It’s Apple Time

Wow. I just came back from the Farmers Market and the apple harvest is definitely in full swing. Reminds me of climbing Mr. Huntley’s tree when I was a kid and getting first pick of anything I was brave enough to reach for.

But that also reminds me of another tree I just HAD to climb, got to the very top of and then froze in panic and couldn’t climb down. I am not sure how long I was in that tree before my father found me (actually probably heard me) and talked me down, but at the time it felt like light years. And to make matters worse the best trees were always in someone else’s yard. So when one did get stuck it required a decibel level approaching a storm warning siren before help arrived. Well needless to say I found other past times on the ground.

But back to apples. There are so many varieties to choose from. We eat a lot fresh from the store, preferably chilled in the refrigerator. I do have a favorite easy quick recipe I will share with you if you want a dessert.

It begins with one of my old friends “puff pastry”. I truly don’t know what I would do without puff pastry and phyllo dough. They both are miracle ingredients in the kitchen. If you haven’t used puff pastry before you will find it in the freezer section of your market. There are usually two sheets in a box. Thaw one in the bag it comes in and return the other to the freezer.

When it is pliable enough to unfold without breaking, lay it out on a lightly floured piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet. Gently roll it with a floured rolling pin just to cover any crease marks. Sprinkle with a mix of cinnamon and sugar mixed together. Using your fingers roll an edge all the way around the pie crust. With a fork or a pastry docker prick the dough all over the surface.

Peel and core 6 or 7 of your favorite crisp apple. Slice into thin slices and place into water that has lemon juice squeezed into it. Meanwhile, crush 2 cups of Italian style almond cookies.
Drain the apples and pat them dry. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar according to the tartness of the apples. Loosely pile the apples in the tart shell, sprinkle with almond cookie crumbs and dot with 4 Tbsp. butter pinched into small pieces. Place in preheated 375 degree oven about 30-40 minutes or until apples are soft and puff pastry is cooked on the bottom and edges are brown. If you have a pizza stone preheat it and bake you apple creation on it. They work beautifully and the crust will be flaky and golden brown.
A large dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream will top this off perfectly.

It’s a simply recipe but it works and it showcases falls great apple harvest.

PART 2-COOKING AHEAD TO SURVIVE BUSY DAYS

I hope you had a nice week. Did you look at your favorite recipes and gather them up to use for your first menu? Let’s continue where we left off. When cooking anything, anytime, it is imperative to remember basic food safety rules.
1- Cold food must be kept below 40 degrees and hot food must be kept above 140 degrees. Clean any countertops and food mats before you begin preparing anything. Keep your work are uncluttered. Clutter leads to accidents. Do not cross contaminate, keep meats on a tray on the lowest shelves of your refrigerator, with vegetables and other items above the meat.
2- Never thaw food on the countertop. Thaw it in the refrigerator, which helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.  That means you will need to plan ahead and allow adequate time for thawing.
3 -Putting food in the microwave to thaw it does a serious “no no” to the quality to most meals.
4- Go through all the recipes and make a grocery list from each item from each recipe.
You will see after you list all the items you will have some of these items in your home pantry. Those items you want to highlight, so you don’t accidently purchase something you don’t need. But make sure you pantry items are fresh. Check those spices to ensure their freshness, and look at that flour if it hasn’t been purchased recently and/or kept in the refrigerator.  And the same thing for OILS.  Left out of the refrigerator at room temperature, any oil will go rancid.  Smell them to determine if they are useable.  (And while your at it, the same goes for your perfume.  It will also go rancid because most perfumes have some type oil in them..)
Before you go to the store to do your shopping, make sure you have adequate room in your refrigerator and freezer to store the amount of food you will be bringing home. And be sure you have some sort of shallow tub and a large bag of ice to keep prep’d items cold as you need them.

Another important trick to notice and note while making your grocery list is — if you are buying (example) 5 onions, note it this way:

5 onions —
2 minced –  example  recipe #1
1 sliced into rings   #3
1 chopped  #4
1 large dice  #5

The reason you are doing that is you will know when you start doing your prep that you need to mince 2 onions, slice one into rings, chop 1 and cut one into large dice. It will save you time later and you won’t have to re-read each of your recipes to figure out how to process the vegetables you are buying. You can even go as far as numbering each recipe and writing a number to coincide with the recipe on the container that holds the ingredients for that recipe. Remember you will be doing all your prep before you begin to cook.

If you shop at the same grocery store all the time, you will have some idea of the layout of the store. Try to list your items to coincide with the isles of the store. That way you are not bouncing from one side of the store to the other. List all the produce together, all the meat together, and as close as possible, list canned goods etc., by isle starting at the door you enter in finishing nearest the checkout stand. Put all the frozen food together, all the dairy together. These two will be the last two sections you will stop at.
If it is a really hot day (as it has been where I live, it just seems to melt me right down to my shoes everytime I go outside) I suggest taking one or two coolers and buying a small extra bag of ice and putting some in the two coolers for the frozen items and dairy  and  a cooler for the meat. Remember to keep meats and produce/dairy separate.

Salisbury Steak with Mushrooms and Madeira Sauce
Serves 4

4 Slices bacon, cooked, drained, chopped
2 Slices white bread, crusts removed
1/4 Cup milk
1 3/4 # Ground beef
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Pepper
3 tsp Worcestershire sauce – low sodium
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 # Mushrooms, brushed clean, sliced thinly
5 tsp Mochiko Sweet Rice Flour (or other fine rice flour)
1 cup beef broth, low sodium
5 Tbsp Madeira wine
1/4 Cup Chives, minced, set aside for garnish

Dice bacon, cook, drain and set aside. Reserve bacon fat. Add butter to the skillet and heat to medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and saute about 4 minutes. Add half the beef stock to the flour (add the stock to the flour, not the flour to the stock or you will have lumps) and make a slurry.
After the mushrooms have browned and released their liquid, add the stock/rice flour slurry and whisk to thicken and also release the “fond” from the bottom of the skillet. Add the Worcestershire sauce, the remaining stock and the Madeira and cook until the sauce begins to thicken. Remove from the heat. Taste for seasoning.

Add meat to a mixing bowl. Remove crusts from bread, soak in milk until soft. Squeeze out excess milk, crumble with hands, add to the meat along with salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce and mix until thoroughly combined. Shape into 4 oblong patties about 1 to 1 1/2 inch thick. Remove them and cool them down in the refrigerator.

To freeze, place the cool patties in your container, pour the mushroom sauce over the top. Garnish with the chives. Lay plastic wrap directly on top of the entire meal. Then either wrap in foil, or if you have a lid, place the lid on. Add the label.

Heating directions: Thaw in refrigerator. Remove lid and plastic wrap. Heat in preheated oven at 350 for 45 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes covered with foil.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes
SERVES 4

4             White baking potatoes, peeled, washed, cut into medium dice
3             Cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp      Sea salt
1/4         Cup fresh parsley, washed, leaves minced
5 Tbsp.  Butter
5 Tbsp.  Herb and garlic flavored cream cheese spread (such as Rondelle)
Place a stock pot with water on to boil.  Make sure you have enough water to double the amount of potatoes you are going to fix.  Add salt.  Add the potatoes and the garlic to the cold water.  Bring to a medium boil and cook until the potatoes are fork tender, about 15 minutes.  Check at 12 minutes.  Do not boil the potatoes rapidly as it will cause them to fall apart and become waterlogged.  You want them to be cooked but not dissolve in the water.  Drain them when they are done, return them to the hot stock pot, and return to the burner which you have turned off.  Let them dry out for about 10 minutes.   If you have a food mill or ricer, rice them into a large bowl, including the garlic.  If not, a hand masher or electric mixer can be used.  But take care not to over-process the potatoes, as it will cause the potatoes to become gummy.  Add all the other ingredients ad one time.  Gently stir in the cheese, butter, salt, pepper and parsley.  Let the potatoes cool, place in container.  Put plastic wrap on top of the potatoes, then add lid or foil,  and label.

Reheat:  Remove plastic, recover with foil.  Preheat oven to 350.  Heat in oven on baking sheet at 350 for 30 – 45 minutes, depending on how many servings you have fix and if you have brought the potatoes to room temp. before you put them into the oven.

When you reheat the potatoes, fluff them by raking a fork back and forth across them, don’t over mix them with a spoon.  It will make them gummy.  If they seem dry,  at this point, it is fine to add cream, milk or reduced stock.

If you choose to add a couple of your recipes and pick a day to cook before next week, let’s briefly discuss a game plan.  Let’s just do a quick once over…

Make your grocery list by isle, and include each recipe.  That will save time.
Purchase or designate freezer containers with lids, square is best.
Plan your menu so multiple heat sources can be used at the same time.
Do all your preparation first before you start to cook.
Keep cold food items cold.
Start items that take the longest cooking time first.  Save items that don’t have to be cooked, just some sort of prep., for last.
Undercook – if it is completely cooked when you freeze it, it will be over cooked at dinner time.
Make sure everything gets labeled.
If there is an additional item you will need to purchase before the meal can be served  NOTE it in large writing beside the item on your menu.

Next week I will finish the recipes and then we will talk about shortcut to getting this all cooked in one day.

Until then, happy cooking.  And remember if you are cooking something your family really likes, make 2,  just undercook one.  And freeze  one.  Label it.

MY CAT TOLD ME ” THERE’S A BIRD ON MY WINDOW ”

IMG_0725 THIS REALLY HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH COOKING,

but I just couldn’t help myself.  IMG_0726

It must be spring. There has been a little bird flying up and down my windows for the last three days, quite to the amazement of my cats.  Of course since he is outside and they are inside cats, he is safe and they are amazed.  Maybe even puzzled.  You see, he sits in a tree or on a bannister, just outside one of four windows he has decided belong to him, and periodically swarms the window, lights on the sill and does some kind of primal flying dance up and down the window.  Katie, my brown cat, has definitely decided that it is the challenge of her life and is sure this bird is trying to steal her entire house.  I on the other hand am a little confused.  If the bird thinks it can intimidate the house in to moving out of her territory, shouldn’t it pick on something a little more it’s size?  I am sure it has built a nest near us, and that is the reason for all the scare tactics.

Last year a tiny wren built a nest under our upper deck.  It actually hatched 5 babies, up very close to the house.  Our upper porch is screened, so is the underside of the deck.  Some how she found the tiniest little space to crawl through, built a magnificent nest, and hatched those babies and we didn’t even see her until the babies got out of the nest.  It makes our cats crazy with anticipation but I enjoy seeing these tiny creatures.  It is so fresh and pure, such a beautiful reminder of the way the world is supposed to be.

I especially love to watch the films of people walking down a street or through a park and getting dive bombed by a bird.  I just can’t help myself.  I guess because it isn’t my head getting pecked, I think it’s really funny.  But if this bird in my window won’t let me out my back door, maybe I will re-think how funny I have always thought those films were.  And if my cats never get to take their daily “catnaps” I guess that’s not so funny either.  They have been exhausted each night by the time  Mrs. Birdie finally goes to roost.

Tuesday morning and what has been around the corner

It certainly has been a refreshing (if not somewhat chilly) couple weeks since the last note. The weather has been delightful, frightful, warm, cold, snow, sunshine you name it and we have had it. My poor herbs are so confused they don’t know if they should stick their little heads up or burrow back under the leaves again. But lets try this again, it’s spring in Missouri, so it is time for all the lovely green plants to be brave and hang in there. Actually, this last snow we received doesn’t appear to have harmed anything, but I certainly was surprised, and so were the plants.

When you think of ketchup I bet it isn’t the most exciting thing on your grocery list. I know it didn’t used to be on mine, that is until I met Bruce Steinberg. Bruce is the inventor/brains behind the new condiment (I feel bad calling it a mere condiment it is so much more). There are several flavors, which lend themselves to different types of foods. I have a couple favorites, one being the Black Truffle Ketchup….OK, now if that isn’t special, tell me what is. I mean, does the name just make you think of a hot sizzling steak fresh off the grill, drizzled with wonderful Black Truffle Ketchup. And the best part is, all the work is done, the flavor is there, all I have to do is just pour it on. Two others flavors I really like are the Roasterie Coffee flavor and the Alderwood flavor (salmon anyone, that’s what jumped into my mind the instant I say the Alderwood flavor). But the other 9 flavors bring instant pictures to mind also. What does Lemon Twist or Thai Ginger or Habanero Heat make you think of? Yeah, me too. Makes me hungry just to think of it. Well, they are showing up on store shelves all over the metro, and soon nationwide. Here is the website http://www.finevinesketchup.com. I wish you could taste what the Truffle Ketchup did for my humble T-Bone steak. It was amazing.

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Spring Herbs and Mother Nature

No matter that Mother Nature is trying her best to give us one more snow “fit”, my herbs have had enough of winter. They have officially peeked through the leaves and poked through the ground. A close look in their resting places three days ago showed wonderful things to come. Thyme was green and robust already, rosemary was standing tall and reaching for the sun, the chives were peeking through the leaves, as were the fuzzy spearmint leaves (oh how they make me think of dessert crepes stuffed with yogurt, fresh berries, warm chocolate sauce, and the star — spearmint leaves). The peppermint leaves were winding around their little plot (aways looking for a way to escape – lol). The sage is greening up, needing a pruning to remove last years dead branches. But something just told me not to remove the protective leaves yet, and sure enough, Mother Nature seems to have just one more cold spell for us.

For those of you how are having a tough week, know I love you and am thinking good thoughts for you. Spring is a healing time of the year. It is a renewing of freshness and new beginnings. Cook something that makes you happy and that reminds you of the freshness our earth and the purity of the way Mother Nature intended for our lives to be…kind and gentle to each other, and to all living things. Simplicity is the best taste that there is.

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