Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ever want your own mint?

Everybody dreams of having a mint of their own, don't they? I'm not sure this is what they have in mind...

I have two varieties of mint that are absolutely overtaking our garden. Now, way back, the idea of growing my own mint really sounded good, even fun! These days, I am trying every thing I can think of to use this stuff in and keep it reasonably contained.

We're growing Lime Mint, and Chocolate Mint.

To date, I've done this:

Chocolate mint Lime mint
Hot cocoa

Choc Mint syrup

Chocolate sauce

Tea (hot and iced)

Lime mint syrup

Watermelon sorbet

Over the weekend, I went out armed with kitchen shears to tame the beasts, and ended up pulling about 2/3 of it out with my two gloved hands. I cut off all the roots and leggy stems, and carried about 2 enormous armloads into the kitchen. I filled both sides of the sink with cold water and separated the varieties. Take it from me, they don't mix well together when you taste them. At least, I don't like the result, so I am very careful to use them individually.

I had a good amount of the lime mint, which I soaked in cold water and got any loose dirt off, then santized it in my way cool sanitizer. Then I put ALL OF IT into a gallon pitcher and filled it with boiling water and let it steep for Mint Tea. When it was ready, I put some ice in a tall glass and squirted some of my lime mint syrup into it and poured on the tea. It was very refreshing!

Now for the chocolate mint beast. I had crammed the right side of the sink completely full of chocolate mint. After I took the lime mint out of the left side, I split the chocolate between the two, and still had two full sinks of the stuff.

My goal for the chocolate mint?
Chocolate gelato
Mint cream frosting for brownies

For the gelato, I put about 6 cups of fat free half and half (ha! that always makes me laugh!) into a big pot and put it on to simmer. Then I put as much of the cleaned/sanitized chocolate mint in as I could get in there. Believe it or not, I got about an entire sinkful into that pot! I turned off the heat and let it sit there, with a pie plate and weight on it, so it could steep for about an hour.

Then I removed the mint and strained the half and half. I put it in my big strong blender with about 2 cups of sugar and about 2 tsp of vanilla and let 'er rip. Then I put in about half a bag of mini chocolate chips and blended again. They were instantly melted. I poured all of this into two large sealable plastic containers, added the rest of the mini chocolate chips and shook them like crazy and put them in the freezer. Since I don't have an ice cream machine, I do what I can to mix this and keep it kinda airy. Every so often, I took them out of the freezer and shook them like mad, and turned them upside down for a while. If you do this, please be sure your container's lid will provide a good enough seal! You don't want to try to clean up a sticky frozen mess later. After freezing overnight, I found it to be tasty, even if it's less creamy than ice cream. I usually use homemade gellato to make ice cream sandwiches, so there's a lot of other stuff to focus on rather than a slightly different mouth feel than ice cream. This batch was good.

For the chocolate mint brownies, I have to admit I had a box of brownie mix in the pantry to use up...see? It DOES qualify for 2nd Day Gourmet!

First though I steeped some more chocolate mint in about a cup of heavy cream that I heated to simmer. Just as above, I let it steep for about an hour. During that time, I made the brownies so they could cool a little bit. After removing the mint from the heated cream, I put some powdered sugar and vanilla in there and beat it to thicken. It never got quite to whipped cream stage, so I put in more sugar and made it more like a frosting, but still rather thin. I colored it green with some cake decorating icing coloring, and chilled it a bit to let it thicken up.
Then I spread it on the brownies, and put it in the fridge to set up while we ate dinner. Finally, I took the small squeeze pack of fudge frosting that came with the brownie mix and poured it over the mint cream, hoping to have 2 distinct layers, but there wasn't quite enough of the fudge, so I swirled it. Let me tell you, these things are delicious!

I wonder what I'll do next with this mint...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Proscuitto and provolone wrapped pear and figs

I'm always up for a cooking and/or eating adventure. I'd never eaten or used fresh figs before, so when the grocery store had them on their Buy One, Get One special, I couldn't resist. (That's another thing I'm a complete sucker for...the BOGO!)

They had 3 different varieties, none of which were familiar to me, so I picked two interesting looking ones..."Black Mission" and "Brown Turkey" figs. The Missions are a little bit smaller than the Brown Turkeys, just an fyi. I also picked up two Bosc pairs.

I used some of the figs with some mango I had in the fridge that I needed to use up. I made a zabayon sauce and poured it over the sliced figs and diced mango, put some granulated sugar on the top and put them under the broiler to brown for a few mins. This attempt was OK, and was a nice follow up to the Seafood Bisque, but didn't pack the punch I wanted when I ate some of the extra the following day.

Anyhow...on to the topic at hand...

Lay a thin slice of proscuitto on the counter or plate and place about an 1/8 - 1/4 of a pear on it. Place one piece of each type of fig up against the pear. Carefully wrap the proscuitto around the fruit and fasten with toothpick(s) if necessary to hold them together. Gently place a half slice of Provolone cheese over the roll and place it in a shallow baking dish. Repeat this as many times as you like, or until you fill your baking dish.

Place the baking dish under the broiler for 3 - 6 minutes. Keep an eye on them. When the cheese gets melty and a little brown, take them out.  I drizzled a little bit of my lime mint syrup over them, but honey would work great too.

These were a great side to our spaghetti dinner and salad. I also took one to work the next day for lunch.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Seafood bisque

I finally got around to using up the assorted shellfish shells I'd frozen over the past several months. I had shells from shrimp, crabs, clams and mussels tucked away and intended to make bisque when I had the time. I must say, this did take most of the afternoon, but man was it worth it! And the aroma! I got hungrier and hungrier as the afternoon went on, just smelling the stock! And that was only the first part...

Thanks to Elise at SimplyRecipes, I had a great shellfish stock from which to build the bisque. In fact, this seafood bisque is based on her Crab Bisque recipe with some slight modifications.

I put the shells into a pot and covered them with about another inch of cold water. Gently heat them to just below a boil, then let them not quite simmer for about an hour. I turned it down and let it keep warm until I was ready to continue.

Add some onion, celery, carrot, parsley, thyme and bay leaf, white wine vinegar, about 2 Tbsp. tomato paste and some smoked peppercorns. Let that go for 30 - 45 mins. Let this cool for quite a while. Strain and set aside.

Brown about a third cup of shallots and some garlic and mushrooms in 2 Tbsp butter in the stockpot. When translucent, work in 2T tomato paste and 1/4 cup white rice. Let the rice brown for a minute or two. Add some white wine vinegar and the reserved 4 cups of seafood stock from earlier. Stir. Let this go for about 25 - 30 mins.

Add a can of minced clams with the juice. Stir to combine. Gently put in a pound of fresh mussels. Be sure to check them first to make sure they're all closed up tight. Almost as soon as you put them in, they'll start to open up. Let them simmer for about 5 - 6 minutes, then when they seem to be just about all opened up, remove the soup from the heat and let it cool for a few minutes.

Remove the mussels from the soup. Set them aside.
CAREFULLY add the soup to a blender (do this in batches if necessary) and blend until smooth. You can also use a stick blender for this but be careful with the hot liquid. When smooth, put back in the soup pot. Slowly add about a cup and a half of half and half or cream, whisking as  you pour it in.

Taste and season as needed. I used a tiny bit of Old Bay Seasoning in mine. A touch of nutmeg would be a good alternative.

Remove the meat from about half of the mussels. (Be sure to DISCARD any that do not open up.) Put some of the meat in the serving bowls and ladle bisque over it, or put it in the soup pot with the bisque. Either way, after the bisque is in the bowl, add some of the whole mussels in the shell to each serving. Garnish with croutons.

Just in case we wanted to add it, I put some Old Bay and some hot sauce out on the table when we were ready to eat. I am proud to say that neither of us added a thing to this delicious bisque!


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Fried Mac'n'cheesecakes

Michael made some really good mac'n'cheese the other day. There was a little left, so we tried making FRIED Mac'n'cheesecakes with it. They turned out really good!

1. Beat an egg with a small amount of milk in a shallow bowl to make an eggwash. Add a tiny touch of tobasco sauce and some salt and pepper.

2. Put some breadcrumbs in a second shallow bowl. (I used panko, but I'm sure regular will work just fine.) Season the breadcrumbs with salt and pepper or some seasoned salt.

3. Portion the cold mac 'n cheese into small balls, about the size of golf balls. Roll them in the breadcrumbs, then in the eggwash, then in the breadcrumbs a second time.

4. Gently flatten the mac 'n cheese balls slightly with your hand, so they're about the size of a hamburger.

5. Put some vegetable shortening or vegetable oil in a skillet, cast-iron if  you have one, over medium - high heat. While the oil is heating, put a few unpopped kernels of popcorn in the skillet. You'll know the oil is hot enough for your mac 'n cheese cakes when the corn pops!

6. Remove the popped popcorn from the skillet, if it has not already ejected itself like mine did. Carefully place the mac'n'cheesecakes  in the skillet and let them fry for 2 or 3 minutes until they are nice and golden brown. Carefully flip them over and let them go for another few minutes.

7. Remove the mac'n'cheesecakes to a small plate lined with paper towels. If not eating right away, cover with another paper towel. Since you're using really hot oil, they won't absorb a lot of oil, so you won't absorb a lot of oil, but it's still nice to blot up any extra with the towels.

8. We served ours with grilled meatloaf, hashbrowns (two more 2DG creations) and peas. Enjoy!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My Thai?

This entry isn't about using  up leftovers, really, but I just had to write about it. I mean, all those leftovers have to start from some first creation, don't they? Here's the story of one...

I don't know how I came to be so obsessed with the idea of Peanut Butter Pasta, but I did. I did some web research but didn't see anything from anyone about actually making pasta with peanut butter in the dough. I found lots of recipes for noodles in peanut sauce, which sounds good, but not what I was after. I've had several varieties of flavored pasta from Papardelle's, so I thought if anyone has done it, they would've...but no, they only sold some peanut sauce, no PB pasta. So I became even more intrigued, and I decided I HAD to try it. The way I saw it, there were only two possible outcomes...

1) It would be really good and I'd finally have my own truly unique food creation...

or, more likely...

2) It would be so heinous that it would be completely inedible and I would deny ever even THINKING of it, and would try to erase it from my consciousness.

So last Saturday, I decided to try it. I consulted my Italian cooking book, and came up with a plan of attack. Then I got to work. I'll detail the specifics below, but I don't want to keep you in suspense. Which way do YOU think it went???


Want me to tell you?



Here's how it went.

1. Beat 2 eggs with 2 Tbsp. of homemade peanut butter. Add to mixing bowl.

2. In separate bowl, combine 1 c. of unbleached all purpose flour with 1 c. whole wheat flour.

3. Slowly add the flour to the egg/pb mixture. I didn't add quite all of the flour. Probably had about 10% left in the bowl when the dough looked to have enough.

Right about here, I decided it was too dry and I added one more egg mixed with one more Tbsp. of peanut butter. It still seemed a little dry, but I didn't want to add any more than that.

4. Put dough hook on mixer and mix away.

5. Check dough. Let it mix some more.

6. Check dough again. Fret that it's resembling PB cookie dough. See if patting dough together by hand helps. It does. Draw encouragement from that and try dough hook again.

7. Heave one large, dramatic sigh.

8. Turn off mixer, take dough out of bowl and release on lightly floured counter.

9. Knead dough by hand for a few minutes. Fret more that it resembles cookie dough. Try not to dwell. Add a teeny tiny bit of peanut oil to the dough and resume kneading. All told, I kneaded it for about 8 minutes.

10. Form the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and let rest on counter for about 45 - 60 mins. Let it go. Try not to worry what will happen next.

11. Unwrap and pat out a bit on lightly floured counter.

12. Grab rolling pin, dust with flour and apply elbow grease. To my great surprise, it rolled out beautifully!

Keep in mind, I usually have problems rolling out pie dough and cookie dough. They tend to stick no matter what I do. This time, though, I was able to roll, turn, flip, rotate, stretch, whatever, and it just kept responding remarkably.

13. Once I got it thin enough, almost see thru, but not quite, it was time to cut the noodles. I had read somewhere about rolling the dough up and cutting into the desired width, but thought that it'd just stick to itself, so instead, I doubled it over on itself. Then, armed only with a ruler (for a straightedge) and a pizza cutter, I went to work. I wanted them to be about the width of fettucini noodles, so I eyeballed the width to be about 3/8 - 1/2" wide and ran the pizza cutter along side the ruler. Then I carefully picked them up in case they got compressed from the ruler. I did get a little bit of breakage from where I was pressing on the ruler, but nothing too bad.

14. Now...drying. How am I gonna dry these beauties? I propped up two cooling racks long-wise, so they looked a little like a pup tent. Then I draped the long noodles over them so they could get lots of air circulation on both sides.

That's it! Now all I had to do was let them dry until I wanted to cook them up and make a Sesame Shrimp Sauce.  (I took inspiration from Pad Thai to create this dish.)

15. After marinading some 16 - 20 count shrimp in Drew's Sesame Orange Marinade for an hour or so, I stir fried them in a mix of a small amount of sesame oil and a bit more peanut oil. When they were pink, I removed them from the skillet and added some sliced scallions and matchstick carrots. Stir fried them for a few mins and then covered them to let them steam a little bit. Then I added some bean sprouts and stir fried them for a few mins. Next it was time for the shrimp to get back in the mix. I added them back to the pan. Next I threw in a few handsful of rough chopped peanuts and about half of an anaheim pepper that I'd chopped. (I removed about half of the seeds.)

16. While all that was going on, I put the dried noodles in some boiling salted water and let them go for about 5 - 6 mins.

17. When all the noodles were floating on the top, I tasted one to see if it was cooked enough. It was, so I drained them in a collander. I added about a Tbsp of peanut oil to the same pot and put the pasta back in there just to give it a touch more peanut flavor.

18. Now I dumped the noodles in a big pasta serving bowl, and put the sauce on top. After tossing with tongs, I added some uncooked peanuts, a little more chopped pepper and grated some lime zest over the whole bowl.

19. To serve, I put some in each pasta bowl, with some bean sprouts to one side, and a wedge of lime.

I can't tell you how shocked and excited I was when I tasted it and it really was good! I was especially happy with the raw peanuts in the dish, and for some reason found that surprising. I can easily see doing this same thing with chicken or almost any type of protein.

20. Next time you think you can't do something just because you don't think anyone else has...forget that! Do it anyway!