Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Recipes! Tastes of Three Regions.

I do hope everyone is hanging in there, anxiously awaiting Spring.  We seem to have gotten through whatever Winter wanted to toss at us in 2018, but even as I say that, I’m moved to knock on wood. The beginning of Daylight Savings Time makes many of us feel better, but I know just as many folks hate it. Dark mornings are difficult to adjust to, that’s for sure.
OK - today, it's nothing but Recipes - or Receipts as my Gran would say.  In my opinion, we just need to turn off for a bit and maybe commence with some soothing, life affirming activities like:  spring cleaning, cooking,  getting the garden ready and reading anything but a news publication - cooking and home decor magazines are my choices.

Below are three long time, long loved recipes from three different areas - the American South, Italy, and Southern New Jersey corn country.  All are easy, weeknight do-able, and all three are flexible for left overs.  

Pimento Cheese
Recipe:  Pimento Cheese (adapted from the Lee Brothers)
A simple, delicious mix of cheese and peppers that can be put out as a dip or a spread, melted in an omelet, or as a fantastic sandwich.  I use my food processor  to make my pimento cheese and it is done in under ten minutes.

8 ounces of good, sharp cheddar cheese, cut into chunks
!/4 cup - around 2-3 ounces - of softened cream cheese (if you can find an alternative to Kraft’s “Philadelphia” brand, by all means use that). 
1/2 cup of jarred pimento peppers, well drained. You can also use jarred roasted red peppers.  I prefer the pimentos - the taste is different, and it is traditional, I but have used a mix a number of times.  Rough chop the peppers.
3 tablespoons of good mayonnaise.  If you are making this in the South, only Duke’s mayonnaise will do.  I like to make my own mayonnaise and avoid the cruelty of the mass produced stuff.
A scant 1/4 cup of chopped scallion - greens only
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes.  Some folks use a few shots of hot sauce.  I believe that it should have some kick to it, but I don’t want it to be overwhelmingly hot.
Variations to the mix:  chopped onions, Worcestershire sauce and dried mustard. You can always start a debate with Pimento Cheese lovers as to the “best” blend.

Grate the cheese on the regular blade in the food processor until you have a nice medium fine grate.
Tear the cream cheese into 3 - 4 pieces.
Add the cream cheese and pulse until it is blended into the cheddar.
Add the pimento and pulse - you will now begin to develop that lovely color.
Add the mayonnaise, pepper flakes and a pinch of salt and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper and pulse until blended.
Add the chopped scallion greens and do just a few pulses to incorporate.
When the ingredients are well blended, taste to correct seasonings and that is it!
I like to store pimento cheese in small mason jars that we can just pull out of the refrigerator, open and dip celery or crackers right into.  It will keep in the refrigerator for a least a week but you won’t have it that long.

Pork Shanks
Recipe:  Pork Osso Buco in Bianco (adapted from Marcella Hazan)
Osso Buco is usually made with veal shanks.  We decided to take this recipe (which in Hazan’s recipe uses veal) and substitute pork shanks.  As you will see, it is a very basic recipe.  Much more so than the traditional osso buco in red sauce.  It is also incredibly delicious.

Ingredients (for two with leftovers)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
4 1/1/2 inch thick pork shanks
Flour, spread on a plate
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 cups of Pork Stock (the original recipe uses water, but since we have homemade pork stock, we used it)
2 tablespoons of lemon peel (avoid the white pith)
5 tablespoons of chopped parsley

Use a Dutch oven or a large sauté pan - there is a lot of liquid added to this dish.
Put the oil and the butter in the pan and turn the heat to medium high. 
When the butter stops foaming, dip the shanks in the flour - shake off excess - and put them into the pan (the pan should be large enough so that they are not touching).
Brown the meat deeply on both sides.
Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper on both sides. 
Add the wine to the pan.
Adjust the heat to cook at a slow simmer and put a lid halfway on the pan.
After 10 minutes or so, check the liquid volume - it should be getting low - if it is add 1/3 cup of the stock or water.
Check the pan from time to time, add 1/3 cup of liquid as you go.  You should have to add liquid.  You want a delicious liquid in the pan when the shanks are done.
The shanks should be fork tender - the meat literally comes off the bone with a fork - after 1 - 11/2 hours for 4 shanks.
When the shanks are done, remove them to a warm plate using a slotted spoon.
Add the lemon peel and parsley to the pan and stir for 1 minute. Loosen the brown bits (fond) from the bottom and sides of the pan with a wooden spoon.
NOTE:  If you have marrow inside the shank bones, and you are not planning to spread it on bread and devour it like I do, now is a good time to knock it out into the pan and stir it into the sauce.
Return the shanks to the pan, turn them over a few times in the sauce, and serve immediately.
Creamy polenta, garlic mashed potatoes and noodles are all a great compliment to the osso buco.  Spoon some of that rich gravy over all and dig in. Enjoy!

Canned Corn and Canned Mixed Peppers
Recipe:  Canned Corn Salad (adapted from numerous old recipes)
I love New Jersey Corn.  When we learned to pressure can, it was the first thing I wanted to can. When it is in season, I am ready to eat it on the cob on a daily basis.  So, our larder has lots of jars of canned fresh corn, but you can use good local canned commercial corn for this recipe. Frozen corn - whether commercial or home frozen just does not work as well.  This is a delicious dish to use anywhere that you would serve a cold salad.  It may be your new potato salad!

Two cups of canned corn
Half of a large red onion, diced
Half of a cup of mixed, diced peppers - whatever you like.  I do not go for heat with this recipe, but if you want to, introduce a jalapeño to the mix.  If you only have one type of pepper, just use one.  I don’t recommend using green bell peppers as they tend to overtake the corn’s flavor.
1/4 cup of good mayonnaise 
Salt and Pepper

Drain the corn, rinse it and drain it again - you want it as dry as possible.
Mix the corn, onion and peppers together.
Stir in the mayonnaise - incorporate it well into the mix.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Refrigerate for a few hours or for maximum flavor - overnight.

Now - Get Cooking!


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Simplify Your Kitchen and Make it Work for You!

Over the years, as a Short Order Cook, A Caterer, and now an Everyday Cook working in a compact kitchen, I have picked up a few tips and ideas as to how to really enjoy your time in the kitchen. In my opinion, that starts with having what you need and using what you have, as well as knowing where everything is - especially when you need it now!

So here are lots of things to think about and evaluate.  None of us is going to do everything, and I am pretty sure that my kitchen will never, ever make it to a magazine!  As you can see by the pictures at the end here, I do use some of the counter top for those things that I use the most.  The issue for all of us who do a lot of cooking is:  does it work for me?  

Start with the Dishes and Appliances! 
*Stop storing too many of anything!  Mugs, Flatware, Dinner Plates.
*Please don’t buy Non-Stick Cookware - you are throwing your money  away on a product that can become toxic.  You do not need it to cook.
*Avoid “One Use” glassware - if you must have separate Rocks, Wine, Sherry, etc.  glasses, limit yourself to 8 maximum.  If you are hosting more folks than that, you probably will use something more standardized and easier to wash and store.
*Get rid of unused Cookware - be honest with yourself.  Ask yourself the last time that you actually used something. Items in this category often are what I call, "what's hot" items.  I know the One Pot will change humanity forever but how many will be taking up space in cabinets untouched in a year?  Items like Ice cream makers, mussel pots, slow cookers, etc. also fall into this category.
*Evaluate how many spatulas, whisks, etc. that you need to have.  And remember, it is essential that you buy good products to begin with so you aren’t replacing cheap, subpar equipment regularly.  

*Get rid of the pop up toaster - unless you are turning out tons of toast a day.  There are a number of small, easily storable products that you can use to toast bread*** - OR - you can use your oven! Retake the counter space! Also, mice regularly go into toasters over night to get at crumbs, and sometimes they leave something behind. Just something to think about. 
*If you are still using a Microwave Oven, my first question is, “What are you eating?” Because if you are popping boxes from your freezer or cabinet into a microwave, or if you are eating microwave popcorn, you are indeed living dangerously! 
Keep a small lidded pot on your stove - use it to melt butter. Buy an electric hot pot for boiling water. Move the microwave out! You'll find something to do with all of that space!
*A Bread Maker?  Really?  Why? This is one of those fad things that has always baffled me.
If you make rice regularly, then by all means keep your rice cooker.  We were gifted with a very high end Japanese rice cooker years ago.  I love it.  For rice, for oatmeal - it has a number of functions.  That said, if it went belly up I know that I would not replace it, given its size and expense.  I’d go back to a pot, lid and clean towel, I’m sure. 
*A panini maker is totally unnecessary. Put your sandwich in a pan and put a heavier pan on top of it.  
*Control the Tupperware volume - storage is good, but too many storage items are an avalanche waiting to happen!

Organize.  Declutter. Plan Ahead
*Do not buy large jars of spices; spices lose their “spice” relatively quickly
*On TV cooking shows, you see olive and other oils beautifully displayed right over the stove - generally on a lovely stainless steel shelf under the exhaust fan.  Unless you go through your oils at a really brisk pace, this is a really bad idea.  The heat and smoke will kill those oils quickly. Almost all oils should be stored in a cool, dark cabinet.  If you must keep your olive oil out on a counter, it should be stored in dark containers to keep out the light.
*Have a designated space for everything - in the middle of cooking, you want to know exactly where to go for what you need.
*Group similar items together - Have your go-to things all in one place.
*When you cook, take the time to "mis en place" - get out and measure all of your ingredients ahead of time. 
*Get rid of the Knife Block - they are pretty much germ colonies and a drawer with wide spaces and dividers works much better for you and your knives.

It all comes down to what works for you, and when things aren’t working, you know it. Most of us have more than we need, want, or use in our kitchens.  But maybe some of those things would be used happily by others. So, it is not always about throwing away - it is about giving away, donating, and re-homing. 
Start with looking at one cabinet or a few drawers and see what you really use and need. Be tough about it. Let us know how you made out - we are all learning from each other.

Our Beloved Collection of Artisanal Wooden Utensils is always at the ready

Salts, Peppers, Butter, and Utensils - all at a quick grab

***We use a tool called a "Tostapane" - we fell in love with them in Italy.  Placed over a burner they heat up and you toast on the hot metal.  They are flat and hang to store.  Also, if you are a fan of cast iron, the flat crepe like pan can be heated up in a few minutes and toasts beautifully. We make our home made pizzas on it too.


Monday, February 19, 2018

Lots Happening! Sicilian Chicken Recipe

Blog:  Holidays, Flu, Eagles Oh My! And Sicilian Chicken.

Are You Making the Effort?
Hello Everyone.  I am sorry to have been away for what seemed like such a long time, but January took all sorts of twists and turns and is really a blur to me.  
We did get some important canning in - beef  and chicken and vegetable stocks are all done as we approach the remaining colder months. Other than that Life was, first “sick food”, followed by comfort food, followed by Football food.  
During the week days we basically did a lot of freezer diving.

If the actual flu or one of those horrific bugs of another type caught you, you know that there is very little of anything that you can actually do.  First my Better Half went down; I was confident that i had her care and the care and tending of the fur kids under control.  And I did. I was just so grateful that it was not growing season, so I didn’t have the responsibility of the gardens.

Alas, as Better Half improved, I deteriorated.  
Two major lessons for me from those two and a half weeks of being really knocked on our butts:
We are very dependent on two of us to keep our urban homestead going; and, 
A stocked freezer and larder - especially during the cold months is not a crazy indulgence. The things we had in the freezer and on our canning shelves kept us going when the concept of going to the Farmers Market or store seemed entirely impossible.

Of course, we got at least somewhat recovered for the start of the football play offs, so Saturdays and Sundays of wings, chili, mac ’n cheese, chips, dips, etc. took front and center stage for a few weeks. Not our usual menu planning for sure.  But oh, so worth it!  
It now seems that the bugs have totally exited us, our energy levels are almost back to normal, and we are cooking again.  Obviously, it is February and time for the Seed Catalogs, garden diagraming and the building of the gardens’ To Do list!
Who is anxious for growing season to start?  I am!

Here’s one of the first things we made when we were both back to normal.  We adapted it from a New York Times recipe.  Our adaptation is for 2.  It is so delicious - and one pot!
RecipeChicken with Salami and Olives
2 whole chicken legs, separated
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 of a small yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 inch stem of fresh rosemary
1/3 cup (heavy) of diced salami (we used fennel salami)
1/3 cup pitted cerignola olives, pitted and sliced in half
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 red pepper flakes (more if you like more heat)
3 tablespoons dry white wine
2 teaspoons of tomato paste
2 teaspoons of flour
1 cup of unsalted chicken stock (homemade if you have it)
2 small dried bay leaves
2 teaspoons of lemon juice
NOTE:  The entire recipe was done in an All Clad Chef’s pan.  Anytime you can use one pan or pot for dinner - that is a good recipe!

Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Heat the olive oil in the pan on medium heat
Season chicken with salt & pepper
Sear the chicken in the olive oil
When the chicken is browned, remove it to a platter
Saute the onions in the pan until browned
Add the garlic, rosemary, salami, olives, oregano and red pepper flakes to the pan and mix together to blend
Add the white wine to the pan to deglaze a bit and get the good brown “fond” mixed into the mixture
Create a “spot” in the center of the pan and add the tomato paste and cook it for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally
Mix the tomato paste with everything else in the pan; stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes
Add the stock to the pan; simmer for 2-3 minutes until mixture thickens a bit
Add the bay leaves and the lemon juice
Add the chicken back into the pan, spoon the sauce over the chicken well
Put the pan into the hot oven and roast for 30 minutes
Baste the chicken
Put the pan back into the oven and roast for 30 minutes
Remove the pan from the oven and take the bay leaves and rosemary out before service
Delicious over egg noodles, rice, or with cooked greens or with garlic toasts and a salad.

Straight Forward and Very Do-Able!

Eat Real Food!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Doing Good. Winter Recipes

Hello Friends and Happy 2018!  It has been lovely to have some extended time off over the holidays and beyond. That said, I have had lots of time to think and read and talk to folks so I am chock full of food, eating, homesteading practices, and sustainable living skills and ideas.

Allow me to share a few thoughts, from some of those conversations and learning, regarding a new year, new opportunities, and changes:
  1. Don’t make “resolutions”.  Make decisions about your life, your time, and what is important to you. Consider also what is not a good use of your time, effort and resources.  
  2. Give!  Make a commitment to it.  A commitment of your time, your goods, and your money.  Make an actual plan for yourself and follow through on it. Do as much as you can. Remember that none of us is the “center of the universe”, as my Gran would say.  Many of us live our days so wrapped up in ourselves - that’s a very dangerous way to live.  Start letting go of “you” and instead see where you can do something for others. Share and live the concept of “Taking Care of Each Other”.
  3. And if you know me, you know I'm always going to urge you to  Eat Real Food - which really means to invest in and plan for your good health.
  4. Ignore all of the hype at this time of year regarding “Fad” diets and ways of eating.  Most humans do not have food allergies if - and it’s a big if - they eat real, unprocessed food and wheat products, etc.  Omnivores are the healthiest humans.  The only thing you need to remember is, “All things in Moderation”.  Diets that instruct you to, “eat a whole lot of this, and eat nothing of that” are dangerous. Eat when you are hungry, and eat Real Food.
  5.  Learn some new cooking techniques.  When you are learning, you should be having fun challenging yourself as you build confidence.  My suggestion to anyone who has not done it yet:  clean, season, and use a medium sized cast iron skillet. If you don’t have one buried in your cabinets somewhere, search flea markets and thrift shops.  You don’t need a new skillet.  Cast Iron can be brought back from the dead.  Trust me.   Learn to cook with it.  It’s a beautiful way to cook and you can do almost anything in a well seasoned cast iron skillet.  Once hooked, you will be looking for more sizes and styles.  Note:  two of the recipes below are best done in a  cast iron skillet.
  6. Grow Something - even if it’s herbs on your windowsill. It is not only reinforcing, it is cost effective and a way to relax and get out of your head at the end of the day.
  7. Live More Simply.  Let Love into Your Life.  Remember to Live Today/Not Just in an Imagined Future. Dabble in Hygge. The Danes are on to something.  We Americans should be listening.

With Real Food, we always need to be thinking about ingredients.  It’s not a healthy real food dish if you take fresh, seasonal ingredients and douse them with canola oil or crisco or margarine now is it?  
For the following two recipes - which are at their best in the cold weather,  you must use Lard.  Understand that everything that you have probably heard about lard is false and is a result of propaganda by the food factory business. So, let go of that “alternative” information. Secondly,  find your self a reliable source of good, pure lard.  Lard is often available at the Farmers’ markets but we’ve found the easiest, most readily accessible way to keep lard stocked is to order from Mangalitsa by Mosefund in Branchville, New Jersey or other online producers.  We buy meat and flavored lard spreads from Mosefund along with tubs of beautiful lard with no additives.  Lard also freezes really well. So a large tub can be divided up between the refrigerator and the freezer.  Keeping in mind, of course, that our grandmothers kept it in cans - like with  bacon fat - on the counter or under the sink!  Lard is one of the best things that you can bake with and fry with as well.  A pie crust made with good lard (look for leaf lard) - and not crisco - makes a delicious, flake crust.  Once you make your pie crusts this way, you will never go back to the bad stuff.  And fried chicken?  Use your imagination. 

Skillet Biscuits

Recipe:  Lard Biscuits (adapted from many old Pennsylvania recipes)
2 Cups of all purpose flour
4 teaspoons of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons of good, all natural Lard
3/4 cup of real buttermilk (don’t buy buttermilk at a supermarket; look for it at Farmers Markets and speciality stores.  The supermarket stuff is not authentic buttermilk and it does make a difference).  If you can’t find it, use whole milk.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees
Grease a baking sheet or - preferably - a greased 9 inch cast iron skillet
In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt.
Cut in the lard until the mixture is crumbly
Add the buttermilk all at once and mix until the flour mixture is completely wet
Knead the dough in the bowl by hand for about 15-20 seconds (use one hand to knead)
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll the dough until it is about 1/2 inch thick
Cut the dough into biscuits with a 2 inch biscuit cutter
Place the biscuits onto the greased skillet or baking sheet with edges just touching
Bake the biscuits for 12 - 15 minutes
Serve warm with butter
To reheat place biscuits on a warm skillet on the stove top

Skillet Cornbread

Recipe:  Buttermilk Skillet Cornbread - This really does need a cast iron skillet or something very close to one.  This recipe is adapted from The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook. It is also easy and very delicious.  A savory cornbread.

2 tablespoons of good, all natural Lard
1 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten 
1 cup of real Buttermilk

Place 1 tablespoon of the lard in a small cast iron skillet (6 1/2 - 8 inches).  The smaller the skillet the thicker the corn bread will be.  Place the skillet in the oven while it preheats to 425 degree. 
Whisk together the cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, the buttermilk, and the remaining one tablespoon of lard.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined.
The mixture should look like pancake batter, if it is too thick add a little bit more buttermilk.
Remove the hot cast iron pan from the oven, pour the mixture into the skillet, return to the oven and bake until the crust is browned - about !5 - 20 minutes.  

Stirring in Heavy Cream

Recipe:  Cream of Asparagus Soup.  This recipe is intended for those who froze local asparagus when it was in season.  Please don’t go buy the supermarket stuff as it lacks flavor and has a huge carbon foot print! This makes a wonderful winter soup!

1 medium onion diced
2 garlic cloves sliced thinly
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
One pound of local asparagus from your freezer, defrosted and chopped into pieces 
4 cups of unsalted vegetable stock, homemade preferably. If you don’t make your own, use chicken stock.  Commercial vegetable stock is generally without flavor
3/4 cup of heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste

In a large sauce pan or Dutch Oven, melt the butter
Over medium heat, sauté the onions until softened - 10 minutes
Add the garlic and stir into the onions to soften - 5 minutes
Add 1/4 teaspoon salt
Add the chopped asparagus and stir well into the onion and garlic mixture - 5 minutes
Add the vegetable stock
Stir occasionally over medium heat until the asparagus becomes very soft (don’t boil it)
Off of the heat, use an immersion blender, break down the soft, cooked asparagus pieces.
Add the 3/4 cup of heavy cream, stir well
Warm over medium heat
Add Sea Salt and coarsely ground fresh black pepper to taste.
Serve with toasted croutons.