Main dishes, Side dishes

Oven-fried Chicken

Recently, a Facebook friend asked this question in a group I belong to:  Does anybody have a good oven-fried chicken recipe?  My hand went up immediately.  I do, I do!  I have been asked to share this recipe on the blog, so that it can be pinned to Pinterest.  How cool is that?

I have been oven-frying chicken for decades, and it is crispy and tender and delicious.  Not too long ago, I watched an old Good Eats with Alton Brown, and he fried chicken on the stovetop in a cast iron skillet filled with hot shortening.  Boy, that looked good, and I have a big cast iron skillet I can hardly lift, and a can of shortening I hardly ever use.  I thought I’d give it a try.  What a mess!  Grease splatters everywhere!  And frankly, while the chicken was okay, I didn’t really think it was as good as my oven-fried chicken.  Back to doing it my way.

The basic coating recipe came from the Betty Crocker cookbook my mom gave me when I got married in 1981, but the method is my own.  At some point, after oven-frying chicken in oil and butter as the original recipe called for, I realized there sure was an awful lot of fat in the pan after the chicken came out, way more than I’d put in to start with.  Oh, yeah, Jeanie, chicken skin is full of fat!  Well, I thought, if chicken skin is full of fat, and it renders out during the cooking process, why am I adding all this other fat?  I tried cooking the chicken without adding fat, and glory be, it works every time.  There’s only one trick:  the chicken must have skin.  Skinless breasts or thighs will not work in this recipe.  I could call this recipe No Mess, Lower-fat Oven-fried Chicken because the only fat in the dish (other than a spritz of cooking spray or a thin swipe of shortening or oil) comes from the skin on the chicken, which renders as it cooks.  But let’s just go with Oven-fried Chicken.  I’m all for simpler when it works.

Oven-fried Chicken

2-3 lbs. cut up chicken pieces

Basic coating mix:

1/2 cup flour (I have substituted brown rice flour since I went gluten-free, and it works well in this recipe)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon pepper

You may also add any other herbs or spices you would normally add to your fried chicken breading. I sometimes use a blackened seasoning or Cajun seasoning mix instead of the salt above, and/or I’ll add poultry seasoning (ground sage, thyme, and parsley), or I’ll substitute hot smoked paprika for plain, or whatever takes my fancy at the moment.  You can also add a teaspoon of sugar to the coating mix.  I think this makes the coating brown a little darker as it oven-fries in its own fat (see last photo below).  You can also reduce the flour by two tablespoons and add two tablespoons of cornmeal for an even crunchier breading, although the flour produces a light, crispy coating.  Using plain flour cuts carbs as well; no need to use bread crumbs which add carbs.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Put coating mix in a paper or plastic bag, shake it well to mix, and add no more than 2 pieces of chicken at a time, shaking to bread the chicken.  If you want a thicker breading on your chicken, dip it in milk first, shaking off excess before putting it in the bag.  If you like to marinate your chicken in buttermilk before frying, that works too; just drain off the excess buttermilk before you coat the chicken pieces.  I never do either one.  I just put the chicken straight from the package into the breading mix.  If I have any leftover breading mix, I seal up the bag and stash it in the freezer for next time.

Lightly spritz a 13X9 inch pan with cooking spray (or swipe a tiny bit of oil or shortening over it with a napkin or paper towel), and place your coated chicken pieces into the pan, skin side down. This allows the fat to render out of the skin, making it crispy and delicious.

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Bake for 30 minutes at 425 degrees; turn pieces over.  Don’t worry if the skin side of the chicken doesn’t look that brown or crisp at this point.  It will be after the next cooking period.

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Bake for another 30 minutes, and prepare to be amazed.  The chicken will be browned with a light, crispy breading on the skin.  Take it out of the pan, and drain skin side up on paper towels.

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This is how much fat rendered out of 3 chicken thighs.  It was about 2 tablespoons.

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You can use the pan drippings and browned breading bits to make gravy, if you wish. In our family, (oven) fried chicken gravy has always been made like this:

Scrape the chicken pan to get off the browned bits.  Drain two tablespoons of fat and the browned bits into a skillet or medium-sized sauté pan.  Heat on medium-high heat until sizzling.  Add two tablespoons of flour (I have used brown rice flour) and cook and stir for a minute or two until flour browns slightly.  Stir or whisk in 1 ½ – 2 cups of milk (depending on how thick you want your gravy) and bring to low boil, stirring constantly to prevent lumping or sticking.  You can thin the gravy down after it cooks a couple of minutes by adding more milk, if it’s too thick.  You can also cook it down if it’s too thin for your tastes.  Add ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper, and taste for seasoning, adding more if needed.  Serve over mashed potatoes.

Oh yeah, baby—no-mess, oven-fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy.  That’s comfort food made easy.

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condiment, Dairy, Fermenting, Main dishes

Fun with Dairy: Homemade Sour Cream

This is the first part of a series I’m calling “Fun with Dairy.”  Part I:  Sour Cream.  I’ve discovered how to make sour cream, and I’m so enchanted with it, I have to share it with you.  In addition, I’ve made yogurt and ricotta cheese at home for years, and while I’ve resisted blogging about it thus far because there are plenty of instructions for making these things already on the internet, I’ve come to realize that not all of them are good instructions.  Sometimes those recipes are poorly written, and sometimes, there’s just a better way to do it, and sometimes, a combination of methods works better.  So, in future posts, I’ll deal with making yogurt, the foolproof way I’ve been making it for years, and ricotta cheese, which I make for my roasted eggplant lasagna.  There will be other “Fun with Dairy” posts in the future, but first, sour cream.  And as a bonus, at the end of this post is a recipe you can make with your delicious homemade sour cream.

I love sour cream, smooth and tangy.  I like to make veggie dips with it, and chip dips, and you cannot make stroganoff (see recipe below) without it.  And surprisingly, sour cream is ridiculously easy to make.

You only need three things to make sour cream at home:  a clean jar with a lid, some heavy (whipping) cream or half and half, and some buttermilk (cultured).  Oh, and a place on the counter to let the cream culture for a day or so.  Here’s how you do it.

Measure 1 cup of heavy whipping cream (or for lighter sour cream, less fat, 1 cup of half & half) into your clean jar.  Add ¼ cup of cultured buttermilk.  Put on the lid and tighten it.  Shake vigorously to incorporate the buttermilk into the cream or half & half.  Set the jar on your kitchen counter in plain sight where you won’t forget about it.  Wait 18-24 hours.  Open lid on jar.  The cream should have thickened enough to sit up on a spoon.  Taste it.  If it isn’t sour enough, you can leave it a few more hours, no more than 36 hours altogether.  Store in fridge.

Leftover buttermilk, which typically comes in quarts, can be portioned into smaller containers and frozen You can also make buttermilk salad dressing, the original ranch, which will probably be the subject of another post.  And if you add some cultured buttermilk to regular milk, you’ll get more buttermilk.  You’ll never have to buy buttermilk again.  More about that in another post.

After cooling in the fridge, the sour cream will thicken enough to actually mound on a spoon.  The lighter version made with half & half is as thick, and actually tastes more like commercial sour cream, as that made with heavy cream, which is richer-tasting.  Either version is good to use for a dip or anything else you’d use sour cream for (as a topping on burritos, nachos, or enchiladas, for example, or cheesecake).  In the pictures below, the photo on the left is of sour cream made with heavy whipping cream (you can see that it is yellower in the jar) and the photos in middle and on right are of light sour cream made with half & half and previously frozen buttermilk.

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Recently, I used my homemade sour cream in some stroganoff.  Stroganoff is typically made with beef, but I used . . . yeah, you guessed it, bear.  If you haven’t made stroganoff in a while, or if you’ve never made it, it’s time to give this old standard another look.  But don’t make the imitation stuff with canned mushroom soup, please.  I have no doubt homemade sour cream would improve the taste, but do use fresh mushrooms.  This homemade sour cream (the heavy cream version) gave the sauce a rich, tangy flavor that the Mighty Bear Hunter and I really enjoyed.

Here’s an easy recipe made with an economy cut of beef:  round steak.  You can also use stew meat, you just have to cook it a little longer to get it tender.  Can you use other red meats besides beef?  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know the answer is yes!  You can use venison, antelope, lamb, bison, elk, and, I imagine, moose (although that’s one meat I have yet to try.)

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Beef Stroganoff

1 ½ lbs. round steak or stew meat, cut against the grain into 1/8 inch slices

3 tablespoons olive oil or butter

1 ½ cups beef or roasted vegetable stock

2 tablespoons ketchup (or 2 tablespoons ground dried tomato skins)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced (any small variety will do)

3 tablespoons flour (if you’re gluten-free like me, you can use brown rice flour)

1 cup sour cream

Heat oil or butter (or combination thereof) in 10 skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute mushrooms and onions for about 5 minutes.  Remove from pan, reserve.  Add another tablespoon of oil or butter if needed, brown meat strips, add garlic, cook for about 30 seconds.  Don’t let the garlic burn!  Add 1 cup stock, stirring to get the browned bits off the bottom of the pan, add the mushrooms and onions and their liquid, and the ketchup or dried tomato skin powder,and  heat to boiling.  Reduce heat, cover with tight-fitting lid, and simmer until meat is tender, 1-1 ½ hours.

When meat is tender, shake reserved stock with flour in a lidded jar until well-mixed, stir gradually into simmering meat mixture.  Bring to boil, cook for one minute, then stir in sour cream, heat through but do not let it boil!  Take off heat, serve over cooked, hot egg noodles (3-4 cups).  Traditionally, hot egg noodles are tossed with a tablespoon of butter and sprinkled with 1 teaspoon poppy seeds (try chia seeds for more Omega-3 fatty acids) before serving.  Makes about 6 servings.

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Canning, condiment, Main dishes

Glazed Pork Roast with Chinese Plum Sauce

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I had the great good fortune to be allowed to pick some Santa Rosa plums from a mature tree this past summer.  I wrote about that experience in an early post:  Scavenger.  I made a lot of red plum jam, which just might be my favorite jam of all time, and I made some Chinese plum sauce.  The sauce turned into an experiment because I was disappointed in the original recipe, but after working with it, I came up with a sauce I love and have used it as a barbecue sauce for chicken with delicious results.  This week, I decided to try it with pork, and I might just have created my new favorite dish: Glazed Roast Pork with Chinese Plum Sauce.  Dennis really enjoyed this juicy, flavorful pork roast.  I asked him if the recipe should go on the blog, and he mumbled “yes” with his mouth full.

Now, I realize that now is not the time to be making plum sauce from scratch because plums are not in season.  But I am going to give you the recipe below so that you can make your own plum sauce when plums are in season.  In the meantime, if you want to make this dish, or if you are not a canner, you can buy Chinese plum sauce.  If there are no stores near you which carry it, you can actually order it online from Amazon.  And if you happen to have some homemade plum jam on hand, I’m sure you could concoct some Chinese plum sauce using your jam as the base and adding soy sauce, onions, garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes, and Chinese five spice powder.

But first, the recipe for the roast.  You might want to try it without the plum sauce, or you might want to try it with another sauce for glazing or dipping.  Sweet and sour sauce with pineapple would be good, or a sauce made with orange marmalade would be delicious too, with a little soy sauce, red pepper flake, ginger and five spice powder mixed in.  Any of these sauces would be excellent with the rub and braising liquid.  Think about the Chinese flavors you enjoy and get creative with your sauce.  But I do recommend the plum sauce.  It is sensational.

Glazed Roast Pork with Chinese Plum Sauce

1 jar Chinese plum sauce for glaze and dipping (see recipe below)

Pork Rub:

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon powdered ginger

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

¼ teaspoon dry mustard powder

½ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

2-3 lbs. boneless pork tenderloin or sirloin tip roast

Olive, vegetable, peanut, or safflower oil

Braising liquid (see note):

12 oz. ginger ale or lemon-lime soda (or any slightly sweet liquid will do—see my notes on braising liquids in my pulled pork post)

¼ teaspoon of dried ginger or three thin slices of fresh ginger root

¼ teaspoon Chinese five spice powder

Mix rub ingredients thoroughly.  Pat meat dry with paper towel; oil meat.  Sprinkle all sides of meat with rub; pat into meat.  Wrap meat in plastic wrap, store in refrigerator to marinate 2-8 hours.  Bring meat out to warm up to room temperature about 20 minutes before searing.

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Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Heat 2 tablespoons of preferred oil in heavy Dutch oven.  On high heat, sear meat on all sides.  Reduce heat.  Add ginger ale (follow the link if you want to make your own homemade ginger ale, and if you use homemade ginger ale, you won’t need to add any ginger to the braising liquid), dried ginger or fresh ginger, and five spice powder slowly to the pan.  (Note:  Because pork tenderloins and sirloin roasts are typically very lean and have no fat on the outside to keep the meat moist, they can’t be roasted in an open oven without drying out, thus the braising liquid is needed to keep the meat moist and tender. This is not a recipe for a piece of meat that still has a thick rind of fat on it.  That piece of meat should be open-roasted on a rack.)  Bring braising liquid to boil, loosening all the brown bits on the bottom of the Dutch oven with a wooden spoon. Cover with lid and cook in oven for 30 min. per pound or until internal temperature registers 160-165 degrees.  (I recommend checking the temperature with a probe type meat thermometer after 45 min. with a two-pound roast.)

Remove lid from Dutch oven.  Spread ¼ cup Chinese plum sauce over top of meat.  Turn broiler to high, broil for about 5 minutes or until glaze is bubbly and caramelized.

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Remove meat from Dutch oven to carving board.  Let rest, loosely covered with foil, about 20 minutes. Carve in ½ inch slices, arrange on platter.  Drizzle with braising liquid from pan.  Serve with additional Chinese plum sauce for dipping.  Alternatively, you could slightly thicken the pan juices:  stir a teaspoon of cornstarch in a ¼ cup of water, add that to the au jus, and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly, for a glaze and sauce.  The pan juices are wonderfully flavorful, so whatever you do, don’t waste them!

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I served this glazed pork roast with stir-fried vegetables (carrots, celery, red peppers, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, garlic), tossed at the end with a glaze made of ½ teaspoon cornstarch mixed into 1 tablespoon of water and ¼ cup of the au jus from the pork.  I put a dollop of Chinese plum sauce on the plate as well, for dipping.

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I also cooked some rice for Dennis, but the pork and vegetables were enough for me.  We had leftovers, so I put the sliced meat in a zipper-top bag and poured the leftover braising liquid over them.  The meat was even better the next day after soaking 24 hrs. in that braising liquid.  Never before have I had roast pork be better the next day!

Now, for the Chinese plum sauce.  There are lots of recipes for plum sauce out there, but this is the only one I have tried, and I love it so much I will never make another.  I have altered it to suit my tastes and make it my own.  This recipe calls for whole spices tied into a spice bag and cooked down with the plums.  It would be possible to substitute Chinese five spice powder for the whole spices.  I would start with a teaspoon of five spice powder and then taste, adding more until I liked what I had.  This is what I did with the sweetness and salt levels when I made my sauce.  I worked with it until I got that tart-sweet, slightly salty, spicy, plummy goodness that is great Chinese plum sauce.  Use your taste buds as you are cooking!  That’s what they’re for.

A word about the plums.  I think the type of plum you use is all-important.  Some recipes call for black plums, and others use Italian prune plums.  Both of these are sweet plums, and given my experience making jam with both of them, I don’t think they would make the best sauce.  I think red plums, like Santa Rosas, with their tart-sweet flavor profile, make the best sauce.  Santa Rosas have red skins and reddish-yellow flesh, and they make a bright red jam.  When you use red or Santa Rosa plums to make this sauce, you’ll get a deep burgundy color that is absolutely beautiful, not to mention delicious as well.

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Homemade Chinese Plum Sauce:

(Makes about 4 pints of sauce, enough to can or freeze for later!)

4 lbs. red plums, pitted and chopped

½ cup pitted prunes, chopped

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

¼ cup peeled, chopped fresh ginger root

½ cup rice vinegar (must be at least 4% acidity)

3-6 tablespoons dark soy sauce (or more to taste) *see note

1 ½-2 cups packed brown sugar (or more to taste) *see note

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or more to taste) *see note

1 cinnamon stick, broken in pieces

2 star anise

½ teaspoon black peppercorns

½ teaspoon fennel seeds

Pitting plums isn’t a lot of fun, but it must be done.  (If you are working with plums that aren’t freestones, you will have a lot of pits with flesh left on them.  Consider saving these for making plum vinegar.)  Once the plums are pitted, they can be chopped coarsely in a food processor.  The onion, garlic, ginger, and pitted prunes can also be chopped in the food processor.

Tie the spices into a spice bag or several layers of cheesecloth.  Place the spice bag, the chopped plums and other ingredients into a large, non-reactive pan (stainless steel or porcelain/enamel-coated or glass).  Note: Start with the lesser amounts of soy sauce, brown sugar, and crushed red pepper flakes.  Cook on medium heat until mixture comes to a boil, stirring to prevent sticking.  Reduce heat and simmer until onions and plums are soft, about 30 minutes.

Remove the spice bag.  Puree the sauce in a blender or food processor (watch out for spitting steam—use a towel over the vent) in as many batches as necessary.  Don’t overload your blender or food processor.  You will just make a mess, waste your sauce, and possibly burn yourself.  Pour the sauce back into the pan and simmer, stirring to prevent sticking.  Taste the sauce and add more brown sugar, more soy sauce, or more red pepper flake if desired.  More rice vinegar can also be added if desired, and at this point, if you want to taste the sweet spices more, you can put the spice bag back in or add some Chinese five spice powder if you wish (start with a ¼ teaspoon and work up until you like the flavor).  Your sauce should be tart-sweet, slightly salty with the soy, and spicy but not hot.  You should be able to taste the sweet spices and feel just a bit of heat on your tongue from the red pepper flakes as well.  I added enough soy sauce and brown sugar to equal the larger amounts given in the recipe, and an extra pinch of red pepper flake, and I added some Chinese five spice powder, about 1/4 teaspoon as well, until the sauce tasted right to me.

Cook the sauce until it thickens slightly.  It won’t be as thick as jam, but almost.  A good consistency is that of canned tomato sauce.

At this point the sauce is ready to use.  You should have about 4 pints of the stuff but you might have less, depending on how much you cooked it down.  The sauce can be frozen in plastic containers or zip top bags or freezer safe jars, but I like to can mine in half-pint jars in a water-bath canner.  I’ll use half of the jar, typically, for one dish, and the other half for another dish in a week or so.  (It’s excellent on grilled chicken as a glaze.)  The sauce keeps well in the fridge even after being opened.

To can the sauce, clean jars should be sterilized for 10 minutes in a boiling water bath first, then filled with boiling sauce to within a ¼ inch of the tops, capped with hot flats and rings, and processed in the boiling water bath for 5 minutes, or longer if you live at altitudes above 1000 ft.  Consult an altitude chart for correct processing times for your altitude.

As with most good things, Chinese plum sauce requires some time and effort, but the work involved is well worth it, in my opinion.  I’m looking forward to making more this summer.

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Main dishes

Bear and Mushroom Fricassee with Creamy Polenta

Here’s a nice dish for a special, stay-at-home St. Valentine’s Day dinner.  Don’t be afraid of the bear.  I make dishes with the meat I have on hand, which is usually bear or venison, or sometimes, when I’m really lucky, bison, or if I’ve found a good deal, grass-fed beef.  You can make this recipe with any red meat, including elk or goat.  It could probably be adapted for pork or chicken as well.  Changing the kind of meat will of course change the flavor of the finished dish, but it will be good no matter what kind of meat you use.  The original version, from Scott Conant’s Scarpetta cookbook (the recipe was posted on the Food Network), was meatless.  You might want to follow the link to the original recipe to decide whether or not you’d like it without meat, but I can guarantee you that even with the addition of meat, my adaptation is simpler.

Why add meat?  Well, if I’m going to consume as many carbs as polenta contains (and I really shouldn’t even so), I have to balance those carbs with plenty of protein, more than mushrooms provide.  And bear, according to my expert hunter son, contains the highest levels of protein of all red meats.  I have not been able to find a scientific study confirming this, but it makes sense to me since bears are constantly on the move, and their bodies are all muscle.  The black bears in our California mountains are omnivores, but few of them reach the huge size of bears with a more plentiful food supply, like Alaskan salmon.  Our bears typically eat little fish, but lots of grubs, berries, and some carrion.  If they haven’t been raiding campground dumpsters, they are very lean, and very good eating.  Take a look at the picture below of the bear round steak (deboned by the butcher, darn it), and I’ll bet you’ll be surprised.  There’s not a bit of fat on that meat.  It’s all lean muscle, which means it’s going to take some low, slow cooking.

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In addition to adding meat, I had to change the original recipe because I’m not a rich chef.  I don’t have access to some of the ingredients Scott Conant uses.  (Boy, would I love to try this dish in his restaurant and compare it to my bear and mushroom fricassee!)  The original recipe calls for shallots, which are pricey where I live, so I used a sweet white onion.  The recipe also calls for a Chicken Reduction, which sounds amazing, but I didn’t have time to make that and didn’t want to use my homemade turkey stock (I have other plans for it), or my homemade chicken stock (because it has chicken meat in it for soup), nor did I have access to the substitutes mentioned in the original recipe.  So I used some of the roasted vegetable stock I made last week:  3 bags of frozen onion, celery, and carrot scraps and peelings, roasted at 425 degrees with salt, pepper, and a little olive oil, and then covered with water in a pot, cooked down, and strained.  This stock is so rich and delicious, you’d never know it was made with scraps, and I doubt the Chicken Reduction could be that much better.

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The original recipe also calls for a mix of half milk and half heavy cream.  Well, that’s half & half, which I can get for half the price of the same amount of milk and cream.  Scott Conant’s recipe used a mix of domestic and wild mushrooms.  When I priced mushrooms in our little town, the few exotic species were something like $8.99 for 4 ounces.  I can’t afford that!  But I did find a deal on sliced crimini mushrooms (baby portabellas), and I stretched those with some sliced white button mushrooms, the red-headed, bastard stepchild of mushrooms according to many famous chefs, but button mushrooms will still give some flavor and good meatiness.  Of course, the recipe calls for Parmigiano-Reggiano.  My budget can’t handle that, even if I knew where to get it where I live, but I can get tubs of freshly-grated domestic parm at Grocery Outlet (sometimes I can get chunks of it fresh and grate my own, but not this time), so that’s what I used.  My chives aren’t up in the garden yet, and I wasn’t going to make a special trip to town to buy chives for a garnish, although it would have made the dish a little dressier.  Finally, I cut the polenta recipe in half.  The fricassee serves 4, but the polenta recipe said it made 8-10 servings.  That’s a lot of polenta, and while there are a lot of things you can do with leftover polenta, I don’t need the extra temptation, nor did I need to buy that much milk, cream, or half & half.  And the altered proportions worked perfectly: it made the right amount of polenta to serve with the amount of fricassee.

Even though I’ve simplified this recipe and used less expensive, more common ingredients (except for the bear), it still is not something I’d want to make and serve to guests because it is pretty time-consuming (although well-worth the time), and requires quite a bit of attention.  But if you’re staying home on St. Valentine’s Day and thinking about a special meal for your sweetie, this one qualifies.  You do have to tend the polenta, stirring it every 15-20 minutes for a couple of hours.  The fricassee simmers away on its own after you get all the ingredients together.   I hope you’ll set aside some time to try this dish, because it is truly memorable.

Bear and Mushroom Fricassee with Creamy Polenta

For the fricassee:

1 lb. of red meat, such as round steak (you can use any of the meats mentioned above, but beef will probably be the choice of most).

Mix the next five (or four) ingredients together for the rub for the meat.

¼ teaspoon crushed dried thyme

Pinch of red pepper flakes OR 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used my Nigerian ground red pepper)

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon dried tomato skin powder (optional, will discuss a replacement below)

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6 tablespoons of olive oil (I used my rosemary-infused olive oil and omitted the rosemary below)

1 clove garlic, minced finely

1 sweet white onion, chopped

10-12 oz. cleaned, sliced mushrooms (I used crimini and white button)

Several sprigs of fresh thyme, one bay leaf, and one sprig of fresh rosemary

½ cup of dry white wine

2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock (I used the vegetable stock I made last week—see above)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon butter plus ½ tablespoon olive oil for searing meat

For the polenta:

4 cups half & half

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ cup coarse polenta

2 tablespoons butter

¼ cup grated parmesan cheese

Directions:

Pat meat dry, trim off any fat or silver skin, cut into cubes.  (Because my bear round steak was so lean, I left it to marinate whole and cubed it up just before searing off.)  Mix rub ingredients together, sprinkle on meat, wrap in plastic or place in zipper top bag, refrigerate for at least 1 hour, up to 8 hours.  Remove meat from fridge at least 15 minutes before ready to sear.

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Heat 6 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat in large heavy pan (I used my old cast aluminum Dutch oven) with a tight-fitting lid.  Add the chopped onions and sauté until they begin to turn golden.  Add garlic and mushrooms, cook and stir until mushrooms have begun to release some liquid.  Remove mushrooms and onions from the pan, scraping out all the little pieces; set aside.

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In the same pan, heat 1 tablespoon butter and ½ tablespoon olive oil; sear meat cubes until brown.

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Deglaze the pan with ½ cup dry white wine.  Add the stock, the fresh herbs, and add the mushrooms and onions and all the collected liquid back into the pan.  Add the tomato paste and stir well to blend.  (I used my dried tomato skin powder again, 2 tablespoons of it, but the tomato paste will give a similar, even richer flavor.)

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Reduce heat to medium low (you want a good simmer) and cover with the lid, leaving it cracked just a bit to let the sauce reduce.  Keep an eye on this, and add a little more stock if it cooks too dry, then cover tightly and reduce heat to low to hold it.  Simmer until meat is tender, about 1 ½ – 2 hours, and there is still enough sauce to coat the meat and mushrooms.  This should be saucy but not watery, and now is the time to taste the sauce for seasoning, adding more salt if necessary.  You can see from the photo below what the consistency of the sauce should be after it reduces and just before serving.

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When the meat is simmering, start the polenta.  This is a slow-cooking polenta, but boy, is it worth it. It does take a bit of attention, especially at first.

Creamy Polenta:

In a medium-sized saucepan with a heavy bottom, heat 4 cups of half & half on medium-high heat, stirring with a wooden spoon until it begins to steam, then whisking until it gets foamy and is about to boil.  When the half & half is foamy, whisk in 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, and slowly sprinkle in polenta a little at a time, whisking until all the polenta is in the pan.  Continue to whisk the polenta until it thickens, about 8 minutes.  Switch back to the wooden spoon, turn the heat down to medium, and stir the polenta until it is bubbling and getting thick, about 5 more minutes.  Reduce the heat to low, cover with a tight-fitting lid, and continue to cook, stirring every 15 minutes or so.  If it starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, lower the heat a little more.  The polenta should cook on low for about 1 ½ hours, at which time, the fricassee should be ready as well.

Just before serving, raise the heat under the polenta to medium and stir in 2 tablespoons of butter and ¼ cup of parmesan cheese.  When the butter is melted and the cheese is incorporated, remove from heat.  It will be very thick and rich and almost sweet.

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To serve, place about ½-1 cup of cooked polenta in a wide bowl or deep plate.  Make a well in the center, and fill the well with about ½-1 cup of fricassee and sauce.  (I have more plates and bowls than I can possibly use unless my entire extended family comes to visit, but I do not have big, restaurant-style, shallow bowls, which would be perfect for serving this dish, so I used a deep plate.)  Dennis and I had a green salad to start, and I poured a glass of wine.

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And then, I closed my eyes on the first bite and had a moment.  I deserved it.  And so do you.

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Main dishes, Recipes

Spicy Sausage and Lentil Soup

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I love lentils.  I grew up eating a lot of beans, but I didn’t discover lentils until I was in my forties.  Imagine my delight when I realized I could cook a legume in just 30 minutes without presoaking!  Lentils are something I can cook up fast if I haven’t figured out what to do for dinner that day, and you can throw just about anything in a pot of lentil stew.  But they reward more thought and care.

Recently, Dennis and I went out for dinner and a movie.  The best place to eat in our small town is a microbrew pub, Lassen Ale Works.  I like to order the soups there.  I think soup is where a cook gets to really strut his or her stuff, and often, you’ll get a chef’s most creative cooking in a soup.  I saw linguica and roasted red pepper soup on the LAW specials board the other evening, and it sounded really good on a chilly night.  It turned out to have lentils in it, and while I couldn’t find any roasted red peppers, the linguica was delicious.

I went home resolved to see if I could come up with something similar, and I have.  My spicy sausage and lentil soup doesn’t have any linguica in it (because I didn’t have any), but if you can score some hot smoked paprika for my sausage and lentil soup, you’ll get one of the essential flavors of linguica without the price tag.  Ground pork sausage is much more economical than linguica.  Just look at the price per pound the next time you go to the grocery store and decide which fits your budget.  Ground sausage fits mine.  I used a combination of pork sausage and bear sausage.

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Spicy Sausage and Lentil Soup

1 cup lentils

3 cups water

1 lb. ground pork sausage (medium or hot)

6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock

4 carrots, diced

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 stick celery, diced

1 small (or half of one large) red bell pepper, diced

Ground black pepper to taste

Red pepper flakes to taste

1 teaspoon smoked hot paprika

½ teaspoon Cajun seasoning

¼ teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon dried tomato skin powder (optional)

In a large pot, bring water and rinsed and sorted lentils to boiling, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until lentils are tender and most of the water has been absorbed, about 30-45 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, crumble and brown sausage.  Remove sausage from skillet, drain on paper towels, and drain fat from skillet.  Add a little olive oil (enough to just coat the bottom of the pan), and sauté the vegetables (start with the hardest vegetables first) until they have taken on a little color.  When vegetables are done, turn off heat and add minced garlic. Cook for one minute.  Set aside until lentils are done.

To the cooked lentils, add the sausage and vegetables, then pour in at least 5 cups of stock.  (I used a combination of mushroom stock, because it needed to be used up, and chicken stock.)

Add ¼ – ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, a good pinch of red pepper flake if you like spicy (I used my hot Nigerian red pepper), the dried tomato skin powder (if you have it), the other spices, and a little salt if needed, all to taste.  (When I made this, it didn’t need any extra salt.  There is a little salt in the Cajun seasoning I like).

Let the soup come up to a simmer and cook it for at least 20 minutes to blend the flavors and tenderize the sausage.  If you can let it cook longer, the soup gets even better.  I like to cook it on a very low heat until the lentils are just barely holding their cute little shape (about 2-3 hours).  This thickens the soup a little bit.  Add more stock if needed to keep the soup at the consistency you like, and if you add stock, taste for seasoning.

This makes a big pot of hearty soup, suitable for at least 4 people (with leftovers possible).

Add a salad and some nice crusty bread, and you won’t need anything else.  Except maybe some ice cream for dessert.

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Main dishes, Recipes

Braised and Barbecued Pork Spareribs

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It used to frustrate me that I could never produce falling-off-the-bone spareribs at home.  I knew I must be doing something wrong, but I didn’t know what it was.  You barbecue them, right?  Then I watched an old Good Eats with Alton Brown, and I learned how to cook ribs.  As with my previous post, this one is more about the method than it is a recipe.  Producing good spareribs at home without a commercial smoker is a three-step process:  rub and rest, braise, then glaze on the grill.

Rub and Rest

You can use any kind of rub you like.  Montreal Seasonings makes a good pork rub.  I also like the barbecue rub I’ve found in the bulk spices section at WinCo.  I’m sure there are others.  But my current favorite is the one I used for my recent post about pulled pork.  I’ll post the rub recipe again here.  It can be made without the dried tomato skins, of course.

Pork Rub (with Dried Tomato Skins)

1 tablespoon dried tomato skin powder

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon kosher or coarsely-ground sea salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, adjust to taste)

2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika (optional, regular paprika can be used)

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon garlic powder

Sprinkle all sides of 3-4 lbs. of spareribs with 2-3 teaspoons of the rub, and . . .  you guessed it . . . rub it in.

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Create a packet from heavy duty aluminum foil that will hold your ribs, and leave one edge loosely sealed to create a place where you can easily uncrimp the foil to add your braising liquid later.  Place foil packet of ribs into a baking pan (not cookie sheet, just in case a bone punctures the foil) large enough to hold them, and put in fridge for 4-8 hours.  Then, it’s on to the next step.

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Braise

You can braise meat on the cooktop, in a crock pot, or in the oven.  For meat that needs to marinate first (which is what a dry rub does, even though it’s dry), I prefer the oven.   You can use a crockpot if you put the rub on the ribs and stash them in the fridge overnight, then put them in the crock pot in the morning for 6-8 hours, depending on hot your crock pot cooks and what temperature setting you use.  You can also braise in a Dutch oven on the stove top, keeping the braising liquid at a low simmer.  But the dry heat of the oven that surrounds your foil packet (or Dutch oven) produces, in my opinion, the best flavor in the ribs.  And using foil makes for easy clean-up.

To oven-braise, remove the foil packet of ribs from the fridge about 3 hours before you want to serve dinner, and let them sit out on the counter to warm up for about 15 minutes while you prepare your braising liquid.  Turn your oven on to 350 degrees.

You can use almost any liquid or combination of liquids to braise the ribs if you remember a few simple guidelines.  The braising liquid should be flavorful (so plain water isn’t a good choice), slightly sweet, and slightly acidic, but it should contain little to no added salt because of the salt that’s already in your rub.  This is where you can get creative and have some fun.  Here are some possibilities for braising liquids.  You’ll only need about 2 cups unless you are cooking more than 3-4 lbs. of ribs.

Lemon-lime soda, 2 tablespoons ketchup, 2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce

Cola, ginger ale, or root beer with 2 tablespoons ketchup, 2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce

Weak coffee, slightly sweetened with honey, brown sugar, or molasses

Lemonade or orange juice, 2 tablespoons ketchup, 2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce

Tomato juice, 2 tablespoons of molasses or brown sugar, 2 tablespoons Worchestershire

Beer, 2 tablespoons of molasses, and ¼ cup of tomato sauce or 2 tablespoons of ketchup

Sake, 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, a tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce (1/2 teaspoon of Chinese five spice powder is good with this one, or it can be added to the rub)

The variations are pretty much endless, depending on the flavor profile you want to create.  It isn’t often you’ll see me using an item like a can of soda in my cooking, but it really does work well in this application.  I used the first mixture on the list above for the ribs in my pictures this week.  I added to it a pinch of my Nigerian pepper (and I could have used more, but I have to watch the heat level for Dennis), and a ¼ teaspoon of espresso powder, and it smelled really good going into the meat.  It sounds like a strange mix, but it was really tasty, which is my point about getting creative with your braising liquid.

You can also add a drop or two of liquid smoke to mimic the flavor of a smoker, although you will get a bit of smoke flavor from the finish on the grill.  Because the braising liquid is going to become the barbecue sauce or glaze, and because I like a chunky sauce, I add a chopped onion and a couple of cloves of garlic, minced, to whatever braising liquid I use.  The sauce can be smoothed out in a blender or with a stick blender before glazing the meat, if desired.

Heat the braising liquid and any flavor additions, like sweeteners, more spice, onions, garlic, in a small saucepan that you can pour from (or as I did, heat it in a glass measuring cup in the microwave).  When all the ingredients have mixed, set it aside to cool slightly.  It should be warm, not hot, and the meat should be cool, not cold.  Open the foil packet of ribs just enough to pour in the braising liquid, and then close the foil up tightly.

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Place in oven at 350 degrees and cook 2-3 hours or until ribs are fork tender but not quite falling apart.  Remove the ribs from the oven, pour off the braising liquid, and leave ribs in foil packet to rest while you create the glaze and fire up the grill.

Glaze and Grill

If you have a fat separator, you’ll want to use it here to pour off the braising liquid and eliminate some of the fat that has cooked out of the ribs.  If you don’t have a fat separator, use a large spoon to skim as much of the fat off the top of the braising liquid as you can.  Then put the braising liquid back into the small saucepan and start it boiling.  You’ll probably have about 1 ½ cups of liquid.  If you have less than that, you might want to add a little more of whatever liquid you used to start with.  To the braising liquid, add about ½ cup of ketchup or tomato sauce, or ¼ cup of tomato paste.  Let this reduce a bit, and then check for seasoning and sweetness.  I almost always add some more molasses or brown sugar to my sauce because I like a fairly sweet sauce.  I think the flavor profile of a great barbecue sauce is spicy/tangy/sweet.  Think about the flavor profile you like and taste the sauce as it reduces, adding more sweetener, salt or pepper, liquid smoke (this can be very strong, so go easy, a drop at a time), or other flavors to get a sauce that tastes good to you.  Add just a bit at a time and keep tasting.  Reduce the sauce until it’s the consistency you like (some like thick, some not).  Blend the sauce if you want it smooth.

The ribs are done, so there’s no actual cooking left to do.  All you’re going to do is glaze your meat with the sauce.  You’ll want your grill at medium, not hot, so that the glaze doesn’t burn.  (You could do this under the broiler if you’re careful, but you won’t get the same flavor.)  The sauce has sugars in it, so if the grill is too hot, the sugars will burn instead of caramelize.  Paint one side of the ribs liberally with the sauce, place sauce side down on the grill and allow the sauce to bubble and brown on one side before turning.  It shouldn’t take more than five minutes per side to glaze the ribs.  Watch them carefully.  As I tell Dennis, do not walk away from the grill!

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Serve your tender, braised and barbecued pork spareribs hot off the grill with the extra sauce for dipping.  If you accompany your ribs with the traditional sides–cornbread, coleslaw, greens cooked with bacon, onion and vinegar, and beans or black-eyed peas—you’ll think you’ve been transported temporarily to the South.  And if you still have leftover sauce after the meal, save it for barbecued chicken later in the week, or put it in the freezer.  It’s too good to throw away!

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Leftovers, Main dishes, Recipes

Sublime Roasted Chicken Soup

I actually call this soup Everything But the Kitchen Sink Chicken Soup, or sometimes, it’s known in our house as Clean Out the Fridge Chicken Soup.  But that’s a pretty long title for a blog post.  So, to shorten it up, and to give credit to the technique that produces the delicious flavor of this soup, I went with Sublime Roasted Chicken Soup.  I had to throw in “sublime” because there are just way too many “the best chicken soup” posts out there in online foodie land.  I’m not saying I make the best chicken soup in the world.  I don’t have to.  My family says it for me!

My chicken soups are always made with the carcass from a roasted chicken, so let’s start there.  Roast chicken was one of the first things I taught my daughter-in-law to cook when she and my son were married, and it’s just about the easiest thing to put on a dinner table to feed a family.  What follows is more of a technique than a recipe, which allows you to use your own creativity (and eventually, your leftovers).

Roast Chicken

Season a fresh or thawed chicken, inside and out, with any of the following seasonings or get creative and make up your own:

1 tablespoon of Cajun seasoning mix (this is a blend of peppers, salt, and spices you can buy in the grocery store, and I like it a lot for chicken) OR

1 tablespoon Montreal chicken seasoning mix OR

1 tablespoon coarse sea salt mixed with 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and 1 teaspoon dried crumbled sage and 1 teaspoon dried crumbled thyme (or a teaspoon of ground poultry seasoning)

Whatever kind of seasoning you choose, sprinkle it inside the body cavity and rub it outside on the skin, then place the chicken into a roasting pan or Dutch oven with a lid. I always cook my chicken in a roasting pan with a lid (so technically, it’s baked or braised, I suppose, not roasted) because the meat is always moist and juicy, and I don’t have to worry about basting.  This is easy-peasy chicken dinner!

If you want to fancy it up, you can stuff the body cavity with any sort of stuffing you like (I have a recipe for cornbread stuffing in another post) or with sliced lemons, onions, garlic, and a sprig or two of rosemary, and you can also place root vegetables like carrots and parsnips and potatoes around the chicken, if there’s room in the pan, when you’ve got about an hour of cooking time left.

Cook the chicken at 325-350 degrees for 2-2 ½ hours  (depending on the size of the chicken) or until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees in the thickest part of the leg.  You can also tell the chicken is done when the meat on the drumstick starts to pull away from the bone and the thigh joint jiggles easily when you move the leg.

Remove the chicken from the roasting pan to a carving board or platter and cover it loosely with foil.  Let it rest until it stops steaming, about 20 minutes.  Don’t carve your breast meat while there is still steam escaping from the bird.  It will dry out.  If you stuffed the bird, remove all the stuffing as soon as you remove the bird from the oven.  Don’t let stuffing cool inside the bird.

Pour off the cooled pan drippings and refrigerate.  You can make gravy with the drippings, but there tends to be a lot of fat in it, so if you have one of those fat separators, it’s helpful for making gravy.  Cooling the drippings allows the fat to be scraped off the top, so you can use just the flavorful and nutritious drippings in your soup and discard the fat.  If you do make gravy, save any leftovers for adding to your soup, just like you would the drippings.  Enjoy your roast chicken dinner!

Dennis and I get at least 4 or 5 meals from one chicken.  We eat several meals from the roasted meat itself, and then, I make soup from the carcass.  Here’s how to get all the goodness from that chicken carcass.

Sublime Roasted Chicken Soup

First, place the carcass on a cookie sheet.  Rub a little olive oil on the exposed shreds of white meat that are left on the carcass and sprinkle it lightly with salt and pepper or the same seasoning mix you used before roasting the chicken.  Turn the chicken carcass upside down! Place in 400-425 degree oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the carcass is a golden, toasty brown color.

The reason for roasting the carcass again is two-fold.  First, roasting creates flavor and color in your broth.  (If you want clear, pale chicken broth like the stuff that comes out of a can, don’t roast.  But you won’t have nearly as much flavor.)  The second reason to roast is that the high heat on the bones helps them release minerals and nutrients into the broth or stock.

While the carcass is roasting, peel and cut four large carrots into bite-sized chunks or cubes.  Chop or slice four ribs of celery.  Chop one onion.  (You can add more of any vegetable if you like.  I often add more carrots because I love carrots in soups and stews.)  When the carcass is golden brown, remove it from the oven and place it in a large soup pot.  Add just enough water to cover the carcass and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover with a tight-fitting lid.  You will immediately notice how rich the broth looks, much darker than broth from an unroasted carcass.  Color equals flavor!

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The carcass will need to cook about an hour to loosen all the meat from the bones and to release the flavor.  Drain the fat from the cookie sheet, and place carrots, celery, and onions on it, stirring to coat them in the leftover chicken fat.  Spread the vegetables out on the cookie sheet, sprinkle them with a little salt and pepper or the seasoning mix you used on the chicken/carcass, and return to the oven, roasting the vegetables until they also begin to take on some color.  You’ll be amazed at how much more flavor you get out of your vegetables by roasting them.  (You can also sauté them in a little olive oil or butter on the stovetop, but why dirty up another pan, and the oven is already hot!)

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When the vegetables are a little browned, remove them from the oven and scrape the cookie sheet to loosen any that have stuck to the pan.  Set them aside.  Do not add them to the soup pot until after you have removed the chicken carcass and bones from the pot.

When the carcass is falling apart in the broth, it’s time to remove it.  Use a spider or slotted spoons to remove the carcass from the broth, and set it aside to cool.  While the carcass is cooling, you can add your roasted vegetables to the broth.  (I also rinse the cookie sheet with the broth, holding it over the soup pot and ladling the broth over it, to get off any little stuck bits of brown goodness, which adds flavor.)  This is the time to add the pan drippings you saved when you roasted your chicken, or any leftover gravy.  If you saved pan drippings, before you add them, be sure to remove the fat that rose to the top of the drippings as they cooled.  Your drippings should be mostly gelatinized.  That means flavor!  Taste the broth and adjust for seasoning.  Remember to use the same seasoning mix you used when you roasted the chicken as you season your broth.  This keeps competing flavors at a minimum.  When the carcass is cooled enough to handle, pick the remaining meat from the bones and add it back into the broth.

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At this point, your soup is essentially done, and you can serve it as is.  But there is much more you can do with it.  You can turn it into Everything But the Kitchen Sink or Clean Out the Fridge Roasted Chicken Soup.  Just start prospecting in your fridge and pantry.  To my last batch of soup, I added a couple of cubed potatoes, a cup or so of leftover green beans, about a cup and a half of leftover Seven Bean and Ham Soup (made with the leftover Christmas ham), and some Swiss chard I put in the freezer last year and rediscovered recently.  This produced a rich, hearty, soup-that-eats-like-a-meal.  One bowl of this contains all the meat and veggies you need for a complete meal, and if you are watching your weight, this soup is very figure-friendly.

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Of course, you can add noodles or rice, if you wish, but since I have been trying to eliminate grains from my diet, I usually add a can of rinsed, dark red kidney beans, or a can of black beans to my chicken soups in lieu of pasta.  This keeps the soup low-carb but hearty and full of protein.  I sometimes cook noodles or rice separately so that Dennis can put some in the bottom of his bowl and pour the soup over it.  That way, we both have what we want.  We will have several meals from a big pot of soup, and I’ve been known to freeze a quart for a snowy day.  I’ve found that soup is one of the best ways to stretch my food dollars and use leftovers that would otherwise be wasted.

Is soup-making work?  Yes.  Is it time-consuming?  Yes.  Is it worth it?  Yes, yes, yes.  Flavorful and nourishing:  it’s no wonder chicken soup has been known for years not just as comfort food, but as food for the soul.

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condiment, Main dishes, Recipes

Dried Tomato Skin Rub and Pulled Pork

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I have about a pint of powdered dried tomato skins, a by-product of canning tomatoes this summer.   I know some people thought I was nuts for saving, drying, and grinding the skins you have to peel off the tomatoes for salsa, sauce, and canned tomatoes.  But I have learned that these dried tomato skins pack quite a flavor punch.  I’ve been using them in chip dips, soups, and sauces.  Now, I’ve added them to a homemade pork rub which produced beautifully-seasoned pulled pork cooked in the crock pot.   Of course, the rub is still very good without the tomato skins.  Why wouldn’t it be with all that wonderful spice!

Pork Rub (with Dried Tomato Skins)

1 tablespoon dried tomato skin powder

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon kosher or coarsely-ground sea salt

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (see note below)

2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika (see note below)

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon garlic powder

Mix well and rub on dry meat.  This rub would be good on spare ribs or chicken, as well as the pulled pork recipe below.

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Easy Pulled Pork

4-5 lb. pork shoulder, pork tenderloin, or pork loin roast (see note below)

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, chopped

a few drops of liquid smoke (optional)

2 cups chicken stock

Rub all sides of pork with seasoning mix (above).  At this point, you can rest the pork in the fridge for up to 12 hours to get the most flavor out of the rub.  Or, you can start cooking it right away in the crock pot.  Because this big hunk of meat takes so long to cook in the crock pot (8-12 hours), the rub gets into the meat nicely during cooking.  When you are ready to cook your pork, proceed as follows.

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Place onion and garlic in bottom of large crock pot, pour in chicken stock, add a few drops of liquid smoke if desired (be cautious, it’s strong) and place rubbed pork on top.  Cover and cook on high for about 8 hours; on low it may take up to 12 hours.  Cook until the meat is falling off the bone or shreds easily with a fork .  Remove meat from crock pot.  Rest, covered loosely with foil, until steam is no longer rising from meat.  While meat is resting, make sauce.

Barbecue Sauce

Pour the liquid, onions, and garlic from the crock pot into a medium-sized sauce pan.  Add 1 cup of ketchup or 1 ½-2 cups of tomato sauce, 1/3 cup of molasses or 1/4 cup of brown sugar (adjust sweetness to your taste), 1 tablespoon of Worchestershire sauce, 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, and bring to boil over high heat.  Lower heat to produce medium boil and reduce sauce until it reaches desired consistency, stirring frequently to prevent sticking.  It should thicken to a gravy-like consistency but not be too thick to pour.

Pull rested meat into shreds with two forks.  Pour sauce over meat or serve sauce on the side.

Notes:  I have listed cayenne pepper here, but of course, if you are heat-sensitive, you can omit it or use less.  I actually didn’t use cayenne.  I used a hot pepper mix that Theresa, my son-in-law’s mother, gave me.  She buys two varieties of very hot peppers in the market in Kaduna, Nigeria, boils them, dries them in the sun, and grinds them to powder.  She gave me a half-pint of this stuff, and I love it.  It is very hot, hotter than cayenne, but very flavorful.  I intend to try her technique with my habaneros I’ve been ripening on the cut bush in the laundry room.

Also, I listed hot smoked paprika, which I just discovered in bulk at the WinCo store in Reno.  I’ve heard about it for years, but it isn’t easy to find, and it normally isn’t cheap.  It’s quite affordable at WinCo.  I love the flavor it gives, but you could easily substitute plain paprika and add just a drop more of liquid smoke, if you wish.

You can make pulled pork with boneless pork tenderloin or loin roasts, but the best cut of pork for this dish is a pork shoulder roast (also known as butt).  Bone-in is best because the meat has more flavor when cooked on the bone.  The long, slow cooking time tenderizes this tougher cut of meat and allows the fat to cook all the way out, producing a tender, flavorful, and juicy dish.  This dish can also be cooked in a large Dutch oven or turkey roaster with a tight-fitting lid.  Bake at 325 degrees until meat is tender and pulls apart with a fork.  It will take slightly less cooking time in the oven, so keep checking for desired tenderness.

The rub mix gets into the liquid in the crock pot as the meat cooks, so there is no need to add more salt or pepper to the sauce when you use the cooking liquid as the base of your sauce, unless you are a salt fiend.  This produces a medium-hot barbecue sauce.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Nigerian pepper mix on left, tomato skins in center, finished rub on right.

We enjoyed this dish so much the other night, I’m planning to cook it again on New Year’s Eve for the family get-together.   I normally take pictures of the finished food, but after smelling this pork cooking all day, we just couldn’t wait to dive into it.  I served the pulled pork and sauce with sourdough rolls, baked beans, and coleslaw, but on this New Year’s Eve, we are having a feast of Nigerian food, prepared by my son-in-law, Solomon, and his mother, Theresa, with help from Amy and me.  I think the pork will go well with the Nigerian dishes, and hopefully, I’ll have some Nigerian recipes to share with you all at a later date.  Happy New Year, everybody.

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Main dishes, Recipes

(Bear) Sausage-stuffed Acorn Squash

Enough with the turkey already!  I’m working on new ways to use the four boxes of winter squash my garden produced this year.  I love all the old ways I use the squash, but I like to play in my kitchen.  This is my latest endeavor with acorn squash.  The Mighty Bear Hunter and I really enjoyed it.  I used our bear sausage, but you could use any ground sausage mix, although I would recommend going fairly lean with this one, as the squash will absorb any fat released from the sausage.  I only used one squash for Dennis and me, but I wrote the recipe for four people.  Just decrease the proportions by half if you’re empty-nesting like us, or double if you still have hungry teenagers at home.

Sausage-stuffed Acorn Squash

(serves 4)

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2 large acorn squash, halved lengthwise and seeds removed

1 lb. ground breakfast sausage*  (See note)

½ cup chopped onions

½ cup chopped green, red, or yellow bell peppers (optional, and you could certainly add other vegetables)

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large or extra-large egg, lightly beaten

¼ cup milk

½ cup plain bread crumbs OR oat bran* OR gluten-free almond flour bread crumbs

2 tablespoons dehydrated veggie flakes (optional)

¼ teaspoon salt (or more to your taste)

¼ teaspoon black pepper (or more to your taste)

Pinch of red pepper flake (optional)

Olive oil

Saute onions, peppers, and garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil until tender.  Set aside to cool.  Rub squash cavities with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Mix ground sausage, egg, milk, bread crumbs and seasonings.  Mix in sautéed vegetables. Line a pan large enough to hold the squash with foil.  Arrange squash halves so they will sit level.  (Ball up aluminum foil to use as wedges if needed.)  Fill squash cavities with meat mixture and smooth into mounds.  Brush sauce (below) over meat mixture.  Bake uncovered for 60 to 75 minutes at 375 degrees, or until meat juices run clear, and flesh of acorn squash is tender.   If desired, brush tops of meat with leftover sauce 15 minutes before end of cooking time.

Sauce:

¼ cup ketchup

¼ cup spicy brown mustard

2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce

1 tablespoon maple syrup

Mix together.  Brush sauce on meat.

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Notes:  I use breakfast sausage in this recipe because it is commonly flavored with sage, fennel seed, and red pepper flake, all of which go well with the semi-sweet squash.  (Acorn squash is the least sweet of the winter squashes, in my opinion.)  Our bear sausage is very lean.  If I were using pork sausage, I would look for the leanest mix I could find or cut it with a lean meat like ground turkey.  Alternatively, to get more fat out of a higher-fat sausage mix, you could brown the sausage, drain it and cool it, then mix the other ingredients into it before filling the squash cavities.  If I were doing it this way, I would also precook the squash before filling it by roasting in a 400 degree oven for about 30 min.  Then after filling the squash, reduce heat to 350 and bake until set and sauce is caramelized.

Before I decided to eliminate gluten and grains as much as possible from my diet, I discovered, quite by accident, that the best binder for meatloaf and meatballs is oat bran.  Bread crumbs are the traditional binder for ground meats, but they can make for a tough loaf or ball.  I’d been trying to increase fiber while reducing net carbs for a long time, so I turned to oats, but I found that whole oats affected the texture of the meatloaf and made it somewhat chewy.  So one day when I went to the pantry to grab the oatmeal jar for meat loaf, I spied the oat bran jar.  And I thought, hmmm.  Well, why not try it?  I used the same amount of oat bran as I would use of oatmeal, which is about 1 ¼ cups to 2 lbs. of meat.  And I’m telling you, after that first attempt, I would never go back to either oatmeal or bread crumbs, because the oat bran binds perfectly and produces an incredibly tender meatloaf or meatball.  And it adds more fiber than bread crumbs.  Try oat bran in your next meatloaf or batch of meatballs, and I think you’ll see what I mean.

Of course, now that I’m trying to eliminate gluten from my diet, I’ve been using almond flour bread crumbs.  I save the heels (which are small) of the almond flour bread in a bag in the freezer and then dry them when I have enough to make it worthwhile at 170-200 degrees in the oven on cookie sheets.  When they’re dry, I pop them into the food processor and pulse until they are in crumbs.  Then they go back in a plastic bag and into the freezer, ready to go for the next dish.

I served these sausage-stuffed acorn squash with a salad and a helping of kale and chard, the last from the garden.  What a way to get your veggies!

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Desserts, Leftovers, Main dishes, Recipes

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Green Turkey Enchiladas and Pumpkin Pie Milkshakes

Most of us have a favorite way to use up Thanksgiving leftovers.  I’m freezing my leftover stuffing to use later this winter with the Cornish game hens I have in the freezer.  I usually make turkey soup, but yesterday, it occurred to me that I have all that green tomato salsa verde that I made earlier this fall, and why not use up the leftover carved turkey in some green enchiladas?   I hadn’t tried the sauce yet, and since I just picked another box of green tomatoes out of the greenhouse, I might want to make more of it.

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I made two pans of enchiladas, one with gluten-free tortillas for me, and one with flour tortillas for the rest of the family.   And they liked it quite a bit, so I might be making more salsa verde this week.

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I chopped three or four cups of leftover turkey, both white and dark meat, into bite-sized pieces.  This made six gluten-free enchiladas for me, and ten regular enchiladas for the family.  I had cheese already shredded in the freezer, so I used what I had, which was white cheddar.  My favorite cheese for green enchiladas is pepper jack, but Monterey jack is also good.  I lined my pans with foil because I plan to put any leftovers into the freezer for a quick, heat-up meal on rushed days.  The foil will allow me to lift the cooled enchiladas out of the pan, so I can wrap them with more foil and plastic for a tight seal.

Green Turkey Enchiladas

(makes 8-12 enchiladas)

1 pkg. medium-sized flour tortillas (12)

3 cups chopped turkey, light or dark meat or mixed

2 cups blended salsa verde (1 pint jar)

1 cup chopped onions

1 small can sliced black olives

2 cups shredded cheese

1 cup chunky salsa verde

Spray the bottom of a 13X9 inch pan with cooking spray (or oil it with a pastry brush) and spread a generous spoonful of sauce on the bottom of the pan.  Reserve a quarter cup of sauce for spreading on top.  Mix the rest of the sauce in a large bowl with the turkey, onions, chunky salsa verde, and olives.  It’s easiest to mix the cheese in at this point as well, reserving a quarter cup for the top.  What you end up with doesn’t look that tasty, but it will be, I promise.

Starting at one edge, place 3-4 tablespoons of the turkey filling mixture along the edge of the tortilla.  Roll it up and place it seam side down in the pan.  Continue until you have used all the filling mixture (you may have leftover tortillas).  Paint the tops of the enchiladas with the reserved sauce and sprinkle with reserved cheese.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or until enchiladas are bubbly and cheese is melted and golden brown.

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Serving suggestions:  Top with sour cream, more of the chunky salsa verde, chopped avocado, pico de gallo.  Black beans with garlic and lime make a nice side dish.  With a green salad, you have a complete meal.

This dish was a hit with the family.  We finished the meal with a recipe of my daughter’s, a pumpkin pie milk shake.  The first time she made this, she included the pie crust from the leftover pie, but we have since decided it’s better without the crust, so we make extra custard now specifically for this dessert.  We first used homestyle vanilla ice cream, but last year, we discovered that Dulce de Leche ice cream adds depth.  You can turn this into an adult drink with the addition of a shot per serving of the alcohol of your choice.  Rum, bourbon, or brandy are all good choices.  Of course, you can always just eat the pumpkin pie as is!

Amy’s Pumpkin Pie Milk Shake

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(makes about 4 one cup servings)

1 quart  of Dulce de Leche ice cream

1 cup milk

1 cup leftover pumpkin pie custard

whipped cream (optional)

Blend all ingredients together and pour into glasses.  Garnish with whipped cream.

Later this week, I will make turkey soup out of the pan drippings in the fridge and the two carcasses in the freezer.  If you’ve got a good recipe for using up Thanksgiving leftovers, I’d love to hear it.

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