Monday, October 27, 2008

Barefoot in the kitchen, part VI: Clam chowder

Wandered into the Proctor Farmers Market this last Saturday (still going until November 22) and tripped across my favorite weekend sustainable seafood purveyer: QuilBay Seafoods. Fresh oysters! And this week: clams! Never dealt with clams. But the woman standing next to me mentioned making clam chowder, which sounded good. Sold!

But mind you: I've never made shellfish before. It didn't quite occur to me that the clams might be ... um ... alive. Not until I had them in the strainer and was rinsing them off. And they were moving. And opening. And closing. Ewww! (And I totally realize how ridiculous this is. Once upon a time pioneers raised their own meat, killed their own meat, cooked it and ate it -- sans problemo. But let's just say I came really close to becoming a vegetarian this weekend.)

I survived, however. And despite my paranoia that I must have cooked it wrong and poisoned it, my husband and son both had multiple bowl fulls and LOVED it. Yay! (My girls? Nope. Wouldn't touch it. Thanks, kids. Thanks a lot.)

Anyhow, the recipe ... inspired by the one the seafood folks gave me, but I embellished. You heard me ... my FIRST TIME making chowder and I EMBELLISHED. This whole temporary husband-not-being-around-to-cook-dinner thing might be turning into a good thing. For him. (I'm learning I can make something beyond casseroles, spaghetti and sandwiches ... and baked goods ...)

TC's Homemade Clam Chowder

18 large littleneck clams, scrubbed (or, for me, a bag o' teeny tiny Manila clams that were already clean)
3 slices of bacon, chopped (ok, I used 5)
1 medium onion, chopped (shhh ... I put in 2)
(I also put in a leek that was in the fridge)
1 tbsp. all purpose flour (heaping)
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper (or whatever I happened to grind out of the grinder)
1 pound all-purpose potatoes, pelled and chopped (about 5 or 6)
(I also added a bunch of rainbow carrots -- 6 to 8, washed and chopped)
2 cups half-and-half (I added a bit more)
1 cup of milk
3/4 tsp. salt, or to taste
(I also added a bunch of Chardonnay ... that totally made it better)

In a 5- to 6-quart saucepot, heat water to boiling over high heat. Add clams, heat to boiling. Reduce heat slightly; cover and simmer until clams open, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer clams to a bowl as they open. Discad andy clams that have not opened. ... When cool enough to handle, remove clams from their shells and coarsely chop. Discard shells. strain clam broth through sieve lined with paper towels into measuring cup; if necessary add eough water to equal 2 cups. ... In same clean saucepot, cook bacon over medium heat until lightly browned. With slotted spoon, remove bacon to paper towels. Add onion (and leek) to drippings in pot; cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour and pepper until blended; cook 1 minute. Gradually stir in clam brother until smooth. Add potatoes (and carrots); heat to boiling. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until potatoes (and carrots) are tender, about 15 minutes. ... Stir in half-and-half, milk, and chopped clams; heat through (do not boil). Stir in bacon. Tste for seasoning; add salt as needed. Add chardonnay as needed. Makes about 6 cups. (A bit more with my additions.)

Barefoot in the kitchen, part V: Veggie Pasta Toss

My weekly box of organic produce from Tacoma's Terra Organics "Pacific Northwest box" arrived this last week with the most wonderful of recipes -- "Sweet Pepper Pasta Toss with Kale." So good for you. So, so yummy. So, so, so, simple. And such an easy way to use one of my big bunches of nutrition-packed dark greens.

Sweet Pepper Pasta Toss with Kale

1 8 oz. package of bow tie pasta (I used sea shell pasta -- what a rebel am I)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1-2 red bell peppers, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped (or more)
1 pinch dried basil (I used several leaves of fresh basil)
1 pinch ground cayenne pepper (I did skip this one)
salt and ground black pepper to taste
8 oz. feta cheese, crumbled (I probably used more)
Kalamata or black olives

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in red pepper (and/or yellow pepper), kale and garlic. Season with basil, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper. Cook until vegetables are tender. In a large bowl, toss cooked pasta with skillet mixture. Mix in olives, if desired. Sprinkle with feta cheese to serve.

* Could also add Italian sausage or grilled chicken to make this dish a little heartier.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Barefoot in the kitchen, part IV: Tequila salsa

Yet again, it's a tale of me using up my many harvested tomatoes, my backyard jalapeno plant and my weekly treasure trove of veggie-delivery-goodness from Terra Organics. This week it's my own version of Tomatillo Salsa Verde.

So, I seriously thought that after more than five years of produce home delivery that I'd seen it all. I'd learned how to use eggplant, bok choy, fresh ginger, chard, blood tomatoes, fava beans, squashes of many makes and models, fresh beets and leeks, and so much more. But then this week's delivery appeared on my doorstep: tomatillos. What the heck? Apparently the kids and the babysitter had played "guess what this is" with this piece of produce. A small, green, round goodie encapsulated in a leaf-like shell that leaves a slightly sticky residue upon the fruit. What the heck? They did trial and error ... and guessed that it must be a plum of sorts. But nope: A tomatillo, the Mexican cousin of the tomato. And oh so made for salsa. And so it began ...

We decided to make fajitas for dinner ... using some steak and eggplant for the "meat" of the fajita, and a corn and black bean mix, the kids grated the cheese, a bit o' sour cream, and some "experimental" salsa by yours truly. As mentioned in the headline to this post, it's "Tequila salsa" ... because I did not have any limes or lemons, or lime or lemon juice, I had to ponder: what liquid should I add? It's salsa. Mexican in nature. So what the heck: I substituted tequila. That and a few other subsitutes and adjustments in this recipe based on a few internet finds for "tomatillo salsa verde" and I bring you my very own, and very yummy, recipe for Tequila salsa verde ... which I consider very sentimental seeing as tequila was basically the first alcohol I ever tasted, in Mexico no less. Here you go ...

TC's Tequila Salsa (chunky - if you prefer otherwise, blend the sucker)
And as is my mantra, the exact quantities are up to you or what's in your cupboard. Chop it up, mix it up, and you should be good ...

3-6 tomatillos, roasted (remove husks, cut in half, stick under the broiler for 5-10 minutes -- untill skin is slightly blackened)
2-3 roasted tomatoes (can be green or less than ripe ... see above for roasting instructions)
1/2 a chopped-up small to medium onion, preferrably red
1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
2 splashes of tequila
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. of sugar
salt to taste

Chop onions and cilantro. Add sugar, tequila and salt; stir. Add freshly roasted tomatillos and tomatoes, squish with a potato masher until desired texuture is achieved. (Or put through food processor.) Enjoy with chips, or use wth burritos or fajitas. Yummers!

* This might be an appetizer for the over-21 crowd only ...
1 jalepano pepper

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Barefoot in the kitchen, part III: Lovely lasagna

So, once you have a bunch of spaghetti sauce, what do you do with it? In my world, you make lasagna. Perhaps one of the most perfect foods as it includes my favorite ingredient: cheese. And then there's the fact that you can make it in advance, freeze or refrigerate it, and it only tastes yummier when you finally take it out and cook it. And it can easily be vegetarian or meatatarian. I'm a big fan of preparing food beforehand and then getting to relax and socialize while an amazing meal bakes to perfection in the oven.

And then there's the sappy quotient: It's a food my now-hubby taught me how to make once upon a time, a long time ago. Fourteen years ago, he was a much more adventurous chef than I. I could rule the kitchen when it came to making, and had a few "other" dishes, but lasagna was one of those things I considered "too complicated." No longer.

Today's inspiration for lasagna? Perhaps it's an unconscious nod to hubby's and my first date 14 years ago, to the Pacific Lutheran University Homecoming. Today? We're playing hooky from our 10-year homecoming festivities (there isn't much actually going on for the reunion specifically, so I don't feel bad) and going up to Seattle to see Weezer perform live. The kids are jealous. They sing Weezer songs day and night, and so I made them pork and beans for breakfast. Only Baby Girl was excited, but by lunch they'd woken up enough to appreciate the humor.

Back to the food ... so, really, there was beef that needed to be cooked in the refrigerator, and I finally harvested my six tomato plants the other day and had sauce coming out of my ears. This version was a little different than the last couple batches ... no bacon in this round, and no added nutrition in the form of blended up chard and carrots.

This week's base sauce ... consists of about nine different kinds of tomatoes (from my six plants, plus the tomatoes that came in my weekly Terra Organics produce order), a green peppers, onions, a jalepeno, some red wine and olive oil, a bit of salt, a ton of garlic, all cooked for about two hours until it got a more sauce-like consistency. It was fun watching my rainbow of yellow, green, orange and many different reds tomatoes cook down into a deep red sauce. I didn't use fresh herbs this time around because it was dark out, and I just wanted to cook the darn tomatoes.

Plus I figured making some food in advance for this week might be a good idea. Especially food that has my Basement Brother and Hubby drooling for more. The kids still look at it suspiciously (they don't like their food touching food -- so lasagna still elicits skepticism), but we'll try again ...

Anyhow, enough chit-chat, here's my recipe for this week's lasagna ...

TC's Easy Lasagna (2 batches)
based off of Ronzoni's Healthy Harvest Easy Lasagna recipe

2 lb. ground beef
2 tbsp. Yaya (or Johnny's) seasoning
1 tsp. oregano
3-4 cups of homemade tomato sauce (or 1 26 oz. jar of spaghetti sauce)
1 (28 oz.) can of stewed, peeled whole tomatoes
2 (15 oz.) cans of tomato sauce
1 large container (32 oz.) of ricotta cheese (or small curd cottage cheese)
4 cups (16 oz.) o shredded mozzarella (or other favorite cheese)
4 eggs
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
18 pieces (generally one package) of lasagna noodles, uncooked

In a large cast-iron pot, brown the meat. Sprinkle seasoning on it while it cooks. Drain the grease. Add spaghetti sauce, whole tomatoes, tomato sauce and oregano (or any spices you like), simmer for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, stir together ricotta cheese, one-half of the mozzarella cheese, eggs, salt and pepper. Pour about 1 cup of sauce on the bottom of each of two 13x9-inch baking dishes. Arrange 3 UNCOOKED pasta pieces lengthwise over the sauce in each dish; cover with 1 cup of sauce. Spread one-fourth of the cheese filling over the sauce in the first dish, then spread one-fourt of the cheese filling over the sauce in the second dish. Repeat layers of lasagna, sauce and cheese filling. Then top with a layer of lasagna and remaining sauce; sprinking remaining mozzarella cheese over the top of the pans of lasagna. Cover with foil.

Now's your choice ... you can refrigerate, freeze, or stick one or both in the oven for 45 minutes (with foil on) in a preheated 350 degree oven, then remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes, or until hot and bubbly. Let satnd 10 minutes before cutting. Each pan makes about 12 servings.

NOTE: If you freeze it, remember to give it time to thaw, and you might need to cook it a little extra. Luckily with lasanga, you can generally over cook and it should be fine.


Barefoot in the kitchen, part II: Bacon chocolate

Just several months ago, I'd never heard of bacon as anything but a part of breakfast or as the proverbial icing on the cake for a sandwich or burger. But then came the bacon bonanza.

Some gal pals got together for some girl time, and the boys went bacon crazy. Someone even brought little smokies wrapped in bacon. Then, at future events and gatherings came jalepeƱo and cream cheese poppers -- wrapped in bacon and BBQ'd on the grill. There was bacon guacamole. Brown-sugared bacon. Many salads with bacon in it.

And then came the talk of bacon candy.

A girlfriend who makes lusti-licious truffles once or twice a year as an adoption fundraiser was talking about flavors, and the menfolk began to bring up bacon. "Bacon truffles!" they declared. Again and again and again. And again and again and again. And again and again.

You get the picture.

So I decided to start experimenting. Husband found a Peanut Butter Bacon Chocolate Truffle recipe awhile back thanks to NPR's Splendid Table show. And I located a super-easy Chocolate Bacon Bark recipe. The results? Happy hubby. Happy children. And many other happy people.

And while I enjoyed the results as well, I'm quite content that it's not MY obsession goodie. This is something I can make, taste, and set aside ... to others' delight.

TC's version of Bacon Chocolate Bark
-- 1 bag chocolate chips of choice (semi-sweet is basic, I used 60% cacao last night -- yum!)
-- 7 strips of bacon, cooked crispy and chopped to bits (Some say the thicker, meatier strips are better -- but if you use thinner ones, just toss in a couple extra strips. Or heck, toss in extra just for fun.)

Melt the chocolate chips in the microwave, 1 minute at a time (stirring in between) until melted. Stir half the bacon in, then pour mixture onto a cookie sheet covered in foil and spread to desired thickness. Next, sprinkle remaining "bacon bits" on top, and refrigerate. Enjoy!