Friday, July 30, 2010

Strawberry Lemon Marmalade

The gals over at the blog Doris And Jilly Cook have a recipe for Strawberry Lemon Marmalade that a friend of mine recently made and raved about, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

I've only begun canning and preserving in the past month or so, and had never before made jam or jelly. I love strawberries and lemons, and this time of year is perfect for tasty and inexpensive berries from my local grocery store, so I thought I'd have a go.

Sterilized half-pint jars. The recipe said it makes 4-5 half pints; I wound up with six. Thankfully I prepared an extra when I saw the quantity of marmalade that was cooking.

The gorgeous fresh strawberries I used. The original recipe is for frozen sugared berries; since they're in season, I used fresh, chopped them up, and sweetened them. I used about a quart and a half of whole berries to wind up with 4 cups of chopped. It may have contributed to the excess that I wound up with. It's impossible to know, when someone says to use a quart of berries, if their berries were smaller than mine, or if they were whole or chopped up.

Thinly sliced and chopped lemons are brought to a boil in water and left in their cooking liquid overnight. Next time, I'll use my mandoline slicer to get paper-thin slices.

Chopped sweetened berries and more sugar are added to the lemons and the whole mess is cooked until syrupy. See Doris and Jilly's blog for tips on getting the right consistency for gelling if you've never made jam before.

A couple of lessons were learned from this, my first jam-making experience.

One: Boiling marmalade/jam/preserves is the culinary equivalent of freshly spewed lava from Mt. Kilauea. Cook on a back burner so as to avoid splattering yourself with this sticky stuff that's about as hot as the sun. Thankfully, I thought about this beforehand and wasn't injured. Cleanup is also markedly easier if you wipe splatters and spills immediately with a warm wet towel. After it dries, good luck. Grease up those elbows.

Two: The recipe calls for 4 medium lemons. Three of mine were more on the large side, which I think accounted for part of having six half pints instead of 4 or 5. It also made the marmalade a little more tart than I might have preferred.

Three: This was a lot easier than I thought it would be, very rewarding, and definitely worth another batch eventually.

Hibachi-Style Steak and Veggies with Ginger Sauce

Some spare vegetables and an extra ribeye gave me divinely delicious inspiration recently: Benihana-style faux-hibachi dinner. I've done this before and it is easy and tasty, not to mention LOADS cheaper than a night out at your local Japanese steakhouse. All you need are quality ingredients, an electric griddle (it's not just for pancakes), and a good dipping sauce recipe. Here we go!

First, the sauce. We've tried innumerable store-bought Asian-style sauces with no luck. They were all too something: too salty, too sweet, too fishy, too bland. I've never been to an actual Benihana restaurant, but we have a local version here called Shogun that has similar food, from what I'm told. Shogun's ginger dipping sauce is fantastic, and I thought maybe Benihana's would be too.

I found a recipe purporting to be the one used at Benihana, tried it, and modified it to be even better. This sauce is perfect with steak, chicken, and vegetables. You'll have more than you need for this meal, so stick the rest in a zip-top bag and freeze it for later!

Ginger Soy Dipping Sauce
makes about a cup and a half

1/4 of a medium yellow onion, chopped
1 tbsp. peeled and grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup soy sauce (I like the Kikkoman low sodium version.)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp. Asian garlic chili sauce (I like the Roland brand.)

Whir it up in a blender until combined. Set aside until ready to serve.

This is my griddle, a very old but dependable Presto that I received secondhand many moons ago. The knob goes up to 400º (presumably that's close to actual heating temperature), so that's what I set it to. I greased it lightly with vegetable oil.

Mung bean sprouts are a key part of the vegetable portion of this meal. They are cheap - about 99 cents a bag - and provide a welcome crunch.

I used traditional hibachi steakhouse veggies- onions, zucchini, and mushrooms. Don't cut them too small. You want some substance even after they are cooked.

I had one ribeye left out of a bulk package from Sam's Club. I seasoned it with kosher salt and fresh black pepper before letting it rest and warm up a little. Cold meat doesn't cook as well.

I started the steak first, getting a good brown seared crust on one side before flipping it over and covering it with a saucepan lid to help hold in heat. I wound up flipping it a couple of times to cook it thoroughly- we like our steak medium to medium-well.

While the steak is cooking on one side of the griddle, start cooking the onions, zucchini, and mushrooms on the other. Mix them together, season with kosher salt and pepper, and stir occasionally with a spatula. You don't want to have too much liquid around them, or they'll get soggy instead of browned. A squeeze of lemon juice as they finish cooking is quite nice.

When the vegetables are almost done, stir-fry the mung beans by themselves for a minute or two before mixing them in with the other veggies.

Serve a hunk of steak, a pile of veggies and sprouts, and plain cooked rice with a small dish of ginger sauce for dipping and drizzling.

Now that's umami.

Greek Yogurt

A sweet lady named Paula (codename: Romaine) has a blog called "Salad In A Jar," and she has a popular post detailing how to make Greek yogurt at home. I followed her instructions and have been making my own yogurt for the past couple of months. It's super easy and waaaaaay cheaper than buying yogurt. In fact, the batch I just made the other day was created with a half-gallon of milk I purchased for only $0.99. I got about a quart of yogurt for a buck!

Paula uses skim milk to make her yogurt, but since we drink 2%, that's what I use.

After scalding the milk, cooling it slightly, and adding the starter, I cover the bowl in plastic wrap and set it on a heating pad turned to "low" for about 11 hours. I check the temperature periodically with my Fluke infrared thermometer to make sure it hovers around the 100º mark. If it gets a little warm, I just pull back the towel and plastic wrap for a bit.

Overnight is about right, and by morning the yogurt is ready for straining. I gently pour off whatever whey I can, and then briefly strain scoops of yogurt in a very fine mesh strainer. The yogurt pictured here looks lumpy for some reason, but it's not.

My new interest in canning has provided me with some spare glass Mason jars, so that's how I store my yogurt since glass keeps odors out.

See the post below for a tasty way to eat this kind of yogurt. You can also use it in recipes, in place of sour cream, or in a fruit smoothie.

Honey-Walnut Granola

For some reason, certain types of food are quite pricey at the store, despite the fact that they are cheap to make at home. Granola is one of them. Plus, store-bought granola always has something I don't like- either too much sugar, too much fat, or some kind of dried fruit I'm not a fan of. This version is simple, good for you, and SO easy to make.

These measurements are approximate, since I threw this together on a whim.

Honey-Walnut Granola

Preheat the oven to 350º. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss together 2 cups of oats (I used old fashioned- quick oats would probably be OK too), half a cup of sliced almonds (you can use more- that's what I had sitting in the pantry), and about a cup and a quarter of walnut pieces (I bought a 6 ounce bag and broke up larger chunks with my fingers).

Mix together about 1/4 cup of vegetable oil and about 1/2 cup of honey. This will take a bit of stirring. A fork works better than a spoon. Drizzle the glaze over the oat/nut mixture and toss well with a rubber spatula to coat. Give the whole mess a generous sprinkling of cinnamon, and about a pinch of salt. Toss well.

Bake in the preheated 350º oven for about 15-20 minutes until golden brown and fragrant, tossing with a spatula about halfway through. Stir again a few times as the granola cools, which will help keep it from sticking to the baking sheet. Store at room temperature in a sealed container.

As you can see from the top photo, I like my granola in parfait form. I layered some homemade Greek yogurt (a future post), a sprinkling of brown sugar, some fresh blueberries, and a generous amount of granola. It's delicious for breakfast OR dessert!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bundt Pan Roast Chicken

Roast chicken is easily one of my favorite meals, and it's so easy. I read about using a Bundt pan to roast chicken on a blog recently and I thought I'd give it a shot.

First, you should know that meat and chicken cook more evenly and brown better if you don't try to roast or grill them cold. My chicken was pretty cold, so I put it in a sinkful of hot water first, still in its package.

After the chicken was room temperature, I removed the gizzard, liver, and neck and discarded them. (You can reserve them for chicken stock, if desired, and the gizzard and liver make excellent dog treats once cooked.)

Preheat the oven to 400º and lower the rack to the bottom third of the oven.

I prepared some vegetables for the bottom of the Bundt pan- small Yukon Gold potatoes, carrot chunks, and wedges of red onion. I seasoned them with salt and pepper and tossed in 4 sprigs of thyme from my garden.

This Bundt pan originally belonged to my Great-Grandmother Castle, a helluva lady and a great cook. She made fantastic rum cake in this pan every holiday season, and I hope I do her memory justice. I like to think this pan has good kitchen karma.

Place the Bundt pan on a sheet pan- not a cookie sheet, but one with sides, just in case some juice escapes. Plop the chicken ass-down over the center of the Bundt. Brush it with melted butter and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Stuff the neck cavity with an onion half and some more thyme sprigs.

Roast the bird and veggies in the preheated 400º oven for about an hour, until the skin is golden brown and an instant-read thermometer registers 160º. Serve the carved chicken with the vegetables and drizzle everything with the pan juices.


Easy Chicken Caesar Wraps

These chicken Caesar wraps were my husband's idea for lunch one day, and I must say, I'm very happy with myself for the execution.

The foundation of the wrap was a mixture of lovely vegetables- Romaine lettuce, red onion (always the best choice for salads and sandwiches because of its sweetness), and home-grown yellow and red tomatoes.

Chicken cutlets were sprinkled with garlic salt and fresh pepper before being grilled until cooked through but still juicy, and then they were sliced thinly.

We had been on the hunt for a good quality creamy Caesar dressing for salads, and boy howdy, did we find one! Brianna's Home Style Asiago Caesar Dressing is the bomb. It's made in Texas, but I forgive them for that. ;) I chose it because it won a Chef's Best Award, which is a sign of a good product in the food world.

You could use pita or other flatbread for this wrap, but I chose to use my favorite tortillas, La Banderita. They're delicious and soft, and the soft taco size is perfect for this and other uses.

I piled the sliced chicken and veggies on each tortilla and gave them a generous drizzle of the Caesar dressing before rolling up. Super simple, healthy-ish, and so delicious!

Philly Sandwiches

OK, so I completely had brain farts during the photography section of this meal and missed out on several key shots, so you'll just have to imagine pics of the completed sandwich in all its beefy, cheesy glory.

Philly sandwiches are so often messed up in restaurants it's not even funny. I haven't had a "real" one since I've never been to PA, but I know from TV what goes into one and I know enough about food to take that stuff, cook it, and make a delicious Philly. So here goes.

The key to the Philly is the meat. You want a decent cut of steak that won't be tough when cooked quickly. I like to use flat iron steaks. They're inexpensive and taste really good.

Slice about a pound of cold flat iron steak into thin strips. Season the strips with garlic salt and fresh black pepper. Cover the meat with a paper towel and let it rest and warm up a little to room temperature.

Slice up some red onion and green bell pepper. I cut my onion into 1/4" half-circles and the bell pepper into 1/2" wide strips. I normally prefer red or orange bells, but for this sandwich, the tangy flavor of a green bell is better suited.

In the meantime, prepare the buns and preheat the oven to 350º. I like soft hoagie rolls with sesame seeds on top. Lay the bun halves out on a sheet pan, spread both halves with Cheez Whiz (my husband prefers sliced Swiss, but supposedly, good ole Whiz is more authentic, and I like it better), and place the pan in the oven to heat and soften the buns and melt the cheese.

Heat a little vegetable oil in a large skillet, preferably cast iron, on medium-high heat until the oil is shimmering. Add the steak strips to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes. Add the onions and peppers. Keep the skillet contents moving and make sure the heat is adequately high- you want to sear this stuff, not boil it.

When the meat is cooked and the onions have started to caramelize, your sandwich guts are complete. Pile them onto your warm, cheese-coated hoagie roll and enjoy.