Saturday, July 30, 2011

Fresh Veggie Stacks

Fresh vegetable stack
Summer is in full swing in the Midwest.  The good news is there were beautiful tomatoes and cucumbers at the farmer's market. The bad news is the heat. I had two criteria for lunch, I didn't want to heat up the kitchen and I wanted something fresh. So, I decided to make something I haven't made since last summer, veggie stacks. They are deceiving easy to make but very time consuming. There is a lot of chopping. I had blocked the amount of chopping these take out of my mind, but it all came rushing back to me as I prepared the dish. Instead of buying food rings, I use PVC pipe. You can get PVC pipe from your local hardware store. If you are lucky you can talk someone else into cutting the pipe into sections and smoothing the edges for you.
As I was trying to name this recipe, I starting thinking about whether I should call tomatoes a fruit or vegetable and did a little research. I discovered that the US Supreme Court actually looked at this very issue. The Court ruled in Nix v Hedden, 149 US 304 (1893) that while the tomato is technically a fruit, under customs regulations it should be classified (as thus taxed) as a vegetable and not a fruit. I recommend clicking the link and reading the case-- it is a short case and a fun bit of history. So from a botanical standpoint these should really be fruit stacks and not veggie stacks but from a legal perspective they are veggie and fruit stacks.

Cilantro Dressing

The Dressing 

1 Clove of Garlic
1/4 Cup (60 ml) of Lime Juice
2 Tbsp of Honey
3 Tbsp of Rice Wine Vinegar
1/2 Cup (10 g) of Cilantro
1/3 Cup (80 ml) of Vegetable or Canola Oil

Place all of the ingredient except the oil in a food processor and combine. Once the garlic is chopped and the cilantro is in small pieces, slowly add the oil (in a steady stream). Set aside.  Note: If you don't want to make your own dressing, Trader Joe's Cilantro Dressing is a great substitute.

The Layers (All in Separate Bowls)

2 Cups of Cooked Basmati or Jasmine Rice (1 Cup (180 g) Uncooked) (Mixed with 3 Tbsp of Dressing) Chill while you are making the other layers
1 Cup (150 g) of Diced Tomato (Mixed with 2 Tbsp of Dressing)
1 Cup (130 g) of Diced Cucumber (Peeled and seeds Removed) (Mixed with 2 Tbsp of Dressing)
1 Avocado (155 g), Diced (Mixed with 2 Tbsp of Dressing)
1 Cup (155 g) of Diced Mango (Mixed with 2 Tbsp of Dressing)
The assembly line is ready
Line a plate with salad greens (I used baby spinach and arugula). Place PVC pipe or food ring on top of the greens. Place a couple of spoonfuls of rice in the bottom of the PVC pipe and press down. Add the layers in the following order (press down after each addition): tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, and mango.
View from the top
Finally add the remaining rice and press down. Any remaining dressing can be drizzled over the greens and rice.  Carefully remove the PVC pipe. Enjoy!
It didn't fall down
The bottom line: Will I make this again? Yes, I love these (I ate two). Next time, I will try to plan my time better and budget more time for chopping.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Grilled Baby Back Ribs

Grilled Asian style, Jamaican Jerk, and coffee ancho chile ribs
I love grilled ribs but I also want tender juicy ribs. I like them with a bit of smoky flavor but I don't want the smoke to overpower the taste of the ribs. My solution: I bake the ribs at a low temperature in the oven and then finish them on the grill with a bit of smoke. To make them extra tender and add another layer of flavor, I bake the ribs with beer. The result is amazing ribs. To add even more pizazz to my ribs and to accommodate differences in tastes, I make three different types: Jamaican Jerk, Asian style, and coffee ancho chile. The best part is they couldn't be easier.

These were so good, I entered them in the Fine Cooking Grill-Lympics.

Thanks to everyone for voting for me---

Baked Ribs
1-2 12 oz. (355 ml) Beers (I prefer to use a pilsner, wheat, Belgian blonde ale or Kolsch; avoid using a Pale Ale or IPA)
1-3 Racks of Baby Back Ribs

Preheat oven to 300F/149C/ Gas Mark 2. Place ribs in a large roasting pan and pour beer (use one beer for 1-2 racks of ribs and 2 beers for 3 racks of ribs) over the ribs. Cover the pan tightly in foil. Bake for 3-4 hours. Remove from oven and place on cookie sheets or large plates to carry out to the grill.

The Rubs/ Marinades
Jamaican Jerk Rub

Jamaican Jerk Rub

1/4 Cup (53 g) Packed Brown Sugar
2 Tbsp of Kosher Salt (Do not use iodized salt)
1/4 Tsp of Ground Ginger
1/4 to 1/2 Tsp of Cinnamon
1/4 Tsp of Ground Allspice
Couple of Dashes of Red Pepper Flakes
1/4 Tsp of Paprika (either hot or sweet depending on taste)
1 Dash of Ground Cloves

Asian Style Marinade
Asian Marinade
1/4 Cup (60 ml) of Hoisin Sauce
1/4 Cup (60 ml) of Vegetable or Canola Oil
2 Tbsp of Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp of Sesame Oil
1 Tbsp of Ground Ginger
3 Garlic Cloves, Minced
1 Tbsp of Chile Garlic Sauce
1/4 Cup (53 g) of Brown Sugar

Whisk all of the ingredients together in a small dish.

Coffee and Ancho Chile Rub
Coffee Ancho Chile Rub

1/2 Cup (106 g) of Brown Sugar
2 Tbsp of Ground Ancho Chile Pepper
1/2 Cup of Dark Coffee or Espresso
3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
1 Tsp of Cinnamon
2 Tsp of Kosher Salt (Do not use iodized salt)
2 Tsp of Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 Tbsp of Paprika (Preferably Smoked)

Mix all of the ingredients together in a small bowl.

Grilled Ribs

To finish the ribs rub the Jamaican Jerk rub on both sides on the Jerk ribs, the coffee ancho rub on the meaty-side of the Ancho ribs, and baste both sides with the Asian ribs with the Asian marinade.
The grill step is really more about imparting flavor than cooking and you don't want to dry out the ribs you've worked so hard to keep moist, so keep the temperature low.  (We used our kamado grill with the intake and chimney both nearly closed.)
Our kamado grill
Load your grill or smoker with a small load of lump charcoal plus some well-soaked hickory chunks.  Bring the temperature to about 220F/104C.  Place the ribs on the grill meaty-side up. The ribs with the Asian marinade should be basted with the marinade once while the ribs are grilling.  Grill the ribs for roughly an hour, checking every 15 minutes.  When the ribs have formed a nice smoke crust, you can remove them.

The bottom line: Will I make it again? Yes. The ribs are wonderful. The rubs/marinades are great and can be used on other cuts of meat. I really like the coffee ancho chile rub with a little bit of cocoa added to it on chicken. The Jamaican jerk rub is wonderful on cedar planked salmon. The Asian style marinade is wonderful on a pork tenderloin.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Blackberry Chianti Jelly

Blackberries and wine
I am so addicted to this jelly, it is embarrassing. It is not an easy jelly to make and it seems like it takes forever. It uses a lot of blackberries and you don't get that much jelly from them. In a word it is a pain. But it is so amazingly good. Actually, it is beyond good. We have already gone through 1 1/2 jars which was my first batch. I just made four more jars and when the pick-your-own blackberry farm is open in August, I am sure I will make more. You can use any red wine for this jelly. I happen to have a soft spot for Chianti.

Blackberry Chianti Jelly

1 Lbs of Blackberries
3/4 (180 ml) Cups of Red Wine
Sugar (1 Cup (213 g) of Sugar per 1 Cup (240 ml) of Strained Juice)

Weigh or measure blackberries. Rinse blackberries and place in a sauce pan. Add red wine (for each pound of blackberries add 3/4 (180 ml) cup of wine). Simmer until soft. Using an immersion blender or ricer or fork mash the blackberries.
Mashing the blackberries

Place in cheesecloth or in a tight weave strainer and strain overnight. Discard the seeds and pulp.
Straining the blackberries

Measure the strained liquid and place in a large saucepan. Add the sugar (see ratio above). Stir the mixture over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and then turn to medium high. Stir frequently until the mixture hits the setting point. (See note below). Remove the jelly from the heat and skim any foam off of the surface.
Cooking the blackberry, red wine, and sugar mixture
Pour into hot glass 1/2 pint (236 ml) jars (sterilized). Place lids on the jars and process in a water bath for 10 minutes. OR place in sterilized jars, refrigerate and use within a month.
Blackberry jelly
Note about the setting point: I don't know about you but my mom made jams, jellies, and preserves. I barely remember them. I know they were good and unfortunately the love of jams passed on to me but the knowledge didn't. I think I was too young when my mom stopped making jellies to have the second-nature understanding of the "setting point". I am sure that my mom could look at a boiling mixture and tell if the setting point has been reached. I can't so here is what I do. If anyone else out there has a better method, I would love to hear about it.
  1. I use a candy thermometer and the setting point has been reached at 220F/104C. This is somewhat deceiving because I have stopped when I thought the jelly point was reached and the jelly didn't set. I now have an additional step. 
  2. I place a plate in the freezer and as the temperature approached 220F/104C, I take the plate out and place a small amount of the jelly on the plate. When it cools, I move it around on the plate and if there is no resistance the plate goes back in the freezer. When I think the setting point has been reached, I take the plate back out of the freezer. Again, I place a small amount of jelly on the plate. Once it cools, I push it with m finger, if it wrinkles, the jelly has reached the setting point. I think it is important to test the jelly before the setting point is reached so it is easier to tell the difference.  (As you can tell from the plate below, I tested for the setting point multiple times before it was reached).
I use a cold plate to determine if the mixture has reached the jelly stage
The bottom line: Will I make this again? Yes, this is a great jelly. The better question is: Will I complain while I make it? Yes, I will do that too.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Eggplant Caponata

Italian eggplants (Rosa bianaca) destined for caponata
Beautiful gorgeous Italian eggplant. What is so special about Italian eggplant? It is not bitter so you do not have to salt it prior to using it. Same with Japanese eggplant; no salting is required. I have both Italian and Japanese eggplant plants in my garden. Of course, I do not have any ready for eating. I found some at a farm while I was searching for blackberries for my blackberry Chianti jelly and I couldn't resist. I had to buy them.
If you are using regular eggplant: dice the eggplant, toss them with about a tablespoon of salt, place them in a colander (in the sink), and place a plate on top of them and weigh it down so it presses on the eggplant. After an hour, rinse the eggplant and towel dry it.
This recipe takes awhile, well, at least it takes me awhile to make but it so worth it. The smell of sauteing garlic is incredible and the result is gorgeous. I think that is why there are so many caponata recipes out there. This is a forgiving recipe so please change it and tailor it for your tastes. I am blogging so I have it next summer when I have fresh eggplant again. A blog post is so much better than a slip of paper, which is what the recipe is current written on. 

Sliced eggplant

2 Eggplants, Diced
1/4 Cup of Vegetable Oil (Only if frying the eggplant if you are roasting it you need 2-3 Tbsp)
1 Cup (150 g) of Onions, Diced
8 Cloves of Garlic, Thinly Sliced or Diced
3 Tbsp of Olive Oil
2 1/2 Cups (600 ml) of Pureed Tomatoes
1/4 Cup (60 ml) of Balsamic Vinegar
3 Tbsp of Capers, Drained
2 Tbsp of Fresh Basil, Chopped
1 Tbsp of Fresh Oregano, Chopped
1/2 Tsp of Salt
1/2 Tsp of Crushed Red Pepper (Optional)
1 Tbsp of Sugar

Not as healthy (healthier version below)- heat vegetable oil in a skillet and fry eggplant in batches.
Frying eggplant
Drain on a paper towel and keep warm in a 200F/93C /Gas Mark 1/2 oven (on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper). (Use vegetable oil not olive oil for frying).
Staying warm in the oven
Healthier and easier (but in my opinion not as tasty but still good). Put a piece of foil on a cookie sheet.  Toss diced eggplant with 3 tablespoons of oil and roast in 400F/204C/Gas Mark 6 oven for 25 minutes or until tender. (If you oven roast the eggplant, make the rest of the dish while the eggplant is roasting).

In a large sauce pan or dutch oven over low heat heat onions and garlic in olive oil until they begin to caramelize.
Garlic and onions in olive oil
(Enjoy their gorgeous smell as they caramelize. This takes awhile so pour yourself a glass of Chianti and enjoy while they slowly cook).
Add the pureed tomatoes (I cored about 4 tomatoes and pureed them in a food processor) and eggplant to the onion and garlic and cook for approximately 3 minutes. Next add the balsamic vinegar, capers, basil, oregano, salt, sugar, and crushed red pepper. Cook for an additional 8 to 10 minutes. At this point you can eat the caponata or refrigerate it for later. It also freezes well.
You can also add toasted pine nuts (2 Tbsp), golden raisins (2 Tbsp), and/ or olives (a handful) (just add them with the balsamic vinegar).
Finished caponata
How to use it?
I LOVE it over pasta. This is not how it is traditionally served. But it is so awesome over pasta. It should be served at room temperature with grilled bread but I will also eat it hot and cold. It is amazing served on crostini and even better on grilled bread.  My husband has been know to eat with with a spoon and with chips and anything else he can find.  Yes, it is that good.
Caponata- it is not a trick of the light-- it actually glistens

The bottom line: Will I make it again? Yes, I love this dish. It is an amazing mixture of sweet, salty, and savory. I hope my daughter will make it for her children someday and talk about her Sicilian heritage and the importance of locally grown produce....

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Strawberry Sorbet

Strawberries and sugar
It is ridiculously hot out. I have a bunch of fresh strawberries that need to be used (and have some bad places in them). What to do? Make strawberry sorbet. I have a recipe that is easy and no boiling needed so I don't heat up my house. Also it makes a great drink-- just add a shot of rum and voilà frozen drink goodness!

Strawberry Sorbet

9 oz (255 g) of Fresh Strawberries, Diced
3/4 Cup (169 g) of Sugar
1/4 Cup (60 ml) of Lemon Juice
1/4 Cup (60 ml) of Corn Syrup
2 Cups (480 ml) of Cold Water
Combine strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice and refrigerate for at least an hour. Puree the strawberries. Mix in the corn syrup and water.

Strawberries, lemon juice, and sugar.
Either put it in an ice cream machine and make sorbet or refrigerate the mixture until ready to make sorbet.
Strawberry mixture in the ice cream maker
 Trick for juicing a lemon: heat the lemon in the microwave for approximately 10 seconds and roll it around on the counter before juicing. I juice with a juicer I found at a flee market. I love it.
My favorite juicer.
The bottom line: Will I make this again? Yes, I will. I am hoping that Katie will take over the strawberry sorbet recipe and make it her own.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fresh Easy Tomato Sauce

Not perfect but beautiful tomatoes
It was nearing the end of the farmer's market.  I was at a meeting and was watching the clock. I was  hoping I could make it to the market before it closed. I just made it to the market before it closed. I had enough time to buy a bunch of overripe tomatoes; perfect for a pasta sauce. The sooner I used them the better. It was a hot day and I didn't feel like a hot tomato sauce. I wanted something fresh and cool. I made one of my favorite pasta sauces; you make it in the time it takes the pasta cook. Too good to be true? No, it isn't because it isn't a cooked sauce.  It almost goes without saying that you need summer fresh tomatoes.

No Cook Tomato Sauce

1 Lbs (.45 kg) of Pasta, Cooked (Reserve one cup of water from the boiled pasta)
3 Cups (460 g) of Tomatoes, Diced
1 Tsp of Salt
1/2 Tsp of Pepper
2 Tbsp to 1/4 Cup (60 ml) of Good Quality Olive Oil
1/2 Cup (25 g) of Parmesan Cheese, Grated
Approximately 10 Basil Leaves, Chopped

While preparing the pasta, combine the tomatoes, salt, pepper, and oil in a large bowl.
Diced tomatoes, olive oil, and salt and pepper
 Once the pasta is done and while it is still hot, add it to the bowl with the tomatoes. Stir to combine and add the cheese and basil. If more liquid is needed add a little of the pasta water.
Fresh tomato pasta
Changes to this recipe: The best thing about this recipe is it is so versatile. If you want a spicy dish, add a 1/4 tsp of crushed red pepper. You can change the cheese or add more cheese, if you want it cheesier. It is amazing if you substitute about a 1/4 cup of pesto for the basil and olive oil (you will need to add pasta water if you go this route). If your tomatoes aren't at the peak of freshness,  you can add about a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar or champagne vinegar. You can also chill this and serve it as a pasta salad.

The bottom line: will I make this again? Yes, I will. Next time, I think I will make the version with the pesto.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Food Wonk's Meal Madness Apple App

Screen shot of the spinner
I am so excited. At long last, Food Wonk has its own food app. It seemed like it took forever, but then when you work on it on nights and weekends, it takes awhile. It's free; it's fun so give it a try! I really hope you like it!
My brilliant husband wrote the code for the app, and I created the content. If you have any ideas for the app just let me know either on the comment page here (see the Meal Madness Tab) or via the app.
What is it? Well, it is an electronic version of a game Katie and I play. We would write different ingredients on pieces of paper and pull three out of a hat. We would either use those three ingredients in a dish or in a meal. I thought wouldn't that be a fun app and the app was born! I had a lot of fun coming up with all of the choices especially the wild card category.
I would love to know some of the choices you spun and the meals you made with them. In testing we had amazing combinations and several great ideas immediately came to mind. We also had terrifying combinations like
  • Duck, cheese straws, and Szechuan pepper
  • Bass, pudding, and cumin
  • Turkey, lutefisk, and white pepper
That is the fun of the challenge!

To download:

Cover Art

FoodWonk Meal Madness

Transcriptix, Inc.
Category: Lifestyle
Updated: Jul 13, 2011

Here is the detail on the categories and the dietary choices!


Spice If it is in my spice cabinet, it’s fair game. Yes, I know I have a lot of spices. No, I don’t have a problem. I can stop buying spices any time I want.

Herb These are all considered culinary herbs. I have them either dried or I grow them. You can use the herb fresh, dried, or ground. You can use the leaves or the seeds. It is up to you.

Hot Stuff Spicy spicy spicy spices and peppers make up this category. I love spicy foods and if you do too, pick this category.

Fruit If I have eaten the fruit or would consider eating the fruit, I included it. Beware- I have been a part of a lot of farmer's co-oops and I have an adventurous palate.

Veggie I took some liberties here. You are just going to have to deal with it. There are fruits listed in the vegetable list. Yes, I know the difference between a fruit and a vegetable. If I use a fruit like a vegetable, then it is listed as a vegetable. I am surprised by the number of vegetables I am willing to eat. I must be superhealthly. You can be too by picking this category.

Cheese  I don't think I have met a cheese I didn't like; from stinky cheeses to mild ones. I tried to include a nice range of cheeses. It can be tricky choosing cheese as a category especially if you also have the wild card category chosen.

Meat This category includes fish, fowl, beef, and pork. I grudgingly did not include game. If you want a game category please request it in the comments and if enough people request it, I will add it. I also did not include all of the types of meat that I have eaten or will eat because of availability.

Starch I love love love starches, and I had a lot of fun creating this category. Sorry, I do not have a gluten-free exclusion (maybe in a later release if there are a lot of requests).

Beverage I wanted this category to be liquids but I was vetoed. So these are defined as beverages I would drink. I really like beer and strongly believe that the type of beer you cook with matters. So, I included specific types of beers.

Wild Card This category is not for the faint-of-heart. It is the ultimate in randomness and where I had the most fun picking out odd ingredients. It could be anything. My favorite wild card ingredient is lutefisk.
Screen shot of your options: choose your categories and dietary restrictions
Dietary Restrictions

We tried our best to be friendly to different dietary restrictions. I think I have most covered. Most religious restrictions are covered by excluding pork or picking vegan, vegetarian, or Kosher or by not choosing a category. If we missed a major restriction, just let us know. If we have something in the wrong category, just let us know. If I made a mistake I am terribly sorry-- please let me know and I will fix it.

Kosher  Allowable foods under the Orthodox Jewish dietary laws Where there is some debate, I went with the more conservative side (e.g., not just no shellfish but no swordfish too- swordfish isn’t kosher because the scales cannot be removed without tearing the skin). Picking Kosher does not prevent meat and diary from appearing together. If you get a meat and diary together, you will have to spin again.

Halal Lawful foods under Islamic dietary laws. I excluded all pork and pork products (like gelatin). I excluded alcohol (this includes extracts and soy sauce). I did not exclude cheeses (you will have to check to determine the specific enzyme used making the specific cheese) or prepared foods unless it is obvious.  My apologies in advance if I missed something. If I did, please let me know and I will fix it in the next release.

Vegetarian No meat or meat products. This does not exclude milk, egg, or milk products. I did not exclude any particular cheeses because the enzyme used in cheese making varies and there are many substitutes for animal rennet being used.

Vegan No meat, meat products, butter, milk, cheese, or eggs.

No Pork  No pork or pork products (like gelatin) but it does include all other meats and seafood.

No Beef No beef but it does include all other meats and seafood.

No Fish  No fish but it would include all other meats and seafood.

No Shellfish  No shellfish or mollusks but it would include all other meats and seafood.

No Nuts  I was conservative with this category; I excluded all nuts, seeds, and their oils.
Food Wonk: Embrace the Randomness, Take the Challenge!