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.