}]; Noreen's Kitchen: 2010

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What's for Dinner? Easy Oven Shrimp Scampi

A Shrimp By Any Other Name Would Still Be As Delicious

I have vivid memories of being a child and going out for fancy dinners with my family.  Not all the time, but for special occasions.  It was on this special trips that my parents introduced my brother and I to a world of culinary delights.  It would be these dinners that would develop our likes and dislikes and help us to be adventurous eaters later in life.

You most likely have similar memories, perhaps not like the one I have described, but one of your own.  One that you refer to when you are seated in a special restaurant and are reading the menu, maybe you look for your favorite, whether it be Beef Wellington, Veal Oscar or Chicken Kiev.  It will bring you back to that place when you were a child, when the table was much larger and the napkins seemed more like a bed sheet.  When your mother would let you take a sip of her wine.  You were allowed to order Chocolate Mousse, Baked Alaska or Cherries Jubilee, for dessert.  The latter set aflame table side for maximum impact.  Truly a spectacle to behold!

For me, there are a couple dishes that take me back to that place, when the napkins were big and I had to make an effort to be on my best behavior.  Veal Oscar and Shrimp Scampi are my two favorites that I always search for on a high end menu.  The first is one that I reserve for an evening out, and it is getting more and more difficult to come by, but the scampi, is easy to make yourself and even though you cook at home, you can still achieve the same flavors and memories that you love. 

There is also no reason to kill your self while making this dish.  I mean this is simple and making it anything else would be criminal.  Simple ingredients yield maximum flavor and that is what you want.  This dish is even easy enough to prepare on a busy weeknight.  It literally takes minutes to cook and aside from the cleaning and shelling of the fresh shrimp, really takes little time.

So, relive a happy memory, go back to a simpler time and do it the easy way.  I invite you along for the trip, here is how you make shrimp scampi the oven style, no brainer, maximum flavor way!


Here is what you will need to make this dish:

2 pounds shrimp peeled and deveined
1 stick butter
4 cloves minced garlic
Juice of 2 lemons
1 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
1 tsp. Mrs. Dash
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. sea salt

Prepared Angel Hair Pasta

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a baking pan place the stick of butter and place in oven until melted.  When butter is sizzly and melted remove from oven and add minced garlic and shrimp and toss to coat.  Return pan to oven and allow to cook for 5 to7 minutes or until the shrimp are opaque and no longer translucent.  Don’t let them cook for too long otherwise they will be chewy and tough and you don’t want that. 

When shrimp are cooked through remove from oven and add Salt, Old Bay, Paprika and Mrs. Dash along with the juice of 2 lemons, toss to combine and you are ready to serve of some angel hair pasta or rice, your choice.

I hope you try this and I hope you enjoy it!  As Always, Happy Eating!

What's for Dinner? Ground Beef Wellington

Filet Mignon Taste and a Ground Beef Budget

Since I have been doing my videos for Youtube, I have had more than one adventurous viewer request that I demonstrate how to cook Beef Wellington.  Now you can imagine the first ever request for this fancy schamncy dish put me over the top, but then I got another and then another.  What to do?

I can assure you that I, although well versed in the kitchen have never attempted to make such a culinary wonder, but I was up for the challenge.  The only thing holding me back?  The economy!  Taking a look around at the current state of the economy had me worried that making such a dish would be like rubbing salt into the wound of a broken and flat broke foodie.  Beef Wellington is amazing with its layers of flakey pastry wrapped lovingly around a beef tenderloin that has been buddied up with duxcel of mushrooms and goose liver pate and tenderly brushed with nothing but the best Dijon mustard.  But lets be real, this is not a dish for the faint of heart nor the weak of wallet!

So what was I to do?  I did what any self respecting video blogger would do.  I politely ignored the request and went along my happy way doing other things to please and tantalize the pallets of my viewers.  Then one day, not so long ago, I was visiting the store and I saw it, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Cookbook.  Now I am a huge fan of Jamie, having followed him all along from his days being dubbed the Naked Chef and boy was I happy to leaf through this book in the store, but as I leafed I realized that I needed to take this book home.  Much like a visit to the pound will result in you acquiring another pet, a visit to the bookstore will most assuredly guarantee the procurement of one if not several new tomes.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I read cookbooks from cover to cover along with a stack of sticky notes to mark the recipes that I will be trying.  You should also probably know that I am a self professed cookbook junkie, having spent years building a library that would rival the most intense cook among us.  But like cats, there is always room for one more.   One afternoon while reading this book, page after page, sitting the waiting room of the doctors office, I discovered this lovely recipe for Ground Beef Wellington.  This was the answer!  I was so excited, I believe I embarrassed my daughter but at 13 that is not hard to do. 

So, now I had everything I needed, a great recipe, an answer to the expensive problem and you.  Everyone can afford a pound of ground beef, along with the other ingredients, this dish did not cost a lot to make.  In all, this dish can cost anywhere from $10.00 to $15.00 depending on if you purchase organic meat or regular.  The puff pastry is around $4.00 and the other ingredients are all easy to come by.  Don’t want to use Portabellos?  Use Criminis they are smaller and they are actually baby portobellos, or you can just use regular white button mushrooms.  But don’t leave out the mushrooms and don’t forget that potato is important too, because the starch from it will help to absorb any of the liquid from the veggies and meat as it cooks in it’s little pastry cocoon.  I made the mistake of leaving out the potato, and while the dish was still amazing, I saw why the spud was necessary.

So without further Adieu, I give you the fanciest meatloaf you will ever make:  Ground Beef Wellington.


Here is what you will need to make this dish:

1 medium onion chopped
1 carrot chopped
2 stalks of celery chopped
2 garlic cloves chopped
2 Portobello Mushrooms roughly chopped
1 potato finely diced
Olive oil (around a tablespoon)
1 Teaspoon of Marjoram, Thyme or Rosemary
1 Large egg beaten
Sea salt
Cracked Black Pepper
2 Sheets Puff Pastry (I used 1 box of Pepperidge Farm Brand it’s in the freezer)

In a large skillet heat olive oil.  Sautee’ all veggies until soft and the potato is fully cooked, around 15 minutes.  Place the hot veggies on a small baking sheet and spread out into a thin layer.  Place the sheet in the fridge for around 15 minutes and allow to cool.

In a large bowl, combine the veggies, ground beef, salt, pepper, herb of your choice and half of the beaten egg.  Blend with your hands until the mixture is well combined.  Set aside while we work with the pastry.

Lightly flour a board or your counter and take the puff pastry and unfold both sheets and slightly overlap them and roll together.  Do not make the mistake of leaving them out for too long, because they will stick to themselves as mine did, but I just rolled them together with a rolling pin and everything was fine.

Your puff pastry should be around 12 inches by 16 inches with the long side in front of you.  Take the meat mixture and form a long log or sausage shape toward the long front side of the pastry.  Brush the remaining egg mixture along all edges, this will act as a glue to keep the pastry together while cooking.  Roll the pastry around the beef mixture and roll, leaving the seam side down under the log and pinching the ends together so the whole thing looks like a loaf of French bread. 

Transfer to a baking sheet line with parchment paper and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.  Remove from oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes before slicing. 

I served this with steamed cauliflower with browned butter bread crumbs.  There is no need to make a starch because the puff pastry is rich enough.  A green salad on the side would be a lovely addition as well. 

I hope you try this and I hope you enjoy it.  Look for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Cookbook, along with this recipe there are lots more that are wonderful and I look forward to making some of them for you.  I also understand that he is coming out with a new book very soon dealing with 30 minute meals.  Check it out, you will not be disappointed! 

I hope you try this and I hope you enjoy it.  As always Happy Eating!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

What's for Dinner? Quick Weeknight Quick Potato Soup

This week was the beginning of the new school year in our area.  My girls started school this past Wednesday.  Back to school always makes me wax nostalgic of my own school days.  I remember the eager anticipation of starting a new year.  Meeting a new teacher and seeing my friends on a regular basis after the long hot summer of separation.  It also reminds me of the comforting times spent around the dinner table with my family recounting the days activities.  Sharing in our happiness and our troubles.  It was a great time.  Truly a thing I did not appreciate until I had grown and realized how great it truly was.  As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.  This is true of people and of times in our lives.

The family times around the dinner table were made even more memorable thanks to the bountiful spread my mother would always put on the table for us to share.  After a long day at school, there were few things that one could appreciate more that some of mom’s home cooking!  I hope that someday my girls will feel the same, when they are preparing to send their children off into the world.  Coming home to a comforting and warm bowl of hearty soup is always a great way to fill their bellies and help their brains tackle all that homework that they will undoubtedly be bringing home with them.  

This soup is so easy to prepare, you will not believe that this silky creamy soup can be made in under an hour.  Pair this with a green salad, some crusty  bread and butter or soft cheese and you are well on your way to making sure that your children will be satisfied in body and soul ready to take on algebra, earth science or Shakespeare.  Give this a try, I know that you will be glad you did!

This recipe is well suited for a day when you don’t know what to make.  Perhaps you have half a bag of potatoes sitting under your kitchen sink ( I always assume that everyone does things the way I do)  Maybe you have a couple of carrots in the crisper drawer, along with the celery that you bought last week and the half an onion that you put away over the weekend, and some heavy cream half and half or whole milk, you have what you need to make this.  

Don’t have the aromatics?  Use some frozen veggies!  That ½ bag of frozen broccoli, is screaming to be picked to play on this team.  Whatever you have that would be suitable for a soup, would be great to get this going.  Do the potatoes in the broth and add what you want.  Don’t want to use the heavy cream, use milk or plain yogurt!  Make this your own, you’ll love it and so will your kids!  Simple, hearty and satisfying, and you didn’t have to spend the whole day in the kitchen killing yourself on this one either!  

Here is what you will need to make this recipe:

2 pounds of potatoes peeled and cubed (I used Yukon gold)
1 medium onion or about 1 cup chopped
4 stalks celery chopped
1 cup carrots chopped ( I used matchstick carrots that I chopped up even more with my hand chopper)
½ stick butter (4 Tablespoons)
4 cups hot water
4 chicken bullion cubes
1 carton chicken stock
¼ teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon salt (use Jane’s Crazy Mixed up Salt if you can get it.  If not, no biggie!)
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup heavy cream (or ½ and ½ or milk or yogurt)
Crumbled Bacon
Cheddar Cheese
Green Onions
Dollop of Sour Cream

In a large deep skillet or stock pot,  Melt butter, add onion, celery and carrots.  Sautee until soft and onion is translucent.  Add potatoes and give things a stir.  Combine bullion cubes or powder with hot water and add to pan along with entire carton of chicken stock.  Stir in celery seed, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper.    Cook over medium high heat for 20 to 25 minutes or until potatoes are soft, but not falling apart.  Towards the end of the cooking time, mash some of the potatoes while stirring, to thicken the soup with the starch of the potatoes.  Turn heat off and add heavy cream and whisk lightly to combine.  Allow to simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.  NOTE:  don’t allow the soup to boil otherwise you may risk breaking the cream and although it will taste fine, it will look really nasty.  

Serve this to your family after a long day.  Share, laugh, love and make memories over steaming bowls of this hearty soup that says “I Love You”.  

I hope you try this and I hope you enjoy it.  Until next time:  See Ya!

What's for Dinner? Ham and Cabbage Bake with Noodles

August is waning and I can feel and smell autumn trying really hard to burst on to the scene.  Autumn is by far, my favorite time of all the year.  In  my estimation, the finest of all seasons, with spring coming in second, winter trailing behind spring and summer in dead last.  I HATE SUMMER!  I never did well in the heat.  The only thing that saves me in the summer is gardening and the bountiful harvests that I get from my hard work in the spring, along with the canning and putting up or putting by that is done inside an air conditioned house!

Today is one of the first this summer that the humidity decided to take a holiday and a the temperature did not raise into the nineties.  As I walked outside this morning, I could feel Autumn calling to me, letting me know that she was on her way to put the earth to sleep for another winter.  I for one have never been sad to see the summer go.  Back to school, making way for Halloween and Thanksgiving as well as the changing of the clocks are all highly anticipated.  These things make me know that no matter what may happen, the seasons will always turn one into another keeping grounded for yet another year.

Autumn brings with it so many things that I love, leaves, pumpkins, gourds, hay bales in my front yard, putting the garden to bed for the coming winter, wood smoke, chilly mornings, campfires in my back yard and the ability to cook items that are just not good when the weather is hot and muggy.  Who wants to eat a big heavy meal when the temperature outside is breaking 100 degrees and the humidity is breaking 100 percent.  Who can eat anything for that matter when things are that uncomfortable?  But Autumn is my friend.  She is gentle, she whispers to me each morning when I step outside on my back deck with my hot coffee and breath in the cool, dewy air that is crisp and satisfying and smell the faintness of a wood fire, that someone has stoked to take the morning chill of his house.  She says “I Love You!”  “I am here for my yearly visit.”  “Enjoy me while I am here!”.  Perfection!

The beginnings of Autumn are magical to me.  It restores me, body and soul, bringing with it cool weather and the opportunity to spend comfortable time outdoors with my family.  It also brings with it cool weather veggies at their peak.  Crucifers abound, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, chard, kale, collards, mustard, Brussels sprouts and my favorite cabbage!  I for one, don’t think that there is anything better than a steaming plate of cabbage, sauteed with onion, apples and butter!  Green cabbage can be done like this as well as my personal preference, Savoy or curly cabbage.  Let’s not forget the red cabbage either, cooked long and slow and made to be sweet and sour, Harvard style.  YUM!  Love on a plate.

Today’s recipe will focus on the previously mentioned Savoy or curly cabbage, rich and green and bumpy and delicious.  Paired with onions, apples and ham, they join together to make a perfect main course alongside some buttery egg noodles and you have an Eastern European standard waiting to show you how wonderful dinner can me!  Give this one a try and you will not be sorry that you did.  Salty ham, tender crisp cabbage with just a hint of sweetness from the apples and onions.  You will be happy.  Instead of noodles, pair this with some prepared frozen Pierogies that have been sauteed with butter after boiling in a hot bath.  Delicious!  I think I can hear Autumn knocking at my kitchen door and she has brought me a dish of ham and cabbage and noodles.  I am happy!

Here is what you will need to make this recipe:

1 medium Savoy cabbage (use green cabbage, bok choy or other greens of your choice)
1 large onion sliced
1 apple cored, peeled and sliced
½ stick butter cut into slices
½ cup hot water
1 ham bullion packet
1 pound ham steak
1 bag egg noodles prepared and buttered

Rinse, core and chop cabbage into medium sized pieces.  Place in a large casserole dish or baking pan along with sliced onions and apples.  Place butter slices atop cabbage.  Mix ham bullion into hot water and pour over cabbage in waiting pan.  Cut ham steak into quarters and remove outer rind.  Place slices of ham atop the cabbage, onions and apples.  Cover with aluminum foil and place pan on a baking sheet.  Bake at 350 for 30 to 45 minutes.  Make sure not to peek, or you will lose all that good steam that will build up under the foil and it may take even longer for the cabbage to cook.  

While the cabbage and ham are baking in the oven, boil water in a large stock pot and prepare 1 12 ounce bag of egg noodles until they are cooked to you preferred doneness.  I don’t like them mushy.    When they are done, drain and butter with a couple tablespoons of butter or use some olive oil if you like.  

At the 35 minute mark, check the cabbage for doneness.  If you are happy, get ready to serve!  Plate up some noodles and cabbage and top with a nice piece of ham.  Sprinkle on some celery or caraway seeds and you are in for a treat!  Just like your Bubbe used to make!  Wink ; ).  

I hope you try this and I hope you enjoy it!  Until next time; See Ya!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What's for Dinner? Creamy Tomato Basil Soup

The garden is brimming with goodness and the harvest is here! Tomatoes and pepper, onions and basil and a world of other fresh produce that we are only blessed with this time of year.

To the avid vegetable gardener, this is nirvana. A satisfying season of abundance. A beginning of the time of year where canning and preserving will be taking place then giving way to the likes of county and state fairs. The latter where the works of many a home cook will be proudly displayed for the world to see and compete with other of the same ilk. A friendly (or not so friendly) competition between men and women where having made the best tomato conserve or strawberry jam can be daunting as well as a tremendous honor.

But the canning will come later and the fair even later still, so August will make way for the first of the fresh tomatoes. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, you understand that the anticipation of that first fresh red, ripe juicy love apple can be hard to take. But boy oh boy, when it is ready it is a masterpiece of deliciousness. Standing in the garden rinsing the big boy off with the garden hose, lifting its juicy heaviness to your waiting lips and taking that first magical bite. Mouthwatering? Yes, and no need for salt, for you know that if you have prepared the soil and organically fertilized the plants, there will be no need for superfluous salt. A moment made of perfection. Standing in the middle of nature, surrounded by your bounty, eating your own tomatoes, now that is paradise.

So, now that you have tons and tons of tomatoes and you have pawned off as many as you can on the neighbors and your mom dad and assorted siblings you need to eat them yourself. Make spaghetti sauce, make BLT’s and make this wonderful fresh tomato basil soup.

Enjoy the freshness of the season, and enjoy life. Because it is short! Much to short not to enjoy a fresh tomato, barefooted in the middle of the garden!

Here is what you will need to make this recipe:

4 pounds fresh tomatoes quartered
½ cup chopped bell pepper
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped onion
2 cloves chopped garlic
½ cup fresh basil leaves loosely packed
4 cups water
2 veggie bullion cubes or chicken bullion cubes
1 Tablespoon sea salt
½ tablespoon cracked black pepper
Olive oil
½ cup heavy cream (organic preferred)

In a large stock pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add onion, garlic, peppers and celery . Sautee until onions are translucent. Add tomatoes and bring pot back to a simmer. Heat water with bullion cubes in the microwave for about 4 minutes depending on your appliance. Remove and stir to break up the cubes. Add to the pot with the vegetables. Bring to a simmer and continue to simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add basil to pot along with salt and pepper. If you have an immersion blender, now is the time to use it, whaz that soup up until beautiful and smooth. Alternatively, you may use the blender, transferring the soup a couple of ladles at a time and puree. Don’t do all of it at once, and remember to remove the middle of the lid and place a dish towel over the top otherwise you will have an ugly mess when that hot liquid explodes on top of your kitchen counter.

Now, turn off the heat and add the heavy cream. Stir to blend and serve. This would be wonderful with a nice crostini on the side or like we did, next to BLT sandwiches, made with organic apple wood smoked bacon and romaine lettuce and of course garden fresh tomatoes.

I hope you like this and I hope you enjoy it.

Until next time, see ya!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Chicken Soup, Quick, Easy, Hearty and Yummy!

I know that the thought of diving into a piping hot mug of chicken soup in the middle of August may be a bit unappealing, with temperatures outside tickling the 100 mark.  However, I am never one to go with the norm.  I am far from normal. I am also reminded of a book from my childhood when I cook chicken soup.  Because I am who I am and I sat down to write this blog entry about chicken soup, I could not forget to quote the wonderful children's author Maurice Sendak:

In August it will be so hot,
I will become a cooking pot.
Cooking soup of course! Why not?
Cooking once, cooking twice.
Cooking chicken soup with rice.

Alright, I know, but  barley just doesn't fit in that poem, so we will have to just take creative license and pretend!  Today' I am sharing a very fast chicken soup with barley.  This is really made from what you may already have in your fridge and pantry.  If you don't have these things, you should.  Really basic stuff that you can use to throw together a great soup when you have some chicken left over from Sunday dinner, or from that rotisserie chicken you picked up at the store last week, but don't have enough to feed the whole family with. You could, in a pinch even use a can of white meat chicken, drained.  I am not adverse to using chicken from a can as long as we use other fresh ingredients to make the rest of the soup good and wholesome.

Soup is one of the best foods around.  You can make anything into a soup.  Have leftover chicken? Make chicken soup, or tortilla soup or hot and sour soup.  Have left over roast beef, make beef barley soup, or Italian beef and tomato soup.  You can even make soup from stuff you didn't think you could make soup from.  Like the bits and pieces in your produce drawer.  Don't throw them away, make them into a wonderful veggie soup.  Whaz it all up with your immersion blender or in your blender, add a little cream or milk and you will have a lovely creamy vegetable bisque.

Soup feeds the stomach and feeds the soul.  Paired with a hearty loaf or biscuits or crackers, soup is a staple that I find myself falling back on over and over again.  Soup is filling and fulfilling.  It makes you feel satisfied, it makes you feel loved. It can be eaten with a spoon or sipped from a mug.  It can warm you up or cool you down, depending on what you choose to make.  You can have chicken soup in the dead of winter or you can have gazpacho in the middle of July.  You can have soup in times of plenty or in times of want.  For instance a big pot of bean soup will feed lots of people with little to no meat and you can share it for days or you can put on the Ritz and pull out the silver and good china and serve Vichyssoise (cold creamy potato soup).  I have my Aunt Linda to thank for my first taste of that silky deliciousness.  

Soup is a part of who we are as people.  There is not a culture on the face of the earth that does not have a soup associated with it.   I think because soup was always a way of stretching the food budget, and if you think about it, probably one of the earliest ways of feeding a cave-person family.  Once they figured out fire that is.  I also am reminded of another story of my childhood that I still read every Thanksgiving Stone Soup.  A great story or fable about how individually we can do great things but together we can move mountains, or for that matter, make soup!  So with that here is how you make Quick Chicken Barley Soup:

Quick Chicken Barley Soup

Here is what you will need to make this soup:

2 cups cooked chicken
5 stalks celery chopped
1 medium onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1 cup carrots finely chopped
2 cartons chicken stock
4 cups water
4 bullion cubes or enough granulated bullion to make 4 cups
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon Mrs. Dash
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 cup quick barley
Salt and pepper to taste

In a stock pot heat oil.  Add onion and garlic and cook until you can smell garlic.  Add in celery and carrot and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add in dried spices and stir to combine. Add in 4 cups of prepared bullion along with 1 whole carton of chicken stop and 1/2 of the additional carton.  Add chicken and stir to combine.  Bring to a simmer, and add in barley.  Cook covered for 5 minutes or until the barley has cooked completely.  Quick barley should only take about 5 minutes to be done.  Taste your broth and add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with bread or biscuits or along side a sandwich or salad and you have a complete meal.  

I hope you try this and I hope you enjoy it.

Until next time.....................................See Ya!

Monday, August 2, 2010

In a Pickle!

Summertime brings with it thoughts of beach visits, amusement parks, time off from school and warm nights.  For some though, like myself, it brings with it a bounty of fresh picked fruits and vegetables.  It also brings canning time!  One of my favorite times of the year.  Yes, canning is work, but it is satisfying and good work. It is work that you can look back on a year later when you crack open that jar of strawberry preserves and remember picking the berries with your children.  Or when you look in the pantry and to your surprise you find one last jar of bread and butter pickles when you thought there were no more left.  You sneak to the kitchen and open it up and you indulge in their sweet and sour goodness.  Nothing like home preserved foods.  Nothing like knowing exactly what is in that jar, good wholesome fruits or veggies and lots and lots of love.

We live in such a hurried society now, that few people actually take the time to "put up" their own pickles, jams, jellies etc.  Yes, I know, it is easy to go to the store and purchase your favorite pickle.  Very easy to twist open a jar of strawberry jam from the local super center.  But how many of you have actually taken the time to look on the label and see what is going into your jar of "All Natural" preserves or "Extra Crisp" gerkins?  I think if you looked, you would find that there are some ingredients that are less than desirable like high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, preservatives, etc.  Not to mention that many of the fruits and vegetables grown for the mass market are genetically modified so they will grow without rotting, have a longer shelf life or ward off unwanted pests by actually having the pesticide placed in its DNA.  

I can for many reasons, one is because I love it.  Many years before I jumped on the healthy and safe food bandwagon, I canned because I love it.  I did not watch my mother do it, I did not even watch my grandmothers do it.  I was introduced to canning by a lovely woman named Jeannie Weise in Williams, Arizona.  A long time ago my family lived in that area.  Her family owned a local mom and pop grocery store.    At a holiday gathering she had brought several jars of her bread and butter pickles and they were heavenly.  I had never tasted anything like them, certainly nothing that could be purchased off the shelf.  I asked her if she would mind writing down the recipe for me.  A little conversation transpired and she realized I did not know anything about canning.  She invited me to her home and taught me how to make her pickles.  This was the beginning of my love affair with pickling and preserving.  

This led to my desire  to learn how to make, jams, jellies and eventually pressure canning to preserve my own soups and stews.  It also led to my love of gardening and my intense passion for cooking.  It all works together.  Plant the seed that grows the cucumbers that you can turn into pickles, either sweet or tart, and the relish sweet and hot.  The best part of canning and preserving?  Sharing!  You have never seen someones face light up as you do when you present them with homemade plum jam or tomato sauce or hot pepper relish.  Today people are blown away that there is someone who still does such a thing!  

I do find it a little sad though.  Our grandparents lived through the depression and World War II.  They preserved as a way of life.  The post war era came along and the baby boomers helped to make life as we know it easier, allowed us to have more "free time".  Allowed the housewife to take it easy by opening a package, box or jar and adding water and stirring to make a "Meal fit for king".  Our lives are add water and stir, but that is for another blog!

Since I do work full time and have two kids, and still manage to maintain a huge garden that grows from April through November, my weekends are spent canning the bounty that I have proudly produced myself.  I do not can my bounty exclusively though.  I do not grow many fruits, save some various berries, but I am blessed to live in a bountiful area that hosts acres and acres of strawberry and blueberry fields as well as peach orchards and miles and miles of fresh corn.

With the current economic situation in our country, I find that people are taking the time to go back to some of the old ways.  These pickles are as old as you can get.  Fermentation was one of the original forms of food preservation.  Employed by the ancient Egyptians, it has been refined throughout the ages and is what we know of best today as pickling.  Yes you can pickle without fermenting, but if you want an authentic and true Kosher dill pickle, this is how you need to go about it.  

Fermentation is a process in which good bacteria is introduced into an environment, to turn one thing into another.  In this case I turned cucumbers into pickles.  You can turn cabbage into sauerkraut or kim chee or any number of fruits or vegetables into their pickled counterparts.  The process I used in this recipe is called lacto-fermentation.  This is because the bacteria which we are inviting is called Lactobacillus.  This looks like a long scary word, but in reality it is nothing more than the bacteria that turns milk into yogurt, thus the "Lacto" prefix.  

I know that once you have the cukes all happy in their briny bath, you will be tempted to peek more than you should, a Mrs. Kravitz of the kitchen if you will.  DON'T!  no matter how tempted you may be, just let them sleep in their briny bath for a few days and let the bacteria do it's thing.  Eventually you will have a lovely pickle.  Also by opening and closing the vessel too much, you run the risk of introducing bad bacteria to the party.  If this happens all your work will be for nothing because you will have produced a putrid pickle!

I know that this is a brief and hasty introduction to preserving, but if you are interested, look into it further.  Try out some pickles, move on to some jam, you never know, you may get bitten by the canning bug and never look back.  These are life skills that you will have forever.  Share them with your children.  I hope if you do, you find joy in the quiet solace that comes from putting up your own jars of love.

Kosher Dills; Fermented Pickles, a Tutorial

Here is what you need to make these pickles:

5 pounds pickling cucumbers (Kirbys)
2 bunches of fresh dill
2 heads of fresh garlic all cloves peeled
1/4 cup pickling spice
3 to 4 or more hot peppers either Jalapeno or Serrano
1 quart white vinegar
3 quarts filtered water
1 cup pickling salt (do not use iodized salt, sea salt or kosher salt)

Wash cucumbers well in a sink full of cool water that has had a bit of white vinegar added to it.  Scrub well, avoid bruising or removing skin.

In a large pot combine the water, vinegar and pickling salt.  Bring to a boil making sure the salt is totally dissolved.  Allow to cool to room temperature.

In a clean 5 gallon pickle crock or 5 gallon plastic bucket that has been well cleaned and sanitized, place the cleaned cucumbers, vinegar/water mixture, garlic, peppers, pickling spice and fresh dill in crock/bucket.weigh down with a plate or some form of weight.  You need to make sure that the cucumbers are submerged below the liquid. Place lid on bucket/crock but do not seal.  Sealing will allow gases to build up and could potentially lead to an eruption when too much gas accumulates and then you will have a mess you don't want to deal with that could have easily been avoided. Leave alone for at least 3 days.

After 3 days has passed, lift lid and inspect.  You may notice a foamy scum that will build up on the surface of the water or even a nasty looking milky skin on the surface.  This is normal and it means that the lactobacillus bacteria is doing it's job.  take a stainless steel spoon and remove the scum and throw it down the drain.  Remove the weight or plate and rinse with filtered water.  Return the plate to the crock/bucket making sure to submerge the cucumbers fully.  Return the lid making sure not to seal.

Continue this process every few days or even once a week.  After 3 weeks, try a pickle, remove one and try a slice.  Inspect the interior.  Does it look somewhat translucent and no longer opaque?  Does it taste like a pickle?  If you find that you want a more intense flavor, let them stew a few more days, repeating the test at that time.  Do not allow fermentation to exceed 4 weeks.

When you are ready to can your pickles, remove them from the bucket to a clean and sanitized sink of cool water, making sure to reserve the brine.  Rinse the pickles well and drain.  Slice as you wish either in spears or slices in preparation of canning.

Strain the brine into a large pot and you may want to remove some of the liquid, you will not need 8 quarts of brine to fill the jars, a little more than half will do.  Bring to a boil and continue to boil for 10 minutes.

I used the cold pack method of canning for this application.  This simply means that you will be putting the cold sliced pickles into clean cold jars.  Into each jar place the following:  1 bay leaf, 1 clove of fresh garlic (do not use the garlic from the brine) 1 teaspoon of mustard seed and one fresh chili pepper.  Add the pickles to the jar packing firmly without tearing or breaking the pickles.  Ladle hot brine into jars to within 1/2 inch of the top.  Wipe the jar rims with a clean damp paper towel and place the lid on along with the ring, tightening to resistance.  Don't tighten too much or you may risk your jar cracking in the canner.

In a water bath canner, place as many jars as will fit.  Since I did pints I was able to fit 7 jars at once.  Allow the water to come to a full rolling boil and allow to boil for 15 minutes.  Remove the jars from the canner to a wooden surface or a surface which you have covered with a bath towel.  Keep out of drafts and away from open doors or places where the temperature is likely to change rapidly.  Allow to cool for 24 hours after which time you can wipe your jars with a clean damp cloth and label appropriately.  You may store with or without the rings, your choice, they say if you store them without the rings you run less risk of contamination by rust, in a cool dry, dark place.  Even though you will most likely not have any after a years time, try to eat your pickles within that amount of time.  This is the time recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  I have found, however, that properly stored home canned goods often last far beyond the recommended consumption date.  If done properly, home canned goods can last quite a while.

Remember, canning is a scientific process.  If done right, you can feel safe in knowing that you have produced a product that is good to eat.  If done with abandon, you can run the risk of food poisoning from Botulisum which can be life threatening or even deadly.  Cleanliness is important and sanitary sterilization even more so.  Just keep your surfaces clean and your pets out of the kitchen when doing your canning and you should be good to go.

I hope that you try this and I hope you enjoy it.  It is certainly a labor of love, but the rewards are great.  You will know what is in your food and you won't have to worry about poisons or preservatives when feeding your family.  Give this a try and until next time, See ya!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

What's for Dinner? Comfort Food:Classic Salisbury Steak

Let's take a trip down memory lane.  Now I am on the precipice of my 45th birthday so my memory lane and yours may not take the same highway exit, so bare with me.  The year is 1979, I am 12 going on 13, I am in the 8th grade. Can you hear the BeeGee's playing in the background?  For the most part, I would say that I had a very generic, Brady Bunch, American suburbia, Bologna and Wonder Bread type of child hood, Dad was en electrician, Mom was everything else, Cook, Maid, Chauffer, Laundress, Pet Groomer, Family Organizer, Teacher, Cupcake Baker and Drill Sergeant. She was room mom and taxi cab driver, team leader and Girl Scout Cookie drive organizer.  But most of all, my mom was the best cook ever.

 I never liked going to other kids houses to eat dinner, out of sheer fear.  I remember once I went to a friends house for dinner and was served up what they said was "Hungarian Goulash".    Trust me, I would not eat anything that had the word Goulash in it for years and years!  SCARY!!    I wanted to run right home and eat WHATEVER mom was making for dinner.  If I was lucky, it was something like this recipe I am sharing today, Classic Salisbury Steak.  Coming home after school, there were days when you knew what you were having before you even hit the driveway, because Mom had been in the kitchen simmering something all afternoon.  The aroma greeted you at the door and wrapped you with love.  It said, "Welcome Home, no matter what happened today, it's all gonna be fine, as soon as we eat dinner and share as a family."

While growing up a night did not go by that we did not dine together, my mother, father, brother and myself.  Of course as we grew older, there were times when we could not eat due to schedules and extra curricular activities, but it was a requirement that dinner be eaten together as long as it was possible.  I think that this is so very important, because we all have busy lives.  Sometimes these small moments make a big difference.

I know on the surface that this may not seem like typical comfort food.  As comfort foods go, this is one of mine.  Mini meatloaves that have been stuffed full of good flavors simmered slowly in a savory brown gravy and served with the king of comfort, mashed potatoes!  Does anyone make Salisbury steak anymore?  I know that my husband said he had only ever seen it in the Swanson Hungry Man Dinner.  Ewww!  T.V. Dinners and I do not get along, same with canned soups,  I just think they taste like the can they came in.  Occasionally, you will see me use a canned "cream of" soup, but mostly you will not.  But I digress, sorry for that inexplicable tangent.

Good food is easy to make.  I understand that sometimes the prospect of cooking dinner can be daunting.  I work full time in a legal office and trust me there are plenty of evenings when the last thing I want to do is cook, but once I get started, slice open that onion, throw it in the skillet and get the kitchen smelling like dinner, it's all down hill from there, and I am happy to be in my favorite place, my kitchen.  Preparing a meal for my family and sharing it with them.  After all food is love and excellence is love in action.  So it goes without saying that excellent food is one of my deepest expressions of love.  So go express yourself, make something great for your family tonight, whatever it is, it doesn't matter,  just make sure you eat at the table together, not in front of the television.  Talk about your day and share your dreams, even in the most mundane of actions, you are creating memories and futures for your children.  No matter what you think, they will remember what you cooked for them, they will forget about lots of things but they will never forget what you made for them.  So what are you waiting for?  Let's get cooking!


Here is what you will need to make this recipe:

2 Pounds Ground Sirloin
1/2 pound sliced mushrooms (please use fresh)
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
2 eggs
2 Tablespoons Ketchup
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 Medium onion chopped very fine
1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 Tablespoon Butter

2 cartons of Beef Stock
3 Beef Bullion Cubes
1/2 to 1 Cup of Wondra Flour
Kitchen Bouquet to taste

Mix together ground sirloin, eggs, onions, garlic, castup, Worcestershire, breadcrumbs, parsley and thyme.  Mix by hand or use your mixer with the paddle attachment.  If you only have beaters I would advise against this as they will mix the meat to harshly and make the steaks tough.  Form the meat into oval patties.  I got 7 steaks that were approximately 6 to 6.5 ounces each.

Melt butter with oil in large skillet over medium heat.  Place steaks in pan and cook until browned.  About 3-4 minutes per side.  Remove from pan.

Drain any excess fat from pan and if you got the bottom too browned, clean out the pan.  Add in a bit of oil and your mushrooms along with just about 1/2 cup of stock.  Start adding in the flour a little at a time and whisk after each addition add in the remainder of the stock and whisk until smooth.  You can add the kitchen bouquet at this time along with three bullion cubes.  I added these at the end and did not mention in the video.  they brightened up the gravy in a big way. The stock was a little flat.

Once the gravy has thickened, add the steaks into the pan and simmer for 15 minutes covered.

Now you are ready to serve these lovely little morsels that will take you back to your mom's kitchen.  I hope you try this and I hope you enjoy it.  Until next time, See Ya!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What's For Dinner? The Eternal Question and a Recipe for Bohemian Spaghetti

Welcome to my newest blog.  After careful consideration I chose to title this "What's for Dinner?".  I have been vlogging for a couple years now and wanted to expand my possibilities so this blog is just a natural progression.  I hope that you will come with me on this journey.

Admit it, you hear this question every day, and I mean EVERY day.  What's for dinner?  A very innocent question, but for us Moms a question that is asked everyday, sometimes at the same time every day, sometimes multiple times each day.  Nonetheless, it is asked over, and over and over again.  My 13 year old daughter asks this question each day between 5 and 6 p.m.  without fail.  She is predictable, like the sunrise and sunset.  She will text me the question.  I always text back IDK.  Not because I don't really know, but because I like to mess with her.

So the questions goes.  My husband will often ask the question, but he likes to disguise it in this form, he will say, "What were you thinking of for dinner?  This makes it sound like he was doing me a favor by reminding me that it was almost dinner time and he was getting hungry.  And so it goes.

Dinner is an important time of the day.  A time when we can gather as a family and discuss what happened.  A time to be together and know that you are loved.  A time to participate in a conversation that no one else in the world will have today.  And most of all a time to enjoy a meal together.  One that mom or dad made, one that you made all together.  A time to be a family.  Studies have shown that a family that eats dinner together is more likely to have less trouble with drug and alcohol abuse and the children have higher test scores.  I just think that this is a perk.  Studies can say anything, but dinner makes a family!

It is my goal to share with you, some recipes and tips that might help you achieve dinner nirvana.  It will also help you to answer the age old question for your own family.  I will post recipes along with demonstration videos to help you on your journey to the dinner table.   Share with me your ideas and your comments.  Together we can help each other answer the question "What's for Dinner?".

So without further adieu, on with dinner.......................

To start, lets do something that is new to me.  Honestly I just saw this recipe today on Facebook, a friend of a friend posted it.  She said that her grandmother used to make it.  I added a couple things of my own and voila!  Dinner for those nights when the cupboard may be bare, the wallet may be empty and the mental recipe generator is on the fritz.  Bohemian Spaghetti.  Serve this with a large green salad and some bread and you will feel like you just ate at a kings table!

Here is what you will need to make this recipe:

1 pound of bacon cut into dices
1 pound of crimini mushrooms
1 large onion diced
2 cloves of garlic minced
2 cans of diced tomatoes in their juice
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1 pound of cooked pasta (I used Angel Hair)
1 ladle of pasta water if necessary when sauteing the veggies and bacon.
Parmesan cheese to taste

Prepare pasta while cooking sauce and set aside.  In a large heavy skillet, cook bacon until crispy but not too brown don't over cook or it will be gross.  Add in onion and cook until translucent (don't remove any of the bacon fat).  Add in the garlic and cook until you can smell it's lovely aroma (around 30 seconds)  Add in the mushrooms and cook until tender and they have rendered some of their liquid.  Add in your Italian seasoning and cracked black pepper and stir to combine  If at this point, you find that your pan is a bit dry, dip into your pasta water and add a ladle full of that water.  It will evaporate mostly, but it will prevent your veggies and bacon from browning too much.  Now go ahead and add those tomatoes, cook until bubbly and stir in your pasta, making sure to distribute the sauce evenly.

To serve, pile onto a dinner plate and  top with  Parmesan cheese and more pepper to taste.  Serve with a green salad and some crusty bread and you will ever forget that this is a meal made from virtually nothing!

I hope you try this and I hope you enjoy it!  Until next time, See Ya.