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The oysters of my youth were huge things, briny and thick — I hated them and couldn’t see why people made such a fuss over them.

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(This was a draft of a post I never finished back in February 2010. I *think* its a reference to our Ashland trip)

We were going to have a lot of left-overs when we left, and I hated to let them become science experiments. So I decided to make a torta, which is a kind of baked dough-enclosed sandwich, from the same people who gave us the calzone.

It took a lot longer than I expected. (I didn’t read the recipe through before starting.)

The dough took a day (make dough, kill the processor, finish making by hand, let sit overnight). The fillings needed to be recombined and added to other ingredients, then cooled. I took spinach, sauteed it with onion and garlic, and added roasted artichoke hearts. To ricotta cheese, I added 2 eggs. The smoked ham I simply chopped fine, Provolone cheese rounded it out.

I layered the ingredients with half of the the egg mixture first, then half the provolone, half the spinach and all of the ham, then the remaining spinach, cheese, ending with the egg mixture. Cover with more dough, seal. Let sit in ‘fridge overnight. Bake at 375. Cool to eat.

This produces a dense, layered, pastry-enclosed and very tasty meal. It’s pretty rich, and wanted a salad or fruit to accompany it. But we made it into a nice meal in our room the first night we traveled.

I like making my own gifts. Not because I’m cheap, but because I feel that something made is inherently more special than that which is mass-produced. Each summer I make a variety of food gifts — canned or preserved nummies that have been very well received by others.

This week, I made Blueberry-Lemon Jam. (Recipe is at the end.)

Here’s the ingredients.

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Of course, the most important ingredient are the blueberries.

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The recipe, as with most canning recipes, is incredibly simple. Wash your fruit. Put in a big pot. Add sugar and spices. Cook.

Here it is at the beginning.

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The berries cook for awhile and start to thicken. You can tell when its getting towards the boiling point — the berries get very dark purple, almost black.

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Finally, it reaches a boil.

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You don’t want to boil the berries hard, so keep it at a high simmer. The bright purple foam will go away (although sometimes you have to skim it off) and the berries get very thick.

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You can see from the sides of the pot that the mixture has really cooked down.

Now, just pour into hot sterilized jars.

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Process in a hot water bath for the recommended time.

Enjoy!

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Recipe is here.

One of my summer delights is canning/preserving for winter yumminess (and gifts for special people!).  Since this is my blog, I’m going to show you how I do it. (The recipe will be at the end.)

First, start with a variety of stone fruit — this year I had peaches, nectarines, and plums.

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I like to peel the fruit. this is partially to eliminate any pesticides or contaminants, but also becuase the skin can be pretty tough. To do this, I drop the fruit into the canning water (which is simmering) for about two minutes. I fish them out. I use a paper towel for a better grip, and slide the peel right off.

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Soon my ingredients look like this.

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I chop the fruit and drop it into a big skillet. Then I add the vinegar. The heat goes to medium and I start to cook it down.

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Isn’t it colorful? Once its cooked for a bit, I add the spices.

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From here it’s just a matter of cooking the fruit down. You can tell when its getting close to being done, the fruit starts to disintegrate and make a thick sauce.

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From here, it’s just basic canning.

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Glorious!

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Recipe is here.

J brought home very late season strawberries and they just didn’t didn’t look good enough to eat outright. But along with some grapes and blueberries in the fridge I felt like trying to make a cobbler. My camera was handy, so y’all get to see the process.

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups mixed berries (sliced)
1 cup sugar, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon butter
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
6 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons sugar
1 pinch ground cinnamon

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1.  Lightly grease an 8-in-sq baking dish. Place the grapes and berries into the dish, and sprinkle with 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of flour. Dot with the tablespoon of butter. Set aside.

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2. In a medium bowl, stir together 1 3/4 cups of flour, baking powder, and 6 tablespoons sugar. Rub in the 5 tablespoons butter using your fingers, or cut in with a pastry blender until it is in small pieces. Make a well in the center, and quickly stir in the milk. Mix just until moistened. You should have a very thick batter, or very wet dough. You may need to add a splash more milk. Cover, and let batter rest for 10 minutes. (My hands were messy at this point, so no more pictures for awhile.)

3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Spoon the batter over the fruit, leaving only a few small holes for the berries to peek through. Mix together the cinnamon and 2 teaspoons sugar; sprinkle over the top.

4. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the top is golden brown. Let cool until just warm before serving. This can store in the refrigerator for 2 days.

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Would you like a closeup of the bubbling edge? Sure you do.

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A whole chicken is a marvelous way to produce three (or more) meals inexpensively and with little time on your part. Here’s how we do it.

Night One: Roast Chicken Dinner

3.5-4.5lb chicken

2 Tbl pesto, OR

lemon and 1 Tbl olive oil and 1 tsp salt

Remove neck and innards; discard innards but put neck in the freezer for now. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Heat oven to 450 degrees.

If using pesto: take about 1/2 Tbl in your (clean) hand and run underneath the skin on the breast up into the thigh area, smearing the pesto on the flesh. Repeat on the other thigh, then all over the breast area. Rub any remaining pesto on the outside of the chick, any where there is flesh. If using lemon: wash lemon and carefully pierce several times with a fork (this helps release the lemon essence while cooking). Place in cavity. Rub exterior with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. (I don’t like pepper, but you can use it if you do.) Its a good idea to tie the legs together with a bit of twine, it helps keep the moisture in the cavity and improves flavor.

Place in roasting pan on a rack (this keep the chicken from sitting in its own juices, which makes the bottom kind of soggy) and put in oven. Roast until done, about 60 minutes (check after 50 minutes though, because oven temperatures can vary widely).

Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes (this is the perfect time to make a salad to go with the chicken). Carve, discard lemon (if used) and enjoy.

Night Two: Creamed Chicken with Grits alternative: Chicken Salad (for warm weather)

Now, having used up all of the meat, make Chicken Stock

Place chicken bones and neck (retrieved from the freezer, but you don’t have to defrost it) in a large heavy pan. Add water to just cover. Add a celery stalk, a medium carrot, and an skinned onion. (For a subtle flavor, push a clove bud or two into the flesh of the onion). Halve the vegetables if you need them to fit more easily in your pot. Cover and simmer over low heat for 4-6 hours until the liquid is reduced by at least 1/3. Let cool for 30 minutes, then strain and pour into wide-mouth jars or old yogurt containers. Cover and let cool for another 30 minutes.

If you want to reduce the fat, place in refrigerator overnight. The next morning, skim off the fat that has risen to the top and solidified. Label and freeze. Otherwise, just label and freeze.

Night Three: Easy Chicken Soup using Chicken Stock

1 c chicken, cubed

2 1/2 cups chicken stock,

1 carrot, chopped smallish

1 celery rib, chopped smallish

1/2 onion, chopped smallish

1 c egg noodles (or other pasta, adjust amount to suit the style)

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except noodles in a medium sauce pan over high heat until just coming to a boil. Reduce heat and cook 8 minutes at a low simmer. Add noodles and cook another 5 until carrots are crisp tender.

One chicken: three meals. That is a very frugal bird.

The other night I didn’t feel like cooking, but wanted to eat something based on berries. I was hungry, so I didn’t want to wait too long. Although a Dutch Baby would qualify (and yummily so), I didn’t have enough eggs. Time to be creative.

I found a box of cornbread/muffin mix (you know the brand, its the little blue box and is exceedingly cheap). I try to keep a box or two on hand because it makes the best topper for my chicken pot pie (and much healthier than pastry). It only required 1/3 cup of milk and a single egg — I had that on hand. In the freezer I found a bag of mixed berries from Trader Joe’s — 16 oz. of strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries.

I put the frozen berries into an 8×8 glass baking dish and sprinkled 1/3 cup of sugar on top. I added 2 tsp cinnamon and 2 Tbl cornstarch, then stirred until the berries were coated fairly evenly. In a bowl I mixed the cornbread batter and increased the milk to 1/2 cup — I wanted the batter to be a bit thinner than usual. The key to this mix is to not overbeat it (which is true for all quickbreads) and I was careful to stop just before I thought it was completely mixed. I poured the batter over the berries, made sure the top was almost completely covered, and then baked at 400 degrees for 25 minutes (which is a little longer than the cornbread recipe calls for, but I figures the frozen berries would need more time. If using fresh, or defrosted, I’d cut the time to 20 minutes).

The berries were bubbling up on the sides (like they do with a good pie or cobbler) and the top was a pale golden brown. I let it sit for about 20 minutes to cool and then ate 1/4 of it with a spoon from a bowl.

It was SO good. A little sweet, but not like a dessert, and nourishing. It was pretty inexpensive (the mixed berries can be expensive, but I buy a bunch of them in the late summer and keep them in the extra freezer, so I saved there as well), and I’d have no problem serving this to company. It would be easy enough to make the cornbread from scratch, thereby making this 100% homemade.

Soup might be too strong a word, and this started out as a chowder, but I decided not to add any milk because the corn juice was so tasty (and there was a lot of it). So there is just enough broth to keep this meal juicy but not enough to slurp every spoonful. Is there a word for that kind of dish?

Crab & Corn Soup

1 sm onion, diced small

1/2 red bell pepper, diced small

2 medium carrots, diced small

2 medium celery stalks, diced small

1 Tbl olive oil

1 Tbl butter

1/2 tsp salt

2 15-oz cans corn

1 lb lump crab meat

In a medium-large heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the oil and butter together over med-high heat. Add onion, bell pepper, carrot and celery and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium. Add salt and corn including the juices (which should be about 12 oz, if less, add chicken stock or water to make up the difference). Cover and cook at a low simmer 8 minutes. Add crab meat and stir to combine.

Serve in bowls with whole grain biscuits and a salad.

This was incredibly good, and the first time I’ve ever made grits to boot. Using leftovers and frozen vegetables makes this easy and fairly quick to put together.

Creamed Chicken & Grits

4 ½ c chicken broth
½ tsp salt
1 c instant grits
½ tsp dried thyme

1 chicken, roasted and boned, cut into bite-size pieces
16 oz mixed vegetables (I suggest one that is basically uniform or in bite-size pieces)
2 tsp cornstarch
1/4 c milk
12 oz evaporated milk
1/2 c milk
1 ½ c cheddar cheese, grated
½ c smoked gouda, grated
½ tsp dry mustard
¼ tsp garlic powder (optional)
¼ tsp cayenne
½ tsp salt

Grease a cake pan with butter.

Bring chicken broth and salt in a heavy saucepan to a boil. Add grits and thyme and reduce heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, 5-6 minutes or until grits are thick.

Pour into the cake pan, cook slightly, and then chill in refrigerator until solid.

Add the evaporated milk, 1/2 cup milk, mustard, garlic powder (if using), cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a medium, heavy saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer.

Whisk the cornstarch and remaining 1/4 cup milk together, then whisk it into the simmering mixture. Continue to simmer, whisking constantly, until the sauce has thickened and is smooth, about 2 minutes.

Off the heat, gradually whisk in the cheese until melted and smooth.

In the meantime, cook the vegetables (steam or microwave, as you prefer) until just done.

Unmold grits onto a broiler-safe pan. Cut into 8 wedges and separate. Broil 5 minutes until lightly golden.

Stir the chicken and vegetables into the cheese sauce and let until the sauce has thickened slightly, 2 to 5 minutes, before serving.

To serve: place two wedges of grits on a plate and spoon creamed chicken over.

— 3/4 cups of brown rice
— 3/4 cups chicken broth
— 3/4 cups lowfat milk, divided
— 3/8 cup flour
— 1 sm onion, diced
— 4 oz sliced mushrooms

— 3-4 chicken thighs

— 3 garlic cloves, diced tiny
–1/4 tsp black pepper
–1/4 tsp paprika

The Directions.

Combine all of the chicken broth and 1/4 cup of milk in a sauce pan and heat over medium heat on the stove. In a separate bowl, whisk the remaining 1/2 cup of milk with flour. When the broth and milk have begun to boil, reduce heat, and slowly stir in the milk and flour mixture. When everything is fully incorporated, set the pot aside to cool.

Add the rice and seasonings to your crock along with the onion, garlic, and mushrooms. Stir in the broth mixture.

Lay the chicken pieces on top.

Cover and cook on high for 4 hours, or low for about 8.
When you take the lid off of the crockpot, stir the rice. If the rice is fully cooked and you have extra liquid, keep the lid off for about 15 minutes. The liquid will absorb quickly.

In my small crockpot this cooked very quickly and was not at all ‘gloopy’. This was very tasty, in fact. I might add a few herbs next time — tarragon comes to mind. And perhaps 1/2 cup of frozen peas for color.

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