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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Oh, the pasta-bilities!

I have a confession to make - I love carbs.  LOVE them!  As in I have an unhealthy love of anything starchy and would be very grumpy if I ever attempted one of those low carb diets.  I've been trying to offset my cravings for a crusty french bread or heap of mashed potatoes by substituting whole grain breads for white bread and spaghetti squash instead of pasta, but I stil indulge my obsession.  One of my favorites is pasta.  And when I say pasta, I don't just mean of the Italian variety (although it IS yummy).  Vietnamese noodles with pork, Japanese soba noodles, Thai cellophane noodles with peanut sauce, German spaetzle....any of these are a perfect meal for me.  Last night I gave into that yearning with linguine.
Homemade "sun-dried" tomatoes

Growing up, my mom had a dish that she made pretty regularly.  It was a simple sauce, that wasn't a sauce really.  She sauteed chicken and broccoli in some olive oil, added sun-dried tomatoes and white wine, and tossed it in with linguine.  Because I just made "sun-dried" tomatoes (I put that in quotes because the sun was really my food dehydrator) out of the abundance of large cherry tomatoes I picked from my garden, I figured this was the perfect time to take my mom's recipe and give it my own twist.  So, off to the kitchen I went to give it my take.  Here's what I came up with.

Shrimp and Broccoli Linguine in a Creamy White Wine Sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound shrimp, peeled
1 nice size head of broccoli, cut into florets
1 Tbsp fresh basil, chopped finely
1 8 oz package of sliced white mushrooms
2 Tbsp sun-dried tomatoes, chopped roughly
Salt to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 c white wine
1 c heavy cream
1/3 c shredded parmesan cheese, plus a little extra for the top.
1 box linguine

Minced garlic and tomatoes
This recipe works best if you prep everything ahead of time.  It cooks so quickly, once you get that heat going it'll be done before you know it.

Fill a large pot with water and a dash of salt and bring to a boil.  Once the water hits a rolling boil, add linguine.  You'll want the pasta to be done but not soggy (what we call "al dente").  Once it is done, drain in a colander and put back in a pot.  I drizzle a little olive oil over the top and toss the pasta to keep it from sticking (plus olive oil....YUM!)

In the meantime.....
Heat olive oil in a large, deep skillet.  Toss the broccoli into the heated oil and stir fry until it gets a bright green color.  Add garlic, basil, salt, sundried tomatoes, and mushrooms and continue cooking over medium heat until veggies start softening.  Keep an eye on this and stir very often - minced garlic can scorch VERY easily.

Add wine and continue cooking until veggies are about done.  Add shrimp and keep cooking until they turn pink and opaque.  (Side rant about cooking with wine - do not, I repeat DO NOT buy cooking wine.  It's all salt and it tastes bad.  My rule of thumb is if I wouldn't drink it, I'm not cooking with it.  Believe me, your taste buds will thank you.  Plus, if you buy an inexpensive yet tasty bottle of wine to cook with, you can pour yourself a glass or two while you make dinner!)

Veggies starting to soften up
Now is when you add heavy cream.  Yes, it HAS to be heavy cream.  Because the wine is acidic, the higher fat content will keep your milk from curdling.  Plus, it thickens up nicely and it's delicious!  Simmer until the cream slightly thickens.  This isn't an alfredo sauce so it's not going to be really thick.  Think of it as more of a coating for the pasta.

Once the sauce thickens a little, add the parmesan cheese and give it another quick stir to incorporate the cheese.

You KNOW you want to eat this!!!!
Place some of the linguine on a plate and pour some of the sauce over the noodles.  Garnish with fresh grated parmesan cheese.

This dish is proof that good food doesn't have to be complicated or take forever.  This is a good dinner for the weekdays when you don't have 3 hours to stand in the kitchen.  The surprising thing about this meal is that despite the heavy cream, it is pretty light.  The acidity of the wine cuts through the richness of the cheese and cream and gives a really good balance.   Of course, this one also got the hubby seal of approval.  I also made a flourless chocolate tuxedo cake for a decadent dessert, but that is a blog for another day.  Stay tuned....

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Accidental stuffing

Because I am me, and I am accident prone, I somehow managed to pull my back out this weekend (and no, I don't know how.....).  I was able to muscle through my work day on Sunday, but by the time I woke up on Monday morning I was hurting.  Long story short, after a warm bath (and a couple muscle relaxers), I was feeling almost normal.  Which is why when my husband asked me "what's for dinner", I gave him an answer instead of a dirty look.  The cooler weather plus the general ouchiness of my back made me want just simple, stick to your ribs comfort food.  And I can't think of better comfort than chicken and stuffing (and potatoes, and corn, and gravy, and cranberry sauce......I needed a lot of comfort that night, apparently!).

The previous paragraph of me whining about my back was my round about apology for not photographically documenting every single step of this process.  The good news is that I think you can handle ripping bread, and dicing and sauteeing onions without pictures (I have faith in you!).

So, why did I call this post "accidental stuffing?".  Because it truly WAS an accident.  I found out on Monday that my husband hates celery in his stuffing.  Really?  After 3 years, he decides to tell me NOW that he hates this?  You know, after I've been making it that way for the entire duration of our relationship? *sigh*  Luckily, I decided not to get annoyed and chalked this up to a learning experience (I love you, baby!) and decided I needed to get creative.  I started brainstorming what I could possibly do to plain white bread to make it interesting.  OK, let's back it up for a second so I can also tell you that I did not stuff the bird.  Now we're dealing with bread and onions cooked OUTSIDE of the chicken....what can I possibly do to jazz this up?  After rifling through my cupboards and grabbing miscellaneous things, I had the "aha!" moment and came up with this:

Stuffing with dried cherries and walnuts
1 large loaf plain white bread
1/2 stick butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 T fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/4 c dried cherries, chopped
1 c chicken stock
2 T chopped walnuts
Salt and Pepper to taste

This stuffing is sexy!! 

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  That's the temp I cooked my chicken at, so I just put it in the oven with my chicken.

Start by ripping bread into small chunks and putting into a medium casserole dish.  Set aside.

Melt butter in a medium saucepan and add onions and parsley.  Cook over medium high heat, stirring often, until onions are transparent and slightly brown.  Remove from the heat and pour over the bread.  Add chicken stock, salt and pepper, and dried cherries to mixture.  Stir well.

Yummy!!  It's even good cold!
Now, that's skill......

Sprinkle chopped walnuts over the top.

Bake uncovered for 35-45 minutes, until heated through and top gets a little brown.

Honestly, when I made this, I wasn't sure how it would turn out.  I mean, it SOUNDS good, but without the celery I was afraid it would be missing something.  Boy, was I wrong!!  I looked at my hubby and asked how it was and got the "happy food dance" (I get that a lot. Someday I should post a video of this.....).  He then informed me that this is how I make stuffing now. And only this way. I'd say I nailed it!

Edit: I LOVE this recipe, and decided to submit this to:
Joybee, What's for Dinner?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Not quite pumpkin pie

This Sunday while I was working, my father in law came over to hang out with my hubby/watch football/raid my fridge.  No, no, it's not his secret plan to wait until I'm gone and eat all my food.  He appreciates my cooking, and therefore I give him free reign over the contents of my refrigerator.  My husband is a bit more stingy, telling him "No, that's MINE!" about everything in there, but I keep threatening that I will quit cooking if he doesn't play nice and learn how to share.  It's not limited to his father, though...every time he sees me leaving the house with something I've made he panics.  It's kind of funny, really.  In talking to my other female friends that cook, I found this is a common thing among the males in our life.  I keep reminding him that this isn't the last pie/jam/quickbread/beef stew that I'll ever make, but I don't think it's quite sunk in yet.  In any exchange for the food that he took (and LOVED!  Score one for me!!!!!), my amazing father in law brought me apple cider (my favorite!) and two of the biggest butternut squashes I've ever seen!  

Biggest squash EVER!
Seriously, look at the size of these things!

Even though I JUST made an apple crumb pie, my hubby's first request was "You should make me a pie out of these".  I didn't see any good reason not to, and besides, I've never had a butternut squash pie before.  And since it is so close to pumpkin, I figured it couldn't be that bad, right?  So, off to the kitchen I went and started on my next project/invention.  

First things first - roast those beautiful squashes!  The roasting makes removing the skin totally easy.  Once they're roasted and cooled a bit, just scoop out the seeds (SAVE THEM!!  Roasted squash seeds are both delicious and nutritious!).  Then just throw the peeled and seeded squash into a food processor until you have a smooth velvety puree.
 I then line a strainer with a paper towel, dump the puree into it and place it over a bowl. This will help some of the excess water to drain out.  I set this aside while I am doing the prep work.  So, I guess now is a good time to unleash the recipe.

Butternut Squash Pie with Vanilla Cinnamon Whipped Cream
For the pie:
1 can sweetened condensed milk
2 large eggs
2 1/2  cups butternut squash puree
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp  ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 pie shell (get the recipe and tutorial HERE!)

For the whipped cream:
1 c heavy whipping cream
4 tsp confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Make your pie shell and set aside. 

Look familiar?

Place eggs in mixer and lightly beat.  Add condensed milk and butternut squash and mix on medium until well blended. Finally, add your spices, and mix until well incorporated. 
Action shot!
Should end up looking like this

 Pour the mixture into the unbaked pie shell and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.  


After 15 minutes, adjust oven temperature to 350 degrees.  Continue baking for 35 - 40 minutes,  or until pie is mostly set and the center is slightly jiggly. No worries, that sassy center will set up once the pie cools.  

Once the pie is done baking, set on a wire rack to cool.

Say it with me - OOOOOOHHH!

That's it for the pie!  Seriously simple.  

While the pie is cooling, make the whipped cream.  Pour heavy cream and confectioners sugar into mixer with wire whisk attachment.  Beat on high until soft peaks form.

Here's your soft peaks
Use caution when working with cream - you can go from milk to butter very quickly if you don't watch it closely.  Once it gets to that point, you're stuck with it.  But with a little vigilance, this is not hard.  I promise.

Turn off mixer and add vanilla.  Turn back on high and mix until you get stiff peaks.  

And stiff peaks

Turn off and add cinnamon, and give it a couple more turns with the mixer.  Remove from the bowl and put into a covered container and stick it in the fridge.  

Once the pie is completely cool, it is ready to serve!  Cut a slice and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.  I was surprised at how good this is!  
Oh my that's BEAUTIFUL!!  

And it's not sickeningly sweet, which I liked.  So, I guess the next step is to call my father in law so he can try what his gift inspired.  I'll have to leave instructions with my husband so he knows he needs to share.....

Friday, September 20, 2013

An apple a day....


These (carefully placed and photographed) pumpkins can mean one thing and one thing only.....FALL IS OFFICIALLY HERE!!  Ok, technically Saturday, but still....

For those of you who don't know me, here's a tip.  I love fall.  Love it!  Currently, my lima beans have been replaced with my kale patch, my spinach is thriving, my fall peas are peeking out of the soil, lettuces have been planted in my window boxes.  Everything is new again and it's exactly the pick-me-up that I needed.    Now, don't get me wrong, I will miss the long days of summer, playing in my garden, trips to the orchard, the hot sun shining, night time thunderstorms, long evenings sitting on my deck with the grill going and drinking a beer with my hubby.  These are the things I live for!  But a change of season is always exciting for me, and part of the reason I love the region I live in. (I mean, why ELSE would you willingly live in PA?  Seriously?  Nothing happens here!  Unless you're in Philly or Pittsburgh.)  Just when you are getting a little bored with the season you're in....POOF!  New season!    I'd say the only time of year I can do without is from about mid-January until mid-March.  But, being a "glass half full" kind of gal, that's only two months out of twelve. Not too shabby in my opinion. Plus, those two very cold, very brown, very rainy/icy/snowy, very gloomy months makes that first day of spring time weather even better.  And then, before you know it, the flowers are blooming, the birds are singing, and it's time to start working the soil to get the first crops of the year going, and suddenly all is right in the world again.  But, it seems I've gotten off track.....

Back to fall!  One of the things I always associate with this time of years is apples.  They're everywhere!  It's the time of year that brings you some of my favorite things:  caramel apples, apple cider, and, of course, apple pie.  Now, I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I was only allowed, say, five foods to eat for the rest of my life, apple pie would definitely make the cut.  (And peanut butter.  I could eat ANYTHING with peanut butter on it!).  There is nothing more comforting and wonderful than sitting down to a slice of homemade apple pie, fresh out of the oven and still slightly warm.  Add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and you have perfection.  Now, I started out today hoping to bring you a super impressive recipe of my own design, but sadly I had a kitchen fail.  Yes, it happens!  And it happens to everyone.  DO NOT EVER LET THIS DISCOURAGE YOU!  These things help you to learn and grow as a cook.  I started out with the idea of a Caramel Apple Crumb Pie.  The fail?  I BURNT THE CARAMEL!  And not super burnt, just enough that it had that bitter after taste.  It started off tasting delicious, then the aftertaste hit.  If I would have taken it off the heat thirty seconds sooner, I would be posting pictures and a recipe.  But, alas, it was not meant to be, and I learned something for my next attempt so I refuse to be upset.  (OK, maybe a LITTLE upset.  I don't take failure well.....).

This failure got me to thinking, though.  Why be fancy?  Sure, it's fun, and I love seeing the look on my hubby's face when I pull something like that off.  But so many people want to get right to that "how in the world did you do that" dessert, and forget to master a basic apple pie.  Or any pie, for that matter.  So, consider this post a recipe and tutorial all in one.  We are going to learn pie making.  Home made crust and all.
And, Really.  How can you have a pie plate
this pretty and not want to put a pie
in it? 

First and foremost, let's talk crust.  Nothing infuriates me more than store bought pie crust (Ok, that might be an overstatement, but still...).  I have actually turned down free pie on the sole premise that the crust was made in a factory and not someone's kitchen.  I just don't like it!  I blame my mother and grandmother.  Never did a pre-made pie crust pass my lips until I was old enough to procure my own pie.  And it was disappointing.  My father has the theory that mediocre pie is better than no pie at all, but I have to differ with that one.  With my insatiable sweet tooth, I cannot in good consciousness waste my time on a dessert that is merely OK. Which means in my world, homemade pie crust is crucial.  And easy!  It only takes a few simple ingredients and a little patience.  I will not lie - the first couple times I did this on my own, it was frustrating.  I'd either get the crust too "short" (dry) or too wet and I ended spending more time patching it than actually making the pie.  Because I am stubborn and refuse to be beaten by flour and shortening, I finally got it right.  Once you get that first perfect one, you remember it.  You can FEEL when it's right.  That's the funny thing about pie crust - you can have the best recipe in the world, but it will never ever ever take exactly the same amount of water each time.  Temperature and humidity actually do play a part in how much you add.  But once you "feel" that first perfect one, you know.  Trust me.  And once you get the crust in place, the rest is smooth sailing.  So, let's get on with this recipe!  (Are you excited?  I'm excited!)

Not That Mrs Smith's Apple Crumb Pie
2 c Flour
2/3 c Shortening
3 T Sugar
Ice water

6-8 apples
3/4 c Sugar
1 T Corn starch
3 T butter

Crumb Topping:
1 stick Butter (room temp)
1 c Flour
1/2 c Brown sugar

9" pie plate

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Pastry Blender.
Consider this your new best
We're going to start by making the crust.  Get a small glass and plop a couple ice cubes in it.  Fill the glass with water.  Set that aside.  The ice is important!  When you mix your other ingredients into a crumb (spoiler alert!), it cools the shortening while binding everything together.  When you bake the crust, that cooled shortening is essentially going to "pop" making your crust flaky.  Flaky is good!  I promise.

Get a big bowl and dump the flour, shortening and sugar into it.  Blend with a pastry blender or a fork.
Coarse crumb
 Yes, you can do this with a fork, and I did for a long time.  But I got a pastry blender as a bridal shower gift, and honestly, I don't know how I lived without it.  It makes it so much easier.  (Plus, you can use it to chop eggs for egg salad.  True story!)  Blend these ingredients together until they are a coarse crumb.

Ball o' dough
Add ice water, a teaspoon at a time.  Blend with your fingers and add more as needed.  You'll want it to form a dough ball, not too sticky, not too dry.  You don't want it to be crumbly or soggy.  Be careful not to overwork dough, or it will get tough and you will lose that flake.

Once the dough is formed and in a ball, turn out onto a lightly floured pastry cloth.  At this point I give it  good squish with the palm of my hand to flatten it and get it started.  Using a rolling pin, roll the dough until it is about 1/8" thick, alternating directions so you get a circular shape.  Doesn't have to be perfect, you can always tear and patch if you have to.  You just don't want to get a long oval. That'll just make your life difficult.

Transfer dough into pie plate.  The easiest way I have found to do this is to fold in half, and then in half again so it's a kind of triangle.  I then put the center of the triangle in the center of the pie plate and unfold.  This is pretty foolproof.

Press into pie plate
Once dough is unfolded, make sure it is molded against the bottom and sides of the pie plate.  Go around the edge and fold the extra that is hanging off the sides under and press.  Go around the entire plate using your thumb to crimp the dough.  Take a sharp knife, and press against the side at a 90 degree angle.  Use the knife to remove excess dough hanging over the edge.  I then go around and touch up my crimps so it looks pretty.
Tuck and roll!

That's the stuff!

Set the dough aside.

Next up - Filling.
Easy apple cutting
Wash and peel apples.  I'm going to pass on the easiest way I know to core and slice an apple.  I actually learned this by watching Master Chef.  I've picked up a lot of helpful things watching that show, and in addition to how to pan sear and cook the perfect steak (baste with hot butter, my friend), I learned this handy trick that really sped up the apple cutting process.  First, sit the apple upright, core perpendicular to your cutting board, and cut one side off of it, getting as close as you can to the core without cutting into it.  Turn your apple a quarter turn, and do it again.  Another quarter turn, another cut.  Do this until you have a little rectangle of core and 4 sides of core-less apple.  Then slice.  Easy!

Once your apples are sliced, placed half of them into the pie plate.  Sprinkle half the sugar and some cinnamon over top of the apples (this is where personal preference comes in to play, put as much as you like!).  Slice the butter and distribute over top of that, then sprinkle corn starch on top of that.
Halfway there
Filling complete!

Top with the remaining apples.  Your pie will be FULL, but you want that.  Apples cook down a lot, so if it's not full, you will end up with a sad, flat pie.  Sprinkle remaining sugar and a little more cinnamon on top.  Set aside.

Course crumbs for topping
Oooooooh, it's crumb topping time!! (My favorite!)
Get your pastry cutter out again.  Put softened butter, flour, and brown sugar into a bowl.  Blend until it makes a coarse crumb.  At the end, I use my fingers to finish the job.

Sprinkle over top of the pie.

Put the pie in the oven for about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes.  I start frequently checking my pie at about 50 minutes (just in case) and pull it out when the crust is brown and I can see the filling bubbling.

Once done baking, remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool.

Before oven
Ta da!  So pretty! 
Hopefully, you now have the most beautiful apple pie you ever saw!  You can change things up a bit and put some chopped pecans in with the filling or the crumb, add some almonds on top, drizzle caramel over it when you serve it.....Just because this is basic doesn't mean you can't jazz it up a bit!  This just screams fall, and is the most perfect dessert/breakfast/late night snack ever!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The perfect pear....

This week, a trip to my favorite local orchard got me a half peck of pears for $8.  EIGHT DOLLARS!!  The reason I got them so cheap is because they were "seconds" - not aesthetically perfect and very very ripe.  Which was PERFECT for my purposes!   I really really wanted to try my hand at pear butter, so off to the orchard I went and came home with the most delicious, sweet fruit. The first round of pears I got this season from my gracious coworker (for free!) was put into pear bread.  Which, yes, I did share with her.  (Funny side note - this year I have been gifted a lot of fruits and veggies.  I think people are on to the fact that if they give me stuff, I will turn it into delicious food and share it with them.  I'm fine with this!)

Now, there are many good recipes out there for pear butter.  But I found (as I often do) that one had elements that I liked but lacked something that I wanted, or sounded good except for one ingredient that I didn't care for for this purpose.  So I did what I always do:  I "invented" my own pear butter recipe!  Now, here's a glimpse in to the Krista vernacular - my hubby will frequently find me in the kitchen looking very intent and deep in thought (usually in my super cute cherry apron!) and ask me, "Whatcha doin?", even though he KNOWS the answer.  To which I usually just respond "inventing __________".  Which he also knows means that he is either in for an amazing meal or dessert, or I will end up swearing and ordering pizza.  Usually it's the first one, sometimes the second.  But, hey, a lot of cooking is trial and error.  You'll never have the big victories if you don't have the big failures.

So, the hardest part about making this recipe is peeling and coring and cutting the pears.  If you can do that, you can make this!  The biggest thing you need for this recipe is patience.  If you have that, you're golden!  Of course, I canned mine, since you can only eat so much pear butter in a short amount of time.  I got nine 8 ounce jars out of this recipe. Yield may vary slightly, however, depending on the size of your pears.

Brown Sugar Vanilla Spiced Pear Butter
1/2 Peck of pears
1 c Brown sugar
1/2 c White sugar
1/3 c Lemon juice
2 T Vanilla
1 T Cinnamon
1 t Ground Ginger

Tools needed:
Big pot
Canning equipment
See?  Silky smooth!

Wash, peel, core and cut pears into large chunks.  Place pears on medium heat, stirring constantly.  When mixture starts getting hot.  Once it heats up a bit (boiling is not necessary), turn down on low.  You don't want the pears to scorch.  Stir often.

Once the pears are soft and cooked, run them through a food processor until smooth.  Return puree back into pot and return to heat.

Add the lemon juice, sugars, vanilla and spices.  Keep cooking and stirring the mixture until it thickens.
This thickens up quite nicely.  All it takes is patience.

 Remove from heat and can, ladling hot pear butter into hot jars and boiling covered on high for 10-15 minutes. You can also store in refrigerator.  If you do can, any jars that do not seal, place directly into the refrigerator and use within a few weeks.

And there it is.  So easy!  I just ate some on an English muffin and it was AMAZING!!  There are so many different elements in this recipe - the lemon adds brightness (and acidity for safe canning), the vanilla and brown sugar adds richness and warmth, and the cinnamon and ginger adds spice.  It is a perfect balance of flavors, in my opinion.  This will definitely be a yearly canning project!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hot stuff!

Yesterday I had a very sad thought.  Summer is almost over.  Now, don't get me wrong, I LOVE fall.  It's one of my favorite seasons.  But I have had so much fun playing in my garden this summer that I'm sad to see it go.  This year, however, I have been on a quest.  I have been rotating and timing my crops so that I can achieve my very feasible goal of having fresh, homegrown veggies from about May until November.  As summer is winding down I am looking forward to cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, broccoli, kale, spinach, lettuce, bok choy, peas, arugula, raddichio, daikon radishes, turnips, and beets.  But, sadly, pepper and tomato season is coming to an end, so it's time to harvest harvest harvest!

My biggest experiment of the season has been my plethora of hot peppers.  I thought since I planted so many varieties, some were bound to not work.  Imagine my surprise when ALL OF THEM WORKED!  I've had to get really creative with my canning and find and "invent" recipes to utilize my plentiful harvests.  Because, really, who just snacks on hot peppers?  I mean, I guess people DO, I'm just not one of them.

One of the prettiest sights in the world.  This is when you
start feeling accomplished as a gardener!
One of the hot peppers I planted was a hot cherry pepper.  These are really good for pickling.  Once I got a decent amount off my plant (And, yes, I only had one plant.  This guy PRODUCED!), I was then faced with the choice of canning them whole or making relish.  I opted for relish, since I thought that would get used way more in our house.  This could be used on anything: hot dogs, sausages, sandwiches....the possibilities are endless!  And since cherry peppers, while hot, are also very sweet, I thought it was a good choice.  The recipe is very simple, but sometimes the most delicious recipes are.  Brace's about to get hot in here!

Hot Cherry Pepper Relish 
About 3 cups of diced cherry peppers (about 20 peppers, depending on size)
-Note: I threw in a couple ripe jalapenos because I had them on hand and they needed to be used. Remember - it's all about using your harvests!
1/2 Medium white onion
1 Clove garlic
2 c white vinegar
1 c water
1 T kosher salt
1/2 c sugar
2 t powdered pectin

Special tools:
Vinyl food service gloves (remember : hot peppers!)
Canning equipment
4 oz glass jelly jars

Fill a canning pot with enough water so that it will cover jars.  Turn on high and add jars and lids and bring to a boil.  I leave jars in boiling water until ready to fill.
Looks like a party in a bowl!

Now put on your gloves and core the peppers and dice into small bits (seeds and ribs, too! This is HOT relish!).  I did this by hand.  Set

Here's a friendly side note:
If, for some reason, you either don't have gloves or are too stubborn to put them on, wash your hands with Dawn dish soap after handling the peppers.  Here's why - The thing that makes your hands burn, and in turn your eyes, nose, mouth, or any other mucous membrane you may accidentally touch while handling them is the capsaicin (the thing that makes the peppers hot).  Capsaicin is an OIL. And remember the Dawn dish soap commercials with the baby duckies and the oil spills and the amazing people using their product to remove the oil from the birds? the math.  I've done it and it takes the oils off your hands, leaving you burn free. 

See?  Onion paste.
 Now, back to business. Rough chop the onion and peel garlic.  Put in food processor and make a kind of paste out of it.  I wanted the onion and garlic flavor in the relish without biting into an actual onion.  The big reason for this for me was because my hubby loves the onion flavor but hates crunching into a raw onion.  So I take the approach like I'm dealing with a kid - hide it and he won't complain.  (Love you, honey!)

Add vinegar, water, salt, and sugar to a small pot. Bring these to a boil and stir to dissolve sugar and salt completely.

Once these are boiling, add onion and garlic mixture and peppers.  Let the mixture get back up to boiling, and boil for 2-3 minutes.

Add pectin and allow to boil for another minute or two.  Back the heat down so that the relish is simmering.
Before cooking
After cooking.  See the difference?

Remove jars and lids from water.  Carefully fill jars with hot relish (you want to add hot relish to hot jars or you risk cracking the jars) and leave about a half inch of headspace.  Wipe the rim of the jars with a damp paper towel to remove anything you may have spilled or splattered on the rim.  You want to have a tight seal, and having clean jars is the way to ensure this.  Place lids on the jars and then rings until finger tight.  Place jars in the hot water bath, making sure there is at least an inch or two of water covering the jars.  Cover and boil for 10 minutes.

Remove from water and transfer to flat surface and let cool on top of a dish towel.  After the jars are COMPLETELY cooled, Unscrew rings and test for sealing.  You'll want to push down on the lid and make sure it doesn't "pop" when you do. I also will pick up the can (carefully!) by the lid to ensure it doesn't come off.  I store mine with the rings on, although some have said that it is not necessary.  If you do, just put them on finger tight (Don't screw them down super hard because that could cause the seal to break).

And there you have it. I got eight 4 oz jars from this recipe. Easy easy easy!  And so yummy!  The cherry peppers are sweet and hot and have a great flavor. I can't wait to try this on a sandwich!
Cue feeling of accomplishment!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sometimes, you just need a little bit of comfort (food)!

Here in the Smith household, Monday nights in fall mean one thing - FOOTBALL!! And since I was fortunate enough to have the night off, and my week 1 fantasy win wouldn't be secure until my running back played (thank you, Morris!), I didn't want to be standing in the kitchen cooking when I could be sitting in the living room talking smack and watching my points. So.....dinner was going to be E-A-S-Y.  I wanted to throw something on the stove and occasionally check on it.  And since my parents, sister, husband and I just cooked, cut and froze 24 dozen ears of corn (yes....24!), I figured tonight would be a perfect night for chicken corn soup.  Now, here's something that you need to know about me and soup.  Soup out of a can = GROSS!  My husband found this out about one month into our relationship when he was sick and I asked if he wanted me to bring him anything.  He answered "chicken corn soup" expecting me to show up with a can.  Imagine his surprise when I showed up with bags full of ingredients and told him to give me an hour or so.  But, I digress....

One thing that baffles me is that many people are surprised when I tell them I make homemade soup all the time.  One person even confessed that she wouldn't know how to make soup if she wanted to.  The thing people don't realize is how easy it is!  If you can boil water, you can make soup.  I swear!  And chicken corn soup is one of my favorites.  Living in PA, this is one that I have eaten my entire life.  It is a big Pennsylvania Dutch recipe, along with shoo fly pie, whoopie pies, fastnachts, pork and sauerkraut, and chicken pot pie (the kind with the noodles.  The one with the crust is simply a chicken pie.  I don't care what you say, it's true).  And soup is so forgiving.  You can add and delete ingredients as you see fit.  As long as it tastes good, nothing is wrong!  Of course, I couldn't just make the soup.  My favorite thing to eat with any soup is homemade corn bread.  Consider this post a two for one!  First things first, though.  Let's make some soup!

PA Dutch Chicken Corn Soup
To make the stock:
Two whole bone in, skin on chicken breasts
3 Medium Carrots, cut in big chunks
1/2 White onion, skinned and cut in big chunks
1-2 T fresh parsley
1-2 t fresh thyme
Salt to taste

For the Soup:
5 pints of frozen corn.  Or you can use a couple dozen of fresh corn, blanched and cut off the cob.

And finally, let's make rivlets! (which are pretty much like little dumplings)
2 c Flour
Pinch salt
2 Eggs

Tools needed:
BIG pot
Gravy separator (optional)

To make the stock, add the chicken, herbs, salt, carrot, onion, and enough water to cover the chicken breasts together in a big pot and boil.  No, seriously.  That's chicken stock.  You want the veggies and chicken to flavor the stock, and, of course, fresh herbs to add even more flavor.  You want to boil it down until the stock turns a pretty yellow color.  Warning - at first it will be gray and pretty unappetizing looking.  This will pass, I promise!

Once the stock is pretty and yellow, turn off the heat and remove the chicken and set it aside to cool.

Run the stock through a strainer into a big bowl to remove the veggies.  You can snack on the carrots or throw them out, it's up to you.  I just tossed them.

 Let stock sit and skim fat of the top. I use a gravy separator (I promise if you don't have one of these you need one.  It makes life easy!).  Put stock back in big pot and cook over medium heat.

Not the most colorful, but boy is it good!
In the meantime, remove the skin from the chicken and pull meat off bone.  Either tear or cut into bite sized pieces and add back into the stock.  Add the corn and bring the entire mixture to a boil.  I turn the heat up a bit until it gets there, and then back it off to medium.

 Once the soup is boiling, make the rivlets.  Rivlets are pretty much like little dumplings.  No chicken corn soup is complete without these, in my opinion. To make the rivlets combine flour and salt in a bowl and crack eggs into the flour.  Mix with your fingers until flour is moistened, and just gradually sprinkle and stir mixture into the boiling soup.  If you need more salt at that point, add it!  Remember, soup is forgiving.  You can tailor it to your liking. And that's it!  I let it continue to simmer while I make the cornbread. (or for 5 minutes, or for an're not going to mess this up.  I cannot stress this enough).

Now, on to the cornbread.  Homemade corn bread is kind of like an addiction for me.  And my biggest complaint with cornbread recipes is it can end up being too dry pretty easily.  So I found and tried a couple corn bread recipes and then found one that was close to what I wanted.  Then I tweaked it.  My additions worked!  I came out with a moist, sweet cornbread that I ate with the soup, ate the next day for breakfast, ate as a snack.  I seriously can't get enough of this!

Sweet Corn Bread
1/2 c Canola oil
2/3 c Sugar
1 Egg
1 c 2% Milk (I like 2% because the slightly higher fat content makes the bread moist.  If you're feeling especially sinful, you could use whole milk. Just avoid anything less than 2%)
1 c Flour
1 c Yellow corn meal
3 t Baking powder
Pinch of salt

Favorite.  Thing.  EVER!
Preheat oven to to 400 degrees.  Grease an 8x8 inch baking pan or spray with nonstick cooking spray (I like Crisco).

In a large bowl, whisk together oil, sugar, egg, and milk.  Once that is well mixed, add flour, corn meal, baking powder and salt.  Stir together until just mixed.

Pour batter into baking pan and bake for 25 minutes.

Viola! Home made soup and corn bread, it really doesn't get any better.  It's comfort food at its finest.  And, I got to watch the game.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Things are turning out just peachy....

It has occurred to me that my entire blog has been focused on cooking.  Tonight, we're going to switch it up a bit.  Tonight, we focus on.....BAKING!!  That's right, kids! One thing that you should know about me is that I have an ENORMOUS sweet tooth.  I can have a bag of potato chips sitting in my cupboard for months and I won't even give it a second glance  Well, at least I could before I met my husband.  Now he eats them all....But, you put a cake, cookies, ice cream, donuts, or any other sweet thing in my house (except baklava.  I have a hatred of baklava) I WILL EAT THE CRAP OUT OF IT UNTIL IT IS GONE!!!  Whenever there is sugar involved, I suddenly lose all self control and willpower.  Correction - I have all the self control in the world with candy, but all bets are off when baked goods and ice cream are involved.  OK,'s not quite THAT bad.  But I would be lying if I said I didn't have a little something sweet every day.  And since baking is such a precise art form, the science nerd in me loves it!  Plus, it makes me nostalgic for the days when I was little, standing in the kitchen with my Grandma, learning how to make cakes, cookies, pizelles, pies (and homemade pie crust!), and all kinds of sweet goodies.  And I think about how every time we baked something, she'd always tell me how you mixed the wet ingredients then added the dry, and not to turn on the mixer too high when adding the flour or it will go everywhere.  Then she'd proceed to turn it on too high and flour went everywhere, we'd giggle, and she'd say "Like that.  Don't do that".  Found out she did the same thing with my sister, because she remembers having this exact conversation with her.

So, tonight I got adventurous.  All it took was about 5 minutes without adult supervision (my husband jumped in the shower), and when he came out into the kitchen he asked me what I was doing.  I replied "inventing peach bread" and went about my business.  See, I had peaches in the fridge that I got from the farmer's market (surprise!) for super cheap because they were really ripe (double surprise!!) that I needed to use before they became moldy mush.  And because I was so intent on perfecting this recipe, I neglected to take any pictures (forgive me!) until the end when the most beautiful loaves of peachy, sweet quick bread came out of my oven.  And now, I must share my recipe, because boy is it good!  Be warned - it makes a lot (4 loaves!), but you can half it, or make them and give them away or freeze them.  I have been doing both....because, remember, no willpower!  And, again, sorry for the lack of pictures, but i promise this is easy!!!  If you can measure and stir, you can make this.

Peaches and Cream Bread with Cinnamon Swirl
For the bread:
3 c Diced peaches
1 1/2 c Canola oil
6 Eggs
3 c Sugar
1 1/2 c Sour cream
3 tsp Vanilla extract
6 c All purpose flour
Pinch of salt
3 tsp Baking powder
Cinnamon and sugar to sprinkle on top
For the cinnamon swirl:
1/3 c Sugar
2 tsp Cinnamon
1 Tbsp water

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease and flour 4 8" loaf pans.  Prepare the cinnamon swirl mixture and set aside.

In a large bowl combine oil, eggs, sugar, sour cream, and vanilla.

In a separate bowl combine flour, salt,  and baking powder.  Add combined dry ingredients to wet ingredients.  Stir until just moistened. Add peaches and stir one more time.

Distribute about half of batter into the four loaf pans.  Stir cinnamon and sugar mixture (in case it settled) and drizzle over top of the batter in the pans.  Distribute the other half of the batter into the pans on top of the cinnamon swirl and spread out to cover the cinnamon layer

 Top each loaf with cinnamon and sugar. (I literally just take a tablespoon or so of sugar, sprinkle some cinnamon in it, and stir it around and sprinkle it on top).  This gives it a sweet, crunchy upper crust.

Just out of the oven!
Place loaf pans on large baking sheet and bake for 45 minutes.

When done baking, remove from oven and let cool for 30 minutes.  Run knife around outer edge of loaf and remove from pan.  Let cool the rest of the way on a cooling rack.

Of course, once the loaves were cool enough that I could turn one out of the pan without burning my fingers, I HAD to try it.  This was a new recipe, after all.  Plus, if I was going to pass on it here, I had to test for quality, right?  I even had my hubby try, just for good measure.  I think he secretly encourages this blog just so he gets to be my food guinea pig.  So we eagerly cut into the loaf, and this is what we saw:
PERFECTION!  I'm not gonna lie....
I was a little nervous....

And the verdict was.....delicious!  It was moist and creamy with a chunks of sweet peaches.  And the cinnamon swirl was perfect!  This would be really amazing with a cup of coffee at breakfast time or an afternoon snack or a late night snack.....who am I kidding?  It's just perfect.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Happy Fall!

Today is the first day of September, which in my brain means it is fall.  Yes, I know, I know.  Fall starts officially on September 21st.  But, as most people who know me know, following rules is not exactly my forte.  In my mind winter is December through February, spring March through May, summer June through August, and fall September through November.  So, yes.  It's fall.  Never mind the fact that it's 90 degrees here in PA this week.  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not quite ready to admit that summer is coming to an end yet and my garden is still in full swing, but I am looking forward to the days of crisp weather, turning leaves, pumpkin EVERYTHING, and wearing hoodies.  For now, I guess I'll just have to settle for getting into the spirit of the season through my kitchen.

With the increased awareness lately of GMO's and the pitfalls of factory farming, my husband and I have made the choice to keep most of our produce selections locally sourced (and sometimes so local, that it comes from our own back yard!).  The result is eating things that are fresh and in season.  Sure, that means no fresh strawberries in February, but those usually taste like exactly nothing anyway. Of course, there are things I absolutely cannot live without that are never in season here like bananas, avocados, pineapples, mangoes, etc. But for the most part, I try to eat as locally as I can.  This results in a weekly trip to my favorite farmer's market ever and obscene amounts of fresh produce in my kitchen.  My market does differentiate between homegrown, locally grown, and shipped in, which is nice.  Not all of them do that, so be aware - just because it is at a farmer's market does not mean that it is grown locally.  Don't be afraid to ask where your food comes from!!  Any market worth its salt will be more than happy to share.  But, it seems I've gotten off track here.....

So what does my farmer's market rant have to do with anything?  Why, acorn squash of course!!  My market has the most beautiful array of squash right now, and so reasonably priced ($0.65/lb!!).  And I have yet to meet a squash I don't like.  So I happily picked out spaghetti squashes and acorn squashes and brought them home to add to my produce collection.  The nice thing about squash is that they keep FOREVER!!  So I stared at them for about a week looking so cute in my hang-y produce basket and contemplated what I should do with them exactly.  And then, I came up with this:

Acorn Squash stuffed with Sausage, Quinoa, and Apples
3 Acorn squashes
1 lb Loose hot Italian sausage
2 c Cooked quinoa (I used red quinoa, but it doesn't matter what kind you use)
Vegetable stock
2 T Olive oil
1/2 White onion, diced
2 Apples, peeled, cored, and diced
1 tsp Fresh rosemary
1 tsp Fresh parsley
1 tsp Fresh thyme
Shredded cheddar cheese
chopped walnuts

Tools needed:
Just the basics

Preheat oven to 375.  Cut acorn squash in half vertically.

Mmmmmm....squashy goodness!

Scoop out the seeds and trim just a smidge off the back so that it will lay flat on the tray.

All clean!

You're literally just shaving a little off the bump.
Just enough so that it won't wobble while baking.

If you feel so inclined, save the seeds!  You can clean them, dry them, and bake them just like pumpkin seeds.  (Yum!)  Place cleaned squash on baking sheet and bake for about 45 minutes or until soft. You can test done-ness with a fork.  If the fork pierces the squash meat with little to no resistance, you're ready to rock!

Even this looks amazing!
While your squash is in the oven, cook your quinoa according to directions on the box, substituting vegetable stock for water (unless you have cooked quinoa hanging out in your fridge, in which case just grab it.  But, seriously, who does that?).  While the quinoa is cooking, heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat.  Add the apple, onion, rosemary, parsley, and thyme.  Saute until onions are soft. The apples will all but disintegrate, but that's OK.  We really just want the apples to add a sweetness to the dish.  

Once the onions are soft, add the sausage to the pan and cook while breaking it up. (Think: browning ground beef for sauce or chili).  Once the sausage is done, remove from heat and stir in the cooked quinoa.
Yummy filling, ready to be added to the squash
 You'll probably notice I did not add salt to this dish.  The reason for that is that the sausage is salty enough that I really didn't think it was needed.  But, of course, if your sausage doesn't add the desired amount of saltiness, feel free to add.  Remember - cooking is way more forgiving than baking!  You can tweak a recipe any way you see fit.  
See?  Extra.

Now spoon the sausage mixture into the cooked acorn squash.  You'll notice in my pictures, I only made two squashes, but ended up with extra filling (enough for one more squash, hence the instructions to do 3).
 Top with shredded cheddar cheese and sprinkle with walnuts.  Put back in the oven for about 7-8 minutes, until cheese is melted.  

And that's it!
So pretty!  This just screams "FALL!"
 This is the perfect combination of sweet and savory.  My hubby actually made me a little nervous when he tried it.  He took his first bite and just looked at me.  I thought he hated it...then his eyes damn near rolled back in his head while he exclaimed "this is so GOOD!".  As I was eating mine, I was surprised at how with every bite I took, I loved it a little more each time.  This one is definitely on the "do it again" list!