Monday, February 28, 2011

Variations on a theme

Today's post will be a little short, as it was meant to be last week's post and I'm still not completely over the cold. This is to the annoyance of my poor sweetie as well as myself because, probably like most people, I snore when congested.

Anyway, back in November, I tried Rachel Ray's recipes, specifically that of Beer Cheese Soup. I found the recipe easy to follow, no what I considered unnecessary ingredients (you can skip the chicken broth rant), and it was very flavorful and warm and went deliciously with a toasted English muffin.

At the bottom of her recipe, there was a note, "try it with gruyere!" So that's what I did. I was a little short on the exact amount of cheese, so I threw in a few slices of Havarti. It's mild, it's creamy, and I figured it would do more for texture than taste. I also used a bottle of Newcastle Brown Ale instead of Harp (BTW, if you see a guy in a green windbreaker who answers to Lucas Payton, tell him I said thanks for getting me hooked on Newcastle).

The gruyere I had was pretty mild, and I wasn't left with a very strong cheesy taste the first time I ate it. When my sweetie had the leftovers, the flavors had combined to a taste that was greater than the sum of its parts. Maybe I should have left it on the stove a little longer, I don't know. This is a combination I'll try again.

I also skipped one of the carrots and added two shallots in its place. I definitely liked this better. Sweet and sharp at the same time.

I might go for the stronger beer wtih the sharper cheddar next time, and a milder beer with the gruyere. Or maybe that cheshire with onions that was so nice when I was experimenting with macaroni and cheese, the possibilities are endless. . .

Questions? Comments? Death Threats? And everyone say hi to new follower TNJ! TNJ, send a quick email to that smart blonde at gmail and I'll get your Amazon gift card right out!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Please excuse us we are experiencing technical difficulties

Good evening everyone. For those that got to celebrate a three-day weekend, I hope you had some fun and time for relaxation.

I did just that, got away to Newport, Rhode Island for some R&R. Unfortunately, before I left, I picked up a cold that has settled itself quite comfortably in my head and shows no signs of leaving. 

Cold meds make me stupid. When I'm a little more clear-minded I will do a quick "revisit" entry, where I adjusted a couple of recipes I used in the past year or so.

Meanwhile, I'd like to see some more followers. The first person who gets me a new follower will receive a $5 gift card from Amazon, and the new follower will get one too.

Spread the word about Knives, Fire and Fun!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Creating ingredients (1 of many) Preserved Lemons

I like food from the Mediterranean region, whether it's from Greece, Italy, Turkey or the north of Africa. In some of my web browsing I've seen some Moroccan recipes that look interesting, and several of them call for preserved lemons like these.

If you have an Arab market in your neighborhood, you may be able to find them there. After doing some reading and finding David Lebovitz, I decided to give it a try and make some of my own:

  • Scrub the lemons with a vegetable brush and dry them off.
  • Cut off the little rounded bit at the stem end if there’s a hard little piece of the stem attached. From the other end of the lemon, make a large cut by slicing lengthwise downward, stopping about 1-inch (3 cm) from the bottom, then making another downward slice, so you’ve incised the lemon with an X shape.
  • Pack coarse salt into the lemon where you made the incisions. Don’t be skimpy with the salt: use about 1 tablespoon per lemon.
  • Put the salt-filled lemons in a clean, large glass jar with a tight-fitting lid. Add a few coriander seeds, a bay leaf, a dried chili, and a cinnamon stick if you want. (Or a combination of any of them.)
  • Press the lemons very firmly in the jar to get the juices flowing. Cover and let stand overnight.
  • The next day do the same, pressing the lemons down, encouraging them to release more juice as they start to soften. Repeat for a 2-3 days until the lemons are completely covered with liquid. If your lemons aren’t too juicy, add more freshly-squeezed lemon juice until their submerged, as I generally have to do.
  • After one month, when the preserved lemons are soft, they’re ready to use. Store the lemons in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for at least 6 months. Rinse before using to remove excess salt.
To use: Remove lemons from the liquid and rinse. Split in half and scrape out the pulp. Slice the lemon peels into thin strips or cut into small dices. You may wish to press the pulp through a sieve to obtain the flavorful juice, which can be used for flavoring as well, then discard the innards.
This was so easy to do, it's almost embarassing. I didn't have a glass jar--I don't have storage space for a dozen quart jars which seems to be the only way you can buy them, so I used a plastic container that had a wide top and held three lemons comfortably. For spices, I chose a cinnamon stick, some coriander seeds and several grinds of red pepper. To smush (it's a technical term) them down to get the juices flowing, I used a potato masher.
So far, it seems to be working. On the second day, the lemons were already softer and when I applied the potato masher, I got a lot more juice. I did end up squeezing another lemon to get enough juice to cover. The juice (I suppose since it's full of salt, I should technically call it a brine) tastes fabulous. They should be completely ready at the beginning of March. I'm excited to use them in recipes. I have a pasta recipe picked out and there's also a lot of Moroccan chicken out there!

Ideas for preserved lemons? Questions? Comments? Death threats? Let me hear from you!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

First Time for Everything: Split Pea Soup

At the rate things are going this winter, I'm going to be making a lot of soup. We've had snow, ice, more snow. My landlords have plowed my car into its parking space on one hand and on the other demanded I clean it and move it on their deadline. So I'm staying inside a lot.

First time I had split pea soup was in my first apartment. My landlady made some and served it with bits of ham and swiss on the side. It was rich, thick enough to stand the spoon straight up, and was very warming and delicious.

I realize ham is traditional, but I've always had a thing for a good smoked sausage, so when I found a recipe to start with, I made, as usual, my own adjustments:

My final list of ingredients, which differ slightly from Simply Recipes:

One pound split peas (I used yellow; the store didn't have green that day)
One large onion, chopped
One large leek, chopped
One large carrot, chopped
6 cloves of garlic chopped
2.5 quarts low-sodium chicken broth
garlic salt to taste
freshly ground peppercorns to taste
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
8 sprigs Italian Parsley
12 oz smoked sausage, sliced to 1/2"

I knew if I overcooked the sausage, it wouldn't be a lot of fun, so I took the advice of another recipe (I lost the link; I looked at so many) and lightly cooked the sausage at the bottom of pot on low heat, then removed it with the slotted spoon and set it aside.

Next, I sautee'd all the chopped vegetables in the remaining sausage fat for about five minutes. I ended up throwing in about tablespoon of butter because the fat was getting absorbed.

Next, I added the chicken stock. The recipe said to add water, but this is a place where I happily had broth. While beer might be a good accompaniment, I was not making beer soup, wine had the wrong flavor profile, and chicken broth is mild enough not to overpower the sausage.

Lastly, I stirred in the peas and brought the whole mixture to a boil. After skimming the foam off the top (there wasn't much), I brought the heat down to just above simmer, put the cover on 7/8 of the way and let it cook for the required hour and a half.

Then I called my friend Gina in a panic. "It's not soup!" The peas were only partly soft, and it didn't taste like anything. After being calmed down and reassured that it probably just needed to cook down some more, I stirred it, took the lid off and let it cook for another couple hours.

Sometime in that two hours the magic happened because I had soft peas with lots of flavor, tasty vegetables and a hint of spice. I added some more pepper.

There is an immersion blender in this apartment somewhere. There's also my digital camera and a nice pair of knee-high boots. I did find my purple sweater yesterday, so there's hope. So, lacking the immersion blender, I ran the soup through my regular blender two cups at a time. Never overfill your blender, and always keep one hand on its lid. Trust me on this one. I nearly lost a brand-new sweater not heeding this advice

After blending, I reintroduced the sausage, stirred and fed a bowl to my sweetie. He wasn't sure he had had pea soup before, and definitely liked this one. I had mine topped with a little swiss and a toasted English muffin. The recipe makes four generous servings--enough for a main dish, or six small servings if there's a sandwich and salad involved.

Next time, I think a little heavier on the spices. I'd like more of the allspice. I'm not sure the celery seed was necessary. Watch this space for take two.

How do you like your split peas?

Questions? Comments? Death threats? I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

From the wilds of . . . . Salt Lake City? Irish Cream.

Irish Cream is a beautiful thing in my world. It's smooth, creamy, and has a nice kick. You can drink it on its own, or add it to a number of things. A friend of mine adds his to chocolate soy milk. I've had it with Sambucca (slippery nipple), Buttershots (buttery nipple) and on the rocks. Many people add it to their coffee (this does not make what they're drinking Irish coffee, but I'll get to that in a minute). Popular media seems to associate it with the holidaze and parties. Me, I'd drink it all the time if I could afford the calories.

I thought I'd put a myth to the test in this week's blog entry. 

Irish coffee is coffee, Irish whisky, and topped with whipped cream and sugar is usually involved somewhere. I've seen the recipe with sugar on top of the cream, add sugar to the cream,  some with brown sugar, and for some, a sugared glass rim. I like Jameson's Irish whiskey in mine. Irish coffee does not include Irish Cream, though the two make a nice combination, especially if you throw in some Frangelico.

Irish cream is a cream liqueur made with Irish whisky, cream and other ingredients.  

A long time ago when the earth was green, I lived in Salt Lake City, Utah, trying to eke out a living as a disc jockey. One of the other women at the radio station gave me a recipe for Irish Cream that is better than the commercial stuff and has a little bit of flexibility built in. I often wonder what happened to her. Kristen, if you're out there, thank you very much for this!

To make about a quart:

3 eggs whipped in a blender until frothy
1 cup whisky
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 T instant coffee granules (or a few tablespoons strong coffee)
1 T vanilla extract
1 T chocolate syrup

after the eggs have been whipped, add one ingredient at a time to the blender, taking about thirty seconds to blend in each one. Store in the refrigerator in a glass container, covered. Stir or shake well until serving. I'm told this will keep for up to a month, but I've never had it last longer than a few days.

If you comb the web, you'll see more variations of this than there were bones on the Irish Rover (and if you haven't heard this silly song, download the Pogues' version. It's fabulous). I've seen several with almond extract. A friend of mine tried it with orange extract and got a sweet mellow flavor. Bailey's now makes a mint version, which I'm sure could be obtained by a T of peppermint extract. Not quite sure how they got the caramel flavor one though. I'll have to research this.  Darn. :)

Questions? Comments? Death threats? Let's hear them!