Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Man in My Kitchen

It is no secret that I do the vast majority of the cooking in my house. However, ever since I started this blog, my husband has been joking about posting a recipe. Now, bear in mind that follow-through is not the hubs' strong suit. That being said, the Big Man does love browsing the food sections of whatever newspaper he happens to be reading. Of course, he claims that it is for my benefit, but with a recent issue, he came out of his culinary shell and invaded my kitchen. Here is how it went:

*at work, my cell phone rings*
Hubs: Hey, did you say you were going to the grocery after work?
Me: Yep, why? Need me to pick something up for you?
Hubs: Yeah, if you would. Got a pen?
Me: *ignores the request and rolls eyes*
Me: Go ahead...
Hubs: Ok, a can of diced tomatoes, 2 cans of blackeyed peas, the kind with jalapenos if they have them, a can of beef broth....
Me: *scrambles to find the pen I didn't think I needed*
Hubs: what are tomatoes with chiles?
Me: Ro-tel.
Hubs: Ro-what?
Me: never mind, I know what it is....
Hubs: four ounces of green chiles, 2 fresh jalapeños....
Me: Good lord, honey, what are we making?

He proceeds to tell me that he found this recipe in the newspaper the day before and it sounded good. So, after determining that most of the ingredients he needed were already in the pantry, I wrote down what was left and headed for the store.

While I was in the checkout lane, my phone rings again.

Me: Yes, dear?
Hubs: Do you have a dutch oven?
Me: Ummm yes, why?

*the grocery clerk gives me an odd look*
Hubs: Where is it?
Me: its the black enamel pot on the cabinet by the laundry room...why?
Hubs: The recipe says to use a dutch oven.
Me: *smirking a little* Ok, but its not a very big one, we'll probably use my regular stockpot.
Hubs: *silence*
Me: Do you need me to get anything else?
Hubs: Nope, just hurry up.

At this point, I am getting suspicious. Sure enough, I get home and open the front door to the sound and smell of onions cooking and see my dear husband hunched over the cutting board, hacking away at the fresh jalapeños. Apparently I was just in time for the main event. He was impatiently waiting for me to arrive with the remaining ingredients. We teamed up to put together the remaining ingredients in the pot and brought it up to a boil.

I have got to say, this soup is a real keeper. We discovered (since we've made it about three more times in the last three weeks) that you have to make a double batch to fill your average crock pot all the way. This made it on the menu for the hubs' birthday party at the local watering hole and the recipe was requested by about a dozen of the regulars. It was also the first item to disappear from the buffet.

If you know anyone who likes a good, hearty and spicy soup/stew, this is for them. One tip I can give you is to make sure you drain all the grease thoroughly after cooking the meats. You can adjust the heat by using canned green chiles OR canned diced jalapeños, you can use mild, original, or hot Ro-tel, and you can use as few or as many fresh jalapeños as you like. In our house, we used canned jalapenos, original Ro-tel, and 2 fresh jalapeños in each batch. When we doubled it, we used 3 fresh jalapeños instead of 4, so that we wouldn't hurt any of our friends who were eating it. Use your own judgement based on how tough your taste buds are! It turned our very flavorful with a pretty good kick, without being overly hot. Keep in mind though, that we are lovers of the chile, so you may want to tone your version down if you are a little more cautious around the spicier foods. Also, it may look pretty thin at first, but this soup with thicken up like crazy in the fridge, so don't worry if it seems a bit watery, as it does in my pictures. I like mine that way, but the hubs is one of those people that likes everything better the next day.

So! Congratulate my honey, this is his first recipe posted on my blog (or anywhere else, for that matter) and I'm pretty proud of him for coming up with such a good one, and for doing a damned fine job in the kitchen.

Blackeyed Pea Soup with Polish Sausage
1 pound ground beef
1 pound polish sausage or kielbasa, cut in bite size pieces
1 onion, chopped
1-2 jalapeños, seeded and deveined, finely diced
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can Ro-tel
1 can beef broth
2 cans blackeyed peas
1 4-ounce can green chiles

In a stock pot, brown the ground beef and set aside. Then toss in the sausage and brown gently (this adds great flavor to the soup). Add in the onion and jalapeño and cook until vegetables are soft. Put beef back in the pot and add all the canned items.Simmer until reduced slightly. Add 2-3 cups of water if you want a thinner soup. Serve with crusty bread.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A Taste for Adventure....and Nostalgia

Ok, I messed up.

I have recently joined a wonderful blogging group called Cook the Books, that feeds not only my enthusiasm for cooking and food, but my love of literature.

Unfortunately, I was convinced that I had until February to put my post up. I've had it written for weeks, but my pictures didn't turn out very well and I was waiting to re-make the recipe to post it to my blog. Apparently, I waited too long. The roundup went out yesterday, minus my submission. So, since I didn't get a chance to make another batch, you're going to get the pictures of the first attempt. One thing you must know is that the hubs and I were having a verbal pissing match while the bread was in the oven, so it got a bit overdone; and then again after it came out, so it cooled off too much and looks rather drab. However, it did taste phenomenal. So, here we go.

Reading Anik See's 'A Taste for Adventure' left me longing to travel again. In my youth, I was always determined that I would lead a life filled with travel to exotic places and faraway lands, and I started off on a journey that would shape the rest of my existence.

I didn't get very far.

Or, at least, I didn't get far very often. In the summer between my sophomore and junior years in high school, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel to Spain on an exchange program. Full of the natural exuberance that is so often indigenous to the teenage humanoid species, I packed up and flew off to Spain. And landed in an entirely foreign world. I was an 'A' student in Spanish, I had prepared myself (as much as a sixteen year old midwestern catholic school girl can) for my life's first experience overseas, and felt nothing but confidence in my ability to not only mingle with the inhabitants of this new country, but to fit in just like I'd lived there my whole life. My foreign language skills were impeccable, of course.

Too bad I didn't know much about geography, or eastern european history, or the fact that Spanish isn't the only language spoken in Spain. Or, more specifically, Catalonia.

See's chapter on Russian Georgia sparked more than a memory for me, it rekindled the long forgotten flame of love and adoration I hold for the Catalan people. See describes the Georgians as 'proud' and hints at their 'victorious' nature; their many years of oppression and survival. I was immediately hurtled back in time, and reincarnated as a moderately motion sick teenager, exhausted from an overnight flight and eight hours on a bus (worthy of a nearly medievil description) in the hot Spanish countryside. I was greeted by an extremely enthusiastic couple and their young son, (minus the daughter of my own age that I was expecting to meet and bond with), speaking a language that caused my brow to furrow, my heart to pound in my chest, and prompted more than one tearful collect call back home to mom and dad.

You see, the Catalan people don't speak Spanish. That's not to say that they CAN'T speak Spanish.....they just DON'T. The Catalan suffered through persecution and regimes that forbade the teaching of their language, not to mention even SPEAKING it. They were strong, they were victorious; as even though they are not an autonomous country, they still maintain themselves as an autonomous PEOPLE.

Living in Catalonia is the period that I recognize as the beginning of my love affair with food. It was where I discovered that not all pizza comes from Little Caesar's, that seafood is a pleasure and not just a menu item at Long John Silver's, and that cooking from scratch most definitely does not equate with something that comes from a box.

During my stay, I ate a lot of "street food", went to a number of festivals, and discovered what the life of the average person in Catalonia is like. Food is fresh, quick, and (BONUS!) they drink wine with every meal. Yes, I know that is typical in most countries I don't live in, but it is also where I learned to drink socially and responsibly, without throwing myself into drunken debauchery in college, like most of my friends.

So, in honor of the proud people of Georgia and Catalonia, and my love for street food, I decided to make Khachapuri from the Georgian chapter, as it reignited my romance with Catalonia, and reminds me so much of something you might get from a street vendor there. A simple, yet luscious bread, that even I, in this little podunk American town, can find the ingredients for.

Thank you, Anik, for reminding me of my youth, my love of foreign cultures, and my passion for food. I hope you enjoy my submission for Cook the Books!

(from A Taste for Adventure, page 89)

2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
2 eggs
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 pound havarti cheese, grated
1/2 pound feta cheese, crumbled
2 TBSP fresh mint, cilantro or parsley (I used cilantro)
1 egg, beaten with 1 TBSP water

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, salt, and butter in a large bowl and rub the mixture between your hands until crumbly (this is also easily done in a food processor or mixer - I used a pastry cutter). Add one egg and the yogurt and mix until a ball is formed. Roll out the dough into a rectangle of 1/4 inch thickness.

Mix together the second egg, cheeses, and herbs and spread out over half the dough. Fold the dough over the cheese mixture to cover it and seal the edges by crimping them with a fork or your fingers. Beat the remaining egg and water together and brush the dough with it.Bake on a greased baking sheet for about an hour, until the dough is golden brown.
(yes, this is a shameless shot of the interior of my new oven)
Let the bread cool slightly. Cut into wedges or squares and serve while still warm.Makes one square, to serve 6 to 8 as a snack or part of a meal.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me!

I'm not braggin' or anything, but I sure do have some good friends. I've never been very big on celebrating my birthday (at least, not since I started getting old) and I really wasn't looking forward to it this year. But! My evening out Saturday night turned into a fantastic time, with my friends filling up a large chunk of the bar that we frequent. I couldn't have been more touched by not just the number of people who came out on my behalf, but the people, themselves. There were people I wasn't expecting along with the ones I knew would show up and it couldn't have been a higher quality group if I had hand picked them. I was surrounded by the best people I know and it was more of a birthday present than I could have hoped for. Today is my actual birthday (who wants to go out on a Monday night, right?), but after all of that, I am content to have a nice lunch out with a good friend.

If any of you are reading this, I love you guys!!! Thanks for making this year's birthday celebration the best one I've had in many, many years!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Time for a Change

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that I had had a very productive weekend at home. Unfortunately, most of the things I accomplished are not particularly blog-worthy, There are a couple of exceptions to that, though. One being the baby quilt I was making for my mother in law to gift at an upcoming baby shower. I managed to get that finished on Saturday and I'm sneaking it off to the quilter at lunch today.
The other item is something I've been wanting for quite a while, and even had the materials for. It is a clock. And not just any clock, as you'll soon see. I bought the hands for it awhile ago, and had my dad mount them for me when he was here in December. Then it was a matter of finding some stencils that I liked, which wasn't easy, and finally, getting a bottle of the right color paint. Well, I've been working on it in bits and pieces over the last week and last night I finally put the last touches on it and took down the tape.
What do you think?Ty likes it a lot, too. This is the shot of the clock from his point of view. (yes, he got ahold of my camera again, but he really was excited about the clock.)Its hard to get the over all picture in this shot, but if you look at the table in the foreground, you can see that the clock basically covers the whole wall. The circle is about four feet in diameter. And I love it! It really makes the room much more impressive. Now, if I could just get that darned table cleared off....

Horsehoes - Another Midwestern Icon

Not long ago, I posted a recipe for Rattlesnake and made a comment about other Midwestern regional the horseshoe. Well, I've had a couple of questions about what a horseshoe is, and so last night the hubs and I made horseshoes for supper, just for little ol' you.
Now, I had never heard of a horseshoe (in the culinary sense) before moving to Illinois, so don't be surprised if this is new information for you as well. Traditionally, a horseshoe is two hamburger patties, each on a piece of toasted bread, then topped with french fries, and the whole lot of it drenched in cheese sauce (and no, I do NOT mean Velveeta, so put down that yellow box! Yes, I see you...put it DOWN.) Now, when you see it in print like this, but that sounds like a pretty good meal. What you don't realize is that there is generally enough food on that one plate to feed your entire family. Hence, the "pony shoe" was created, which is a half order of the same.
I said that was the traditional version. There have been many recreations of the original, my favorite of which is the "buffalo chicken shoe". This consists of buffalo chicken strips on the aforementioned toast (and its better if it is Texas toast. Regular bread just disappears in the cheese.) then topped with fries and a white cheddar sauce. Yum!!! There are also "shrimp shoes", "ham shoes", and another wonderful creation, the "breakfast shoe"; this one being an english muffin, topped with sausage patties, and egg (cooked to your taste) then hash browns, smothered in sausage gravy. That one, by far, is my husband's favorite. I'll have to make those for breakfast this weekend - they are sounding really good all of a sudden!
Basically, you can make a "shoe" out of anything. As long as it is smothered in cheese sauce. And, invariably, there is a great deal of controversy over which restaurant serves the best "shoe", who makes the best cheese sauce, and, naturally, where the very first "horseshoe" was born.There is often heated debate over these topics in local restaurants.I have it on good authority (oh man, someone is gonna ream me for this one, I'm sure!) that the best horseshoe of all comes from a Springfield institution called D'Arcy's Pint.
Last night's rendition was Texas toast, with barbecue seasoned burger patties, Zesty fries (yes, I used Ore Ida, I admit it.) and this lovely cheese sauce. Admittedly, the sauce could have used a little more flavor, so next time I will amp up the seasonings, and probably some more half and half, because it thickened up more than I like. I prefer my cheese sauce to stay thin right down to the last french fry.

So, here it is, in all its glory....the Horseshoe.

First, toast a couple of pieces of thick sliced bread, like Texas toast, and top each piece with your cooked burger.Top the burgers with as many freshly fried potatoes as you think you can handle.Generously douse the fries with your homemade cheese sauce (I mean it, don't even THINK about using the yellow stuff!).Don't forget to open a couple of beers. Yep, that's my Dixie Blackened Voodoo in the background.
The whole shebang takes about 15 minutes to put together. If you start making your sauce when you put your burgers on, you should be about right. You can cheat, like I did last night and bake your fries, but it won't be nearly as good. It just won't.

Now....get thee to a cardiologist....


Ok folks, I'm a total flake and I forgot to include the recipe for the cheese sauce!

Horseshoe Cheese Sauce

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups half-and-half
2 cups cheddar cheese (grated)
1 teaspoon worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
1 dash cayenne pepper

1. Melt butter in a sauce pan over medium heat.
2. Whisk in flour and stir constantly for four minutes.
3. Gradually whisk in half and half and keep stirring until it comes to a simmer.
4. Remove from heat and stir in cheese until it is melted.
5. Season with worcestershire, ground mustard seed, and cayenne.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Creamy Butternut Squash Soup

For once, I can honestly say that this past weekend was a very productive one for me. Lots of things got accomplished; some were on the list, some weren't, but they all count, in my book. I hope to post a few of these items in the coming week.
I did manage to cross one thing off my list though, and its something that's really been driving my husband nuts. See, I love butternut squash soup. But, many times the price per pound in the store is much more than I want to pay. So, when the fall festivals roll around, I always pick up a couple to make soup with, since I can buy them for a measly $1.00 each, and as you know, they keep practically forever.
My husband, however, is completely unaware of the butternut squash's shelf life. Those two squash have been sitting on my counter, I kid you not, since September. Doesn't bother me a bit. I know eventually I'll get around to them. I've never had one go bad on me yet. But I leave them there. Why? Because it irritates my husband. He feels the need to order me around and tell me things like, "you need to do something with those, they're going to start to rot" or, "why don't you throw those things out before they start stinking up the place?"
So, yesterday, just to prove my point, I finally made the soup. A full four months after I bought them, they were still perfectly fine, even slightly under ripe in spots, and made a lovely little winter soup.
I like chunky soup and I like thin soup, but when it is really cold outside, I like a pureed soup that I can sip from a mug at my desk while I work, to warm my bones without really feeling like I'm eating a lot. In this room that I work in, there are some days I'm pretty sure you could hang meat in it. Soup is a good thing on those days. For that reason, I chose to leave the corn out this time, to make it more "mug-friendly".
I was very glad I decided to make it, too, since pushing myself so hard this weekend led to me coming down with a nasty bug and the hot steaming mug did wonders for my sore throat today.
Creamy Butternut Squash Soup
3 tb butter
3 large shallots, minced
2 medium size butternut squash (about 4 pounds, total) peeled, seeded and chopped
5 cups chicken broth
pinch of cayenne, nutmeg, and cloves
2 cups frozen corn
1/2 cup heavy cream
Melt butter in a large pot and saute the shallots until soft.
Add the squash, broth, and spices.Bring to a boil and cover.
Simmer about 25 minutes or until squash is very soft.
Puree soup and return to pot (or use an immersion blender like I do).
Add corn, cream, and more broth if soup is too thick.
Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Simmer gently until corn and soup are hot.
Can be frozen up to a month.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Peppermint Meltaways

When Ginny arrived for her visit, one of the very first things we did was make these cookies. She made the dough ahead of time and brought it with her, and let me just tell you what....these little babies are just damn tasty. When they say "meltaways", they really mean it. Pop one in your mouth and it disappears into a pool of tasty, minty goodness. We scheduled the visit to make candy for our annual candy trays that we give to friends and businesses we work with throughout the year....but nobody got these cookies. We were greedy fools and kept them all for ourselves. You should, too. Seriously.
Peppermint Meltaways

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch

2 tablespoons butter, softened
1-1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 tablespoons milk
1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 to 3 drops red food coloring, optional
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candies (we used peppermint sugar instead of candy canes)

In a small bowl, cream butter and confectioners' sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in extract. Combine flour and cornstarch; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well.
Shape into 1-in. balls. Place 2 in. apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350° for 10-12 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned. Remove to wire racks to cool.In a small bowl, beat butter until fluffy. Add the confectioners’ sugar, milk, extract and food coloring if desired; beat until smooth. Spread over cooled cookies; sprinkle with crushed candies. Store in an airtight container. Yield: 3-1/2 dozen.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Pork Tinga with Potatoes

I'm still trying to catch up on posting all the recipes that Ginny and I made while she was here a few weeks back. We were on a roll with Rick Bayless and we made several of his recipes that weekend. The last one that we squeezed in before she left was Pork Tinga with Potatoes. I love tinga. If you've never had it, its Mexico's version of pulled pork (although it can really be made with any meat). It is a cut of meat slow cooked with tomatoes and various seasonings, then eaten with (in this case) tortillas and an avocado salsa. We were such slackers there at the end, that we didn't even get a decent picture of the finished dish, but you've got to take my word for it and believe me when I say this was good. REALLY good. I would never have thought to put potatoes in with the tinga, since the tinga I am used to having is shredded chicken with tortilla strips, but it really made the dish even more hearty, which was perfect for the bargain basement temperatures we were experiencing that weekend. If you are looking for a satisfying dish with a little bit of heat, this is your next meal.

Pork Tinga with Potatoes, Avocado and Fresh Cheese
Serves 4 to 6
Recipe from Season 7 Mexico One Plate at a Time

1 tablespoon vegetable or olive oil
1 pound lean, boneless pork shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes (I had a pork loin roast in the freezer, so we used that, and I guarantee you it was more than a pound)
4 ounces chorizo sausage, removed from its casing (again, I had a 10 ounce log, so we put the whole thing in. Waste not, want not, right?)
4 to 5 medium (about 3/4 pound total) red-skinned potatoes, quartered (there weren't any nice looking red potatoes at teh store, so we used regular baking potatoes.)
1 large white onion, sliced 1/4–inch thick
1 garlic clove, minced (one? Seriously? I don't think so, Rick...)
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, in juice (preferably fire-roasted)
2 to 3 canned chipotle chiles, en adobo, finely chopped
4 teaspoons chipotle canning sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Mexican
About 1/2 cup crumbled Mexican queso fresco or other fresh cheese like salted pressed farmers cheese
1 ripe avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from the skin and diced
Warm corn tortillas

Heat the oil in a stovetop-rated slow cooker liner over medium-high heat. (If your slow cooker liner isn’t made from a material that can be used on a stovetop, use a very large (12-inch) non-stick skillet.) Once the oil is very hot, add the pork and chorizo in an single layer and cook, stirring until the meat has browned, about 6 to 8 minutes.Turn off the heat and if you’re using a skillet, transfer the meat and its juices into the slow cooker. Add the potatoes.In a large bowl, combine the onions, garlic, tomatoes, chipotles, adobo sauce, Worcestershire, oregano and 1/2 teaspoon salt.Pour mixture into the slow cooker and stir to mix thoroughly. Cook for 6 hours at the highest temperature.
After six hours, gently stir the tinga. If the sauce seems too thick, stir in a little water. Taste, and season with salt if you think the dish needs it. Scoop into a large bowl, sprinkle with the fresh cheese and diced avocado, and serve with warm tortillas.
Sorry, I know I worked you up with all those "in progress" pictures, and now I have no "finished' picture for you!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Daffy Duck is Coming to Dinner.....

When I think of duck (not 'ducks', but DUCK) I always think of the fancy duck breast you might order in an upscale restaurant with the pretty little criss-cross cuts in the layer of fat on the breast.

That is SO not what happened in my kitchen when I made duck for the first time.

First of all, where do you buy duck when you don't live in a big city? I'll tell you where. You gotta know a guy. And, as luck has it, I do. For once, I was appreciative of the fact that I have so many hunters in my circle of friends. And, just by chance, when Ginny announced that we needed to make this recipe a few weeks before her visit, it was duck and goose season in Illinois.

There are some things you should know about duck. First of all, wild duck are much smaller than domesticated duck. The recipe called for two to three pounds of thighs only. If we had done that with the wild ducks, we would have needed about ten of them! Those little thighs were so tiny, they were practically worthless. Those ducks had to have been the size of Daffy himself to yield that kind of meat. SO, instead, we used four whole ducks. Also, when you buy duck in the store, it comes with the skin and fat still on. Well, I have been informed that its a big ol' pain in the hunter's ass to scald the ducks, then pluck the feathers in order to leave all of that intact. So I told the guys not to worry about it, I figured for this recipe, we didn't really need the skin or extra fat either, because, as you will soon see, there is plenty of fat in this recipe already.

Let's talk about lard for a moment, m'kay? If there is one thing I have discovered about life in the country, it is that I have gotten used to buying large quantities of beef and pork directly from the butcher, along with all the unusual parts and bi-products that go along with it. Such as lard. About every other time we buy a hog, we generally have the lard rendered at the same time. That is an optional step, but I like having the lard for biscuits, etc, so we have it done. I don't use a lot of lard in my cooking, so we don't get it done every time. Well, we haven't bought a hog for awhile, and the last time we did, I didn't have the lard rendered, so my supply of lard was less than fresh, and frankly, may have been a tad questionable. So, I went in search of new lard. My first thought was to call the meat locker. Chances are, if someone was having a hog processed and didn't want their lard, I could ask to have it rendered and pay that part of the processing. Unfortunately, that was not an available option at the time I was looking for it. Now, if you don't buy a whole hog at once, or you live in a city and don't have ready access to lard, your choices are much more limited, and that's what I ended up having to resort to. Running to the local Walmart and buying a tub of Manteca, which is just over-processed, flavorless lard that you can find in the latin food section. The lard you get from the locker actually smells and tastes like it is a pork product instead of a close cousin of candle wax. But I digress.

Just so you know, this is what six cups of lard looks like. Yikes! That's how much the recipe says to use for baking the duck.Ok, moving on, here is the recipe, with my cooking notes.

As tasty as this dish was, it was NOT worth the work involved. It was really good, don't get me wrong, but I would have been just as satisfied with a chunk of pork that I didn't have to bone out, or, for that matter, go into negotiations with a backwoods duck hunter for my dinner. Also, I can't say that I feel the process of baking the duck in lard really made any huge difference in the dish. Granted, I didn't try making it without that step, but I just really didn't find any obvious tastes or textures related to that. Aside from which, the two hours the duck spent in that lard, in my new oven, kind of made my house smell like ass. Yes, it really did. And it clung to the walls, unwilling to relinquish its hold on my house....lingering for DAYS.

So yes, the dish was good, and we still love Rick Bayless. However, if I chose to make this dish again, I think I'd just use pork. One thing to remember though, is that the Crunchy Tomatillo Avocado Salsa totally made this dish. Do not skip out on it, thinking that you could just substitute some store bought salsa. No. Absolutely not. MAKE the salsa. Put it on the duck. Put it on some chips. Hell, put it on the bumper of your car - it would still taste fantastic! Even if you DON'T make the duck (and I'm pretty sure you won't), DO make the salsa. It was amazing. Unfortunately, the only picture you're going to see of the salsa is in the corner of the picture with the carnitas. Why? Because we scarfed it down like we were dying of thirst and it was the only water in the desert. Yep, it was that good.

Overall, I am glad we made the dish. Again, I'm not convinced it was worth the effort, but it was definitely a learning process, and a good meal!Duck Carnitas
(Carnitas de Pato)
Makes 3 generous cups of coarsely shredded carnitas
Recipe from Season 7 of Mexico - One Plate at a Time

6 large duck legs (you need 2 1/2 to 3 pounds total)
4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
6 cups fresh, rich-tasting pork lard
8 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
Crunchy Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa (see recipe below)

1. Marinate the duck. Lay the duck legs in a 13 x 9-inch non-aluminum baking dish. Sprinkle with half the salt and oregano, then drizzle with half the lime juice. Flip them over and sprinkle with the remaining salt and oregano; drizzle with the remaining lime. Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours, turning a couple of times.
2. Cook the duck. Heat the oven to 300 degrees. In a large (4-quart) saucepan, melt the lard. Remove the duck from the baking dish and pat dry on paper towels. Rinse and dry the baking dish. Fit in the duck legs. Pour the lard over the duck, making sure the legs are completely submerged. Scatter the garlic cloves over the duck legs and nestle them into the lard. Slide into the oven (you may want to do this on a rimmed baking sheet to avoid spills), and bake for about 2 hours until the duck is very tender. Cool to lukewarm.

3. Serve the duck carnitas. Remove the duck from the lard. Pull off the skin and set aside. Pull the meat from the bone into large pieces. Discard the bones. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the lard into a very large (12-inch) skillet (preferably nonstick) and set over medium-high. When hot, lay in the skin and cook, turning frequently, until very crisp, about 5 minutes. Remove to a drain on paper towels. Add the meat and cook, turning regularly, until browned and crisping in spots, about 7 or 8 minutes Scoop into a serving platter. Coarsely crumble the duck skin over the top and serve with the Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa and warm tortillas.
Crunchy Tomatillo-Avocado Salsa
(Salsa Verde Crujiente con Aguacate)
Makes about 2 1/2 cups
Recipe from Season 7 of Mexico - One Plate at a Time
8 ounces (about 4 medium) tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1/2 cup (loosely packed) coarsely chopped cilantro
Hot green chiles to taste (roughly 2 small serranos or 1 small jalapeño), stemmed and roughly chopped
1 ripe avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from the skin
1 small white onion, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
Roughly chop half of the tomatillos and scoop them into a food processor with the cilantro and green chiles. Measure in 1/4 cup water and process to a slushy, coarse puree. Roughly chop half the avocado, add it to the processor and pulse until it is incorporated into the salsa. Scrape into a serving dish. Scoop the onion into a small strainer and rinse under cold water. Add to the salsa. Finely chop the remaining tomatillos and add them, too. Finally, chop the remaining avocado into 1/4-inch pieces and stir them into the salsa. Taste and season with salt, usually about 3/4 teaspoon. Alternative Method: Put all the tomatillos (quartered), cilantro and chiles through a meat grinder to chop them (no water necessary), then stir in finely chopped avocado and rinsed onion.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Throwback to MEF's House

Ok, so I can't claim to actually remember having empanadas at Sylvia's house growing up, but I do have very fond memories of her Mexican mama catering to two (practically anorexic) teenage girls and trying to fatten us up on yummy Mexican food straight from her own kitchen. Syl's house was my home away from home in high school and I was like one of the family there.

So, when the hubs and I were watching Sunny Anderson's "Cooking for Real" (not normally a show I enjoy) on the Food Network and Big Man of the house responded enthusiastically to her rendition of Empanadas, I knew I had to make them for him. As you know very well, any time the hubs shows an interest in trying something new, I jump at the chance to enlighten his picky-eater tastebuds.

Unfortunately, Sunny's recipe calls for store bought empanada shells. Now, its bad enough trying to find some fairly basic ingredients in this little hamlet that I call home, but empanada shells? Even Sylvia couldn't remember ever seeing such a creature in the stores, and she grew up with it! So, after a little digging online, I found a recipe for empanada dough that sounded both authentic and easy. Because, after all, empanadas are all about the dough. Bad dough...baaaad empanadas.

I finally made these for the hubs on Sunday night. The dough was very easy to roll out and it made me about seven 6-inch shells. The filling smelled amazing cooking up in the pan. All the spices combined to make a mouth watering aroma in my house.

Not that this is going to shock anyone....but the hubs wasn't a big fan. (And, naturally, the rat bastard didn't even taste them before he poured a healthy dose of Country Bob's all purpose sauce right on top of them! Grrr...) He ate them anyway, and even took some for lunch the next day. However, he made a point of telling me when he got home that I didn't need to make them again, as they were only okay to begin with, and weren't worth a darn reheated.


Did I mention I wasn't even remotely hungry that night and so I didn't actually try them myself?

Well, I'm having leftover empanadas for lunch today and I am now certain that my husband is either smoking crack or he has completely destroyed his taste buds living the life of a country boy. They taste damned fine to me. The dough is flaky and light (you can tell there is lard in it) and the filling is really flavorful. A little hot salsa on the side and I am a happy girl.

In my book, another success....that I probably won't make again, just because the main eater in the house won't eat them. Bummer.

Empanada Dough
3 cups flour
pinch of salt
2 teaspoons sugar
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup lard or shortening
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 egg
oil or shortening for frying

Mix the dry ingredients together. Cut in the lard with a pastry cutter or 2 knives until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Whisk egg and mix into chicken broth. Mix the broth and egg into the flour mixture and knead until dough forms. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Lightly flour a surface and roll out dough to 1/4 inch thick. Cut into 4-inch circles for small empanadas, 5-inch for medium ones or 6-inch for large ones.
Place 1 tablespoon of filling in the center of the dough circle for small empanadas, 2 tablespoons for medium and 3 tablespoons for large.
Fold dough over to make a filled half circle and use a fork to press the edges together. Refrigerate uncooked empanadas for 3 hours.
Fry in 350 degree oil for 6-7 minutes or until golden brown.

Bay Ridge Empanadas
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Pinch ground cinnamon
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup frozen corn, defrosted
1/2 cup shredded white Cheddar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Sazòn seasoning
12 store-bought (6-inch) empanada wrappers
1 egg, lightly beaten
In a skillet over medium-high heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is warm, add the onion and saute until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and saute 1 minute more. Stir in the beef, cumin, curry, chili powder, allspice, thyme, cinnamon, and salt and pepper, to taste. Saute, stirring often, until the beef has browned, about 10 minutes. Add the corn and the Cheddar and set aside to cool. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Melt the butter with the Sazòn powder small pan over low heat. Stir well to combine and reserve.Working with 1 wrapper at a time, scoop 2 heaping tablespoons of the filling into the center of the wrapper. Brush the edges of the dough with beaten egg, then fold the dough over to form a half moon, pressing out the air with your fingertips.Use the tines of a fork to pinch and seal the edges, creating a border about 1-inch wide. Repeat with remaining filling and wrappers. Transfer the patties to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Using a pastry brush, coat the tops of patties with the reserved Sazòn butter.Bake according to dough package instructions, or until puffed and lightly browned, about 20 minutes.***Notes: Since these are two separate recipes, some of the directions may not make complete sense. Like the fact that the dough recipe calls for oil for frying. Yeah, I baked them according to the empanada recipe. And the way it says to let unbaked empanadas sit for three hours. Nah, not so much. I basically used the dough recipe for the ingredients and then followed the second recipe for the rest of the directions.

Crispy Potato Roast

I am in love. Yes, its true, I'm having an affair. I'm cheating on my Wustoff Santoku Chef knife. I have a new love. Her name is Ruby. Yes indeed, I did it again. I found a recipe I wanted to try badly enough that I actually purchased a kitchen tool JUST to make that recipe. And it was totally worth it. Don't get me wrong, I know about mandolines, I've even bought them for friends as gifts. I just always thought that a good, sharp knife was all you really need. And, for the most part, that is still true. However, when you have a recipe that calls for four pounds of potatoes, very thinly sliced, its worth the money to just buy a mandoline and get it over with. If I had done that with my knife, I'd have needed carpal tunnel surgery right now.
I happened to know (from past experience) that TJ Maxx almost always has a Kuhn Rikon mandoline for about $10, and since I was in Springfield on Saturday I wandered in and picked one up. I was hoping for a blue one (you know, since everything else in my kitchen is blue) but all they had was lime green and red. But that's okay, because this saucy little number needed a name, and Ruby suits her so well. Odd how all my kitchen implements that have names seem to be female.... Seriously though, if you don't own a mandoline, and you ever do any amount of thin all....go out right now and get one of these. I mean it. Best kitchen gadget I've bought in a long time...and believe me, I have more than my fair share.

Anyway, on to the food!

So, for a while now, I've been following a lovely little blog called The Bitten Word. It is written by a couple of guys who really seem to enjoy showcasing their favorite recipes from a wide assortment of food magazines, among other things, and they happen to be pretty darn good cooks, too. This arrangement works out nicely for me because it means I don't have to buy nearly as many food magazines to hoard at home (especially since I just purged my entire collection of Rachel Ray to be replaced with my new subscriptions to Bon Appetit and La Cucina Italiana).

The boys at The Bitten Word recently posted this recipe for Crispy Potato Roast. As most of you know, I am always on the lookout for a new potato recipe for my picky eater of a husband and this one really caught my eye. After I ran out and grabbed Ruby up from the retail world and brought her home, I started my evening meal last night of Rattlesnake and Crispy Potato Roast. Working with the mandoline, slicing six potatoes took me about five minutes. *angels sing* And, as a bonus, the dish itself was fantastic. The only drawback I could find was that it took a significant amount of oven time, but it was worth it in the end. The potatoes were nice and tender in the middle and crispy on the edges with just the right amount of seasoning.This one is officially going into regular rotation on my dinner menu.

Go, RUN, to your nearest kitchen store and get yourself a mandoline....then start slicing!

Crispy Potato Roast
(Everyday Food, December 2009)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 pounds russet potatoes, peeled
4 shallots, thickly sliced lengthwise (I used regular yellow onions, also sliced on the mandoline instead of shallots. I do love shallots, but, well, where I live, sometimes you can get them, and sometimes you just can't. So, I make do.)
course salt (I also used a healthy dose of fresh cracked black pepper)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red-pepper flakes (optional)
8 sprigs thyme (I'm not a big fan of thyme so I left it out.)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a small bowl, combine butter and oil. Brush bottom of a round 9-inch baking dish with some butter mixture. With a sharp knife or mandoline, slice potatoes very thinly crosswise.
2. Arrange potato slices vertically in dish. Wedge shallots throughout. Sprinkle with salt and red-pepper flakes (if using); brush with remaining butter mixture. Bake 1 1/4 hours. Add thyme and bake until potatoes are cooked through with a crisp top, about 35 minutes more.
Isn't that gorgeous?
**Notes: As noted above, I used yellow onions, sliced thin in place of the ever elusive shallot and it turned out just fine. The hubs particularly liked the addition. I also opted not to add the thyme, not only because the hubs and I don't care for it, but because I didn't have any. I might have replaced it with oregano or rosemary if I had had any of either of those, but alas, I have used up all the herbs I salvaged from my garden. *sigh* can't wait for spring. Since I didn't add the thyme, I just left the dish in the oven for another 15-30 minutes and it turned out just lovely.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Herb Green Ceviche a la Rick Bayless

Aside from being on a Rick Bayless kick, Ginny was also thinking seafood, which is ALWAYS a good idea in my book. The next menu item was Rick's Herb Green Ceviche with scallops as the centerpiece. I am a huge fan of sea scallops, but I've never been much on their Bay living cousins. In the past, I have always found them tough or rubbery, from being overcooked. As small as they are, they require very little cooking and are very easy to take over the edge into the land of Goodyear. That being said, I've always been interested in ceviche, a method of lightly "cooking" seafood in citrus juices that requires no heat at all. What a beautiful concept, especially in the summer months when you need something cool and refreshing to eat, and the last thing you want to do is light the stove.

This ceviche went together in about two minutes (not including the time it took Ginny to put together the herb seasoning that she brought with her).

Herb Green Ceviche
(Ceviche Verde)
Makes about 4 1/2 cups, enough for 8 as a starter
Recipe from Season 7 of Mexico - One Plate at a Time

For a scant 1 cup of herb seasoning:
1/2 head garlic, cloves broken apart
2 to 3 serrano chiles
1 medium bunch cilantro, tough lower stems cut off
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, tough lower stems cut off
1/2 cup olive oil

Scallop ceviche:
1 1/2 pounds bay scallops or sea scallops cut into 1/2-inch pieces to resemble bay scallops
1 cup fresh lime juice
2 (7-ounces total) small “pickle” or Persian (baby) cucumbers, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large avocados, pitted, flesh scooped from the skin, then cut into cubes
Lettuce leaves (butter lettuce works great here) for garnish

1. Make the herb seasoning. Set a dry skillet over medium heat. Lay in the unpeeled garlic cloves and chiles. Roast, turning frequently, until soft and blotchy brown in spots, about 10 minutes for the chiles and 15 minutes for the garlic. Cool until handleable, then slip the skins off the garlic, pull stems off the chiles and roughly chop (no need to remove the seeds). Place in a food processor along with the cilantro (about 1 cup if packed), parsley (about 1 cup if packed), oil and 2 generous teaspoons salt. Process until nearly smooth (it will be pasty). Scrape into a storage container and refrigerate until serving time.

2. Make the scallop ceviche. Pour the fresh lime juice over the scallops, cover and refrigerate for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, stirring every few minutes.When the scallops are as “done” as you like—break one open to see if it looks as cooked as you like (I like them still pink on the inside), drain off all but about 1/4 cup of the lime juice. Stir in 1/2 cup of the herb mixture, cucumber and avocado. Taste and season with more salt if you think necessary. Serve on lettuce leaf-lined plates or martini glasses. You’re ready to serve.Notes: I have a renewed faith in bay scallops. Serving them in a ceviche removes the risk of overcooking, and they come out of the citrus mixture soft, delicate, and flavorful. The herbs are fragrant and offer a wonderful option for a healthful dish with a minimum of effort, and it tastes like it came out of a gourmet kitchen. Give this one a shot!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Happy Birthdays to Us!

(the entrance to Annie Gunn's Smokehouse Market)

You know, Christmas has never been my favorite time of year, but once the hustle and bustle of the holidays is over, I can always count on one thing. My birthday. I'm a January baby, and Ginny is a (nearly) Christmas child, herself, so we frequently try to do something together near our birthdays.
This year it worked out that while she was here for our annual candy making weekend, we had the opportunity to have lunch at a restaurant we've both been dying to try. Annie Gunn's. You may recall a post or two about cooking classes we've taken in St Louis. Well, more than once, we've attended classes lead by Executive Chef of Annie Gunn's restaurant, Lou Rook, and his wine director, Glenn Bardgett. We always enjoy these classes and making a pilgrimage to the restaurant has been something on our 'to-do' list for quite some time.
So, Happy Birthday to US! We made reservations, solicited some wine suggestions in advance from Glenn, and away we went.
We splurged on prime aged steaks,along with their lobster mac & cheese,and a smoked seafood sampler platter. As an extra bonus, they had Raspberry Point oysters on the half shell as a special that day, and as Ginny is a real oyster aficionado, we didn't even attempt to resist. I, myself, have never been able to swallow, much less stomach, the slimy little beasts; but I've always wished I could, so I try again periodically. This seemed like an opportune time, so I ordered one for myself, complete with the tiniest dab of creme fraiche and caviar.
I have officially come over to the Dark Side. YUM!
And, one more little treat for you....Ginny. You've never really been formally introduced. You've seen her hands, and even her feet, in various locations on this blog. But, until today, you've never seen her smiling face. We were in such a state of tempranillo and barolo-induced bliss, that she allowed me this one shot in honor of her birthday....and a fantastic meal.
Cheers, Gin!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Missing in Action

Clearly, the holidays and the several weekends preceding them have taking a toll on my blogging. Thinking back, I have not had a weekend without house guests or a major event since before Halloween. Not that any of this is an excuse for me being such a blog slacker lately, but at least I now know where the last couple of months have gone.
In the effort to make a new start, I have lots of pictures piled up from Ginny's recent visit to blog about! As usual, we were cooking fools, but the weekend did have an actual purpose. A dual purpose, even.
See, Ginny and I always get together in December to spend an entire weekend making candy. We then arrange all of the candy on trays to distribute to the various friends and businesses that we have done a lot with over the past year. And, every year, Ginny puts on her "slave driver" hat because I am not as motivated to do all the candy as she is. This year, unfortunately, we had multiple distractions to work around, which didn't help, but we still managed to get all the trays made. For one thing, both of our birthdays land in the general vicinity of Christmas/January, so we decided to treat ourselves to a nice birthday lunch out at a restaurant we've been dying to try since we started attending some cooking classes led by the executive chef and wine director from Annie Gunn's in St Louis.
If a drive to St Louis for lunch wasn't enough of a detour from the weekend's workload, we also were in charge of cooking breakfast for twenty on Sunday morning, my annual Christmas sugar cooking decorating day at my sister in law's....and for some reason, Ginny thought we needed MORE to do, so she brought along about five other recipes she wanted us to try.
What the hell were we thinking?
I guess I should just start from the beginning! The first dish we made (Ginny has recently developed a fascination with Rick Bayless' recipes) was Chilled Shrimp and Crab a la Veracruzana. Talk about an easy dish to make! Ginny made the salsa up ahead of time and brought it with her, so there was almost no prep work to speak of for this one. We snacked on this one the night she arrived with a lovely bottle of wine. I would not have expected that having olives in a latin-inspired dish would appeal to me, but the flavors really worked!

Chilled Shrimp and Crab a la Veracruzana
(Mariscos Frios con Sabor Veracruzano)
Makes about 4 cups
Recipe from Season 7 of Mexico - One Plate at a Time

2 cups top-quality bottled tomato salsa (I prefer one made from roasted tomatoes)1/4 cup chopped green olives (the firm texture of a manzanilla olive is welcome here)2 tablespoons capers, drained (rinse them in a small strainer if they seem really salty/briny)2 to 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves1 pound medium-to-small cooked shrimp4 or 5 ounces of crabmeat (lump crabmeat holds up best in this preparation)

In a medium saucepan, combine the salsa, olives, capers and parsley. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, simmer for several minutes to blend the flavors (and if the salsa is at all watery, to reduce a little of the liquid), then remove from the heat. Cool to room temperature. In a large bowl, combine the shrimp and crab meat.
Gently stir in the sauce, then cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.