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Monday, September 26, 2011

Eat it the way you found it: Apples

Harvest Pink Lemonade
Making applesauce is no extraordinary feat of cooking.  But figuring out what to do with all the peels and cores can be.  You could just chuck them into the compost, OR you could turn them in a delicious, refreshing pink apple lemonade. 

I like using store-bought lemonade to make life easy on myself and for the fact that I usually find store-bought lemonade to be too sweet and too lemony...when cut with the pink apple juice rendered from the "leftovers" of your applesauce endeavor, it is just right.

I prefer Jonagold apples for making applesauce.  The flavor is so spot-on that I don't add anything except apple cider while cooking.  Good produce ultimately means less work for a better final product, so it's worth finding a local orchard and finding out what good sauce apples they grow.

I don't sieve my applesauce, as I think it's wasteful and I happen to like chunky applesauce.  Most recipes give a yield of about 2 pints per 3 lbs of apples, but that's if you sieve.  Unsieved, I got 11 pints from 10 lbs, or about 3 pints per 3 lbs of apples.  I give the following recipe per 3 lbs. of apples, scale up as desired.  I needed a 12 quart pot for 10 lbs of apples, and it took about 25 minutes for them to cook fully.  The peels and cores from 10 lbs made 3 quarts of pink apple juice, or 6 quarts of pink lemonade.  I froze the apple juice in quart-sized amounts.

And today's I Screw Up So You Don't Have To...if you make loads of applesauce and plan to can it in a water bath process, keep waiting jars in a pot of warm water.  That way, when you put 2nd or 3rd batches of jars into the already-boiling water bath, nothing explodes.  Just a friendly tip.

Lastly...bonus cocktail recipe!  If you get cidered out, try a Chimayo...a surprisingly un-tequila-like mix of tequila, apple cider, lemon juice and cassis (and if you don't know what else to do with the cassis, try a kir or kir royale).

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Gingered scallops

Sea vs. bay scallops
This is stupidly easy.  Saute bay scallops with sliced ginger in butter and season with salt and pepper.  Really. There's the whole recipe. 

What makes this worth blogging about is 1) you rarely see a main dish recipe that calls for the smaller, less expensive bay scallops front and center instead of the large, spensy sea scallops and 2) the ginger does things to the scallops.  And to your taste buds.  I mean, things like you wouldn't believe.  Naughty, delicious, page 227 in a romance novel kinds of things.  Oh yeah, this one is a repeat.   

No picture b/c I was too busy having a gustatory climax.  Sorry, sort of ;)

I suppose you could make this into a freezer kit, but it's so simple to prep, it's probably not worth the storage container.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Grape Pie

I've never had one of the world-famous Naples, NY Concord Grape Pies, so for all I know, I am suggesting absolute heresy here and have made a pie that tastes like mud compared to theirs.  But I think my attempt has turned out nicely.

All the recipes for Grape Pie I could find a) call for Concord grapes and b) call for peeling every one of those little boogers even though the peels go into the filling.  Oh hell no.  I did some reading on the interwebs trying to puzzle out why on earth anyone would want to be peel multiple pounds of grapes to make pie and the best I can figure is that 1) Concord grapes have seeds and they must be peeled in order to cook the pulp enough to deseed them without losing the color, flavor and volume of the peels (which would get sieved out with the seeds if left in the cooked mixture) and possibly 2) that the peels, when cooked, might impart a bitter flavor to the filling. 

Fortunately, I am cursed/blessed with a lack of actual Concord grapes at my local grocery and instead have "seedless black" grapes ("Midnight Beauty" variety).  As they are seedless, I have solved the first concern.  As I am willing to gamble a bit and they are ultra-sweet, I have dispensed with the second concern.  Awesome.

Depending on your variety of grape, how sweet they are and personal preference, you may want more or less sugar than what I used.  After simmering the whole but lightly crushed grapes for a bit to release their juices, I started with 1/2 cup sugar and added a few tbsp at a time until I reached a sweetness level I was pleased with.  I thickened with a combination of flour and cornstarch, adding a bit extra cornstarch at the last minute when the filling looked a bit runny.  To incorporate it nicely, I made a slurry with red wine (happened to have an open bottle) rather than the customary lemon juice.  I don't think I'd crack a bottle just for this purpose again, but it worked out nicely I think.  The grapes still had a bit of tartness and I didn't think it necessary to add to that flavor dimension with lemon while the wine did enhance the grapey-ness of the pie. 

The interwebs also suggested various ways to prepare the filling in advance of actual pie-making, as the residents of Naples, NY do (I mean, if you're gonna peel a bazillion pounds of grapes one by one, you might as well make it worth your while and save some of this stuff up).  One suggestion was to can the filling like jam.  Another was to freeze the filling in pie plates (without a crust), then slip the frozen pie-shaped jam disk into a fresh crust and bake as usual when you're ready.  I can't vouch for either of this techniques personally, but if you experiment, let me know how it goes!

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Low-carb Bang Bang Shrimp 'n' Chicken

Taking a favorite dish and tweaking it for my family's dietary needs. 

The original of this dish comes from the Bonefish Grill restaurant chain.  The copycat recipe I've worked with for some years now is ridiculously easy to prepare and slap-yo-mama good.  But it's pretty high in carbs between the Sweet Chili Sauce in the dressing and the cornstarch coating on the shrimp (about 43 g carb v. 9g in my recipe, per calculations from SparkRecipes.com).  So I'm setting out to make it much more diabetic-friendly and making a variation to serve those who have food sensitivities to shrimp.

As much as I care about my family and want to cook as healthfully as possible for them, I must confess that what really kicked me into gear about revamping this recipe was how hard it is to find the blasted Sweet Chili Sauce.  I really didn't want to have to make a special trip to an international grocery store 15 miles away for this one ingredient.  Boy was I glad to find out that you can make it at home, and moreover that you can make it sugar-free.  Thank you interwebs and shesimmers.com (original recipe)! 

I didn't search exhaustively for almond flour to use as a low-carb cornstarch substitute, but I know it's out there.  I used whole raw almonds ground finely in the food processor.  The result was a more textural crunch-coat on the shrimp and chicken than what you'll get if you use a superfine starch like cornstarch or commercially milled almond flour.  It was still good, but be aware of the difference in the final dish.

Lastly, the best way to avoid cross-contamination for folks with food sensitivities is to not prepare the problem food in the first place.  BUT since shrimp was on our menu, I did all the chicken-handling before even touching the shrimp (well, actually my husband did all the protein-wrangling this time).  So the chicken got cut, dredged and fried before doing the same with the shrimp.  They were plated on separate serving platters and handled with separate cooking and serving utensils. 

Sorry the "final plate" picture is of leftovers, but you're lucky there's a picture at all since what you see is all that was left!

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Friday, September 16, 2011


Pronouced "moo-sah-KAH", it's Greek for "lasagne".  Not really, but it's like Greek lasagne.  It's a meat-and-eggplant layered casserole with cheese souffle on top, but no pasta, and it is exquisite.

I first experienced this dish in Greece on a high school Classics Club trip (yeah, Latin nerd right here), later at Primo's in Alexandria, VA, the Trojan Horse in Bloomington, IN and the Greek Fest in Boca Raton, FL and have cooked it from the Frugal Gourmet's Three Ancient Cuisines recipe since.  I count moussaka among the first "real" dishes I learned to cook, and it has never disappointed.

You can make your own homemade tomato sauce (I don't) or use store-bought spaghetti sauce (I do).  The Frug's recipe for "Greek Tomato Sauce" calls for allspice which most spaghetti sauces don't use, so I simmer the moussaka meat sauce with a few allspice berries to incorporate that flavor.

Like all layered casseroles, you can build this recipe in a variety of sizes: 1 13x9 or 2 8x8 or 4 8x4 pans.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Root Beer Sauce for Pork

I want to make this again just to have the house smell like A&W all night (I do prefer A&W for this, having tried it with Barq's as well). 
The root beer reduces to a slightly syrupy, but not overly sweet, jus that is intriguingly spicy and rich in flavor.  This sauce will top grilled chops, braised shanks, fried ham, sliced roast or pulled pork shoulder equally well.  You can measure and combine ingredients a day ahead of time (or freeze the mixture), or make the sauce to reheat up to a day ahead as well.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

April's Microwave Salisbury Steak

The original recipe is from a friend who writes a gluten-free cooking (and other stuff too) blog at An April a Day.  This recipe, she tells me, is not gluten-free thanks to the canned golden mushroom soup.  I'm not wild in general about using store-bought canned soups, but golden mushroom soup would be a PITA to recreate homemade (and I'm willing to go aways in the direction of homemade substitutions) so take that as you will.  And it's so good that it's worth it...my 18 month old would have licked his plate, if he had better hand-eye coordination.

This is an awfully fast dish to put together thanks to the store-bought help and use of the microwave for cooking, but it's EVEN FASTER when you prep it ahead and stash it in the freezer.  Plan ahead for your storage needs...the patties will  need to cook in a microwave-safe baking dish, so you'll either need to freeze in an appropriate container or be prepared to transfer the somewhat delicate patties between freezer container and microwave cooking dish.

I have also used this recipe as the basis for a crockpot roast.  Instead of making patties with ground meat, brown a roast on all sides, then put in a crockpot.  Combine the remaining seasonings (omit breadcrumbs and egg) and sauce ingredients and pour over.  Cook 8-10 hours on low. 

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Hungarian Stuffed Peppers

The thing that makes these peppers stand out from all the other stuffed peppers in the world is the paprika...it's in the meat, it's in the gravy, it's in the smell that permeates the house while you're baking this dish. 

The pepper-and-paprika infused gravy is built on an intensely flavorful stock and finished in the original recipe (Frugal Gourmet's Immigrant Ancestors) with a "beurre maniĆ©" of flour and sour cream.  Since I've never had good things come of freezing sour cream, I use buttermilk inside for a freezer-friendly version.  Just be sure when you add the buttermilk-flour slurry to whisk constantly and pour slowly to avoid lumps.

Since this does take a little prep work, it's worth it to make a LOT and freeze these puppies up.  Especially if you hit a good sale on bell peppers at your market.  Doubling this recipe is no problem, just freeze the peppers in the number of portions you want with appropriate division of the gravy stock and flour-buttermilk mixture.

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Marsala baked eggs

French name: Oeufs en cocotte au vin
The original recipe is from a book about French "homestyle" cooking (as opposed to fancy-schmancy restaurant cooking).  It calls for Madeira wine, which I wasn't able to find the first time I made the recipe.  I used dry Marsala instead and have it that way ever since, as it was delicious!  I also think you could use Champagne for an ultra-luxe version of this dish...just leave out the tomato paste and substitute chicken for beef stock.  Other subsitutes include the original Madeira or another semi-dry red wine.

Shallots figure very prominently here and their particular flavor comes through very nicely, so it's worthwhile to procure some.  They don't taste exactly the same as onions (though I also don't go in for that "halfway between onion and garlic" description either), but if you absolutely cannot find shallots, use a quarter of a medium onion for each shallot.

In terms of make-ahead planning, you could double or triple  the sauce and freeze it ahead in portions that suit your family's appetite.  My husband thinks 2 eggs is one serving, while I think 1 egg is one serving, so I make 5 egg cups for the 4 of us.  Also the more you scale the recipe up, the more of the Marsala you'll use...one 750ml bottle will make this recipe about 3 times, or you can save it to use in dishes like Chicken Marsala or Marsala-glazed carrots.

Last note, you'll need some ceramic or Pyrex baking cups for this.  The classic ones are straight-sided ceramic cups that hold about 6 or 8 oz.  They're easy to fit 4 at a time into an 8x8 pan for the water bath they'll bake in, but in a pinch you can use ceramic coffee cups instead. 

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Tomato Soup

I am not a Campbell's tomato soup fan, but I do like homemade tomato soup, especially with summer-ripe garden tomatoes.  If you can or freeze, a pint of homemade soup boiled to half its volume will replace a can of store-bought concentrated soup for recipes that call for it.  Just leave out the milk for all make-ahead preparations, and add 1 tbsp per cup of soup when you reheat it.

I have a couple of favorite recipes, but here's the most versatile of the bunch.  You can peel and seed the tomatoes before proceeding with the recipe which saves a good bit of straining at the end, or skip this step (especially if you're only doing a small batch of soup) and sieve out seeds and skin at the end.  You can also choose to roast or not to, depends on your time frame and preference.  For putting up, you can freeze or can...if you can a soup made with a stock (be it beef, chicken or vegetable), you really should pressure-can...although before I knew what I know now, I canned tomato soup containing chicken broth in a boiling water bath and have lived to tell the tale.  So do as you will.

Cored and "X"d tomatoes
Peeling tomatoes is not hard (especially compared to sieving 3 gallons of soup a ladleful at a time).  To peel tomatoes, take a small paring knife and cut the stem out in a cone-shaped cut.  Cut a shallow "X" on the bottom of the tomato and slice lightly across any cracked bits of skin (important if you're using heirloom or homegrown tomatoes which tend to be tastier but also less "perfect" than store-bought). 

Parboiled, in the cold water bath
Bring a gigantic pot of water to the boil (or a smaller one, but give yourself time to let the water reheat between batches), and drop the prepped tomatoes in.  Have another large pot filled with ice and water at the ready.  Boil the tomatoes 1-2 minutes.  Keep an eye on them, and pull the ones whose skins peel back first.  Different varieties, different stages of ripeness affect how long the tomatoes need to boil before they start peeling.  Pull tomatoes as they begin to peel, and leave the tougher ones a minute or two more.  Drop them right into the cold water, partly to keep from cooking the bejeepers out of them and partly to make them easy to handle quickly. 

Peeled "zombie" tomatoes
Once all your tomatoes are chilly, start pulling the skins off.  It's kinda like peeling a sunburn ::blark::  Don't worry if you don't get every bit of skin.  To seed them, just squish the tomatoes like they're stress balls.  Cut big ones in half before squashing them silly.  Don't worry if you don't get every last seed out.  Now you'll have a pile of really horrifying-looking but delicious seeded, skinned tomatoes.  Proceed with your recipe.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Salsa Verde Meatloaf

I'm trying to use up the straggler tomatillos from my garden, and had a yen for meatloaf, so this is what we have!  If you were to include *actual* salsa verde in the meatloaf mix, it would be far too wet.  This recipe draws on the salsa verde flavors without making soup out of the meatloaf.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Grapenut custard

I had this dessert at the Scargo Cafe in Dennis, MA while on vacation attending my brother's wedding.  Delicious!  And I'm assured by Massachusetts-ians that this is a bona fide regional specialty rather than some BS branding strategy hatched by the State Department of Tourism (Indiana Hardwoods, anyone?). 

This is a great way to use up a large number of eggs, if you find yourself with a surplus (you know who you are out there, you chicken-raisers).  I think this could be made with whatever cereal you want, though using, say, Cocoa Krispies would detract from the authenticity of the dish.  If you want to make a half recipe (this does make a lot, but it keeps well in the fridge), halve all the ingredients...I'd use 5 large eggs or 4 jumbo...and bake this in an 8x8 dish.  Start checking for doneness after 60 minutes. 

The Scargo Cafe's recipe is found here, but I thought it was lacking in, er, directions. Here are my directions. 

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Marigold Scalloped Potatoes

I garden in service of my cooking, so I don't usually give space or attention to plants I can't eat.  I made an indulgent exception this year and planted two boxes of annual flowers, including marigolds.  Well, as it turns out, you CAN eat marigolds!  Who knew!

Well, I've seen Monsoon Wedding so I sort of knew that marigolds were edible, but I'd never considered cooking with them until I ran across a recipe for marigold-sauced cauliflower.  Marigolds can evidently be dried and used as a saffron substitute, mostly for their coloring properties though they do have a lightly floral, slightly spicy flavor quality as well (I went outside and nibbled on one just to check). 

Citrus Garlic Roasted Chicken, with Marigold Scalloped
Potatoes and cucumbers
The following cheese sauce can be made ahead and frozen, if desired, for later use with any number of vegetables.  You could probably even fold veggies like broccoli or cauliflower into the sauce before freezing for a totally made-ahead veggie casserole.  Or you can use the sauce for scalloped potatoes, as follows, which can be made ahead and fridged for same-day or next-day cooking.

For a more spectacular presentation, don't chop the marigold petals.  Scatter them whole in between layers of potatoes.

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Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

If you're wondering what to do with your garden okra (or just like some Cajun cookin'), here is your recipe!  If I don't have enough okra to cook as a side dish for the whole fam, I slice it and throw into a freezer bag and keep adding as more okra comes in.  When I've got 1 1/2 cups, I make gumbo.  This is also a good way to use up leftover cooked chicken or turkey (hello Thanksgiving!).  You'll need about 2 cups cubed.

Like all stews, gumbo is gorgeous reheated.  Make it ahead for next-day service or freeze it in its fully-cooked form.  You can also make a freezer kit for the stew if you prefer.  You'll have to cook the roux before making the freezer kit, so give yourself plenty of time.

Here is the I Screw Up So You Don't Have To portion of the program...brown the meats in a skillet and make your roux in your soup pot (if you're making the soup start-to-finish, ignore this if you're making a freezer kit).  Or clean your soup pot really well after browning the sausage and chicken and before making the roux.  Any "browned bits" stuck to the pot after browning will act like a magnet for the roux and cause it to scorch.  Yuck.  Remaking a roux doesn't really cost much in terms of ingredients, but it does cost a good bit of time.

Making the characteristic Cajun "red" roux isn't much different than making a light roux for white sauce.  You just cook it longer.  But it is a bit like playing chicken...you want to cook it as dark as you can without burning it.  This is one time when stirring the pot CONSTANTLY really is necessary.  I turn off the heat when I achieve peanut-butter colored roux, though some recipes encourage an even darker color. 

Last note...the Cajun mirepoix or Trinity is onion, celery and green bell pepper.  I use carrot instead of celery here as I'm cooking around a food sensitivity, but feel free to use either.

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Crockpot Grinders

Oh. My. Gawd. These are good.  All my favorite things...crockpot-friendly, prep-ahead and freezer-friendly and garlicky.

You can serve the grinders on toasted hoagie rolls and topped with cheese, sauteed peppers, onions and mushrooms.  Just layer everything up and broil a minute or two to melt the cheese.  Or for a lower carb serving idea, serve the sauce and sausage over cooked spaghetti squash, steamed cauliflower or braised cabbage.

This recipe makes either 1 really big batch, or 2 smaller batches.  Perfect for dinner tonight and 1 freezer kit, 2 freezer kits or dinner for a crowd.  There's a lot of sauce here, and leftover sauce can be frozen to repurpose as pizza sauce or pasta sauce.

Adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens Better Than Mom's Slow Cooker Recipes.

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Cinnamon Marinated Fish

Cinnamon is usually thought of as a sweet spice, but it has a savory side.  In the absence of sweeteners, cinnamon has a peppery smoky quality that pairs nicely with fish.  The cinnamon comes across more strongly in the aroma of the finished dish and is subtle in the flavor.

If you want to do a "taste-test" batch of cinnamon oil, use just 1 cinnamon stick and 1/2 cup of vegetable oil.  It will be enough for 2 or 3 marinades.  When you crush up the cinnamon sticks, just pound them in a plastic bag with a meat pounder until they look like mulch. 

It's tempting to buy cheapie spices for this or use cinnamon sticks that have been hanging around since last autumn's spiced cider kick, but the fresher and more strongly flavored the cinnamon is, the better the marinade will be.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Easiest-Easier-Easy: Cucumbers

We're almost at the end of cucumber season, but I figure better late than never.  Actually, the reason I haven't posted anything yet about cukes as a side dish is b/c all the cukes in our house get gobbled up plain, as is, for snacks and appetizers.  Nary a cuke to pickle even.  I get about one cuke every few weeks to do something "interesting" with, so I don't have a whole lot of pictures either. 

The best things to do with cukes, in my opinion, is dress them lightly with a vinegar dressing that compliments the flavors of your main dish...herbal, Asian and spicy are the trio here.  I also like cucumbers served instead of crackers on an appetizer tray, combined with other summer fruits and veggies in a salad, in summer rolls, in gazpacho or in a smoothie.

Depending on the variety of cucumber, I may or may not peel.  With most "regular" cukes, I'll peel about half the skin off in strips, giving the cucumber a striped look.  If the peel is especially tough or bitter, I'll take it all off.  With Asian or English types, I usually leave all the peel on.

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Nell's Pork Medallions

I got the original recipe from a friend's cooking blog (Nell Cooks).  It was an instant hit at my house in all demographic areas.  This is how a fried pork tenderloin should taste.  Fortuitously, it lends itself well to freeze-ahead preparation. 

For full cooking directions, check Nell's blog.  Here is how I make this freezer-friendly.

I've made this with pork loin and pork tenderloin, with good results both ways.  For 1 lb. of meat, I need 1/3 cup flour, 1 egg and 1 cup of bread crumbs for dredging.  Scale up as needed for your dinner crowd/freezer needs.  Also, b/c I don't  have store bought seasoned breadcrumbs on hand, I grind up bread in my food processor and add 3/4 tsp lemon pepper per cup of breadcrumbs.  If you any extra of this mustard bread, grind it up as an outstanding stand-in for pre-seasoned crumbs.

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Easiest-Easier-Easy: Acorn Squash

Acorn squash is not really my favorite of all squashes because of its scalloped, hard-to-peel skin.  I do like its flavor and versatility, however.  I cut the skin away with a knife rather than a vegetable peeler, and will be satisfied with getting most of the peel off.  The bits of green peel that are left bother me, but aren't inedible LOL

It is a mildly flavored squash and lends itself to slicing into cute rings.  All of these recipes can be made with sliced rings or chunks of squash. 

This is a perfect time of year for grilling...the worst of the summer heat has passed (in most areas of the country) but it's still warm enough to dine al fresco.  Throwing your veg on the grill with your main dish is one of favorite menu plans, and acorn squash can be grilled just as nicely as summer squash.  The roasted recipe is a pretty classic way to handle acorn squash, and the batter-fried recipe is tweaked from my aunt's suggestion...let me say that I may never eat acorn squash any other way from now on.  Yum!

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Bisquick Substitute

I don't keep Bisquick in my pantry b/c there's more ingredients than necessary in that box and b/c it's plenty easy to make a stand-in product out of pantry staples in whatever amount you need (while lowering sodium content as well).  I make this is up as needed rather than making gigantic batches and storing them.

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