Monday, October 27, 2014

Back to the fire: Italian beef soup

We spent a day traversing parts of Wisconsin for our recent anniversary, and when we stopped for lunch, I ordered an Italian beef soup to go with the de rigeur fried cheese curds.

Tangy, beefy, with a hint of tomato, and, I believe, a bit of hominy, it was excellent. It was so good, we decided that would be our first fire soup of the season.

If this is your first time here, you should know we cook a ton of soup over a fire with a tripod, chain and Dutch oven. If you check the recipe index, you'll find a rather lengthy list of soups. A bit unorthodox, sure, but the sheer flavor of soup over the fire is amazing.

So no wonder we are back at it, I suppose.

We got a wonderful beef chuck roast at the butcher's, and I used about half for this, with a plan to use the other half in the crockpot for regular Italian beef.

The recipe I started with came from Cooking Light. Now, I knew I wanted to add hominy, and probably a bit of celery, so already the ingredient list became longer. I stifled the urge to put in kale — constant battle — but decided to add a bit of beer along with the red wine.

We actually had most of the ingredients on hand, which is a shocker, so the only other thing I added was Worcestershire.

All you need:

1/2 onion, chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 lbs. boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed and cut into cubes
Salt and pepper
1/2 c. red wine
3 1/2 lbs. chopped tomatoes
2 c. beef broth (I use Better Than Boullion) plus 2 additional cups
1 c. beer
1 t. oregano
1 t. thyme, ground
1 bay leaf
1 8-oz. package baby bella mushrooms, sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1 T. basil, or 2 T. fresh basil
1 t. parsley
1 can hominy, undrained
Dash worcestershire

All you need to do:

Prepare fire and put tripod in place.

Heat a saucepan to medium and add 2 T. olive oil. Trim and cut beef into cubes, then toss with flour, salt and pepper. Brown lightly on all sides, and put into Dutch oven.

Chop and add vegetables, then add to pan. Saute five to ten minutes, then remove to Dutch oven.

Deglaze pan with red wine, scraping bits with a wooden spoon. Add to Dutch oven.

Add remaining liquids except additional 2 cups beef broth,  and spices to Dutch oven.

Place over fire, and cook for about 40 minutes, pausing to stir every 15 minutes, and add more broth if necessary.

If cooking on the stove:

Follow above directions, eliminating additional beef broth, and put in oven-appropriate* Dutch oven. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 45 minutes, checking vegetables as needed.

The additional liquid may seem excessive, but when cooking over fire, may become necessary, especially if you get an errant log determined to engulf the oven in flames. It happens.

Serve with fresh beer bread or biscuits. Enjoy!

*I should mention that I use an enameled Dutch oven on the stove, while I use a cast iron Dutch oven with a handle over the fire. Just an fyi in case you don't want to sacrifice your enameled version!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Peach and blueberry cobbler on the grill

Well, the hatch chiles have been roasted and frozen for winter chili. I've done some more canning - bread and butter pickles this time, which were so much better than expected. We have gone through half a jar on hamburger sliders, while I ate the other half out of the jar, and now the last of the cucumbers will be pressed into service to make sure we have enough for the winter!

So, with all the canning slowing down, and the huge basement cleanout about over, it's time for recipes. We have been hitting the grill pretty hard these days, making up time from this past winter.

I'd heard you could put fruit and things into a Dutch oven and put it on the grill after dinner was cooked, and after a while, instant cobbler. So, I decided to test the theory.

I'd stocked up, inadvertently, on peaches and blueberries, and thought I might as well combine the two for the experiment.

After tossing the fruit with cornstarch, I topped the pairing with a crumb topping and melted butter. Then added the lid, and set it on the cool side of the grill to do its work.

Wasn't I surprised after dinner! Not only did the cobbler turn out bubbly with a crispy topping, it turned the inside of my Dutch oven... blue. Ah, well.

This is a great thing to put together on any night you plan to grill out for dinner. It cooks quickly, and would feed 4 to 6 if stretched, although that might require ice cream, and may also result in battles over portions, etc. Do what you will, but make sure to have plenty and eat it the day of or day after -- it won't — and shouldn't — last long!

All you need:

A hot grill, with the charcoal pushed to one side.
2 peaches, diced (I didn't bother to peel them)
1 pint blueberries, washed and dried
2 T. cornstarch
1/4 c. sugar
Dash cinnamon
1/2 stick butter, melted

Streusel topping
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. oats
1/2 stick butter, cut into pieces
dash cinnamon and kosher salt

All you have to do:

Place fruit in Dutch oven and stir in cornstarch. Mix topping in separate bowl and cut in butter until crumbs are the size of peas, then pour over fruit. Melt butter and pour evenly over topping. Top with lid.

(I should mention here that my Dutch oven has a cast iron handle, not plastic. If you're nervous about putting a plastic handle into the hot grill area, you might remove that first. Your call.)

Set the covered Dutch oven on the grill, and let cook for about 20-30 minutes, depending on the heat of the grill. It's done when the fruit is bubbling, and the topping is browned. Carefully remove with big ol' oven mitts, and let cool about five minutes at least.

Serve with ice cream!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fall: A sabbatical

Well, it's been awhile.

I could say it's because we haven't been cooking, but that would be a lie. In fact, we made the best seafood stew ever the other night, and didn't even bother to write down ingredients or take photos, or do anything, really, but just enjoy sitting by the fire. And eating.

Which, actually, was pretty great!

The truth is, I've been busy at work, and traveling. These were snapped at the side of the road en route up the Appalachians. When we haven't been traveling, we've been busy with a few things. Namely, freezing leeks and kale from the garden, which we finally unearthed. Cleaning gutters. Painting. The aforementioned seafood chowder — here's an approximation. You know, the usual fall stuff, minus the pumpkins, etc.

In fact, our sum total of fall activities has been planting two red mums. Alas. There are recipes on the way, though. A great on-the-grill cobbler, an Italian beef stew, that sort of thing. Keeping it in the road until next time...

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Right now, I have several jars of salsa and dill pickles on my table. I also have a boiling water burn, three broken jars in the garbage and a churning dishwasher. Must be canning season.

I've done the salsa before and I use the recipe, more or less, out of the Better Homes & Gardens Canning special edition magazine that came out a few years ago. The recipe has variations for pineapple salsa and salsa verde, which I make at the end of the year, provided I have enough green tomatoes and jars to go around.

I also use Hatch chiles. I bought two bags this year, thinking I'd have enough to roast and freeze. Guess I'll be back at the store soon.

The pickles were new. We planted one (One!) cucumber plant, and hit the jackpot. In addition, a friend of mine gave me cucumbers and tomatoes out of her garden, instantly doubling all the recipes.

I used the dill pickle recipe out of the same magazine, and it was shockingly easy. The hardest part was determining which size of cucumber slice should go in which jar. But the brine was a cinch. Here's the recipe if you're interested.

I wish I had more photos for you but I was working pretty hard just not to injure myself. It should be said that canning is not for the faint of heart or short on time. Between sterilizing jars (10 minutes each) cooking the salsa (2 hours) and processing the filled jars (15 minutes for each jar), the morning went fairly quickly. The afternoon, too. That said, pretty cool to see the fruits of your efforts. Back soon with less injuries and more recipes!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Lunch: The most important meal?

Lunch used to be a challenge for me. I would get takeout multiple days in a row. Then I'd pack a lunch, and either had too much or too little to eat. Then I'd hit up the vending machine.

Then I visited my sister. And I watched how she packed lunch for my three nieces who are always on the go. Each had her own lunch bag, and a set of plastic-type things that went in it. One even had a hot-food container. Then she added these flat ice packs, zipped up the bags, and away they went.

And all I could think was, "Man, I want one of those!"

So, I went on Amazon, and got myself a fun little lunch bag (here's a similar one), some plastic boxes and a set of those fancy flat ice packs. The plastic set included a sandwich-sized box, a half-sandwich box, two small dip boxes and an ice pack that fits the lid. Genius.

And ... I bought a Funtainer.

The Funtainer is easily my favorite. It holds hot food and keeps it warm until lunch. It also does not leak when stored on its side, which is a miracle in itself. I did not buy the Star Wars Funtainer, although, clearly, that would be even more fun. Perhaps too much ...

The Funtainer.

Here are a few examples of lunches I've packed with this set. Some days I include a breakfast option, as I tend to graze throughout the day, depending on my schedule:

Banana bread; green peppers; hot pasta casserole

Hot buttered veggie elbow noodles; carrot sticks; pepper slices; hummus

Ham and cheese with mayo, mustard and tomato on wheat; cucumber slices; blueberries

Granola; almond milk (in the Funtainer); turkey and cheese wrap; celery sticks

Chicken, avocado and cream cheese wrap; cucumber slices; blueberries; breakfast bar

Soup; crackers; peapods; ranch dip

Leftover pizza slice; red pepper slices; chocolate; fried rice (It was junk food day.)

The thing about investing in a lunch-type set like this is that it seems kind of ridiculous at first. People use grocery bags and takeout containers all the time, and we do, too. In fact, I like to say the Chinese takeout place has pretty much provided us with our go-to leftover containers.

However, having items that fit specifically into a cooler bag with ice packs does a few things:

1. It keeps food at the proper temp. Safety first!
2. It makes you plan ahead, so it's one less thing to think about in the haze of work frenzy.
3. It makes you take time to think about, and take care of, yourself, your health and your mental wellbeing.

For me, it's helped a lot in that I have spent much less on lunch, and I feel like I'm eating a lot healthier. I also enjoy the sense of ritual of this meal that we've left off, somewhat, in society. Meals are meant to be savored, even in 10-minute increments!

So, lunch. Get yourself some!

Note: None of the companies linked or mentioned have any idea I exist, so no sponsored posting here. Just opinions, all my own. I did spend a fair amount of time researching the products, though, so I feel like they are good things!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Daily grind: Oat breakfast bars

It's true that much of the dark-roast beverages I post on here look much like this:

Yes, that's a Milk Stout from Left Hand, at Left Hand! Ah, memories... 

However, I'm convinced that is because every time I take a photo, what I've just put down is this:

Strong brew. It's what's for breakfast.

Call it an addiction, call it what you like, but as for me, I call it an alarm clock. You may also know this as "coffee".

Recently, I've started stopping at Dunn Bros. every so often, and I've developed a thing now of maybe sometimes needing a little snack to go with my daily grind.

Like, you know, a granola bar. But with chocolate. And without that rice puff stuff.

They happen to make and sell some homemade bars of awesome that really fit this bill, and it's getting to be a bit of a problem because I kind of want them all the time.

So, I thought I'd make them.

It turned out to be more of a challenge than I thought. I knew it had oats. Pretty sure on the peanut butter. But what the heck is the rest of that stuff?

I found a lot of recipes on the Internets, which were helpful, particularly one from Messy Baker. It's definitely a recipe you can make your own!

However, the key was in the grind. By grinding some of the oats and all of the flax seed, I managed to find the texture I was going for -- thick and chewy with a hint of chocolate.

I used a small coffee grinder and it worked perfectly. I only did the oats and the flax seed for a few seconds each.

Fyi, if you normally use your coffee grinder for spices, you can clean it by grinding a teaspoon of rice in there between grains, spices, etc. Works a treat.

So there you go -- breakfast bars for your daily grind!

Oat breakfast bars
Makes 8 bars

All you need:

1/2 cup old fashioned oats
1/2 cup old fashioned oats, ground lightly
1/2 cup flax seed, ground
1 cup coconut
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

All you have to do:

Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Mix ingredients together in a large bowl with a wooden spoon. Spoon ingredients on one side of the lined pan. Then, using your hands, pat the mixture down, using the rim to help form the bars.

When I did this, I used a regular cookie sheet, and the mixture filled a little less than half the pan. You want the bars about 1/2 an inch thick. 

Chill the bars for about an hour, then cut and wrap bars with plastic wrap. Store in fridge for about a week if they last that long!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Curry risotto with chicken, zucchini and peppers

We tried to go to our favorite Indian restaurant this week but it turned out they were closed on Tuesdays. We substituted with Jimmy Johns, which, while good, is not the same. Not even remotely the same, no matter how good the salt and vinegar chips are.

Suffice to say, the craving for curry was not satisfied. Over the past week, I'd pored over a few recipes for risotto, chicken curry, seasoned basmati rice, etc., and then the other night, I decided to throw caution to the wind.

Thus, curry risotto.

I used chicken we grilled earlier in the week, and bought coconut milk, limes and arborio rice on a whim. I'm versed in coconut milk thanks to this wonderfully refreshing concoction from Smitten Kitchen, and have decided the A Taste of Thai brand is where it's at. The ingredient list is super short, always a good sign.

After that, it was a matter of vegetables, and we had a half a dark red pepper and a zucchini left. We've been trying to hit the farmer's market most weekends, and one of the vendors has these deep red beauties, which seduce me every time. Juicy, sweet -- it's a vegetable version of plums. But I digress...

One surprising ingredient was a touch of sugar. I tasted what I thought was the final product, but the curry flavor wasn't quite what I expected. I realized what was missing was a sweet note. The sugar did the trick. I actually used Splenda, so a sugar substitute is just fine.

Sadly, we didn't have any leftovers. Which is unfortunate, because I'm positive this must taste delicious cold as well. Ah well. More risotto in our future, clearly.

Here's the recipe -- we didn't pair this with anything, just forks and ravenous appetites!

Curry risotto with chicken, zucchini and peppers

All you need:

3 c. water
1 T. Better Than Boullion chicken base
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 c. arborio rice
1/2 c. white wine, preferably Chardonnay
1/2 zucchini, chopped
1 1/2 c. cooked cubed chicken
1/2 large red pepper, chopped
1 1/2 to 2 t. curry powder
pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 c. light coconut milk
juice of 1/2 a lime
zest of 1/2 a lime
1 T. minced fresh basil or 1 t. dried basil
1/2 t. salt
pinch black pepper
1 t. sugar or sugar substitute

All you have to do:

Heat water to boiling, and add chicken base. Alternatively, heat 3 cups of ready-made chicken broth in the microwave.

Heat oil and butter in a large skillet on medium-heat. You'll want plenty of room for all the ingredients. Add minced garlic and saute a few minutes. Add rice and stir to coat, then let heat for at least five minutes or so. Rice is ready when the grains are translucent and display a white dot in the middle.

Add white wine, and let cook down, stirring occasionally. Add 3/4 cup of the broth, and let the rice absorb the liquid. The risotto is ready when a wooden spoon drawn across the bottom of the pan creates a visible streak.

Here is the risotto right after adding the liquid.
It looks like far too much, but it will absorb into the rice and vegetables.

Once the first addition of broth is absorbed, add the chopped zucchini and 3/4 cup of the broth. Let absorb, stirring occasionally. Then add the chicken and another 3/4 cup of broth, letting it absorb again. Stir mix, making sure all the rice is below the liquid. Then add the red peppers and the remaining broth.

Here is the risotto with the liquid beginning to be absorbed.

Once all the broth is absorbed, turn down the heat to low. Add cayenne and curry powder and stir. Add coconut milk and stir. Add in lime juice and zest, salt, pepper and the fresh basil, and taste. Then add sugar to taste.

Turn off heat and let curry risotto sit for a few minutes to cool down and let the flavors meld. Serve garnished with additional snipped fresh basil. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Gardening: Just add rain

Perhaps you remember,  months ago, when we started plants indoors.

And then, when we planted things outdoors and they actually grew(!) in the soil and didn't immediately die. Well. Most of them, anyway.

And then, after it warmed up a bit, we had rain. For days. And a smidgen of sun. Then more rain. Then, we had even more rain, even though we were pretty well set on the rain deal.

What I'm trying to say is, we have the most impressive crop of weeds I've ever seen. Granted, the veggies are bringing their A game, but I'm telling you, it's a battle out there. The peas are killing it, and the onions are even growing larger than golf balls, which has been as far as we've gotten in the past. Our tomatoes are fighting with blight at the moment, but we are working on it. More on them later. In the meantime...

... there's enough roughage to sink a tank. Suffice to say, we're all set with kale. Every two weeks I've been picking the leaves, cutting out the tough stems, washing them twice to get off the buggies, then preparing them for the freezer. I blanch the leaves in boiling water for about three minutes, then putting them right into a big bowl of ice water for another few minutes. Then I put the leaves on clean towels to dry, then place them into plastic zip-top freezer bags and press to get out the air. I'm hoping this works.

We have high hopes for the Brussels sprouts. They have teeny tiny sprouts growing, so we just have to wait.

These leeks are our newest experiment. Sadly, the seedlings did not make it, so these guys are plants we bought at the farmer's market. Sometimes, the plants just work better than the seeds.

That was not the case with the beets, however. This big guy is the star of the show. We're hoping there's a lot of beet under these leaves! Roasted beets are one of my favorites.

So, if we're not in the house making jewelry, we're weeding. Forever. Or eating up some of our bounty. Or cutting up others' bounty from a recent trade. I sense a rhubarb pie in my future...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A formula for dinner on the go

I've been working on jewelry lately, and haven't had much time for cooking. Whatever is in the fridge becomes dinner, which has made for some interesting combos. Almost everything, for a time, ended up in the oven, covered in cheese. I've probably posted some version of this sixty times here, but why not...

This seems to be a formula that works. It has all the necessary materials -- protein, veggies, cheese, sauce. I've also taken to using the green peppers and onions that were previously roasted via skewers on the grill, and that's been a great addition.

I'm also not averse to canned items. I think the enchilada sauce does well here, and while you certainly can make your own refried black beans, cutting out the extra step can help.

Finally, fresh spinach or spring-type lettuce, well, that is just the icing on the cake here. I have some kind of mystery green I planted in the garden this year, and I've been using that as well. Can't for the life of me remember the name of it -- looks like a type of chard -- but anything in that family should do well here.

So, when you're at the witching hour, with nay recipe at hand, throw it all in. You can always order pizza....

Empty the fridge dinner

1 lb. ground beef or steak, browned and drained
1 large Russet potato, baked in microwave for 5 min., then chopped
½ tomato, diced
½ green pepper, diced
½ onion, diced

Fresh spinach or greens of choice
1 can refried black beans
1 T. cumin
2 t. Greek seasoning
Salt and pepper
1 cup enchilada sauce
Small corn or flour tortillas
2 cups shredded cheddar or Monterey jack
Avocado - optional

Preheat oven to 375.

Brown beef; drain; wipe out skillet; sauté green pepper and onion, and add potato, tomato and greens. Add meat back in, and add seasonings. Add the enchilada sauce and stir.

Brush tortillas with oil. Fill with a spoonful or two of refried beans, and then the meat filling. Top with cheese, roll up and place seam-side down in greased pan.

Top with remaining cheese and bake for 10-20 min., depending on how crispy you want them.

I used six small ones in a 9-in. square pan, but I had enough filling for a 9x13 pan. Feed the masses!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Meatballs and a Pinterest project

For the past year or so, I've been making these meatballs roughly every two months from the same recipe, and I haven't told you about it, which is a crime, because they are the best meatballs I've ever had.

I think I first had them at a potluck of sorts, and then asked a co-worker for the recipe, which turned out to be gluten-free. There's a tomato sauce recipe that goes with them, but I haven't made it that far. The meatballs had me at hello, I guess.

Anyway, the gluten-free part is nice, but it's the mix of herbs and spices that steals the show. These blend beautifully with tomato sauce, but can stand on their own without any problem. A meatball worthy of the name.

I've tweaked the recipe and also screwed it up enough times now that I have a few dos and don'ts for this one. One, do use a mixture of ground beef and ground sausage. Two, try the almond meal instead of breadcrumbs. Three, don't leave out the cinnamon. Four, make plenty!

Meatballs, adapted from The Chestnut Inn cookbook
Makes about 32 1 1/4 in. meatballs

1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. mild spice ground sausage
1 cup almond meal (for gluten-free meatballs) or breadcrumbs
1 T. cilantro
1 T. oregano
1 T. kosher salt
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. coriander
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. cracked black pepper
2 eggs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine everything in a bowl and mix well, adding more meal or breadcrumbs if needed. I use a 2 T. scoop to make the meatballs.

Coat a large shallow baking pan with oil, and place meatballs at least 1/4 to 1/2 inch apart. Bake at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes.

You can freeze these and then reheat in the crockpot or microwave, or in spaghetti sauce. I've also used these with a barbecue sauce and grape jelly mixture for appetizers.

Recently, I used the meatballs to make meatball sandwiches for dinner. After the meatballs were done, I turned the oven down to 300 degrees. Then I toasted the buns on my flat cast-iron skillet. I added four meatballs to each openface bun, topped it with Hunt's tomato sauce and shredded colby and Monterey jack cheeses. I baked the sandwiches for about 5-10 minutes, and then served with additional sauce. Good stuff!

P.S. A Pinterest update:

In the name of trying new things, recently I made homemade soap from a recipe posted by Bonnie Projects. The recipe worked well, it smells great, and I filled a ton of jars for less than $3.

However, I have to tell you, now I think I know what they used for the ectoplasm in Ghostbusters. The resemblance, while nicely fragranced, was disturbing. That said... if you're in the market for a way to convert bars of soap into liquid soap, Bonnie Projects can help you out. (One down, 1,000 Pinterest projects to go!)

Friday, April 18, 2014

Orange chocolate chip pound cake

One of the best holiday cookies I've had was an orange shortbread dipped in dark chocolate. Which is why, I suppose, it wasn't a stretch to add chocolate chips and orange zest to a pound cake.

I made three pound cakes last weekend, and this was the experimental one. I followed, more or less, the Lemon Poundcake recipe I've posted before, but did variations on the theme with lemon, lime and orange.

The process of doing three at once meant lots of zesting, measuring, sugaring and flouring at once. The kitchen went into processing mode pretty quickly.

The egg and butter levels in the counter area were staggering. There were also small bowls of freshly squeezed juice, waiting in the wings...

Then, finally, it was time to bake.

This goes together pretty quickly. It's the baking you have to allow time for. Normally, these cakes take about 90 minutes, and then need to cool for 20 to 30 minutes. The good news is, they freeze beautifully and thaw overnight in the fridge. 

Orange chocolate chip pound cake

You'll need:

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. kosher salt
2 sticks salted butter
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
2 T. orange juice
1 T. orange zest
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips

All you need to do:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9 in. by 5 in. loaf pan, and line with wax paper. Butter the wax paper, also.

Whisk dry ingredients together in a smaller bowl and set aside. In a standing mixer, mix butter until creamy, about 2 min. Then add sugar and mix to combine. Pause and scrape the sides of the bowl. With the mixer on low, add the eggs one at a time. Then add the juice and zest.

With the mixer on low, add flour mixture 1/4 cup at a time. When all the flour is mixed in, stop the mixer. Stir in chips by hand.

Pour mixture into loaf pan, and bake at 325 degrees for 90 minutes, rotating halfway through. Let pan cool for about 20-30 minutes. De-pan to cool completely. Once cooled, wrap in plastic wrap, and store in a gallon-size ziptop bag. You can freeze this bread, well wrapped, for at least a week, and probably a month, I would guess.

If you like, mix powdered sugar with orange juice to create a glaze. Or, melt chocolate chips and a little canola oil in the microwave, then drizzle over cut slices of cake.