Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hash Browns with Yams (Moved to

Hash browns with yams

Hash browns have always been a challenge for me, but I finally figured out the trick!  Cooking the potatoes first means they don't end up half burnt and half uncooked, and the lovely crispy edges come from cooking in oil. This recipe can easily be multiplied if you have a giant soup pot for boiling them and is a great way to preserve potatoes.

Adding yams brings a new character to boring potatoes, a bright sweet note plus a bit of color. Peeling brings the focus to the flavor rather than the texture.  I usually use Russet potatoes but a smooth buttery Yukon Gold would be great too.  If it were easier to find the bright purple potatoes locally I would add them too just for the color surprise!  I think the best part about this recipe is that there is no need to drown it in cheese or to add any at all for that matter.  This dish especially lends itself to a partnership with an egg.  I love them poached or over-easy and dropped on top just before serving.

This seems like it would freeze well but I haven't had good luck with the potatoes keeping their flavor and texture after being in the freezer, so I don't suggest doing that.  

Hash browns with yams and thyme
I've moved this recipe over to my new blog, - please check it out HERE!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Crock Pot Jambalaya

I'm a little late for the official day of Mardi Gras but it is always the season for Jambalaya, a spicy meat/rice stew that's a delicious traditional New Orleans dish.  There are endless variations including chicken, sausage, shrimp, even alligator!  The important keys are the trio of onion, green pepper, and celery.  (Now where can I find alligator in Utah?...) 

I did some reading about the dish and ended up with a recipe of my own since none quite matched up with what I had on hand.  This is turkey sausage; not quite as pretty as the Andouille sausage (dark and spicy) that is usually used but it was tasty.  I used red chili pepper flakes in the Cajun spice mix instead of cayenne pepper and ended up adding cayenne too.  It has a nice kick but really needs the Andouille style sausage to be the right flavor.  Still, I'm calling this one a success!

I used a mix for cornbread - Bob's Red Mill gluten-free - and it was a great accompaniment.  For dessert, bourbon-praline ice cream.  Just needs a side of cooked greens and some jazz music and dinner is perfect!

Crock Pot Jambalaya

Crock Pot Jambalaya

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (frozen or thawed)
1 1/2 lbs sausage, sliced into rounds
2 cups chicken broth
2 14-oz cans diced tomatoes
1 medium white onion, diced
1 green pepper, seeded and diced
1 stick celery, diced
1 Tbsp Cajun spices*
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
Cooked white rice

Layer the meat at the bottom of the crockpot, then everything except the rice on top.  Cook on low for 9 hours. Cook rice and mix into the crock pot so the rice soaks up the flavors before serving - OR pour over the cooked rice.  Serve with cornbread, green salad, and iced tea. 

*For the Cajun spices, I used the mix from Emeril Lagasse on the Food Network (click here to open it in a new window).  I prefer doing my own spice mixes instead of the store-bought ones; I know exactly what goes into it and if I have something I grew or made, then it's all the better.  This oregano was home-grown and kept in the old spice bottle.  :)

Here is the lovely spice lineup (well, most of it):

Cajun spice mix

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

How to Dry Herbs

While the snow covers the ground outside, I have herbs growing in little pots on the kitchen windowsill.  Even for those with no more gardening space than a windowsill, I highly recommend doing this, as it will bring joy to your life and to your cooking.  Starting from seeds is cheapest, or many stores now have grown plants with roots that just need to be re-potted.  No worries about having a green thumb or not, if the plant doesn't do well, just harvest all the leaves and get a new plant, nothing wasted. 

My friend Lori over at Feathered Thing has some great lemonade recipes (follow the link!) using these herbs and even Lavender Tea, so if you can't wait until summer check these out! 

Mint plants are probably the easiest to grow, and be careful about planting them outside because they might take over your yard and your neighbors' yards.  I haven't used it in anything yet but now have enough dried to make tea out of it, so I'll post and let you all know how that goes.  Mint can be harvested by cutting off a few of the taller stalks, or just the top half of them.  Make sure to leave plenty of leaves on the plant, as this is how it gets sunlight energy, so that it will keep growing.  I dry the stalks either as detailed below, or hanging upside-down in a bundle in the pantry. 

I have bought several of those rosemary trees at local stores and can't seem to keep them alive... but it is so much cheaper than buying pre-packaged rosemary that I just buy a new little tree whenever I need more.  Rosemary is one of my favorite herbs.  It is very woody so harvesting can require gardening clippers and gloves to protect yourself from sharp sticks.  I find it easiest to cut the sticks, then take the leaves off while fresh instead of drying on the sticks.

Lavender in a garden

Yes, it's an herb!  I picked up a huge bunch at a local farmers market last summer and hung it all up upside-down to dry.  English Lavender (Lavandula Angusifolia if you're into Latin) is recommended as the best for cooking, as other types are more bitter.  It is very important to get these from a trusted source with no pesticides.  To tide you over until I get my own posted, here is a Lavender Martini recipe from a fellow blogger.

My basil isn't terribly happy about the small amount of sunshine lately but, like me, it's doing its best to tough out the winter.  Basil has a much stronger flavor when fresh - I like it sliced into small ribbons over pasta.  Dried it goes into all sorts of recipes too, including my favorite ranch dressing and my husband's homemade spaghetti sauce.  I dry the individual leaves rather than cutting the stems/branches; the little groups of new leaves at the tops of the stems make beautiful garnishes so it's nice to keep those until I am serving something especially pretty.

How To Dry Herbs
Once the herbs have been clipped from the plants, wash them gently - even organic indoor plants can have dust that you won't want in your food - and dry with paper towels.  It's pretty dry where we live so I see no reason to waste energy using the oven for something that will happen naturally, so this is basically a "leave them on the counter" method.  I prefer the counter over the sun because the sun tends to bleach color in addition to drying, and I like preserving the little bit of color also.

Cover a cookie sheet or tray with parchment paper and lay the herbs on it, spread out and not touching each other.  Only do one herb per tray so they don't get mixed up when they are dried and it's much harder to tell them apart.  Check them often and turn them every day or two so they dry evenly on all sides.  Yes, even the basil, it takes a while but it is 100% worth the effort.  Once they are completely dry, leave them out for another couple of days to make sure, because even a little bit of moisture can ruin the whole batch.  Pop the dried herbs into ziplock baggies or glass jars for storage.

Dried lavender in baggie, half remaining on stems.

Mine went into plastic baggies, stems and all, and during the "please stop snowing" mood is a perfect time to take the leaves off the stems and put everything into pretty jars.  Lavender flowers and peppermint leaves are much easier to take off of the stems when dried than when fresh.

How to Use Dried Herbs
Some very helpful tools for working with dried herbs are a fine mesh strainer and a mortar and pestle.

The strainer I use with lavender for making simple syrup; the mortar and pestle is useful for all sorts of things but is especially needed for rosemary to break the woody leaves into powder for better food texture.  Dried rosemary is pretty tough even after cooking so it's best to grind it.  Dried herbs from the garden bring a deeper flavor than the jars from grocery stores, and you get the enjoyment of doing it yourself!  

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Sweet & Salty Apple Shortbread

This is a simple and craving-satisfying dessert to enjoy those late-season apples in something a little less usual.   Apple pie is great and all, but these little treats can be tucked into a lunch bag, purse, or briefcase (um, use a ziploc baggie or something...) for a happy smile when you need a pick me up. 

The recipe for Salty Apple Shortbread is from Vanilla Sugar Blog (reprinted with permission) and is just too pretty not to try.  Utah apples are plentiful and shortbread is one of my favorite desserts.  These are absolutely wonderful in the morning with coffee. Bonus: these are fast and easy enough to make on a weekday evening! 

The most important bit of pre-planning here is bringing the butter to room temperature.  Salted butter does just fine on the counter at normal house temperatures, just pop a couple of sticks onto a plate and leave them out overnight. Oh, and use real butter.  Your recipe will thank you. 

This needs approximately one large apple; maybe two if they are small.  Sprinkle lemon juice over the chopped apples to keep them from turning brown.  My first batch turned out too moist, I think because the apples were too juicy, so I adjusted the recipe for the second batch.  Instead of mixing the sea salt in with the flour and baking powder, I sprinkled it over the apples and let them sit for a half hour so the salt pulled out some of the moisture, then squeezed out the juice and used the drier apple bits.  It's a method I learned with zucchini.  The second batch turned out with that perfect melt-in-your-mouth shortbread texture I was hoping for!  Lesson learned, don't skip that step. 

The rest of the recipe is quick to put together, just a couple of mixing bowls and all the usual suspects for baking.  I tried almond extract in one variation and that is delicious too, but did overpower the delicate apples, so I suggest sticking with vanilla.

I used a 9x13 pan to keep a more traditional shortbread style of thin flat bars, but another option is to use a smaller pan and cook them a little longer.  Mine took longer to cook anyway, about 20 minutes total before reaching that pretty golden-brown stage.  I sifted powdered sugar over the second batch instead of glazing.  Both are delicious! 

A few photos from the making:

Crumbly shortbread texture just before pressing dough into the pan

Ready to go into the oven!  Press it down tightly so it holds its form after baking.

Shortbread with glaze, cooled and removed from the pan.  Parchment paper makes everything easy. 

Sweet & Salty Apple Shortbread

2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups peeled chopped or grated apples (1/2" to 1/4") (choose a kind that is sweet and firm)
fresh lemon juice for the apples (optional)
sea salt for the top (optional but highly recommended!)
powdered sugar for the top (optional)
*Special: Parchment paper - this is to help lift them out when done baking - note that this is NOT wax paper.

For the glaze (optional):
2 Tbsp half & half (or whole milk)
2 Tbsp butter
3/4 cup powdered sugar (sifted to avoid lumps)
1/4 tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F with the rack at the middle level.  Line a 9x13 inch pan with baking parchment and grease lightly.
2. Mix the flour and baking powder, set aside.
3. Cream the butter, brown sugar, and vanilla extract.
4. Blend in the flour mixture, until just combined, no overmixing. Add in the chopped apples and mix again. This mixture is very crumbly. Dump mixture into pan and use your fingers to press the dough evenly into the pan. Sprinkle a bit of sea salt on the top of the dough if you're using it.
5. Bake 6 minutes, rotate the pan, and bake 7-12 minutes more or until the edges are golden brown.
6. Let cool completely before applying glaze. You’ll know when it’s done when the center is almost firm and edges are golden brown.
7. For the glaze, put all the ingredients in a small saucepan on medium heat.
8. Whisk until smooth and barely bubbly. Drizzle the glaze over the bars. You can drizzle or coat the entire top.
9. Cool until the pan is just warm to the touch and cut into bars with a sharp knife.
10. Makes about 20 bars, depending on how big/small you cut them.