Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Bark

Last year, while desperately trying to make candy for Christmas like my mom used to (she was a master candy maker) I discovered how easy it is to make Peppermint Bark and how delicious it is. A sure hit as a gift.  This year I decided to get a little more creative and with the help of my youngest daughter came up with a couple new recipes.  I realize these recipes already exist out there, but we just made these up as we went and made up our own versions. 
First we made the traditional Peppermint Bark. 
We tempered - melted slowly in the microwave - 12 oz of semisweet chocolate - 1 minute at a time at 50% power, stirring in between.  You can do this on the stove top with a double broiler.  I spread this out on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and put in the refrigerator to harden.
Then we tempered 12 oz of white chocolate.  Be sure to get good quality chocolate.  The cheep stuff doesn't melt right and will affect the texture of your bark.  And it burns easily.  While I was melting the chocolate my 8 year old was violently smashing peppermint candies.  I mixed 2/3 of these into the melted white chocolate and spread it evenly over the top of the now hard semisweet chocolate.  Then sprinkled more broken peppermint candy pieces on top and put this back in the refrigerator to solidify into bark.  The amount you put in your chocolate is really to taste in my opinion.  We probably put about a half cup of crushed peppermint candy into the white chocolate. 

Next we made butterscotch bark - two different ways.  The first one was:
12 oz of butterscotch chips tempered
about 1/2 cup of pretzels crushed and mixed into the melted butterscotch - I would increase this next time.  Butterscotch is super sweet and this really needed some more pretzels to balance it out. 
I spread this out on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and topped with crushed coffee flavored toffee candies that my 8 year old had crushed. Placed into the fridge to harden.

The second version was 12 oz of butterscotch tempered and about 1/2 cup of crushed roasted salted peanuts mixed into the melted butterscotch.  This was spread on parchment on a cookie sheet and topped with crushed hard butterscotch candy and placed in a fridge to harden.

The last bark I did was a lemon bark.  Once again I will reiterate - get good white chocolate for this.  If you use the cheep stuff it won't melt properly.  It will get grainy and eventually burn. 
I tempered the white chocolate and put a few drops of lemon extract into the white chocolate.  I spread it on parchment paper on a cookie sheet and topped it with the shattered lemon drops that my daughter had vigorously worked on.

The next morning I pulled all of my cookie sheets out of the fridge and broke the bark into pieces and placed into on of my trays and took it to work to test it all on my co-workers  It had already received a thumbs up from my girls. 

I think next time, not only will I use better white chocolate for the lemon bark, I may use lemon zest instead of lemon extract and crush the lemon drops down to smaller pieces. 

All and all, it all turned out delicious. So this is what I took to work:
And ended up coming home with a empty tray.  Most people preferred the peppermint bark over all.  Those with a real sweet tooth loved the butterscotch bark, and those who didn't have so much of a sweet tooth, avoided it like the plague.  The lemon bark was favored more then I expected it to be, so I'm happy it came out ok in spite of the not so ideal chocolate I used.

So I hope this gives you the basis to make you're own bark.  It's really an easy thing to make when all ingredients are of good quality. So good luck and enjoy.  Let me know who yours comes out - and if you experiment with the recipe I'd love to hear what you've come up with.
Have a very Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Grocery Oultet Shopping

On the weeks I don't have my girls I have a tendency to drag my feet going home.  I do have my dog and cat to get home to, but it's just not the same as coming home to my girls, so I linger.  I'm always grateful for extra work at my job on those days and I'm more than happy to stay late, and have managed to put in a few 12 hour days lately.  It is a little weird leaving City Hall at 8 pm on a night when there are no council or committee meetings.  It's eerily quiet, and the streets of Eureka have an underlying feel of danger that time of night.  So, I rush on, but not to home.
My next stop is usually Target, Walgreens, or a grocery store, like Rays, Eureka Natural Foods, or Grocery Outlet
Tonight, it was Grocery Outlet.  I love Grocery Outlet on the nights I'm lingering.  Their stock changes frequently, so there is always something new to look at.  They have a great wine selection, their beer selection is improving, and so are their organic products.  Their cheese selection has always been impressive.  I've always found little oddities there - like Hellman's Mayonnaise - the East Coast version of Best Foods -  and things like "whole grain" pop tarts.  Just things I'm never going to find in a Safeway on the coast of Humboldt County.  So I tend to roam up and down every aisle taking my time knowing there are no humans in my house to come home to.
So tonight's adventure through Grocery Outlet ended up being a nice little foodie adventure.  First I found these:
The thing that grabbed my attention with these interesting little packets of mystery was that they were Indian food, which I LOVE!  But how good could it be in a little plastic packet that resembles something you would take back packing?  (These would be awesome to take camping by the way - no refrigeration required - just throw the package in boiling water for 5 minutes and pour in a bowl and eat! Easy Peasy!) I figured at 99 cents a piece - I could take one of each home.  The only one I didn't buy was the basmati rice.  I have basmati rice at home that I can cook in 15 minutes - but if I were camping - I'd probably buy the Veetee packaged rice, especially at 99 cents a package.  (Each package is 3 servings - at 100 calories per serving) I will let you know at the end of this post  if it was really worth buying any of these.  

The next bizarre thing I saw tonight - and this really grabbed my attention after making my own ketchup - I started thinking, "Now why didn't I think of that when I was making my own?  Damn!"
I've never seen this in a store before, and yes people were looking at me funny for taking pictures of grocery items.  But hey!  It's Eureka!  How can I be any stranger then all of the other Lost People Of Wal Mart living in the land of the Wal Mart Free Zone? So who cares?

And this one. Yeah this one.  I never thought I'd see this in any small town Northern California grocery store.  We have more than our fair share of crazy vegetarians and vegans - as in zealots -  - and just plain queasy city folks who don't get what some folks, especially small town/ country people see in eating this stuff (It's called using the whole animal - not wasting any of it - it's a GREEN thing to do. ) And believe me - I'll eat most of any animal - I've eaten brains, liver, heart, kidneys...... but I haven't done this one....

I have to say, I'm not willing to take that particular food item on.  As far as cooking it anyway. There you have it folks - you've seen my limit.  Don't get me wrong - I'd eat them - that is if someone else -  who knows how to cook this stuff - cooks them for me.  Chitterlings  - I just don't think I can bring myself to buy a 4 lb bag of them and cook them up into a tasty meal - I don't know how and I'm not sure I could keep from vomiting while trying to do so - and I know my co-workers don't want me bringing this stuff to work to share - .......wait a minute - what a great Halloween idea........... Ok.... no.... stop.....bad idea!
So I finally got home sent a few texts to my love and my cousin, threw in a load of laundry walked my dog and wrapped my youngest one's birthday present.  Finally time to eat.  I had originally planned to do this whole baked dish thing for diner, but by the time I got done with all of my lingering and distractions it was way too late for that,  so what to eat? what to eat?.....hmmmm

Why not?
Let's try one now.....
Palak Paneer.  Part of the Veetee collection of Indian Food.  Spinach and paneer flavoured (that's how they spelled it) with fenugreek leaves.  This is what it looked like after boiling in the package for 5 minutes and putting it into a bowl:

Not too appetizing huh?  I agree - but the smell!  The smell was incredible!  My mouth was watering the second I opened the package.  It was very easy to get past the disturbing green color.  The smell wasn't a let down.  It tasted as good as it smelled and the texture was a pleasant surprise.  Velvety, and the cottage cheese was not rubbery.  It was really hard to believe that what I was eating came out of a little "boil to taste" package.  I was expecting drab, dry, gross backpacking type food.  Creepy, cheesy, wanna be Indian food in a package.  But I should have known it would be ok and the instructions said:

" Cooking Instructions"

"On the Hob......"

One good thing I got out of having been married to a Brit - I know what that means.  Do you?

So I do not regret buying the little Indian packets of food and cannot wait to try the other packets.  I highly recommend them.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Final Grilled Cheese Challenge

Ok, here it is, my horribly edited, too much me and not enough of my kids Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup Challenge.  I must apologize for my poor editing.  I was really struggling with the program and this is what I ended up with - so I hope you can enjoy it at least a teensy weensy bit. 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato Soup Entries

I've been meaning to get these posted for a while now.  Well, my life, my sadness, sometimes takes over, and things don't happen as they should.  I'm working past my sad for today.  Not sure how that's going to go, but here we are....
I'm not sure of the best way to do this, so I'm going to wing it.  I'm going to list my suggestions one by one, as they came in with a  nickname - and I think everyone who entered will know who they are.  I'm going to keep it very simple! 

So! Here we go!

1.  Miss Julia: 
    Sourdough buttered for grilling then add mozzarella and white cheddar, smoked provolone, or maybe goat cheese be sure to add prosciutto.  Serve with Safeway's Signature Tomato Basil  Bisque.

2. Joshie!:
  Onion Rye bread with Dubliner Cheese and Corned Beef - no soup recommendation

3. BF Karen:
   American on buttered 100% all wheat served with Campbell's Tomato Soup

4. Penguin:  White bread with American Cheese and oleo - add some fried balogna - no soup recommendation

5: Julie girl:  Sarah Lee bread, real butter, sharp Tillamook cheddar for the sandwich. Serve with Progresso Tomato Basil Soup.

6:  NancyW1.  Use left over taco meat or chlli.  Campbells tomato soup.  Add taco meat and cilantro, 1/2 can milk of half and half. Serve with grilled cheese that has been buttered on both sides of sourdough bread.  Grill one side of each slice with Pepper Jack Cheese.

7: Medfordboogirl:
Wheat bread, lightly buttered and Tillamook Cheese.  Soup:  Organics Tomato Soup with peel and orange added and placed in food processor - also mix with a pinch of salt, pepper and fresh basil.

8: Jamie D.  The lightest coating of mayo inside each slice of wheat bread.  Grilled brown on the skillet over medium heat, with butter on the bread.  It's optional to add grilled ham on the inside. Serve wtih ketchup/mayo/ Sirracha sauce - use America cheese.

9: Pirogue Girl (MH):
 White Bread, American Cheese , fried in butter and served with Campbells Tomato Soup

10:Weizenheimer:  White Bread, Kraft American and Campbells

And finally - the last entry:

 Sue Baby the Alaska Girl:
Rye Bread with whatever cheese you have available, preferably Tillamook or pepper jack or a combo.  Start cooking the Sandwich open faced buttering the downward slice of each piece of bread.  It's important to put extra butter on the side to grill the ring of onions you will slap in the middle before you close the sandwich.  Along with those perfectly caramelized rings of onions
 add a large slice of tomato sprinkle in garlic powder and fresh ground pepper.   As for tomato soup - any kind is enhanced by simply swirling a dollop of sour cream or cream cheese and topping with fresh herbs, dill, basil, oregano or thyme. 

So there you have it.  Feel free to comment on the list - I hope to have a poll set up soon! 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cooking Therapy - it doesn't always work

I used to have a friend who suffered from depression.  Usually alcohol induced depression.  We are no longer friends, not because of her depression, but because she let me down in a way no friend should ever let a person down.  When I look back at her sad pathetic days I would get so frustrated with her for not getting out of bed.  She would tell me that I just didn't know what it felt like.  Well, how wrong she was.  The only difference is she had the luxury of staying in bed.  I on the other hand am a mother, and that was never an option for me.  Until now.  I am now divorced and split custody of my girls with my ex.  So there are weeks I am alone.  Very alone.  So what do I do when I'm having one of those bad days?  If it's not a work day where I can go bury myself in my job, then I find something else to bury myself in.  Cleaning, gardening, and mostly cooking.  I have to say some of my most creative and challenging dishes come out of those depressed days.  And I usually feel at least somewhat healed by the end of my cooking therapy.  But yesterday the cooking therapy failed me.  Sometimes you just need friends instead. 

After more effort then I can explain to get myself going I pulled together all I needed to make blackberry scones with berries I had  picked the day before, butter, tomato chutney and ketchup.  Well, this is as far as I got:

Blackberry scones and homemade butter. 

The lug of tomatoes I bought on Saturday are still sitting on my kitchen table next to all the ingredients needed to make Tomato Chutney.  I went to bed worried that they will rot before I find time to get back to that project.  Today I go back to work and will be burying myself in my new job.  I'm hoping the tomatoes can wait until my next long lonely weekend.  It was all I could do to pull these two things together yesterday.  I ended up in bed by 5:30 pm and awakened by dreams of falling over waterfalls in a kayak at 4:30 am.  I did wake up very happy to have homemade blackberry scones and homemade butter for breakfast, and feeling a little better about myself for, at the very least, accomplishing those two things in spite of my difficult and lonely day.  Now I have the guilt weighing on me for not posting grilled cheese sandwich recipes as I promised, and gearing up for the taste testing I hoped to have set up for this weekend with my girls.  But guilt seems to be a good motivator for me, so I'll go with it. 

So yesterday, cooking therapy did not lift me out of my dark mood like it usually does.  Some days friends to lean on, a good cry and a very long night of sleep are the only things that work.  Next weekend will be a full one now. Making sandwiches and soup, taste testing and judging, and maybe I'll wow my kids with some homemade ketchup and have some tasty spicy chutney for myself. 

No time for sleeping in, no time for depression.  Plenty of time for cooking.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Tomato Soup.

I'm not sure what inspired me, but I've decided to start a little challenge.  I've put it out there to all of my friends and acquaintances to send me their grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup recipes.  Anything from Velveeta cheese and Campbel'ls soup, to caviar and truffles is welcome.  One thing that grabbed me was a sandwich involving gorganzola cheese and tomato soup with coconut milk.  So if you're out there reading my blog, please send me your favorite comforting grilled cheese sandwich and/or tomato soup recipe - or something tomato related as well.  I'll post your recipe here on my blog, and I'll choose a select few, or have you all vote on them, and I'll cook up, and test out those recipes and post the results on my blog. If some of you who live close by want to be taste testers let me know. 
Ok, here we go!  Bring on those recipes!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Summer's Bounty

Today is the first annual National Can It Forwad Day.  Canning is taking on a resurgence these days.  People are looking for a way to eat fresh local produce year round, it's a good way to control the contents of their food, and it's a great way to stretch a dollar.  I'm not canning today, but I am admiring the colorful stack of full jars of pickles and jams sitting in my kitchen today, from the previous two full weekends of canning.  I'm so proud of my work over the last two weekends so I'm going to share all my hard work with you here today. In honor of National Can It Forward Day.

The first thing I do before canning is peruse my canning bible Putting Food By by Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg, and Beatrice Vaughan.  I love this book, it explains all the basics of canning and has some great recipes.  It's a must have for canning.
And this year my canning session was inspired by the August 2011Bon Appetit.  There was a great article in this months magazine called The Preservation Society about a group of Los Angeles friends who gather to preserve their summer bounty and to create a sense of community.
And yet another inspiration for my canning, and this book will be an inspiration for a great many things, because it rocks like Iron Maiden, was this awesome book that I splurged and bought for myself.  Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen.
This book is worth a whole separate post, but for this post, just know that there is an incredible ginger rhubarb jam recipe that I used.  A recipe that made my kitchen smell amazing!

So, the first thing I did was take a walk over to the farmers market in Old Town Eureka on my lunch break on the Tuesday before I started my first round of canning and picked up a flat of these beautiful local strawberries.

These babies were so aromatic - the entire office was engulfed in the sweet smell of strawberries.  It was all I could do to keep my co-workers out of them, and even harder to keep my 7 year old daughter out of them on our way home - so I had to relinquish a few to keep the peace.  The next thing I did was pick up some more jars - which I just never seem to have enough. If you're in need of canning supplies, I highly recommend Fortuna Ace Hardware.  I like to go in the Fortuna store and just stare at their full aisle of canning supplies and drool.  It's my toy store.

Next was setting everything up, and getting everything clean and sanitized.  Getting it all in order so that once I got started it would all fall together and run smooth.  I did all of this canning by myself, so I need to be organized in order to not make a huge mess and to keep everything clean and safe.
My mom's hot water bath canner.  I treasure this.
First I did the strawberry jam.  It was an old style recipe with no pectin that I got from my Putting food By book.  And no, you don't need pectin - the jam will come out fine.  It's easier than you think.

My kitchen smelled like summer - the only thing that smells more summery would be the smell of fresh cut grass.

The next day a local neighbor of mine brought over some of his home grown rhubarb, so I said I would can it for him if he'd let me keep some of it, which he was more than happy to do.  So I have now officially defiled page 447 of my new Forgotten Skills of Cooking cookbook.  I can now turn straight to that page because it's been gooped up with my cooking.  I love my goopy cookbooks.
Nearly 4 lbs of Rhubarb, cut fresh that morning

Rhubarb and Ginger Jam

4lb rhubarb, trimmed
8 cups granulated sugar
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
1/4 cup fresh ginger, bruised and tied in cheesecloth
1/4 cup chopped crystallized ginger or stem ginger preserved in syrup (optional)

Wipe the rhubarb and cut into 1 in pieces.  Put it into a large, stainless steal or Pyrex bowl layered with the sugar.  Add the lemon zest and juice and leave to stand overnight.
Next day, put the mixture into a perserving pan, add the bruised ginger.  Bring to a boil until it is a thick pulp, about 30 to 45 minutes, and test for a set. Remove the bag of ginger and then pour the jam into hot, sterilized jars.  Cover and store in a cool, airy cupboard.
If you like, 1/4 cup of chopped, crystallized ginger or preserved stem ginger can be added at the end.

Now for next weekends canning project. 
Beets from the Farmers Market in Old Town Eureka.
Spears of Zucchini soaking in iced salt water.
Sliced kirby cucumbers purchased from the Farmer's Market in Old Town Eureka, preparing to become bread and butter pickles.

All three of these recipes I found in the August Bon Appetite - and I can tell you I sampled them before I canned them and they're going to be awesome when they're ready to open and eat.  I can't wait to bring these on my camping trip coming up in a couple of weeks and share these with my family.
You can find the Pickled Beets with Star Anise, Zucchini Dill Pickles, and Bread and Butter Pickles in the August 2011 issue of Bon Appetite.

And here is my bounty of pickles.  I can't wait to get into them!
Hopefully soon I will be graduating to a pressure canner and I will be trying my hand at things like spaghetti sauce, ketchup, maybe some canned local albacore tuna, or just some canned green beans.

Even more summer bounty.  YUM!