Monday, August 23, 2010

Caramel Popcorn with Lots of Peanuts

You know what sucks about Cracker Jacks? Ha, see that was a trick question. Nothing sucks about Cracker Jacks. They are a nearly perfect food with their mix of sweet-salty-buttery crunch. If they weren't nearly perfect, we wouldn't sing about them while watching our national pastime. That said, what I have always wished for my Cracker Jacks was that they had more peanuts. I came upon a chance to make that wish a reality with the Fine Cooking Tailgating magazine I got over the weekend. Here's the recipe:
I used some of the popcorn that I get from Scott that I absolutely love. I think it's grown in Hillsboro.

Heat the oil with one kernel in there and once that pops, drop the rest.

After a couple minutes, I had a lovely bowl of popped corn.

Then I added a bunch of nuts. Actually more than were called for in the recipe.

Here's me pretending I am a pastry chef, brushing down the walls of the pan so that I don't get sugar crystals in my caramel.

This is what it looked like when I started.

And here's where I dropped in the baking soda.

Dump and mix.

Then spread on a foil lined baking sheet. When cool, break into bite sized pieces.

I was gonna say that the hardest part of making caramel corn is not eating the popcorn while waiting for the caramel to cook, but that was what I thought before I saw the hardened caramel on my pan and bowls. Yikes. But totally worth it.

The Egg Recall

This is not normally a blog where I talk about food politics, but I find this story on so offensive (I think I am past the point where I am disturbed by this stuff) that I thought I would share a couple of my thoughts on it.

First: (well, this really isn't my thought, I stole it from Michael Ruhlman and he stole if from someone else.) If you are worried about the egg recall, you are buying your eggs from the wrong place. I didn't need a recall to tell me something was wrong with grocery store eggs. Their yolks are a really pale, sickly yellow color. Even if you buy the more expensive organic or the vegetarian fed or the free range varieties, they still look wrong when you crack them open.

Second: The article calls the guy who owns the companies responsible for the eggs "Businessman Austin 'Jack' DeCoster. I guess salmonella is what happens when the bulk of the eggs consumed in this country come from businessmen instead of farmers.

So this evening, to celebrate the fact that I know where my eggs come from, and I know the folks who raise the chickens who make them, I will be eating some nearly raw eggs in the form of a carbonara.

If you don't know a farmer, here's where you can get some locally raised farm eggs:
Family Harvest Mercantile (Kirkwood, members only)
City Greens (Forest Park Southeast, members only)
Tower Grove Farmers Market (Tower Grove Park, everyone)
Maplewood Farmers Market (Bottleworks parking lot, everyone)
Local Harvest Grocery Store (Morgan Ford, everyone)
Soulard Farmers Market (Soulard, everyone)

Friday, August 13, 2010

I Learn Something New Every Day

You'll never guess where I got this bowl full of exciting and sexy summer squash. Grocery store? Nope. My garden? Not this year. Farmers Market? Not my typical spots.

I picked these guys up at City Greens, a market in the Forest Park Southeast Neighborhood (I call the neighborhood The Grove). Catholic Charities operates a market at their Midtown Center. You've got to be a member to shop, but memberships are free to those who make less than $30,000 a year and around $5 a week to those who make more. What's great about this place is that it offers locally grown products, at discounted prices, to a community that is under served by the grocery stores. (And by under served, I mean totally ignored.)

I hung out there for a bit on Thursday and met some really interesting people. The place is staffed by some cool ladies who live in the neighborhood and volunteer their time. We chatted a little bit about cooking. When the talk turned to turnip greens, I made the mistake of saying that I usually just throw mine in the compost pile. Upon hearing this, a volunteer named Bobbi told me that if I kept coming back, they'd eventually teach me how to cook. She wasn't just talking either. The ladies there take what's on hand and show you how to use it. Yesterday it was a lasagna that used sliced zucchini in place of the noodles. The week before it was peach pie. They won't let you turn down a sample. (And by sample I mean plateful.) I love it!

Anyway, the produce available there is absolutely gorgeous. I saw peaches, tomatoes, carrots, corn, squash, cucumbers, and melons. And not just your run of the mill produce. Interesting varieties: the stuff you'd find at a good farmers market. Also available: eggs, bread, jams/jellies/honey and flour (who knew they were making flour in Ste Genevieve?)

City Greens is open Thursdays and Fridays from noon to 6 and the first Saturday of every month from 8:30 to 11:30

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Popcorn Ice Cream with Salted Butter Caramel Sauce

Nope, this isn't my recipe. I found it here:
And it is amazing.
I didn't really think I was a huge fan of popcorn. The thought of it sends me back a few years to back to when I worked in an office and at least once a week someone would burn a bag of microwave popcorn and the stink of scorched corn would linger in the air for the rest of the day. Recently, I've taken to making it on the stove, with old fashioned loose corn. I'd forgotten how good it can be.
The recipe is good enough that making conversions from metric to whatever our system is called that isn't metric, in hindsight, wasn't all that annoying. Also, the recipes aren't exactly matched. I ended up with WAY too much sauce. But if my biggest problem in my life right now is that I have too much salted butter caramel sauce, I'm not gonna feel TOO bad for myself.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Smothered Pork Chops

I picked up some of the huge pork chops from Family Harvest. I wanted to try to recreate the smothered pork chops that The Captain and I had at Farmhaus earlier in the spring, except with thicker, meatier chops. Here's what I came up with:

Smothered Pork Chops
1/2 cup flour (I used a white whole wheat)
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning (I used Penzey's Tuscan Sunset)
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
olive oil
medium onion, diced
10 mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 cups chicken stock (I used a home made roasted chicken stock)

Preheat oven to 350. Mix the flour and spices together.

Reserve a couple of tablespoons of the flour/spice mixture.

Prep the vegetables.

Put a saute pan on medium heat. Pat the pork chops with paper towels and place them in flour mixture. Get them coated and shake off excess.

Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan and cook chops on the first side for about 5 minutes or until the crust is nice and crispy and releases from the bottom of the pan without leaving its crusty deliciousness behind. Cook for 5 minutes on the second side and remove chops to a paper towel lined plate.

Add onions, mushrooms and garlic to the chop pan and cook for a couple of minutes. If you need additional oil, add some. Add 1 tablespoon plain flour and 2 tablespoons of the reserved seasoned flour to the pan. Cook until the flour browns and forms a crust on the bottom of the pan. Whisk in chicken stock.

Put chops back in the pan and cover with the mushrooms, onions and gravy. Cover pan and place in heated oven for 30 minutes.

I served it with mashed potatoes and asparagus. I realize asparagus season ended long ago here in MO, but I was craving a green veg. My green beans don't seem to want to produce in the 100 degree weather, and the green beans at the store didn't look too hot, so yes, I bought some asparagus that has probably travelled more extensively than I have this year, but DON'T JUDGE ME. :)
Look at the size of the chop on my plate!

A glamour shot:

The meat was incredibly tender. You would think that me and The Captain would have had some leftovers because of the size of these things, but they were so good we ate it all. Mmmm gravy!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Martin Rice

I'm not trying to push an agenda here. I honestly don't care what you buy or who you buy it from. (You will notice there are no google ads on the side of this blog.) But every once in a while I come across a product that is so ridiculously good that I feel the need to share the name brand with you. I cooked Martin rice for the first time last week and thought to myself "damn, that is good rice", then all of a sudden, it seems like everyone is talking about Martin rice. Local Harvest tweeted that they had it. My boss came in and was telling me about this amazing rice that she drove into the middle of nowhere to get. (She was like "yeah that's it!" when I showed her a picture of my bag.) The cooks in the kitchen were talking about it being the best rice they ever had. Josh Galliano (of Monarch) was tweeting today about MO (Martin) rice.

If you find yourself with access to Martin rice, by all means - buy it. It's fantastic.

God, it's gorgeous. Funny thing is, I have a hard time with white rice. I make it gloopy or burn it. This is the easiest thing going.

Made a little pilaf type thing with it tonight and The Captain was like, "this rice is amazing!" No kidding. Try it if you can. So yummy.

Aloo Gobhi (Cauliflower and Potatoes)

Speaking of Jamie Oliver, my sister loaned me her Jamie's Food Revolution cookbook. I was not a fan of Jamie back in his Naked Chef days. There was something distracting about the way he talked to the cameraman and not the camera. And he threw too many parties. It was like I wanted to sit him down and tell him something like, "Jamie, you know that people will still like you even if you aren't cooking for them all the time and letting them crash at your place." I turned a corner with him when the Jamie at Home series starting airing on Food Network. Maybe marriage and kids were good for him. All I know is that I really began to identify with the way he cooked. Simple fresh stuff from the garden.

Anyway the forward of the Food Revolution book is pretty cool. The British version of the book is called Ministry of Food and refers back to World War II, when food was rationed and people were planting Victory Gardens. Britain established a Ministry of Food and sent women across the country to teach people about nutrition and to show them how to properly use their food rations. These women helped to keep the country healthy during lean times. I like that for the Americanized version of the book they changed the name to Food Revolution. A) We (collectively) have no point of reference of the Ministry of Food and B) We Americans identify with being revolutionary. So I think the name is brilliant.

I really felt like making a curry and I found a recipe that sounded good and for which I had all the necessary ingredients.

Aloo Gohbi (adapted from Jamie's recipe)
1 onion
3 chiles
a knob of ginger
2 cloves of garlic
a head of cauliflower
4 medium potatoes
olive oil
1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon cumin
salt & pepper
1 lemon cut into wedges

Preheat oven to 425. Dice onion, slice chiles, mince garlic and ginger.

Throw into an ovenproof pan over medium high heat that has been melting the butter/heating the oil. Break down cauliflower into florets and peel/dice potatoes. (If you aren't fast, you might want to do this before you put the onions and stuff in the pot.) Add the spice and a little bit of salt and pepper. Cook for another minute or so.

Add cauliflower and potatoes and 2 cups of water.

Cover and cook until vegetables are soft. (Took me about 20 minutes.) Place in the oven for another 20 minutes.

While this guy is in the oven, prepare some rice.

Serve with rice and garnish with basil and lemon wedge.
I really enjoyed this, but will probably cut the amount of potatoes in half next time I make this recipe.

Bruschetta with Summer Vegetables

So I have a whole bunch of peppers. Sweet and hot. I've already frozen a bunch of them and The Captain has been eating them raw on salads, but still we are overloaded. And as if The Cooking Channel knew what I was thinking, they aired a Jamie at Home episode with peppers as the highlighted food. He made a pepper bruschetta that looked great. I decided to borrow that idea, using the stuff we had around here. I would link the original recipe, but I can't seem to find it on Jamie Oliver's website.

My Version of Jamie Oliver's Bruschetta recipe
3 sweet peppers
3 chiles
1 tomato
eggplant (I only used a quarter of this one, cause it was kind of big)
2 cloves of garlic
3 slice of bacon, cut in half
lime juice
salt & pepper
olive oil

(Yeah, there is basil in that pic, but I decided I didn't want to use it when I was finished, so pretend it's not there.)Half the sweet peppers, creating little pepper boats. Season with salt and pepper.

Chop the tomato, the eggplant, the chiles and the garlic. Season with salt, pepper and thyme. Add the juice on 1/2 lime. Stuff the mixture into the pepper halves.

Place in a grill proof container (I used a huge aluminum bread pan). I put a little bit of olive oil in the pan before adding to peppers to prevent sticking.

Top each pepper half with a half slice of bacon. Cover with aluminum foil and grill over low heat (I was running around 350 degrees) for about 20 minutes. Remove foil and cook for another 20 minutes.

While the peppers are roasting, grill up 6 slices of a sturdy, rustic bread.

Place the cooked pepper halves on top of the bread. At this point, Jamie takes a knife and pokes little holes in the pepper so the juice can soak through to the bread. I took a couple spoonfuls of what was left in the pan and spooned it over as well. Good stuff. Really loved it. Had to eat with a knife and fork though cause they're a little drippy.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

For Beet Lovers Only (Beet Risotto)

Disclaimer: Seriously if you are not a fan of beets, you might want to skip this recipe. There's a macabre like quality to the finished product that might be a little too much for those unfamiliar with the aesthetic effect that beets and beet juice can have on things. That said, this would be a great dish to make for a Halloween party.

Things get a little dicey around here right before we leave to go out of town. I like to play a little game with myself where I try to get the fridge down to empty and use up all the perishables without going to the grocery store and buying any more stuff. Of this desire to not be wasteful is born my beet risotto.

Beet Risotto
5 medium beets
3 small to medium onions
3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup white wine
1/2 cup arborio rice
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
several sprigs of thyme
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
salt and pepper
I clean and peel the beets, onions and garlic and cut them into pieces that will fit through the tube of the food processor.

I let the food processor do the work on this one. Attempting to grate beets by hand would be a huge mistake. Unless you are into the crime scene look for your kitchen.

Once all the vegetables are shredded, I add them into a pan with the olive oil, butter, thyme and some salt and pepper. I cook on a medium high heat for about 5 minutes or so.

Then I add the arborio and cook for another 5 minutes or so.

Add the wine, and stir til absorbed. Add stock a half cup at a time, stirring until absorbed after each addition.

After about 30 minutes, the stock should be gone and the rice should be cooked, but firm. Remove from heat and add cheese and parsley.

Despite its odd appearance, it's pretty yummy, and a little on the sweet side.

Another Gardening Story

I try to keep things organic in the garden. I think I like the challenge of fighting nature with nature. It's a fair fight. There's a huge infestation of cucumber beetles on my plants this year. They're all over my cukes, tomatoes, beans, and basil. So I'm trying to clean up some basil plants that have been eaten and pooped on and I say to The Captain, "What (besides humans) eats herbs? I thought only people ate herbs" and I notice that my hands (and plants) are dripping with these guys. Now I'm not saying that the cucumber beetles are the guys that are eating and pooping on my basil, but it was kind of like a wake up call to finally rid myself of these pests.

So I make myself a hot pepper smoothie. I throw a couple habeneros, a couple Caribbean reds, a couple jalapenos and a couple tabascos in the blender with some water. I strain it out, add some rubbing alcohol and put it in a spray bottle. I'm out in the garden spraying like a crazy person. What I have failed to consider, until it is too late, is that I have created a pepper spray. And I have surrounded myself in a cloud of it. That was fun. An exercise for my lungs. But not the end of my homemade pepper spray adventure.

Flash forward about an hour and a half later. I have changed out of my shorts and flip flops into work out gear. I'm at the gym and after about 20 minutes on the treadmill, I notice the tops of my feet are beginning to tingle. At the 55 minute mark the capsaicin burn on the tops of my feet is so intense that I have to abandon the treadmill and Judge Judy to seek relief. Apparently a fair amount of pepper juice landed on them during the spraying and the friction from running/walking activated the heat.

I love learning new things that are most likely totally obvious to the rest of the world.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Soup

I've often said (when looking at flower arrangements) that we can't have nice things. We have cats. Three of them. And because I deprive them of the joy of living dangerously and experiencing the great outdoors, whenever I bring something inside that would occur in nature outside, the cats freak out. And chew. And knock over. For example: last year, my friend Andy ordered a bunch of cool heirloom tomato seeds. He gave me some of them. I went to Lowes and picked up a kit to grow them in and sprouted little tomatoes on my kitchen counter. One night, while I was sleeping, one (or all) of the cats decided that the torture was too much and consumed the tops of my new plants. Hearing my tale of woe, Andy was kind enough to give me twelve of his seedlings. I grew some absolutely gorgeous tomatoes last year. I was dealing with several bowls full of tomatoes when one afternoon, Tyler Florence was on the Food Network suggesting that I make a Roasted Tomato Soup out of my late summer bounty. BRILLIANT. The first time around, I followed his recipe.
Of course now I just make roasted tomato soup like I made any vegetable soup. Simple, simple.(Although reviewing his recipe made me realize I could have used a bay leaf or two in this batch.)

Roasted Heirloom Tomato Soup (<-Liar there are hybrids in here too!)
10 decently sized tomatoes
3-4 decently sized sweet onions
olive oil
several stems of fresh oregano
several stems of fresh thyme
salt & pepper
4 cups of chicken stock
fresh basil (to taste)
parmigiano reggiano (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut tomatoes and onions into uniform sizes (think big). Add several stems of thyme (no need to remove leaves from stems) and oregano (go ahead and remove those leave from the stems.) I used the oregano flowers too. I think they look cool. They taste just like the leaves anyway. Throw a couple of healthy pinches of sea salt into the mix and several grinds of pepper. Add about 1/4 of a cup of olive oil over the top and mix it all together. I put it all into an enamelized pan and roast for 1 hour.
After an hour, I remove from the oven and let it sit for a minute. Now if I weren't cheap, I would spring for a food mill, but because I am cheap, I instead use a fork and some tongs to remove the skins and ooky seed chunks from the tomatoes. Also any stems from the herbs.

I put the pan on the stove between a couple of burners and turn them both on. I add four cups of chicken stock and let it cook down for about 30 minutes.

Then I puree it with an immersion blender. I taste and adjust salt and pepper. It ALWAYS needs more pepper.

To serve, I tear up some fresh basil and stir it in. A little sprinkle of parmigiano reggiano makes it absolutely heavenly.