Sunday, September 30, 2012

Comfort Food - Mac and Cheeeeese!

Guest Post - Pavlov

When you think comfort what dish do you most associate comfort with? Mac n Cheese, pot roast, lasagna, meatloaf with mashed potato or chicken noodle soup are probably the most common. There is something instinctive in these foods that bring us back to our childhood and reminds us of the time we scraped a knee or sprained an ankle and mom or dad made a dish of something that made all the sadness and hurt go away.

For me it was chop suey, some folks call it American chop suey but as I grew up in a town with only one Chinese restaurant and chop suey wasn’t a menu item it just got shortened to chop suey. In some homes it was even called goulash…don’t ask me why as we’re a funny lot in the northeast. That being said ask anybody in Northern New England what browned beef, onion, green pepper, tomato sauce and elbow macaroni combined makes and you’re likely to get one of the two as an answer.

The reason it feels like comfort to me is simple. It uses one quart of spaghetti sauce that my mother canned each fall. No matter how down and out I may have been or felt, no matter where I was in life where things weren’t going according to plan...nothing would make me feel better or more loved and cared for than a quart of mom’s sauce and a few simple things thrown in a pot.

That flavor is unmistakable and reminds me of the good times when it was made especially for me and the loved ones I ate it with. Good times like when I was in a rock fight and got eight stitches on the top of my head. The day I tried to jump seven Tonka trucks and got a bottle of Bactine’s worth of cuts and scrapes and the realization that hey you know what…Bactine hurts like hell when applied to open wounds. Then there was that time I had chicken pox… what was I talking about? Oh yeah, the good times…

I make sauce with my mom now and I go crazy with different cuts of meat, herbs and wine in mine. Not mom, she sticks with her traditional ingredients never adding anything different or “interesting.” (This is what she calls my ingredients) When it comes to making chop suey a few times during fall and winter… I always ask for a quart or two of hers. So with good times in mind, let’s make some chop suey, American chop suey, goulash or whatever quirky name you call it at your house…

1 lb. elbow pasta or radiatore (or whatever shape keeps you awake with excitement)
2 lbs. Ground beef browned (More if you want to take care of the cow population problem)
1 green bell pepper chopped (Yes or red bell pepper… heck use a ghost pepper if you feel froggy!)
1 sweet yellow onion chopped (seriously any kind of onion will be fine…except perhaps onion powder)
1 clove garlic minced (more or less is fine depending on how much you love garlic…or your partner)
1 qt pasta sauce or meat sauce (Mom’s sauce has meat which doesn’t scare me… but use your own judgement)
1 small can of fire roasted tomatoes diced (or fresh and roasted if you have the energy and time)
Freshly grated parmesan cheese to taste.

Common Sense… (use as little or as much as you like but as long as you cook these things and put them together in one pot you may consider it a success… short of that maybe make a PB&J)

In a large skillet brown the hamburg on medium heat and drain.

Then add the garlic, green pepper, onion, sauce and tomato to the browned meat and cover, turn heat to low.

In a large pot add 4-5 qts of water and cook pasta per instructions to al dente then drain but do not rinse pasta… We don’t rinse because we want to keep that starch on the pasta which will hold onto the sauce.

Lastly dump the meat mixture into the pot with the drained pasta and mix together… heat for 4-5 minutes and plate then top with cheese.

Okay so we didn’t invent the wheel here, but we did make something warm, nourishing and more importantly… From the heart. So with that in mind we send this to you Donna and Bob, with hopes for a speedy recovery and many more pots of chop suey and good times to come. From my hands and heart to the both of you.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Easy Decadence - A guest post from The Kitchen Cousins

Guest Post - Mary Ann, The City Cousin at The Kitchen Cousins

OMG Easy Decadence

I don’t know how many of you have noticed, but there are now chocolate cream cheeses on the market.  OMG!  Its just like cream cheese icing.

And if you haven’t had that, well, I just don’t know where you’ve been.

I quickly paired the cream cheese with mini- or two-bite brownies. Spread some chocolate cream cheese on one of those babies and you’re on your way to Choco Heaven! 

If you can wait just a minute or two, you can make two-layer decadence. You need a very sharp knife and you have to be very careful but you can make mini two-layer cakes. It takes a while to get the hang of it but you can’t have more fun eating mistakes. Milk chocolate with white chocolate in the middle, milk chocolate on top with peanut butter in the middle, white chocolate with raspberry jam in the middle…. I’m drooling just thinking about it. 

You can take a few dozen brownies and a tub or two of chocolate cream cheese to a party and you will be an instant hit. I also understand they have a dark chocolate cream cheese but I haven’t been able to find it.  Its probably just as well.  I’d just have to have at that with a spoon!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Asian Dressing and Grilled Romaine

Guest Post by Renee Dobbs

Oh the simple pleasure of homemade salad dressings. And a simple salad too. Some salads are elaborate with lots of ingredients and layers of toppings. Every now and then a basic one is in order. It was something I was craving recently and an Asian dressing with grilled romaine fit the bill. Easy, tasty, and goes well with lots of main dishes.

What sparked my craving was a dinner I recently had at a Thai restaurant. They served a house dressing on their salad different than the usual peanut dressing. It was more ginger based but not so much like one at a Japanese restaurant. I knew I had to re-create it at home. I investigated Asian dressings and wound up with a big experiment in my kitchen. You should have seen my kitchen counter – all the ingredients set out and batches of dressings were made.

After a few attempts I discovered this combination. Light, fresh, and just what I was wanting. It went wonderfully with grilled romaine  and I am sure it would be a great marinade too. Grilling romaine is very easy. The key is not to leave it on the grill for too long or it will get soggy and wilted. Only a couple of minutes to get the char and smoky flavor is all that is needed.

The salad was so good I ate it with my dinner and then made it again for lunch the next day. I have dressing leftover in my refrigerator and I cannot wait to use it for a marinade.

Asian Dressing and Grilled Romaine

For the dressing:
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup rice vinegar
½ cup reduced sodium soy sauce
¾ cup oil (canola, extra light olive, or avocado)
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
Juice from ½ lime

For the grilled romaine and salad:
Romaine lettuce (not chopped)
Olive oil
Thinly sliced green onions

For the dressing:
Add all ingredients to a blender. Blend on high until combined. Transfer to a salad dressing container. Serve and enjoy.

Store leftovers in the refrigerator. Remove from refrigerator and allow to get to room temperature before using. Shake to combine (will separate). Dressing can also be used as a marinade.

For the grilled romaine and salad:
Cut romaine lettuce in half lengthwise. Brush cut side with olive oil. Place cut side directly on the grate of a grill over medium heat. Grill for a minute or two until charred. Chop grilled lettuce if desired. Drizzle lettuce with Asian dressing. Garnish with sliced green onions.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Katie's Shrimp Campechana

Guest post from Linda Mire
Seasons and Seasoning

I am new to the world of blogging. I just launched my blog on August 1st of this year. I have a long way to go to develop the depth and polish of successful blogs like Cookistry. One thing I have learned quickly, is you have to be passionate about what you're writing about and you have to have fun doing it.

One subject I'm very passionate about is my children. I love that they have taken a interest in my hobby of cooking and that they are joining in, in their own special way.

My daughter is in her senior year of college in Kansas. She is a Texas girl and she misses the flavors of home. One of her favorite things to eat when home is Shrimp Capechana from Goode Company Seafood in Houston. She was thrilled to find the recipe online so that she could make it.

I know that I am partial, but I think she did a great job on her photographs too.

Katie's Shrimp Campechana
adapted from Goode Company Seafood
Campechana De Mariscos Sauce
1/4 cup green olives, chopped
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup of ketchup
1/2 cup chile sauce
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
1/4 cup parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon serrano pepper, chopped
1/4 cup lime juice
1 cup Clamato juice

1/2 cup tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/4 cup white onion, diced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt

Seafood Mix
1 avocado, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups new Mexican chiles, diced
2 pounds shrimp, boiled and peeled

Mix sauce ingredients and set aside. Mix vegetables and combine with sauce mixture. Delicately fold in the seafood mix. Serve with your favorite corn tortilla chips.

This does make a lot, but her friends and roommates love it and let's just they are very helpful in making sure it all gets eaten. If they don't she enjoys the extra the next night. I'm happy that she can bring a taste to home to college and I love that she is developing a passion for cooking.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Building a Better Cheese Plate

Guest Post by Shannon of Edible Obsessions

As a Cheesemonger, I spend a good amount of time in my day helping people navigate an expansive and intimidating world of cheese. Most people come to my counter looking for an ingredient for a recipe or general snacking. However, a good number of people come in looking to put together a cheese plate or platter for a special occasion ranging from a graduation party to an anniversary dinner. Every customer's needs and tastes are different, but my goal is to get them to the same end result: a fantastic cheese plate. These are some of the tips that I share with my customers and I hope they help you the next time you're tasked with pulling together a cheese plate.

1. The first rule of composing a cheese plate is: There are no rules! Kind of. This list can be taken more as a guideline because you don't want chaos on a plate, but your dinner party won't fall into ruin if you decide to freestyle it a bit. In the end, this is your plate, you know what you like and I'm just here to help fancy things up a bit. And so is your local Cheesemonger. We expect you to ask questions, so don't be shy and don't think that any question is too simple. You're not paid to know about cheese--we are, so utilize us. You'll find that your local Cheesemonger is your number one friend when it comes to putting together an impressive cheese board.

2. You always eat with your eyes first and the eye is drawn to odd numbers. So, before you start getting into WHAT cheeses you're going to serve, think about how many. Three, five or seven cheeses are ideal, but I wouldn't go any more than that. Let's be honest, you want to impress, but you don't want to overwhelm your palate to the point that every bite begins to taste the same.

3. Building on the visual of the plate, if you're serving on a round plate, stand over it and envision them spaced out in a clockwise pattern. You're looking for a flavor progression. You want your most mild cheese (a double crème brie or mild cheddar) at the twelve o'clock position with the flavor of the cheeses increasing as you work your way around. Starting with a blue cheese or pungent washed rind will only kill your palate from the beginning, so you'll want to save these stronger cheeses for the last position. If you're working on a straight board, progress in the same manner, working from left to right.

4. If you're serving a plate for a small group, think about the meal as a whole. Are you serving the plate before or after dinner? As a specific course during the meal? Is there a theme to the meal, like French or Spanish cuisine? All of these questions will help shape the plate. Do you really want to serve a plate of Spanish cheese when you've just served a four course Italian dinner? Probably not. Nor do you want to serve a dense triple crème blue or spicy blue cheese to your guests before you sit down to dinner.

5. Know your crowd. Are they adventurous or pretty vanilla? Are they daring enough to try the smokiness of a Vacherin Mont d'Or or do you think that the mere mention of 'goat cheese' will give some the willies? You don't want to spend a good amount of money on cheese that may not be completely appreciated by your guests, so know what they like and what their openness to trying new things are.

6. Have variety. There are so many cheeses out there to be tried that it would be a crying shame to put the time, effort and money into creating a one note cheese plate. There are seven styles of cheeses out there to choose from and you should explore all of your options:

· Fresh ( Chevre and Mozzarella)

· Soft-Ripened (Brie and Camembert)

· Semi-Soft (Fontina and Monterey Jack)

· Semi-Hard (Swiss and Cheddar)

· Hard/Aged (Parmigiano-Reggiano and Aged Goudas)

· Washed Rinds (Taleggio and Epoisses)

· Blue Cheese (Gorgonzola and Stilton)

. Along with varying the types of cheese, try to vary the milks. For me, an ideal cheese plate will have all three of the main milks represented and, if it strikes my fancy, I'll even throw some Buffalo milk cheese in there to vary it even further. Every milk has its own inherent flavor profile and that will change with the style of cheese it's been transformed into. You may be not be the biggest fan of a young goat's milk cheese, but you may find an aged goat gouda more to your liking.

8. Sweet and savory love each other in a deep and serious way. By adding jam, honey, fruit or fruit pastes to the plate, you're going to play on the beautiful love affair of salt and sugar. It's a mutually beneficial relationship; as the salt in the cheese brings out more of the natural sweetness in the accompaniments and they, in turn, take a bit of the bite off of the saltiness of the cheese. You would be surprised by the number of people who think adding a bit of honey or jam to a cheese plate is a food revelation.

9. My philosophy on crackers/bread is this: They are sometimes necessary vessels to carry a gooey, creamy cheese to your mouth, but can suck up vital cheese room in your belly. You're also spending good money on good cheese and don't want to ruin it by choose a garlic or rosemary flavored cracker or a dense mini-toast that's only going to give you Cap'n Crunch mouth. So, go light and simple. If you're serving an aged cheese, don't even bother with the cracker. Again, save the cheese room.

10. Let it breathe. This is Cheese 101, whether for a plate or just for snacking. Before you serve any cheese, let it sit out on your counter for at least forty-five minutes to an hour. Cold cheese is dull cheese and all of its characteristics just can't truly be appreciated straight from the refrigerator. Give it that hour or so to shake off the chill and its flavor will wake up and show more of its nuances that made you choose it in the first place.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cat Boy Plum Jam

Guest Post - Charles Turnipseed

Charles is a prolific and amazing cook but his current passion is his cat rescue work. Please take some time to read his blog, Purrfect Cat Rescue.

I like most jams and preserves but when I was growing up I especially liked apricot jam, and plum jam—my grandmother’s and King Kelly’s. I have fond memories of both: King Kelly was jelly-thick, pale burgundy, and had the light, fresh taste of the fruit; Grandma’s was somehow both dense and soft, the color of garnets, with a flavor somewhere between plums and prunes, all the result of her cooking process.

I say process, but it was less scientific than that sounds. She’d toss plums and sugar in a pot, place it on the burner of her Wedgewood stove that had a “flame tamer” and go out in the garden. She’d prune, she’d rake, she’d transplant—she’d forget she had something on the stove. Sometimes she burnt it, but more often than not it turned out great despite her not being a particularly skilled or confident cook. She didn’t “put things up,” so the jam was spooned into Cracker Barrel spreadable cheese containers and stored in the freezer.

Decades after Grandma made her last batch, I finally got around to making my own. I didn’t opt for her method since I knew I would never get it right anyway. I found a recipe in a cookbook inherited from another family member, a great aunt who was a skilled and confident cook. (Strictly speaking, despite her talents, she used a cornbread mix but I never told anyone until after she died since I knew it would ruin her reputation.)

The recipe is fairly simple, but it’s easier if you have a food mill since the fruit is first cooked—pits and all—then pureed, and cooked once more, this time with the sugar, to your desired thickness. Since I don’t have a food mill I push the stuff through a sieve and it takes forever; if you also lack a food mill, you can cut out the stones and save yourself some time. You can use any plums you like (I actually use about 6 varieties, buying some of each as they come into season then store in freezer bags until I have a couple gallons worth), but be sure to use some with black or deep-red skin so you’ll have a nicely colored jam.

Cat Boy Plum Jam
Adapted from “American Woman’s Cook Book” circa 1951

Makes approximately 4 half-pints of jam

1 quart plums, washed and cut in half, stones removed if you prefer
½ cup water
2 cups of sugar, approximately
Juice of a fresh lemon or two

Place the plums and water in a saucepan; bring to boil and lower to a simmer. Cook, covered, until the fruit—including the skin—is very tender. If you removed the stones, you can puree the mixture using a blender or food processor; otherwise press through a fine sieve or a food mill to form a thick pulpy liquid. You can stop here and refrigerate the mixture if you’d like to space your work out over a couple of days.

Measure the puree and return to the pot with about ½ cup sugar per cup of plums for a moderately sweet-tart jam, about 1/3 cup for a quite-tart jam. Cook over medium heat, stirring most of the time until the jam is glossy and shimmering and falls from a wooden spatula in thick drips. (You can use a candy thermometer and cook it to the jelly point if you want to, but I’m more of an eye-baller.) Add lemon juice and taste for a balance of sweet to acid, adding as much as you think it requires. (One year I incorrectly measured the sugar and ended up adding a full cup of lemon juice to fix things; oddly enough, the jam was especially good that year.)

Pour the jam into hot sterilized jars, seal, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes for 8- or 12-ounce jars. Alternately, cool and store in the refrigerator.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Thirty-four years and going strong

That 70's hair.
I met my husband thirty-four years ago today. Now, whether "today" is the 23rd or the 24th depends on your perspective and your time zone. So we either met really late at night on the 23rd, or really early in the next morning.

I prefer to say we met on September 23, because that means we've been together one day longer. And, since it was the continuation of that day rather than the beginning of the next one, I think it's fair.

You see, it was the week after my birthday, and one of my girlfriends decided we needed to go out and celebrate. So we made the rounds of a few local watering holes. And a few more. And when the bars with the regular licenses closed, we went to the one with the late license. It didn't get hoppin' until after 2am.

Ah, to be young and ... young.

My intention that night wasn't to meet someone. I just wanted to hang out with my friend and not be bothered by guys. I was a little bored with the tired pickup lines, and I was on-and-off dating someone who I knew would be completely off very soon. I wasn't anxious to leap into dating someone else.

So when Bob showed up and offered to buy a drink, I wasn't particularly interested. Then he said a few things that made me laugh, and I thought I wouldn't mind talking to him a little more. We talked until the bar closed.

He suggested we go for coffee, so we went to a local diner that was on my home turf. And we talked and talked and talked ... and then I noticed that it was very very bright outside. Yep, we'd talked all night. And we just kept talking. Every darned day after that. If we didn't see each other, we talked on the phone. For hours. And we laughed a lot.

And then one magical day we said, "I love you" to each other. And I think we've said that every single day since then. Every. Single. Day.

Well, he's not talking much now, because he's still in the hospital and breathing through a ventilator. But I say it to him every day. And sometimes he looks at me and moves his lips, and sometimes he's too sedated to respond. But I say it anyway and I believe he hears me.

We've been together 34 years, over 12,000 days, and it's not nearly enough. I see him in that hospital bed and when he's having a bad day it feels like someone's ripping the heart out of my chest. When he's having a good day, I feel light and sparkly and joyful and hopeful.

He's got a long recovery ahead of him, but the doctors and nurses are doing everything they can to get him healthy enough to come home. Me, I'm taking it one day at a time. Sometimes the best I can do is one hour at a time, or one breath at a time or one heartbeat at a time. And then another and another. And then the minute is the hour, the hour is the day, and we've made it through another rough patch and we can think about having a better day tomorrow.

It's been difficult. It will continue to be difficult. For the past 18 days, I've been mostly useless. I go to the hospital and come home and maybe go back again. Sometimes my visits are short, and sometimes they're longer. When I'm home, I think about him at the hospital. And then I call to see how he's doing. And sometimes I get calls from the hospital.

I've spent a lot of time whining, whimpering, and crying. Sleep does not come easy. I've learned more medical terms than a normal person should need to know. But the nurses have been wonderful and supportive. And they make sure I'm taking care of myself, which is the hardest thing for me to do.

But life has to go on. I need to pick myself up and get myself back on track. No matter how many people have offered help, there are things that won't get done unless I do them. I have unopened mail scattered around that needs to be opened, emails that need to be answered, bills that need to be paid, floors that need to be cleaned, and an ailing dog who needs more attention than she's gotten in the past few weeks.

Soon, I'm going to tackle all those things, one little bit at a time, because that's about all I can handle. I'm going to have to start figuring out the financial implications of this hospitalization. It's going to be daunting, I'm sure, but we'll manage. I've been broke before. It's not the worst thing that could happen. And I refuse to believe that the worst will happen.

I have also decided that for the sake of my own sanity, I absolutely have to keep a positive outlook. If Bob's condition remains the same for a day, that is not bad news. It means that nothing else has gone wrong, and I can be thankful for that. If something goes wrong and the doctors and nurses find a way to diagnose it and fix it, that's good news. Because they are finding all the things that are wrong and they are dealing with them, one piece at a time.

There are fewer things going wrong now than last week, and more things going right. More tests coming back, and more plans being made for his treatment. We are moving in a good direction. He will not be home next week, but I have every intention of stuffing him with turkey at Thanksgiving.

I am not a bright-eyed crazy optimist. I know that things can go wrong. And they have. I have a whole list of things that could have gone tragically wrong, but they didn't because the doctors and nurses were there to intervene. So every day that he sees even a little improvement is a wonderful day, and I'm not letting anyone take that joy away from me.

Not only do I need to stay positive for my own sanity, I need to stay positive for Bob. If he's conscious enough to know I'm there, I'm sure it's better to see me smiling and telling him that things are better. Seeing me weeping and gnashing my teeth will do him no good.

And I have to stay positive so I can think straight enough to get back to work on a regular basis. That means more cooking, more recipes, and more blog posts from me. It means I might start eating more regular meals, which is a bonus. There have been some very, very odd meals at odd hours in the past few weeks, that's for sure.

The guest bloggers will still be filling in while I get back into the rhythm, but you should be seeing more of me around these parts as time goes on.

I can hope that all the news coming from the hospital will be good, but I know better than that. There will be minor setbacks along the way; hopefully they will be few and they will be very small. But he's in the right place. These things are not new to the hospital staff. They know what to do. They have the medications, the equipment, the knowledge, and the compassion necessary to take care of him. And I trust that they'll give him back to me soon to feed and take care of and love.

Meanwhile, we just need to hang on to each other for one more heartbeat, one more breath, and one more day. We'll get through this.

I want to sincerely thank everyone who has been so supportive during this very difficult time. I've made so many friends through blogging and through food groups, and online ... and I've reconnected with old friends on Facebook. The online world is amazing. I wish I could hug you all.

Or send you cookies. The good kind, not the computer kind.

I know I haven't answered a lot of your comments, but that's just because something goes all funny with my eyes and then I can't see through the blur. But that's a good thing, and I love reading what you say. 

Oh - and that photo? That was taken shortly after I met Bob. You may laugh at the hair if you're so inclined, but I really loved the curls. Do you hear music? Hmmm... could it be ... Disco Inferno?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Arrogant Chef’s Lobster Roll Spectacular

Guest Post - S.J. Perry

I have always found it interesting how various regional recipes try to impose their rules on everyone else. I remember posting my burger recipe on Serious Eats and having a number of people criticize the recipe. 

As a matter of fact I think I remember someone calling it a meatloaf recipe. I was deeply hurt. Well, not really I have pretty thick skin and can dish it out with the best of them. 

Recently I posted a recipe for what I called a Michigan dog. Well it did not take long for someone to let me know my recipe was not a recipe for a Michigan dog but rather for a Texas Chili dog. Well, to be frank, I am Canadian. I have never been to Michigan or Texas. Hell, I just like hot dogs with meat sauce. 

Anyway I have figured out a way around this. Now on my own personal blog I just post recipes one of two ways. Either I write “The Arrogant Chef’s Dog Recipe” or something like “The Cornwall Dog” since I am from Cornwall, Ontario. And if you don’t try it, don’t criticize it. 

So here goes, this is “The Arrogant Chef’s Lobster Roll Spectacular.” Remember that this is a local recipe from Cornwall, with lobster caught in the St. Lawrence River… (try to Google that one.)

The Arrogant Chef’s Lobster Roll Spectacular
1 tablespoon butter, softened
top split hot dog rolls
4 lettuce leaves
1 1/2 pounds cooked and cubed lobster meat
½ cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
1 dash hot pepper sauce
2 green onions, chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pinch of fresh chives
½ cup chopped fennel

Remove lobster meat. Combine mayonnaise, mustard, green onions, celery, lime juice, hot sauce, and chives. Stir in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Combine lobster meat and fennel and toss with enough mayonnaise to moisten. Place lettuce leaves in the rolls and heap with lobster mixture. Serve on a toasted New England Style bun. Give it a try. It is a Cornwall speciality!

Ok wait, just in case you are going to spend time searching this one there is no lobster in the St. Lawrence.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Gadgets: Puzzle Bites Sandwich Cutter

When I talk about gadgets, one question that always comes up is whether this is something you need to have in your kitchen. The followup question is whether there's some other tool that will do the job.

I'm sure someone is about to ask those questions about this sandwich cutter from Mom Invented.

Let's get it out in the open. No one needs a device to cut their sandwich into puzzle-shaped pieces. No one. 

But it's cute. If you've got kids, it's an easy and innocent way to make food a little more fun without resorting to creating sculptures from pancakes or carving vegetables into cartoon characters. This is something you can do if you have no artistic skills. It takes a second to cut the sandwich and you're done.

There are also cutters that will cut the sandwich on the diagonal, in four triangles, or in a heart-shape. They all remove the crust from the bread, if it's a standard-sized loaf. I thought the puzzle shape was the most interesting, and something that would be annoying to do with a knife. The other shapes might be useful if you need to cut a lot of sandwiches quickly, and you wanted all the pieces exactly the same.

Although I'm not as rabid about unitaskers as some people are, I've got two words for you. Cookie cutter. Think how cool it would be to cut puzzle pieces from different doughs and piece them together to make one big puzzle cookie. 

That's what I'll be doing when cookie season arrives.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Home made tomato sauce

No, not the kind of tomato sauce you put on pasta. I mean plain tomato sauce - the stuff you'd normally buy in a can.

If you've been reading this blog lately, you probably know that my husband is in the hospital, so you might be wondering why the heck I'm bothering to make tomato sauce. It's like this. I had a case of fresh tomatoes, and I didn't want to waste them. And while cooking relaxes me (and for sure I needed some relaxing) I also knew I needed to make something that didn't require a lot of thinking.

This is probably the easiest tomato sauce ever. If you have a juicer. If you don't have your own juicer, I'll bet one of your friends has one you can borrow for a day. Ask around. It makes the job so much easier.

This recipe also features a really spiffy new pan that I got from Anolon. They graciously sponsored Virtual Potluck, and I received a 5.5 quart saucier that was perfect for making sauce.

Back when I left my mother's nest and began feathering my own hovel, my cookware was adequate, but not good. Certainly not great. When I bought my very first quality piece of cookware, I was astounded how much of a difference it made. I stopped burning food on the bottom of the pots.

When I bought my first saucier - a much smaller one that the new Anolon one - I kind of fell in love with it. As you might have guessed from the name, a saucier is great for sauces. With a thick bottom, curved sides, and a wide opening, it lets you reduce sauces quickly (because of the better evaporation) and the curved sides means you won't have anything sticking in the corners of the pots where it could scorch. And of course the heavy bottom promotes even heating.

But it's not just about making sauces. You know what else that shape is good for? Making candy, caramel, and custard. And reducing stock. And making gravy (which I guess is sort of a sauce, right?) And plenty of other things.

The Anolon saucier has a nonstick interior that's metal-utensil safe, which is pretty amazing. I don't use a lot of metal utensils on the stove - I like my wooden spoons a lot - but it's good to know that I can use a metal whisk if I need to. And the size of this pot means I can make pretty big batches of candy without worrying about the stuff boiling over. Big bonus there.

It was absolutely perfect for my tomato-sauce-making venture. It's really not much of a recipe, though. It's more of a method. This sauce is meant for freezing. If you want a canned sauce, I suggest that you follow the directions in a canning book so you have exactly the right acid/salt amount for safe canning.

Home Made Tomato Sauce

Salt (to taste)

Wash the tomatoes and remove any bad spots. Cut them to fit the feed chute of your juicer.

Juice the tomatoes. If you have options on your juicer (I have the Omega 330 which includes coarser and finer baskets) use a setting/basket that will allow more pulp to pass through.

If the resulting pulp is moist, run it through the juicer again.

Transfer the juice to a large, heavy-bottomed pot (the saucier was perfect). Bring to a boil, then lower to a brisk simmer. Cook, stirring as needed, until the sauce is reduced to about half its original volume* and it is the consistency of commercial tomato sauce. As the sauce thickens, you'll need to stir a little more often, and if you've got a lightweight pot, you'll need to stir more often.

If the sauce seems a little "chunky" and not as smooth as you like, blend it with a stick blender to smooth it out. Or, if you don't have a stick blender, a regular blender will do the trick, but blend in small batches so the hot sauce doesn't explode out of the blender.

Taste the sauce and add salt, if desired, to taste. Stir until you know it's dissolved. Keep in mind that you're using this for cooking and will no doubt be adding salt to your recipes. This time, I didn't add any salt at all.

Transfer the sauce to storage vessels. I used 1-pint plastic containers. Let them cool, then refrigerate. Then freeze. I pop the frozen sauce out of the containers and then vacuum seal them in bags for longer storage, but you can leave them in your containers, if you prefer.

*You can continue reducing the sauce until it is much thicker - until you have tomato paste, if you like. The thicker it gets, the more you'll want to stir to ensure that it won't scorch on the bottom of the pot.

Besides the sweet saucier, I also received this casserole with a steamer insert.

To see what the other Virtual Potluck team has made, there is a round-up post on Miss in the Kitchen where you will find links to everyone's recipes.

Want to know more about Anolon? They're on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I received the mentioned cookware at no cost for the purpose of writing this post.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tomato Gratin

Guest Post - Maurita Plouff
Get the Good Stuff

This is an old-fashioned dish: why did it ever get forgotten? It can make even supermarket tomatoes taste good, but it’s best with the luscious tomatoes that come in late summer, bursting with juices and flavor.

Tomato Gratin 
serves 2 

2 big tomatoes, very ripe 
1 slice sturdy bread 
1 big clove garlic 
some olive oil or butte 
salt and pepper 
1-2 oz. cheese of your choice (may be omitted) 

Core the tomatoes and slice them. Lay them out on paper towels, and set them aside while you preheat oven to 400˚F and prepare garlic bread crumbs.

Mince the garlic. Make rough crumbs out of the bread. Heat a bit of oil or butter (or both) in a small skillet, cook garlic until it is very fragrant but not brown. Add the bread crumbs and cook, tossing, until the bread crumbs are coated. Set these crumbs aside while you grate or finely chop the cheese. (I like to use a very sharp cheddar, or gruyere)

Butter a small gratin dish. Put a layer of tomatoes in the bottom – use the ugliest pieces lowest down. Season with salt and pepper, add half the cheese if using, then 1/3 the bread crumbs. Repeat twice, so you have 3 layers of tomatoes and crumbs, crumbs on top.

Bake in the hot oven just until the crumbs are browned, the cheese is melted, and you can’t stand the good smell any more and have to attack it.

This may be doubled, in which case use a larger dish, because you still need to make each layer 1 tomato slice thick, and keep it to only three layers.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bread Machine (sort of) Brioche

Have you run through all the recipes that come with your bread machine yet? Looking for something just a little bit richer? This isn't quite a brioche, but that's what it was inspired by. It's richer than the typical white bread, but not .

Although I like kneading and shaping bread and baking a loaf in the oven, there are times when a bread machine makes a lot of sense. Making bread by hand isn;t that difficult. Using a stand mixer to do the kneading makes it even easier. But even so, you have to be around at the right times to complete each step.

With the bread machine, you only have to be around to put the ingredients into the machine, and you have to be there to remove the bread when it's done.

A loaf from a bread machine is never the prettiest thing in the world, but if you're making a sandwich or toast, that doesn't matter as much.

This bread is a little rich from the butter, just slightly eggy, and it's also soft and fluffy. It makes a good peanut butter sandwich (which is one of my major criteria for any sandwich bread) and it makes good toast as well. 

Bread Machine (sort of) Brioche

1 teaspoon instant yeast
3 cups (13 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg plus water to equal 1 1/4 cups liquid
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Add the ingredients to your bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer - they're all a little different. If you have optional settings on the machines, set it for a standard loaf, large, and dark crust. 

Start the machine. When the bread is done, remove it from the machine and let it cool completely on a rack before slicing.

If you're curious, this is the bread machine I use:


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Roasted Tomato Soup

Guest Post - Liz Berg

I met Donna though the #Sunday Supper group. She is consistently kind and generous to her fellow bloggers, whether it's offering blogging advice through one of our mutual Facebook pages or a simple comment or stumble of a recipe. Unfortunately, life sometimes gets in the way of blogging...and the latter has to be set aside. Thank goodness Donna's husband is recovering from a life-threatening medical emergency, but she needs to be where her heart is...with her dear husband. I am  delighted to help her out with a guest post today. 

My daughter Katie is one picky eater. But she does love soup...especially tomato soup. I've tried a few recipes, but none ever produced that wow factor. When my friend, Carolyn, blogged about her roasted tomato soup, I knew it would be a winner.  Roasting the tomatoes concentrates the flavor and caramelizes the sugars...creating an extra oomph of flavor. Leave out the jalapeno if you don't want a little kick...or throw in a few crushed red pepper flakes if you want it really spicy. This is a simple recipe that would be perfect for a light lunch or even dinner paired with a gooey grilled cheese sandwich. 

Donna, I hope Bob will be home with you soon! Sending you a BIG hug!!!

Tip of the Day: There is a wide range of sodium content in different brands of chicken stock. Some may need additional salt and others contain plenty. Make sure to taste frequently and adjust seasonings to your preference.

Roasted Tomato Soup...adapted from All Day I Dream About Food

2-2 1/2 pounds good quality fresh tomatoes
1 yellow onion
1 jalapeno pepper
4 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 cups chicken stock
Fresh basil, chopped, to garnish
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to garnish

Preheat oven to 425º. Peel, core and quarter tomatoes, cut onion into quarters and remove stem and seeds from pepper and cut in half.

Place tomatoes, onions, pepper and garlic cloves into a glass baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with oregano, salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Roast for 30-45 minutes, till veggies look caramelized.

Add veggies to a stock pot and cover with chicken stock. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Puree mixture with an immersion blender or food processor. If using food processor, cool slightly and puree half at a time.

To serve, reheat if necessary and garnish with fresh basil. Pass Parmesan if desired.

You can find me at: That Skinny Chick Can Bake!!!

Monday, September 17, 2012

BBQ Country Ribs in the Slow Cooker

 Hi, I’m Dorothy Reinhold from Shockingly Deliciouswhere we celebrate tried and true food that’s “scary-good,” has big flavors and addictive qualities. Donna and I share several things in common:
  • A love of value-oriented cooking. We don’t need to overspend to eat well.
  • A dedication to coaxing the most flavor out of the fewest ingredients. If you choose the right ingredients and do the right things with them, all will be well.
  • A delight in the art, the science and most of all the magic of cooking – the best, most delicious hobby possible! 
 Since Donna is tending to her husband, she asked me to share a recipe that would be right up her alley if she were home in the kitchen.

This recipe for BBQ Country Ribs in the Slow Cooker hits all the marks. It will not only stick to YOUR ribs with comforting goodness, but it uses the slow cooker, so dinner can be bubbling while you are working. That’s a beautiful thing. To the pot we add a couple of aromatics (onion and garlic), a couple of spices (oregano and cumin), take advantage of a cut of pork that is often on sale, and some bottled barbecue sauce. Easy peasy.

Serve with mashed potatoes, if you like, and a green veggie. I favor steamed broccoli (microwave 2-3 minutes) or a quick wilted spinach (skillet, 2 minutes), but suit yourself.  


Sunday, September 16, 2012

It's my birthday, and I'll steal posts if I want to

Hi. I’m Bob, Donna’s hubby. I hope I don’t bore you with this. By the way, I’m skinny as a rail.

Today is Donna's birthday, Happy birthday Donna! A while back I asked her what she’d like for her birthday and she said she’d like me to write a blog post for today.

Oh, you’d like the day off!

Okay, I’ll try. Where to begin?

When Donna and I started dating she invited me to her apartment for a lasagna dinner. I didn’t know she could cook at the time; we’d been going to restaurants on dates. I arrived at the apartment and she invited me in. I noticed the aroma of home cooking and couldn’t wait for the dinner. It was a small apartment with a kitchen/dining area.

She sat me down, served salad and eventually presented this huge lasagna. I ate and ate and ate. This didn’t come from the freezer aisle at the supermarket (which was my usual fare). After dinner we headed into Chicago to meet up with some of my buddies and their dates.

Early the next morning, after breakfast, I returned Donna to her apartment. We said our goodnights and she opened the door. I felt this blast of heat emerge from the apartment (this was in the middle of a Chicago winter). I went in to see if there was a fire or something. Nope. We determined that she left the oven on all the time we were out.

Okay, I've got to interject here ... (sorry, honey) but this wasn't actually the first time I cooked for Bob. That was a spaghetti dinner. The lasagna was a little later, but it was the first pull-out-all-the-stops meal that I made for him.

Bob has also omitted the second part of this tale. You see, when we got back to the apartment and it was so ridiculously hot, we opened a window just a little and cracked open the patio door. It was the dead of winter, but it was that hot in the apartment.

We went out again, with the intention of being back at my place a little later, after things had cooled off. But no, a raging blizzard blew through and we couldn't get back to my apartment. It might have been a day or two before roads cleared.

This time, when I grabbed the doorknob it was frosty frigid cold. Icy, even. Uh oh. The patio door was half open and there was a pile of snow on my living room floor. The window in the bedroom was still just cracked open, but there was a nice dusting of snow on the bed.

I've always wondered if the people in the neighboring apartments noticed anything weird, and if so, what they thought.

And, for the record, I have no idea why leaving the oven on made it so hot in the apartment. Maybe I left the oven door cracked open. I really don't recall.

Okay, back to Bob's stories:

After many fantastic meals by Donna, she dared me to prepare something (quite like this post). Simple, I thought.

Or maybe not a good idea because I’ve been known to burn water. But I had to make it special.

My concept was to combine turkey with Salisbury steak as a main dish, mashed potatoes as a veggie and gravy on the side with some sort of dessert. But I knew from previous experience that the gravy somehow leaks onto the potatoes and moreso the dessert in any frozen dinner.

So, plan B. I had an idea. Days before the dinner event I found a cookbook that had directions on how to make dough. I had access to Donna's kitchen for most of the day because she was taking her mother out shopping. I bought all the ingredients I needed (King Arthur flour, Red Star Yeast, ground beef, cheese, and jalapeño peppers) and went to work.

I couldn’t believe how long it took to make the dough, though. In the meantime I was able to cook the ground beef with the peppers on the stovetop.

After the dough went through the rise I figured it was ready for its fall. I proceeded to assemble my masterpiece. Once accomplished, it went into the oven.

The timing was perfect. Soon, Donna returned and asked “how’s dinner going?"

"Moments away," I responded. The table was already set, Donna sat down and when the timer went off, I presented the meal.

“What do you call this?” she asked.

"Nashville Sneakers," my response. You see Nashville Sneakers was a silly little ditty done by one of my favorite bands. I actually rolled, cut, formed and shaped the dough to resemble sneakers (logos and shoelaces included) stuffed with ground beef jalapeno peppers and cheese.

Days later we were at her mother's place and Donna told the story about my experience making dough from scratch and her mom asked “why didn’t you just use Bisquick”? What’s Bisquick?

Liver & Onions:
One time Donna offered to make me liver & onions. Imagine trying not to roll your eyes after hearing that. “Sure” I said. My mom made it from time to time when I was growing up, and it was like shoe leather.

I figured that after all the great meals Donna served me, one flop could be overlooked. I’d tell her afterward that liver is in the same category as cantaloupe in my book, and if given the choice I’d go for the cantaloupe.

She turned from the counter with a serving plate loaded with liver & onions. I looked at the utensils placed before me and they were a fork, a regular dinner knife, and a spoon. No steak knife. Just like at home. Mom would be proud.

I dug in to the dish and after using the knife to cut through the “rawhide” realized I could actually cut it with the edge of the fork. It was tender! I asked what this was and she said “liver & onions.” She couldn’t believe I finished off the whole meal in one sitting. Sorry, mom.

Cold Soup Wingnut:
Donna and I were on a cruise for our honeymoon. They seated the same group together every night for dinner, I guess for you to get to know each other. On the first night of this cruise vichyssoise was served as an appetizer.

After being served, one guest pushed his bowl away exclaiming “this soup is cold!” Our waiter returned to the table and explained to the gentleman that that vichyssoise is served chilled, pointing it out on the menu. Culture shock, we figured. When the waiter returned to take the entree orders, the gent wanted a hamburger. And regardless what was on the menu, he ordered a hamburger every night.

That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

Donna's note: Bob is still in the hospital, and I'm pretty sure he wasn't quite finished with this post. I found it on his computer and figured, what the heck, it's my birthday and I'll do what I wanna do.

There is an actual recipe for Nashville Sneakers. I'm not sure Bob remembers writing it, but I've got it in my recipe collection. The "artwork" in this post is from that handwritten recipe.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Gadgets: Hamilton Beach Jar Opener

We've all been there. You reach in the refrigerator for a little snack. Maybe a jar of pickles or some salsa to go with the chips.

And the jar (grunt) ... Just. Won't. Open.

You grab the rubber jar gripper, whack the lid on the countertop, and soak it in water. You grunt and sweat and the simple snack has become a matter of honor.

Sure, you could have a different snack, but now you don't want that danged jar to win. Pretty soon you're in full-on Wily Coyote mode and you're thinking about ice picks and dynamite.

Sometimes the problem is the vacuum seal on the bottle, but sometimes it's that something dripped and now the lid is glued on.

Enter the Hamilton Beach OpenEase Jar Opener ($29.99). This opener runs on batteries and fits into a drawer. It sits on top of a jar and when you press the "open jar" button it grabs the lid with one mechanism, grabs the jar with another mechanism, and twists to open the jar. It slowly increases the grab strength until it can hang on hard enough to break the seal and open the jar.

Then when the jar is open, you press the "release lid" button and it lets go and continues to open fully for its next job. There's no "stop" button - just open and release, and the instructions suggest you let it open all the way before you attack the next jar.

So far, I've only run into two jars it had trouble with. One was a half-gallon canning jar. The problem was that the neck of the bottle was difficult for the opener to grab. Another jar lid (actually more of a bottle than a jar, if we want to be technical) was just barely too small for the opener to grab tightly. I also had a couple failures that I attribute to user error.

Since I got this opener, I've quit fighting with jars. If the jar doesn't twist easily on the first try, I grab the opener, set it on top of the jar, press the button and walk away while it slowly but surely twists the lid.

Have I ever had a jar I absolutely couldn't open before I got this device? No, not really. But this thing makes the job a lot less frustrating and it fits much better in a kitchen drawer than that husband-device that used to be my last resort.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Leftover Oatmeal Bread

Guest Post - Maurita Plouff
Get the Good Stuff

Once the hottest days of summer begin to moderate, and I can stand the idea of running my oven, I have an overwhelming desire to make bread again. This is seriously good bread. 

In the wintertime, I may have leftover oatmeal to use - but as autumn approaches, I will go out of my way to make a batch of oatmeal especially to use in this bread - it's that good. 

Leftover Oatmeal Bread 
Makes 2 loaves or 24 good-sized rolls

3 c leftover cooked oatmeal (I like to use steel cut oats)
2 c warm water
1/4 c honey (4 Tbsp)
2 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp kosher salt
4+ c all-purpose flour

If you make oatmeal especially for the bread, let it cool until just a little warm to your hand. If you're using leftover oatmeal, warm it up a bit and stir it around, so it's not stone cold and has no hot spots. Measurements are approximate, and you should feel free to add a bit more of this, or a bit less of that, to your personal taste.

In a mixing bowl, stir together the oatmeal, water, honey, and yeast; stir enough to break up the oatmeal. Let it sit on the counter for 15 min or so.

Add the salt and 2 cups flour, and mix very well. Don't be afraid to beat it hard: you're developing gluten that will help the bread rise. Add additional flour, mixing well after each addition, until the dough just comes together - it may take 2 more cups, it may take a lot more, it depends on the weather and humidity and all sorts of things.

When the dough will just hold together in a shaggy mass, turn it out onto a well-floured counter. Knead, adding more flour as needed, for 2-3 minutes. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes or so.

After the dough rests, knead it another 3-5 minutes, adding more flour as needed. It takes a bit of experience to know when you've kneaded enough. It will no longer be sucking up flour, the surface will be smooth and a bit less sticky, and it will feel alive under your hands. You can also use the windowpane test.

Put your dough in an oiled clean bowl, turn it so that all surfaces are oiled, then cover with a tea towel and let the dough rise until doubled in bulk.

Turn out on a floured counter and gently punch it down. Shape dough into 2 loaves, or into 24 rolls, and let rise until doubled in bulk.

Preheat oven to 375˚F. Slash the loaves (or rolls) as you prefer, and bake 30 minutes. About 5 minutes before the bread is fully baked, the smell of fresh bread will suddenly dominate your kitchen. Then, check for doneness: the bread will look done, it will sound hollow when turned out of the pan and thumped on the bottom, and the internal temperature is about 200˚.

Let cool for at least an hour before slicing - the bread needs to firm up. Rolls, on the other hand, are the perfect form if you think you'll want some right away. Don't burn your mouth!