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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Crockpot Sloppy Joes & Mustard Bread buns

Spending some time slow-cooking makes this sloppy joe filling remarkably tender and blends the flavors in a way that just can't happen in 20 minutes on the stovetop.  The real beauty of this recipe (adapted from BH&G's Slower Cooker Recipes) is that it adapts to whatever your cooking time frame is...if you've got a whole day free before you need to serve it, you can do it completely in advance and reheat from fridged or frozen...if you've got just a little time to prep and more to cook, just measure, assemble and freeze the ingredients to finish on Dinner Day...or if you're in between, you can cook the beef and onions and freeze it with the sauce to dump into the crockpot on Dinner Day.  Options, options, options!

This recipe makes A LOT of sloppy joe filling, so serve it for a crowd or serve half for dinner and freeze the remainder for another day.

I'm serving this tonight with Mustard Bread buns, a recipe adapted from one of James Beard's.  If you use a bread machine, add the ingredients in the order recommended by your instruction manual and use the dough setting.  The bread dough can itself be frozen if desired.  If you freeze shaped rolls, simply thaw them at room temp, let them rise until doubled in size (if you take them out of the freezer in the morning, they should be good by afternoon) and bake them off.

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Fresh salsas

A great way to spice up a plain ol' baked chicken breast, sauteed pork chop or grilled burger.  You can make these on the weekend, and serve them all week as a finishing sauce for simple, quick dishes or just as a "filler" side dish.  And look! it's another way to use zucchini! 

Patience and attention to detail will be rewarded here...a very fine dice makes the difference between a sauce and a coarse salad.  Sharp knives are a help, too.

Blanching the onion takes a bit of the bite out of the salsa, but feel free to leave them unblanched if you like a rawer flavor.  You can also choose how hot to make your salsas...if you like a hotter mix, use serranos or jalapenos, but if you want a milder dish, use poblanos or cubanelles.

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Piri Piri Chicken

This was meant to be a one-off recipe...some friends (thank you again, Jason and Michelle) had gifted us some homemade piri piri (a lightly spicy pepper and oil condiment) that I needed to use up.  I marinated 2 spatchcocked whole chickens in it, grilled one, roasted another, and thought I was done with that.  Well, it turned out to be the best chicken we had ever had, so I was obligated to get the piri piri recipe from our friends and make more. 

I can't vouch for freezer-stability of this recipe for more than 2 weeks...there's a pretty high concentration of acid in the piri piri marinade which could begin to have a negative effective on meat quality after some point (how long? I dunno), but I can attest to 2 weeks' worth of frozen marination resulting in uber-tasty results.

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French Cherry Pie

I saw this recipe in a 1940's or 1950's issue of the Indianapolis Star (no longer have the publication info, drat!).  The "French" elements of the pie are the subtle addition of almond flavor (as in the French cherry and almond dessert clafouti) and perhaps the wretched excess of frosting a pie (though of course, it is far more an American characteristic to be wretchedly excessive than a French one, but I digress).

You can use this glaze on whatever cherry pie base you like...homemade all the way, canned pie filling, even a whole store-bought pie (super-fast homestyle tweak)...and call it a French Cherry Pie.  I use the Better Homes and Gardens Cherry Pie recipe and add the Indy Star recipe glaze to that.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Salsa V.

Despite looking like paper-covered green tomatoes, tomatillos are related to gooseberries, which probably still doesn't tell you much about them. Underneath the inedible papery husk, they are a bit sweet and tart all at once, rather like an unripe berry. They have the "green" flavor of a green tomato, but with a fruit-like acid tinge. And I caught my 18-month-old chomping on peeled tomatillos today like they were apples...there, does that help? 

I grow tomatillos in my garden for the express purpose of making salsa v.  One or two plants should do you, unless you REALLY like salsa v.  They tend to come in all at once (at least here in Zone 5B) which makes them ideal for this type of "putting up".  Rake in your whole harvest, make salsa and process...bing, bang, boom.  Any stragglers can go into late-summer fresh salsas.  This recipe scales up or down by the pound/pint, so you can make as little or as much as you want...the basic proportion for 1 pint of salsa v. is 1 lb. tomatillos, 1 jalapeno, 1 garlic clove, 1/2 onion, 1/2 tsp salt, 2-3 tbsp herbs.

Roasting the tomatillos before turning them into salsa gives a dimension of flavor not present with unroasted fruit.  You can sear them over a grill, under the broiler or on a cast-iron pan...or not at all, your choice.  Toss the dehusked fruits with a bit of oil, and give them a good 10-20 minutes of high direct  heat, until the skins are brown and the fruits are popping open.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Final State Fair tally

For those keeping track and waiting with bated breath for the results of my final State Fair entry...

Lavender Jelly...nuttin'
Corn Cob Jelly...1st place
Edamame Pickles...Honorable Mention
Honey Walnut Pie...3rd place

Woot-woot!  That's 3 ribbons out of 4.  Watch out next year State Fair judges, I'll be back!

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Caribbean Ratatouille

The South Beach cookbooks (whence the original recipe here comes) just say summer...lots of veggies, in all flavors and colors.  The OR for this dish calls for a variety of veggies that were pretty easy to locate in my grocery stores when I lived an hour away from South Beach...calabaza squash, chayote, green plantains...but which are hit-or-miss finds now that I live in the Corn Belt.  What follows is my Midwestern Caribbean Ratatouille which takes advantage of the current agricultural overlap in late summer and early fall produce.  It's full of color which means it's full of nutrients and vitamins...talk about cooking the rainbow!

This is a fast and light stew...goes together in less than 20 minutes once all the veg is chopped and the seasonings measured and sorted.  It *can* be frozen once it's cooked, but I think it loses a bit of its bright, fresh flavor.  It is perfect though for prepping ahead for same day or next day cooking.  Just chop all the veg, sort into containers, and combine the cooking liquid and seasonings for fast-fast dinner execution.

When you "peel" an acorn squash, don't sweat getting every last bit of peel off.  Once the squash is cooked, the peel will come away very easily from the squash meat.  Note: If you do use a green plantain instead of a green banana, start it with the squash and onion...they're more like potatoes than bananas when they're green and unripe.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pizza Meat Pie

Freezer kit
Another South Beach Diet cookbook adaptation.  This sounds so odd, but is so good.  If you think crust on pizza is a waste of stomach space (I know who you are LOL), this is the pizza pie for you. 

I elect to use oatmeal as a binder rather than the SBD-sanctioned whole wheat breadcrumbs since I grind up bread to make my own crumbs and sometimes I just feel lazy.  I also reduce the salt called for and use totally different toppings.  Use whatever toppings you like.

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Pork Rind Bean Patties

I've heard about using ground-up pork rinds as a low-carb substitute for breadcrumbs for some time, but have never tried it.  Until today.  I decided to try the bean patty recipe again and try making it more low-carb as beans are already right starchy little buggers.  The only significant differences I noticed were that the pork rind crumb coating was perfectly adequate in a single layer (as opposed to the crumb-egg-crumb double layer for breadcrumbs) and that the pork rind crumb coating didn't brown quite as dark as a breadcrumb coating. 

When you make these patties, whether you use breadcrumbs or pork rind crumbs, the mixture will be SOFT.  Don't add more crumbs to firm it up or you risk having dry, crumbly bean patties.  The right texture is like a soft cookie dough.  To make it easier to handle, refrigerate it for an hour or more before shaping.  Use a spoon to plop a blob of bean patty mixture into the crumbs, roll it around a little, then do the egg-wash and more crumb thing if you want.  Take a deep breath, it will be messy and that's ok. 

Making the crumbed patties and freezing them ahead makes them MUCH easier to fry, since you cook them from their rock-solid frozen state.  When you flip, use two spatulas...use one to gently lift the patty, and turn it onto the 2nd spatula held at about a 90-degree angle to the first, then lower the patty gently to the pan from the 2nd spatula.  It makes a much gentler turn than slamming the delicate patties a full 180 degrees with just one spatula.

One 6 oz. bag of pork rinds blitzed down in the food processor yielded about 2 1/2 cups of crumbs, just right for this recipe.  Don't add any extra salt as the pork rinds are already salted.

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Beef and berry stew

WHAT kind of stew??  (I can hear some readers asking already)

Beef stew.  With blackberries.  Calm down, it's delicious.  And easy with only 5 ingredients.  And seasonal.  And a lesson in our nation's cultural heritage.  According to the Frugal Gourmet (from whom the original recipe comes), this is a Sioux recipe that would have been made with bison meat charred briefly over an open fire with wild berries picked at the height of summer. 

This is a great recipe for me as my blackberry plants only produce a handful of berries at a time toward the end of the season, where most blackberry recipes call for several cups.  If you use frozen berries and plan to make freezer kits, one 12 oz. bag will make 2 batches of this stew so go ahead and get double the beef and broth and make one batch for dinner and one batch into a freezer kit.

Stew beef is a more convenient choice than a slab o' buffalo IMHO. And cooking it in a crockpot instead on the stovetop is a far more convenient choice.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Garlic Soy Pork Chops

This is such an easy-peasy marinade that makes blah pork chops sing.  It's no sweat to put together at the last minute, but it's also great as a freeze-ahead meal.  I like thin-sliced chops as they take no time at all to cook, but use thick-cut, bone-in...whatever floats your boat (and budget).  Just change the cooking time to accommodate.

This is a South Beach recipe that I have modified slightly to reduce the sodium content (which SBD is a leetle cavalier about IMHO) and to account for the fact that there is no harm in marinating these guys overnight or longer in the freezer.

Also, for those keeping track...carb count: 1g

No pictures again (sorry!) due to long and fun day at the State Fair (wherein I won a prize).

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Easy-Easier-Easiest: Cabbage

Cabbage seems to be regarded any more as an old-fashioned vegetable, one whose popularity is passed and one that gets overlooked in favor of trendier produce items.  I think that's a shame.  Cabbage is a sturdy stand-by, a crop that plugs along when others fail and always easy to find at any grocery store or farmers' market.  Not to mention its value...you get a lot of bang for your penny with cabbage.  A medium-sized 3-ish pound head usually costs less than $2, even less in season (fall), and makes 10-12 servings. 

There are many types of cabbage.  I think they fall into 2 main types...hard and soft.  Hard cabbages are the traditional green, red/purple and brussel sprouts...densely leaved and heavy headed those.  Soft types are trendier...bok choy, napa cabbage, savoy cabbage...these types often feel light for their size and have thin crinkly leaves that cook quickly.  Soft cabbages are excellent in stirfrys or as a quick sauteed side for dinner.  Hard types require longer cooking in general. 

Even when a hard cabbage is meant to be used raw, as in cole slaw, I think it still benefits from a quick blanch in boiling water.  To prepare cole slaw, core a cabbage and slice it thinly.  Pour boiling water over all and drain after 1-2 minutes.  It softens the cabbage just a bit and seems to make it, in my experience, a little less digestively challenging.

A lot of the recipes I have for cabbage use it as a partner in a larger casserole dish, especially for making cabbage rolls.  That is certainly one option, though if you have a head of cabbage sitting in your first but don't want to invest the time in a recipe like Savoy Cabbage Rolls, Beef Cabbage Casserole, or BBQ Lasagne, I have a few other thoughts which follow.

My husband's grandfather was fond of cabbage, and the first recipe is how he typically prepared it.  A pinch of sugar in the cooking and vinegar at service are the secret ingredients.  The second recipe is my own version of his recipe.  The cabbage tastes, well, like butter.  The final recipe is a great way to incorporate cabbage into a meal on the grill.

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

Easiest-Easier-Easy: Tomatoes

I am not a tomato fan.  Really.  But I adore the smell of a tomato plant and a fresh tomato tastes NOTHING like a grocery store tomato, so we grow them with abandon come summer.  I'll wind up canning quite a few just as is or in tomato soup or pickled (talk to me in October about pickled green cherry tomatoes).

Other ways to use an abundance of fresh tomatoes include: canning, green beans with tomatoes, grilled marinated okra, oven-baked zucchini, frittata, tomato sauce (enchilada and pizza), tomato soup, Bloody Mary mix or any place else you'd used canned tomatoes or prepared tomato juice (just blitz the tomatoes in a processor or blender, then strain through a fine-mesh strainer for juice).

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Chicken Francese for a crowd

I love chicken francese, but it's a fairly last-minute intensive dish to prepare...frying those cutlets can really eat up time, especially if you're cooking for a crowd. 

I tried a new twist for a "dinner party" (can you really call it a dinner party when you're eating off paper plates?) wherein I baked many chicken breasts that were seasoned with lemon pepper and served the lemon-caper sauce as a relish on the side.  Captures the same flavors with far less work.

If you prep this in advance and put your chicken in a baking dish in the fridge, plan for extra cooking time (I screw up so you don't have to).  The cold dish slows down the chicken's progression to an appropriate final temperature, and it took an extra 20-25 minutes of cooking to get my chicken up to temp.  Better yet, prep the chicken, store it in a ziptop bag and put it in the baking dish at the last minute. 

I don't have pictures because it was a dinner party and I had better things to do than take pictures of food LOL

Edited to note...this is evidently my 100th "freezer" recipe!  I guess I do more of this sort of thing than I realized!
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Greens au gratin

I had scads of end-of-season chard in my garden, and this is what I did with it.  It's similar to the holiday favorite broccoli-n-cheese casserole.  You can use any combination of greens you want, just be sure to cook them and drain them very well.  You'll need about 5 cups cooked for this recipe. 

Before cooking

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Baked Brie with crostini

This doesn't have to be party food, but it's best to make it for an occasion that won't leave too many leftovers.  After a day or two, the baked brie will start to dry out most unattractively.

If you make this in advance, be sure to wrap the puff pastry really well with plastic wrap.  I screw up so you don't have to.  Also, if you take it right from the fridge to bake, it will probably need 5-10 more minutes in the oven than if it's at room temp.

I happened to find a pre-sliced ciabatta loaf at my supermarket for the crostini...saves some time and the aggravation of trying to get thin, even slices by hand.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blue Ribbon, baby

I am too stinking excited about this.  I am now an official Hoosier...1) I entered jellies and pickles at the State Fair and 2) I won.  Probably 1st out of 3 entries or something like that, but I won!!  1st place in the low-sugar category for low-sugar corn cob jelly and Honorable Mention for Pickled Edamame (below).

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Ninja Zucchini

Today is National Sneak Some Zucchini onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day, so here are a couple of ideas of what to do with the bag of zucchs that may mysteriously find their way onto your doorstep.  First of all, shred it and freeze it in 2 cup portions.  I shredded (via food processor) 2 very large zucchini and got 9 cups of shreds out of it :-0 

My fave is zucchini crust pizza.  I've seen many iterations of this theme, and they differ largely by ratio of zucch to cheese.  All agree that 4-5 cups of *stuff* + 2 eggs is right for a 12-14" crust, but the proportion of zucch to cheese is the issue.  3 cups zucch + 1 cup cheese is a very soft crust, 2+2 is less soft, and I'm hearing good things about 1 1/2 cups zucch to 2 cups cheese.  Bake at 450F for 10-20 minutes, then top with desired toppings and bake another 15-20 minutes at 375F.

I haven't actually tried this yet, but I want to make regular yeast pizza dough and mix a cup or two of shredded zucchs into that.  I'll post when I try it, if it works out.

The obvious use is zucchini bread, but try some zucchini cookies too!  Pin It

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Walnut Crust Honey Pie

A honey-based shoofly pie with a crisp walnut and cinnamon crust in place of pastry.  Yum!  I use dark wildflower honey rather than clover honey for the fuller flavor, but any honey is tasty-good.

I suggest Egg Beaters b/c it can be a pain to halve a single egg, as called for in the filling, whereas Egg Beaters can be conveniently measured by the tablespoonful.  Also b/c the rules of the State Fair Culinary Arts competition (in which I have entered this recipe) forbid the use of actual unpasteurized eggs in baked goods ::eye roll::

Letting the crust cool before filling is important b/c it helps prevent the Honey Volcano (I screw up so you don't have to) and gives your oven time to cool down to proper, non-burning pie-baking temperature.

This pie will freeze nicely after baking, though the crust might not be quite as crisp after thawing.

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Easy-easier-easiest: Okra

Please don't change the channel just because you *think* you don't like okra!  I studiously avoided it for a long time, but finally caved to household pressure (ie my husband) and made oven-fried okra once...I am now hooked!  It is not slimy when cooked (although it is slimy while cutting, to be completely truthful).  Okra season (NOW) makes a welcome break from the mid-summer zucchini-fest as well. 

Now for the hard-sell...Okra is low calorie when prepared plainly as in the grilled recipe below, high in vitamins K, A, and C and as well as folic acid and fiber, and is one of the most antioxidant-dense green veggies out there. 

We grow our own okra now as it's not always easy to find fresh okra at the store. Frozen is OK for most purposes, but fresh is best. If you happen to have an abundance of fresh okra, slice it and freeze it in 1-2 cup amounts (clumped up is fine) to use in stews and gumbos.

How can you not give it a go? Especially when even my veggie-avoidant 16 month old just asked very politely, using signs, for more okra? Come on people...

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Easiest-Easier-Easy: Zucchini

Who doesn't have an excess of zucchini at this time of year?  You, over there?  Well, I'm leaving some on your doorstep next.  The following shouldn't be a surprise by now...I love me some roasted veggies, but given the time of year, grilling is the way to go.  The fanciest recipe I provide here is poached from my in-laws...as my father-in-law says often and with gusto, "I could make a meal of this".

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Spiced Braised Pork Chops

Adapted from Art Smith's Back to the Table.  I was looking for a recipe that would suit bone-in pork chops and discovered Art Smith's Spiced Pork Loin with Vidalia Onion Sauce.  I am using thick-cut pork chops rather than a loin and regular onions instead of sweet, but you can make changes to my changes.  If you want to make this for a roast, make up a double batch of the braising/spice mixture and cook the roast for 1 1/4 hours. 

This sauce mixture is so easy to put together, you should consider making extra for more than one kit.  Or you can make a double batch, cook one half for dinner tonight and freeze the rest to get two dinners for one night's work.

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Hula Chicken Stirfry

49g carb per serving
This recipe is originally from the Better Homes and Gardens New Junior Cookbook gifted to me, er, my son for his birthday. I made it once and the kids wolfed it down, so it's now on our do-again list.  The bonus, of course, is that it is well-suited to freezer kit organization (yay!).  The recipe below makes 2 kits, due to the popularity of the dish at my house as much as to the fact that my grocery store only carries pineapple chunks in 20 oz. cans instead of the 8 oz. can required by the OR.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Stay-in Take-out: Pork Lo Mein

This is an America's Test Kitchen recipe originally, which means it's absolutely delicious but persnickety and step-heavy.  If you want to try it Chris Kimball's way, you can prep it ahead for same day or next day cooking with no problem...assemble the marinade for the meat and get that started, make the sauce, chop the veggies and grate/mix the ginger-garlic and set all that aside in the fridge.  But you can't freeze it ahead as a kit well, and the final cooking process comes to way more than 3 or 4 steps which my mental processing limit at 6pm.

So I keep the best parts of this recipe (the sauce, the cut of pork and the basic method of cooking) and reconfigure all the other parts to achieve simplicity and freezability.  If I do say so myself.  For vegetables, you'll need about 8-9 cups of veg...it seems like a lot, but it cooks down.  I park some frozen veggies in the freezer kit and plan to make up the remainder with fresh vegetables purchased the week I'll make this dinner or canned stirfry favorites like water chestnuts or bamboo shoots.  Use what you like in any combination. 

For the "lo mein", I've used udon, soba and whole wheat linguine, all with perfectly good results.  Just make sure to read the package directions since each type requires a different cooking time.

The sauce ingredients are perhaps a bit outside of the usual pantry staples, but are worth finding if only to duplicate this recipe many times over.  Oyster sauce is in the Asian foods section of even my podunk grocery stores, and it's like a steak sauce but much less vinegar-y.  Hoisin is an Asian-style barbecue sauce, and 5 spice powder is a mix of pepper, fennel, cloves, cinnamon and anise (at least my jar is).

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Sage Ravioli

This hardly qualifies as a recipe, but again a reminder that good food can be fast and simple.  And I've never seen directions that I'm happy with regarding browning butter.

I'd love to say that I make homemade ravioli.  My boys' great-great-grandparents were from Italy and there's an antique family pasta roller somewhere at my in-laws' house.  I envision trooping over once a month with the kids, making tons of homemade pasta and drying it while we sit around and look at old photos, the boys learning about family history and cultural heritage as much as cooking skills (not to mention the fun of hand-cranking pasta)...but that's not what we do.  Maybe someday.

So I use store-bought ravioli (or another filled pasta).  Feel free to use homemade if you make it (brava! brava! if you do).  Using pre-frozen ravioli makes this an easy freezer kit...freeze the pasta and butter in a bag or container together and either make sure to have fresh sage when you cook or freeze a handful of sage sprigs wrapped in a paper towel.  Pat the thawed sage dry before cooking...it won't be quite as crispy as fresh would be, but it's still good.

I use the highly scientifically measured amount of a "big ol' fistful" of sage leaves.  It's about 1/2 ounce if you buy them, but really...if you've got a square foot of sunny space in your yard, plant a sage plant!  This isn't a gardening blog, so I won't go into great detail, but it's perennial, retains leaves in Zone 5 through the winter (for year-round use), and is way cheaper than buying fresh herbs at the store.  And no, you can't make this recipe with dry sage out of a tin pot. 

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