Sunday, October 26, 2008

taste & create; crockpot apple butter

For this month's taste & create event, I was paired up with HoneyB, keeper of the blog "The lives and loves of Grumpy's Honeybunch." Looking through her blog, I was pretty sure I would be making muffins, as that seems to be HoneyB's "thing." But then I saw it. Apple Butter. Growing up I loved apple butter something fierce, but as an adult I rarely think of looking for some, let alone making some. Nostalgia, the coolness of autumn and my love for anything crockpot told me I had to try this slow-cooker apple butter.

I am so happy I did. For one thing, this will make your house smell fantastic...that kind of fall, spicy, sweet warm smell that makes everything okay. Also, it tastes great. I, like HoneyB, love my sweets to have a kick, so I followed her advice and doubles the amount of spices. I changed the cooking times a cooked on high for about 3 hours, then I turned it to low and went to bed, so it cooked another 6 or 7 hours while I slept. In the morning, I let the cooked apples cool a bit, and put them in the fridge because I had to go to work. After work, I came home and used a hand blender to make the mixture into a smooth butter. Mine's a little thin. I think another hour or so without the lid on may have helped it thicken up. But I don't mind the thinner apple butter, and it tastes sooooo good. It tastes happy.

and yes, that is bacon on that toast with the apple butter in the first photo. so what? It's also quite amazing warmed up and poured over vanilla ice cream.

here is the recipe as I made it...

Crockpot Apple Butter

approx. 4 lbs. apples, peeled, cored and chopped
1 cup brown sugar
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. fresh ground nutmeg

mix all the ingredients together and cook them in a crockpot on high for 3 hours. Turn the temp to low and continue cooking another 6-8 hours. Blend until smooth with a hand blender.

Go check out HoneyB's taste & create post, where she made my bacon-wrapped shrimp.

Friday, October 24, 2008

on top of spaghetti

The other night I came home from work. A work day that involved actual physical labor *gasp*. Normally I am parked at a desk, so days like that exhaust me. Yeah, I'm a baby. When I got home all I wanted was spaghetti and meatballs. I don't know why that was stuck in my head, as that is something we have never made. Perhaps because I had it a lot growing up? Comfort food. Anyway, I stared looking through the take-out menus, but Jack told me he would make me spaghetti and meatballs. Awww.

He claims this was his first time making meatballs, but it's hard to believe because the ones he made were phenomenal!! He says it's because of all the food shows he watches. I say he's a natural born baller. What made these meatballs so good? Well, they were well-browned and very flavorful, without being too herby or salty. They were moist and springy instead of being dry or spongy.

These were THE meatballs. Here is THE recipe:

Jack's Masterpiece Meatballs

1 pound ground beef (80-85% lean)
1 pound Italian sausage
4 oz white bread soaked in whole milk
1 egg, beaten
1/2 medium onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried thyme
salt and pepper, to taste
all-purpose flour
olive oil

Sauté the onions in a couple teaspoons of olive oil with a pinch of salt until the onions have softened and become sweet. Add the garlic and herbs then continue to sauté for another minute. Allow to cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, combine the beef, sausage, onion mixture, egg, the soaked bread (squeeze the bread gently to remove excess milk), and the cheese until all ingredients are incorporated evenly. If the mixture is too loose to handle, place in the refrigerator for an hour to give time for the mixture to firm up.

Using an ice cream scoop, measure out even amounts of the meat mixture and roll the mixture into approximate 2-inch balls and place on a plate or platter. Dredge each meatball lightly in flour, shaking off any excess and place on a baking sheet coated with olive oil.

Place the meatballs in a hot oven, preheated to 375 degrees and bake for 25-35 minutes, turning the meatballs 3-4 times during cooking. Increase the temperature to 450 and, using a spoon or turkey baster, baste each meatball with the oil/drippings that have collected in the bottom of the pan (or with fresh olive oil if there aren't enough drippings). Allow to cook an additional 8-10 minutes until the meatballs are browned thoroughly.

add these babies to your favorite marinara sauce and put 'em on some spaghetti, and you will soon be drunk with meatball happiness.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

egg "noodles"

I saw this fabulous idea in a book I have from the library called The Ultimate Healthy Eating Cookbook by Anne Sheasby. Get this. Eggs as noodles! Not egg noodles, but actual eggs pretending to be noodles. Fun! I tried it out the other night.

It's pretty simple to do. Scramble up an egg (I added a dash of soy sauce for flavor and thinning power, but I don't think that's necessary). Heat up a non-stick skillet coated with cooking spray. Pour in your scrambled egg and coat the bottom of the pan with it. Keep rotating the pan so the egg is even and thin. Once it is no longer liquidy, put a lid on the pan briefly to make sure the top cooks. Once the egg pancake is firm and cooked through, roll it gently out onto a plate or cutting board. When it cools enough for you to handle it, cut the rolled up omelette into thin strips. Boom. Noodles.

I topped my "noodles" with a stir-fry. Basically I cooked some fresh grated garlic, ginger and some lemongrass from a tube in oil until it was fragrant and soft, but not brown. I added some sesame oil and soy sauce and cooked it a bit longer. I then removed most of everything from the pan, leaving a little bit for flavor, and sauteed some extra-firm tofu in it until it was slightly brown. I set the tofu aside and added back the garlic ginger mixture to the pan. I then added shredded cabbage, strips of red bell pepper, mushrooms, yellow onion and green onion and cooked this until everything was just soft, adding soy sauce, chili oil, and sesame oil as it cooked. Once the veggies were almost done, I added the tofu back in and a big handful of bean sprouts. Serve over the "noodles" with sriracha. I'm sorry this isn't much of a "recipe" but it's stir-fry. You can do whatever you want!

(P.S. can you tell I'm in love with my new stripey cutting board? 'cuz I am.)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

bruschetta x 3

Still on our bruschetta kick over here in Iron Stef kitchen stadium, we went a little crazy and made 3!! count 'em 3 different bruschettas for our dinner.

I made a normal 'ol tomato-based bruschetta.

For this I chopped up a carton of grape tomatoes and added 3 fresh garlic cloves, minced, a handful of fresh basil, julienned, a handful of capers, some salt, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. That's it. It was fresh tasting, but spicy from the raw garlic, and a little sweet from the balsamic. The capers added a certain salty depth to the sharp freshness of the basil, garlic and tomatoes.

Jack made the other two. First was a mushroom sage bruschetta topping.

He chopped up a small carton of regular button mushrooms, and sauteed them in about a tablespoon of butter and some olive oil, with a small handful of fresh sage leaves, chopped fine and some salt. This combination of flavors was fantastic. Earthy and rich.

For the next bruschetta topping, Jack veered away from veggies completely. It was a ricotta pine-nut spread.

To make this one, we toasted about a cup of pine nuts in a dry skillet until they were nicely brown. These got a few pulses in a small food processor until they were a coarse powder. Add the pine nuts to about 3/4 a container of ricotta cheese, and season with salt and white pepper. This, my friends, was unbelievable. So tasty. It will become a regular party spread, methinks. Jack said it might also make a wonderful sweet filling for canollis, if we added some nutmeg and sugar instead of salt and white pepper. I agree. Nutty, creamy...yes.

As you can see, we love topping bread with all manner of combos. I can't wait to try more. Any ideas?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

roasted veggie bruschetta

Around here, we've been attempting to eat more vegetables. One of our favorite things to do for dinner is bruschetta. Because there is crusty bread involved. And it goes well with wine ;)

Tonight I made some bruschetta using roasted veggies. I love roasting vegetables. It's one of my favorite things about cooler weather. The sweetness and depth that roasting imparts into food is so comforting, and takes very little effort.

To make this particular bruschetta, chop up half a red onion and 3 medium zucchinis into large bite-size pieces, add in a carton of cremini mushrooms (also called baby bellas...cut large ones in half), a carton of grape tomatoes, and about 8 or 9 garlic cloves, toss with olive oil, dried thyme, dried sweet basil, salt and pepper, and roast in a 375F oven for about 45 minutes...stirring a couple times throughout, and draining some of the liquid about halfway through. Once the veggies are nice and roasted...that is with plenty of caramelized edges...let them cool for about 20 minutes, then chop them up. Splash in some good sweet balsamic vinegar, taste and adjust seasoning. Toast some sliced bread in the oven. Once nicely browned, remove the toasts and rub one side with a clove of fresh garlic. Sprinkle with olive oil, top with the roasted veg topping, and give them a dusting of Pecorino Romano cheese. These go good with kalamata olives...So I bet you could even add some chopped kalamata to the topping.

That's it. Yes, I eat this for dinner, but it would make a good party appetizer as well. Although, be careful to serve them ASAP, because you don't want your toasts to get soggy.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

potato chips in the microwave?!?!

A couple of my favorite blogs posted last week about making your own potato the microwave? Wha? Redonkulous! I had to see for myself. I've never seen anything crisp come out of a microwave. So I got some taters and broke out my thumb-eater mandoline and got to experimenting.

I did the first batch on paper towels, not overlapping. I nuked them for 3 minutes on full power then 3 minutes on 1/2 power, then 1 minute on 1/2 power a couple times until they looked nicely browned. And guess what? They were crisp! Amazing. They were also stuck to the paper towel. Here are a couple video demonstrating the chips' crunch and stuck-ness:

For the second batch I put the potato slices straight on a plate, and seasoned them with smoked salt. Same cooking method. This time, they stuck to the plate. Also, it seemed I had put too much salt on them. It didn't seem like alot when I put it on, but the flavors must have intensified a lot in the microwave.

For the third batch, I seasoned the taters with celery salt and garlic powder. This time I put the slices on parchment paper laid directly on the microwave's turning plate. The didn't stick this time! Well, they stuck together, because I overlapped them. I also over seasoned them again. :(

Then I thought I would go the next step and try making sweet potato chips.

I love me some sweet potato chips, but I rarely find them for sale. Plus I never like how they are seasoned. Using the parchment paper trick again, I nuked the sweet potato slices. They took longer than the russet potato, but eventually they crisped up. I just kept adding 1-minute until they were done. You have to watch carefully, I think...I could see these getting burnt pretty fast. The sweet potatoes also shrunk more than the russet, and they didn't stick together. They were not as pretty as I'd hoped, as they got a strange gray color to them...Still tasty and crisp, though!

In conclusion:

• Microwave potato chips are the real deal!! Crisp and potatoey.

• It's very easy to over-season/salt. Be very careful.

• Parchment paper is the best vehicle for these chips.

• Do not overlap the russet potato slices, as they will stick together.

• Sweet potatoes work well. I can't wait to make some chipotle flavored ones. And perhaps curry! Oh, and sweet ones with cinnamon and sugar!

• Ahem. The possibilities are endless...