A site for sore tastebuds and a woeful wallet


Pork Tenderloin and Honey Crisp Apples

I’m not big on pork but it’s  really hard to not like bacon.  For an affordable luxury dinner the pork tenderloin is my favorite.

Any lean meat could easily dry out if not prepared correctly. Whether it is pork tenderloin or beef (quite a bit more expensive…maybe after my Christmas bonus), the first step in enduring it stays tender is to season with salt and pepper and sear the meat on all sides using a tablespoon of so of olive oil. This creates some wonderful brown coating on the bottom as the juices evaporate.  Keep your heat high enough to sear the meat but don’t let the browning juices reduce to black.

100_1234As soon as the evaporated juices are the color of cola splash in about a half a cup of a sweet wine.  I used red zinfandel then the juice of a whole orange.   If you like garlic, sprinkle on a bit of powdered garlic at this time.  The liquid melts off the brownness stuck to the pan and makes a beautifully colored sauce.  Next add some thinly sliced apples.  The market had my favorite on sale; the Honey Crisp.  They were big so I peeled, cored and sliced two of them very thinly and tossed them in the big stainless pan right along side the tenderloin.  Put a lid on everything and let it all steam together for about 15 minutes on medium heat.

When the apples are tender and floppy, remove the meat to a plate (to be sure, check with an instant read thermometer for a temperature of 135°-140°F for a medium to medium well doneness) and let it rest.  The cardinal rule of cooking expensive meat (and what meat isn’t expensive these days?) is to let it rest at least 10 minutes for smaller cuts.  For a cut as thick as this 15 to 20 minutes would be appropriate.  Slicing it too soon will make all the juices spill out.  After resting, the juices appear to soak back in and make each slice as tender as can be.

Now that the meat has had its beauty rest, it slices like butter.  Serve up each plate with a bunch of apple slices and a few medallions of tenderloin. Don’t forget to spoon on some of that unctuous sauce from the pan!

If I had my Christmas wish this would be a beef tenderloin, I would roast in in my biggest pan in the oven, deglaze it with a dry red wine and toss in slices of zucchini, mushrooms and onions to flavor the sauce.  In the meantime, this poor man’s version turned out to be a delectable feast for a Tuesday night.  100_1235

Dehydrated Vegetables Make Delicious White Bean Chicken Chili

If you are one of the folks who dehydrate food to save money, storage space and preserve the wonderful taste of summer, this recipe is for you.  The growing season is not quite here where I live but my desire for that home grown taste sure is. Since we dehydrated our green peppers and onions from last year we have the taste and all the goodness ready to reconstitute in a pot of white bean chicken chili.

100_1210To make this sumptuous meal we used the following:

  • 2  boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1/4 cup dehydrated onions
  • 14 cup dehydrated green peppers
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons cumin powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 can great northern beans.

To begin,  I thaw the chicken breasts and get a stock pot to reconstitute the vegetables.  In the 2 cups of water I add the onions, peppers, (you could use fresh vegetables and dice them) and all the spices.  I cut the chicken into strips and add them to the boiling liquid.  100_1211The heat is turned down to a simmer and I put a lid on it and let it go for about 15 minutes. When the chicken is firm to touch I remove it to a plate to rest until it is cool enough to handle.  By now the vegetables are back to their re-hydrated state and have imparted their flavor to the broth and the chicken along with the spices

100_1215When the chicken is cooled I shred it into bite size pieces and add it back to the broth.  I add the whole can of beans with the liquid and everything.  This simmers for about 20 minutes.  I adjust the liquid because re-hydrating vegetables drinks up quite a bit of it.  I also adjust the spices and salt at this time.

100_1218Now we are ready to have a delicious lunch before we tackle the preparations for the coming year’s garden.  This meal makes our plans clear to grow more onions and peppers.  There will also be tomatoes, beans, and all kinds of herbs.  All these foods will feed us throughout summer and what we don’t eat we will can and dehydrate to get us through the next winter.

T100_1225he best part of this chili and most dishes using dehydrated food, no fat is added to get it back to an edible state.  All you need is water.  A bowl of this chili contains about 4 grams of fat and all of the protein you need for the day.  This dish would be great with vegetables sauteed in olive oil but bikini season will be here before we know it!


A Do-Ahead Dish Italian Style

Whether it’s a wedding or just Tuesday night, this baked mostaccioli is a winner because it can be made in advance and either frozen or refrigerated, then re-heated to make a casserole as delicious as lasagna.  Whatever the occasion calls for, it can be made in quantities or in just one pan.   The hardest part is cutting up the vegetables.  For one 13″x 9″ casserole you will need the  following:

  • 1 pound pene rigate pasta, cooked al dente and drained (reserve 1 cup pasta water)
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 medium onion finely chopped100_1175
  • 1 large carrot in tiny dice
  • 1 large rib of celery in tiny dice
  • 1 clove of garlic finely minced
  • 6 oz. tomato paste
  • 1 can Italian style diced tomatoes
  • 1 jar traditional spaghetti sauce.
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese divided in two equal portions
  • 6 oz.  grated Monterrey jack cheese
  • 2 or 3 slices of bread pulsed in the processor to fine crumbs
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning

100_1176First, prepare the pasta and drain.   Reserve a cup of the pasta liquid and set them both aside.  In the pot saute, the diced vegetables in a little olive oil until the onions  just begin to brown a little.  Add the ground beef and brown it off well.  Stir in the garlic and tomato paste and heat through.  Add the diced tomatoes and spaghetti sauce and simmer a few minutes.  Add the pasta and a little of the pasta water if the sauce is too stiff.  Stir everything until the noodles are well coated.  Add one half of the Parmesan and all of the Monterrey jack cheese and stir it in until it’s melted.

Dump the contents of the pot into a 13″x 9″ baking pan, press the noodles down with a large spoon and smooth the top.  Mix the bread crumbs in a plastic bag with the 1 and 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and the remaining Parmesan, season with salt and pepper and shake the contents of the bag until the crumbs are coated with oil.  Break up any clumps.  Coat the noodles with the crumbs and bake at 425° for 25 to 30 minutes or until the bread crumbs become golden brown. Allow to cool 10 minutes and serve with a wide spatula.

This dish is great for a crowd.  One pan serves 10 to 12 guests.  4 standard 2″ deep steam table dishes could easily feed 100 guests. Whatever size party you pesent this easy dish to, you will not only be feeding them a super delicious meal but a meal already containing four vegetables, less fattening cheese than lasagna and far less fuss.

Because I Can

During the wintry months it’s good to find projects that make us think about the seasons ahead of homegrown tomatoes and fresh green beans, tilling the soil and tending the garden.  In my mind I hear the sounds of life teeming all around from birds you only hear in warmer times like the goldfinches and Carolina wrens, to the chorus of cicadas in the evening  and the crickets chirping at night.   Even though it’s 7°F outside right now, we found a bargain at the supermarket which sparked our normally autumnal desire to do some canning.

Since there was a great sale of potatoes, carrots and even chicken breasts, we purchased a good amount to preserve. Canning is usually a late summer to autumn activity but doing it in the dead of winter not only gives us a great project to while away these times of cabin fever, but also serves to save us money in the future.  Carrots aren’t always 59 cents a bag and 10 lbs of potatoes are $1.39 only at Thanksgiving and St. Patrick’s Day…maybe another time or two depending on crops.  When you can find any meat for a dollar a pound these days, its time to jump on the opportunity.  We found chicken breasts on just such a sale and discovered they can beautifully as well.

When we think about it, going to the store a year from now prices may be double on these things if not more.  I’ve already seen 10 lb bags of potatoes100_1123 for $3.50 a pound when not on sale.  Bargain hunting can really make a difference.  Canning is like putting a treasure in a time capsule.  The time capsule lasts only two years but even just two years ago food prices were so much lower.  We don’t see it getting any better so winter time is a good time to think about the savings of years to come.  The possibilities are endless as to what bargain you wish to preserve.

Stews and soups can be preserved  by canning as well.  If you make a large batch of something, the left-overs can be processed and stored for another time.  Think of the trips to the supermarket you can replace with a trip to the basement or cupboard for a delicious meal waiting only to be re-heated, the work already done.  Save that gas money and invest it into a pressure canner.  They can be as affordable as $88.00 at Target but go up to nearly $400.00 for the more serious cook.  Either way, it will pay for itself if used when the food you can is on sale, or better yet, food you grow in your own garden for pennies a pound.

If I went to the store and purchased five cans (only 15 oz. or  24 oz.) each of soup, beans, spinach, corn, carrots, peaches, apple pie filling, jelly and jam, chicken and beef, I could easily spend  upwards from $100.oo.  For half the money or likely, much less I could put up 5 quarts (32 oz.) each of my own fruits, meat, beans, vegetables and soups with the added benefit of being organic and BPA free (metal cans treated with BPA have been linked to breast cancer and asthma).  I could easily spend $1.39 on a can of potatoes but that whole 10 pound bag cost just as much and makes roughly 3 quarts…more than six times the amount prepared and available any time I want!

Canning must be done properly for the food you preserve to be safe to eat.  For instance, foods high in acid require only a water bath which is as easy as boiling water but low acid foods like the ones pictured above require the pressure canning.  The carrots and potatoes took 25 minutes at 10 lbs. pressure and the chicken 90 minutes at 13 lbs, pressure (higher altitudes require higher pressure).    Follow the guidelines in the Ball Blue Book a Guide to Canning and Preserving.  Also, I’ve found this link which has vintage recipes for free.  It too is a good guide to safe preserving.

Sure, I purchase canned goods from the store for convenience but it is becoming less and less.  It just makes good sense to preserve food myself and store it for leaner times.  Shopping in my own home-store is convenient and there is nothing prettier than the colorful things preserved in shiny glass containers displayed in the cupboard or kitchen shelves.  This, along with the previously mentioned health benefits makes me want to do all my own canning.  I have the equipment so I should can…because I can.

Creamy Mushroom and Leek Soup

These wintry days call for warm soothing meals at home.  Soup  with savory leeks and mushrooms in a creamy broth is the ticket.  Leeks are of the mildest among the onion family.  They cook up to be so tender and tasty and paired with the mild taste of mushrooms, this soup will melt away those chilly winds and give you plenty of energy to shovel the sidewalk yet again.  It’s so easy to make too.  All you need are:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 leeks cleaned and chopped in 1/4 inch slices
  • 5 mushrooms (any kind) thinly sliced
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 quart low sodium chicken broth
  • 3 cups milk
  • 3/4 cup cream (I used heavy)
  • 3/4 cup instant mashed potato flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

First saute the leeks and mushrooms in the olive oil until  tender.  Add the garlic and stir it in to bloom the flavor  Add the broth, milk and cream and stir in the potato flakes.  Stir in the remaining seasonings and let it simmer about 3 minutes.

Now at least six of you can have a nice hearty bowl of soup to warm you up all over.  For extra hardiness you could add some left over chicken cut into cubes  or add more pepper flakes to clear the sinuses during a nasty cold.  This soup will provide relief and give you energy to muddle on through all that snow.100_1118

Curds (or Kudos) to the First Guy Who Ever Made Cheese!

Apparently, way back in time, people decided to transport milk products inside the stomachs of animals like cows and sheep.  These animals called ruminants had a certain enzyme in the first of several sections in their stomachs which would break down the cellulose in the plants and grasses they consumed.  This enzyme called rennet also curdled the milk these ancient people transported in these ruminant animals stomachs thus producing curds and whey.  What a happy accident!  I bet the first guy who ever thought to do this was really surprised.

100_1078By separating the two, the solid portion became cheese and the whey was either discarded or used in cooking soups and baking of bread thus adding extra protein to the diet.

Despite how visceral the process of early cheese making was, what with cow and sheep stomachs used to tote your curds and whey around in, I decided to try making a simple recipe for fresh mozzarella using these less crude ingredients:

  • 1/2 gallon whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp. citric acid for canning vegetables
  • 1/8 of a rennet tablet crushed and dissolved in 1/2 cup water (no sheep’s stomach please)
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt.

First, put the milk in an appropriate non-reactive metal pot.  Non-stick or stainless work well.   Add the citric acid granules and heat the milk to 90°, add the dissolved rennet (I crushed it to a powder between two spoons first) and water and stir.  Cover the pot for 5 minutes then check if it has congealed by using a knife to pull it away from the edge and see if the milk  lifts away from the sides.  It should appear solid.

With a long knife score the now solidified mass into 1 inch cubes, horizontally and vertically also going in at an angle.  Turn the heat up to 130° and gently stir, trying not to disturb the curds too much.

100_1075100_1079 100_1082100_1087While this comes up to temperature, set up a strainer lined with cheesecloth over a large bowl and with a slotted spoon fish out the large curds and place them in the cheesecloth.  Squeeze out as much moisture as you can over the bowl and place the contents of the cheesecloth in another bowl.

100_1088100_1089100_1090100_1092Line the strainer in the other bowl again and pour the whey from the pot in it to catch the remaining curds, squeeze it of moisture and place the contents with the first batch.  You will see whey collecting so hold on to the mass of cheese and pour out any you can.  Sprinkle in the salt and gently fold it over a few times to incorporate it.

100_1096100_1098100_1102100_1111Place the bowl in the microwave and cook on high for 30 seconds at a time, pouring off whey and gently kneading between intervals until the cheese becomes more elastic and even glossy.  Use rubber gloves if the cheese becomes too hot to handle.  By the fourth interval of heating, there should be very little whey and the cheese can be shaped into a ball slightly larger than a baseball.  Sprinkle this with a pinch of salt, place it in a plastic bag, refrigerate for at least 4 hours and you will have delicious fresh mozzarella cheese to enjoy.

I have to admire the guy who one day milked his cow or goat and decided to carry it back home in a vessel made from a previously slaughtered cow or goat’s stomach only to get home and find something very different from milk in his sack …and still decide to eat it and eventually make a craft of it.  He certainly changed the world.  And dear sir, who ever you were, I’m encouraged to experiment with making harder cheeses and eventually crafting my own brand. 100_1114


Fast Food Homestyle

If you are in a hurry and want a very good meal, one with lots of flavor and nutrition then I urge you to try a quickie like this.   This is my go to dish when I work late and come home to my poor hungry family huddled on the couch looking up at me with their Precious Moments eyes pleading to be fed.  Cape waving, back-lit by the setting in the doorway I, the super-hero-diva of this scene put my purse and the mail down and dash straight to work 100_1061saving them from the brink of starvation.  I gather my tools and a few ingredients and get straight work on my rescue mission:

  • a pound of boneless skinless chicken breasts, trimmed into evenly thick cutlets
  • a bag of frozen broccoli
  • a can of cream of celery soup.
  • salt, pepper, onion powder and paprika
  • olive oil
  • a splash of milk

To prepare the chicken I tenderize it by pouring a generous amount of salt on both sides.  In lieu of brining this salt sort of flash brines the chicken while I get all the other ingredients, and equipment ready.  In about five minutes I have my skillet, tongs for turning the meat and a spoon for stirring ready.  I get the broccoli out of the freezer, a can of soup from the cupboard, and  n a skillet I drizzle a tablespoon or so of olive oil.

100_1063100_1065Chicken breasts easily dry out when cooked so the salt, which is now rinsed off has done its job to help keep moisture in.  I pat it dry with paper toweling and carefully place it in the now hot oil.

100_1066The chicken gets sprinkled with a fair amount of pepper, onion powder and paprika, I give it a turn and treat the other side the same.  This sears a while on both sides then the broccoli is added, then the soup and a good splash of milk.  A lid goes on top for about fifteen minutes so the broccoli cooks and the soup and milk get nice and bubbly.  The chicken should be done now so I 100_1068pull it up off the bottom and let the vegetables get mixed up in the sauce.  The lid goes on for another five minutes or so then dinner is served.

I’m now just a mild mannered diva having dinner with my family.  I’m so grateful for them and for all the convenience that fills our lives.  We know nothing close to starvation.  In only thirty minutes I have a nourishing hot meal on the table.  It was very affordable too.  And though they were a little bit hungry when I got home, now that we are all sharing a meal together, I see that they are grateful for me too.  Life is good.100_1069




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