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ALASKA RHUBARB-ONION RELISH

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My mother always bought Sunset Magazine back when it was a truly regional magazine and not the generic corporate mess it’s become now. (Bitter much? Not me.) I still own a number of Sunset Magazines and cookbooks from their glory days. I was thumbing through Sunset Cook Book of Favorite Recipes (1978, 16th printing, badly stained and falling apart but  I won’t buy a replacement because I’m afraid the editors might have decided to “improve” it) when I came across this old recipe. When I was a kid I thought this was sounded weird and as disgusting as something could sound, but I was a kid and totally brainless.

After finding similar-but-not identical recipes online, I made this somewhat enhanced version a couple of weeks ago and let it age. Yesterday we had a ham for Easter and I served this alongside. It was great with the ham. It would be wonderful with turkey, pork, duck, lamb, or anything gamey like venison. It tastes similar to mincemeat, somewhat savory yet sweet with brown sugar. Make it now while rhubarb is in the market. It’s super-simple. I saw other recipes that  increased the cayenne to a teaspoon, cut the brown sugar in half, added garlic, pickling spices, and so on. This would lend itself to any number of variations.

ALASKA RHUBARB-ONION RELISH

  • 4 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 4 cups chopped white or yellow onions
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 scant tablespoon salt
  • 4 cups brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon each cloves, allspice, cinnamon, black pepper, and celery salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Combine all ingredients in a large pan.

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Cook slowly over medium heat.

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It will turn a vile and unappetizing brown but smell heavenly. Keep cooking and stirring occasionally until it gets fairly thickened (like warm jam).

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Pour into sterilized canning jars and seal. (This entry discusses the process of sterilizing jars and basic canning of high-acid foods.) The recipe says it makes 8 cups, but I got about 6 cups.

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HOMEMADE MINCEMEAT

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I have a jar of mincemeat on the shelf  – I bought it when it was marked down considerably last winter; if you’ve bought it recently you know it isn’t just expensive, it’s damn expensive. I’ll probably make cookies from it, as they seem to be more acceptable than the pie.  Not everyone likes mincemeat. We’ll get that out of the way now.  I’m not sure why it’s considered a traditional dessert at Thanksgiving when hardly anyone eats it.  It’s probably because it’s full of candied fruit (always suspect in the eyes of kids)  including those weird green bits which NOBODY likes, and is gummy and sticky and usually too sweet even for kids, who won’t eat it anyway because of those weird green bits. My mother is the only person I ever knew who actually LIKED those.

If you’re one of the mincemeat fanciers, or you just like to mess about in the kitchen, it’s easy and rather fun to make your own. It wasn’t so long ago that mincemeat actually contained meat, as this recipe does; if you don’t tell anyone, they won’t know.

Note: You can substitute a mixture of dried fruit for the candied fruit, like chopped dried persimmons, mangoes, dates, currants, dried cherries, pineapple, etc. If the dried fruit isn’t unsulphured, rinse the hell out of it with boiling water. Soaking it overnight in some booze is not a bad idea.

Another note: when I say “booze,” I mean the straight stuff – brandy, rum, bourbon, whiskey, etc. Don’t use really expensive alcohol since it will be adulterated considerably, but don’t get the crap in plastic bottles, either. I do NOT mean pre-mixed cocktails or those weird sweet drinks in a bottle like Kahlua Mudslide, Skinny Girl Margaritas, Pennsylvania Dutch Eggnog, etc. Be a grownup.

MINCEMEAT

  • 2-3 pounds stewing meat – beef, pork, or venison
  • 6 Granny Smith apples, cored and chopped small
  • 1/2 pound suet
  • 2 cups golden raisins
  • 2 pounds mixed candied fruit for fruitcake (your choice; leave out the weird green bits if you hate them)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup dark corn syrup
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 teaspoons mixed spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, allspice)
  • Booze

You need to pot roast the meat, so cover it with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, until it is super tender – about 2 or 3 hours, possibly longer –  then shred it. Don’t drain off the liquid. Chop up the suet and toss that in with the meat, plus all  the other ingredients. Pour in a shitton of booze (your choice) and simmer the mincemeat all day. I’ll tell you what: mincemeat sucks up booze like nobody’s business.

You can pretty much keep simmering this on the stove for days, just making sure it doesn’t burn and add more juice or booze as needed. Add more sugar or spices if you think it needs it. When you’re sick of messing about with it and it tastes good, either make it into pies/ cookies/ whatever, or freeze it in small containers. It keeps forever. 

 

POACHED CHICKEN

We were watching Rachel Ray make something-or-other when she instructed the viewer to “add the boiled chicken.” My husband said, “Boiled chicken? You just… boil a chicken?” Well, kind of, but not really. I thought of how many recipes include “3 cups diced cooked chicken.” Where do most people get that three cups of cooked chicken… do they buy one of those canned chickens (I have seen photos and that is as close as I ever intend to get to one of those)? Do they buy a rotisserie chicken? Or do they just turn to another recipe?

“Boiled” chicken is actually poached chicken. If you were to cook a chicken at a full boil for an hour…. oh God, I can’t even imagine what that would result in, but you wouldn’t want to eat it. To poach a chicken, you do bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat so it simmers. Result: lots of moist, tender chicken meat, and a bonus of delicious chicken broth.

So: put the chicken and all its guts in a stockpot (i.e. a pot that is taller than it is wide) or at least a pot that will hold the chicken comfortably. Add an onion (you don’t have to peel it – cut in half if it fits better), a carrot or two (also not peeled, but cut up), a stalk of celery (ditto), a bay leaf,  a garlic clove or two or three, and a few peppercorns.  No salt! Add cold water to cover the chicken. If you have some white wine or dry white vermouth lying around, pour a generous glug of that in too.

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Put the pot on the stove, turn the heat on high, and wait…

As the water gets closer to a boil, you will see some yucky-looking foamy grey stuff rise to the surface. Don’t flip out. It’s coagulated juices and (yes) blood. If you have ever grilled a burger, you saw the same stuff form on top of the ground beef. When protein is heated to the boiling point, this happens. Just get a spoon, scoop it off and discard it, though it isn’t toxic – it’s just unsightly.

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Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat immediately and let the chicken cook at a bare simmer. If the water level drops, add more water or white wine.

How to tell when it’s done? Poke around in the leg-thigh joint with a knife. If the juices are red or pink, it isn’t done. If they’re yellow or clear, it’s done. A 4 or 5 pound chicken will take around 60 to 80 minutes.  Now comes the messy part: getting a hot chicken out of the pot. Get a large bowl and a large carving fork, and carefully-but-quickly transfer the chicken to the bowl.  Let the chicken cool until you can easily handle it.

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Once you can handle the chicken without burning the hell out of yourself, separate the meat from the bones & skin. Put the meat in one bowl –

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and put the bones & skin back in the stockpot.

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The chicken is now ready to eat or use in any recipe calling for cooked chicken. Store, covered, in the refrigerator – it will last about four or five days.

Return the chicken broth to a simmer and cook for another hour or two. Then strain and discard the bones, skin, and vegetables. You now have a very flavorful stock that can be used right away, or poured into a hot sterilized container (such as a canning jar or two) and stored in the refrigerator. The fat will rise to the top as it cools, effectively sealing the broth; the fat can easily be lifted off and discarded (or used as schmaltz, for which I will refer you to The Shiksa Blog). It will keep for about five days in the fridge, after which it should be re-boiled and re-poured into a sterilized container. Or it freezes very well; pour it into small containers of a size you’d be likely use (such as 1-cup), or pour it into ice cube trays, freeze, and store the chicken broth cubes in a freezer bag for a very fast, convenient way to utilize them.

DON’T PASS ME BY

I don’t know about where you live, but here in NorCal starting sometime in October, it’s guaranteed the supermarkets will have a giant overflowing bin of a wide variety of winter squash (also called vegetable marrow and hard shell squash, and probably other names as well). They’re all colors, patterns, shape and sizes, and most people glance at them and just keep walking.  Or maybe they’ll buy one that isn’t too scary looking and put it on their counter until it rots.

Supermarket winter squash is pretty limited most of the year to butternut squash (the pale elongated-pear-shaped one), acorn (green and/or gold, in a football shape with ribs) and banana (a giant squash that is usually cut into wedges and wrapped in Saran Wrap).  The fall season for unusual varieties is short, so next time you see that cornucopia of beautiful squash, stop and get one or two.  They’re delicious simply baked and served more or less as is, served in Thai curries, and make wonderful soups (Anna Thomas’s The New Vegetarian Epicure and Love Soup both have numerous recipes).

Last fall I picked up a squash just because it was so pretty. We kept it on the counter for a month or so just to look at it, and finally cooked it. SO GOOD. It was a red Kuri squash, a brightly intense orange color and slight teardrop shape.

Like most winter squash, it’s a bitch to cut into, so you need a cleaver and/or a chef’s knife.  Treat those implements of destruction with respect, but don’t be afraid, either.

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Scrape out the seeds and either discard them, or put them in a small baking dish with a little oil and bake until the strings shrivel up and the seeds get toasty. Salt them and eat like pumpkin seeds.  Put a little butter, brown sugar, and a sprinkle of cinnamon/nutmeg/cloves in the cavity. Bake at 350 until the flesh is easily pierced, basting now and then with the butter-sugar mixture. A quarter or a third of each squash makes a generous serving, so figure on four to six servings from one Kuri squash. Leftovers can be mashed and added to pancake batter or muffin batter.

My husband was shopping and stopped at that big bin of winter squash. He selected a Stripetti spaghetti squash.

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“Oh, you got a spaghetti squash!” I said. He looked blank. I explained that the flesh is not like other squashes, that you coax it out of the shell with a fork and it turns into spaghetti-like strands. He continued to look blank.

Spaghetti squash is even more of a bitch to cut in half than the Kuri. It took a cleaver AND a chef’s knife, and a lot of leverage. I whacked it once with the cleaver the way I cut up a chicken, and the cleaver bounced back. It was a bit of a project to get it cut open.

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Leave the seeds in. Put the spaghetti squash cut-side-down in a baking dish, pour in a cup of water, and cover the dish with foil. Bake at 350 until the flesh is more-or-less easily pierced (do not overbake).  The seeds will be easy to scrape out with a spoon. Then take a couple of forks, or a fork and a big spoon, and start digging at the flesh. It will be reluctant to give up, but you will start to see spaghetti strands form as you loosen it. Keep digging until you have removed the flesh from the shells. The strands will be slightly crisp and crunchy.

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Most recipes tell you to serve it with spaghetti sauce, and you can do that, but I think that masks the lovely nutty corn-like taste and crisp texture. I mixed some minced parsley and butter together and put that on top, let it melt in a few minutes, then sprinkled salt and pepper on top and tossed it all together. A little grated cheese would be good too.

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One spaghetti squash will make about four to six servings. Leftovers are nice fried up crisp as patties.

ROASTED PEPPERS

I know people who actually hate bell peppers, and I like them despite this incomprehensible flaw. I have always liked bell peppers, even the green bell peppers which seem to elicit most of the hatred. My grandmother used them in her potato soup  and no one ever complained. That was back in the Dark Ages, children, when green bell peppers were all that was available. Well, you could sometimes get red bell peppers, but you had to take out a loan to buy them. Nowadays the sweet red bells are easily available (at least here in California) as well as yellow, orange, purple, brown, and good old green ones – and they are very frequently the same price as the green ones, sometimes even cheaper.

If you kind of sort of like bell peppers, you might like them better if you roasted them. They become sweeter and tender, and can easily be blended into other dishes such as soups, hummus, sauces (think red pepper Hollandaise), and so forth. Not just the sweet bells, but all kinds of capsicum are easily roasted. Unless I am making a very fast pico de gallo with fresh raw peppers, I always roast a variety of chili peppers when I make salsa.  They are all roasted exactly the same way – Jalapenos, Anaheims, pasillas, serranos, etc.  You can buy jars of all kinds of peppers already roasted, peeled, and marinated, but this is kind of fun to do and far cheaper than store-bought.

Here I am using the broiler unit in an electric stove, with the pepper just a few inches under the heat element. If you have a gas range, just put the pepper/chili directly on a low flame and turn it as needed until blackened in the way described. They can also be done on a barbecue (gas or charcoal) or over a wood fire.

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Turn the pepper as necessary so the whole thing blackens and blisters. Don’t freak if some spots are missed. It’ll be okay.

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When the whole pepper is more or less black, remove it and pop it in a bag, paper or plastic, and crimp the bag shut. Let it sit for 15-20 minutes while you go do something else.

You will find the the blackened skin comes off pretty easily under cool running water.

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When most of the skin has been removed (do not obsess about little tiny bits of blackened skin that won’t come off), cut the pepper open and scoop out the seeds. In hot chilis, the seeds and interior ribs are the source of the heat, so either wear gloves or wash your hands VERY well after doing seed surgery. Even after you wash your hands, avoid touching any sensitive body parts for several hours. Trust me on this.

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Then cut out the tough stem (if you haven’t already) and voila! You have a roasted pepper.

Nigella Lawson suggests slicing such peppers and immersing them in a piquant vinaigrette with anchovies. I have done this and it was a delicious little salad-y accompaniment to a hamburger, and the anchovies were not at all fishy. I also like these roasted peppers tossed into a green salad or mixed with sliced avocados and minced red onion. They are delicious spread out on a steak, combined with sauteed onions or mushrooms or alone.  Combined with decent diced tomatoes and fresh basil (I know it’s now autumn and such things are rare), they make a great garnish for broiled/sauteed fish such as salmon or cod. They’re sublime in an omelet with a spoonful of sour cream and some minced red onion. A puree of them with some chicken broth and perhaps canned coconut milk and cilantro (maybe a little Thai curry paste too) will make a fabulous soup.

Chili peppers of varying heat are done the same way, and I combine several types with tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, lime juice, onion, cumin, and whatever else is lying around to make salsa. Beware that some of the hotter types, especially if done over a flame, can emit fumes that will make you cough like mad, but do not let that prevent you from trying this method. They are worth the suffering.

GRANDMOTHER’S CHINESE COUNTRY-STYLE PORK RIBS

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My apologies, if needed, go to Andrew Zimmern. You know him, the guy who will eat anything; if he doesn’t like it, you just know it’s got to be foul.  Anyway, a few months back I made his recipe for Grandmother’s Chinese Chicken Wings, and boy howdy were they good. I did have to tweak the directions a little in order to get them falling-apart tender, but other than that, the recipe is great. The original recipe is here at the Food Network website.

Last night we needed dinner that was easy and filling. My husband had been digging post holes; I had been mowing about 1/2 acre. We were both tired but didn’t want to get take-out. We already had leftover steamed rice and salad makings in the refrigerator – what to go with?  I dug around in the freezer and came up with a package of country-style spare ribs.

Not everyone is familiar with country-style pork ribs, or maybe they’re known by other names in other areas.

009   Country-style ribs are cut from the sirloin or rib end of the pork loin, which is a less exercised part of the pig – therefore, they are more tender than spareribs.  They are also much meatier and indeed, look like thick-cut narrow steaks. They lend themselves well to braising and are really delicious prepared with Asian seasonings. I thought with a little tweaking, Andrew Zimmern’s chicken wing sauce would be good on the ribs. I was right.

A few words on ingredients:

Mirin is an alcohol-based liquid made from rice and is used in Japanese cooking. At one time it was drunk like sake, but now is considered a condiment. Salt is often added to avoid the alcohol tax. It is available in Asian markets.

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Sake is an alcoholic beverage made from rice; there are six zillion varieties available, but unless you live near a large Asian community you may be  able to only find a few.  It is thought of as rice wine,  but it is actually brewed like beer (in winemaking, alcohol is produced via the fermentation of naturally-occurring sugars; in sake and beer, the sugar has to be converted from starch before it can ferment). Available in liquor stores and well-stocked supermarkets.

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Oyster sauce is – duh – made from oysters. It is a thick brown salty sauce that has the smell and flavor of oysters. Don’t run off screaming. When cooked in a dish like this, it becomes much less assertive and if you didn’t know it was an ingredient,  you wouldn’t be able to tell. Since it does contain oyster extractives, it is not suitable for people with shellfish allergies. Available in Asian markets and well-stocked supermarkets.

006Star anise is the fruit of an evergreen tree from Asia; it is harvested green and dried. It has a strong anise scent and flavor; anise seed could be substituted for it.  Interesting note: star anise is the source of one of the main ingredients in the prescription drug Tamiflu. Available in Asian markets, spice shops, and well-stocked supermarkets, and possibly health food stores.

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About soy sauce:

I use either Shoyu Low-Salt Soy Sauce or San-J Low-Salt  Tamari.  Soy sauce contains wheat; tamari does not (but check the label). For God’s sake, throw out the La Choy and get a decent brand of soy sauce. Asian markets have a good selection; at the very least, get some Kikkoman.

Grandmother’s Chinese Country-Style Pork Ribs

  • 4 to 6 country-style pork ribs, about 1/2 to 3/4 pound each
  • 1/3 cup sake
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 6 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons mirin
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 6 large thin slices fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 cloves star anise
  • 1 dried hot chile or 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (pizza parlor type) – more if you want
  • 1 cinnamon stick (do not substitute powdered cinnamon)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 carrots, sliced

Garnish:

  • Green onions/scallions
  • Fresh cilantro (coriander)
  • Sesame seeds

Heat heavy skillet or Dutch oven. When hot, add a little vegetable oil and then the ribs. Do not crowd the pan! If the meat is crowded in the pan, the meat will not brown and instead will steam. Do this in batches if necessary, removing meat as it is browned.

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While ribs are cooking, combine all the sauce ingredients. Stir to dissolve brown sugar.

When all the ribs are browned, return all to the pan. Pour in the sauce and 1 cup water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover, leaving lid slightly ajar so the sauce can begin to reduce.

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Either cook on lowest heat on the stove, or put in a 300 degree oven and bake slowly until ribs are tender, 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours. Edit: a friend asked if this could be made by browning the ribs in an electric skillet, then braising in a crock pot. I don’t see why not. You’d have to reduce the sauce later in the skillet, but I think it would work well.

Prepare the garnishes: thinly slice three or four green onions (scallions). Chop 1/2 cup cilantro (coriander). Lightly toast 2 tablespoons sesame seeds by putting them in a small dry skillet over medium heat and shaking the skillet frequently until they begin to pop and turn brown. Remove them from the pan as soon as they are toasted.

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When the ribs are tender, remove them to a serving dish and keep warm. Put the pot containing the sauce on the stove and turn to high heat, boiling the sauce to reduce it.  When the sauce has thickened, pour it over the ribs and then add the garnishes.

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This sauce is very intense and rich, so accompaniments should be simple: steamed rice (or possibly mashed potatoes or polenta), steamed or grilled asparagus, sliced fruit like oranges or grapefruit, sauteed chard or spinach. Serve this with a ballsy red wine like a Zinfandel or Sangiovese – a big fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon would work too.

RIDICULOUSLY EASY HOMEMADE LEMON PEPPER

Lemon pepper is one of those spices/condiments that most people love, buy a bottle of, then let it sit on the shelf until it solidifies and can’t be pried apart with a machete, which leads to it being thrown out. I’m guilty of this. But I think that wouldn’t happen if lemon pepper actually tasted like lemon + pepper. Commercially-produced lemon pepper tastes less like lemon and more like salt.

We were given a lot of Meyer lemons.

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And this was after I had made lemon sauce, lemon curd, lemon pie, lemon salad dressing, lemon gin-and-tonics, and given away bags of lemons. Clearly it was time to take action.

So: take lemons and grate the zest from them. A microplane is ideal for this but a box grater works fine too.

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Below: a zested lemon.

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When you have grated the zest from the lemons, put the zest in a narrow bowl and grind in black pepper. Adjust the pepper grinder so you get fairly large pieces instead of finely ground pepper. How much to add? That’s up to you, whether you want a more lemony spice or a more peppery spice. I like more lemon, so for about 1/2 cup zest I added about 2 teaspoons ground pepper.

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Then take something like a wooden spoon, and with the handle, mash the pepper into the lemon zest so it becomes infused.

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Spread the lemon-pepper out on a sheet of waxed paper or foil, and let it sit out on the kitchen counter uncovered and undisturbed until the lemon zest is dry – one or two days.

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When the zest is dry, store the lemon pepper in a small bottle. You will find it has an actual lemon/citrus taste very unlike the commercially produced brands. Use on absolutely anything, but it’s especially good on creamy soups, roast chicken, salads, Bloody Marys, steamed vegetables like broccoli and asparagus, fettucini alfredo, baked potatoes, mixed into garlic butter, on scrambled eggs, and probably on chocolate bunnies and Peeps chicks.

Now you have a lot of zested lemons left over, which will dry out rapidly unless dealt with severely. Juice them – my life has improved immeasurably since I discovered  this lemon juicer – and pour the juice into ice cube trays.

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Once you have lemon ice cubes, store them in a freezer bag. Slip a couple into cocktails, or use  when you just need a little lemon juice but don’t want to cut open a whole lemon.

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