I live to eat and love to cook. Welcome to my life!

December 28, 2009

A bit of Summer in the heart of Winter

Sometime in the latter part of summer when the last of the heirloom tomatoes were giving themselves to us one at a time so stubbornly (did anyone else have a bad tomato year?) I came across a few plants on the first tier of my Dad's ranch that were overflowing with golf ball sized cherry tomatoes. They didn't have the sweet tart "pop" of the sweet 100's that we prefer for salads and eating raw, but were more mild and filled to bursting with seeds and juice.

Never one to waste something like this, I set out to fill two 5 gallon buckets and a large bowl with these little gems and tried to figure out how I could somehow easily preserve them so that somehow I could have fresh tomatoes somewhere down the line when the farmers market doesn't yield them and the supermarket tomatoes are tasteless fleshy blobs.

So I stemmed them and soaked them. Triple washed them and went through them to get rid of any blemished, squishy or not quite ripe ones. Sorted out the bugs and picked off the last of the tops and proceeded to cook them down, batch by batch.

And there were a LOT of batches.

Then I strained out the seeds from a couple of batches.

But there were a LOT of seeds!

So I got a little lazy and cooked them down a bit and mom helped me pack them up in 1 quart Ziploc bags that we froze and split between us. In reality, she actually packed them up because by the time they were cool, I was in my bed a few miles down the road.

Since then I have used a bag or two for spaghetti sauce, but tonight decided that I wanted something so comforting that I think every American child has it imprinted on their brain as one of the top 10 comfort foods of all time.

Tomato Soup served with......

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches! (you knew that was coming!)

Currently suffering from a head cold, allergies and an earache I decided about mid day that this was exactly what my inner child was crying for.

So here I am in my kitchen enjoying a few of my Christmas presents and making a nice batch of Tomato Bisque to go with grilled cheese sammiches. :)

New bamboo cutting board made by my sweetie....that gets stored so nicely in it's custom made rack. How awesome is he? If you are in the market, I can put in a good word to Santa or St. Valentine or the birthday fairy.

Shiny red Dutch oven with which to make all kinds of delicious meals. Isn't it nice that we are so color coordinated for our maiden voyage in the Dutch oven???

Fuzzy red Mary Jane slippers with sparkles to slog around on my cold tile floors (they had to match the Dutch oven, ya know?) . You know you think they are sexy....

And a new laptop with which to type my blog from right in my kitchen instead of schlepping my lazy ass upstairs to type on the old desktop. :)

Christmas was unexpectedly great, this year in general was pretty awesome. Hope yours was just as blessed.

Tomato Bisque

1 quart tomatoes in juice-you can use canned if you have to!
1 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled & diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
2 large cloves of garlic, diced
1 bay leaf
1 T sugar

Bring all ingredients above to a simmer in a soup pot for about an hour or until carrots are tender. Strain through a sieve remove bay leaf and smash as much of the vegetable through as you can. Return to soup pot.

2 T butter
2 T flour

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour, stir and cook for just a few minutes. Add to soup pot and whisk over low heat until incorporated and the soup starts to thicken a bit.

1 C Milk (whole milk or cream, no low fat stuff as it will curdle)

Scald milk and add to the soup. Season with S&P as needed.

If you are looking to step outside the box, you can flavor this with any number of herbs or spices including the traditional Italian basil, oregano and rosemary. You can garnish with croutons or lump crab meat, swirl in a little creme freche for ultra decadent soup.

Or you can serve it as is with a buttery toasted grilled sourdough Swiss and cheddar filled sandwich that is cut in to triangles and call it a day.

Guess what I did?

December 17, 2009

Best. Meatloaf. Ever.

Or so I am told.

By everyone I make it for.

I happen to think so as well. (visualize me tooting my own horn. Toot toot!!)

Passed down to me by my Mom and to her from my Nana, I am unsure of it's exact origins, but if you google "Sicilian meatloaf" you are bound to come up with something very close. Seasoned very simply, with the addition of a little V-8 juice, it is flattened and rolled around ham and Mozzarella. Over the years we have made one minor update in substituting prosciutto for the original deli ham that was called for.

It freezes and travels raw and ready to be cooked beautifully and I have brought it on many a camping trip only to be hailed as the goddess of the kitchen, a title I think is pretty well deserved. It also makes for the BEST meatloaf sandwich the next day. And the next day. And the next if you still have leftovers.

In making it tonight I came across one glitch in my planning. After searching the pantry I found I had no bread crumbs. Gasp! What's a girl to do???

Crush up some fat free herb seasoned bread crumbs and voila! I am a genius sometimes.

Sicilian Meatloaf

2# Lean Ground Beef
2 Eggs
1/2 C V-8
3/3 C Bread Crumbs (or crushed croutons!!!!)
2 T Parsley
1 T Oregano
1/2 tsp Salt
1/4 tsp Pepper
1 Clove of Garlic, minced (or 1 tsp Garlic Powder)
6 slices of Prosciutto
1 1/2 C Shredded Mozzarella

Mix all ingredients except Prosciutto & Mozzarella in a bowl. Turn out on a large piece of waxed paper or parchment paper. Shape in to a rectangle as shown....

Lay down Prosciutto and sprinkle mozzarella over the meat, leave one edge clean to seal the loaf

Roll up into a nice fat roll, keep seam side down and pinch the ends so the Mozzarella does not leak out during cooking (waste cheese??? I think not!)

Bake at 350 for about an hour + 15 minutes. The interior should be about 150-160. Take it out and let it rest.

Slice and serve with awesome gravy. Mashed potatoes are a natural side dish, so go ahead and indulge. :)

The gravy is best made with...you guessed it! Homemade beef stock!

Heat 3 T of oil or bacon fat (Pork fat rules!) and add 3 T of flour, cook for about 5 minutes until it starts to brown a bit. Add in 2 Cups of stock, whisking the whole time to break up the lumps. Cook until thickened and add 1/2 cup of V-8. Season to taste. If it is not thick enough, add some more flour to your V-8 before adding it in and it should thicken up.

If you are in the desert on New Years Eve or camping somewhere where beef stock is not a viable option and not lucky enough to have my friend Jamie's kitchen supplies, packaged gravy does quite well, just don't forget to add the V-8, about 2 packages of gravy to 1/2 cup V-8. :)

December 9, 2009

They call me Toffee Claus

I had a bright spark of inspiration a few nights ago and it led me on the path to another whirlwind day in the kitchen. Knowing that I might get goodies from friends for the holidays and taking heart to Brock's statement of "We need a tradition" I decided to spend the day making confections to hand out to a few of our family members and close friends.

I scoured my fridge & pantry to see what I had on hand, what I would have to buy and also took inventory of items that I could use up in alternate recipes.

Inspiration number one....My Mom's Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook 1953

Gooey caramel candy with just a little bit of sea salt (my updated addition) and crunchy butter toffee studded with various nuts.

Inspiration number two....the Ziploc bag of candied orange peel leftover from another baking day.

Almond Florentines with Candied Cherries & Orange Peel with a Smear of Dark Chocolate

Inspiration number three....a personal craving for more salty sweet stuff led me to find a recipe for pulled Salt Water Taffy.

After a quick trip to the market and a stop at the .99 cent store for packaging and I was set to go!

Round 1 was Pecan Toffee....perfection in itself!

Round 2 was batch one of the Caramel....too hot to taste, but it looked pretty damn good!

Round 3 was Almond Toffee....again, perfection!

Round 4 was batch two of the caramel...might have overcooked this one, gotta wait for it to set and find out.

Quick break to drop a sample of toffee for my friends at Ventura Rentals and to go visit my BFF who was having her own cookie day with her mama & sister in law....mmmmm....puppy chow and peanut butter kiss cookies!!

Back in the ring for....

Round 5 was a go at the Salt Water Taffy....Looked right, smelled good, colored pretty. But then I started pulling it, and pulling it, and pulling it....and then like some cartoon strong woman, I pulled so hard that it snapped! And I had pink, peppermint flavored rock candy scattered all over my kitchen floor. Arg.

It wasn't even good to eat, hard enough to break in pieces, but too chewy to eat without fear of losing multiple fillings. Toss in the trash and move on!

Quick check on the caramels revealed batch one as perfect as hoped and batch two overcooked and solidified in to a very pretty caramel colored tile. I guess I could give it to Brock for skeet shooting?

I was 3 and 2 at this point and not feeling as confident as I had earlier in the day.

Round 6 was the Almond Florentines, so lacy & pretty just begging for a coat of chocolate on the flat side!

Round 7 was another batch of caramel, I was NOT going to let it get to me!!! Crossing fingers all the same.

Got my groove on....it was perfect!

Round 8 was Cashew Toffee....damn I am getting GOOD at this toffee stuff!!!!

Round 9 was Pistachio Toffee at the request of my darling who's only complaint was that I didn't make enough. Gotta love that complaint. :)

Round 10 was all about packaging. Cutting the caramels in to 1" squares and then cutting the waxed paper to fit and THEN actually wrapping the little guys. Breaking the toffee in to reasonable sized pieces, counting the cookies to figure out how many everyone got....Then bag, bow, ribbon, ornament & tag.

Somewhere in between rounds 7 and 9 I browned some Italian Sausage and heated up some spaghetti sauce from the freezer for dinner too. Is it any wonder I was conked out on the couch shortly after I inhaled my dinner?

I love my new tradition and am looking forward to expanding it next year!

Crunchy Butter Toffee

1 C Sugar
1/4 C Water
1 Stick Butter
1/2 tsp salt

Cook all ingredients over medium high heat until it hits 285 (hard crack) and is a golden caramel color. Remove from heat immediately and stir in 1/2 cup of whatever chopped (salted or unsalted) nuts you have on hand.

Pour in to a very well buttered glass pan or on to buttered marble and let cool. Lift and break in to pieces.

You can also drizzle or smear with chocolate if you are so inclined!

Then if you are lucky like me you make puppy eyes at your boyfriend who will cheerfully deliver it to your loved ones since you have to work the next day.