Sunday, July 19, 2015

Fully-Loaded Twice Baked Potato Casserole

Last week, I was shopping for groceries at Whole Foods, and I realized that I hadn't eaten lunch. My stomach was growling at me, and so I bought a twice-baked potato from their hot food bar. The potato was on the small side, and the melted cheese and broccoli looked really appealing.

nopin = "nopin" /> When they cashier rang it up, I gasped. $8.00.  Ouch!  But, I was hungry and I have to say-- it was one of the tastiest twice-baked potatoes I've ever eaten.

I made a mental note that I should make these at home-- for a lot less than $8.00, thank you very much.  I had family over for Craig's Amazing Baby Back Ribs, and I couldn't decide between making American Potato Salad or Twice-Baked Potatoes.  

I absolutely adore baked potatoes.  For years, I used to wrap russet potatoes in foil, and bake them that way. After all, that's how my mom made them.  However, we love crispy, seasoned potato skins. So, for the last few years I scrub my potatoes, pat them dry, sprinkle them with olive oil and Montreal Steak Seasoning.  I place them in a cast-iron skillet and bake them at 400F for about an hour-- or until a knife easily slips in and out.

What you end up with are potatoes that are crispy browned underneath, and the seasoning makes these taste just like Outback Steakhouse baked spuds  (in my honest opinion).

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Sweet Red Pepper Jelly


There's a back story as to how I discovered this sweet and savory jelly. My story goes way back before my 26 year old son was born. A former neighbor of ours served a jar of her homemade red pepper jelly, along
with cream cheese and crackers at a neighborhood Christmas party.

I had never even heard of red pepper jelly, but I obediently prepared my cracker as she instructed me to do.

Whoa! What?!  My taste buds were vibrating with delight, as my taste buds danced between sweet, tangy and a little bit of heat.  I was seriously considering shoving the entire tray into my purse, and sneaking out of her house to my own-- so I could greedily eat the whole shebang. But, that would be rude. So, I listened to my good conscience. Reluctantly.

I asked my neighbor for the recipe,and she kept saying she'd get it to me. But, sadly, she never did.  Then we moved away and on occasion, I would think about that jelly with a nostalgic longing for it.  I did find a similar jelly made by Stonewall Kitchen.   It's really delicious, at about $8.00 per jar.  Still, I always wanted to make my own.

In recent years, I've searched high and low, for recipes for red pepper jelly.  There are lots of them, and most of them use green bell peppers and lots of jalapeƱo peppers.  I even saw some recipes that uses habanero peppers. Nope, that's not what I was looking for.  I'm a whimp when it comes to really spicy foods, and I didn't want the taste of  the jalapeƱos to overwhelm the sweetness of the red bell peppers.

Jarden Home Brands, the company that makes all of our beloved Ball and Kerr products, sent me a copy of their 37th Edition of the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.  The 37th edition of Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving offers 200 pages that will guide you while you learn about preserving. This book provides information about equipment and step-by-step instructions for each preserving method. Also included are over 500 recipes for canning, pickling, dehydrating, freezing food, and much more! 

If you are at the stage of wanting to learn how to can-- this book has it all. I taught myself how to make jam for the first time, in 2009. I learned everything from the original Ball Canning Blue Book, starting with this strawberry jam, and a canning kit--  and I have discovered that canning isn't difficult at all!  In fact, it's fun and addicting (more on that later). Now that I'm more advanced, I found plenty of new recipes that I will be making.

I am a frequent visitor to the Fresh Preserving WebsiteThat is where I can find almost many recipes ideas for making jams and jellies (and more). I can watch "how to" videos and I order my canning supplies as well.  I couldn't find a Red Pepper Jelly recipe, per se. So I adapted the Pepper Jelly Recipe by substituting red bell peppers, instead of green bell peppers. 

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Kansas City Style Barbecued Burnt Ends

My husband was born and raised in Kansas City. A few years ago, we took a trip to visit his family. It was my first visit to Missouri, and I have to say that Kansas City is a very beautiful city. Of course, Kansas City Barbeque was definitely on our restaurant bucket list.

When we arrived at our first (of many) barbeque places, I saw "burnt ends" on the menu. Burnt ends? What
are those?  At the time we were there, I wasn't a food blogger, so I didn't take pictures of the big brick ovens, with the iron doors that opened up-- to reveal more brisket than I've ever seen in one place!

Burnt ends are flavorful pieces of meat cut from the point half of a smoked brisket. It was love at first bite, for me.  I'm one of those people who loves to eat the crunchy end of roasted or grilled meats.  If you belong to this club, as well, you would love the crunchiness of the brisket-- and that smoky taste!

I do appreciate a good brisket, and we have learned how to make one at home that is as good (if not even better) than some of the brisket we've eaten at BBQ places (other than in Kansas City).  So, when I spotted Cook's Country's recipe on how to make Burnt Ends in your own home, I was determined to try making our own. Granted, we don't have a professional size smoker, but there is a way. Here's how Cook's Country adapted making Burnt Ends their way:
 Real burnt ends are all about moist meat and plenty of flavorful, charred bark, but most pit masters use the fatty point-cut brisket. To make the leaner (and more widely available) flat-cut brisket work, we cut it into strips and brine it for maximum moisture and flavor. Three hours of smoke on the grill—with a water pan for more moisture—followed by a few more hours in a low oven ensures fully tender brisket with plenty of char. We cut the meat into cubes before tossing it with a flavorful, homemade sauce.

I bought this beautiful beef brisket at Whole Foods, that weighed about three pounds.  Since we're only cooking for two nowadays (unless we're entertaining), so I decided to freeze half of this for another time. This yielded two long strips (perfect for the two of us), for this recipe.

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

German Rahm Kuchen (Cream Cake)

It has been six years since I originally posted this German recipe for "Apricot Cream Cake".  I'd describe this more of a tart, filled with fresh apricots with a baked layer of sour cream and some sugar.

This is the photo that I took in 2006 with my old point-and-shoot camera.  I still find it to be mouth-watering.

This recipe comes from my cousin.  Like my Mutti, she was born and raised in Bavaria, but now lives in Northern California.   Thank you, Ursula, for showing me how to make this recipe.

The summer apricot season is a short one, so I wanted to make this again-- and to repost it, with some more clarity on the ingredients and amounts.

Ursula's recipe is hand written, in German.  I've done my best to convert her measurements into what we Americans are more familiar with.  (A printable recipe card is at the very end of this post.)

Making pastry isn't terribly difficult, but there are a few important tips.  My cousins uses her own hands to make the dough, but she doesn't overwork it.  Personally, I use my food processor and I pulse it just enough times for the dough to combine enough for me to pat it into a round disk, and then shape with a rolling pin.

My original photos, dated 2009.

This is how Ursula shaped the dough, and that's pretty much  I do it, too. Let's talk about the dough for a moment, shall we? This dough can be a bit soft to work with, so you want to add enough flour so that it rolls out easily and can be placed into a springform pan.  Don't worry about it being perfect!
 Now, she pats the dough and brings the edges up a little higher (this will be filled with fruit and a cream topping, so you want the dough to accommodate that).

So, here's my own attempt at working with this dough.  See? There are plenty of finger prints where I pressed the dough, which cracked in a few places. Nobody will know.

The flavor of the dough is buttery, because..well, there's butter in it! No lard.  There are also egg yolks, vanilla sugar and lemon zest.   This has become one of my favorite pie or tart shell recipes.

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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Buttermilk Pancakes, for Two


On weekends, I like to treat my men to homemade pancakes with pure maple syrup. Oh, wait! I'm now living with my one man, now that my son has flown he coop and is living (quite happily) in Texas.

I've posted many recipes for pancakes, but I'm always game to try new ones.  I especially like recipes that have been adjusted for just the two of us. I think it'll take time for me to wrap my head around my son's absence, and I do miss that. But, as long as he is happy and enjoying his new career, this Mama is cheering him on! 

You will see me posting, often, from this cookbook.  I've said it many times. and I will continue to say, that I really like the cookbooks from the America's Test Kitchen (who also own Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country).  They test their recipes over and over again, until it's just right. I can, pretty much, know that as long as I follow their recipe-- I'm going to like it.  I particularly like to read the preface to each recipe about "WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS".

The day that I received this cookbook, I bookmarked a lot of their recipes.  I've already shared the secret to their "Perfect Fried Eggs" recipe.  So, now I'll share their recipe for perfect buttermilk pancakes.

..."We loved the tangy flavor that the buttermilk imparted, but too much made our batter runny; we found the supplementing the buttermilk with sour cream gave us the tang we were after without diluting the batter."-- "America's Test Kitchen"

There's more about why this recipe works-- from adding a little sugar for the perfect balance of sweetness, to a reminder not to over beat the batter--lest you get tough pancakes.

 A combination of baking powder and baking soda gives the pancakes a perfect rise.

Of course, pure maple syrup is the perfect finishing touch for homemade pancakes.  It costs a lot more than pancake syrup, but there isn't any artificial flavor or icky ingredients. Plus, I use maple syrup for so many recipes-- so it's always in my pantry.

TASTING NOTES:  You might wonder if you can make your own buttermilk with milk and vinegar or lemon juice.  I've posted a recipe like that here that works just that way.  For this recipe, I wanted to stick to real buttermilk. Since I'm a baker as well, I use buttermilk often-- so I always keep a quart on hand.
The pancakes were, indeed, tender.  You can't taste the sour cream, and these were a success. Best of all, we each ate three pancakes and weren't tempted to go for more-- because there weren't any.  Perfect!

I recently posted these Cornmeal Pancakes, that are also really REALLY good.  I just need to work on scaling the recipe down to make just six pancakes.

A printable recipe card is at the end of this post.

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