Saturday, November 12, 2011

Are you ready to crummmmbbbbbble?!?!? (apple crumble, that is!)

Heh, heh, see what I did there?  Heh.

It’s apple season in New England, and almost everywhere you look there are apples.  So whether you pick your own from an orchard or from the grocery store, here’s a simple, delicious recipe for Apple Crumble. 

  • A large, rectangular baking dish
  • A large mixing bowl
  • A pastry blender (not an actual blender, look here) ((if you don’t have a pastry blender you can use a large serving fork, but it’s a LOT more work))
  • A cutting board
  • A knife
  • An apple corer (or just use the knife)

 The good stuff:
  • 4 to 6 apples, cored and sliced (leave the peels on, that’s where all the awesomeness hides!)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup raw granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup softened butter (not melted)  ((real butter, really))

For Apple Crumble you don’t want just any apple.  Stay away from the softer table variety of apples like Golden Delicious or Red Delicious as they will tend to break down and get mushy.  What you want is a firmer, tarter baking apple.  I like Macintosh or Courtland, but you could also use a Granny Smith.

So before you start, take out the butter and let it sit to get to room temp (or slightly soft).   Then set your oven to 350 degrees.

For the apples you want to core them, and then slice so they are a little thinner.  If you peel them first, baby kittens will cry and your mom will be unhappy.  As soon as your done slicing the apples place them in a lightly buttered baking dish.  Mix the water and the lemon juice together then pour over the apples.  Toss a little so that each apple gets the lemon-water treatment, this will keep them from browning will you prepare the crumble.

For this next step I really prefer (and recommend) a clear glass mixing bowl.  This will allow you to lift the bowl to check that all ingredients are properly mixed so that you aren’t left with a schmear of butter and two lumps of flour at the end.  Place the flour, sugar, cinnamon and salt into the bowl and mix well.  Then slice your butter on top of the flour-sugar-etc mix and, using your Pastry Blender (or some forks) begin cutting the butter into the dry mix.  You want to continue doing this until all the butter and dry mix are incorporated together.  Don’t use an electric blender or mixer, you will end up with a paste instead, and it won’t work when you bake it.  In the end you want crumbs of butter and flour-sugar-etc.  Take your butter-flour-sugar-etc crumbs and evenly distribute them on top of your apples.

Bake at 350 for 35 to 45 minutes, then you can omnomnom to your heart’s content!  Apple Crumble goes really well with ice cream or whipped cream on top, especially if the apple you’re  using is more on the tart side.  Enjoy!

I forgot to take a picture when it was done, but it sure was delicious!  I promise that next time I make this, I'll take a picture of the finished product and post it here :)

Pulled Pork Sammichs (Oven-baked)

Shout out to this recipe, which I used as a jumping off point: Oven-Roasted Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Yet another foodstuff that is EVERYWHERE in the South, and I’m not talking about mega-chain restaurants; I mean small mom & pop shops where they’re using a recipe that’s been in the family for generations.  Consequently, I never learned how to make it.

Now if you don’t have a smoker (and I don’t), you can actually make a delicious pulled pork right in your oven.  The trick is the dry rub and the cooking method (slow and low).  Also, this dish has to sit overnight (at the very least 8 hours) with its dry rub on, so remember that prep time has to begin the day before.

The three basic components in this dish are:

  • Dry Rub
  • Large Hunk of Pork (pork shoulder or Boston butt, 5 pounds or so, with a layer of fat on one side, bone in is good)
  • Sauce (not from a bottle, trust me, please)

Before we go any further you should know that I don’t actually measure ANYthing in this recipe, it’s all eyeball estimates.  The only thing I’m a stickler about is the internal temp of the meat.

So for my Dry Rub I use:

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons smoked paprika
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic powder 
  • 1 Tablespoon dry mustard (a spice, not a condiment)
  • 3 Tablespoons of sea salt (or any large-grain salt)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground red cayenne 
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon allspice

Once you’ve mixed this all together in a large bowl, gently sniff it (DO NOT stick your whole face in the bowl and breath in deeply, unless you’re a fan of uncontrolled coughing fits and burned nasal passages!) Lean into the bowl and waft the scent up toward your face. Does the dry rub smell like you want your pulled pork to taste? If so, you’re ready to go..!

Now, the pork will eventually cook fat-side down, so I’ll typically set the pork fat side down into the bowl of dry rub and press down lightly, then flip it over and press down lightly again.  Then I’ll take the pork and lay it on a clean flat surface (cutting board or cookie sheet, use whatcha got), and continue patting the dry rub into the meat, pulling more dry rub from the bowl as needed.  Don’t forget the sides, and any crevices you can find.  Once you’re done, place the meat back into the large bowl, cover it securely and place it in the fridge overnight.

SLOW AND LOW is the way to go.

So, 7-9 hours before you want to feed people…….turn the oven on to 300 degrees and let it heat up completely.  Place the pork shoulder into a baking dish large enough to hold it without touching the sides.  Place the fat or skin side down, and put it in the oven.  The pork should cook at 300 degrees until it begins to fall apart.  The internal temp should reach 170 degrees at the thickest part of the pork, but honestly once it starts to fall apart, there really shouldn’t be any part of the pork that is uncooked.  Once it has cooked for 7-8 hours or so, is at least 170 degrees internally, and is falling apart, remove the pork from the oven, take it out of the dish you cooked it in and set it to the side.  If you sneak a piece of the pork before pulling it, it will probably be too salty and you’ll think you’ve ruined it.  You haven’t; just be patient, my friend.

IF the internal temp reaches 170 degrees, and you have starving people on your hands but the pork isn’t falling apart yet, all is not lost.  Congratulations, you’ve made chopped pork instead of pulled pork.  So long as the internal temp is correct in the thickest spot (I do several readings in different locations), you can serve it; you’ll just have to chop it instead of pulling it.

The dish you cooked the pork in should have some delicious (and probably burnt looking) drippins in the bottom of the pan.  While that pan is still hot, toss in about ¼- ½ cup of apple cider vinegar and begin scraping the drippings from the bottom of the pan to mix them with the cider vinegar (use a rubber spatula for this step).  Fancy school-taught chefs (or people who watch the food network) call this step “deglazing”, and this is the beginning of your barbeque sauce. (Authenticity hint: if it comes from a bottle and you don’t know the first name of the person who put it there, then it isn’t barbeque sauce, it’s just flavored ketchup).

The Sauce will require:

  • Drippins (see above)
  • An additional 1-1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar (depending on taste)
  • ½-1 cup spicy brown mustard (the condiment, not the spice)
  • ¼ cup ketchup (optional, but listed here because some people think it has to have a red component to be barbeque sauce)
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1/3 cup (packed) brown sugar
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • A squirt of lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne
  • A pinch of pepper (black pepper)
  • A pinch of curry powder
  • A pinch of allspice
  • A small shake of ground ginger

Take your drippins & apple cider vinegar mix and place it in a sauce pan.  Add the remaining vinegar and begin to simmer.  Then add all the other ingredients listed above and allow to simmer until the sugar dissolves completely.  WARNING: taking a deep whiff of this stuff while it’s cooking will probably knock you the h-e-double-hockey-sticks out!  If you feel the need to smell it, waft your hand over the pan toward your nose and breathe gently.  Allow to simmer on LOW while you prep the meat.

After the meat has rested for 10 minutes or so, you can begin pulling the meat apart with 2 forks.  The easiest method is to have 2 cutting boards; one with your big old hunk of meat and one that you are shredding on.  In whatever you are planning to serve the pulled pork from, add a 1/3 cup of the simmering sauce, then begin adding the pork to the bowl once it is pulled, tossing occasionally.  Once the bowl is ½ full of pulled pork, you can add another 1/3 cup sauce and continue.  There should not be much sauce at all on the pork until you’ve built your sandwiches, because *that*, my friend, is when you add the sauce!

A pulled pork sandwich is best served on a warm, soft bun, topped with more sauce, with a little pile of cole slaw on top.  Pickles on the side if that’s your preference.

Another option is a pulled pork loaded baked potato:

  • One good-sized potato, baked
  • Little butter
  • Little sour cream
  • Lotta pulled pork 
  • More sauce
  • Omnomnom!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Here's a little bit of insanity

So....the entire nation is supposedly so broke we can't afford to pay attention, and yet Oak Park, Michigan is prosecuting and potentially jailing someone for planting vegetables (nicely) in their front yard?

Here's the story:

What on earth?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

MoreThan Meatloaf

Meatloaf is one of the easiest dishes to make, but it's also one of the easiest to really screw up.  Using a really lowfat meat without adding more flavors, or using too dense a filler are just a few ways to screw it up, and are both reasons that many people serve meatloaf with a tomato-based sauce topping it.  (Obviously, some people serve meatloaf with a tomato-based topping because they like it that way, but I'd argue it's because they never had it made like this).  This particular version is also stuffed with full-of-flavor veggies; it is hearty, nutritious AND delicious!

For meatloaf you basically need some ground meat, some starchy filler, something to bind it and something to flavor it.

My Basic Ingredients:
2-3 lbs ground beef
1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs
1 egg
packet of dried onion soup
ground savory
smoked paprika
Madras curry powder
salt & pepper

The "MoreThan" Ingredients:
1 red bell pepper
10-14 baby carrots
baby spinach

The onion, mushrooms, a few more carrots and small red potatoes go around the loaf before baking it, cuz unless there's mushrooms and potatoes, it ain't really meatloaf!  I actually used a 90/10 ground beef, and I wouldn't really recommend going much lower in fat content than that.  Normally I'd go slightly higher in fat content, but this one was on sale (and I lub me some stuff on sale).

So, the first step is to set the oven on 375 and let it start warming up.

Next, take a large handful of the baby spinach leaves, roll them into a cylinder and start slicing so that you are making baby spinach ribbons.  I did about 1/2 the bag.  I know there's a fancy chef-name for this technique, but I'll be damned if I know what it is!  You can always cut your ribbons a little smaller if they look to big when you're done, but remember that spinach starts big and ends small, so don't make the pieces too little.

Next comes the carrots.  Now I like raw carrots, but cooked carrots are probably my least favorite vegetable.  I put them around the outside of the meatloaf for other people (and because the color is so pretty).  I know they're good for me, so I trick myself (HA!) into eating them by shredding them and mixing them into the meatloaf.  Here's a picture of carrots I shredded using my little $10 mini-chopper. 
Next chop the red bell pepper into relatively small pieces.  Depending on the size of your pepper, you may want to only use half of it, but you'll definitely want to chop the pepper by hand, it's too delicate for the mini-chopper.

Now you'll need a bowl larger than you think you'll need.  I used the largest one I had, and I wished it was larger.  In the bowl, put:

  • the ground beef (2-3 lbs)
  • the bread crumbs (about 1/2 cup)
  • the onion soup packet
  • the egg (sans shell, obviously...)
  • the baby spinach ribbons
  • the shredded carrots
  • the chopped red bell pepper
  • all your herbs & spices (go easy on the salt because your bread crumbs and onion soup already have salt in them
Mix it all well, but not harshly.  I use my hands, and strongly recommend you do the same.  If you're creeped out by mushing raw meat, feel free to use gloves.  Shape it into a loaf and place it in the center of your baking dish, then lovingly surround it with small red potatoes, baby carrots and mushrooms, and garnish it with the sliced onion.  Add a small amount of water 1/4 to 1/3 cup, depending on the size of your dish.  This will augment the "drippins" from the meat, which will allow you to make a better gravy. Clicking on the image to the right --> will show you the little pieces of peppers, carrots and spinach, NOMZ!

Bake at 375 degrees, uncovered, for approximately an hour, perhaps slightly longer.  I recommend that you always use a meat thermometer and cook to the appropriate internal temperature!  I don't have the fancy kind that you bake along with the meat, I have the kind you poke into the meat when you take it out to check the done-ness, and it works fine.

I wish I had a better picture of it to show you, but to be honest I was starving and ready to eat!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Easy Peasy Mac-n-Cheesy!

Giving a shout-out to this recipe, though I didn't follow it, I did learn some tricks! 

You'd think that, growing up in the South, I'd have learned how to make real mac-n-cheese at quite a young age, but I didn't.  I do, however, LOVE mac-n-cheese, and even the boxed stuff is okay on occasion.  This, is not that occasion!

This particular recipe is super easy and super tasty, so you really have no excuse to grab the box!

What you'll need   

Sharp Cheddar (shredded, 9 ounce bag)
Mild Cheddar & Monterey jack (about 9 ounces, I just used what I had left)
Spiral/elbow pasta (or mini shells, or penne, if you prefer)
Raw Baby Spinach (9 ounce bag)
1 pint half-and-half
3 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Cook the pasta to al dente  While it's cooking, prep the spinach.  Now here's the trick.  You really only want the spinach blanched or wilted, you don't want it cooked all the way through.  So while the pasta is cooking, I set the spinach up in another pot.

Once the pasta is finished, I drain the boiling pasta water into the pan with the spinach.  Set the pasta aside and drain the spinach.  It will look like too much before it's cooked, and like not enough after it is cooked.  Don't worry, it'll be perfect, just set it aside :)

Now your pasta and your spinach are good to go.

Preheat the oven to 400.

Put 1 &  1/2 cup half-and-half in a sauce pan and set it to the low side of medium, you want to bring it up to a simmer.

While that's doing it's thing, put 3 tablespoons of flour into a bowl and add the nutmeg and the sweet paprika.  You could use regular paprika, or even smoky paprika, but for this dish I really prefer the sweet paprika.  Mix the dry ingredients, and then add the remaining 1/2 cup half-and-half.  Whisk it until it is well mixed.  If there are a few lumps, it’s okay, but they should be small lumps.  Once the milk in the pan has reached a simmer, add in a dash of olive oil, then add in the flour mixture and whisk until it begins to thicken (about 2 to 3 minutes).

Take the flour & milk mixture off the heat and begin to add in most of the cheese, slowly, mixing gently until it is melted. I sprinkle a handful at a time over the milk-flour mixture and stir in until melted. Reserve a portion of the cheese to sprinkle on top.

Spray your baking dish, or put a little olive oil in it.

Add the pasta and spinach to the dish and mix it up a little. 

Pour your cheesy mix on top, and then using a large spoon, poke into the pasta so that some of the sauce settles in.

I top with chopped bacon and more cheese.

Bake for about 30 minutes at 400.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Hello 2011

Yep, I've got a whole list this year.  Last year I resolved to try a new recipe every month.  In my defense, I did try new things last year.  There were a few that were such abysmal failures that they never made it on the blog.  This year, I'm recognizing that intention and setting the tone is every bit as important as actually being 100% successful with your resolutions, so here goes.  In 2011, I plan to:
  1. Cook more with real food, and less with anything in a package.
  2. Actively look for products with less packaging, so that there is less in the waste-stream.
  3. Reduce my plastic footprint.
  4. Before making a purchase, ask myself these questions:
    • Can I really afford it?
    • Do I really need it?
    • If I can afford it, but don’t really need it, just want it, how much do I really want it?  What am I willing to give up to have it?
  5. Be a little more thoughtful and a little less reactionary.
  6. Smile a little more and preach a little less. 
  7. Worry less about whether my jeans are the right style for this year (really? Bootcutskinnyjeanslowriserelaxedfitstonewash? My only question is do they fit.  If they do, we’re all good.)
  8. Dance more often
  9. Sing even when I don’t know all the words
  10. Take the weather with me.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Message For You