Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Holy Guacomole!!!

I am sure that everyone is tired of hearing about the produce co-op that we belong to but . . . here comes another post about my produce. Ready? Well, whether you are or not, here goes . . .

Last Wednesday was our produce pick up and one of the items we received was avocado. I had never actually purchased avocado myself but had eaten it on sandwiches and in guacamole at restaurants. Our favorite local Mexican Restaurant makes a pretty good guacamole. I like it but I wouldn't die if I never had it again. It is not one of those foods that I crave or anything.

So, anyway, we got 3 avocado and they were as hard as rocks. When I got home, I just set them out on the counter. This morning, I noticed that they seemed a little darker than when we got them. I touched them and they were softer so I decided that when we got home from PE at the Y, I would try my hand at guacamole. I searched some recipes online and found Alton Brown's recipe at Food Network's website. I love Alton Brown so I thought I would try it. I did, however, make a few minor adjustments after reading the reviews and so I am posting how I made it and you can link to Alton Brown's recipe to see the original. Here is what I did (Sorry, I did not take step-by-step photos today.):

3 avocados, halved, seeded and scooped out with a spoon
1 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dark chili powder
1/2 medium onion, diced
8-10 strips of roasted red bell peppers (SEE THIS POST FOR THE RECIPE)
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro (I didn't have any but, I would add it next time)
3 cloves garlic, minced

I put all the ingredients in a the bowl of the food processor and blended until mostly smooth. Then I enjoyed with a tortilla chip and put the rest in a plastic container in the fridge. Easy and delicious. Even my picky husband loved it. It may not be pretty but it was YUMMY!

Clean Out The Pantry Stew

Sorry folks! I did not take any pictures of this meal but we all enjoyed it for dinner one night and lunch twice for 5 people. I was just trying to use up some odd amounts of beans that I had left in the pantry.
1 pound of venison sausage
2 cups dry split peas (I used a green and yellow mix)
1 cup dry red lentils
3 Tbsp pearl barley (not quick cooking)
1 cup dry white beans (I used navy beans)
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
Homemade beef stock
Salt and Pepper
The night before, place you split peas, lentils, white beans, and barley into a bowl or pot to soak covered by plenty of cold water overnight. In a skillet, brown your venison sausage until cooked, breaking it up as you cook it. Refrigerate your cooked meat until the morning when you will assemble the meal. (You can use any ground meat or even stew meat of your choice. I just had this sausage on hand so I decided to use it.)
In the morning, drain and rinse your beans and grains in a colander. Transfer to the crockpot along with your cooked meat. Chop all your veggies and add them to the crockpot. I used my Pampered Chef chopper to chop them really fine because my kids sometimes will complain about large chunks of veggies. You could also add other veggies at this point like zucchini, mushrooms, parsnips, etc. Add your bay leaves and fill the crockpot to within 1 inch of the top with beef stock. I used homemade stock but you could certainly use water and bouillon or use chicken or veggie stock depending on the type of meat you used. Give everything a stir and cover and cook on high all day (up to 8 hours on high and then switch to low for another 4 hours if you feel it is necessary. Sometimes split peas are still a bit hard after 8 hours on high.) Remove your bay leaves and season to taste with salt and pepper. I did not add any salt or pepper because my venison sausage had a little kick to it which sufficiently "peppered" my stew and my homemade stock had salt added already.
I served this with a loaf of homemade beer bread with homemade honey butter and some grated cheese for sprinkling on the stew. It was very good and my boys loved it. It was very filling.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Making The House Smell Like Pizza!!!

Today my sister stopped by and when she walked into the house she said, "Oh, I am definitely staying for dinner. I smell pizza!" I laughed as my boys emerged from the bedroom asking if we were having pizza tonight. We did not have pizza. We had lentils and rice. The wonderful aroma everyone was smelling was tomatoes, garlic and herbs roasting in the oven.

My good friend Amy gave me a plastic grocery bag filled with assorted tomatoes. There was one really big tomato and a bunch of smaller and grape tomatoes but most of them were yellow tomatoes. I knew we would never eat all these tomatoes before they spoiled so I decided to roast them to make sauce for a later date. I had made some last Thursday with the tomatoes from the produce co-op we belong to and it turned out great so I decided that these tomatoes would meet the same fate. I was able to make a batch of red sauce and a batch of yellow sauce. Here is my recipe in pictures:

First, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees. The yellow tomatoes were small but I had close to 3 pounds of them. I washed them and cut them in half. The tomato below was one of the larger ones.

Here they are washed, cut and ready to go in a glass dish (11x15).

Then I added 2 Tbsp minced garlic. You can do this with fresh garlic. I just didn't have any. Just peel 12 cloves of garlic and toss with your tomatoes.

Then I added 2 tsp of kosher salt.

Then I added 2 tsp of dried oregano. You can use fresh. Just use 2 Tbsp of fresh oregano leaves instead of the dry stuff.

Then I added 1 tsp of dried sweet basil. Again you can use fresh basil but I didn't have anymore. Just use 1 Tbsp of fresh instead of the dry stuff. You can also add your favorite seasonings but I like it with just basil and oregano.

I then liberally sprinkled the whole thing with black pepper. You could add crushed red pepper flakes if you like a kick but I did not as the kids are not fond of burning tongues.

Finally, I added 1/2 cup of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. I know that sounds like alot of oil but, trust me, it is not and it adds to the wonderful Italian flavor of the sauce.

Here are my lovely tomatoes after they have been stirred to evenly distribute the oil and seasonings.

Pop it in the oven for 30 minutes. This is what they looked like after 30 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and stir for a minute. Put it back into the oven to roast for another 30 minutes. Don't they look yummy and deliciously browned?

After they came out of the oven, I let them cool for about 10 minutes . . . til they stopped bubbling. Then I transferred them to a bowl with tall sides. I used my trusty immersion blender to blend it into a nice thick sauce. You could thin it with a little chicken stock if you wanted it thinner or don't blend it if you like things chunky. My kids have texture issues, I think. They think they don't like tomatoes but they eat them in chili, taco soup, salsa, sauce, etc. I guess it just has to be small pieces.

Anyway, I got between 4 and 5 cups of sauce out of each batch I made. I poured it into glass jars and either froze or refrigerated the sauce for use at a later time.
Here is a picture of the batch I made with the red tomatoes. Both sauces were equally delicious and did not require any sugar to sweeten. The roasting brings out all the natural sugars.

I am linking up with Tasty Tuesday and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday.

Blessed with Grace

Roasted Red Bell Peppers

I know last week I mentioned that I belong to a produce co-op but, I must tell you again how much we are enjoying the fresh fruits and veggies. This weekend I roasted 7 or 8 red bell peppers. It was super easy.

First, I put the peppers on the gas burners of my stove and burned the outsides of them until they were charred and black. I used tongs to turn them and keep them from rolling off the flame. You can do this on the grill but it takes less time if you can get the flame to touch the peppers.

Here are a few more on the other side of the stove.

After they were sufficiently charred, I put them in a large bowl and covered them with cling wrap to steam for 20 minutes.

After 20 minutes, I put them one at a time into a plastic bag and sort of smooshed it around without squashing the actual pepper. Most of the skin slides right off and stays in the bag. Some black left on it good so people know you fire roasted them. ***DON"T RINSE THEM WITH WATER TO CLEAN THEM OFF!!! YOU WILL WASH AWAY FLAVOR!!!***

Oh, look! There is a diving mask and snorkel on the counter behind the plastic bag above.
After I removed the pepper from the bag, I cut it open and scraped out all the seeds. Then laying out flat, I cut it into strips.

I put the strips into a jar and poured some olive oil over then to coat. I am storing them in the fridge for use in soups, on sandwiches or for whatever I want to use them. Roasting them makes them so sweet.
I am linking up with Tasty Tuesday and Tempt My Tummy Tuesday.

Blessed with Grace

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Homemade Salsa From the Garden's Bounty

Hello, Friends! Today I am linking up with Jen over at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam for Tasty Tuesday. Over the summer, I joined a produce co-op. There is a pickup location close to my house and some ladies in our homeschool group urged me to try it out. We love it. I haven't really been purchasing produce at the store unless it is a major steal. I encourage you to check out the website and find out if there is a location near you.

Anyway, through this co-op and friends and neighbors who have gardens, we have been inundated with fresh tomatoes, green and red bell peppers, Anaheim chili peppers, red onion and all sorts of yummy veg that I had no idea how I should use it. My kids won't eat these veggies raw (in a salad) but will eat them cooked in a recipe. I had so many peppers especially that I started thinking Latin inspired recipes. So I said to myself, "Who says that salsa has to be mostly tomato?" So here is the "baby" if you will of this brain storming session. Jeremy called it "The Best Salsa Recipe Ever". I love 8 year olds. They are so enthusiastic about everything.

I chopped the following ingredients and put them into a large pot:
3 medium tomatoes (hard cores removed)
2 large green bell peppers (seeded)
2 large red bell peppers (seeded)
1 cup chopped red onion
2 large red Anaheim chili peppers (seeded)
2 medium yellowish-green Anaheim chili peppers (seeded)
4 cloves minced garlic

Isn't it so colorful and pretty?

Then, I added 1 and 1/2 tsp of salt and 1 and 1/2 cups of white wine vinegar (it was what I had but you could certainly use cider vinegar or red wine vinegar). I brought it up to a boil and then reduced the heat to simmer for 20 minutes.

I stirred it occasionally.

When my 20 minutes was up, I transferred it in batches to my very faithful blender who burned up just this week. I was trying to mix the oil back into the almond butter to make it spreadable and she slowed down and smoke started billowing from her motor. She lasted from April of 1997 to September of 2009. She was a wonderful kitchen helper and I certainly used her lots. Let's have a moment of silence for my dearly departed blender. I have my eye on the new 700 watt stainless steel model and my birthday is 2 weeks away. But, back to the recipe. You can certainly leave it chunky or any varying stages from chunky to completely pureed. I completely pureed mine as that is how I like it.

I then poured the very hot salsa into clean jars and tightened as tight as I could. I let them sit on the counter until they were room temperature. I checked the pop-up buttons on the lids and pushed them in as the salsa cooled. They sealed themselves. I then put them into the refrigerator to keep even though they were sealed. In fact, I brought a jar over to my neighbor's house and we couldn't get it opened. I am the one in my house who can usually open anything and it took me about 5 straight minutes of struggling with one of those rubber jar opener things to get it opened. The button popped really loud!!

This recipe made 3 jars and some leftover which we ate the next day at a cookout with my parents. My 6 foot 6 inch little brother (the professional chef) said he liked it but he would add more heat. If you want heat, you could certainly add/substitute jalapenos or any hot pepper and leave some of the seeds in the mix. I made it mild for the kids' sake. You could also can this recipe properly using a water bath and everything but like I said, the jars self-sealed so I didn't bother.

Try it out and tell me what you think. I've also been making pickles because I am the only one in the house who will eat cucumbers but everyone loves pickles. Maybe I'll post that recipe next Tuesday.

Friday, September 4, 2009

I Am From The City, People!!!

As many of you may know, I was born and raised in New York. Now, that statement can have many different meanings because New York is a large and diverse state. I was born on the island of Manhattan and moved to Brooklyn before I was 1 year old. We lived there until the summer right before my 11th birthday. We moved to Staten Island and let me tell you it was like moving to the country for us. All of a sudden, we had a yard with a pool, a garden and a swing set. We went from living in a semi-attached, 2 family house in the apartment above my Nonna's to a large one family home with a yard that backed up to protected wetlands. We went from sharing a driveway with the house beside us to never having to park in the street. We had made the move to suburbia and never left the city of New York.

I lived in that house until I went away to college. I experienced culture shock when I moved to a small Indiana town of 3,000 (when school was in session). Corn as far as the eye can see! I came home to get married and have a baby. My new family and I lived in a one bedroom apartment in the house in Staten Island until November of 1999 when my parents sold the house and moved to North Carolina. We too were looking to move south but my husband was having trouble finding a job. So our little family of 3 moved back to Nonna's house in Brooklyn except this time, we all lived in Nonna's 2 bedroom apartment. By February, Michael had found a job and we moved to North Carolina.

I say all of this to say . . . I am a city girl. Until now (and except for college), I have never lived outside of New York City. I hate yard work. I do better with potted plants. I miss sidewalks, street lights, block parties, the ice cream man, L&B Pizza, being able to walk to the corner store and get milk and bread. I know you are all saying, "We have those things in the south." I know! I just don't live near any of it. The morning after we moved into our house, I was awakened to find that roosters really do crow early in the morning but they also crow all day long. Goats and cows smell bad from far away. Country folk let their dogs run free and don't spay or neuter their animals (ASK ME HOW I FOUND THAT OUT!!!). Did you know that you never have to go the grocery store for meat because you can sit on your back porch with a shotgun? For this city girl, This was like Green Acres!

After almost 10 years of living here, I am used to the . . . shall we say, quirky ways of country folk. Every now and then something really strange will make me ask what I was thinking but for the most part, I realize that I am raising country boys!

So we were really excited when one of our homeschooling friends came over this morning with a gift for us. Let's call them Farmer Bob and Farmer Amy. They are dear friends and our boys get along very well. They brought us some fresh eggs from the chickens that they raise on their property. Amy told me she had some extra and asked me if we wanted some. I am never one to turn down free food so I said, "Sure! I'll take some eggs! Thanks!"

Amy and Bob showed up at my home with 5 DOZEN EGGS!!! I only took four dozen because that was all that would fit in my basket. Did you know that eggs . . . fresh eggs straight from the chicken coup are dirty? You are probably saying, "DUH! Of course their dirty, Genius! They shoot out the back end of a farm animal!" In my defense, when you have ever only seen eggs in a carton in the grocery store, you don't realize that eggs are dirty and somewhere along the way someone sterilizes those eggs before they can be sold in stores. So I gratefully took my chicken poop and dirt coated eggs into the house and gave them a bath in anti-bacterial hand soap. They are so pretty and let me tell you how good they tasted! YUM! We are being short changed at the grocery store. These eggs were huge and all different. When I cracked them into a bowl to make breakfast, the yokes were a rich deep yellow and they were huge. I just had to share them with all of you.
Here are 3 and a half dozen eggs that are left. They are shiny because they are still a little wet from their bath.

See all the color variation and pretty speckles?

You can see the reflection of the skylight above in the eggs.

This one is my favorite one. It is a really pretty pale blue-green with brown speckles.

So I know all my country friends are shaking their heads and laughing at the city girl. I am glad I could make you smile.