Tuesday, October 23, 2012


The jars are barely cool in the cupboard and I'm itching to get them back out ! I ordered mustard seed today so I could make a couple craft beer spicy mustards- maybe for Christmas gifts but more likely I'll hoard those up too.

The Chef cooked dinner tonight- a simple fish dish with Chef Feiny's Citrus BBQ Rub, fresh tomatoes, fresh green beans and a very spicy Spanish-style rice.

Fresh tilpia filet liberally rubbed the Feiny's Rub, and all the delcious sides. It was a nice change of pace from our usual Monday night pasta.

But I still want to can things. Winter squash, gourmet mustards, whatever I can get my hands on that this time. I have a small amount of tomatoes changing to red that I can can or freeze soon. Then......the long months til springtime.

I joined a gardening group today. I've been buying seeds and making plans for next spring. Pretty sure I know what I'm NOT planting and what I am planting. Spring peas are almost a must and I have a super special little cucumber that I hope will bring me a ribbon at the county fair- a first ever !

The leaves are blowing around, the weather is changing daily and I'm so happy about it !! I can't wait for the frosty fall mornings and the first snowfall. In the meantime, I guess I'll find things at the store to can .......

Monday, October 15, 2012

Operation Faux Olives, Part II

More than 3 weeks have passed. The jar has been in my sight every time I opened the refrigerator, tempting me. I wanted to taste them sooooo badly. I did after about a week and it has ACK awful. I felt a little disheartened, like my project was going to fail. I hate failing. I hate it when a recipe or a planned recipe flops on me.

But......in the case of Faux Olives, that was not going to be the ending of my story. They. Are. Awesome!! It's been just a hair over 3 weeks in the fridge and they are so delicious- they really DO taste like olives ! And they have the same texture and chewiness of a picholine olive but no pit!

They look so small in the glass but they are really typical
green olive size.
Of course, you can't have olives without a martini so tonight, with a lovely fire in the chiminea, the cool fall evening descending on us, the Chef and I enjoyed a wonderful cocktail by the fire, complete with Faux Olives!!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Product Review: Sorry, Porky, but you're going on the dinner plate

Time to put on my Kitchen Science Lab hat and think up a tasty recipe using pork and Chipotle Apple Butter from FireFood. Pork and apples have been paired together forever, but I want to do something a little bit non-traditional and stir up the tastebuds.

So here's my idea- in Iowa we have a local restaurant that claims to have invented something called Chicken Spiedini. I have no idea if they really did or not, but I'm going to borrow their idea and switch it up quite a bit. My first course of action was to find the right hunk of pork so a lean boneless sirloin roast was what I went with.

Next I have to think......how to cook it, incorporating these flavors and still keep the textural contrasts I'm looking for. Assess the heat level in the apple butter. We like it HOT at our house so I may need to bump up the heat if it's more on the mild side. Side dishes......I can't just plunk a pile of meat down on the table and call it dinner...... Then there is the unexpected secret ingredient, which is where the spiedini idea came into play- the Panko with Habanero and Onion.

Spicy Apple Pork Skewers with Habanero Crust

lean boneless pork - I used sirloin roast
Chipotle Apple Butter
cooking oil
salt, pepper
big pinch crushed thyme
big pinch crushed oregano leaves
good olive oil
package Panko with Habanero and Onion (from FireFood)

Cube the pork into 2 inch cubes, season with salt and pepper and set aside in a large resealable bag.
In small bowl combine 1/4 cup apple butter, 1/4 cup olive oil, 3-4 cloves finely minced garlic and herbs and mix well, reserve half the marinade for later and pour rest over pork in the bag, press out as much air as possible, marinate in fridge at least an hour.

Drain pork from marinade and discard. Thread onto skewers. Place pork on lightly oiled sheet pan, brush liberally with reserved marinade.

Broil until marinade is starting to caramelize and pork is browning nicely (watch carefully !!) Turn skewers over, again brush liberally with marinade and broil until ALMOST done. Remove from oven sprinkle the Panko with Habanero and Onion over the skewers, drizzle with a little olive oil or melted butter (NOT margarine) and return to broiler until crust is golden brown and meat is cooked thoroughly.

Sides....... I went with oven roasted potatoes with onions and herbs. Simple, homey and didn't take away from the boldness of the meat skewers.

Now, let's talk about the chipotle apple butter and the panko.  As you know, we've already made pizza from FireFood's habanero pizza sauce and tested the chipotle cranberry jam on a turkey panini. When I opened the apple butter it looked just like every other jar of apple butter, but when I tasted it to check heat level and see if I might wanna boost it up a little- holy cow, that chipotle brought more heat to the party than I was expecting. No more heat needed there. And the panko, again, they look like harmless little bread crumbs and I expected the onion to be overpowered by the habanero but that was not the case. The crunchy, nutty little nuggets carry a nice pop of pepper and a very forward onion taste- absolutely delish. This is Shake and Bake for grownups ! This would make a great breading for hot chicken nuggets or maybe crunchy boneless wings with some Franks added to an egg wash. I see lots of possibilities for this yummy product, and hope to try more varieties soon !!

Seriously, if you like spicy foods, you really need to check out FireFood. They have so many awesome products to choose from. I'd love to hear from you guys after you've tried them !

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Product Review: Super short and easy !!

While the Chef works away at the restaurant every night, I don't normally cook a big dinner for myself. In fact, more often than not dinner will be a bowl or two of cereal and maybe toast if I feel that adventurous.

Tonight though I was feeling a little more restless and needed something to do in order to have a reason to NOT deal with the bowl of pears on the table (fact is, I'm giving some serious consideration to just TOSSING them and concentrating on the tomatoes that are ripening by the day).

Not too long ago I received a box of wonderful goodies to try from Elaine and Rob at FireFood with the promise that I would experiment, taste test and let them know what we think about their products. As you already know, we are SOLD on the Diablo Habanero Pizza Sauce, but there are still several items in the goodie box to try so, why not tonight?

I'm normally not a big sandwich nut but there is something about the crunch of a panini that's just special enough to capture my heart- and they're as easy to make as a grilled cheese but a heck of a lot more sophisticated. So tonight my sandwich consisted of thick slices of crusty bread from the South Union Bakery. South Union Bakery is a Des Moines original. Each loaf is hand made and baked daily in the 24 hour bakery located beneath Gateway Market at 2002 Woodland in Des Moines. They make so many different styles of bread and they are all so wonderful. 

On top of that wonderful bread went sliced provolone cheese, thinly slices roast turkey and a big spoonful of FireFood's Cranberry Chioptle Jam.

Just the SLIGHTEST brush of melted butter on the outside and they went on the press until super crunchy, golden brown and melty.

The turkey, cheese and sweet heat of the jam made this a perfect sandwich combo. The salty smooth provolone accented the sweet jam and left the chipotle just mingling in the background. This jam is a PERFECT condiment.

For someone "afraid" of hot peppers, hot foods and spicy things- this jam is the perfect place to start. It's not "hot". It doesn't burn your tongue or make you break out in a sweat. It's cranberry first with the ever so slight hint of something warm in the mix.

The only thing I DON'T like about this jam is the fact that is doesn't come in GALLON jars! Seriously, it is THAT good. It  would make a great pan sauce for sauteed chicken breasts or pork chops, a condiment alongside roast pork- it's just so versatile and easy on the palate. I highly recommend trying it.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Hey, I thought the gardening season was over !!!

But apparently not !!!

Sure, we have had several killing frosts and my own garden is long long gone. MY once proud castor bean plant looks like a big pole with cooked spinach draped all over it. Kinda gross actually.

But as always, with the end of the season comes an abundance of green tomatoes, and while I personally did not have an abundance from my own garden, my friends sure do, and they are giving me tomatoes by the box full. Of course,all these green tomatoes mean I have been devoting alot of research time into recipes for green tomatoes- and besides the obvious, pickled green tomatoes, which I don't even know if we'll like, we have the Tomolive Experiment still going, but the weird thing about nature and tomatoes is this: if you spend too much time worrying about what to do with GREEN tomatoes, they eventually change into RED tomatoes.

Which is where I'm at today. These tomatoes aren't your fancy hybrids, no Beefsteak or Early Girl or anything like that in there. These are all the golf ball size tomatoes you get when you leave a seed or two behind over the winter and get 25 volunteer plants that you just don't have the heart to pull. They revert back to their original form instead of the hybrid you had last summer. Which makes no difference to me, a tomato is a tomato to me, and I'll gladly take them off your hands.

But what to do with many pounds of smallish tomatoes, without dealing with peeling and all that mess? Easy !! Wash, cut in half, toss with the littlest bit of olive oil and salt and ROAST them to release the juice, heat the tomatoes and then can them, which is exactly what I did.

I'm going to guess at this point I had about 5-6 lbs of small tomatoes, mostly red golf ball size with a few small yellow pears and tiny yellow teardrop tomatoes in there. I gave them a quick bath in the sink, sorted out a small handful of yucky ones and then set aside two deep baking sheets, with a little drizzle of oil on them.

With the oven heating to 425 degrees I started cutting the tomatoes in half and tossing them on the sheets, ending up with two generously full baking sheets of beautiful tomatoes. I gave each pan a nice grind or two of sea salt and put them in the oven with the rack in the upper third and roasted them about 15 minutes and that temp then turned it down to 325 and let them go another half hour or so while I readied everything else.

Once the tomatoes were roasted and juices were released I dumped them into a big bowl and added my personal Italian seasoning mixture- a generous tablespoon or two of basil, crushed, palmfull of parsley, crushed, thyme, BIG pinch of oregano, and garlic powder.

Mixed it all up and filled 7 pint jars full. I put them in the boiling water bath for 40 minutes and they came out looking perfect. The tomatoes were so juicy I didn't have to add any additional water to the jars.

They were so successful, I was only able to store 5 of the 7 pints. 2 jars were opened the next day by The Chef and went into a pot of pasta sauce. But this is not the end of the story I hope. MY friend still has a LARGE stockpile of green tomatoes. And even though I really want to try some green tomato mincemeat, I have a feeling I an going to be doing plenty more roasted tomatoes with Italian herbs to get us through the winter.

Monday, October 1, 2012

It's almost furnace time !!

The weatherman (I know....don't lay any money on the table....) is saying you might want to fire the furnace up later this week. We won't- we're  tough like that- but what makes me so happy about hearing that ?? It's time for Winter Food !!

Ahhhhhhh yes, winter food. Roasts slow cooking all day. Turkey browning in the oven and making the whole house smell like yummy wonderfulness. Oh yes, I can't wait. Because....you see..... in the freezer is some of the most amazing winter foods of all- game birds. Mallard duck breasts. Goose breasts. Snow geese. I can hardly wait to break out the Le Creuset and spend a lazy weekend day, maybe even a snowy day, experimenting with the many awesome goodies that I canned earlier in the fall.

For instance, this amazing Apple Pear Chutney I have been working on. Starting with a pretty basic pear chutney recipe, I made a few adjustments (canning purists, don't worry- I did not make changes that would affect the safety of canning- this recipe has plenty of vinegar to allow for some experimentation) and came up with the perfect, in my opinion anyway, tangy, sweet, sour and slightly hot condiment that will soon adorn slices of roast pork or turkey.

Pear, Apple and Cranberry Chutney

3 quarts finely diced peeled pears
1 quart finely diced peeled apples
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup raisins
1 cup dried cranberries
3 cups brown sugar
2 TB dry ground ginger
big pinch of salt
3-4 cloves minced garlic
3 whole cayenne peppers (don't crush, you'll remove later)
2 cups cider vinegar
3 cups white vinegar

Combine all ingredients in large stockpot. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and let simmer for 2-3 hours or until reduced and thick, stirring often to prevent sticking. 

This is about halfway through cooking- I let it reduce further

At this point you can prepare canner and jars and ladle hot chutney (fish out the cayenne peppers and discard) into jars, wipe rims, seal, and process in BWB for 10 minutes for pints, or, as I am doing, letting mixture cool slightly, refrigerate overnight to let the pepper infuse as much as I can before I remove it, and then reheat to boiling and continue on with processing. 

Pizza with a side of Melt Your Face Off

Another Sunday. Another Chef's Day Off. Another day filled with football. Football food...what to make.....what sounds good.......what do we have.......

At our house it's the same routine every week. What do we eat, what's in the cupboard, we didn't thaw anything. Since it's football season, there are some obvious choices- wings, nachos, chili. We aren't the obvious, average sort of cooks tho, so we like to shake things up a bit.

Recently the incredible folks over at FireFood sent us a little "care package" of goodies to sample and then let them know what we think. Well that box was filled with incredible choices, everything from fiery hot panko with onion and habanero to chipotle apple butter (THAT one has me really thinking about some innovative ideas......). If you've followed this blog for more than a few months you KNOW we are pizza people. Homemade pizza is like an art form here, with the Chef as Picasso, painting his doughy canvas with sauce and vegetables and meat and cheese and then kissing his fingers and declaring Bellissimo !!!   Ok, well, maybe that might be overdoing it a little but you get it- we take pizza making seriously here.

In the box is this little, unassuming, innocent looking jar of something deep red. I pick it up and unwrap the bubble wrap and discover- HOLY HELLFIRE !!!!  Diablo Habanero Pizza Sauce !!! We looooove our hot and spicy food around here !! So it's settled. Sunday. Football. Melt your face off pizza.

We started, as always with my homemade pizza dough. There is no recipe here folks, just experience. I've been baking for 30-plus years and breadmaking for just as long. I dump some flour in the bowl, eyeball some sugar, pinch of salt, dribble or so of olive oil, palmful (guesstimate) of yeast (we buy it in bulk jars, so there is no "use one packet" or anything like that) and enough warm water til I think the dough is "right".  Set that aside to proof for a little bit and we finish watching the Vikings SKIN the Lions !!! SKOL !!!!!

Once the dough is made, my pizza duties are largely over with. The Chef takes over and does his thing. So he tastes the Diablo Habanero Pizza sauce first with a spoon- as do I, we need to learn to fear/respect the habanero......and decide how "saucy" we want this to be. Pretty saucy- we like it HOT.

Next goes cheese, some pepperoni, chopped fresh onion, mushrooms, and sliced banana peppers (as if we aren't already in enough trouble) and a few chunks of fresh tomato scattered about. A little more cheese on top, and into the oven she goes.

Now, how to describe this sauce...... well, to start I'll compare. Several local pizza joints have their "spicy" sauce which pretty much is pizza sauce with just a bunch of extra red pepper thrown in there. All you get is heat. The Diablo sauce is so much more than that. You can tell Elaine and Rob at FireFood care about their product and that people enjoy it. This sauce is heavenly. It's the slightest hint of heat, the sweet mouthful of tomato richly simmered down and THEN the little blast furnace of habanero in your mouth. Believe me, if you love HOT foods, you must try this stuff. If you are wimpy and don't do hot, don't even think about it- you have to be a habanero lover or love spicy hot foods to appreciate it. It's not just about the heat- you can taste so many flavors in this sauce, the heat is just an extra bonus on top of the delicious. And the heat doesn't stick around for ever- you get this nice POW of pepper and then it nicely mellows out.  It's a must have again and again for us !!

You can find these wonderful products online at www.FireFood.com or search for FireFood on Facebook. I HIGHLY recommend it. And I still have 3 more jars and a pack of those spicy panko breadcrumbs to play with !!!