Tuesday, April 14, 2015

When Life Hands You Strawberries . . .

Peanut is in High School now (lets not dwell on that too much, ok?) and a member of the Future Farmers of America - otherwise known as FFA. A less likely farmer I've never seen, but that's beside the point.
The point is that Peanut is in the FFA and one of our local FFA's most popular fundraisers is selling fresh strawberries. They've partnered with a grower in Florida to ensure that we get the first and freshest strawberries of the season.
When they sent the order form around there was about a foot of snow on the ground and fresh strawberries sounded pretty dang good. So, what did I do? I ordered a flat. A whole flat of strawberries. That's eight quarts of strawberries.
They pick the berries on a Thursday, drive them up I75 on Friday, and we pick them up on Saturday. On Sunday I was up to my elbows in Strawberry Jam.
Because, you know, what else are you gonna do?
I made a double recipe of Strawberry Jam and still had two quarts of Strawberries left over. I must say, they were the freshest, juiciest strawberries I've had in a while. And they made the most beautiful, ruby-red jam.

This is the recipe I used. It's just the regular old Sure Jell recipe that comes in the box. But I do recommend Sure Jell and not any other brand. I have tried a couple of different brands and my jam never sets up as good as with Sure Jell.

Strawberry Jam
5 Cups Prepared Strawberries (trimmed, hulled, and mashed)
1 Box Sure Jell Fruit Pectin
1/2 Tbs. Butter (not Margarine) to prevent foaming
7 Cups Sugar

Follow directions on box of Sure Jell for cooking and processing. If you have more jam than you have jars, or if you have any jars that don't seal correctly just refrigerate for up to 3 months.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Squirrel Brownies

Tuesday is Cream Cheese Brownie Day. A completely made up arbitrary holiday, to be sure. But one worth celebrating nonetheless. When I noticed it mentioned online it reminded me of a recent kitchen exchange between The Captain and myself.
The Captain: Whatcha makin' there? (After seeing me get out the cream cheese, eggs, and sugar)
Me: Cheesecake Swirl Brownies.
The Captain: What did you say?
Me: Cheesecake. Swirl. Brownies.
The Captain: (Busts out laughing) I thought you said 'squirrel brownies'!
Me: Oh, that's what we're going to call 'em from now on! (with one eyebrow raised and a slow head nod)

Even though there's not really a recipe, they're super easy to make. Just use whatever your favorite boxed brownie mix is (the 13x9 family size). Mix according to package directions and pour into lightly sprayed baking dish.
In separate small bowl mix together one 8oz. package of softened cream cheese, 1 egg, and 1/2 cup of sugar. Add 1/4 tsp. vanilla if you're feeling fancy. Mix together with a wire whisk. Really put your arm into it. It might take a minute, but I feel that it's enough of an arm workout to justify eating the brownies.
Pour cheesecake mix on top of brownie mix. Using a skewer or sharp knife gently swirl the two ingredients together, without actually mixing them into one another.
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until the center is slightly set. Let cool before cutting.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

National Cheese Day - My Favorite Beer Cheese

Today, January 20, is National Cheese Day. Seriously, that's a thing. So I thought I'd introduce you to my very most favorite Beer Cheese. Yes, Beer Cheese. The awesomeness is pretty much right there in the name.
Beer Cheese!
You could make your own. It's pretty much Beer and Cheese and a little bit of Worcestershire and usually Cayenne Pepper. There are a thousand different variations playing up different spices and types of beer and/or cheese. Beer Cheese really is a thing of beauty!
Like I said, you could make your own. But why would you want to when there are so many delicious commercial Beer Cheeses available. And today in honor of National Cheese Day I'm sharing with you what I consider the very best of the bunch.
Double-Dip Beer Cheese

image from beercheesefestival.com
They won the People's Choice Award at the 2014 Beer Cheese Festival in Winchester and I can totally see taste why. This stuff is deliciously addictive!
They have four varieties. Original. Original Hot. Stout. and Stout Hot. The Stout Hot is my favorite with pretzels. So Yummy! Or try the Stout on a fresh-grilled Burger. The Original makes an outstanding Grilled Cheese Sandwich. And the Original Hot elevates Mac-n-Cheese to Next Level status.
Seriously, people, check out Double Dip Beer Cheese. Or go on Double-Dip's website -  they have some pretty tasty looking recipes that you can make at home. You can find it at Liquor Barn all around Lexington, Liquor World in Richmond, and Bluegrass Farmers Market.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Crawfish Chowder

It has been a good long time since I've waded barefoot through the creek catching craw dads.
OK, that's a lie. It was last summer with the kids.
But when it's cold and drizzly like this winter has proven to be, summer sure seems like a long time away. Soooo. . .
Soup is a go to in the winter time. Classic comfort food. We go through Chili and Broccoli Cheddar and Cheesy Potato and Vegetable Beef and even Chicken Noodle fairly regularly and I was looking for something new to place in the repertoire. Enter Crawfish Chowder.

Yes, the ingredient list looks long and complicated. And no it's not exactly cheap. But it is surprisingly easy to make and it makes a LOT. So cook up a pot, invite over a few friends, and bask in the compliments.

Crawfish Chowder

Olive Oil
1 Small Onion, diced (about 1/2 - 3/4 Cup)
1/2 Cup diced Celery
1/2 Cup diced Red Pepper
1/4 Cup minced Ancho or Anaheim Pepper
6 Large Cloves Garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. Ground Thyme
1/2 tsp. Ground Cayenne Pepper
1 Carton Chicken Stock
1 Small Can Tomato Paste
1 Cup Crushed Tomatoes
2 Cups diced Red Potatoes, skin on
1 Can Lump Crab Meat, with juices
9-12 oz. Craw Fish Tail Meat *
1 Can Whole Kernel Corn
1 1/2 Cups Heavy Cream

In a large Dutch Oven saute onions, celery, peppers, and garlic in olive oil over medium heat until onions become translucent, stirring occasionally to prevent over-browning. Add thyme and cayenne pepper, stir.
Slowly pour in chicken stock, stirring to dislodge any bits on the bottom of pan. Add tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, and potatoes stirring to combine all ingredients. Add crab and crawfish, stir to combine. Bring to a light boil over medium heat, stirring to prevent scorching. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally.
About 1/2 hour before serving add corn and cream, stirring to combine. Keep heat on low and leave uncovered. Salt to taste.  Serve with thick-sliced crusty bread. Refrigerate any leftovers.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

It is cold. I mean really, freaking freezing! I guess it means that it is officially winter. The holidays blew by and I barely noticed. I just wasn't feeling it this year - if you know what I mean. But here's Mother Nature to bitch-slap me back into reality.
We brought up an extra radiator heater to try and take some of the pressure off our heat pump and it seems to be a favorite among certain members of this household.

 Last winter was brutal and I was kind of hoping that we could skate by this year with none of the sub-zero temperatures of last year. I'm not sure if that makes me optimistic or na├»ve. I'm guessing the latter.
I spent yesterday thinking about how I would decorate my beach house if I should ever have such a luxury. And I've so far wasted a good hour this morning on Pinterest planning my flower gardens in anticipation of spring. I'm thinking a stone walking path and a patio re-do. That is, of course, if the kids get a full spring break and I can shake down some free labor. Which is looking increasingly unlikely.
Also looking increasingly unlikely is me losing those extra few or thirty plans. Especially when all this cold weather just makes me want to think of something good to cook. Ahh, comfort food. This is the perfect season for it after all. Well, as they say, "When in Rome. . ." Although I guess in this situation it would be, "When in Nome. . ." Alaska, that is.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Apple Cider Donuts

It is the last day of September and therefore the last day of my 'Apple Everything' series. And since I consider donuts to be the absolute most perfect food - next to skillet fried chicken, that is - I figured it would be the perfect way to end the month.

Apple Cider Donuts

3 1/2 Cups Flour, divided
1 Cup Sugar
1 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Baking Powder
2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Nutmeg, freshly ground if you have it
1/8 tsp. Ground Ginger
2 Whole Eggs and 1 Egg Yolk, beaten
1 Stick Butter, melted
1 1/2 Cups Apple Cider
Oil for frying

In a small saucepan over medium/high heat boil Apple Cider until reduced to about 1/2 Cup. Allow to cool to room temperature.
In large mixing bowl add 1 Cup of flour, salt, baking powder, the sugar and spices. Stir to combine. Combine the melted butter, cider, and eggs, add to the flour mixture until a light batter is formed. Add the rest of the flour, mixing well after each addition. Dough will be sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Lightly flour countertop. Roll dough to 1/2" thickness. Cut using a donut cutter or two nesting round cutters to make donuts and holes. Gather scraps and re-roll and re-cut until all dough is used.
Add oil to heavy saucepan to a depth of at least 3". Using a candy thermometer heat oil until it reaches 375 degrees. Carefully add donuts to hot oil one at a time, being careful not to crowd the pan. Allow donuts to fry until they float to the top. Gently flip and allow to fry for an addition 1 1/2 minutes. Using a large slotted spoon, remove to a paper towel lined plate to cool completely.
Make glaze. Use a slotted spoon to dip donuts and holes to glaze turning to coat evenly. Allow to drain on wire rack with paper towels underneath. Once glaze has slightly hardened, re-glaze until all the glaze is used. Allow to dry completely before moving them to an airtight container for storage.
Makes 10-15 donuts and holes, depending on size.

4 Cups Confectioners Sugar
2 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Nutmeg
Pinch of Ground Ginger
1/4 Cup Apple Cider
Place sugar and spices in large bowl, whisk to combine. Add cider one tablespoon at a time, whisking vigorously. Continue mixing until you have reached a glaze consistency.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Caramel Apple Bread Pudding

That's right. I did it. Caramel. Apple. Bread Pudding.

Caramel Apple Bread Pudding
1 loaf French Bread, cut into 1" cubes.
6 eggs
1 can evaporated milk
2/3 cups Sugar
1 Tbs. Vanilla
1 Tbs. Butter
3-4 medium Apples,* diced
1/4 cup Brown Sugar
1 jar Caramel Dessert Topping
1 stick Butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar

Place bread cubes in a well greased large baking dish, set aside. In a large bowl whisk together eggs, evaporated milk, sugar and vanilla. Pour egg mixture over bread cubes. Toss to cover all cubes evenly. Place in fridge for at least 1 hour, up to 6 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium sauce pan melt 1 Tbs. Butter, add Apples and Brown Sugar. Cook over medium heat until Brown Sugar is completely melted and Apples are just barely fork-tender. Spoon over top of bread cubes. Bake in oven for about 40 minutes or until custard has set and top of bread pudding is golden brown. (If using a thicker casserole-type dish decrease the oven temperature to 325 degrees and increase cooking time to 1 hour.)
To make sauce melt 1 stick butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add Powdered Sugar, whisk to combine. Mixture will be thick. Quickly whisk in Caramel Dessert Topping, whisking vigorously until well combined. Pour over Bread Pudding and enjoy.

* I used a mixture of Golden Delicious and Gala because that's what I had. Any sweet cooking apple will work. Granny Smith's would also be yummy but should be mixed with another sweeter apple to avoid being too tart when it's cooked.