Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Little This and That...

Tomorrow we are taking off for Eastern Europe for 3 weeks! This is a trip my husband and I have been planning and talking about for 22 years. I can't believe it is finally happening. I thought I would get one more post in before I leave as you won't hear from me again for awhile. I will be having a blast, but suffering from food-blog withdrawl. Hopefully I will take in lots of flavors and tastes and new treats to bring back to you.

A few weeks ago I made some hot pepper relish from peppers I grew in my little garden this year and it turned out pretty good so thought I would share it. What I liked about this relish was the blend of spicy hot pepper with a little sweet. It has lots of flavor and is easy to make. I have been making it just as the peppers ripen. Making one small batch at a time is much easier than dealing with a bushel of hot peppers.
I used a combination of green and red cayenne peppers. You can also add a green, red, orange or yellow bell pepper to tone down the heat.

20 -25 peppers, seeded with white inside spine removed (that is really hot!)
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp. salt, plus 1/4 tsp.
1 cup cider vinegar
6 packets Stevia or regular sugar

Seed and core the peppers. DO NOT RUB YOUR EYES while doing this or after. In fact, I recommend safety glasses. Seriously. I sliced one of these peppers in half and juice came back and hit me right in the eye-ball. It felt like my eye had been pierced with a hot needle. Not nice. I now wear my glasses when I make this hot relish. Put peppers, onion and garlic through a blender or mini-max and chop until quite fine. Be careful when removing the lid of the blender as the fumes really waft out.  Place pepper mixture in a saucepan and cover with water. Add 2 tsp. salt. Let stand for 10 minutes. Drain off water pressing on solids to get out as much water as possible.  Add 1 cup cider vinegar; 1/4 tsp. salt; sugar. Simmer peppers for 20 minutes. Ladle into jar(s) pressing down as you fill so liquid covers the peppers. Wipe jar rim and adjust lid. You can either process to store or keep in the refrigerator without processing for about a month. (I don't think this stuff could ever go bad.)  To process: Place in a boiling water "bath" for 15 minutes. Start the time once the water boils. I have already given several jars as gifts. Just make sure the recipient likes it "hot" before offering!

A few years ago we started doing the South Beach diet every January to lose some of that holiday weight and I found this recipe in South Beach which we use often.  We use many South Beach recipes throughout the year, but go 'hard-core' in January!

Portobella Pizzas can be filled with whatever topping you would select for pizza with crust; just use the mushroom AS the crust. Last week I decided to make homemade red sauce as my tomatoes are really coming into their own. The fresh tomatoes give the sauce a very bright flavor that is so much bigger than using canned tomatoes and canned paste, but they are not always available so using canned tomatoes are still far superior to store-bought jars of sauce.

20 plum tomatoes
2 big tomatoes (I used the Mountain Prides from my garden.)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Salt/Pepper to taste
Fresh Basil, Oregano, Rosemary at your discretion. I like heavy on the basil/oregano; a pinch of rosemary
4 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
Minced dried onion
Pinch of hot dried pepper flake

Fill a large saute pan with salted water.  Bring to brisk boil.  Carefully drop the tomatoes into the boiling water to just barely blanche until their skins start to pop. As soon as you see one skin split, pour off into a collander as the others should follow. Let them sit until they are cool enough to handle. Peel the tomatoes. In the same large sauce pan, lightly saute the crushed garlic in olive oil; add the tomatoes and gently smash them with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until they are flattened; add minced dried onions; herbs; salt/pepper; pinch of red pepper flake and let cook down until it is sauce-like consistency--about 2 hours. Stir every once in awhile and continue smooshing the tomatoes so they begin to disentegrate as the sauce cooks. I like sauce a little chunky, but if you prefer, you can blend the sauce to make perfectly smooth. This sauce also freezes very well.

For the Portobello Mushroom Pizza:
Wash mushrooms by brushing off the outer skin with your fingers or a pastry brush. Remove the stem and any black edges so you have a nice deep 'well' for your ingredients.  Add a layer of red sauce, and whatever toppings you like.  I used sauted sweet Italian sausage, thinly sliced yellow and green peppers, garlic, onion and topped with both mozarella and parmesan cheese.
This picture DOES NOT do these pizzas justice! They look and taste much more delicious than this!
Truly amazing twist on traditional pizza!!

Place on a flat pan and bake for about 20 minutes. If the cheese is not bubbly, put under the broiler for a minute or two. I serve 2 mushrooms per person, which sounds like a lot, but there are no carbs in this meal (except for the veggies). These "pizzas" can also be cooked on the grill.
We recently had our new neighbors, Karen and Dave, over for cocktails. They were going out of town the next day so I wanted to make appetizers heavy enough to count as dinner so they would not have to go home and cook. This is what I did...


This is kind of a play on my Southwestern Chicken Thighs stuffed with avocado and wrapped in bacon that I talked about last time, but it is done as a 'bite' so makes a great appetizer.  It does not really need a recipe.  Clean a bunch of chicken thighs and cut into 1 1/2 inch chucks.  I planned 3 'bites' per person/1 'bite' per skewer.  Marinate the chicken bites in olive oil, freshly chopped garlic, salt, pepper for a couple hours or all afternoon. Cut thickly sliced bacon in quarters by cutting in half lengthwise and widthwise. Stretch it out a bit and wrap 1/4 piece of bacon around each chicken thigh. Soak the wooden skewers for a couple hours in water. Skewer the chicken by piercing both sides of the bacon to keep the bacon intact around the chicken 'bite'.

Make the avocado crema (previous blog so go to the Search Engine, top left on the actual website: www.cookwithcindy.com and search for Avocado Crema and it will take you right to the recipe-I use it myself!). The only difference is with these appetizers I topped the crema with crumbled bacon.

I wanted to grill these kabobs, but it was pouring so I got the broiler hot and grilled inside under the broiler, about 5 minutes each side until bacon was super crispy.  When broiling inside you just have to be careful not to catch your skewers on fire!


This is my take on Crab Rangoons, but they are not deep fried and as the name implies made with shrimp; not crab. Of all the apps I served that night, these were by far my favorite.

1 extra large jumbo shrimp per rangoon or 2 smaller shrimps per rangoon
1/2 package puff pastry, thawed
1/2 lb. Cream Cheese

1/2 package puff pastry makes 9 rangoons. I planned 2 per person so I had one left over to sample since we had 4 people at this party.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Shell and devein shrimp. Boil in a spicy broth. I used water to cover, 2 pieces fresh lemon grass, 2" chunk of fresh sliced and peeled ginger root; pinch of hot pepper flake; dried garlic; dried onion. Boil until the shrimp are just pink--3-4 minutes. You can boil your shrimp in any herb or spice you like, but this blend worked well. Let cool and then chop. Since I was making 8 for company, divide your portions appropriately so they fill puff pastry squares equally.
Flatten out each piece of puff pastry with a rolling pin or use your fingers. Place a piece of cream cheese on the bottom of the pastry. Put the chopped shrimp on1/2 side of the pastry and top with another piece of cream cheese. Carefully fold the pocket over into a triangle and pinch edges together. I think the beauty of this appetizer is its simplicity.  I would prefer a bit more heat, but was not sure how the crowd would react. You can goop it up with all kinds of things and it would probably be just as delicious, if not more! Experiment and let me know what you come up with!

Place the rangoons in preheated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown on top.
Shrimp Rangoons ready to bake on greased foil lined baking sheet.

I popped them under the broiler for 1 minute after they were baked to really brown up the tops and decided to serve with no sauce to keep them very simple. They were a big hit!

Next I served a smoked salmon dip with crispy pita pocket triangles, some simple sausage kabobos, and mushrooms stuffed with sun-dried tomato Boursin cheese.


This hors'doeuvre echoed the shrimp served in the first hors d'oeuvre course. Here's how to make it...take 5 slices of smoked salmon (preferably wild salmon) and mash it with a fork. Add 1/2 pound cream cheese and mash it all together. Add 1 Tbsp. of capers and some black pepper. Top with finely chopped chives and let set for an hour or more to allow flavors to blend. To make the pita chips, cut pita pockets (I used whole grain pockets with flax--yum! yum!), into triangles. Spray with PAM and top with onion/garlic seasoning. Put under the broiler and crisp until browned--it just takes a couple minutes.

Next in our line-up of 'Hors'Douevres as a Meal' were Sausage Kabobs...what could be easier.

Cook all ingredients a little bit before you skewer. Use any combination, but I took green and yellow pepper, cherry tomatoes and sweet Italian sausage. Get a pan very hot with a little olive oil and drop in sausage stirring to release some fat, add peppers and cherry tomatoes. Cook for 2 minutes. Cool. Cut sausage into bite sized pieces and skewer with the veg. I had also planned to grill this, but New England weather did not allow, so I put under the broiler for about 4 minutes on each side and served.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Clean and stem mushrooms. Coat the bottom of a baking dish with a little olive oil. Roll mushrooms around, both sides to coat with a little oil, sprinkle with salt/pepper. Fill each cap with a generous teaspoon of sun-dried tomato Boursin cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes until the cheese gets bubbly and the mushrooms look done. Top with some chopped basil.

I actuallly had more food than necessary (what a surprise!) and the neighbors left very satisfied!  The whole plan included fish, meat, veg, cheese, and of course a couple cocktails!--a complete dinner!!

Thank you dear readers so sincerely for cooking with me once again.  I love talking about food and love cooking even more.

I am off on an adventure of a lifetime and look forward to sharing stories of lands I have never visited.  I don't think I will have much opportunity to cook, but sure do plan to eat!

Until next time, enjoy YOUR time in the kitchen, entertaining friends, family, and most of all being a complete free spirit when it comes to cooking!

Tune in again for another episode with:


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee!

It's Sunday morning, Labor Day weekend, beginning of a new month, second day into a beautiful Blue Moon, and I am thinking about breakfast. I prefer to eat breakfast after waking gently over a cup of coffee. On the weekend I like to eat brunch rather than breakfast and sometimes have it with a Bloody Mary.
Try garnishing your Bloody with different toppings such as draping a shrimp cocktail over the glass or skewer a combination of cocktail onion, cornichon, olives and roasted red pepper. Another fun combo are pickled mushrooms and fresh cherry tomatoes.


Here are two different BREAKFAST SANDWICHES

This wonderful blend of flavors goes very well with a Bloody Mary. Lightly fry an egg over easy. Try not to break the yoke. Top with a handful of fresh spinach and a generous amount of crumbled feta cheese.  Put a lid on the frying pan to steam the spinach and slightly melt the cheese. To make this sandwich even better, butter 2 slices of whole grain bread on both sides and fry it until golden brown. Serve the egg on the fried bread along with a small green salad.


Slice a few pieces of proscuitto into strips and fry it as you would bacon until it is nice and crispy. Toast a slice of bread (or fry it as above) and mash 1/2 of avocado on the bread. If the avocado is very ripe you can do this with the back of a spoon so there are still some chunks in the avocado. Top with a couple strips of proscuitto, egg fried over easy and a couple more pices of proscuitto on the top to garnish. Easy and delicious!

I have always wanted to make my own sausage and finally tried making it using a recipe from Alton Brown. I made this pork sausage pretty much just as the recipe called for, but next time I would add some fennel seed. I would really like to try some exotic sausage and stuff into casings, like smoked duck with apple or chicken sausage with sun-dried tomato and fresh basil.

2 pounds pork butt (I used ground pork as it came from the store)
Alton calls for cutting into 1/4 inch dice
1/2 lb. fat back, diced into 1/4 inch pieces. (Because I bought my pork already ground there was plentry of fat in it so I skipped this ingredient.)
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp. finely chopped sage
2 tsp. finely chopped thyme
1/2 tsp. finely chopped rosemary
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. red pepper flake

Combine diced pork with all other ingredients and chill for 1 hour. Using the fine blade of a grinder, grind the pork or as I did buy it already ground. Form into 2 inch rounds. Refrigerate and use within 1 week or freeze for up to 3 months. For immediate use, saute the patties over medium-low heat in a non-stock pan. Saute until brown and cooked thoroughly, approximately 10-15 minutes.
This plate could use a sprig of parsley or something to brighten it up!


These eggs are so yellow because they are farm fresh eggs. To make perfect scrambled eggs, lightly beat 2 extra-large eggs in a bowl, add a slight pinch of salt, and a scant 1/4 cup either milk or water. Beat lovingly with a fork until mixed. Get a non-stick frying pan sprayed with a little cooking oil hot and pour the eggs into the pan. Turn down heat to medium right away. Twirl the pan, but do not stir the eggs. When the edges of the egg start to thicken up, then you can very gently start folding the egg onto itself. Keep folding until it is cooked-3 to 4 minutes. The eggs will look soft and hold together well. That doesn't sound like much time, but the eggs keep cooking when you take them off the heat. Overcooked scrambled eggs are not good. I served with a few slices of avocado and a heated whole grain tortilla.

This is what I ended up making for breakfast this morning. It was absolutely yummy!! Start by laying out 4 pieces of smoked salmon/2 slices per poached egg. My tomatoes are just ripening so I include them with almost every meal. Slice a few tomatoes, sprinkle with coarse sea salt and garnish with a sprig of basil. To poach the eggs, fill a frying pan with water nearly to the top, add 1/4 cap of vinegar. Any vinegar is fine, but tarragon infused vinegar adds a very subtle flavor. This keeps the eggs from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Bring the water to a roiling, but gentle boil. Open each egg into individual small bowl or custard cup. This helps keep the egg intact as it hits the boiling water. Gently pour the egg into the water and poach until the white firms up. Skim water over the top of the eggs as they poach to form a "skin" over the yoke.

I use a fine mesh spoon to remove the eggs from the water and place on the smoked salmon. Carefully wrap the salmon around the poached egg. This is easier than it sounds. Lay the salmon encased egg on a piece of toasted rye bread. Garnish with chopped chives and a caper berry if you like.
I do not have a picture of this granola, but I want to include it because it is a delicious recipe and can be added to or changed any way you like to include your favorite fruit or nut.  It keeps well in a tightly sealed glass jar or container and also makes a great gift!  This recipe makes about 10 cups.
4 cups old fashioned rolled oats
2 1/2 cups sliced almonds
1 1/2 cup sweetened flaked coconut
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup golden raisons
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a large shallow baking pan with foil and oil the foil. Toss together oats, almonds, coconut and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together oil and honey, then stir into the oat mixture until well coated. Spread mixture in baking pan and bake, stirring occasionally until golden brown, 25-30 minutes. Stir in cranberries and raisons, then cool completely in pan on a rack. It is important to put the cranberries and raisons in after the granola has baked. Once when I was making this I added all ingredients by mistake, including fruit, and then baked for 25-30 minutes. The fruit gets too cooked. The cranberries actually got a little burned so best to remember to add after baking.
Now you decide what you want to include: pecans, prunes, wheat germ, brown sugar or agave nectar instead of honey...whatever you like best.
This dish is also versatile and lends itself to many different combinations of breakfast meat, cheese or all vegetarian. It is prepared the night before and then baked in the morning, which makes an easy breakfast if you have a crowd. Once it is baked the bread disappears into the egg. It puffs slightly as it bakes and is light and richly flavored.
6 eggs
2 cups milk, half and half, cream or a combination
1 lb. grated cheese-I used cheddar
6-8 slices (depending on how meaty you want it) thick-cut bacon
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
3 shallots or 1 small onion, sliced
1 loaf French bread
Liberally butter the bottom and sides of a baking dish. Cut French bread into 1/2 inch slices and butter each side of the bread, then cut into 1 inch cubes and place in a large bowl. Cook the bacon until it is crisp. Remove from the pan and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Add shallot or onion, mushroom and saute until cooked. Beat the eggs with an electric mixer, add milk or half and half. Add the bacon, veg, cheese and the milk into the bowl with the cubed bread. Mix well together and put it into the buttered baking dish. Cover with foil and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, let sit on the counter for about 1/2 hour to come to room temperature. If it looks dry, add a little more cream to the top. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the eggbake in the oven and cook for about 35-45 minutes. It is done when a knife inserted in the center comes out clean; same as testing doneness for a custard.  Cut into squares and serve.
I am going to conclude with one of my favorite breakfasts...
I was making this breakfast for my friend Diana one morning and she came up with the Rabbitt Hole name!
Now that is a serious face! I served Eggs in a Hole with big, fat breakfast sausages. To make the eggs, cut a circle out of each slice of toast. You can use a cookie cutter or small juice glass; whatever you have handy to remove the center. Butter each side of the bread and the hole. Fry both sides of bread and hole and drop an egg onto each piece of bread. Let it cook for a couple minutes then very carefully flip the whole piece of toast so the egg finishes cooking.
OK! That's better...now I am having some fun!

As you can see I don't often make sweet breakfasts, much to my husband's dismay. Occasionally I will make waffles which are especially good stuffed with a sweetened cream cheese and topped with strawberry sauce and fresh sliced strawberries. You can also turn the Eggbake into a sweet breakfast. One of my Mom's favorites (she had a huge sweet tooth!) was Yankee French Toast, which is also made the night before, but instead of savory ingredients uses sugar and bakes up more like a custard. We often would have Yankee French Toast on Thanksgiving or Christmas morning.
Thanks for sharing breakfast with me!
I had so much fun this morning talking about breakfast. Enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend and I will be back to you soon!
To see some of my previous food ramblings, go to: