Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The joy of REAL tomatoes!

Happy SUMMER!  I know I haven't blogged here for ages, but yes...I still cook...a lot! 
This past Saturday we went over to the local Farmer's Market at Stearns Homestead, a farm smack dab in the middle of suburbia.  They host a Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings & the morning rain let up enough that by 11am, we headed out to see what they had.  It's a very small market...no musicians, no flower stands, but we were able to score some great stuff...like the tomatoes above. 
Now...the first thing I think of when I have real tomatoes that actually taste like real tomatoes is a BLT.  The tomatoes are so pretty when they're sliced...and I have to use Mom's tomato knife for this step...it's probably from the 1950s & cuts perfectly.
Then, of course...you need some of this...from a local butcher shop we discovered at the Farmer's Market...we bought some yummy brats from him there.  If you're in the Cleveland area, the shop is called The Fresh Eatery...check it out...great shop.  He makes his own sausages & bacon...and is super helpful & friendly. 
With some toast & lots of lettuce, I arrived at my final destination...behold the BLT!
Of course you need the frilly little sandwich picks to hold this together & the toast will still split when you cut your sandwich...but those picks make it taste sooooooooooooo much better...dontchathink? 
I guess the Farmer's Market is a Saturday destination for us through October...as long as it's not raining.  I'm not about to go stomp through mud for anything...I'm still a Southern CA girl at heart.

Friday, May 18, 2012

My kind of baking...

I am NOT a baker.  Baking drives me insane...it has way too many rules & you need to be precise in measuring things.  I'm a cook...I like to start with the basic idea of a recipe & do my own thing as I go along.  However, the price of store bought cookies & other treats is forcing me to do some baking from time to time. 

The loaf shown above is my idea of baking...quick & easy.  I had some canned pumpkin in the pantry, along with a box of spice cake mix...I'm able to bake boxed cakes & brownies without too many failures, so we buy mixes if they are on sale.  Well, I went to Google & typed in canned pumpkin + spice cake mix & got a recipe called "Two Ingredient Pumpkin Cake".  Sounded good to me...all you needed were the can of pumpkin & box of cake mix.  I read some of the reviews & some people added a few eggs or nuts & other things, so I figured I'd give it a try.

Since the cake needed to be refrigerated after baking, I used some disposable aluminum cake tins...the mini loaf size.  They can be & are washed & reused here unless I'm giving a gift inside.  I set the oven to 350 to preheat,  sprayed the pans with cooking spray, set three of them onto a baking sheet & mixed up the batter by hand.

1 (18.25oz) package spice cake mix
1 (15oz.) can pumpkin
1 egg, lightly beaten

I added the egg because after mixing, the batter seemed a bit dry.  If I had any applesauce around, I might have used some of that instead of the egg.

The batter fit into 3 mini-loaf pans & it took about 40-45 minutes for them to bake.

After cooling, I had to do a taste test.
It was yummy.  I'm not a fan of sweet icings, so I liked the cake just fine as is.  It's also good with a bit of whipped cream, but that's not necessary.  The other 2 loaves were wrapped in plastic wrap & refrigerated.  This cake tastes even better the next day...I'll be making it again.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Our quite unorthodox Easter/Passover Dinner

If you keep Kosher...don't even look at what I made for dinner last night.  All I can say is that it's a great representation of a yummy yet quite unorthodox Easter/Passover dinner for us.  Neither of us is terribly religious.  Phil was raised in the Jewish faith & I was subjected to years & years of attempts to ingrain the WASP beliefs into me...nice try, but it didn't work. 

Anyway...the first year Phil & I spent Easter/Passover together was interesting as he called me at work one morning to make sure I had ordered our Honey Baked Ham.  After teasing him that he's not allowed to eat HAM, I assured him our dinner would be complete.  Fast forward 17 years & we're still having ham on Easter...usually with scalloped potatoes & asparagus.  The ham now comes from the grocery store...Honey Baked is too expensive for our budget these days...but I'm thankful we can still afford a ham. 

Since this year Easter & Passover occured at the same time, I experimented with a new-to-me dish that Phil remembers fondly...Noodle Kugel.  I've never tasted or even seen Kugel, but a search on Savory Noodle Kugel resulted in a very yummy & rich side dish.  I'm betting this has WAY more calories & fat than my scalloped potatoes, but it is quite wonderful as an occasional treat. 

The recipe I ended up using as my starting point was from Saveur.  I usually try to stick to the recipe the first time I make something, but I get bored just copying recipes, so some tweaking is always involved.  Run with scissors is my motto.  So...here is my slightly adapted recipe courtesy of the fine chefs at Saveur.  The original recipe is here.

Debbie's Savory Noodle Kugel
most of a 16oz. carton of sour cream (the real stuff...I like Breakstone or Daisy brands)
about the same amount of ricotta cheese (Miceli's is a local OH brand that is very good)
8 oz. of sweet butter...this will be cut down next time...I thought it was too much
4 eggs, slightly beaten
Kosher salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste...we like LOTS of pepper
about a tablespoon or so of chopped parsley
most of a 12 oz. package of wide egg noodles
1-2 sliced red onions, carmelized in about 2oz. of the butter above

Heat oven to 350°.  Melt 6 oz. of the butter & let cool a bit.  Cook the egg noodles while preparing the rest of the dish.  Caramelize the sliced red onion in the rest of the butter.  Mix together the sour cream, ricotta, melted butter, parsley & seasonings.  Let the onions cool just a bit, then mix in.  Drain noodles & add until it looks like enough.  Place mixture into a 9"x13" baking dish...I can't find my glass one, so I used a lasagna dish that is nonstick.  No greasing of the pan as there is QUITE enough butter in here...too much for my taste.  Bake until slightly set & browned.

Here's what the unbaked mixture looked like...

And it's closeup...
Goopy with lots of moisture so it doesn't get completely dried out.

Now the baked version, right from the oven...
See how it got nicely browned?  Those caramelized red onions sure give it some nice flavor & color.

A closeup shot to show just how yummy it is...

This shot shows the still creamy interior with the slightly crunchy top layer...
Not bad for a shiksa, huh?

The verdict is DELICIOUS...but what could really go wrong with those ingredients?  I know it was a hit as Phil had some cold as a snack last night.  We also discussed how we could add to this recipe...it could have sauteed mushrooms, spinach, a bit of grated nutmeg...almost any sauteed vegetable would work nicely.  Phil also came up with adding a can of chopped green chiles...which takes us to a new level as I'd also add some cayenne & hot sauce to that version.  I'm seeing this as a canvas for all sorts of combos...but cutting back on all that butter.  Some recipes called for 2 to 3 times as much butter...I can't even imagine!  It's kinda like a Jewish lasagna or mac & cheese...and a blank canvas for experimentation...just not too often...why are the yummy things always loaded with fat & calories?

Until the next time I actually remember to take pix of what I've created in my kitchen...happy eating!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Pasta Primavera

What's not to love about fresh veggies?  Asparagus is still available here in Ohio...and still looks nice and fresh, so a couple weeks ago, we had pasta primavera for dinner.  Doesn't it look yummy? 

Here are the veggies sauteeing in some good olive oil.  I added in the baby bella mushrooms first, got them nice & flavorful...then in went the garlic, sliced leeks & yellow squash.  The asparagus was the next player to enter, and finally some grape tomatoes & thawed frozen peas.  If you look closely at this pic, you can see the steam rising from the pan.

Then the cooked pasta was added...al dente, of course.  I used Barilla Plus Thin Spaghetti this time.  It does have a lot of extra good things for you, but at 2.5 times the price of a box of regular Barilla Thin Spaghetti, I'm not sure it's going to be a staple on our menu.  Once all of this goodness was tossed together, it was served & some grated Parmesan cheese added the final touch.  It could have used some Italian flat leaf parsley at the end, too...but we didn't have any that day.

The veggies & pasta were so yummy.  Each was done just right...even the asparagus was just tender, but crisp.  The only disappointment was the grape tomatoes.  They had a very bitter flavor for some reason.  Pretty color, but terrible flavor.  I'm afraid we picked around those...next time I think additional color will come from sliced carrots or maybe some red peppers.  I'm not a big fan of cooked peppers...love them raw, but cooked...not so much.  If I add them just at the end, they should be fine. 

This yummy pasta dish will definitely take on a lot of reincarnations on our summer menu.  Quick & easy...and good for you, too.  We have a Farmer's Market opening here in Parma around mid-June...it's at Stearn's Homestead, which is an actual farm right in the heart of Parma, OH!  With fresh off the local farm veggies, we'll be eating good in the neighborhood.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I learned to cook from Mom...

This has to be one of my favorite photos of my Mom, Eleanor.  The scene is Thanksgiving dinner...probably in the 1960s...at my Grandma & Grandpa's house.  The entire family would get together for lunch...it was always an early affair...an early in the day Thanksgiving dinner. 

The female cousins would share the tasks of setting the table...including the kid's table in the living room.  It was an honor to be able to take the "good" silverware out of the buffet cabinet & place it just so on the table.  That table was so big that I remember after Grandma & Grandpa had both passed on, it was left in the house to be sold as part of the deal since none of us had a room large enough to accomodate it. 

All the women were in charge of the cooking...Grandma & Grandpa had put the turkey in early in the morning...the stuffing was made from cracker crumbs & parsley & eggs & chicken livers chopped VERY finely...with chicken stock to moisten it.  I still make it today...we're sure it has a connection to matzo balls somehow...even though the family was not Jewish but Hungarian.

The place to be was in the kitchen as the turkey was being carved...then you could "steal" some of the crispy skin from the bird.  We all fought over it...every year.  Now I leave the skin on the turkey, but only take a small bite as I'm concerned over the healthiness of that stuff.  How times change.

Dinner was the usual feast...and after dinner, the men retreated to the living room to socialize & the women & girls would do the clean up...VERY Ozzie & Harriet, no?  Then after all was cleaned up, we would draw names for the Christmas gifts...the parents drew the same number of names as they had children...and we would write out our Christmas wish lists to give to the aunt & uncle who drew our name. 

So on this Mother's Day...I want to thank my Mom for teaching me how to cook...even though at times I didn't like it very much.  I've taken many of her recipes & spiced them up for our tastes...but there's no comfort food like Mom's Scalloped Potatoes...especially since I've added lots of thinly sliced onions for extra flavor.  Hearty...not healthy...a once a year splurge full of wonderful memories.  And I still use a Feemster's Famous Vegetable Slicer to cut the potatoes & onions...it's a dangerous device & you could easily take off pieces of your finger with it...but it's what Mom used, so I use it, too.   
Mom crossed over in November 2008...but her memory lives on.

Thanks, Mom & Happy Mother's Day!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Great Peeps Debate

This little box of Peeps has been sitting on my kitchen table & open since March 18th so they can dry out & become good & chewy!!!  To me, that's the only way to eat these...they MUST be dried out.  And they must be the little yellow chickies of my youth...and only at Easter, please!  None of the pumpkin shapes or even black cat ones...those just aren't Peeps in my book.

Everywhere I've worked, the dried out vs. fresh Peeps debate comes up...well, ok...I always raise it.  And people do fall into one category or the other.  So how do YOU like your Peeps?  Dried out & chewy or fresh & mushy?  Inquiring minds want to know.

BTW...these will be good & chewy just in time for Easter!!! 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Corned Beef for St. Patrick's Day

OK...I know it's been almost a year since I started this blog...but I figured this is as good a time as any to get it going for real.  We'll see how it goes.  The problem is, I forget to take pics of the stuff I make, but last night I did the traditional corned beef & cabbage with red potatoes, onions & carrots & it was yummy.  Here's the platter before we dug in:
There were lots more potatoes & carrots in the pot as well as more cabbage, but at least I took a picture this time!

We get our corned beef from a local butcher shop, Thayer's...their quality is excellent on everything they offer...and it's mostly local.  Most of their meats are from Ohio farmers & I like that.  They've been in the same location for over 40 years.  Their chicken is from an Ohio Amish farm & is THE best chicken ever.  They make their own sausages, too...there's very little fat in any of them. Very nice people working there make the entire shopping experience a good one.  Be sure to go to their website & click on the products link so you can see the meat counter...a throwback to the 50s or 60s!

The corned beef they sell at Thayer's is from a place in Detroit, MI...which isn't far away from Parma, OH.  The corned beef is from Grobbel's & is the best tasting corned beef we've ever made at home.  We like the flat cut...it's less fatty.  I also braise the corned beef in about 4 cans of cheap light beer...low & slow for 4-5 hours before adding the potatoes & carrots.  The cabbage goes in last & only for a bit.  Phil's cabbage goes in first, as he likes it cooked through.  Mine goes in for maybe a minute or so as I like it almost raw.  The beer really helps tenderize the meat...I do a 6 pack pork roast, too...I'll do that one of these days & take some pics so I can share them.

We have enough beef, potatoes & carrots leftover that we'll enjoy a brunch of corned beef hash over the weekend.  YUM!  I hope you had a yummy St. Patrick's Day dinner, too. 

Feel free to comment with any tips you have for any of the posts as I go along here.  And be sure to visit my art blog, Kitten Creates.