Thursday, October 31, 2013

OhFeelYa's Easy...Suppers--Jay's Pig and Potatoes

If we're all being real, I don't think very many people come home from work and bust out a Julia Child recipe or something equally fabulous every night. Most folks, even those of us who love to cook and are pretty comfy in the kitchen, don't go nuts every time we need to eat. Plus, I have plenty of friends, family, and darling fellow derby girls who do not fancy themselves culinary rock stars and indeed are loathe to do more than a crockpot recipe or sandwich.

So I thought I'd do a weekly series about during-the-week, simple, hearty food that the family can eat for a few days running without us all having to order pizza or Chinese from around the corner every week night. (I share in these bad habits, my friends, but have you every REALLY looked at the mystery meat that comes from the Chinese joint around the corner?) So without further ado, I give you:

Jay's Pig and Potatoes

My husband comes from good Irish and Italian stock. I think he identifies more with the Irish side because that man can eat potatoes on a constant basis. I mean daily. And with no garnish whatsoever. I jest you not, the man will go in the kitchen, maybe wash the potato, poke some holes in it, microwave it, and eat it off a paper towel like Gollom eats a fish. It's a little traumatic for my foodie soul. However, he's always game to eat my experiments, and, glory be, the man will eat leftovers until they're gone. I make Pig and Potatoes for him on busy weeks.

You will need: 
A pork loin or roast. You can get a fancy one from a butcher or get a super-simple prepackaged one. The brand pictured comes in various flavors of marinade. Try to get a mellow one for this recipe (avoid BBQ or Teriyaki-bleh). Season it with salt and pepper if it is plain.
Some root veggies. Jay likes baking potatoes or the smaller red potatoes. You could also use sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, parsnips, hard squashes like butternut and so on. Whatever tickles your...whatever. Make sure you throw in some onion and garlic. 
Some fat to brown the roast. I use leftover bacon grease because a) my spouse digs the pig on pig action, b) he doesn't have weight or cholesterol issues, and c) it tastes really good. However, you can use any neutral oil like vegetable or canola. I would avoid butter, as it will brown and burn too fast. 
Some white wine. The better the wine, the better the flavor, but I think this was pretty inexpensive (I mean like Beringer inexpensive) and it was fine for the purposes of this recipe.
Salt and pepper.
A little rosemary and/or thyme add to the flavor, but aren't necessary.
Chop your veggies into whatever size you like, but don't make them too tiny or they'll turn to mush. Jay likes a rustic cut, and it's not like the knife-skills police are lurking outside your kitchen windows, for crying out loud. I did dice the garlic after I took this shot. 
 Get a medium-size pot that is both stove top and oven safe. Melt about 2T of your fat into the pot over a medium heat. When you can flick water into the melted fat and it pops, it's hot enough. You really want to get a good sear on your pork, like this:
 When the pork is good and seared on at least three sides, remove it to a plate and lower the heat to low. See all that burnt-on brown junk in the bottom of your pot? IT'S LIKE KITCHEN GOLD. This is where the flavor is. Take a wooden spoon, about a cup of the wine, pour in the wine, and scrape like mad to get all the brown bits off the bottom.
Now you can throw in your veggies and nestle the roast down in them. Sprinkle with salt (I really like garlic salt or sea salt) and plenty of pepper. Add some dried thyme (1t) or rosemary (1/2-3/4t) if you have some handy.  Add some veggie or chicken stock or water until the veggies and roast are about 3/4 covered. Put a lid on it (or cover with foil if your pot has no lid) and put it in a 350 degree oven for about an hour and half. About halfway through, take out the roast, flip it over, and stir the veggies so everything cooks evenly. You don't want to take this out until you can slide a knife or fork into the pork without much resistance. You really can't leave this in the oven too long for the pork. However, your veggies will get mushy if you leave it in forever. 

Happily, it will look like this when it's done:

Here's the important bit. You HAVE to pull the pork out and let it rest for at least ten minutes before cutting so the juices will reabsorb into the flesh. If you pull it out and cut it right away, all the goodie winds up dripping off the cutting board and down your cupboard doors. Gross.

I know this seems like a lot of steps, but it's really easy when you get to it, and then it cooks itself. Just try it once, and you'll be shocked at what a great cook you are. Plus, it's way cheaper than Chinese, you'll have leftovers, and your house will smell fantastic. This is a versatile recipe, so play around with seasoning and veggies. You can do this with beef (I like rump roast), red wine, and a half cup of coffee (I swear to God; a splash of coffee is the secret to a rich roast) for a variation.

Condensed recipe after the jump...

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Chai Pear Jam--The Last Jam You'll Ever Need

It's fall!! Well, fall-ish here in Dallas. However, I'm determined to make some fall flavors, for crying out loud, whether it's almost 80 degrees outside or not. It is delightfully rainy here today, however, and seemed like a good day for more canning!! So off I went to Half-Price Books with a list of cookbooks I'm trolling for (found some treasures--I'll do a favorite cookbook post soon), then to Elliott's Hardware for canning supplies. Btw, if you need anything hardware, grilling, plumbing, canning, etc... and are in the Dallas area, I would highly recommend Elliott's over the big box stores. It's got a mom and pop feel, really knowledgeable associates, and the best canning aisle I've seen in DFW yet.

Anyhoo, on I went to Trader Joe's to see what looked good in the produce. They had an abundance of sinful-looking organic pears, so I picked up five or six. Yum.
I'm a big fan of pairing fruit and tea flavors, and I've been doing it for a long time. For my sister's wedding last April, I made passion tea-infused panna cotta with raspberry coulis and a green tea panna cotta with a pureed mango sauce. Hang on, I'm trying not to salivate on the keyboard. So what tea goes with pear? I pulled out all the boxes of tea in my beverage cabinet, sniffed around, and settled on chai. Just to be safe, I consulted a couple of websites and cookbooks on ratios for pear/sugar/acid to make sure the jam would set and be safe for water-bath canning in terms of acidity. (The National Center for Home Food Preservation is an excellent such guide. Lord knows we don't want to hand out botulism for Christmas.)

To start, I peeled the less ripe pears with thicker skins, and cut pear into dime-sized pieces. While I did this, I put equal parts water and brown sugar (1 1/2 cups each) with three chai tea bags to simmer into an infused syrup.
I could have just licked that pot, but I restrained myself, removed the tea bags, and added the pear, a splash of vanilla, 3 T bottled lemon juice (for consistent acidity), a pinch of salt, and the zest of one lemon.
I let this cook down until the pears were getting soft and then ran my immersion blender through it to break up some of the fruit but not all. After I got it jarred up, I put the jars to process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (some sources said five minutes, some said ten, so I opted to go the longer route).

This made three half pints and two quarter pints. I will be eating it spread on some banana bread tomorrow and trying not to just bathe in the stuff.

For when you get immersed in fifth-grade math homework and neglect your jam for a moment, this little scraper (got mine at Bed, Bath, and Beyond) is a miracle that will help salvage your jam pot.

Ya know. Because it just wouldn't be the house of a recent grad and mom if I weren't simultaneously making jam and dinner, continuing to dehydrate herbs in mad batches, trying to keep the cat out of the dog food, and dredging up the secrets of equivalent fractions from remote corners of my fried brain. I hope you're all planning on cooking something yum for yourselves soon!

Chai Pear Jam recipe after the break...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Economical Kitchen

 So, economy. Something I've not really been great at in the past, but as I've gotten older, not only am I more aware of my family's finances, I also spend a lot of time thinking about how to lessen our environmental footprint. This week, I've been thinking about how to stretch what I buy and let less go to waste. Maybe this is a result of all the guilt I have over the trees that died so my dissertation could be born. Who knows, but I just don't want to be eighty, and look back only to think, "Wow. I sucked at life."

It seems that economy is all about the little things. So I started small. When I made last week's tomato jam, the recipe called for a little bit of fresh grated ginger. I bought a small knob and used about a third of it. I hated to put the other 2/3 back to moulder away in the veggie drawer, so I grated the rest up and put it in an ice cube tray to freeze. The next day, I had two tablespoon-ish servings of ginger to use in a future recipe! I know, I know, this is basic kitchen economy, but for a recent graduate, having time for this kind of thing is pretty revolutionary.
I was careful to label and date the baggie. I'm working on building a collection of various size freezer-safe jars so I can avoid using the plastic bags.

While we were at the lake house this weekend for the great Salad Challenge of 2013, my dad called and asked if I would trim the herb garden a bit. The man has a fabulous herb garden. No really; it makes me swoon a little bit. Here's the corner with sage, oregano, thyme, and basil. His enormous rosemary bushes are not pictured.

So I cut a giant amount of herbs off these gorgeous bushes. I always take some home to use and to feed the bunnies for treats, but I looked at these two garbage bags worth of trimmings and decided it would be criminal to throw it away. So, much to my husband's chagrin, I hauled home trashbags full of herbs. But what to do with them?

About half this basil was run through the food processor with some olive oil.

It got the same ice-cube tray treatment as the ginger and then plopped into a large jar in the freezer. "Basil for the world" is my new motto. But I still had a ton of herbs left. So I (sort of unwisely, as I needed to head to work in about two hours) embarked on another save-the-herbs campaign.

I loaded another bunch of rosemary, thyme, and sage into my handy Oster food dehydrator. It really dried out pretty fast (about an hour and 45 minutes, which was delightful, but I was standing in my kitchen, playing with crunchy herbs when I desperately needed to be finding something business casual to climb into).
I refilled all my existing herb jars and had this leftover (I know. I said I was working toward a plastic-free environment. I really am.) I still have about 2/3 of the herbs I brought home left over, but I'm off tomorrow and going to dry some more and try to devise some new methods of preservation. I'm thinking some blackberry-thyme jam or jelly might be in order.

Someday, I hope to have some readers. Until then, I'll just throw out questions into the ether. What do you do with leftover veggies and herbs?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Halloween Salad Challenge

Well kids, the votes are in for the Halloween Food Challenge: Salad Edition. I lost, mostly because I cheated a little bit, and my family took umbrage with me playing fast and loose with my sib's choice of theme. However, an extravagant lunch was had by all.

Here's the blow-by-blow for a crazy, salad-ish idea of your own.


I started with the recipe for Bombay Flatbread from the Masterchef Cookbook (page 23), and added thyme to the flour. With only four ingredients, this flatbread is incredibly easy to make, and the added beer makes for a nice, yeasty flavor. I went with Bud Light and other standard grocery brands, as that's what was handy, but I'd like to try it with a good dark beer sometime. 
I let the dough sit for a bit, pressed it out, baked it at 350 degrees just to precook it a bit, and then added a layer of tomato jam
This, however, was a bit sweet for the final product. Next time, I would mix half jam, half tomato sauce to cut the sweetness a bit. Add a layer of fresh, sliced mozzarella (I don't like the type floating in water for pizza, as it tends to make pizza crust soggy, though I love it for other things. I use the kind tightly wrapped in plastic), some pepperoni, and then some fresh grated mozzarella and parmesan with chopped roasted garlic sprinkled about.
While this was baking, I prepped my salad component. (My sister is casting me a scathing glance at this.) I roughly chopped some spinach, arugula, and chiffonaded (can that be a verb?) some basil. I also sprinkled in some fresh thyme. For the vinaigrette, whisk oil, LOTS of lemon zest, fresh lemon juice, garlic salt, and some agave nectar (be sparing; remember, the jam is already sweet) to taste. Toss the vinaigrette with the greens just before serving. Layer it a onto the pizza and garnish with lemon zest. 

 Voila! My sister made a wonderful saffron lobster salad with crispy potatoes. It was pretty amazing.
And that was the salad challenge, complete with our early '90s garnish (we're fans of the silly garnish around here). Lessons I learned: practice new recipes before I inflict them on the family, and it doesn't always pay to be a salad rebel. However, as my mother, daughter and I sit around this evening in our pajamas and zombie make-up, munching on the leftovers, cheater-salad pizza beats the hell out of brains.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Puking Pumpkins

About four years ago, my parents bought a house on a local lake that has become a favorite getaway and meeting place for my parents, my sister, our spouses, my daughter, and our collective three dogs and three bunny rabbits. A couple of years ago, my sister, Kari Ann, and I decided on Labor Day weekend that we would have a Bread Pudding Throw Down, which resulted in much hilarity, smack-talking, and delicious results. We have since then had a Shut-Your-Pie-Hole Pie Contest, and a Punkin' Chunkin' contest, among others on every holiday weekend.

Which brings us to the puking pumpkins.

Last year, I posted this on my sister's Facebook page as the introduction to our time-honored sibling smack-talking that both tickles and delights our friends and family.
We went on to make a pumpkin flan (Kari Ann) and a pumpkin souffle with a pomegranate reduction (mine). Winner undecided. That was early in the days of our contests, when the family was still too nice to declare a winner.

This holiday weekend (we always meet up around Halloween to have a party for my daughter), I let my blessed sibling choose the theme for our throw down, and she chose SALAD. Of all the culinary delights in the world, salad. To which I responded:
The puking pumpkin motif seems to be the mascot for our autumn hijinks.

I'm not a huge lover of the salad, I must admit. However, I'm planning to use the tomato jam I made yesterday as my secret weapon to help me cheat a bit on this salad competition. I will report back with pictures and results of the (insert deep, heaving sigh) salad contest. It may well be epic.

By the way, if you've never checked out the subculture that is Pumpkin Chunkin', please follow the link. It's hysterical.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Does the World Really Need Another Food Blog?

Probably not. Yet here I am.

I'm a college literature professor, and until two days ago, I was also a college student. For my entire adult life. I submitted my doctoral dissertation on the literature of Jane Austen, Catherine Gore, Charlotte Bronte, and George Eliot two days ago. My God, the relief! Want to know what I thought about in the last year of my PhD, while the yard was going to hell, dogs and rabbits were running amok, the family was eating whatever could be scavenged, and everyone was in danger of carrying on everyday life naked due to the severity of the laundry issue? COOKING. Every single day, I kept at the writing, dreaming of the day that I could spend time in my kitchen without a big, black cloud hanging over my head. And now I can!

However, I'm surprised about the letdown of this whole dissertation thing. It's a bit like giving birth and then dealing with all the crap hormones and messy lady bits that come after. Instead of pure, unmitigated relief and delight, I have a massive headache and unrelenting sense of restlessness. So I went into the kitchen. And I cooked.

In fact, I cooked this:
Which became this:

Tomato Jam, from Marisa McClellan's lovely canning blog, Food in Jars. I just made a tiny half batch with two pounds of Roma tomatoes. Here's the link to her recipe: Tomato Jam-Food in Jars. Making this jelly soothed the ravages of my processed-food tarnished little soul, let me tell you. I did add some nutmeg, balsamic vinegar, and garlic cloves to her recipe, and IT IS AMAZING.

The jam was so good, I enjoyed the whole process so much, and because I had two black bananas and some pear yogurt about to become science experiments in the fridge, that I decided to press on and make this:
 Banana-Yogurt Bread. I'll try to figure out the blogging magic of "after the jump" to include the recipe. So, gentle readers, I'll end the maiden post to this new (and maybe unnecessary to the world, but vital to me) blog. And leave you with this--at different times in my life, different things have saved me. After my divorce, it was a little white Chihuahua called Colonel Brandon. When I thought I might not ever finish my PhD and felt as though I was epically failing at life, I found roller derby. And now, when I'm feeling bruised, run-down, and more used up than, well, post-birth lady bits, I hope food and writing about food will do the same.