Smooth Salsa Verde

Since I was trying to prepare some foods for this coming Tuesday, I also decided on making some salsa verde. This will be going well with what I plan on doing with my slow cooked pork, so I’m happy that I got the first pieces of the plan in place.

I started by setting the oven to 450. I used 10-12 tomatillos. I removed the skins and then rinsed them down (they were a bit sticky and I wanted to make sure there was no residue on them). I cut them in half and placed them in a roasting pan. I then cut two medium onions into chunks and cut two jalapeño peppers in half (removed the stem and the seeds). I cut the top off of one bulb of garlic. I drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper and then put it in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Once it was ready, it smelled incredible. The juice of the tomatillos got out, but that was okay. The garlic was soft and melty and it was tempting to just it the cloves right then and there.

I was able to resist the temptation and put everything in a blender (minus the garlic skin. I decided to let it go until completely blended, but if you want some chunks, just pulse it for a few seconds.

I added the juice of one lime and 1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro, and it was good to go. The jalapeños give it a nice bite, but it still has a coolness to it that doesn’t burn the throat. I snacked on this a little bit, but wanted to save the rest for Tuesday. A great way to finish the weekend!

Slow Cooked Pork

I am getting myself ready for this coming Tuesday. It’s a two for one – Taco Tuesday and Cinco de Mayo. I wanted to do some slow cooked pork in preparation for carnitas on Tuesday, and today was the perfect day to get it done.

I bought a huge bone-in pork butt (the smallest of the ones they had left, but it was more than 9 pounds). Instead of just putting it in the slow cooker as is and then shredding it once done, I cut it into chunks. I tried to get as many meaty chunks set aside for the slow cooker. I set aside the bone and the fattier pieces.

I started by putting 1/2 cup of apple juice in the bottom, then I put in the chunks of meat. I added one tablespoon of paprika, one tablespoon of chili powder, 1 teaspoon of cumin, and 1 teaspoon of black pepper. I poured another 1/2 cup of apple juice over the top and then mixed it all together. I let that cook on low for about 7 hours.

While that was cooking, I heated the oven to 450. I put the bone and trimmed fatty pieces in a roasting pan with a drizzle of olive oil, some cracked salt and pepper, and let it cook for about 30 minutes. Once that was done, I set aside the meat and I also saved the drippings (I plan on using the drippings on Tuesday). I then made a broth with the bone and fat, and set it aside for another day.

Once the meat was done, I took it out and let it cool. The pork had really nice flavor, and the chunks were tender and juicy. I saved some of the juice, since I don’t want it to dry out for Tuesday. This was an effective way to spend the day inside, and it was easy to be in a positive frame of mind with the wonderful aromas in the house.

Home Made Kolaches – Sweet and Savory

I have been a fan of an occasional kolache for a number of years. It has not always been easy to find places that serve them, so it’s always a treat when I do. For my last birthday, one of the presents I received was a cookbook – “When Pies Fly” by Cathy Barrow. This has some recipes for foods I enjoy and want to try – Empanadas, Knishes, Kolaches, etc.

Since I like to go the non-traditional route sometimes, I decided to try my hand at kolaches with non-traditional fillings. I started my preparation last week when I purchased some ground venison and some fontina cheese. I bought them with the intent of being the filling for the kolaches, and yesterday I went ahead and made them.

I’ll start with the dough, which comes directly from “When Pies Fly”. The ingredients are 1 packet of active dry yeast, 1 1/4 cups lukewarm water, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 5 cups all purpose flour, 2 large eggs, 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Since I was planning on going the savory route, I only used 1 tablespoon of sugar instead of 1/4 cup.

You start by putting in 1/4 cup of the lukewarm water in the bottom of the mixing bowl and add the yeast packet. Give it a few minutes for the yeast to activate. I didn’t see much of a change, so I just crossed my fingers that my yeast was still good. Next, add the sugar and stir everything together. Then add in the remaining ingredients. If you have a dough hook attachment, use that and beat the mixture for 7-10 minutes, stopping once or twice to scrape the bowl. Depending on the air, you might need a little more flour (or a couple more drops of water). Lightly spray a large glass bowl with cooking spray (or lightly oil). Work the dough a little bit, form a ball, and place in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour. You can also try for a slow rise in the refrigerator for up to 16 hours, but it should be at room temperature for an hour before making them.

The instructions above are my somewhat modified version of the instructions. Before I started any of the baking, I had set the oven to 180 and then turned it off. I wanted a warm place for the dough to rise, since my house usually is a bit too cold for that to happen (I prefer keeping it in the low 60s when it’s cold outside). I wasn’t really sure if it was going to work, I was just hoping that the yeast would take.

I let it sit for an hour, and when I checked on it, my baby was all grown up! Since I knew that I would need an hour for it to get at room temperature, I punched down the dough and let it sit while I prepared for the filling.

For the savory filling, I started by chopping up 1 medium onion and 1 shallot. I heated up my pan and added in 1 pound of ground venison. This is not as crumbly as ground beef, so be prepared to use both hands to break this out into smaller pieces. Once there was a light coating of brown on the bottom, I added in the chopped onions and shallots.

I continued to cook them all together until the red meat became more pink. I added in 1/2 teaspoon of thyme and 1/2 teaspoon of rosemary, along with 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke. I had those go for another 3 minutes or so, until the meat was completely cooked through. I turned off the heat and set the mixture aside to cool (about 30 minutes). I then grated 1/2 pound of fontina cheese.

Once it was time to start assembling everything together, I put the oven to 350.

I worked the dough a little on a lightly floured board and then broke it down into 12 pieces. In the future, I think I will probably break them down into 16 or 20, but the 12 worked for today.

Using a rolling pin, I flattened out each of the portions. I made it a little thicker in the middle and thinner on the outer edges.

Next, I placed a large spoonful of the meat mixture and a decent portion of the grated cheese in the middle of the dough.

Holding the dough in the palm of my hand, I worked the edges to the top and then crimped them together to seal.

I then started to mold it together.

Finally, I rolled it into a ball and placed on a cookie sheet.

Since I wanted to go with sweet and savory, I decided to make six of the savory, three that were filled with peanut butter, cinnamon and a chocolate trip trio, and three that were just a chocolate chip trio. When I sealed up the sweet ones, I did not completely roll it into a ball, and I left the crimped side up.

The next step was supposed to be to cover with an egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water and 1/4 teaspoon salt), but I forgot to do it. I placed it in the oven for 15 minutes, and it was about half way in that I remembered. After the 15 minutes, I topped the savory kolaches with butter and put it back in to bake for another 3 minutes. It didn’t get that nice shine on top, so I’ll definitely remember it the next time.

These worked out much better than I anticipated. The bread was nice and soft, easy to bite through. The meat mixture had a lot of good flavor to it, and the melted cheese provided another layer of texture and flavor that enhanced my overall enjoyment of this meal. I’ll get better at putting it together next time, but as long as it tastes as good as this one did, I’ll be happy.

As far as the sweet ones go, I was also pleased. The peanut butter one was nice and gooey. The chocolate chip one was the right melting point – not all combined together, but the insides of the chips were melty as soon as you bit down on them. The bread didn’t have an overpowering flavor, so it was able to work well with the other components. Although the proportions look like there was too much bread, since this is a light and soft bread, it really worked well.

This helped me get my weekend off to a great start. I’m looking forward to doing some more cooking today, but I was definitely able to stay in a positive mindset with food that turned out much better than I was expecting.

Super Chocolatey Chocolate Chip Cookies

Today I decided to make some chocolate chip cookies. It has been too long since I last made them, and I’m glad I did. My recipe has some slight modifications from the traditional Nestle Toll House Cookie recipe, and it works for me.

I started by preheating the oven to 375. In a bowl, I mixed in 1 cup (2 sticks) of softened, unsalted butter, 3/4 cup of light brown sugar, 3/4 cup of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Since I was not trying to rush things along today, I took my time and did the mixing by hand. There is quite a bit more effort that goes into it, but I needed the workout. Once the mixture was well combined, I mixed in 2 eggs (1 at a time), and 2 teaspoons of milk.

It was time for the dry ingredients. On top of this mixture, I added 2 1/4 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. I combined everything until the dry ingredients were completely incorporated. Next, I added 3/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chips, 3/4 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips, and 3/4 cup of dark chocolate chips. I spooned them onto a cookie sheet that was lined with parchment paper.

I cooked two trays at a time for 5 minutes, then rotated them and cooked for another 5 minutes. If your oven cooks evenly, then you should aim for 9-11 minutes. Mine took about 13 minutes total. Once the first two sheets were out, I had enough dough for one more cookie sheet. After they are out of the oven for about 3 minutes, it’s a good time to run a spatula under them to make sure they are loosened up. Once the cookies are completely cooled, they can be put away. This batch made a little more than 3 dozen cookies, but it would have been more had I made them smaller.

These cookies were delicious. There was a chocolate overload, which I was happy about. The chips were still melty, and the cookies were nice and soft. This is one of my better batches, and I’m glad I decided to make these today. I’ll have some good desserts for the rest of the week. It was a great way to end the weekend and a great way to get started for the work week ahead.

A Weekend of Appreciation for the Local Small Businesses

This past weekend, I went to quite a few of the local small businesses. These were all local to me, either in Sykesville or Eldersburg. There are other places I considered visiting, but last weekend involved the implementation of the face covering requirements here in Maryland, so I wanted to limit my interactions.

I was able to make a few basic masks for myself, which were better than using the bandana with an ever loosening knot. I purchased some socks and some gauze pads, cut the socks lengthwise, cut some earholes and used some safety pins to hold in the gauze pads. I’ll be trying those out next weekend, just to see how they hold up to the elements.

More importantly, on to the food.

My weekend started on Friday morning. As part of my new routine, I go to Kismet Cafe. They open at 6 AM, so I get there as close to opening as possible. There are no other people there, I can get my food and have plenty of time to eat before I start working. This past Friday, I ordered a Kismeccino, which is always good. I also ordered an egg and cheese sandwich on an asiago bagel, which was a really good way to start the morning.

When my work day ended on Friday, I decided to make the short trip to Big Belly Deli. I ordered the Rachel, which is turkey, Cole slaw, Swiss cheese, and thousand island on their toasted sourdough bread. Absolutely delicious. I would like to say that I can’t believe that I ate the whole thing, but I do it every time. It’s too good to stop eating.

The thing that made me really happy was that they were also selling loaves of their sourdough. This picture is taken from my house on one of my cutting boards, it’s not how it was handed over to me. I used this bread for the onion dip I made on Saturday night, and I used it a few times since then. It is a really good bread, so I’m glad that they had some loaves available.

I did not stop on Friday, though. I went out Saturday just before noon, and had two places that I wanted to visit if they were open and not too busy.

The first stop was at Smoky’s BBQ. I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to get prior to walking in the door, but when I saw beef ends on the menu, I knew that I had to get that. They give you a choice of barbecue sauce, and I went with mild. The beef ends had nice flavor, but they also had really good texture. They weren’t too hard to bite into and weren’t too chewy. They were the right consistency and the smoky flavor of the meat worked well with the barbecue sauce. I had some of it for lunch on Saturday night, but left the rest for a sandwich to be made later. I knew that I would be making the onion dip on Saturday night, and had the idea to make a sandwich with the sourdough bread, the beef ends, and the onion dip.

After picking up the food at Smoky’s, I stopped off at Dandelion Bakery. It’s really close to my house, so it was on the way. They had window service and there was no line. I was able to park right in front and ordered a chocolate chip cookie. They run out of things fast, so I was fortunate to get them while I could. These are really good chocolate chip cookies. They are nice and soft on the inside, and they use a good chocolate. It was a great dessert!

When Sunday came around, I was able to make the sandwich I had been dreaming up. It was a perfect sandwich for the weekend. I had the bread from Big Belly Deli, the beef ends from Smoky’s BBQ and my homemade onion dip. This sandwich worked out much better than expected. I toasted the bread a little and heated up the beef ends, but kept the onion dip cold. The flavors all came together really well.

I have a feeling I might be ordering delivery this week, but I’ll want it to be something local (either local small business, or local small franchise). I don’t know what the weekend will hold for me. I know how my Friday morning will start, but I’m not sure about the rest of the week. I will just have to see how things go.

Full disclosure: my initial title for this post was going to be Living La Vida Local, but I think quite a few people would probably be rolling their eyes at that. Stay positive!

Hot Onion Spread/Dip

Today, I decided to make a hot onion spread/dip that is a variation on something my dad likes to make from time to time. I had planned on making this for the past week, and I was just waiting to get some additional ingredients on the weekend. The best thing that I was able to get was a loaf of bread from Big Belly Deli last night. I ate this as a dip today while it was hot, but it can be used as a spread as well (goes really well on sandwiches, burgers, etc.).

I started by chopping one medium onion and 2 shallots. You can dice them as thin or thick as you would prefer.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, melt two tablespoons of butter. Add in the onions and shallots. Cook them until the onions just start to get translucent.

Next, add in 2 teaspoons of minced garlic and 1 teaspoon of chopped ginger. Continue to cook until the onions are completely translucent.

Stir in 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon of paprika and 1/8 teaspoon of cumin. Continue to cook for another minute or two.

Add in 3/4 cup of plain yogurt (I used non-fat) and 3/4 cup of sour cream (I used light). Reduce heat to medium and continue to stir until mixture starts bubbling.

Once the bubbles started forming, I turned the heat to low and then toasted up some bread that I sliced from the loaf I got courtesy of Big Belly Deli.

This was an enjoyable meal for me. The bread was the perfect flavor and the right amount of crispness from the toasting. It held the dip very well. The dip was not as good as when my dad makes it, but it was still very good. I think that I’ll add less lemon juice and more of the seasonings next time, but it was still really good. I also tried it with some multi-grain tortilla scoops, and those were really good as well. I look forward to eating this again as both a dip and as a spread with some other goodies. I might be making myself a burnt ends sandwich and topping it with this spread, which I think would be an excellent combination.

I definitely had a good Saturday and this was a way to stay positive and productive at home. Stay safe!

Easter 2020

This has been an interesting year so far, to say the least. But Easter is here and I decided to do some cooking. I purchased a 3 pound leg of lamb last week, so today was all about cooking it. I already had some potatoes, but also wanted to have onions and carrots to roast alongside the lamb. I was craving some type of spinach dish as well, so I made sure I had everything I needed, and then got to prep work and cooking.

I started by setting the oven to 400. I could then start doing the prep work, and it would be ready by the time the oven was at temperature. I put 1/4 cup of apple juice in the bottom of a roasting pan. I then added four medium sized potatoes, cut up into chunks, two onions, cut thickly, and one pound of carrots, cut in large chunks. I decided to leave the skin on the carrots. I usually peel them, but I thought that the additional “earthy” flavor that the skin might have would work well with the flavor of the lamb.

Once the veggies were in place, I made myself a mixture for the outside of the lamb. I used one tablespoon of garlic paste, 1 teaspoon of dried mint, 1 teaspoon of dried rosemary, a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper, and one tablespoon of olive oil.

I took the lamb out of the package and patted it dry. I used a knife and made a few cuts along the bottom and top. I then added the paste all around the lamb, and it was ready to go.

I started by cooking the lamb and veggies for 20 minutes at 400 degrees, then I turned it down to 325 and let it cook for another 1 1/2 hours. Once the temperature in the middle was 160, I took it out. I think it would have been better if I had taken it out when it was 135, but I was not paying attention to the fact that my lamb was a bit smaller than usual.

When there was about 10 minutes of cooking time left, I started to cook the spinach dish. More on that to come.

After I took the lamb out, I let it rest for about 20 minutes (the time it took me to bake a batch of biscuits and start plating). The lamb was still good, even though it was not medium-rare to medium, which would have been my preference.

For my spinach dish, I wanted to do a variation of a recipe that I submitted and was one of the winners for a few years ago. It was for Rachael Ray and Dannon, and I even had my recipe and my name on some of the containers of Dannon yogurt. I still think it’s pretty cool.

I started by cooking chopping up 1/2 onion, and then adding 2 tablespoons of minced garlic and one tablespoon of butter in a pan on medium high.

I then added in a one pound bag of frozen spinach that I kept in the refrigerator this morning. I cooked these together for about 10 minutes, which overlapped with the lamb and veggies being ready.

The final step was to add 3/4 cup of plain yogurt – I used Dannon non-fat yogurt. I put the temperature down to medium low and let that continue to cook until the rest of the meal was ready.

Once everything was ready, I started with my plating. The biscuit was from a box mix, and not from scratch, so no recipe for that one. The lamb was pretty good, but cooked just a little too long for my taste. The potatoes, carrots and onions were really good and tender. Not peeling the carrots ended up working well with this dish. They were still nice and soft in the center, but they weren’t overly sweet. There was some nice caramelization for the veggies that were on the bottom of the pan. The spinach dish was also really good. I wasn’t sure if I might have gone too heavy on the garlic and onions while it was cooking, but it was the perfect amount. The yogurt provided a nice balance and brought the flavors of the garlic, onions and spinach together really well.

Although I was the only one in my house, I was not alone. Many people were in my mind and in my heart. Hundreds and thousands of miles of physical space were mere millimeters in my mind. Happy Easter and stay positive!

Chicken Soup and some Sadness

I was expecting to write a few posts over the weekend. I had an idea for some light-hearted stuff, including some music I had been listening to on Friday night and my challenges to finding the creative side that I once had. But Saturday morning, I discovered some sad news. Not anything new. It was old news, but new to me, so that put me in a sad place. I didn’t want to go out and about supporting the local small businesses. I didn’t want to go anywhere. Social distancing was easy, since I just wanted to stay inside with no music, no television, no computer, no noise.

I did go out Sunday morning to get some groceries. I bought an already cooked rotisserie chicken and some bolillo rolls. I took the meat off the chicken and made a broth from the bones. I’ve been having some chicken sandwiches for the last couple of days, but tonight I decided to make some soup. I didn’t buy all the ingredients I should have in advance for making a soup, so this unfortunately is without carrots and celery.

I started everything off with 2 medium sized onions that I diced. I put it in a big pot with about a tablespoon of olive oil and put the temperature on high. I let this cook for about 3 minutes. The onions weren’t at the stage of turning translucent, but I didn’t need that.

I chopped up four medium size potatoes and added those to the onions. I stirred those around for about a minute, and then added four cups of chicken broth (I used the chicken broth I had already made). I used enough broth to make sure the potatoes were covered. I continued to stir until the broth came to a boil, then I loosely covered with a lid and let it boil for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Next, I turned the heat to medium and added 6 more cups of chicken broth, about 1 1/2 cups of shredded chicken, 1 Tablespoon of dried parsley flakes, 1/4 teaspoon of cumin, 1/4 teaspoon of ground ginger, 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon of citric acid, 1/4 teaspoon of onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder, and 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric. I was eyeballing all of those, so that is my best guess estimate of the measurements.

I continued to let this cook on medium heat for another 15 minutes and then turned the heat to low, since it was ready to eat. The aroma was really nice.

The flavor of this soup was really good. Even though it was just chicken, potatoes, onions, and seasonings, it was just what I needed. The chicken tasted great, the broth was nice and soothing, especially with the hint of spiciness from the garlic and ginger. I’m glad I made a big batch, since this will be my meals for the next couple of days. A relatively healthy meal, and not too heavy. Something good with all of the eating I’ve been doing recently.

I’d like to say that having this soup helped really put me into a positive frame of mind, but it didn’t. I enjoyed eating it, but sometimes you just have to sort through the sadness and all the things that come with it. When it’s time for the positives to shine through, they will. For now, I’ll try to focus on the positives and hope to have a good outlook for this weekend, and maybe share some more posts about what I did, what I ate, or what I made. Be safe.

Getting Creative with Leftovers – 04/02/20

This past Sunday, I made four meats and a smile. That was a dish that included rice, peas, kidney beans, onions, and four types of meat. The smile came from my face when I was eating it.

Since I knew I would not be leaving the house during the work week, I made enough to have as lunch and dinner leftovers. Now, as much as I enjoy eating these leftovers, it can get a little monotonous. Even if you mix it up with different sauces or cheeses, the basics are still the basics. I know I’ll be eating them for at least lunch tomorrow (and possibly dinner again), so I decided that I would switch things up just a little for dinner tonight.

I took a small portion of rice and a small portion of the meat mixture and put in a bowl. I added two eggs, about a tablespoon of milk, and a handful of cheese, and mixed it all together. I have a small non-stick frying pan, so after that was heated up, I put the mixture in there. I stirred it around for a couple of minutes, almost like scrambled eggs, but I stopped stirring once the the eggs were no longer runny. I put a lid on it and let it sit for another couple of minutes. When stirring, it’s important to make sure that nothing is sticking to the pan. The eggs might be sticky at first, but once they start cooking on the bottom, they should be okay (depending on your pan).

I took a peek and the eggs were completely cooked on top. My dad’s usually does this Spanish tortilla style, and the trick is to then flip this over and cook the top, but I wanted to have one side crispy and one side soft.

I know that I am biased, but it looks like a thing of beauty to me. I didn’t really expect it to come out in one piece with the coloring that I was hoping for.

Biting into this, I was glad that I made it. The rice and meat mixture were really transformed, so I felt like I was eating an entirely different meal. I think the milk made it a little fluffier, so I had the nice light inside and the crispy outside.

This was a fun way for me to do something different with leftovers. It felt like I had something new, so my tastebuds were happy. A great way to Stay Positive!

Four Meats and a Smile

Sorry for the odd title. I was trying to think of something to call the dish I made today, and “Meat, rice, and more” didn’t really do it for me. So I ended up with Four Meats and a Smile. I used the meats that I got from Bullock’s yesterday, and the smile came after I ate my food.

I started by cooking up the bacon. Six strips for the meal, one extra one for me. I had to resist the urge to continue eating them all. It was tough, but I was able to do it. I drained most of the grease from the pan, leaving just enough to coat the bottom.

I added in the ham ends (just under 2 pounds) that I cut into chunks, as well as one medium sized onion. I trimmed off the skin and most of the fat from the ham, but that was just my preference.

Once the onions were translucent, I turned off the heat and set them aside. I did not add any seasonings. The onions would be able to pick up the flavors of the bacon drippings and ham, and that would be more than enough flavor. I have a rice cooker, so I put in 4 cups of rice, 8 cups of water, and 2 tablespoons of butter and pushed start. Next, I started to cook 1/2 pound of loose sausage, just until the bottom started to brown, and then added in 2 pounds of ground chuck. Since the ground chuck was 90/10, the extra fat that came from the loose sausage would add a more potent boost of flavor.

Once the ground meats were completely cooked, I added in the ham and onions. I then broke apart the bacon and added that as well. I cooked the meats separately because I wanted to reduce the risk of any cross-contamination between the raw meat and the already cooked meat.

I turned the burner to medium low, and then added in one 15.5 ounce can of kidney beans that was drained, as well as one 15 ounce can of baby peas that was drained. I continued to mix these all together until the rice was ready. It was only a couple of minutes, since my timing worked out really well. At this point, I had the option of combining everything together in one pot, or only combining them on the plate. I went with combining them on the plate. I didn’t want the rice to absorb too much of the flavor after the first meal, which would happen if it got combined and then refrigerated when cooled.

When all of these things were put together, it had a really great flavor. I was pleased with the rice. It had a nice quality that helped to tone down the saltiness of the ham and bacon. The peas were a bit lost in it all, but the kidney beans provided a bit of a deeper flavor that helped to round out the dish. This didn’t need any seasonings or sauces, but I might need some on day 2 or 3 or 4. I was very happy with how this dish turned out, and I am looking forward to the next few days of leftovers.

My weekend started and ended with good food, which always makes me happy. I know I’ll be indoors most of the next few days, but at least I’ll be eating well. Stay safe. Stay positive!