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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

For All You Salty-Tooths Out There

Many, many, MANY moons ago, I used to have a part-time job as one of those convention-show cookware chefs. You know the ones who gather groups of people around and demonstrate how wonderful, awesome, and HEALTHY their cookware can put together a 12-course meal in under 30 minutes. Yeah, that was me.

We sold a version of stackable, stainless-steel cookware. For real. One could literally stack a 4-foot high tower of pots on top of the other and cook at the same time.

Ohhhh, the memories…I haz them!

Anyway, my point is, and I do have one, that while I was learning the lucrative trade of being a cookware salesperson, I learned that people either have a propensity for sweet or salty cravings. For me, it’s definitely salt, while my husband has the sweet tooth in the family. If there is a pint of ice-cream in the freezer, meh, but a bag of Doritos? NO SUDDEN MOVEMENTS!

So, when I discovered this amazingly simple, and flavorful snack this past week, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. It’s an oldie-but-goodie that I somehow managed to bypass over the years.

Homeroom ranch oyster crackers
They’re perfect, very flavorful, bite-sized snacks that will satisfy any salty-tooth. Double the recipe amount; you’ll thank me for it.

Homeroom Ranch Oyster Crackers

1, 1 oz. package of Ranch Dressing mix/powder
1/2 teaspoon of dried dill
1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon of lemon pepper (optional)
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
5 cups oyster crackers (1 package)

Preheat oven to 250°. Mix the Ranch dressing mix and dry seasonings with the oil. Pour oil mixture over oyster crackers in a bowl and mix well. Spread crackers evenly on a cookie sheet and bake 15-20 minutes, or until evenly brown. Gently stir about half way through baking.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Caramelized Red Onion Relish

Tigress Can Jam Challenge #3

I’m kind of on the hind end on submitting this month’s Can Jam Challenge.

Onions? Really? Alliums?

I wasn’t really enthused about this month’s canning choice, actually. I know most alliums are low-acid root vegetables, so my options were pretty much limited for a boiling water bath. I knew I could either make a relish, pickle, or some sort of savory jelly/jam, so I decided to go with what I know instead of trying something new.

I know; I’m such a party-pooper!

I’ve been making this relish for years and I guard it as much as I do with my Pickled Asparagus. It makes a small amount and requires A LOT of onions, but when it is piled on a grilled hot dog with ketchup, mustard, and homemade sauerkraut, it’s almost a holy experience. I have also found that it’s great as an appetizer with cheese, crackers, and other yummy nibblers like olives or salami.

Appetizer tray with caramelized onion relish
My notes from past batches mention to watch the original sugar amount because I found ¼ cup of brown sugar was too sweet (I like it a bit more savory-tangy). I’ve also found that doubling the original recipe yields 4 ½ pints, which makes it much more worth the effort.

Caramelized Onion Relish
Recipe Source: “Small Batch Preserving” by Ellie Topp
Makes 2 cups

2 large, red onions, peeled and sliced very thin (I use a mandolin)
¼ cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 cup dry red wine
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine onions and sugar in a heavy skillet or Dutch oven. Cook, uncovered on med-high heat for about 25 minutes, or until onions turn golden and start to caramelize, stirring frequently.

Stir in wine and vinegar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated, stirring frequently.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into prepared jars, leaving ½ inch of headspace. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Curried Popcorn!

So, did anyone watch "The Pacific" miniseries premier last night on HBO? Anyone?

When I was in high school, history was mostly white noise for me. As an adult, I find myself fascinated by Civil War and World War II history. I'm not very good at remembering specific battles, or what event happened before another started, but I'm pretty good at remembering personal stories.

I thought "The Pacific" got off to a good start, but it's hard not to compare it to "Band of Brothers". When "Band of Brothers" started, there was a lot of emphasis on personal stories and backgrounds told up front, but I feel the producers for "The Pacific" tried too hard to wow their watchers with boom and gore from the get-go. I dunno...we'll see how the rest goes.

Anyway, I love rediscovering cookbooks I didn't know I had! A few weeks ago, I found "Perfect Recipes for Having People Over" by Pam Anderson (no, not THAT Pam Anderson) hidden from plain view. On page 116 was this very delicious treasure...perfect for t.v.!

Yum! Curried popcorn!
Curried Popcorn
Recipe by: Pam Anderson "Perfect Recipes for Having People Over"

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon salt (I omited this)
2/3 cup plain popcorn kernels

Place all ingredients in a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot. Turn heat to med-high and cook, stirring occaisionally, until corn starts to sizzle. Cover and cook, shaking pot frequently at the beginning, then constantly at the end, until corn is completely popped, 4-5 minutes. Salt to taste.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Beware of Strange Bags of Leaves

So, on the way to Leu Gardens to get our membership the other day, I take one of the back roads through one of the urban neighborhoods. Along the way, I spot the BIGGEST bag of oak leaves at the end of someone's driveway, waiting for trash pick-up. I think to myself, "Hmmmm...if that is still there when I come back, I'm going to totally grab it!"

Once I am all set up at Leu, I take the same route home. Sure enough, the huge-ass bag of leaves is still there. So, I pull into the driveway, pop the hatch on my PT Cruiser, put the seats down, and heave this 55 gal bag of the most beautiful, mulched leaves into the back of the car. It barely fit! And to make it more interesting, the people who bagged it used the most flimsiest bag material ever created. Grocery store bags are tougher than this bag was. Wet wonton noodles are tougher than this bag was! So, it tore a little, but AHA! I put a blanket down before lugging this thing in there....GO ME!

So, I'm just proud as a peach at this point. I hop back in the car and cruised on down to 17-92 to go home. It's traffic light after traffic light, and I knew I had a good 30-45 min to get home. At about the 3rd light, my throat starts feeling gritty, and my sinuses start turning on the water-works, I cough a few times and it hits me....WAIT A MINUTE, AREN'T I ALLERGIC TO OAK????!!!!

I panic like a caged animal. What do I do? Do I pull over and redump? How am I gonna drive 45 minutes with the equivalent of a biological bomb in my backseat??!! My frugal mind says, "Tough it out. Roll the windows down. Take the expressway." So, I do, knowing I'd probably be home in half the time.

So, maybe in my urgency to avoid drowning in my own snot, I might have been going a little fast. Maybe the blasting sound of going down the expressway with all four windows open distracted me. I don't know. But, somewhere between 65-75 mph, a tornado of leaves and dirt erupts from the back of my car. LEAVES EVERYWHERE!

Leaves in the console,
Leaves in the dashboard,
Leaves at supper time!

AND DIRT! Holy shitmotherfuckersonofabitch!!!! I pull over, but the damage is done. The inside of my car looks like a compost pile and I curse a blue streak any sailor would be proud of. Thank GOD I didn't get pulled over by the cops!

So, I get back in the car, roll the windows up to a manageable choking level and s-l-o-w-l-y drive home. It took me over 2 hours to clean out all those fucking leaves with our shop vac and the car will still need serious detailing.

Did I mention my husband gets home tonight from a business trip??? I've got some 'splaining to do!

Oh well, at least this wasn't as bad as the time a package of cheese rolled out from a grocery bag and got stuck under the driver's seat....for a WEEK!

Sigh.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake!

I’ve been up to my armpits baking these past two days. Did I say my friend is getting married next month? I meant THIS month! On the 20th even! Ack!

More coffee please!

Whenever I have a big cake event coming up, I bake the cakes ahead of time, wrap them very, very well in parchment and Saran wrap, and then freeze. When it’s time to frost, I take the cakes out, let them defrost (wrapped) at room temp, and away we go. Not only does this save a HUGE amount of time, it makes the cakes more moist! Just be sure to leave them wrapped when they are defrosting. Unwrapping while they defrost will actually dry them out.

The process has been tedious because I only have one set of square pans, so that means I can only bake one cake in that particular pan at a time. The cake is going to be 4 tiers, square, starting at 12”, and graduating up to 6”. So, why just one set of pans, you ask?

Well, number one, unless I go into the wedding cake making business, the chances of me needing two of each pan is slim-to-none, plus I have the time. Number two, you might be screaming, “Torte, torte, torte!!” But alas, this is where I get all soapbox on your ass.

I have a very simple approach to cake, and well, I want the emphasis to be on the cake. I don’t know where or when it became vogue to have 7 layers of “vanilla-bean-English-lemon-curd-chiffon,” alternating with “pineapple-white-chocolate-mousse,” and enveloped in a “hazelnut-rum-framboise-buttercream.”

Where’s the cake? Show me the cake!!

When I eat cake, I want the frosting or filling to compliment the cake, not overwhelm it. It’s wedding CAKE, right? Not wedding FROSTING or wedding FILLING…although I used to work with a lady who would ask everyone to give her their buttercream from the monthly birthday cakes. She’d eat the buttercream, big, goopy spoonfuls of it, and ditch the cake.

Yech!

I make one filling and two layers, maybe 3 layers max for each cake. The cakes are made 100% from scratch, with tested recipes, and don’t need a lot of “buttercream bling” to make it better, or hide what it’s lacking. They’re not particularly artsy, although pretty. I’d rather spend most of my time on substance, not structure.

So, I say, “Let them eat cake!” and save the frosting for that lady I used to work with.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Wafflely

A good friend of mine is getting married next month and I am going to make her wedding cake! I'm nervous because I've never made a cake for someone that really had to count. It's a pretty simple cake, but still....ACK!

I love weddings!

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