Friday, August 31, 2007

One Last Hurrah!

Where did summer go? How is it that we are already at the threshold of the last weekend of summer, and the school year is knocking? Wow. I'm a little bummed. We've had a very nice summer, combining busy-ness with lazyness and the kids have been playing together rather remarkably. I swear that just yesterday I was looking at the calendar and thinking that I had a whole yet before school started.

Ah, well. To celebrate the last weekend of summer we're off for a short weekend away to the Twin Cities and the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. (Warning- the link takes a little while to load- even with high speed.) I went to Renfest three years ago with my brother and his wife while Andy was working out of town, and ever since then I've wanted to go back. I love the ambiance and the fact that you're spending a day in a completely different time. And, lucky for Andy, the weekend we're able to go is also the Royal Ale Fest. I hope he's not disappointed...

No recipe to share today, although I do have a rather decadent cake sitting on the counter. But it hasn't been tasted yet and needs to make the 4 1/2 hour drive to the cities before it does get tasted. I am also happy to report that the pear pies I made a week ago and froze survived freezing wonderfully. In fact, the crust has never been better. I pulled the pie out of the freezer and put it into a cold oven, then I turned the oven on to 350. Since I froze the pie directly in my pyrex plate, I didn't want to cause the plate to explode-hence the cold oven entry. I baked the pie for about an hour at 350- covered with foil. Then I turned the oven down to 200 for another hour. The filling did get a little mushy- but I swear my pie crust has never been better. I can't wait to try this with other pies.

Well, happy Labor Day weekend everyone! I should be back posting away on Monday morning. In the meantime, in honor of World Blog Day, spend some time checking out a blog you haven't before from my sidebar. They wouldn't be there if I didn't think they had something.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Inexpensive Chicken Thighs

Chicken thighs are one of those things that I never used to purchase. When I bought chicken it was in one of three ways. It was either whole, whole and cut up or it was chicken breasts. On a very rare occasion we would pick up a package of wings, but never, ever just a package of thighs. And why the heck not I now know to ask! Thighs are full of flavor and they are economical to boot. One package of eight chicken thighs runs about three dollars- and eight thighs are plenty for my family for dinner. I had picked up some thighs this week to make Indian food, but after all the Mexican for a few days, I wasn't so much in the mood for Indian cuisine. So what to do with chicken thighs...

I stumbled upon something that I had never had before. Deviled chicken sounded pretty good to me. Essentially, skin on chicken is dipped in a mustard sauce and then breadcrumbs before baking. Not only did it sound good, it was perfect! It was easy to assemble, fairly quick as far as chicken goes, and it uses pantry ingredients. All I needed was some mashed potatoes and a vegetable and dinner was done. After looking over several recipes, I decided to create my own mustard and crumb coatings, and I think it turned out all right. My original venture was a touch on the salty side for me, so I've adjusted the recipe to reflect that. If you like things salty, you may want to up the salt to 1/2 teaspoon. I used a straight up Dijon mustard, but I think the next time I will use a grainy mustard or Creole mustard if I can ever find it again around here. Play with the recipe if you'd like, but no matter what, these Deviled Chicken Thighs are a keeper and will definitely be repeated here.
Deviled Chicken Thighs

1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup crushed cornflakes
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
8 bone-in chicken thighs, skin removed

Preheat oven to 475ºF. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray.

In a shallow bowl, combine mustard and Worcestershire sauce. In a second bowl, combine the breadcrumbs, cornflakes, parsley, salt and pepper.

Using a pastry brush, brush the mustard mixture all over the chicken thighs. Dredge in crumb mixture to coat and place on the baking sheet. Pop the sheet in the oven and bake at 475 for 15 minutes. Flip the chicken thighs with a tongs and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until the juices run clear.

Serves 4.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Delicious Salsa Verde

I love green salsa. I learned to make it a few years ago from a variety of sources, but I simply do not make it often enough. I have been seeing green salsa more and more on store shelves, but it is really not the same as making your own from fresh tomatillos. In the past when I have made this salsa I have roasted the tomatillos and peppers under the broiler and also in a skillet on the stove. For this batch, I opted to fire up the grill and that worked perfectly.

The salsa really could not be easier. Tomatillos and peppers of choice are roasted until blackened, and then whirred in a blender with onions, toasted cumin, cilantro, lime juice and sea salt, and the result is a wonderfully tangy salsa that goes on just about anything. In fact, if you leave out the cilantro and lime juice the green sauce can also be used to braise a bit of pork, and then you finish the sauce with lime juice at the end for a very traditional green stew. Regardless, I love cooking with tomatillos and exploring their versatility. Next year in fact, I want to attempt growing tomatillos, because according to the Manic Organic, tomatillos are very easy to grow and very productive. Seeing how I haven't had much luck with tomatoes, maybe I need to go a different route. Anyway. Salsa Verde, it's a very excellent thing.
Salsa Verde
adapted from a Cooking Light recipe

2 teaspoons cumin seeds
jalapeno peppers
pounds tomatillos, husks removed and tomatillos washed
1/4 cup chopped yellow onion

cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
teaspoon sea salt

Place cumin seeds in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, and cook 2 minutes or until toasted. Transfer seeds to a spice or coffee grinder, and process until finely ground.

Cut 1/4 inch off stem ends of peppers; discard stem ends. Using the tip of a paring knife, carefully remove and discard membranes and seeds, leaving peppers intact.

Using an outdoor grill or an indoor grill pan, place tomatillos and peppers on the grill over medium-high heat. Cook until charred on all sides- about 15 minutes. Put grilled tomatillos and peppers in a small bowl to catch juices.

Transfer the tomatillos and peppers to a blender, and puree until smooth. Add the onion, and pulse 5 times or until blended. Pour pepper mixture into a medium bowl. Stir in cumin, cilantro, lime juice, and salt.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Not Quite Drunken Beans

For Sunday Company Dinner we decided it was taco night. Now for some people that may mean hard shells, ground meat, cheese, and trimmings. Not so here. Ours was more of an authentic Mexican taco night. I was using my recipe for Pork Carnitas for the filling, as well as my recipe for Corn Crepes instead of purchasing taco shells. I also made a delicious homemade Salsa Verde which I will share tomorrow. Today, though, I want to talk about the beans. I was looking through my Rick Bayless cookbook- Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen looking for a side dish to accompany the tacos. I stopped when I got to the bean section, enamored instantly with a recipe for Frijoles Barrachos- or drunken pinto beans. We are not big bean people, but I want to be- there are few things more economical than a pot of beans, so I thought this would be a great recipe to try out.

I did make a few adjustments and changes for my tastes. The initial recipe called for simmering the beans with some pork shoulder. I knew that in order for these beans to be good, top notch pork needed to be used, and a trip to the butcher just wasn't an option, so instead at the grocery store I looked around for an alternative. I found it in the form of Mexican Chorizo. This is a crumbly soft sausage that is packed with vibrant Mexican flavors, and I knew it would do the job nicely. My second change to the recipe was with the tequila. I really thought about it, but then decided against it for two reasons. One being that I LOVE tequila, and I really don't need a bottle around here to tempt me into getting all liquored up. The second reason I decided against the tequila was because it IS an unusual flavor, and I figured that if our guests didn't like tequila, they wouldn't like the beans. So I just simply left it out and renamed my beans Sober Barrachos. (Which, yes, I realize is actually an oxymoron saying sober drunk or somethign like that. But I like the way barrachos sounds rolling off the tongue.)

Seriously, these are some fantastic beans! I will not hide my surprise at the fact that I couldn't keep my spoon out of the pot- they are incredible. In fact, yesterday for lunch all I had was a bowl of leftover beans with a dollop of sour cream and some salsa verde. Well worth the time to make- we could become bean people after all. Especially when this huge pot of beans cost about $3 to make, so this also qualifies today's recipe as a budget-friendly idea. Served up with a bit of corn bread or some tortillas, these beans are a meal all by themselves.

Sober Barrachos
Adapted from Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen

16 ounces dry pinto beans
8 ounces Mexican chorizo,crumbled
8 slices thick bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large white onion, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
fresh ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro

Rinse the beans thoroughly and scoop into a dutch oven. Add about 8 cups of water (covering the beans by 1/2 inch), removing any beans that float. Ad the crumbled chorizo and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and very gently simmer, partially covered, until the beans are thoroughly tender, about 2 hours. You'll need to gently stir the beans regularly and add water as necessary to keep the liquid 1/2 inch above the level of the beans.

In a medium skillet, fry the bacon, stirring regularly, until crisp, about 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove the bacon, leaving behind the drippings. Add the onions and chilies to the bacon grease and fry until deep golden brown, about 10 minutes. Scrape the onion mixture into the beans, then taste and season it all with salt and pepper. Continue simmering, stirring occasionally, for 20 to 30 minutes to blend the flavors.

If the beans seem quite soup, boil over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until the consistency of a nice brothy soup.

Just before serving, stir in the cilantro and serve in warm bowls topped with the crumbled bacon.

Makes about 8 cups of beans- serves 8 people as a main dish, about 12 as a side dish.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Banana Bundt Cake from Dorie

With all the produce going in and out of the kitchen, this past week we discovered that the fruit flies had decided to make their home here. Not many, but where there are few, many usually are not far behind. This meant that a bunch of nicely browned bananas needed to be used right away- waiting would only increase the quantity of flies in the house, and I really wanted to get them managed before the got out of hand. Right away my thoughts turn to banana bread, but as I am out of walnuts, and did not want to make a trip to the store, banana bread was out. (It just is not the same without the walnuts.) So I turned to baking genius Dorie Greenspan and I was not disappointed.

Her Classic Banana Bundt Cake is just as easy to put together as banana bread, only it makes an impressive looking cake to serve company. The batter came together very quickly, it was pretty basic, flour, butter, sugar, eggs, leavening and bananas. I used yogurt instead of the sour cream and before I knew it the cake was filled with a wonderful baking banana aroma. Since I baked the cake on Saturday for Sunday Dinner, I took the generous advice Dorie gave and wrapped my cake with plastic wrap overnight. I decided at the last minute to glaze the cake. I took powdered sugar, cocoa, and a drizzle of brewed coffee, mixed them together until combined and drizzled away. I was a little disappointed that the coffee did not come through very well, but then later Abigail told me she thought the glaze tasted funny- that it started out tasting like coffee then chocolate. Huh. Guess the mocha worked.

The cake was delicious! It did taste similar to banana bread, but the texture was definitely lighter. It was so moist and really, it just was an excellent cake. The mocha glaze really is not necessary, but it did jazz it up a bit, and I like the chocolate-mocha flavor in combination with the bananas. I can recommend the Classic Banana Bundt Cake from Dorie Greenspan wholeheartedly. It is a delicious cake, and definitely company worthy.

Classic Banana Bundt Cake

from Baking: From My Home To Yours by Dorie Greenspan

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, preferably at room temperature
About 4 very ripe bananas, mashed (you should have 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups)
1 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350ºF. Generously butter a 9 to 10 inch bundt pan. (If you've got a silicon pan, there's no need to butter it.) Don't place the pan on a baking sheet- you want the oven's heat to circulate through the Bundt's inner tube.

Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and beat at medium speed until pale and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, then add the eggs one at a time, beating for about 1 minute after each egg goes in. reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the bananas. Finally, mix in half the dry ingredients (don't be disturbed when the batter curdles), all the sour cream and then the rest of the flour mixture. Scrape the batter into the pan, rap the pan on the counter to de-bubble the batter and smooth the top.

Bake for 65 to 75 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted deep into the center of the cake comes out clean. Check the cake after 30 minutes- if it is browning too quickly, cover it loosely with a foil tent. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before unmolding onto the rack to cool to room temperature.

If you've got the time, wrap the cooled cake in plastic and allow it to sit on the counter overnight before serving- it's even better the next day.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

New Poll This Week!

I'm contemplating my current method of posting about recipes here on Tummy Treasure and posting the actual recipe in the Recipe Trove. I like it because it keeps all of my recipes together in one place, but I'm wondering if I should put the recipes here on Tummy Treasure too. Do you have an opinion one way or the other? Let me know in the new poll and comment here if you have a comment about it.

Fun New Lunch Things

Yesterday while school shopping, we wandered down the lunchbox aisle in search of a thermos for Abigail. I have to say, lunchboxes have come a long way in just a few years. If we didn't have the laptop lunchbox already, it would have been hard to choose from. But we did find a few things that will make lunch much better for Abigail this year.

The first being this Princess Thermos. It's the perfect size to hold soup for her for lunch. I am also thinking that things like spaghetti and beans and mac and cheese may work in this as well (and sloppy joe filling-her favorite!). The only thing I haven't figured out yet is how to pack it- it doesn't actually fit in her laptop lunchbag, so I'm not sure what I'll do yet for that. Hopefully it seals well, because what I can see is it lying on it's side in the bottom of her backpack until lunchtime.

The second thing we found was these really cool little ice packs made by Munchkin. They are fairly small, yet seem completely sturdy. Unlike the flimsy standard ice packs we used last year, these look like they will last a very long time without developing a leak. We won't be able to use these all the time, as they are a little wider than what we actually needed, but when we do use them, I'm sure they will keep her lunch nice and cold for as long as I need it to.

And actually, as I am typing this out, I think I solved my problem with where to put the thermos. Obviously with a thermos full of soup or chili Abigail won't be needing a laptop full of additional lunch. So I think I will be picking up an insulated lunch bag that that thermos fits in, and then I can tuck in a small sandwich or a piece of fruit to go with her thermos of food. I think it will be exciting to Abigail to have more than one lunchbox option. And maybe, just maybe, I can keep the lunchline at bay this year.

Oh, and for anyone wondering, I picked up these things at Target yesterday- and they had plenty of options for both boys and girls. Zander wants to know when he gets a lunchbox and a Spiderman thermos.

Friday, August 24, 2007

It's almost that time again...

I'm trying really hard to get into that frame of mind. Man, I tell you, we have been enjoying summer. Lazy mornings, rolling out of bed when we feel like it, sitting around in our jammies until 9 or 10 in the morning, and really doing whatever we want. Sadly, in just over a week, the easiness of life is over in favor of better education. Zander sure is going to miss his sister, and keeps asking when he can go to school too. Maybe if I make sure he has his own new school supplies he'll be happy at home with me for another two years.

Anyway, yesterday I asked Abigail what she would like for lunches this year, and she surprised me by saying "Fun stuff!" And when I inquired further into what that meant, she said "you know, things like pancakes, tomato soup, tacos, pizza. Things like that." And she wasn't talking about school lunch. I think she may be finally embracing being the daughter of a foodie. I'm thrilled that she wants to take hot food! So I'm on the prowl now for a good pint-sized hot lunch thermos. I can't wait to start playing around and filling up her Laptop Lunchbox with fun lunch after fun lunch. I figure I've got about a month or so before she begins staring wistfully at the chicken nuggets and mini corn dogs...

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Pears Are Gone!

Yesterday as I chased a fruit fly away from my ginormous bowl of pears, I realized he'd be back with his friends if I didn't do anything with these pears. I initially had been thinking of quick breads or muffins, but as I looked through recipe after recipe, they really didn't use any quantity of pears. One or two at a time just wasn't going to cut it in using up these pears. So my first decision was to make a pear sauce. The thought to me of eating pear sauce just doesn't sound good to me- and I adore pears! But then I thought of all the times I use applesauce in place of half the fat in a quick bread and it occurred to me that I could easily use a pear puree instead. So I got the pears cooking, went on a hunt for jars, and a short while later I had eight little half-pints of pear sauce.

And I still had pears.

So I made some pie crust and got that in the fridge chilling. And while I waited to make my pear pies, I decided that any that were left after that were going to be divided into eating pears and then one more batch of pear sauce. At least the pears would be used up. Then later on I changed my mind and decided that pear chutney would be more fun, so that was the plan after the pies. I cut and rolled dough for three pies and then got to work on the pears. When I had filled my mixing bowl with pears slices and spices I was surprised to find it only filled two of my shells. I actually finished off the pears and had to use two granny smith apples from the fridge to finish filling the third shell. I was under the impression that I had more pears in the garage, but of course, I didn't. So I did manage to use up the pears, although now I'm a little sad I never got to make my pear chutney. These pies are also going to serve the purpose of being test pies for freezing whole pies. I've always wanted to try doing so and seeing how they fared- so two pies are in the freezer freezing solid before they'll be Foodsaved and deep-frozen. Should be interesting.

But by far, my favorite thing to do with pears came two days ago when I made an Autumn Pear Pudding Cake for my birthday cake. Oh my gosh, that was fantastic! The cake part was slightly spicy and had some depth to it, and the pears literally melted into this delightful sweet sauce. The pear pudding needed no whipped cream or ice cream, it was perfect just as it is. So the recipe for Autumn Pear Pudding Cake is indeed a keeper.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Birthday Chowder

Yesterday I had planned Indian food for my birthday dinner. On Monday though it was cool enough to bake, so I had baked up a pair of loaves of bread, and there was one sitting on the counter yesterday when I woke. It seemed a shame to not utilize that bread at it's freshest, and since it was cool and grey out, I decided I was in the mood for soup. I've been meaning to attempt a chowder of sorts for an upcoming feature in the paper, and I decided that yesterday was the day.

So I went through the fridge, freezer and pantry to see what I could come up with. I found an onion, garlic, wild rice, potatoes, and dried herbs in the pantry. Then I found bacon and plenty of chicken stock in the freezer, and then some 2 year old white cheddar, mushrooms, and milk in the fridge. I was set to make myself a Wild Rice and Cheddar Chowder. It ended up taking a bit of tweaking, adding a little more of this, a trip out to the fresh rosemary plant, and then the final addition of some leftover chicken before it was perfect. Abigail took the first bite- "mmm, this soup is really good Mommy!" so then Zander dipped his spoon in-"mmm, look Mommy, I caught some bacon on my spoon- yummy!" Andy and I looked at each other. Let's face it, my kids just don't go ga-ga for soup. Especially one that is loaded with mushrooms and wild rice. So then Andy dug in and kind of looked at me, "this is really good." I kinda shrugged it off and said it was a little more complicated than I had wanted. And his reply was that he didn't care if I literally slaved all day over the stove- I needed to write this one down and make it again.

Lol. It was very good. I was a little surprised that it went over so well. Abigail did eventually discover the mushrooms and then proceeded to pick them out of the soup, but then went back and ate plenty more- despite the fact that the soup was packed with mushroom flavor. I did manage to streamline the recipe as I wrote it down, so it really isn't as complicated if you do the steps in order. Sorry, no picture today. It didn't really occur to me to take one, and this soup isn't particularly photogenic without some treatment with a garnish or fancy plating. And yesterday just wasn't about being fancy. But the Wild Rice and Cheddar Chowder was truly delicious.

Today I need to tackle the mountain of pears in my kitchen- I have no idea what will become of them, I'm off to hunt in a few minutes for some pear muffins or quick breads or something that I can freeze. But tomorrow I'll have a decadent new way to eat pears to share...pudding cake anyone?

And before you take off- be sure to swing my Kids Cuisine this morning to check out my review of what is hands down, the best cookbook for children I have ever seen. Abigail will be cooking out of it soon- so check it out.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

A Few of My Favorite Things

Yesterday I had a wonderful surprise show up on my doorstep. A package arrived for me from Pittsburgh, and I knew right away it would hold some fantastic treasure. April from Cookworm drew my name for this summer's Blogging By Mail, organized by Stephanie from Dispensing Happiness. This round was titled "A Few of My Favorite Things" and was really fun to do. I know I had a difficult time stopping when it came to filling up my package to send to Lydia at The Perfect Pantry. The package from April was no disappointment, I tell you. Full of things that are new to me, and are now new favorites of mine as well.Where to begin? Well, as I read the letter and unpacked the box, I just couldn't help myself. I had been having a cup of coffee already, and I couldn't wait. I opened up the package of Orange Nutmeg Almond Biscotti and dunked away. The flavor in these is spectacular! They are from a Pittsburgh company, Enrico's, and so, so good. It's a good thing it's a big bag, because I want to figure out how to make some myself. Next to the biscotti is something I've always wanted to try, Horchata. Horchata is a Latin American drink (I think) made from rice milk and cinnamon, and in my mind I always envisioned it tasting like a big frothy mug of decadent rice pudding. I was so impatient waiting for it to chill in the fridge, but I was not disappointed. Oh my gosh, it tasted exactly like I knew it would, delicious and creamy and oh my, just good! I love it, and it will now be a pantry staple.

Next we have a bottle of Tulip Poplar Honey from Maple Valley Farms in Pennsylvania. The honey is very dark and very rich in flavor. It almost tastes like a blend of dark maple syrup and honey- I'm sure from the poplar. I know it will be perfect for making honey butter for some muffins or biscuits. There is also a bottle of Torani Peach syrup, which is a flavor I've never tried and I can't wait to do so! April suggests mixing it with soda water and a touch of cream for a peach cream soda, and that sounds amazing! I just need to pick up the soda and we'll be in business. Next to the syrup is a box of Burt's Bees Wild Lettuce Complexion soap that I can't wait to try out. I love that it's all-natural, and again, it's something I've been meaning to try sometime, but just haven't. Being newly 30 I think it's time to start taking care of my skin a little better, and this may just be the ticket. :-)

Below that in the picture is some of the most amazing chocolate I have ever tasted. Truly. Direct from Belgium, a bar of Dolfin's Anis Vert Chocolate. It is a dark chocolate with green aniseed in it. And I know it sounds strange, but my goodness, does it work! I broke off a tiny corner, a little hesitant, but wow! The flavors marry perfectly! This bar of chocolate will certainly be savored, and it also gives me yet another idea for my truffles this Christmas...

You would think that would be the end of the package- but there's still more! What you don't see in the picture because Zander was running around with it is a handmade cookie stamp with a Celtic Knot on it. I always look at cookie stamps and wonder how well they actually work. I get to find out now- and with a beautiful design. The Celtic Knot is beautiful. Last Christmas I made an effort to make a cookie platter with all the cookies of our blended families heritage on it, and the Irish cookie was my least favorite. I can just see the shortbreads now with a pretty design stamped into the top.

And last, but certainly not least, are a few selections of tea from a tea shop April enjoys spending time in. In tropical and floral flavors, I cannot wait to try them. With the weather taking a slight turn towards fall, a mug of tea may be the perfect thing this very afternoon. And with a touch of that poplar honey, I should be in heaven.

All in all, a wonderful package. It was so thoughtful, and I get a sense that April and I have very similar tastes- after all, it was a box of her favorite things, and now they're my new favorites. I've enjoyed "meeting" her virtually, and I will definitely be keeping an eye on her blog. Thanks again April! And thanks again to Stephanie for organizing Blogging By Mail- another round that was tons of fun.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Happy Birthday Little Beauty!

How is it that I am the mother of a seven year old?! Where did all that time go? It's been a wonderful seven years, and I'm looking forward to the next seven. Happy Birthday sweet princess!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Doozy of a Day

My parents have a pear tree in their backyard that produces tons of pears every year. Despite the lack of rain and the fact that there is virtually no trunk left on this antique tree, it still goes nuts. They let us know yesterday that today was the day that they were going to pick all the pears off the tree-before the wasps come in this year. And did we want any? Did we want to can some pears? This got me thinking, and a short while later I learned that I could can pears in my boiling water canner with the aid of some simple syrup. You bet! Free pears to put up- I was in.

So we went over this morning to share the duties of picking the pears, and with all of us working, it went very quickly. Not knowing how many pears it was going to take to do a few batches, we brought home quite a few pears...
Andy promised to help peel and cut the pears today, so we both let the kids loose doing whatever they wanted and settled in for an afternoon of canning. A short handful of pears in, we were both looking at the mountains of pears we'd brought home- now realizing how much work it was going to be to peel and core and cut every single one. Oy! But we forged ahead. We had the pears, we had the jars and the simple syrup. And in the end, we ended up with 34 quarts of canned pears.We actually ran out of jars, or we probably could have gotten another 7 or 8 quarts made. As it is, the remaining pears will be delicious eating out of hand and will make their way into a few crisps, pies, or salads. Overall, a very productive day for us. Tomorrow we begin birthday week! Abigail's birthday is on Monday, but we'll be celebrating both tomorrow and Monday, since Monday means work for Andy. Then Tuesday is my birthday, and I can't wait to show off my birthday present. I'm going to be turning the big 3-0, and since I've heard the thirties are better than the twenties, I'm looking forward to it.

BTW- another milestone! This is my 700th post!!!

Friday, August 17, 2007

My First Recipe!

This week in the local paper my first recipe came out! I have to admit, while I was excited about it, I though, eh, it's just a recipe. But then I actually saw the recipe in print. A recipe that I developed. That was pretty cool to see. The folks at the paper also did a great job putting the recipe in its own little section so that it's clippable and anyone who wants it can get at it easily.

For my first recipe I created a recipe that I called Spicy Mediterranean Pasta Salad. I started with a trip to the farmer's market, and let the produce there inspire my salad. The day I put the recipe on paper was a great day at the market, I found fresh spinach, cucumbers, new red onions, and gorgeous cherry tomatoes. While assembling the salad, I also added a few convenience items- bottled banana peppers, kalamata olives, and then some leftovers- shredded chicken and feta cheese. The beauty of this salad is that you can change it up to whatever you want it to be. Don't like cucumbers? Try thinly sliced kohlrabi. No cherry tomatoes? How about some beautiful red bell pepper instead. Found some new carrots? Throw them in. This salad is limited only by imagination.

For the dressing I made a spicy vinaigrette with crushed red pepper flake. The pepper could certainly be reduced if needed, and truly, in a pinch, a bottle of spicy Italian dressing could fill in for the homemade vinaigrette. It really is an excellent salad. We ate quite a bit of it while I was developing the recipe, and we never got sick of it. I have the recipe for Spicy Mediterranean Pasta Salad in the Recipe Trove. If you are interested in seeing it in print, you can click here to check it out in the Seymour Times Press. Scroll down a tiny bit and you'll find it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Totally My Daughter!

Well, no food post today. Dinner last night was complements of the grocery store deli. But I did want to talk a little about my little treasure. :-) Last night before ballet class, I asked Abigail if she would like to go do some shoe shopping before class. School is coming up, and we've been slowly adding new clothing here and there. Shoes was the one thing we hadn't touched yet, so I thought we'd stop and take advantage of BOGO.

LOL! I adore shoes myself, but since having kids and being responsible (ahem) my shoe purchasing has been limited to practicality. But my almost-seven-year-old was like a kid in a candy store! She pointed to shoe after shoe, and she'd try a pair on and walk the catwalk, trying them out, and skewing her legs just so so that I could get a good look. She even amused the sales girl helping us. So we picked out a few pairs of shoes, and then another, and then we had an odd number so we needed another pair to fully take advantage of the buy one/get one, so somehow a pair of boots made it onto my daughters feet. Seriously, the people in the store with us stopped to admire this little girl in her walking boots. We had to get them. And then a pair of sandals, which, once again gave us an odd number which was rescued by the appearance of a Hello Kitty backpack.

And of course, we couldn't stop with just the boots. A mental walk-through of Abigail's wardrobe had me thinking that we should pick up a couple of skirts for her to wear with the boots. So then we had to make another stop. As I started to follow her into the changing room she turns around and looks at me and says very matter-of-factly, "I don't need your help, Mommy." A few minutes later she came back out with two skirts that fit nicely, ("but this one might need a belt to look right."). So to close today, here's a photo of my little lady who turns seven on Monday.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mmmm....Corn Muffins

Last night Abigail had Nutcracker practice so it was an unexpected crock-pot night this week in addition to tonight's regular one. It didn't take me long to check out the freezer and decide to pull out some previously BBQ'd country style ribs. We all love these ribs, and the reheat wonderfully in the crock-pot. They went into the crock from frozen and I cooked them for 2 hours on high before leaving and turning them down to low. But we needed to have more than ribs for dinner. And with my kitchen still in a shambles because yes, the ants are still going, I wanted something quick and easy.

A quick trip through the kitchen found enough fruit to toss together for a fruit salad, dressed with some raspberry yogurt it would be a perfect counterpoint to the smoky richness of the pork ribs. But what else...? Well, nothing screams BBQ to me like corn bread. Specifically, corn muffins. Now apparently I am not a true Southerner, because I prefer my corn bread with sugar in it, but I do gauge how much sugar by what I'm serving it with. For BBQ, it's the lesser amount. For something like chili, I use a little more sugar. Either way, I love corn muffins. I prefer my cornbread in a single serve muffin shape only because the bread, by nature, is a little crumbly, and it drives me batty that I can't cut cornbread into neat slices (or cubes as the case may be). And the best part of making corn muffins for dinner? There's always a few leftover for a decadent breakfast, smothered with some butter and homemade preserves.Erika's Corn Muffins

And finally, to find out what Abigail's been up to in the kitchen lately, be sure and check out this morning's article over at Kid's Cuisine. I think I have a budding chef on my hands.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

A New Penzey's Find

Penzey's has a new spice blend out called Tuscan Sunset. It's a salt-free Italian style seasoning. The ingredients on the back are basil, oregano, Aleppo pepper, garlic, thyme, fennel, black peppers and anise. I picked it up the last time I was at Penzey's, and I have to say, it is excellent for adding just a touch of flavor to something. The Aleppo pepper gives it just a touch of heat, and overall, I really like the flavor combination. In last night's case, I used it on a fillet of salmon that Andy grilled. We added some grey salt, and then finished it off tableside with a squeeze of lemon, it was very good and well worth repeating.

And would you believe the ants are still at it! They took a break late yesterday, but I woke up this morning to find them still swarming the terro. The do seem to be stopping there and not going into the pantry, but as long as they're around, the pantry contents are all over my kitchen and in the basement. It makes it pretty difficult to navigate and cook something. On the plus side though, as I was bleaching the pantry again yesterday, I decided that it was finally time to give the shelves a coat of paint. Something I've been meaning to do since we moved in two years ago! It will be much easier to clean the shelves now and it also will be easy to spot critters earlier. I'm also in need of a Tupperware sale, as I think I need to have sealable homes for more pantry staples. I sure hope those ants finish up soon!

Monday, August 13, 2007


Last night's dinner was a rousing success- it was quick, simple, and most everyone loved it. One of Andy's favorite meals is sausage and peppers- Italian sausage served on a roll with onions, peppers, and marinara. He keeps asking for it, and keeps suggesting that we make it for our Sunday Company Dinner. I keep putting it off, because it really is best if everything is cooked on the grill- and sausage and peppers for company takes a bit of grill space. Or so I thought.

I got the idea from a Taste of Home annual and just ran with it. I had Andy grill the sausage, I cut up peppers and onions, and then he grilled the veggies. In the meantime, I dumped a large container of marinara into a crockpot along with 3 or 4 tomatoes that needed to be used, and a handful of fresh parsley. Then the peppers were cut into chunks and tossed with the vegetables in the marinara. The whole thing simmered away for a few hours, combining flavors and getting even more delicious. And it worked perfectly. I loved that when I scooped the mixture onto a roll I had nuggets of sausage blended with vegetables instead of one long link of sausage. This way, a bite incorporated a little bit of everything. We also had some penne on hand for those who didn't want a sandwich, and that worked just as well as there was plenty of sauce to sauce the pasta. A dual-purpose dinner with very little effort involved. There was plenty leftover as well, so after it cooled, it went into the freezer for a quick dance-night dinner later on. In addition, sausage and peppers is relatively inexpensive to make. Considering that I made enough for two meals, if I break down the price it comes out to about a dollar a person. Not bad.

One reason we needed a quick to put together dinner yesterday was actually because our house was in need of a good cleaning before company came. But imagine this, will you. We arrive home from church, and I set out to make lunch right away for the kids- mentally planning my afternoon of housework and food prep. I pull out the jar of peanut butter, open it up, reach in with my knife, and find the peanut butter full of ants. Tiny, microscopic ants. The PB went straight into the garbage and I grabbed the other peanut butter. Open the lid. Ants. So a closer peek into the pantry revealed a nightmare- an infestation of the tiniest ants I'd ever seen. I grabbed at the last jar of peanut butter- knowing full well what I'd find, but hoping that the gourmet dark chocolate raspberry peanut butter had been spared. But it had not.

I had to recruit my husband. We found ants in unopened cracker packages, open packages of nuts and in the can of shortening. Shortening! I was worried...I had a lot of open packages of baking goods, flours and chocolate chips, pasta, things like that. Oddly enough, the ants stayed away from the sweet stuff- even avoiding the two jars of marshmallow fluff. Much of the pantry had to be emptied and scrubbed. A lot went into the garbage. The surviving goods were moved down into the kitchen annex until we can be sure the ants are gone. We put down some terro, and they did finally find it, so I'm glad for that. But after putting that down yesterday afternoon, they are STILL swarming the stuff this morning. So this is what my pantry looks like this morning, and how it will stay until the swarming buggers are gone.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sharing Some Link-Love

A friend of mine recently shared this blog with me. Her exact words were "you have to check this blog out. Have to." So I finally did, and she was completely right. The Pioneer Woman Cooks is a website dedicated to delicious at-home fare. Pioneer Woman takes it a step further though and goes step by step through the process to make something delicious. And I mean step by step. It's really a perfect tutorial for someone who doesn't cook so much (or doesn't cook so well). With full color photographs detailing every step of a recipe, her recipes are practically foolproof.

I have just begun exploring this blog, but I definitely wanted to share it with my readers. Want to make cinnamon rolls? Or, I should say, seven pans of cinnamon rolls? Pioneer Woman's directions and pictures sure give me the confidence to tackle that myself. Right now she's got a delectable looking blackberry cobbler up on the main page. If only I had some blackberries!

Anyway, check it out. The Pioneer Woman Cooks. And oh boy, does she ever!

Friday, August 10, 2007

I *Heart* This Marinade

Recently I was in the mood for teriyaki. It's something I order out, but seldom make because I've never found a marinade I liked. Whether homemade or store-bought, I found them all cloying or too heavily flavored. So I found myself standing in front of the marinade section at the store and there was quite the selection of Teriyaki sauces. How to pick one? I started with the ingredients. Any one that contained high fructose corn syrup was automatically eliminated. That didn't leave much. This particular marinade caught my eye because of the plethora of sesame seeds. Sesame in teriyaki? No corn syrup? It was worth a try.

In a word, delicious. I love this marinade. I first tried it on chicken tenders, and I loved how it subtly invaded the chicken and filled it with flavor. Last night we tried it on swordfish and shrimp. (It was splurge night last night) The results there were even better than the chicken. This marinade was light enough that it didn't overwhelm the flavor of the shrimp or the swordfish at all. It complemented them very nicely. While I could probably try to make my own teriyaki marinade, with this one at my disposal in a bottle, why would I search for anything else. Kona Coast has many, many other marinades, and I intend to make my way through many of them.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

That's A Wrap!

Wow. It's been a very long day. I have a whole new admiration for television personalities and production crews. What a lot of work! I started by arriving at the park when I was told to, and then I was told that they were running a little behind. We were all introduced to the host, Mark DeCarlo, and he truly is as he seems on TV. He's a lot of fun and a genuinely nice guy. It was kind of fun, as we were being introduced to him I was introduced as the blogger, while everyone else just got their names. And I was in good company- area chefs, cooks, and restaurateurs comprised my fellow burger cooks. And radio personalities. We had some outrageous radio personalities there who were a hoot! (Mad Dog and Merril anyone?)

It took such a long time to move from take to take and shot to shot. And I think I can safely say that I was no where near as witty or entertaining as the radio guys... however, Mr. DeCarlo did enjoy my burger, so at least that was a little something. To be completely honest, I will be surprised if I see myself on Taste of America. They spent an entire day filming here in town, and I am sure there is a lot that will end up on the cutting room floor. I'm okay with that. While exhausting, the experience was really fun, and I had the added benefit of having a friend unexpectedly join me for the event. It was really nice to have someone to visit with during down time. And there was plenty of down time.

All in all, I'd do it again. I think I would just like to be better informed next time. We had so much extra time that had I known that, I would have taken things like my slaw unprepared so I could do it on-site. I actually have no idea how the whole thing wrapped up either, because I had to duck out. Abigail had ballet practice tonight, and my parents were on their way out of town so I needed to retrieve my kids. I waited until the last possible second... and just a few minutes later we're dashing out of town, already late for ballet. Anyone who knows me also knows that I am not a speeder in my car. Ever since having children I am cautious and try to maintain the speed limit. And wouldn't you know (you've guessed what's coming, haven't you?) the one day that I am using excessive speed only because we are quite late, would be the day that I get pulled over. Seriously! What are the odds! So I did only get a warning, but then we were even more late, and then I was even more careful about not going too fast. Anyway, Abigail did make it to ballet, although 20 minutes late.

So it's been a long day, and I don't promise much exciting tomorrow. Why is it that I take one day off from things like dishes and laundry, and now I've got a certified disaster area on my hands? I'll be sure and let everyone know when this episode of Taste of America will air. In the meantime, check it out on The Travel Channel- the host is a ton of fun to watch.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Where's Erika?


Well, I think I can safely share my adventure tomorrow. I can't decide if it's a big deal or not, and I guess I won't know until the final editing hits the TV screen and I see if for myself if it was a big deal or not. Tomorrow I have an unusual opportunity to do some cooking for an audience. Taste of America, seen on The Travel Channel, is coming to my town to discuss all things Hamburger. And since I am the reigning burger-topping champion (only cause I haven't been contested since winning) I will be doing some cooking for the show.

So what am I cooking? Well, it's really more topping than anything. I'll be provided a hamburger patty, and I need to top it for a national audience. When I was first asked to do this, I immediately began thinking about doing a burger that highlights local products. So that's what I'll be doing. My Wisconsin Tribute Burger is going to feature some local cheese, local bacon, and a kicking slaw using local produce and ingredients. I will share the full recipe when I can.

In the meantime, wish me luck! I keep changing my mind about what I want to wear, and then when I finally settled on something I got a phone call from the producer telling me the colors I shouldn't wear and...well, back to the drawing board for that one. And while it's not exactly hot, temperature wise, it's extremely sticky out, so I'll need to figure out how to tame my mane with all this humidity. Sigh. The price of stardom. Lol. Hopefully it will be fun and the end result will be entertaining. I thought my experience on the Food Network left a little to be desired and I thought everything that came out of my mouth sounded lame, so I hope I can do better this time. The shooting is Wednesday afternoon, so I'll try posting later that evening to share the experience.

P.S. Is it weird to be geeked up about the idea of simply appearing on the same network as Anthony Bourdain?

Monday, August 6, 2007

A Zucchini Round-Up

Do you have an over-abundant zucchini plant right now? Mine isn't exactly over-abundant, but it is keeping me nicely supplied in fresh green Summer squash. So I thought that today I would simply point out several of the zucchini recipes in my Recipe Trove for those who need something new to do with zucchini.

First, I have the Salatet Kousa from the other day. Moroccan's truly wonderful and I'm thinking about it for dinner tonight again.

Ah! Zucchini Fritters! How could I forget these- with a simple marinara sauce, these are delightful!

This Chocolate Chip Zucchini Sheet Cake made an appearance just this weekend. The caramel frosting takes it completely over the top. We love this one.

The Phul Gobhi would be perfect with a lot of zucchini- and anything else you find at the farmer's market, for that matter.

Oh, I haven't made these yet this year! These Vegetable Enchiladas are packed with flavor. The Cooked Tomatillo Sauce can be swapped out for your favorite Salsa Verde as well. I suspect these would also be a way to use up frozen shredded zucchini.

And anyone who's been reading my blog for awhile knows of my sincere love for all things quick bread. Here's my recipe for straight up Mom's Zucchini Bread and my Chocolate Zucchini Bread.

This White Bean Salad with Zucchini and Parmesan exceeded my expectations when I first made it.

This Cabbage Patch Stew, shared by a thoughtful reader would be excellent with the addition of zucchini.

And finally, with a bit of extra time on your hands, this Cornmeal Crusted Roasted Zucchini Tart is an impressive dish to make for company. Or where the tart is time intensive, this Zucchini Gratin is extremely simple and bakes away while you tend to your guests.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

It's Festival Weekend!

I doubt we'll be cooking much this weekend. :-)

Friday, August 3, 2007

Street Food!

And I'm not talking about greasy deep-fried fair food either. Yesterday I was going to do a couple of things with zucchini and then tell you about them today. The day ran away from me quicker than I expected, but there was one saving grace. The mail truck brought me a piece of treasure.

Street Food by Tom Kime is a true gift to fans of travel. We religiously watch Anthony Bourdain tour the globe, singing the praises of street food, and this book gives us at home the opportunity to recreate some of what we've seen. This book is broken down into five different regions around the world. India and Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Southern Europe, and The Middle East and North Africa. Most of the recipes also have a detailed picture, and the travel essays throughout give you a good idea that this food is as authentic as it can get. There are also menu suggestions and a recipe navigator to help you find something specific. Overall, it's a very well put-together cookbook. None of the recipes seem overly complicated- they are street food after all.

As I was digesting this book I found a recipe for Salatet Kousa, or zucchini salad. A quick scan showed that I had everything I needed at home, except for the parsley, and that was easily remedied while we were out running around. Traditionally served as part of a mezze or as a side for grilled meat or fish, salatet kousa hails from Morocco, and I had to make it. It went quickly. I started with some smaller zucchini fresh from the garden which I cut into small sticks. These were fried in oil on the stove top until golden brown. While the zucchini fried, I combined the dressing ingredients. In no time at all, I had all the zucchini in a bowl and tossed it with the dressing. Then we had to wait. Andy wouldn't be home for a good hour, so I was patient and let the salad blend. Just before serving, a handful of parsley was thrown in.

I opted to make up some basmati rice and serve this up with that. In a word, it was fantastic. The flavor was bright and vibrant, and not really spicy, but full of intense flavor. The acid in the lemon cut through the smokiness of the chili powder and cumin, and the paprika added a depth and sweetness. The parsley would have certainly been missed had I not used it, that added a freshness to the zucchini that just worked perfectly. I can certainly see this dish being part of a mezze with all different flavors and textures, but we honestly enjoyed it by itself. It made a perfect light dinner for Andy and I last night. We had it accompanied by fresh garden vegetables, so it was a completely vegetarian dinner- actually, vegan now that I think about it. The only thing I have with this recipe is the oil- I think 1/4 cup was a bit much for the whole thing, and I think the next time I will just eyeball it to reduce the fat a little bit, but overall, excellent and definitely a repeater.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Revisiting A Favorite

I haven't made this recipe in a long time. For a while it was Andy's favorite, and we made it quite a bit, so I got a little sick of it. It's a recipe for Thai BBQ Beef that I got from a recipe card. You know, those recipe collections that you get a few recipes every few weeks, and over the course of time you end up paying several hundred dollars for a collection? Yeah... I actually collected quite a few of them before cancelling. What I really liked about the recipe cards after a while was that each and every recipe came with a tempting picture. When Abigail was old enough to understand, I would sit her down with the recipe cards and she would look through them, looking for things that she thought she'd like Mommy to cook. This particular set was geared towards healthy cooking, and I really never made a bad recipe from the cards. They've since made their way to my sister, but I do still have this recipe.

The Thai BBQ beef starts with a fairly basic BBQ sauce, but with the addition of peanut butter and soy sauce. The beef cooks slowly in the sauce until tender, and really ends up rich and delicious. I always liked to serve it up with noodles tossed with garlic and ginger, and an orange dipping sauce. Since I'm making this tonight for dinner, I'm not entirely sure what I'll make with it tonight. The hot weather is screaming for salad, so we'll likely see what the farmstand has to offer this week- last week they had a lot of wonderful produce. The recipe for Thai Style BBQ Beef calls for beef ribs, but we've used endless cuts of beef with this. Tougher pieces just need to cook longer, and one of these times I'm going to try short ribs in the crock pot with this sauce.

Tomorrow, a zucchini collection. :-)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Come out of lurkdom!

Okay Tummy Treasure fans, it's time to come out of lurkdom and tell me how you top your burgers. What is your favorite way to top your hamburger? Simple ketchup and mustard? Caramelized onions? Or do you prefer a more upscale treatment? Next week I have an unusual opportunity and I need the best... not the best burger, but the best burger toppers. I have something in mind already, but I'm curious as to what other people think of when they think of topping a burger.

Let me know! How would you top your ultimate burger?