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Fried Potatoes Done Right

Have you ever had potatoes that seemed to drip with grease?  Have you had them so overcooked that the inside is nearly hollow?  To strike a balance there are a few tricks this diva has up her sleeve.  I like to make potatoes in one inch nuggets but 1/4 inch fries work as well.  About 1 medium russet potato will make 1 cup of potato chunks (or fries).  In this recipe I used four, making four one cup servings.

The first trick is to par-boil the potatoes. They should be able to bend a bit but still have some snap to them.

The next step is to refrigerate them over-night or even freeze them but thaw them completely before frying if they are chunks.

100_0881When you are ready to fry, toss them in a large bowl and wet them on all sides with vinegar. I used cider vinegar.  They should stay wet for about 20 minutes to let the surface soak it in a bit.  There are scientifics to what the vinegar does to the starch molecules but I’ll just say that it makes the exterior very nicely crispy while keeping the interior soft and creamy.

100_0882Next you will need to heat the oil.   I used a skillet with oil about an inch deep and did two batches of prepared potatoes in it.(two cups at a time of potato chunks).  I don’t take a temperature but I know the oil is hot enough when the end of a wooden spoon dipped in the oil for a few seconds will make fine little bubbles around it.

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Drain off all the vinegar you can and carefully lower the potatoes in the oil with a large bowled slotted spoon.  They should start to fry and bubble immediately.  Let this go on until they potatoes are a beautiful golden brown color then remove them to a plate lined with paper toweling to drain off excess oil.  Salt them while they are piping hot, allow them to cool slightly after giving them a toss or tow and enjoy some fried potatoes done just right!

Great Green Coffee Beans

I drink coffee nearly every day like so many people around the world but I never stopped to consider the process of roasting.  I always bought coffee already roasted for me.  I never knew coffee was a green legume-like seed until a friend from church gave some to me.  A lady she knew from Kenya had given her a couple of pounds of it not knowing my friend didn’t even 100_0784drink coffee.  I can’t wait to tell her what a wonderful gift she gave me.

100_0785100_0791Coffee in its unroasted state has a longer shelf life that when it has been roasted.  Ground coffee has the shortest shelf life of all but it is convenient.  Since I had this coffee over a year stored in a tin, I thought I ought to do something with it.  There are several ways to roast coffee. Most common is just placing the beans on a cookie sheet and roasting them in the oven. Others have tried it in a toaster oven for a smaller batch.  I’ve heard you could even use an air popper for popping popcorn.  I’ve also heard that method is best done outdoors because it makes a huge mess.  As coffee roasts thin little skins fly off the beans and get all over the place.  Without an air popper and and no need for a huge batch 100_0794100_0792(or a huge mess) I just roasted a small amount by putting dry beans in a heavy pan and cooking them over the stove.  It took only ten minutes with the flame on high and stirring frequently.  This helped them roast evenly.  Removing them from the flame every so often was necessary because they would start to produce a bit of smoke.  I’d rather the coffee wake me up than the smoke alarm.

When the beans began to take on a beautiful mahogany color I put them on a large plate, took them outside and blew away the chaffy skins that peeled away during roasting.  They needed to cool a bit before anything else.  Once they were to a temperature where I could touch them without roasting my fingertips I threw a good handful into my little grinder and pulsed the beans until they were finely ground.  I could already tell this would make a great cup of coffee by the aroma.

100_0796100_0797This seems like a long way to go to get a cup of coffee but the farther back to the basics one goes the better and more artisan-like the product.

Now to really guild the lily, one of the best ways to make a cup of coffee from freshly roasted 100_0798and ground beans was by using my grandmother’s old Drip-O-Lator coffee maker.  The measurements for water and coffee are embossed into the metal so there is no guesswork.  This simple little coffee maker which uses no electricity takes four minutes to make some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted.  For a java junkie like me, that’s saying something!  In this case it was the absolute truth.  I have never had a better cup of coffee than the one I fussed over for the last 30 minutes.  The best word to describe it would be divine.

100_0802100_0803Now tomorrow morning I may not be as ambitious. For the work week I think I’ll settle for using the Keurig with the rest of this lovely coffee.

Post Season and Apple Pie Season

As a lifetime Cardinals Fan I have settled into a tradition in the fall  to include the American essentials, especially baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.  Each time my beloved Birds win post season status I bake apple pie in their honor.  We sold the Chevy in 2012 but did have all of those essentials when they won the series in 2011 (we do still have a truck but it’s not a Chevy).  I even manage to choke down a couple of hot dogs when ever they get into “Red October”…not to brag but they do it a lot.  OK, I am bragging. Tee hee.

All this tradition calls for a traditional apple pie.  My favorite source of traditional recipes is the 1976 version of the Betty Crocker Cookbook.  I use a bit more apple and sugar and slightly less nutmeg than “Betty.”  First, gather up these staple ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Dash salt
  • 6 medium to large tart apples, pared cored and sliced
  • 2 tablespoons butter

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Preheat the oven to 400.  Prepare a pastry crust for a nine inch two crust Pie.  Combine dry ingredients.  Toss the apples around in them until well coated.  Turn into a pastry lined pie plate (I like glass and ceramic for even baking).  Cover with the top crust, crimp edges to seal, and cut vent holes in the top or arrange a lattice top crust by cutting the top crust into strips and laying them out in a weave-like pattern.  Sprinkle the top with sugar for a bit of sparkle and bake 50 minutes or until crust is brown and juices bubble through the vent holes.  This pie should be served warm and à la mode  to honor a great team.

 

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If you can find apples right from the tree, this recipe will be even better.   Apples vary in how they cook too.  I’ve found Johnaghans to be my favorite for tartness and ability to hold its shape.  Gold Delicious also hold very well but don’t have the same tartness.  Red delicious are ones that get mushy but, hey it’s your pie so bake what you like, experiment while the season is on and make a favorite tradition of your own.

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Lazy Bread

It used to be when someone told me they bake their own bread I’d picture them covered in flour, kneading dough and slaving over a hot oven. All that work makes a great end product and fills the house with that heady perfume of freshly baked bread but there is a way to have  that without all the toil.

On Craig’s list any given day one might find at least 12 bread machines looking for a new home.  I found one for a song a few years ago and though it takes up some space, it is the key to baking artisan quality bread without all the work.  I don’t care for the 6″x 6″x 6″ cube of bread the bread machine produces.  It’s hard to make a sandwich with such a huge slice and the bottom always has this gash where the paddle cuts into the bottom…Awkward!  Instead I let the machine do all the kneading and the first rise then I put the dough in a loaf pan or I’ll make make buns by rolling up little pieces of dough and putting them on a cookie sheet for a couple of hours until the second rise is complete then bake either a loaf or buns, the way bread should be made, in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

100_0381For a general bread machine dough use the following:

  • 1 cup water
  • 2 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon steak sauce (optional but decrease salt by 1/2 tsp.)
  • 100_03841 tablespoon chopped basil (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped dried tomatoes (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Pour in the water flour, yeast and honey first.  Turn on the machine and let it mix.  When the flour is nearly incorporated add the steak sauce and/or other optional additions.  You can make many variations…cinnamon and raisins for instance.  Steak sauce is an odd ingredient but it makes a bread with a savory depth of flavor.  The steak sauce contains salt so I use less table salt than usual.  Since salt inhibits the action of the yeast, let the first rise happen in the confines of the machine but  just before the second rise and go ahead and add the salt so the yeast has the best chance of doing its thing.  You’ll know when the second rise is happening because there will be a long pause and suddenly you will hear the machine engage again.  This is when you add the salt  The machine will mix it in for you.  It will pause again which means the second rise has begun.  About 15 minutes into the second rise this is the time to transfer the dough to a loaf pan or cut it up in pieces and place on a cookie sheet if you are making buns.100_0387

 

100_0604100_0388Using flour dusted fingertips pull the dough out of the pan of the machine.  It will be sticky but the flour on your hands will help.  Try not to deflate the dough too much but dust a board lightly to prevent sticking while shaping the dough into a loaf gently pulling the ends and rolling it with light pressure in the middle with your palms.  Place it in the loaf pan, brush it with olive on top and cover it with plastic film.  You could also cut the dough into small pieces the size of a plum and put them on a baking sheet for the remainder of the second rise.  What ever form of bread you choose to make, just set it in a place that’s warm but not drafty.  Buns also will need to be brushed with oil and covered in film.  When the dough rises up and over the edges of the pan, or has doubled in size, and this could take up to two hours, it is then ready to pop into a 400° oven for 20 minutes or until the internal 100_039047912temperature is 200°.  Just before you put it in the oven it helps to score the top of the loaf or each bun with a very sharp knife.  This gives the bread room to expand in the oven.

 

Remove the loaf from the pan and allow it to cool completely before you slice it.  Same with the buns.  They need to be completely cool or all the steam will escape and make the bread dry and tough.  The aroma is so tempting but the results will be worth the wait.   Patience will insure a crunchy crust and a tender crumb in the end.  Using a bread machine to do the kneading and rising helps you reserve some of that patience. So dust off the machine you’ve never used since your wedding, or check out Craig’s List for a cheap one barely used and start making your own delicious bread without all the mess and hassle.  You’ll save money too!  100_0555100_0394100_0401

Life Would Not Be As Good Without Home-Grown Tomatoes

“There’s two things money can’t buy and that’s true love and home-grown tomatoes!”  That’s a line from a song that says it all if you’ve ever tasted that summer sweetness of a  tomato right off the vine.  My grandmother, who used to live in a small town down in southern Illinois, always had a patch of tomatoes and other vegetables growing in her backyard.  My sisters and I would spend weeks at a time with her over the summer and every evening those super red juicy tomatoes would be served in slices with supper.  Her little patch would produce enough to share with all her neighbors and we would even be allowed to just go pick one and eat it right out there in the sunshine when ever we wanted.  No tomato ever went to waste with her unless a squirrel made off with one and couldn’t eat it all.  She would can everything she could get her hands on.  Many sweet childhood memories involve that lovely lady and home-grown tomatoes.

100_0663I just acquired two huge bags full of very ripe beefsteak tomatoes from my dear friend Gayle.  She and her husband have 12o plants producing away in their backyard. Every flat surface in their house is covered with tomatoes.  They sell them to passers by, but what really has to go she either cans or gives a bunch to me.  How blessed am I!  In my own garden I have two varieties of basil to add to some of the jars for added flavor.

Canning has become a favorite pastime for me and my husband.  It’s great having a partner through all the peeling.  In the end we get a product superior to anything we would purchase at the supermarket.  Since we’re the ones doing the selecting, and processing, we know exactly what is going into the jar which by the way is far better for us than tomatoes in metal cans containing BPA a chemical which scientists have noted some concern relating our health.

It’s really easy to process dozens of tomatoes.  It just takes a bit of time but if you have a friend helping, it’s quality time.

First you boil two big pots of water.  One will be for blanching the tomatoes and the other will be the water bath.  We used a pressure canning pot.  Blanching the tomatoes for just one minute helps the skins slide off very easily but first you will need to remove the core with a paring knife.  Once all the tomatoes are peeled sterilize the jars in the other pot of water and set them aside to dry.  You could also just run them through a sanitizing cycle in your dishwasher. Sterilize lids and rings in hot water as well.  A few minutes should do but keep the temperature of the water just below boiling.  180° is Pasteurization temperature and it won’t allow the waxy seal in the lid to become damaged.

100_0667Now the fun part…filling the jars with tomatoes.  Just smash as many as will fit, releasing trapped pockets of air and leaving a half inch of head space at the top.  Wipe the rims clean with paper toweling and place the clean lids on top.  Screw the rings on top just to hand tight and lower the jars into the boiling water bath.  We made several variations; some had bits of 100_0669the purple speckled basil and lettuce leaf basil added and some we left salt free.  If salt was added it was only 3/4 teaspoon per pint.  A quart would get a whole teaspoon.  The jars need to boil for 40 minutes completely submerged to ensure a good seal and kill all bacteria.

Canning tomatoes in the peak of ripeness makes opening one up in the winter a lovely reminder of those beautiful sunshiny summer days.  So make sure you store up plenty of homegrown tomatoes while you can because like the song says, “All winter without’em is a culinary bummer.” 100_0674

Grilled Rib-Eye Dinner, No Sweat

Summer and cooking indoors are two things that are a bit tricky to mix.  The grill has become my new BFF for the past several weeks, along with small appliances in the household.  The last thing I want to do is crank up the oven when the temps are in the 90′s!  This post is all about keeping the diva cool!

The perfect summer meal never requires flame unless it’s lit outside and I found a way to make perfect corn on the cob in the microwave.  A freshly sliced vine ripened tomato is always a great side in the summer as well.

100_0612I found Rib-Eye steaks on sale at the supermarket and they were nicely marbled to ensure great flavor.  A light rub of olive oil and  a quick sprinkle of salt pepper and a pinch of Cajun seasoning was all the steaks needed before placing them on a clean and very hot grill.  I gave the steaks a quarter turn after about two minutes and let them sear away another two minutes 100_0615before flipping them over to reveal those classic cross-hatched grill marks.  The other side received the same treatment and the flame was turned shut off.  They stayed on the cooling grill to rest while I went inside to address the corn.

There wasn’t much involved here.  I simply put all four ears, husk and all in microwave and cooked them on high for seven minutes…just enough time to let the steaks rest and choose a great tomato to slice and serve on the side.

I went out to get the steaks which looked and smelled divine.  A plate of glistening ruby red tomato slices were ready and the corn had a few minutes to continue steaming in their husks.  To get the corn ready for the plates, I got a sharp knife, cut the bottom inch off and squeezed the perfectly done cob out of the open end…not one strand of corn silk to be seen.  I’ve never made an easier or more sumptuous supper.  Even though the temperature was in the mid nineties, I never even broke a sweat.  It just didn’t seem right for it to taste so good…but boy it did. 100_0619100_0622

Yellow-fin Tuna with Teriyaki Veggies

A girl in the tween scene likes nothing better than to look cool in front of her friends.  Our daughter was having a friend over for dinner and after working all day I was hard pressed to put together something these youths would enjoy…something sophisticated but familiar, so I pulled three steaks of yellow-fin tuna from the fridge that were fresh from the fish market.   Sushi grade tuna to me is pretty impressive.  I asked Julia’s friend if she ever had sushi and she said no.  Julia told her she had it and it was, “Like, really gross”.  I promised the girls I would cook this really “like” high grade tuna (a good deal for $3.25 a steak) to perfection while they played Minecraft.

This tuna appeared as glistening rubies it was so fresh.  I knew that nothing could make this go wrong except to let it become over cooked.  Leaving a little pink in the middle would be safe and hopefully not be too shocking for the young ladies.  I was willing to take the risk…I was 12 once and remember bragging rights being everything.  This 100_0534would be a very grown-up meal to tell their friends they were brave enough to try and this is what I used to prepare a colorful delicious meal:

  • Three 3/4 or 1 inch thick steaks of sushi/sashimi grade Yellow-fin tuna (Ahi)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil (reserve one teaspoon) plus another 2 tablespoons
  • two slices of good quality bread cut in chunks
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder/
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
  • one bag frozen Asian vegetables with noodles
  • 1/3 cup teriyaki marinade  plus 1/3 cup water and a teaspoon cornstarch blended (sometimes it comes with the vegetables in a pouch)

In a large skillet heat up the two tablespoons olive oil and put the vegetables on on medium high heat with a lid, stirring occasionally to ensure even thawing.  Once thawed reduce heat to medium low, add the teryaki sauce mixture, mix thoroughly coating the vegetables and replace the lid.

100_0532100_0533In a food processor (I used my mini chopper) add the seasonings and bread.  Pulse until the bread becomes fine crumbs. With the reserved teaspoon olive oil, rub it all over the surfaces of the tuna steaks.  Roll the tuna around in the seasoned crumbs on a large plate until well coated then place them in a medium skillet with the remaining olive oil well heated (350°).  Let the coated tuna steaks cook for three minutes on each side or until the coating becomes a golden brown.

Remove  the steaks from the skillet and allow them to drain a few minutes on paper toweling.  Stir up the veggie and noodle mix and place a good bed on each plate.  Place a tuna steak in the middle of each one and serve.  I plucked a few sprigs of lemon balm from the back yard to make it look and 100_0537smell extra special.

100_0538At first Julia’s friend was shocked to see “like” pink in the middle of her tuna steak but I assured her that it was safe to eat and heated through thoroughly.   We talked about the difference in sushi and sashimi and that this tuna was done quite a bit past those stages which are essentially raw fish.   In sushi there is sometimes cooked fish or meat.  Sushi is served with rice containing vinegar.   This was accepted and she did like it. So did Julia. We had a wonderfully fun dinner together which can be rare in such mixed company (moms can be like, totally uncool).  The most fun we had was trying to be conscious of  how many times we used the word “like”.  It squeaked out like about every four words and made the girls giggle like so much it was like, hilarious!  It was also pretty cool that there wasn’t so much as a speck of food left on the girl’s plates…mine either.100_0541

 

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