Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Adventures in grocery shopping

Last night we went to BJ's. I've never been to BJ's before, and my Pace/Sam's Club days ended in college (when my parents realized that even when we just stopped there for a few items, we'd end up needlessly spending $150-200). But we got one of those "free trial membership" cards in the mail, and decided to try it out.

We shopped til we dropped.

BJ's was everything I expected: a huge warehouse building, ridiculously tall/long aisles, giant bottles of shampoo, and flats of ramen. What I did not expect, however, was such a large fresh food department. The produce looked halfway decent (also unexpected), and the cheese section was impressive (compared to other grocery stores in the area, but still paltry compared to the Coop and Whole Foods).

The best part was King Arthur All Purpose flour for 56 cents/lb. This is the nearly the same price as the Coop (55cents/lb last time I checked), and nearly half of Shaw's and Big Y ($0.99-1.09/lb). They only sell it in 10lb increments, but, um, since when is 10lbs of flour too much? I would have bought 2 or 3 10lb bags, if I didn't think it'd be so easy to return for more as needed.

Nuts were also a good price, although I'm not sure of the quality. The dried fruit selection was decent, and my eyes boggled at the packaged candy (I refrained from buying any).

I also found refrigerated Panera soups, which was intriguing, so I bought the tomato bisque (110 cal/1cup serving, not bad at all!) Finally, the star of our trip: lime juice sold in 15oz bottles (!!!!!) for $1.99 each. Compare this to grocery store lime juice, which only comes in 8oz bottles, for $1.69 each or more. It has always irked me that you can't buy larger bottles of lime juice, especially when you can get 32oz of lemon juice everywhere. (I admit it- I do use bottled citrus juices instead of fresh. My citrus always goes bad, so it makes no sense to keep it around, especially when it's so expensive).

Of course, we also bought the standard giant bottles of shampoo, lotion, 8 packs of toothpaste, 16 pack of razor blades, gallons of juice, and 4 packs of cleaning products. We did not indulge in the 48 pack of paper towels.

Oh, and I picked up the prequel to "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies", which was exciting to find.

(some day I'll get back to cooking and telling you about it. Some day.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Oh, hi.

So my life has been taken over by other, stronger and more important forces. I've been cooking a bit, but I just don't have the time to tell you about it... yet. On the bright side, part of what's taken over my life is work, and it's for a good reason (it just doesn't feel like that when I get home at 11:30pm, but I can kind of see the bigger picture). I'm trying to write posts when I have large chunks of time, all at once, and the space out the publishing, but that's not as easy as I thought.

To tide you over until I can tell you about ginger ice cream, honey-cumin glazed pork and indian pudding, let me share some quick and tasty snacks.

Today I went to a special Earth Day fair, and bought apple pie bread from the Great Harvest Bread Co. It's a big flat square loaf of slightly sweet bread, stuffed with apples and cinnamon, with a sweet crumb layer on top. I'm waiting to cut into it, because I'm giving half to my parents. But the loaf is just staring at me right now, it's very difficult to wait.

I wandered into Trader Joe's the other day, and discovered this delicious snack.

Dried mango.

I recommend.

They were also giving these away. For free.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Easing in bbq season, part 2

You may remember this bbq sauce from such blog entries as easing into BBQ season, and... oh, I guess just that one.

But here's a second!

When I made the bbq marinaded pork chops, I used about a cup of the 2.5cups of bbq sauce I made. I planned to use the rest on pulled pork, which has been sitting in the back of my mind ever since I came across a recipe for crock pot pulled pork a month ago.

Pulled pork: this has always been a bbq joint treat for me. I haven't liked it that long, but I always thought it required a fancy secret recipe for the sauce (completely unreplicable by a northerner such as myself) and a big meat smoker thing, a la Gina Neeley's awesome pink one (I'm not a huge Neeley fan, but any woman with a pink smoker gets a gold star from me). Therefore, I thought I'd never make it myself.

Until I find you can make it with a bottle of bbq sauce and a crock pot. Score!

I based mine on this recipe from Good Housekeeping.

I took 1.5cups of my bbq sauce
Ingredients of that were:
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup pineapple juice
2T red wine vinegar
1T worcestershire sauce
1T molasses
1t ginger
1t allspice
2T lime juice
1.5 cups canned pineapple/peaches
all blended together, after cooking.

To 1.5cups of that, I added
2T brown sugar
2T cider vinegar
1t paprika
1/2t chipotle powder
1t turmeric
1t stone ground mustard
and 1 chopped onion.

(I added these things to copy the Good Housekeeping recipe a bit more closely, and because I thought the pulled pork should have more of a punch than the bbq pork chops. And note: the sauce recipe in the Good Housekeeping article is very easy, and I expect it to be very tasty, based on the ingredients. It's just a little tiny bit more work than opening a bottle of readymade bbq sauce, so I suggest trying the recipe- unless you have some spectacular bottle you're just itching to try)

I dumped all that in the crock pot and stirred.

I had a 2.5lb pork loin with fat trimmed off. I cut it in half and added the two halves to the crock pot. I moved the meat around to cover in sauce.

And I cooked on low for 7hrs (recommended was 6-8). I stirred it around every hour or so so the meat remained coated in the sauce.

I removed the meat, turned the crock pot to high so that the sauce would reduce a bit, and began to pull apart the meat. This was far easier than I thought, I really just pinched with my tongs (planning to hold it while I pulled the meat with a fork) and it fell apart.

After about 30 min (of cooling the meat and then pulling it), I added the pork back to the sauce and stirred it around, to coat it well and to warm it up again. After about 10 min (I would say warm it longer, 20-30 min), we made very simple sandwiches with some snowflake rolls.
And also had some roasted sweet potatoes and roasted beets with garlic oregano chevre.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Another smell-good Sunday

The culprit: cinnamon.

I made Alton Brown's Overnight Cinnamon Buns, which everyone says is a good recipe, and this is very true. The only possible issue is you really have to plan ahead.

Early Saturday afternoon, I started the dough.

I combined 3oz warm milk with 1T yeast (note: I used active dry and not instant yeast, which Alton uses, so I had to modify a bit to include a waking-up step). Let that sit 10 min in a warm spot.

Separate 4 eggs.

Do you know how to do this? It's really not hard. I have two methods I use.

The let-the-white-drip-through-your-fingers (i.e. super messy) method

or the transfer the yolk back and forth between the two halves of the shell while the white drips down method (preferred- less messy)

The key here is to have a separate bowl to collect the whites that you're separating the eggs over, and put the yolks in a bowl off to the side.

So, 4 yolks, 1 whole egg, 3oz buttermilk (buttermilk=1cup milk +1T vinegar, sitting for a few minutes), 5T melted butter. Whisk that together. Add the yeast mixture, stir.

Add 2cups of all purpose flour and 1t salt to the batter, mix until combined.

Add 1 cup flour more, then add up to 1 final cup, until the dough is soft and moist, but not sticky.

Knead it for 5 minutes in the mixer and a minute by hand, or for 8-10 minutes by hand. Let rise, covered, in an oiled bowl until doubled (a couple hours).

I did all that after lunch. Before we left to go out to dinner, I did the next part.

Roll out the dough to a large rectangle, about 12x18 inches with a long side nearest you. Melt 1.5T butter and brush the butter over the dough, leaving a 1/2 inch unbuttered border on the other long side.

Mix the filling: 1cup brown sugar, 1/4t salt, 1T cinnamon, 1t cardamom. Sprinkle the filling over the buttered dough.

Then roll the dough into a tight log. I found it helpful to kind of pull the dough as I rolled it- away from me, towards the unbuttered edge. The ends will be a little messy, even if you're far more careful than I am and make a perfectly even rectangle, the ends will still be messy. It's unavoidable.

With a serrated knife, cut the log into 1.5in wide slices, and arrange in a greased 9x13 baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap, and stick in the fridge overnight. (about 13hours for me)

Go away. Do things. The buns will wait for you. And they do actually rise in the fridge.

The next morning, place a large shallow dish 2/3full of water on the bottom rack of a cold oven, and place the baking dish of cinnamon rolls on a higher rack. Leave that for 30 minutes. Remove both from oven, turn on the oven to 350F, and when it's ready, bake the rolls in the oven for about 30 minutes.

And, voila!

When the rolls are just slightly warm, drizzle each with a glaze (1/4cup cream cheese, 3T milk and enough powdered sugar to make it drizzleable (about 1.5cups)), and serve.

Makes about 1 dozen rolls.

Next time I make these, I'm adding raisins to the brown sugar/cinnamon filling.

Edit: the second time I made these, I did indeed add raisins. After brushing the rolled-out dough with butter and sprinkling with brown sugar/cinnamon, I sprinkled with about 1/2cup raisins. Delish!

I also added some whole wheat flour: 1cup whole wheat flour and a total 2 and 2/3 cup of all purpose flour. I prefer the WW/AP version over the AP-only rolls.

Easing into bbq season

In New England, we tend to get a few sudden summery days in April. These days are characterized by driving with all windows open, quick rummaging through the bottom drawer or attic closet for a tshirt, and the smell of charcoal grills.

Of course, we don't have a charcoal grill (yet), so I couldn't do that third part. I could only smell it as my neighbors did.

Which is so unfair.

So, I got out the grill pan, and learned to make bbq sauce.

I made Sarah's Pineapple BBQ sauce, because 1. I love pineapple (despite being partially allergic to it- I can only eat canned), 2. I like bbq sauce, and 3. I never thought of putting the two together.

I sauteed 1 onion and 2 cloves of minced garlic in 1/2T olive oil, with some salt and pepper.
Next, I added 1/2cup tomato paste and 1/2 cup pineapple juice (from the canned pineapple rings). Sarah's recipe called for 1cup of canned tomato sauce, but I used what I had in the pantry.
I stirred it in,and cooked for a couple minutes.
Then I added 2T red wine vinegar, 1TWorcestershire Sauce, 1T molasses, 1t ginger, 1t allspice and 2T lime juice,
cooked for a few min more,
and transferred to my food processor, along with 1.5 cups of pineapple and peaches (I was very short on pineapple with that silly little can, and I didn't have time to run to the store).This yielded a bit more than 2.5 cups of sauce.

I used about 1cup (which was quite a bit more than I needed, oops) to douse 2 thawed bone-in pork chops, which marinaded for 30 min at room temperature, and then for 2 hours in the fridge (I was trying to work in preparing dinner around getting to zumba on time and eating afterwards).
After marinading, I heated the grill pan over high heat, and slapped on the pork chops. I grilled for a few minutes on each side.
And I served with ham and asiago polenta and asparagus. (the polenta, I admit, was kind of a random pairing, but the asparagus is nice and fresh, and complements the bbq chops well).

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Bread, #....?

I can't remember what number we're on. I've also drifted away from the weekly bread trend, but this recipe definitely makes me want to get back to that (especially because it only makes one loaf, i.e. 2 little loaves, one of which I gave away, so I ran out of the first of this batch in only 3 days, and gave away all the rest of the second). This bread is quite good, it's a little sweet but still hearty, and has a nice light rye flavor, from the rye flour and caraway seeds.

Cranberry Pecan Bread, from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

Stir (in a large bowl, or the bowl of your mixer) 1T dry active yeast into 1.25cups warm water, let sit about 10 min. Meanwhile, toast 1cup of pecan pieces (chop or smoosh some whole pecans if you don't have pieces) for 10 min at 350F, then set aside to cool completely.

Add 1cup rye flour and 2 cups bread flour to the yeast, along with 2.5t (1t is still good enough) salt, 1T sugar and 1.5T caraway seeds. If the dough is too dry, add water, 1T at a time, until it's kneadable (I needed to add 1T water the first time, and none the second time I made this recipe).

Knead with the dough hook for 5 minutes (or by hand for a bit longer), until it's smooth, elastic, and a little bit sticky. Knead in 3/4cup dried cranberries and the 1cup of toasted pecans (this takes some work to get them all in), and knead for a minute or two.

Transfer dough to oiled bowl and cover, let rise for about an hour (or 2 or 10, whatever). Punch down the dough, form it into a big (about 13x10 in) rectangle, and roll the dough into a tight log. Brush the seam with an egg wash (1egg beaten with 1T water) to make it stay closed. Let rise, covered, for about 45 min, until the dough is puffed up and holds a dimple when you poke it with your finger.

Brush the entire top of the log with the egg wash, and bake at 350F for 35-40 min.

You may remember another bread recipe from this book that I tried and had little success with. That recipe used whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and bread flour. I wondered if using bread flour instead of all purpose was the culprit (I couldn't knead the dough at all, nor could my mixer). In this recipe, the bread flour:total flour ratio was the same, and this dough was easy to knead. Conclusion: bread flour is not the cause of unkneadable, rock hard bread.

Iron Chef wamozart12: Battle Ham

Well, it's been a while. I haven't been cooking as much, and what great recipes I have tried I just haven't had time to even download the photos from my camera. Life has been a little intense lately, and on top of that, work has been even more intense.

But anyway, Battle Ham.

Every year for Easter, my family has a ham. We're not big lamb eaters (except for Clint and me), we have turkey for Thanksgiving only, and chicken isn't really a holiday food. So, ham. And like most family gatherings, we end up with many, many, many leftovers, especially this year, with all the salt-free eaters. I took one for the team and took about half the ham home with us (twist my arm, why don't ya!).

Battle ham has had a slower start than I first anticipated; I truly envisioned a week of a different ham dish each night. It's been a full week now, and I've made a total of 2 ham dishes (and have one planned for tomorrow). However, quality, not quantity.

Ham Dish #1: ham and asiago polenta
Boil 2cups of water with a dash of salt. Slowly sprinkle in 1/2cup of cornmeal (or polenta, I find cornmeal more versatile and therefore, more worth giving up cabinet space to), whisking constantly. Cook over medium heat, whisking every few minutes, for about 25min total, until thick. Stir in 1/2cup of asiago, herbs/spices of choice (I added 1/2t nutmeg and 1/4t cloves, which was a little blah- I wish I'd tried marjoram and savory, like I used in Ham Dish #2, below), and 1/4-1/2c diced ham. Serve as a side or as a light meal.

2cups water
dash salt
1/2cup cornmeal
1/2c asiago
1/2t nutmeg
1/4t cloves
1/2c diced ham

(I served my polenta as a side for grilled bbq pork chops and asparagus, and I need to give the bbq pork chops their own post. And yes, that's ham as a side for pork. I would have added bacon if I'd had any)

Ham Dish #2: Ham, asiago and aspargus risotto

AKA: Ham and other contents of my fridge.

I haven't made risotto in a while. I'm not big on rice (except for sushi rice and rice pudding) except as a way to soak up delicious sauces, but I do really like risotto. I think because it's like savory rice pudding. And I thought it might do well as a dish to use up some ham.

I am a little disappointed that so far I can only think of things to stick ham in, not an actual dish that shows off the ham. Maybe next time.

I based this on a Martha recipe.

I chopped 2 small yellow onions and 1 shallot, and sauteed them for a few minutes in 1T olive oil, with a dash of salt and pepper. Meanwhile, I heated 7 cups of the last of my latest batch of homemade chicken stock in a saucepan over medium-high heat until it started to boil, and then turned the heat to simmer, just to keep it warm.

I added 1cup of arborio rice and stirred, and cooked this (still stirring) for 3 min.
And then I added 1/2cup of white wine (chardonnay, usually I'd prefer pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc) and stirred to coat the rice. Then I began to add the chicken stock. For risotto, the stock needs to be added just a little (1/2-3/4cup) at a time, so that the rice doesn't overcook. This means that you have to stay with your risotto as you cook it, because you'll need to add more stock every few minutes. However, you don't need to stand over it constantly, so it's a good way to clean the kitchen in 1-2 minute bursts. After the first stock addition.
After a couple more additions.

Halfway through the stock additions (i.e., when I'd gone through half of the warmed stock), I chopped up some ham and asparagus.
I used 8 stalks of asparagus (ends snapped off, cut into bite-sized pieces, not cooked at all- they'll cook enough in the risotto) and 5 slices of spiral cut ham. And yes, I do practice the "one for the pot, one for me" rule when cooking with wine.

Near the end of the stock additions,
I tossed in some herbs. About 1T each of marjoram and savory.
I stirred and continued to cook until that last bit of stock was absorbed, and then added the cheese.
I used 1/2cup sharp (orange) cheddar and 1/2cup asiago. Even though this is the same amount Martha suggests, I do admit it's a little cheesey. (Clint declared it too cheesey, but I say that nothing can ever be too cheesey) Anyway, whatever your cheese preferences are, I think you could go as low as 1/2cup. Well really, you could omit the cheese altogether, it doesn't do that much for the creaminess of the risotto, because it's already creamy before the cheese addition. It's up to you.

Stir, and that's it. You've made risotto.

Now go eat it. (note: I really like the pairing of marjoram and savory with ham.)

2 small/1 medium onion, chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1T olive oil
salt, pepper to taste
6-8c chicken (or veggie) stock
1cup arborio rice
1/2cup dry white wine
1/2bunch asparagus
3/4-1cup diced ham
1T marjoram
1T savory
1 cup grated cheese, any combination of asiago, cheddar, gruyere, parmesean