Sunday, February 20, 2011

It's Raining, It's Pouring...Rainy Day Food...



Somewhere in the midwest, there is an old man with a concussion snoring in bed.  I know this because IT'S POURING!  Rain, thunder and lightning!  I am really loving the weather in spite of the fact that it's been gray and cold all day.  Anyone that knows me, knows that I love rainy days.  I love the feeling of being cozy in my home while it rains outside, some soup simmering on the stove, maybe some fresh bread in the oven.  It was a perfect day for something warm and bubbly in my opinion. 

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I have had my share of rainy days.  It wasn't until I first moved to Colorado, I didn't realize how much rainy days influence my behavior.   In my family, sunny days were taken advantage of, yard work was done, walks were taken, and Sunday drives to sunny meadows and picnics. (OK, that didn't really happen all that often, but when they did, they were fun.)  I know that my mom and my sister suffered for the ongoing gray days, but I always loved them.  When a sunny came up, their moods lifted and their energy shift was palpable.  I still see it in my sister to this day.  I, however, am the opposite.  Sunny days make me sigh with irritation.  I have trouble staying inside and doing the things I want to do like cook, knit, sew or read because I feel like I should be outside mowing the lawn, pulling weeds, or hiking (aka Death Marching). 

When I moved to Colorado, where there are 320 days of sunshine a year (compared to about 180 in Portland, OR), I was somewhat appalled.  Every nice weekend (which is almost EVERY stinking weekend in Colorado), I felt the need to be out working in the yard or doing something productive.  I just wanted to take a nap and watch a movie and eat soup.  Especially in the late fall and winter.  Hence, the Midwest being a good move for me with it's average 230 days a year. Nice medium in my opinion. 

I have written before about how much I like the Cooking Light magazine.  They have a series called "Cooking Class" in which they cover a different cooking technique.  In the January/February issue, they covered "Stew".  Stew is a wonderful comfort food.  Stewing takes tougher cuts and through long slow cooking tenderizes them into buttery bites of meat with layers of flavor added by the vegetables, the liquid, and the seasonings.  

Cooking Light gives a step by step process to make every stew a success.  You start by browning the meat and the vegetables.  The caramelizing of the vegetables and meat create a delicious flavor concentrator, fond.  The  fond is the browned bits that stick to the bottom of the pan.  As I mentioned in this post, adding liquid to the pain (in stew, it's usually acidic, like wine) after the fond is formed and scraping up the browned bits before continuing on creates a full flavor.  Bringing it to a boil just concentrates the flavor further.  After that, it's just a matter of getting all of your ingredients in the pot, covering with liquid and simmering until thick and rich.  

I made the Italian Beef Stew that Cooking light featured in their Stew Cooking class.  It is SO good.  Serving it with some creamy polenta or crusty rolls would push it over the top to greatness.  A rustic apple tart would cap it off perfectly.

Ingredients

7  teaspoons  olive oil, divided
1 1/2  cups  chopped onion
1/2  cup  chopped carrot
1  tablespoon  minced garlic
1/4  cup  all-purpose flour
2  pounds  boneless chuck roast, trimmed and cut into cubes
3/4  teaspoon  salt, divided
1/2  teaspoon  black pepper
1  cup  dry red wine
3 3/4  cups  chopped seeded peeled plum tomato (about 2 pounds)
1 1/2  cups  fat-free, lower-sodium beef broth
1/2  cup  water
2  teaspoons  chopped fresh oregano
2  teaspoons  chopped fresh thyme
1  bay leaf
1  (8-ounce) package cremini mushrooms, quartered
3/4  cup  (1/4-inch-thick) slices carrot
2  tablespoons  chopped fresh basil
1  tablespoon  chopped parsley

Preparation

1. Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add onion and chopped carrot; sauté 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic; sauté for 45 seconds, stirring constantly. Remove from pan.
2. Add 1 tablespoon oil to pan. Place 1/4 cup flour in a shallow dish. Sprinkle beef with 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper; dredge in flour. Add half of beef to pan; sauté 6 minutes, browning on all sides. Remove from pan. Repeat procedure.
3. Add wine to pan, and bring to a boil, scraping pan. Cook until reduced to 1/3 cup (about 5 minutes). Return meat and the onion mixture to pan. Add tomato and next 6 ingredients; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, and stir in sliced carrot. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 hour or until meat is very tender, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaf. Stir in remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, basil, and parsley.

Recipe by Cooking Light Magazine, January 2011 by Ivy Manning

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

S Is for Salmon

As someone that grew up in the Pacific Northwest, I was never a huge fan of salmon probably because it was always there and we ate a lot of it. I would have rather had Macaroni and Cheese. I didn't like picking the bones out and while I was growing up, I just wasn't a huge fan of fish in general. As I've aged (and we won't talk about how aged, but like a nice cheese or a great bottle of wine, I think I'm getting better), I've come to appreciate fish more fully.

Last summer, I had a fantastic barbecued salmon at my mother's wake. Just after my mother passed away but before the memorial and wake, a friend of my sister's called telling her they had fresh caught salmon and would sell it to us for a reasonable price for each fish, cleaned and de-headed. (I personally have never gotten over the idea of eating food that looks back at me so appreciated that a great deal.) Kris (my sister, who throws a great wake, I hope she throws one for me if I go first), put them on the barbecue with the following very simple recipe she got from her fish monger:


Barbecue Salmon

1 salmon fillet

1/4 c olive oil

2/3 c brown sugar

3 cloves minced garlic

1/4 c butter

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and Pepper



Two hours before cooking salmon, brush with olive oil, press minced garlic into fish, and sprinkle with brown sugar and salt and pepper. Refrigerate until cooking time. During cooking time, baste with additional olive oil and melted butter and lemon juice.

We made it without the butter and just the olive oil and not quite as much brown sugar. It was SO simple and yummy. My mom would have loved it. We had a rice salad and some artisan bread from this local bakery with it. It was a really simple meal at a time when we didn't have the emotional bandwidth to fuss with anything complicated.


Dessert was PIE. My mom loved pie. Her birthday is just after mine and she always wanted pie instead of cake. When we celebrated together, we always had pie instead (which when I was younger disappointed me, but now I prefer it unless we are talking German Chocolate Cake.) Making good pie crust is a topic for a post all its' own, but lets just say that lard really does make a fantastic crust and in the absence of lard, unsalted butter is wonderful.
When I was younger, my mother would bake pies almost every weekend. Mostly apple or cherry. She would mark the top of the pie with an "A" or a "C". As these were her initials, I thought she was just marking the fact that she made the pies. When I left home and started making my own pies, I would mark them with a "J" or a "C". My mom asked me once what the "J" was for, I told her "JoAnn" just like she used to mark her pies for "Ann" and "Culbertson". She snorted and told me that "A" and "C" was for apple and cherry. So, needless to say, I marked the Peach/Blueberry pies at the wake with an "A" and "C" for mom.
 


Photo Courtesy of Sunset Magazine
I'm working on expanding my fish horizons these days. On Thursday, I made Salmon Patties with some canned salmon I had hanging around my pantry. I substituted Panko for the cracker crumbs and used celery, red pepper and onion for the veggies. The main thing is to be sure you mince the vegetables up consistently so they cook through but still maintain the crunch. The snap of the veggies with the salmon was really nice. Totally yummy and easy to make. A great quick weeknight dinner. Add some sauteed greens and a maybe some rice with garlic and herbs cooked in broth. Fast, easy and not too hard on the calorie count.

During the 14 years I lived in Colorado I didn't eat a lot of seafood as I felt too far away from the ocean for it to be good.  I recently moved to the Chicago area.  I haven't figured out what fish is local to the Great Lakes region yet, but am asking questions and researching. I'm looking forward to the nicer weather so I can use the barbecue and not smell up the house cooking fish.


Share those recipes and stories - fish, pie and stories. Look forward to reading them all! 


I'm linking up to Jenny Matlocks Alphabe Thursday.  Check it out and join the party! 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Monday, February 14, 2011

Guilty Pleasures Made Fresh

Tonight I made one of my favorite comfort foods, Salisbury Steak.  I love the simplicity of the dish along with the peppery gravy and mushrooms.  Add some mashed potatoes on the side and I'm in heaven.  Growing up, I don't ever remember my mom (or dad who took over a great deal of the cooking not too long after I moved out to go to school) making it. It was strictly a cafeteria fare food when I was younger and then when I was older, I had some in a restaurant that was fantastic.  Perfect balance of salt and pepper, garlic mashed potatoes on the side, fresh mushrooms (not canned which I think has contributed to many people not ever eating mushrooms again, they scarred me for many years.) and a savory gravy with a wine and stock base.  

I was reading through the December issue of Cooking Light magazine the other day, flagging the recipes I wanted to cut out so I could try them and ran across their recipe for Salisbury Steak with Mushroom Gravy in their Dinner Tonight series.  

I had all of the ingredients so it was, um, dinner tonight.  

 I didn't have the ground sirloin, but I did have some sirloin steaks in my freezer.  I got out my trusty food grinder that my grandmother gave me over 20 years ago.  It's a hand crank grinder like the one she had for most of her adult life, and like the one my mother had when I was growing up.  We used ours mostly for grinding up leftover roast beef and vegetables to make hash.  I used to beg my mother to let me crank the handle.  It was so cool to watch the chunks of food go in and come out in a hash that made the best leftovers ever.   

The recipe calls for grated onion, but as I got home late this evening and was really hungry, I used some finely chopped onion I already had in the refrigerator. 

Lots of fresh ground pepper and some salt (lately I've been using ground sea salt), a hot skillet with a bit of olive oil, I had four patties browning for my dinner.  

Speaking of skillets, I'm a newer convert to stainless steel cookware.   The more I use it, the more I love it, especially with meat.  If you decide to go the stainless cookware route, buy a high quality brand.  Mine have an aluminum core which adds some heft, but provides evenly distributed heat.  Mine are from Pampered Chef.  They are worth every penny I paid and then some.  If you decide to go the Pampered Chef route, consider hosting a party so you can get them for half price.  (Disclaimer: I used to be a Pampered Chef consultant, but am no longer.  If you need a consultant, I can refer to a couple of good ones.)

Once the patties were cooked on each side (it goes fast!), they were removed to a plate to be kept warm while the mushrooms are cooked and the gravy is put together.  This leads me to a new discovery - I can't believe it took me until now to figure this out.  I love to cook with wine, but I hate opening a bottle of wine just for a recipe.  I don't drink often, mainly because I live by myself and won't typically drink if I don't have company, or if I do have a glass of wine, I still don't get through the bottle before it turns, and  I hate dumping out half bottles of wine.  

Who knew there was a great solution at hand!  (Probably most of you, but I that boat missed until Sunday.)  I dropped by the World Market in my neighborhood to look for some candles to go in a pair of candlesticks that are an unusual size.  It turns out the store is closing so everything, including the wine was on sale.  Figuring that the selection would be pretty picked over, I still did due diligence and took a look and found these single serving wine bottles like you get on a airplane.  It never occurred to me to look for the smaller bottles for cooking purposes!  So - I had just enough to use for my recipe and have about two-thirds of a glass of wine, which was perfect for me, especially on a weeknight.

Back to stainless steel cookware:  One of the objections I have heard to using stainless versus non-stick is how everything sticks to the pan and it's a pain to scrub.  Let me introduce you to my friend, fond. Fond is the brown bits that stick to the pan when cooking.  To remove them, you keep the heat on under the pan and add a liquid, in this case, wine.  The liquid loosens up the browned bits and adds oodles of flavor to the sauce. 
Once the mushrooms were sauteed and the wine added, the fond came right off the bottom of my pan and became part of the sauce.  Some beef stock and flour and a few more minutes of simmering, I had an incredibly yummy meal that fit right in with one of my favorite meals.  


I would definitely make this recipe again, although I think that next time I will buy the sirloin already ground.  It wasn't hard or overly time consuming to grind it myself, but the meat was a bit tough which I suspect was partly due to how much fat I trimmed off the meat before grinding.  If you decide to make it, I would add just a bit of salt to the gravy, but definitely taste before you as saltiness is a very subjective decision.  

I would have loved to have some garlic mashed potatoes with this dish, but since I'm currently following a low-carb lifestyle, I opted out.  I have made mashed cauliflower in the past as a substitute, which I like very much, but due to my late arrival home and the fact that I was very hungry, I opted to munch on some chopped veggies while I was working on the prep instead. 

This along with Macaroni and Cheese are probably my two favorite meals.  I'm glad I made it and I now have a jumping off place to start figuring out my own version.   What are your guilty food pleasures? 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

R is for Radishes and Recipes




I generally don't eat a lot of radishes, not because I don't like them but because it's hard to get through a whole bunch when you live by yourself and are cutting them up one at a time for a salad.

I started a low-carb diet at the new year so am looking for ways to get more veggies in my diet that don't have too many carbs, but are more varied than some steamed or sauted beans or greens. I did some research and found several recipes that are appealing, the number one item being Sauteed Radishes. I would never have thought to cook them, but after reading the rave reviews for this recipe, I don't think I can resist. I think I will take the same path that one reviewer did and add some kale and onions.

As for recipes, my favorite place for finding new ones lately is http://www.food.com/. I love their recipe sifter and have had generally good luck finding great recipes on this site. One of the things I learned early on with recipe sites is to read the reviews and use the experiences that other people have shared. I think I usually end up with better results then I would otherwise.




I also use the recipes I find on sites like http://www.food.com/ as jumping off places. When I taste something at a restaurant and want to duplicate it, I start here for ideas and then tweak to fit my memory of the dish. One of those turned into one of my very favorite soup dishes. When one of my step-daughters was visitin me in Colorado, we went on a tour of the Celestial Seasonings plant and ate in the on-site cafeteria. They had a pumpkin black bean soup that was to die for.

I found this recipe online and with some minor tweaks came up with a soup that I love and make at least once or twice a month during the winter months. The other thing that is a new standard is this pecan pie recipe. It came out of a need to make one for a Thanksgiving dinner I was attending, but didn't have any corn syrup on hand so was fortunate enough to find this version that doesn't call for syrup but instead uses brown sugar and butter. It's by far and away the best pecan pie I've ever had. (Take the advice of the reviewers and bake it a bit longer and cut down on the butter/margerine. I used unsalted butter for this and it was perfect. Also, didn't chop the pecans and like the texture of it better with the halves.)

For parties, I will usually search out menus that other people have posted and use them as a planning tool. For my birthday in 2010, I made a good part of this Morrocan Menu by user FrenchTart. The beef tagine was wonderful. The chicken tagine wasn't as good as I had hoped, but think I will try it again with Chicken Thighs instead of breasts. The breasts dried out some with the cooking and I think the thighs would stand up to the longer cooking time better. The carrot salad was refreshing and I now prefer it to the favorite of my childhood, carrot and raisin salad. We had fresh made pita (courtesy of my pastry chef daughter) and German Chocolate Cake (which is my favorite).

Other favorite recipe sites are epicurious.com and Cooking Light Magazines website. I also get the magazine as a gift subscription every year from my sister. I find at least one or two recipes in every issue that I absolutely love. I have several recipes that have become standards over the years that originally came from Cooking Light.

What sites are you using to find great recipes? Any radish recipes you can send my way? Share and share-alike I always say, especially when it comes to recipes. Bon appetit!

(This post is part of Jenny Matlock's Alphabe Thursdays. Enjoy!)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Welcome!


Welcome to my blog! As it says in my profile, I love to cook. I'm an avid knitter. and I really enjoy writing (but don't do enough of it). I intend to use this blog to share recipes, projects, and practice writing. While my profiles also talks about my professional life, I will try not to talk about technology here (unless it applies to cooking or crafting).

I hope you enjoy it! Post lots of feedback and thoughts. Look forward to sharing all things cooking and crafting with you!