Friday, November 16, 2012

Election Edition

I am camped on my bed with my girls, watching election pundits, and playing games on electronic toys. The night seemed to call for a party of some kind. So I made some South of Beale popcorn, sliced some fruit and cheese, and poured a tall boozy drink

The popcorn is my version of this Memphis restaurant's treat. I saw the chef assemble the spice mix on Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. In fact, I backed it up and watched about six times, estimating the measurements, and what follows is my best guess. Well, and my own tweak.

SOB Popcorn Spice

1/4 cup coconut sugar (original: brown sugar dehydrated and ground)
1/4 cup sea salt (original: kosher salt)
1/4 cup paprika

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon granulated garlic

Place all ingredients in a small coffee grinder (I keep one just for non-coffee purposes) and grind into powder.

The restaurant showed the popcorn air popped, though I wondered whether they really popped enough with that dorm room popper to supply the whole restaurant! I popped mine in a large aluminum pot with a blend of coconut oil and grapeseed oil.

My election-survival drink tonight is an autumn-themed cider based treat:

20 ounces apple cider
4 ounces Jameson's whiskey
A splash of Bittershots butterscotch schnapps

Pour over ice and sip all evening.  And now, to tune in to Live Election Coverage on Comedy Central.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Loaded Nachos

Something like a taco. Layered like a lasagna. Smothered in toppings. An almost one-dish, tex-mex meal.

This particular meal started with browning some ground beef in a cast iron skillet with minced onions, garlic, and Serrano chili. Add salt, ground pepper and dried chipotle to taste. Drain liquid fats, if necessary to keep the nachos from getting soggy.

Layer a handful of tortilla chips in a microwave or ovenproof dish, or several handfuls if you are feeding a crowd and using a big dish. Top with half the meat, some finely diced tomatoes, chopped green onions and more chilies if desired. Cover amply with shredded mixed cheeses, I use the Kirkland brand Mexican Style End shredded cheese from Costco. Repeat with another layer of chips and toppings.

Microwave or cook in a medium-hot oven until the cheese is melted and toppings are heated through. Remove from oven and dot with sour cream and some reserved scallions. If I'd had any avocado, that would have gone on at the end as well.

I usually only make enough for myself so I just dig in and eat from the dish but serving to a plate is possible with tongs, two spoons, or hands.

Other good additions would include salsa at serving, and diced sweet peppers either added to the browning meat (as I think I did in this picture) or layered in with the tomatoes.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Stove-top Peach and Pear Crumble

Stove-top Peach and Pear Crumble

Start with a handful of whole pecans and knob of butter in a hot skillet. Season liberally with sea salt and a bit of nutmeg. When their color darkens and they have absorbed the butter, ten them out on a paper towel.

Into the hot pan, add more butter, one rough chopped pear (slightly under-ripe) and one chopped peach. Sweeten to taste with a combination of sweeteners; I used maple syrup and agave. Sprinkle with cinnamon, maybe half or three-quarters of a teaspoon. Add a couple handfuls of rolled oats and stir occasionally. Cook until the fruit is soft and the oats are candied.

Add the reserved pecans back to the pan to heat through. Serve on a bed of plain whole milk yogurt and top with a scoop of premium vanilla ice cream.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Feel Better Soup

I’m maniacally chewing Vitamin C tablets and slurping my Feel Better Chicken Soup, while propped in bed on my pile of pillows, and watching endless old cartoons from the 60’s and 70’s.  So it only seems appropriate to post a recipe for the Feel Better Soup.

Believe it or not, it is pretty simple to make your own chicken stock and doesn’t add that much time to the process, although admittedly I did skip this step last night and used a box of organic broth.  My excuse is that I didn’t use the whole rotisserie chicken and thus didn’t liberate all enough bones.  Okay, it was really that I was a tiny bit feverish and a whole lot headachy and just didn’t want to think about it.

Seriously, though, start with a roasted chicken—buy one from the grocery or roast your own or use leftover bones and scraps frozen after some previous chicken dinner.  Pick off the meat and set aside.  Toss into a large pot all the bones, cartilage, skin, fat, the juices or jelly-like stuff that accumulated at the bottom of the roasting pan or plastic tub from the store, and any of the weird bits that you don’t really know what they are.  Cover with water by a couple inches, add the juice of half a lemon or a couple tablespoons of vinegar (helps to release the minerals from the bones and emulsify the fats and gelatins), and cook at just off the boil with the lid on.  As you prep the vegetables, add the scraps to the stock pot—carrot peels and ends, celery ends, onion and garlic peels, and whatever other veg you are going to cook with the soup except the “gassy” ones like peppers, cabbage, broccoli, or cauliflower.  You can also put a teaspoon or so of whole peppercorns or several grinds of the pepper-grinder.

Prep some veggies into your favorite shape and size. Yesterday’s soup had some fairly good-sized slices because I didn’t want to cut more than necessary; I was a bit worried about catching a finger under the knife.  When I use to make soup for the kids, I diced everything pretty small or at least very thin because it was more likely to disappear into little mouths than bigger pieces.  Standard chicken soup veggies are carrot, celery and onion (I used shallot, scallions are also really nice).  Peas are common. Mushrooms are also delicious and healthy. But really, just about any vegetable is a good addition—whatever you have, find, think your sick person will eat. Don’t forget to put the “trash” into the stockpot as you go. Throw all the soup veg into the big soup pot—I use a Dutch oven—over medium heat, add a splash of oil, stir to coat and add a teaspoon or so of unrefined salt.  Don’t skimp on the salt, you need all the minerals you can get and the sodium is beneficial for the adrenals when you are stressed. Cover and sweat the veg.

Now to prep the “healing stuff” that sets this apart from just any old chicken soup.  Finely dice or grate as much garlic as you can stand (3-5cloves for us), a Serrano chili or jalapeno or half a scotch bonnet (seeded if you prefer), and a small knob of fresh ginger or horseradish.  This sounds pretty spicy but I find that the heat factor isn’t all that much when it is all diced up itty-bitty.  Also, sick people generally tolerate a lot more heat than not-sick people, whether because they are so stuffy in the nose they can’t taste it or because it is so good for them that their taste buds welcome more heat, I don’t know. Throw all the diced aromatics into the soup pot and stir. 

Add a pinch of caraway seeds at this point.  Or any other dried herbs that you enjoy. If you like fresh herbs, prep them and add the clippings to the stockpot but don’t add the herbs to the soup yet. Chop or shred the reserved chicken meat and add to the soup. Julienne some kale or spinach or other hearty greens and add to the soup pot and stir.

By now (or at least in the next five minutes), the veggies should all be getting soft and soup-like. Fish out the bones and big stuff from the stockpot and discard.  Strain the rest through a sieve directly into the soup pot.  Don’t wait for it to cool or skim off the fat. You want the fats to nourish the patient so keep them in—unless you’re feeding a nauseous person. Then you’d want to make the whole soup as a stock so that all the vitamins and minerals and proteins are extracted into the liquids, strain the whole thing and cool enough to pour off most of the fat and give just the broth with no chunky stuff to your sickie. 

Simmer the whole soup for at least five minutes or as long as you want to let the flavors marry well.  If you don’t have any problems with grains, add some noodles of some kind—noodles are especially important for getting children to eat a soup.  I put kelp noodles in my soup yesterday.  Note that rice pasta has no staying power in a soup.  They are okay for immediate consumption but will disintegrate into mush before the next meal if you are planning this soup to last for several meals (which I recommend highly, at least three or four meals worth is our standard “sick time”, more if it is something that gets passed around the family).

Anything that you want to add fresh, like herbs or the cabbage I used in the pictured soup, I add during plating. (Should you call it bowling since it’s soup?) I also add a tablespoon of coconut oil to each bowl and several droppersful of my homemade Nasty Juice—a cure all remedy that tastes truly horrible but adds a nice piquancy to the soup.  Hmm, maybe that should be my next recipe to share?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Tortilla Soup

Tortilla Soup

A half a roasted chicken leftover from the night before stared at me when I went looking for something to eat. I picked it clean of useable meat and put the bones and scraps into a medium pan with water for the stock. The chicken went into a large soup pot along with a couple scrapings of the bacon grease left from breakfast and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Also, the chopped remains of a few extra crispy bacon slices that hadn’t been eaten.

I fire-roasted a Serrano chili and an Anaheim pepper on the stove top (setting them directly into the flame on the burner)—gaining a nice burn on my wrist when the chili fell out of the tongs during a turning and landed on my arm. Note to self: next time something hot and oozing with spiciness falls on you, wash it immediately.

I diced a couple small shallots (I can’t eat onion but shallot suits me), a few cloves of garlic, a carrot, a couple ribs of celery, and several handfuls of grape tomatoes (which I like because there is a much higher flesh to juice ratio and they’re just cute). I also added a can of white hominy corn that I found in the pantry. The diced veg went into the soup pot; the scraps and peelings were added to the simmering stock. A generous grind or three of peppercorn and several grinds of pink salt (because that’s what we use, sea salt or kosher salt would also work) happened here.

While the stock simmered and the meat and veg sweated into a nice, soft, soupy slurry, I dug some ancient corn tortillas out of the back of the fridge and sliced a stack into tiny strips. Most of the tortilla went directly into the soup pot to absorb all those yummy juices from the chunky slurry goodness, but a couple handfuls got fried in oil later for garnish.

By now, the soup was ready for the addition of stock and the diced, fire-roasted peppers. And the stock was ready to be added. It was brown and rich from the skin and dissolved cartilage. With the stock, I put in some dried oregano, just a bit since it wasn't Mexican oregano, and a dash of cinnamon. Espazote would have been good if I’d had any.

Adding the stock sooner dilutes the overall flavor, and keeps the individual flavors from mingling as fully. Adding the peppers sooner overpowers the soup with its flavors. Of course, if you like a hotter soup, add the chilies earlier. Or if you really like a sweet pepper to dominate, add it with the rest of the veg. (Actually I only used about half or two-thirds of the stock I’d made, there is still a pint or so in the fridge awaiting another meal.)

While the stock and slurry came together, I chopped a handful of flat leaf parsley—because I didn’t have any cilantro—and fried the reserved tortilla strips, salting well with pink salt and a tiny pinch of sugar. A drizzle of lime juice would have been good too but I was out of limes. A few dots of sour cream would garnish the soup as well.   Then I had to find and wash my favorite wooden bowl. And clean up the mess I’d made out of the kitchen.

This adventure produced about three and a half liters/quarts of soup.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Movie Night

Finally, it's Friday night! The last day of a tiresome week, the end of a very long month.  It's too hot to eat real food and I'm too tired to make a decent salad.  So I'm settling back to watch some movies and eat a big bowl of buttered popcorn with some raspberries, cantaloupe, and cheddar sticks.

I always use Orville Reddenbacher's popcorn because it really does pop up bigger and fluffier and have fewer unpopped kernals.  I pop it in plenty of grapeseed oil and usually toss a clove or two of fresh smashed garlic into the pot as well.

As soon as the popping is almost stopped, I turn off the heat and add melted organic butter and pink himalayan salt (or sea salt, whatever I've got on hand)

The popcorn, organic butter, and salt all come from Costco.  I believe the cheese was cut from some English Cheddar that came from Costco's awesome imported cheese selection as well.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Steak Sandwich

Steak Sandwich with Whiskey Mushrooms

I pan seared one of those cheaper london broils from Super Target in a hot cast iron skillet with a little bit of grapeseed oil. Salt and pepper the meat while cooking only to rare or medium rare at most (because it will continue to cook while the rest of the meal is prepared and nothing is worse that a tough chewy shoe-leather steak sandwich).

Into the grungy skillet, I tossed a large knob of butter.  Don't skimp on the butter.  When the butter was melted and frothy but before it browned, I added several thinly sliced white mushrooms and all but the top green shoots of scallions (I saved the green  bits for garnish).  After stirring to coat, I left them to brown in the butter and steak crumbs.  This part takes several minutes to get a good crispy sear on the mushrooms so don't rush it and don't stir it too often.

When the mushrooms began to get those lovely golden edges, I added a healthy slug or two of Jameson's whiskey to the pan.  Then I scraped all those crusty bits off the bottom of the pan and mixed it all up well so that all the flavors could get comfortable together. After pouring the accumulated juices from the resting steak back into the pan, I let the whiskey cook down to about half the volume. I added some more fresh ground pink salt and peppercorn and removed to the warming plate holding the steak--it wasn't really very saucy at this point, which I regretted; I should have made it with more butter and more whiskey.  

In the empty but not cleaned pan, I grilled lightly buttered slices of toasted French bread.  Pre-toasting the bread before grilling it gives it a little more sturdiness under the heft and damp of the meat and sauce.  While the bread was grilling, I sliced the steak thinly against the grain and poured the juices into the mushroom sauce.

I removed the bread to individual plates to assemble the sandwiches.  It was a simple assembly: bread, generous steak slices, spoonfuls of mushroom sauce.  I grated a bit of gruyere on top and garnished with the reserved scallions.

This sandwich was served unaccompanied but would have paired well with some roasted, grilled or sauteed carrots and a salad of dark greens.