Demented Ramblings life is too short to refrain from eating jam out of the jar


Adventures and Misadventures in cuisine: Weekend wrapup

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes you try to asphyxiate your guests.

This weekend was filled with experimentation for me.  Let's start with the pumpkin.

Or not.  See, I went to the farmer's market in search of pie pumpkins.  I was determined to give another shot to making a pumpkin pie from scratch, it's been years since my first and last attempt (which was a miserable failure).  The guy at the market convinced me to purchase a couple of these guys instead.

Grey and knobby, but he swore it'd make an even better pie than the pumpkins.  This strange creature is a blue hubbard squash.  I seeded, peeled, cubed and steamed them, then pureed them.  Looked like baby poop.  Of course, that's what pureed pumpkin looks like, so we were right on.

Out of that puree I made Ginger Pumpkin bread  (thanks Cumin and Coriander) and a pie and still have enough puree to do something else.  Plus I roasted up the seeds but they were gone by this morning.

I also made a big batch of chili.  I'd never made chili from scratch before, I think I prefer doing it a la chili magic because it comes out consistently good that way.  But, the men-folk rather liked my chili.  Pop deemed it "so-so" but ate 3 big servings.

Last christmas, my uncle and I were talking about his mom.  She was from England and made all sorts of things for him growing up that I'd never had.  He spoke of particularly missing her yorkshire puddings.  I made a mental note at that time to try to make them sometime soon and to invite him over.  When you are a procrastinator like I am, "sometime soon" quite often equates to 10 months away.

Today I cooked Alton Brown's pot roast  and Jamie Oliver's yorkies.  The pot roast was ok, but I think I'll stick with my usual pressure cooker roast, it turns out tastier and more tender.  The olives and raisins made for a damned strange gravy too.  The yorkies were my biggest learning experience of the weekend.

Per Jamie's directions, I put a half inch of oil in my muffin cups, preheated it until super hot, and poured in the batter.  Only the oil overflowed in the oven (use a quarter inch next time!) and smoked up the house like whoa!  Much coughing and wheezing ensued.  I opened the back door and put the fan in front of it.

How'd they turn out?  Evidently just right.  Well, huh.   However, I poured an entire box of baking soda into the oven to soak up all of the oil on the bottom of it.  I'll finish cleaning that tomorrow.  I believe we'll have a few days of leftovers to let me recuperate from my weekend in the kitchen.


Southern staple

Dad and I have been rather bummed since all of the Winn Dixie stores here have gone belly up.  This means no more Palmetto Farms Pimento Cheese for us.  It truly is the best brand that we've ever found and we've tried nearly all of them available in this market.

Over the weekend, I picked up a new cookbook, as I am wont to do.   It contains three separate recipes for pimento cheese.  I started with one, but wound up sort of combining them all, plus a little impromptu miracle whip thrown in for good measure.

Dad was very unsure about putting bacon into pimento cheese.  Good lord, I'd like to kiss whoever came up with that idea, sooooooo tasty.  Smeared on a super dark wheat bread, it is the best cheese sandwich around.

Tonight Rachel Ray made a beef stroganoff on 30 minute meals.  I believe that I may have to try to duplicate that one very soon.  It looked terrific.  Dad swears that he hates stroganoff, but the thing that he describes is nothing like anything that I've ever eated called stroganoff.  I'm thinking he had something more like ghoulash, tomatoes and sour cream?


Back in the saddle

I think I overdid it in the kitchen pre-bbq.  I didn't cook anything for the next week and then took off on the road trip of love with the sweetest boyfriend for two wonderful weeks.  The only kitchen activity I really did during the vacation was the mixing up of a black bean salad on the night that we made dinner for our darling hosts.

Today though, I could no longer resist the call of the kitchen.  When some friends called, wanting to do something tonight, it was just the opportunity I was looking for.  Dinner guests!  So, I invited them over and whipped up a rather tasty meal.  It's too bad that the boyfriend was busy and had to miss out, but he had his own great dinner of roast chicken and cornbread stuffing cooked by his own sweet mum.

The only completely new to me recipe was a vietnamese coffee granita.  Last night while channel flipping, I caught the Take Home Chef making a mango granita.  Mango was not quite what I had in mind, but this recipe was the first one that I came across after googling granita.  Plus, I thought it would be a nice complement for my oatmeal cake.  And so it was.  They were quite wonderful together.

A sort of new to me recipe was Martha's Vineyard salad, but I'd eaten it before.  The same friends who were coming for dinner had served it to me years ago.  It turned out to pair nicely with my shrimp and not grits.  I also roasted asparagus and cooked some yellow squash.   I used that old southern method on the squash of cooking the shit out of it with a big amount of margarine, until it was all squishy.

It was a wonderful dinner, paired with a South Austrailian Chardonnay.  This was an "unwooded" wine, although I do not know exactly what that means just yet.  I'll have to do a little research.

I think I like having very small parties even more than large ones.  I got to concentrate on just the two guests and spend all of the time with them.  However, there's also something to be said for being surrounded by a dozen or so of your best pals.


rescue mission

Sometimes things don't work out exactly as you planned.  I found a recipe for a roasted vegetable salad that sounded just scrumptious.  How could you go wrong with asparagus and red peppers?  Well, they weren't the problem, per se.  The problem turned out to be the eggplant.

Folks have told me since that I overcooked the eggplant by a lot, but I was just following the directions.  The more I stirred and tasted this concoction, the worse it looked (and tasted).

I sure as hell wasn't going to eat it.  I mean, just look at that brown lifeless puddle of goo.  And the vinegar was like a sharp pop in the nose with a stick.  I thought and thought about what I could do to rescue this since Dad argued with me about just throwing it away.  I most assuredly was not setting this dish out for guests though.

So, I picked through and pulled out the asparagus and peppers, also saving a few of the onions.  Made a bit of pasta to mix it with, and put a little catalina dressing on the whole thing.  It still wasn't great, I won't be making it again, but at least it was edible.  And at least it stopped looking like someone had already eaten and regurgitated it.


Life is too short to refrain from eating jam out of the jar.

When I was a wee little girl, my dad used to bring home jellyrolls and share them with me. Cellophane wrapped sponge cake with raspberry jelly peeking out. I believe that they were from Kern's bakery. I don't know if Kern's has closed up or isn't as readily available around here or if they just stopped making jelly rolls, but I haven't had one in years.

Sunday, when Mimi and I were checking out Jungle Jim's, I saw a lovely jelly roll in the bakery there, all oozing with jelly. If I'd been in my right mind, I probably would have bought it. Instead I'd just been traumatized by a big dead eyeball staring up at me from the meatcase and my brain was all agoggle. In retrospect, I guess that's much better than a live eyeball staring up at me from the meatcase, but that isn't the point. The point is the cake.

Sunday night, I dreamed of cake. Not just any cake, multiple layers of golden yellow cake with raspberry jam between them. Rather like the jellyrolls of my youth, but not rolled. I saw a tower of thin layers and red jam.

Tonight I finally had enough energy after work to dive into this project. I used the 1-2-3-4 Yellow Cake recipe from The Joy of Cooking, making 3 layers. I sliced each of these layers in half, spreading raspberry preserves between each layer. Then I mixed a little Chambord with the remaining preserves and drizzled them over the top.

What we have here are six layers of love.


Not quite PB&J

Several years ago, pop and I went through a summer of canning. We made a lot of jams that year: strawberry, blackberry, peach, apple butter. We also experimented with canning fruits (only the cherries didn't turn out so well) and making our own mincemeat.

It's just the two of us and we really don't eat that many biscuits. Or, at least, I don't. And he's barely gone through half in the 5 years since we made it. These things don't keep until the end of time, so I've been trying to think of ways to use up some of it.

I started googling for cake recipes using strawberry jam. Sparks' birthday is coming up and I'm trying to find a nice cake to make for him. I found a recipe that practically screamed his name: peanut butter and strawberry jam cake with white chocolate peanut butter ganache. Sparks doesn't really like nuts, except peanuts (a legume, I know) and loves peanut butter cookies more than any other cookie. So, this morning I set out to give this recipe a try.


Harvest time

I don't know if I've mentioned it here or not, but I hate tomatoes. Ok, so maybe "hate" is a bit too strong of a word these days. I am slowly acclimating myself to a tolerance of them, most especially if disguised. I love salsa after all.

Although Pop's tomato plants have some sort of weird fungus (it makes the plants start dying from the ground up) we have a plethora of tomatoes. My auntie's tomato plants have no such blight, so she keeps sending dad home with them. Way more than one man, no matter how much he likes them, has been able to keep up with.

So, today I put a rather large dent in his stash of tomatoes. I made pizza with homemade sauce (I make the best pizza ever) and gazpacho. The boyfriend even helped out with the gazpacho since he'd actually eaten it before and I had not.

My pizza sauce is made in the style of margerhita pizza, only then I throw lots of toppings on the pizza. Start with a few tomatoes, squeeze out some of the juice and seeds and chop them up. Then add a couple of crushed cloves of garlic, a generous pinch of kosher salt, and a splash of olive oil. Chiffonade some fresh basil and allow the whole thing to mingle for a bit before using.

I can barely stand to get pizza out anymore, I've ruined myself for it. I spread this sauce on a prepared pizza crust (like a Boboli crust, only I buy the Kroger brand), top it with lots of yummy things (shallots, mushrooms, roasted red peppers, olives, more basil) and several kinds of cheese. This is when I quite often clean out small leftover amounts of things from the fridge, like some kalamata olives that I'd bought a few weeks ago and a couple of feta stuffed hot peppers, just chop them up fine and spread them about. Yum yum yum.

As for the gazpacho, it won't be truly ready until tomorrow. I used this recipe as a starting point. Of course, I never measure much of anything, and I left out the celery because I don't care for it much. I did, however, add a bit of celery seed to the soup. Pop and I tasted it and agreed it was quite tasty, that will be tomorrow night's dinner, along with a bit of garlic toast. Almost a healthy meal, if not for the garlic toast.

Best of all, I reduced the number of tomatoes rotting away on the windowsill and found one more way in which I will endure a tomato.


Shrimp and NOT Grits

A couple of weeks ago, the birthday girl made us dinner. She served Shrimp and Grits, which was quite tasty, but made the boyfriend say "gack" because he refuses to let a grit get near him. Hates them with the fire of a hundred burning suns or some such very large amount. I decided that I must learn to make this dish, yet change it to accommodate him. The sweet girl never has remembered to send me the recipe, which I can't fault since I am more than a little bit of a procrastinator myself. So, I took what I remembered from her dish and several recipes that I found online and combined them all together.

There is nothing healthy about this dish, but it tastes terrific. I will give you the recipe as close as possible, since I sort of made it up as I went along. Besides, I need to remember this as much as possible so that I can do it again.

Shrimp and Not Grits

  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 8 ounces sliced mushrooms
  • 6 slices of bacon
  • 14 oz shrimp (that's the size bag I found, you could go with a little more or less)
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 6 green onions, thinly sliced
  • fresh thyme
  • white wine
  • cornstarch
  • butter
  • olive oil
  • chives
  • risotto
  • vegetable stock
  • salt
  • pepper
  • parmesan cheese (1/2 cup?)
  • white cheddar cheese (4 oz?)

Start off by chopping the bacon into pieces and frying it until crispy. Drain it, saving the grease, and place on a paper towel

Melt 2 T butter and 2 T olive oil in a pan, add 1 cup risotto and allow to saute/toast. Add 1 cup of veggie broth at a time, stirring constantly and allowing all broth to soak in before adding the next cup. Repeat until you've added 3 cups of broth total. When risotto is finished, add another T of butter, shredded white cheddar cheese, and parmesan. Add a bit more broth if necessary, salt and pepper to taste. Top with chives.

While the risotto is cooking, in bacon pan melt 1 T butter and 1 T olive oil. Saute red pepper, onion, garlic, and mushrooms. Add a few sprigs of thyme and a pinch of herbs de provence. Cook until veggies are tender. Add shrimp and continue to saute until shrimp is done. Mix reserved bacon grease with about a cup of white wine and add to mixture. When it comes to a boil, add cornstarch/water mixture to thicken. When it is almost done, stir in chopped tomatoes, green onions, and bacon.

Serve the shrimp mixture over the risotto. This kicks ass.

As a side dish I sauted up some yellow squash, zucchini, and onion with a bit of rosemary. Very tasty.

The boyfriend says that mine was better than the original, but that's only because I didn't use grits. I thought the original was better, but that was mainly because someone else cooked it for me. Either way, it's a wonderful dish. If I don't forget before then, this might be mum's next birthday dinner.


Big family dinner

We never eat at the kitchen table.  Dad and I tend to take our meals in front of the TV.  Or sometimes just one of us will eat at the table while the other watches TV.  I'm thinking that we may have eaten dinner at the table together once this year.

Last night, Sparks came over and we not only ate at the table, all of the food was on it instead of sitting on the counters/stove.  It was very nice.

I started making dad's chicken marsala, but he decided to elbow me out of the way and take over.  He does that from time to time, I just laughed and went on.  Besides, it freed me up to work on the rest of dinner.  Mostly, it freed me up to get creative with my salad.

I didn't go to the store yesterday, everything that was in the fridge had been there since my grocery trip last weekend.  I had a bag of mixed spinach and red leaf lettuce, but not much else in the way of salad veggies.  I toasted up some pine nuts, which I always try to keep on hand, but what else to put in the salad?  Hmmmm...

I opted to get a bit sweet with it.  I'd bought a mango last week and it was at the peak of ripeness.  Actually, it was probably closer to the "eat me now before I rot" stage, but whatever.  So, I diced it up and threw it on top of the lettuce.  What sort of dressing for a mango salad?  I squeezed the pulp that was still sticking to the pit (seed?) and skin into a cup, added the juice from half a lime, and a few frozen raspberries.  I put the whole thing in the microwave on defrost until I could mash the raspberries up, then added a little balsamic vinegar.  I gave it a little salt, but the whole thing was still a bit too POW with the vinegar, so I poured in a bit of the reisling that I was drinking.  Then whisked in some olive oil.  A nice complement for the salad.  Dad refused to touch the salad, too weird for him, but Sparks and I rather liked it.  Perhaps, if I make it again, I'll add some more crunch with some carrots or something.  Overall, I thought the salad was a good contrast to the heavy richness of the rest of the meal.

What have we learned here?  Durn near anything can go in a salad, as long as you combine it with the right dressing.


Twice in one day!

A lovely creation, if I do say so myself...

Ever since I stumbled across this cake, I've known that I just had to make it. Add to that the fact that we've had a basket of hazelnuts sitting on the table for ages. Sadly, they taste a little old, and this bothers me, but I'm hoping that the whole package makes up for it. I'd never toffeed nuts before and wound up with something more like brittle, maybe I overcooked the sugar? So, pop ground them down a bit with the meat mallet, breaking them into small, not too jagged pieces.

Tomorrow night I am going to a birthday dinner for friends, and I won't have time to come home after work. This means that this cake must travel to work with me tomorrow. I might need a thermonuclear device to protect it from the snack vultures in my department.

I hope I don't wind up waking up at 4 am with the tummy ache from eating the cinnamon rolls and then tasting bits of this as I went along.