Birthday Lunches, T-Day Style

So for the birthday lunch this month, one of the ladies in our group, asked for a Turkey Dinner.  She is moving this week and won’t be able to make a Thanksgiving meal.  Since it is her birthday and I have a rule that you can pick anything (except shellfish), I honored her request.

We actually have two birthday girls in November, the one, wanted a turkey dinner, the other wanted soup, salad, and bread.  Easy, I combined the two into one big meal.

Sunday, I spent the day shopping and cooking.   I made a batch of broccoli cheese soup, sweet potato pie, chocolate cake, sugar free pudding, mashed potatoes, roast turkey, and cranberry sauce.  Heck, that was just what I was taking to the office.  I also cleaned the salad greens and sliced up a bunch of veggies to go with the salad.

All I had to do was stop by the bakery and pick up a loaf of really good bread and lunch was ready.

I brought in my warming tray with three divided sections and my crock pot.  Between all of that we were able to keep everything hot and fresh for lunch.  Not a bad start to the work week, if I do say so myself! I can’t wait to see what Courtney picks for her December lunch….thank goodness we only have one December birthday!

Hoagie Spread

I am still amazed that the recipe and post that garners the most attention on this site is my hot pepper hoagie spread.   It is the single most searched for post on my site and drives the most traffic to my site from search engines.  Who knew people were so fond of hot peppers!

Well, I had amassed quite a few hot peppers between my CSA and the garden, so early Sunday morning I threw together a quick batch and canned it so we would have it for the next few months.

hoagie spread

It couldn’t be easier to make, you just cut the stems off the hot peppers and cut them in half.  For every two cups of peppers, you add one cup of apple cider vinegar, one diced onion and a couple of cloves of garlic.  You bring everything to a boil, turn it down to a simmer and let it cook for approximately 20 minutes.  Once is has cooked down and the vegetables are tender, I dump the entire pan into my food processor and give it a whirl.  I pack the hot vegetables into hot jar, then process them in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.   It is a fat-free, salt free, vegan condiment that goes beautifully on a hoagie, but honestly, I love it with eggs, especially on an egg sandwich.  I take onions, peppers, and potatoes and saute them, I add eggs and scramble everything together.  I toast up a nice crusty roll and lay a piece of provolone cheese in the roll before topping it with the egg mixture and finally a nice dollop of hoagie spread.  It really wakes you up in the morning!

Fermenting Sauerkraut

A few years back I took a class with Marisa from Food in Jars.  If you love canning, or want to try your hand at canning, she has a great site with lots of information and recipes.   Anyway, at the class, she taught us how to turn cabbage into a fermented sauerkraut.  I have been using her recipe for years now and we just love it.   I add fennel seeds to mine, you can add either fennel or caraway (or leave it plain), and I like the way the fennel tastes in the finished product.

sauerkraut, day 1

I had always heard horror stories about fermented sauerkraut – exploding jars, horrible odors, mold, you name it.  It was the reason I decided to take the class instead of following a recipe, I wanted someone to SHOW me how it was done.   Really, I should never have listened to those folks and their horror stories.  Fermenting sauerkraut is one of the easiest things to do.  It takes some muscle, that much I won’t kid you about, but really, all you are doing is shredding cabbage, tossing it with salt (and fennel or caraway, if desired) then smashing the heck out of it (here is where the muscles come into play!) to break down the cabbage and release some of the liquid from the cabbage.   Once you have a nice amount of liquid in the bottom of the bowl, you tightly pack it into jars, pressing down so the cabbage is covered with liquid, and lightly tightening a lid.

You don’t want to over fill the jars or tightly fasten the lid, you need the gases to be able to escape, so you don’t have an exploding jar!  I keep mine in a dark kitchen cabinet and check it daily.  I use a spoon to press the cabbage down everyday, keeping it submerged in the liquid.  I haven’t experienced mold growing yet, and I have been at this for years, but it can happen, just use a spoon to remove it and make sure the cabbage is completely covered by liquid.

In a few weeks, you should start testing your sauerkraut, once it is as tangy as you like it, simple put it in the fridge to stop the fermentation process.    I am so glad I was able to make a batch now, I plan on using the sauerkraut to make pierogi’s in late September and the kraut should be about perfect by that time!

Stoudt Mayo

I had a little bit of stoudt beer left from making the oatmeal stoudt cake, I decided to combine it with a little mayo to create a spread in case anyone wanted to turn the slow roasted pork into a sandwich.   I just hate to waste anything in my kitchen! I took one cup of mayo and added one quarter cup of stoudt, whisking to combine.  Simple, easy, and mildly flavored.   I put out some sliced potato rolls and we did have quite a few people make sandwiches.

The mayo worked beautifully with the pork.  I slow roasted the pork outside on the grill, using the indirect cooking method.   I laid the roast down on a bed of onions, apples, and pears and used a combination of chicken and beef stock to gently braise the meat.   I covered the top of the meat in bacon, then covered the pan with foil.   The meat cooked, covered for 1 1/2 hours, after which I removed the foil and let the bacon brown.

Piling the tender smoky sweet pork on a soft potato roll, slathering it with the mayo, which had a slight bitterness to it,  made for a great sandwich!

Brats, Beer, Pretzels….oh my!

The hubby and I decided to throw our version of a Octoberfest party this weekend.  We had about 40 people stop by and partake of pork, pork, and more pork products.  It was a really fun day.   I made so much food, everyone brought a dish to share, the weather cleared just in time for the party, you just couldn’t ask for a better day.

Our main proteins were brats, apple sausage, slow roasted pork loin, and hot dogs for the kiddos.  Of course, I don’t have a single picture of the meats, because I was too busy cooking and socializing!   I rounded out the menu with a tray of pretzels from the Pretzel Factory.  I think everyone had a good time, I know I did!  Our menu wasn’t strictly German, it was more German inspired, and I am completely OK with that.

I usually have a slew of different kinds of mustard in my fridge, but this weekend, I went all out.   I had honey mustard, bourbon stone ground, Dijon, blue cheese herb, dill, good old French’s yellow mustard, and the Beer and Caraway Mustard that I made.

I have made mustard in the past and haven’t been happy with the results, which stinks, because I LOVE mustard.    This recipe was perfect!  You need to plan ahead, it takes three days from start to finish, but there isn’t much “work” involved, mostly just mixing the ingredients and letting it hang out on the counter for two days.

1st step mustardmustard,step

You mix the beer, vinegar, caraway seeds, and both yellow and brown mustard seeds in a bowl, you add a little pinch of salt and cover it with plastic wrap and wait.   After two days, the seeds really absorb the beer and vinegar, all you need to do is give it a whirl in your blender and ta-da, you have made mustard!

finished mustard

It made one and a half jars (12oz, total) of mustard.   We almost used all of it on Saturday, I just have a little bit left in one jar.  It really had a nice flavor, just a little bite, and a slight bitterness from the dark beer.  It went perfectly with the brats and apple sausage.    I will definitely be making this recipe again!

Unofficial End of Summer

Well folks….it is that time of year again, autumn is fast approaching.   I came home on Friday, sat on the deck in the late afternoon sun, a cool breeze ruffling my hair, crispy, autumn air, reminding me that fall is approaching.   Summer is drawing to a close, school has started, leaves are starting to turn.  Well instead of whining about the “unofficial last weekend of summer”, I decided to celebrate it with a bang!  Summertime entertaining to me are casual hangouts on the deck, good friends, easy and simple dinners on the grill.  When I think about summer I think impromptu parties, shorts, sun, flip-flops, salty snack foods and grilled meats.  All of that was on tap for the weekend!

I live at the end of a cul-de-sac and Friday I received a Facebook message inquiring about the possibility of a block party on Sunday afternoon.   I responded yes for the hubby and myself and asked what type of menu we were looking at?  Burgers, dogs, chicken, salads, desserts??  Turns out that was exactly what everyone had in mind.  Perfect.

Saturday my next door neighbors invited us to their home to celebrate their oldest daughters birthday.  What a fun time, being relatively new to the development, it was a nice chance to celebrate with our friends in the neighborhood and meet some new faces.  My goodness, it was also a complete baby fest….lots and lots of little ones.  I came home with my arms tired from holding so many cute babies.

I had asked if I could bring a dish to the party, I was told it wasn’t necessary but I can’t show up anywhere empty-handed.   I was craving a really good dip and some crunchy vegetables, so I foraged in the garden for a whole slew of herbs and minced them up.   The recipe couldn’t be simpler – it is just fresh herbs, minced, garlic, minced, salt, pepper, mayo and sour cream.   My Aunt Barb taught me how to make it years ago and I have never made it the same way twice.   I use whatever herbs I have on hand, sometimes I add garlic, other times grated onion, it just depends on the contents of my fridge, pantry, and garden.   It is such a refreshing dip, it is great with veggies but I really love it with salty potato chips!

garlic and herb dip veggie tray

 

Sunday morning the skies were cloudy and the humidity was beyond ridiculous.   It rained on and off all day, we were totally playing the day by ear.  If the rain stopped at 5pm, we were all going to meet at the end of the cul-de-sac, with chairs, tables, and food.   Thank goodness the skies cleared!  We had such a fantastic night, we put up four canopies and only had to dodge the raindrops one time during the night.  People brought what they had, everyone shared, we had games, music, and a ton of food.

Since the invite had gone out on Friday, I knew I wanted to be prepared so on Saturday afternoon I made this red bliss potato salad, this spicy ketchup, and these refrigerator pickles.  I figured I would round out my offerings with a few batches of cookies on Sunday morning before the party.    Since things were so touch and go because of the weather, I decided to marinate some chicken breasts.  My thought was, if we don’t end up getting together, we can have chicken, potato salad, and cookies for dinner, if we do, I can cut up the chicken and skewer it with veggies.

I thought about taking pictures of everything on the table, but between the rain ending at 5pm, setting up tables/chairs and finishing up the skewers, I decided to heck with it.  I was going to plop my fanny down in a chair, eat some really delicious grub, and enjoy the day.   People came and went, kids and adults played all sorts of games, we brought out some lights and turned up the boom box.   We had all imaginable ages of people, all enjoying the time outside, mingling and laughing with friends.  It was the perfect late summer afternoon and we all can’t wait to do it again soon.   We already have plans for a pot luck Halloween in the cul-de-sac, since it falls on a Friday night.   I am thinking chili and cornbread but I am open to suggestion!

Anyway, don’t let the labor day holiday spoil your summer plans…we still have twenty-one more days of bliss before fall arrives.  Use them wisely people.

 

Spicy Peach Jam with Raisins

I used the rest of the peaches to make a spicy peach wine jam with raisins.  I am always looking for new canning recipes to try and this one sounded intriguing.   You simmer golden raisins in a small amount of red wine to soften and plump them up.

raisins in red wine

Once you have heated them up, you drain the red wine and put the raisins in a pot along with some peaches and pectin.   After you bring this mixture to a full boil, you add your sugar, return it to a full boil and stir for one minute.   After one minute, you take it off the heat and add  your spices.  I used cinnamon and cardamom.  The recipe called for cinnamon and nutmeg, but I am not a big fan of nutmeg, so I substituted.

blog post 8.24.14 004

The raisins added an interesting texture to the jam, I loved how the spices played against the peaches and hint of red wine added just the right amount of tannins.  All in all, it was a happy experiment, one that I will be making again.  Happy canning season people……next up Peach BBQ Sauce and Peach Chutney.  In a few weeks, apples will be in season and I will be making some maple apple jam and apple butter.  I can’t believe how fast this summer has been, for goodness sakes, it is almost September!  Thank goodness I had some time to “put up” some of summer’s bounty.  It will sustain me in the long, cold months ahead.