Thursday, December 31, 2009

Lamb Neckbone Stew

Phew! What a holiday week! I haven't made an entry since Christmas Eve, I know, but with all the family here for the holiday I had no time to blog or take photos of the dinner I made for Christmas. Suffice to say some of it didn't come out as I would have hoped, so you're not really missing out. We had ham, duck, maple squash with parsnips, mashed potatoes, homemade cranberry sauce, and my grandmother's baked beans recipe. And yes, if you click on the word duck in that last sentence you will be linked to the recipe I use every year, which is fantastic!
We had a very nice Christmas with my mother, stepfather, aunt and uncle, and my daughter got lots of attention. Now that most of the leftovers have been eaten, I raided the remnants from the freezer. I found a package of lamb neck bones that my husband had thrown into the shopping cart from the discount meat bin a few weeks ago, saying something to the tune of "I'm sure you can make something with these."
So I have! The baby enjoyed sucking on her butterfly toy while I kept an eye on her in the kitchen as I put this together.

Ingredients:

About 1-2 pounds of lamb neck bones (yes, there's meat on these)
3 cups water
4 red potatoes, cubed
4 fat carrots, chopped into rounds
1/2 large sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn
2 celery stalks, halved lengthwise and chopped
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp seasoned salt
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp parsley
1 Tbsp dry rosemary
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp rubbed sage
2 Tbsp cornstarch
pinch/2 small sprigs of fresh oregano and fresh rosemary, if you have it

Pour water into 7-quart Crock Pot. The next step is up to you; I think it would be easiest to put in all the vegetables (once again, I've taken to not peeling my potatoes to retain the vitamins from the skin), cornstarch and spices and mix them together with a large wooden spoon, then throw the meat in on top and mix it in. If you start it early enough, it would be best to cook on low for 6-8 hours, but if you can't then cook on high for 4 hours and low for the remaining time you have available, hopefully at least 2 hours.
This came out wonderfully tasty, the meat falling off the bones, and was a welcome treat eaten with crescent rolls and a glass of champagne for the new year. Happy New Year, everybody!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ornamental Cutout Cookies

I started making these with the baby in her high chair watching, but didn't get through mixing the dough before she started zonking out on me. So these were made entirely during a long baby nap. My grandmother used to make this dough for just about every holiday and we would go over her house, roll it out, and cut the cookies out with various cookie cutters to fit the holiday. I forgot before I started that I didn't have any Christmassy sprinkles, so I had to make due with some ice cream topping ones I had buried in my baking cupboard. And no, you can't cut out the brandy; it gives the dough its unique flavor, and isn't nearly enough to do any harm to dough-eating children.

Ingredients:

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp brandy

Sift together first 4 ingredients into a bowl. Add butter and mix with a spatula into coarse mixture, then add egg, brandy, and vanilla. Mix as well as you can with the spatula then dig in with your hands and knead the dough til it sticks together.
Roll out to about 1/8-inch thickness on a floured surface. Pat bottoms of cookie cutters in flour before cutting each cookie, as this eases removal. Put on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350F for 7-10 minutes, or until light brown.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pork Loin with a Different Twist

Well, don't I feel sheepish? Yesterday, after skimming the fat off the Ox Tail Stew and cooking it on low for an agonizing 7 hours in the Crock Pot (I say agonizing because the smell permeated the entire house and made our mouths water all day long), we finally ate the unbelievably delicious, rich, hearty stew. The meat literally sloughed off the bones, and even the bones were coming apart. Unfortunately, during our frenzy to get the food into our mouths, I forgot to take a photo of the finished product. You will just have to try it out for yourself. All in all, I think the stew cost me around $17 to make, leaving leftover veggies for later meals.

Tonight's dinner is pretty much the same as the Pork Loin with Apples that I made a week ago. The twist I made on it tonight was that after cutting up the sweet potatoes, I spread them about the pan and sprayed them with olive oil, then sprinkled them with a small amount of seasoned salt and cinnamon.
For the sweet apples, I opened my fruit drawer and realized I only had one apple left so I ended up using a pear as well; one apple, one pear, along with the butter and brown sugar, cinnamon, ground cloves, and as an added bonus a couple shakes of ground ginger. It was very tasty!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Oxtail Stew

The last two nights were filled with leftovers and cheater meals, like McCormick spice mix chicken wings. But today I am finally trying something new, which means I need to follow a recipe. Actually, I'm combining two recipes I found for Oxtail Soup/Stew; one from Stephanie O-Dea's Make it Fast, Cook it Slow, and the other from Vol. 14, #3 of Renaissance Magazine, along with a few additions of my own.
My husband went on leave Friday afternoon and will be home for two whole weeks! So he watched the baby this morning while I got an early start on this recipe, which will take two days.
I thought it would be pretty cheap to prepare, assuming ox tails were a beef part about as desirable as tongue or hock, but I was wrong. I got 2 1/3 pounds of ox tails at just over $10, given them being $4 something per pound! Both the recipes I had called for 3 pounds of ox tails, but I'm a cheapskate so I altered the recipes to approximate the amount of meat I actually had available. I'm using my 7 quart Crock Pot (the lid on which broke yesterday and is now being held together by super glue until I buy a new crock pot today).

Ingredients:

2-3 pounds ox tails
1 pound (or about 7) carrots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
5-6 small red potatoes, cut into inch chunks
1 1/2 stalks celery, sliced down the middle then chopped
12 oz. worth of canned diced tomatoes
1 cup dry white wine (like Chardonnay)
1 can low sodium beef broth
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
3 green onions or 2 leeks, chopped into rings (leaving out the last inch or two of dark green)
3 fat garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning (or, barring that, a few shakes worth to cover the meat of parsley, rubbed sage, basil, and oregano)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cumin (I only had cumin seed so I ground the 1/2 tsp up with my mortar and pestle)
3 sprigs rosemary
a sprig of fresh oregano, if you have it
sea salt
black pepper

Pour the olive oil into the bottom of the Crock Pot and rub it around with your fingers to cover the bottom. Rinse off the ox tails then plop them in on top of the olive oil. Cover with all the ground spices and 2 of the sprigs of rosemary, as well as a few shakes of sea salt and pepper. Pour in the beef broth, wine, and spread the tomatoes on top of all that. Add the vegetables and top with a few more shakes of sea salt and pepper. Break up the last sprig of rosemary and pull the leaves off the fresh oregano and scatter over the top.
Cover and cook on high for 5 hours, then turn off and let cool. Put the crock pot (just the ceramic part) into the refrigerator overnight to let the fat congeal and rise to the surface. In the morning, scrape off the fat (and throw out), then put the pot back into the heating element and cook on low for 6-8 hours to reheat and allow the flavors to mesh and the meat to get nice and tender.

Second Day: Skim the fat off the top, trying to get around the vegetables as best you can, then start it up again on low.
End result: Bloody delicious! The meat was falling off the bone...yum!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Spicy Crock Pot Chili

I've made this before and it turns out differently every time, depending on how many shakes of spices I decide to use. I estimated measurements on the spices for you, though, and put the baby in her high chair beside me in the kitchen to watch me prepare. She loved watching the beef brown in the frying pan!
You can turn this into a vegetarian chili quite easily by simply replacing the pound or so of ground beef with a large eggplant all chopped up. My dad always said eggplant was the meat of the vegetable world.
By the way, last night we just had a lamb steak with some packaged veggies, and I prepared the lamb the same way I prepared the rack of it in that earlier post.

Ingredients:

1-1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 small red jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
1 whole sweet onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped or minced
1 14-15 oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed
1 14-15 oz. can black beans, rinsed
2 14-15 oz. cans diced stewed tomatoes (I use the can with the zesty chili spices)
1 tsp. seasoned salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
dash of garlic pepper, if you have some
dash of cumin seed
1/2 tsp Cinnamon
1 Tbsp parsley flakes
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp Tabasco sauce

Brown the ground beef in a frying pan (at least most of the way), breaking up into small chunks as it cooks. Or alternatively, peel and chop the eggplant into 1-inch cubes and add to pot. Drain before adding it to the Crock Pot. Drain the cans of beans and put into the pot, and throw in entire contents of the two tomato cans. Chop veggies while meat is browning and throw all into the pot, followed by the spices (adding a little more cayenne pepper if you like your chili super spicy). Stir well with a long wooden spoon and then cook on low for at least 6 hours stirring once in the middle of cook time, or high for at least 4 hours.

I made mine while the baby was awake and fascinated by either me cooking or the magnets on the refrigerator around 9:30am, so it's going to cook at least until 5pm. This chili is best served with either corn bread or Pillsbury crescent rolls.

As a bonus today for missing yesterday's post, I give you a link to my eHow article on my Amazingly Tasty Hamburgers recipe.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Pork Shoulder with Vegetables and Cranberry Sauce


I've been juggling the baby (who is 3 months old now and becoming cranky, by the way) and trying to run errands all morning, like trying to get to the grocery store to pick up a few ingredients for dinner tonight. I must admit, I got this idea from Stephanie O'Dea's blog, A Year of Slow Cooking, but when I got home from the grocery store the recipe took on a life of its own.
I had a half a bag of carrots still in the fridge from Thanksgiving, along with a small bag of baby red potatoes to get rid of. I also wanted to combine the recipe on her blog with the pork shoulder recipe in her cookbook, but with half of the ingredients. Anyway, I ended up with a Crock Pot creation of my own, but I owe the idea to Stephanie, so Thanks!

Ingredients:

Pork Shoulder Roast (small enough to fit comfortably in your large Crock Pot, about 2 pounds)
1 can whole berry cranberry sauce
6-7 full sized carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
6 baby red potatoes, quartered
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp dry mustard
1/8 tsp ground ginger
Sea Salt
Ground pepper
Seasoned salt

Place meat into crock Pot, fattiest side down. Scatter half of the onion and garlic over the meat, and mix the rest in with the potatoes and carrots, arranged around the pork. Pour in 1/3 cup water, just enough to help cook the veggies. Sprinkle the pork with sea salt, pepper, ginger and mustard. Sprinkle seasoned salt and pepper on the vegetables. Empty the entire can of cranberry sauce on top of the meat, pushing it around on top of the veggies as well. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, then serve with rice or pasta (I'm using rice pilaf).
This turned out abso-floggin-lutely delicious, and you could cut the meat with your fork.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Tips from Leftover Night

My husband got called in to work today and is going off to play WarMachine this afternoon so it's just me and the baby today, and that means it's leftover night. I could easily make a delightful sandwich using a whole grain oatmeal bread, mayonnaise, the pork and apples from last night, and some lettuce and maybe whole-berry cranberry sauce. However, since the pork loin tasted so wonderful last night I'll probably just fill a plate and microwave it.
A tip I can give you though, for the pork loin, is if you do end up buying 2 pounds like I did you may want to use 3 apples in your sweet apple side, and just add a bit more butter and a teaspoon of brown sugar. That way you can have apples with your leftovers the next night or two.

I will therefore leave today's blog entry with a few tips for those of you who may not be so confident about your cooking skills or who may think these recipes too difficult.

1.) Know your stove. Learn its nuances; if you have an electric range top, know that every stove is different and you will have to play with the settings. USUALLY it is not a good idea to put anything on High on an electric burner. If your dial goes up to 9, stay around 6 or 7 to play it safe. If you aren't sure and you are not deep frying anything, just cook on a low-medium setting and you can't really fail. Sure, it'll take longer, but you won't burn your food!

2.) Follow the recipe until you trust your skill. I follow recipes all the time, pretty much to the letter. Only if I am sure that I know certain flavors will mesh well together do I begin to experiment with adding spices or ingredients that a recipe does not call for.

3.) To make your meat have a nice crispy outside but juicy, soft inside, cook on a higher temperature for the first 15-30 minutes (depending on weight), then about a hundred or so degrees below that for the remaining 30-60 minutes.

Please feel free to comment on my blog or contact me with suggestions for recipes or questions about how to cook something. If you want some ideas for how to cook a certain type of meat, please ask and I'll see what I can come up with!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Pork Tenderloin with Plum Jam and Sweet Apples


Tonight I'm trying to repeat an amazing recipe I came up with a few weeks ago, only this time with an even bigger pork tenderloin (a little over two pounds) that actually turned out (once I opened the packaging) to be two long, thin tenderloins. Oh well; more leftovers! Yet again I lucked out as I only had to go back to the baby from the kitchen once, when she fell asleep in her chair while watching the fish tank, so I could put her down for a nap. Of course she'll be awake when we try to eat...
The catch to this recipe is the Plum Jam, which is pretty thin and more like a plum butter. I made this myself in August when the plum tree in our back yard was bearing gobs of damson plums and I couldn't resist using as many as possible. If you are therefore unable to find a plum jam, I am positive this recipe would turn out just as tasty using apple butter, which you can buy at most grocery stores or also make yourself.

Ingredients for the Pork Roast:

Pork Tenderloin
Plum or Apple Jam/Butter
Seasoned salt
pepper
2 yams/ sweet potatoes
olive oil in sprayer
butter
brown sugar

Sweet Apples:

2 apples (the kind good for baking are good, like Macintosh or Jonagold)
ground cinnamon
ground cloves
brown sugar
1/4 stick butter

Preheat oven to 400F. Remove pork tenderloin(s) from package and rinse thoroughly. Place in roasting pan that has been greased with olive oil. Sprinkle with seasoned salt and pepper, then use a spatula or thick butter knife to apply a thick coating of the jam all over the top of the meat. Peel and cut up the sweet potatoes into large chunks and place around the meat. Apply a small amount of butter to each potato and sprinkle with some brown sugar. Roast approximately 25-35 minutes per pound of meat; the potatoes will roast quickly if they are cut up.

To make the sweet apples, peel and core the two apples and cut into 1/4 inch thick slivers. Melt 1/4 stick of butter in a pot and add two tablespoons of brown sugar along with 1/8 tsp Cinnamon and a dash of ground cloves. Add the apples and stir to coat well. Cook on low heat, mixing occasionally, about a half hour or as long as the meat cooks, until the apples are soft and easily poked with a fork.

Serve the meat sliced into 1-inch thick portions and topped with the apples, using the sweet potatoes and a vegetable of your choice as the sides.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Egg and Sausage Breakfast a la Early



Yawn! Waking up before 7am with a baby can be tiring. I've been going to bed at the same time as her though, so between 9pm and 6:30am I usually only have to wake up a couple of times for feedings and have been getting 8 hours of sleep. Hooray! My husband had today off so I got up and made him breakfast while he played with the baby. The sausages were store-bought Jimmy Dean links, just thrown into a greased frying pan and browned well on all sides. The scrambled eggs are a throwback to my Dad's own recipe. They're pretty much the same every time, but you don't mess with tasty! Incidentally, since I made so much food the last couple of days we are going to eat leftovers tonight. I don't like being wasteful!

This morning's ingredients were:

5 eggs
1/4 cup milk
seasoned salt
pepper
1 tsp. parsley flakes
garlic powder
onion powder

Put all the egg stuff together in a bowl (I just use dashes, or 1/8 tsp. or so of the spices) and whisk together until frothy. Pour into a heated, greased frying pan on low-medium heat and continue stirring/scraping with a spatula so eggs get nice and fluffy.
I still have the bad habit of putting ketchup on my eggs no matter how good they taste, but my husband assures me my eggs are delicious.
video

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Meal's Beef Stew


Hooray for the Crock Pot! A mom's best friend. I used the 30 minute nap the baby was taking around 10:30am to put this one together for later tonight. This recipe changes almost every time I make it, depending on which spices I feel like throwing in, but this is the base of my amazing beef stew. Or soup....sometimes it's not so stew-y....

Ingredients:

1 lb. (or thereabouts) stew beef, cubed (I buy the package ready-made at the store)
5-6 large carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 lb. frozen peas
1/2 lb. frozen corn
8 baby red potatoes or 4 large
1 sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 celery stalk, halved down the middle (long way) and chopped
2 beef boullion cubes (or one can beef broth)
1/2 tsp rubbed sage
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp oregano
2 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. Lawry's seasoned salt
1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
5 cups water (4 if you're using a can of beef broth)
3 Tbsp cornstarch

Get out your large Crock Pot for this one! Make sure the beef cubes are about inch wide pieces. It's up to your taste whether to peel the potatoes or not; sometimes I do, but today I didn't, since I was using baby potatoes and it's just too much work to peel them. Leaving the skins on retains the vitamins anyhow.
Pour the liquids into the pot first, then add the boullion cubes and spices. Throw everything else into the pot and mix well with a wooden spoon. Cook on low in the Crock Pot for at least 7 hours.
My mom always said whoever finds the bay leaf in their bowl has won the prize, so we say the same thing at our house.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Roast Boneless Leg of Lamb with Roasted Vegetables

Lamb again! I know, I know, but that's what my husband pulled out of the freezer last night to thaw for today. It was still a bit frozen in the middle but I can just cook it a little longer. We allow ourselves the luxury of lamb a few times a month if we can find a good cut, and a pre-frozen, vacuum-packed boneless leg of lamb is usually easy to come by, for around $12.
Tonight's vegetables were a motley of what I had available between the potato cupboard and the crisper drawer in the fridge. For example, the only reason there is any green in the dish is the fact that I had some scallions and half a green pepper hanging around since last week and I wanted to get rid of them. The others are a normal staple of what I put into the roasting pan: carrots, potatoes, onion, and garlic. Zucchini or yellow squash makes a tasty addition as well. Use whatever vegetables and legumes you have available, but these worked out great for us this time around.
Incidentally, I feel like I'm cheating you again, because my daughter decided to nap just in time for me to put dinner together. This takes about 20 minutes or so to prep, and you should thaw the lamb at least the night before in the refrigerator.



Ingredients:

Boneless leg of lamb
2 sweet potatoes/yams, peeled and cubed (this is the hardest part)
4-5 red potatoes, washed and cut into quarters
1 lb. bag of baby carrots
1 sweet onion
4 fat cloves of garlic (or smaller ones to equal that amount), chopped
Other/optional veggies such as bell pepper, zucchini, squash, scallions
Balsamic vinegar
Lawry's seasoned salt
Black pepper, ground
Rosemary
Cinnamon
Parsley flakes
Olive oil (This Sprayer works great)

Preheat oven to 425F and make sure the top rack is near the middle of the oven. Spray or drizzle olive oil on bottom of roasting pan. Rinse lamb leg under warm water, then place in center of pan. Arrange/scatter the chopped vegetables and carrots around the lamb, mixing them together. Spray/drizzle all over with olive oil. Shake seasoned salt and pepper over all, to whatever amount is your liking. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over the lamb, then top with rosemary. Sprinkle cinnamon on the bits of sweet potato that you can see (don't go digging for them, but this is my secret to sweetness) and sprinkle about a tablespoon of parsley over the vegetables (this counteracts the gassiness of the onions and garlic).
Place pan into oven for 15 minutes, enough to brown the lamb, then turn down to 325F for another 50-65 minutes. Cut into lamb to check for doneness; using a meat thermometer almost always makes you overcook it and lamb is best when it's pinkish red in the middle.

And just for the record, I can't even remember how I managed to cook without a good roasting pan. I'm in love with this Roasting Pan I got as a wedding gift last year.

Rack of Lamb

Last night's rack of lamb ribs was soft and succulent. It was a little raw in the middle, since my husband prefers his meat rare, but lamb is very tasty rare so I enjoyed it as well. We had both snacked earlier and were feeling lazy so the only side dish was a pack of Green Giant buttered sweet peas, but we each got four lamb ribs and were sufficiently satisfied with those two and the addition of a piece of Nutella-covered toast for dessert. My measurements are approximate, mind you, as it's usually a dash here or a shake there. Thankfully, this time he was home early enough to watch the baby for me while I cooked dinner; she is notorious for waking up from her nap just in time to keep us from eating. Sorry for the image; I had to draw it since I forgot to take a photo of the lamb.



Anyway, here's what I did for the lamb:

Ingredients:

Rack of lamb (thawed if previously frozen)
balsamic vinegar
Lawry's seasoned salt
pepper
rosemary (dry or fresh, either works)
roasting pan with drip rack


Turn your broiler on high. Pull the lamb out of the package and rinse it off under warm water. Make sure the drip rack is in the bottom of your roasting pan and spray it down with cooking spray (I use canola oil spray). Lay the rack of lamb on top of the drip rack meatiest side up and sprinkle balsamic vinegar over the meat, about 2-3 tablespoons full. Then shake enough seasoned salt to cover the meat with a light dusting, and do the same with the pepper. Sprinkle a tablespoon of rosemary over the lamb, spreading it out, then rub all the spices into the meat gently. Broiling time will vary on the thickness of the meat on the bones and how you'd like your meat cooked, but for medium-rare it's about 7 minutes on the top (meatier side) and 4 minutes on the bottom.
Cook up whatever you want for side dishes and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Introduction... a.k.a. The Beginning

My friends and family all tell me I'm a great cook, and the fact that my husband has gained about 40 pounds since we've been together only supports that assumption. I have my mother to thank for most of it, but I've gotten cooking hints from my father and both grandmothers as well over the years.
Now that I've had my baby and am home most of the time, making dinner for myself and mu husband is hectic enough. Heaven forbid anyone decides to join us! It is especially difficult to cook with a three month old girl in the house, as her attention span for watching me cook dinner from a bouncer seat is limited and she is very demanding of your attention. I once had to chop vegetables for a beef stew while trying to see around her as I wore her on my chest in the baby carrier.

At any rate, I decided that during her naptime and around my other writing projects, I would share some of my recipes. I do work out of several cookbooks, which I will credit if need be, but most of the time I make the recipes my own by removing or adding ingredients, and sometimes I just make up the recipe as I go with whatever substitutes I have in the house. My not working has put us on a budget where our only real luxury is a decent meal in the evening.
We have a rack of lamb ribs in the fridge right now that Jason (my husband) got as a birthday gift two days ago, which is probably going to be our dinner tonight. I'll share whatever recipe I come up with tomorrow, so each day's blog will be about dinner the night before. Until then, I'll leave you with the recipe for Bourbon Balls I made this past weekend and my helpful hint for trussing a turkey that I came up with at this year's Thanksgiving.

Bourbon Balls

Trussing a Turkey with Needle and Thread

P.S. Go ahead and skim through my eHow profile to see a few other choice recipes in articles I've written