Monday, September 27, 2010

Grow Your Own #45 - Brussels Sprout Hash

I was very excited to participate in the Grow Your Own roundup hosted this month by Girlichef, especially since I’ve had such wild success with my garden this year. Every year I plant something I’ve never grown before, and this year my choice was Brussels sprouts. I had never been a fan of Brussels sprouts until earlier this year when Ginny and I made a Brussels Sprout Hash with pancetta. So when I was wandering through the local greenhouse one day this spring, and spotted the adorable little sprout seedlings, I just couldn’t resist. I later discovered that they are not meant for spring planting and are intended to be a more “late summer” fruit, if you will. Well, by then it was too late, as they were already in the ground, so I decided to just let nature take its course and see what happened.

Well....THIS is what happened:
Aren’t they pretty? Yes, I thought so, too. I drafted the hubs to hack the plants off at the base just before I left for my most recent trip to see Ginny, and proceeded to separate the buds from the stems. I ended up with about a gallon of sprouts. When I arrived in Iowa, we re-enacted the previous scene from my kitchen by cleaning and chopping the sprouts, then sautéing them up in bacon grease and a little cider vinegar.
The first time we made these, we pulled the leaves apart and chopped the tougher cores, but we went the easy route this time and just chopped them up. We also managed to restrain ourselves this time and served them with a little fresh grated parmesan on top alongside some beautiful little grilled baby eggplants we picked up at the farmers market and some lovely sirloin steaks, you know, instead of hovering over the stove, forks in hand, and gorging ourselves on the lovely green bounty as we did last time.

This is my submission to this month’s Grow Your Own roundup.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fall is Here! And a New Take on Zucchini

By the time Fall rolls around, most everyone I know is so tired of zucchini that they are almost a little green around the gills, so to speak. The glut of produce that these plants propagate is astonishing, and although it is truly one of my favorite vegetables, especially in the summer, I find it a little tiresome by September as well.

We recently had one of my favorite summertime go-to grill meals of mixed sausages and a couple of sides, which finally gave me the opportunity to try a recipe I had come across in a recent issue of La Cucina Italiana.

It really couldn't be simpler, and the flavor was fantastic. I am always looking for new ways to serve some of the more common summer veggies and this one really fit the bill.

Roasted Zucchini
2 medium zucchinis, quartered lengthwise
2 onions, roughly chopped
6 (or more) slices bacon, chopped and cooked
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
olive oil

Saute the onions in a little olive oil and spread in a layer in the bottom of a 9x13 pan.
Top with the cooked bacon, and lay the zucchini slices on top of the onion/bacon mixture, cut side up.
Mix together the cheese, breadcrumbs, and rosemary, then sprinkle over the zucchini and drizzle with olive oil.
 Bake in a 375 degree oven for 40 minutes or until tender.
***NOTES: the original recipe said to lay a slice of pancetta across each piece of zucchini, but I was worried about how well the pancetta would cook that way. Hence the idea for the bacon. Also, the breadcrumb topping was almost a little too thick. Next time I will use less. I was concerned that the zucchini would be mushy when it came out, so I was hovering over it the whole time. I prefer my zucchini tender-crisp. In the end, the zucchini was VERY well done, almost on the mushy side, but it was actually good that way. the crunch of the breadcrumbs offset it and the onions and bacon managed to soak up into the zucchini beautifully. I will definitely make this one again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Moby Dick

Something has been haunting me. Taunting me. It is my very own Great White Whale.

It is ..... Moby Dick.

Also known as....Kale Chips. I have been watching this little beast making its way around the internet for months.

I’ll try it...I won’t try it.

This blogger loves them..... the next one hates them.

Back and forth with this struggle I go. Riding the waves of this culinary ocean....well, its been making me a bit seasick.

And so, one fateful day in eastern Iowa, I found a beautiful bunch of flat leaf kale (although some recipes call for curly) and I made a decision. No more Moby Dick. The time is now.

We reeled in the lovely kale and drove it to its doom.... Ginny’s kitchen.

I cut the thick stems out of the leaves.
I brushed them on both sides with olive oil.
I seasoned them with salt and pepper, and a little chipotle powder.
I laid them on sheet pans in a single layer.
And we baked them until crisp.
Don’t be fooled by the dark spots on the leaves, they aren’t burnt. We watched the leaves dutifully to make sure they cooked to a crisp without burning or leaving chewy spots.

And then... the moment of truth. I had no expectations at all. I had heard so many conflicting reports. I’d been chasing the myth....the beast.... Moby Dick himself..... for so long that I didn’t know how to feel when I finally caught up with him.

And so.... I bit him.

And you know.... he was kind of tasty. I’m not going to lie to you and say this is a taste treat I’ll crave. But they were interesting. A salty, crispy flake that almost disappears in your mouth. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. But, I would eat it again. I think they’d be fun to put out for a party. Just a little bit of flavor to warm your tsste buds up. And they’d probably be healthy, if it wasn’t for all the oil I brushed on them. All of us that tried them were in agreement. They were interesting, but nothing to really write a book about.

And so, in the end, the Great While Whale is no more. I am free of its lure, once and for all.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Heeeeere...horsey, horsey, horsey....

You should see the door of my fridge. Really, you should. It is packed so full of tubes, bottles, and jars that it is testing the limits of the guardrails around each compartment. I have it crammed with pickles, olives, relishes, salsas, sauces, and every other condiment available, to the point where I am honestly shocked that my husband hasn’t commented on it yet.

And yet, apparently I still feel the need to add to my condiment collection.

On my last foodie escapade with Ginny, we made two different condiments, both equally wonderful and distinctly different from the other. Also, both completely unlike anything else currently residing in the door of my fridge.

Which may have been my justification.

The first selection came from a recent post by Girlichef, which intrigued both of us. Ginny ran across some lovely pineapples and so the idea was born. Spicy Pineapple Vinegar. I’ll let you hop on over to Girlichef’s site for the whole recipe, but the basic process is that you cook down the rinds of two pineapples (yes, the rinds, leaving the lovely flesh for you to scarf down in any number of other possible ways), then pouring the finished liquid into jars over fresh oregano, peeled garlic, onion and hot chiles. 
We also decided to stick a log of fresh pineapple into each jar at the end.

What a wonderful combination of flavors this was! I was really looking forward to tossing some of it into a salad, or over some nice white beans, or even marinating shrimp in it for the grill....

And then..... I left it at Ginny’s house.

Yep, we talked about it as we were packing up my cooler the day I left, but apparently it never made it into my hands. SO sad....truly. Because it made such a large quantity that I probably won’t make another batch for myself. Hopefully Ginny will bring me a jar the next time she comes to visit. And, I bet she will, because I doubt she really needs four quart-size jars of this taking up space in her fridge....

Next up on the condiment parade was Horseradish. Yep, horseradish!! I love the heat of it with a piece of prime rib, or on a roast beef sandwich, or well, any number of other ways. And, as a bonus, Ginny has a friend who had fresh horseradish growing in her garden.
The root.
And so we got to work. The hardest part of this is the peeling. The horseradish root is a wicked looking thing, not any particular shape or size, so it does require some work to get all the peel off. The good news is that you really don’t get any of the heat of it at this stage.
This is what horseradish looks like AFTER peeling.
That comes later. Trust me.

Then, once all your pieces are peeled, enlist the help of your food processor to shred the sucker up nice and fine. All it takes is a little bit of white vinegar to keep it smoothed out, adding a little bit at a time until the root is sufficiently shredded, then a little more at the end to make it look creamy. WARNING: Do NOT, under any circumstances, hold your face over the open feeder tube of the food processor while doing this. Not, at least, if you value your nosehairs. Or your eyebrows. Seriously.

What you can also add is a little bit of sugar. If you like it HOT. Which we DO. But we didn’t know until after the fact that the sugar brings out the heat. Ooops.
At this point, you should DEFINITELY not try to smell the hourseradish. Nope, nuh-uh. Just don’t do it. You may even want to wear goggles.

Remember chemistry class, when you learned that you should never smell a substance directly, but rather WAFT the odor toward your nose with your hand, therefore avoiding any direct contact with noxious fumes? Yeah, use that technique here. Trust me, you’ll thank me for it later.

Ginny and I were coughing and gagging our way around the kitchen for a solid ten minutes after making this crucial mistake.
The final product!
 Finally, you just spoon the mixture into jars, topping with a little more vinegar, if you like, and QUICKLY seal those suckers up with lids.

Your new horseradish will keep indefinitely this way. If you have room in the condiment section of your fridge.....

Monday, September 13, 2010

Mmm Mmmm Good - Homemade Dulce de Leche Liqueur

If you’ve never had Dulce de Leche before, you are truly missing out. For me, it is one of the most wonderful gifts from Latin American cuisine (I say Latin American only because I don’t know its true origin....Mexico? Central America? Puerto Rico?). I really don’t care where it was created, ‘m just happy as hell that its here. And in my kitchen, its here to stay.

The last time Ginny came out, she brought with her an ENORMOUS can of Dulce de Leche. I’d never seen the like before. I didn’t even know it came in a size larger than the traditional 14 ounce can. We used a fair amount making the Dulce de Leche Cheesecake Bars. And then, we poured the remainder into two containers, one for me, and one for her.

And then she forgot to take hers home with her.

So, I find myself with an overabundance of Dulce de Leche (yes, its true, there CAN be too much of a good thing.... at least when refrigerator space is at a premium) and I had to find something to do with it.

It didn’t take long. A simple search on Tastespotting brought me straight to this wonderfully indulgent treat. It couldn’t be easier to make, and it used up my Dulce de Leche!

My one question about this liqueur is how long it keeps. I know there is alcohol in it, but there is also dairy. Its in the fridge, but still, how long can that stay good? And, the recipe makes anywhere between 4 and 5 cups (which is more than a full wine bottle full) depending on how much Dulce de Leche you use.

SO, I would recommend one of two things. Either
a. Make this with a friend so you can share it! OR
b. Make it for a party so it can be used quickly, OR
c. Plan on drinking a LOT of it! Make it in the winter when you’ll be drinking a lot of coffee, or use it for iced coffee in the summer.

I’m seriously considering putting this through my ice cream maker to see what happens. It isn’t a custard, so it wouldn’t make a solid ice cream, but I bet it would make a nice slushy frozen beverage! Stay tuned! I might just have to give that a try!
1-2 cups Dulce de Leche
1 cup vodka
2 cups half & half

Measure ingredients into a clean jar. Mix well and chill. Store in the fridge.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sleepless Nights

I vividly remember the days shortly after having my son, when sleep was elusive and it seemed like I ran for days at a time on just a few hours rest. And....I am reliving them.

See, we have a new baby in the house. Well, actually TWO new babies. And they sure have been crying a lot and keeping me awake at night.

Aren’t my new babies sweethearts?
Meet Flash and Flower, Ty’s brand new beagle puppies.

They sure are missing their mama, but they are adjusting quite well to their new surroundings (considering they are only six weeks old). Ty is learning to play with them and they are learning to sleep through the night.... slowly.

The babies are staying in the house with us until they are big enough to go out to the kennels with the big dogs. In the meantime, our cat is VERY jealous and is demanding a lot more attention than usual. What Duder (the cat) doesn’t know is that more than once, I have snuck down the stairs and caught him curled up next to the kennel crate, keeping a watchful eye over the new additions.

Ty got to take these pictures to school with him yesterday for Show & Tell and they kids got quite a kick out of the little cuties, spurring a day-long topic that allowed them all to talk about their own pets, as well.
Welcome home, Flash & Flower! (Yes, Ty named them himself!)

Life is a Bowl of Cherries

Yes, life can be like a bowl full of cherries, but in this case, there are no pits! What am I talking about? In this case I am talking about an adorable little fruit that I have heard of, but until recently, had never seen.

The Ground Cherry.

On a recent visit to my local farmers market, I ran across a vendor I hadn’t seen there before, and was delighted to find some offbeat selections, as well as handmade pottery. What really caught my eye were several little pint baskets marked “Ground Cherries”. When I inquired about them, the vendor quickly offered me one to try. Tiny little yellow fruits, encased in a papery husk (as seen in this blog post), similar to that of a tomatillo, produce a flavor that to me was nearly a cross between a cherry and a tomato. It was a very unusual but mild flavor that quickly had me wanting more.

Unfortunately, although I kept returning to the market, the vendor did not. See, they aren’t regulars at our market, and I can’t say as I blame them, because there is a much greater venue for them about an hour south of us in Edwardsville. Lucky for me, though, Nathan and Amy (of 2 Acre Farm) had given me their contact info (and blog address – woo hoo!) and I was able to track them down and get several more pints from them so I could make a batch of jam.

I had already shipped my box for the Jam Exchange at the time, so I didn’t get to include a jar of this, although I would have loved to, but Ginny and I had fun making it while I was in Iowa visiting her last weekend.

We husked all the cherries, and then used the recipe that Nathan included with my cherries, although we had to adjust a little for a slightly larger quantity of fruit, hence a slightly longer boiling time.

The end result was a wonderfully tangy jam that I am looking forward to having on biscuits for breakfast this winter. I’ll definitely be looking for these again next year!

Check out 2 Acre Farm’s blog and see all the great stuff they’ve been growing this year!

Ground Cherry Jam
3 cups ripe ground cherries
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup water
1 package Sure-Jel
3 cups sugar

In a large saucepan, add ground cherries, lemon, water, and Sure-Jel.
Bring cherries to a boil and mash them.
Be sure they are all mashed so that they will absorb the sugar. Add the sugar, then return to a boil and continue boiling up to 8 minutes, or until the mixture gels using a cold plate to test it.
Makes 4 half pint jars.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Just like Christmas

So often, when browsing for recipes, I run across a site that really grabs my attention.

Such was the case recently when I ran across Steph Chows blog. Let me just tell you how excited I was when I read about her 2nd Annual JAM Exchange! Yep, that’s right. I signed up right away and got paired up with Cathy from The Bread Experience.

The idea of the jam exchange is that you get paired up with another participant and you each send each other two jars of homemade jam. How fun is that?

I had a blast making several batches of jam this year, although a few just simply refused to set up. I sent Cathy a jar of my Blackberry Shiraz, and one of my Mango Habañero. After making the Blueberry Lavender, I couldn’t resist including a jar of that as well.

I got my box in the mail as quickly as I could, and, wouldn’t you know it? My box and Cathy’s both arrived at our respective homes on the same day! I was delighted to open the little treasure in my mailbox and found three jars of jam as well. Peach Lavender Jam (funny that we both used lavender, huh?), Canteloupe Preserves with Cinnamon, and Cherry Preserves.
I can’t wait to try all three! I had a ton of fun and you can bet I’ll be keeping an eye out for the exchange again next year!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Farmers Market Fun

While visiting Ginny this weekend, we ventured out to the local Iowa City Farmers Market in search of....well....anything interesting. See, since I’m deprived of foodie stimulation the vast majority of the time, when I visit Ginny, we nearly always have a food-intensive weekend. This weekend, although planned at the last minute, was no different.

Something I have often heard of since moving to the country, but had yet to try, is squash blossoms. Even though I have had a ton of them in my own garden this year, I still didn’t try this at home. But, wandering through the booths at the market on Saturday, we ran across little baskets of squash blossoms, and we just couldn’t resist grabbing some up.
For those of you that have never done this, I highly recommend it. The idea is to stuff the cavity of the blossom with some kind of filling, then moisten the filled blossom, and dust in with cornstarch (my husband would say “egg, flour, and cracker crumbs”, but I say that is overkill on something this delicate) before deep frying.
In our case, we chose to use two different kinds of fillings so that we could decide which one we liked better, For half the batch, we mixed goat cheese with a little half and half to thin it out, and mixed in crumbled up bacon. The other half of the blossoms were graced with some of the wonderful White Stilton cheese with apricots that we picked up at the Mennonite cheese shop down the road.

Now, while we liked the goat cheese and bacon version, the White Stilton was definitely the winner. Something about the lightness of the cheese and the sweet undertones of the apricots really complemented the delicacy of the blossoms, instead of overshadowing it.
You don’t have to worry much about the filling leaking out of the blossoms while frying if you carefully pinch the open end of the blossom after filling it, as the sticky cheese holds the petals together.

The blossoms only take a minute to fry up, and come out of the pan crispy and a little nutty tasting on the outside, which is then offset by the rich filling inside.
One word of caution if you make these – either don’t invite anyone else over to join you, or buy a whole truckload of them, because they will be gone in a flash, leaving you wishing for more!

What a fabulous little late summer treat! I’ll be planting squash next year, just so I can have these all summer long!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Its International Bacon Day! And a Very Special Announcement!

Ladies and gentlemen, today is International Bacon Day, and all over the country, there are Bacon-paloozas waiting to happen. In honor of this very special occasion, I have an announcement to make.
I have been running my little blog here for the last two years. I love my blog....but....something is missing.
(Isn't that just the most beautiful thing you've ever seen?

I’ve decided that I need something more in my life....something.....smoky.

(Oh come on.... you know you wanna try it....)


And so it shall be. I am announcing the birth of my NEW blog:

The Bacon Games

I will be hosting this site for the next six months. During this time, I encourage you all to spread the word. There will be posting. There will be roundups. And, yes, there will even be PRIZES.

Every month, you will have the opportunity to create a bacon-rich dish, post it on your own blog, and then send me the information (official rules to follow). At the end of each month, I will publish a roundup of all submissions and they will be judged.

Pay attention, this is where it gets good.
(Oooops! Wrong Bacon...)

I will not be doing the judging. Oh, no. I have enlisted the participation of some very special guest judges, whose identities I will reveal at the beginning of each month.

Once the announcement is published, you will have until the end of the month to submit your entry to me. The dish can be anything you choose (entrée, appetizer, beverage, dessert....) as long as it has bacon in it. (Also acceptable are bacon fat, or other bacon-flavored ingredients, like Bakon vodka, Bacon Salt, etc.) You may play to the judges’ fancies.... put a spin on your dish that will most appeal to that month’s judge’s proclivities. Do anything you feel WIN. (okay, one rule, keep it clean. I am all for implications, hints, and even food porn. But no graphic images or actual porn, please. It WILL be deleted.) All is fair in love and Pork Fat.
(Heeeeere piggy, piggy, piggy....)

Everything clear so far?

Ok. At the end of the month, I will post a roundup of all the submissions and the judges will then peruse those entries and choose the winner...on whatever basis they see fit.

Why give them so much power, you may ask? Because they are providing PRIZES. Bacon-licious prizes. Prizes you are going to covet when you forget to get your entry in by the deadline and your bloggy friend wins. (And yes, I will send a reminder a couple of days before each deadline.)

Now, what are you going to do?

I’ll tell you what you’re going to do.
(Who ever said a salad had to be healthy....)

You’re going to get yourself over to The Bacon Games and become a follower so that you won’t miss the first announcement, coming soon! Don’t forget to grab a badge from the sidebar and pass it on to your friends.

Let the Games begin!