Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Simple Sides-Big Flavors

Some people consider root vegetables to be among the "ugly vegetables"- you know the ones, your kids won't eat them. Your husband makes gaggy faces. You have nightmares of a grandmother mashing rutabagas and serving that. Yuck. I have long since gotten over my horror at the thought of turnips, beets and parsnips, although rutabaga is still on my Too Gross Too Eat List. I found the way to make these vegetables into something absolutely delicious! No more beet cubes from a tin can or mushy turnips boiled in water all day. Heck no. The oven is the secret ingredient in this simple side.

I will never forget the first time I read about roasting vegetables. I couldn't wait to try it! Brussels sprouts became magical little balls of love. Carrots, squash and sweet potatoes took on an almost dessert-like sweetness. Oh man, whoever decided to be the first one to roast a vegetable definitely is a super hero in my book. Of course over the years now I have roasted just about every form of plant except iceberg lettuce (and I have not ruled that out for some future experimentation), from asparagus to tomatoes to green beans, and root vegetables, in my opinion, are by far the best vegetables for roasting. Potatoes are a given- cut those babies up if they're big, toss with some olive oil and seasonings and roast until browned and crispy. Wedges are great for dipping, hunks are perfect next to a big juicy steak.  Make a potato salad from roasted potatoes and you'll have a whole new experience.

But today, it's all about carrots and parsnips. I love parsnips. They were very popular back when I lived in England and readily available year round. They look like carrots except they are creamy white. They taste herby and fresh- reminds me of celery in a way. They go together with carrots so well that I decided tonight's very simple side was just that- roasted carrots and parsnips. Finished with thyme and a little sea salt, they are the perfect accompaniment to almost anything and are especially delicious with holiday turkeys.

To make this super simple side, you will need-
  • 1 pound parsnips
  • 1 pound carrots
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Choose fresh and firm parsnips that have no roots growing out the sides (a sign they are old and may be woody), no growth from the top (most parsnips are trimmed at the top) and aren't slimy or soft. Carrots are pretty much the same- bright orange color and no flaky, chalky appearance. They should be crisp ad firm.

Peel the parsnips and carrots. Cut the parsnips in half lengthwise; quarter any really large ones. The carrots I had were about twice the length of the parsnips so I peeled them, then cut in half lengthwise, then crosswise so they'd be about the same size. Place in a large bowl, drizzle with the oil, sprinkle seasonings over and toss with your hands.

Spread the vegetables out onto a greased baking sheet in a single layer and place in a 425 degree oven. It takes about half an hour to roast them to a caramelized perfect roastiness, you can stir them halfway through if you like. Remove from baking sheet and serve. That's it! Super simple. The roasting brings out a sweetness in root vegetables that you just have to experience. Leftover veggies can be chopped up and added to salads, casseroles, soups or omelets. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Dragging home the skeletal remains again

Usually I'm hauling home the turkey carcass. Or a big pile of beef bones. This time however, it's a nice big monster of a ham bone from the middle of the spiral sliced ham lovingly prepared by my son in law for Christmas Day dinner. Yep, as I have said before, I am THAT relative, the one who asks "are you gonna save those bones?" as I'm getting ready to head home.

A lot of my canning friends make and can ham stock. I don't really use all that much ham stock. Generally speaking I make one pot of stock after a holiday, which evolves into one big pot of ham and beans and then leftovers get frozen in individual portions for lunches and solo dinners. So while it's not something I make gallons of, I do like to make one big stockpot full. Making the ham stock is easy- throw the bone and any meat clinging to is in a large pot. Cover with cold water. Add seasonings- I used a chopped onion, 4 cloves chopped garlic, 3 bay leaves, a palm full of whatever herbs on my shelf looked good to me- thyme, parsley, basil, marjoram, and a couple big grinds of pepper. Lay off on the salt at this point- ham is salty and you can always add more later but you cannot remove it if you oversalt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for several hours. After a while prop the lid open a little to let the stock reduce slightly- it intensifies the flavor.

Remove the ham bone and set aside to cool. Pop that pot of stock in the fridge overnight (strain it if you like) to let the fat harden on the top. Scoop that off and discard the next day. When your ham bone is cool enough to handle, cut off any remaining meat and throw it back in the stock. I don't strain my stock. I will fish out the bay leaves if I can but I don't freak out over them. Lots of meaty bits come off that bone during simmering and I want that to stay in my soup. Add the meat you've cut off the bones back to the stock in the pot. Now you can either continue on with your soup or divide the broth into freezer containers and freeze (you CAN process in a pressure canner and jars but I never make a big enough batch to bother with that).

I am continuing on with my soup today, so I have also soaked one and a half pounds dried beans. I used a mix of navy beans and pinto beans, roughly half and half. I always prefer to soak beans overnight versus the quick soak method, I think the beans are more tender and cook without falling apart as much. Drain the beans and rinse. Add to the ham stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat and cover, simmering until the beans are tender which can be a while depending on your beans. Expect about an hour, and sometimes two. 

During the last 45 minutes or so of cooking I sometimes add chopped carrots and sometimes diced potatoes. I had no carrots on hand but I did dice up a couple small potatoes and added those. They thicken up the broth and really bulk up the soup. Served with hot and buttery cornbread, crusty rolls or breadsticks this is the perfect winter meal and provides plenty of leftovers. Today I had half a round loaf of Italian bread to use up so I cut it into "pull apart" bread, sprinkled with some shredded Parmesan cheese and drizzled liberally with a mixture of melted butter, crushed garlic and herbs. Pop into the oven at 375 until browned and toasty and serve with the soup. So so good! The soup was the perfect dinner on an evening that includes a winter storm warning, with heavy snowfall, ice and howling winds in our future. Even the Chef, the self-proclaimed Soup Master, had compliments for the cook. The only person who was somewhat dissatisfied was Louie.....no ham bones for him!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Dinner at Mom's- Carbonara and Kale

Kale is still king. King of the salad bowl anyway. This green leafy superfood that was once the culinary buzzword of the moment is still hanging on as a favorite for diners everywhere. In many ways, kale is the new spinach! This salad plays off the old 70s classic- warm spinach salad- which was often prepared tableside and with a lot of theatrics. No need for all that nonsense anymore. 

Whenever I have my family over for dinner it has got to be special. They have come to expect something quiet special when Mom cooks. It's my own fault, but it's also something I really love doing, and makes me very very happy. On this particular occasion, my middle child is coming for dinner. Laurie, if you remember from THIS blog post, is a busy restaurant manager and has days off that aren't compatible with most of us weekend people. It's a rare treat to get to spend time with her. She called me a few days ago and said "Mooooooother you need to make me homemade spaghetti tonight" and while we couldn't make that day work, we did plan for tonight. Whatever I want to cook, she said, she will eat it. Now I just need to plan a menu! One of Laurie's favorite dishes growing up was Spaghetti alla Carbonara- the real authentic recipe with raw eggs, butter and cream, and to be honest, it's so fast and easy I was more than happy to make it. 

Like I said this recipe is a spin-off of that 70s classic, warm spinach salad. No need for a fancy dressing and a lot of fuss- it all comes together in a skillet and bowl and the vinegar and a little bacon fat make the best dressing to coat those hearty leaves. I won't bore you with another lecture on the health benefits of kale, just take my word for it- this stuff is good for you. So let's have dinner and then we will talk more about Laurie, my middle child.

Warm Bacon and Kale Salad

1 large bunch kale
6 slices bacon
good Balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup sliced almonds
Parmesan cheese (a hunk for shaving)

In a heavy skillet (cast iron is great) toast the almonds over medium low heat until golden brown. Remove to a plate to cool. 

Wash the kale thoroughly, shaking to dry. Strip the leaves off the center stem and tear into bite sized pieces. Set aside.

Cut the bacon into half inch pieces. Place in the skillet and cook until brown and crispy. Remove to a paper towel to drain. Pour off about half of the bacon fat then add the kale. Cook, turning with tongs just until the kale brightens. Remove to a bowl. Sprinkle with the bacon pieces and a sprinkle of salt. Drizzle with Balsamic vinegar to taste. Toss. Pour salad onto a serving platter; sprinkle with the almonds and shaved Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

Like I said Laurie often requested Carbonara growing up. Luckily I grew up in an all-Italian neighborhood and got to spend time in Italy experiencing real Italian food, not the Americanized sanitized and processed versions, and old style Carbonara is one of those dishes. Here is how to make this classic-

4 eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup half and half, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, cut up, room temperature
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
6-8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 small onion
2 garlic cloves
pinch of red pepper flakes
freshly minced parsley
1 lb thin spaghetti

Begin by combining the eggs, half and half, butter and parm in a large bowl. Set aside.

In a skillet cook the bacon until crisp, remove and drain; reserve a tablespoon of the fat. Add the onion and cook 2-3 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and cook one minute. Remove to a small plate and spread out to cool slightly.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Mix the bacon and onions into the egg mixture. Cook the pasta until al dente, then drain and immediately add to egg mixture, tossing to coat the pasta. The heat cooks the eggs. Toss in the parsley and serve immediately.

Before adding the pasta. The heat melts the butter and
cooks the eggs
Laurie arrived promptly at 7 pm for her special dinner at mom's house and invited a friend of hers to join. Knowing me well, they arrived with a fantastic bottle of ten year old Cabernet and we had a wonderful time eating, talking, laughing and drinking wine. Laurie has been working her way up in the restaurant scene in Des Moines for several years and has gained so much knowledge in many areas- the behind-the-scenes, the food, the customer service, managing staff and developing quite an appreciation for good food and good libations. Keep an eye on this girl. She is going places!

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Cooking Basics- Mastering Beef Stock

Every good cook knows, you have to have the basics down before you can really shine in the kitchen. The basics are simple enough to master- pastry, knife skills, sauces, cooking methods and stocks. While they can seem a bit intimidating at first, you will soon see just how easily you can master them. Today we have a special Guest Cook walking us through the stock-making process so you can get a step by step look at how to make your own. 

I met Rhonda Graham in an online canning group. Like me, she knows what a huge difference homemade stock makes in your cooking. No preservatives, no overly salty fake flavors, just amazing flavors coaxed from slow-roasted and long-simmered bones and aromatic vegetables and herbs. Several other members of the canning group had asked for advice on stock-making and Rhonda stepped up to the plate, not only walking them step-by-step, but sharing pictures so the "students" knew exactly what to look for throughout the process. Both Rhonda and I recommend that you read through this post before starting out. Make sure you have everything you need before you start- bones, veggies, herbs, and away to store the finished stock. We will cover both canning and freezing.

And now, I am turning the blog over to Rhonda........

Stock is the single most effective tool a cook has to impart flavor into a dish. It's the oomph that takes an ordinary dish and makes it extraordinary, like French Onion Soup, for example. From such humble ingredients as bones, onions, bread and cheese, I cannot imagine a more incredibly satisfying dish. 

There are just as many ways to make beef stock as there are cooks in the world, and there is no right or wrong recipe. I started making stock after watching The Frugal Gourmet, Jeff Smith's Chicago-based cooking show on PBS many years ago. His advice was just make it, an no matter what recipe you use, that cup of stock will add more flavor than anything you can buy. He also advised to never even think of using a bouillon cube-  "They are nothing but salt."

Where do you get the bones?

Good beef stock should taste like beef. Since beef bones have less collagen than chicken bones, you need more beef bones to get that same rich mouthfeel that chicken stock has. Use whatever kind of bones you can get. You can usually find bare rendering bones at Asian markets, in the frozen section. If you use those, make sure to also get some meaty bones too. The more meat clinging to them the better. Knuckle bones, shank, shoulder and neck bones are preferred for stock, and you can always save up bones in the freezer until you have enough to do stock.

City Girl's Note: Rhonda recommends some great sources for bones- the Asian market, butcher shops, meat processing facilities. Depending on where you live, you may have different sources- for example where I live there is a small meat locker in a nearby town. I get bones for free there. Shop and call around before you spend much on stock bones- you might be able to score some freebies.

Choosing vegetables for your stock.

Everyone uses different vegetables, but most agree on onions, celery and carrots. Many recipes suggest using leeks, but they can be cost-prohibitive, so I never use them. Some cooks add turnips, use them if you like. Onions are the most critical ingredient, in my opinion. Julia Child and Jaques Pepin always studded the onion with a couple of whole cloves. I personally like to add a little tomato paste. It really enhances the beef taste and adds richness.

Choosing your seasonings

Rhonda's note- Seasonings are not added until after the roasting and we are ready to simmer. Just get them ready and set aside for later.

Many traditional recipes call for a bouquet garni or herb bouquet, basically a few parsley sprigs, thyme sprigs, a bay leaf or two and some whole peppercorns. Don't add salt, you want a stock that is as versatile as possible. In some recipes you will be reducing the stock, and if it's been salted- you will have a very salty reduction.

Add a sprig of thyme, some parsley, bay leaves and black
peppercorns to help flavor the stock.
Garlic is optional. I don't add it but many people do. Since I consider stock as a building block for future dishes, and I don't add garlic to every dish, I just choose to leave it out. Julia Child adds a couple of cloves, smashed, to her stock recipe. Some chefs use the entire unpeeled head of garlic, cut in half crosswise. Again, the choice is yours.

Getting everything ready for stock

Here are the bones we'll be using. I didn't have room in the fridge, so the bones were kept on ice overnight in a cooler. Rinse them off well and dry them. If they are wet they won't brown properly in the oven and you won't have that nice deep color. If desired, you can rub the dry bones with a little olive oil, as chef Hubert Keller recommends. Julia and Jaques do not and I don't either. They will give off fat during the roasting period anyway. After roasting, the bones should be deeply browned. Like searing a roast or a steak, browning is your one chance to get good color in the stock. 

Oxtail and beef soup bones make nice "meaty" additions
Arrange the bones in a roasting pan in a single layer, and don't pack them tightly. If you don't leave room in the pan they will just steam and not brown. You may have to roast in more than one pan or in batches. Roast in a 400 degree oven for an hour to and hour and a half, turning the bones occasionally. You want very well-browned bones but not burned. When you start the bones roasting, this is the time to prep the vegetables. Now, traditionally cooks did not peel any of the vegetables. Since I plan to pressure can my vegetables, I want to make sure I leave bacteria no hiding places so I peel all vegetables. Chop roughly into 2 inch chunks and pieces. Onions can be halved or quartered. Halfway into the cooking time, add the chopped vegetables and this is also when I like to spread the tomato paste on some of the bones. I usually use about half of a 6 ounce can, or a couple tablespoons.

Bones, partially roasted, vegetables and a bit of tomato
paste for richness- ready to go back in the oven

The bones have a beautiful caramelization and look at how
the tomato paste roasted onto the bones, sweet  and rich.

Adding wine or vinegar to the stock

Many cooks use wine to deglaze the stock pots and add that to the stock. I don't add wine. If I'm making a sauce I'll add the wine then. Some people like to add vinegar too- just a tablespoon or two. Again, I do not, but you have that option.

You definitely want to deglaze, even if just with water. There
is so much flavor concentrated on the bottom of the pan that
you don't want to leave behind.
Transfer meat and vegetables to a stockpot. Deglaze roasting pan and add that liquid with the browned bits from the pan to the pot. Cover bones and vegetables with cold water and bring pot to a low simmer. You will start to see scum forming on the top. Skim it off as it accumulates. It will eventually stop.

Once the scum has stopped forming is the point when I add my seasonings- the bouquet garni. You can use a cheesecloth bag or square (tied up), a tea ball or just throw it in. This is why I wait until the skimming part is pretty much over- so any loose aromatics don't get skimmed out. Let the stock simmer, NOT BOIL, at least 12 hours or overnight. You don't have to cover, but if you do, leave the lid ajar a bit.

Add your aromatics now that the skimming is done.
Now that Rhonda has walked you through making stock, we want a way to store it. You have a couple different options here. For shelf-stable storage that doesn't take up valuable freezer space, you can pressure can your stock, and if you don't have a canner or don't want to can it, you can freeze it.

First we are going to strain our stock. Remove as much of the big stuff as you can- bones, vegetable pieces, etc. Line a colander with cheesecloth and place over a large bowl or clean stockpot. Pour in the stock and allow it to drain and drip through.

We also want to remove the excess fat, so pop the stock into the fridge for several hours or overnight. Scoop off the cooled fat and discard. If you are going to freeze your stock, you can just ladle or spoon it into freezer containers, label, date and pop in the freezer. If you want to can the stock you must have a pressure canner. Prepare your jars and lids. Reheat the stock to boiling, ladle into hot jars, seal and process at the correct weight for your altitude for 20 minutes for pints, 25 for quarts. Complete canning instructions can be found HERE

Now you are a stock master! You'll never look at bones the same again, and you also have the base for loads of great meals in the future- soups, roasts, gravies, sauces and braises. 

Friday, December 25, 2015

Braising, chicken, and a nest of herbs.

Getting to know my friend Wini has been a wonderful experience. For many years she was the Datebook Diner, the local restaurant critic writing for the Des Moines Register. I had no idea she had so many incredible experiences in France and spent time in the cookbook/writing business. You may know Des Moines is also home to the Better Homes and Gardens company of magazines, cookbooks and more. Wini has also worked there and that's surely where she developed her easy-to-follow recipes and wonderful stories that accompany them. Her cookbook, The Chez Bonne Femme Cookbook, is a wonderful collection of recipes, stories, tips and techniques that pulled me along with Wini on her French adventures as I read it cover to cover. I could close my eyes and envision her, sitting down to dinner with the French families she visited, or cooking in her own French kitchen when she lived there. That's the life I always wanted, and still hope for. Wini still writes, blogs, teaches and appears on a local morning news show. Even if you aren't an Iowan, follow her Facebook page- you will get tons of recipes, ideas, links to videos, and exclusive news.

Lots of people are scared to death to try French cooking. They have a fear of endless and pricey ingredient lists, difficult techniques and expensive equipment. The Chez Bonne Femme Cookbook made us all realize the French home cook is just like us- they just want dinner on the table with a minimum of fuss. Her book, The Braiser Cookbook, is a book every cook needs to own. It reinforces the ease with with French cooks get dinner on the table, this time accentuating on the technique braising.

What is braising? Think of it as something like crock pot cooking without the crock pot. A braiser is a cooking vessel very similar to a Dutch oven, but they tend to have a larger cooking surface and not as deep. The secret to the perfect braise is the moist, steamy environment created while roasting in a closed braiser. Like a crock pot, the food is often cooked low and slow, but not always, which brings out a tenderness and a richness that is so incredible, and like those crock pot recipes, most of the work is at the beginning, then you let the oven and braiser work their magic.

The recipe we are cooking today is Chicken Cooked in a Nest of Thyme. Everything about this dish I love- heavenly roast chicken, lemony-scented thyme, garlic and lemon juice. Classic flavors for a perfect chicken dish. Let's see what Wini has to say about this dish-

This is the recipe of Alsatian-born chef David Baruthio. Although he has cooked from Belgium to Beverly Hills, he recently chose Iowa for his home after falling in love with an Iowa girl (and marrying her). Together, they run the acclaimed restaurant, Baru 66, in Des Moines.

We love this preparation for chicken. It calls for just five ingredients and a little salt but results in a luscious, moist bird with subtle and insistent aromas of lemon, garlic, and thyme.

We suggest making this recipe when you can visit your farmers market (or backyard herb garden) and bring home a generous bouquet of picked-that-morning thyme. 

Wini's chicken, as pictured in her book.
To make the Chicken in a Nest of Thyme, you will need-
  • 1 head garlic
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 whole chicken (3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 large bouquet of thyme (about 6 ounces or enough to create a "nest" in the bottom of your braiser
  • 2 lemons, washed and quartered
Cut off the top 1/2 inch of the garlic head to expose the gloves, reserving the "cap" you just cut off. Separate about 5 cloves from the head, leaving the rest intact. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Heat the olive oil in a 3 1/2 quart braiser over medium high heat until it shimmers. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the chicken and cook, turning as needed, until the chicken is golden brown on all sides.

Drain all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the skillet, reserve the drained fat. Add the cut garlic bulb, it's cap and the 5 separated cloves to the braiser. Let them brown a bit in the fat, about 5 minutes.

Remove the garlic from the pan. Add the thyme sprigs, scatter evenly to form a nest. 

Fresh thyme from my garden to make my nest
Place the chicken on top of this "nest" of thyme. Arrange the garlic cloves, cap and bulb around the chicken. Squeeze the juice from the lemons over the chicken. Arrange lemon around the chicken. Pour the reserved cooking fat over the chicken. Season with salt. Cover the braiser and place in preheated oven.

Bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Use a thermometer to double check doneness- thighs should be 180 degrees and breast, 170.

Allow chicken to rest ten minutes before carving into pieces to serve. Discard the lemon and thyme, but serve a few cloves of garlic on each plate. It's soft, warm and makes a delicious condiment spread on the chicken, crusty bread or vegetables.

Now, let's talk about how my dish turned out. For one thing, out here in our small town grocery store they had not a single whole chicken in the store. Nor even a whole cut up chicken. I had to use thighs and legs. Even the chicken breasts were boneless and skinless and just not the best choice for roasting. 

They had one, yes one and only one, fresh lemon so I had to use a little extra lemon juice. It's a darn good thing I have an herb garden! They have NO fresh herbs! The one benefit of using chicken pieces is it's so much easier to brown the chicken before braising. I was able to nestle the pieces down in the thyme nest too, and cooking time was a little less than a whole chicken. 

What I love so much about this recipe, besides the succulent roast chicken, is the delicious pan juices left behind. Drizzled over the chicken and vegetables, there is nothing more delicious. I added some homemade artisan bread and some herbed rice and we had the perfect dinner.

Wini's cookbook is filled with delicious and amazingly easy-to-prepare recipes. I hope you will check it out. It's available right now on Amazon, you can get yours by clicking HERE. You will not regret it.

You have nooooo idea how good this smells
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. All recipes, stories, photos were used with the permission of the author"

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Eat The World- Korma Curry

My excursion into Indian cooking continues and I must say, it is becoming quite rewarding. I've said before, my first experience with Indian cooking was at the Indian takeaway near my home in England years ago. Let's just say...... it was NOT a good experience. Ever since then I have shied away from those bold flavors, for sure I would hate everything I tried. Indian restaurants came and went in town and yet.... I could not be convinced to try them. It wasn't until the start of my blogging hobby that I decided to take the plunge again, and it's been worth the wait.

Even though I have a significant and maybe ridiculously huge collection of herbs and spices, most Indian and Middle Eastern spices were not part of the collection, mostly because of that fear of awful flavors. As I began to follow other bloggers and read the recipes they were sharing, and eventually purchasing my first Indian cookbook, I knew the time had come. I needed to brave up and start cooking. I already knew I would be buying a lot of new spices (and as you can imagine I was pretty torn up about that) to get authentic Indian flavor into my dishes. Buying curries and masalas and ajwain seeds and using some of those super hot peppers was inevitable. I did a lot of reading, a ton of research on recipes and started playing in the kitchen. 

Now authentic korma curry is made with a sauce based on pureed cashews, tomatoes, and coconut milk. Lots and lots and lots of spices. Very lengthy and lots of steps, and lots of utensils. I wanted to make this a lot easier so my version is not really "authentic." Mostly I wanted to avoid having to soak cashews for an extended period of time just to make the sauce. Luckily I found quite a few recipes that did not include this technique so my experimentation continued. I chose to use curry powder, garam masala and a dried hot pepper seasoning blend to prepare mine which meant I didn't have to have every Indian spice on hand and could use some of what I already had on hand. I also wanted to really kick up the heat in my korma too, and since I have such an awesome collection of hot peppers that was not hard to do. I added a healthy dose of Quick's Hot Spice in Blazzin' to my curry near the end of cooking and wow, what a punch! 

Korma Curry

1 package boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 small onion
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon curry powder*
1 teaspoon garam masala
dash of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup tomato puree or tomato sauce
1/4 cup coconut milk (use full fat for the creamy texture)
minced cilantro
coarsely chopped cashews, if desired

* Use hot or mild curry powder. My curry powder was mild so I added a healthy dose of Quick's Hot Spice in Blazzin'. CLICK HERE to get yours.

Dice the chicken breast into small pieces. Set aside. Cut the onion into medium chunks. Mince the garlic cloves.

Heat a couple tablespoons of cooking oil in a large skillet or wok. Add the chicken and onion. Stir fry until chicken is mostly cooked. Add the ginger and garlic. Stir one more minute. Add the spices to the chicken and stir until fragrant. Add the tomato puree and coconut milk. When mixture boils, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. Serve over hot cooked rice with the minced cilantro and cashews, if using.

Some cooks like to add cubed potato to the korma, I chose not to. I served the korma over coconut rice- which is super easy to make. For every 1 cup of uncooked rice, use one can coconut milk and enough water to make 2 1/4 cups liquid. Bring to boil, cover and reduce heat. Cook for ten minutes then turn off the heat and let rest while the curry cooks. 

This speedy version cooks up quickly and makes a great weeknight meal. It's the perfect amount for two and can be doubled for more servings.  Stir fried veggies make a nice accompaniment and of course, naan bread. Now that this can be considered a success.....it's time to move on to some of the more complicated recipes. I can't wait!!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Date Night- Jethro's

When you share your life with a professional chef you don't often get to enjoy a lot of weekend nights out for dinner like everyone else. Sunday nights are the closest thing to Saturday we have- it's his first day off and my last day off. This Sunday we decided to take advantage of a gift card I received as a thank you for participating in a special promotion hosted by the Iowa Pork Producers Association and head to Jethro's for some delicious grub.

If you are a fan of Man vs. Food, Jethro's might sound familiar to you! Adam Richman and crew were visiting the Des Moines area back in 2010 and he attempted (and failed!) the Adam Emmenecker Challenge (more on that later) at Jethro's Forest Avenue location in Des Moines. Locally owned, Jethro's now has five locations around Des Moines and some of the best barbeque around. Jethro's was also a sponsoring partner in the IPPA pork promotion and provided awesome gift packages for the bloggers who participated to give away to lucky readers.

We decided to visit the Jethro's in the suburb of Waukee, Jethro's Jambalaya- a barbeque powerhouse with a Cajun twist. The menu is impressive, appetizers, barbeque specialties, sandwiches, burgers, chicken- and a whole menu of Cajun dishes. We are big menu researching people, and always like to check out a restaurant online before we even head out the door, so we knew before we got there what we wanted- the famous tenderloin.

Waiting for our food to come out, which took just a few minutes, we were able to browse the fun wall displays- the Hall of Fame and Hall of Shame...... the results of the many attempts to defeat the Adam Emmenecker Challenge. The challenge was created to honor former Drake University basketball player Adam Emmenecker, who was a regular at the original Forest Avenue location, and includes all of his favorite foods on one plate: cheeseburger, bacon, smoked brisket, fried cheese curds, white cheddar cheese sauce, buffalo chicken tenders, pork tenderloin, a bun, spicy pickle AND a pound of waffle fries. You have 15 minutes to eat it.......

Only 3 have defeated the Challenge at this location

but has three walls of those who failed.

The restaurant has been featured in many magazines and newspapers including being one of the Top Ten Manliest Restaurants on Mens Health Magazine. Articles and covers are proudly displayed. It's fun and exciting to see a local business have such an impact.

Our tenderloins arrived and all I can say is- wow. Just wow. They are HUGE! I couldn't even see the plate! The Chef got down to business right away but I knew mine was going to be a two-meal event. Every table at Jethro's has all of their sauces on the table, so there is no way I am going to go with ketchup and mustard. I set the bun aside for now and just did the fork and knife thing, trying all the sauces. Each one was very different and unique. I found myself going back to the Traditional and the Thick and Sweet sauce. 

I could only manage the outer "rim" of my tenderloin and a handful of the yummy waffle fries before I had to give up. Not a bad thing- just means I have another meal tomorrow!

The Chef however.......he wasn't messing around. Empty plate club lifetime achievement member!

Though we didn't actually try any of the barbeque, we left full and happy, and we know we will be back. Lots of seating inside and out means a short wait if at all, and the Cajun menu bring a whole new dining option for us in the future. We can't wait to try it everything! Now that we're back in the city we have all the Jethro's locations to check out, including the soon-to-open Italian-theme Jethro's in nearby Altoona. I can't wait!!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 55: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising." A free giftcard was given to me as thank you for participation with the IPPA.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Holiday Baking Day

There is something special about the holidays. Family time, big dinners, lots of visiting friends and relatives, lots of opportunities for sharing treats. Baking and the holidays go hand in hand for many families and this year I'm jumping back into action after a several year hiatus from the annual big baking day. Now, my family is not huge like some, so any time I make a batch of more than one or two treats it's often too much. The Chef and I are the only ones here at our house and even if I shared with all the kids I would still have tons of treats left over so when my new friend Katie suggested we do a baking day together, I jumped at the chance! It's the perfect solution for both families- we can make more different treats and split everything so neither family is overloaded with goodies that will hang around until Easter.

Katie and I became friends at work, chatting over the peculiarities of life with a chef, among other things. The night shifts. Crazy schedules. Messy kitchens. Crabby days off. We completely understand each other and "get" what the other is going through. With the holiday craziness all around us Katie suggested we have the baking day- and it was just the ticket for this still-quite-grinchy baker who needed a little kick in the pants to get in the holiday spirit. Besides, who wouldn't love hanging out with a girlfriend, up to our elbows in cookie dough and melted chocolate?

Of course, it was very difficult muddling through the work week to get to Baking Day. Miserable commutes in the never-ending rain, blustery cold wind, gridlock and backed up traffic. Disgruntled clients, disgruntled employees, hour long phone calls and the usual stresses made it hard but those few spare minutes during the day to jot down a recipe, an ingredient to pick up, or an idea for a flavor combo kept us both focused on the fun ahead.

The Big Day finally arrives! What did we decide to make? Lots of yummy things, of course. Peanut clusters with both white chocolate and one with milk chocolate and butterscotch morsels together. Pretzel goodies- some with white chocolate and m&ms, sprinkles, some with candy cane kisses and some with Rolo and walnut pieces. Fudge with walnuts, with and without sprinkles. Santa's Whiskers- a cookie that I have made for many years, and of course, cut out sugar cookies.

We had loads of help from Katie's three older boys Ben, Jeremiah and Elijah, and their friend Dawson. The boys had fun spooning out the peanut clusters, unwrapping the candies for the pretzel treats, filling baking sheets with pretzels,and of course, cutting out cookies like old pros.

Katie helps Dawson and Elijah scoop out the peanut clusters.
Now I have to be honest about something- we DID use a cookie mix for the sugar cookies instead of making this dough from scratch. I'll just say I am forever sold. The mix required just butter, an egg and a couple tablespoons of extra flour and the best part- no chilling before rolling, so we were able to get the boys busy cutting out the cookies before too long.

We started our day-long baking adventure with a trip to the store to grab the ingredients we didn't already have on hand. Just for fun, we piled it all together to get an idea of the enormity of what we have taken on, but I am determined to shake off my old grinchy attitude and get back in the holiday spirit and Katie has been a great cheerleader in that regard. To keep us fueled through the long day Katie even made a big crock pot full of barbequed pulled pork so we could have sandwich breaks and keep our energy up (and also to stave off treat snacking throughout the day).

The boys did a great job!
The first task of the day was the two kinds of peanut clusters. Super easy to prepare, simply melt your choice of chocolate and stir in dry roasted peanuts until you have the right consistency for your taste. Chocolate chips or candy melts are a snap to melt in the microwave but you can use a double boiler if you prefer. Spoon out onto waxed paper and chill. Katie got the chocolates melted, the nuts stirred in, and then set the younger boys up with a table covered in paper to spoon the clusters onto. They did a great job! The white chocolate clusters are so decadent and the chocolate butterscotch ones remind me of an old family favorite, Kris Kringles. I might have to make those now.

While the boys worked on the clusters I whipped up the recipe for Santa's Whiskers, since that needs to go in the freezer to firm up before baking. Katie's Kitchenaid made quick work of the dough, and the rolls were in the freezer in just a few minutes. There is a little back story about the Santa's Whiskers. I first came across it in a Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book from the early 1980s. Similar to a sugar cookie dough, Santas Whiskers are loaded with sweet cherries and crunchy pecans and edged with toasty coconut- the whiskers. So colorful and festive they are sure to be a hit at your home- they have been a favorite at my house for many many years.

Santas Whiskers

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 tb milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
3 ounces red candied cherries, chopped
3 ounces green candied cherries, chopped
1/2 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup flaked coconut

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add milk and vanilla. Beat in the flour in three batches. Stir in the cherries and pecans. Divide the dough in half. Set aside.

Spread the coconut on a clean baking sheet. Form each half of dough into a log and roll in the coconut until coated. Wrap with plastic wrap and chill for 2 to 24 hours.

When ready to bake, heat oven to 375 degrees. Slice dough into 1/4 inch rounds. Bake until the edges just start to turn golden, about 10-12 minutes. Allow the cookies to cool slightly on the sheet before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Teenage boys come in handy when you have numerous tasks to get through. While The Grinch played in the background Jeremiah and Ben helped out by peeling the wrapper off the Rolos and Hershey Kisses, lining baking trays with foil and pretzel circles, and helping with the centers. They had fun and their help was a lifesaver!

Ben and Jeremiah unwrapping candies.
If you haven't ever had these pretzel treats you need to check them out. Simply place the pretzels on foil on a baking sheet and fill with unwrapped Rolo candies or Kisses- pop in a 350 degree oven for just a couple minutes until melted- watch carefully!

Katie also made pretzel circles filled with melted almond bark and topped with m&m candies or sprinkles. Again, super easy- break up the almond bark, place in a gallon size zipper bag and microwave in 30 second increments until melted. Snip off the corner of the bag and fill the centers.

Growing up my mom never made fudge. She never made candy at all. My grandmother made all kinds of Christmas goodies but I don't remember her ever making fudge either. It wasn't until I married that my mother in law introduced me to fudge. Now she was old school- she made it the old fashioned way with sugar and butter, lots of boiling and used a candy thermometer. Then she'd beat it by hand with a wooden spoon just until the exact second before pouring into the pan as quickly as possible. That stuff sets in seconds! Many a failed batch got thrown out in my kitchen. Many years later I came across a recipe in a magazine that changed fudge for me forever.

The Easiest Fudge in the World

3 cups chocolate chips
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts

Line an 8 inch square pan with waxed paper. In a medium bowl combine all ingredients except the nuts. Microwave until melted, stirring every 30 seconds. When melted and smooth stir in nuts. Spread in prepared pan. Chill at least two hours. Remove from pan and cut into squares. *Hint- the fudge is easier to cut if you let it warm up to room temp. 

This recipe is so awesome, you can use any flavor baking chips to make different flavors of fudge to suit your family's likes. We decorated one batch with sprinkles just for fun.

When it comes to Christmas baking most people would agree that rolled and cut out sugar cookies are the most popular Christmas cookie. Cut into favorite shapes and decorated simply or elaborately they are the art of almost everyone's holiday treat platter. For years I used the BH&G recipe for rolled sugar cookies but this year Katie convinced me to try a mix. Now.......I'm totally sold. So easy, so fast, no chilling before rolling. You just can't get any easier.

It's more fun when there is flour everywhere.
Mixing the dough was a snap, and then it was time to roll it out and turn the boys loose with the cookie cutters. Stars, wreaths, Santas, angels, trees, bells......sheet after sheet of cookies went into the oven and came out golden brown and perfect. I had a blast with these boys, rolling, cutting and singing along to Linkin Park, Seether and Slipknot- yes, we were rockin' Katie's kitchen.

The best cookies of all are the ones with the little
imperfections when kids are helping.
All cooled and ready to go, but Katie and I had reached the end of our energy level for the day. By unanimous decision we agreed to hold off the decorating til the next day, so we packed up our shares of the treats and I made my way home, exhausted and full of awesome memories. The next day I took it easy on myself- I made a simple powdered sugar drizzle and decorated with sprinkles. Done!

I'm taking it easy this morning.

Katie and her boys' cookies are quite a bit fancier!!
The holidays really are a time for fellowship and making memories. I am so thankful for my new friend and her awesome sons for making a wonderful holiday memory with me. I hope we continue this tradition for a very long time to come.