Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy Birthday America, sweet land of Liberty

I hope everyone had a safe and happy day yesterday in honor of our great nation. No matter the dissimiliarity of our backgrounds, our religion, the state we live in, or the myriad of other differences, we enjoy a common bond with each other, and that is freedom. Even in these tough economic times we can still find plenty to be thankful for. It is nice to reflect on how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to celebrate with our friends and families in the manner of our choosing. I can only imagine how each of you celebrated the day, and my thoughts naturally went to the food prepared and served and, of course, fireworks at dusk, happy children, lakes, swimming pools, sitting on the porch or patio with friends at the end of a joy filled, beautiful day. I know we are thankful for our men and women who are serving this great nation in the Armed Forces, who have made and are making sacrifices so we can enjoy our freedom. Life is still good in America, embrace and love it! I am proud to be an American, in case you haven't noticed!

And I have been remiss in my cooking and blogging lately. It has been hot and humid in Central Florida, which has left me in no mood for food, so I have been working outside with my camera and flowers. I need to return the kitchen and get cooking. All I have to share are nature pictures for now, I hope you don't mind!

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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Take the pressure and heat off Dad on Father's Day

It would be a nice surprise for the man in your family, if you prepare a delicious meal featuring ribs, ( one of his favorites), without even firing up the grill. I can help with that, and with a little advanced planning and minimal work, take you out there with him to have fun in the hammock, in the pool, on the deck, in a lounge chair or what ever strikes you and your honey's fancy. You won't even have to ask him to lift a finger (off the remote control?) to light the grill. Sounds too good to be true, I know, but you can do it! My recommendation is don't just save this recipe for Father's Day, or even for the heat of summer---use it as a year 'round treat or bribe. The ribs are fall off the bone tender and so flavorful and juicy you won't believe how easy they are to make. I usually buy the large package of pork spare ribs from Costco, cut them into single sized portions. When ready to serve, I freeze any surplus packets that won't be needed for the immediate meal. I love having these packet babies in the freezer and I know you will too! Happy Father's Day guys, you earned and deserve a break. Enjoy your day!

Helluva Good Ribs
adapted from Amuse Bouche

Per person: half of a rack strip. This will be approx 10 - 12 riblets per person if using baby backs, and you have cave men appetites, or smaller if preferred. I use spare ribs cut into 4-6 ribs per serving, depending on the size of the ribs and their meatiness
Dry rub (recipe below)
1/4 to 1/2 cup of light brown sugar
BBQ sauce of your choice

The night before:
Cut your racks into your preferred portion size . Add brown sugar to the spicy dry rub and mix thoroughly. It all depends on your heat to sweet level. Massage the dry rub vigorously over ALL of each rack. Using heavy duty large sheets of aluminium foil put each rack into an individual foil package and refrigerate.

Preheat Oven to 300 degrees F
Place foil packets on baking sheets and place in pre heated oven for 2-1/2 hours.

Optional finishing( for sauce and BBQ grill freaks, who want or need to to use the grill and or BBQ sauce, but totally unnecessary: Heat grill and remove packets from the oven after two hours.
Take rack out of the package and discard all of the fat that has accumulated. Brush each rack with sauce. Place bone side down on grill and heat just long enough to carmelize the sauce. Do not flip or turn over to the meat side as you risk it sticking to the grill. Remove and serve with extra warmed sauce on the side.

Dry Spice Rub
Adapted from Amuse Bouche, who adapted it from Emeril's 'Real and Rustic' Hint: make in big batches and keep sealed in a glass mason jar. You will find a lot of uses for this mix.

8 TBS paprika (I use half hot and half sweet, sometimes I replace one or twoTBS with Spanish smoked hot or sweet)
3 TBS cayenne ******less, if you are timid or weak on heat
5 TBS freshly ground black pepper (easiest way is to put fresh peppercorns into a spice grinder or old coffee grinder that you
have cleaned by whizzing up rice or bread)
6 TBS garlic powder
3 TBS onion powder
6 TBS salt (this measure is for Kosher, which is larger, if you use iodized, use less)
2 and 1/2 TBS dried Oregano
2 and 1/2 TBS dried Thyme
Mix well in a big bowl or place in mason jar and shake well.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Going Bananas

I have previously blogged about my habit of over-buying bananas and looking for recipes to use "beyond their prime" bananas. I have another favorite recipe that I would like to share. But first, have you seen the e-mail that is circulating about banana facts? I enjoyed reading it and wonder just how much of it is true. One of the ideas is that if you peel a banana from the the opposite end from the stalk end, all of the strings will come off with the peel. Pretty neat, eh? I tried it and it worked. If you believe everything in the e-mail, bananas are the best thing going. In my book, they are good and readily available and reasonably priced. I like how they add moisture and flavor to recipes. I love peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Now I love these muffins from Elise at Simply Recipes. Irresistible: chocolate, bananas, walnuts and they freeze well. What's not to love? I love the notion that muffins are a nice way to keep your portion within a reasonable boundary and if they are in the freezer, you are less likely to justify eating them in multiples, like you have to before they go bad. I like them in the freezer to help qwell a sweet tooth. What is your favorite way of using up those bananas beyond the peel and eat stage? My friend Kathy is always asked to bring her signature banana recipe for Not Your Mama's Banana Pudding to every eating function that she attends. It is so good it is always gone first and often eaten before the main course. (Mama's not around to object!) I won't have a photo to share of Kathy's recipe, but I will post her recipe for you. Also, I have not tried this, but have it in my do-list--check out this post over at Yum-Sugar for bite- size frozen banana treats--great idea for poppers, don't you think? Don't forget to share your favorite too, and get going--bananas!

Banana Nut Muffins
adapted from Elise at Simply Recipes

3 or 4 ripe bananas, smashed
1/3 cup melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Tbsp espresso or strong coffee (optional)
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cup of flour
1 cup chopped walnuts (toasted or raw)
1/2 cup chocolate chips


No need for a mixer with this recipe.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. With a wooden spoon, mix butter into the mashed bananas in a large mixing bowl.

Mix in the sugar, egg, espresso and vanilla.

Sprinkle the baking soda and salt over the mixture and mix in.

Add the flour, mix until it is just incorporated. Fold in the chopped walnuts.

Pour mixture into a prepared muffin tin. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin. If it comes out clean, it's done. Cool on a rack.

Makes 12 muffins.

Not Yo' Mama's Banana Pudding
Recipe adapted by Kathy from Paula Deen

2 bags Pepperidge Farm Chessmen cookies
6 to 8 bananas, sliced
2 cups milk
1 (5-ounce) box instant French vanilla pudding
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 (12-ounce) container frozen whipped topping thawed, or equal amount sweetened whipped cream

Line the bottom of a 13 by 9 by 2-inch dish with 1 bag of cookies and layer bananas on top.
In a bowl, combine the milk and pudding mix and blend well using a handheld electric mixer. Using another bowl, combine the cream cheese and condensed milk together and mix until smooth. Fold the whipped topping into the cream cheese mixture. Add the cream cheese mixture to the pudding mixture and stir until well blended. Pour the mixture over the cookies and bananas and cover with the remaining cookies. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Recipe Summary
Difficulty: Easy
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 12 servings

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Heritage and Okra Stew

As I was trolling recipes on the internet this week, after a trip to the Farmer's Market and my purchase of a pound of fresh cut okra pods, I started thinking about ethnicity, heritage and okra. I love okra just about any way you can prepare it. Being raised in the South, we added it to soup and gumbo, and of course cut into discs and then deep- fried (the only way I could interest my girls in okra, when they were young-- and that was only after telling them it was like eating popped corn!). Okra is known by many other names in many other cultures. I know of at least two: bammies and lady fingers. One of my very favorite ways of eating okra is a stew of okra, corn, and tomatoes. One always knew, when that combination started showing up on the dinner table, or on the menu of a home-cooking restaurant, that those three crops were in from the fields. I digressed and got carried away. Thanks readers, for the indulgence. Back to this week, when I was looking at a Greek Food Blog this week, there it was, a very similar dish. I am not Greek, but really guys, I was amazed at just how similar the recipe was. The only difference: in the Greek dish, potatoes were added, where we always used corn. So, there was an ah ha moment and the small red skinned potatoes were added with the corn and we loved it. We're not all that different after all, are we? Good food always finds itself onto the table, no matter who you are, where you are or where you came from.

Okra, Corn and Tomato Stew

2 medium yellow onions, sliced thin
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1 lb of okra, stems removed, trimmed
1/2 cup plum tomatoes, hand-crushed, or use one 15 oz can tomatoes broken up
3-4 cloves of garlic, sliced
5-6 allspice berries
2 cups of vegetable stock (chicken stock works too)
salt and pepper to taste
6-8 small red potatoes, leave skin on if you like
2 ears cooked or uncooked corn, kernels cut from the cob, or a small can of whole niblets

1. In a pot over medium-high heat, saute onion slices in olive oil for 5 minutes or until they are sweated. Cover,
reduce the heat to medium and and simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
2. Add okra, corn, crushed tomatoes, parsley, garlic, allspice and vegetable stock and bring to a boil.
Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if needed.
3. Cover, reduce to a simmer and cook for about twenty minutes.
Add potatoes (whole) and continue to simmer, until potatoes are fork tender,about 20-30 minutes

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Friday, May 29, 2009

My favorite teacher--biscuit baker supreme

Hands down, my favorite teacher was my Paternal Grandma. I have never had a better biscuit, than those that came from her hands. Her biscuits were magical. As a young girl, I was only interested in the transfer of the warm biscuit from her loving hands into my eager ones. As a young woman, I paid more attention and tried to duplicate her techniques. She did not measure everything precisely and she did not flour the counter and roll the dough and cut it. She did it all by feel. I was awed by how the dry ingredients were dumped into a mixing bowl and the wet ingredients were added after she made a dry well in the center. She would shape the dough into biscuits with her hands. She did this every morning and in no time at all, hot biscuits were on the table, with golden, beautiful crusts and no big mess to clean up either. I am sad to say I was not a very good student in biscuit making. I know that you can ruin the finished product if you handle the dough too much. I miss my Grandma and her biscuits. Who is your favorite teacher in the kitchen? I would love to know, along with what you learned.
As for biscuits today, I have a second favorite teacher and that is the crew over at America's Test Kitchen. They have perfected Drop Biscuits and I saw a demo yesterday, that made me sit up and take notes, and even happier this morning, when I duplicated it and served the light soft pillows with a golden brown exterior. Still not my Grandma's biscuit, but a very good, easy one to make and no messy kitchen.

Best Drop Biscuits
from the Episode: Holiday Ham and Biscuits America's Test Kitchen

If buttermilk isn't available, powdered buttermilk added according to package instructions or clabbered milk can be used instead. To make clabbered milk, mix 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon lemon juice and let stand 10 minutes. A 1/4-cup (#16) portion scoop can be used to portion the batter. To refresh day-old biscuits, heat them in a 300-degree oven for 10 minutes.

Makes 12 Biscuits
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup buttermilk (cold)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted and cooled slightly (about 5 minutes), plus 2 tablespoons melted butter for brushing biscuits

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 475 degrees. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and salt in large bowl. Combine buttermilk and 8 tablespoons melted butter in medium bowl, stirring until butter forms small clumps.

2. Add buttermilk mixture to dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula until just incorporated and batter pulls away from sides of bowl. Using greased 1/4-cup dry measure, scoop level amount of batter and drop onto parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet (biscuits should measure about 2 1/4 inches in diameter and 1 1/4 inches high). Repeat with remaining batter, spacing biscuits about 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until tops are golden brown and crisp, 12 to 14 minutes.

3. Brush biscuit tops with remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter. Transfer to wire rack and let cool 5 minutes before serving.

When you stir slightly cooled melted butter into cold buttermilk, the butter will clump. Although this might look like a mistake, it's one of the secrets to this recipe. The clumps of butter are similar to the small bits of cold butter in biscuits prepared according to the traditional method and help guarantee a light and fluffy interior.

A greased 1/4-cup measure is a great tool for scooping dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

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His own personal silo--a comparison and parallel

When I saw this photo Gene took of the red winged black bird, it struck me that the wise bird had found his own private silo that Farmer Gene had supplied. I was also thinking (unlike this bird) how I could share and write about my own personal silo, a soup that Lauri Colwin shared with the world in her book Home Cooking. Like the bird, who thinks black oil sunflower seeds are the ultimate comfort food, so nutritious and healthy, I feel this way about soup. This recipe is truly a great basic one that you do math with, add, subtract, multiply and divide. Add some Geometry with cornbread (circles, triangles, diamonds,squares) and you have southern comfort at its' finest. I elected to try adapting the recipe to a quick one and used my pressure pan. It worked beautifully. The original Colwin recipe took three hours, mine took 25 minutes, plus a little additional time to cook the carrots through, since I added them after pressure was released. Even though my son in law, David is not here to share this soup now, in his honor I left the corn on top so he would not have to subject himself to a vegetable he does not care for. Although, I don't know exactly why I did it this way, since David is not fond of Barley either! Maybe I added the corn like this because it's cute this way, and colorful! And maybe I made it with Barley because I want David to learn to like it, Kelly likes it!

Beef, Leek and Barley Soup

Adapted from Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking

1. Trim two big, meaty short ribs and put them on the bottom of your soup pot. (I used 4) Although you do not have to, I brown the ribs and drain any fat accumulated
2. Add 1/2 cup of barley, three big cloves of garlic chopped, two chopped onions, and three leeks cut lengthwise and then into segments–use both the white and the green parts. Be sure to wash the leeks carefully, as they are sneaky in hiding dirt. You can also add mushrooms and any other vegetables you may like. Grind in a little black pepper.
3. Add about eight cups of water or beef stock and let it simmer on the back burner for at least three hours while you go about your business. You can also add lima beans, cubed potatoes, peas, corn, string beans and chopped tomatoes at any point, or the second day, should you have any leftover.
Before serving, skim off the fat–there will be a bit, as short ribs are quite fatty–take the meat off the bones, chop it and put it back in the soup.
My Notes: 20-25 minutes is sufficient if using a pressure pan. Use quick cool method of releasing pressure, by carefully taking the locked pan to the sink and running cool over the top lid until the safety valve has dropped and the pressure level has returned to normal.
I cooked mine under pressure for 25 minutes, released pressure and returned the soup to a bare simmer and added: 1 15oz can of diced tomatoes with their juice; 1/4 head cabbage, sliced thin; 1 large ear of cooked (cooked because it was reserved in the fridge from a previous meal) corn kernels, cut from the cob, 2 large carrots, scraped and in medium dice and 1 cup wild mushroom blend. Keep soup on a low simmer until carrots are just tender.
Other suggestions: Green beans, diced potatoes,lima beans, peas are also good choices. You may have to add more broth if you load it up with a lot of extra veggies.

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Math was never a strong suit for me

Guess you could say I could hold my own in arithmetic in grammar school and I do remember that the whole equals the sum of its parts. Where am I going with this thought? Well, when you are talking to most Southern cooks they will tell you three values, when added together that exceed the whole: simple cornbread batter + cast iron skillet + hot oven=A+. Oops, I think I am mixing Math with grades(not my math grades), but I don't think it is anywhere near mixing apples with oranges. I'll take an A+ and a wedge of cornbread, hot from the oven. Most Southern cooks will usually tell you that a well seasoned cast iron skillet is like having a best friend---you always want that friend around. Some Southern cooks are lucky and the prized skillet is passed down through the family. But if you were not one of the lucky ones, and you have to purchase your own, Lodge has a good product line and I have seen used ones at flea markets and thrift stores. You will be surprised at how inexpensive they are. They can take as much rough handling as you can give them. They work hard in high heat and stand up to and defy heat. What they can't take is soaking in water or soapy water. Rust is not your friend in the kitchen. By now you are wondering when I will shut up and post the darn recipe. Okay, alright, already. Please pass the cornbread!


Preheat oven 450

1 1/2 cups enriched white cornmeal
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups buttermilk
1 egg
2 tablespoons of bacon drippin's or melted real butter, or Canola Oil
1 tablespoon Canola Oil (for the pan)

In a 10-inch cast iron skillet, add a tablespoon of Canola oil and preheat the skillet. You can either heat the skillet in the hot oven or on top of the burner/element. In a medium sized bowl, stir the dry ingredients to mix; add buttermilk, egg, and drippings, mixing just until dry ingredients are moistened.
Pour into the greased, hot skillet. Bake in preheated hot oven at 450 for 20-25 minutes. Serve warm with butter.

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