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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Sweet Berry Jam

It's strawberry season!  This is probably one of my most favorite times of the year.  June is, after all, my favorite month, mainly due to my birthday being here.  But also, it's the month of the year where I really start seeing my garden take off, my peas start producing like crazy, and strawberries are in full swing.  We have a wonderful farm nearby that offers pick your own berries in addition to a beautiful farmer's market full of their homegrown produce and other locally grown crops.  So, off we went (with only moderate protesting from my husband) to pick berries.  And pick we did!  We came home with 12 quarts of beautiful berries that I declared "tasted like sunshine and happiness".  So, what to do with all these berries?  After making a strawberry pie and some home made strawberry lemonade, I got down to what I really picked these for:  jam, of course!

Last year I made 31 jars of strawberry jam.  It was actually my first attempt at jam making and was a great success.  I gave many jars away, and each time one walked out the door I could see my husband taking mental inventory of his stash.  But, thankfully he got through the winter without running out, with 4 jars left to spare.

 Last year, when I made my jam, I used regular pectin and LOTS of sugar.  It was also a much chunkier, looser jam.  This year, I switched it up a little and used the low sugar pectin, which allows me to play with my sugar content a little more.  See, when I eat jam, I like it to taste like sweetened fruit, not fruit flavored sugar.  And making your own is easy, I promise!  I was in my kitchen for a total of 2 hours star to finish.  So, here's what you need for:

Easy Strawberry Jam
Large pot with canning rack for processing
Canning tongs
Jelly jars with lids and rings
Large stock pot

Important canning note:  If you already have jars, great!  You're one step ahead of the game!  However, if those jars have lids and they have been used THROW THEM OUT AND GET NEW ONES!  You can find them in the grocery store for a couple bucks per dozen.  The jars and the rings can be reused, but used lids will affect the seal when you process, ie: your food won't keep.  Canning is fun, but canning safely is of utmost importance.  It keeps you from getting foodborne illness and wasting time, money and effort on a bad run.  OK, now that that's out of the way....

8 qts of strawberries
24 Tbsp powdered pectin, for low or no sugar recipes
5 c sugar (you can add more or less depending on you taste)
Note: some recipes call for lemon juice.  I did not use any.  With some fruits it is necessary to maintain acidity so that it will not harbor harmful bacteria even after canning.  According to the National Center for Home Food Preservation, strawberries don't need it. You can see their recipe here.

Put about 6 to 8 inches of water in your pot. You want enough so that when your jars are in the water they are completely submerged with about an inch of water over the top of the jars.  Turn on the heat and place clean jars (making sure they are free of chips and cracks first) into the pot.  Some say this is necessary for sterilizing, others say that boiling the jar and contents is enough to sterilize the jars.  Either way, pouring hot liquid into a cool jar will crack it.  (Trust me.  I may or may not have done that once...).  Usually when I do this step, my husband makes a smart ass remark like "Oh, glass water!  My favorite!".  His wit is why I married him....

Now, to wash and hull your strawberries.  This is honestly the most time consuming part.  Rinse the strawberries, getting all dirt and debris off of them.  Then simply remove the tops, and throw them (the berries, not the tops) in your big pot.  My secret strawberry hulling
Forget knives!  This
Does the trick!
device?  A teaspoon!  I have found that a simple teaspoon dug down into the top plucks them out quickly and easily, with very little waste.

Once you are all cleaned and hulled, I add just a smidgen of water (like 1/4 cup) and start them on medium heat to get the juices flowing.  I take a wooden spoon and just stir and mash and break them up until they really start cooking down and getting really juicy.

Stick blender =
Best thing EVER!
Once the strawberries are soft, I use a stick blender to get them smooth.  You can leave them a little chunkier if you want.  Then turn your heat up on high to get them to a rolling boil that can't be broken by stirring.  Add the pectin, stirring constantly.   Add your sugar and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.

Now that your jam is made, use your tongs to remove jars from water.  (It should be boiling at this point).  Using your funnel, ladle hot jam into hot jars.
If you can find a canning funnel - get one!  Makes
things so easy!
Take a wet paper towel and wipe the rims of the jars clean.  Place a lid and ring on each jar, turning the rings until their finger tight.  Place jars into water bath, cover, and boil for 15 minutes.  You may have to do this in a couple batches depending on the size of your canning pot.

After time is up, carefully remove the lid and remove the jars and place on a tea towel.  Let them sit, undisturbed until completely cool.  Then, once they are cool, remove the rings, and gently press down on the center of the can.  If it pops in and out, then it did not seal.  If you don't feel it popping, it's good!  Any jars that didn't seal can be put into the refrigerator and eaten first.

And that's it!  Easy strawberry jam.  Probably the easiest way to preserve the berries from this too short season.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Brace posts are coming!

It's been a super busy time here at the Smith household.  I know, I know.  It pretty much feels like I dropped off the face of the earth, but, alas, I have not forgotten about my awesome little blog (or my readers!).  My only excuses are holidays, work, family, and just life in general.  Not to mention, it has been planting season here in good old PA, which has kept me pretty much occupied in every spare moment I have (which isn't many since I work weird hours.... Hopefully that'll be remedied by the beginning of the year!).  This year we have constructed flower beds (veggies need their pollinators!  Come on, bees!), expanded our garden plot to an 11 x 16 ft patch, maintained our approximately 1 1/2 x 20 ft pepper patch, built a compost bin (Guess who got power tools here for Christmas?  Hint: not my husband!), installed a stone path, mulched, installed a pole and bird feeder, maintained overflow in porch containers....I'm tired just thinking about it!  But the good news is, we have the most amazing, prolific patch of plant heaven right outside of our back door!   Well, except for the pesky groundhogs.  I won't lie - after losing 3 heads of beautiful romaine lettuces and 4 cauliflowers, I felt pretty defeated.  But, it appears to be under control (for now.....), so we are having our first harvests of lettuce, kale, peas, cauliflower, spinach, and radishes.
Rows of tomatoes

Look at those peas!

So.... I'm now feeling the need to share my list of crops.  I used a modified version of the square foot gardening method.  Modified because I don't use raised beds, but I am using the guidelines for number of plants per square foot.  It seems to be working well!  Everyone is happy and healthy and producing well.  I also experimented with carrots in a deep container, and so far, so good!
Container carrots

Without further ado, are you ready for the list? (You know you are!)

(Grown vertically on PVC trellises)
Pole beans
Pickling Cucumbers
Regular cucumbers

(Main garden)
Tomatoes (31 plants, 8 varieties)
Sweet peppers
Yellow summer squash
Zucchini, tomatoes, sweet peppers,
eggplant, and potatoes. 

(Pepper bed)
Hot cherries
Sweet cherries
Hungarian wax
Scotch bonnets

I also am experimenting with a shaded lettuce garden, container carrots, and did my radishes in containers as well, which worked
amazingly!  And, of course, my herb garden.  Whew! I think that's it!
Cabbage, anyone? 

But all this amazing produce has me in the mood to cook.... And to share!  So, brace yourselves.... Posts are coming!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Feeling Crabby

Alright, folks, I feel I need to come clean.  I know in previous posts I have declared things my "favorite thing ever".  And it's true that they ARE in fact among my favorite things ever.  Peanut butter, chocolate, apple pie, a really good burger, bleu cheese, fountain sodas, coffee - these are all things that if stranded on an island I would really really miss.  But here is where I tell you what I hold as my favorite thing ever.  Seriously.  Are you ready for it?


Something you should know about me - I am allergic to oysters.  I found that out the hard way when I used to waitress at Red Lobster and tried oysters for the very first time.  Within 15 minutes I was covered in hives.  Same thing happens with clams.  Lucky for me, though, I only have issues with the mollusks, but crustaceans are still OK.  A couple months ago I had a small scare and thought that my days with crustaceans were over, but it turns out it was a false alarm.  This would have crushed me!  In my world, nothing, and I mean NOTHING beats the sweet and delicate flavor that you can only get from crab.  Now most people see lobster as the pinnacle of seafood and I get it, really I do.  A perfectly prepared lobster is hard to beat for sure.  But if given the choice between a lobster tail and a crab leg, I will choose the crab, hands down.  So last night when we were at the store doing our weekly shopping and my hubby asked me frequently asked question "what's for dinner?", I got an idea.
I try to make at least one really special meal a week. That's not to say that it's always expensive or super fancy, but something that I don't have time during the work week to pull off, especially since I work until 11 pm.  Sometimes it's a pot roast, sometimes pork and sauerkraut, sometimes a roasted chicken with all the trimmings.  One of his favorites (and one that I will blog the next time I make it) is pan seared pork chops with a creamy garlic, tarragon, and white wine sauce.  Sometimes it's themed: Asian, German, and Indian have all had their nights here.  Tonight was quasi-Mexican with Chalupas and caramel apple empanadas.  (Some weeks he gets two special meals!).  But I've gotten off track......

My idea yesterday came while standing at the meat counter at our local grocery store.  I decided New York strip steaks were in order.  After all, this was the first weekend in a month that we were able to stay home and just relax.  While waiting for them to cut me a couple thick steaks (go big or go home!) I glanced to the left and saw the seafood.  And then I saw the cans of crab meat.  And then my version of surf and turf seemed like the best idea in the world!

There was one problem - never in my life have I made a crab cake!  And I'm SUPER picky about my crab cakes. This is one of those instances where I sat back and asked myself "what do I KNOW?". Well, I know lemon and parsley are good with seafood.  I know there is mayonnaise and breadcrumbs in crab cakes to bind them. I know that crab is delicate and easily overpowered. And I HATE crab cakes with too much filler.  What's the point?  I know just a hint of heat elevates them to the next level.  And most importantly, I know a good crab cake should be able to stand on its own.  No tartar sauce, no cocktail sauce, maybe a dash of lemon.  But they should be flavorful enough that they aren't boring, but balanced enough that the crab shines through.  Then, I went with my instincts and created these super simple crab cakes.

Simple Crab Cakes
1 lb back fin crab meat (I used a good quality can from the seafood counter at my local grocery store)
1 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped fine
1 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
4 tsp lemon juice
1/3 c plain bread crumbs
2/3 c mayonnaise

3 Tbsp butter (for cooking)

Special tools:
A round cookie cutter (optional)

Makes 8 crab cakes

Crab mixture
Mixing the ingredients is E-A-S-Y.  Seriously.  You ready?  Dump all of the above things (except the butter) in a bowl and gently mix with your fingers.  There's no order, no wrong way to do it.  When it's all mixed together it kind of reminds me of a tuna salad consistency.

Cover bowl and set in the refrigerator for an hour.  I think it helps everything to blend well and the crab cakes to bind together.  Honestly, I can't really tell you why.  I just know that every time I've seen a recipe for any kind of "cake" (salmon, tuna, risotto), part of the directions have included letting the mixture set for an hour or two.  And every time I've skipped that step, my salmon/tuna/risotto cakes have crumbled into a mess.  So just do this.  You'll thank me later.

Get a round cookie cutter and set on a plate.  Pack crab meat mixture into the cookie cutter and press down so it holds form.  Then, simply lift the cookie cutter, and you have the most beautiful, perfect crab cake you've ever seen!  Repeat until all the crab mixture is used up.
Easy as 1-2-3!
Almost there.....

Heat pan with butter over medium heat.  Don't make your heat to high, because butter browns (and burns!) really quickly.  I went a little over medium heat on mine and they got a bit brown for my liking. Still GOOD, I was just going for a bit more golden than brown.

Cook on each side 2 - 3 minutes.

Serve with a lemon wedge or on its own.  (OK, OK, I GUESS if you are insistent, tartar sauce too.  But I'm telling you....totally not necessary).

See what I mean about them being a little more brown than I would have liked?  Nonetheless - they turned out crispy on the outside and moist on the inside.  Best of all, the seasoning did not overpower the crab, yet they were not at all bland!  Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pumpkin love

It seems I've been a bit lax lately with the posts.  October has been a super busy month for us!  Between working a full time job and all of our social engagements on weekends (parties, weddings, more parties), I have found it hard to find the time to create and write.  Yesterday, we had a small gathering with friends to go to.  I was told I could bring something if I wanted to.  Really?  Of COURSE I want to!  It's what I do!  And seeing as this gathering was a Halloween party, what better way to get in the spirit of the season than with pumpkin!

Now, pumpkin rolls are one of my favorite things in the world.  But I really didn't feel like baking and cooling and spreading and rolling, not to mention finger food is much more manageable at a party.  This made me create my own version - Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese frosting.  All the taste of a pumpkin roll without all the hassle.  And it's finger food!  These are wonderful for a party, a dinner, or just because.  

Pumpkin Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
For the cupcakes:
1 c canola oil
1 c packed brown sugar
1 c white sugar
3 extra large or 4 large eggs
2 c pumpkin puree
2 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves

For the icing:
1 stick of butter, room temperature
1 8 oz package cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 pounds of powdered sugar
1 - 3 Tbsp milk

This recipe makes about 24 cupcakes

Tools needed:
Cupcake pans
Cupcake liners

Fresh Pumpkin Puree.  Such a
pretty color!
Note:  I used fresh pumpkin puree that I made by roasting a pumpkin, peeling and seeding it, and running it through a food processor.  Canned pumpkin may be used in its place.  If you decide to use canned, make sure it is just pumpkin puree, not pumpkin pie filling.  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

Place oil, brown sugar, white sugar, eggs and vanilla into a mixing bowl and whisk until well combined. 

Whisk in the pumpkin puree, and beat until mixture is smooth. 

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  With mixer on low speed, slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet until combined.  

Add cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves.  Mix on medium for 2 - 3 minutes.  

Place liners in cupcake pans, and fill with batter about halfway.
Like this!  

Bake for 20 - 25 minutes, until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in pan for about 15 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool the rest of the way on a wire cooling rack.  

You KNOW you want to eat these!
While the cupcakes are cooling, make the icing.  Combine butter and cream cheese in a bowl and beat until fluffy.  

Add powdered sugar slowly in batches.  The icing will be very thick and crumbly.  Add milk 1 tablespoon at a time until the icing reaches the desired consistency.  

Once the cupcakes are completely cooled, pipe onto cupcakes.  


 I didn't even have the lid off the container for 30 seconds before the first one disappeared.  And my hubby confessed to me that he's eaten about 5 between yesterday and today.  So, yeah, they're that good! I promise, these will not disappoint.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Better with Chocolate!

I have a theory.  I'm not sure if it's a sound theory, but I do spend a lot of time trying to prove it.  What is this theory, you might ask?  Well, I pretty much think that there is no problem in this world that chocolate can't solve.  Or at least make you feel slightly better about.  And if you don't have any problems?  Then you should definitely celebrate your problem free existence with some chocolate.  I would say that it is on my list of the world's most perfect foods (right up there with apple pie, crab, and peanut butter).  And besides - it's high in antioxidants, so I'm practically doing my body a favor!  At least that's what I'm telling myself.....

I've been noticing a trend lately of flourless chocolate cakes.  I know, I know.  The increase in recipes for these cakes is probably due to the gluten free necessity of a lot of people, and the low carb demands of others.  But I see flourless chocolate cake, and all I can think is "how rich is THAT?". That's like chocolate overload, without the pesky filler.  I'm in!  But, of course, I couldn't stop there.

Here is my other obsession - cheesecake.  I.  Love.  Cheesecake.  If there is no chocolate or cheesecake involved  I call it a "dessert tease".  Sure, it appeases your sweet tooth, but if I'm going to eat dessert, I want decadence.  So I figured, why not a flourless chocolate cake with a cheesecake layer?  (Genius, I say!).  So, off to the kitchen I went to make this decadent dessert adventure happen.  (Warning:  this is not for the faint of heart or diet conscious.  The mere amount of butter is enough to send Paula Deen into a happy fit, y'all.)  

Flourless Chocolate Tuxedo Cake

For the crust:
2 c chocolate graham cracker crumbs
1 stick of butter, melted
1 Tbsp sugar

For the cheesecake:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/3 c sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For the chocolate cake:
1 stick of butter
8 oz semi sweet chocolate, chopped roughly
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
5 eggs, separated
1/2 c sugar

Tools needed: 
Springform pan (9")

As always, start by preheating
your oven to 350 degrees.
Place graham crackers in a food processor and grind to a fine crumb.  Add melted butter and sugar and mix well.  Press buttery, graham crackery goodness into the bottom of your spring form pan and bake at 350 for 10 minutes to set.  Remove from oven and allow to cool. 

Once your crust is out of the oven, it's time to start that cheesecake!  In your mixer, place cream cheese and sugar, and beat on medium until well combined and fluffy.  Add in the egg and vanilla, and continue mixing until everything is incorporated and smooth.  Be sure to scrape down the sides and scrape up the bottom of the bowl so that you don't get chunks of cream cheese that haven't been incorporated.  Now, take that velvety cheesecake and pour into the middle of your cooled crust, spreading outwards towards the edge leaving about a half inch of space between the cheesecake and the sides of the pan.  Set this aside while you build the chocolate layer.

I'm not going to lie:  this part is FUN!  You get to employ many baking techniques here, and, of course, I will have pictures.  (Did you expect anything less?)  First, place a sauce pan on medium heat and plop a stick of butter into it.  Once that butter is melted, reduce heat to low and add your chopped chocolate. Once the chocolate starts melting, remove pan from heat and keep stirring to melt the rest of the way. Here's an important tip - make sure the spoon you are going to use to stir the chocolate is completely dry.  Make sure your pan is completely dry.  Make sure if you've washed your hands, they are completely dry.  I cannot stress this enough.  The problem with chocolate is that it is temperamental. If you get water in your chocolate, it will seize up.   If you heat it too high, it will seize up.  And once that happens, you're done.  There's no coming back.  I know this from experience. You will have a lumpy, curdled looking brown mess on your hands, and no one wants that!  You want a velvety smooth chocolate/butter mixture.  And if you are patient and pay attention and keep stirring, that is exactly what you will have.  Once the chocolate is melted and smooth, set aside to cool a little while you go on to your next step.  

Get out your five eggs.  These need to be separated.  I do this by grabbing two bowls and my mixing bowl.  The easiest way I have found to separate an egg is to crack it into your hand, then slightly separate your fingers to let the whites run through into the bowl.  I then place the yolk in the other bowl, then dump the white into my mixing bowl.  Repeat this four more times.  I always put each egg white into the mixing bowl so I have an empty bowl each time I crack and separate.  There is nothing more frustrating to me than getting four eggs in and having a bit of yolk drip into your pristine egg whites.  This will mess up your meringue.  Again, I know this from experience.  This way you know if you break one yolk, you're wasting ONE egg, not multiple eggs.  
Separating eggs can be easy....I promise!
Once all your eggs are separated, set aside the mixing bowl full of egg white, and dump the yolks into a large mixing bowl.  Whisk the yolks, sugar, and vanilla together until smooth.  Now, add the chocolate.  Because the chocolate is still slightly hot, you need to temper it.  If you were to dump the warm chocolate into the egg mixture, you'd get chocolate scrambled eggs. (EW!).  So, take a scoop full of chocolate (I usually just use a dry measuring cup), and pour into chocolate mixture while stirring constantly.  This will cool down the chocolate mixture.  You can do this a couple times to be safe, then pour the cooled down chocolate mixture into the remaining egg mixture in your mixing bowl.  Stir until well combined and set aside.  

Now,we make meringue.  I know, this all sounds pretty complicated, but I promise it's not!  Just breathe....this will all be worth it in the end.  Place the whisk attachment onto your mixer and whisk those egg whites!  Same principle as making whipped cream.  The aeration will stiffen up the whites and give you meringue.  So, place your mixer as high as it will go, and watch the eggs go from liquid to a fluffy little egg cloud. 
Hard to believe that egg whites turn into THIS!

See how it almost looks fluffy?
Once you have stiff peaks, it's time to add to the chocolate mixture.  I took about a quarter of the egg white and just stirred it in the chocolate with a whisk.  I then dumped the remaining egg whites into the chocolate, and with a rubber spatula, gently folded it in until well combined.  Then carefully pour the chocolate on top of the cheesecake layer and spread evenly in the pan.  Place the pan in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.  You'll be able to tell that it's done by gently shaking the pan.  If the outside is set and the center jiggles ever so slightly, you're good to go.

Once the cake is done baking, remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool.  Once the cakecools a bit, run a butter knife around the edge and gently remove the side of the pan.  Allow to cool completely before serving.  
Oh my!

I'm not going to lie, when I was taking the ring off the spring form pan, I was a little nervous.  All I could think was "did this work?".  I was half wondering if I was going to remove the ring and have a molten chocolate cake effect.  But, lo and behold, I could not have asked for a more beautiful cake!  The texture is amazing.  It's light and decadent all at the same time.  It's kind of like a mousse, kind of like a custard, kind of like a cake.  The crunch of the graham cracker combined with the creaminess of the cheesecake with the lightness of the chocolate is absolutely perfect.  And the top of the cake kind of cracks and forms yet another crunchy layer.  I served mine plain, but you could also top with whipped cream or raspberries or strawberries, or even just a sprinkling of confectioner's sugar.  This cake could definitely get me through a bad day.  

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?