Friday, September 27, 2013

Spicing things up

What would cooking be without herbs and spices ? Even your bare bones salt and pepper do so much to add flavor to food. I cannot imagine cooking without access to my BOOKCASE of herbs and spices, seasoning blends, herb mixtures and different salts. I grow my own herbs  all summer and inside in the fall as long as I can keep them alive. My dehydrator is my friend (yes.......I KNOW fresh is best, but this is Iowa, RURAL Iowa at that- not a lot of affordable fresh herbs out here).

I am often asked what my favorite herb or spice is. That's a tough one. I CAN tell you which one I hate. There are two actually- cilantro and cinnamon. Cilantro because of it's soapy "lawn grass" taste- I'm trying to acquire the taste-time will tell, and cinnamon, because of a looooong ago very bad Firewater experience. Just the smell...... I'm shuddering in disgust just thinking about it.

Anyway- favorites. I posed this question on the Rockin' the Kitchen Facebook page today and got a fairly good convo going. Garlic, salt and pepper were overwhelming faves, followed by crushed red pepper flakes. Yes, technically garlic and red pepper aren't herbs or spices but for the sake of this story, we are counting them as such. Seasoned salts, flavored salts and even Good Seasons salad dressing mix made the list. Basil and rosemary also got a nod. My personal favorite herbs are the Italian family herbs- basil, parsley, oregano, and the French style- chervil, thyme, chives. Spices- I would definitely go with nutmeg and cloves. Love their aromatic properties.

Picking fresh herbs to go with dinner- oregano and thyme.

But besides adding just good flavor and color to our food, herbs and spices have a TON of beneficial properties as well. For example, garlic is well known to have cardiac benefits and lots of vitamin C (maybe you didn't know THAT little factoid). But what else is good for us? My dreaded enemy cinnamon has been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels. It also has calming effects, stimulates circulation, may ease arthritis symptoms and muscle cramps. Rosemary contains compounds that help get rid of food-borne bacteria in meat (I never roast anything without rosemary!!) New research is finding rosemary may also help improve brain function and memory. Who knew the little herb that to me smells like a pine tree might one day provide a solution to Alzheimer's?  I just love it's earthy fragrance. I love to touch the plant and smell it on my skin. Ahhhhhhh.......

Fresh chives in a pot- easy to clip off just what you need.

If you've read more than three entries on this blog you know we are serious chileheads in this household, so it's no surprise to me that cayenne peppers (as well as other peppers) have a lot of health benefits. Capsaicin, the compound in peppers that carries the heat, is used in pain relief creams because of it's warming properties. Peppers also raise your metabolism and might even aid in fat burning- all the more reason to eat peppers !!

Red basil. Same great taste just a prettier leaf.

One of the yuckies for me is cilantro. I am just not a fan. I'm trying to be. I'm getting better. Latin American food often is accented with cilantro and many Asian dishes contain a lot of it. If I plan on continuing to eat and explore these cuisines, I'm going to have to get used to it, right ? And I might even try harder now that I know it may help relieve anxiety and stress- and who doesn't have THAT in their lives? I know I sure do. Rumor has it, it also helps lower cholesterol. That's a pretty impressive resume for an herb I need to learn to embrace.

Rosemary happily grows with flowers.

Cumin and turmeric are two spices I used a lot this canning season- in pickles and tomato jam. Good thing too !! Cumin boosts your immune system and turmeric eases depression. It's bright yellow color is loaded with antioxidants, and we all know what that means- loaded with cancer fighting compounds. Plus it makes Bread and Butter Pickles look so amazingly beautiful in their jars. Cumin is one of the best smells ever- it's like tacos in a spice jar.

Thyme adds a fragrant, lemony touch to foods.

And finally......fennel. What an interesting plant fennel is. Pretty much the whole plant is edible-  the bulb is delicious sliced raw into salads and slaws, or tossed in sautes, the fronds make excellent fresh herb use and in salads, and of course, sausage wouldn't be sausage without those wonderful seeds. Because most of the plant is edible, it's a great source of fiber, and lots of vitamin C.  You bean lovers might want to keep this in mind too- it helps relieve gas in the intestinal tract, which is a BIG PLUS !!!

While there is no recipe this time, I hope you guys learned at least one new thing about herbs and spices. And..... I hope you will get out the spices and herbs and experiment with flavors and combos, make your own seasoning blends and meat rubs. Have fun playing with your food!

Friday, September 20, 2013

I must be crazy !!!!!

Yes, I must be certifiably insane. Why?? SOMEONE (insert my name here) decided it would be a good idea to make ghost chile hot sauce inside the house. Oh the windows ARE open and fans going like crazy but still.........the ingredients: vinegar, ghosts, garlic, salt. I think that might also be the recipe for napalm but I'm not sure.

Ever since the Chef and I discovered all the different hot peppers out there I have been wanting to make a Tabasco/Franks type sauce with super hots. I have read, met chileheads and shared recipes, and researched the internet like crazy. Finally, I have settled on what I think, and HOPE, will be successful.

So if you're brave enough.........

approximately 20-30 ghost chiles, stems removed 
3 cups white or cider vinegar
8-10 cloves of garlic
1 tb kosher salt.

Combine all in a saucepan. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer about 45 mins to an hour. Peppers will be very tender. Let cool overnight.

Blend or run thru a food processor, strain thru fine sieve and pack in bottles or 4 oz canning jars. Lasts in the fridge a long time, but you can process in a BWB for 10 minutes, after reheating the sauce first.

** Note- I scooped mostly peppers and garlic into the processor, pureed, then added vinegar from the pot til I got the consistency I wanted, a little body and not as runny. It is EXTREMELY hot and please taste test a TINY bit before you dump it in your hot wings.

Good luck !!!!! This sauce is VERY VERY hot !!!!

And I HIGHLY recommend you get your fresh ghost peppers from and NOWHERE else. I guarantee, you will NOT find better peppers, faster service or a nicer guy than the owner.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Eating like a bird.....

While eating a bird. That seems so........wrong. Yet delicious.

So the chef and I are into trying new grains. Rice gets old. And it's not all that great for you nutritionwise- we can do better. And we have been scouring the markets and gourmet shops and websites, grocery co-ops, you name it, for unique new grains to try. This time around it's millet, which truly does look like bird seed. I did my research on cooking techniques and it's pretty much just like rice or quinoa, one part grain, two parts water. I also learned that if you use 3 parts water it cooks down to a porridgelike consistency and is often eaten for breakfast.

But I am making dinner so let's get to that.

Everyone knows I am a canner. If you don't you just met me five minutes ago. I have been trying new recipes every year and one that is super popular with other canners is "Cowboy Candy", sliced candied jalapenos in a spicy sweet syrup. A lot of people use it like pepper jelly, served on cream cheese and crackers. (I'll post that recipe below).  I have been trying tho think outside the box and use this sweet hot condiment in a different way- a sauce !!

Now, the details:

1 jar Cowboy Candy
1 package chicken breasts (I used a package of two halves)
1/4 cup brown sugar
kosher salt
3 tbs butter at room temperature
1 cup millet
2 cups water
1 tb butter

Let's get the chicken going first. I cut the breast halves into halves leaving me with 4 pieces of chicken. Place in lightly oiled baking pan. Mix brown sugar with several tablespoons of the syrup from the Cowboy Candy, testing til you get the desired heat/sweet balance. Add butter and mash/mix (it will look curdled and weird but that's ok). Pour over chicken and top each piece with jalapeno slices. Bake at 425 degrees about 20 minutes or until chicken tests done.

While the chicken is baking, put the millet in a small saucepan and heat over high heat,stirring constantly, to slightly toast the grain. Add the water, butter, dash of salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes until done. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork.

I served the chicken sliced over the millet, drizzled with the pan sauce and a vegetable.

Now for the Cowboy Candy- this is a VERY common recipe canners have been sharing for generations. I do not have any idea who originally invented the recipe, or even this particular version, but it's been shared and passed around so much I think it's ok to put it here.
  • 3 lb firm, fresh jalapeno peppers
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 6 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp celery seed
  • 3 tsp granulated garlic (I had to sub 2 cloves super minced fresh)
  • 1 tsp ground cayenne pepper
Wearing gloves, remove stem end from peppers and slice into uniform 1/4 inch thick slices. Set aside.

In a large pot bring remaining ingredients to boil. Reduce heat, simmer five minutes, then add pepper slices and simmer 4 more minutes. Using a slotted spoon, pack peppers into hot sterile canning jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Bring heat back up under the pot and boil the syrup at a full rolling boil for 6 minutes.

Ladle syrup over peppers. Remove air bubbles, fix lids and rims and process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool, age peppers for at least two weeks.

*Note- if you want to skip the canning step, just divide the peppers and syrup among jars or freezer containers and store in the fridge. They are a pickled product so they will last a while.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Jeremy's turn to rock the kitchen!

How about a different twist on things? Instead of the Chef or myself rockin' the kitchen, we are handing the cooking duties over to my nephew Jeremy, who is also a foodie and loves to get in the kitchen and show his stuff. He and I spent a day at the World Food Festival last year and have enjoyed a couple visits to Zombie Burger to sample the deadly delights, so when he was talking about the dinner he planned to cook, I couldn't help myself- I asked him to take pictures !!!!

Jeremy's dish is a man-sized load of meaty goodness, steak, bacon and a lot of delicious stuff inside. He made three different steak rolls, one is a take on Philly Cheesesteak with peppers, onion and cheese loaded inside. The other is a simpler vegetable filling. And another loaded with pepper jack and fresh jalapenos. Seasoning the meat is key and Jeremy has it down just right. I can't WAIT to get all the delicious details and share this with you.

So here we go.........

Bacon Swiss Steak Roll

flank steak, flat iron, or sirloin- you will need a large piece of meat you can roll
pepper jack cheese (or whatever cheese you like)
green pepper
jalapeno pepper
seasonings as desired

Ok, here is how Jeremy made his meaty rolls of delish.

Start out but smoothing the meat out on your work surface. Depending on the cut of meat you may want to or need to use a meat tenderizer to pound it out to about 1/4 inch thickness.

Season the meat. Jeremy used seasoned salt, garlic powder and steak seasoning.

On top of the meat, lay out your ingredients- He made 3 separate rolls, on jalapeno and pepper jack cheese, one "Philly Cheese Steak" and one with just the veggies and no cheese.

Carefully roll the meat tightly and secure with baking twine. Place on rack in roasting pan and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.

White the meat is roasting, make your bacon basket weave.

It's easy to do on a sheet of foil so you can roll it up easier.  Remove the meat from the oven, remove the twine and roll each roll in the bacon weave, wrapping tightly with foil, and return to oven for 35 minutes.

Remove from oven, unwrap meat and place back on rack.

Run under the broiler for several minutes to crisp up the bacon. Let the meat rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing.

Jeremy has a large family so he made three rolls. This recipe is so easy to adjust up or down to your needs and tastes. You can stuff the rolls with any combination of cheese or no cheese, veggies of all kinds, there is no limit !!!!

Next weekend the World Food Festival is on again, and as is tradition, my nephew and I will be there, and later sharing the experience with you!