longs days, slow cook

open book

I am sorry I have been away for so long! I have been busy. Very Busy. Some may know and some may not, but I am a grad student finishing up my thesis in the next 2 months and I barely have time to breathe never mind cook!

So I am hoping to squeeze in a few things between now and my final thesis deadline in late January but forgive me if I am a little slow about posting. Now as I head into the holidays I am going to have even more things to juggle!

These busy days call for the helping hand of the slow-cooker. There is nothing better than dumping a few things in and hours later having a meal waiting for you. My latest creation was inspired by the cold night and the fact that I happened to have potatoes on hand.

I put scrubbed, chopped to bite size potatoes into the slow-cooker with a couple of tablespoons of butter and 1 smallish-medium onion chopped small. I opened a can of creamed corm and a can of niblet corn and added that. Next a can of low sodium broth, a dash of ground nutmeg, dash of garlic powder and plenty of salt and pepper. I also happened to have a small ham steak in the fridge so that got chopped and added too, but you could leave out for a vegetarian version. I let the whole thing cook on low for 8-10 hours till potatoes were tender. (consult your crock pot directions for times/settings as you may want to do high for a shorter time) At this point I took out my immersion blender and gave the mix a quick couple of pulses just to “thicken it up” with the blended potatoes etc. I added about a cup of half and half, adjusted for salt and pepper and served!

It came out delicious, couldn’t have been easier and sustained me  and my husband for several servings each while I march onward towards my academic goals!

chowder

Carol’s Kielbasa Dinner

Maybe it’s the fall nip in the air here in New England. Maybe it was the fact that I had the ingredients hanging around the refrigerator. Maybe I just wanted an excuse to serve one of my many mustard selections I keep on hand. Whatever the reason…I found myself putting together a “kielbasa roast” for dinner one night.

Serve informally and rustic on a Dinner for two served on a rustic wood tray and whole gran mustard. Don't forget a great dark beer!
Served informally and rustic as a dinner for two on a wood tray with whole grain mustard. What could be more romantic than sharing/dipping chucks of meat and veggies! Don’t forget a great dark beer to go along.
This can also serve as party food – served barely warm or even room temperature – guests can grab and dip.

This simple dinner came together easily. I spread rough cut potatoes and chunks of raw onion on a sprayed foil-lined sheet pan. I used a little bit of olive oil to lightly coat everything and sprinkled my favorite all purpose roasting spice blend liberally on top. My choice of spice blend is something called “Northwoods Seasoning” from Penzeys, but you could use your favorite blend or even just a simple mix of seasoned salt, black pepper and ground cumin. Into a preheated hot 425 degree oven for about 20 minutes and then a quick toss and flip. Back into the oven for about 10 more minutes. Add the sliced kielbasa and green veggie of choice, cook another 10 minutes or so. Feel free to toss and moisten everything with a little more olive oil if needed along the way. But remember that the fatty meat will release some of its fat and flavor as it cooks.

Technique Notes:  The kielbasa is a fully cooked product so I am simply getting some color and flavor on it here. I cut my pieces about 1/2″ thick. Trying to keep a uniform cooking time. But I did give the potatoes and onions a head start as the potatoes need longer and the onions develop into a “caramelized” deliciousness. I choose a frozen Italian green beans because that is what I had hanging around in my freezer but I think florets of broccoli would be delicious here! Use your judgement with cooking time to get the level of brown crispness that you are looking for.

roasting sheet

On the roasting sheet – keep a close eye on things so they don’t overcook and be sure to toss and turn a few times. ( keep it “light’ if you must with a great quality turkey kielbasa)

Gordon, Are You Reading This?

Anybody who might have read my early (as in first) post will know that I am a big “Gordon Elliott” fan from way back. His long-time-ago show “door knock dinners” was a favorite of mine! This is the one where he surprised folks by knocking on their door and making dinner out of whatever was on hand. Kinda like “cabinet stew!”

If you are not familiar with Gordon – all you need to know is that he is the genius producer behind many famous cooking or cooking-related shows. Most recently his daytime series “The Chew.” I am an avid fan of this show which started airing in September 2011 – a full year after I started my blog in May 2010. Sometimes I watch it and comment to my husband “hey I just made that not too long ago” and think what a coincidence! Of course if it something common like burgers – which everybody makes all of the time, than it is bound to come up. But if the coincidence is something a little more unusual like perhaps Swedish Meatballs or American Chop Suey – than I have to wonder….”Gordon, are you reading my blog?”

Okay before you think I am a narcissist maniac, lets just consider the possibilities. (After all in this “get a record deal from a YouTube video sensation” world we live in – anything is possible!) Since I linked to Gordon’s production site back in May 2010 – it is entirely possible that his IT guys informed him of the link back to him, and he has been reading along with other my other approximately 70 other regular readers ever since. (A girl can dream can’t she?)

Well if you are reading this Gordon – let the record show that the street goes both ways. Here is an adaptation of something I just saw on the show recently – Chef Michael Symon cooking eggs inside an avocado half. His were a little undercooked as he was doing a “five in five segment” and he used the whole avocado half. I think my changes to this recipe were a good idea. See what you think…

Slice thin and make a big hole!

sliced avocados

In retrospect I would have made the avocado slices with the hole even thinner to allow the egg to cook easier. It really depends on your preference of egg – I like my yolks not too runny – so longer cook time for me.

eggs cooking in avocado

Standard “eggs in a hole cookery” – but use a cover to help them cook through.

final dish

Served on a bed of hash browns laced with chopped cooked bacon. (bacon optional for you vegetarians) Topped with a quick warm “salsa” of cherry tomatoes, basil and onion and sprinkled with Feta cheese.

P.S. I also noticed that not long after I discovered “www.foodimentary.com” which lists all the weird “food holidays” (like “national chocolate cupcake day”) the show started talking about them too. Coincidence? I think not!

Chasing JoJos

Still trying to recreate the mythical JoJos of my youth.

If you haven’t had or heard of JoJos – you can read my last posting about them here or if that is too much clicking here is a short review…

Potatoes, scrubbed but skin on, cut length-wise, quarters and maybe quarters again. Coated in a delicious crispy coating, crunchy on the outside, fluffy on the inside.

But these are not steak fries. They are JoJos – think “chicken fried potatoes.” Except the real ones are “broasted!”

But on this JoJo day I was inspired to make some crispy coated, oven-baked versions.

Mary was my husband’s uncle’s mother-in-law (better take a minute on that one) and she apparently made the best potatoes. One time last summer I actually had the pleasure of meeting her and of course I managed to work the topic into conversation and although no real recipe was given – I gleaned enough to get the idea that she was basically making an Italian oven-baked JoJo.

From what I could gather there was butter and lots of it. Some breadcrumbs. The seasoning – Italian blend in her case. And don’t “fahget the Paaaarmm Ma.” (That is Massachusetts vernacular for “don’t leave out the Parmesan cheese mom.”) And plenty of tossing and turning in the pan during cooking time.

So I blended up a mix of seasoned bread crumbs, grated Parmesan cheese, some seasonings (mostly Italian in nature) that I annoyingly and uncharacteristically forgot to write down and tossed the raw potato wedges in hot melted butter before coating them in the breadcrumb mix and baking in a hot (400-425 degrees) oven. I tossed them carefully, several times, during cooking to ensure even crispy-ness and to make sure no butter got left behind in the pan. About a total of 30 mins +/- Basically until the thickest wedge is fork tender.

They were delicious!

Crispy and delicious, but definitely not "broasted!"

Crispy and delicious, but definitely not “broasted!”

The Crispy Bits

We all know the crispy bits are the best. The crispy bacon. The crispy edges of the brownies. The crispy pizza crust. Shall I go on?

Well I also think the crispy bits of hash are the best – whether a traditional corned beef variety or an all veggie one as I made this time.

Sweet & white potatoes with onion & apples hash served with apple sauce but would be divine with sour cream!

I was inspired to make this one a little spicy by adding my favorite spice, ground cumin, but also a little BBQ seasoning. I happen to have a fresh supply on hand thanks to Aunt Barbara, so I used a little “BBQ 3000″ from Penzey’s.

Also I used a secret ingredient to keep things moist. But speaking of moist…make sure to squeeze out every last bit of water from the veggies after shredding them or you will have to wait a long time to get those crispy bits – if you get them at all.

But back to the secret ingredient…which I am actually afraid to admit to.

Mayonnaise or in my case Miracle Whip since that is what I had in my fridge.

Well you know how some folks spread that on the outside of their grilled cheese to get it extra crispy and brown -I was trying to channel that technique. So I figured why not. I went ahead and just added in a small amount to the whole mix. The raw mix shouldn’t look “mayonnaise-y” or white it should just “moisten things up.”

And yes it did help get lots of crispy bits!

Jojos on the grill

Ever had a Jojo? How about grilled Jojos?

That’s what I thought. You aren’t even sure what a Jojo is. When I had my first Jojo I didn’t know what they were called but they were delicious.

A Jojo is essentially a potato that is cut in quarters, lengthwise with skin left on. Than it is coated in a light, crisp, highly seasoned coating and fried. The best ones are actually “pressure-fried” as in “broasted.”

Now I know what you are thinking…”steak fries, I have those all the time.” Nope these are not steak fries – they are Jojos. (steak fries are thinner and don’t have a coating.)

The first ones I ever had, and these are the stick by which I measure all others, had a coating similar to fried chicken but not as thick. My mouth waters just thinking about it. And to think that was over 30 years ago at a very small town convenience store in the middle of rural New Hampshire!

My husband had his first Jojos about 15 years ago at a local joint in his neighborhood of Cambridge, MA.  A place that happens to have the best fried chicken in the area. No surprise there – they go hand in hand.

Anyway this past weekend I thought it might be fun to try a “grilled Jojo.” I coated the cut potatoes in oil and after perusing several variations of the coating recipe on the web, I settled on simple coating of seasoned salt and granulated garlic powder. I didn’t want to try to grill a potato coated first with a light egg wash and then lightly coated in seasoned flour, but that would have been much more traditional. If I was frying or even oven-baking that is what I would have done. But since I was grilling I didn’t want to risk it.

They came out pretty good and even my neighbor thought so when we shared a few across the fence. I will admit that although delicious, they were more like a grilled steak fry and not as much like the crispy, coated “fried” Jojo of my youth that I was hoping to recreate. Once this heatwave is over – I will be firing up the indoor kitchen and making some proper fried Jojos!


Author’s Notes:

I felt it only made sense to serve these with grilled brats as a nod to the Wisconsin origins of the original “broaster” machine that has made so many delicious Jojos throughout the years.

Also a little roasted corn on the grill is always delicious.

This lovely blog (click here) posted a similar nostalgia for Jojos back in January 2008 and has posted a great recipe as well.

Weeknight Night Grill Session

What’s better than a weeknight grill session?

A weeknight fancy dessert!

We had both this past week. Looks fancy but was really easy.

I had made the potato salad the night before – boiled the little red guys and dressed simply with a combination of yogurt and low-fat mayo. Add lots of chopped celery for crunch and shallots for …well because I have a shallot addiction. Lots of flavor that included dried dill., seasoned salt, black pepper and apple cider vinegar.

The steak tips just get a standard treatment of S&P with a little red wine vinegar to liven things up. Grilled sliced onions too!

But dessert was the showstopper.

Just open up that puff pastry – you know the one already made in the freezer section – peel and slice 1 peach down the middle, add some frozen raspberries that you have in your freezer from last year’s harvest. Add some butter, sugar and a little cornstarch. Bake until yummy!