Saturday, May 26, 2012

A How-To on Canning, PLUS a Recipe for Do Chua (Vietnamese Pickled Carrots & Daikon)

Canning is a GREAT way to preserve food; basically, the food is sealed in an airtight container through a boiling-water bath or under pressure canning. This extends the shelf life of food and keeps it from having to be refrigerated or frozen. 

You can preserve TONS of stuff, from jams/jellies to sauces, and yes, pickles! 

Boiling-water bath canning is simple: Once the contents are placed in canning jars and sealed, the jars are lowered into a pot filled with enough boiling water to completely cover the jars. Boil for 10-15 minutes (depending on the recipe), carefully remove the jars from the water, and, as the jars cool, they will vacuum seal. You don't need any special equipment, but I HIGHLY recommend purchasing a canning tool kit - this kit contains everything you need, from a magnetic lid lifter for the canning lids, a jar lifter, a wide-mouth funnel for filling the jars, and a headspace ruler (more on these tools below). 

I use my pressure canner for my boiling-water bath canning, but you can just a use a big, heavy bottomed pot. Just make sure you have enough room for the jars and water to cover them. 

Pressure canning is a bit more difficult; first, you need a pressure canner, which usually has a gauge or weights. The pressure canner will have a tight seal on it; like with pressure COOKING, the pressure increases the boiling point of the contents, making them cook more quickly and effectively sterilizing the food. Pressure-canning is a little more dangerous, as you HAVE to wait for the pressure to drop before opening the canner, and seals CAN let go and cause a huge mess or even injury. Luckily, modern pressure canners are a lot safer than they used to be, and I've never had an accident. 

Honestly, I've done pressure canning a few times, and I HATE IT. I prefer to just stick to what I can can (ugh) with a boiling-water bath. 

So, how do you know when to use a boiling-water bath or pressure canning? The boiling-water method is only safe for foods with a high pH (under 4.6), and works best for pickles, fruits, jams/jellies and tomatoes. Granted, I know tomatoes are technically a fruit and not a vegetable, but they are acidic and can GREAT. Pressure canning raises the boiling point of the food, killing the bacteria that causes botulism (Clostridium botulinum for my Carl Linnaeus nerds), making it the ideal canning method for vegetables and meats. 

For this post, I'll be making do chua, which is a Vietnamese condiment made of carrot and daikon sticks, pickled in a sweet vinegar mixture. Though these ARE vegetables, since I'm adding vinegar and lowering the acidity, a boiling-water bath is sufficient for canning. 

This is the last jar I have, from a batch  I made last year...
Back then, I didn't have a julienne slicer, so I had to cut everything by hand :(
You'll just have to keep reading to see exactly WHAT I do with my do chua :)

Creamed Spinach

Creamed spinach sounds SO gross (looks kinda gross too!), but it's actually SO good. It's a classic steakhouse side and really DOES go amazingly well with beef. 

Ninja Turtle Barf right there, folks...
This dish is surprisingly simple; you make a roux, add milk, then a healthy dose of Parmesan cheese for good measure. Add the spinach, season with nutmeg (a must in any creamed spinach recipe), and that's it! This recipe uses frozen cut spinach for an extra shortcut (plus, sometimes fresh spinach is REALLY pricey in stores). 

On top of being super tasty, this is also a great dish for vegetarians! 

Friday, May 25, 2012

Saucy Macaroni & Cheese (Recipe From 1870)

I make pretty damn good macaroni & cheese, whether it's my baked version or my bacon/ranch version. But sometimes I want a saucier mac & cheese, and I absolutely refuse to reach for the blue box

This recipe hails from just after the Civil War, from Jennie June's American Cookery Book, published in 1870. You don't need the oven (just the stovetop), and the recipe is so incredibly simple. Simply boil your noodles, make a creamy sauce (from REAL cheese, of course!), and that's it.

The original recipe: 
Put four or five ounces of macaroni in water, and boil for twenty minutes, until tender. Mix into half a pint of milk a little flour, and a small piece of butter, half a tea-cup of cream, half a tea-spoonful of mustard, salt, pepper, and cayenne, and four ounces of good fat cheese grated very fine; stir all together and boil for ten minutes. Pour this over the macaroni, after draining it from the water boil five or six minutes and serve.
Luckily, Kitchen Historic has 'modernized' the recipe, making it much easier; she has also doubled the recipe. Honestly, with a recipe THIS good and THIS easy, who needs the blue box anyway?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Cast Iron Skillet Blackberry Cobbler

Over the weekend, my parents and I stopped by a local fruit & vegetable market to pick up some produce. In addition to fresh fruits & vegetables, Amish cheeses, and local dairy and eggs, they have a TON of home-canned products; mostly various pickles and jams/jellies, but then I spotted something interesting - cobbler in a jar. 

The BF is a huge fan of cobbler; indicating that blackberry cobbler was his absolute favorite (for me, it's peach). Since I keep frozen berries in the freezer year-round for smoothies and ice cream, I knew I'd have to make him my version of blackberry cobbler. Luckily, though, a local store had some great looking blackberries for only $0.99 for a half-pint, so I grabbed a few. 

Cobblers here in the South are always named by their fruit; typically apple, peach or berry. Our cobblers are almost always comprised of one fruit and one fruit only, never mixing flavors. In true Southern tradition, though, a cobbler MUST be served warm and topped with vanilla ice cream.

Like this:

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Avocado Chocolate Pudding - Delicious, Easy, Healthy, AND Vegetarian/Vegan!

I know I'll probably catch some hell for this, since I JUST did a post about chocolate pudding, and used (oh no!) prepackaged box mix, but this is my new go-to recipe for chocolate pudding. 

It takes about 5 minutes, it's vegetarian/vegan friendly, AND it's actually healthy. Why? Well, this version omits the standard milk/cream/egg custard-base that most puddings use, and gets its creaminess from an avocado.

And no, this pudding will NOT taste like me. Avocados have tons of vitamins(1/3 of your daily vitamin C, and 1/2 of your daily vitamin K) and fiber; one average avocado is about 300 calories, yes, but has only 15g of unsaturated fat (your heart will thank you) and 4g of protein. Avocados also have more potassium than bananas, and is currently being researched for anti-cancer properties. 

Meatloaf with Herbed Cream Sauce

Man. Meatloaf gets such a bad rap, but to me, it's one of the ULTIMATE comfort foods. i'm pretty sure I never shied away from it as a kid when it appeared on the dinner table (if so, I KNOW Mom & Dad will let me know), and I still remember making it for the first time when I moved out on my own. 

Honestly, it turned out pretty terrible. I didn't want to mix the 'loaf' with my hands, so it didn't hold its shape and ended up a puddled greasy mess that NO amount of ketchup could fix. 

Luckily, now I have a go-to 'standard' meatloaf, culled from a REALLY old issue of
Southern Living. This recipe though? Wow. It's almost as if someone classed up the humble meatloaf; instead of being served with ketchup, there's a wonderful creamy sauce, filled with fresh herbs. Adding mushrooms to the meatloaf itself adds a really nice flavor and texture as well. It's like true comfort food, turned up to eleven.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Homemade Jell-O Pudding Pops (With the Frizzle Frazzle Zip Zop)

Remember Jell-O Pudding Pops? As a child of the 80s, I remember them fondly (and the gloriously creamy Jell-O Gelatin Pops). I remember them coming in 3 flavors, chocolate, vanilla, and a chocolate/vanilla swirl. They were creamy, a little bit chewy (which I LOVED), and at the same time, a bit icy and crunchy.

Like so many great snacks of the 80s (Ecto Cooler, anyone?), Jell-O Pudding Pops got discontinued, and we no longer got to see awesome commercials with Bill Cosby in them. 

However, a few years ago, I guess after tons of folks pleaded to bring them back, Jell-O Pudding Pops appeared in stores. I spotted them, immediately tossed a box in the cart, and could not WAIT to get home to eat one. 


First off, they were NOT the same Pudding Pops. Second, they were insanely tiny. Honestly, they were basically Fudgsicles in a Jell-O box. No bueno, man.

Apparently I wasn't the only one not happy with these bargain basement attempts at Pudding Pops, since I haven't seen them in stores for quite a while. 

BUT...I found that it is insanely easy to make your own Pudding Pops at home, with any flavor you prefer. I choose to use the Cook & Serve pudding, as it's thicker, but the Instant kind will do as well. 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce & Spaghetti alla Bolognese

Spaghetti is one of my favorite dishes; it's cheap, easy and always satisfying. For years, I'll admit, I bought jarred sauce, but I would "customize" it a bit by combining brands/flavors, adding herbs and vegetables, and so on. Now, I make my own spaghetti sauce - it's really easy, plus I KNOW what's going into my sauce (and this comes from someone who still loves SpaghettiOs). 

Tomatoes not in season yet? Doesn't matter - most Italian tomato-based sauces use canned tomatoes anyway. This recipe is a basic spaghetti sauce; you can easily customize it by adding cheese, cream, vodka, mushrooms - whatever you feel like! 

Here, I'm using the sauce to make spaghetti alla bolognese, which is popular everywhere OUTSIDE of Italy, and never actually existed in Bologna. Basically, it's a fancypants way of saying "spaghetti with some meat off in it". Served simply with some garlic bread & a small salad (maybe a Caesar?), and you've got a great meal - perfect for a family dinner, a date night, or for no special occasion at all!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cheesy Garlic Bread

Garlic bread - such a simply side dish, but sometimes it's what REALLY makes a meal, right? You order it with delivery pizza, it shows up as a side for pretty much any Italian meal, but most of us just buy the frozen slices of garlic "Texas" toast, or the premade slathered loaves from the grocery store bakery. 

I admit it. I used to buy it premade as well. Even when I had perfectly good bread sitting in the kitchen, or even slightly stale bread. In fact, garlic bread is BEST when you use bread that's slightly stale; not like crouton stale, but maybe just a few days past its ultimate softness. Add cheese to the garlic bread and you've got one seriously droolworthy side. 

The original recipe calls for adding some fresh chopped parsley in with the garlic and butter. I didn't have any (though the cilantro in the fridge tricked me into thinking it was flat-leaf parsley), and didn't feel like making a special trip to buy any. So, I left it out. Plus, I'm sure it would find a way to catch on fire considering how finicky (read: evil) my broiler can be.

If you don't want cheese, simply leave it out (but still broil the bread for that toastiness). 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Chicken Shawarma with Oregano Vinaigrette & Garlic-Yogurt Sauce

Shawarma is an Arabic meat preparation, where the meat is placed on a vertical spit and grilled; the meat is then shaved off from the outside inward. The term is used interchangeably with gyros and doner kebabs as well. Here in the US, shawarma/gyro is typically served as a sandwich, either wrapped into a pita rollup, or served atop a pillowy flatbread.

Authentic shawarma is made by stacking strips of fat and meat alternately on a spit, then roasted over a fire. Served with dressings such as tahini or toum (a garlic sauce), the meat is moist, juicy and full of flavor. It's also impossible to make at home if you're going for TRUE authenticity, since most people aren't going to have a flaming vertical rotisserie in their kitchens :)

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Mushroom Swiss Burgers

As a kid, I HATED mushrooms. I thought they were DISGUSTING. Mom & Dad always said that I'd change my mind about certain foods when I got older, and they were right. I hate tomatoes & cucumbers as well; now they are some of my FAVORITE foods.

As an adult, I absolutely LOVE mushrooms when on a burger; the mushroom & Swiss burger is pretty common these days, available at pretty much any burger joint. I think Atlanta's
Todd Brock said it best:

" A mushroom and Swiss burger is like a bass solo: earthy, primal, something you feel in your lower register. It's totally cool and makes you bob your head up and down, but there are no high notes to make you play air guitar or throw up devil horns for. A mushroom and Swiss burger always leaves me wanting to hear some sweet Stratocaster licks or a few cymbal crashes to round things out, like you might get with bacon and American cheese"

The BEST mushroom & Swiss burgers, though, in my opinion, come from Hardee's & Dairy Queen, with Dairy Queen narrowly beating out Hardee's. 

Monday, May 7, 2012

Spinach, Bacon & Mushroom Frittata

I've featured a frittata on this blog before, but it has been a while - over a year! I LOVE frittatas; they're typically made in a single pan, easy to whip up, infinitely customizable, and delicious. Plus, they're a great way to use up little bits of leftover veggies/meats/cheeses from the fridge.

So, what's the difference between a frittata and a quiche? Simple - in a frittata, the eggs are the primary ingredient. Frittatas don't have a crust, nor do they contain a lot of milk or cream, whereas quiches typically have a crust, and are made from a custard, with LOTS of milk or heavy cream. A quiche is usually creamy, where a frittata is more dense and almost spongy in texture (but not in a gross way).

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Kentucky Derby Mint Juleps

If there was ever a TRULY Southern cocktail, it would absolutely, positively HAVE to be the mint julep. The ingredients are simple: fresh mint leaves, bourbon, sugar and water, but the preparation is key. Like a mojito, the mint leaves are crushed with the sugar; however, it's best to JUST bruise the leaves instead of grinding them into a pulp.

The mint julep made its grand Southern cotillion entrance sometime during the 1700s; when Kentucky Senator
Henry Clay introduced the drink at the Willard Hotel's Round Robin Bar in Washington DC. Now considered THE drink of the Kentucky Derby (they even sell a $1000 super-premium version made from Woodford Reserve bourbon, where the regular ones are made with Early Times), the mint julep is quite possible the best drink for relaxing on a lazy summer day, watching the heat mirages from a wraparound front porch. 

I've been thinking about mint juleps a LOT lately, mainly because my parents gave me some of the fresh mint that they had growing in their yard, and because I still had some bourbon leftover from when I made my bread pudding. My recipe comes from a good bit of trial and error, and a combination of multiple recipes I have found over the years; I don't have any nice silver julep cups to serve in, so I just stick to the classic glass Mason jar or my plain old tea glasses!

Curried Chicken Salad

The BF has an uncanny ability to just throw things together and come up with a good meal. He doesn't follow recipes, he doesn't measure anything, and he NEVER writes anything down. About a month ago, he grilled some chicken and came up with a weird sauce made from ketchup, Thai chili sauce, honey and a ton of other ingredients. It turned out incredible, and I made sure to write down the recipe. 

His laissez-faire/no1curr attitude towards cooking shorts out my OCD brain sometimes, but, whatever he cooks always turns out great. Sometime last year, he made an amazing curried chicken salad, and I've asked him a dozen times how he made it. However, he doesn't remember. 

Craving curried chicken salad BADLY, and not knowing how he made his, I decided to make my own. It's not the same as HIS, but still incredibly good.

I substituted dried cherries for the dried cranberries in the original recipe (The BF doesn't like dried cranberries), and used pecans in place of the almonds, solely because I still have half a bag of chopped pecan pieces from Georgia. On lightly-toasted sourdough bread, this salad definitely satisfied my craving!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Teeny Tiny Cinnamon Buns

The second I saw this pinned on Pinterest, I KNEW I had to make these. After a quick scan of the fridge/pantry, I realized I had EVERYTHING I needed to make these the same day. Plus, it gave me an excuse to use my mini muffin pan that I use for my corn dog bites.

I *do* have a TRUE cinnamon bun recipe; it takes a lot of preparation, from making the dough (complete with yeast, rising, kneading and all that fun), and they're great. They're AWESOME. And I'll share them with you once I decide to actually quit being lazy and make them. 

These, though? They're tiny and super cute and really (and I mean, REALLY) easy to make. You don't have to make dough at all, and this recipe is fun and simple enough for the kids to help out with. Plus, I guess eating a few of these is better for you than eating one giant "regular sized" cinnamon bun!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Phở bò (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)... In a Slow Cooker!

When most people think of phở, they are usually thinking of phở bò, which is simply phở served with beef. The two primary types of phở in Vietnam are phở bò (beef), and phở gà (chicken). 

So, what IS phở? First of all, it's pronounced "fuh" (as in "fun), not "fo" (as in "fo shizzle"). Phở is a Vietnamese noodle soup, comprised of a rich broth, and served with rice noodles and meat; usually thinly sliced beef or shredded poached chicken. Bowls of phở are typically served with a plate of basil, mint, cilantro, lime wedges and bean sprouts, all to be added by the diner.

Hủ Tiếu Bò Kho? Not the same as phở.

Phở hails from Hanoi, or, more specifically, Nam Định province, southeast of Hanoi. A combination of Vietnamese flavors with a French influence, Phở has become wildly popular all over the world; it's popularity in the US exploded after the recipe was brought here by refugees fleeing Vietnam after the Vietnam war. 

The broth for phở bò gets its rich flavor from beef bones, a variety of Southeast Asian spices (including cinnamon, ginger & star anise), and is the most essential part of the dish. You absolutely CANNOT substitute canned stock/broth, or even a plain homemade beef stock; the broth is clear and flavorful, yet light and delicate; the spices and vegetables used in the broth in addition to the bones are often charred to release more complex flavors. 

There are variants of phở within Vietnam itself; Northern phở, from Hanoi, uses wider rice noodles and a generous helping of green onions, while Southern phở, from Saigon, uses a sweeter broth and offers a greater variety of fresh herbs as garnish. Traditionally, the broth should be left alone upon serving, but nowadays, it is very popular for diners to customize their phở with Sriracha or hoisin sauce at the table. 

Whenever I get a craving for phở bò, which happens WAY more often than I care to admit, I go to Saigon Noodle House, just off of Hwy 280 (local folks, I avoid Phở Quê Hương, as their cleanliness and service have TANKED in the last several years. Not to mention that, the last time I ate their, I had some serious intestinal duress afterwards). However, I've had recipes for both phở bò and phở gà for YEARS, so I decided it was finally time to make it myself and share it with you! Bonus - no MSG, AND I know EXACTLY what's going into my bowl!

Since the traditional recipe can be VERY time-consuming and laborious, I make my broth in a large slow-cooker - you still get all of the wonderful flavors in the complex broth, but without having to skim a bunch of fat or parboil the bones. Trust me, coming home from work to the smell of phở broth is one of THE greatest feelings after a long day! 

Slow-Cooker Phở bò (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup)
adapted from Wandering Chopsticks, with some changes

1 1/2 lbs oxtails or beef shortribs
1 large carrot, peeled & cut into chunks
1 dozen cloves
1 yellow onion, peeled
1 cinnamon stick
1 2-3" knob of ginger, peeled
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
6 star anise pods
2 cardamom pods
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 Tbsp Nước mắm (fish sauce)
2 tsp salt
1/2 lb eye of round, sliced VERY thin
1 package bánh phở rice noodles, dried or fresh
1 package bò viên (Vietnamese beef tendon meatballs), halved (optional)
Beef tripe, rinsed and cut into thin strips (optional)
1 white onion, thinly sliced
2 scallions, finely chopped
Bean sprouts or shredded cabbage
2 Thai chilies, sliced
Lime wedges
Hoisin sauce (tương Ăn phở)
Sriracha (tương Ớt)

Wash and rinse the oxtails or shortribs in cold water. Place in a 4.5 quart slow cooker and add the carrot chunks.

*Note: Oxtails & tripe, though available at most grocery stores, will ALWAYS be cheaper at an Asian or Hispanic market. Trust me on this one. 

Stud the onion with the dozen cloves and add to the slow cooker along with the ginger and garlic. Dry-toast the cinnamon stick, star anise, cardamom pods and coriander seeds in a hot skillet to release their flavors. Place the toasted spices in a cheesecloth bundle or a mesh tea ball; add to the slow cooker.

*If you don't have any cheesecloth or a tea ball, just add the loose spices to the slow cooker; you can always strain the broth later. 

Add water until the slow cooker is a little over 3/4 full (about 2 1/2 quarts of water). Add the fish sauce and salt. Cover and cook on HIGH for 6 hours or LOW for 8-10 hours.

Remove the lid and skim any foam or fat from the top of the broth. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer; remove any meat from the oxtails (or shortribs) and return to the broth. Discard all the solids and return the broth to a heavy-bottomed pot; bring to a simmer on the stovetop. If using the Vietnamese meatballs, add them now. If using tripe, simply boil the tripe for about 5 minutes, then drain.

Prepare the garnishes; place the fresh herbs on a plate, along with the bean sprouts, chili slices and lime wedges.

Cook the rice noodles; if using fresh noodles, simply plunge the noodles into a pot of boiling water for about 10 seconds to soften them. If using dried noodles, simply follow the package directions.

Bring the broth up to a boil; assemble your serving bowls by placing cooked & drained rice noodles in the bottom. Top with the tripe (if using) and raw beef slices. Ladle in the boiling broth, which will cook the raw beef slices. Top with onion slices and scallions, then serve.

Using the rare beef and tripe creates a dish known as phở tái sách (tái for rare beef, sách for tripe); this is my personal favorite type of phở; I always omit the meatballs and tendons (Gân)

Diners can then add garnishes and sauces as needed. Though I like bean sprouts, Saigon Noodle House serves shredded cabbage as a substitute if you ask. Personally, I LOVE the crunch from the cabbage, and good cabbage is usually WAY easier to find here than good bean sprouts!

*Note: The broth will freeze extremely well; do NOT add the noodles directly to the broth and then freeze - it is best to simply freeze the broth and then use new noodles/beef/garnishes/etc later on.