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Monday, October 31, 2011

Pasta Fa---Who?

   Pasta Fagioli is a traditional Italian bean soup with pasta, or macaroni to some. Well, that might be what it is traditionally, but if you know anything about me, my household likes to go non-traditional at times. This is one of those times.
   As a child the word "bean" would normally send me running, I am quite embarrassed to admit, and once I really tasted beans, as an adult, I decided I had been missing this wonderful nutritious-packed food item in my diet. 
   Beans are high in iron, and many B Vitamins that are now known  to stave off certain cancers and birth defects. Beans are loaded with fiber, which keeps you regular, and helps to remove cholesterol from your body, they are a low-to-no-fat food, depending on the variety, AND coupled with a grain (bread or pasta) they form a complete protein.  Wow, the power of beans! Now that we've had the nutrition lesson, let get back to the Pasta Fagioli. 
   Traditionally, pasta fagioli is made without meat, being paired with pasta, as I stated in the previous paragraph, it forms a complete protein. This made pasta fagioli a perfect meal when meat was scarce, or too expensive to include in the everyday diet of peasants. So when Grandma said it was good for you, she knew what she was talking about. Like I said earlier, this household is anything but traditional and we tend to break rules, or stretch them might be a better way to say it, but my late Mother-in-law always made her pasta fagioli with ground beef. Upon hearing this I thought, well, let's just say I thought it was "odd". But it was definitely delicious. Unfortunately, Ethel passed away without divulging her secrets for a good pasta fagioli. My husband and I embarked on the quest to recreate her pasta fagioli. There was no internet at the time, no Internet Explorer, or Firefox, or Google, and no TV Food Network, either, believe it or not. We had to look through cook books, both purchased and borrowed. And we did a lot of testing.
   Most tests were edible, but they lacked that one little ingredient that made the whole dish come together with just that certain...mmmmm factor.
   Finally, and quite innocently, we found the one ingredient that made the soup taste like Ethel's. Green peppers. Not red or yellow or Italian or hot. Just ordinary green bell peppers. Without them, it is a bean soupy thing, edible but just not special. Another little trick I started was to not add the pasta to the soup. If there was any leftover the pasta would soak up all the broth, while sitting in the fridge and become mushy--we didn't like that. I now make the pasta separately. Once drained I put a teaspoon of olive oil in the pasta to keep it from sticking and serve the pasta in a bowl, then drown it with the soup. The "eater" can mix it up or leave it in layers. Oh, and pass the grating cheese. Coupled with homemade Italian or French bread, buttered, and you have one of those comfort foods that ranks right up there with Macaroni and Cheese or Chicken and Biscuits. 
   Occasionally we do add red or yellow peppers, if we happen to have them, but without green peppers, we don't even bother to make it. Period. We have also added sliced cooked sausage and a tablespoon of dried crushed red pepper to give it some kick, and the results just keep getting better and better. How about you? What do you add to your pasta fagioli to make it "yours"?

Ethel's Pasta Fagioli
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 3/4 lb. lean ground beef
  • 4 sweet Italian sausage cut into thin slices, cooked and drained
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 2 large Green Bell peppers, seeded and sliced into strips or diced- your choice-separated
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Two 28 oz. cans tomatoes--diced, crushed, or whole peeled - your choice
  • One can water
  • 2-3 15 oz. cans kidney beans (or black or red beans) rinse & drain 1 can
  • 1 tablespoon beef base (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tablespoon dried crushed red pepper (optional)
  • parsley, basil, salt and pepper to your own liking or omit
  • cooked short pasta--your choice--and please AL DENTE!
  • Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, grated for the table
In  a soup pot heat the olive oil, add the ground beef, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Brown the meat thoroughly. Add the onions and sweat until they become sweet. You can let them start to brown around the edges. Toss in the garlic and stir until it becomes fragrant. Add the sausage that has already been cooked, and add one of the green peppers. Stir over medium heat for a few minutes until the peppers start to soften. If there is a lot of excess oil, drain it now, but we usually don't have much left by now. Add the 2 cans of tomatoes, breaking them up with the back of the wooden spoon. Add the water, the bay leaf, the beef base, and the cans of beans. Bring up to a simmer and simmer on low for about an hour. You can add the parsley and basil, but do not add any salt yet. You have to let the flavors marry before you can judge if it needs salt. Many times it does not, because the liquid from the canned beans has a lot of sodium--that is why I don't use all of the liquid from the cans. I add the dried crushed red pepper and the rest of the green peppers, and let it continue to simmer another 30 minutes, or as long as it takes to bring a separate pot of salted water to a boil and cook the macaroni.
  Drain the macaroni, put it back in its pot, or a bowl, add 1 teaspoon olive oil and toss.
   To serve, spoon a few serving spoonfuls of pasta into individual bowls, ladle soup (oh, pull out the bay leaf and discard) over top. Top with grated cheese--we use Pecorino Romano, but its your kitchen use whatever you like! Served with fresh Italian or French bread, butter, and a tossed salad, you have perfection!
   Thank you, Ethel, we miss you!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What the heck is a Kerplunka?

   Kerplunka-(KER-plun-ka)-n. A large wad of ground beef mixed with large chunks of onion, bread, bread crumbs, garlic, eggs, and seasonings, that is roasted until cooked through. Resembles a large, abstract meatball.
   Not too long ago it was Greasy Foods Day, and in researching burgers I found all sorts of "terrific" turkey burger recipes. Not being one to indulge in "turkey burger", although I have had one or two, their mixtures reminded me of an old family favorite--kerplunkas. Whether that is a genuine name, I cannot tell you, but both my husband and I have been eating these since childhood, and our families did not know each other. Its one of those go-to-in-a-pinch meals when you just run out of ideas for what to make for dinner. And since I usually cook seven out of seven nights a week, well, once in a while a "go-to" is just what the doctor ordered. Besides, my husband, the beef man, likes a wad of beef on his dinner plate every so often. Of course he would prefer roast beef, or better yet, steak, but that turns to a touchy subject, so we won't go there.
   I usually use 90% lean ground round. If you go to the 93% the result can be just too dry, so I try to stick with the 90%, but I am known to drop down to 85%, but that requires more draining, but you know what? The flavor cannot be beat. 
   Today, I am using 1-1/2 lbs. 90% ground round. Here's a photo of the ingredients:

Starting in the middle there are 2 large eggs (you can only see one), then at 12 o'clock there's bread crumbs, to the right and going clockwise, there's Parmesan cheese, instant minced onion (for the wonderful flavor) garlic, parsley, the beef, and 2 slices of white bread torn up. What's not in the photo is the 1/2 large vidalia onion, cut up in "large-ish" chunks, salt, pepper and a little "essence", by that very famous chef from Fall River, Massachusetts. (Love you E.L.)
   Using the best kitchen tools ever invented, your clean hands, mix this stuff up, gently, but thoroughly, avoid over-mixing and causing the kerplunkas to become tough. This is also true for meatballs and meatloaf, as well. You might have to add more bread crumbs if the mixture is overly soggy. Once everything is mixed, grab a handful and slap a wad in a greased roasting pan. I got 7 beauts out of the mix today, there's only three of us again, no, no Number Two is home, this time Number One is away for the weekend. Cheeze, I cannot get everyone home at the same time anymore. Here they are on their way into the oven:

   Aren't they just beautiful?  I already have potatoes baking in the oven, and I'm just making steamed broccoli. Butter, sour cream, and ketchup, yes, yes, you can use ketchup on these babies. Sometimes I do make a gravy, sometimes au jus, but with the dessert I have planned, we don't need the extra fat (ketchup is a non-fat food).
   Oh, before I forget, I washed and pierced potatoes and baked them at 425°F for about 40 minutes, then I lowered the temperature to 350° F when I added the kerplunkas. 20-30 minutes and they're done. You might have to remove the potatoes so they don't overcook. I do cook these all the way through, just don't kill them, they will get dry.
    So what's for dessert, you ask? That Almond Joy Friendship Cake I made today and blogged about! 
    Can anyone say Grand Slam? 

National Chocolate Day

   October 28th is National Chocolate Day. Okay, okay, I am a day behind. Need a break, here. Classes start Monday and I have been investigating how to go about taking online classes at a new school. I am slightly overwhelmed.
   Back to chocolate. I found a recipe for Amish Friendship Almond Joy Cake. I just so happened to have all the required ingredients in the house (thanks to The Stocked Kitchen .) So first I had to take out the starter from the freezer, and the almonds, also, to bring them to room temperature.

   Now, please understand, this is not my own original recipe, I am using a recipe from The Amish Friendship Bread Kitchen (click here). Just had to make that understood right up front.

   I had a lot of comments on my Facebook page, when I posted a photo of someone else's finished cake, so I thought this would probably be of interest to all you out there.
   Okay, so I followed the recipe closer than I usually follow other peoples' recipes (only used one box of pudding mix--only had one and it was dark, sweet chocolate,  I used sliced almonds, not slivered., and I added 1/2 teaspoon almond extract). and that's VERY unusual for me.
   Here they go into the oven:
   The aroma is driving me crazy! So while I wait for the last 20 minutes of baking time I am going to investigate making a ganache. I have an alternative in mind, so if I don't find anything that I feel like making, I'll go to Plan B.
   Okay, looks like Plan B it is--I am out of cream today. Dang, even using the Stocked Kitchen, I guess once in a while you can run out of things!
    Here's a photo of the pans fresh out of the oven:

 Plan B icing: I took a can of Betty Crocker Rich and Creamy Frosting, and put it in the microwave for 30 seconds, to soften. I added 1/4 teaspoon almond extract and 1/4 cup sweetened coconut. OMG! Touchdown!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Its Natonal Potato Day!

   National Potato Day, just when I felt like having rice. No worries, I recently had Loaded Baked Potato Soup at a local eatery, after hearing about it a few months ago. I was not disappointed; well, semi-disappointed--they only had enough for a cup, not a bowl by the time I got there. Better some, than none, and I would have loved more.
   So, I thought that since to today is National Potato Day, I'll make some Loaded Baked Potato soup for dinner. To my horror, I discovered hundreds of recipes that don't even start with--you guessed it--baked potatoes. What are these people thinking? If a recipe names something, shouldn't it at least have some of the aforementioned ingredient? Even Mock-Turtle soup gives you the heads up that there is no turtle in it. It must be me, I must ask too much.
   So the mad scientist persona overcame me.  Let's make baked potato soup from--you guessed it again--baked potatoes!

   Into the oven went four nice big Russet bakers, I decided to use two more in the body of the soup. Of course, there will be chicken stock in it, and bacon and cheddar cheese and onions. Oh, no, I am fresh out of green onions and chives...okay so it will not be totally loaded. But close.
   While the large bakers were baking in a 400° F oven I diced up about half a pound of bacon--yes we like a lot of bacon.

   I got the bacon real crispy. Took about 98% of the bacon out and drained it on paper toweling, setting it aside for later. To the rest of the bacon I added 2 tablespoons of butter, and 1 small onion chopped small. I let the onions sweat until they were translucent, then added 1 clove garlic smashed and mushed up real fine. Just stir it around until you get the aroma of the garlic, then its time to add 1/2 cup flour and stir in with a whisk or large fork until all the flour is incorporated in and the mixture is bubbly. Here's where I went a little awry. I let the roux color a bit to a light tan. That resulted in a "tan-ish" colored soup, instead of a white one, but I didn't care, I knew what I did. 

   Then I added 10 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of chicken base--really good stuff, just loaded with sodium, so if you have to limit your sodium intake use the best broth or stock you can find, or better yet, make your own.  Okay, we'll cover that soon, too.
   I diced up the other 2 spuds, leaving the skin on for all the vitamins, brought the mixture up to a boil and then let it simmer about 20 minutes for the potatoes to cook.
   While the potatoes were cooking I removed the cooked spuds from the oven to let cool a bit, then peeled just the outer skin off. I mashed up two of the baked potatoes to help give the broth body, the other two, I diced. Into the mix it all went, as well as about half of the rest of the bacon, and then I let it simmer for about 30 more minutes with the cover off to concentrate the flavors a bit. Please note, I did not use any extra salt, with the bacon, and the chicken base, it did not need a drop, and later with the cheese, it definitely won't need any additional salt. I did, however, add some pepper, about 1/2 teaspoon, you can add more at the table.
  Here's another change from most of the other recipes: I only used a cup of milk and no cream, which probably would have lightened the color more, but like I said, I didn't mind the color. I added 1/4 lb. grated Extra Sharp Cheddar with the milk, then  I only let the soup come to a simmer and just kept it nice and hot, but not boiling, so the cheese would melt. I decided not to add the sour cream to the soup at this point, either, because Number Two will be coming home from working on the road again, so I have to hold the pot for him until after 10 PM, the sour cream will break if I try to hold it that long. I decided I can add the sour cream at the table to each individual serving, then top it with shredded cheddar and some bacon bits. 
   The hubby and Number One elected to pass on the sour cream and just loved the soup anyway. They both said it was a good idea for the evening of our first snowfall, warming and filling.

   This is one of those recipes I will have to keep working on to perfect, even though it hit the spot pretty well, but I missed the chives, and once I added the sour cream it definitely tasted like a baked potato.
   How about you share your recipe for me to try?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pretzel Day!

   Today is Pretzel Day. Okay, its also Pumpkin Day and Mince Meat Pie Day, but I am out of pumpkin and mince meat only sets foot in this house around Thanksgiving, and that is still almost a month away.   So let's celebrate pretzels, okay?
   THE best pretzels are, by far, in my humble opinion,  the ones you get at a street vendor in New York City. Warm, soft, salty, and huge. Usually accompanied by the aroma of roasting chestnuts, oh, am I dating myself? I haven't been to the city in so long, I don't even know if they still roast chestnuts on the streets anymore. Come to think of it, do they still have vendors on the streets? Someone will have to bring me up to speed on that, please.
   Anyway, homemade soft pretzels are to die for, also, so in honor of Pretzel Day, I struck out and made some:
  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast (2-1/4 teaspoons)
  •  4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour*
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • water--enough to half fill a 12 inch skillet
  • 1/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Coarse salt
  • Non-stick cooking spray, or vegetable oil--your choice

    Combine the water, sugar and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer (I used my Kitchen Aid®) and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for five minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. 
   Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Spray a large bowl with non-stick spray or grease it with vegetable oil,  cover with  greased plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
   Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Spray 2 sheet pans with non-stick spray and set aside.
   Bring the water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan. In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled  surface and divide into 8 equal pieces.
  Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the  sheet pan.
   Place the pretzels in the boiling water, 1 at a time, each for 30 seconds.

Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the coarse salt.

Bake @ 450° F until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool a few minutes before eating.
Enjoy! I know I will!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

National Greasy Foods Day

   Wow, National Greasy Foods Day, that ranks right up there with Chocolate Covered Insects Day, what I mean is do we really need a national day to honor these foods? I guess to each his own.
   I think, today we should have a conversation about where you have had your best burger, okay, and if you, want add the fries. Yes, I know not all burgers are greasy, but for some reason when you say "greasy foods" or even "greasy spoon", burgers come to mind.
   I think most diners have the best burgers on the planet. Something about frying a wad of ground beef on a flattop griddle just makes my mouth start to water. Add the fried onions, well, actually caramelized onions, a slab of cheddar or American cheese, toasted bun, oh, and don't forget the bacon!
   Hands down my favorite was at the Mid-Island Diner on Hempstead Turnpike in Bethpage, NY. They would wrap it, "To Go", in waxed paper, and even the paper would be slippery. I probably ate more of those babies than I should have, but not at one time, just one at a time, but I do recall a period of time that I frequented that place almost daily.
   Unfortunately, my cholesterol does not allow me to indulge in such greasy fare any longer. And even more unfortunately, there is no way to duplicate that flavor in a cholesterol-free, or fat-free version. Sorry, just not possible. You see, in the grease, in the beef fat, that's where the flavor is. Its the cooking of the fat, the grease, that determines just how tasty a burger will be. So, yes you can try to substitute ground chicken or turkey, without the skin, but sorry, there is just no comparison. It doesn't even come close.
   I found some recipes for "turkey burgers" and they add egg whites, bread crumbs, chopped onion, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Sounds healthy, but that is not a burger, sorry, that's closer to meatloaf. You have to add all those fillers to give it taste, then the instructions tell you to cook it in a skillet over medium-high heat, without adding anything to keep it from sticking? I am not one who uses non-stick cookware, something about those finishes that doesn't sit right with me. Besides, any non-stick cooking I have seen ends us sticking if you don't use something to grease the pan, defeating the purpose of the non-stick pan anyway. 
   For me? Give me a greasy BEEF burger, fried, thank you. Well, maybe I can have one, after my cholesterol count gets down.
   What about you?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

International Day of the Nacho

   October 21st is the International Day of the Nacho. Number Two son will be very happy.
   Years ago, when Applebee's first moved into our neighborhood, it was nearly impossible to get seated during dinner time. There was an hour's wait, minimum, and with three small, very hungry boys, well, that's just not a good mix.  I was able to get us in for a late lunch one afternoon during a holiday break from school.
   Number Two had been told by a friend from school to get the Nachos, and being a nacho hound, that's what he ordered. I asked him if that was really all he wanted, the nachos being on the appetizer menu. He assured me that the nachos was all he wanted. He wasn't disappointed.
   I don't even remember what anyone else ordered. The waitress brings the nachos to the table and as she is putting them in front of Jesse I realize this appetizer is probably meant for a group of four adults. I could not see him over the pile of nachos and fixings. I lean over to try to see him. He is wide eyed and his mouth is open in a very large "O". Then he starts to stutter, "its a, its a, its a Nacho Mountain!" he finally exclaims.
   You could hear a small chorus of laughter from the surrounding tables. It was really quite funny, but, sadly, at that time cell phones didn't have cameras so I didn't get to save the picture, only the one in my head.
   Since then Number Two occasionally fondly recounts his memories of the Nacho Mountain he got at Applebee's. Tonight, I think I'm going to try to duplicate a mountain of nachos for my number two son, after he comes home from being on the road all week.
   Things did not work out as I had hoped. I did make the nacho chips from flour tortillas, but an automobile breakdown and subsequent tow truck break down lead to a fiasco of part to all of the family being stuck out of state from Thursday until Saturday night. I spent most of my time fielding phone calls, researching trouble codes  and coordinating a rescue operation--well, sorta.
   In between all of my worrying I did make a dish called Beef Nachos, with the chips being made from flour tortillas, some fried, some baked, but I failed to get a photo of the finished product. Again. 
   Well, here goes:

Beef Nachos

  • 1 lb ground round--or any ground beef, just drain it well
  • 1 14 ounce can refried beans
  • 1 8 oz jar medium salsa
  • 2 tablespoons dehydrated onion
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 cup tomato sauce 
  • tortilla chips
  • lettuce, shredded
  • chopped tomatoes
  • shredded cheddar or Colby or Monterrey jack cheese or any combination of all the cheeses
  • black olives, sliced or chopped (optional)
  • chopped or sliced jalapeno peppers (optional)
  • chopped onion  (optional)
Brown the beef and drain well, add the refried beans, tomato sauce, salsa, onions, spices and mix well. Bring to simmer and simmer for 15 minutes. 
Put a layer of nacho chips on a shallow baking pan or dish, Layer the meat mixture over the top, top with shredded cheese. Put in 350°F oven for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and gooey. Top with desired toppings (optional) serve with sour cream, if desired.
   Enjoy--Number Two did, finally.
    Oh, I took flour tortillas and with a pizza cutter cut them into wedges, then baked half of them on a sheet pan sprayed with non-stick spray, the other half I fried in canola oil, just a minute or two until they started to brown and puff, drained well on paper towels. Season as soon as they come out of the oil. Here's a photo of the chips:

Thursday, October 20, 2011

National Brandied Fruit Day

   October 20th is National Brandied Fruit Day. Brandied fruit? Hmmm. I have heard of it somewhere in my life, but do not recall ever having it. A little research was in order.
   The results of my research were as varied as the weather in upstate New York. Sometimes brandied fruit is also called Friendship Brandied Fruit, as in the Amish Friendship Bread Starter phenomena. I also found it to be sometimes referred to as "Rumtopt".
  Some recipes have no brandy in them at all, but use yeast and sugar with fruit  allowing the mixture to ferment (friendship version); some use brandy straight from the bottle, and still another uses rum ("rumtopt".) My favorite cookbook of all time has the rumtopt version, and apparently I have looked at the recipe on more than one occasion because upon reading it today, I said to myself, "ooohhhh." But I originally did not equate "brandied" fruit with a rum concoction.
   Rum is made from distilling sugar cane or its by-products, where brandy comes from distilling wine. Upon further research I learned that there are also fruit brandies made from fermenting any fruit other than grapes (which would be wine). So that's what qualifies  the fruit, sugar, and yeast concoction, the Friendship version as a "brandy". The rum version just jumps the fermentation process ahead, skipping the yeast party, but I think I like the idea of starting my own; yes, yes, yes, I will happily share it with friends.
  Okay, now for the real dilemma; which fruits to use? I have oranges in the fridge, and pears on the trees, but no maraschino cherries. I have peaches that I canned, and canned pineapple (no I did not can them myself, but that's a thought), but no maraschino cherries. What's with the maraschino cherries?
   Oh, wait, here's one version.  I have a can of Montmorency cherries in water. Don't know why I have them, but here they are in my pantry. I guess that's as good as anything to start with. Drain well, cut up, add 1 cup sugar, and 2-1/4 teaspoons dry yeast (that's one package). Mix well, loosely cover. Let sit for 2 weeks...
   Okay, we'll check on it on November 3, but, I will stir it every few days. Then we add another cup of cut-up fruit and another cup of sugar, stirring every few days for another 2 weeks. 
   Oh, boy, they're all going to ask me what this new experiment is. Did I ever tell you my family calls me a mad scientist? I am always mixing something new up, whether in the kitchen or the soap lab. This is definitely an experiment! 
   Let's hear from people out there about their experiences with brandied fruit. Just love hearing from you all!

 This is on December 9, 2011. Still brewing!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Seafood Bisque Day

   Today, October 19, is National Seafood Bisque Day. Although I am not making seafood bisque today I want to share with you a recipe that is based on a copycat recipe for Lobster Fondue that used to be on the appetizer menu at Red Lobster®. As you all know me, I can never leave well enough alone, although I had a good reason for it this time: I wanted a main course, not an appetizer, so although we refer to this as Lobster Fondue, it is not a fondue, per se, but much closer to a bisque; you eat it with a spoon, not just dip bread into it. Oh, and I serve this in bread bowls. Next time I make it I will upload the photos here, so for now, just let your imagination float along with my ship of seafood deliciousness.
   You need to make your bread bowls, although you can use large kaiser rolls, hollowed out, if you aren't game to make your own. Sometimes I really cheat and use fresh, or frozen, pizza  dough from the supermarket. If its frozen you'll need to allow time for it to thaw before you can shape it.
   Okay, get your dough thawed out, or through its first rise, if you are making it fresh. I make 2 bread bowls for each pound of purchased pizza dough, or 8 from a single bread dough recipe. I found both six and eight ounce chicken pot pie tins in the supermarket, which I have yet to use for chicken pot pie, I use them, instead to shape the bread bowls and they are just perfect--either size. I use the larger ones first (only have five), then use the smaller ones for the extra dunking bread, but I am getting ahead of myself.
   Spray the tins with non-stick spray, or grease them well with Crisco® or olive oil (whatever did I do before non-stick spray?) Place the tins on two sheet pans so you can handle them easier. Roll the dough into balls, put into the tins, turning once to grease the whole wad, ending with the prettier side facing up. Cover loosely with greased plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise for an hour or so. Can't fill in the hour or so because each dough will rise differently due to your location, the temperature in the room, the time of year, you know the drill. Bake them at 350° F die 15-20 minutes, nicely browned. Remove them from the oven, but not from the tins. Let them cool. When they have cooled, you can hollow them out, reserving the tops and inside fluff. I usually take a very sharp knife and insert it on a diagonal into the bread about 3/4 of an inch from the side. then, carefully cut around the bread, making sure you don't go through the bottom. When you reach the starting point withdraw the knife and gently lift the top of the bread off. You have a pointy wedge of bread. Then you can reach inside and pull away more of the inside dough. I do leave a coating of bread in the bowl, helps to absorb the liquid that it is going to be holding in a little while! I usually toast the bread that is not attached to the top, or lid, as I like to call it, but you can if you'd like. I slice the breads that I don't need as bowls and toast them up as well for dunking (see I told you I'd tell you about the extra dunking bread.) You can also use crackers, if you'd like. Remember: this is YOUR KITCHEN, YOU ARE IN CHARGE!
   That all takes longer than putting the "soup" together, but you have time while the dough raises and bakes so it really doesn't take as long as it might seem by reading all those instructions.
   For the soup you need :
  • 3/4 to 1 lb. raw shrimp any size, but you will be cutting big ones, peeled completely--RESERVE THE SHELLS
  • 3/4 lb bay scallops
  • crab legs, imitation crab (not here) or langostinos cooked and peeled, reserve the shells if you cook them (optional)
  • 1-1/2 quarts water-divided
  • 1-2 bottles clam juice (optional)
  • 1/2 cup Sauterne (in this case go ahead & use the one from the grocery store, the real stuff is just so expensive the local liquor stores won't even carry it for me anymore) 
  • 1-1/4 lb. Velveeta Cheese (no, I am not kidding) cut into cubes
  • 1/2 lb Swiss cheese shredded
  • 1 red pepper diced to 1/4 inch dice (if you can find Ancient Sweets®- use them)
  • 1/4 cup hot sauce (yes, you can use more)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne (more or less or omit if you want)
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 cup cream or milk
  • optional: roux, or flour/water paste to thicken if desired)
Cook the langostinos in one quart of water, if needed. Toss in the crab legs to heat, Peel shell, whatever, and throw the shells back in the water, Add the shrimp shells and cook until the shells turn pink, 6 minutes or so. Strain the shells out of the broth; KEEP THE BROTH. Toss in the scallops and shrimp, the rest of the water. Once the shrimp turn pink, lower the flame to low, keeping the broth warm. Transfer about 3 cups of the broth into another 8 quart pot, add the Sauterne, stir. Start adding the Velveeta and Swiss cheeses, in batches,stirring to melt in. Add the red pepper, the hot sauce and the spices. Stir until everything is smooth. Add the milk or cream (if you use milk it cannot come to a boil or it will curdle) taste and adjust for spice (here's where you add the extra hot stuff, more broth, or another bottle of clam juice if its too thick, more milk or cream if its too hot. Add the langostinos and/or crab legs
   Ladle into bread bowls, that have been set in a soup bowl, don't worry about overflowing, just makes it look better, anyway. Prop the lid on the top, slightly askew. Serve with extra dunking bread toasts (or untoasted) and/or crackers.
   Usually enough for 1 refilled bowl each, with a bit leftover--doesn't last long around here!
  Yes, I know its not exactly the least expensive meal, but if you want something really special that doesn't really require heavy duty effort, there you go.
  I promise to post photos next time I make this, probably not until December, though, as I want to wait for Austin to be home to make this again. He would probably kill me if I made it when he was away at school!
   How are you going to celebrate National Seafood Bisque Day?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sandwich Buns

  Okay, okay, I have been a little lazy with my cooking for the past few days. I confess that my other "love", natural soap-making, has been occupying my time. That's not to say that I haven't cooked, just nothing I feel is interesting enough to blabber about. And today is not really an exception to that, but I tried another new yeast roll recipe and made a "new" tartar sauce for the soft shell crabs we are having tonight.
   I used a recipe for soft sandwich rolls from King Arthur Flour:
  • Buns

    Three things: 1) the amount of water you will end up using is dependent upon the humidity/your location/time of year (you start with the 3/4 cup and only add more if the dough is too dry); 2) This recipe uses INSTANT yeast and; 3) the butter is added to the dough after it is mostly formed--you knead the soft butter into the dough. I thought that was a little unusual but the results were magnificent!  Of course I used a Kitchen Aid® stand mixer, so kneading in the butter was not an issue.

    Add the beaten egg to the 3/4 cup of lukewarm water. Add about 1/3 of the flour to the mixing bowl of your mixer, add about 1/2 of the water/egg, so you get a slurry. Add the balance of the flour, the salt, the sugar and the yeast, using the dough hook. Slowly add the balance of the water/egg mixture. You want a soft dough, not sticky. If it is too dry go ahead and add more warm water, one tablespoon at a time, until you get a nice soft, not sticky dough. Knead on high for about 4 minutes. With the mixer still on high, add the soft butter in about 4 additions, kneading it in all the way before adding the next. Knead another 4 minutes after all the butter is incorporated.  Shape into ball, and put in a well greased bowl, cover with oiled plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Put someplace warm and allow to rise until doubled in size (that took about 2 hours today). Punch down dough and turn out onto floured surface. Cut into 8 equal pieces, roll into a round and flatten slightly. Place on a greased sheet pan, with some room between each round. Cover with greased plastic wrap, light towel and let rise again another 45 minutes to one hour.

       Don't these babies look great? Okay, Next you paint them with an egg wash--one egg beaten with one tablespoon water and sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds or an everything mix, if you can find one, or make one.
        Bake in a 375° F oven for 12-15 minutes. You will not believe the aroma that permeates the house! It is divine!

       The rolls come out slightly sweet, and soft. I have never made this type of bun/roll before, and have totally impressed myself! Even the hubby said, "I hope you kept this recipe."
   Hope you, too, can try to make these buns. How about sharing one of your recipes? This can be a 2-way street!
   Thanks for looking!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Mexican Lasagna

   I know we have discussed the merits to using flour tortillas before, in the Easy Breezy Lasagna recipe; today I will introduce you to the recipe that originally inspired that version. It is a "take" on Kidney Bean-Tortilla Lasagna from The Stocked Kitchen by Sarah Kallio and Stacey Krastins. Click here to see what "The Stocked Kitchen" is all about! It just goes to show you that you can take just about any recipe and tweak it to fit your own tastes. Don't ever be afraid to try to change things, within reason, of course. If you keep your changes in the same "family" or limited to things you already know go together, you can still come up with your own version of just about anything.
   The original recipe is vegetarian, at least I think that's what it is, having no meat in it. That doesn't fly in this house, all my men are meat eaters, so I substitute some ground beef for a can of kidney beans, and call it Mexican Lasagna, and they'll never know it was inspired by a meatless meal! That will be our little secret, okay?

  • 1-1/2 lbs lean ground round (90% or better)
  • 3 cups any Spaghetti Sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dried minced onion
  • 1 teaspoon granulated garlic
  • One 15-1/2 ounce can small red beans, or kidney beans, rinsed & drained
  • one 4 ounce can sliced or chopped drained black olives (optional)
  • Two cups kernel corn, from a one or two lb bag 
  • 6 flour tortillas (medium-soft taco size)
  • 2 cups grated cheese (I use 1 cup of mozzarella & one cup of extra sharp cheddar, mixed)

Heat oven to 350°F. Spray a 13 x 9 inch baking dish with nonstick spray. Spray a 10 inch skillet with nonstick spray, and brown ground beef until beef is no longer pink. Drain any excess fat (with the really lean stuff you might actually have to add some cooking oil to brown it correctly). Add the dried minced onion, the spaghetti sauce, sugar, chili powder, cumin, salt, garlic, the beans, olives, if using, and the corn. Stir well and get it hot. Spoon 1 cup mixture into bottom of baking dish, cover with 2 tortillas, follow with 1/3 of the balance of the meat mixture, 1/3 of the cheeses. Repeat two more times. Cover with aluminum foil, slip into the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes to get the cheeses melted and browned. Remove from oven and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving. Cut like lasagna. Touchdown!

   I hope you give this one a whirl. Its easy, healthy, and just plain GOOD! 
   Also please be sure to check out The Stocked Kitchen website (posted earlier on this page) for more recipes, ideas and discussions on working from a stocked kitchen!
   Love hearing from you all!

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Different Pot Roast

   Remember, a few days ago I told you the story of my husband being a beef man? Well, I guess it has been too long since we've had beef. He has requested pot roast for dinner today. Ahh, pot roast! As a child I despised the mere sound of the words. I didn't so much mind the beef or the potatoes or carrots, but the gravy? Yuk. It always seemed greasy to me. I could not get past the shiny stuff floating on top of the gravy to get to the real beefy part. So, sorry, Mom, I did not like your pot roast. At all.
   Then as a young adult I had the opportunity to have a friend's (okay, an old boyfriend's) mother's pot roast. Of course, hearing what was on the menu, I tried to opt out, but I was not in the position, on this particular day, to bow out gracefully. I was doomed to eat pot roast that day. Oh., bother!
  Arriving at the dinner table I immediately noticed a bowl of egg noodles. Hmm. Noodles? Okay, that's different. Then came a bowl of carrots in a deep orange-colored "sauce". Now that was really different. A platter of meat arrived, it, too looked different than what I had grown up with. Wow, this is pot roast?
   Well, yes, it was a version of beef roasted or braised in liquid in a large pot with carrots and onions, some beef broth, and an entire bottle of chili sauce. What? Chili sauce? I don't like spicy foods (or at least at that point of my life I did not like any spicy things.) I was told not to worry, it is not spicy, but sweet. Sweet?
    Onto my plate comes a large scoop of noodles, two slices of beef right next to it, then the orange-y sauce with the carrots in it was ladled on top. This is definitely not like any pot roast I have ever had before.
   Fork in hand,  I tried the noodles with the sauce first. Hey, that's pretty good! Then the carrots. Wow. Then some of the beef. Holy Moly! Now that is a pot roast I can actually enjoy!
   Have not seen that family in well over 25 years, but I still use their recipe, tweaked it a bit to ensure it gets sweet enough. And I adapted it to the crock pot to make my life really easy.

    Really different Pot Roast

  • 6 large carrots peeled and cut into 3 inch lengths and thick sticks (see photo)
  • 5 lb. beef rump roast, bottom round or chuck roast, trimmed of a lot of the outside fat
  • 1 large Vidalia onion --sliced or chopped
  • 1 cup flour seasoned with a little salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon beef base
  • 1 bottle chili sauce (sorry I use Heinz--I have tried others, just not as good results)
  • 2 bottles (chili sauce bottles) of water
  • Hot cooked egg noodles-go ahead and make your own, its okay!
   Roll the beef around in the seasoned flour. Heat the oil in a large skillet or dutch oven. Add the onions and let them sweat, turn translucent, and begin to brown around the edges. Add the floured beef and brown it really well on all sides.
   While the beef is browning, add the carrots to the bottom of the crock pot. We all know that the vegetables take longer to cook in a crock pot than the meat, right? If the onions start looking like they are going to burn, lift them out with a slotted spoon, leaving behind any grease there may be, but there usually isn't much at this point. Add them to the crock pot, sprinkle in a tablespoon of the sugar.
   When the meat is all good and browned all the way around remove it from the pan and set it on top of the carrots and onions in the crock pot (there won't be a lot of onions anymore--they're there for flavor.) Pour the bottle of chili sauce over the meat and around the sides. Skim out any excess oil in the pan, if there still is any. Add the teaspoon of beef base, and the two bottles of water using the chili sauce bottle. Stir it up well, with the heat on high to loosen any of the browned bits stuck to the pan.Pour this mixture into the crock pot, add the other 2 tablespoons of sugar. Cover and let it cook for 8 hours.
    Here's the carrots:

And the meat going in to the crock pot:

   It might not seem like a lot of juice right at the beginning, but when the meat starts releasing its juices, there will be plenty! You still have to skim off the fat that accumulates on the top, otherwise you will get that "greasy flotilla" shinning across the top. So skim away any clear liquid, it will be orange, but you can tell the difference between the floating fat and the actual gravy. If the gravy isn't thick enough at the end you can use any method you have had success with in your crock pot to thicken it. I have had no success in thickening gravy in a crock pot that worked fast enough for me so after removing the meat, and straining out as many carrots as I can I return the juices to the dutch oven from this morning and slowly add some roux I have made on the side until I get the thickness of gravy my family likes, which is on the thick side.

Pork tenderloin

   Nothing doing here for National Gumbo Day, although I have some friends who said they will send me their gumbo recipes, one with okra, one without. I have never had gumbo, or even okra for that matter, and okra's reputation does not bode well for gumbo being included in my future plans of favorite meals. We shall see, however, we shall see.
   Several friends have told me that fried okra is the way to go--one likes it breaded and fried and the other, batter fried. That, right there, shows me how varied my results will probably be. So let's stick with a subject I am much better versed with, pork. Ah, I know, we have already done something for National Pork month, but there's so much one can do with pork, I feel it deserves more coverage. 
   Last week we tackled a boneless loin of pork, with sweet and sour pork made from the leftovers, this week I have a beautiful pork tenderloin, or pork eye fillet, as some areas call it. Either way, its the same cut. It comes from inside the loin. It is called a "lazy muscle" because it doesn't move much, which makes it lean and tender. Yes they can be a little pricey @ $5.99 a pound, but there is virtually no waste, no fat, no bone. Its "all good."
It cooks fast, so be wary it can overcook very quickly, as well. But once you learn how to prepare this cut, you will watch for sales in the store and stock up. This cut is a win-win in my house--with all the players giving it a thumbs up.
   The piece I got is 1.89 pounds, and that is about average for this cut, they run usually between one and one half pounds to two and a quarter pounds per package. I aim for the larger, but being one child is away at college I can get away with a slightly smaller piece. Oh, and don't be surprised when you open the package and out pops two pieces, its the way they come, always. Rinse off the meat and pat dry with a paper towel. If there is any silver-skin do your best to remove it by grabbing a loose piece and slowly, but very firmly, pulling it away from the flesh.
   Marinating is the way to go, here and there are about a zillion recipes out there. Here's one of my favorites:

      Pork Tenderloin Marinade
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • grated zest of one half lemon
  • the juice of a full lemon
  • 4 cloves crushed garlic
  • 3 teaspoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
Put all ingredients in your food processor and spin until smooth. Yes, the rosemary will still be little sticks, but do the best you can. Put prepared meat in gallon sized zip top bag, pour in the marinade and massage the meat for a minute or two. Zip the top closed and let meat marinate for at least four hours in the refrigerator. Drain the marinade, but reserve it to baste the meat once or twice while cooking. Place meat on rack in roaster pan and roast at 375°F for 35-40 minutes. Best to use a meat thermometer here, as this will overcook quite rapidly. You may notice that the meat still has a slight pink tint. This is okay, if you read up on these things, they have cut the recommendations for pork from the "cook it until there are no more juices" to "some pink is acceptable" Here's a link to check me out: Click here for the new USDA recommendations for cooking pork. By dropping that temperature from 160° F to 145° F, they have made pork a brand new meat, in essence, because it really tastes like something, now. I have to admit, however, that I take this cut out at 140°F, and if you read that article completely you'll see where I got the inspiration--and nerve. I am happy to report I have not sent anyone in my household to the hospital with cooking this pork to 140°f then letting it rest for 15 minutes to let the temperature continue to rise to the 145°F. Ah, heaven!
   I have some sweet potatoes that are going to start shriveling up soon, so I am going to bake them, whole, then split them, add butter and brown sugar and put them back in the oven for about 15 minutes for the sugar to caramelize. Kind of a cheater candied sweet potatoes recipe, but it will work for us.
   I am also going to heat up some chunky, homemade applesauce. I have been nice and have not served applesauce in over a week, so its time, again, I still have apples on some trees, so I have to go into overdrive on getting them picked and canned.
   Back to the pork. After the meat has rested, slice it into about 1/2 inch slices, serve it with your choice of dips, if your family does that. Additionally, you can bring the reserved marinade up to a boil and boil it for 10 minutes and serve that as a sauce for the meat, as well. I don't particularly care for reusing marinades that raw meat has sat in, but they tell me by boiling it for 10 minutes you take care of whatever...Not comforting to me, so if you chose to do that, its at your own risk. 
   You can also just swath a tenderloin or two in a combination of either duck sauce and barbeque sauce, or apricot jam and barbeque sauce, or orange marmalade and barbeque sauce, notice the common thread being the barbeque sauce. Any brand works well. Me? You know I make mine from scratch! But that's a different day!
   Hope to hear from all of you with your questions and comments. Thanks for listening!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Spaghetti Sauce & Ricotta Cheese

   Monday is Number Two's twenty-first birthday. Number Two is a pasta hound, especially when smothered in tomato sauce. And he is a manicotti fan, in the first degree. My husband asked, "why don't you make the manicotti noodles, you already make the ricotta cheese. It will make it extra special."
   True, however, I have made manicotti noodles before and he (the husband) wasn't impressed. You see to make homemade manicotti noodles, you actually are making a crepe. I have made crepes many times, in my previous life, but hubby isn't a fan, so I have not forced them on him. I researched the internet for several hours and lo and behold, I can only find recipes for homemade manicotti noodles via the crepe method. 
   So I made a batch of crepe "manicotti" noodles, but instead of laying them flat to await the stuffing, I rolled them and put them in a sealed plastic bowl in the refrigerator, to await their filling. Hubby peaked in and said, "wow, you found how to make the tubes!" I smiled.
    I then set out to make a pot of homemade pasta sauce. No big deal, right? Well, it is for this household! I am ashamed to admit, that even with my heritage, I have only made about three pots of sauce (or gravy as some of my ethnic background call it) in my entire adult lifetime, the last one over fifteen years ago.  I can take any of the jarred sauces and make them better, but I have had trouble being satisfied with the sauces I have produced from scratch. Well, today, I felt the urge to give it the old college try. I had the entire day to play, the noodles are done, the ricotta takes only an hour, I can easily do that in the morning. The bread I am planning on making also is not a big project, thanks to a friend of mine who shared a very easy, almost no kneading bread recipe, that comes out PERFECT every time. Thanks, Donna!
   Out comes the big sauce pot and the food mill. I am going to grind down the tomatoes and make sure all the seeds are out, I do not like seeds or skins in my pasta sauce. I gathered the ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil 
  • 1 large Vidalia onion, diced small
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and smashed with the side of a large knife, then chopped up 
  • 2-28 oz. cans crushed tomatoes with basil 
  • 1-28oz. can whole peeled tomatoes in puree
  • 1-6 oz. can tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon beef base
  • 2-1/2- 28 oz. cans water
  • 1/2 cup good red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons Italian seasoning or parsley, basil, oregano separately, to your own taste
  • up to 1/4 cup sugar (totally optional- dependent on the acidity of the tomatoes
  • approximately 1 tablespoon salt (to taste-bear in mind the beef base is loaded)
   Heat the olive oil to smoking. Toss in the onions, and stir so they don't burn, lower the heat a bit and stir the onions until they become translucent. This can take upwards of 8-10 minutes. You don't want them brown so keep them moving. Toss in the garlic and stir until you can smell the fragrance of the garlic. Spoon in the entire can of tomato paste and stir it around in the onions and garlic--there will be very little, if any free oil left by now. Add the beef base (if using) and stir it around also to coat the onions and garlic. Put the food mill over the pot and pour in one can of the crushed tomatoes. Grind the tomatoes down. Pour a can of water through the food mill at the end of the can, then add the other can, grind and send another can of water through. Add the can of whole tomatoes, break them up and then grind them through, followed by the half can of water. Remove the food mill. Toss in the 2 bay leaves,and the herbs. Bring up to a boil. Stir and reduce heat to a low simmer partially covered, and simmer for an hour. Taste, add sugar, if needed and salt, if needed. I cannot tell you exact measurements because it all depends on the acidity of the tomatoes, which varies by brand, and sometimes even by crop it came from. I think this is where I have had the problems, hesitant to add sugar to counter the acidity, but if doesn't taste good, you have to use what you can to fix it. Right?
   Continue to simmer partially covered--unless the sauce is too watery--then keep the cover off to evaporate the excess liquid and concentrate the flavors.
   I took a walk next door and found my husband and Number Two. I told them I needed them to come home for a few minutes when they could. Funny, Number Two asked if he was in trouble. I quickly told him he wasn't I just wanted to show him something and needed his opinion.
   This piqued his curiosity so he immediately set out for the house. In the back door we went, right into the kitchen, I pulled out two spoons and dipped in for a taste test for each of them. My husband asked, "You made sauce?!" I answered in the affirmative saying that I wanted to try to make the whole meal homemade. Okay, so he thought it needed a little more sugar, and said it was still tomato-ey, so it probably needed to keep cooking. I added the wine, which was a semi-sweet wine, and let it cook for about an hour before I added anymore sugar. In the end I did add another tablespoon, and after letting it simmer another hour---that's three total--I tasted it and was impressed by what I tasted and what I didn't taste. Holy cow...I liked it, a lot! Sauce done! 
   Onto the ricotta. Yes, as promised we will delve into the wonderful world of homemade ricotta. Oh, uh, well, a quasi-ricotta, as true ricotta is made from the leftover whey from making other cheeses, such as Parmesan. This "ricotta" is made from fresh milk, the fresher the better, salt, and either citric acid or white vinegar. That's it--the entire ingredient list. Two things about this ricotta: it tastes EXACTLY like the ricotta I remember as a child and it is a drier ricotta than the commercially produced stuff you are probably accustomed to. Bearing the latter in mind. Let's begin.
   You get the freshest milk--I only use whole milk--you can find. Dig in the back of the milk cabinet in the store and get the latest date you can find. DO NOT BOTHER TRYING TO USE ORGANIC MILK--it will not work and you are just wasting your money, time, effort, and energy. Organic milk is pasteurized at an extremely high temperature and that kills off the little "doobies" that are needed for the curds to form. Then you need either food grade citric acid, which I got from the New England Cheesemaking Company. I'll post the link for anyone who may want to get supplies from them. I also got a piece of butter muslin from them, which is like very, very fine cheesecloth, but the weave is much tighter. And you need table salt and a good instant read thermometer, or candy thermometer. The "trick" is getting the milk concoction to 195° F, just under boiling, without scorching the milk.It is not really a trick, you just have to be patient, you have to heat the milk very slowly, because just turning the heat up will result in scalded milk, and a waste of money and a pot that is not easy to clean. Ask me how I know.
  Okay. Here we go: you need an 8 quart stainless steel pot- please use stainless steel and not aluminum or (heaven forbid) cast iron for this application. Now this is going to sound strange (and I shake my head every time I do it, but I do it) run ice cold water in the pot and up the sides. Just chill the pot with very cold running water. For reasons that evade me, this somehow helps to prevent the milk fat from sticking to the pot. I don't understand it, because you are going to be heating it up again, but I have tried it without doing this step, and literally had to scrape milk fat from the pot bottom. When I do the chill pot step, the amount that sticks is far less and a lot easier to remove. 
   Mix 1-1/2 teaspoons of citric acid in 1 cup cool water (I use filtered water), set aside. Okay, Chill the pot, pour an entire gallon of cold, fresh milk in it, turn on the stove to low, low, low. Stir once. 
   In a few minutes, stir again. Add one (1) teaspoon of salt and the citric acid/water mixture. Stir for about a minute. Set your temperature gauge so it is in the middle of the pot (not sitting on the bottom). Don't leave, but don't stare into the pot--you know a watched pot--yada yada yada. Well, you don't want it to boil, but let me tell you, a pot on very very low takes forever to come up to temperature, also. Stir once in a while to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom--that's where the scorching comes in.
   After 10 minutes or so you will start to see flaking and little curds starting to form. But that is just the beginning. All you are doing is babysitting the pot, running a flat wooden spoon across the bottom once in while, and waiting for the temperature to reach 195°F. It does take a while, and the less you stir, the nicer and fluffier the curds will be, however, you have to make sure it is not sticking, so you still do have to stir.

  So, we have reached 195°F. Remove the pot from the heat, DO NOT STIR. Let pot sit undisturbed for 15 minutes. You will see the curds rising to the top. fold your butter muslin (or double thickness of cheesecloth, dampened) and line a fine mesh strainer. You can choose to collect the whey or let it go down the drain--your choice. I do sometimes collect the whey and use it in place of water in my homemade bread--really good!


     After the 15 minutes are up either pour the whey and cheese curds through the butter muslin, or spoon the curds out with a slotted spoon, but that takes forever, so I cheat and pour it off, saving however much when I want to recycle. I understand you can use it in your garden, and I have read that you can cook vegetables in it, or use it for some of your soup liquid, but I have only used it for bread making, so I cannot attest to how the other things come out.
   I only drain the curds until the whey is a medium drip from the bottom of the muslin. Remember, this comes out drier than the store-bought cheese you may be accustomed to. But the taste is divine!
   Put the ricotta in a glass bowl and put it in the refrigerator to chill. Here's what it looks like just before I made the filling for the manicotti:

      See how fluffy the curds look? MMMMMM! I could eat it just like that!
   And here's the manicotti before it went into the oven:

   Okay, okay, you caught me! I didn't make homemade mozzarella this time. Hey, I made everything else from scratch, give me a break, won't you? We'll tackle mozzarella in the future, I promise! oh, and before I forget, here's the link to the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company where you can get all the things you need to make all kinds of cheese:Click here for the New England Cheese Making Supply Co
    Mangia!  Keep those cards and letters coming, I love hearing from you!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Beer Can Chicken

   My husband must be crazy. Oh, do I hear some of you out there saying, "That's me!"? Last night the husband tells me that he's really in the mood for chicken. That is a little odd, he's a beef man. But what he tells me next is the real shocker. He tells me that I have two whole chickens in the extra freezer, and that I should take them both out and cook them for dinner tomorrow night. I ask him, "Both?" Who's going to eat all that chicken? We'll be lucky if its three of us. One will be more than enough." He then says, "but you make so many good things with the leftover chicken, you can cook the chickens tomorrow and use all the meat over the weekend."
   Did I just hear that right? He's telling me to purposely plan meals for the weekend with chicken? Days in a row, eating chicken? Either he's on something, or I am hearing things. I look at him, to see if there are any signs that he is having a stroke or something. Then I take my own pulse. I am neither sleeping nor dreaming, and I'm certainly not in heaven. He's standing there, straight-faced,telling me he's going to eat chicken all weekend long.
  Has he gone mad? I wonder what's come over him and mutter to myself that, come Monday, he is going to be a bear. He cannot go that long without beef.  Heck, I usually can't feel him chicken meals with less than two days between the meals. I shake my head and take out the two chickens, put them on my super speedy thawing rack in the refrigerator.
   Still shaking my head this morning I ask him how he would like me to prepare the chickens today. He responds, "beer can chicken, okay? Shoot, yeah, easy and yummy, and probably the best way to cook whole chickens, if you ask me. They stay moist and being on their little pedestals, its easy to carve them and strip the meat off. Works for me!
   I still have this feeling that something is not right with this scenario. Who knows if the eldest will grace us with his presence at the dinner table tonight? He has been MIA several times this past week. Okay Number two is off so he SHOULD be home, although he sometimes cuts out minutes before I get dinner on the table. Hrmph. "Kids."
   So after washing the chickens inside and out, and seasoning them with some chicken grill spice, and planting them onto their respective soda cans, as some of the residents here squawk at the "waste of perfectly good beer", and set in their own little racks they go into the convection oven. Convection ovens are king when it comes to cooking chicken. I had a small counter top version many, many years ago and learned that you can cook a whole chicken in and hour and five minutes, flat, crispy skin and moist breast meat. Oh, yeah, heaven in the chicken eating world.
   The convection oven I have now is my gas range, now complete with a little switch that says "speed bake". What that is, essentially, is a fan at the back of the oven that sends the heat swirling around the food, cooking it in one third less time. It takes a little longer for the chicken than the original hour and five minutes, but I attribute that to the oven being much larger than the compact counter top model of 25 years ago. And, sorry, but it does not work for baked goods, I've tried it. It may not hurt it, but it doesn't speed the baking, either.
   Inside the soda cans I had put a mixture of 3 ounces of water, 3 ounces of cider vinegar, and a tablespoon of the chicken grill spice. I greased the little babies and sprinkled some of the grill spice on top.

 Here's the little beauties on their pedestals:

   Into the oven, they go at 350°F. I am estimating about an hour and fifteen to an hour and half. I will test them to get to 175°F internal temperature, in the thigh, then take them from the oven, cover them with a foil tent and let the temperature go up to 180°F, which is a must for poultry. But let me give you a little tip--at 190° they're overdone and dry. It will take at least 15 minutes for the temperature to get up those last five degrees, and trust me, do not try to serve it below 180°F. Salmonella poisoning is not pretty. True, most adults probably won't die, but they will wish they could.
     Well, well. well. Someone pulled the wool over my eyes. Right after I popped the chickens in the oven I started scrubbing potatoes for the mashed potatoes also requested, when my oldest son finally shows up, asking if it was okay that he brought someone home for dinner. I thought to myself, "why not? I have much too much chicken, anyway." So I answer in the affirmative, grab a few more potatoes, and he calls into the other room for his company to come in and say hello to his mother. In walks someone who looks very familiar. Holy Cow, its my youngest son! What? How? Hey! How did you get home, wait, holy cow, you went to get him! Hey, did your dad know about this? Tears started flowing and I pulled my "baby" into my arms for a big hug and kiss.
   I was laughing and crying tears of joy; right up until yesterday Austin was telling me he had too much work to do, so he wasn't coming home for fall break. I was heartbroken, but accepting that he is serious with his studies, and grateful for that.
   As it turns out, he had contacted his brother a few days ago saying he wanted to come home, but he wanted it to be a surprise to me. They were all in on it, including my husband. Yeah, he wanted to eat chicken all weekend, and I believed that! Do I know my husband, or what? Beer can chicken is one of Austin's favorite meals.
   So as we did our catching up, dinner was cooking, but I failed to get photos of the finished product. The kitchen was swarming with my boys and husband, the aroma of roasting chicken, apple spice cake that finished just before putting the chickens in. It was like what those commercials say,
   See you all tomorrow!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Homemade Noodles or Pasta strands

   Today is National Noodle Day. I guess that goes right along with being National Pasta Month. I asked my husband what he wanted with noodles today, so I could whip some fresh ones up, and do you know what he asked for? Fettuccine Alfredo.
   Well, I have never made noodles for that before, I usually make noodles for chicken soup or turkey soup, after Thanksgiving, but, hey, he wants fresh made noodles with Alfredo sauce? I'm in! What's the worst that could happen? The noodles are so awful, I'll have to pull a pack of dried pasta out of the cabinet and boil new ones, but I honestly doubt that's going to happen, as long as everyone realizes that without a pasta roller, (no, that's one kitchen gadget I do not yet own, but I'm working on it) the noodles will be a bit thicker than the dried ones you buy in the store. All the better, if you ask me.
   Hmmm....Son number two will be home tonight, as this is his last day to work for the week--he works four 10-hour days, so I had better make sure I have plenty. That "boy" loves his pasta!
  The easiest pasta or noodle recipe I have found calls for 1 cup of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon olive oil, and up to 2 tablespoons water. I just multiplied that by three to make sure I made enough noodles for dinner. These come out denser than commercially prepared noodles, but my family loves them. 
   I mixed up the batch in my Kitchen Aid stand mixer, because my hands cramp when I try to knead, which is why until I got the Kitchen Aid I did not make much bread. Now? fuggedabowdit!
   After mixing the ingredients and kneading the dough for about 5 minutes, I let the dough rest for another 10 minutes; helps the gluten to relax, which, in turn, helps the noodles stay tender. I cleared off a large section of my (much too large) island, dusted it with flour and cut the dough into 2 sections.         
   Keeping one section covered with a damp dishtowel, I rolled out the first section as thin as I could get it, and as close to a rectangle I could get, and believe me, that part is not easy. You roll one way, turn the dough a quarter turn to the right (or left) and roll again, turn, roll, turn, roll, (I'm sure you get the picture). By turning and rolling you get almost a rectangle or square. Don't worry if you rip the dough. Sprinkle a drop or two of water on the dough by the rip, overlap a good piece of dough and roll it in. And don't get anal about it being perfectly square on the edges...come on now, you're not a machine, and who's going to know? You? Are you going to tell? Well, neither am I. You can trim away the squiggly end and toss them, if you like, but this is homemade, a little imperfection is, well, just perfect in my mind.
   The dough ended up rolling thinner than I have ever gotten it before. I used a pizza cutter and cut into nice fettuccine noodles, put them on a rack to dry for about and hour, while I waited for my husband to come home.

    I don't make the sauce until everyone is home, Alfredo sauce does not hold well.  The sauce consists of 1 stick of butter (unsalted preferably), 2 cups of heavy cream, (no this is not a low-calorie dish), 1-1/2 cups of Pecorino Romano cheese, grated, preferably freshly grated, just make sure you use real cheese and not some faux cheese.
   Melt the butter in a heavy bottom saucepan, I use a 3 quart size, you can probably get away with a 2 quart. Wait until the butter is just a pool of liquid. Slowly add all the cream, stir, and heat slowly just until it comes to a simmer.  Unless you are ready to drain the macaroni, do not go any further at this time. 
   Get your salted water to a boil in a LARGE (8 quart) pot. Macaroni cooks best in lots of water, and sorry no-salt people, you HAVE to salt the water to cook all macaroni. Even just a teaspoon of salt will be better then none, trust me. Put the noodles in the boiling water and stir with a slotted spoon or spider strainer to make sure it is not sticking to the bottom. Now is when you add the Pecorino cheese to the cream and butter over the lowest possible heat, stirring. Stir the noodles in their pot every now and again, it takes 5-8 minutes to cook these thicker than store bought noodles, and they will start floating to the top of the pot. Al dente, "to the tooth" is the way to go here.  
   Drain the noodles well in a large colander and slip into a large glass bowl. Immediately pour the Alfredo sauce over the noodles and toss gently. with tongs and spoon. Grind fresh pepper, if desired over each individual serving.
   Hold onto your hats, you are in for a real treat. This is decadence in the macaroni/noodle world and only special noodles get to swim in such luxury.
   I really hope you give this a try, even if you don't attempt the homemade noodles, get a good brand, preferably imported, noodle and try the sauce. It is really easy, and worth the little extravagance once in a while. Oh, it is definitely not a meal to make often, the fat and calorie counts are quite high, but for a special occasion, go for it! 
   Looking forward to your comments, questions and feedback!