Friday, December 31, 2004

Eat Your (Pickled) Vegetables

Guess What! I broke my stove yesterday. Actually, it was a double oven with integral range top. But, really--I did break it. I was in the process of making some pickled asparagus and green beans using the two “large” electric eyes of the range and the whole shebang just shut down. The work light quit working and the vent fan quit venting and both “eyes” I was using at the time just quit.

I checked the electrical circuit breaker in the fuse box and tried again and nothing worked. Now what could I do. I already had a number of pounds of fresh asparagus "par boiled" and cooling in an ice water bath, several pounds of fresh green beans ready to "par boil," and four Ball mason jars and lids boiled and sterilized. The problem was that my pickling vinegar mix was still at room temperature.

Our downstairs condo neighbor, Mr. Harlan “Bucky” Strader, was kind enough to allow me to use his range to par boil my green beans and heat up a couple of batches of vinegar in order to save the day.

As of 7:30 AM this morning, the range still isn’t working, but it is paying a heavy price as I have unscrewed the control panel and opened up its “guts” and found the wiring diagram on the internet and I am confident that I will force it to work again this weekend or it will be forced to leave the premises. Consider this a threat...

Now--as to the Pickled Vegetables. Just like cucumbers and olives, asparagus and green beans can be preserved in a pickling solution and used as a side dish or a snack or a garnish for “adult beverages” like Bloody Mary’s and martinis. If you buy them in a restaurant or grocery store, the price can range upwards of $6 or $8 per jar. I like to make my own version of these delicacies when the vegetables are cheep and in season for half the cost.

Here is what you will need to make your own:

8 Ball one quart mason jars with new lids

fresh asparagus and/or fresh green beans
white vinegar
apple cider vinegar
pickling spice(s)
colored bell peppers (your choice)
hot peppers (your choice)
fresh thyme
black peppercorns
kosher salt

Notice that I don’t give any quantities with the ingredients. This is because everyone's (and every batch) will be different based on what you can buy in the grocery store and what you have on hand when you are doing your “pickling.”

Redneck Tip: There are a number of web sites on the Internet that outline the wherefores and whenceshalls of canning and pickling. The only thing I can add here is be careful because everything you do will be hot as heck and be clean, clean, clean or you could be dead, dead, dead. Also, Ball Jar company makes a set of tongs, a funnel, and a magnetic wand for retrieving your jars and lids and filling same that is indispensable.

The process is basically as follows:

Sort and rinse your vegetables under cool water. Place batches of the vegetables into a large boiler of water and parboil for three minutes. Drain and place the vegetables in an ice water bath to stop them from cooking further and to retain the color.

Your pickling mixture composition can vary quite a bit based on your personal tastes. I use 3 parts white vinegar to 1 part apple cider vinegar. I also add salt, black peppercorns, cloves, and dill weed to my mix. Make about 2/3 as much as the quantity of jars you expect to fill i.e. 4 quarts for 6 jars of vegetables pickled. Heat your mixture to a low boil on the stove and then turn off the heat.

Meanwhile, heat a large 12 or 16 quart boiler full of water to boiling. Place as many jars (and lids) as will fit in your boiler at one time into the water and boil for two or three minutes. Turn off the heat.

Empty the jars and remove them from the boiler, placing them on a clean dishtowel on the countertop adjacent to the stove.

Drain your vegetables and carefully load them into the hot jars. I take my time and make sure all of the asparagus and green beans are standing up vertical and parallel in the jars. When the jar is full, poke your peppers, fresh thyme sprig, and a few garlic cloves into the jar and pour enough of your pickling mixture into the jar to cover the vegetables. Put a lid ring and new disk and repeat until you run out of vegetables.

Redneck Tip: I make jars containing the same pickling liquid and different mixes of vegetables. Some are all asparagus, some all beans, then some are a mix of asparagus and beans. Also, I put more peppers and garlic in some jars so the old folks with no taste buds can have a good time and break a sweat too.

Sit your finished jars on the counter out of the way and wait for the lids to “pop” as the cooling liquid pulls a slight vacuum and seals everything nice and tight.

The finished product will keep on a shelf in a cool dark place in your kitchen for months. Please note that the “temperature” goes up the longer the veggies sit in the mixture, so watch your mouth when you take the first taste. I keep a jar in the refrigerator and pull a piece or two out as a snack every once in a while just for the heck of it...yum...

Regards Y’all

The Redneck Gourmet

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Welsh Rarebit

Twenty five or so years ago my good friend Beth Robinson introduced me to a cheese sauce called Welsh Rarebit. What a strange name for food.

As a kid, I remember seeing an episode of “Gomer Pyle-USMC” where Jim Neighbors visited a little restaurant to order “Welsh Rarebit” and as a result of his meal had some unpleasant side effect like nightmares or sleepwalking. Needless to say Welsh Rarebit was fairly low on my list of useful cuisines until Beth coaxed me into eating it in her home.

Using the Internet as my standard resource, last year I found a really good recipe for Welsh Rarebit sauce and having cooked it a dozen times or so, I think that I have it down pat. You can use the basic sauce over veggies like broccoli and cauliflower (cooked or raw) or just dip fancy water crackers in the sauce and munch away.

I use the Welsh Rarebit sauce as a topping for a brunch recipe similar to that which my friend Beth made up. The final format has been modified based on a variation of eggs benedict and the eggs Hussard dish served at Brennan’s Restaurant in New Orleans. My recipe costs about $30 less than a single plate at Brennan’s.

The Welsh Rarebit Sauce ingredients include:

4 tbsp semi-sweet unsalted butter
1-1/2 cups of grated extra sharp, aged cheddar cheese
1 tsp English mustard powder
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp cayenne pepper
2 egg yolks
½ cup of warm, flat cheep beer or ale

The balance of the meal:

2 halved English muffins, lightly toasted
1 can of asparagus spears
4 slices of Canadian bacon
4 eggs

The Welsh Rarebit recipe is an exact copy of the one found on this web site. All I did was modify the quantity to make enough for servings for two people. You can adjust the amount for the numbers you are trying to serve.

I made the sauce several times without the beer, but I’m here to tell you that the beer makes the sauce.

Redneck Tip: If you don’t keep beer around for drinking, go next door to your neighbors and borrow one or run out to the local “gas and grab” and pick up one “wino” size bottle of cheep beer and let it warm up to room temperature before you start cooking. You can also take a few big slugs out of the bottle while no one is looking (it’s a shame to waste perfectly good beer—I call it alcohol abuse) and claim that you spilled it if you don’t want to be caught drinking at 9:30 AM Christmas morning.

In a small skillet, toss your Canadian bacon slices in to brown on medium low heat.

In another small skillet, heat the canned asparagus spears on low heat.

Split two English muffins in half and toast lightly in your toaster.

Heat 3 quarts of water in a four quart boiler over medium heat to get ready to poach your eggs. If you have an egg “Poacher” ignore the rest of my “egg poaching” instructions because you obviously already know what you are doing and don’t need any “Redneck Tips.” Gosh Darn it…….

Now, as to the Welsh Rarebit sauce. This sauce absolutely needs a double boiler. I’ve been meaning to mention this before, but if you don’t have a “real” double boiler (I don’t), you can make one by putting a 1 or 2 quart boiler inside a 3 or 4 quart boiler full of water. The key is to not overheat or boil the sauce.

In your double boiler (homemade or otherwise,) melt the butter over medium low heat. While the butter is melting, grate your cheese.

Redneck Tip: Please buy your own good quality sharp cheddar and grate it yourself. No self respecting Redneck Cook would buy that crappy prepackaged, pre-grated stuff they call cheese. The taste difference is amazing…

Once the butter has melted, start adding the cheese to the boiler a little at a time and stirring the mixture. Keep adding the cheese until it is all in the pot and melted.

In your measuring cup, pour in the ½ cup of warm beer and add the two egg yolks. Stir everything together.

Now add the mustard, cayenne, Worcestershire, and the beer/egg mixture to the cheese butter mixture. Keep stirring….I said KEEP STIRRING!

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.

By now your egg poaching water should be nearly boiling. Adjust the heat to keep it that way--simmering, not boiling. Poach your eggs while you keep stirring your sauce.

Redneck Tip: For those not versed in poaching eggs or those that do not have an “Egg Poacher,” here is what you do. Crack your eggs one at a time into a coffee cup. Introduce the egg into the simmering water by slowly lowering the egg in the cup into the water and gently tilting the cup to allow the egg to lower onto the bottom of the boiler. If the egg spreads out a little, you can actually push it back together by using a fork or spoon to “prod” it back into shape. Don’t worry if you get little wisps of egg white flying around the water. Just go slow and if the loose egg wisps build up strain them out of the water with a slotted spoon. Just don’t let the water boil or you’ll have a real mess on your hands (and in your pot.) I find that four to six minutes of cooking does the job. You can place the eggs on a saucer in the oven to keep them warm while you get all four of them done.

Once the eggs are poached, the Canadian bacon and the asparagus is warm, and your sauce has thickened, place the English muffin halves on a cookie sheet, top each with a slice of Canadian bacon, three or four spears of Asparagus, and one poached egg.

Place the whole shebang in the oven for ten to twelve minutes to warm through.

Remove everything from the oven, place two of each stack on pre-warmed plates, and spoon the Welsh Rarebit sauce generously over the top.

Now watch your taste buds explode with the flavor of the red pepper aftertaste in the sauce. Ummm...Ummm. Toss the dishes in the dishwasher and jump on the sofa for a late morning nap...I did!

Enjoy Y’all

The Redneck Gourmet

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

It's Not Delivery, It's DiGiorno

(Tortilloni with Pink Vodka Sauce)

In my experience, all of the forms of stuffed pasta are very time consuming to make. I’ve done the larger ones like three cheese stuffed manicotti and spinach stuffed shells using pre-prepared pasta shells, but the small pastas like tortellini, tortilloni, and ravioli, require more patience and experience rolling out your own flat pasta dough, cutting it to size, and then stuffing and shaping them. I ask that you look for some future postings of the recipes for some these delicacies to cook when you have a couple of extra hours to spare working in the kitchen.

The title of tonight’s recipe might make you think that I’m proposing that you eat store bought frozen pizza for dinner. Wrong. What I am proposing is that you eat store bought, refrigerated tortilloni with a home made pink sauce. We did tonight, it only took thirty minutes to prepare, and it was surprisingly good.

The DiGiorno brand from Kraft foods produces a number of flavors of tortilloni including the one I purchased that was stuffed with portabella mushrooms. Unlike many of the recipes I’ve previously posted, this one doesn’t require a two extra trips to the grocery store and the use of every ingredient in your pantry and fridge. It's really very easy.

The ingredients:

One package of stuffed Tortilloni (or one box of bowtie, penne, or your other favorite pasta shell)

5 tbsp. unsalted butter
2/3 c. vodka
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 can (16 oz.) smashed or pureed tomatoes
3/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 c. half and half

Don’t use salt in the sauce, because the tortilloni is SALTY!

And now, the preparation:

In a four quart boiler, heat a couple of quarts of water to boiling.

In a large heavy skillet, melt your butter over medium heat. While the butter is heating, open the can of tomatoes and grate your parmesan cheese.

Redneck Tip: I use good Parmigiano reggiano cheese that costs a lot more than the pre-grated stuff sold in the little green cans by Kraft foods. It tastes infinitely better and is worth the extra cost.

Your water should be boiling by now, so add your pasta and reduce the heat to medium high.

Once the butter has melted in the skillet, stir in the vodka and red pepper flakes and simmer for a few minutes. Now add the tomatoes and keep stirring for a few more minutes. DO NOT BOIL.

Now add the cream or half and half and keep stirring DO NOT BOIL.

Redneck tip: Watch your pasta. Don’t let it boil over and don’t let it cook beyond six or seven minutes.

Put your pasta bowls in the oven to warm.

When the pasta has cooked done, drain it well in a colander. Add the pasta to the sauce in the skillet, reduce the heat to medium low, and stir in the parmesan cheese, reserving a few tablespoons for sprinkling on top. DO NOT BOIL.

Stir everything for a couple of more minutes. Take the pasta bowls out of the oven, place them on chargers, and spoon your pasta/sauce into the bowls. Garnish with fresh parsley and a sprinkle of parmesan.

Now sit down at the coffee table in front of the TV and watch Jeopardy while you eat.

Enjoy Y’all

The Redneck Gourmet

Monday, December 13, 2004

Chewy Double Chocolate, Chocolate Chip, Walnut Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies

(More than a mouthful)

I hate bribery, but I have learned that it is generally a fact of life in the world we live in. I probably would have gone a lot farther in business if I had succumbed to employing a little “grease on the skids” of life.

There was this salesman, Gene Lorenz, who used to come by the office I worked in 20 years ago to drop off information on the steel fabrication company he represented. He never sold anything to my boss, but he would always leave a package containing a half dozen large cookies. The best darn cookies I ever had—you had to fight the secretary for a bite of one.

Years later, after I had started my own company and began a business relationship with Gene, he told me where he got the cookies. Harry’s Farmers Market in Atlanta was the place. I could eat a half dozen of those cookies in a single sitting.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a Harry’s market here on St. Simons, but when I wanted to bake some cookies for the holiday season, I did some research hoping to make my own version of my favorite cookies.

Here is what I came up with for ingredients:

2 sticks butter + 1/4 stick

2 eggs
1 cup white crystal sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup Quaker oats

1-1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup walnut pieces

1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1-1/2 cups cake flour, sifted
1/2 cup whole wheat flour

3 squares unsweetened baker’s chocolate

According to my Betty Crocker Cookbook, there are a couple of details that ensure good cookies. I followed Mrs. Crocker’s instructions and my cookies came out perfect.

Betty Crocker Tip: First, let your butter soften at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes before you use it. Second, if you don’t have flat cookie sheets (I didn’t,) turn your sheets upside down and cook your cookies on the back of the sheet.

Now, as to making great cookies. In a double boiler, combine ¼ stick of butter and three squares of unsweetened baking chocolate and heat over medium heat to melt, stirring occasionally.

While your chocolate is melting, in a large mixing bowl, combine the white crystal sugar, the brown sugar, the oats, and the cinnamon. Stir everything together to combine. Slice the butter into pieces and add it to the mixture and beat with an electric mixer on low speed. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix some more. Now add your chocolate chips and nuts and mix some more.

Once the chocolate and butter mixture has melted, add it to the sugar/oats mixture and beat lightly with the electric mixer.

In a separate medium mixing bowl, sift and measure the cake flour, the whole wheat flour, the salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix everything together with a spoon.

Now it is time to think again—you might not need all of your flour mixture so pay attention. Add half of your flour mix to the wet mix and beat it all together with the mixer. Take a spatula and scrape the sides of the bowl to get the dry stuff off of the edges. Keep adding the flour mixture a little at a time and beating it with the mixer until you have a very stiff dough. As I said, you might not need all of the flour, depending on room temperature and your accuracy of measuring the ingredients. I said VERY stiff's important.

When you are satisfied with your dough, cover the bowl with Saran Wrap and sit it in the refrigerator for ten minutes to chill. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Open a beer or mix yourself a drink while you wait.

Redneck Tip: My Betty Crocker Cookbook had another idea I liked. Instead of cooking a whole batch of bad cookies, spoon out a little of your dough on to a cookie sheet and test-cook one cookie to see what you’ve got. If your cookie spreads out too much and is flat, add a little flour to your mix. If it is too dry and cooks like a golf ball, add a little more butter, a dash of milk, or another egg and try again. Mine worked great the first try. Also, allow your cookie sheets to cool off between batches so that your cookies don’t spread too much while cooking—remember, that’s why we chilled the dough in the first place…

Spoon out even globs of your cookie dough onto your cookie sheets. I wanted real thick, 2-1/2” cookies, so I used big portions. Cook for nine to twelve minutes, until you see the sides of the bottoms starting to get real dark.

Allow the cookies to cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes, then slide them off onto a cooling rack. Repeat until you run out of dough, or make some more dough and keep going. Makes about two dozen fat cookies.

Enjoy Ya’ll,

The Redneck Gourmet

Monday, December 06, 2004

Chicken Soup for the Blogger Mind

Last weekend when I posted “Kicked Up Meatloaf-Emeril Style” I also wrote a confession about the failure of a recipe I had tried to cook. Well folks, this weekend I have another confession, except this one is about a surprise--sort of round-about success.

I’m usually not a big soup and chili guy when the weather is warm, so when the temperature took a dip last week I decided it was time to cook a whole chicken down for stock and to make some chicken soup with the results.

Canned store bought stock is a staple in my pantry, but I still like to make my own homemade seasoned stock a few times a year to keep in the freezer for use in “special” recipes. So here goes, you’ll need the following ingredients for the stock:

1 four to five pound chicken
6 to 8 quarts of water
2 carrots, chopped
2 ribs of celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 or 3 cloves of garlic, diced
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tsp thyme
3 or 4 stems of parsley

Remove and discard the fat from the tail end of the chicken and rinse the bird thoroughly.

Redneck Tip: Also remove the package containing the neck, gizzard, heart, liver, etc. from inside the bird. I once had a friend that cooked her Christmas turkey with all that stuff still in the plastic bag inside the bird…but that’s another story…

Put the bird and its inside parts into a 12 quart boiler and add the water to cover. Set it on the stove top over medium high heat. Add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic.

Now crack your peppercorns (I use a mortar and pestle) and place the pieces on a 6” x 10” section of cheesecloth along with the bay leaves, the thyme, and the parsley stems. Fold the cheesecloth up to form an enclosed package and tie it closed with butcher’s twine. Add it to the pot.

Redneck Tip: You’ve just made what the French call a seasoning sachet. Impressed?

Bring the whole thing to a low simmer. Now you are going to have to spend a few minutes (15 or 20 or so) with your cooking bird. As it comes up to temperature, you will start to see a foam or “scum” rising to the top. Don’t worry; this is just the dissolved fat from under the chicken’s skin and some blood that is cooking out of the bird. Skim this off as it rises because it will make your stock look cloudy if it is allowed to cook with your stock.

Once you have “skimmed your scum,” put the cover on the pot, step away from the stove and let everything simmer for five hours, checking back every half hour or so to make sure that it is simmering, not boiling.

Redneck Tip: I try to start cooking stock very early in the morning. This batch started at 5:45 AM...yawn….

Once the stock has reduced by about 1/3 to 1/2 (your choice), turn off the heat, cock the lid, and let it all cool down for a few hours.

Now here is where things went awry. I usually allow my stock to cool all day. If I’m in a hurry, it will spend a few hours in the refrigerator to expedite cooling before I finish processing it. Bad news…We have a side-by side fridge here at the condo and, this being the first batch of stock I’ve made here, I didn’t realize that the stock pot would not fit inside the fridge.

Not to worry, I sat my stockpot out on the sun porch to cool while we went out for a few hours to do some shopping and to look for a Christmas tree. When we returned three hours later, I realized that I had left the lid firmly on the pot and as a result it was still so hot you couldn’t handle it with your bare hands. This is a problem because the idea is to allow the remaining grease to rise to the top and congeal so that you can spoon it off. You don’t want greasy stock.

After another two hours of cooling, the grease still hadn’t all floated and set on top. How was I going to make soup for dinner (it was now 7:45 PM)? Can you say store bought canned stock?

For the soup I used:

The meat from one chicken breast, one leg, and one wing.
2 cans low salt chicken stock
1 can beef stock
2 medium carrots, sliced
¼ medium onion, diced fine
1 rib celery, sliced
1/2 head of escarole lettuce, rinsed and chopped
1/3 pound pastini pasta
1 tbsp fresh ground black pepper

1 egg
1/4 cup fresh grated parmesan reggiano cheese
Juice from1/2 lemon

Combine the chicken meat and stock in a 4 quart boiler over medium heat. Add the carrots, onion, celery, pastini, escarole, and pepper. Simmer for ten minutes.

Redneck Tip: I used one can of beef stock because I ran out of chicken stock. Remember, in this exercise I started out cooking HOMEMADE CHICKEN STOCK??!!

While the soup is simmering, in a small mixing bowl, lightly whisk the egg, then whisk in the parmesan cheese and lemon juice.

When the pastini is done, turn off the heat. “Temper” the egg/cheese mixture by slowly spooning some of the hot soup into it a little at a time so as to not “scramble” the egg.

Stir the tempered egg mixture into the soup, let things cool slightly, ladle into a bowl, and enjoy.
Using the canned stock, the soup took less than 45 minutes and saved dinner last evening.

Now back to the chicken stock…once it has FINALLY cooled down (I waited overnight,) spoon the grease off of the top and discard. Fish around in the pot with a slotted spoon and remove as much of the chicken meat and bones as you can and reserve on a plate. Separate the meat from the bones and reserve the meat for soup or gumbo.

Pour the stock through a fine mesh strainer or a colander lined with cheesecloth into a large mixing bowl. You now have chicken stock.

Pick through the material caught in the strainer for any pieces of chicken that you might have missed earlier and discard the bones and vegetables. The stock can be strained once more if you like, then portioned up and frozen in sealed containers for later use.

Redneck Tip: You can freeze your stock in plastic ice trays to make small cubes which are easy to store and break out when you need just a little broth for seasoning.

Enjoy Ya’ll,

The Redneck Gourmet