Thursday, January 31, 2013

Skillet Potatoes

Realizing that the bag of potatoes that I had in my pantry should really be used up as soon as possible (when did I actually buy those things???), I decided to throw something together that would also use up some other extra perishables that I had in the fridge.  What came together was a delicious melding of starch and fat and flavor...I'm actually a little bit bummed out that I finished the last of it today as a side dish to my venison lunch.  Without further ado, here's a recipe that I recommend you try right away, given how easy it is to make in just one pan. 

  • 6-7 medium sized yellow/butter potatoes
  • 1 large spanish onion
  • 1 large green bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup of leaf lard
  • 1/4 cup of tallow
  • Salt, pepper, paprika
  1. Dice all of the vegetables up into small cubes.
  2. Fry the diced vegetables in the hot mixture of fats in a large skillet (stainless of cast iron)
  3. Once everything has browned to crisped perfection, season liberally with salt, pepper, and paprika and place (covered) in a 275F oven for 45 minutes to finish cooking
While the initial frying will not cook the potatoes through, the trip in the oven really gives the tubers the opportunity to soften up and absorb all of the fat and flavor while the onions and peppers become merely a soft and deeply caramelized reminder of the crispy lives that they once led.  I served these along side fried eggs and tossed them with ground venison.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Roasted Beets

Beets can be a somewhat vexing vegetable to tackle if you are unfamiliar with them.  They have a fairly sweet flavor that takes ownership of most dishes in which they are incorporated, and the ruby red color will infiltrate anything that you add them to (and do a number on skin and clothing, as well).  I find that the easiest way to cook them also results in the tastiest results, so I roast them whole.  Less work, less mess, delicious end product.

When selecting beets, try to get a group that are uniform in size, which will simplify the cooking process even further.  A larger beet will take longer to cook then a smaller one; it's as simple as that.  Choose beets that have fresh, vibrant leaves still attached and that are heavy and very firm.

Get the beets home and cut off the stems very close to the beets themselves.  I save the greens to put into soups and other dishes.  Wash the beets thoroughly, place them whole in an oven safe dish, and bake for about an hour at 375F.  Pull them out and let them cool down enough to peel, then slice and serve them.  Roasting the beets intensifies the flavor, as opposed to boiling them.  Cooked beets are also easier to peel and much, much easier to slice  We like them as a hot side dish to roasted chicken, or served cold the next day for lunch with egg salad (or some of that leftover chicken).  

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Parsley and Jicama Bulgur Salad

Parsley and Jicama Bulgur Salad

Tabbouleh Variations

He cooks, she eats, they blog.  That's the core of what we're doing here, and here's a simple recipe that I tossed together (literally, hah) for Christa for a late lunch today while she is out on the slopes.

I like tabbouleh because there is no end to the variety of ingredients that you can add to a cold bulgur wheat salad.  It travels very well, it's easy to make and store beforehand, and it's a handy way to utilize leftover vegetables that you may have laying around from some other project.  For this particular variation, which serves two, you will need the following:

  • 1/2 cup bulgur wheat
  • 1 large bunch parsley
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup of lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup of diced jicama 
  • 1/3 cup of good olive oil
  • salt/pepper
  1. Pour 1/2 cup of boiling water over the wheat and let sit for about an hour.  The wheat will absorb all of the water and then cool down to room temperature while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Dice the tomatoes and jicama.  Toss them with salt, pepper, and the lemon juice in a large bowl.  I was able to get all of this juice out of a single monstrosity of a lemon - you may or many not need more than one.
  3. Pick all of the leaves off of the parsley and reserve the stems for another project (I save them to put into smoothies, but that's up to you).  Shred the leaves coarsely by hand and then fold them into the other vegetables.
  4. Toss the cooled bulgur wheat into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients and toss around to coat well with the lemon juice.  Let this sit for a few minutes, as the wheat will absorb the juice very well right now, but not so well once it is coated in oil.
  5. Before serving, drizzle the olive oil over the salad while you toss to stir.  Feel free to add less or more as you see fit.  The oil gives body and substance to the dish along with great depth of flavor, and plays well with the bright acidity of the lemon.  Finish with salt and pepper to taste.
I packed this up as a complete lunch with two hard boiled eggs and a little bit of crystallized ginger, as you can see below.  Protip: peel the eggs* if you are going to pack them for a lunch; the recipient will have a much easier time dealing with them when it is time to eat.

I don't have my camera with me today, so here's a low resolution cell-phone shot.  Not exactly food porn, but I want to include some kind of visual here for you:
These divided containers are really great

*Peeling hard boiled eggs:  We like to boil them a dozen at a time and store in the fridge for easy snacking later on.  The easiest way to peel an egg out of the fridge is to put it in a coffee mug and pour boiling water over it.  Let it sit there for just a minute - the temperature change will cause the shell to expand slightly and pull the shell membrane away from the egg white.  Peeling it while the shell is warm is very easy, and you won't spend 5 minutes picking little bits of stuff shell off of your eggs later on when it's time to eat them on the go. 

Out on the Farm

Sourcing Groceries

Happy cows are healthy cows. 
 Let me confess something here - shopping for food is absolutely my favorite kind of shopping.  I really enjoy finding good sources of healthy foods with which to make recipes from.  While I find lots of inspiration from books and the internet, and typically make my grocery lists quite organized in advance of heading out to the store, I also revel in wandering through the produce section of Whole Foods or Wegmans and choosing my upcoming menus based on what is fresh and available at the time.  Good ingredients  tend to come together naturally, while forcing a dish together with sub-par components typically yields sub-par results.

Grocery stores, such as the aforementioned, do in fact make up the majority of my food shopping trips, especially in the winter months.  I love visiting our local farm markets in the summer and fall, and given the option I would do all of my shopping there, but the reality of the situation is that in New Jersey the produce season is limited, and we don't grow coconuts or oats (which are basically dietary staples for us) that I'm aware of.  I like that Whole Foods sources at least some of their supplies from local producers, which also creates a different shopping experience depending on whether or not I happen to be down in Princeton of up in Ridgewood.  However, yesterday I made a trip for some really fantastic local food.

Vegetables might be out of season, but my nearest source of pasture raised grassfed beef is well stocked.  Going straight to the farm is such a fantastic experience and I recommend it to anyone who can (and if you do a little legwork, you will likely find a farm or six nearby).  Not only do you get to see how your food has been raised, but you can talk to the people who have raised it, and in my experience they are friendly and knowledgeable and very happy to talk shop.  I particularly like the fact that I know how my meat was treated before it reaches my table, which gives me peace of mind on the nutritional quality as well as the quality of life that the animal experienced.  You don't need to be a vegetarian to be proactive about animal welfare.  I eat animal products daily, and I treasure them as natural sources of high quality fats, protein, and vitamins/minerals.  Additionally, the money that I spent went directly to the farmer - I didn't have to pay a mark up to any middleman, and the farmer took home 100% of the retail sale.  

January isn't a high production month in the northeast for chickens that live outside freely, but the farmer and I took a walk to the coops to see if we could find a dozen or so eggs at my request.  We found only three, which she was kind enough to give to me for free, and I also got to take a look at the coops and laying boxes that they use on a small scale operation.  This was particularly neat, as Christa and I have been giving serious consideration to keeping a few chickens ourselves for egg laying once we have the space.

I picked up about 30lbs of mixed bones, some liver, a heart, and a little bit of ground beef there.  I hope that you stick around to see what I end up making out of all of it (some if will be delicious, I promise), and I encourage you to go out and meet the farmers in your area.  They are really your best source for fresh local food, and often times the healthiest and most humanely raised as well. 

Friday, January 25, 2013

Recipes We Love: Skinny Chicken Broccoli Alfredo

This is a dish I've made a couple of times. It's quick and simple. Plus, by using greek yogurt instead of heavy cream, it packs a good amount of protein without sacrificing the creamy flavor of alfredo sauce.

Check it out on Iowa Girl Eats.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

BBQ Ribs

BBQ Ribs

When we go out to eat, there are typically two types of restaurants that we frequent:  sushi and BBQ.  Good BBQ is something that goes a bit beyond the means that we have to cook at home, as a smoker is not something that we have access to.  Sushi is fun to make (and we have), but the amount of extremely fresh ingredients required to put together a good sushi spread mean that it is often easier and even more economical to dine out when seeking that kind of experience.  Also, 'going out' to eat is a fun activity to engage in from time to time, no matter how much one enjoys home cooking.  It's an excellent way to get exposure to new ideas to try at home.

When we do go out for BBQ, Christa usually likes to sample a different dish each time we go, slowly working her way through the variety of cuts and presentations while accumulating more knowledge of the cuisine and (one day) trying everything that good smoky slow cooking can accomplish.  I, on the other hand, do not consider any trip out for BBQ complete without a rack of ribs.  I love ribs - it's an easy decision to make for me.  There's something wonderful about eating perfectly cooked meat right off of the bones that appeals in ways that brisket and pulled pork never will.
I'm getting hungry just looking at this

The idea of making ribs at home, though, seemed daunting.  As I mentioned before, I cannot smoke meats without a smoker.  However, the desire to make ribs something that we could enjoy on a more regular basis led me to try out a variety of methods involving braising them for long periods in the oven and judiciously applying some extreme heat just before eating.

The results, while not exactly the same as good BBQ, certainly fill that void and provide really tasty ribs anytime we would like them at home.  The method described below works for any cut of ribs, though baby-back are preferential for us.

  • two racks of pork ribs
  • dry seasonings (either a rub or just good salt and pepper)
  • three Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • BBQ sauce (make your own or find a commercial variety that suits the bill)
Raw Materials
 See the layer of connective tissue there on the back of the racks?  You can either try to remove it entirely, or simply score it with a criss-cross pattern using a sharp knife.  I opt for the latter.  Once the racks are cleaned and dried and prepped as aforementioned, lay them out on a large sheet of aluminum foil and season with the dry seasonings of your choice.  Pour the vinegar over the racks (to provide some initial moisture for the braising process), and then tightly seal the foil into a package around the ribs.  Pop this into the oven for 4 hours at 250F.  Don't open it up, just let it do its thing in there.  What we're doing is cooking them low and slow with lots of moisture in order to soften up the connective tissues and render them quite tender.  Once the ribs have cooked entirely through, open the foil packet and drain off the excess liquid that will have accumulated during cooking.  Turn the broiler of your oven on and brush the back of the racks with BBQ sauce; just a thin layer.  Run the racks under the broiler for no more than 10 minutes, or just long enough to sear the sauce onto the meat without burning it.  Pull the ribs out and brush another coat of sauce on and then broil again.  Flip the racks and repeat this process again on the 'front' of the ribs.  I recommend doing several application of the broiler with thin layers of sauce to really bake it in, as opposed to trying to glop the sauce on too thickly.  You can apply as many layers as you like depending on personal preference.
ribs, Ribs, RIBS!

Once the ribs are broiled to your own personal level of perfection, simply let them cool down enough to serve and enjoy.  The cleanup couldn't be easier as well, as you've cooked them in the aluminum foil (no dishes to do).

This recipe along with a side might easily serve 5-6 people, unless once of those people is me.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Roast Chicken

There's something about a whole roasted chicken that ultimately is just so much more than the sum of any of its parts.  Sure, we cook the breasts (boneless and skinless if we're not interested in pleasing the palate), chicken thighs/legs, and of course one of our favorite meaty snacks: buffalo wings.  However, when a whole bird with all of the bones and skin and connective tissue is allowed to come to perfection in a hot fragrant oven, something almost magical has happened.  The best part of all is that it really takes very little effort on the part of the cook to do this right. 

Pouring the cold brine over the raw chickens the night before
I like to plan in advance for roasting whole birds, as I am a proponent of brining overnight.  To do so, clean your chickens and remove any organs from the cavity.  Place them in a nonreactive vessel (glass or stainless work well enough for this) that is large enough to completely submerge them.

The brining fluid that I use is simply a base of 1/2c of coarse salt for every 2 cups of water, along with an acid component.  For these chickens, I added some lime slices and apple cider vinegar (about 3 tablespoons) along a generous pinch of whole peppercorns.  Into the fridge they went for about 10 hours.

Once the process of brining is complete, simply remove them from the water solution (which you should discard) and them pat the skin of the chickens dry.  It's important that the skin be very dry before you proceed, so I toweled off the birds and then let them sit uncovered in the fridge for another two hours to finish evaporating any liquid on the surface of the skin.

Butter and herbs blended together
During this time, I began to make a flavored butter rub to apply to the chickens.  To do so, I simply took a large pat of pastured Irish butter and melted it in a makeshift double boiler consisting of a small glass bowl within a larger bowl full of boiling water.  To the melted butter I stirred in dried herbes de provence, coarsely ground black pepper, and some grey sea salt.  I set this aside while preparing the assembly of the birds for roasting.
Everything laid out and ready to begin
Buttered up and stuffed...ready for the oven
I turned the oven on to 450 F and then set about prepping the birds.  I lined a large roasting pan with foil to make cleanup a bit easier, and then proceeded to loosely stuff cilantro into the body cavity of the chickens and brush the melted herb butter all over the skins.  The skin should be dry in order to facilitate the adhesion of the butter mixture, which will stick quite nicely when it solidifies on contact with the cold skin of the chickens.  The herbs inside should not be packed tightly, but rather left loose enough to allow heat to circulate freely while providing delicious aromatic flavors to the chicken.  Cilantro is what I chose here because I had it on hand, but rosemary is another classic herb that lends itself very well to this purpose.  The contents of the body cavity will be discarded when the chicken is done, either way,. but they will impart lots of flavor to the meat of the chicken while they steam inside of it.

Pop the birds into the 450 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.  This initial high temperature will help to brown the nicely oiled dry skin.  After that, turn the temperature down to 350 and continue to roast for 20 minutes per pound.  As these birds weighed about 4 lbs each, they stayed in the oven for 80 minutes until the meat thermometer registered 165F in the thickest part of the chicken.

This method doesn't require any foil shielding or flipping (trying to roll a hot bird over right out of the oven is a hassle that I never want to deal with again).  The skin crisps up right away and seals in the moisture of the meat.  When you remove them from the oven, be sure to let the chickens rest for at least 20 minutes lest all of those juices run right out when you start to carve them. 

The smell doesn't make the resting period any easier.
While you can certainly enjoy a roast chicken for dinner as-is with a side, I like to reserve the meat for other dishes that I would like to put chicken in (like soup and pizzas).  Whatever you do, I would highly recommend saving the carcasses to make stock with!  We'll talk more about all of those things in a future post, though.

Roast Chicken

  1. Clean the chicken.
  2. Brine the chicken overnight in a solution of 1/2 cup coarse salt, 2 cups water, lime slices, apple cider vinegar, and peppercorns.
  3. Remove the chickens from the solution, discard liquid, and pat dry. Let the bird uncovered in the fridge sit for about 2 hours to allow excess moisture to evaporate.
  4. When the chicken is almost ready, melt butter and stir in dried herbes de provence, coarsely ground black pepper, and some grey sea salt. Set aside.
  5. Preheat oven to 450º.
  6. Stuff the bird with cilantro and coat generously with the butter mixture.
  7. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until browned.
  8. Bake at 350º for 20 minutes per pound. Internal temperature should reach at least 165º.
  9. Remove from oven and let sit for 20 minutes.
  10. Discard cilantro.
  11. Serve or prepare as desired, reserving carcass for stock.