Thursday, December 30, 2010

Homemade Sauerkraut (Vegetarian/Vegan)

I love sauerkraut. I love it with hot dogs, kielbasa, as a side dish, or by itself. Most people think of sauerkraut as a pickled cabbage dish, when it's actually a FERMENTED cabbage dish. Unfortunately, most storebought sauerkraut has been heat-processed and canned, killing off the "good" bacteria so essential to our digestive health.

Thankfully, sauerkraut is incredibly easy to make at home; all you need is cabbage, some non-iodized salt, and a fermenting crock. You can buy a crock online or in stores, to the tune of about $150... or you can make your own for less than $5. Guess which option I chose?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Mom's Texas Caviar (Vegetarian)

Texas Caviar isn't actually caviar, just like how Rocky Mountain Oysters aren't actually oysters. Texas Caviar is a delicious and popular marinated black-eyed pea salad created 70 years ago by renowned cookbook author Helen Corbitt. Here in the South, Texas Caviar shows up as a side salad at bar-be-cues, or on college football Saturdays as a dip with tortilla chips.

The last several times that I've gone home to visit my parents, my Mom has had a bowl of Texas Caviar and a basket of corn chips set out on the counter for us to snack on and enjoy. After perusing through dozens of recipes online, I asked her for the recipe, which she graciously shared. The only change I have made to her recipe is the addition of a small jar of pimientos. 

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Homemade Beef Stock

As you already know, I prefer to make my own stocks. There is such an enormous difference in the taste of a homemade stock compared to the salty water sold in stores. 

After making some chicken stock recently, I decided to make some beef stock as well since we're in the heart of winter and soup season. I stopped by the Super Oriental Market and picked up about 5 lbs of meaty beef bones for stock. These are actually really hard to find here in Birmingham; I have been to several butcher shops and searched several stores to no avail. Luckily, these bones freeze very well. 

The marrow is what gives beef stock its flavor.

Much better than storebought....

With beef stock, roasting the bones beforehand yields a richer, meatier flavor. I also prefer to roast my vegetables as well. And, as with any stock, low and slow is the way to go; do NOT allow your stock to boil, or else it will become cloudy and scummy.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rendering Lard...With a Slow Cooker

Recently I posted about rendering lard at home. After picking up another package of pork fat at the Asian market while purchasing beef bones for stock, I decided to try to render the fat in my slow cooker. 

The lard took 6 hours to render completely; I did check on the lard every few hours to give it a quick stir, but otherwise, no work on my part was needed. This was much easier than the stovetop method, and will become my go-to method from now on.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Homemade Yogurt

Yogurt is simply the byproduct of milk fermented by bacteria; it has been made and eaten by people for over 5000 years and is enjoyed in condiments/sauces such as raita, drinks such as lassi and smoothies, and strained into cheeses. Yogurt is rich in calcium, protein and vitamins; the live cultures it contains are known to aid digestion and regulate the body's processes.

Nowadays, yogurt commercials are everywhere on TV, all touting their special probiotics and their health benefits. Unfortunately, most store-bought yogurts are full of added ingredients such as pectin, gelatin, high fructose corn syrup and more. These products all tout their ability to restore regularity, but any good yogurt containing live, active cultures will do the same. The added sugars are completely unnecessary - a single container of Yoplait Original yogurt contains nearly 3 times the sugar content of a single Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut (27g of sugar compared to 10g).

mmmm...tricalcium phosphate....

Some of the commercials are also questionable at best...

Yogurt is incredibly easy to make at home; you simply inoculate milk with the live cultures, incubate the bacteria for several hours, and refrigerate. Commercial yogurt makers are available in stores for a reasonable price; all they do is maintain the proper temperature of about 110 degrees to allow the bacteria to ferment the milk. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sprouting at Home

I LOVE sprouts; whether it's alfalfa sprouts in a pita sandwich, or crunchy mung bean sprouts topping a steaming bowl of pho, it's all good to me. I refuse to buy sprouts in the stores though; they are WAY overpriced, the selection is pretty lacking, and I've seen some downright sad looking sprouts here in our stores. 

Luckily, it's INCREDIBLY easy and inexpensive to grow your own sprouts at home. All you need are the seeds, a sprouting jar, and a little bit of knowledge; before you know it, you will be enjoying your own sprouts in just a few days.

Crispy, crunchy, and CHEAP. 

All of this came from 2 Tbsp of dried seed.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fruitcake Cookies aka "Lizzies"

Fruitcake is a mixture of fruits and nuts with just enough batter to hold everything together. Many versions are drenched in liquor, typically brandy or rum, which prevents molding and as a result allows the cake to be kept for a long period of time. The beauty of fruitcake is that you can change up the fruits and nuts to your liking. 

No food elicits as much horror as fruitcake around the holidays. Most people associate it with a hard, dry brick; a gift passed around and re-gifted for years. Truth be told, I've had my fair share of bad fruitcake, but years ago, I tried my first ever fruitcake cookie (also sometimes called a "Christmas Lizzy" here) and fell in love. It was soft, chewy and densely packed with fruits and nuts. 

My version does not contain any alcohol, so it's fine for the kids (though I DO have a version with alcohol and it contains a LOT). Packed with candied cherries, dates and pecans, these always seem to go over well at holiday gatherings. It's also an easy recipe, and one that kids will love "helping" with. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Cajun 15-Bean Soup with Smoked Sausage - Dinner Under $10

It's brutally cold (for us) here in Alabama right now; yesterday morning it was 15 degrees as I headed towards the office. Today we have sleet and the roads are icing over. However, as nasty as it is outside, it's perfect weather for a good, hearty soup.

This soup is hearty, filling, and affordable - it makes a ton and, better yet, all of the ingredients cost me just under $10.  

I forgot to include the celery in this picture. Just imagine it there up top.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rendering Lard & Restoring its Good Name

Lard gets a really bad rap. However, it's not nearly as maligned as once claimed. It has less saturated (bad) fat and twice the monounsaturated (good) fat of butter, with no trans fats. Rendered lard is also a great source of Vitamin D and is experiencing a huge resurgence among "food people" right now. 

However, storebought, shelf-stable lard has been hydrogenated to prevent the need for refrigeration. Unfortunately, this process adds trans fats to the lard, in addition to whatever preservatives may also be added.

Thankfully, rendering lard at home is an easy and inexpensive process. 

Lard has had a longstanding respect here in the South. It makes the flakiest pie crusts, the fluffiest biscuits, and nothing is better for frying chicken (which HAS to be done in a cast iron skillet, of course) due to its high smoke point. Now that I render my own lard at home, I use it in place of shortening.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese Iced Coffee with Condensed Milk)

I'm not a big coffee drinker and never really have been. However, I cannot resist a good cà phê sữa đá whenever I eat at our local Vietnamese restaurant. After some internet searching and a bit of trial and error, I figured out how to make this amazing drink anytime I want. 

What is cà phê sữa đá? Literally, it translates to "coffee milk ice" and is a strong coffee, brewed with a drip filter into a glass containing sweetened condensed milk. This coffee can then be served hot (known as cà phê sữa nóng), or stirred together and poured over ice.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Reconditioning & Re-Seasoning Cast Iron Cookware

I LOVE cooking with cast iron. As more reports come out about the dangers of nonstick pans and the toxins that they can emit, I appreciate my cast iron cookware more and more. They distribute heat evenly, can stand up to almost any abuse, and will last for many years - some of the pieces in my collection are around 100 years old! 

Most people I know think that cast iron skillets are solely for making cornbread or for frying. I use mine for everything from homemade cinnamon rolls & scrambled eggs, to steaks and roasted chickens. The only thing I DON'T do in my cast iron is boil water.  
I seek out older cast iron pieces, made back when the pieces were machine polished to a smooth glassy surface after casting. All newer pieces are simply cast, and will have a more textured surface. Since I prefer old pieces, I typically find cast iron cookware in poor shape; neglected, rusty, and coated with years of caked-on burned food and seasoning. Luckily, these pieces can be fully restored for just a few dollars, a bit of elbow grease and patience.

Greg has a great restoration tutorial over on his Black Iron Blog. His method is the one I have used for over 10 antique pieces so far, all with amazing results.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Homemade Chicken Stock....From Chicken Feet

I've always preferred making my own stocks, whether it's chicken, beef, shellfish or vegetable stock. I keep large Ziploc "scrap" bags in my freezer, and toss in vegetable peels and trimmings, as well as vegetables that are starting to look a little sad and past their prime. The other bags get all of the meat bones and carcasses. I absolutely hate wasting food, and love that I can make delicious stock, with more flavor and less sodium/chemicals/other nasties than the storebought kinds, all from items that would ordinarily have been tossed in the garbage.

Once these bags are full, I make stock. 

After using several quarts of my last batch of chicken stock for a leftover turkey and lentil soup, I stumbled across Elise's recipe at Simply Recipes for chicken stock....using chicken feet. I'd seen chicken feet at several local Asian and Hispanic markets, so I picked up a 5 lb bag (the only size available) at Birmingham's Super Oriental Market, grabbed my camera, and went to work.
These make me think of dinosaur feet - very prehistoric!