Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pumpkin Spice-tacular

October has flown by at a wicked pace. Here we are at the end and I've only cracked open one can of pumpkin purée so far. There was some talk of a shortage of the slimy orange stuff this year. But then there was talk last year of a shortage too. Whether an actual deficiency exists or not, when people are afraid that they won't be able to get something, they buy lots of it, stocking up so they won't be without. I've personally not seen any evidence of a shortage, but I still bought two big cans of it when one small can would have sufficed. Hey, it's not like I won't use it or anything, right?

Of course, if the pumpkin in the cans is simply a melange of winter squash, then... I may just make my own stash of frozen purée using these directions from The Kitchn. It will of course depend upon the price difference between winter squashes and the canned pumpkin. But in the meantime I bought the big cans of pumpkin anyway. What did I do with them? Take a peek....

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Pretzels, Baseball and the All-American Pun

Homemade Soft Pretzels
A couple of weeks ago I picked up the funnest cookbook at my local library's book store. The library itself is a phenomenal resource (especially with its online features that I can use from home), but as an added bonus they have a used-book store on-site that draws me in like a magnet. The books are super inexpensive (dare I say, cheap?) and magazines are only a quarter. When shopping for fun and sport is no longer an option, it's nice to know that you can feed a shopping need with a buck fifty. So, back to the "new" cookbook I just picked up. I said funnest but I didn't mean it. I meant to say punnest. Not a word either? Too bad, it should be. I have always loved a good pun as does my family and most of my friends (groaning and eye-rolling means they like it, right?). Well, for three dollars, I hit the jackpot of all pun collections with the TBS Dinner & A Movie Cookbook. It's chock full of movie trivia, great sounding recipes, and puns, puns, puns. I don't know when I've had so much fun just reading a cookbook. 

This book has already earned a spot on my shelf just for pure entertainment value of course, but my general rule for cookbooks is "use 'em or lose 'em", so I chose the Batter-Up Ballpark Pretzels (pg. 18) to start with. The book recommends pairing these with the movie Field Of Dreams ("If you bake it, they'll say yum"), but in honor of today's World Series opener, we're going to skip the movie and eat our pretzels while listening to the big game.* And here's the exciting part (for me at least), I can make a whole dozen for less than the price of one actual ballpark-bought pretzel. That's something to cheer about. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Slow & Saucy Faked Baked Beans

Not too long ago we had another potluck BBQ to go to. It's not always easy to decide what to bring to these get-togethers, but this time it seemed obvious. With grilled chicken, coleslaw and cornbread already on board, it was like one of those test questions that have you "complete the set". Seriously, what else would go so well with that line-up? Yep, this menu needed baked beans in a "you complete me" kind of way. In fact, what would Autumn barbecues, potlucks, and tailgating be without baked beans? They're such a hearty and satisfying side dish and perfectly complement just about any grilled meat. So how is it that I've never made them before now? Just another of life's little mysteries I guess.

Unconstrained by any set-in-stone ideas of how they ought to be done, I looked through what seemed like a thousand recipes for one that would work within my time frame and (most importantly) my budget. The most promising recipe was made and foisted upon my friends. It was pretty good. But not great. I made a few changes here and there, then cooked up another batch the following week. What I ended up with was a pretty tasty pot of beans. Unfortunately my friends didn't get to taste those. I wish they had. That second batch had just enough sweetness, just enough tang, and a heap of smoky depth. But they'll just have to take my word for it.
The real beauty of these Slow & Saucy Baked Beans is that they aren't baked at all; they cook in a Crock Pot while you do other fun things. Unorthodox cooking method aside, they're far more "from scratch" than most baked-bean recipes since they start out with dried beans instead of canned. While canned beans are certainly a convenient choice, that convenience comes at a price.* If you're making a big ol' pot o' beans for a crowd, it just makes sense (or should I say "cents") to start with dried.

Slow & Saucy Baked Beans
Adapted from: Saucy Baked Beans on page 129 in the BHG Biggest Book Of Slow Cooker Recipes (2002)

1 lb. dry navy beans or other small white beans
8 cups water
6 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1-1/4 cups water
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup molasses
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
  1. Pick over the dried beans for any broken ones or any pebbles. Rinse the beans well and drain.
  2. Add the beans and 8 cups of water to a Dutch oven or other heavy pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Take the pot off the heat, cover with the lid and let stand for 1 hour. Stir beans occasionally and check for doneness.
  3. While beans are soaking, cook the bacon in a skillet. Put the cooked bacon into the slow cooker. Sauté the chopped onion in the leftover bacon fat in the skillet, then add it to the slow cooker. Next, sauté the chopped red bell pepper in the same skillet and add it to the slow cooker too.
  4. When the beans are tender, drain them well and add to the slow cooker. Add the rest of the ingredients, except the soy sauce and vinegar. Stir well.
  5. Cover the crock pot and cook on Low for 8-10 hours, or on High for 4-5 hours. Just before serving, stir in the soy sauce and apple cider vinegar.
Other baked-bean recipes that look really good...

*For roughly the cost of one can of beans, I can get a pound of dried beans that, once cooked, will yield the equivalent of 3-4 cans. Just how much is that "convenience" worth?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Strawberry Crostata Is So Last Season

For the last night of my sister's visit, Hubs grilled bratwurst and I made polenta topped with roasted vegetables. Sis opened up a bottle of local Syrah that went with the food like Cinderella and fragile footwear.

Dessert was to be a crostata, so earlier that day, while the frozen dough was thawing, we went to the store to pick out some fruit. We pondered over apples, pears, peaches, plums... and strawberries. Strawberries? In October? She wanted the strawberries. I knew they wouldn't be anywhere as good as they are in July, but then again, they would be baked in a hot oven and their flavors would concentrate. It had never occurred to me to make a crostata with strawberries, but why not? You can use virtually any fruit. My biggest fear was the amount of liquid they would let go of. I decided not to worry about any of that and just go for it. Even if it totally botched up, it would probably still taste good. It did.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Brown Paper Packages Not Tied Up With String

The Hubs and I need more fish in our diet. I don't dispute the idea, it's just that I've got some issues. For one thing, we don't have a super efficient vent-fan over our stove and I can't stand the lingering scent of yesterday's fish dinner clinging to the interior of our house... and don't even think about coming near my cast iron pans with that fishy fillet.

But still, we need more fish in our diet. My normal solution to this predicament would be to fill our dietary seafood needs at a restaurant. Our budget doesn't currently allow that option however. Enter one of my favorite things... fish cooked en papillote*. It's one of those magical preparation methods that look so very fancy, yet are unbelievably simple. And clean up is, in a word (my favorite word), effortless. Do I love this salmon recipe because it's so tasty, or because it's so tidy? Not sure. Maybe I'd better make it again just to see.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Still Gotta Lotta Zucchini

We were doing just fine keeping up with all the gifted zucchini we've been receiving, until a couple of weeks ago when we just plain burned out. There sat two huge zucchini on the kitchen counter and I could do nothing but stare at them. They stared back. I glared. They glared back. I know the guilt I was feeling was coming directly from them. They knew that I don't like to waste food but they also had to sense that I was at my zucchini saturation-point. The last few we'd received had gotten chopped, wrapped and stashed in the freezer and I thought, "Ha! What a clever girl am I!"... then we were given these two mega-monstrous green squash. I couldn't say no.

Friday, October 8, 2010

This Little Figgy Had Ice Cream

True confessions... I have never eaten a fresh fig. No particular aversion to them or anything like that, they just escaped me. Off my radar. I was a picky-eater as a kid, so maybe it's a stale mental-leftover from my childhood? Maybe it was just because they "looked funny". Who's to say? I was (am) also a very imaginative child, and figs, when quartered, have always reminded me of the ravenous houseplant in The Little Shop Of Horrors and/or the sand-worms of the desert planet Dune. When they're quartered and then cooked, they look like the undersides of starfish. None of those are images of things I'd really like to see on my dinner plate, then or now.

Once upon a time, I even lived in a house that had a fig tree smack-dab in the middle of the back yard. And yet I never ate of that tree. You see, it was my job to mow around it. It was exceptionally messy and it supported a healthy population of ants. This same yard also had a loquat tree sitting off to one side. Fig... loquat... lawn. At the time, I felt it was about the most useless yard in the world. Now I'm thinking that I might very well have been mowing around a goldmine. But what did I know?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Apples For Autumn

A simple apple cake or apple bread is, in my opinion, the perfect thing on an autumn day, whether it be warm, crisp or drizzly (that goes for the weather or the cake). Homey, comforting, and just plain delicious, these apple goodies are loaded with walnuts, raisins, and warm autumn spices. With a big slice of apple cake, a mug of hot tea, and a good book... you can just color me all kinds of contented.