September 30, 2010

Grandma's Ladle

Jeffrey was able to locate Grandma's ladle!  He'd brought it to serve Coconut Chicken Soup (Tom Kha Gai) at a work potluck, and then later the ladle disappeared.  I was a bit sad about that, but today the lost was found!  It turned out that someone at Jeffrey's office had helpfully washed it-  and then buried it away in a drawer under a bunch of other stuff.

Sorry about the shadows!

I have such fond memories of Grandma's cooking, and this ladle in particular. Grandma sometimes used it to serve up chicken and noodles (among other things), which was a family favorite. 

Actually, pretty much any kind of noodle was a specialty of hers, but the chicken noodles were the absolute best.  My mom, sister and I all tried making them while Grandma was still alive, with non-spectacular results- it's a family joke that Mom's first attempt was more like boiled rubber bands than noodles.

Here is the recipe:

Grandma's Noodles

2                     eggs
1 tablespoon   water
1 1/2 cups       flour plus 1 teaspoon salt
2 quarts          broth
drop or two    yellow food coloring

Beat eggs and water and stir in flour and salt and roll out on a floured board.    Knead in more flour as needed to get a rollable dough. 

Put flour on board and roll out thin.  Then fold or roll up and cut thin.  Noodles can be dried or frozen at this point if you don't want to cook them right away.

Heat broth in a Dutch oven.  Have broth boiling hot and add a drop or two of yellow food coloring.  Stir well, then drop the noodles in, stirring constantly.  Turn heat to low.  Put  a lid on the pot for the first 15 minutes of cooking.  Cook for about an hour total. 

When Grandma had to go to hospice care, she told mom one of her secrets- she never exactly measured the water, just filled one of the broken egg-shells.  I'm not sure that's the difference between Noodle Nirvana and Boiled Rubber Bands, but I thought I'd pass along the info just in case.

Anyway, have you taken a look at what passes for a ladle these days?  Pathetic!  I don't trust meltable plastic with boiling hot liquids, and this one has an off-kilter angle to the bowl of the ladle that I don't care for.

Here's the sad spoon we were using until the Plastic Ladle was brought home:  it has a very shallow bowl, and again, an awkward angle.

Ah, the glory of the old-fashioned ladle!

In case you're interested, I've identified this as the Ekco Forge Stainless Steel Ladle.  I'm guessing it was made in the 50's or 60's.  Do you have a favorite kitchen tool?  Leave us a comment below!

Peace Tree Brewing

I'm not sure if word's spread very far yet, but thoughout Iowa, a local brewing company has become quite popular in a very short period of time.

The company in question is Peace Tree Brewing Co., located in Knoxville, Iowa.  They produce a variety of original ales, including a corn ale and a rye porter, as well as really good root beer.  In the recent past, their products have been showing up in grocery stores and pubs around Iowa.  Peace Tree handles its own distribution. As they say on their website, "Since we are a native brewery in Iowa, we have taken advantage of the ability to stay close to our customers by distributing our products ourselves."

We recently dropped by The Peace Tree Tap Room in Knoxville to pick up some samples.  The place itself is quite nice, and we found the proprietors quite friendly and willing to offer samples of their wares, which are available on tap and bottled.

Pictured here are bottles of their Red Rambler ale (which Juli likes quite a bit) and their Root Beer (which I enjoy). 

Two of Peace Tree Brewing's products
We aren't big drinkers (I don't drink alcohol at all, in fact), but we are always glad to see small businesses succeed, and we like to do our part to support and promote local businesses.  As such, we wish the folk at Peace Tree continued success, and we encourage our readers to give their brews a try should they have the opportunity.

You can find out more about Peace Tree at their website, .  The site includes a listing of their current product line, as well as a listing of the various places one can purchase their products.

Batting .500

On Monday night, I decided to make two recipes I'd never tried before.  One, which sounded great and was quite straight-forward, came from an earlier edition of the Good Housekeeping Step by Step Cookbook, pictured below.  The other came from America's Test Kitchen Special Collector's Edition Best-Ever Recipes, which I've mentioned several times previously (and which you may well be tired of hearing about... but trust me, it really is that good)

Good Housekeeping Step by Step Cookbook: More Than 1,000 Recipes * 1,800 Photographs * 500 Techniques

The easier recipe was Pork Chops with Apples and Cream - a very basic recipe, but with some nice extra features.  This is the dish I had in mind when purchasing the apple brandy a few days earlier.  The other was Potatoes Anna, a recipe that is pretty straight-forward in concept, but which I've read is notoriously tricky in the details.  This dish, which involves carefully layering thin potato slices in a hot skillet and letting them fry for a time before finishing them in the oven, has a high rate of failure on the last step, which is turning over the skillet to release the dish, such that what was the bottom of the arrangement of potato slices becomes the top of the dish when served.  When properly done, the presentation is quite nice, but oftentimes the potatoes stick in the pan, resulting in what might range from merely a somewhat-less-than-perfect presentation to a loose mess of fried potatoes.

The chops and apples cooked up wonderfully.  The nice, thick chops were moist and flavorful, the cream sauce was savory and the apples... well, they were the highlight of the dish.  They were tender and juicy, and had soaked up a lot of the brandy flavor.  The Potatoes Anna... well, not quite so successful.

The recipe called for the potatoes to be arranged in the skillet with the heat set at medium-low and allowed to fry for a total of 30 minutes from the time one starts to arrange the potatoes, then put in a very hot oven for another 25 minutes or so.  Our stove has settings ranging from 1 (Low) to 9 (High).  I figured 2 1/2 was a good, safe medium-low setting.  Turns out I was wrong. 

I figured I might have a problem when I could smell the potatoes starting to burn about 20 minutes into the frying.  I considered turning down the heat a bit at that point, but thought perhaps what I was smelling was just the potatoes getting a bit crispy on the bottom.  So I decided to let things play out.  I let the potatoes fry the suggested amount of time, then covered the skillet with foil, transferred it to the oven, already at 450 degrees, then cooked it as directed, first covered and then uncovered at the end. 

This was is the result.  The bottom layer was indeed burnt.  Well, actually, "burnt" isn't an adequate description.  Say, "charred to a completely dried crisp" and you're in the ballpark.  Or go with "turned to charcoal" and you're spot-on.  Really a shame, too, because it came out of the pan without a hitch, perfectly formed, no sticking at all.  My very first pass at this somewhat-difficult dish, and it would have been perfect, if not for the inedibly-burnt part.  Pretty big "if" though.

A tad overdone
I'm not sure if maybe our oven's settings are just a bit on the over-warm side, or perhaps this occurred because I prepared the dish in my new Lodge Logic skillet, which conducts heat really, really well.  Either way, though, I figured I'd learned something - one can, after all, learn as much or more from failures as from successes - and next time I make this, I'll start with the heat set at 2. 

I was worried this bit of learning might have come at the price of a ruined dinner, but thankfully that was not the case.  The story has a happy ending.

As it turns out, while the very top layer of the Potatoes Anna was completely inedible, it wasn't hard to remove the worst-burnt stuff (most of the top layer, as shown above), and the rest of the dish was really, really good... tender and creamy and wonderfully yummy.  And, as I wrote above, the Pork Chops with Apples and Cream turned out great.  Served up with some asparagus Juli steamed, it was still a really tasty dinner with good leftovers. 

I will be giving Potatoes Anna another try, though... and probably soon.

September 29, 2010

Special Fun this Sunday

Don't miss the South-Central Iowa Farm Crawl this Saturday, Sunday, October 3, 2010.  There are seven farms to visit this year, including:  Blue Gate Farm, Coyote Run Farm, Dan-D Farm, Pierce's Pumpkin Patch, Reichart's Dairy Air, Schneider Orchards, and White Breast Pottery and Weaving.  The crawl runs from 11 AM to 5 PM, and we'll be visiting as many farms as we have time for. 

I'm looking forward to seeing the goats at the Dairy Air (and sampling the wonderful cheese made from their milk!), and to visiting Schneider Orchards. Both places are new to me, although I've certainly eaten my share of Dairy Air chevre cheese over the past several years.  See you there!

Another New Arrival

I've written recently about some of the new cookware we've purchased.  As it happens, while we don't have a particularly small kitchen, it is somewhat lacking in terms of both cabinet and counter space.   As a result, we haven't really had any particularly convenient place to put some of our equipment while leaving us adequate space to work and to store non-cookware items. 

To solve this problem, we recently ordered a kitchen shelving unit.  We decided to get one with wheels, so we could move it around as needed to sweep under it or othewise move it as necessary.  The unit arrived yesterday, and even though we were pretty tired from a long day at work, we couldn't wait to get it set up.  Here it is after a bit of assembly, and after we'd moved our microwave to the new shelves (doing so opened up a lot of workspace).

Having done that, it was then time to move some of our equipment to the shelves.  It quickly became apparent that when one has a lot of cookware and small kitchen appliances, it is pretty easy to fill up a set of five shelves.   Aside from the microwave, the new shelves quickly became home to our two slow cookers (large and small), our electric skillet, our double-boiler and stockpots and large skillet and Dutch ovens, the spice grinder, the bread machine, the ice tea maker, the blender, the food processor and some other small appliances.

The picture to the right shows the shelves when they've mostly been filled.   You can also see two of our cats - the orange cat is Nate, the calico is Juno.   They don't seem too impressed - I'm guessing they were confused to find we'd moved their food and water dishes in order to make room for the shelves - but Juli and I are pretty happy with this new purchase.   It definitely makes our kitchen seem more roomy.  This change gives us a lot more room now for food prep, and will have a much easier time getting to the equipment we need without having to dig through over-full cabinets.  I can actually get to things like the pie plates and the pizza stones.  Until now, they were buried behind or under a lot of other things.

Hm, maybe it's time to bake a pie or try out some of the new pizza recipes I've found...

September 28, 2010

Fine Cooking, Good Eating

On Saturday, our morning's shopping resulted in us having so late a lunch that we ended up having only a light dinner of leftovers, as opposed to following our planned menu.  As a result, on Sunday night I ended up with not only some ribs I was planning to grill, but also the chicken I'd planned to prepare for dinner on Saturday.  Rather than freeze the chicken, I decided that since I was going to be grilling anyhow, I'd go ahead and cook the chicken, which would give us more leftovers for the work week.   This wouldn't be a problem, since one grills ribs with indirect heat but uses direct heat to grill up chicken breasts.

I'd been considering a couple different recipes for grilling the ribs, so I decided on one and then looked around for a chicken recipe that would complement the ribs while being different enough that each meat would stand on its own.  

The rib recipe I chose was one from a special issue of Fine Cooking that dealt specifically with grilling.  As it happens, I found a good chicken recipe in the same issue: Fine Cooking Grilling Magazine (95 Best Barbecue Recipes, 2010) .  So, with two recipes in hand, I was good to go.

The rib recipe I used was Grilled Spareribs with Maple-Chipotle Glaze.  First I applied a simple rub of sugar, cumin, chili powder, fresh-ground pepper and Kosher salt, then let the ribs sit while I got the grill going, complete with soaked cherry wood chips.  Once I had the ribs going on the grill, I started working on the second dish of the evening, Rum-and-Pineapple-Glazed Grilled Chicken Breasts.  By the time I'd made the rub, applied it to the chicken and prepared both sets of the glaze, it was time to glaze the ribs and to toss the chicken on the grill.   Juli, meanwhile, steamed some fresh green beans we'd picked up recently at a farmer's market.  Everything was done and on the table at approximately the same time, and then it was time for dinner.

Chicken and Ribs

Dinner is Served
The chicken and the ribs both turned out great.   The fruity glaze over the spicy, jerk-style rub sealed in all the juices of the chicken, resulting in perfectly-done chicken.  Meanwhile, the ribs, having been on the grill a lot longer, had taken on the flavor of the cherry wood smoke, and after more than 90 minutes on the grill, they were fall-off-the-bone good.  With a bit of butter and some fresh-ground pepper, the beans rounded out the meal.  All in all, we were very pleased with the results, and I expect we'll be making both of those grilled dishes again sometime.

Weekend Shopping

As we've previously mentioned, we did a fair bit of shopping last Saturday, and were in fact so busy with shopping that we ended up making lunch a lot later than planned.  Since our shopping was food-related, we thought we'd go ahead and share a bit about our shopping, and show off what we found.

First off we went to our local Saturday farmer's market.  It's fairly small, and we were unfortunately unable to get what we'd gone there to purchase that morning, as the lady that sells fresh eggs was sold out.  I did pick up some fine habanero peppers, though (something I'll use in some chili I'm planning to make in the near future).  We also got to see and listen to a local bluegrass band, and we met an a local-area artisan who makes and sells pottery.  Her name is Lisa Jontz, and this was her first time at this market.  We really liked her work, and we ended up picking up a serving bowl and two mugs.

You can see the bowl pictured above in one of my posts from Sunday (  We used the bowl to serve up the lamb meatball curry. 

Lisa is currently preparing for a big arts and crafts show, but after that show, we're hoping to commission some larger bowls and other items from her.  Lisa is working on a website, and we plan to post a link once she's got it up and running.

Bluegrass at the Saturday morning farmer's market
After the farmer's market, we headed to Pella.  We went specifically to check out the local Wal-Mart, as the double boiler we were looking for had sold out at the local store.  While in Pella, though, we also stopped at some of the more distinctly local stores.

Pella was originally a Dutch immigrant community, and it maintains a strongly Dutch identity and image.  Pella is perhaps best known for the Tulip Festival held there every spring, but when we go there, we are usually more interested in the bakeries and butcher shops.  This time around we stopped at a quilt shop and at the deservedly famous Ulrich's Meat Market.  Check it out at .  We picked up some delicious smoked cheddar brats, some tasty imported crackers to go with the cheesy sausage and some ham bones for some soup I plan to make in the near future.  

We did find the double-boiler (already shown here: ), and while we were out and about we also picked up some apple brandy I needed for a recipe.  Although we were looking for Calvados, the liquor store we stopped at didn't carry that, but it did carry an apple brandy made by Cedar Ridge Vineyards, Winery and Distellery of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  Check them out at . 

All in all, the shopping trip was successful, and it made for a pleasant Saturday morning.

September 27, 2010

Apple Pie Jam

Recently I was listening to NPR and heard a great story about a blogger whose specialty is canning.  The best part about the story was listening to the sound jars make as they vacuum seal after their water bath.  That really brought back memories!  The blogger featured in the story  is Mrs. Wheelbarrow, and her blog was really interesting.  That set me off on an internet hunt for interesting or unusual jam recipes.  I found two I really wanted to try, one uses frozen unsweetened strawberries and fresh cranberries, and is called Christmas Jam, and the second was a creation called Apple Pie Jam.

Imagine my surprise when, within a few days of deciding to make apple pie jam, Mrs Wheelbarrow herself featured that recipe!  I had to make it!  We had apples aplenty from our trip to the Community Apple Orchard.  Last Saturday was a day crammed with lots of fun things, including a trip to Pella and to the local farmer's market- it went by so quickly, as most of my Saturdays do.  It's the one day I don't work at either of my jobs, and I try to make sure to spend just enough time to get the laundry done and do minimal housekeeping so I can have some play time.  Here's what we picked up Saturday:

We had a very late lunch, and then weren't very hungry for supper.  I had dinner in the crockpot anyway, so we decided to just let it continue to do its thing while we made the jam.  Halfway through, I realized that my grandma's ladle wasn't anywhere- Jeffrey had left it at a work potluck on Thursday (and now it's missing, which makes me very sad).  Jam also takes a lot of sugar, and if I wanted to make two batches, someone would have to go to the store.  Jefrey got elected, while I finished up the first batch and started peeling and chopping apples for batch #2.

I had everything ready by the time Jeffrey got back from the store with a new plastic (ICK!) ladle and 2 bags of sugar.  I put this batch into itty bitty gift jars.  Here are the results of our labor.  The color is very dark, because of the brown sugar and spices in the recipe. 

I had just enough  warm jam left over to pour over a little dish of vanilla ice cream for each of us.  Delicious!

New to the Kitchen (Well, New to Our Kitchen, Anyhow)

We've picked up some new cookware recently, and we're pretty happy about it.

It's been a long time since we had an electric skillet, and now that we've got a new one, we realize we really should have gotten one long ago.  Now, I've been told that a lot of cooking fanatics consider electric skillets to be ... I dunno.  Illegitimate, or low class or something.  Well, to anyone that feels that way, I say to heck with you.  We love ours. 

The one we have is the Presto 06852 16-Inch Electric Skillet with Glass Cover.  This thing is big - big enough to make five small pancakes at the same time -and it is sturdy and it cleans as easily as any non-stick pan I've ever owned, and better than most of them.  We did a fair bit of research before we bought, and we found this one had better reviews than any other model.  Now that we've tried it out, we can see why.

We also bought two Tramontina pans.  One is an 8-quart stainless steel multicooker stock pot with pasta insert and steamer basket.  See below.

This is a wonderful stock pot.  Good size, firmly-attached handles, sturdy bottom... really, the basic stock pot is everything you want a stock pot to be.  Juli's found it helpful for canning as well.  The pasta insert and steamer push it over into being an exceptional bit of equipment.  Note to those who like making soups: Using the pasta insert, you can let meat and veggies simmer to make a good stock, then lift out the insert and remove most of the meat and veggies without straining.  We've already used the steamer, too. We're really happy with this.

The companion to this one is the Tramontina 3-quart stainless steel steamer/double boiler stock pot.  We picked this up just yesterday, as we needed a double boiler to make the Coconut Pudding recipe we had for lunch yesterday.  It works like a charm.

We've been looking at Tramontina cookware for awhile now.  Although it's not a very expensive brand, it gets exceptionally high marks from most reviewers.  Cooks Illustrated rates many Tramontina products among their best buys, and the rank it along with the vastly more expensive All-Clad brand in terms of overall performance.  So, Porsche performance at a Honda price... we can dig that.

The pieces above are the first Tramontina cookware we've bought, but we've been happy with them, and they certainly won't be the last.

We also picked up a couple of Lodge Logic pans.  We'd been looking at a Lodge Logic enameled cast-iron Dutch oven for awhile now, and when we saw one at a better discount than any we've been able to find online, we jumped on it.  For awhile, we've been thinking of buying one of the Le Creuset enameled Dutch ovens, but they're pretty darn pricey.  Then we discovered that, once again, Cooks Illustrated identified a much more affordable brand that competes well with the upper-end champion... and in this case, the brand is Lodge Logic.  Some reviewers have rated it as slightly less durable than the Le Creuset models, but since we got ours for about 1/7 of what we would have paid for the comparable Le Creuset model, I think we'll live with that.  We love the look of the pan, including the nice red exterior finish.  Looks aren't the most important aspect of a piece of cookware, but it's not a bad thing.

We also picked up a Lodge Logic 10-inch cast-iron skillet.  Once again, this is a pan we'd been looking at for awhile now, and I'd been thinking of making some dishes that would work best with this sort of pan (Potatoes Anna or Country Cornbread, anyone?).  So, when we saw the great deal on the Dutch oven, we decided to go ahead and pick up the skillet at the same time.  I plan to use both in the very near future, and will let you know how they function in practice.

September 26, 2010

Spaghetti Squash- this time for real!

Since we never know exactly what will be in our weekly vegetable box from Foxfire Acres, we bought a for-real spaghetti squash.  We were taking no chances......
So we bought a labelled squash!  I like making labels for various things in the kitchen, but really...this takes things a bit far.  Still, we had outside confirmation that this was really, truly a spaghetti squash.

It was a little easier to cut the steam slits into this squash as compared with the Not-Spaghetti Squash, but not by much.  This picture shows what it looked like when the microwaving was done

It made real spaghetti strands!

I have to say, though, that I prefer Not-Spaghetti Squash.  Real Spaghetti Squash (RSS) isn't as sweet or tender as Not-Spaghetti Squash.  Now that we have two more RSS to eat, we'll probably try a different recipe. :)

Breakfast Leftovers

Yesterday I made multigrain pancakes for breakfast.  I followed the recipe as written, and as a result ended up with enough pancakes for 5 people - way more than Juli and I could finish for one breakfast. 

Yesterday's Pancakes
I wasn't about to let them go to waste, though.  They had a firm enough texture that I was pretty sure they'd warm up well, so I stacked them in a bowl, covered them with foil and stowed them in the kitchen for this morning.

To warm them up, I sprayed the pan with a good layer of cooking spray and heated it on medium-high for a few minutes before adding the pancakes.  As soon as they hit the oil and started sizzling, I knew I'd been right about them warming up well.

I fried them on each side for about 3 minutes, enough for them to get dark without burning.   Then I added some syrup and tried them out. 

They were excellent.  Frying them on such high heat made them crispy on the outside while still moist and soft on the inside.  The flavor of the little bits of dried fruit from the granola I'd ground and mixed into the flour seemed more intense than yesterday... carmelization of the fruits, I suppose .  Likewise, the cakes themselves tasted a bit sweeter, which I suppose reflects carmelization of the sugars in the batter. 

Either way, we've still got some left over, and I'm looking forward to another warmed-over-but-tasty breakfast tomorrow morning.

Squash Soup, Lamb Curry and Pudding... Yum!

We did a fair bit of shopping - grocery and otherwise - yesterday morning, and as a result, we ended up having a pretty late lunch.  It was very good, though.

Today's lunch consisted of Curried Butternut Squash Soup with Cilantro, Malai Kofta (lamb and chili pepper meatballs in a spicy, creamy curry gravy), naan bread and, for dessert, another recipe from The Iowa Housewife (  A few days ago, she featured a recipe for Old Fashioned Coconut Pudding, and as soon as I saw that, I knew I wanted to make it.  As was, though, Juli made that while I was busy with the other two recipes.  She also ended up doing a lot of the work to get the soup finished.

The recipe for the butternut soup came from The Best Recipe Soups and Stews.  This cookbook, by the Cooks Illustrated editors, is out of print, appaerntly having been replaced by Cook's Illustrated Soups, Stews & Chilis.  I'm not sure how different the two books are, but I'd be surprised if they dropped the butternut squash soup recipes.  In any case, it is a fairly basic, yet uncommonly good, butternut squash soup with some curry and other Indian touches added.  Juli and I both give this recipe 5 stars.  It was incredibly good.  What really made the soup excellent was the yogurt sauce you can see in the picture below, just to the left of the bread.

The sauce is made of yogurt, chopped cilantro and lime juice.  After ladling out a bowl of soup, you drop in a dollop of the sauce, then use a fork to spread it in the soup without stirring it in, as shown in the picture below.  The result when one takes a spoonfull of soup with a bit of the sauce in it is a delicious contrast of the hot, rich, sweet soup and the cool tanginess of the yogurt sauce.  The soup would have been good without the sauce, but adding it transformed what would have been a good dish into a wonderful one.

The Malai Kofta is another recipe from Easy Indian Cookbook: The Step-by-Step Guide to Deliciously Easy Indian Food at Home, which I reviewed a couple days ago. (  I'm glad I finally got around to making this one, because it was very, very good, and because its spiciness made for a nice contrast with the relative sweetness of the butternut soup.

And Iowa Sue's Old Fashioned Coconut Pudding?  It's just plain excellent... creamy, smooth and tasty.  I sprinkled a bit of cinnamon over the top of mine.  It provided a great ending to the meal.  I highly recommend you check it out. 

The naan we made today was a frozen one we buy at Maria Grocery, the Indian market Juli mentioned in a post a few days ago.  They come come in packages of five, are quick to heat up in the oven and taste great.  Though I prefer to make my own when I have time, these frozen ones are a good alternative when we're pressed for time.