Wednesday, February 27, 2013

M'lady's Not Going To Like This Downton Disaster

I've been looking through The Abbey Cooks and decided since I did a downstairs recipe last time, I would try an upstairs recipe this week.  The only condition was that it needed to be something we would actually like to eat.  I found a recipe for orange jelly and crumpets.  Perfect and just what the ladies might have as a light breakfast.

So I got busy juicing just under 10 pounds of oranges which yielded 5 cups of extremely delicious orange juice.  Strained it though a strainer and then again through a cheesecloth, since I neither own nor know what a jelly bag is. Mixed  the juice in a large pot with the sugar and began cooking.  I clipped my trusty thermometer to the side of the pot and waited and waited for the temp to rise.  The mixture began boiling and the line on the thermometer had not budged a bit.  I realized it must not be working, on account of I am smart like that.  No problem I thought since I had watched my grandmother make jelly several times without the aid of a thermometer.  I decided I would wait for a few more minutes stirring constantly then added the liquid pectin.  The directions were specific about time and temperature, but I was operating by feel remembering Grandmother's advice that it would be ready when it flaked off the wooden spoon.  I cooked and stirred until it appeared to flake off then poured it into jars, did the water bath thing and waited for the jelly to cool.

It was time to taste what took me about 2 hours to make.  I popped the top off of one of the jars and stuck my spoon into jelly that had approximately the same consistency as a gummy bear.  Ah!  So this is what it would have been to be Mrs. Patmore when things go awry, execept I don't have Daisy to blame.  It was an epic fail.  Looking back I probably cooked the entire thing for about 15 minutes too long.   The taste was fine if you like rubbery jelly.  Since there is no way to correct overcooked jelly and there was no way on earth it would spread on bread I decided there was no point in making crumpets, especially since the only thing this stuff might do is bounce.

So I have six lovely to look at jars of inedible jelly sitting on my counter.  I guess I am just waiting a bit longer before I toss them, or maybe I will mold it in orbs and capture the market on edible super balls.

I am posting the recipe since it was a user fail and not a recipe issue.  By all means have a working thermometer and pay careful attention to the times  and equipment given!  Read all about canning first here

Orange Jelly

5 cups freshly squeezed orange juice
5 cups sugar
2 packs of liquid pectin

Squeeze and strain the juice and put in a large pot. ( This is going to boil  and froth a lot so have much space.)  Add the sugar and stir to blend together.  Cook over a medium heat until the THERMOMETER registers 220 degrees.  Add the pectin stirring constantly.  Bring the temp back to 200 continuing to stir and cook for 3 more minutes.  Remove from the heat and skim and discard the foam on the top.  Jar in  PREPARED pint or half pint canning jars and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.

Trust me when I say there are reasons for having all the equipment on hand prior to beginning this process.  If you do not own the proper jar tongs , rack and magnetic lid grabber, either purchase or borrow them before beginning this.  I had none and successfully poured boiling water down my arm as I tried to remove the jars using general kitchen tongs and a silicon oven pad.   Stupid move on my part. Ouch!

As much as I hate to share failures, I guess I really do have to.  I am going to try this again soon.  I have already purchased a new thermometer and am going tomorrow to buy a canning kit.  Only another test will tell if I am incapable of making decent jelly or if I need to continue to support the Smucker family.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Some Like It Hot __Restaurant Redoux

I have mentioned before we eat out a lot.  We eat out more times a week than I like to and I am pretty sure if The Hub had his way we would eat out every meal.  It is something he really does enjoy doing.   Conversely there are nights I do not want to go out just so I don't have to put on makeup or  real clothes.

You would think with all of that eating out there would be tons of food items I want to try and recreate.  But, the truth is that we seldom eat anywhere the food is so good or unusual that I want to try and make it at home.  This week in spite of us eating out 6 nights ( yes you read correctly__ 6 nights) I could not think of one thing I wanted to duplicate.  Instead I harkened ( I love that word) back to a trip to Chicago years ago.  We had gone with my parents and Son3 and met Son1 and Son2 there for a little summer fun in the Windy City__in August__ which is why we packed all summer clothes__ without knowing about the freak cold snap where the high's plummeted to 56 at the hottest moment in the day.  So we were cold in flip flops and light cottons while native Chicagoans were tooling around in their nice fluffy warm coats.

After a quick shopping trip to buy all of us some much needed warmth, we set about touring the city.  By the end of night 2 the temps had cooled a bit more and we needed to eat someplace warm and needed some hot food.  Mom has always worried when I make a decision about a restaurant.  To quote her, "  If you let Anne pick you'll wind up at some damn Thai place"  Which is precisely what we did.

None of us remember the name of the place, but I could easily find it again.  It is right in the heart of the city's hub 2 blocks off Michigan Avenue.  While we were there I had the most delicious Red Curry Chicken I have ever eaten.  I have ordered it many times at different restaurants in different cities but never had anything as good as it was.  This is my attempt to recreate it.

Thai Red Curry Chicken

2 tablespoons grape seed oil*
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 small onions peeled and julienne sliced1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 red pepper seeded and sliced thinly
2 carrots thinly sliced ( I cut them is paper thin circles but grated or matchsticks would work also)
1 small carton white mushrooms, sliced ( I only had whole ones, wish I had bought sliced instead)
1 cup fresh bean sprouts ( the restaurant version had them,  I had none on hand)
1 can coconut milk
2 tablespoons red curry paste
1/2 teaspoon garlic paste or 1 minced garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon ginger paste of 2 slices fresh garlic minced
1/2 teaspoon cilantro paste or 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1/2 teaspoon lemon grass paste or fresh lemongrass ( no idea how much, 2 stalks maybe? pounded and chopped )
juice of 1/2 lime

* Since you are using 2 different oils in this you need something like grape seed that has no flavor.  The sesame oil is strong and will be flavorful enough. ( If you don't have sesame oil on hand don't go buy any.  It has a pretty short shelf life once opened plus there are enough seasonings in this that it won't make a huge flavor difference)  Heat the oils together in a skillet and saute the onions until they are crisp tender.  ( If using fresh garlic, lemon grass, and ginger add them right now and cook for 1 minute) Add the chicken and  stir until it loses its pinkness.  Toss in the pepper strips, carrots, mushrooms and bean sprouts.  Cook for a few minutes until the peppers wilt.  Add the coconut milk and the curry paste ( 2 tablespoons makes it pretty warm.  If you don't like a lot of heat start with 1/2 tablespoon and adjust up to your taste and tolerance, or substitute yellow curry paste which is much milder)  Stir well to incorporate the paste.  If using the spice pastes add them all now.   Cover and cook on low for about 2 more minutes.  Squeeze the lime over it all and stir to combine.  Sprinkle with fresh cilantro if using it rather than the paste.  Serve hot over rice.  YUM!

This was very close to what I ate there.  I think if I had the bean sprouts it would have been a little better with the additional crunch, but it was dang fine as it was.  The Hub thought it was a tad too hot, but I thought it was just right.  Our tolerance levels are a little different and I usually cook for him and adjust mine at the table, but tonight was all mine!  And I loved it!

Don't be put off by the number of ingredients.  This goes together in about 15 minutes from start to the table.  It is quick and impressive and would actually be good for company providing you know in advance what acceptable heat levels are.  Oh and if you are like me and forget to cook the rice in advance, it works fine with minute brown rice.

Go out to eat and come home and try to replicate something!  It is not always successful but it is fun!

Rant!!! I know I have fussed about GMO produce before.  Read the newest Mother Earth Living magazine.  They have an article of the genetically modified food and take you aisle by aisle in a grocery store telling you where/how the GMO produce has saturated our food system.  Yikes!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Redoux Again!

Last Monday three of my favorite women met me for a lunch and major catch up on things that have been happening in their lives.   When we lived next door to each other we always knew what was going on with each other.  As it happens so often,  life takes a different path for everyone and sometimes those paths don't intersect for too many years.  Fortunately we all agreed on a time and place and the gabfest was on.

We ate at Surin 280 and each had the beef salad lunch.  The salad was very good but it was not what I thought was the standout food of the meal.  I am a sucker for the coconut soup there and decided that is what I wanted to try and redo this week.

                                                      Coconut Soup Mostly Like Surin 

1 box chicken broth (make sure it is salted)
1/4 teaspoon ginger paste*
1/2 teaspoon garlic paste
1/2 teaspoon lemongrass paste
1/4 teaspoon cilantro paste
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms
1/2 cup thinly sliced cooked chicken
3/4 can of coconut milk
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 - 1 teaspoon hot chili oil ( Start with the lesser amount and increase to your personal heat level)

Heat the chicken broth to boiling and add the herb pastes stirring well after each addition.  Add the mushrooms and chicken.  Turn the heat down to low and simmer for about 2 minutes.  Stir the coconut milk well to blend and add about 1/2 of it (Taste at this time and see if you want to add the additional coconut or not)  When all the coconut milk is added add the juice of 1/2 lime and the hot chili oil.  Stir well and ladle into bowls making sure each bowl has chicken bits and mushrooms ( They will sink to the bottom of the  pot).

This is not an exact copy but it is dang close to the soup at Surin.  They have little cubes of tofu, but I was not willing to open a new pack for the 1/4 cup it would have taken.  Since I had a cooked chicken breast I used it instead.  Also Surin typically has 2 mushrooms slices in each bowl.  I like them and wanted more in ours, hence the half cup.  * A while back I bought several tubes of herbs in little tubes at Publix.  They live in my freezer and I use them for soups and stews.  On the occasion I need lemongrass I substitute the paste.  Since I didn't want garlic or ginger bits in the soup I used the paste also, and the coriander was just convenience.  I am sure fresh would taste better but I wanted this to be a fast meal.  In total it took about 10 minutes from start to finish! 

 I am very happy because there is enough left over for me to eat two days at lunch this week.
And  I am especially happy to have friends like Layla, Hala and Noha!  Y'all are fabulous and I can't wait till next time!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Downton Kind of Day

Like so many other Downton Abbey addicts I am enthralled with the characters and the lifestyle of the era.   I have heard several people trying to figure out who they are most like.  Is it Mary with her slight superiority complex, or sweet Anna or selfless Sybil or Edith or even Daisy?  If I were to pick one I like I would have to say I am Mrs. Patmore with a small bit of O'Brian.  I am not mean like she is but I am a little cynical.  Ok maybe more than a little cynical but I do have a kind heart___mostly.

I salivate at the beautiful dishes Mrs. Patmore, Daisy and the rest of the kitchen crew (along with the props department) serve.  I am not sure if it is the food itself that looks so good or the sterling, china, crystal, and linen used at the table.  Whatever it is fascinates me and even though the English are not known for their delicious food I found myself looking through recipes for food from the period.  

I am not exactly how I stumbled on the cookbook "Abbey Cooks Entertain" by Pamela Foster, but after seeing the title I searched Amazon and lo and behold it was there.  It was not only there, but was available in a Kindle version so for a small credit card charge and about 2 minutes of my time I downloaded it to my Ipad and have it complete with colored photos of dishes.  I read a cookbook like other humans read a novel.  I went to bed to read and 3 hours later I had read and mentally cooked several of the recipes.  Ms. Foster seems to have her own small abbey and a terrific knowledge of period food.  Her side stories alone are worth the cost of the book.

I decided to start small with a dessert for the service table.  I will slowly work my way up to the gentry meals.  Since we do not typically eat a seven course meal this may take a while.  This is a little cake that has some surprise ingredients.  It whipped up in no time and the aroma was heavenly.

Kitchen Garden Cake

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Cut a parchment for the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan and grease the parchment and the sides of the pan well ( Or do like me and coat well with baking spray)

3/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1 cup caster  ( ultra fine ) sugar (but I used regular Dixie Crystals and it worked perfectly )
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup coarsely grated parsnip
1 cup coarsely grated carrot
1 cup coarsely grated potato
1 cup coarsely grated apple
1 orange zested, then juiced (Use an organic orange since pesticides linger in the orange peel )

In a small bowl mix the applesauce, sugar and the eggs.  In a large bowl mix the flour, baking powder and spices.  Fold the wet ingredients into the dry mix and add the grated produce.  Stir in the zest and the orange juice.  Pour into the prepared springform pan and bake for 50-60 minutes until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.  Remove from the pan and set on a rack to cook.
Dust with confectioners sugar and enjoy.  Serves 8-10

We had a small piece of the cake for dessert.  It is an earthy dense cake that requires no frosting but she did suggest cream cheese icing if you had rather  ice it.  She also gives instructions for candied carrot curls to top it, but our food just does not have to be that pretty. ( Plus I don't have a kitchen staff to clean up unnecessary pots and pans).

Though it tasted good, I thought it was a tad too one dimensional.  I am not sure if Mrs. Patmore would have access to brown sugar or not, but when I make it again I will use 1/3 brown and 2/3 white sugar.  I will also swap a sweet potato for the regular potato and add either toasted walnuts or pecans. (more for the crunch than the taste.)  It might also be really tasty brushed with a little brandy and then dusted with the powdered sugar.

Over all I give it a strong B+, but with a few tweaks  for my personal taste it could be a true winner.

p.s It was good enough for The Hub to have seconds and thirds!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Another Restaurant Redux

I was in a serious quandary about this weeks redo.  We have certainly been out to eat enough times this week that I should have easily been able to pick something that I wanted to try, but we had mostly been going to pretty basic restaurants and just how excited can you get over another salad or a steak.  Then Saturday night we had a surprise dinner.

 We were truly planning on staying in but decided at the last minute to go see Lincoln.  We went to the late afternoon matinee at the Vestavia theater and  had eaten nothing.  For some reason we even skipped popcorn and were actually hungry when we left the movie. (A rarity for us).  As we were leaving we noticed the OPEN sign still on at The Kool Korner.  There was no question of where we would eat.  It was Saturday night and at Kool Korner that means one thing__Cuban food.

I alternate between Cuban and Peruvian cuisines being my favorite.  If I am in a Cuban restaurant it is my favorite and the same happens if I am eating Peruvian.   If you have never been there before Monday-Friday the place operates much like any sandwich shop with the exception of a la carte empanadas and tortillas.  But on Saturday the heavens open up and the angels sing when they serve delicious Cuban meals.  The plates are all the same with the exception of whatever protein you choose. Rice, yucca, fried plantains, black beans and _fill in the blank____.  I generally choose the sliced pork or the shredded beef.  Those are offered each Saturday along with a grilled chicken.  Other options change occasionally.  They may have stuffed eye of round or chicken fricassee or a fish.  Or possibly all of the previously mentioned.  It seems to just be whatever they decide that day. I have pretty much had them all and have never been disappointed.

Tonight I had a defrosted pork tenderloin in the refrigerator.  Since I do love Cuban and had its deliciousness still in my brain I decided to try my hand at making it.

Attempted Cuban Roast Pork Tenderloin

1 pork tenderloin ( about 2 pounds)
1 cup mojo seasoning ( buy a bottle in the ethnic food section of Publix)
1/2 cup sour orange juice ( I know I bought this at Publix but uncertain if I got it here or in Florida)
2 tablespoons  dried oregano, separated
1 tablespoon dried cilantro ( could use fresh, I just didn't have any) separated
4 cloves garlic, minced

Mix the mojo seasoning, sour orange juice , 1 tablespoon oregano and cilantro and the minced garlic in the bottom of a non reactive pan long enough for the tenderloin to  fit without bending. Put the tenderloin in the pan and cover tightly with foil.  Let marinate in the fridge for about 4 hours turning midway through the process.   When ready to cook remove the pork from the marinade and place in an oven safe pan.  Pour a couple of tablespoons of the liquid back over the top and sprinkle the remaining oregano and cilantro over it.  Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.  Make diagonal slices, serve and enjoy.

This was pretty close in flavor, in fact it was really good.  I will start cooking it this way often.  The real key is to keep it undercooked a tiny bit.   ( Mine was not as rare as it appears in the picture)  Well cooked boneless pork tends to dry out a little too much. I am pretty sure you don't have to be in love with Cuban food to really like this.

We are supposed to eat out 4 nights this week.  Hopefully I can find something I want to redo at one of the places.

Oh and in case anyone likes jazz, Cleve Eaton and the Alabama All Stars are playing at Billy's Liberty Park Friday night.  The food there is typical pub food but the entertainment should be stellar!

Friday, February 8, 2013

Pinterest Success Finally and a Recipe Whose Name I Forgot

I wrote recently about the Pinterest failure I had with  the supposed "Amazing" shower cleaner, yet for some of us, Pinterest hope springs eternal.  I am sure most of you have seen the baking soda tablets scented with essential oils.  It is all over the pin boards as Vicks Shower Discs or Sinus Relief Discs.  Shortly after Christmas I thought it might be a good idea to try it just in case anyone here came down with the sniffles.

The instructions I followed were very basic. 1 box of baking soda and water mixed until it looks like putty.  Spoon into cupcake liners in a muffin pan.  Let sit one day until the discs are dry.  Once dry set out on a flat surface and drop 5 drops each of eucalyptus, rosemary and lavender oil on each disc.  Cover in an airtight canister. When ready to use remove from the cupcake wrapper and set the disc in the shower or bathtub floor.  Shower as usual.

Supposedly the vapors from the disc would ease sinus congestion and life would go on as usual.  I found the discs crumbled almost immediately, so I decided I would try tweaking them a bit.  I took them all out of their airtight container, removed all the cupcake papers  and set them on a tray for about 3 weeks, so they would be bone dry.  I added additional eucalyptus and rosemary oil ( about 3 drops each per disc)  the put them back in their air tight home.  It made all the difference in the world !  The discs stay together through the shower and the steamy scent is really effective.

I am not sure why the lavender oil is even in there since it provides nothing but a flowery smell.  When I made a second batch I left it out entirely and like it much better that way.  In fact, I might try next time with nothing but eucalyptus oil.

I have read other instructions that recommend you mix the baking soda, water and oils together then pour into your lined pan.  I think I would only do that if I had a bowl, spoon and pan dedicated to non cooking.  The oil scent is extremely strong.  I definitely would not use scented oils directly touching a silicon pan.

If you like a steamy vapor shower  I would highly recommend doing this.

The new recipe I tried for supper was maybe not as successful.  I have mentioned before I am trying to eat our freezer inventory before I buy anything else.  I found a pound pack of kielbasa and had it thawed in the fridge.  As usual I did a google search for a recipe or new way of cooking what was in the kitchen.  I have no Idea how I framed my search or what/who this recipe was taken from since I forgot to bookmark it.   Lesson to the idiot that is me___never assume you can find anything again once the window has been closed and the history erased.  I remember what was in it but I can't be completely sure of the amount of each ingredient.  This is very close to the original though.

Recipe with some German name I don't remember

3 slices bacon
1 small onion chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb Kale ( washed trimmed and shredded which means take out the prewashed stuff and rinse it forget shredding  
1 lb Kielbasa ( cut on the diagonal into 2 inch pieces)
1/4 pound of  cooked ham slices
1 teaspoon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the bacon until very crisp, remove from the pan and pour off all bacon drippings.  Add the chopped onion and the olive oil to the pan and cook until the onion is wilted.  Add the kale and cook until it's volume reduces by about half.  Add water ( I used about 1/4 cup) and cover the pan to steam the kale until it is tender. ( Only you know how crisp or how done you like greens.  Since it is a personal preference just cook to your liking)  Toss the ham slices over the kale and the kielbasa slices over the ham ( I left out the ham entirely.  It seemed like meat overkill to me)  Let the meats fully warm then remove them from the skillet.  Add the mustard, salt and pepper and toss.  To serve put the greens on the plate, the meats on the greens and sprinkle with the chopped bacon.  The recipe suggested serving with boiled potatoes so I did. It was not bad, in fact it tasted perfectly fine but The Hub and I both thought at best is was meh!  This is one of those meals that I will repeat if I ever find myself with kale and kielbasa. It is not a meal that will find itself in the regular rotation.  If you are using up kale and polish sausage it is an ok way to use them.  If you have other choices you might want to take them!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Redoux Again

Harkening back to our recent trip to NYC there was one other item at Arte' Cafe that we really did like. Their lunch is a three course prix fixe menu, with options for the first 2 courses but the third is whatever they make for the dessert of the day.  It is kind of odd to me because we never order dessert in the daytime, unless we are eating bread pudding as our lunch ( And yes we have done this before because technically bread pudding features all food groups.)  We were talking and drinking our coffee when a lovely molded pink dessert with a berry topping appeared at our table.  Until I took a bite I had no idea what it was, but after a mouthful I realized it was a mixed berry panna cotta.  I was full from the first two courses and really did not want it, so I ate no more than the first bite.  Well, I didn't want it until later that night when we were having another cup of coffee and then I really wished there was some way I could have saved it!

Today I thought I would try and replicate it__kind of.  I looked through every cookbook I own and found about 30 different recipes.  I settled on this one based on two specific things, ease in preparing and ingredients I had on hand.

Panna Cotta
8 servings

2 packages powdered gelatin
6 tablespoons  cold water
4 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Put the cold water in a medium bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over it and let it stand for about 5 minutes,
Heat the cream and sugar in a pan. Heat to very hot but not boiling.  Stir constantly until the sugar has dissolved.  Remove from heat and add vanilla  Pour into the bowl with the water and gelatin.  Stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.  Let cool until just warm.

Ladle into wine glasses, champagne flutes, sherbet dishes, or individual jello molds.  Set covered in the fridge for at least 4 hours.  (This can be made the day ahead as long as it is covered tightly  with plastic wrap.)

To serve either top with berries or seasonal fruit.

I thought I had a bag of mixed berries in the freezer but I didn't.  Instead I had a large bag of bing cherries I had frozen throughout the stone fruit season this summer.  I took several and put them in my Magic Bullet and tried to puree' them but they were frozen and just wanted to become icy fruit slush.  I added about 1 teaspoon vanilla sugar* and 2 teaspoons hot water and  whirred the bullet again.  Success!  I wound up  with pureed  cherries that I spooned on the top of the panna cotta.  I really didn't like the way it looked so I took a few more cherries and blended them to a coarse chop, put them on the top of the puree' then topped each glass with 1 whole cherry.

 What I did differently: I used half the ingredients called for because I did not want a lot leftover.  Next time I will cut the recipe in fourths since there are just the two of us.  I did not use vanilla.  I keep a canister of vanilla sugar on hand all the time and it just saved me a step.   Only used 1/8 cup of sugar and added 1tablespoon of honey. ( We are really trying to reduce our refined sugar intake) 

I should have used a mold which is the traditional way of making this but I did not want the uncertainty
of it sticking.  Next time I might try it molded.  If you do choose to use a mold make sure to oil it prior to filling.  Use a neutral oil like grapeseed oil.

The verdict?  It was not berry flavored like we remembered, but the cherry taste was perfectly fine.  I think I would have preferred a blueberry/strawberry combination better but that was not an option tonight.  The Hub finished his in about 3 minutes.  I ate only half of mine.  I thought the serving was a little large and rich.

This is easy and something I will do again and will try some different flavors including mixing fruit puree into the cream.  It will take a little experimentation to find the correct gelatin/ fruit, cream proportion.  I don't think the amount I used would have kept additional ingredients firm.  Will let you know after I try it.

Ever had success trying to replicate a restaurant item?  Let me know about it.

p.s.  Vanilla sugar is nothing more than 2 cups of sugar and 3 split vanilla beans in an airtight container.  Turn the container or stir to mix daily. After about 3 week you have the most delicious tasting vanilla sugar, plus you can continue to add sugar as you use it.  The beans in mine have been in there at least a year and I have added additional sugar about 5 times.