Friday, December 23, 2011

Sneaky Tip #8 for Home Chemical Accidents

Well, hello again my dear readers.  Today's message was prompted by my own clumsiness.

See I have furlough today. I have finished up my last-minute Christmas shopping and came back home to wrap and clean. I have laundry running, dishes in the machine, mildew spray-treated the shower, and put toilet cleaner in the toilets.

In the melee, toilet-cleaning gel chemicals got all over my hands.  I got a faulty squirt lid on the toilet cleaner bottle so oops.

Bad, bad, bad thing to have happen, you know?

Rinsing and rinsing under cold water didn't get it all off and I could feel my thumb really starting to burn. Not good.

So I run to the kitchen and grab the box of baking soda and pour it into my hands so I can stop the chemical reaction. I rubbed it in really well. Then I rinsed under freakishly cold tap water until my hands no longer felt slippery.

Chemistry lesson of the day: baking soda also known as sodium bicarbonate + nasty things like toilet cleaner or drain unclogger (which contain sodium hydroxide) or even  bleach  = neutralized chemicals.

One thing to note, if you're trying to rinse off nasty household chemicals, use cool or cold water. Hot water can speed up the reaction and give you a worse chemical burn.  Also, be careful what you're handling because some things should never be mixed together. Use one sort of cleaner at a time so you don't accidentally mix things like ammonia and bleach and then get knocked out by toxic fumes.

So anyhow, Merry Christmas or Happy (insert your applicable celebrated holiday here) and happy cleaning your house before guests arrive!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Curious Jenny Strikes

Ok, no recipe today. Instead, Justin and I have been pondering something.

McDonald's are so widespread, is there anyone in the US who has NEVER eaten, drank, or purchased anything from this fine purveyor of fast food?

I said probably Amish people or people with dietary restrictions, religious or otherwise, avoid eating there.

I know I have eaten there more times than anyone should, out of convenience, today included. (I have to say that the location we visited today was clean, the cashier was really friendly, and the food was served up fast and actually tasted good.)

Please post a reply!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chicken and Dumplings

This is probably going to sound really silly, but I never tried Chicken and Dumplings until I was about 22 years old. My mom never made it. We had lots of homemade chicken noodle soup, but never chicken and dumplings.

I think they are very much alike so if you have a chicken soup recipe you love, it's very easy to leave out the noodles and add dumplings.

My story for this goes back about 10 years. I was at work one day, talking to my boss about food. She told me about her favorite cold-weather comfort food, chicken and dumplings. So I had a total lightbulb moment and tried it myself. I started out like I was making chicken soup, made a few alterations, and ended up with a happy combination.

You may have noticed from the recipe index that I don't have much for chicken recipes. My dear hubby is not crazy for chicken. This is one of the few ways he will actually eat chicken and like it. Blame him for the chicken recipe shortage. (wink wink, love you sweetheart)

about 2 lbs chicken pieces with bones and skin, I used 3 half-breasts
2 Tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, slivered
4 carrots, in large chunks
2 celery stalks, in large chunks
2 peeled large potatoes, in chunks
2 Tablespoons parsley, minced
4 -5 cups chicken stock or broth, just enough to cover food in the pot
1/4 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 batch of Mom's dumplings

1. Melt butter in soup pot, add chicken pieces, skin side down. Season with salt and pepper. Brown about 10 minutes on both sides. Add onion and cook until onions have softened.

2. Add carrots, celery, potatoes, parsley, poultry seasoning, and stock.  You use enough liquid to cover everything. Bring to a simmer. I like to toss in the celery leaves for extra celery flavor.

3. Let simmer, covered about an hour. Stir occasionally.

4. Remove chicken. Discard bones and skin. Cut up meat. Return to the pot. Remove and discard celery leaves.

5. Prepare dumpling dough, drop spoonfuls on top of hot chicken soup and cook according to instructions. (In case you don't want to look back, cover, simmer about 15 minutes.)

6. Serve a couple ladles of the soup in a bowl with a dumpling on top. To eat it, Justin likes to add freshly grated Parmesan on top. I like mine without the cheese.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Brandied Sweet Potatoes and Pecans

If you like sweet potatoes, I think you will love this. Mom's way of making these has been one of my favorites for ages. Honestly, I like it this way much better than the marshmallow way.

If you want to use canned sweet potatoes, I guess go ahead. I have never used them myself. Let me know how they work out.

If  you're wondering what the difference is between sweet potatoes and yams, in the US, the difference is moot. True yams are not available here. We have all sweet potatoes with different skin and flesh colors. I found some very cool reading on this from TAMU. Other cool things about food are available on Food Timeline.

2 sweet potatoes
2 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
2 Tablespoons brandy
1/3 cup light corn syrup
2 Tablespoons butter, diced
1/3 cup pecan halves (or more or less to your liking)

1. Boil whole sweet potatoes until tender, about 30 minutes. When done, remove from water and let cool until cool enough to handle.

2. Peel sweet potatoes and slice into rounds about 3/4" thick.  Arrange slices in a baking dish in one layer.

3. Combine brown sugar, brandy, corn syrup. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.

4. Scatter pecans over sliced sweet potatoes. Scatter diced butter over top next. Drizzle sugar syrup over all, try to coat everything evenly.

5. Bake at 375F for about 30 minutes. Finished, it should be glossy and heated through.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sweet Cinnamon French Toast

French toast is one of my favorite things for breakfast. Of course, I love most breakfast foods covered in maple syrup.

I learned the basics of French toast from my mom ages and ages ago. Oh wait, that makes me sound old. I'm not old. I'm experienced.  (Ha ha! Just kidding!) Anyhow, as a kid, my mom normally made French toast using white bread, like for sandwiches. Once I moved out on my own, I started using different breads and experimenting with quick-dip or long soak in the egg mixture.

I have heard people absolutely rave about "overnight French toast." Ahem. Excuse me. That is not French toast. What you have in that case is actually bread pudding. Yeah. Bread soaked in egg mixture and baked in a pan is bread pudding.

Sheesh people.

I have held onto the concept that True French Toast must be made from French bread and dipped in eggs. (My husband likes me to use sourdough occasionally. It's good too.) Of course, I have strayed from what is in the eggs, so mine is enhanced with milk, sugar and vanilla. It's just so sweet and tasty that way.

Also, I like to let my bread air dry a few minutes before dunking and cooking. Let me just point out that where I live, humidity is super low so bread dries out in minutes if left on the counter. This works well so the middle isn't all soggy.  If you live in a humid place, I suggest that you dry the bread a bit in the oven. I don't mean toast it or dehydrate it like croutons. Just make the outer surface firm. You don't have to use dry bread, but it will take longer to cook the sogginess away on the griddle.

One more thing. I like cinnamon. My kids like cinnamon, so we can never get too much cinnamon in the egg dip. I frequently add cinnamon to the egg dip so all pieces of French toast are really cinnamony. You could sprinkle it directly onto the dipped bread as it cooks on the griddle. It also makes it a really beautiful deep brown when they are cooked just right.

1 loaf French bread, about 2 days old so it's firm
4 eggs
1 cup milk
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
ground cinnamon

1. Slice bread about 1" thick. Let them sit out to dry a little more while you prepare the egg dip.

2. Beat eggs. Add milk, sugar, and vanilla. Mix well.

3. Heat griddle to about 350F. Grease or spray with nonstick spray. I like shortening for this. Butter will burn and make your food stick and get gunky.

4. Sprinkle cinnamon on surface of egg dip. Dunk bread slices into egg dip.  Add more cinnamon after every two slices of bread.

5. Immediately place dipped bread on hot griddle.  Cook about 3-5 minutes per side, or until the egg dip has set and browned. I like to make sure the bread cooks well enough that the center isn't soggy, but the edges are not hard and dried out.

See how brown the egg gets? It's yummy that way.

6. Serve with butter and maple syrup or sliced strawberries and whipped cream. One loaf will make enough French Toast for about 6 servings.

You may need a huge griddle to make this much French Toast. I have a Presto Tilt and Drain griddle. I can fit 12 pieces of French Toast on at once.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Basque Flan

Flan is such a treat!  If you're unfamiliar with flan, you must try this.  It's simply custard with caramel in the bottom of the baking dish. It's smooth, cool, sweet, and beautiful.

Now, I've had some bad flan. Let me tell you. There is one very popular Mexican eatery in Downtown Reno that I just don't like. Their flan is very firm, not very sweet, and tastes almost cheesy. Yuck.

And then there are times you get flan that is so good, so amazing that it's like your mouth has found paradise. There is one particular person from the church back in my hometown that made pans and pans of amazing flan for church functions.  Amazing isn't even descriptive enough as a word.

A lot of the flavor has to do with the caramel.  If your caramel is very dark, your flan will take on a toasty flavor with a bitter nutty, coffee-like aftertaste. I like my caramel a bit lighter, so there are hints of that toastiness, but it's not so noticeable. Those flavors will mellow and permeate the custard layer if you let it rest in the fridge a day or so before eating.

The pan you use for caramelization has a huge impact on how your caramel cooks.  I prefer a lightweight (cheap) teflon-lined saucepan. When it's off the heat, it promptly stops cooking. I don't like using my heavy-bottomed stainless pans. They hold the heat too well so when I get that just-right caramel color, it stays hot and makes it too dark. Boo. Yes, I have ruined caramel this way and had to toss it and start over.

This particular recipe came from one of my dad's former employees that was a cherished Basque family recipe. My mom had the recipe card stuffed into her bag of tricks, so on our last trip to visit I asked her to find it for me. Thank you Larry for passing this on. It's truly a gem!

2 cups sugar, white, granulated, divided
1 quart whole milk
6 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Place 1 cup of sugar in a 2-Quart saucepan and gently caramelize until golden brown. I like to do this over low heat. It's very important that you DO NOT STIR the sugar as it melts. It's OK to tilt the pan a tiny bit to swirl the sugar into to caramel. Just watch that you don't let it burn.  Depending on your pan and your skill at melting sugar this will take about 20 minutes.

 Let me just say, melting sugar directly over heat is very different from when you make caramel with cream or water. It will not boil. It will simply melt and turn brown. It is very easy to burn it this way. Stirring will make this seize up. DON'T STIR! Tilt, swirl, and wiggle the pan instead.

2. Immediately pour this into the bottom of a 2-Qt. baking dish (Pyrex or Corning Ware are really good for this). The caramel should harden in the dish as it cools. This is normal. It doesn't have to be spread perfectly over the bottom of the dish. I do recommend that your dish is a bit warmed for this step so it doesn't accidentally crack.

3. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs until thick and lemon colored. Add the other 1 cup of sugar and blend well. Beat the milk into the egg-sugar mixture. Stir in the salt and vanilla.

4. Pour the egg mixture through a fine sieve or chinois to make sure that it's really smooth.  Now pour the strained mixture into the prepared baking dish.

5.  You will also need another pan the the baking dish will fit in. Pour hot water into the outer pan so it comes up about 3/4 of the way. This is known as a Bain-Marie and it helps make sure the custard doesn't burn and it adds moisture to the oven. I like to place the flan pan into the empty 9x13 pan on the oven rack and then pour boiling water into the outer dish.  Be careful if you do it this way so you don't pour boiling water into the flan.

Using a water bath also helps the custard set up so it's smooth and not grainy or curdle-like in texture. Trust me, grainy flan is bad stuff. Don't skip the water bath.

6. Place the pans into a 350F oven and cook for about 1 hour and a half  for a 9"x13" pan (at high altitude, of course). Low altitude chefs, your flan may only take an hour.  You should be able to insert a toothpick or knife into the center and have it come out clean. It will be still be wiggly-jiggly if you shake the pan, so be sure to use the knife to check if it's done.

7. Remove the flan pan from the water bath and let cool. Be sure to keep it in the fridge if you aren't going to devour it right away.  Also, the flan is fairly delicate, and overnight refrigeration helps it firm up a little so it's easier to serve.

Look here, see the layers? The caramel has absorbed moisture from the custard and turned into a syrup. There are tiny bubbles in the custard.

8. To serve, either scoop out a serving with a good-sized metal turner, or you can tip out the whole thing onto a serving platter or cake stand (with sides). Part of the beauty of flan is seeing the caramel syrup puddling around the custard. You can serve this with the caramel syrup alone, or add a dollop of sweet whipped cream.

Just a note, you can make this in individual ramekins. I just haven't had a chance to try it out and get the timing down.  My ramekins hold about a cup (8 ounces). According to other recipes I've seen, low altitude bakers would aim for 15-20 minutes for that size. I'd say aim for 20-25 minutes and be sure to test for doneness with a knife.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Jenny's Caesar Salad

Here is a recipe with some history I can relate to. Back in the 1920's this dish was created at Caesar Cardini's restaurant after he was running low on food. Someone there started throwing things together and made a tasty salad.

I can totally relate to this, and I know I'm not the only one. Sometimes you go home and look in the fridge. Then you look in the pantry. Then you look in the freezer. Finally, you think "Damn. I have all kinds of weird things that don't go together!"

So kudos to Mr Cardini and his staff for this. It's a fine example that sometimes you just start tossing things together and see what happens.

Thinking back, I believe the first time I ate a Caesar salad I was a "tween", probably 11 or 12. I recall eating at a place in Carson City that has long since closed down. Mom and Dad ate something normal, probably grilled chicken sandwiches. They looked at me funny for ordering a Caesar salad, like "no way will she like that." But I loved it!

Sometime in high school I came across the basis for my recipe. Of course, my parents weren't huge fans of the dressing. It was too potent a few times, accidentally searing our tastebuds with way too much garlic. That didn't stop me from making it over and over. Ages later, I met my dear hubby who loves garlic way more than normal people and wants it made with 3 cloves of garlic.

For my recipe below, it's pretty pungent and I only used one clove of garlic. If you are not a huge garlic fan, use less, say half a clove to start. Fresh is best. Don't use prechopped garlic in a jar. It loses it's flavor in a jar.

I like to tear up my lettuce into pieces that will fit on a fork and into my mouth. However, you can dress this up presentation-wise by keeping the leaves whole (wash and trim the really tough end stalk off first) and arrange them on the plate. You can go for heaped and wild, or neat and tidy with the lettuce stacked as it would look straight from the head. If you want to impress, go for the stacked look.

If you are grossed out by the anchovy, don't be. It's not fishy. It adds a salty, briny depth of flavor. If you really want to skip the anchovies for whatever reason, it will still taste good.

I used real Parmesan cheese from a cheese wedge. Look in the deli section for the good stuff, you know, Parmegianno-Reggiano. If you like the big curls, a cheese plane is perfect. If you like it fine, a microplane grater does the trick. Sorry, Kraft Parm in a shaker just isn't the same.

For the egg, I like to coddle the egg to kill off bad bacteria, just in case. If you aren't worried about raw eggs and food poisoning, well use the raw egg at your own risk. But ick. Pathogens. You know? Not that I'm a germophobe, but why risk making yourself sick?

Now, let me alert you to one thing. If you are used to Caesar dressing in a bottle, you will be blown away at how different this tastes. I think Caesar in a bottle is crap that tastes like feet, or worse. It doesn't even look the same.

One more thing, I like to mix up the dressing in a mixing bowl. You can make it in a blender, but it turns out really uniform. I like the texture of hand-mixing. Also, I don't want to get my blender all garlicky. Because that means extra scrubbing for me to get it out. But feel free to blend it up if you're not concerned.

OK? So are you ready for some salad? Try it. Let me know what you think.

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
1 anchovy fillet
1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 egg
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
1 head romaine lettuce or 1 bag hearts of romaine
1/3 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
optional: fried onion strips, additional anchovy fillets, grilled fish, steak or chicken

1. If using fresh head lettuce, wash it, remove stalk and tear into smallish pieces. Spin dry in a salad spinner. I like to discard the thick stem ends. I prefer a head of lettuce because I like the flavor of the darker green leaves. The pale, stemmy pieces in the bag just don't taste as good, too bland, too much like iceberg lettuce.

2. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add one whole egg. Cook for 1 minute. Remove egg and let cool on the counter while you prepare the dressing.

3. Combine salt, pepper, and minced garlic in a mixing bowl. Use a wooden spoon to stir and mash up the garlic. When it's starting to break up, add the anchovy. Mash until the anchovy is completely mixed into a paste. Add mustard. Mix well.

4. Crack open the egg and separate the white from the yolk. The white should have some flecks of white where you can see that it was beginning to cook. Add the yolk to the mixing bowl. Discard the white.

5. Mix the yolk into the dressing paste. Now add the vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Mix. Add the lemon juice. Mix until well blended.

6. Add the olive oil and mix up until it's a thick dressing.

7. Place dry lettuce in a large mixing bowl. Drizzle dressing over lettuce. Toss to coat lettuce evenly. Add thick shaved Parmesan, onion strips, croutons. Arrange two anchovy fillets on top before serving, if desired.

8. Serve immediately. This will serve 4 as a small salad or 2 as an entree salad. For an entree salad, leave off the anchovies and add sliced grilled chicken or steak, or a piece of grilled fish on top.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Bacon Wrapped Grilled Pork Chops

This meal has been floating in my mind's eye for a while now. To see it finally come together, it was really a sense of accomplishment. This picture just does not do it justice. The colors were beautiful. The flavors really complimented each other, some sweet, some tangy, some savory. Excellent combination!

Back in the early summer, I was on a grilling kick. I think it's a seasonal thing for me.  I wanted a grilled pork chop, but it's easy to go wrong on the grill. Sometimes it's hard to judge how hot to get the grill, how long to let the meat cook, and if you've hit it right or ruined it.

The first time I made this, I tried two layers of bacon and basting the chops with apple juice. So it was OK. Just OK. As you know, for me just OK is never good enough.

So back to the kitchen and lots of brainstorming and testing. I figured brining was the next logical step. I wanted a warm apple topping. Then, this came together. It was really good. I think I just had to wait for the right seasonal ingredients to make it really work.

The meal itself consists of a bed of Barley Pilaf, then the grilled pork chop. Top it with some warm Cranberry Apple Chutney, and a slice of Acorn Squash on the side. We also had French bread and butter because it's not really a good dinner unless there is bread.

1 cup apple juice
1 cup water
2 Tablespoons kosher salt
4 boneless pork loin steaks, each about 1 1/2 inches thick, roughly 2 lbs. total weight
4 slices applewood-smoked bacon
black pepper

1. Combine the apple juice,water and salt in a plastic bag or food storage container big enough to hold the pork. Stir until the salt has dissolved. Add the pork. Make sure the chops are submerged in the brine.  Refrigerate about 2-4 hours. Don't let this go too long or the pork will get way too salty.

2. Remove pork chops from brine. Rinse off with cool water and pat dry.

2. Wrap each chop with a slice of bacon, securing with a toothpick.  If your meat is a bit oblong, just smoosh it into a circle. The bacon will help it stay round. Season both sides with freshly ground black pepper.

3. Grill pork steaks over medium heat, turning every five minutes. You will cook for a total of 20 minutes. If you want your bacon a bit more crispy, use tongs to hold them on edge over the flame.  This also imparts smoky goodness to the flavor.

4. Carefully remove the toothpicks. You don't want the bacon to fall off. Serve with pilaf, squash, and chutney as described above. Yum!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cranberry Apple Chutney

Well, this little gem of a recipe is going to become one of my new Thanksgiving additions. Instead of just regular cranberry jelly, and Cran-Raspberry Mousse, I can add chutney to the table.

It was nice to have the sweet, tangy, spicy and nutty flavors all together. This went especially well on top the Acorn Squash. Just saying if you want to avoid adding butter and sugar to your squash, give this a try. It's also really pretty together. The colors were attractive, the soft orange of the squash, the creamy apples, the little red jewel cranberries.

To make this, it's super easy. If you have ever cooked apple pie filling before putting it in the pie, this is technically the same.

I used three types of apples. Eric helped pick them at the store. He chose one green (Granny Smith), one red (Red Delicious), and one in between (Fuji). Honestly, I liked the combination. Some pieces were tangy, some were really soft and sweet. I think the variety was an unexpected positive thing.

Thanks kiddo, you're my best helper! (Can you tell I'm a proud mama?)

2 Tablespoons finely minced yellow onion
2 Tablespoons butter
3 apples, peeled, cored, diced
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger root
1/4 cup dried cranberries
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
3 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons minced pecans

1. Saute onion in butter about 3 minutes. Add apples and cook over medium heat until they start to brown and soften.

2. Add all other ingredients and stir well.  Continue cooking until apples are tender and reduced, about 10 minutes. If you have other things cooking, you can let this one sit on a back burner on low. Stir occasionally so they don't get too cooked in one spot.

3. Serve warm or cold, great for pork, turkey, or chicken.  Store covered in the fridge, it should be good up to a week.