Monday, September 30, 2013

Almost Veal Marsala

My freezer is filled to overflowing right now and is requiring that I thaw and use as much as possible immediately. I froze much produce this summer, but I still had a lot of proteins from the winter.  The time has come to do some serious freezer cooking to use the meats while I can still buy decent fresh vegetables for sides.  ( I figure there are only 2 weeks left for traditional summer veggies and we are eating and enjoying them while we can.)

While rummaging  I found 2 huge veal rib chops.  Usually I just grill them in a pan with a little salt and pepper, but last night I wanted  little something more.  I looked through several recipes and tweaked and combined ideas to match what I had on hand.  The following is a composite of all of them with a tad of "just because" thrown in.

                                                                 Veal Marsalaish

preheat oven to 375 degrees

The Veal

2 large veal rib chops
1 clove garlic minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Put oil in a large skillet and heat to medium high.  Sear the veal chops on both sides.  Turn the skillet down to medium, add garlic .  Cook for 4 minutes then turn and cook 3 additional minutes.  Remove from heat and place in an oven proof baking pan (9x9)

The Sauce

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons 
1 pound white mushrooms, sliced
6 green onions sliced crosswise
1 small white onion in julienne slices
2 cloves garlic minced
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup beef broth
1/2 cup Marsala or dry red wine
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter in the oil.  Add the mushroom slices and cook stirring constantly until they are very wilted.  Add the sliced green onions, the julienne strips of white onion and the garlic and cook until all the vegetables are soft but not browned.  Stir in the flour and stirring constantly cook for about 2 minutes.  Slowly add the beef broth, stirring the whole time until the mixture starts to thicken.  Add the wine, salt and pepper and cook for another minute.  Pour over the chops in the pan and bake uncovered for about 15 minutes.  Place the chops on a plate and spoon the sauce over all.

This was an easy meal, but for me it required a little bit more thought than I give a main dish.  It was a 1 meal 3 pan item which is not something I do often.  I am a big fan of one pan meals or at least a one pan entree.  I think next time I will brown the veal, remove it to a plate then make the sauce in the same skillet.  When it thickens I will return the veal to the same pan, put a lid on it and then finish cooking it on the stovetop.

We loved the flavor, but agreed we would have liked it better using veal scallops rather than chops.  The chops were gigantic, in fact The Hub and I split one and still had a little left over.  I think a thinner pounded veal scallop would have held the flavor of the sauce a little better, and the purpose of all the cooking was for flavor.  So, as a chop dish I give it a MEH, but I will make it again with a thinner cut.  I think I will also have a few par-baked root vegetables and toss them on top of the sauce.  Some carrots, potatoes and large pieces of celery would taste fantastic with the sauce.

And another thing...what exactly is Marsala?  I think it might be similar to cooking sherry but I am not sure.  I just used whatever leftover dry red we had and it tasted very good.  My theory is you should always use a dry white or red wine when cooking everything except for tomato sauces and they scream for a heavy bodied red. For the record, if you are near a Trader Joe's pick up 10 or so bottles of their 2 Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw wine that is now actually 3 dollars)  They have both a red and white that are pretty dry and great for cooking.  They also have a couple of fruity reds and whites that work really well in sangria, but that is another post entirely.    Trader . Joe's . Envy

So here is to Marsala veal with no Marsala at all.  It  was very tasty and I do love a saucy veal!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Gone To The Dogs!

Today Shelby, the dog, needed something special just for her.  She is a peanut butter freak and we have been buying her peanut butter treats, but they are nearly $4 a bag.  As much as I adore her I am a little reluctant to spend that much on dog treats.  We don't want her to eat all the bad stuff in the more inexpensive doggie biscuits so the only other option was to make some for her with ingredients I was certain of.   Son2 emailed a recipe for them so it was a quick jump from reading the recipe to mixing them to shaping, and baking.

                                                        Quick Easy Dog Treats

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup oatmeal
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 1/4 cup water

Mix all ingredients in a bowl until smooth and thoroughly combined.  Roll on a floured surface and cut with cookie cutters into desired shapes.  (Is there another dork besides me who has a dog bone cookie cutter that had only been used before on cookies for people?) Alternate method: Roll flat and use a pizza cutter to make very quick, no waste pieces.  Cut the dough in about 1 inch strips across. cut them up and down into about 2 inch strips.  The result will be a lot of rectangle pieces with a few odd ones from the edges. (Unless you roll yours in a rectangle to begin with, which was more trouble than I thought it was worth.)  I promise your dog will not care about the shape.  Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet or a non greased no-stick sheet.  Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes.  They will become darker brown and very hard.  Remove from the oven and let them cool on a rack. Keep in a plastic bag in the fridge for about a week.  Freeze for longer storage. ( Ours do not last long enough to freeze)

These are a snap to make.  I did not use a spoon.  I just dug in with my hands and kneaded it until everything was mixed completely. It might have taken me 2 minutes.  I patted them out on a floured cutting board and rolled them about between 1/8 and 1/4 inch thick.  I only cut a few with the dog bone cookie cutter.  The rest I just used the pizza cutter method.  Shelby does not prefer one over the other. All she cares about is the peanut butter flavor.

We all tried a bite of one cookie treat.  They taste like a whole wheat peanut butter cracker without salt. I guess I could have just as easily made these for us also, but I think Shelby might give me her famous "If I could I would eat your face right now" look.  Your treats are safe Shelby!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Accidental Pizza Casserole (Bad Picture/Excellent Flavor)

We have decided we will no longer eat out on week nights.  It sounded good in theory until I realized it meant cooking every night, which I really don't mind doing.  It 's planning the grocery list, buying the groceries, bringing them in from the car and putting them away that bugs me.  And if that is not enough it means remembering to have something in mind, and thawed before thinking about cooking.

Or it means we have something like we did last night, a punt meal where I scramble through the freezer looking for whatever will thaw easily and will "go" with whatever produce I have on hand.

Toward the back of the freezer I found a bag with about 1 cup of browned ground beef.  I grabbed it and tossed it still frozen in a pan over low heat.  After about 5 minutes of stirring it broke apart into manageable frozen bits.  I quickly added 1 whole onion sliced in thin strips, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 small yellow pepper, ribbed and seeded  and sliced into thin strips.  I knew I had the beginnings of something, but I had no idea what.

Son2 and Son3 have accused me of being a food hoarder.  They claim I have back-ups to the back-ups.  I call it a very well stocked pantry and, after last night, so should they. A couple of looks through the shelves and I had something that could pass as a decent weeknight meal.

                                                             Accidental Pizza Casserole

( And yes I am aware of what a bad picture this is.  It was ready to eat and my cell phone was handy.)

1 lb-ish ground beef ( I used much less and it worked fine)
2 cloves minced garlic
1 onion cut in thin slices
1 small bell pepper seeded, ribbed and sliced thinly
1 large grated zucchini
1 jar/can pizza sauce ( use pepperoni pizza sauce)
pizza sauce can or jar filled with water
ditalini pasta ( about 3/4 cup)
1 cup sliced mushrooms
any other traditional pizza topping you have available that you like
1 cup grated cheese (mozzarella would have been better, but I only had cheddar)
1/4 -1/2 cup parmesan cheese ( Only you know how cheesy you like things)

In a pan brown the ground beef, add the, onion and cook until wilted, toss the garlic in the pan and cook until it is softened but not browned.  Add the peppers and cook just a minute. When no one is watching add the grated zucchini.  They will have no idea it is in there, but it adds to the vegetables in the meal.  Pour the pizza sauce over all and stir to combine.  Pour the water in and go ahead and fill the container with water again just in case you need it.  Add the pasta and stir to mix everything.  Cover with a lid and turn the heat down to  med/ med low.  Let it cook until the pasta starts to soften.  Lift the lid and check to see if additional water is needed. ( Is sticking to the pan?  Mine was.)  If so, add it and stir to combine.  Put the mushrooms on top of everything, put the lid back on and cook until the mushrooms are cooked through and the pasta is done.  Spray an oven proof pan with pam and spoon the mixture into it.  Sprinkle cheese over the top leaving about 1/3 inch around the rim without cheese. (The cheese will melt and spread but will not drip over the sides of the pan).  When melted and hot throughout sprinkle 1/4-1/2 cup parmesan cheese and run back in the oven for a couple of minutes to melt.  Serve hot.

I was actually kind of surprised at how good this tasted and how well received it was.  There was not a morsel left, and that included the part that would not fit in my pyrex dish. (Don't even think all this will fit in a pyrex pie pan_it won't!  My mistake!)

If I had planned on doing this I would have bought some sliced black olives and scallions to put on top of the cheese. It would have been much more attractive and we all know we eat with our eyes first.  I also wish I had used mozzarella instead of cheddar cheese.  It is something I usually keep on hand but I guess the last time I used my back-up cheese I forgot to purchase more. ( And that is precisely why I like to keep a back-up to the back-up.  If I use my back-up and forget to buy it for a week it's ok because I have an automatic back-up anyway. So tomorrow, I have to buy mozzarella, a mozzarella back-up and a back-up back-up)  My advice to myself and everyone else is to keep that kitchen well stocked with staples.  I am going shopping tomorrow!

Try this, it is a quick tasty meal.  I served it with a large green salad and called it supper.  Doesn't get much easier or faster than this!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Indian Lentil Stew

Tonight we tried a vegetarian dish with origins in India. Now if you are from there please don't tell me this is a highly Americanized version of a traditional lentil stew.  Let me be delusional and pretend I am well acquainted with foods of the world rather than just another American messing around with store bought Garam Marala and calling it Indian cuisine. OK?

I found several recipes and took what I had here to make the stew we ate.  It is a compilation of several recipes minus stuff I have never heard of, much less have in the house. (Do any of you seriously have black sesame seed in your pantry?  I am going to buy some just so I can answer "Yes" if anyone ever asks me that.  Of course when they ask the follow-up question about how to use them, I will have to  shrug and say "I dunno")

                                        Authentic Indian (Via Alabama) Lentil Stew

2 teaspoons coconut oil
1 onion chopped finely
3 cloves minced garlic
1 hot pepper, seeded, ribbed and finely minced
1 inch nob of fresh ginger grated
1 can crushed tomatoes ( 28 ounce size)
2 vegetable bouillon cubes
4 cups water
2 tablespoons garam masala (find it in the ethnic section of the grocery store)
3 1/2 cups rinsed and drained dried lentils
1/4 cup minced cilantro
juice of 1 fresh lime

Saute the onion, garlic, pepper, and ginger in the coconut oil in a large soup pot.  Cook until all the vegetables are very soft but not caramelized.  Add the tomatoes, bouillon cubes, and water and stir to blend well.  Stir in the garam masala and add the lentils. Bring to a boil, cover the pot and turn heat down to medium.  Continue cooking until the lentils are soft. ( about 30 minutes) Do not overcook the lentils or you will have a giant pot of mush rather than a stew.  Lift the lid a couple of times and check to see if you need to add any additional water.  This should have the consistency of a thick soup.  Before serving stir in the cilantro and lime juice.  Serve with Naan* in a wide bowl.

This was delicious, earthy dish and makes me want to explore true Indian dishes.   It was extremely filling with a fantastic spice palette.   There is something so pleasing about heavy ginger and garlic anyway, but add the slight cinnamon and turmeric flavors from garam masala and the flavor explodes.  Just smelling it made my mouth water.  The only complaint I had with the dish was not the stew but the Naan.  I bought it at Publix and it tasted like honey and yeast.  I would have preferred the bread to be less sweet.  It almost interfered with the taste of the stew.

 I had a good bit of the stew left over which I froze.  When I serve it again, I am tempted to add some shredded lamb to it.  I think the flavors would compliment each other.  Then again I might just serve it as is with an unsweetened Naan.  If you like the flavors of India you will probably like this.  Even if you are not certain, it's worth taking baby steps and trying it.

*Naan is an Indian flat bread usually baked in a super hot clay oven.  I found  this version and next time I will probably make it. (even though I have no idea what a couple of those ingredients are!)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Variation On A Cajun Sausage Theme

I am unsure why, but it seems like I have a sausage theme going lately.  Last night I forgot to take anything out of the freezer to thaw for dinner.  Yikes!  I found a frozen smoked sausage in the front of the eye level shelf and knew it would thaw quickly. (Especially if I used the microwave).  I hit defrost and let it run for a few minutes.  By then it was still icy, but I could cut it into thin "coins".  ( In truth only about half was soft enough to cut so the universe decided I would use just 1/2 pound of it.)

Next, the only thing to do was ramble around and try to figure what I was going to do with it.  Son3 had mentioned having cajun mac and cheese, which did not sound good to me but did give a direction for the meal. 

                                                         Cajun Sausage Bowl

1/2 to 1 pound smoked sausage cut into "coins"
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 bell pepper chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon instant chicken bouillon or 1 bouillon cube
1 package bow tie pasta
1 can tomatoes with garlic, onion, and peppers ( do not drain)
1 can green beans ( do not drain)
1 1/2 teaspoon cajun seasoning ( I used Tony Chachere's but any cajun seasoning blend would work)
2 tablespoons light cream

Pour oil in  the bottom of a large pot.  Add onions, celery and bell peppers and cook over medium high heat until wilted.  Quickly stir in the garlic to barely wilt.  Immediately add the water and the chicken bouillon.  Stir to dissolve then add the bow tie pasta.  Stir in the tomatoes, juice and all and the green beans with it's liquid.  Add the cajun seasoning and give everything a quick stir.  Lower heat,  cover pot and cook until the pasta is semi soft.  Place the sausage on top of everything, check and add additional water if necessary,  replace the lid and simmer until the pasta is completely cooked and the sausage is hot.  Right before serving add the cream and stir through.

This was very tasty and is something we will try again during the cool weather.  It felt more like a cold weather meal than one when the temps are still so high.  I think when I do it again I will add more vegetables, maybe some shredded zucchini and a whole bell pepper.  The guys here thought it needed more sausage but I was fine with just a little.  The flavor was very good, with a bit of heat but not too much.

If you feel like dipping your toes in the Cajun cooking pool try this.  It's quick, inexpensive and pretty tasty.  Laissez le bon temps rouler!

Friday, September 6, 2013

She's Got A Great Personality...Tastes So Much Better Than It Looks

How often has this happened to you?  The day has gotten away from you, now it's that toxic hour.  Dinner needs to be cooked immediately, but you still have no earthly idea what it is going to be.  You have been busy doing all the glamorous living most of us do and have not given supper a single thought all day.  That happened here a few nights ago.  Sometime close to 6 in the evening, I realized I had no clue what I would cook and equally no clue what I even had that was not frozen.  A quick look through the meat drawer provided me with my options: sliced luncheon ham ( appx 5 paper thin slices), 2 hot dogs, one leftover hamburger patty ( unknown date) and a pound of Conecuh sausage which had fallen out of the freezer a couple of days ago, unnoticed until it was nearly thawed. (This is the down side of having the freezer in the laundry room   So happy it had fallen into a basket of clothes waiting to be laundered.  I found it while sorting  darks and stuck it in the refrigerator when it was still a tad icy.)

OK so I determined I had a pound of smoked sausage but still had no real clue what I would do with it. A quick survey of available produce revealed 3 potatoes, 1 garlic clove,1 onion, a couple of tomatoes and 1/2 of a bell pepper. A quick glance in the pantry, and I saw a can of petite diced tomatoes and a can of whole chili peppers.

                                                        Blind Date Conecuh Sausage*

1 pound Conecuh Sausage or 1 lb of your favorite brand, sliced into 1/4 inch thick "coins"
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large onion coarsely chopped
1/2 bell pepper chopped
1/2 cup diced celery
2 large tomatoes cut into wedges
1 can diced tomatoes, juice and all
1 can whole chili peppers, drained and cut in long strips
3 or 4 potatoes, peeled and sliced in thick slices
dash of red pepper flakes
couple of twists of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup water

Pour the oil into a large enamel pot or dutch oven over a medium high heat.  Add the onion, celery,  and bell pepper and cook until it is wilted. Add the garlic and let it wilt but do not brown.  Immediately
add the canned tomatoes, juice and all and the fresh tomato wedges. Add the chili strips and the potato slices.  Sprinkle with the pepper flakes and ground black pepper.  Add the sausage on top of the potatoes and pour 1/2 cup of water over everything.  Plop on a lid, reduce to medium and just let it all get very happy in the pot.  Check after 15 minutes and add more water if necessary. Turn heat down to a simmer and cook for another 15 minutes.

I served it with some Brussels sprouts and biscuits ( both frozen, because I am trying to use everything that has been living in the freezer a while) The meal was a surprising success.  Every single bit of it was eaten. ( Well, maybe a few Brussels sprouts were still hanging around after the fact.)

This is one of those things I will do again.  I doubt I will make it exactly the same since I imagine my available products will change, but I will stick to the same recipe__mostly.  I think an additional onion would have been fabulous along with another garlic clove and more bell pepper.  I will definitely use the canned chili.  It added a different flavor profile to what might have been bland otherwise.  While I was eating it I thought that whole kernel corn might taste good in it, but only if I had about 1/2 cup leftover.  An entire can would be too much.  I had a similar thought about leftover black beans or kidney beans.

Give it a try if you are low on time and inspiration with limited items in the fridge.

* I am calling it Blind Date Conecuh Sausage because at first glance it might not be the best looking thing you have ever eaten, but after getting acquainted with it you realize what a gem it is.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Pucker Up For Pickled Okra

A recent visit to the Farmer's Market was fruitful in so many ways.  In addition to beautiful peaches, pears, and watermelons I also scored a gorgeous basket of okra.  I cooked some for supper, froze 3 packages for later  and still had about 3 cups of very small okra that needed to be processed.  I have been craving pickled okra so I thought why not give it a try.  It is not something I have ever done before so there was a learning curve, but I will pass my mistakes so you don't have to make them.

                                                                Pickled Okra

2 1/2 pounds smallish okra, washed and blotted dry

4 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup pickling salt
1/4 cup sugar
4 cups water

per jar
1 clove garlic
1 hot pepper
1/2 teaspoon dill seed

Prepare the jars for canning.  Bring the vinegar, salt, sugar and water to a boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer until ready to can the pickles. Place the garlic clove, dill seed, and hot pepper in each HOT STERILE jar.  Stuff the okra into each jar.  By stuff I mean cram as much okra as possible into each jar.  Do not be afraid to continue cramming it in!  Using a funnel ladle the vinegar solution into each filled jar leaving 1/2 inch headspace at the top of the jars.  Run a knife or chopstick around the edge of the jars to remove air bubbles, wipe the rims, and put on the prepared lids and finger tighten the screw rings.  Place in the hot water bath and process for 20 minutes. ( See link above for complete water canning instructions)  Remove from the  water and let sit on a towel or wooden board on a level counter top.  Do not touch until they are completely cool and have sealed.  ( Listen for the "plink" as they seal.)  If any remain unsealed after they are cool re-process in the water bath.  It happens sometimes so don't be surprised if you have to dunk and heat a couple of jars again.

Now we can talk about the mistakes I made so you don't have too.  First and foremost, make these the day you buy the okra.  Just go ahead and plan on purchasing and canning the same day.  I waited 1 and a half days and the okra was not wilted, but it was not as crisp as the day I bought it.  In pickled okra, crispness counts!  If you have access to fresh grape leaves wash them thoroughly and place one in each jar. Supposedly grape leaves have a substance similar to alum that keeps the pickles crisper.  (I have none this year, but grapes are on my fall planting list and I should have some next year.  Will let you know in a year if the grape leaf truly makes a difference.)  When I say cram those okra in, I truly mean cram.  I had mine arranged so cute.  They were SUPPOSED to be a visual canning masterpiece, but when you pour the hot liquid on top of them they shrink slightly and move. Doh!  I should have had at least 1/3 more okra pods in each jar.  My yield was 7 pint jars, but if I had properly stuffed the jars I probably would have only gotten 4 1/2 pints.  The flavor is quite good, but these are a tad too salty for my tastes.  Next time I will reduce the salt to 1/3 cup.  The reason you use only pickling salt has something to do with no additives to cloud the final product.  I used it and the liquid is very clear.  Do not worry about the small amount of sugar making these pickles sweet.  They taste strongly of dill.  I think without the sugar added, it might be too acidic to enjoy eating.  The  final thing I have to say is about the pepper.  I used a Serrano pepper in each jar and there is not much heat in the pickles.  If you want something hot you might opt for a pepper a little hotter on the Scoville scale.

Let me mention dill seed while I am at it.  I went to 4 grocery stores before I found any and they were $2.89 for a small spice jar.  Through various blogs I read I was directed to Mountain Rose Herbs.  There I can find 1 pound of dill seed for $8.00  I am not an accountant, but even I can see that 8 bucks a pound is a much better deal than $2.89 an ounce.  They have similar prices on all herbs.  If anyone in the Birmingham area is interested in splitting bulk herbs let me know.  I am going to place an order next week and like everywhere else the more you spend the less it costs. 

Have a great day and remember if you think you can, well you can!