Saturday, September 29, 2012

I Be Jammin! Strawberry-Plum Jam

It's a busy weekend in my kitchen. Not only am I preparing my meat for my tamales, I am making my first jam. I saw this recipe in the Food Network magazine and decided to give it a try. The only problem is, this recipe only filled three 8 oz. jars! Luckily I had won the clearance fruit lottery at our grocery store yesterday and acquired 3 lbs of plums and 2 lbs of strawberries. I am going to make another batch.  I also scored some great meat deals like boneless pork ribs and a ton of apples for .79, the same as the plums.

Back to the jam. I got a great deal on the jars since it's considered the end of summer veggie canning season around here. I washed the jars in soapy water (both the lids and tops) and sterilized them in hot, not boiling water. I also sterlized the tongs and the lids in a smaller pot. That makes it easier to fish them out. I drain out the water from the lids and have them ready to go. Avoid touching the lids or the inside of the jar.

My fruit I started last night and have some more going in the fridge right now. I found a large zip loc bag works well for this. I diced all the pieces, added the sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. It says to let the fruit sit for 6 hours.
This morning after another trip to our local Hispanic grocery store for some last minute spices and a chicken, I started the jam in a cast iron skillet. The directions say to add 1/4 honey and cook on medium high heat for about 30 minutes. While that was cooking I kept my jars warm in a water bath. This reduces the risk of breakage. Every few minutes I stirred the jam. It was on a medium high heat. I didn't use pectin in this recipe. It reduced and thickened on its own.

After 30 minutes the jam was ready to go in its' jars. I filled to right below the line and then processed them in boiling water. The water should cover the lid of the jars and boil for 15 minutes. You also have to watch out and make sure there is no jam on the sides or around the mouth of your jar.

I got to sample some (chefs' treat) and it tasted delicious!

I will now leave the jars to sit out over night to complete the sealing process.

Skillet Strawberry-Plum Jam via the Food Network

1 lb strawberries hulled and diced
1 lb plums hulled and diced
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 honey

Add the first 4 ingredients and let meld together in a zip loc bag for 6 hours or over night. Add the diced fruit to a skillet along with the honey and reduce on a medium high heat for 30 minutes.Give it a stir every 5 minutes or so.  Add with a ladle to sterilized canning jars. Let cool overnight to seal. Serve with your favorite bread. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Thai Style Peanut Butter Coconut Shrimp and PB Egg Rolls

If you love peanut butter, this may give you peanut butter overload! I had a bit of an egg roll disaster today.You absolutely have to make sure you have the edges sealed or you will have the innards of the egg roll floating all over the oil. Also I found a frying pan works better to fry these in with about a inch of oil. Fry them seam side down and then flip. This will ensure your egg roll is intact. Here is the link to that recipe:

Now here's the Thai coconut shrimp part. For this recipe you may use reduced fat coconut milk or even reduced fat peanut butter for that matter. I had a limited number of shrimp for this recipe so I cut them in half and only left a few whole. Also fish sauce only comes in huge containers! Good news is it lasts forever!
Thai Style Peanut Butter Coconut Shrimp

1 can coconut milk (found either in Asian aisle or Hispanic aisle)
1 lb cooked linguine
1/2 red pepper diced
1/2 onion diced
1-2 tsp Fish Sauce
1-2 tsp red chili paste (be carefully here! It's really hot!) like Sambol
1 pinch cayenne
1 pinch salt and pepper
1 clove garlic
1 lb shrimp deveined and tails removed
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
dry roasted peanuts for garnish

This recipe comes together really quick. In a sauce pan brown the onion and red pepper until the onions are translucent. Add the coconut milk and then the peanut butter. On medium low heat begin to add the PB and stir. Lower the heat so the sauce stays at a simmer. Continue string the peanut butter into the sauce.  Add the shrimp and the pinch of cayenne. Cook shrimp until no longer opaque. About 3-4 minutes. Drain the pasta and add to the sauce. Season with salt and pepper.  And there you have it. I keep the chili and fish sauce at the table so people can adjust to their taste.

Return to Chicago Part 2

I forgot how big the Windy City is! Our last trip there we stayed at the Congress which is right on the Magnificent Mile. Our new hotel was central to mostly everything we wanted to do to. We started off to Navy Pier. It was about a mile and half walk but still doable. They call it the Windy City for a reason! The wind practically knocked me over a few times.

By this time our mile walked count was probably up around 7 or 8. We didn't eat anything because we were still stuffed from our lunch at Xoco. There are so many good places to eat there such as Bubba Gump Shrimp. I always wanted to eat there. It's on my list for next time! Navy Pier is also full of great art. There was this boat sculpture and many more throughout the area. Another thing is, everywhere we looked there were churros. That is something I would buy in a second, but again we were stuffed. We did stop at a Walgreens on the way though and get a water. I am still mad at Walgreens for cutting my hubby's salary by $6.00 but I am cheap and we get a discount there. I was later conflicted too. I will explain more later. Luckily I had paid for mostly everything in advance. 

Italian Beef Sandwich dipped in broth
Back to the hotel after another long walk. Another food on my list was the famous Al's Italian beef. It was voted by the Travel Channel and Adam Richman as the nations' favorite sandwich. Google maps was amazingly inaccurate this trip. It wasn't 4 minutes away from our hotel, but 15! We were up to about 10 miles walked at this point.  My hubby and I were still stuffed from lunch and split a Italian Beef sandwich. It was delicious but really expensive. The meal with sandwich was about $10.00. That fueled us for what the hotel staff assured us was a 20 minute walk down State street to catch our bus to the United Center to see Madonna 9/19. It ended up being a 45 minute walk!

The streets were crowded with people leaving work. I also stopped a few times to take pictures, and to take a breath! We saw the new multi-million dollar Walgreens on State Street that made me even more angry. Then the famed Chicago Theater which had a beautiful lit marque. 
There was every store imaginable on State street from Gap to a huge Target. I also loved how there were grocery stores and deli's mixed right in. We saw many people who lived in the area. A local was telling us there used to be no living areas downtown but today, you see them everywhere. We walked, and walked, and walked, and finally made it to Monroe street to our bus stop. We had been rushing to get there because we needed to get to the United Center to see Madonna. Or so we thought. We caught the bus and were let off right across from the United Center. They do not give transfers but you can buy a pass that lets you ride three times for a discounted price. $2.50 for each person was not bad. The buses reminded me of the Disney buses around closing time. They are jammed packed and standing room only. The only difference is there were a lot of crazies on this bus. 
Next time, the Madonna fiasco!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Crock Pot Sloppy Joes

I have school today and in about a month my morning class will start so that means school Monday and Tuesday 1-8. I started this one on the stove and it will finish in the crock pot making for a easy dinner for my hubby.

Crock Pot Sloppy Joes

1/2 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1/2 red pepper
1/2 green pepper
1 small onion
1 or two pinches of brown sugar
2 squirts yellow mustard
1 TBSP tomato paste
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
kosher salt
Note: if you like a bit more zest you can add one half of a jalepeno seeded and diced.

This one starts out on the stove top. In a frying pan brown ground beef together with the peppers and onion.Season with salt and pepper.  Drain the ground beef of fat several times throughout the process. Once browned add to the crock pot and add the crushed tomatoes, water,  and the rest of the ingredients. Cook for 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high. Serve on your favorite bun.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Return to Chicago: Madonna and Our food Adventures

Wednesday September 19 has been a day I have been building up in my head and planning for at least 8 months. I thought Madonna was a once in a life time experience. She's 54 and I don't know if she will be touring anymore. I planned out where we were going to eat and visit. Luckily I payed for everything pretty much in advance because my hubby just took a huge pay cut.  I found a hotel named ACME on Groupon and it was right in the heart of everything. We live only a hour and half from the Windy City but haven't been there for 14 years since our honeymoon.

First thing we did, even though we used Google maps, is walk about 3 blocks in the wrong direction. We finally got ourselves turned around to walk to a restaurant  my hubby and I have wanted to try, Rick Bayless'    XOCO.  What was supposed to be a short 4 minute walk was a marathon 45 minute walk. Not close at all. When we got there, the place was packed and there was nowhere to sit but outside. You get into a line inside and are asked if you are dining in. Then you are given menus. They read like a juicy novel of eveything Mexican you would want to eat from tortas, to caldos (soups), and churros.  I ordered the aqua del dia which was made with cucumber, mint, and a simple syrup. My entree' was the pork carnitas torta. We ordered salsa and chips but didn't need them. Hubby had the chorizo torta which wasn't spicy at all. Mine however came in a spicy tomato broth that had me turning red in the face. But I loved it! The meal was about $30 for the two of us.

aqua del dia
We then headed off to our hotel. We got to the Hard Rock cafe and kept on walking when we should have turned down that block. We walked about 7 blocks out of the way! We got to the hotel and loved the trendy parts of it. There is a huge zipper on the wall, the fixtures are modern, the room is very clean and new, and very small. But that was ok because we weren't in the room for long. It was perfect for the two of us. The bedding was some of the best I have ever slept in. This is our new go to place.  More about our Chicago adventures tomorrow.

pork carnitas

ACME Hotel Company

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pressure Cooker Short Ribs and My House Is Still Standing!

When I was about 13 I was babysitting my then 2 year old brother and somehow he turned the heat up to 90. I knew I was feeling hot but thought it was just hot outside. A few minutes later the pressure built up in our radiators and KBLAM! The pressure busted the radiator wide open. The house shook and it not only sounded like a bomb went off, but looked like it too! I have been hesitant to buy a pressure cooker for just that reason. All that pressure has to go somewhere right? Well I tried my pressure cooker I purchased a few months ago on clearance and I am still alive to tell about it lol

First thing I did this afternoon was roast a bulb of garlic. Took a whole bulb of garlic, stuck it on a piece of tin foil big enough to wrap around it, and put about a Tbsp of oil on top of it. I then wrapped up the package and covered up the garlic placing it onto a baking sheet and into the oven for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.

Then I did absolutley nothing until about 4PM, well except for 7 pages of very detailed homework! Fun! Then I made my hubby be my Sous Chef and prepare the short ribs. He cut them into two piece sections, browned them in about 2 TBSP oil, and we seasoned with Monaco seasoning. Once they were all browned, I added a onion and squeezed out about 4 cloves of the garlic I had made earlier. I browned them for about 3 minutes and then added 1 cup of red wine and two cups of water. I also added about 2 TBSP tomato paste.  You can use pure chicken stock however, I added a Knor flavor container.

browned short ribs
wine and chicken broth
I brought that to a boil and added the ribs in. I then had my hubby put the lid on the pressure cooker. I was still afraid to touch it lol. The directions said the pressure knob on top should be rocking. Mine never did but I waited about 5 minutes until steam started to come out of the pressure valve near the handle. It is supposed to be 15 PSI. Check your pressure cookers directions first. Twenty five minutes later I had my hubby release the pressure with a fork.  The thing we didn't do was remove the tough skin from the back of the ribs. Lesson learned. The ribs were tender but didn't fall off the bone for that reason. The stock was very rich and tasty. I used it as a gravy to go over the garlic mashed potatoes I made as a side dish.

I think I will probably make this recipe with ox tails next time. I love the sauce. As I said previously, I have to remember to remove that piece of film on the back of the ribs next time.

Here is what you need:

Pressure Cooker Short Ribs

A pressure cooker
1 cup red wine
2 cups chicken stock or water
1 Knorr flavor booster
2 TBSP tomato paste
1 onion diced
4 lbs short ribs
2 Tbsp oil
Salt and pepper or Monoco blend from McCormick
4 cloves garlic mashed

Follow directions per blog and cook for 25 minutes in the pressure cooker. Release the steam before opening. I also made mine in two batches. It is good to have the liquid covering the ribs. I also made them meat side down.

Garlic To the Max Mashed Potatoes

5 cloves garlic per directions above
1 lbs boiled potatoes until fork tender and drained
1/4 cup heavy cream (Start here and add more if necessary)
pinch Kosher salt
pinch pepper
2 TBSP butter
Electric mixer

Some say to bring your cream up to a boil before mixing. I add it cold. Add the salt, pepper, garlic and cream. Beat with an electric mixer. We prefer the potatoes to be lumpy. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the sauce from the short ribs.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Potato Nachos

This one came to me through I just went shopping and I know I have things to make. However, both kids weren't home and I didn't want to waste a big meal. This recipe was for potato nachos. The potatoes are thinly sliced and browned in the oven while the toppings come together in a flash.

Potato Nachos (for 2)
2 large potatoes
1 can of pinto beans drained or bean of your choice
1/2 cup cheddar
2 TBSP oil
sea salt
1 avocado smashed into guacamole
1 lbs ground beef browned and drained
taco seasoning
water per package directions
lettuce (if you desire)
sour cream (optional also)

Dredge the potatoes in the oil and line on a baking sheet. Give a pinch of sea salt. Bake in a pre-heated 450 oven for 20 minutes. It helps to have the potatoes a uniform thickness.

While that's baking, brown the ground beef and add the taco seasoning and beans. I drain my ground beef at least 3 times before adding the taco seasoning.

When the potatoes are cooked through, place on a plate and top with your favorite nacho toppings.
I am a total potato freak and loved this!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

"Mom I'm Hungry": Mozzarella Cheese Sticks

I have been waiting to make these all week when my daughter came up to me about 8 at night and asked me if I could make her fried cheese sticks. I was going to use them as a side but throughout the week my cheese stick pack had been raided. I was left with 8 cheese sticks. This is a an easy way to make those yummy cheese sticks you get in famous restaurants. They can be served with your favorite marinara sauce.

Mozzarella Cheese Sticks
1 Pkg. egg roll wrappers (usually found in the veggie section)
12 wrapped Mozzarella sicks unwrapped
1 cup water for sealing
Canola oil for frying
spaghetti sauce for dipping

lay the stick length wise

roll the Mozzarella stick up in the wrapper 2 times

fold in the sides burrito style and continue wrapping. Use water to seal sides.
fry seam side down for 3-5 minutes until brown. Drain on paper towels.

The cheese sticks will be very hot! Drain on paper towels. I cover them with towels and flip them over so the oil can drain from both sides. Serve with your favorite marinara sauce. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

My First Pickling Experience

Although I have made refrigerator pickles before I have always wanted to jar and can my own. When I was pregnant with my first daughter I ate an entire industrial sized jar of pickled mushrooms and pickles have always been popular in our house.  Now at the end of summer was the perfect time for pickling. Not only were the jars on sale, so were the cucumbers. I was very anxious about the whole process but if you have everything ready there is no need to worry!

pre pickling
 I used my huge tamale steamer as the canning pot. I also used my huge non-reactive stock pot. I did invest in the jar tongs which I am glad I did! Those jars are hot and slippery! I used a mix for the pickling solution but will be trying a recipe for the sweet pickles. I was alarmed when I saw the recipe used 10-12lbs of pickles. I only used 3 1/2. I didn't realize there would be some shrinkage. I also purchased some button mushrooms for pickling. Some of the smaller pickles I left whole while I cut the bigger ones in half. I have a ton of dill left over but I put that in the fridge in a cup of water. That's a great way to preserve your fresh herbs. My one regret is I forgot the whole pepper for the jars.

I started the water in the canning pot boiling and the picking solution. I washed out the jars and sterilized them in the boiling water. I then put a clove of garlic and some of the dill. I used a Pyrex glass measuring cup to scoop our the pickling liquid and fill the jars. It said to leave 1/2 inch of space. I noticed that the amount of pickling solution I had made wasn't enough for all the jars. I am glad I didn't have more to fill. I had to improvise and add some water to some of the jars.
I had to go back and add more liquid
I have a ton of room left over in the jars but now I know and will probably purchase a bushel next time!  Next step in the process was to give the jarred pickles a dip in the hot tub! Here is where it's important to think about how much water will be displaced when you put the jars in! I had a waterfall and luckily had another pot there so I could scoop out some of the excess water. I needed to cover the tops of the jars. My recipe said to boil the jars with the lids on for 10 minutes. I then removed them with the tongs and let them sit upside down. They will be this way until tomorrow:) If I can't resist eating them!