Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It's my steak, I can call it what I want !

Another cold Iowa night, and another excellent reason to break out the Le Creuset dutch oven and experiment. A quick mental inventory of some of the foods on hand, things I'd canned, what I needed to grab at the store and an idea is born.

But first, a little trip to Italy. As I have said before, my mother was born and raised in Germany, and growing up and as a young adult I've spent quite a lot of time in Europe. One of the most beautiful places I've visited is the largest lake in Italy, halfway between Milan and Venice, carved by glaciers in the Alps, the stunning Lago di Garda. 

The northernmost part of the lake is surrounded by the Gruppo del Baldo mountains. The lake has many small islands and five main ones. The lake is fed by the Sarca River, and it's outlet is the Mincio River.

Why am I telling you all of this? Well......because I can! And I am pretending to be Mario Batali because he knows EVERYTHING about the region from which he is cooking. Besides, I have plenty to talk about later when we get to the food.

Another interesting fact about this region is the mild climate. A lot of Mediterranean plants grow there that are extremely rare at the lake's altitude, like olive trees and even citrus in some areas. Tourism in this region is a booming business and if you ever get the chance to go, you'll fall in love.

So the point really has nothing to do with my recipe, other than it's Italian influenced flavors and it's very clever (I think so anyway) name: Steako di Garda. Hahahahahaha I crack myself up sometimes.

Now, let's get to the food.

Ready to go in the oven.

For this recipe you're going to need some pretty simple items. Steak- I chose lean round steak because I am going to slowly braise it but you can use any cut of steak you like that holds up to low and slow cooking. A medium bell pepper. I went with green because I needed the color, but use what you like or have on hand. Half an onion, sliced- and DON'T be one of those sillyheads who fall for that internet malarchy that saving half an onion makes it poisonous. That's a bunch of hooey. Save your other half for something else. A couple garlic cloves, sliced, and you're ready for that part.

You will also need about 2 cups of Italian seasoned tomatoes. I used some from my garden that I had cut up,tossed with Italian seasoning and froze in portions in freezer bags. You can use canned, home canned or store bought, or cut up enough fresh tomatoes to make about 2 cups and add some Italian seasoning. I also used a pint jar that I had canned containing cut up tomatoes, summer squash and zucchini. You can either use more tomatoes or skip it, or add fresh- whatever you have on hand.

I like to cook with as little mess as possible so when I opened my package of steak I flipped the plastic off and set the meat on the plastic and added about 1/2 cup of flour to the other half of the meat package. Disposable dredging station!

Start by heating a couple tablespoons of oil in a dutch oven. Add the sliced vegetables and let them sweat down a bit. Then scoot them to one side and begin searing the steak pieces. Add additional oil if needed.

As you finish them, pile them on the veggies so you don't need to dirty another plate. Once all the steak pieces (I had 4) are seared, spread the steak and peppers out in the pot, add the tomato mixture(s), a tablespoon or two of beef base or red wine if you have it, give it a quick mix, cover, and put in a 325 for a couple hours. The squash will probably break down but that's ok. This leaves a luscious flavorful broth.

I served the steak with hot buttered gemelli and crusty bread. 

Steako di Garda!!!

******Note:Pictures of Lago di Gardo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Table for Two- Mexican Posole

I promised myself I would do it. I am going to cook my way through Table for Two- Back for Seconds. And I am soooo happy with my kickoff choice !!

Since we live in a small town, with a very small grocery store, we often get stuck in a food rut. I am always looking for something new to liven up the menu around the house. And as many of us know, cooking for two, and sometimes just me, can be a challenge. And then along came Warren Caterson's new cookbook. Things just got real interesting around here!! Mentally going over what was in my cupboard, I finally decided on Mexican Posole, a super easy to fix soup that looked very intriguing. For one thing, it uses salsa verde, which I had just canned a batch of and was looking for ways to use it, and it has cilantro as an ingredient. I am learning to embrace cilantro by MAKING myself eat it enough.

So Sunday arrives, and it's usually my day to cook, as my Chef is enjoying his weekend away from the kitchen. I assemble my ingredients, cook my chicken breasts in the oven, chop up the cilantro, and get everything ready. 

If I said this was a SUPER easy recipe for a weeknight dinner, I would NOT be lying. It comes together so quickly!! If I had precooked or leftover chicken I literally would have had dinner on the table in 15 minutes.

So I artfully arrange my ingredients on the board to take a picture, get that done, assemble the soup, dish up a bowl for Joe and a bowl for a photo and he says.........something's missing. Oh my....... I forgot to add the ONE INGREDIENT I was most excited to use !!! Back into the pot, add the SALSA VERDE and heat it back up.

Now we're talking!! This is perfection in a bowl. Delicious flavorful broth, the right amount of heat (for us- I made my own salsa verde but you can use whatever brand/heat level you like) and tons of meaty chunks of chicken and hominy- if you're not familiar with hominy- get some!! It's delicious !! And the cilantro? It's perfect !! The perfect amount of freshness, not the soapy taste I often get from cilantro. I'm learning to love this stuff !

Sadly, I am not going to share the recipe for you. You NEED TO buy this cookbook!!!! You can get your copy by clicking here. You will love it- I promise.

Now I can't wait to pick out my next recipe to make !! 

Friday, November 15, 2013

First Look: Table for Two, Back for Seconds

I love cookbooks. There, I said it. I admitted it, in a rehab sort of way. I love cookbooks. I collect cookbooks. I hoard them. But like other people read best sellers, I read them. Cover to cover, page after page, ingredient list after ingredient list.

Some 400 plus cookbooks make up my collection. Some of them are old church cookbooks and some are the latest musings of the hottest celebrity chefs. Fundraising cookbooks, Better Homes and Gardens, heck I even have Julia Child's epic tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

There is a point to this story......I'm getting there. A while back I happened to "meet" a very interesting gentleman on Facebook along my blogging and Facebook page journey, the very talented and down to earth Chef Warren Caterson. The more we chatted the more I became interested in his cooking story. Among his many endeavors in his professional life, writing cookbooks happens to be one of them. Lucky for me !!!

Just the other day I opened my mailbox and voila! A copy of his latest book, Table for Two, Back for Seconds, was hiding in there! Autographed even! I felt like a little kid on Christmas. 

So now I have the book, it's time to do some reading. And cooking! Talking with Warren the other evening I tossed around the idea of cooking through the book, every recipe, just like Julie in the movie Julie and Julia. I think that's exactly what I am going to do. Not page by page of course, I'm going to mix it up, starting with Mexican Posole Soup. Why start there? One of the ingredients is salsa verde, and I just happened to have canned a batch. Second on the list, the Arroz Con Pollo.

The best thing about the recipes in Warren's book is the real-life ability to prepare these dishes. Now I have Mario Batali's books and there are ingredients in some recipes I have never seen, or even heard of- and I have lived, cooked and dined all over the world. From the humble Grilled Cheese for Grownups to Beef Wellington, everything is crafted in a way anyone who can READ can make these fabulous dishes. The ingredients are all readily available and most importantly- affordable.

This weekend, I am going to immerse myself in this book and cook up a storm. Why? Because I can!

You can get your own copy of this must-have cookbook, which is great for empty-nesters like me, newlyweds and even single people who might want to have a guest over for dinner, as well as Warren's first cookbook, Table for Two, by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Looking back on Summer and Autumn 2013

What a wild ride !!!

My grandson, enjoying the warm autumn sunshine at the pumpkin patch.

Our spring started off with a wonderful early warm spring, with plenty of rain and hopes of an early gardening season. Hopes are often dashed, as was the case in 2013. A May snowstorm wiped out all my early baby garden plants, darnit, and forced a do-over.

Crazy snow followed by more rain, some flooding and then a typical Iowa summer. Heat and humidity, wilty plants and not enough rain when we need it- same old story.

This year we again went with an all-container garden but scaled way way back on plants. Just a few cherry tomatoes and herbs. We planned on relying on Hilltop Farms for our canning tomatoes and again this summer we were able to pick hundreds of pounds of tomatoes. 

The last day of picking tomatoes, and all the free apples we could pick- LOTS to do!
This was also a first time for me as a vendor at the local farmers market. Not the best experience overall, and likely not one I will repeat in the future. But I can never say never.

My qwest for wild plums hit the jackpot this year! I was able to find loads and loads of trees, and had a big bowlful before I decided they were not worth the effort. We also found a giant pear tree in the middle of nowhere and picked fresh pears by the bucketful, canned some and ate some fresh. I also gathered walnuts fallen from our trees, and well..... we'll see if I really get around to cracking them.

The generosity of small town people was evident this year as well. We were invited by friends in the nearby town to pick as many apples as we wanted- and they had many amazing fruit trees. Granny Smiths, Golden Delicious and a red apple a lot like Red Delicious but a very deep red, almost purple. Soooooo delicious and FREE. Our cupboards are filled with canned apple slices, applesauce and caramel apple butter, as well as dried apple chips. Apples fill the freezer as well, and we still have boxes left.

I mentioned Hilltop Farms earlier. This family farm is my favorite place on earth. It's a pick your own produce farm with a veggie stand for those who don't want or can't pick their own. In the summer we bought tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers for pickles at amazingly low prices, but the real spirit of generosity shows in these amazing Christian people by their offer of a Free Pick Day the day before the first killing frost. That day came with cold wind and colder rain but it didn't keep me from the field. A few ripe tomatoes remained but I picked many bags of green tomatoes knowing they would ripen later, and could be used green in some recipes. Their generosity will help feed us over the winter months.

It wouldn't be autumn in Iowa without a visit to a pumpkin patch. Most of the pumpkin patches here are also apple orchards so while I didn't get any apples, I spent the day with my daughter, son in law, and grandson, wandering the pumpkin fields. 

Pumpkins of all kinds are planted as far as the eye can see. All sizes, all colors, some vines still covered in blossoms.

Another part of the field is covered in many different gourds and squash vines. The gourd blossoms were so different from the pumpkin blossoms!

My grandson helped me pick out several interesting gourds for decoration and the perfect pumpkin, which wasn't carved into a jack-o-lantern, but will be dehydrated and ground into flour for use in a super secret recipe that's in the works (you'll have to stay tuned for that!).

And now, after we have had our first snowfall, and as Thanksgiving approaches, most of the produce has been preserved, it's time to be thankful for the things we too often take for granted- friends, family, and farmers. Spring will be here before we know it, and we do it all again!