Monday, December 21, 2009

Soon to come - Beef Jerky

At the monthly PaleoPlanet gathering yesterday in Pasadena, CA I put a couple fruitcakes out to share as well as a gallon bag of home made beef jerky I had stashed in the freezer.
Once folks realized that the fruitcake was the same as I'd brought last month it went really fast. Of course, the beef jerky went fast, too. I think jerky would have to be really bad to not get eaten and this stuff was pretty good.

As usual, I got a lot of questions about how I'd made the jerky. Most people think you need a dehydrator or a smoker to make it and I have neither, I just use the kitchen oven to dry the meat. After explaining the drying process to a couple people and the marinade to a couple others, I realized that this would be a great subject for a blog post. So, as soon as the London broil beef cut I use comes on sale (remember, I'm all about buying meat on sale), I'll get a couple pieces and document the steps I use for making some really good beef jerky. You'll want to watch for this one, it's an easy recipe to adapt to your family's tastes and something that anyone with a basic kitchen can do.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Couple of Updates

A little while ago I wrote about some fruitcake I made (What do you mean you don't like fruitcake?) and a recipe I found to replicate Boston Market's cranberry relish (A Thanksgiving Side Dish).
My mother was so taken by these two recipes that she's been making them herself. To date I think she's made four batches of fruitcake and one batch of the cranberry relish.
The first batch of fruitcake was made with dried fruits from Trader Joe's just as I wrote about. Subesquent batches saw her using dried fruits she purchased at her local grocery store. She's been very happy with how all the fruitcake has turned out, and so have the recepients of said fruitcake. I think that's why she's made so many, because she's gotten so many requests for it!
One thing my mom mentioned to me while a batch was in the oven was that she thought she'd put in too much fruit. Remember, I mixed fruit in "until it looked right" so it was difficult for me to tell her how much to use. As it turns out, fruitcake with too much fruit is just fine. I think that to a point, the batter is simply there to hold all the fruit together in one pile. So if you make fruitcake and think you may have put in too much fruit, bake it up anyway. You'll probably love it.
Mom's comments on the cranberry relish were that you do need to cut up the cranberries.
Perhaps I should explain: the recipe says to cut all the cranberries in half. With two cups of the little rascals that's a lot of tedious cutting. A good friend told me that when she makes cranberry relish she never cuts the berries, they pop during the cooking anyway.
Based on my mother's experience I think I'll continue to cut them. She said the relish tasted fine but that it didn't look nearly as nice. Since we eat with our eyes as well as with our mouths, I'll cut the berries when the recipe calls for it.

Keep on cooking!

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Just and Noble Cause

Every once in a while you run across special organizations that grab your attention.
These groups are passionate about what they believe in and do everything they can to support and promote their cause.
When the cause is just and noble it's difficult to not get behind these groups and add our own enthusiasm.

Dear readers, I introduce you to an organization born from the heart of a believer. I share her passion and want to spread the word to the world (or at least the 5 people who read this blog). I give you:

The Society for the Protection and Preservation of Fruitcake

Putting forth and promoting the noble Society for the Protection and Preservation of Fruitcake is completely appropriate for me tonight. For tomorrow I will gird my loins to enter our little kitchen and make another double batch of fruitcake such as I described a few lines down... I can hardly keep up with the demand.
Feel the love this season, not the love of buying presents, but the love of fruitcake!
Make a fruitcake!
Eat a fruitcake!
But never condemn a fruitcake... unless it's really a crappy one. If that's the case give them my recipe.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Thanksgiving Side Dish

A few weeks ago my mother asked me if I could find a cranberry relish recipe for her. She's a big fan of cranberry relish as it's served by Boston Market and wanted to serve it at Thanksgiving dinner.
I did a quick Google search, found something that looked good, and emailed the link to her.
Well, she got busy, one thing led to another, she never got a chance to even get into her email to see the link. When she told me a couple days before the dinner that she was just going to serve regular cranberry jelly I decided to make it and surprise her with it.
Here's the link to the recipe and here's the recipe itself:

Ingredients -
1 pound can of jellied cranberry sauce
10oz jar Smucker’s Simply Fruit orange marmalade
1/4 tsp ground ginger
2 cups fresh cranberries coursely chopped
1/3 cups walnuts finely chopped

Directions -
In 2-qt saucepan, over medium-low heat, stir together jellied sauce, marmalade and ginger until melted (6-8 minutes). Add coursely chopped fresh cranberries and reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring frequently until cranberries pop. They will be slightly softened (not too crisp). Stir in walnuts and set aside to cool. Once lukewarm, cover and refrigerate. Serve cold.

That doesn't sound too bad, does it?
Then I couldn't find Smucker's Simply Fruit Orange Marmalade in either of the two stores I shop at. I ended up simply getting a good quality orange marmalade and it worked fine.
Have you ever had to cut 2 cups of cranberries in half? Holy cow, that took a few minutes!
Actually, though, the recipe was pretty easy to make.
Since I'd never had the original cranberry relish at Boston Market I had to wait until Mom tried it to see if it was right.

Here's all the ingredients ready to be put to use.
You know, those little bags of spices are way cheaper than the big bottle. I just save bottles from other spices and use those for storing these. Works great.

Cutting the cranberrys, one of the few times I have opted for a small sharp knife rather than a big sharp knife.

Finally, the last one goes under the knife.

1/3 cup walnuts finely chopped, back to the big knife!

Cooking... ah, this isn't hard at all.

And finally, the taste test... look at that happy smile!

Thanks for making dinner today, Mom. Everything was great. I'm glad everyone liked my little contribution.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

What do you mean, you don't like fruitcake?!

Well... to tell you the truth, I don’t either… mostly.
Most fruitcakes I’ve seen are either heavy and dry or heavy and soaked with some kind of alcohol. And then there are those candied fruits… the less said about them the better.

The traditional fruitcake actually does have some centuries of tradition behind it:
They were carried by Roman legionnaires and Middle Age crusaders as travel food.
Fruit candied in sugar helped preserve it.
Soaking fruitcakes in rum or another spirit helps preserve it for consumption at a later time.
Fruitcakes were a good way to keep fruits from the summer so they could be eaten during the winter.

While fruitcakes are popular, and even enjoyed, in many countries, they seem to have a different reputation here in the US. Here they are the brunt of jokes. Even Johnny Carson jumped on the anti-fruitcake bandwagon when he quipped, "The worst gift is fruitcake. There is only one fruitcake in the entire world, and people keep sending it to each other." There are even fruitcake tossing contests to be found during the holiday season.

Someone must like them, though. There are a few bakeries about the country who sell out their entire production of tens of thousands of fruitcakes each season.

Me, I’ve got issues with normal fruitcakes. I personally don’t care for the taste of alcoholic beverages and I’m not real fond of candied fruits. But for some reason I was fascinated with fruitcake and was determined to find a fruitcake recipe that was not only edible, but actually enjoyable.

For awhile I scanned through cookbooks in used book stores hoping to find something good. When that didn't work I began looking for recipes on the internet. Nothing was really looking good until Fayme found a “golden fruitcake” on a Disney website. Upon further research, I discovered that this is a rather famous recipe. It’s called Mrs. Harvey’s White Fruitcake. If you do a Google search you'll find this wonderful recipe spread all over the internet.

Photo of Mrs. Lucille Harvey courtesy Jeff Houck and The Tampa Tribune

Update 11-24-09:
A couple people have asked me, "where's the recipe?" I guess I didn't make the link to the recipe very clear. Mea culpa and my apologies. You can still click the link above but here is the recipe:
4 cups shelled pecans
1 lb. candied cherries
1 lb. candied pineapple
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 lb. butter
1 cup granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 to 2 oz. vanilla extract
1 to 2 oz. lemon extract

Chop the nuts and the fruit into medium-sized pieces and dredge with 1/4 cup flour.
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy. Add well-beaten eggs and blend well.
In a small bowl, sift the remaining flour and baking powder together. Fold this mixture into the egg and butter mixture, and mix in the vanilla and lemon extract. Blend in fruits and nuts.
Grease pan and line the pan(s) with parchment, foil or waxed paper. Pour the batter into prepared pan(s). Place in a cold oven and bake at 250 degrees for 1 to 3 hours (the baking time varies with the size of the pan).

Mrs. Harvey and I do differ in a couple areas: I don’t use candied fruits and I don’t put nuts in my version. I like nuts, and I like cookies, brownies, etc. - but I don’t like nuts in my cookies, brownies, or etc. So, no nuts or candied fruits in my version.

Rather than use those green cherries and other odd candied fruits I get some really good quality dried fruits from Trader Joe’s. Their selection can change depending upon what their suppliers have available so I get whatever dried fruit looks good when I visit: strawberries, cherries, cranberries, blueberries, apricots, raspberries, pineapple (unsweetened), golden raisins, etc. If it’s a dried fruit you like to eat, toss it in!

Prior to mixing these fruits into the batter I always reconstitute them with an overnight soak in apple juice. This keeps the fruit moist and juicy. Large pieces like apricots and pineapple get cut into smaller pieces before soaking.

When mixing the soaked fruit into the batter I use an amount that looks right. My apologies to those of you who really want to know exactly how much to use, I just don’t normally cook like that.

Here is the photo journal of the making of my version of Mrs. Harvey's White Fruitcake:

First up are the fruits I used this year. Those dried mangos looked really good so I grabbed them.
The dried papaya was camera shy... actually, I found it stashed in a cupboard after I took the picture.

The mangos, papaya, apricots and figs needed to be cut a little smaller. The mangos seemed a little tough so I cut them into relatively small strips. After soaking in apple juice they were fine.

Mix in the apple juice to reconstitute the dried fruits; I probably used about a cup and a half of juice.

Ready to soak overnight.

All the ingredients gathered together and ready for assembly. It may look like a lot but I'll likely be making two double batches.

All mixed and ready for the tins.

We had a minor panic when I couldn't find the tins where I thought they were. Glad that got resolved.

Out of the oven and cooling off.

Let's see... I need to send one to Dad in Oregon, I'm sure Mom would like one, Uncle Teddy in Canada may want one, definately need to send one to a particular redhead in Texas, I think a cherished friend in New Mexico would like one, Fayme's already asking if she can have some for dessert tonight... Jeez, I'd better get busy on the second batch!
Correction: I have been informed that Fayme doesn't want the fruitcake for dessert, she wants it now!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sourdough... oh no!

Fayme recently gave a go at making a sourdough starter and baking with it. You can see her chronicle of the process at her blog The Witchery of Cookery. Things were looking really good until the last rise of the first loaf, which actually didn’t happen. We’re not sure what caused the failure but it really disappointed her and she’s about given up on sourdough.

Now, I’m not a bad cook but Fayme is a much better baker than I am. Even so, I thought it wouldn’t hurt if I gave it a try. It bugs me when things like this don’t work well and sometimes I get a bone between my teeth trying to figure it out.

I am not sure I have a lot of faith in a home grown sourdough starter so I (as usual) turned to the internet. The website Sourdoughs International has a number of great starters available for order as well as what looks like an excellent book dedicated solely to sourdough cooking.

The problem is, I’m cheap. Rather than spend money on these starters and the book I elected to send a SASE for Carl Griffith’s 1847 Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter. I have no doubt that the starters and information found at Sourdoughs International and other webpages is good, and there is an excellent chance that I will avail myself of them at a later date, but I wanted to try the free stuff first.

We just sent the SASE off today so it will be a little bit before we get the starter. Once it’s here we’ll have to grow it to a useable state before it we can think about baking. The website has a brochure available for free download that explains how to do that.

Once we get it going… we’ll see if we can’t get something tasty. I’ll let you know what happens.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Check This Out...

What do you think? Do I have the stones to try this recipe?

I'm sorely tempted...

Monday, November 9, 2009

I Guess Sometimes Plain is Better

I had a salad for dinner tonight and enjoyed it more than usual.
Typically, I put the kitchen sink in my salads. A normal 'kitchen sink' salad for me will consist of lettuce mix, tomato, cucumber, cheese (sometimes two kinds), meat of some sort (lunchmeat, salami, tuna, etc.), avocado, anchovies, baby corn, and whatever else looks good like marinated artichokes, if I have a jar of them. For a dressing I turn to a good quality Italian dressing.

Tonight I made a pretty simple salad and it pretty much buried what I normally make. Tonight's salad was made of lettuce mix, avocado, cucumber, tomato, and anchovies. The really big difference was the dressing. Taking a clue from one of the cooking shows I watch I used a small bottle to mix together brown mustard, minced garlic, extra virgin olive oil, wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and the olive oil from the can of anchovies that went into the salad.
Wow. It turned out great. I am definitely going to do that more often.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Forget Chicken Soup for the Soul - This is for the Stomach!

I have it on pretty good authority that the chicken soup I make rocks.

I’m not sure what’s so special about it. The ingredients are actually pretty basic:
Chicken bouillon
Chicken stock

That’s about it. I do have one special ingredient that seems to add a richness to the soup: soy sauce.

There are five components to what we taste: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami. The first four speak for themselves. The last, umami, is something special. It’s the savory part of what we eat, the richness. Soy sauce is laden with umami and I think it adds something really special to the chicken soup I make.
An interesting aside, anchovies are just about pure umami. No wonder I like those little fellows! I am devastated that the local .99 Cent Store hasn’t had anchovies in stock for a few months. Now I have to buy them at full price in the grocery store.

Chickens were on sale this week for $.69 lb when you buy the family pack. One will go into this chicken soup and I can always figure out something good to do with the other chicken. In fact, as I write this Fayme is putting that chicken into the rotisserie oven. Say what you want about those silly Ronco commercials you see on TV, I wouldn’t be caught dead with a Pocket Fisherman, but we’ve gotten a lot of use out of the rotisserie oven.

To get started I plop the whole chicken into the crock pot along with a coarsely shopped onion and a few chopped carrots. The onion and carrots will be cooked to within an inch of their lives so they’ll be strained out in the end after they’ve given up their flavor to the stock. Add a few seasonings, salt, black pepper, oregano, thyme, and we’re all set for a few hours on the low setting. Although I won’t use them in the soup itself, the neck and giblets are in the crock pot, too. For a cooking liquid I put in a can of chicken stock and a bit of water.

After the chicken has cooked long enough that the meat is coming away from the bone I take it out of the crock pot and put it into a separate bowl so it can cool enough for me to take the meat off the bones. This is a challenging evolution because at this point the chicken is falling apart at the seams. Go slow and be careful lest the chicken end up splashing hot broth all over you or end up on the floor.

When the crock pot has cooled a little the cooking broth is poured through a strainer to get out all the chunks and the resulting liquid is refrigerated so the fat will rise to the surface and be easy to skim off.

Once the chicken has cooled enough to handle it’s pretty simple to just go through with your fingers and take all the meat off the bones. I don’t worry too much about getting a little chicken skin along with the meat but I am careful to take out all the gristle, small bones, and other non-edible parts. As you can see in the picture, I like big pieces of chicken.

Now we’re on to making the actual soup. For quantities on all these vegetables you’ll have to live with, “just use the right amount.”

The onion I used was way bigger than I originally thought so I ended up adding in more celery and carrots to even out the ratios. Ultimately I used the entire celery stalk and the whole 2 lb bag of carrots as well as 4 or 5 cloves of garlic.

I like a fairly rustic soup so the pieces are cut large. For the celery, when I get down to the tender stalks in the center I really don’t even bother to cut them or take off the leaves (good flavor there).

A bunch of mushrooms made it in there, too. They cook quicker than the other vegetables so I put them in later.

Here is where I discarded the fat off the stock from the crock pot and added the stock to the pot of vegetables. There’s lots of good flavor in this stock and we don’t want to lose that. Since it won’t be enough liquid for cooking I added in water and canned chicken stock to get to a good level.

I also added in some additional spices like oregano, thyme, salt, fresh pepper, etc. whatever sounds good to you will work well.

After the vegetables have cooked it’s time to add in the chicken meat. This is also where I put in some chicken bouillon to taste and the soy sauce. Be careful not to make things too salty. Both the chicken bouillon and the soy sauce are fairly salty so just be sure to taste as you go. This is a good time to add in the mushrooms if you haven’t already. Once the chicken has been added you won’t want to cook too much more. Keep cooking and that wonderful chicken meat is going to break down and get mushy.

I like noodles and since this has ended up being a pretty good sized pot of chicken soup I’m going to use this whole bag of extra wide egg noodles. Cook the noodles per the package directions but leave them slightly under done. They’ll continue cooking in the hot soup and you don’t want them to get too mushy.

That’s it, we’re done, let’s eat!

That’s it, I’m done and stuffed. No, I didn’t eat both bowls, Fayme is full, too. Hopefully our neighbor and her teen age son are full as well; they got a good sized container.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Coming Soon to Greenman Cooking

Chicken Noodle Soup -
I have it on very good authority that my chicken noodle soup rocks. You'll have to bear with me, though, this is one of those recipes where I don't measure very much.

Tamales -
I've never made them before but always wanted to. This time I'm going to take the plunge and see what kind of trouble I can get into. A special treat: my Mom is going to help me, she's never made them either... this will be fun!

Fruitcake -
What do you mean you don't like fruitcake? I searched a long time for a fruitcake recipe that didn't use alcohol and sounded like it would be edible. Fayme actually found this one on a Disney website. Naturally, I put my own twist to it. I haven't found anyone who doesn't like this fruitcake.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

O, No! More PBS Cooking Shows!

I’ve got to quit watching cooking shows on PBS.

Friday I was working on a gourd project and had the TV on in the background. It was a great day for cooking shows so I was kind of watching them out of the corner of my eye.

Mexico, One Plate at a Time with Rick Bayliss came on and I gave the TV a little more attention. Most of the recipes Rick prepared in the beginning of this show weren’t of that much interest to me so I went back to the gourd I was working on.

Then, Rick walks into his garage, climbs a ladder, and gets a paella pan out of rafter storage. This really got my attention. Not only do I have a fascination with paella, but he pulled down a pan that was three feet across! Check it out here.

Now we’re talking my language. Paella, for lots of people.

I put down the gourd.

As Rick and his daughter unloaded shopping bags they pulled out pounds and pounds of ingredients for just this one dish. I was in too much of a worshipful daze to note all the ingredients and their quantities but the ones that stick in my mind are 8 pounds of rice, 30 chicken thighs, 4 pounds of shrimp, 7 pounds of mussels, 3 pounds of chorizo, I was beginning to drool.

They used bricks to build a kind of raised ring out on their patio and built a wood fire inside it. The raised brick ring was sized just right for the three foot paella pan to fit across the top over the fire.

The rest of the episode showed Rick cooking the paella right there in front of his guests and then everyone’s happy faces as they got to eat it.

Do you remember me mentioning that I hate Rick Bayliss? The guy is doing everything I want to do and I’m just so jealous… I love him.

Later that night a show came on that I’ve never seen before. Adventures With Ruth, by Gourmet Magazine had this episode set in Seattle, WA. If you follow the link this episode is called "Jon Rowley’s Seattle." Early in the show they filmed commercial salmon fishing on a small boat and that was very interesting, but what really got my attention was the mussel farm and then the clam, oyster, and green harvesting right on the beach and in the woods.

If you’ve never had the chance to get your own food in the wild and then prepare it and eat it right where you got it, you’re really missing something incredible.

Going to the grocery store, buying the food, taking it home, cooking it, and eating it is fine. But there is something deeply satisfying to our soul found in working for our food. Grow it and pick it yourself, dive for it, dig it up, hunt for it, fish for it… you wouldn’t believe how incredible the food is when you catch it yourself. That’s what they did in this show.

The mussels were harvested from a raft floating in the middle of the bay. Oysters and clams were taken from the mud and gravel flats as the tide receded. Fiddlehead ferns were collected in the woods. Edible shore plants were gathered while walking along the beach. And it was all cooked over an open flame right on the beach. Man, you talk about good food. I about drooled all down the front of my shirt.

When I was in high school I worked in a bait shop on a southern California pier. One winter night it was cold and windy with hardly any customers coming in. The older fellow I worked with asked me if I’d ever eaten mussels. When I said no he said he’d just pulled some from the pier pilings that morning and we should see what they’re like.

I went out to the restaurant on the end of the pier and begged some melted butter from them. Danny and I pulled the mussels from the refrigerator and we scrubbed a bunch of them clean in the sink. We pulled down a little camp stove the shop owner used to make her morning tea and set some mussels to steam in a little pot.

Wow… I was in heaven eating those steamed mussels with melted butter. That may have been one of the first times I’d eaten “different” or “strange” food and it got me on the road I’m on today where it’s pretty rare for me to pass up on food just because I’ve never had it before.

If you get the opportunity, gather your own food. Hunt for it, fish for it, dig for it, feel where it came from… work for it. Eat it in the field if you can. You’ll love it.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Vegetable/Spinach/Shrimp/Water Chestnut Dip

Using that Knorr Vegetable Soup mix in the meat loaf a few days ago reminded me of a dip that can be made with that same mix. Seeing that I had an additional box of soup mix in the cupboard decided me to put some together.
Of course, as you may have come to expect, I have to add my own touch to the excellent recipe on the box.

A suggested variation on the recipe is to add sliced water chestnuts. We had a can of whole water chestnuts but no sliced. No worries, mate. I have sharp knives and I know how to use them.

After mixing in the suggested amounts of sour cream, mayonnaise, soup mix, and shrimp (that's my variation tonight, tastes great!), I realized that I'd need a bigger bowl before adding in the newly sliced water chestnuts and the last ingredient, frozen spinach.

Since I needed to thaw the spinach in a seperate bowl and press out as much moisture as I could, I just used that bowl to finish the mixing.

Next, I wanted to make this a little more special than just plopping it into a bowl and diving in with potatoe chips. The grocery store today had some great olive oil and rosemary artisan bread. Kind of surprised me because we're not in a neighborhood that appreciates things like that.
To get that ready I cut the top off and dug out some of the bread inside to make a nice little bowl. Because I knew we'd be eating the bowl I also sliced the sides a bit to make it easier to tear the pieces out.
I'm pretty short on fancy serving plates (donations accepted) so a round cake pan had to stand in for that duty.

It must have been pretty good, we laid waste to that field.

I'm wondering how this would be with some fresh roasted garlic added to the mix, and maybe some finely chopped cilantro to give it a little bit of a kick... I'll bet a fire roasted jalapeno would be good... and a fire roasted red bell pepper would really add a nice splash of color. Lots of variations to keep in mind for next time.

One suggestion... a really big suggestion: when you buy frozen spinach for anything you want to eat, buy the good stuff. Frozen spinach is cheap, spend the extra dollar and get a well known brand. The store I bought the frozen spinach for this dip at only had one brand, the cheap crap. The spinach was stringy and I found a couple of crunchy bits in it. I don't want to think about what could be crunchy in spinach so I didn't examine those closely.
Save yourself some grief, buy the good spinach.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

I Love Tri-Tip

Remember how I buy meat on sale? Well, this week a local grocery chain had tri-tip on sale for $1.97 a pound. Oh, man... you can't beat a price like that for a cut of beef that is so easy to cook and tastes so good.
I bought 2.

The tri-tip cut has a pretty good layer of fat on one side. I like to leave most of it on as it contributes to the taste and juiceness of the meat. If it's really thick I'll trim it down a bit.

On top of that fat there is usually a membrane that should be cut away. If it's left on it can get pretty chewy. Trimming away the membrane also gives an easy opportunity to take of some excess fat.

There are lots of ways to cook tri-tip. One of the most popular is on the barbecue. In fact, Santa Maria Tri-Tip (this is just one recipe, Google will show you dozens more) is one of the absolute best barbecue meals you'll ever have. If you ever get the chance to have that at a county fair, carnival, flea market, etc., take it! Your taste buds will be doing somersaults.
But, I don't always feel like starting the barbecue grill. Sometimes I just want to throw the roast in the oven and not do a lot of fussing.
For those times I drag out that faithful cast iron frying pan, pop the roast into it, coat both sides generously with a good seasoning like Lindberg-Snyder Porterhouse and Roast Seasoning, and get it into the oven.

About 40-45 minutes later...

Dang it, I'm drooling. Gotta go get some leftovers... thanks for reading.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What's on sale today?

I need to make a confession and an observation: I'm cheap and meat is expensive.
These two combined mean I buy meat on sale.
I hardly ever buy meat at the regular price. But if it's on sale... I am there.

Earlier this week I had to go to Sam's Club for cat litter. Of course, I had to wander through the meat department while I was there. Lo and behold, there is a package of ground beef marked down for quick sale.
I love seeing those stickers on Sam's Club meat. They've usually got pretty good prices on ground beef in the first place but that sticker brings it down even further and the package is still well within its sell-by date. Into the cart it goes. What will I do with it? Beats me, I'll figure that out on the way home. Ground beef is one of those staples that we can always figure out a use for.

As it turns out, one night we have simple hamburger patties with cheese melted on top. Last night I made a meat loaf and put the rest of the ground beef in the freezer for later.

Meat loaf is one of the simplest dishes there are, and it's difficult to screw up.
Here's what I did: mix meat with two raw eggs, seasoned bread crumbs, chopped onion, ground pepper, salt, and some dry soup mix. Usually we use onion soup mix but I neglected to get any after using the last one a few days ago. Rummaging through the cabinet found some Knorr Vegetable Soup mix. What the heck, let's see how that works.

Now comes the fun part: dive in there with clean hands and get that stuff mixed up.
After that I form the loaf in a cast iron skillet. I used to use a loaf pan but I've found the iron spider works really well and gives a nice crust on the bottom of the meatloaf.

Some time in the oven and Bob's your uncle, dinner is ready.

I am happy to say the Knorr Vegetable Soup mix turns out just fine in meat loaf.

Pass the ketchup!

Monday, October 19, 2009

What are you making that smells so good?!

When I went to Sam's Club today I found some pork stew meat on sale. Couldn't resist, looks like we'll have chili for dinner tonight... and tomorrow night... and maybe even the next day, too.

For chili spices I've had really good results using a pre-packaged mix from the grocery store. It's Carroll Shellby's Original Texas Chili mix. To write this post I looked up their website for the first time. I was hoping for some good info and additional recipes. Alas, no such luck. It's just a corporate site for the company that markets the mix, pretty dissappointing but at least you can see what the package looks like in case you want to find it in the store yourself.

I don't usually follow the package directions for this mix. I just use it to season my own recipe. So, let's see what that is...
Note: I'm not always a cook who measures things. I do when it counts, but this isn't one of those times. You're going to have to bear with me when I say it "looked about right" or "season to taste."
First, I browned the pork stew meat in a frying pan on the range. As it browned I transfered it into a deep casserole dish in the oven (my mom gave us this casserole dish last night and it was just begging to show me how well it would work). I also tossed in the leftover London broil from the rib dinner the other night. It was a little bit too tough to just eat as-is so I wanted to take advantage of its flavor here.
The one problem I saw with this pork is that it's pretty lean. I usually use pork shoulder or picnic shoulder when I make chili and shred the meat after a few hours in the slow-cooker. Those cuts have plenty of fat so the meat is juicy and tasty. This meat I got today is dryer and not quite as tender, even after a long cook in the oven.

After everything was browned and in the casserole dish I poured in two cans of chicken stock and dumped in a large onion that I'd cut rather coarsely. Oven temperature was set at about 250 degrees.
Once the meat had a couple or three hours to get tender I put in a can of diced stewed tomatoes and a larger can of whole stewed tomatoes. For the whole stewed tomatoes I crushed them in my hand before dropping them into the chili. This is a great way to break these up, just be sure your hands are clean and watch out for the inevitable squirt of tomatoe from between your fingers. I didn't do too bad this time, I only needed two paper towels to clean up afterwards.

Ok, here's where it gets fun... I use fire roasted chilis in my chili.
For this chili I got a bag full of Anaheim chilis and one red bell pepper so there would be some nice color. Roasting chilis is really easy but it's something a lot of people are leery of. Just turn on your range burner and set a chili or two on the burner ring. As the chilis blacken you'll want to turn them with a pair of kitchen tongs until the whole outside is charred. Drop the roasted chili in a paper or plastic bag and close the top. This lets the chili steam and continue to cook. Now do the rest of the chilis.
Once all the chilis are roasted and cooled enough to handle, I cut off the stem end, slice up the side, remove the seeds, and scrape off the charred skin. If you've done the roasting right the skin will slide right off. I don't worry if I don't get it all off but most of it should come off. Sometimes a rinse under the tap will aid in getting the skin off. After all this I diced the cooked chilis. The red bell pepper got cooked the same way but I cut it into thin strips rather than dice. At this point all the chilis got dumped into the pot of chili and I finally remembered to put in the chili seasoning.

I have to be careful when I make chili or salsa. I like them with some good kick but if I do that then Fayme can't eat any. I really enjoy cooking for her so I try to tone things down so she can enjoy them. For this batch of chili I used all the cayenne pepper in the chili mix. The amount I was making was way bigger than the mix is meant for so I didn't think it would be too hot. As it turns out, I was right. This was a one glass of milk bowl of chili for Fayme.
Actually, this is a picture of the whole batch in the new casserole "dish." I didn't mean to imply that this is the bowl of chili Fayme ate. Wow... can you imagine eating that much chili?

To go along with the chili I decided to make some garlic bread. I typically keep a butter and garlic mix in the 'fridge so I dug that out and spruced it up. I added about 4 more cloves of minced garlic, some fine chopped fresh parsley, and another stick of butter. A few seconds in the microwave and everything was soft enough to mix and then spread.

If you'd like to make this mix for yourself it is simplicity itself. Grab an old jar and put in butter, minced garlic, and mix it up. I also add in oregano, chopped parsley, and sometimes some garlic powder if I don't feel it's garlicky (is that a word?) enough. I keep this jar in the refrigerator and pull it out whenever garlic bread sounds good. When it gets low I just top it off with more butter and garlic.
A quick trip under the broiler for the garlic bread, a little green onion, cilantro, and sour cream for the chili, and we're good to go!

The only problem now is who is coming over to help us eat all this chili? You know, way back when I was a kid my mom and dad had a coffee shop in southern California. I think that "cooking for crowds" thing really sunk into me because I find it almost impossible to cook an amount reasonable for two people.
I really need to open up a bed and breakfast in Arizona so I can cook for more than just Fayme and I.

Thanks for reading!