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Monday, August 6, 2012

Peach Cobbler on the Grill

   I love peaches. Except for watermelon, peaches has to be my all time favorite summer fruit. I don't even let the fuzzy skin bother me, the taste of a fully ripened peach cannot be beat. Of course, that is just my opinion, so you may have other favorites, but then point me to your blog and I can enjoy what you have to say about your favorites. Deal? Great!
   I haven't gotten around to making any peach jam just yet, but my mouth is watering for some good homemade peach jam, so I am scanning all the fruit stands and markets for a good price for peaches.  My craving was so strong that I found myself digging into the pantry and lo and behold I found one more jar of canned peaches from last year. I could not resist, so I pulled out my trusty cast iron Dutch oven, fired up the grill and made some peach cobbler. Probably the best peach cobbler recipe I have ever tried is courtesy of Paula Deen, with the Lady and Sons version of peach cobbler. Of course, she makes it in her kitchen, but because I do not use the oven indoors on 90 degree days I adapted the recipe to make it on a covered gas grill. I figure I do all my cooking outdoors when I go camping, so why not use the same mindset to adapt all cooking methods to make all of our favorites and avoid heating the kitchen. Great idea.
   The main difference with grill top cooking is that you do not usually get the grill to reach temperatures over 300 degrees, and once you open the lid, most of that heat is gone, so it takes more attention than just popping your dish in the oven setting the temperature and timer and going off to do other things until the timer rings. Not so cut and dried with grill top adaptions of indoor oven recipes. You need to expect that the timing will be longer, as the temperature is considerably lower, and you need to pay attention to whether you are cooking over direct or indirect heat, as that also makes a huge difference in how your dishes are going to come out.
  Okay, turn on three of the four burners on your gas grill. Preheat the grill, covered while you prepare the cobbler. I say three of four burners because we are going to use the indirect heat method, so you need an area where there will not be flame under the pan.
You will need:
 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
 1 quart home-canned peaches or 28-ounce canned peaches from the store
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
2-1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 cups milk
cinnamon (optional)

    Put the stick of butter in your 5 quart Dutch oven. Put the Dutch oven on the grill, not over a direct flame to melt the butter. Meanwhile prepare the batter.
   In a batter bowl or large bowl mix flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Slowly whisk in milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Remove Dutch oven from grill using heavy duty pot holders so you do not burn yourself. Pour batter into Dutch oven over the melted butter. Without disturbing the batter spoon the peaches out of the jar and arrange them on top, then pour the syrup from the jar atop the peaches. DO NOT STIR OR MIX. Sprinkle with cinnamon, if desired. I have made this both with and without the cinnamon and both ways it is awesome. Gently slide the Dutch oven back onto the grill, not over any lit burners, lower the burners to low. Close the hood and time 20 minutes. In 20 minutes and every 20 minutes turn the Dutch oven 1/4 turn so all sides of the Dutch oven eventually is closest to the heat. It will take approximately 2 hours to get the cobbler to rise up through the fruit and form a deliciously moist cobbler topping that is golden brown. You will see the fruit juice bubbling up around the sides of the Dutch oven and the topping will begin to pull away from the sides. Turn off all the burners, and let it set on the grill as it cools, or if you need to use the grill to cook dinner, move it someplace where it can be left undisturbed, taking care to use oven pads to avoid burning yourself. I cover the Dutch oven and put it in my unheated oven in the house so no one is tempted to lift the lid and thereby burn themselves.
 


   Here it is done--the brown funny looking "X" is where the cinnamon came to the top. And you can see over the the right hand side the fruit juice along the wall of the Dutch oven. Best served warm. Spoon some into bowls, top with vanilla ice cream or fresh whipped cream and you will have a hit every time. Refrigerate leftovers, and warm in the microwave (in individual bowls, not in the Dutch oven) for about 45 seconds for future servings.
   Here is a link to the original version of The Lady and Sons Peach Cobbler including a video by Paula Deen herself.Paula Deen making peach cobbler.
   Of course one of the kiddies does not "like" peaches, so I am going to see if this will work with apples, as I still have some left from last fall. So I will try the same method with apples but I will add cinnamon, ground cloves, and some nutmeg.
   So why not give this one a whirl and add one more dish to your outdoor cooking repertoire? Love to hear how yours comes out!



Here's the apple version I tried on the grill as well. See below for my comments:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Summer off?

    Well, summer is here and in full swing. I have not completely caught up to the realization that summer is here, however, with my classes being over until September, I am finding that I do not seem to have enough to keep me busy throughout the day.
    Oh, I know, I can hear it now, "not enough to do? really?"
    But it is not that I don't have things TO do, just not enough of what I WANT to do. There is a difference, you know.
    One thing that takes a beating in the summer is cooking--or at least cooking in my kitchen. I live in an old, VERY old, farmhouse, that has no ventilation in the kitchen other than a few windows and a ceiling fan. No exhaust fan at all. It makes for a quite toasty kitchen when the temperature outside is over 80 degrees, and you are running the oven at 350 degrees, or higher. The kitchen heats up very quickly and does not like to cool off. So to avoid working inside an oven, I tend to use my gas grill and  side burner for the side dishes; I have found even just boiling macaroni or potatoes for salads in the kitchen rings the temperature up to unbearable levels. My grill also has an oven in it...yes, my husband likes his cooking toys, as well, but the oven is rather small so most of my cookware do not fit inside the oven (he should have done a little more research before he invested in this particular grill--or he should get us a set of smaller roasting pans to fit). Of course, I could probably use those foil things you can pick up in the grocery store, but until this minute I had not thought of that option. Hmmm. I will have to reassess my position.
    Well, for the purpose of this post, let's forget I thought of that and tackle some things I do on the grill to fight overheating the inside kitchen.
     I make just about anything on the grill that I can make in the oven, except I have not tried cakes just yet, but the wheels are turning, so maybe before the summer is over I will attempt some of those on the grill, not in the oven part. Hmmm. Grilled cake? I am going to have to do some research or rethink my position on that as well.
    One technique I use quite often is indirect heat cooking on the grill. I light all four of the burners, close the top, and bring the grill up to about 325 degrees. Then I shut off the two left side burners, lower the other two, and place my roast or chicken or whatever, over the two burners that are off, usually in a roasting pan. Close the top of the grill and let it roast. The temperature will go down somewhat and that's okay. Depending on what you are cooking, and the preferred "doneness" of the food, it can take an hour to three hours to cook, but remember, "low and slow" makes for delicious moist meats.
    I make an eye of round beef roast in a roasting pan, usually about 5 lbs. and it can take about an hour and half to two hours, but ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS use an instant read thermometer to check the internal temperature of your meat--especially foul--undercooked chicken and turkey makes for many sick family members. And always use the USDA recommended guidelines for internal temperatures which you can find here: USDA Kitchen Companion. This guide covers all the food safety issues we all should be aware of to keep our friends and family safe so be sure to check it out and save a copy to your computer so you can have it handy whenever you need it.
    I found it beneficial to read the entire guide because sometimes you don't know you don't know something, so reading all the available information before you need it helps avoid problems later. And if you remember you read something about a food safety issue, having a copy on your PC alleviates the hassle of having to search the internet for it in the middle of preparing something. That's my tip for today, I guess.
     I use the same indirect cooking technique for chicken, in a roasting pan, or a loin of pork, or pork tenderloin. With the chicken I finish it on direct heat with barbeque sauce, to crisp it up, but the primary cooking is over direct heat.
    And I use a dry rub for just about everything. My newest love is smoked paprika. It smells like barbeque all by itself, and I realize that that must be the "secret" ingredient in all those prepared barbeque mixes...ha..I knew sooner or later I'd find what gives things that BBQ aroma! Now I can mix up my own mixes and still get that BBQ flavor that I like.
    I mix about a cup of  brown sugar with  2 tablespoons smoked paprika, 1 tablespoon granulated garlic, and 2 tablespoons of Emeril's Essence ®, or instead of the essence stuff I just grab a few pinches of this and that. If I am doing fish I add grated lemon peel. Just rub a few tablespoons of the rub into the surface of the meat (or sprinkle over fish), add no liquid or salt. Lightly oil the grill if you are putting the meat directly on the grate, or lightly grease the pan just to keep things from sticking.
   How about you? You have a great rub recipe you'd like to share? Love to hear from you!
 

July She will Fly

   Just love July, but she flies by so fast. Hey, wait, don't I mention that about every month? It is true, I do, however, I hate how fast July goes by, because up here in rural NYS it is summer, and summer upstate NY is way too short.
   We just went through a rough patch of hot, dry weather. A statewide burn ban has been issued--that means you cannot have any open fires--no campfires or bonfires to sit around toasting marshmallows and telling ghost stories, one of my most favorite things to do in the  summer. Oh, bother.
   It has been too hot to do a lot of cooking, also. Living in a very old farm house I do not have sufficient ventilation in my kitchen to keep it cool enough, so for most of July and August I do most of my cooking out on my back deck--on the grill and side burner, which does not allow me to bake bread or make many of the usual meals I make the other ten months of the year. It is both a welcome respite and a dreaded sentence. I have only one side burner on the grill and the oven that is with the grill is not working correctly--it is blowing out big blue balls of fire, so we have refrained from using it--I do not care to blow the place to kingdom come, although some days.....but that's a topic for another blog.
     So what about July? Besides being the month of my birth, making it my all-time favorite, many many foods I love are celebrated this month. July is National Baked Beans month, National Hot Dog month, National Ice Cream month, National Culinary Arts month, and it is National July belongs to Blueberries month! Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, right there is enough to keep this blog up and running for well--a month! But wait! On the 6th it was National Fried Chicken Day, the 7th was National Strawberry Sundae Day, and the 9th was National Sugar Cookie Day. Yum!
   National Blueberry Muffin day was the 11th, and anyone in central NY will know blueberries are ripening, so start picking and concocting some awesome things with blueberries--one of the super-fruits for the amount of antioxidants they are loaded with. Packed with vitamin C and dietary fiber, blueberries belong in everyone's diet. Click here for blueberry information.
   Today I mixed up some blueberries with quartered strawberries and 2 sliced up peaches, a spoonful of sugar (that is optional) and just tossed it a few times before I served it along with dinner instead of a vegetable. My husband asked for pineapple as well, but I did not have any but I think I'll grab some pineapple tomorrow and toss it in. On a hot night serving cool crisp fruit adds a little refreshment to the dinner table, and that is a nice change. But I digress.
    July 13th was Beans n' Franks day, which only seems reasonable being Baked Beans and Hot Dog month; the 14th was Pick Blueberries day  but I bought them from a farm stand that picks their own, how fresh can you get? The 14th was also National Macaroni day; the 17th was National Peach Ice Cream day, that is a double love for me! The 19th was both National Daiquiri day and National Ice Cream Day, but I have never had Daiquiri ice cream...hmm, maybe something to work on? The 20th does not let us forget about ice cream, as it is National Ice Cream Soda day, oh, boy, I'm beginning to salivate! July 23rd celebrates National Vanilla Ice Cream day, the 25th is National Hot Fudge Sundae day, the 26th is National Coffee Milkshake day, the 28th is National Milk Chocolate day, the 30th is National Cheesecake day, and the 31st celebrates Cotton Candy day, Jump for Jellybeans day, and National Raspberry Cake day. Now if that isn't a month of awesome food celebrations, I don't know what is!
     Other notable days in July are: July 2nd was National Anisette day, July 4th was National Barbecued Spare Ribs days; July 10th was National Pina Colada day; the 18th was National Caviar day; the 24th was National Tequila day--I shall leave my comments out; and the 27th was National Creme Brulee day and National Scotch day. Now THAT is a diverse month!

   So I have done the beans and the franks, and the beans n' franks, the barbecued ribs, the ice cream, all flavors, the sugar cookies, although I did not make them--no baking in July, thank you, and I have blueberried and blackcap berried myself silly, and oh, my currants are ready--I think I'll pick some tomorrow and probably freeze them to await a break in the hot weather so I can make some scones. I will share that recipe when the time comes, I promise, but I assure you its no secret recipe--it's a Bisquick recipe, although I do use homemade marmalade in it. And you know what else? I have not made fried chicken. I love fried chicken and I love MY fried chicken. So maybe next week I will  fry up a couple of chickens. I think that is a good plan. The leftover chicken can be used for a ton of things, or just eaten cold, but of course, for the dinner meal I will make milk gravy and mashed potatoes, and maybe I'll pull out the electric frying pan to make some biscuits--dang, I wish I had an exhaust fan in my kitchen. I want biscuits!
    I have some research to do. Can I make biscuits in a crock pot or electric fry pan? I am leaning toward the crock pot because suddenly I realize I don't know where my electric fry pan is...hmmm. Now I have to venture out to the garage and see if my fry pan is out there. Dang I cannot remember the last time I used it, but I do recall loving it when I was using it. I wonder what happened there? Til next time!
  

Friday, June 29, 2012

My Bad

    Life sure moves fast. And this blogger forgot to post photos of the easy pie crust, and guess what? The pie is gone, gone, gone. And it was good, good, good!
    Since I continually comment on the speed of life passing me by I think I will share with you a recipe using leftover beef and beef gravy. I like to make an eye round roast beef usually around 5 lbs., which is much too large for one sitting around here, even with 5 of us, 4 being grown men. But using the leftover beef gives you many possibilities.
     One of my favorite possibilities with leftover eye round is pepper steak. You use the leftover beef--sliced thin and then cut into strips about 1/2 inch wide, and you use the leftover gravy, if you have any. If you don't have leftover gravy its no problem, I'll add how to make new gravy from items you most likely have in your pantry.


     Okay, so you slice the meat thin, then cut it into 1/2 inch wide strips, and set it aside. Cut up 2 Vidalia onions into 1/2 rings and saute them in 1-2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet. About 3 minutes into the saute (before the onions get real brown) toss in a tablespoon of minced garlic, the beef, and 3-4 bell peppers that have been seeded and sliced into strips. I like to use all the colors of peppers for a lively looking dish. Just keep tossing and stirring the mix until the peppers are short of the doneness you like. I like a crisp texture in my peppers so it only takes a few minutes, but you may like your peppers to be well done and soft--its  your kitchen and your food so have at it!
   Add the gravy--about 2 cups--and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of ground ginger. Mix well and heat through. Serve over hot cooked white rice with Chinese-style noodles and extra soy sauce, if you want. Voila!

    
     If you don't have gravy: in a separate saucepan melt 3 tablespoons butter, add 3 tablespoons flour and cook the roux until it is bubbly. Add 2 cups canned beef broth or stock, or make stock from beef base and water or beef bouillon and water, whisking constantly until it is thickened. Proceed with the recipe as indicated. 
      This recipe is so easy it is scary. You have any recipes that are scary easy? Please feel free to share!
     'Til next time Mangia!


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Should have named this blog "No Time"

   Here we are again, weeks since I have posted anything. I should have named this blog "No Time" because I seem to have no time to do anything anymore. Apparently the older you get the more you have to keep up with, the fast time elapses, giving you less and less time to accomplish more things. If that makes any sense. Scary that it does to me.
   In the vein of "no time" I was thinking about more shortcuts I could possibly post here to help all of you with dealing with this "no time" phenomenon. I came up with nothing, nada, zip, zero, nil, none. Oh, this is not good... My mind is a complete blank. However, someone very near and dear to me recently sent me an email telling me they looked on this blog to find a pie crust recipe. Oops, not here. I usually buy the premade ones from the dairy section at the grocery store--you know the ones that are rolled up in a tube and all you have to do is let them come to room temperature, unroll them into your pie plate, fill, cover, flute, and bake. That is very easy, but it is not homemade, which, as all of you know, I prefer.
   I responded apologetically that I do not "do" pie crusts, and you know what happened? My friend found a simple one pan recipe with no kneading and rolling and sent it back to me!  This blog is truly becoming a two-way street! Be still, my heart.
   So, in the spirit of shortcuts, sharing, and no-fuss-no-muss, I am trying out Himanee's shortcut pie crust find. I will post photos in a day or two, but for now, here are the instructions:


           For a 9-inch crust:
           1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
           2 teaspoons sugar
           1 teaspoon salt
           1/2 cup veg oil
           2 tablespoons milk. 

 Mix the dry ingredients together in the pan, then add the liquid and work it into a dough. Using your hands is not a problem since there is enough flour to absorb the oil without making a mess. No rolling necessary. Just pat it out with your hands. Bake it at 400 degrees for an hour and it's good to go (Gupta-Carlson).

  I plan on making my world-famous apple pie using this crust recipe, but I guess I will have to find a dutch crumb topping since this recipe is only for a bottom crust, but we will see what happens. This would work great for pumpkin pie that only uses a bottom crust, and alleviate having an un-matched pie crust from the package.

Source:

Gupta-Carlson, Himanee. Excerpted from a personal email on file with author. 2012.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Neighborly contributions

     When my father passed away on Long Island last month I spent three weeks at my brother's helping make arrangements and taking care of Mom, who, although knew it was time for him to go, was very, very sad, and not faring too well physically herself.
   I have to say my brother's neighbors were, each and every one, a Godsend. You would not believe the amount of food that showed up on the doorstep. Their timing was impeccable, as who could think about preparing meals for so many people while we all were reeling from the shock of losing our husband, Dad, Grandpa, and Great-Grandpa? Not many. My brother did have the presence of mind to grab a bunch of steaks and toss them into a marinade--we'd pick up macaroni and potato salads from the deli--oh, yeah, I'm back in civilization--real macaroni and potato salads that I didn't have to make! And we were going to go grab a few bags of prepared salads from the supermarket. 
   But two of the neighbors stopped by bearing gifts- that were sent by at least ten families that are my brother's neighbors-- a large peace lily, and two very large baskets of food stuffs. One basket had corn muffins and blueberry muffins, English muffins, a few boxes of cereals, a couple of boxes of Entenmen's doughnuts, granola bars, and breakfast bars. The other basket had a gallon of milk, orange juice, apple juice, 2 liter bottles of Coca-Cola and Sprite, and four bottles of wine. Wow!

     I was about to head out to go pick up the salads when I got called back to the kitchen. No need for the salads. My brother was packing up the steaks and sending them to the deep cooler out back. Apparently the neighbors bought us dinner, too. Five minutes later a delivery van was in front of the house. Trays and trays of food starting pouring in the front door. Eggplant Parmesan; chicken, tomato, fresh mozzarella, and artichoke salad; chicken tenders; baked ziti, with ricotta and mozzarella cheeses and baked until bubbly; sausage and peppers; a mountain of garlic knots; and two huge tossed salads with Italian dressing on the side. This was awesome! Most of us did not even realize just how hungry we were. There was something on the menu for everyone--even the picky eaters.
    I cannot say enough for the thoughtfulness of my brother's neighbors in Stony Brook. The selections Sal, the owner of Ole Solo Mio, made to make a complete and special meal for all of us were perfect, as was the quality of the food. I love the idea of the baskets of food and plan on using that idea in the future, when, inevitably, someone passes, to help one of my neighbors through a rough patch of life. 
   Let's just hope that the need does not come too soon, nor too often.


Eggplant Parmesan
Mountain of garlic knots


     What about you? Do you have a special dish you send to a neighbor in need?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Short-cuts

   Being away from my kitchen for three weeks has presented me with a challenge or two. Not having my own equipment like my Kitchen Aid stand mixer, is driving my a little crazy. I miss not making homemade bread, and with these hands of mine, and my wrist being sore for the last month, I cannot see myself even attempting to knead dough for bread. It's just not going to happen. Period.
   But, wait! Nowadays many bakery departments of grocery stores sell already made pizza dough. How easy can that be? Yeah, I think I'm in.
   Okay, so I'll grab a few pounds of pizza dough. I will let it thaw out in the refrigerator in its original bag. Then put it in a greased bowl, turn it once, cover it with greased plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and let it rise for about an hour to an hour and half. Punch it down. Let is rest for 10 minutes. Okay, now what?
   Well, here's where we can get creative: to make Italian bread, roll out the dough into a rectangle about a foot long by 8 inches wide. Roll it tightly starting from the long edge. Dampen the edge of the dough and pinch it together, then roll it back and forth on the counter a few times to shape it into a nice looking long-ish loaf.
    Paint the dough with a beaten egg yolk, slash the top about 1/4 inch deep about every two inches across; sprinkle with granulated garlic, and/or sesame seeds. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack for about 20 minutes and serve warm with soft butter.
   I can hear the nephews munching now!
   What else can you do with pre-made pizza dough other than make your very own pizza? A few things. But always start with thawing it out in the refrigerator in its original bag and then letting it rise in the greased bowl as previously described.
   Okay, the dough is ready. What do to with it? Hmm. I got a hinkering for some Zeppoles, you know the pieces of fried dough sprinkled with powdered sugar you can get at the Italian restaurants or carnivals and fairs during the summer? Oh, yeah.  The nephews are jumping up and down. Oh, yeah, touchdown without even starting to cook. I could get used to this!
   Okay, not being home, I have a small problem: no deep fryer, so I pull out a deep 3 quart saucepan, fill it about 1/3 full with canola oil and put it on high on the electric stove, turning the exhaust fan on to attempt to keep the aroma of hot oil from overwhelming the house. Actually I was trying to keep the evidence of this foray to a minimum, what my brother and sister-in-law don't know I pulled off in their kitchen is a good thing. Except, as you will learn, it was an effort in futility.
   The oil finally gets heated to 350 degrees, or thereabouts, as I do not have a candy thermometer to test the temperature. One little trick I have picked up over the years is how to determine if your oil is hot enough is to "drop a 1 inch square of bread into the oil. If it takes 60 seconds to brown, then the oil is at 365" (Rombauer, 1047). When the oil reached temperature I pulled a wad of dough, about 3 inches worth, off the edge of the lump of dough and gently dropped it into the oil. It sank to the bottom. 5-4-3-2-1-BINGO! The dough rose to the surface and was frying away in record time. Using a slotted spoon I gently moved the dough ball around and flipped it to make sure it browned evenly on both sides. Drained the little bugger on paper towel. Let cool about 2 minutes then liberally sprinkled powdered sugar over the top and tossed it. I cut into the little test piece--it was perfect-light and airy. I made the full two pounds of dough with the nephews gathered close by to scoff up the little beauties as soon as they were cool enough to handle. 
   I was able to send a few in to Grandma while she watched TV. She sent out her plate for "a few more". Not bad, for being out of my own kitchen, I thought. The boys just loved them, they immediately told their mother over the phone that "Aunt Barbara made Zeppoles" to which she asked, "in my kitchen?"
   I was afraid I might have started something Karen would not be happy with me about. Time will have to tell. In the meantime I found myself on the "favorite Aunt on their Father's side" list...cool.

   The story gets a little funny here. Karen and Tony arrive back home from our sister's down south after the memorial service for our sister's husband that passed away unexpectedly, just days after our Dad passed. Karen sends the boys out to the car to bring in the big box from the trunk. Into the house comes an Indoor Butterball Turkey Fryer. Really? You can fry a turkey in the house? Who would have thought? Now Karen didn't plan on frying a turkey, but had never owned a deep fryer, so when Julie was giving hers away, Karen grabbed it, figuring I was at her house, we could play. 
    And play, we did! We made Zeppoles two more times and french fries, but we all agreed we had been having way too much fried stuff and this piece of equipment was too big to leave out on the counter. So we emptied it and cleaned it and nicely packed it up for its next use--probably in a year or so. It took quite an effort to get the smell of fryer oil out of the house, and off us, too. but it was fun, and I can honestly say, I do not plan on getting an indoor turkey fryer--that's one kitchen gadget I plan on skipping!


    So that's about it, for now, on some shortcuts I used while I was away from my beloved kitchen. How about you? Do you have any tricks to share? Love hearing from all of you!


Reference:
Rombauer, Irma, Rombauer, Marion, & Becker, Ethan. The Joy of Cooking. 75th Anniversary Edition. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 2006.Pg. 1047. Print.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Life sure can throw you some curves.

   Mid April brought much sadness to the life of this blogger. My father, 87 years old, succumbed to an illness he has had since 1982--not that he was horribly ill all this time, but he has been steadily failing for the last 12 years and this past 6 months have seen him become totally dependent on others for all of his care. It was becoming impossible to care for him at home, and he was waiting for an opening at the VA home--not that we wanted to put him there, but he needed more care than any of the family were equipped to provide. We lost him on April 16th, hours after the medical staff thought he would pass, but not before all of his family gathered in his MICU room in Stony Brook University Hospital. So, until we meet again, Dad, <3...
   Three days later, my sister's husband, who had stayed home in another state because he thought he had the flu, also passed. This one was sudden and quite unexpected. My family is numb. I can only shake my head in disbelief. How can this happen? I am sure this has happened before to some other family somewhere, and I can only say that anyone who survives back-to-back events like these have to have strong family ties and love to get through the pain. Only faith and love can see you through so deep a darkness.
    I am staying here on Long Island at my brothers for a few weeks to stay with Mom, while my brother heads down south to our sister's house. Mom cannot make the trip, right now, as she is not faring well physically. That she is not up to going to her daughter's is stressing her. It is a vicious circle. But one we believe we will rise above. We have to believe it.
    As I am not exactly thinking clearly I find my mind is blank as to what to post about cooking. I cannot think about cooking with all the food the neighbors have dropped at the door, or have had delivered. Heating things up is not exactly cooking, as I am sure my followers would surmise. So I plead for a temporary reprieve from the kitchen but promise I will be back soon.
    Don't ever pass on an opportunity to tell someone you love them, you just never know.
    Peace.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

April, already?

    Holy cow, somebody stop the clock! It's already the first week of April. I am going to sound like a broken record, but, when did time start moving so fast? Jeepers!
   Easter is upon us this weekend and I have a lot of cooking to do. I am making Shrimp Scampi with homemade noodles for dinner tomorrow night. I guess I'll make bread, too. But I am going to make an Italian Easter Bread, also, for Sunday. It is a sweet bread (not sweetbreads), that is braided into a wreath and has colored eggs woven into the dough. My little old Italian grandmother made it every Easter. Of course she passed without sharing her recipe, but with this new newfangled invention called the internet, I have located a recipe that looks and sounds so much like it would be the recipe she used, or a close second, I am going to attempt it on Saturday. Yeah, you know me, forever the mad scientist!
     I found the recipe online at a club called Just a Pinch Recipe Club, which is a members only site, however, it doesn't cost anything, you just have to sign up. Me connecting with other avid cooks sharing recipes and secrets? Oh yeah, I'm in!
   Anyway, I followed the recipe nearly exactly (yes, yes, you know me!), but I did not have any fresh lemon, therefore no lemon peel to grate. Hmmm. what to do? After researching the internet for appropriate substitutions I decided to go with 1 tsp of orange juice to replace the lemon peel. The chemistry of lemon juice is too acidic to properly attain the same results as the peel- orange juice--being sweeter than lemon juice, I decided would be a better alternative. I was not disappointed. the bread had a little brightness that the lemon peel was meant to introduce, and the milk didn't sour as it would have had I used lemon juice. Mental note: you can substitute 1 teaspoon orange juice for 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel in bread recipes.

Italian Easter Bread

2-1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (that's one packet)
1/4 Cup warm water 110 to 115 degrees F.
1/2 Cup butter (softened)
1/2 Cup sugar
6 egg yolks
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 Cup warm milk
1 tsp orange juice
2 tsp vanilla
4 1/4 Cups flour
1 tsp melted butter
1 egg white, scrambled
6 colored eggs (raw)

Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 Cup warm water.Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.Add the salt and then the 6 egg yolks, one at a time until completely incorporated. Stir in the warm milk, the OJ and then the vanilla. Mix well. Add 2 cups of the flour and beat for 5 minutes. Gradually stir in the rest of the flour (switch to the dough hook on your stand mixer, if using). Knead for about 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.This dough is on the stiffer side. Place dough in a greased bowl, drizzle a little melted butter over the top. Cover and let rise 1-1/2 to 2 hours. Punch down and knead for a few minutes again. Let rest 10 minutes. Separate dough into three equal portions and roll out into ropes. Braid the ropes into a wreath, placing colored eggs within the braid spaced equally all around (see photo). Brush the dough with beaten egg white and place into preheated 325 degree oven, 45 to 55 minutes. Let cool on wire rack. I did end up glazing the bread (as it is a sweet bread) with 1 cup of powdered sugar, 1/2 tsp of vanilla and 1 tablespoon of milk, mixed well, and drizzled over the top.
   I have made this bread before and never had a problem with the raw eggs. Not so lucky this trip. One egg did crack and ooze out a bit, and was still liquid when the bread was otherwise done. I just shut off the heat to the oven, and left the bread in the oven for another hour. It did not harm the bread, but the eggs were cooked through, which is what I was looking for. I tend to think there was something wrong with that particular egg, as I have made this several times before, as did my grandmother, and many other people from  the club, who did not have problems with their eggs exploding. Just one of those things you cannot predict, I guess.
   Here's a photo before the glaze. I will post a post-glaze photo as soon as I get it off my phone.
   What special treats do you prepare for your family's holiday? I love to hear from you!

De-cluttering

  The Mayan doomsday prophesy has had me thinking along the lines of "the end". I, for one, am very skeptical about the prediction, but that is material for another blog, not this one. But, in the vein of things changing quickly, I was thinking about what I would take with me from my kitchen, should I have to relocate quickly. I confess I am also thinking about reducing the physical clutter so maybe I can reduce the mental clutter, as well.
   What would you take if you had to move, not by choice, but by necessity? What could you just not do without?
   Hands down I would have to say my KitchenAid® stand mixer, with the stainless steel bowl, dough hook, whisk, and paddle, is something I cannot see myself living without. Then there's my aluminum-clad bottom pots and pans made of 18/10 stainless steel--no, I don't use ANY of those non-stick things. I'd also bring my cast iron dutch oven, my Pampered Chef® sheet pans and Covered Baker, my pasta roller--yes, I finally got one, and the only cookbook I would have to bring would be The Stocked Kitchen by Sarah Kallio and Stacey Krastins. I have to stop there, because I could very easily get carried away.
  Hmmm. I can hear some of you asking, you'd only bring one cookbook? Well, yes, but you see, I have a backup plan already in action. I keep a copy of my personal favorite recipes in an email to myself, so I can open it and retrieve them wherever I end up. And when I update my collection, I just send myself another email. Just a little cyber trick my son taught me. I also have a file on my computer, and I sent a copy to my son, as another backup. After collecting recipes for over 30 years I would really be unhappy if I lost all my work. My original intention was to burn a CD for each of my kids with my recipes in order to preserve them for the future generations. I haven't done the CD yet, but the collecting and saving part is in full swing. I think once I kick the bucket, and will no longer being adding any entries they can use whatever technology is then current to save their Mother's recipes. Sounds like a plan to me, and a lot less baggage. This "book" can be edited for all time. I like that.
   So that, in a nutshell, is what I feel I need to start-up a new kitchen: a stand mixer, a pasta roller, 18/10 stainless pots and pans, a few pieces of cast iron and ceramic, one cookbook, and one computer file. Now to translate that info into reality...hmmm, as I look around this much too large kitchen, there are many many things that could go.
   I have started de-cluttering by donating about 20 cookbooks to one of the local High School classes for an auction fund-raiser. I certainly hope those books do someone some good. They are ones I haven't used in a very long time--I got over the likes of Rachel Ray years ago, although she did teach me certain things about speeding up the cooking process, her fare was still too foreign for my family (we are Italian, but from a different area.) I hope someone locally can appreciate what those books have to offer. I am just thankful I found a good cause to donate them to.
   So, what about you? What would you bring?



 Kallio, Sarah, and Krastins, Stacey, The Stocked Kitchen: one grocery list...endless recipes. Atria Books, New York, NY. 2009.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Coconut Torte Day

   March 13 was Coconut Torte Day. Oh, yum, I do love coconut! But, what, you may ask, is a torte? I found two rather different variations of tortes: one is a cake made with many eggs and very little flour; the other is a rich, multilayer cake usually covered with cream and fruit or nuts. Either way sounds just perfect to me.
   I am going to make a Pina Colada torte in celebration, which uses shredded coconut as the crust. Of course, not everyone here is very fond of coconut, the number one son is not a big fan, but he is a sweets fan, so I might be able to pull this off. 


 Pina Colada Torte


2 2/3 cups of flaked coconut, separated, toasted
4 tablespoons melted butter

Mix 2 cups of the coconut with the melted butter and press into the bottom of a springform pan. Chill.

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk)   
2/3 cup Cream of Coconut which actually weighed 15 ounces
 1/4 cup light rum or 1/8 teaspoon rum flavoring  
 1 (20-ounce) can crushed pineapple, well drained   
2 cups (1 pint) whipping Cream, whipped      
Maraschino cherries, optional 

In large bowl, combine sweetened condensed milk, cream of coconut and rum; stir in 1 cup pineapple. Fold in whipped cream. Pour half the cream mixture into prepared pan; sprinkle with 1/2 cup coconut. Top with remaining cream mixture. Freeze for 6 hours or until firm. Gently remove outside ring. Garnish with remaining pineapple, coconut and maraschino cherries if desired.  
   Of course to bump this up a few notches, you can use maraschino cherries marinated in moonshine--they are both legal and available in liquor stores in New York State; thanks to  number two son for that little contribution.
  The mixing was very easy. I learned that 2/3 cup cream of coconut measures out exactly one 15 ounce can--perfect, what would I do with a smidgen of cream of coconut, anyway? Of course, knowing me the way you do, do you really believe I followed the instructions to the "T"? Of course not! I just added the 1/2 cup of coconut right into the mix instead of doing the layer technique, not a big variation, but I try to tell you exactly what I do to get my results.  I also did not purchase crushed pineapple, but ran a 20 ounce can of pineapple chunks through the food processor and let it drain over a pot for about 2 hours. I have never had a problem with this substitution, and I buy the chunks by the case at the local warehouse club; they do not sell crushed pineapple, so I make do with what I can get.
   The torte is now in the freezer, I will garnish it with the very little pineapple and coconut that is left, and put on a maraschino cherry, or two, for anyone who is daring.
   I did contemplate sweetening the whipped cream, but thinking about it, it was going to be combined with sweetened condensed milk, so I let it ride--in other words I used straight whipped cream, no sugar, no vanilla. Tasting the mixture from the drop that was left in the bowl after I poured it into the crust, I am glad I did not sweeten the cream.
   I have made this early enough to enjoy for dessert tonight. And I have a full house, as number three is home for spring break, plus one. The more the merrier when it comes to the dinner table.
    The torte came out awesome, even without the cherries in the photo. They ate the whole thing...okay, not in one sitting, this time.  The husband's recommendation was to not lose the recipe, and it would be awesome in the summer. Both number one and number two asked if it was made of ice cream. I guess, technically, yes it was--although it was whipped cream, frozen. Number one was happy it was not primarily coconut, he likes the addition of pineapple for the pina colada taste much better. Number three asked if I would make that again when he was home over the summer. Of course, being, as his brothers call him, the "Wonder Child" I will certainly honor his request--just to add fodder to his brothers' illusions.
   They all commented that the toasted coconut crust was really good, and a nice change from the standard pie crust or Graham cracker crust, so in the spirit of March madness, I guess I landed a three-pointer! Woo who!
   Let me know how yours turns out.  Until next time--enjoy!

Pina Colada Torte for National Coconut Day.



Sunday, March 11, 2012

New (?) Direction.

   Hello, all! The next 15 weeks I will be embarking on a new direction--not only in life, but also in my blog.  As part of a class I am taking at ESC, I have to make periodic entries into this blog. Talk about being right up my alley! Imagine, having to jabber away about something I am passionate about; or rather being encouraged to post my stories of how the foods I prepare are woven into my family's life. I have entered the first stage of heaven.
Writing about cooking: that's me wrapped up in a nice little gift package.
   In celebration of my good fortune, I am embarking on a quest to make good meals for the family, as you all know, we eat dinner together most nights, but with classes starting, I need to find easy preparations that don't skimp on taste. The husband will be the first to notice if I get too careless and start serving packaged foods. And my ankles will show it, as well, as they start to swell from all the preservatives and sodium that makes pre-packaged foods so unhealthy. Both alternatives are to be avoided.
   So where do I start? 
   I think a crock-pot full of meatballs with homemade Italian bread are in order. Meatball heroes will serve both as a dinner and a lunch, or two, for the guys at the shop during the week. Yes, they are the extended family of guinea pigs for my escapades in the kitchen. (Insert evil laugh).
   Just so we are clear: I will not just serve meatball heroes for dinner, but will also serve at least a tossed salad, and possibly some fried artichoke hearts or cauliflower with a dipping sauce, followed an hour, or so, later, by some dessert fare. That, to me is a dinner; where just a hero is fine for lunch, or a Sunday evening supper after a dinner was served at two or three o'clock, although, we seem to have gotten away from the early Sunday dinners and evening suppers, as of late.
    The Italian bread recipe I use is so easy, especially for those who don't like to knead, or in my case, have trouble kneading--my hands cramp up after a few minutes, so I often did not get the dough fully kneaded, which resulted in less than fully risen bread-stuff. However, my darling spouse bought me a Kitchen Aid® stand mixer a few years back and now I do not have to worry about under-kneading. I use this recipe anyway, and it always comes out perfect. I have to give a shout-out to my friend, Donna, for this recipe, and technique, as since I got this recipe a year ago, I generally use only this recipe for all my loaf and round breads, as well as cinnamon buns and monkey bread. I use it so often, I don't even have to refer to the written instructions anymore.

                   Easy Bread Dough 
1/2 cup warm water--up to 117°F. Too hot and you will kill the yeast
1 package instant dry yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons)
Add the yeast to the water. Stir and set aside.

In a 2 cup measuring cup add:
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (aids in rising)
2 tablespoons butter (unsalted) melted
Mix together until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add yeast mixture (which should be a little foamy on the top). Stir.

Pour the mixture into the bowl of your Kitchen Aid® and add 3 cups of unbleached white flour. You can use 1 cup of whole wheat in place of 1 cup of the all purpose flour, if you wish. I have done so several times, but you might have to "tweak" the amount of water or flour as you proceed. Turn the mixer on to stir in the flour. You will notice it looks like doing this by hand, as you make a well in the center of the mound of flour, add the liquid and slowly work the flour into the liquid until you have a soft dough. If you are doing this by hand, turn out onto floured surface and gradually add more flour, kneading in after each addition, until you have a nice firm, but not stiff dough, that is not sticky. If your dough is sticky, knead in more flour; if it is too stiff, you will have to add some more warm water, but if you knead in the flour slowly this rarely happens. The recipe says you will use between 4 and 5 cups of flour--we all know this depends on the humidity of the day, and the room. Flour can be very thirsty one day, and the next, not so much.I have never used more than 4 1/2 cups of flour, and most of the time I only use 4 cups. .
   Once you have the right consistency, knead dough (if by hand) for one minute, let rest 10 minutes, covered. Knead another one minute, rest another 10 minutes, again covered. Divide into two parts, and shape into your desired shape. Place on greased sheet pan, cover with greased plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, let rise in warm place until double. Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Cool on wire rack. After completely cooled you can wrap tightly in plastic, but do plan to use it within the next day or two. There are no preservatives in homemade bread, so it will mold sooner rather than later. Hey, there is the lesson within a lesson for the day--if it takes a long time for your store-bought bread to mold--there are plenty of preservatives in it and therefore should be avoided in the future.
    Now, I do a slightly different procedure with the kneading as I use the stand mixer. I knead in the flour gradually, and once I get the consistency I am looking for I let the mixer knead the dough for about five minutes, then put it in a greased bowl and let it rise for about an hour and half, until double, then I shape it and let it rise again until double. I use either an egg wash (one egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water) or swab the loaves with olive oil, sprinkle with sesame seed, and sometimes granulated garlic and bake as directed.
  The shaping is where you can get inventive. I found the best thing to do is to roll out the dough into a rectangle and roll up from the short edge very tightly, sealing the edge and ends. It comes out exactly like Italian bread from the Italian bakeries I remember as a kid when I visited relatives in downtown Brooklyn. Who knew? I certainly didn't but now that I do, I almost always use that method and between the recipe and shaping method I have never been disappointed.
    Rolling the dough out is how you make the cinnamon rolls, also, slathering butter, and sprinkling cinnamon and sugar over the dough before rolling and slicing into individual rolls. Place in a greased round cake pans. Use butter, cinnamon & sugar across the top and bake away. The aroma, whether it be Italian bread or the cinnamon rolls is absolutely divine. You can top the cinnamon rolls, fresh out of the oven, with icing made of 1 cup powdered sugar, about 1 tablespoon of milk, and a drop of vanilla. Add the milk by 1/2 teaspoons til you get a consistency of while glue--you know the stuff that you used in school in the squeeze bottle. The icing will melt and cover the top. Let it cool a bit before you attempt to bite in--hot sugar is about the same temperature as the surface of the Sun. Trust me on that one.
   Of course, I digress, yet again. 
  Here are a couple of photos; one of the risen dough; and one of the formed loaves waiting to rise. Of course, I got caught up again in life and failed to get photos of the risen dough, and the cooked bread. Naturally, because I served it for dinner before continuing this entry there is less than half a loaf left, so I will not tease you with that but will post my next results, if I can keep life from distracting me.

    Love when dough does what it is supposed to do!
  I forgot to mention that you also slash the top of the dough every two inches or so across the top.


   You should give this recipe a try if you want to try some homemade bread, it is by far the easiest recipe ever! Feel free to post your results too, as I would love to hear how yours come out.
   Until next time--enjoy!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Time...forever moving too fast.

  I know I said I would check in a few times in February, and looking at the calendar, I see it is already March--my bad. Hopefully you will accept my explanation that my remiss on checking in here was due to having two research papers due for my classes. I do tend to get intensely involved in my research these days, as a way to make up for my lack of effort I put forth when I would have been a traditional college student. And so far, my efforts have indeed been paying off. 
  Back to the matters at hand, however; it is March already. Do I have to go into the rant about where does time go? Let's not waste the precious cyberspace and get on with this month's  food celebrations.
   March is National Celery Month; National Flour Month; National Frozen Foods Month; National Nutrition Month; National Noodle Month; National Peanut Month; National Sauce Month; National Caffeine Awareness Month and; in the United Kingdom, National Veggie Month. I can safely day that March is another month filled with diversity, and that is a good thing, in my opinion--who likes to eat the same thing day after day? Certainly not me, and if I have never mentioned this before, my husband abhors repeats--especially when it comes to his meals. He used to, however, like to make a HUGE pot of pasta fagiole, but don't try to serve it to him for consecutive dinners, he not only gets testy, he gets downright ugly. I finally convinced him how we could make a smaller portion and have it twice within a week, then freeze the rest for another dinner during the winter months, or when the food budget is short. That plan works much better.
   There are a few weekly celebrations during March, as well. The second week of March is both Chocolate Chip Cookie week and National School Breakfast Week, but I am sure the schools don't use chocolate chip cookies for their breakfast fare, more's the pity, if you ask this cookie-monster. The third week of March is American Chocolate Week, the third Saturday is Maple Syrup Saturday, and when either Lent begins or ends in March, which it does some years, you might also have Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras)--which is International Pancake Day, Good Friday--which is Hot Cross Bun Day, or Easter which is National Baked Ham with Pineapple Day. Alas! None of those fall in March this year, but I felt I would have been remiss, had I not at least told you about them.
   The daily food celebrations are just as varied this month as they have been all the previous months I have so far reported. A few notables for March are: the 1st is National Peanut Butter Lover's day; the 4th is National Pound Cake Day; March 17th is Saint Patty's Day, and with that National Corned Beef and Cabbage Day; March 20th is National Ravioli Day; March 21st is California Strawberry Day; March 25th is Waffle Day; March 28th is Something on a Stick Day, they seem to always have one of those questionable celebrations every month, have you ever noticed? March 30th is Turkey Neck Soup Day; and we wind up the month with Clams on the Half Shell Day, Tater Day and Orange and Lemons Day on the 31st.
   Seems that this month has just as many celebrations that interest me as any previous month, so maybe I can motivate myself into some cooking marathons. Or not. Maybe we'll just talk about the celebrations if I don't have time to do the cooking experiments and take the photos of the dishes step by step. Does that grab anyone? Well...I think it grabs me, so whether I do a cooking lesson or just a commentary on a celebration, I hope to get back on a regular posting schedule again. 
   Hope to see you and hear from you soon!

Homemade Ricotta Cavatelli

   Oh, yeah, I love cavatelli, even the kind you buy in the freezer section of a grocery store, but boy, do I remember my little old Italian grandma making these by hand and having trays of them sitting on kitchen towels drying all around her house when we'd come for a visit. Funny, but until now it never dawned on me that after dinner those trays were nowhere to be found, yet I never actually saw anyone go around the house and collect them. I guess Italian grandmas are magicians, after all!
   After my recent foray into homemade pasta I started telling my husband that I wanted to try my hand at ricotta cavatelli--I already make the ricotta--it was just a natural progression, if you ask me.
   The recipe is quite basic--flour,eggs, ricotta, salt, and the kneading part can be handled by my trusty old KitchenAid® stand mixer.
   The most difficult part is with the shaping of the cavatelli. You know the drill, you have to let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes; cavatelli needs to be wrapped in plastic wrap,and the rest period takes place in the refrigerator. After the dough has rested you split it into  quarters, using one quarter at a time, keeping the rest of the dough covered with the plastic wrap and a damp towel; all the standard rules for working with dough.
   You then split the quarter into half so you are working with 1/8 of the dough at a time. Roll the dough into a rope about 1/4 inch in diameter. Cannot tell you how long the rope should be, as it will vary on the accuracy your split, but you want the width go be close to 1/4 inch (some of mine were thicker, but it did not cause a problem.) Then cut the rope into 1 inch pieces, they will look like little pillows. Here's the part that really takes practice: using a putty knife or other flat tool (I switched to a kitchen scraper which worked fabulously), gently drag the tool across the dough from the long edge furthest away from you towards yourself. You only need a drop of pressure, the dough will curl up over the edge of the tool and end up looking like a tiny hot dog roll. Perfect. Toss the pasta onto a sheet pan that has been lightly sprinkled with flour. And continue with all the dough---oh, yes, you are literally making the pasta piece by piece, although I was able to line up about three next to each other and do three at a time, with only minor adjustments at the end. Pretty impressive for my first try. Here's what they looked like:

And here's a closer look:


   Beautiful, don't cha think?
   Home made spaghetti sauce, home made Italian bread, mixed green salad, and maybe a bottle of Chianti to finish this off. Perfect, perfect perfect.
   Talk soon!
    

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Pre-February Ponderings

   I cannot believe its almost February...tomorrow already, the first month of 2012 is gone. Where, in heaven's name, does time go? Funny that when you are waiting for something or when you are on the treadmill, time seems to stand still, but, enjoying yourself is over in a flash. Doesn't seem fair, does it? Oh, wait! Who ever said life was fair?
   February is a month that celebrates a large variety of foods, and has a "floating" holiday--Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent begins, and is celebrated by International Pancake Day, and depending on the calendar can fall in February or March. This year it is Tuesday, February 21, 2012. We all know, I hope, that it is also known as Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. Don't know if anyone cares, but it is also the last day of Epiphany, which began on January 6. Did not mean to get into a religious lesson, but I like to share tidbits of information I have picked up over the years...and there's a lot of tidbits to share.
    The food celebrations for the month of February start with Berry Fresh Month, and Celebration of Chocolate Month, which some of us would like to be every month, but let's not go there. Then there's Great American Pies Month and National Cherry Month, I guess because of George Washington's birthday on the 22nd, then it moves to National Fiber Focus Month and National Hot Breakfast Month, which somehow, to me, sound like they should go together. But then they throw in National Grapefruit Month and National Snack Food Month, which do not sound like they go together, but that's me. And then we close out with Potato Lover's Month and Sweet Potato Month. This list makes for a delicious, albeit short, month--oh, hey! its also a leap year so we have an extra celebration on the 29th with Surf and Turf Day. I guess one can only afford to splurge like that once every four years, so it seems fitting.
   Weekly celebrations can be--well unusual--at times. The first week of February is no exception. It is Shape up with Pickles Time--someone will have to fill me in on that theory, or maybe if I run out of things to do I will Google it. But probably not. The second week is more traditional being Great American Pizza Bake, Jell-O® Week and Kraut and Frankfurter Week. That's better, but I am not a fan of the frankfurter, although a Hebrew National®, Sabrett®, or Nathans® can entice me occasionally, and I only like my sauerkraut roasted with a loin of pork. Okay, so I am a frankfurter and kraut snob. I can live with that.
   There are no special celebrations for the third week of February, probably because most of the northern sections of the country are traditionally snowed in, so they didn't want to give those of us buried in the cold white stuff too much to deal with while shoveling. The fourth week is National Pancake Week and National Food Checkout week to focus on helping Americans learn how to stretch their grocery dollars with healthy, nutritious food and to recognize that America’s farmers and ranchers are committed to producing safe, healthy and abundant food. Go AG!
   I won't go into each daily celebration here, this blog would go on much too long, but I will check in during the month about some of the daily celebrations I observe, or just care to comment on--yes, that does leave the door wide open, doesn't it? I will however, give you a head's up on some of the celebrations to come this month: February 5th is National Chocolate Fondue Day, try serving that for the Super Bowl party...NOT; February 14th is National Creme-Filled Chocolates Day; February 18th is Drink Wine Day; February 20th is National Margarita Day; February 27th is National Kahlua Day and; February 28th is National Chocolate Souffle Day. What fun this month is going to be!

We'll talk soon!

Friday, January 27, 2012

Turkey Pot Pie mmmmm

   I made a turkey last Sunday, just about 10 pounds of bird. Yum, it was delicious. I stripped down the carcass and froze it for a future turkey soup, and made a leftover dinner with the mashed potatoes and gravy, extra stuffing, and all the rest of the trimmings. I still had a little breast meat, the 2 thighs and legs left, so I diced it all up with diced potatoes, onions, peas, fresh carrots, a new gravy, and made a homemade pie crust for the top. I do not like to make homemade pie crust, but I did it. It was okay for the topping of the pot pie, but it never would have held up as a pie crust---guess I will have to work on that some more.
  Start by peeling the potatoes and cut them into 3/4 inch cubes. For this application I usually 3/4 peel the potatoes as well--I don't like when the peels separate from the flesh and are free floating in the mix. I figure by keeping some of the skins I am not throwing all of the nutrition out...just one of my things. Toss the potato cubes into boiling salted water (1/2 teaspoon is enough--but trust me, you need SOME when boiling potatoes--yes, yes, pasta, too. Boil for about 10 minutes, just until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain them well. Set aside. Dice 1/2 of a large sweet onion--we only use sweet onions here. I like the pieces on the small size, I don't like long strands of onion in this dish. Melt 4 tablespoons butter (okay, okay, you can use margarine if you must) in a large skillet. Add the diced onion and sweat, adding diced fresh carrots in after about 5 minutes (I used 2 medium carrots--scrubbed well, not peeled). Continue to sweat the veggies until the onion is almost transparent, but do not allow to brown. You can add a stalk or two of celery, diced, along with the carrots if that's your thing--I use it in soup, otherwise I am not a fan.
   Sprinkle 1/4 cup of flour into the mix, stirring constantly to prevent lumps, until the flour is completely incorporated and bubbly--(we all know this is a roux, right?) Add one tablespoon of chicken base (or two bouillon cubes or 2 packs), whisking constantly, add 2 cup of waters, and 1 cup of milk, to blend in the base. Bring to a slow boil, stirring. When the mix comes to a boil, that's how thick it will be...you can add more milk or water if it is too thick for your liking--we like it thick--stick to your ribs style.
   Toss in the potatoes, the leftover diced turkey (or chicken)--oh, anywhere from 2 cups up, and some frozen peas. Bring mix just to a boil. I add poultry seasoning, if I have it, if not I use ground thyme, rubbed sage, about a tablespoon of rosemary leaves run through the food processor, or through the fingers, and if I feel like Scarborough Fair, I add some parsley: you know, parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme?
   This hot bubbling mixture is then tossed into a greased casserole dish, why greased? I don't clean up the pots and pan, so out of compassion for the one who does, I grease all my cookware, and pray the food doesn't stick too bad to make the cleanup a very difficult chore (man, do I love him). Then cover the top with a pie crust of your choice, to the edge. You can get fancy and flute the edge, if you want, but do not forget to poke about four holes in the crust toward the middle in a spoke fashion to allow steam to escape. I also put a drip pan under the casserole, for I tend to fill them to the top and when they start bubbling, well, the oven cleanup detail (I got this one) prefers less mess.
   Bake at 375 for about 25-30 minutes, you are really just cooking the crust here. Remove it from the oven and let it sit about 15 minutes before you try to serve it---it is HOT!
   This one came out fabulous, even my beef and potato eating man said it was excellent. Just another touchdown! How about any of you out there? Care to share a use of leftovers from your personal cookbook?
  'Til next time. Happy cooking!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Shrimp Scampi

   Ahhh! Shrimp Scampi. What more can one say? Luscious, succulent shrimp, in a butter-garlic sauce with white wine, fresh parsley, a drop of  hot pepper flakes, and a spritz of fresh lemon. There you go, that's the recipe. Now if you think I have proportions, well, think again! In the true Italian spirit, I just wing this recipe, but today, just for you, I will try to come up with proportions.
  The most important proportion, naturally, is how much shrimp to use, and I hope we all realize that depends on how many people you are feeding. Well, normally, yes, but this household loves shrimp, so my proportion might be a little high. For five of us i make 2 pounds of shrimp. There will be leftovers, not much, but there will be a late night snack for someone. I use the 21-25 count shrimp, less peeling is how I see it.
   I use 1/2 pound of butter, that's 2 sticks, unsalted if you have it; 12 cloves of garlic, or 4 heaping tablespoons of jarred minced garlic; 2 tablespoons good olive oil; a palmful of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley; 1/2 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to your own family's liking; 1/4 cup white wine--I use sauterne, but any dry to semi-dry wine will do; and just a squirt of fresh lemon juice. Oh, and believe it or not, you still need a dash or two of Kosher salt.
   Heat the olive oil over medium heat until it starts to ripple, not smoke. Add the butter and stir it around to melt it. Once all the butter is melted add the garlic and let it come to a simmer. When you start to smell the garlic and LONG before it begins to color, add the wine, the red pepper flakes and the spritz of lemon. Allow it to simmer 3 minutes. Add the shrimp, and toss until the shrimp begin to turn pink. Toss in the parsley, remove from the heat, and keep tossing until the shrimp is fully cooked. Add the salt, toss again, and then serve over pasta, if desired. I made homemade noodles again, so we're having it over that, along with homemade bread, and a tossed salad. Who can say touchdown?