Monthly Archives: February 2011

Apron Strings, Heart Strings

The basic purpose of an apron is to protect clothing.  Artists, children and cooks wear aprons.  Aprons can also be fashion.  Who can forget the image of the “perfect” housewife of the 50s, in her housedress, pearls, pumps, and coordinating apron?  I nostalgically associate aprons (except for my college years) with love and caring.  The people who wore them or made them for me were the people who loved me most.  Their apron strings are tied directly to my heart strings.

When I think apron, I always think of my Great-Aunt Rosie.  I don’t ever remember seeing her without an apron.  She wore those aprons that had a bib front, wide straps that crossed over each other in the back, usually made from a fabric with a small-flowered calico print, and sometimes a bit of rick-rack.  Here’s a picture of all the first cousins and Aunt Rosie.  She has a cardigan on over her apron.  

Here’s another another apron I remember from my childhood–the one my mom made for me to go to kindergarten–to protect my little jumpers from finger paints and clay.  It had my name on it, and apples for pockets!

For a few years, when I was in college, apron strings were bad.  I felt that mom was trying to control my whole life–insert teenaged eye roll here, along with angst-filled sigh–keeping me tied to her apron strings.  Age has mellowed me a bit, and now I look back fondly on those apron strings that shaped me.  The aprons that represented the women in my life that cooked for me and taught me their cooking secrets.

I have a weak spot for aprons, and can’t keep from buying the ones I love.  Like this one!  Just look at that adorable apple pocket!  Nostalgia reached out, took my hand and absolutely MADE me buy this.

 

Here are some others from my collection.  The tomato one is my favorite to wear when I make pasta sauce.  It just seems fitting.  The pink one has an old-fashioned print that reminds me of Aunt Rosie–perfect for cookie baking.  Hot sauce apron?  For making my “world famous” green tomatillo salsa!  The green one is a classic grocer’s apron from a health food grocer, The Sundrop, that went out of business here years ago.  It’s the least fancy, so DH is OK wearing it while he peels tomatoes for the pasta sauce.

Each apron has its own food connection, its own ties to the past and the ability to comfort the future.  How many of you have aprons of your own or remember the aprons of your “women folk?”  Stay tuned for holiday season–I have a collection of holiday-themed aprons all of you apron lovers won’t want to miss.  They are the perfect festive-wear to don when preparing Christmas yumminess!

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Smothered Beer-braised Chicken Burritos

It’s Oscar night!  I was feeling the need to fix somethin’ yummy, but was too lazy to drive to the store.  So.  Somethin’ yummy with what I could find in the house: essentially chicken burrito stuff.  Wah.  I wanted something more than a basic chicken (boring) burrito.  What to do?  How can I up the yummy factor of the chicken?  Hmmmm….how DOES one braise chicken?  Is that something that would work here?  A quick internet search provided the technique, a quick scurry around the kitchen provided what I hoped would be a nice combination of spices.  Result:  OMG–I don’t think I’ll ever make chicken burritos another way!

You’ve got most, if not all of this in your house if you love Mexican food:

For the beer-braised chicken:

  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of chicken–cuts of your choice  (I used boneless, skinless thighs.)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2-3 TBSP masa harina   (Fine corn meal would be OK.)
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 1 small can chopped green chilis
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 chipotles in adobo, chopped
  • 1 can or bottle of beer   (Use a good beer–the flavor will concentrate as it cooks!)

For inside  the burrito:

  • tortillas  (I used low-carb flour tortillas.)
  • 1 can of beans of your choice   (I had pintos, and they were yummy with this chicken!)
  • cooked rice   (I had leftover spanish rice.)
  • grated cheese of your choice

For the outside:

  • 1 can of Stokes Green Chili   (If you have a favorite green chili–like Durango Diner or 505 sauce, by all means, use that!)
  • grated cheese of your choice
  • chopped tomatoes, green onions, lettuce
  • avocado slices
  • sour cream or plain yogurt
  • Place a large fry pan over medium-high heat.  Add olive oil and butter. 

Mix flour and masa harina in a shallow bowl.

Place cumin, oregano, salt and pepper in a large ziploc.  Add the chicken.  Shake and rub until spices are evenly distributed upon the chicken pieces.

Remove each piece of chicken and dredge in the four mixture.  Shake off excess flour and place in the fry pan.  Working in batches as needed to prevent crowding.  (Crowding will steam the chicken, eliminating the nice crust that should form.)  Always wash hands carefully before and after handling raw meat.

Brown chicken, about 5-7 minutes per side.  Remove from heat.

While chicken browns, chop the onion and chipotles, mince the garlic and open the green chilis.

Transfer chicken and veggies to a pot and pour the beer over the top.  Adjust the ingredients a bit to evenly distribute the peppers.  Cover and cook for 20 minutes.  (You won’t believe how yummy it will smell and how succulent the chicken will be!!!)

Heat green chili, beans, rice and tortillas.  Chop tomatoes and green onions.  Slice avocado and shred lettuce.

When chicken is done, remove each piece and chop into bite-sized pieces.

Time to assemble your burritos!  Start with a tortilla, place however much you want of the following:  cheese, chicken, beans, rice.

Tuck two ends in and roll.  Smother with green chili, more cheese, lettuce, green onion, tomatoes, avocados, and a dollop of sour cream.  Savor the yumminess that beer-braised chicken makes in a burrito!

I’m a medium-spicy kind of girl, but DH LOVES heat.  This was perfect spicy for me, he added hot sauce on top.  The chicken was really a presence in these burritos, beer braising was just the thing to take these burritos up to Oscar-worthiness–along with a margarita!

I was also thinking this chicken would have been fabulous served over rice, using some of the cooking liquid as sauce.  Maybe garnished with chopped cilantro….mmmmm…yummy!

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Sweet-tooth Saturday: Decadent Dark Chocolate Tart with Gingersnap Crust

This recipe is one I came across (via  a Facebook posting?) originating from Smitten Kitchen.  This uh-maze-ing foodie blog is written by a New Yorker who creates culinary masterpieces in a kitchen the size of a sticky note.  When I grow up, I want my blog to be as cool as hers!  I’ll show you how I made her recipe and provide a link to the original as well.

I like the way this tart comes out when I use an actual 9-inch tart pan–the kind that the center pushes up and out, leaving you with an easy-to-cut and serve tart.  I think it would be do-able in a small pie pan as well–that first piece served will be a bit harder to extract than it would be using a tart pan.  Either way, this tart is rich and dark and uber-yummy–along the lines of a flourless chocolate cake.

Take a deep breath–this is easy!  Really!  Gather up just a few ingredients:

For the crust:

  • 8 oz of gingersnaps–about 32 cookies–coursely broken
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, melted

For the filling:

  • 12 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped  (semi-sweet works OK if that’s what you have)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 TBSP flour
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper   (Trust me–so yummy with dark chocolate!)
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • whipped cream for serving, if desired

To make the crust:

Preheat oven to 325.  Set your 9-inch tart pan on a baking sheet with sides.  Break up the cookies into the bowl of a food processor.  (If you don’t have a food processor, your blender might work, or you can crush them by hand by placing the broken cookies in a heavy ziploc bag and pounding them with a rolling pin or other heavy-ish, blunt object–baseball bat?!)

Process until you have fine crumbs.

Add melted butter, and process until crumbs are moistened.

Remove the blade and pour moistened crumbs into the tart pan.  Using your hands, press crumbs evenly across the bottom and up the sides of the pan to form the crust.  Set aside.

To make the filling:

Place the chopped chocolate and heavy cream into a heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Whisk until chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.  Remove pan from heat.

In a medium bowl, combine egg yolks (I separate them by cracking the egg and tipping the yolk back and forth between the shell halves until the white is gone.), whole egg, sugar, flour, salt, pepper and cinnamon.  Whisk until smooth. 

Slowly whisk in the melted chocolate–one spoon-full at a timeat first.  This will “temper” the egg mixture so the eggs don’t cook from the warm chocolate.  Continue until all the chocolate is mixed in and the filling is smooth.

Pour mixture into the crust.  It will completely fill the pan.

Place the tart on it’s baking sheet in the oven and bake for 30 minutes–edges will be slightly puffed and center softly set.  It will have the crackled appearance of brownies.  Place on a rack and cool for 20 minutes.  Remove ring and cool completely.  (I left the ring on the whole time with no “ill effects,” removing it just before serving.)

Cut into slices (I made 8, Smitten Kitchen says 10.  This tart is so rich, 16 would be perfect, really.) and serve with or without a dollop of whipped cream.  Warning–you will be entering a state of chocolate bliss after the first bite! 

See?  Truly easy!  Such a great combination of spice and chocolate and uber-rich texture!  Make it for company and be a Rock Star!  Yum, yum, yummy!

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Hearty and Spicy Spinach, Sausage and Potato Soup

Around Western Colorado, Winter has decided it’s not quite ready to be pushed out by Spring. So, the other night I decided to make this yummy and super easy-peasy soup full of the flavors of winter and a hint of spring spinach.  Friends Carol and Scott joined us, bringing along a yummy growler of vanilla orange blossom beer and a loaf of Dakota bread–both perfect with this soup.

Gather a few ingredients:

  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 medium potatoes, chopped into a large dice  (I leave skins on, but peel them if you want!)
  • 1 pound pre-cooked sausage  cut into 1/4 inch half-moons  (I like this Fire Roasted Red Pepper Chicken Sausage–spicy, smoky, yummy!)
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed using a garlic press or minced
  • 2 (32 oz) boxes chicken broth
  • 2 (15 oz) cans cannellini beans, drained  (Any white bean will be fine.)
  • 1 box fresh baby spinach, rough chopped
  • 1 bay leaf  (fresh or dried)
  • 1/8 tsp grated nutmeg  (Yes!  Nutmeg!  So yummy with sausage–trust me!)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • grated pecorino romano to garnish  (Any grated hard cheese is yummy!)

If you use a milder sausage, you may want to add 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes, or set them on the table and add to the soup after it’s cooked.

Set a large pan on the stove over medium-high heat.  Add chicken broth.

Peel and chop an onion, chop potatoes into a large dice, and chop sausage into 1/4 inch half-moons.  Even though this sausage is pre-cooked, I like to use a cutting board that can be washed in the dishwasher.

Place the onions, potatoes, sausage, garlic, and bay leaf into the pot, and simmer until the potatoes are fork-tender.  Your kitchen will be smelling yummy in just a couple of minutes!

While potatoes are cooking, rough chop the spinach.

When potatoes are tender, add cannellini beans, spinach and nutmeg.

Let this simmer for at least 10-15 minutes for all the flavors to come together.  The potatoes and beans will create a nice starchy thickness.  Taste the soup and add salt and pepper as needed.  Remove the bay leaf, ladle into bowls, top with grated pecorino romano and serve!

I must confess, that after smelling this soup cook, I dug right into it.  After I’d eaten about a third of it, Carol asked if I had taken a picture.  Arggghhh!  No!  So I added a bit more cheese–definitely a good thing–for the photo and here it is.  The grainy-seedy Dakota bread was a perfect accompaniment, as was the beer! Leftovers, like for most soups, are even better than the first time around.  Yummy!

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Groovy-licious Granola

I’m a cereal-for-breakfast kind of girl.  Always have been.  Back in the days of flower power, peace and love, granola was the breakfast and snack food of hippies.  Whether you’re an old hippie like me or not, you’ll love the crunchy yumminess of this granola.  It’s a house favorite here–Mr16 has always preferred it over any other cereal, which is going a ways when the competition has colorful packaging, a surprise inside and lots of sugar!

I buy most of my ingredients in bulk at Natural Grocers and keep what I don’t use for a batch in their original bags in a larger bag in the fridge.  That way, anytime I want to make granola, I just grab the bag and all of my ingredients are at the ready!

Here’s what you’ll need for the basic recipe.  If you have nut allergies, leave them out or substitute nuts you can have.  Once you have the technique for making granola, the recipe is super flexible.

  • 3 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats–NOT quick cooking
  • 1 cup walnut pieces–I’ve used pecans instead during the holidays, or when I get a fresh shipment of pecans from my mom–yummy!
  • 1 cup coconut shreds–I like to use the big coconut shreds, rather than the grated coconut because I like the texture better.
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds aka pepitas–I use raw seeds
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds–I use roasted, salted for a bit of salt flavor
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Optional: 1 cup raisins, dried cranberries or other dried fruit
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp orange extract

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Oil a roasting pan.

Mix seeds, nuts, rolled oats, brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.  Stir to combine.

Handy tip for measuring honey: Use a measuring cup thingie that allows you to push whatever you’re measuring out of the cup, and spray the bottom with cooking spray, and the honey doesn’t stick to the bottom!  This is one from Pampered Chef.  I use it for molasses, peanut butter and other sticky stuff!

In a small sauce pan over medium heat, combine honey and coconut oil.  Stir occasionally and watch continually.  You want the mixture to come to a full boil.  Once it does, it will look frothy all over and climb the sides of the pan very quickly and spill out all over your stove creating a HUGE mess.  Avoid this (unless you like cleaning your stove!) by watching for the signs that it is coming to a boil along the edges of the pan, and be ready to remove it from the heat source quickly.

Remove from heat and add vanilla, almond extract and orange extract.  Stir and pour over the dry ingredients.

Stir to evenly coat all of those cute little seeds and nuts and oats.  Spread the mixture in an oiled roasting pan or 9×13 cake pan.  I like the roasting pan–it’s a bit bigger, and still has high sides–letting me spread the granola out a bit more for more even browning and easy stirring as it bakes.

Bake for a total of 30 minutes at 300 degrees.  Stir the granola every 10 minutes during the baking time to keep it browning evenly.  While it cools, continue to stir every 10 minutes.  If you don’t, you’ll have a granola brick that is very difficult to get out of the pan and even more difficult to pour into a cereal bowl!  Store in an air-tight container–such as those Tupperware containers that are the same size and shape as a cereal box and have a pouring “spout.”  I like to leave some of the granola in clusters–easier to snack on!  (While inside the air-tight container, the granola will still try to become one big piece of granola–just give it a good shake and it will break up enough for pouring into your bowl.)

Serve this yummy granola in a bowl with milk (I like almond milk–yum!). 

Add your favorite fruit if you like.  Groovy-licious Granola is also yummy served parfait-style with yogurt and fruit or just by the handful as a snack–a great trail mix!

During the holidays, besides substituting pecans for walnuts, I added 1/2 tsp ginger, 1/4 tsp nutmeg and substituted molasses for half of the honey and ended up with a gingerbread-ish granola!  Fun and yummy!  Experiment with nuts, seeds,  spices and extracts to make the granola that fits YOUR family’s tastes.

Look what I learned to do with WordPress this week–a slide show!  Now you can watch the recipe happen in short-order!

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Spanked by the Spanikopita

So.  I watched Ina Garten make this on The Barefoot Contessa the other day.  It looked so yummy and so easy.  After my first experience with Spanikopita today, I can say yes–yummy.  Easy?  Not so much.  I should have caught on when trying to find the correct spelling and found three different spellings.  It’s a food of mystery.  One handed down from Greek Grannies to their Greek offspring, and I am NOT Greek. 

I bought my phyllo dough at a grocery that probably doesn’t sell much of it, so maybe it was old.  Maybe it had been thawed and refrozen.  Maybe it was intended to be used on an episode of Punked.  Whichever, this phyllo dough was the most difficult…um… “stuff” I’ve worked with in a while.  The sheets stuck to each other.  And tore.  And little shards that tore off caught air and floated to the floor like fall leaves.

After my initial panic–stupidly, I had decided to make this “easy” appetizer for company tonight–I decided to forge ahead.  “After it’s all baked and cut into appealing diagonal slices, no one will be able to tell that it isn’t constructed of perfectly positioned sheets,” I rationalized.  So forge ahead I did, like the kitchen commando I am.

So, place a bandana around your head and maybe one around your thigh for a Rambo-esque attitude, and gather these ingredients:

  • 1 box of phyllo dough–find in the frozen foods aisle–thawed
  • 1 bunch of scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 packages frozen spinach, thawed
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 8 oz crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 TBSP fresh dill, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper
  • 1 cup of unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs–I used Panko

Thaw the phyllo according to the directions on the package.

Oil a baking sheet, and preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Dampen a clean kitchen towel to place over the phyllo sheets not being used at any one time.

Place a deep fry pan over medium heat and add olive oil.  When oil is hot, add chopped scallions and cook until softened–3 to 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.

In a medium bowl, place spinach that has been squeezed dry.  Use your hands over a sink, squeeze as much water out as you can.

Add eggs, salt, pepper, dill, feta, and scallions in oil.  Mix to combine.

Open and unwrap the phyllo.  Peel off a single sheet (if you can!), place on a surface in front of you and cover the rest of the phyllo with the damp towel.  Using a pastry brush, brush the surface with melted butter, then sprinkle with bread crumbs.

Add another sheet and repeat the butter and bread crumbs.  Continue the pattern until you have 10 sheets stacked on top of each other.  My box of phyllo had 20 sheets–enough to make two rolls–so I divided my filling in half, and spread it out along one long side of my phyllo stack and then rolled it up–careful the phyllo will want to tear.

(Notice how my top layer is actually made of pieces of a sheet of phyllo—argh!)  Place the roll seam-side down on your oiled baking sheet and brush it with melted butter on all exposed sides.  Repeat with the second half of your phyllo sheets and filling.  Some of my sheets would NOT come apart, so I layered them on as if they were one sheet–which they were, sort of!  When both rolls have been buttered, use a sharp knife to score diagonals in the rolls, about one inch apart.  I used my thumb as a guideline.  This will make them easier to cut when they’re baked.

Place the rolls in the oven and bake until golden brown and flaky–12-15 minutes.  I turned my pan after 10 minutes to be sure both rolls were evenly browned.  Cool on the baking sheet, on a rack until you can handle them and cut along score lines.  Arrange on a platter and serve–warm or room temperature.  Spanikopita will hold at room temperature for hours and be fine.

Look at them!  They turned out pretty after all, and they were yummy!  I will definitely try this again with a different phyllo dough.  Essentially the recipe is simple.  It was the uncooperative phyllo that spanked me.  I was right about the fact that a “sheet” composed of small-ish pieces didn’t matter in the finished product.  Your bottom sheet really does need to be as whole as you can manage or rolling will be disasterous! 

I recorded this recipe as a failure due to the sometimes comical contortions required to even partially separate the phyllo sheets, but the final product was really quite successful. 

Maybe if the next round of phyllo cooperates, I’ll get brave and try baklava!  Yummy!

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Community Cookbooks are Cookbooks for the Heart

While the BHG Cookbook is my go-to book, the cookbooks that are dearest to me are the ones with spiral bindings and tabbed dividers.  They contain recipes that have ingredients like breakfast cereal and “cream of” soups; recipes with names like “Company Casserole” and “Donna’s BBQ.”  Great potluck recipes come from these books; the ones created with love by communities of cooks.

Here are some of mine.  My Grandpa worked at John Deeres, I went to elementary school at Roosevelt School (just imagine how old those two are, eh?!), I have two from the church we went to in the little town I grew up in, and a couple family cookbooks–my nostalgic favorite is the Stavanger Lutheran Church Cookbook from Ossian, Iowa, celebrating 150 years as a church(in the upper left corner).  My mom grew up in Ossian, and this book is full of names I know from my childhood, even people I never met, like my Grandma–Mom’s mom.  Lots and lots of traditional Norwegian recipes here, and some, like Chicken Cordon Bleu and Pesto, that I didn’t expect to see!

I love how these little books capture the essense of the era in which they were written, and the flavor of the area of the country they represent.  When I want a recipe for rhubarb anything, I know to look in one of the books from Iowa.  Rhubarb grows here in Western Colorado, but doesn’t seem to be as revered by Colorado cooks as it is by Iowans.  Looking for a peach recipe?  the Grand Valley grows amazing peaches–look in the Grand Junction’s Newcomers’ Favorites Cookbook.  Want a classic Midwest-y salad from the 60s–maybe one containing fruit cocktail?  Check the John Deere or Roosevelt books.

Mr16’s Band Parent Association is looking into producing a cookbook as a fundraiser.  In the age of the internet, this project seems fairly do-able.  I can’t imagine the hours and hours spent by whoever compiled some of my older books, retyping on an actual typewriter, so that all recipes would have a uniform appearance.  I’m asking for recipes sent to me as email attachments, which I can open, highlight and change to whatever font I want in the blink of an eye, and store in a folder.  I’m hoping this project will come to fruition, so I can add another community book-full of yumminess to my collection, as well as continue to support a fabulous band program.

Here’s a picture of the band, just because I love all of these band kids so much!  (Especially my own personal band kid!)

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