Friday, September 30, 2011

Baking with the Worthless Sous Chef

Because every great meal needs a great bread (well, that's what I say anyway) I decided to whip up something really yummy to go with the Boeuf Bourgignon. Being a pizza-making house we always have lots of flour and yeast on hand so making homemade bread was no more difficult than lugging out the ol' granddaddy in the kitchen, my Kitchenaid.

While I assembled my equipment and ingredients I realized that somehow I had acquired a sous chef......but in this case, she really wasn't all that helpful. Actually, she pretty much just talked to me while I worked, and gave me a "hungry" look every once in a while.

F.C., the worthless sous chef. But she is awfully cute anyway. I love the way she drapes herself over the edge of the cabinet.....So back to the bread.....

Caramelized Onion and Rosemary Focaccia

2 1/2 cups flour, plus more for kneading
1 packet yeast
1/2 cup warm water plus more
2 tb crushed dried rosemary
2 tb olive oil plus more for bowl
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 tb butter

Combine flour and half the dried rosemary in a large bowl.

 In small bowl dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Stir well, add olive oil.

Mix into flour in large bowl adding more water or flour as necessary to get a soft and smooth dough (the dough hook on the Kitchenaid does a fabulous job here but if you are working by hand, knead dough until it is no longer sticky but NOT stiff). Place dough in clean bowl that's been brushed with olive oil, turn dough over, cover and let rise in warm place about 30-45 minutes or until almost doubled.

Meanwhile, melt butter in small skillet and add sliced onion and pinch of salt. Cook over medium low heat until onion is very golden brown and caramelized, at least 20-30 minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

Turn dough out onto oiled baking sheet.

Stretch/press out into rectangle that almost covers sheet pan. With fingers, "poke" dough all over to make dents but not holes. Evenly distribute the onions over the dough, sprinkle with reserved rosemary and coarse sea salt, if desired.

Bake at 425 degrees about 15-20 minutes or until edges brown. Brush finished bread with melted butter for serving, if desired.

That's it !!  Super easy, alot like pizza dough.....comes together really fast and goes great with all sorts of food. It's also very flexible, you can top the dough with whatever you like, sliced veggies, herbs, olives, you are only limited by your imagination.

Le Creuset and me, a love story

The Chef can attest, opening the box from Williams Sonoma was like Christmas morning for me. The Happy Dance took place in the dining room as I struggled with the tape. Finally, after wanting and lusting for sooooo long, a Le Creuset dutch oven was MINE !!! And it didn't take long for me to use it either.

Today is a gorgeous fall day- a light wind rustling the leaves, the walnuts dropping off my trees and littering the yard and street, a last handful of peppers from the garden. PERFECT day for something to cook all afternoon. The change of season is a little like a turning point for me- time to get it together and give up the summer laziness. I set the alarm clock and ran errands in the morning for a change. Sharing the aisles of our little town grocery store with a much older group of customers than I have seen in ages, I was inspired by the display of indian corn, gourds and pumpkins to come up with a really wonderful autumn meal.

Hmmmm what to have......chicken ?? I just came across a new recipe for chicken paprika the other day..... Pork ??  It's apple season here, pork and something apple ?? I settled on a really lovely beef roast....and now what ? Stew ? Roast ? And suddenly the lightbulb went off.....Boeuf Bourgignon in the new dutch oven !!! A half pound of fresh mushrooms and a bottle of cabernet sauvignon completed my shopping for the day and I headed home with my spoils.

So here it is. The Baker's version of Boeuf Bourgignon.

1 3 lb boneless beef roast, trimmed of fat and cut into 2" cubes
flour, salt and pepper for dredging
1/4 lb lacon, cut into lardons
1 large onion, cut into 1" chunks
8 oz fresh mushrooms, left whole, stems trimmed (smaller mushrooms are best)
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tb tomato paste
2 bay leaves
2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried rosemary
salt and pepper
1 bottle dry red wine (I used cabernet sauvignon, any dry red is fine)
2 cups beef stock

In dutch oven brown bacon in about 1 tb oil. Remove bacon, reserve fat. Add onion to dutch oven and cook and stir over med high heat until golden brown, add mushrooms, continue to cook and stir til mushrooms brown (don't go too long or they release their liquid and steam instead of browning). Remove from skillet. Add additional oil or bacon fat if needed. Dredge beef in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Brown on all sides in batches (don't crowd or you will just steam the meat instead of browning), remove to plate until all beef is browned. After last batch of meat is browned add the garlic to pan and stir for 1 or 2 minutes until just softened. Deglaze pan with wine, return vegetables, beef and bacon to pot, stir in tomato paste, herbs, stock, season with salt and pepper. Place dutch oven in 300 degree oven for 3-4 hours or until meat is very tender. To serve, remove meat and veggies from broth with slotted spoon. Cook the pan juices until reduced and thickened. Serve meat and vegetables with sauce and mashed potatoes or pasta and a good crusty bread.

I NEVER buy "stew meat". Why pay the store to cut up my beef when it's so easy to do myself AND I get to QA as I go and get rid of the gristle and fat to my liking? So that's what I did today, I used a 3 lb beef arm roast and it was a gorgeous cut of meat- not much fat and it was super easy to trim.

I worked with a freshly sharpened chef's knife and trimmed off the little bit of fat on the edge, and then separated the roast into sections and cut into nice 2 inch chunks.

I cut my bacon into lardons (yes, I am a food snob and love using these foodie terms and the more French I get to use, the better) and yes, I did separate each and every one and put it into a small bowl. I hate trying to brown my bacon and getting clumps of bacon, so I pick em apart. I also love to prep ahead as much as I can and get things into small prep bowls, so when it's time to use that ingredient, I just need to grab it and dump it in the pot.

Browning the bacon in the brand new Le Creuset. Ahhhhhh such a beautiful sight and such a happy moment, just knowing this is MINE !! I feel like a proud mommy.

The mushrooms were super easy to clean, just a wipe with a damp sponge and trim the end of the stem- I prefer to leave the stems ON but cut them flush with the caps, so I get a cute little round mushroom ball instead of mushroom "bowls".

The onions and mushrooms browned up nicely in the bacon fat. I love the way the round shape of the mushrooms take on this evenly golden look when they've been cooked.

As I said, I always get all my ingredients ready BEFORE I start cooking, so I use alot of little pinch/prep bowls. My herbs in one bowl, garlic and tomato paste in another. I'm a pretty organized person, even when cooking so this is just something I always do to make it easier on myself later. It's also a last chance to find out if I'm missing an ingredient- I haven't started yet, so it's not too late to get what I need or decide on a substitution.

Next, I browned all the meat in small batches- as I said above you really need to give the meat alot of space so it will BROWN instead of steam into a mass of beef/flour goo. The browning of the flour also makes the sauce much more flavorful, so it's a very important step.

After giving the garlic a quick run in the hot pan, I deglazed with the entire bottle of wine (well, I had removed about 1/2 cup and put that in the freezer- per the Chef's orders, so next time he makes red sauce he can have a little red wine to add) and used my wooden spoon to scrape up the browned tasty bits on the bottom and sides of the pot. Again, such an important step, getting all that deliciousness incorporated into what will become the sauce. Dredging and browning the beef and cooking the bacon make this step possible and absolutely necessary to a delicious finished dish. And this is also why I wanted this dutch oven so badly- my cookware is non-stick and you CANNOT get that frond/deglaze thing going in non-stick cookware, it's almost impossible.

Everybody back in the pool !!!!! Stir in the tomato paste and herbs and it's into the oven for a long, slow cooking (and a little autumn food air freshening for the house). I cannot WAIT til it's time to dig in !!!

I let Lenny and Ed occupy my afternoon with a few back to back Law & Order episodes while the house filled with yummy aromas........and eventually...... the result of all my labors has reached its delicious finish....

I scooped out all the meat, mushrooms and onions into another bowl and covered it to keep warm while I heated the pan juices to boiling and let them thicken into the sauce.

I finished dinner with some mashed potatoes and homemade focaccia (which you will have to read about next time !!)

I think Julia would have approved. And to borrow her very famous catchphrase..... Bon appetit !!

Monday, September 26, 2011

When The Owners Are Away, The Dogs Will Drive Me Crazy.......

Fall is right around the corner !! You can feel it in the air, every morning it's crisp and cold, warm and sunny in the afternoon.....the perfect time of year. What could possibly disturb the serenity of living in the country, on a private lake, surrounded by rolling hills and farmland ?

Seven hours of the neighbor's dogs barking, that's what. Yes, seven full hours of bark bark bark bark bark with no hope of relief since the dog owners were not home and left the four-legged hooligans to torment us all day. What to do about it ? Hit the highway and cruise to the CITY for some peace and quiet. Well. some wine and cheese anyway.

Yes....yes....I will drive 30 miles one way for a nice pinot grigio or a fabulous piece of cheese. In order to escape the incessant barking, the Chef and I drove to the city to make a visit to the grandest of places in Des Moines to buy upscale food and drinks, Gateway Market. It's my favorite place, my idea of grocery shopping (yes.... I am a food snob, and I'm not embarrassed at all to say that).

So we make the trip, and after being relieved of a good sum of cash by the cashier (being a food snob ain't cheap !!) we headed home, driving into a gorgeous fall sunset. What did we get ?? The craziest combination of stuff !! A fabulous baguette, a pint basket of fresh figs (YUM !!!), a few beautiful organic peaches and apples, a nice assortment of sushi (more on that later), a selection of cheeses, a container full of those luscious olives I must must must have from the olive bar, an interesting "black" beer and a couple bottles of wine.

As I have said before, I'm not really a big fan of sweeter wines. I prefer the acidity and crispness of the less sweet whites and in general, I AVOID all things moscato. This Amberhill Secret Blend was almost passed over when I first looked at it. This is a blend of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and mostaco. First of all, I always say no to chardonnays. I absolutely detest the oak flavor most of them have. And moscato..... normally this would automatically be a veto. But the sauvignon blanc was calling to me. And it was a special that day for $ in gleeful abandon I snatched it up and put it in the cart. When I opened it and first tasted it, I was really glad I took the chance. It was very much like a riesling but with more bite (13.5% alcohol). It held up nicely when we were eating the different cheeses and complemented the sweet hot peppadews perfectly. The moscato lent a floraly note to the wine and the sauvignon blanc kept the sweetness way down. The chardonnay wasn't even an issue in this blend, it was unoaked and also kept the sweet down.

I was determined NOT to fall into my rut and get a pinot grigio again, so I turned my full attention to the sauvignon blanc selections and settled on SeaGlass. It was very bright and green and herby. Not overly acidic and not one bit sweet, it went perfectly with the sushi- nicely keeping the spicy mayo and wasabi in check. And again, with a higher alcohol (13.5%) it had a little kick. A big swirl of the glass brought a very herby and green fresh air aroma out of this beautiful wine.

Earlier in the summer I seethed with jealousy at another food blogger's post showing a full case of fresh figs. You just don't see fresh figs in many produce departments in Des Moines. But there at Gateway, nestled among the organic berries and veggies were a few pints of beautiful figs. I know the shelf said which kind they were, but I was so excited I didn't pay good enough attention, and now I don't know..... The figs were perfect with the cheese and bread and olives.

They also were a nice dessert bite after that sushi. Now......this is kind of a cute story. In the early days of our life, the Chef introduced me to sushi. He is a total NON food snob, which I think is funny, given his line of work. He is perfectly content to eat Chinese buffet and whatever sushi they have on the buffet, which usually are not the raw kinds. I like the kinds he had me try, but I really don't care for the flavor of seaweed, I absolutely HATE smoked salmon and he is a little icked out at the idea of eating the raw fish kinds. Well......the selection we brought home was just that- all but one piece had raw fish of some sort. I had never eaten true RAW fish before but I figured, I've eaten very rare tuna, I love steak tartare, surely I can handle this. Well, yes I did and he did not very well. He did try it, but he really didn't like the texture of the raw fish. He did alot of bargaining- cutting the pieces into smaller and smaller pieces and saying "that's your part" which usually meant he got a smidge of raw and I ate 9/10ths of that piece. All the while, I kept teasing him about being the sushi lover around here, and how he introduced me to it !! Well, I loved it. I wish I knew what kinds they were because the roll drizzled with spicy mayo was YUM. We definitely will be going to a REAL sushi restaurant very soon and really getting into what we like and don't like.

There was one more bottle of wine in the store that caught my eye, and if you know me personally, you will totally understand why.........

Time to break out the iPod and listen to a little Gaga !!!!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

He said, she said

When it comes to pizza EVERYONE has an opinion, and a favorite. Nowhere on earth is this more true than at our little lake house, where HE says thick crust and loaded with toppings, and SHE says super thick crunchy crust and minimal toppings. Tonight we decided to go with a dual pizza dinner and here are the luscious results !!

First, we will go with He Says. The Chef makes alot of pizza around here (and sorry, if I overload you with pizza pics's what we do !!) and today he was at it again. After making the dough and letting it rise once, I divided the dough and we set off on our own projects.

The Chef's pizza was his traditional recipe red sauce with a splash of white wine added and simmered til thick. The used the round pizza stone and kept his dough a little on the thicker side, not as thick as the deep dish from last week, but more like a "hand tossed" style. Sauce, cheese, mushrooms and loads of fresh veggies from the garden topped it off.

A quick spin thru a very hot oven and the Chef's pizza was done.

Look at all that cheese !!!!! And just think, all the veggies were added on top of the cheese- they melt and meld and become part of the cheesy awesomeness.

And now.......She says.......I prefer a completely different style of pizza, and I don't get to make it very often. So today I decided to go with a super thin and crispy crust, NO red sauce, just a drizzle of olive oil, sliced tomatoes from the garden and sliced fresh mozzarella.

I sprinkled the top with a chiffonade of fresh basil from the garden BEFORE baking because I like it when the oil and the basil get together and the basil turns into this spicy, licorice-y, crispy topping. If you like yours fresh and green, add it after baking.

You'll notice I didn't go with the pizza stone because #1 the Chef wanted it for his pizza and #2 I think the metal sheet pans I have give a nice crispy finish to the crust. And I sometimes like the weird shape of a non-round pizza.

The tomatoes practically melted into the crust, so sweet and yummy, the cheese was milky and smooth and slightly browned in places, the basil crisped just like I like it........yum.......

So there you have it...... our version of  he says, she says. What a delicious argument !!!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My dad calls me Oenologist.......

I've been doing alot of soul searching lately, trying to find ME and figure out where I need to set my direction. I've lost alot of myself over the past six months, between the move, the new lifestyle, the shocking loss of my job, it's been a real adjustment. But I need to recapture my passion and my spirit and restore who I once was.

Everyone who knows me remembers the City Girl who embraced a life filled with wine and laughter. Wine became my hobby and no, not guzzling bottle after bottle and stumbling and staggering.......well, ya, that happened once in a while, but I developed a serious interest in wine. Everything wine. The growing of vines, the history, the science, the chemistry. I tasted. I sampled. I became educated.

And I longed to share that passion with the people around me. The best thing about this time in my life is that my friends and I have mellowed into who we are, settled into our lives, and long gone were the party girl years and goofy drinking stories. So when I wanted to drink and appreciate wine, amazingly, so were my girlfriends !! Of course we did not all have the same palate. I truly love all wines but I tend to lean more towards the big, bold reds with a meaty mouthfeel and alot of body.  Cabernet is my friend. Sangiovese is my true love. Some of my girls were more conservative, sticking to moscato and the occasional sweet riesling or pinot grigio.

I loved filling the role of teacher when it came to wine. Friends would call me and say "Hey Mo, I'm in the liquor store and I need a wine for dinner. I'm making roast- what should I get ?" I visited wineries all over the midwest. Iowa became a wine destination. My European history was coming alive in the middle of the midwest and I was thriving. I went to classes whenever I found them and became a wine tasting guide. Fun fun fun !!! an threw me a curveball I was not expecting. Everything changed, and to save the lengthy story, I experienced what millions of other people have experienced- the breakup of a marriage, the loss of a lifestyle, the loss of ME.

Standing on the edge of the unknown, facing a life I have never wanted to live (single ??? me ???) I had to restart. Re-find myself. Rediscover. Rebuild. Believe me, it wasn't easy. Everything about the old me was gone. Who was this new me ? Two years of my life go by and I finally realized....... I can't control what other people are doing (the boss who laid me off, the husband who didn't want to be married) but I better figure out what I CAN control and make some changes. Get myself back. And the first thing that came to me was recapturing the things that made me passionate. What made me HAPPY ??

Wine. That one simple word. That beautiful, artful expression of taste and talent. Centuries of  crafting. Generations of families devoted to this one simple thing that is almost as old as mankind. Wine makes me happy. And not just drinking it (although, yes, I will say, a glass or four makes me pretty darn happy) but learning and experiencing it.

Somewhere in the infamous Room of Doom (that room in our house that has become the dumping ground for unopened boxes we don't have room for) is a box containing my wine diaries. I have 3 volumes of diaries filled with labels, my opinions, my likes and dislikes. I need to find that box !!!!! And continue where I left off !!

Baby steps......and 2 bottles of Pinot Grigio.......and here I am.

I first heard about Flip Flop wines while reading a food blog and with a name that darn cute I could not resist. This bottle is a 2010 California Pinot Grigio. I know, I know, I'm a red wine girl, but it is technically still summer, fairly warm out and I love a crisp Pinot G in the warmer months. Now, everyone who knows me KNOWS that if I am going to pick a white wine, Riesling is my absolute favorite of the whites. But many of them are sweet and sweet wines are lower in alcohol and I think too "soda-y" for me. I am an absolute HATER of Chardonnay- I rarely even try one, mostly because I detest the woody flavor of aging in oak (reds aged in oak don't seem to get this....the stronger red grape flavor stands out more I guess).

Back to the Flip Flop. It's really a good wine !!! Well balanced, not too acidic ( a problem many whites have in my opinion) and not too sweet, it really was a pleasure to drink. And an extremely good value at less than $7 a bottle !!!!  Who says cheap wine is bad wine ?? That's so not true !! But wine prices..... oh my, that's another blog post entirely !!

And then I opened the Black Swan. The Black Swan pinot grigio was by far more acidic !!!! Yikes !!! It really had an acid bite !   I would love this bottle with a heavy, cheesy, cloying dish like lasagna or eggplant parmesan. But just to drink on its own as a sipper ???  No, not so much........ it has a 12% alcohol content and a much higher acid than the Flip Flop pinot grigio. This was the bottle I shoukd have opened first !!!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Vikings may stink, but dinner saved the day

Ohhhhhh football I love thee........and ohhhh let me down again.......

But enough of that....... I consider myself to be pretty well-rounded when it comes to food. I've eaten many different foods from many many cultures, read cookbooks from all over the world, will try almost anything cooked or uncooked, been to cooking classes of all types. I absolutely love steak tartare, which is actually one of my favorite childhood memories- ordering that in restaurants (back in the 70s when people weren't such germophobes about their food and actually served uncooked meat in restaurants) and watching the uncomfortable look on the waitress' face as she tried to eplain to me that it was, well, RAW. No one would guess a kid would know that, or eat it !! I love liver, although no one else ever does, so it remains on the DO NOT COOK list (but I do sometimes get chicken livers with my spaghetti if a restaurant offers it). I love everyday foods and some off the wall foods.......

So how is it that I've reached nearly half a century on this planet and have not ever eaten fresh salmon ? For that, I have no explanation. I've caught, killed, cleaned and cooked fish. Not everyone can say they murdered their dinner. Salmon is such a common fish, and so TRENDY off and on over the years. When blackening became the buzz word in food I saw it on menus all the time. Next came grilled and served with heart healthy sides. And of course, the big sushi craze.

But still.......salmon and I avoided eachother, and I don't really know why. When I eat out, it's usually something I'm not going to make at home, like prime rib, or something special like lobster ravioli. You get the idea. I scanned over seafood selections without a second glance because, honestly, fried shrimp I can have anywhere, and tilapia ? Don't I have some of that in the freezer ??.......... Donesn't everyone ??.....Hmmmm........ Our last trip to the grocery store we found ourselves looking for other options- something different- something we don't make every couple weeks. We live at a lake, fish is right out the front door, but, salmon......... now THERE is something I have never had, and the Chef has alot of experience cooking......

Salmon with Maple Soy Glaze

1/4 maple syrup
3 tb soy sauce
one clove garlic, minced
freshly cracked black pepper

Mix together and pour over salmon filets in baking dish (makes enough for about 1 lb filets). Marinate for 15-20 minutes then place in 400 degree oven for 20 minutes or until fish is done.

While the Chef was working on the salmon, I started some wild rice (about 1/2 cup) in some water and let simmer for 20 minutes. Then I drained the wild rice and added 1 cup long grain white rice, 2 cups water, 1 clove garlic, minced, a palmfull chopped onion, 1 leek thinkly sliced, couple tablespoons chopped chives, 1 tb chicken soup base (or cube, whichever you have), pinch of thyme, pepper, and brought that to boil, reduced to low and let cook til all the liquid was absorbed and the rice is tender. I melted about 1 b butter in a small skillet and toasted about 1/2 slivered almonds til golden brown, then tossed that in the rice in a big bowl with a handful of chopped parsley, give it a nice splash of lemon juice, toss and serve alongside the salmon.

So what did I think ? was good !! Was it life-changing, of course not, but it was very very good and the marinade/sauce was really really delicious. I didn't have a "where have you been all my life" moment but I definitely liked it, and definitely will eat it again. In fact, the salmon was the highlight of the day !!! Crummy weather, crummy football games........delicious dinner with my Chef. That's a great Sunday if you ask me.

Pizzeria del Riccio

Everyone who knows us KNOWS that pizza night is a big deal at our house. The Chef is hands down one of the best pizza creators I've ever met. He pooh-poohs the chain pizza places and delivery joints in favor of homemade crust and his brilliantly crafted red sauce and toppings. He scours the garden looking for peppers, tomatoes, herbs, anything to add to his pizza creation.

Where we live there are some pretty interesting pizza places. Big Tomato Pizza had dominated the late-night pizza scene for years and boasted some of the most off the wall toppings around (corn ? sliced hot dogs ? no thank you....). A handful of family-owned Italian eateries also put together some pretty good pies. And of course, Fong's Pizza has certainly changed Des Moines' pizza scene with their asian-inspired toppings and crazy cocktails.

But when it comes to pizza, the Chef around here likes to go big. Usually he breaks out the pizza stone and throws on piles and piles of toppings, like an avalanche of vegetables and cheese. This time however, he wanted to go a little different direction with pizza, so he thought back on his visit to Gino's East in Chicago and that's where he went- Chicago style deep dish pizza.

Usually made in well-seasoned cast iron pans he had to wing it with the biggest springform pan in the house.

Since I'm the official dough-maker in the house, it was my turn to whip up a batch of pizza dough and hand it over to The Master.

Traditionally, this kind of pizza is made with the cheese on the bottom, so he generously loaded the crust with shredded mozzarella.

The sauce comes next, and after simmering away on the stove for a while, it's thick and red and spicy and.....well......delicious !!

See those big chunks of herbs in the sauce ? Those were picked fresh right from the garden !! You can't get any fresher than that ! After the sauce comes the toppings. The Chef never skimps on toppings, this time choosing pepperoni, mushrooms, fresh tomatoes (yellow tomatoes from the garden), green bell peppers, onions, olives and mushrooms.

Finished with a generous sprinkle of parmesan, this baby went in the oven for about 45 minutes and emerged a hot, gooey, cheesy pan of amazingness. Usually we have plenty of leftovers for snacking- that was not the case with this one. We didn't even get a picture of the finished pizza !!!! Next time, and believe me, there WILL BE a next time, we won't attack it like turkey vultures !!!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Chef sure is a FUNGI !!!

We ventured back to the city today, for a little dose of civilization and a chance to stop in the local gourmet grocery store and restock our olive bowl. Once again, I felt like I was in a house full of mousetraps and my name is Minnie Mouse. Sooooo many choices. Yes to the olives. *snap* Yes to the peppadews. *snap* Yes to the baguette. *snap* Yes to the fresh mozzarella. *snap* Yes to the Rustico cheese and Windsor Red cheese. You get the idea......

We browse the produce section, marvel over the price of some things ($7.99 a pound for sugar snap peas) and the rareness of others (purple green beans) when I turn the cart and my eyes lay upon something so unique, so amazing, soooo "like" the Chef and I.......

Now, I have to tell you, the Chef is usually a very frugal shopper. I have champagne taste but he is a very rational shopper whereas I jump up and down and squeal with delight over a $235 Le Creuset dutch oven. HOWEVER......the idea of growing his own mushrooms changes the man. Almost in unison we say "OHHHHHHH WOOOOOOOW" and into the cart it goes *snap*.

So we hurry home with our new project, rip it open and find a rather unattractive cube of......stuff.

Hmmm....the instructions say the mushrooms grow in recycled coffee grounds, but this does not even resemble coffee to me. Should be interesting !! The instructions say to cut an X in the front of the plastic and soak the whole thing overnight in cold water, then take it out, drain off the water and replace in the package with the front cut out.

We are supposed to mist this every day, twice a day and in a week we will have pearl oyster mushrooms. Should be interesting.......already we're searching for spores to buy online, and other ways we can expand our mushroom growing project into something big !!

So at the end of the day.......the trip to the city was worth it. We might have spent too much on olives (often the ONLY reason I go to this store) and I didn't even get a fancy cake from the bakery, but we have a new way to bring a little of our garden inside, so as fall approaches, we won't be too bored.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Chicken wings and football- what could be better ?

Opening Night of the NFL is always a big occasion for me, no matter what team is playing !! Tonight I'm cheering on the Saints (can't root for the Packers !! Noooooooo) and they're letting me down !! Anyway, since moving out to the lake football nights at the bar with a bunch of people and bar snacks is a thing of the past and we have to recreate that atmosphere for ourselves. How ?? Ice cold Bud and wings of course !!

Ok, clockwise from the top, The Chef's Buffalo Wings with ghost chile sauce, my blueberry jalapeno wings and pineapple garlic teriyaki wings.

Let's start with the buffalo style sauce- The Chef went traditional with his wing sauce- the traditional mix of real butter and Frank's Red Hot but he kicked it waaaaay up with about half a teaspoon of crushed ghost chile and some crushed dried habanero and served alongside bleu cheese dressing (no ranch in this wing-eating house !!)

My blueberry jalapeno wing sauce consisted of blueberry jam, minced/crushed jalapeno and a half teaspoon or so of crushed cayenne pepper and just a hit of lime juice to thin it out a little.

The pineapple garlic teriyaki wings started with a Pampered Chef Pineapple Rum sauce. I used about 1/4 cup of the bottled sauce, added 2 cloves of garlic super finely minced, a big dash of soy sauce and about 1/2 teaspoon of crushed Jamaican Yellow Mushroom pepper to add some fire.

We didn't fry the wings- instead baked them for about 3 hours at 215 degrees (loooow and slow) after rubbing them with our homemade meat rub mixture. Then each sauce was tossed with a pile of wings and back in the oven at 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes til the sauce glazed and got all sticky and yummy.

The result........was absolutely delicious. Sweet heat in one bite and searing hot the next. Perfect football snack and I can't wait to make them again !!

Busy day around here and the start of NFL Season

Being unable to find my coffee grinder in the Room of Doom (the extra bedroom that's become the dumping ground for boxes we haven't unpacked yet) I broke down and bought the cutest mini food processor yesterday. Like the coffee grinder, this one will ONLY be used to grind and pulverize hot peppers and maybe dried garlic.

So anyway, I started my grindathon off with the least hot of the peppers, the Jamaican Yellow Mushroom peppers and got them ground up and back in the jars (seeds and all, so I can pack the biggest PUNCH).

Next came the habaneros, the Aji Limons, the Chile de Arbols, then the Big Bad Daddies- the ghost chiles and trinidad scorpion chiles. Let me just say this- BREATHE with caution when grinding peppers and DO NOT handle the grinding equipment with your bare hands until they have been washed thoroughly. The difference in the aroma of these different peppers was really surprising to me. The Jamaicans had a very sweet pepper like fragrance but they did make me sneeze. The trinidads had a similar red pepper like fragrance and I was VERY careful to not get too close to the open workbowl or jar when I spooned the powder back in the jar.

Ghost chiles are another story altogether. Even when cutting up the fresh peppers, they have a strong, pungent, almost acrid chemical smell. Makes me really wonder why someone ever decided to eat these things. After grinding them up, that scent was intensified immensely.

A few weeks ago I came across a recipe for burgers with ghost chile powder in the meat mixture. It said to use 1/8 teaspoon. At the time, and having only eaten fresh ghost chile up to this point, my thought was "what a chicken, I'd dump alot more in my meat mixture". Folks.........after grinding them and testing the heat level, I will be sticking to the recommended 1/8 teaspoon.

The Chef and I both FINALLY taste tested the Trinidad after grinding and I'll tell you what- every fear and worry we had about these things being monstrously HOT was confirmed !!!!!

Now that the peppers are ground and awaiting some scientific research in ouur kitchen, we'll play and taste and test out combos and come up with our own chili powders, taco seasonings, hot meat rubs, all sorts of fun things !!

One of the experiments we want to work on is a super hot wing sauce recipe, and what better day to start playing with hot wings than the first day of NFL Regular Season ?? Nothing goes better with football than hot wings !! We already know we're going to do a traditional buffalo wing sauce for some, and I have a blueberry jalapeno sauce to try, and our brains are buzzing with ideas on how to incorporate the super hot peppers into a spicy sauce. The Chef is thinking something tomato based maybe, or a super enhanced version of traditional buffalo sauce, and I'm leaning towards using the pepper in the dry rub used before cooking the wings or maybe an oil or butter based pepper glaze. I think we'll have just as much fun coming up for a name for our deadly concoction.

Now.....about this NFL thing....... all you need to know about me is this- SKOL VIKINGS !!!!!!