Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cottage Cheese, Pepper, Onion and Pineapple_____Trust!

You know how it feels to hear about some food combinations and your first thought is something akin to utter revulsion and then you try it, and you are utterly repulsed.  Then other times you hear of strange pairings and you try it, and it is totally delicious.  For me this falls into the latter rather than the former.  I first heard of this from an acquaintance years ago and of course I thought she had lost her ever loving mind.

I understand pineapple and cottage cheese.  I remember it from the school lunch line, a pineapple ring with a scoop of cottage cheese and  maraschino cherry on top of it. I admit to eating it a time or two, especially when dog food and gravy mystery meat was  the hot lunch offering.  We all do what we have to do in dire circumstances.  And I understood the peppers and onion and cottage cheese.  I have often eaten it with a couple of tomato slices and enjoyed a savory cottage cheese lunch.  But I could not wrap my mind around the sweet savory combo.  How in the world could it be decent?

Of course I tried it one day.  I had to do it just so I could go back to my friend to tell her how horrid the concoction was.  So I followed her directions for a single serving.

                                     A Slightly Different Cottage Cheese Lunch

1/2 cup cottage cheese ( full fat tastes best but I use non-fat)
1/2 small container of crushed pineapple well drained but still moist ( don't blot it)
1/4 cup diced bell pepper
1-2 tablespoons minced jalapeno ( seed and remove the ribs prior to mincing)
2-3 tablespoons sliced scallions ( both white and green parts)
salt to taste ( a pinch maybe)

In a small bowl mix all the ingredients until they are well blended.  That is pretty much all you have to do to have this table ready, but you might want to gussie it up just a bit before sitting down to eat.  After all, we eat with our eyes first.  Put a large lettuce leaf on a plate and put the cottage cheese mixture on top of it.  If you want yours to look like the one in the picture just put the mix in the empty pineapple can, center the can with the center of the lettuce leaf, and invert the plate over the can.  Turn it over and the cottage cheese will neatly plop onto the lettuce.  Now the real question is how many of you believe that if I am the only one eating lunch I will plate it on a lettuce leaf rather than just eating it from the bowl I used to mix it.

You might notice in the picture, I used pineapple chunks rather than the crushed pineapple. (Whatever you do use crushed pineapple) I went to the pantry and grabbed the crushed pineapple which was sitting on the shelf next to the chunks.  There is a bit of mystery from that point on. I walked about 12 steps to the counter and got the can opener working.  Imagine my surprise when I opened the crushed pineapple can only to find the chunk variety.

It was an irritant, but I understand how a can of chunk could be mislabeled at the beginning or end of a canning run.  Then I looked at the label and noticed it said pineapple chunks. How did that happen?  Using all my deductive reasoning skills I have come up with the only possible solution.  During the process of walking from the pantry to the counter I passed through a parallel universe and the parallel me was reaching for pineapple chunks.  Through some weird physics we can't yet understand, the cans were switched, leaving me with a can of chunks and the alternate me with a can of crushed.  At least that is my story and I am sticking to it.

The sweetness from the pineapple with the creaminess of the cottage cheese is a nice background for the heat from the jalapeno and the sharpness of the onion.  The bell pepper acts as the bridge between the two flavors and provides lots of crunch.  If you are facing a hot day and want a quick lunch I really do suggest this, unless you are a hater of pineapple, peppers,  onions and cottage cheese.  In that case you might want to just eat a PB&J.

Monday, July 29, 2013

You Say Squash Casserole, I Say Nana's Squash

My Mother-in Law was a wonderful cook and could cook vegetables better than any I have ever tasted.  If it came from the garden she could turn it into a flavor extravaganza.  Even something as simple as new potatoes became a taste and texture affair when she worked her kitchen magic on them. She was never one for gadgets and special use items.  In fact, her best cooking was done in an old electric skillet, ( Can you say Best. Okra. Ever.) a couple of pots, and baking pans.  We all miss Nana so much,  and we miss all of her cooking but we especially miss Nana's Squash.

This is my attempt to recreate it.  I don't think she had a recipe for it, she just did it by feel and smell.  I watched her countless times and know how she made it, I just don't know exactly "how". Mine is not exactly like hers, though I can come close.

                                                                   Nana's Squash

makes 4 servings
2 cups summer squash cut into small pieces
1 small onion chopped (small dice)
1/4-1/2 cup mayonnaise (I use 1/4 but 1/2 is more like Nana's.  More tastes way better but...)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup ( or more) grated cheese
1 tablespoon melted butter ( use real and add another tablespoon if you'd like)
12 saltine crackers crushed

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cook the squash in boiling salted water until it is quite soft.  Drain in a colander and using the back of a spoon, push out as much liquid as you can without pushing the squash through the colander holes.  After that grab a couple of paper towels and press on the top of the squash to blot as much excess moisture as possible.  Put the mostly dry squash in a mixing bowl and mash it with a fork until it resembles chunky mashed potatoes.  Stir in the onion  and mix well.  Add the mayonnaise, salt and pepper and incorporate it completely.  Put it into a greased oven safe dish. ( 4 servings fit in a standard loaf pan)  Top with the cheese.  In a small bowl toss the cracker crumbs with the melted butter to coat it evenly.  Sprinkle the crumbs on top of the cheese and pop it into the oven for about 20 minutes or until the onions are soft, the cracker crumbs are nicely browned, and everything is bubbly.

You might notice from the picture my squash is in chunks.  I did not cook it quite long enough to mash so ours was a lot chunkier than it should have been.  You might also look at the picture and ask "Where is the cheese?"  That is a valid question and the answer would be on the plate where I grated it and promptly forgot it until I had already put the cracker crumbs on the squash.  At that point I decided to just bake it as is.
Don't forget the  cheese!
It was good but could have been so much better.  If Nana was watching she would have noticed I am still terribly absentminded.  The upside is I have cheese grated for the next time I make this and because summer is squash prime time, it will probably be next week.

We all agreed it was really good, but it is just not the same as it was when Nana did the cooking.  She truly did have a magic touch!

If you want a delicious way to eat squash try this recipe.  Even the squash indifferent like this. Son3, the vegetable hater, is the exception.  Even he might like it if he would ever let one single bite of squash pass through his lips.  I am guessing the world will never know his true opinion.

I wish I could do this justice, Nana, but even more I just wish you were here!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Healthier "Sausage"

I used to eat Morningstar Farms Sausage every morning that I ate breakfast, which was not often because I don't like food in the morning.  I thought I was doing something a little healthier for me, until I started reading about all the genetically modified foods and realized the soybeans were one of the most modified veggies out there.  Seems I had been ingesting almost straight GMO soybeans.  I figured it was time to change but really had no idea what I was going too change to!  I suppose I could eat real sausage, but I don't like all the grease or the way the kitchen smells after cooking it.

 I recently saw a Youtube video about making breakfast "sausage" using oatmeal rather than pork.  This is an old World War 2 recipe that became popular in a time of rationing.  I am assuming people wanted a traditional breakfast food but did not have access to it like they had before the war.

This is a 3 step process but the results were pretty spectacular considering it is a "meat" composed entirely of oatmeal,  eggs as a binder and spices. The first time you make it, it seems complicated, but it really isn't.  It is just different from cooking traditional sausage.

                                                  Mock Sausage Patties

1 cup uncooked oatmeal
2 eggs *
1 teaspoon ground sage
1 teaspoon ground fennel ( or crushed fennel seed)
1/2 teaspoon ground rosemary
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/2 teaspoon savory
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes ( choose your personal heat level or omit entirely)
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

2-3 cups water flavored with 2 chicken or vegetable bouillon cubes ( low salt is best)
 Bring the 2-3 cups of water and bouillon to a slow boil in a sauce pan.  Mix all of the ingredients except the flavored water in a bowl.  Stir to combine well.  Pat into patties ( this makes 4 very large or 8 medium size patties)  Put about 1 Tablespoon of oil in the bottom of a skillet and brown both sides of each pattie.   Remove from the pan and put into the boiling water. (This step is vital to cook the oatmeal) Turn down the heat and simmer them for about 20 minutes.  Remove them from the pot and drain well.  Once they are drained you have 2 options.  If you are going to eat them immediately brown them again in the same pan you originally used until they are slightly brown ( takes just a couple of minutes).  If you want to eat them later just put them in the fridge in a ziplock bag and brown and heat as desired. 

This had a mouth "feel" similar to meat and the sausage flavor is wonderful. It is a little lighter colored than pork sausage, but comes close to looking like the turkey variety. I toyed with the recipe and altered the spices a bit to try and capture the flavor of commercially prepared sausage.  The taste is pretty darn close !  These even passed the teenage boy test. Son3 ate a couple and declared they were not exactly like sausage but were really good and something he will eat again and again.  This high praise was from the pickiest eater in the family.  I thought they were very tasty, and they paired well with some sauteed green peppers.  I am sure they would have been delicious with some apple slices or apple sauce or eggs ( if you eat them _yuck!).  

After the initial test run of one batch I made 4 batches and cooked them in the same bouillon water adding just a bit more water as it evaporated.  After they were drained I put them in pint size freezer bags, 4 per bag.  I stuck them in the freezer and now when I decide I want "sausage" I take them out the night before and let them thaw in the fridge.  The next morning all I have to do is brown them!  It works very well.

Though I have not tried it yet I intend to crumble a couple up prior to browning and make a cream gravy to serve over a biscuit.  Will let you know how that goes.

Meanwhile if you are craving a healthier sausage you might want to give this a try.  I know I am glad I did!

* I am not vegan so I have not tried to veganize these but the eggs act as a binder, so a flax seed replacement might work to make this an option.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Whatever's In The Fridge Cauliflower Salad

It has been terribly hot and humid here lately, and I have been doing some canning and freezing.  After spending hot time in the kitchen during the day, the last thing I want to do at night is cook.  Sadly the other people who share my home don't really care that I don't want to be in the kitchen anymore.   Oh it's true, I know we could go out to eat, but after standing over a steaming hot canner it would require another shower, makeup redo, and fresh clothes.  It is so much more effort to get ready to go out to eat than to cook something simple at home. (I can take the much needed shower but just toss on some shorts and a tee shirt, hair in a pony tail and no makeup.  Much better!)

Consequently, the other night was a throw something on the grill and have salad type night. Unfortunately I had no lettuce but I did have a fresh head of cauliflower, tomatoes from the garden, and an assortment of single veggies in the fridge.  Problem solved!  To be  honest, we plan on having this salad fairly often because we like the crunch and the way it tastes, but mainly I like it because it is so easy to make and can use the odds and ends from the crisper.  In this post I am only going to put what was in it, but every time I make it the list of ingredients is slightly altered.  The only constant is the dressing, cauliflower, and cornichons.

                                       Whatever Cauliflower Salad

1/2 large cauliflower chopped into bite size pieces
tomatoes ( about 6 cherry tomatoes halved and 1 small tomato chopped in small pieces
1 small cucumber peeled and sliced
1/2 cup chopped Vidalia onions ( any sweet onion or scallions will do)
2 carrots peeled and sliced in "coins"
1 small bell pepper seeded in julienne slices
20 cornichons* chopped ( feel free to substitute traditional dill gerkins)

Mix thoroughly

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise (Dukes is the best imho)
1 teaspoon seasoned salt blend like beau monde

Mix together in a small bowl.  Pour on to of the cauliflower mixture and stir well so all pieces are coated.  Put in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or overnight.  Though it is perfectly edible right away it is better the next day.

As I said earlier, you can use whatever you have on hand to make this.  On any given day I have used radishes, sliced green beans, olives, sugar snap peas, snow peas, celery, broccoli bits, jalapenos, and even corn kernels.  There is no right nor wrong to this salad.  It is a hodge-podge of whatever is available.  Make this to your taste and use whatever you have or like to eat.  This is more of a guide than a recipe, since each time I make it it is  different.

If you're in the mood for a "not green salad",  give this a try.  It just might be something you can add to your food rotation.  Even some cauliflower haters find this acceptable.

*Cornichons are small gerkins that are pickled with much less salt than traditional pickles.  They are not sweet and have a light citrus taste.  I find them locally at Whole Foods on the antipasto bar.  They keep almost forever, so I buy a lot and they just sit in the back of the refrigerator waiting for a head of cauliflower to appear.

Friday, July 19, 2013

I Swear It Didn't Look Like That Much Squash

You know how sometimes you are in exactly the right place at the right time and all the planets align so you get to buy perfect, and I do mean perfect, produce for next to nothing per pound?  I went to the Farmer's Market and found squash.   I think I heard the angel's sing when I first saw the truck.  It might have been the most perfect squash I have ever seen.  According to the farmer and his wife it had been picked by moonlight ( ok by spotlight) at 11 pm the night before I was there to jump on it.  It came in a huge  box and all their box weights were between 22-25 pounds.  All for a mere $15 dollars.  Seemed more than reasonable and when I looked at it, it did not appear to be a lot of squash.  I not only bought it ( did I mention it was perfect?) but was also a super steward of the environment.  I had several of the Publix green bags in the car and transferred the squash to the bags, leaving the box for the farmers to refill and reuse.  So far so good right?  And it was  good until I put the perfect squash in the car and started home.

When I filled 2 Publix cloth bags to overflowing I should have realized I was in trouble, but no, not me.  Somehow during the brief car ride from Findley Avenue to my house there was a strange happening.  The squash which looked so manageable in the box on the back of a pick-up truck had multiplied and created  more squash all the way home.  There was freakish display of squash fertility right in the back seat of my very own car.

What originally looked like it would be  enough for supper one night and 5 or so bags for the freezer turned into a giant hill of squash on my kitchen table.  It was also close to supper time  and I had to do something with Veggie Mountain so we could eat.  But where could I put it since I had no room  in the fridge for 2 million pounds of squash.  The last thing I wanted to do right then was tend to squash.  Perhaps I should have thought of that before the purchase, huh?  I stared at it for several minutes and not one of those crookneck buzzards began any sort of self processing, so the only thing for me to do was to get a lot of it ready for freezing.  Besides at the rate it was increasing I was afraid to leave it untended overnight.  No telling how much I would have had the next morning.

I began a single person assembly line, first washing , then peeling ( my mother in law's trick of running a knife over the surface of the squash to get the "squeak" out of the skin), then slicing then blanching, then packing, and finally putting it all in the freezer.  After 9 quarts I was finished for the night, but I still had over half of the blooming squash to finish the next day.  It was  more than I had room to store, so I took the smallest  most tender pieces and put them in the fridge and left the slightly larger ones on a tray to fend for themselves until the next morning.

After a few early morning errands, it was back to the task of reducing the size of the squash pile.  More washing, scraping, slicing, and brining and I was well on my way to making squash pickles.  I was not honestly sure if I even liked squash pickles or not, but it was something different to try, and it would eliminate some of the  vegetable volume.  Desperate times/ desperate measures!

                                                              Squash Pickles

16 cups of sliced squash
4 cups sliced onions
1/2 cup  canning salt
4 cups white vinegar
2 cups white sugar
4 tablespoons mustard seed
2 tablespoons celery seed
2 teaspoons ground tumeric

In a large bowl or pot mix the squash and the onions.  Sprinkle with the salt and stir to mix well.  Cover completely with water and let it swim for a couple of hours.  Drain well and just leave it in a bowl ( extremely large bowl) while you make the syrup.

In a large pot bring the 4 cups of vinegar and the sugar to a boil.  Add the mustard seed, celery seed and tumeric and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Stir well and add the well drained squash and onion mixture.  Let it simmer for about 5 minutes.

(For complete directions on water canning see here ) Pack into sterile canning jars leaving 1/4 inch of head space.  Top with sterile lids and  screw rings .  Screw the caps finger tight and process in a water bath canner for 15 minutes.  Remove the jars from the hot water with a jar lifter and place on a towel on the countertop.  Leave them alone until you hear the "PING' sound of the jars sealing.  Store in a cool dark place for up to one year.  And now you have 8 pints or 16 half pints of squash pickles.

There are an extremely easy pickle to make.  The taste is close to a bread and butter pickle, but the squash is a bit softer than cucumber slices and the onion pieces give a crisp counter balance to the texture of the squash.  If you like a sweet/tart pickle I would say give them a try.

I am one squash casserole away from being done with all of the squash. Woo Hoo!  Now that I have  taken care of it I still have more peaches and plums to do something with.  I think my head is much more ambitious  ( delusional?) than the parts of me that actually do the work.  And the worst thing is I am seriously thinking of going back to the Farmer's Market on Monday.  After all, I couldn't find nice okra and I am positive there is a basket of it with my name on it somewhere.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Whole Fruit Peach Popsicles

I wait all year for peach season.  They are my favorite fruit and nothing beats  the summer sensation of biting into one and getting that burst of sweetness while tiny drops of peach juice dribble down your chin.  The down side of a peach is the tiny window of peach perfection.  Perfectly ripe this morning means over-ripe tonight.  Not a problem if you buy just enough peaches to consume in a day, but I like to by them by the basketful.  Why purchase 3 peaches when you can buy 15 pounds of perfectly ripe fruits that have to be eaten or processed RIGHT NOW!

Peaches are pretty easy to freeze.  Peel and slice them, give them a quick dunk in some lemon juice and a sprinkle of sugar and they are ready to live in freezer bags until later in the year when you need to taste summers goodness again.  Sometimes we just partially thaw and eat them.  Other times I make cobblers or pies with them, and this year I plan on making peach jam and trying to dehydrate some.  Still there are always a few peaches I leave for us to eat  that become  too ripe but I can't bring myself to toss them.

Yesterday I found 3 of those in my fruit basket.  They were begging to be consumed right away, but I had already eaten one and didn't want anymore.  I peeled them  (You know they are too ripe when the peel comes off using just your fingers as a tool.) and stuck them in the Magic Bullet, gave them a whirl, added 2 teaspoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of water and 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract and blended it a little more.  Then I poured the now liquid peaches into popsicle molds and froze them overnight.

Oh my goodness!  These were so tasty and refreshing.  It was like a cross between a fresh peach and a peach milk shake, well other than the fact there was milk in it at all.  It was just icy peachy deliciousness with a hint of vanilla.  I have no idea if the sugar was actually needed or not.  I added it thinking it might keep the pop from being solid ice.  The consistency was perfect so I guess it helped.  I need to try some sans sugar and see how that works.

I have no idea how long they will last in the freezer and I only have one of those cheap plastic popsicle molds with plastic handles.  Since I am limited to just 8 popsicles using the mold handles, I think I am going to go buy wooden popsicle sticks and use them for the handles instead.  That way I can unmold them, wrap them in waxed paper and stick them in a freezer bag and still be able to make more of them.   Surely they will last a couple of weeks that way! 

If you like icy cold treats on hot days try this.  You might like it. 

Now I am wondering if this will work with the leftover watermelon in the fridge?  Possibilities might be endless!

If you want the peaches to retain their perfect peach color, add about 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to the blender, but you will also need additional sugar to offset the tartness.  I would start with 1 tablespoon and let your taste guide you from there.  Personally I will sacrifice color for less sugar.
As an aside,  this  puree might work well if combined with a little rum and frozen in an ice cube tray for a different take on a peach daiquiri.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Just Another Meatless _ Wednesday?

We have been on a B-B-Q tour lately, eating up the remainder of the overly large smoked butts and ribs from the 4th of July.  Out bellies and our mouths needed a break, but I still had a boatload of hamburger buns left.  I am not opposed to something with a high protein content, but we had almost overdosed on rich meats.  What to do? What to do?

Yesterday I went to the health food store and bought some adzuki beans. They had been happily soaking in water overnight waiting to become the main attraction in a beans and rice meal.

Today I saw a recipe for black bean burgers.  Hmmmmmm, bean burgers equals a way to use the remaining buns.  I figured there would be little difference between the taste and consistency of the adzuki and black beans.  Additionally the adzuki beans are supposed to have a very high protein content.  Dinner was decided by forces beyond my control.  I love it when outside forces do that!

Put the beans in a large pot and cover them with water. Add  about 1 teaspoon of salt and turn them on high until they began to boil.  Add enough additional water cover about 1 inch over the top of the beans, put the lid on them and let them simmer for about 40-45 minutes.  They did not expand much and I ended with little more than the 1/12 cups I put in the soaking water.

I had no idea how this would work out, and kind of winged it based on what I had available and how a traditional basic bean burger is formed.  I really had no idea there was even such thing as a "traditional" bean burger. I guess this old dog could learn a new trick or two after all.

Drain the steaming hot beans in a colander. The recipe I was looking at suggested grinding them in a food processor.  I did not want them to feel mushy so I used used my handy dandy potato masher and mashed the beans until they were about the consistency of ground beef.   Added to the beans were 1/2 cup minced onions, 3 grated carrots, 1/2 bunch chopped cilantro, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1 egg, and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

This is how it looked  when it is was all mixed together.  

Form into 5 patties ( I put them on a hot greased griddle. This is probably a mistake. ) Put them on a baking sheet in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for 15-20 minutes.  Then after they cook a little, carefully put them on a greased griddle to brown and crisp both sides of the patty.  (As it was, I had a tad of breakage and I believe the oven cooking might firm them up a little).  I added cheese to 3 of the patties and left 2 plain.  The ones with cheese were the first taken!  Imagine that!  

This is how they looked straight from the griddle

And here is a shot of a fully dressed, about to be eaten bean burger.  It looks a lot like a regular hamburger.   Each of us used mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard, a slice of tomato and a dill pickle.  We all wanted lettuce but it seems someone (me) forgot to buy any yesterday. ( I have noticed all produce purchases seem to be my domain, ice cream purchases can be done by everyone else though.)  

The taste was very, very good.  It did not "feel" like meat, but it did not feel like mushy beans either.  The onion and carrot pieces added quite a bit of texture and flavor.  The cilantro was not strong or pronounced but really enhanced the taste of the burger.  I think next time, and yes I will make these again, I will use panko instead of regular bread crumbs.  It should add just a little more texture to the mixture.  Will let you know after another try if it makes any difference.

If you want a cheap meatless option for supper this might work for you.  Exclusive of the soaking time, it is a pretty quick dinner.  After the initial bean cooking time they were on the table in 15 minutes.  Easy Peasy!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Sweet Heat, Cayenne/Chipotle Chocolate Shortbread

A while back I mentioned doing research for a project that is rolling around in my brain.  I have recently read a few books about the working poor in America.  These are the people out there working their tails off, who are employed full time, qualify for little or no assistance, and have barely enough to make ends meet each week.  For them, meals are often optional.

I am in the process of creating a menu/shopping/cooking system to maximize the amount of good and good for you food for an imaginary family of four.  I am setting a budget of $50 dollars a week, but unlike a lot of those "eat for $1.50 a day" plans,  I am assuming my imaginary family starts with nothing in the kitchen.  It presents quite a challenge starting from scratch, as you try to maintain a budget while adding staples. ( It is something we take for granted.  How many time do we go to our fridge or pantry and declare there is nothing to eat, when in reality we would serve 20 people?  Maybe not a truly delicious meal  or even the same foods for everyone, but we could still pull it off.  Now imagine you have to feed 4 and there is truly nothing there.)

Advance with me to week 3 of the meal plan.  By now the family has been fed for 3 weeks and each week is accumulating a few basics for their pantry. Today they have flour, margarine, cocoa, sugar, salt and cayenne pepper and their hunger is satisfied, but their taste buds are not.  They want  a chocolate dessert, but it has to be cost effective and easy to prepare, plus it can't require any eggs because all the eggs for the week are already taken for other  menu items.  My job is to  supply a recipe and my choice is to amp it up with something non-traditional and tasty.

Chocolate Cayenne/Chipotle Shortbread

1 cup flour
1 good pinch salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder* ( I used 1/2 teaspoon chipotle because I like the taste better )
1/3 cup cocoa powder ( this makes it very chocolaty and can be reduced to 1/4 cup, but why?)
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1 teaspoon water if needed

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk the dry ingredients together in a bowl.   Cut the margarine into small pieces and slowly mix together with the dry ingredients.  If you have a food processor this will be neater, but I made it assuming my imaginary family does not have one.  It requires washing your hands very well and mixing and mixing with the tools God gave you.  If the mix does not come together in a smooth ball add water a few drops at a time until it does.  (It took me about 7 drops of water)  Pat the dough into a large circle on an ungreased baking sheet.  You want it to be a round that is about 1/4 inch thick. Cut the shortbread into slices but do not separate them.  Place it on a rack in the middle of the oven.  Let it cook for about 30 minutes.  When it is done but not browned, remove it from the oven and while it is hot cut the pieces once again at the original cut marks. ( What does a browned chocolate cookie look like anyway.  You might have to rely on your nose to check.)  Sprinkle with about a 1/2 teaspoon of additional sugar. ( I used clear cookie sprinkles)   Let cool on the baking sheet until it is completely cool to the touch.  Store in an airtight container for up to one week. These taste better  the day after baking.

The first taste test of this went to Son3, who thought it would be kind of funky tasting and weird.  I am happy to report he really did like it and probably would have eaten more if I had not also baked fudge brownies.  ( I try and bake several things at the same time during the summer.  Gets the kitchen hot just once).  I loved these.  As I said I used chipotle rather than cayenne.  They have about the same amount of heat, I just prefer the flavor of chipotle peppers.  these were very chocolaty.  If you are not a chocolate freak I would suggest adding only 1/4 cup of cocoa.  They were nice and hard but not brittle. They had a nice mouthfeel and did not crumb easily. To be completely honest I did not use margarine because we don't use it at all.  I used butter instead, but butter and non- whipped margarine tend to act the same in a baked recipe.  I know it altered the flavor a little and I would say if you can afford the butter consider yourself blessed, and use it.  My imaginary family can't afford it yet, but we are working toward it!

This would make a really nice baked gift for Christmas and would be fantastic at a cookie exchange. How wonderful would it be to be able to make several dozen cookies at the same time?  You can do that with this shortbread.  Plus they taste really good!

Enjoy with a piping hot cup of coffee or a Mexican Hot Chocolate if you are a true chocolate freak!

*If you don't like heat, simply don't add cayenne.  You might try cinnamon instead or just leave it plain.

If any of you have any truly cost effective recipes I would love to hear about them.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Yee Haw! B-B-Q Pizza

Sunday nights right now I am glued to the TV, first watching True Blood, next The Killing followed by the DVR recording of Dexter.  (When I look at the titles written out I probably should call it Sunday, Bloody Sunday.)  I can't tell you how glad I am that the Mad Men season is over because I would not have time to see/record it all.

Since I am otherwise occupied with my visit into fantasy worlds, Sunday night suppers tend to be something quick and easy.  Tonight throw ease of preparation with a boatload of leftover pulled pork as the start of the meal concept.  In addition to the leftover pulled pork, I had about a cup and a half of  mustard barbecue sauce*,  along with a carton of sliced mushrooms,  a container of sliced onions, about a pound of mozzarella cheese and a hunk of cheddar  If that does not scream B-B-Q pizza I don't know what does!

The Easiest Pizza Crust Ever ( About 8 minutes prep time. Honest!!!)

1 package rapid rise dry yeast
1 1/2 cup very warm water ( 110ish degrees F.  Does anyone really check the temp or am I odd?)
4 cups flour + about an additional 1/4 cup for kneading and flouring
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

Put the yeast in the warm water and stir well to blend.  Now just set it aside for a few minutes.  Stir the flour and salt in a large bowl to mix it well.  Toss in the yeast water and stir to mix.  Add the olive oil and stir until it is all incorporated and the mixture forms a loose ball.  Turn onto a floured board and knead for a couple of minutes until it all holds together nicely.  Don't worry about kneading this like you do for bread.  It really just needs to hold together in a ball well.  

Now comes decision time. Since we all like different topping on our pizzas, I made 4 individual pies.  This will make one very large, 2 nice size medium or 4 individual pizzas.  If you are making a large pizza just put the dough in a clean bowl, cover it with a clean non-lint towel, and let it rise for about an hour.  If making 2 cut the dough in half and put each half in a clean bowl, cover with a lint free towel and let it rise for about 50 minutes.   If making 4 pizzas cut the dough in 4ths.  Roll each 4th into a ball and place on a lightly floured jelly roll pan.  Cover with a clean non-lint towel and let rise for about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.  Only you know how long it takes yours to reach that temperature so time your preheat start to coincide with your oven ready pizza.

After rising punch the large and medium dough out and either roll or pat the crust to the desired size.  This dough might be a little tricky to throw because it is pretty soft, but I don't know how to throw a crust anyway so naturally I didn't try it.  If you do and it works please let me know. ( Instructions would be appreciated) Roll or pat the dough into individual pizzas.  I did not make mine in rounds because I could only get 1 on each pan.  By making them oblong I could get 2 per pan, which worked better for my oven.

Using a large flat serving spoon spread a large dollop of the barbecue sauce all over the pizza.  Sprinkle minced pulled pork over the sauce . ( I used about 1/2 cup per pie)  After that you are only limited by your imagination and ingredients.  I used onions, sliced in very thin rings and sliced mushrooms.  I topped it  all with shredded mozzarella and cheddar . Put the 2 pans on the lower 2 oven racks and let it bake for about 12 minutes.

And here is a picture of the results.  It was a huge hit with the family.  The tangy sauce paired well with the smoked pork.  The onions and mushrooms were terrific additions.  I wish there had been a bell pepper and tomato in the crisper.  I think it would have added a nice visual bit of color plus some additional flavor.  Oh well, you play the hand you have and I didn't have them!

The next time we smoke a butt and have leftovers, this will be on the short list for using them.  It really was good.  I have a boneless leg of lamb in the freezer.  I am already thinking how good it might be with some feta, rosemary, garlic,  and red onions.

Have fun with your food and enjoy Sunday nights!

*Mustard B-B-Q Sauce

I cup yellow mustard
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons butter

Put all ingredients in a small saucepan.  Simmer for 15 minutes. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Fireworks, Mustard B-B-Q, Moon Pies and Banana Pudding

Happy 4th of July!!!!!!!  Even if you are in a country where July 4th is nothing more than day 4 of the 7th month, well Happy day 4 to you !  If you don't even acknowledge the month of July then Happy Day 185 of the earths orbit around the sun.  And if you don't use the Gregorian calendar at all then Happy "The Sun Is The Farthest From The Earth Day"!  And if you use some ancient calendar then I just hope your day was pleasant because anything moreinvolves way too much math and/or science for me!   Whew!  I hope I covered everyone.

If you live in the States then you know today is a holiday when no one works. ( Yeah right!  Tell that to medical, police, fire and retail workers!)  If you live in many parts of the States today also means overloading on really good food, and if you live in the Deep South like I do it means just one thing. Barbecue!  I am not talking about a steak or burgers cooked on the grill, but am talking about that honest to goodness slow cooked hunk of pig that is rubbed, seared, smoked then sauced into a fall off the bone state of goodness.

We just bought a new toy, The Big Green Egg, which is a combination grill/smoker.  Last night at about 11 we ( By we I mean Son2) started smoking a pork butt and this morning at about 8 we ( Son2) started smoking 2 slabs of ribs.  At about 2 this afternoon we  ( By "we" here I mean the family including Son2 who cooked all night) were ready to do some serious eating.  

As a neophyte to this smoking thing I found tons of instructions for rubs to be applied generously to all surfaces before putting the meat in the fire.  We used sugar, salt, cayenne, cumin, garlic powder, paprika, chili powder, black pepepr and a hint of thyme for our rub.  I would tell you it is a very technical process but it is mix, taste, mix taste, mix taste until you have what you like.

For the sauces, I just can't make it better than the bottled Ollie's and Dreamland sauces.  I always have them in the fridge so it is easy to pull them out for a quick warm up before serving them.  Of course barbecue sauce is a personal taste thing so any sauce that tastes good to you would do just as well.  My dad is no longer able to eat tomatoes or foods made from them, so I made him a quick mustard sauce.

Mustard B-B-Q Sauce

I cup yellow mustard
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons butter

Put all ingredients in a small saucepan.  Simmer for 15 minutes.  Serve over pork or chicken.  Dad is going to start using this as a replacement for ketchup, which he is missing dearly.  I see it in his hamburger and french fry future.

We had minimal side dishes with this sumptuous pork, but did manage to save room for desserts.  Mom brought a tray of brownies and I made a dessert that has been making the Pinterest rounds.  At least it has been all over the boards of the mostly Southern people I follow.  It is a variation of traditional banana pudding that originated as a Southern Living recipe. 

                                                  Moon Pie Banana Pudding

8 1 layer chocolate Moon Pies cut into 8ths
3 bananas sliced in quarter sized rounds
1 large package of cook and serve vanilla pudding mix
3 cups milk
1/2 cup sour cream
whipped topping
1 additional  chocolate Moon Pie cut into 8ths

In a deep bowl place a layer of Moon Pie wedges then a layer of banana slices.  Repeat with Moon Pie wedges and banana slices.  Set aside.  Cook the pudding mix with 3 cups of milk according to the package directions. ( If you prefer make 1 1/2 recipes of 4 serving vanilla pudding from scratch)
When the pudding mixture cools it thickens quite a bit.  Stir the sour cream into the thickened pudding then pour it over the Moon Pie and banana layers.  Top with whatever whipped topping you prefer.  I am a whipped cream purist, but offer no judgement if you prefer the stuff from an aerosol can or a plastic bowl.  It is purely a personal decision.  Cover and chill for about an hour.  Before serving garnish by sticking the remaining Moon Pie slices in the top of the whipped topping.  Serve and enjoy.

I know I am not a great one to offer unbiased reviews of banana pudding since I do not eat bananas at all.  I do like all the other things in banana pudding though, and skillfully remove all the bits of banana before tasting it.  At least most of the time I do.  Today the first bite in my mouth had a full banana slice.  It was one of those moments I regret having been brought up to never spit food back on my plate.  I was forced by self imposed rules for life to chew and actually swallow the offending fruit.  At first I was going to just push my dish to the side and forget about this review entirely, but I carried on and ate 4 more bites. (examining each almost microscopically for signs of a nefarious banana bit)

I thought is was perfectly fine.  The chocolate graham and marshmallow flavor was a nice change from vanilla wafers. I was not a big fan of the sour cream in the pudding though.  Yes, it made the pudding creamier, but the slight sour taste did not enhance the flavor.  If I make it again I will use 2 standard packages of pudding mix and forego the sour cream entirely.

Both The Hub and The Dad are banana pudding freaks and both had 1 large serving, followed by a second large serving.  I would call it successful though unusual.  Both of them said they would not mind having it served the same way again,  but both prefer a traditional banana pudding best.  

So now it is on to the second part of the night...listening to fireworks all around us.  We saw them last night so we are staying in and watching John Adams tonight ( Thanks HBO)

Wishing everyone a great 4th!  

p.s.  I understand Moon Pies are a regional treat so I am including a link to them here.  I am sure there is some type of confection that is regional which could be a good substitute.  You can check them out to see the construction of the cookie? cake? pie?  Instead of Where's Waldo in this picture can you find: The Mom's red shirt, Son3's iced tea glass, a Tupperware pie carrier circa 1964,  and The Mom's dessert plate.  Sorry for the picture mess but this was literally taken at the dinner table right before serving desserts.