. If they dance across the surface of the skillet with a sizzle, the skillet is ready. If they immediately evaporate, it is too hot; take the skillet off the heat and let it cool a bit, then try again. If the drops just sit there in a small puddle, that skillet is not ready. You almost never cook pancakes on a high flame, and I usually have the heat at 2-3.
    Do not peak to see if the pancake is cooked. The top of the batter will tell you when its time to flip. The edges of the pancake look dry. Really. Stop and look at them sometime. And there  could be some popped bubbles on the surface. I use a marvelous spatula that I got from Pampered Chef. The spatula is so marvelous I own two of them.
   I also have a pancake server that looks like a stack of pancakes with a big wad of butter on top. The cover has holes in it so the steam will escape so the pancakes will not get soggy. Yeah, just another gadget I picked up over the years.
     If you want to add things to your pancakes, I won't mind, I have only tried wild strawberries myself, and they were pretty good, but I would rather have the extras on top or on the side as opposed to inside the pancake, but that's me. If you want to add stuff, go ahead, and if you find something that really complements the humble pancake, please share.
     All this talk of pancakes has just made me decide I am going to make pancakes and sausage for breakfast tomorrow morning. Don't tell my doctor, though, okay?
    Til next time--enjoy!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

May, she will stay.....


       Spring has  sprung here in Central New York! Halleluiah! Classes are O-V-E-R! Yippee quay-aye!  Although I do have a few more classes to complete my degree, and I am toying with the idea of a Masters as well. But for now, I am free to cook!
     First on the menu is my famous macaroni salad. Nothing fancy-schmancy, nothing crazy just good ole macaroni salad. Period.
    To start with macaroni salad, regular macaroni salad is made with elbow macaroni. You can use any other short pasta you like, but in my mind real, regular, comfort food macaroni salad is plain and simple elbow macaroni. I do, however occasionally use mini-penne, or ziti, or penne and while the taste is the same, the mouth feel is quite different. To me, that makes it not regular old fashioned macaroni salad. Have I whined enough?
      Due to the nature of pasta, that it will continue to absorb liquids it is mixed with, I make extra dressing to add to the mix right before I serve it, but no so much that the pasta is swimming in it like you sometimes get if you take a chance and buy it from a deli. While some delicatessens certainly make good macaroni salad--there's a place in Stony Brook that I love their macaroni salad, most are not that good--too runny or too vinegar-y, or mushy pasta. Ugh! No thank you!

For one pound of pasta you need a dressing that consists of two cups of mayonnaise- extra heavy if you can find it, but that is becoming more and more difficult to find in my little corner of the world; 1 cup of sugar and 2/3 to 3/4 cups of either cider or white wine vinegar, okay you can use white distilled vinegar if that is your staple. Added to the pasta is also 1/2 of a green pepper diced small; 1/2 of a red pepper diced small; and if you want you can also add 1 seeded and chopped tomato. The tomato is totally optional, the peppers, however are not. The difference in the taste of the pasta without the peppers is so remarkable and downright bland, that if you want to truly experience good--check that--great macaroni salad you simply MUST include the peppers. Even if you only have one color--use it. That's one more of those "trust me" deals.
     Cook the macaroni just until al dente--no matter what you make pasta should be slightly resistant to the tooth; drain it well, and while still hot mix in 1/2 of the dressing mixture and the peppers. Toss to coat. The heat of the pasta releases the flavor of the peppers and big things will start to happen. Wait 10 minutes and add 1/2 of the remaining dressing, mix well. Hold the balance of the dressing until serving time--if the salad is too dry for your taste, add more, if not, you can refrigerate the dressing for a day or two, use it to continue to freshen up the salad before serving. But I do not keep it beyond two days, not because it goes bad--the vinegar does preserve it a bit, is just looks nasty. I usually do not have anything left to dump--the macaroni salad is usually long gone before the two days are up. I have a mac-salad hound around here. 
     STOP the presses! I have recently tried another method! I admit I am usually totally against rinsing pasta, however,  I started rinsing the pasta for mac salad, and I must report satisfactory results. I should know there is no "never". 

I did it...

     I did it, I did it, I did it!, What did I "did", you ask?
     I went an got myself a pasta roller, and now I don't know why I waited so long. My new love is my hand crank pasta roller--bought under the guise of a "modeling clay" roller in the craft section of Ebay. This thing is the bomb--no understatement here. the Pasta rolls out into beautiful thin elastic strips that cook up tender in minutes and hold onto the---okay, I confess, homemade Alfredo sauce in a way I have NEVER had Alfredo sauce hold up.
     I used my usual recipe: 3 cup of flour to 3 eggs, 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt, 3 teaspoons of olive oil, and up to 6 Tablespoons of water mixed to a tight dough consistency in the Kitchen Aid stand mixer. That makes plenty of pasta for a family of 5-6 big eaters, especially if you pair the meal with homemade fresh Italian bread and a salad of lettuces tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, grated parmesan cheese and olives, with fresh mixed Italian dressing made with extra virgin olive oil and a good red wine or balsamic vinegar, a bit of salt, some parsley, oregano, basil, garlic, and hot pepper flakes.
      Let the dough rest 30 minutes, then working with 1/8th of the dough at a time, press it into a flatish piece that will fit into the widest setting of the roller machine. Roll it out, turn the dough, and reduce the thickness of the roller, and pass it through the roller =several times skipping a thickness or two every successive pas through. i went down to #2. then with a sharp pizza cutter, cut the fettuccine noodles as wide as you like--I do about 5/8 th's of an inch--we like them wide. Remove the strands to a drying rack---I use my cake cooling racks propped up and use as many rungs as I can and let the strands dry for anywhere from 1/2 hour to several hours.  They never dry out like the ones you buy in a box in the pasta aisle, and if you are not going to use them on the same day they do need to be refrigerated.
     To cook the noodles, boil 8 quarts of water with 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of salt. YOU MUST USE AT LEAST THE 1 TEASPOON OF SALT in order to get any taste out of that pasta--all pasta for that matter. So use the 1 teaspoon--go ahead-measure it- and trust me.
     Fresh pasta does not take as long as the dried box pastas, and when it starts floating to the top of the water it is generally done. Always test it, however, and you are going for an ''al dente" slight bite to it--you do not want this mushy.
     The number 3 son helped with the rolling of the dough. It can get pretty long, and you need to feed the dough, and catch it to guide it out to the counter top all while turning the crank. You really need three hands, so having a partner in crime works wonderfully. It is also a great way to have a child assist in the preparation. Sometimes little helping jobs like that can spawn an interest in cooking, and then, who knows, maybe the next generation will begin to get interested in cooking and preserving family traditions and their heritage? It cold happen. I am attempting to plant the seeds in my boys--just don't tell them, okay?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Awesome Stuffed Quahogs

    Stuffed Quahogs--Okay hard shelled clams--but I want to introduce you to the proper name. For this particular recipe large clams are better-- I used cherry stone, chowder clams might just be too tough, but I am not exactly sure, but I rarely, if ever, use chowder clams anyway. Just find the largest cherry-stones you can. Soak them in cold water with about 2 tablespoons of cornmeal, changing the water and cornmeal at least 3 times in 24 hours. I also do not keep them longer than 24 hours, either. I buy the clams the day before I am going to use them, do the soaking w/cornmeal and rinse routine 3 times, then the last time I scrub the little beasties well. The cornmeal acts like sand, and the clams filter the sand or cornmeal out to cleanse themselves. Better to have cornmeal in there, than sand, as sand it not food,right? I guess that is the reasoning. Anyway, it works, the clams flush themselves out, and you end up with no sand or grit. Perfect.

    Boil 4 cups of water with the juice of half a lemon. Add the quahogs, cover and steam for 10-13 minutes until the clams open. I pluck them out as they open so not to overcook them. If after 15 minutes some clams do not open toss them, they are deader than a doornail and you will ruin your day if you attempt to open and eat them. Trust me.
    Set the clams aside to cool. Strain the clam broth into a clean vessel--whatever you want--you will be using some of this broth, but you can store (read freeze) the rest of it for a future use.
     Once the cooked clams are cool enough to handle remove the meats, including the muscle that sticks to the shell, and toss them into a food processor. You are going to pulse them a bit, but you want them chunky, not pasty. I have found, however, that with the larger clams you do need to make them on the smaller size otherwise they are a bit too chewy, which is normal for large clams.
   Dice up half a large Vidalia onion and sweat it in a mix of 50/50 olive oil and butter, when the onions begin to sweeten add 2 chorizo removed from their casings and cook until the chorizo is cooked through. Meanwhile put a 5 oz bag of flavored croutons in a separate bowl. add some of the reserved broth to soften the croutons. I'd say about 1-2 cups of liquid. Then add the clams and 6 oz of Harry and David™ Pepper and Onion relish (original) to the skillet and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons chopped parsley (okay, use the dried stuff if you must but only 1 tablespoon); the dampened croutons, 4 slices of diced potato bread, and toss until combined. Add enough dry bread crumbs to make the mix stiff. Scoop large portions into the reserved clam shells. Drizzle with melted butter and slip into a hot (400 degree) oven for about 15 minutes,  until the tops are nicely browned. OMG! 

    The ones I made today were slightly sweet, and yet had a kick from the chorizo and the pepper and onion relish. Harry and David™ have quite the line of pepper and onion relishes and I plan on trying each one of them. You can visit their website by clicking here. My men, liking things spicier than I do will probably add some hot sauce at the table--go right ahead, but these clams came out so awesome I cannot believe it! Both the Big E and #2 son said I can repeat that recipe ANY time I want! # 3  will be home in just under 2 weeks, and he loves stuffed clams so I think these will be making another appearance before very long.
     I have a few photos that I am patiently awaiting to arrive in my mailbox so I can get them posted. Some days technology just does not work well. Today seems to be one of those special days.
   Classes are over until Fall, so I am hoping to get caught up on my housework, and foray into the cooking experiments once again. Yay!
   Okay, it's time for some feedback, please. Have you tried any of my recipes, tips or shortcuts? Have I inspired you to cook anything unusual or out of your comfort zone? I'd love to hear about it. Maybe you can teach me something, too?   
    Til next time!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

End in sight!

     Hello, food-fans! The end of the heaviest semester of classes I have ever taken is in sight! One more week and then I am done until September, for what I am hoping will be my last semester---of course, I am toying with the idea of going for a Master's, but the jury is still out for that.
   This semester has taught me many many things, both in the classroom, and out. I have learned some lessons the hard way. Some have even shocked me, rocked me to the core. But in the quest for knowledge one must be open to an education from any source. The wounds are sure to heal; the scars will remain with me always.  Life goes on, and this too, shall pass.
    So what have I learned in the food category? That although my husband of 24 years and I like many of the same foods, and our preparations share many elements, when it comes down to it, each person has their own take, or version; their own touch; their own spice that flavors the food they prepare.  The Big E has followed many of my recipes from this blog, yet they taste different than when I make them. He uses the same ingredients, the same steps and techniques, yet the final product is just different. Certain of his preparations I prefer, others, not so much. I am sure he feels the same way. Actually, I know he feels the same way, because now I understand why he goes into the kitchen and returns to the dining room table with different spices and "doctors" my dishes. He wants to bring out a different taste than I have brought to the table. I get it now. I should not be offended, as I usually am. His tastes are merely different than mine. He sees through his own lens, and has his taste buds looking for his preferred taste.
     Why didn't he just tell me? Probably because he doesn't understand it, either. But now that I do, there will be less rolling of my eyes or getting ticked because he always has to "fix" what I prepare. I have found myself doing the same thing. Who knew?
     Since today is Saturday it is my turn to cook dinner, once again. I really do miss cooking all week, although at the beginning it was a welcomed reprieve from the daily drudgery. I chuckled to myself when speaking to the Big E over the phone this morning he told me what was on sale at the grocery store, and made a point-blank suggestion of what I should cook tonight. I did not balk. He wants boneless ribs--boneless ribs it will be. Saved me from wracking my brain trying to figure out what to make.
     I rubbed the ribs with a concoction of salt, brown sugar and maple syrup. Let it dry and then spread it on the ribs. Put it in a slow oven  (250 degrees) uncovered for about an hour and half; turned the ribs spread the concoction on the other side and back in the oven for another hour. Then slathered them with some Sweet Baby Rays and put them back in at 350 to glaze.
      I scrubbed a bunch of russet potatoes, cut them into wedges. then I mixed olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper and parsley and diced up a large onion, tossing all in a sprayed ceramic dish. Covered them with foil, and after an hour, stirred the whole kit n caboodle, and then left the cover off to brown them up. They smell divine.
      I grabbed a bag of imported green beans--really? Imported green beans? Who knew? And yes, I will micro-nuke them because I am lazy--even when I only cook on the weekends. I even grabbed some ice cream--oh, correction: frozen dairy dessert. Really? Frozen dairy dessert? I am going to have to look more into what that is all about. But the Big E has been missing his sweet-fix in the evenings, or so he has told me-I am not usually here in the evenings.
   So dinner is just about ready, but I wanted to check in with you to let you know that I am still hanging around and although I am relegated to weekends-only cooking I still do cook!
   Until next time....

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Shortcut Central is open again!

    I went a a tear a while ago with shortcuts and lo and behold I have found yet another one! In the spirit of the immigrants of 97 Orchard that I have ranted on about in previous posts I am on a bit of a "stretch the food budget" train. For Easter I made a spiral sliced ham; granted the poor immigrants of the early 1900's  would not have had the luxury of freezing leftover pieces of the ham, but I am not trying to live like they did back then, only  find inspiration in their trials of stretching money and the food it buys.
     When I awoke this morning a little after 9am--I am not an early riser as those of you who know or follow me are fully aware--I stumbled down the stairs to the kitchen where as usual I found the Big E.  He'd been up since 5 or 6 am--how he does that I haven't a clue, but I am too old to change my habits now, so we will just gloss over the fact that he has been enjoying peace and quiet for several hours before I grace him with my presence.
      It is a Sunday morning, so according to our "arrangement" it is my turn to cook. He has been doing the bulk--okay all-- of the weekday cooking since my new employment has me leaving the house in the afternoon and coming home around midnight. Conveniently, he says, I get out of cooking Monday through Friday. The original plan was that I would start something for dinner and he would finish, or I would pop something in the crock pot. Neither of these scenarios have panned out very well and I admit I have dumped the cooking responsibility on him. He, however, has risen to the challenge, and, according to him, my blog has been a "Godsend". So I get a double satisfaction: I am not cooking 5 days a week, and someone is trying out my recipes and tips and giving me feedback. Its a win-win in my book.
     I apparently was feeling a bit "froggy" this morning so I snapped a few times before I realized I needed to get more sleep--this danged cold just won't leave me alone. I reached into the freezer to see what we had and I grabbed the first thing my hand touched: leftover ham. I placed the package on my handy-dandy-speedy-thaw out tray, turned to the Big E and said, "We're having something with ham. Wake me at noon, I need to lay down." He grumbled something, that I probably was not meant to hear anyway and into la-la-land I escaped. I awoke on my own just before noon. I felt much better.
    Leftover ham. what can I make with leftover ham? Immediately scalloped ham and potatoes comes to mind. My family, however needs cheese in this particular dish so I do not know if it is still scalloped ham and potatoes, but  that's how it starts out, so that is what I call it. It is not, by any means, difficult to make, however I did not feel like shredding the cheese, and I use about half a pound of cheese. One thing I have noticed about not cooking everyday is that on the two days I do cook I am getting lazy and look for any way at all to make it all go faster.
     Well, the only potatoes in the house had rooted through the bag and were too soft to really qualify as potatoes, so sorry, I had to trash them.  The Big E was heading to town with #2 anyway for ... gee, I forget what, but I grabbed the sales flier for the grocery store.  Super! Potatoes were on sale and there is a big 10 for $10 sale . Right there in color was a photo of Ragu Pasta Sauce in the 10 for $10 sale...they also have jarred cheese sauce... oh, man, there is my shortcut! Can you believe I got to tell that whole story just to let you know that I used a jarred cheese sauce (added some freshly grated cheddar as well)? Well, we all know I love to talk!
    I did break down and peel the potatoes and then used the mandolin to slice them thin, the ham was still slightly frozen so I was able to slice it into nice strips that won't require the use of a knife at the table, and layered the potatoes, some dried onion(another shortcut), the ham, and the cheese sauce, then a sprinkling of shredded cheese. I ended up with three layers of potatoes, two of ham, and to be sure it is wet enough to cook the potatoes I added about a half cup of milk, covered it tightly with foil and into the oven--oh, I used my Pampered Chef rectangular stoneware casserole dish, sprayed with non-stick spray to aid in the clean-up.
     I estimate it will take at least an hour, those potatoes can be stubborn sometimes, but the thin slices should help in that department. I will poke it after it is in for an hour, and judging by the resistance I get from the potatoes I will then decide if it needs more time or if I can take off the foil, add another layer of shredded cheese and then let it cook until the top cheese is melted and bubbly. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
     Now I do know that I cheated on this recipe, using the jarred cheese sauce, but in this day and age with all of us pulled in 10 different ways at one time, every shortcut is a good one. I would have also like to skipped peeling the potatoes, but #1 complains about the skins and the Big E reminded me that the original recipe uses peeled potatoes so I didn't buck tradition all the way.
     I will find some green vegetable in the freezer--we only use fresh or frozen--no canned here, except for the creamed corn in the corn soup, which I might not have blogged about. Oh, good, new topic to cover! I think I will also dig deep in the pantry and see if I have any more homemade applesauce. I think we are getting down to the end of that crop. 
      C'mon spring! Mama needs some apples on the trees!
       Photo to come:

Ziegelman, Jane. 97 Orchard: an edible history of five immigrant families in one New York tenement. Balance of credits to com