July 31, 2011

Fiestaware for the Iowa State or University of Iowa fan

Fiestaware, that iconic American dinnerware, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year with a new color:  the beautiful Marigold.  I don't generally buy into collector mania, but Fiestaware makes me weak in the knees!

I started my addiction right after I bought Grandma's house.  I should explain that I bought the house furnished, more or less.  The beds were full-sized, a shock after sleeping in a queen-size bed for years, and there was a terribly uncomfortable sofa and end-tables left from the early 1960's, and...a single piece of Fiestaware. 

It was a pitcher, in a sunny bright yellow that could have been produced anywhere from 1936 to 1969.  I fell in love with the deco lines of the piece, and was excited to find that Fiestaware was still being manufactured.  I picked my first dishes , 4 place settings of  pastel yellow and 4 place settings of apricot, based on the crazy colors of the 50's-style countertops, shown here:

Dig those crazy fried egg squiggle-splats!
I was immediately hooked on the cheerful colors, and I have tried to have at least one piece in every color that followed the pretty pastels I started with, with a few exceptions:  I don't have the rare "exclusive" colors lilac or sapphire, and I never bought anything in the colors I considered gloomy, like pearl gray, heather, or chocolate.

Back to the present!  Marigold is a beautiful color, and very aptly named.  If you're from Iowa, you'll know that Iowa State University colors are cardinal and gold, and University of Iowa colors are black and gold.  So....wouldn't these be perfect for a get-together celebrating your favorite team?  [Please forgive the floral tablecloth and use your imagination.  A plain black or red cloth would look spiffy, I think!]

Scarlet and Marigold Fiestaware

Black and Marigold Fiestaware

July 30, 2011

Grown-Up Chicken and Stars Soup

We're getting a lot of squash from the CSA, so I put together this soup to use some up. 

Grown-Up Chicken and Stars Soup

 Makes 4-6 generous servings

1 tablespoon olive oil
12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into small bite-size pieces
1/3 cup finely chopped shallots (or onions)
32 ounces chicken stock (I used Rachel Ray's)
5.5 ounce can of apricot nectar
1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, halved, seeded, and cut into small bite-size pieces
1 cup stelline (mini star) pasta
1 teaspoon ground cumin seed
3/4 teaspoon sweet curry powder
2 medium zucchini, halved, cut lengthwise and cut into medium bite-size pieces
black pepper
additional sweet curry powder, optional

Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven.  When the oil is hot, add the chicken and shallots and cook just until shallots are tender. 

Add chicken stock, apricot nectar, butternut squash, stelline, cumin and curry.  Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook covered for about 5 minutes. 

Add the zucchini, cover and cook for an additional 10 minutes, or until butternut squash is completely cooked. 

At the table, season to taste with black pepper and just a dash of the additional curry powder, if desired.

We served the soup with Bacon Lettuce Tomato sandwiches, and it was delicious!

July 29, 2011

CSA bounty

The CSA we belong to is beginning to produce veggies like crazy!

Last week's box included a butternut squash, green beans, tomatoes, potatoes, beets, hot peppers, summer squash and zucchini.  And a prickly veggie that I haven't quite identified, which is maybe a Japanese cucumber?

Mystery vegetable at lower right.

This week we got sweet corn (yay!),  okra both great and small (boo!), butternut squash, an eggplant, a green pepper, potatoes, tomatoes, summer squash, zucchini, cucumbers and peaches.  I've noticed several farm stands in our little town with sweet corn, but I have trouble paying $5 for a dozen ears.  Or $6 a dozen for the locally-grown sweet corn at the grocery store! I love, love, LOVE sweet corn- but wasn't it around $3.50 - $4.00 a dozen just last year?

On the home front, the raspberry bushes seem to be done, the broccoli is not liking the extreme heat and is starting to bolt faster than we can cut it, and the cherry and grape tomatoes are bearing heavily.  The grapes are continuing to grow, but are still green as peas in a pod.

July 28, 2011

Fat Tuesday

With all the hot weather that Iowa has had in the past several weeks, Jeffrey and I haven't been cooking as much as we'd like.  It doesn't help that our downstairs a.c. went out.  We had someone come out and have a look, and it's at least working now, just not as well as before.  So it's still 80 degrees on the lower level. Which is an improvement from 90 degrees indoors, I guess.

Then - don't these things seem to come in groups? - the air conditioner that covered the upstairs level died.  Completely!  There's no turning it on at all anymore.  We still have two under-powered small bedroom air conditioners, but they're woefully inadequate.  Anyway, I digress.  We haven't been cooking, and therefore the frozen leftovers that we both take for lunches have become depleted. So one Tuesday, I took a little trip out to Fat Tuesday, a small Cajun restaurant on the south side of Des Moines.  I picked that one on purpose, because I like green peppers and Jeffrey is allergic to them. Literally EVERYTHING at Fat Tuesday has green pepper in it.  Well, maybe not the cornbread.

I got a small bowl of gumbo, some red beans and rice, and jalapeno cornbread to go.  The food was ready quickly and was packaged snugly for the trip back to my downtown office.

Here is the gumbo:

I tasted it, and OOOWEEEE it was spicy hot!  The Andouille sausage was very good, and I tried very hard to like the numerous pieces of chopped okra in the soup, but I still have an aversion to that most Cajun of veggies.  (You might remember that last year, okra made my top 5 Ick Foods of 2010). 

I thought the red beans and rice would give my burning mouth a little rest, but to my surprise it was even spicier! Very good, but VERY hot.

The cornbread was a blessing after all the spiciness- but why did I pick the jalapeno cornbread?!?  The flavor was wonderful, but my tastebuds were definitely ready for something sweet, not more heat. 

I was surprised that my favorite, dirty rice, wasn't on the menu.  Maybe it's not Cajun, just Southern.  Not sure about that.

I enjoyed my lunch very much, but if you don't care for spicy food, don't say I didn't warn you!

Fat Tuesday is located at 6112 SW 9th Street in Des Moines.  They're open Monday- Saturday from 11 AM to 9 PM, and on Sundays from 11 AM to 6 PM.

July 27, 2011

Blueberry Pie

Although it was very hot last weekend, I decided it was time to make another pie.  My goals were to make a different kind of pie, and to make a more traditional pie crust, rather than relying on the excellent but somewhat fussy vodka pie crust made famous by Cook's Illustrated.  I decided to make a blueberry pie, so I consulted various sources before coming up with my own recipes for the dough and the filling. 

The crust was pretty easy, really, as most of the recipes didn't differ a lot.  The biggest points of difference were in regard to the amount of sugar to use and whether to use butter, shortening or a mix of both.  I went with butter, and decided to go with a modest amount of sugar since I was planning to top the pie with a sprinkling of sugar.  There were a lot more decisions to make regarding the filling.  

Many recipes required nothing in the filling but blueberries, a bit of lemon juice, a thickener of some sort and a bit of seasoning though they differed markedly in regard to the types of seasoning.   Different thickeners were also recommended, including flour, cornstarch and tapioca.  I went with tapioca, having gotten good results with it in the past.  I also decided to use some grated apple along with the blueberries, as I knew from experience that the apple helped absorb some of the juices and served as a supplemental thickener.  For seasonings, I went with the traditional - cinnamon, a bit of salt and a few pats of butter - but I used a bit more cinnamon than some recipes call for, and also used a bit of fresh-ground nutmeg.  Juli's father calls the nutmeg his "secret weapon" for pie fillings, and given how good his pies are, that was enough for me.   I also used lemon zest along with lemon juice, as had some of the recipes I consulted, and cooked some of the blueberries down ahead of time, to make for a thicker filling and also to concentrate the flavor somewhat.

I was very, very pleased with this pie.  It looked great, with nice, golden-brown crust.  The filling bubbled over the crust in a few places, but that just served to make the pie look more juicy.  When I first cut some slices for me and Juli, the filling was a bit more runny than I'd have preferred, but the pie was still quite warm even after cooling for about 4 hours, mostly because the house was pretty warm (our air conditioning still isn't working very well).

I put the pie in the fridge overnight, and subsequent slices turned out great, with much firmer filling.   I served the first slices with a bit of vanilla ice cream, which was predictably great, but I had one for lunch the next day without ice cream and it was just as good on its own.

I thought the pie tasted great, too - as good as any blueberry pie I've ever had.  I took most of the pie to work, and based on how quickly it disappeared, and on the comments I got, I'd say my coworkers were also very pleased.  However, Juli found it a bit sour, saying she could taste the lemon flavor more than the blueberries.  She's not as fond of tartness as I am, but if you are also not much for sour flavor, you might want to cut back some on the lemon juice and zest if you make this pie.  I hope some of you will make it, though, with or without the recommended amounts of lemon.  Based on my results, I predict that if you make this, you will be pleased. 

Blueberry Pie

Pie Dough
2 1/2             cups unbleached, all purpose flour (+ extra for rolling)
1                   teaspoon table salt
1                   teaspoon granulated sugar
1                   cup unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
1/4                cup + 2-3 tablespoons ice water

Blueberry Filling
6                   cups fresh blueberries
1                   Granny Smith apple, peeled and grated
3/4                cup granulated sugar + extra for sprinkling
2                   tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca, finely ground
1                   tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2                   teaspoons fresh lemon zest
1/2                teaspoon cinnamon
1/8                teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
1                   pinch table salt
1                   large egg yolk
1                   tablespoon heavy cream
2                   tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Making the Pie Dough

Pulse flour, salt and sugar in a food processor.  Add butter and pulse a few times, until mixture resembles coarse meal.  Drizzle 1/4 + 2 tablespoons water and pulse until the mixture just begins to cohere.  If the dough is too dry to start to come together, add 1 more tablespoon water and pulse.

Lay out two sheets of plastic wrap.   Halve the dough and place half on each sheet of plastic wrap.  Gather the dough into two balls, wrap loosely in the plastic and press each into a disc with a rolling pin or by hand.  Refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to one day.

Assembling the Pie, Part 1:  Bottom Crust
Prepare a pie plate by spraying with nonstick baking spray.

Lay out a piece of waxed or parchment paper.  Sprinkle with a generous amount of flour.   Remove one dough disc from the refrigerator.  Unwrap and place in the middle of the parchment paper.  Roll the dough out into a large circle (11 inches for 9" pie plate, 12 inches for 10" pie plate).  Roll the dough loosely around the rolling pin and unroll into the pie plate, leaving an inch or so overhang on each side.  Ease dough into the plate by gently lifting the edge of the dough with one hand while pressing the dough down into the plate with the other, moving around the circumference.  Place pie plate with dough in the refrigerator.

Adjust oven rack to lowest position.  Place a rimmed baking sheet on the rack.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Making the Blueberry Filling

Add 3 cups of the blueberries to a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Using a potato masher or the side of a wooden spoon, mash berries several times to release juices.  Continue to cook, stirring frequently and continuing to mash, until the berries are about halfway broken down and the mixture has reduced and thickened significantly. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Dry grated apple by wrapping it in a kitchen towel or two layers of paper towels and wringing dry.  Transfer apple to a large bowl.  Add the remainder of the berries, 3/4 cup sugar, ground tapioca, lemon juice, lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Pour the cooked blueberries atop the other ingredients and stir to combine. 

Add egg yolk and cream to a small bowl.  Beat together with a fork. Set aside.

Assembling the Pie, Part 2:  Top Crust and Filling
Remove the pie plate with bottom crust from the refrigerator.  Set aside.  Lay out another sheet of waxed or parchment paper, sprinkle with flour, remove second dough disc from the refrigerator and roll it out as detailed above.  Slice the dough into 3/4-inch strips. 

Pour blueberry filling into the bottom crust, with the middle somewhat piled up.  Scatter the butter pieces over the filling, then press them into the filling. 

Lightly brush the edges of the bottom crust with water.  Carefully arrange the dough strips on top, weaving to form a lattice.   Trim strips to 1-inch overhang and press the strips into the bottom crust.  Fold overhang inward, then crimp with the tines of a fork or by hand to make a decorative edge to the pie crust.  Brush the top of the dough strips and the edge of the crust with the egg mixture, then sprinkle the dough strips and crust modestly with sugar. 

Baking the Pie
Transfer pie plate to the heated baking sheet in the oven.  Cook about 20 minutes or until the crust begins to brown.  Top pie with a pie shield to prevent over-browning, if desired).  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue until the crust is a deep golden brown and the juices bubble around the lattice crust, another 55-60 minutes.  (Remove the pie shield, if used, during the last 10 minutes of cooking time). 

Transfer pie plate to a wire rack and allow to cool completely, around 3 hours, until serving.  If the room temperature is warm, transfer pie to refrigerator for an hour or so before serving.   Slice and serve.

For good results with the dough, it is important that it not be too warm as you make it and work with it.  That's why the directions call for chilled butter and ice water, why the pie dough is refrigerated, and that's also why I recommend refrigerating the bottom crust before assembling the pie.  If your home is really warm, you might even want to refrigerate the assembled pie for 15-30 minutes before baking it. 

July 26, 2011

Southwestern Cabbage Jambalaya

We've been getting cabbage lately from our CSA.  Truth be told, neither of us are huge cabbage fans.  In fact, the only thing I can recall ever cooking with cabbage is egg rolls.   But since we have the cabbage, we've been looking for things to do with it.  And since our garden is giving us lots of hot peppers right now, something that would combine hot peppers and cabbage would be a real plus.

Looking online, I found an intriguing recipe on allrecipes.com for Cabbage Jambalaya.  That recipe got pretty good reviews, and several of the comments offered helpful ideas, so I decided I'd use that as the basis of my recipe.  That recipe didn't call for hot peppers, but since cayenne pepper and paprika are key elements of Cajun spice blends, I figured the hot peppers would work.    At the same time, I got another idea.  Bell peppers are pretty much ubiquitous in Cajun cooking, but there's something in bell peppers that makes them intolerable to me.   I like lots of other sorts of peppers, though, and the supermarkets have been getting in fresh poblanos, so I figured I'd toss those in to make something of a Cajun-Southwestern fusion recipe.

The result was a thick, hearty, spicy stew, and it was delicious.  The cabbage cooked down, became tender and absorbed a lot of the seasonings.  The flavors and textures of the spicy sausage, beef, and vegetables blended together well, and the seasoning and the mix of peppers provided a pleasant degree of heat.  The Jambalaya was also filling without being heavy.  This recipe is definitely a winner, and we're looking forward to enjoying the leftovers as workday lunches.

So, our first cabbage recipe turned out great, which makes us more enthusiastic about trying out some other ways of using cabbage.  Hopefully they will turn out as good as this, but even if they don't, we'll still have a good use for cabbage, because this recipe is good enough to earn a spot among our go-to recipes.

Southwestern Cabbage Jambalaya

yield = 9-10 servings

1 1/2             pounds andouille sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1                   pound lean ground beef
1                   large yellow onion, chopped
4                   fresh chili peppers, minced
3                   stalks celery, minced
2                   poblano peppers, seeded and chopped
4                   teaspoons minced garlic
1                   teaspoon Cajun seasoning blend
1                   medium head cabbage, chopped
4-5               medium tomatoes, chopped
4                  cups beef broth
1 1/2            cup long-grain white rice

Brown the sausage in a large Dutch oven over medium heat.   Transfer the browned sausage to a bowl and set aside.

Add the ground beef, onions and chili peppers to the Dutch oven and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, then stir in the celery and poblano peppers and cook until the beef is evenly browned and the vegetables are starting to get tender (about 5 minutes).

Clear a space in the center of the Dutch oven and add the garlic and Cajun seasoning.  Cook for about 45 seconds, then return the sausage to the Dutch oven.  

Add the cabbage, tomatoes and beef broth.  Stir to mix the ingredients together, and scrape the bottom of the Dutch oven with the edge of a spoon to loosen the fond from the bottom of the pan.  Stir in the rice, bring to a boil, then cover the Dutch oven, turn heat to low and let simmer until the rice is cooked (about 30 minutes).   Serve with garlic bread or other crusty bread.

If you'd like a dish with more or less heat, increase or decrease the amounts of chili peppers and Cajun seasoning to taste.  If you'd like something more authentically Cajun, use green bell peppers in place of the poblanos.

We used Penzey's Cajun Seasoning and Rachel Ray Beef Flavored Stock-in-a-Box, which is Cook's Illustrated's pick for best commercial beef broth. 

Juli here.  When Jeffrey said we weren't cabbage fans, in my case that actually translates to I will not eat cabbage, I hate it so much.  So this recipe is ground-breaking for me!  It's very, VERY good, and if I was naming the recipe I'd call it "Cabbage Jambalaya for People Who Hate Cabbage."  Or maybe not.  Heh.  Anyway, don't be afraid to cook this, even if you really don't like cabbage. 

July 25, 2011

Chinese Rice Pilaf

I designed this recipe to accompany two other recipes I've already published, Grilled Pork Chops with Asian-Spiced Honey Glaze and Roasted Asparagus with Soy-Lemon Glaze.   My goal in coming up with the recipe was to make a rice dish that tasted like fried rice, but which didn't require as much attention as fried rice.   This was important because I wanted this dish to cook while I was grilling the pork chops. 

After considering options, I decided to cook some vegetables in oil, brown the rice, then boil the rice and vegetables in a combination of water and soy sauce.  The pre-cooking would supply the fried flavor.  At the last minute I decided to toss in some toasted sesame seeds (something I was also using with the asparagus), which would add a bit of nutty flavor. 

This recipe turned out great.   The rice was quite tasty, and a lot less greasy than is often the case with fried rice, the flavors of the vegetables blended nicely with the overall flavor of the dish, and adding the sesame seeds and green onions after the rice was cooked provided the dish with a bit of crispness.  This rice dish went great with the other two dishes, and I think it would go well with a variety of Chinese dishes.  Since it was so quick and easy it was to make, and since it mostly cooks with minimal attention, thus allowing you to cook something else at the same time, I expect I'll be turning to this recipe again in the future.

Chinese Rice Pilaf

yield = 4-6 servings

2                tablespoons canola oil
2                carrots, peeled and diced
1                medium yellow onion, minced
4                ounces button mushrooms, minced
8                green onions, thinly sliced, white and green
                     parts separated
2                cups long grain white rice
3 1/2          cups water
1/2             cup low-sodium soy sauce
1                tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Heat the oil to shimmering in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the carrots, yellow onion, mushrooms and the white parts of the green onions and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes. 

Stir in the rice and cook until the rice has started to turn golden-brown.  

Stir in the water and soy sauce.  Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low.  Cook about 20 minutes or until the rice is done.   Stir in the sesame seeds and the green parts of the green onions.  Transfer to a serving bowl and serve.

July 24, 2011

Grilled Pork Chops with Asian-Spiced Honey Glaze

Today's recipe is one of three Chinese-inspired recipes I served recently as a memorable lunch.  I posted another of those recipes - Roasted Asparagus with Soy-Lemon Glaze - yesterday.  

The basics of this dish are pretty simple:  Season some pork chops, brown them on the grill, then brush with an Asian-flavored honey glaze and finish grilling them.   The results are exceptional:   Juicy, flavorful pork covered with a spicy-sweet coating.  This recipe is easy to make, and it cooks quickly.   You can do most of the prep while the coals are heating up. 

We really enjoyed these chops.  Every bite of the juicy, tender chops was full of flavor.  Served with the companion dishes, these chops made for a really satisfying and memorable meal.

Grilled Pork Chops with Asian-Spiced Honey Glaze

yield = 4 servings

4                   thick-cut, bone-in center-cut pork loin chops
                     freshly-ground black pepper
                     kosher salt
1/3                cup honey
2                   tablespoons rice wine
1                   tablespoon rice vinegar
1                   tablespoon hoisin sauce
1                   tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
1                   teaspoon cornstarch
1                   teaspoon minced garlic
1                   teaspoon Asian (dark) sesame oil
1/4                teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Sprinkle chops on both sides with pepper and kosher salt.  Set aside and let chops sit at room temperature.

Prepare charcoal grill with all of the coals spread on 1/2 of the grill.  

Add honey, rice wine, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, ginger, cornstarch, garlic, sesame oil and crushed red pepper flakes to a small saucepan.  Stir together ingredients, then heat to boiling over medium heat.  Reduce heat and let simmer 2 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside.

Arrange the chops on the cooler side of the grill, cover with a disposable aluminum pan and cook 9 for minutes, turning the chops halfway through that time. 

Transfer the chops to the hotter side of the grill, directly over the coals, and brush with the glaze.  Cook 3 minutes, turn, brush the other side with the glaze and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted through the side of the chop away from the bone reads 135 degrees (about 2 more minutes).   Transfer the chops to a serving platter, tent with foil and let rest 5 minutes.  Serve.

July 23, 2011

Roasted Asparagus with Soy-Lemon Glaze

Recently, I designed a meal featuring three new recipes, each using Chinese seasonings.  This is one of those recipes.

The basic idea is pretty simple:  Drizzle some asparagus with seasonings, roast it in the oven, then serve it with a flavorful glaze and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds.  It's fast and easy to make - it took maybe 20 minutes from start to finish - and it's full of great flavor.  Roasting the asparagus intensifies its flavor, while the various seasonings add savory and tart flavors and a bit of heat.  The result is a nice, memorable vegetable side dish.

Roasted Asparagus with Soy-Lemon Glaze

yield - 2-3 servings

Roast Asparagus
1            bunch asparagus (about 1 pound) fresh asparagus, trimmed
1            tablespoon Asian (dark) sesame oil
1            tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
1            tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/2         teaspoon kosher salt
1/4         teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

1/4         cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4         cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/4         cup water
3            tablespoons cornstarch
2            tablespoons rice wine
2            teaspoons minced garlic
1/4         teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
              zest from one lemon
1            tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

Roast Asparagus
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Arrange asparagus in a single layer in a 11x13-inch casserole dish.   Add sesame oil, Chinese black vinegar and lemon juice to a small bowl.   Mix to combine, then drizzle over the asparagus.  Sprinkle asparagus with kosher salt and black pepper.   Place in oven and roast until tender, 7-10 minutes.

While the asparagus is roasting, combine soy sauce, lemon juice, water, cornstarch, rice wine, garlic, red pepper flakes and lemon zest in a small saucepan.  Stir together ingredients and heat to boiling over medium heat.  Reduce heat and let simmer 2 minutes or until thickened.

Transfer cooked asparagus to a serving platter.   Pour the glaze across the middle of the asparagus stalks, then top with the sesame seeds.  Serve immediately.