Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Louisiana Strawberry

Louisiana Strawberries ~ Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!
 
I recently purchased this luscious flat of Louisiana strawberries from our local 4-H club. I couldn't resist supporting our local 4-H and our local Louisiana strawberry farmers. An annual benefit the likes of this is right up my alley. Who wouldn't want ripe, sweet strawberries? What a fantastic thing to sell.

The afternoon they were delivered I was of course working, however, going home to a chore like processing strawberries is not a chore at all to me. I reserved two boxes to just enjoy. The rest...here's how I did it. I used the dry sugar method which is a bit of a misnomer since the sugaring process creates copious amounts of juice.

First, I removed and discarded the caps and tossed the berries into a bowl for a cool bath. I rinsed them twice to be sure they were spanking clean. Next, I carefully laid them onto a super clean cotton kitchen towel to dry. After draining and drying sufficiently I tossed the berries back into a large bowl and added the sugar, one-half cup sugar per pint. I had six boxes so three cups of sugar. After sprinkling the sugar over all the fruit, I very carefully and gently mixed the sugar and berries. Then I allowed them to sit at room temperature until the sugar melted. I stirred them carefully again and sealed them, juice and all, using my fabulous Food Saver. I ♥ my Food Saver a bunch. I happily found room in the freezer for four brilliantly red bags of this delicious fruit.





Perfection in a fruit!

A bath in cool water.
They look happy, don't you think?

Big, sweet and juicy ~ And the color is striking
Showered with sugar
Ready to seal
Four bags of sweetened, crimson strawberries in the freezer for tasty pies or cakes or as a topping for creamy cheesecake

~ * ~
 

I'm thinking strawberry jam, à la minute, for a weekend brunch will probably be my first creation with one of these bundles of Spring

~ * ~

Tastes like home

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Waste Not ~ Want Not

I love cooking Sunday dinner for my guys. Or anyone for that matter. And I love the traditional dishes I grew up eating at the family tables of my childhood. This past weekend I did Pot Roast, a staple at Ma's Sunday dinner table. A big Beef Chuck Roast to be exact with potato, onion, carrot and sweet potato thrown in at the end of the cooking time. I never add these until the last to keep them from overcooking. No mushy veggies for me. I serve the veggies cooked in the pot roast stock separate by removing them to a warm platter and layering the sliced roast alongside. I never leave them in the stock. That's reserved for gravy. Oh, yum. Trouble is, I cooked too much this time. I can't stand to throw away food if I can dream up a redo that's interesting; a way that totally transforms the ingredients into something almost exciting. My bright idea this time I must share with you. Monday is a day I frankly do not want to get in the kitchen and cook for too long. So it's usually simple and quick. Soup and salad is simple and quick and that's what we had last evening. Romaine Salad and Creamy "Pot Roast Veggie" Soup.  

Note: Having lots of veggies leftover was fortuitous for utilizing on Monday's menu. These veggies have tremendous flavor, so what a shame to waste them. To store them for later use I put them in a plastic bag and toss in the fridge.

Creamy "Pot Roast Veggie" Soup
Leftover potato, onion, carrot & sweet potato
(you could use plain oven roasted veggies)
Cream
Milk
Chicken stock
Freshly grated nutmeg
Black pepper
Salt
Chives as garnish
Dill as garnish
 
So to begin this soup, I filled my Vitamix blender a little more than half-full of leftover veggies and 1 cup of chicken stock. I pureed until smooth. Add more stock if needed to blend well. Then into a small pot to finish. I added about 1/2 to 2/3 cup of cream and enough milk and stock to thin it out a bit. Roughly half milk to half stock. I brought it up to a low simmer and grated a bit of nutmeg to my taste. Probably a pinch if measured. Black pepper to taste and salt if needed. Boom! Done! Just like that I had a tasty soup with tons of flavor. To garnish, I just drifted over some chives and some dried dill weed. You could grate a bit of hard cheese over such as Parmesan, Asiago, Romano, Dubliner etc. Served with a light salad it was a perfect dinner. Simple, quick and scrumptious.  

My creamy soup and Romaine salad with tortilla strip crunchies

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pork and Pineapple

The Purple Pot
I recently purchased a new pot for my collection of cast iron. This one is enamel lined and purple. I have another enamel lined cast iron pot that's bright green; a sassy French one to be exact. The new purple pot is much larger, six quarts, which was my main reason for seeking it out. The size of this pot will allow plenty of room for chicken frying or gumbo for a crowd. So needless to say I couldn't wait to wash it, dry it and begin cooking. I just never expected to buy a purple one, however. Now I need a gold one...Geaux Tigers! 

I think I've used it every day since I brought it home. Here we go with a recipe I invented from ingredients I had on hand. Sans the Pork Chops. I had to stop off at Mac's for those. Two thick cut beauty's I might add. Although I know there's nothing new under the sun, a recipe that I invent is new to me. Happy ingredients in a pretty pot is a beautiful thing. My spur-of-the-moment idea was well received by The Horn Player and me and, yes, I will make it again. 

Note: You could use pork tenderloin sliced across the grain and flattened. A pork tenderloin paillard so to speak. And I think I will do just that the next time I make it. And you could use canned or frozen pineapple, but I personally think fresh pineapple is one of the most delicious fruits there is, so I will use fresh again on my next effort. One more thing; I served this with Fried Rice which was a perfect side for the sweet/savory main dish. I'll post my recipe for that later.
 
Pork Chops in Pineapple Sauce

2 thick center cut pork chops
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
3 to 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1-1/2 heaping tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
1 jar Cocktail sauce
1-1/2 cups fresh pineapple, largely diced
Salt
Black pepper
Green onions, sliced

Rinse the pork chops under cold water and pat completely dry. Sprinkle very lightly with salt and black pepper; set aside. Splash the olive oil into the pot and bring up to heat. Add the pork chops and brown on both sides. Do not cook completely. Remove the chops and add the chopped onion. Cook on medium/high heat until the onion is soft, about 5 or so minutes. Toss in the garlic, ginger and fresh pineapple and stir well until heated through. Add the jar of Cocktail sauce and scrape the bottom of the pot to remove the sticky bits that give so much color and flavor. I'm very fond of fond.  Nestle the pork chops back into the pan allowing the sauce to cover the meat for better cooking and to capture the essence of the delicious sauce.

Taste for salt balance and adjust as you like. Cook on low heat until the chops are done. At the last, sprinkle over sliced green onion's. Serve each pork chop with a generous ladle of the pineapple sauce and plenty of the pineapple bits. Add more green onion for garnish.

Isn't it gorgeous!

I love using a sheet of wax paper to prep messy foods. All you need to do when your task is complete is crumple it up and toss it away. So here's a chunky little Pork Chop on a sheet of wax paper ready to be salted and peppered.
 
My salt cellar is an antique butter dish from Ma and the black pepper is in a shell from Ship Island given to me by The Horn Player's mom

Lightly seasoned with Kosher salt and black pepper

In the Purple Pot getting brown
Flipped
Flavorful fond in the bottom of the pot with onion and garlic
I ♥ my Microplane ~ Perfect for mincing fresh ginger
Fresh pineapple and spicy ginger sweetening the pot
It's saucy now with the addition of the Cocktail sauce
Ready to slice, serve and yum!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Baby, it's cold outside!

The Lott's Chicken and Rice
The title of this post, cliché as it sounds, reflects just how I've felt over the last few days. A Polar Vortex has descended into the swamp land and that's actually a bit scary to me. I'm a Deep-South lovin', flip-flop wearin' Louisiana lady and I do not like cold weather. I confess heartfelt sympathy for my Northern family and friends and wonder how in heaven's name they can stand wearing all those clothes just to go check the mail. No thanks!

We don't have the extreme problems they have but nevertheless, it's still very cold here. And even though I confess I'm (already) getting a bit tired of winter food, there is a simple one-pot recipe that always hits the spot, no matter. It warms you up and that's just what I need/want for dinner tonight. My Pappy and Mammy Lott were the best at making Chicken and Rice. Not by any means an elaborate dish, no swanky presentation, just a piping hot bowl that comfort's like nobody's business. It's the only thing our family really wants to eat when any of us get a cold or flu in the winter. It hugs you and then tucks you in. It's culinary medicine, y'all. 

My version remains simple just like my grandparent's recipe, but I do tweak a bit. Chicken and Rice is a simple dish, but not really that easy. To achieve the perfect consistency, there's a few steps that must be exact. The timing needs to be spot on or the result is too dry with squishy overdone rice. Adding too much stock to rice ratio can result in soup, not Chicken and Rice.  Now, mind you, I prefer mine a bit soupy, not to say swimming in broth, but not dry either.

I also like to add a bit of green onion and at times a veggie, such as zucchini when in season. Finely diced carrot or fresh English peas are also delicious. It's a recipe that is open to interpretation or can remain as plain as a Puritan. But the must for me is at serving time, the pièce de résistance, lemon. I adore lemon and lime and orange and grapefruit, all citrus really. Citrus juice and zest are indispensable in my daily cooking. And lemon is precisely the right acidic spritz to cut the richness of the chicken, add brightness to the stock and pair perfectly with the aromatic rice. My grandparents would never have added lemon or green onions and veggies in season, but if they could be with me tonight (God rest their souls) I bet they'd like my version. 

Chicken and Rice isn't indigenous to the South or to Louisiana either, but since we're a rice producing state it's a very common favorite, hereabouts. We cook lots of recipes that call for rice and for me chicken is a great partner. Let's begin...

Note: This recipe would serve 4 people easily. It can be adjusted for your needs. I used 4 large chicken thighs and 1-1/2 cups rice.

The Lott's Chicken and Rice

4 to 6 chicken thighs
1 box of chicken stock
Water if needed
1-1/2 - 2 cups raw white long grain rice
3 or 4 chopped green onions (both white and green)
Kosher salt
Black Pepper
Lemon

Into a stock or soup pot add the chicken thighs and enough stock to cover. If the stock doesn't cover the chicken, add enough water to do so. Bring up the heat to just below a boil, but quickly reduce to low/medium simmer to poach the chicken. Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes or until the chicken is just done. Remove to a platter and cool. Then de-bone into bite sized pieces. 


Chicken thighs ready for the stock

Poaching in a pot of stock

Rinsing the rice
Rinse the rice in cold water until it runs clear. There is always a question from someone on whether to wash rice or not. I always wash rice and this is a place where I do not want excess starch to cloud or thicken the wonderful stock. So rinse your rice.

Note: The only exception I can think of at the moment is in Risotto making. Here you would want to begin with dry rice and the Arborio rice used for this is meant to be starchy to create the characteristic creaminess of Risotto. 

Pearly rice drifting into the chicken stock
Before adding the rice, adjust the stock to at least 4 *heaping* cups and add plain water if more is needed. Taste test here for salt because none has been added with the stock being salted. Add to your preference, but carefully. Add the black pepper, bring to a boil and shower the rice into the pot, stirring well afterward. Add the green onions and the diced chicken. Reduce the heat to simmer and cover with a lid, but not tightly. Angle the lid slightly. This is where it gets tricky so keep a close watch on its progress. When the rice begins to swell, taste test to check the tenderness. Just before its done, when still rather al dente, remove the entire pot from the heat and close the lid completely allowing it to steep for 5 minutes or so. And be sure there is enough liquid to finish without becoming too dry. Add more warmed stock if necessary. Remove the lid and add the juice of 1/2 lemon and stir. Serve to a happy family or friend.
LOVE lemon
Big pot of luscious comfort

Chicken and Rice with another burst of lemon, served with a hot slice of Cornbread




It's just right!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Sweet Ending


Poached Pear in Wine Sauce
I love simple dessert's that don't require fussing and bother for hours on end. Especially after a rather heavy meal. I repeated my Standing Rib Roast for our Christmas main course and the side dishes I made were the usual suspects for beef. So I thought a dessert re-do which happens to be a favorite of ours would be just perfect. Plus, it looks Christmasy. All reddish-plum colored and pretty. 


Poached Pears in Wine Sauce

2 cups or so dry red wine
1/2 cup Marsala
Sugar to taste
Light grinding of nutmeg
Water
4 firm pears
Heavy whipping cream

Peel the pears leaving the stem for handling and affect; I think it's attractive. Remove the seeds from the pear by CAREFULLY inserting a slender paring knife into the bottom of the pear, then coring out the center. You do not have to be exact in this step. Just get most of the seeds. Next slice a small portion from each pear's bottom allowing it to sit evenly in the pot of bubbling dry red wine. 

Oh my, doesn't that sound wonderful.

Place the pears into a medium-sized, high-sided sauce pot that fits the pears snugly. In a separate bowl, stir together the dry red wine, Marsala, enough sugar to sweeten well (taste to be sure it's nice and sweet) and an aromatic grind of nutmeg. Pour over the pears and adjust with enough water to cover the pears. Bring to a high heat then reduce to simmer until the pears are tender. Insert a knife to check for softness. Not so soft they would fall apart, however. Remove the pears to a bowl, cover and chill until ready to serve. Leave the wine sauce on the heat and stir often to assure it doesn't scorch. Reduce the wine sauce to a light syrupy consistency.  Then place in the fridge to chill with the pears.



Delicious poached pear sitting in a pool of wine sauce and a pillow of fresh whipped cream.

Just before serving, chill your mixer bowl. Bowl and cream should be cold for the fluffiest whipped cream. Add the well-chilled heavy whipping cream to the bowl and mix until soft peaks form. No need to sweeten this cream because the wine sauce is quite sweet enough. Remove the pears from the fridge and place each into a dessert dish (I used a Champagne Coupe) and cascade the burgundy wine sauce over the top to serve. Or puddle a bit of the sauce into the dish, add a dollop of whipped cream and nestle the crimson pear into the cloud of cream. Serve and enjoy with a nice cup of very dark rich coffee, no sugar please. 
 

Lovely, impressive, easy, elegant, delicious!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Creamy Grits ~ Gotta Love 'Um

So, I keep my Grits in the freezer and this is the typical recipe written on the top for easy reference. As if I need it. I've cooked a few Grits in my life.

A quart of yummyness!

Grated Cheddar & Pepper Monterey Jack

Stirring the pot.
I did not use water to cook these Grits. I used Milk and Half n Half, one cup each.


Cheese over the top of the very Creamy Grits, stirred and melted.

Tiny butter pat over the top and bacon over the hill.

So delicious!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

And after all that...Cabbage Rolls

Every time I go to an old fashioned restaurant, I order Cabbage Rolls if I see it on the menu. I love the little packet of veggie wrapped meat covered in a rich tomato sauce. It's plain and simple but so delicious. 

I rarely make Cabbage Rolls myself because it is not the easiest dish in my repertoire of culinary delights. In fact, if you decide to make them as I did this weekend, just go ahead and get out most of the pots, bowls, cutting boards, knives, spoons, etc. You're gonna need all of it. And when I choose a recipe with several steps, I usually try to get a jump on the prep by making the portion of the recipe that allows advance planning. In this case, it's the sauce. That flavorful stuff that gets slathered over the top of the tasty little bundles just before going in the oven. 

Sauce:

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 chopped onion
2-3 minced garlic cloves
1 large chopped red banana pepper (or 1/2 red bell pepper)
1-28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper


Softening the aromatics

Cookin' low and slow
Butter and olive oil in the pot warmed to a bubbling sizzle; next the onion, garlic and banana pepper cooked until translucent and soft. Add the tomatoes, stock, brown sugar and cider vinegar. Allow the pot to come up to a medium/high heat, stir well but then reduce to a simmer. Cook until it has reduced somewhat, taste for salt or any other seasoning you would like to add. Please your palate, I always say. When the sauce is just right, remove and cool. Pour into a bowl and place it in the fridge until needed.

Rolling Material:

1 head of cabbage
1-2 cups water
Salt


Remove any discolored leaves from the outside and core the cabbage with a small paring knife. Rinse under cool water.

Add the water to a pot and lightly salt. Place the cabbage core side down in the pot and steam about 8 to 10 minutes. Do not overdo this step, we're not cooking it, simply getting it softened and easy to roll.
In the pot steaming away.

Rinse with cool tap water in order to handle the disassembling. Careful, it's very hot.

My bowl of leaves ready to begin the filling.

Filling:

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium chopped onion
1 chopped banana pepper (or 1/2 green bell pepper)
2 minced garlic cloves
1 to 1-1/2 cups par-cooked rice
1 to 1-1/2 pounds of ground round beef
1/2 pound ground pork sausage (a good tasty one)
2 eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon celery seed

Cook the rice until it's about half-done. In pasta terms, al dente. Add the butter and olive oil to a pan and heat until the butter is melted. Add the onion, banana pepper and garlic and cook until softened. Into a large mixing bowl add the ground round and pork sausage and mix well. This will probably require using your hands. Add the rice and mix once more. Break the eggs into the bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Mix well and set aside until you begin rolling.
These are leftover leaves or pieces that I used to line the bottom of the baking pan.
As a clean work surface, I laid a long piece of waxed paper on my butcher block. I love waxed paper and use it so often for things such as this. 
I do not remove the stem of the cabbage leaf, but rather trim it down until it's flat. Way better idea; it makes it much easier to roll up.

Meat filling into the center of the cabbage leaf.

Fold up the bottom of the leaf.

Then both sides.

Then the top of the leaf.

Now, how easy was that?

Big ole pan of cabbage rolls. Did I mention this makes enough to feed a small country?

The sauce from the fridge ready to pour over the rolls.

Before baking and gorgeous. Cover with aluminum foil and place into a preheated oven at 350 degrees for about 2 hours.


After baking and gorgeous and delicious.

Best served with creamy, dreamy mashed potatoes. Where's my fork and knife!