Kolache

Wednesday morning I decided to make kolaches. These breakfast buns are apparently a big deal in other parts of the country, but I had never had one until I ate one at Rare Bird Coffee Roasters. My nephew attempted to make them last year, but they turned out a little dry. I think because of the choice of filling. I decided to give it a shot using this recipe and it worked out really well. I did use canned jalepeños because I didn’t  have fresh laying around. My nephew used ham and that didn’t work as well. He also didn’t have the stand mixer that my sister Joan gave me a few months ago and that made putting the dough together really easy. So here they are in all their delicious glory.

Jelly Time

I went to my mother’s house last weekend and we made jelly all day one day. For my British friends, jelly is what Americans call jam without chunks of fruit in it. Obviously, it’s not summer, so it wasn’t fresh fruit we were processing, instead we used 100% bottled juice. You have to actually read the labels on juice if you want to make jelly, because it could be labeled 100% juice and not be 100% the flavor on the front of the bottle. Apple is a common filler juice, so I spent a lot of time in the juice aisle reading labels before I settled on my flavors: pomegranate, apple, tart cherry, pear, and mixed fruit.

If you’ve never made jam or jelly, it’s a tedious activity that culminates in a multistep process that must be done very fast. You will at some point burn yourself. It really helps to have a second person doing part of the process. It was great having my mother there to do some of the steps. This became all the more obvious when two of the flavors didn’t set. We didn’t have an actual recipe for the last two flavors, so we winged it, and it didn’t work. I didn’t have time to redo them at my mother’s house, so I brought them home to redo them here. I successfully got them to set, but it was more difficult working by myself. Nonetheless, they’re all done now. Toast for everyone!

This is the recipe I used to make the pomegranate jelly.

Leftovers

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I recently read and really enjoyed Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors by Lizzie Collingham and was surprised to find out that there is no tradition of eating leftovers in India. It makes sense, because in the days before refrigeration, leftovers in a tropical country would be spoiled by the next day. Even though I understand that, the idea of no leftovers is foreign to me. I love leftovers, or what I like to call “lunch,” which brings me to my husband’s lunch yesterday.

He was on his way out the door and wanted to microwave some leftover savory pie for lunch. He set the container in the middle of the microwave and I suggested he set it to the side so it would heat better. He’d never heard of doing that. Kristin and Spencer were there and they had never heard of it either, so I told them about testing out this idea from Life Hacker and it works, so that’s what I do now.

I also mentioned that I make a hole in the middle of the leftovers because I read this food hack from WonderHowTo. That also works. None of them had heard of doing that either, so they suggested I blog about it. So there you go, make a hole in the middle of your leftovers and offset them on the carousel in the microwave.

I like to test out stuff I read on sites like that, so I’ll let you know when I find something that really works.

*image curtesy of Amazon.com

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Meatballs

Meatballs

I love spaghetti and meatballs, but I don’t love jarred spaghetti sauce, and I’m not big on frozen meatballs from the store. Obviously, not all frozen meatballs are awful and some jarred spaghetti sauce is better than others. Still, I prefer to make my own, mostly because it’s so easy. I’ve been making spaghetti sauce for years, but I only just started making meatballs. If I’d known how easy they were to make, I’d have been making my own all along.

I use this recipe for meatballs.

For the sauce, I use a modification of June’s sauce. Who is June? My friend Jill’s mom, of course. This is what I do. It varies from time to time, but this is the essential sauce.

Ingredients:

28 oz. can of Diced Tomatoes (I’ve used fresh Roma tomatoes, but it’s a lot of work to do that)
14.5 oz. can of Diced Tomatoes
6 oz. can of Tomato Paste
1/2 an onion chopped (or whatever is left from another recipe)
2 cloves of garlic (or 3 or 4 if that’s what’s left in the bulb or more if you really like garlic)
1 c. red wine
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tbsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

I eyeball spices by pouring them in my hand. Rub dried spices in your hand to release oils. In the summertime, I use fresh tomatoes and fresh herbs, but that requires more of both, and a lot more time. If you’ve never made spaghetti sauce, use canned tomatoes and dried herbs the first time, because it’s easier, and it will give you an idea of what the sauce should be like when you make it with fresh ingredients.

In a 4 or 5 quart pot, heat the olive oil. When it’s hot, add the onions. When the onions are almost translucent, add the garlic. When the onions are translucent and the garlic is smelling good, stir in all the herbs and let them blend with the onions and garlic for a minute. Add all the tomatoes and the tomato paste. Break up the tomato paste with a spoon and stir to incorporate it into the diced tomatoes. When it’s incorporated, let the tomatoes simmer for a few minutes. Add the sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer a few more minutes and add the wine. The longer you let the sauce simmer the more the tomatoes will breakdown and the more the sauce will look like what you buy in a jar. You might have to add more wine. You might want to add more sugar or less or none at all. I like the sugar, because it takes away any bitterness in the tomatoes. Taste the sauce. Adjust the spices to your liking. If it cooks down too much and is getting too thick, add wine. How you like the tomatoes determines cooking time. The whole thing can be done in half an hour or three hours. I like the tomatoes to still be in pieces just starting to breakdown, which takes about 30-40 minutes. Have a lovely glass of wine while you wait. Share if you want to. If you’re using fresh tomatoes, you have to blanch them and remove the skins first, then deseed them. The sauce takes much longer to cook with fresh ingredients. I’m mostly lazy and impatient, so I like it done fast.

This makes enough sauce for a pound of spaghetti noodles. I don’t make noodles. I just buy them in a box. I’ve made noodles and it’s not for me. Fair disclosure, there is nothing Italian about me (or June for that matter), so I’m not claiming this sauce is authentic in anyway.

Spaghetti Sauce

Spaghetti Sauce

Savory Pies

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

A few years ago I went to Scotland with my friends Heather and Kristin. Heather was there to speak at a conference on the European Union. Kristin and I were just there for a good time. While we were in Edinburgh, I had a cheese and onion pie that was profoundly delicious. Sadly, I ate it late in the week, so I couldn’t insist we go back there every day for lunch. Probably this was a good thing for Heather and Kristin.

Fast forward several years. My nephew lives with us. He’s also awesome, because he sometimes makes dinner, and he also loves savory pies. I tell him about the joy of the cheese and onion pie in Edinburgh and he says he’d like to try to make it. I look online for something that sounds good and find this recipe. It doesn’t taste exactly like the pie in Scotland, but it’s really good.

The first time he made it, he didn’t make the crust, but he followed the recipe for the filling exactly and it was good.

Last night he made it again. We didn’t have a pie crust ready for the top, so he substituted puff pastry, and we didn’t have heavy cream, so he substituted sour cream. It was AMAZING! This is a perfect winter meal and goes wonderfully with a simple salad. If you have the time to make the crust, let me know how that goes, but the puff pastry top was delicious.

The Joy of Soup

Potato Soup

Ahh, dinner.

I love it when dinner presents itself with little or no thought on my part. Today I had the following in my kitchen: 2/3 of a bag of potatoes, a leek, an onion, leftover uncooked bacon, half a carton of leftover heavy cream. What does all that equal? That’s right, potato soup. I love potato soup because you can put just about anything in it. This is how you can make your own.

Ingredients

6-8 c. homemade turkey broth (Thanksgiving just keeps on giving)

3-4 lbs potatoes

1 leek

1/2 onion (or a whole onion if you don’t have the leek)

4 strips of bacon (or however much you have left, no one ever complains about too much bacon)

4 cloves minced garlic (or a spoon of the pre-chopped stuff that I use because I hate chopping garlic)

Salt and pepper to taste

A beer

A cup of heavy cream, or half and half, or whole milk

cheddar cheese (not critical but it’s nice on top)

The first thing to do is get out a big pot and put a little water in it and then add the frozen broth from the freezer, so it can melt while you’re peeling the potatoes. The broth makes for a richer, more velvety soup, but the truth is you can do this with just water if you don’t have broth.

After the broth is melted and the potatoes are peeled, chop them into bite sized pieces. I know some people like to puree potato soup, but having made it both ways, I prefer the texture of the potato pieces.

While the potatoes are coming to a boil in the broth, fry the bacon. While the bacon is frying, chop up the onion and the leek if you have one. (if you’ve never cooked with a leek watch this video.) After the bacon is fried, remove it from the pan and set it aside to crumble when it cools. Then sauté the leeks and onions in the bacon fat, when the onions are almost translucent and the leeks are wilted, add the garlic and let it cook for a minute or two. I can’t stand the taste of burned garlic, so I always put it in at the end. After a couple of minutes, add the contents of the frying pan to the soup. Then put the frying pan back on the heat and add enough beer to cover the bottom of the pan about a quarter of an inch. Let it come to a boil and it will pull off all that lovely flavor from the bottom of the pan, deglazing it, and coincidentally making it easier to clean. When all the goodness from the bottom of the pan is incorporated into the beer, add the beer to the soup pot. This is a good time to taste the soup and add salt and pepper. Depending on how you made your broth, and from what, will determine how much salt you need. How much you like pepper will determine that. Let the whole thing come back to a boil, turn the heat down to a simmer, mostly cover it with a lid just to the side so it doesn’t boil over and let it cook thirty minutes. During this time, you can finish the beer while you clean up the kitchen, or better yet, you can finish the beer while someone else cleans up the kitchen.

After 30 minutes, taste it again for salt and pepper. Adjust. About this time, I add a generous portion of Tabasco, but that’s just me. If it tastes good, turn off the heat and pour in the cream, half and half, whole milk, or some combination there of. How much depends on how creamy you want the soup to be. I like the soup to be sort of a golden white, but not thick with cream. Grate some cheddar cheese to go on top or don’t. Serve with bread or a salad or both or neither.

Variations:
Use ham instead of bacon.

If you have a leftover carrot, grate it and sauté it with the onion and/or the leek.

Add the grated cheese directly to the soup. You can add a ton of it for very cheesy soup.

Use another cheese instead of cheddar.

Sauté kale or spinach or cabbage with the onion and/or leek.

Or just about any other thing you want to add to this wonderful versatile soup. Enjoy!

Pummelo (or Pomelo)

pummelo

I confess to having a strong urge to try new foods, or at least foods new to me. The other day at the grocery store, I saw a pummelo. At first I thought it was a green grapefruit, but upon further inspection it was something I’d never had before, so I bought it and brought it home. It’s such a big, heavy fruit it was a bit like bringing home a small bowling ball.

As is often the case with fruit I’ve never eaten, YouTube showed me what to do with it. Pummelo, as you can see in the picture above, has a very thick rind. The white casing isn’t edible like it is in an orange so you have to discard it, but the fruit inside is firm and delicious. It’s sweeter than grapefruit but otherwise has a somewhat similar flavor.

According to Wikipedia, it’s one of the original four citrus fruits. As a result it has more and larger seeds than I’m used to seeing. Unbeknownst to me, we regularly eat hybrid citrus fruit. Although apparently the grapefruit is a naturally occuring hybrid between pummelos and mandarins, which turns out to be a delicious love story.

If you haven’t tried a pummelo, do so, you won’t be disappointed.