Turkey Meatballs

It’s January so we’re all eating healthy stuff, right? meatballsI know that if I start talking about “cleanses” or “detoxing” it brings up a lot of really strong emotions. The whole conversation can get really pretentious and conjure up ideas of juice diets or other really restrictive programs (which don’t always sound very healthy).  I’m not sure if what I’m doing really falls in the same category, and I’m only talking it here because it’s worked so well for me and I want to share some of the recipes I’ve been making with you.  The program is called the Whole 30, and it’s basically a strict version of paleo, where you take thirty days and eat only meats, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, seeds, grains and healthy oils.  That means no sweeteners of any kind, no grains, no soy, no corn, no dairy, no legumes, no alcohol… and there’s probably other stuff that I’m forgetting but that’s the main idea.  I did a full month in November and I felt like a rockstar so I’m doing another one.  There’s no calorie counting or restricting and I just eat when I’m hungry.  I really, really like taking a full month to make my diet a top priority and form new, healthy habits.  There a lots of times where I get really busy and stop planning, and this program makes me take the time to actually eat breakfast, pack myself a real lunch, and cook a real dinner with vegetables in it.  Yes, we have a vegetable farm, and yes, sometimes we get insanely busy and tired and eat macaroni and cheese from a box.  Isn’t that horrible and messed up? It is.  Different diets suit different people, so this may not be ideal for everyone, but I feel so much better omitting grains and sugar from my diet.  I’m so happy I took the time to try it out and see how it made me feel.

I’ll be posting a couple of my favorite weeknight recipes during January in case other people need some inspiration. The first one I have to share are these turkey-mushroom meatballs.  You can make them with spaghetti squash if you want to mimic pasta, but I actually like to eat them over a big pile of greens. It doesn’t really matter what kind; cooked greens are good, kale salad is good, collards, spinach, whatever. It all tastes good with tomato sauce and meatballs!

TURKEY MEATBALLS

Serves: 2-3

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1 c. grated mushrooms*
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped onion
  • 1 tbs. finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 quart jar of tomato sauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a mixing bowl, combine the turkey, mushrooms, onions, parsley and garlic powder. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.  Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium high heat.  Form the mixture into balls and put then place them in the olive oil.  Don’t touch them for a few minutes to let them brown.  After that, gently turn the meatballs to continue browning the rest of them.  Once they’re browned, pour the sauce over them and put them in the oven to cook for 20 minutes (just to make sure they’re cooked through).  Serve over vegetables or with salad.  Delicious as leftovers.

*Just grate button mushrooms on a standard grater. You could probably put them in the food processor too.

Cook it! 2012 March Resolution: Make Butter – Part 1

We’re into the third month of cook it 2012, and I’m pretty excited about the most recent undertaking.  So far I’ve tackled pasta-making and bread-baking, and now… butter.  I’ve been wanting to make butter ever since I read this great post here from the Hungry Tigress.  I’m all about DIY, and my olive tree is still really small and not looking very promising in the olive oil department, so making my own butter can fill the void for right now.

So one of the reasons that I’m so excited about this is that butter is such a fundamental ingredient in every day cooking.  (Most DIY food projects are really tasty, but …  those jars of marmalade that ended up too sweet and then didn’t set, that I could certainly use as a pancake or ice cream topping? They’re still in the pantry).  Butter isn’t an ingredient that you have to make an effort to use.  It’s butter.  You don’t really need to brainstorm ideas.  I don’t really think there’s such a thing as having “too much butter.”  It just disappears, like toilet paper or beer. One of the reasons I hadn’t bothered with this project yet is that I didn’t have a good source for milk.  I found some very high quality raw, organic cream at the local natural food store, but I’m hoping to find a producer in Mendocino County if I keep searching.  (…. hello?… crossing my fingers for a barrage of e-mails from local dairy producers proving me wrong about availability…)

The little pints of cream that I bought weren’t cheap at all.  The flavor is absolutely amazing, though.  I remember the first time I ate an heirloom tomato, the first time I tried foie gras, and now, the first time I tried real cream.  It has officially joined the ranks of formative culinary experiences that will forever change how and what I want to be cooking.  It makes coffee taste a million times more delicious, and I can’t wait until berry season – I need to have blueberries and cream in my life, all the time.

So not only did I discover fresh, raw cream, I also got to make butter with it. Making butter is ridiculously, joyfully easy, absolutely a beginner project that involves very little time or equipment.  So here’s the deal: You know how to make whipped cream, right? Probably in a stand mixer? Make whipped cream, but then just keep going.  There’s  a moment in the middle of the project where you might think:

Wait, I really like whipped cream.  I should just make whipped cream right now, not butter.  Lemme go bake a pie real quick to go with this.

But if you persevere and vow to buy other cream for making whipped cream on another day, this whipped cream will quickly turn clumpy and then start to separate into butter and buttermilk.  This is the part of the project where my plan totally derailed.  I have a thing that I’m making with the butter that I’m very excited about, but I got totally distracted by the fresh buttermilk and ended up making buttermilk fried chicken before I made the other, butter-showcasing recipe.  Hence the “part 1.” I have more thoughts about butter that will be coming soon….Fried chicken is extra delicious when you marinade it in this wonderful fresh buttermilk.  The little sparkles of butter that get left behind in the buttermilk will make your fried chicken taste extra special.Also that I put bacon fat in the frying oil…  that doesn’t hurt.Go big or go home, right?*

and now, some recipes:

Butter

cook time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • the best cream  you can find: raw is good, pasteurized is also good, but not ultra-pasteurized.  (the amount is flexible, you can buy a little bit or a lot, and you end up with either a little bit of butter or a lot)

Put the cream in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.  Mix on high speed for awhile.  The cream will turn to whipped cream, and then separate into butter and buttermilk.  Drain the buttermilk into a bowl and reserve it for the fried chicken (or whatever you want to make).  Use a wooden spoon to smoosh all the butter into one big clump.  Take the bowl off the stand mixer and go over to the sink with it…  Run cold water over the butter and press down with the spoon to get out any remaining buttermilk (just dump it down the sink, there won’t be much at this point).  Pack the butter into jars. They last for about a week in the fridge and freeze very well.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

Cook Time: an hour or so

Serves: oh, 4? It depends who’s eating and how much they like chicken

Ingredients:

  • 2- 2.5 lbs. skin-on chicken pieces**

For the marinade:

  • 2 or 3 cups of fresh buttermilk (this is what I got from turning three pints of cream into butter)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tbs. fresh herbs, minced- any combination of thyme, oregano, rosemary sage, whatever you have….
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper

For the breading:

  • 3 c. all purpose flour
  • 1 tbs. poultry seasoning (a dried mix of the herbs mentioned above)
  • 1 tbs. garlic powder
  • 1 tbs. paprika
  • 1 tbs. chili powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 3 tsp. sea salt

For frying:

  • 6 c. canola or other high temperature cooking oil
  • 1/4 c. bacon fat (I save the fat when we cook bacon… that’s good stuff, no need to throw it away)

Combine all the ingredients for the marinade in a large container.  Add the chicken pieces.  Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or so.

Heat up the oils in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (I use my jam pot for frying as well).  If you have a thermometer, heat the oil to 350 degrees.  If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test that the oil is hot by putting a drop of water into the oil. If it’s hot, the water will sizzle like crazy.  Once the oil gets hot, you can probably turn the heat down to medium high or medium.  Important: Don’t rush the oil.  Make sure it’s hot. If you put the chicken into lukewarm oil it will be gross and turn out all greasy and soggy.  At this point you should also preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

While the oil is heating, combine the ingredients for the breading in a large dish.  Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade.  Try to give them a good slosh around to make sure that you get lots of marinade on the chicken as you remove each piece. Roll around the chicken pieces in the breading, making sure to thoroughly cover each piece.

Once the chicken is breaded and the oil is hot, put the chicken pieces in the oil to fry.  Work in batches so that each piece is surrounded by plenty of oil- you don’t really want the pieces to touch each other while they’re frying.  Cook the pieces for about 10 minutes, until they’re looking nice and golden brown.  Transfer the pieces to a pan with a rack and put them in the oven to finish (The rack is important! If you put them right on a pan the breading will get soggy).  The chicken will probably need about 10 minutes in the oven to finish all the way, but the time will vary depending on the size of the pieces.  Check for doneness with a thermometer; it should read about 165 degrees.

______________________________________________________

For anyone cooking along with the cook it! 2012 resolutions:

To be included in the butter round-up, e-mail me (the jamgirl@gmail.com)

with a link to your post by April 15, 2012 at 12 PM (PST).

_______________________________________________________

*J. saw me putting bacon grease in the cooking oil and was skeptical, I believe based on health reasons.  It’s fried chicken though. It’s inherently not a healthy dinner choice.  Save healthy for a different night.  I usually advocate a diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and very little meat, but if you’re going to do fried chicken, you might as well just go for it.

**I used to cringe at the price of organic chicken, but then I tried it and realized it’s far superior to the conventional equivalent.  The meat is richer and… my friend Paula from Mendocino Organics described it as “more chickeny.”  They have a chicken CSA where you can get humanely raised delicious organic chicken, perfect for this recipe.

I Love Winter Gardening: Greens & Sausage Gravy

When I first started keeping a vegetable garden, years ago, I was mistakenly under the impression that you only can grow things in the summer, between the frosts.  Once I realized that you can grow vegetables year-round here in Northern California, I really fell in love with winter gardening.  There’s none of the concern about high temperatures and keeping everything watered,  and winter vegetables are quite happy to soak up the fog, rain and frosts, requiring almost no maintenance from me. There are a whole array of vegetables that have the potential to overwinter: all of the dark leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, beets, all of the alliums….  Between all of these vegetables and the winter squash in the pantry, there’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to eat out of the garden all year round.

Here at our farm, we grow lots of dark leafy greens.   I like to harvest them very small, as mixed baby braising greens.  I’ve found that if I plant them out into the garden during September or October, they have plenty of time to get established and start growing before the days get really short.  I’ll keep planting through the whole winter, but greens planted in December or January won’t really do much of anything until the days get longer, maybe late February. A few of the Black Dog Farm Winter Greens, clockwise from top center: Wild Harvested Miner’s Lettuce; Blue Curled Scotch Kale from Baker Creek Seeds; Toscano Kale from Johnny’s Seeds;  Scarlett Frills from Johnny’s Seeds; Red Chidori Kale from Territorial Seeds; Red Russian Kale from Baker Creek Seeds

So yes, we have a ridiculous amount of kale floating around the farm for the winter months.  One of my favorite ways to use it is in this really simple, fast meal.  There’s nothing all that revolutionary about this; it’s just mashed potatoes, steamed braising greens, and some delicata squash, all topped with sausage gravy. If you’ve ever felt ambivalent about kale, though, this is absolutely the way to go.  I eat a lot of kale and every once in awhile, my stomach says:

Those people are right.

This is foul.

If I eat any more kale, I’m going to die.

All it takes is the teeniest smidgen of sausage gravy to make a huge pile of steamed greens go from boring and gross to the star of the plate and completely convince everyone at the dinner table that it’s worth eating.  The other reasons I like making this? It comes together in just 20 minutes, it uses very few ingredients so I don’t need to have 900 things in the fridge to make it, it uses seasonal produce from the garden, and it has a way of perfectly walking the line between feeling healthy and filling.  (Sure, you can serve this exact same meal with fried chicken, which is awesome, and I’ve done many times, but that’s another dinner).

I don’t really feel like necessary to write out full recipes for this, so let’s do it this way….

Greens & Sausage Gravy, or My Feet Hurt But I Still Want Something Good For Dinner

cook time: 20 minutes

The components of this meal:

1. Mashed Potatoes: I’m sure however you make them is fine…

2. Steamed Braising Greens: maybe with a crushed clove of garlic thrown in the pot.  I don’t steam them very long, maybe 10 minutes,  just until they’re tender.  If you’re working with older greens, or tough varieties like collards, you’ll obviously want to cook them longer.

3. A Side Vegetable From The Garden: that’s delicata squash up in the pictures, sauteed in olive oil, but in the summer it might be sliced tomatoes, or a cherry tomato salad.

4. Sausage Gravy: I already wrote out the recipe I use in this post back here, about grinding homemade breakfast sausage.  There are a bunch of pictures and instructions for how to make good sausage gravy if you don’t know how.  For a fast week night meal, the only notes I would add onto that recipe is that you can substitute milk for the stock if you don’t have it on hand.  (And that you don’t need to grind your own sausage for the gravy to be good, just look for a basic flavor of ground pork breakfast sausage, not something with…. maple syrup, or hot peppers in it.  That might make weird gravy).

Cook it! 2012: The Great Pasta Round-Up

The first resolution of the new year is officially complete: pasta has been made, cross that baby off the list. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was absolutely blown away by the food that everyone made.

I know that making pasta can be one of those projects that, midway through, you start swearing and wondering why you thought it would be a good idea to attempt something so labor intensive.  I am so happy that all of you kept at it and made such delicious looking food!  I want to say some kind of cheesy food bloggy thing, something like “oooh that lasagna looks so good I can practically taste it through the computer screen” but that’s total crap. Looking at it doesn’t cut it at all, I wanna eat it!

Here are a few of the highlights, gathered together from all of the posts:

Here are the links to all the posts:

Lasagna, from Grow and Resist: reading this post made me upset, because it just made me really want lasagna, but not my stupid lasagna — I want Meg’s lasagna with those beautiful homemade noodles. Save me a plate, please.

Orecchiette al Sugo con le Polpetine, from The Wholesome Epicure: that sauce, oh my goodness….  This post also has the internet’s cutest picture of a sweet little kid making playdoh orecchiette.  Future chefs in training!

Orecchiette Bolognese, from the Kitchen Ninja: at this point, I’m basically just drooling all over my laptop.  Who doesn’t love a good bolognese sauce?

Ramen Noodles, from Oh, Briggsy: a dream bowl of ramen with all the toppings, all from scratch, all at home, no epic culinary pilgrimage to Momofuku required.  So impressive!

Rosemary Linguini with Caramelized Onions, Walnuts & Blue Cheese, from My Pantry Shelf: proves that you don’t need a pasta machine to make your own pasta from scratch.  Sage, rosemary, bay leaves, white wine, blue cheese = my kind of dish, for sure.

Ravioli, from Snowflake Kitchen: Kate, I am 100% sold on the ravioli mold, those look absolutely perfect. Also, I love the emphasis on fresh eggs, I completely agree.

Spaghetti & Meatballs, from Grow it Cook it Can it

Spätzle, from Homemade Trade: this post made me really want to visit Germany again…. or maybe just make the journey down to San Francisco and beg Aimee to make me some of her delicious-looking spätzle.  (When do we get the recipe for your mom’s goulasch? I want it! I am a junky for Recipes That Someone’s Mom Has Been Making For Their Birthday Forever.)

Stuffed Shells, from Homesprout: brilliant! with fresh eggs from backyard chickens and homemade fresh ricotta cheese.  Fancy restaurants wish they had stuff this good on the menu.

(Writing this post meant putting in nine billion links and pictures from different sites, actually reading e-mails and checking my inbox, and a bunch more… so please, if for some reason I’ve forgotten someone or messed up a link, or messed up giving someone credit somewhere, please tell me right away and I’ll fix it.)

Thanks everyone for cooking along.  Don’t forget, the February Cook it Resolution is all about bread making…. I made a couple loaves of sandwich bread but I’ve gotten my hands on a sourdough starter that one of my baker friends gave me, and there are all sorts of cookbooks spread out in the kitchen with different recipes I’m looking at and working on.  (Pinterest is all well and good, but what’s the point of bookmarking cool stuff if you can’t trash your house while you do it?)

If you’re just reading about Cook it! 2012 and want to join in the fun…. send me an e-mail at thejamgirl@gmail.com.

Happy baking!

Red Wine Braised Beef Shortribs

I knew I wanted to braise something with bones…Anytime you take a cut of meat that has lots of fat and big bones in it, cook it for ten or twelve hours with some booze and vegetables, it will be awesome.

I bought some beautiful grass-fed beef short ribs from John Ford Ranch at the farmers market, and I knew I had found the ingredient I was looking for.  In addition to having a velvety, luscious flavor and a beautiful rustic aesthetic, these red wine braised short ribs are also really simple to make and will make the people you’re feeding have happy bellies. This is a great dish to make for entertaining (since you do all the work in the morning), it makes the house smell amazing all day, there’s a really quick clean-up since it’s basically a one pot meal, and the flavor only gets better if you let the sit in the fridge for a day or two.

This is the kind of dinner I like to start in the morning, when the kitchen is still cold and dark and the sun isn’t even fully up.  It starts the day off on the right foot, saying:  today will be the kind of day that we will smell roasting things while we do our work, and we will take the extra care to sit down for a meal in the evening.  If I wait to make dinner until the end of the day, it can be hard to find the energy and inspiration.  Usually, my feet just hurt from working and I’d rather have a bowl of cornflakes.  (Oh my god, we even had macaroni and cheese from a box this week! Shocking, right? I had turned about 100 lbs. of citrus into marmalade that day and the idea of cooking dinner made me want to stab myself in the eye.)This meal was so good and I think everyone should make it, so I’m forcing myself to write a recipe.  I don’t think braises should be precise recipes, though.  They’re more of a technique that you can adapt to pretty much anything.

  • Season the meat.
  • Sear the meat in some kind of fat.
  • Take the meat out of the pan and saute some chopped vegetables in the fat.
  • Deglaze the pan with some kind of booze or stock.
  • Add the meat back in. Make sure everything is just covered with stock or some kind of cooking liquid.
  •  Cook it in the oven for a really long time (5-10 hours) on low heat.
  • Serve over something like mashed potatoes, polenta, noodles, rice, etc., maybe topped with some kind of cheese

I love this technique of cooking, and I do it often during the winter.  Osso Bucco is another one of my favorite braises, and so is this Wild Duck alla Cacciatora.

Red Wine Braised Beef Short Ribs

Cook Time: 10+ hours (active cooking time: 25 minutes)

Serves: 2 with leftovers

Ingredients:

  • 3 beef short ribs
  • 1/3 c. flour
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 1 leek, cleaned and diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • a big sprig of fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2-1 bottle of dry red wine (however much you’re willing to sacrifice into the pot and not drink yourself — a whole bottle is great, but then there’s none left for the cook)
  • water or beef stock to cover, about 4 cups
  • salt and pepper

If your short ribs have any huge chunks of solid fat on them, trim it off.  Don’t go too crazy, though, because the fat is what makes these so good.  Heat the olive oil in a fairly large pot or dutch oven on the stove top, on medium heat.  Season the short ribs with salt in pepper and dredge in the flour. Sear the short ribs in the olive oil so they’re nicely browned on all sides.  Remove them from the pan and set on aside on a plate.  Add the chopped vegetables, fresh herbs and garlic, season with a sprinkle of salt, and saute until everything is slightly translucent.  Add extra olive oil or butter if the pan is too dry and they start to stick or burn.  Turn the heat to high, and once everything is really sizzling like crazy, pour in the red wine.  Add the short ribs back into the pot.  Pour in enough stock to come to the top of the meat.  Put in the oven, uncovered, for anywhere between 3 and 10 hours.  At three hours they should be fine and tasty but by 10 hours you’ll roll your eyes and make silly noises when you taste it.

Once you get to a point where you want to serve the meat soon, take the pot out of the oven.  Use a slotted spoon to lift the short ribs out of the sauce and set them on a plate.  Put the pot on the stove top and turn the heat to high to reduce the liquid down to just a couple cups.  Once it’s reduced, puree the vegetable/broth mixture with whatever tool you puree things with in your kitchen. (If you’re working at the French Laundry or you have the Obamas over for dinner that night, you can strain this puree through a chinois to make it perfectly smooth.)  Season the sauce with salt and pepper.  Add the meat back in to the sauce and serve.

Serve over polenta and top with parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.  I like a simple butter lettuce salad with a basic mustard vinaigrette for the side dish; I think the sweet lightness of butter lettuce is a good counterpart to the richness of the short ribs.

Like I mentioned earlier, this dish holds incredibly well in the fridge.  You could easily cook it for a dinner party the day before and then just heat it up when you’re ready to serve your guests.

Shrimp Po’Boys

These sandwiches are so, so good.  I don’t usually post dinner recipes; the light is horrible in my kitchen at night, and I rarely plan in advance enough to make things during daylight hours that would be nice to photograph.  These sandwiches are the exception, though.  They’re way too good not to share. You know that thing, with really, really delicious foods, where you get a bite and it totally transcends anything you’d find in the individual ingredients?  To give you a more specific example: I remember one night in particular, when we were out in San Francisco and we’d just left a concert.  We were far from sober, which of course, meant that the next stop was Taqueria Cancun on Market Street for burritos. There it was, that magical bite of food.  That bite of avocado, melted cheese, rice, beans, fresh salsa, cilantro, all of it — in that one taste.    And then the drunken moans about how good burritos are.  And then, just a few minutes later, all of us wandering back out into the night, ready for more.

(This sounds like a love note to burritos.)

This is about more than that, though.  I want to write something eloquent about street foods here, but the best way to explain it is that every city has some kind of food that you absolutely have to eat when it’s the middle of the night and you’re really intoxicated.

Sure,  you don’t have to be intoxicated.  It could be two in the afternoon and you could be stone cold sober when you eat these.  They will still be delicious. Shrimp po’boys remind me of many happy nights out in New Orleans.  I’ve actually also had some pretty good ones in Key West, which isn’t too shabby as a vacation destination either.  We haven’t gotten away anywhere in quite awhile now, and, while I’d rather hop on an airplane an get a po’boy in a place where the weather’s a bit warmer, realizing that I should just make some vacation food for us while we’re here at the farm was like a revelation.  Whether it’s San Francisco burritos, New Orleans po’boys, New York pizza, or whatever you love: If you can’t make it to where the food is, why not bring the food to where you are.  Fried Shrimp Po’Boys

Since I hadn’t actually made these before, the recipe is kind of pieced together from several different sources- Emeril’s Creole Seasoning, Hank Shaw’s remoulade recipe, and my boyfriend’s crazy cooking skills.  (After managing a seafood restaurant for many years, he can fry the hell out of a shrimp…)

Serves: 4

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

For the Fried Shrimp:

  • 1 lb. shrimp, 26-30s (mediums) peeled and deveined, tails removed
  • 1 can of beer
  • 2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 c. fine ground cornmeal
  • 1 tbs. garlic powder
  • 1 tbs. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • Canola oil, for frying

Cajun Spice:

  • 2 1/2 tbs. smoked paprika
  • 2 tbs. garlic powder
  • 1 tbs. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbs onion powder
  • 1 tbs. cayenne
  • 1 tbs. poultry seasoning (or really whatever you have with some thyme or oregano in it)

Remoulade:

  • 1 1/2 c. mayo
  • 1/4 c. dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp. dill pickle juice
  • 1 tsp. tabasco sauce
  • 1 tbs. smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp. cajun spice
  • juice from one wedge of lemon (or to taste)

To Make the Sandwiches:

  • 4 sandwich rolls, french bread style
  • 2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
  • 1/4-1/2 head of iceberg lettuce or green cabbage, shredded
  • tabasco, to taste

The summary: Shrimp seasoned with cajun spice get dipped in a beer batter and then rolled in a cornmeal breading, then deep-fried.  Then you put ’em on a roll with lots of remoulade, hot sauce, lettuce and tomato.  The actual process is quick, if you make sure you set it up right. More specific instructions:

In a small bowl, mix together the ingredients for the remoulade.  Set aside.  In another small bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the cajun spice.  Set this   aside too.  In yet another bowl, this one medium sized, stir together a beer and 1 1/2 cups of flour.  This will be the beer batter. It should be pretty thick, similar to pancake batter. Set it aside.  Rinse the shrimp.  Put them in a bowl and season them with 2 tsp. cajun spice.  Mix well.  Set aside.  Next, make the dry cornmeal breading by whisking together the rest of the flour (3/4 c.), cornmeal, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper.  Put this breading mix in a large, shallow dish.  Set up one last big plate or lined cookie sheet to put the breaded shrimp on before the go into the fryer.

Put about an inch of canola oil in a large cast iron skillet and turn the heat on to medium-high.  If you have a thermometer, the oil should read around 350 degrees.  Make sure the oil is hot before you put in the shrimp.  If you don’t have a thermometer, you can put a few drops of water in the oil. You’ll know it’s hot if the water sizzles like crazy.

Dip each shrimp in the beer batter first, then roll it in the dry breading, then set it on a plate.   Once all of the shrimp are breaded, they’re ready to be fried.For one pound of shrimp, you’ll probably need to do two batches in the skillet so they’re not too close together.  Fry each batch until they’re nice and golden brown.  Put the finished shrimp on a cookie sheet lined with paper towels so the breading doesn’t get soggy.

To assemble the sandwich, spread remoulade on each side of the bun.  Lay out the lettuce, then the sliced tomato, and then the fried shrimp.  Throw a little tabasco on there if you want it to have some extra kick.  Then, the most important step of the whole process: press down on the finished sandwich to smoosh everything together.  I have no idea why this really matters, but somehow it all just comes together after you do this.  It’s magical.

Serve immediately, preferably with a cocktail.

Rumtopf Shirley Temples
I have a batch of rumtopf in my pantry.  It’s a fermented fruit & booze concoction that’s pretty amazing.  You can use the fruit for all kinds of desserty projects, and the boozy part is great in cocktails.  I’ve only made it once, and it pretty much tastes like strawberries since I put in too many.  If you want instructions, read here from the Hungry Tigress or here from Well Preserved.
Makes: 1 cocktail
Cook time: 3 minutes?
Ingredients:
  • ice
  • rumtopf
  • a splash of grenadine, either a fancy artisanal brand or the usual stuff with the red #5 in it
  • sprite, or some kind of fancy organic no high fructose corn syrup equivalent
Put a few ice cubes in a pint jar. Pour in an ounce  or two of rumtopf.  Pour in a splash of grenadine.  Top with sprite.  Mix well.  Drink.  Repeat.
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Oh, and in case you noticed, yah,  I used a lot of non-local, non-seasonal stuff in these recipes.  A girl can’t be perfect all the time…  Every once in a very long while, I think it can be nice to tell the kale to shove it and eat a tomato instead.

Cook It 2012: January Resolution

About a week ago, I wrote a post about making kitchen resolutions to learn new skills and techniques during 2012, along with an invitation for any other inspired cooks out there to join me in doing the projects.  After many interested e-mails, I’m happy to officially commit to 12 months of kitchen resolutions, nicknamed Cook it! 2012.

So here’s the plan:

Every month is a new project.  I have little or no experience in some of the techniques I’m going to focus on, but I really like eating all of the foods I’ve jotted down on my list, so I’m hoping to learn how to cook all of these things at home.  There are a couple techniques that I’ve got on the list that I already have experience doing, but I want to get to a more advanced level with them.

At the beginning of the month, I’ll announce what the project is, and post recipes, pictures, and instructions I’ve found helpful.  If you want to cook along with me, you’ll have one month to tackle the resolution in your own kitchen.   Cook something in the same category that I’ve made, but not the same exact dish.  If you have a blog, write a post detailing what you made along with any pictures and recipes you want to share.  Before the deadline, e-mail me (thejamgirl@gmail.com) a link to your post and I’ll write a little roundup of everything.  If you don’t have a blog, you are absolutely, 100% still invited to participate.  Instead of e-mailing me a link to a post, just e-mail me a picture of what you made and I’ll put together a photo gallery of everybody’s work.

There’s no need to cook every single project if you don’t have time, so no stress about that.  Just have fun.
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If you’re going to participate, e-mail me with your blog url (if you have one, or e-mail address if you don’t) at thejamgirl@gmail.com by January 31st to join.  The deadline for this project will be February 15 at 12:00 PM (PST).

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All that being said, I think it’s about time to get to it.

COOK IT! 2012 JANUARY RESOLUTION: MAKE PASTA FROM SCRATCH

So, you know that stupid face that so many of the cooking show hosts make when they finally taste what they’ve been making? The face that’s like “…oh, yeah baby, eating this grilled chicken makes me feel like I’m licking Ryan Goslings abs!” It’s ridiculous.  And usually what they’re tasting is something really mundane that definitely doesn’t look like it should be inspiring those fluttering eyelashes and throaty moans.

I’m really embarrassed to say it, but when I tasted my finished project, I totally made that stupid face.  I think I may have, um…. I think I grunted.  It was something like, “uuummmghhhpffohhhhgod,” with my mouth still full of noodles, of course.  It was the pasta of my dreams.When I was plating everything up, my first reaction was more along the lines of “I’m glad this worked since I want to really want to write about it on the internet” but then I had a bite, and … oh god…  It was so good.  Drop-everything-you’re-doing-immediately-good, the kind of taste that, in the blink of an eye, makes you evaluate your culinary career thus far and rethink what direction you want it to head in (namely, one involving more fresh pasta).   The texture of the fresh spaghetti, made with only semolina flour, eggs from our hens, salt and a little spring water, is mind blowing.  Using pastured eggs gave the noodles this buttery, velvety richness that I’ve never found in any other pasta, including “fresh” ones from the grocery store and even farmers markets, (and I’m not just speaking in food-blog-hyperbole, where every bite of food is the most delicious thing ever cooked in the history of cooking.)

I’ve been wanting to learn how to make pasta forever, and really just needed to spring for the pasta machine.  I was worried that it would just be another appliance that sat around the kitchen gathering dust, but after that first bite of noodle glory, I can guarantee that it will see plenty of use.  The machine I got is an Atlas, which worked like a charm. There are a variety of pasta-makers on the market, and this is on the lower end of the price range, around $60.  (I don’t have any opinions on other models since I haven’t used them).  They seem to come in all shapes and sizes, including really fancy ones that attach to kitchen-aid mixers so you don’t have to do any of the hand-cranking that this model requires.  Most of the machines follow the same pattern, where you make the dough first and the machine does most of the actual work of kneading, stretching and cutting the noodles.

Pastured Egg Pasta Dough Recipe

This is adapted from a recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which has a really helpful section about making fresh pasta.

Makes: about 1 lb. of pasta

Cook time: about an hour

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. semolina flour
  • 2 extra large eggs (or the biggest eggs your hens have laid that day), at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • about 1/4 c. water
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Make a well on the counter with the semolina flour.  Put the eggs, oil, and salt into the hole in the middle of the flour.  Use a fork to break up the yolks and start stirring everything together, gradually pulling in the flour from the edges of the well.  Bring in as much flour as you can with the fork, and then start kneading together everything with your hands.  If the dough is dry and won’t come together, add in a teaspoon of water at a time and keep kneading until it forms a ball. If the dough is too wet, add some flour.  Once the dough forms a ball, knead it for another 3-4 minutes.  Cover, and let rest for 15 minutes.  Continue according to the package instructions with whichever machine you use.

For more visual people: Use a fork to break up the yolks and start combining the flour into the egg mixture.  It helps, after mixing with the fork, to stick your hands right in the flour and egg mix to gather everything together.  This was the point in my recipe where I realized that farm eggs don’t always come in the traditional “extra-large” sizes that recipes often call for.  There definitely wasn’t enough moisture from my Medium-Largish size eggs, and my dough was quite dry and crumbly.  I just added a lot more water than the recipe called for in this next step, which didn’t seem to matter.  Next time, I’m going to try adding an extra egg so I don’t have to use as much water.   To get the dough into a ball, just keep kneading it together with your hands.  (It should be fairly dry and not stick to your fingers at all. Add some flour if it does.)Knead the dough for a few minutes to make it pretty smooth, then form it into a ball and let it rest, covered, for 15 minutes.

Once it’s done resting, roll the dough out a little to help it fit into the pasta maker.After this, it’s just a matter of following the instructions for whatever pasta maker you have.  The Atlas that I own has you repeatedly feed the dough through an opening that flattens and thins it out into a long sheet.   My dough wanted to fall apart a little bit when I first started, but I just kept folding the sheet in half or thirds and feeding it through the machine.  After a few turns through the rollers, it started holding together nicely. Eventually, the dough gets to the proper thickness for the noodles.  Cut the long strip of dough into 10″ lengths.  Use a knife to cut wider noodles like pappardelle or tagliatelle, or use the cutting attachment on the machine for thinner ones. Hang the noodles to dry for an hour or two.  I used hangers instead of a real pasta drying rack, but you have to cut them on one side with wire-cutters so the pasta slides off without breaking.  To go with the spaghetti, I fancied up some canned tomato sauce from our summer garden and made meatballs vaguely inspired by Saveur’s recipe here.

Spaghetti and Meatballs 

serves: 4

cook time: (not including making the pasta) 45 minutes

Ingredients:

for the sauce-

  • 2 quarts of canned crushed tomatoes
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 c. red wine
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste

for the meatballs –

  • a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • about 1/3 lb. ground beef
  • about 2/3 lb. ground pork
  • 1/4 c. ricotta cheese
  • 3 tbs. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 c. breadcrumbs
  • 1 tbs. garlic powder

1 lb. fresh spaghetti

For serving: 1/2 c. chopped parsley, 1/2 c. parmesan cheese

First, make the sauce.  In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the onions and garlic and saute until they’re translucent.  Turn the heat up to high and get the pan really hot, then pour in the red wine.  Add the crushed tomatoes, parsley and bay leaf to the pot and bring everything to a simmer.  Turn the heat to low and cook until thickened.  If you like smoother sauce, puree with whatever appliance you own to puree things like this- blender, food processor, immersion blender.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Now, make the meatballs. Combine all of the meatball ingredients except the olive oil in a mixing bowl.  Gently work everything together.  Form the meat into whatever size balls makes you happy.  Heat up the olive oil in a skillet and brown the meatballs on all sides.  Pour the tomato sauce over the meatballs and simmer for about 30 minutes to cook the meat all the way through.

Cook the spaghetti in a pot of liberally salted boiling water.  The fresh spaghetti cooks up in a matter of minutes, so make sure not to overcook it.  Drain, and combine with the sauce and meatballs.  Garnish with cheese and parsley and serve immediately. One last note:  If you want to do this month’s resolution, you don’t necessarily have to buy a pasta maker. There are a lot of recipes that don’t use a pasta maker that I have bookmarked to try, like the Roasted Garlic Orechiette from Well Preserved, Pumpkin Gnocchi from Local Kitchen , or maybe these homemade egg noodles topped with beef stew or a mushroom stroganoff.  I still remember the späetzle I ate in Munich thirteen years ago, and you definitely don’t need a pasta maker for those.  (Drenched in a rich, meaty brown gravy, this might be the recipe I need to recreate at home next. They were amazing).  Happy Cooking! Remember, carbs don’t count if they’re completely from scratch.