February 24, 2009

Rise and Shine! Breakfast Is Ready

SEASON TO TASTE
(My monthly food column for Heartland Women)
February 2009

Alton Brown always brings out the mad food scientist in me. Last week I was watching an episode about sausage on his show, Good Eats, on the Food Network. Naturally, I decided I simply had to make my own homemade sausage. But before I could settle on what kind of sausage to make, I had an “Aha!” moment. Homemade sausage and simple, comforting breakfast foods would be wonderful recipes for this month.

The foods we eat are very interesting and tell a lot about us. I guess, like most meals, what people eat for breakfast is frequently determined by culture, climate and the work to be done for the day – lighter in warmer climates and heavier in colder climates, or for those doing more strenuous work. Locally grown and produced foods also find a place at the breakfast table and become easily identified as regional specialties.

When I was growing up, we ate a lot of cereal for breakfast – usually cold cereal, but sometimes oatmeal or cream of wheat in the winter months. Cereal was quick, easy and relatively inexpensive, and we could fix our own, as soon as we were agile enough to handle a milk carton – a big plus for Mother. We loved cereal, and the sweeter the better.

As the littlest consumers in the house, we closely monitored Saturday morning cartoons to stay in the know about the latest cereal varieties. Usually, we’d be stuck with corn flakes or some such boring nonsense, which could only be made palatable to our immature taste buds by adding tons of sugar. I can still see the sludge left at the bottom of the bowl. Sometimes our mother would return from the store with a bright, kid-friendly box of some sugarcoated goodness, complete with a highly touted and much coveted toy prize buried inside.

Often I’ve wondered what compelled my mother to buy cereal with prizes inside. Even with my limited mathematical abilities, the potential for morning mayhem from that one little prize was obvious. And yet, even with five kids under one roof during the prize-inside-every-box years, I don’t remember any elaborate family scheme or ritual to determine the prize winner. Nor do I recall any incidents of bloodshed or broken bones – at least not over cereal. How was that possible?

My mathematical abilities aside, I did possess an early ability to apply a little logic in extreme life situations and to adapt. Since I possessed only a one in five chance of getting the cereal box prize, I was challenged to think outside the box!

While my sugared-up brothers stared at the colorful cartoon pictures on front of the cereal box, I was reading and learning from the back of the box. Box tops! If I could scrape together fifty cents, cut out the coupon on the back of the box, and those precious box tops, I would be rewarded with something much bigger and better than a tiny toy from inside the box. I was on to something!

Education is a powerful tool, and as the oldest child, I had two years of reading and printing under my belt. And I was a quick study. Two box tops and fifty cents, along with your name and address to . . . became my mantra. As soon as I had two shiny quarters, there was no holding me back. I taped them to the cardboard form I had painstakingly hand-printed, added the box tops, sealed the envelope, pasted on the four-cent stamp, dropped it in the mailbox . . . and waited . . . and waited.

Another lesson learned – patience. Finally, as I came bounding through the door after school one day, and asked for the millionth time if any mail had arrived for me, I got the nod. The big payoff for those two long years of study, not to mention the long weeks of waiting, was inside that box addressed to me. Cornelius the Plastic Wall-Walking Ear of Corn had arrived!

I can still see myself tearing into the package at our dining room table. Even my parents, who were actually very supportive of my precocious talent for mail order, had to laugh at Cornelius climbing the wall. It really worked! My brothers were beside themselves with envy – Yes! And, of course, Cornelius was the hit of Miss Bailey’s second grade show-and-tell the very next day. It was great! (Cereal box photo from theimaginaryworld.com.)

All of this came flooding back to me as I contemplated sausage and breakfast and food trends and marketing strategy. And you know me. It didn’t take long before I was on the computer, filling the blanks in my memories about Cornelius the wall-climbing ear of corn. Sweet cereal memories, indeed.

My tastes have certainly changed over the years when it comes to breakfast foods. I’ve come a long way – from sugary kid cereals, to Instant Breakfast, no breakfast, donuts and pastries, cold pizza, pancakes and waffles, eggs, oatmeal, fruit-yogurt-granola mixtures, bagels, smoothies, and finally back to eggs. I’m sort of like a timeline of the last half-century of food trends.

Along the way though, I’ve had some memorable forays into local breakfast specialties wherever I’ve traveled or lived. There was chicken fried steak in Texas, scrapple in Pennsylvania, country ham and sausage biscuits in North Carolina, shrimp and grits in South Carolina, breakfast burritos in California, biscuits and gravy in Georgia, pancakes with real maple syrup in New England, bagels and lox with a shmear in New York, papaya with fresh lime juice in Hawaii, beans and tomatoes in England, and beignets in Louisiana. All memorable, and all delicious.

Breakfast is our first chance to make an important decision for the day, and sometimes I still choose a big bowl of cereal, but I’ve given up the sugarcoated kind in favor of the healthier nuts and twigs kind. I also love my own homemade granola with homemade yogurt, and the occasional poached egg on whole-wheat toast. And I still enjoy anything from my list of memorable foods whenever I can.

But when it’s February, and it’s cold outside, and I’ve got the whole weekend ahead of me, I need a good reason to rise and shine. I long for a warm and comforting breakfast to linger over. Something like homemade sausage, and maybe pancakes or French toast would be perfect with some seasonal fresh citrus fruits. And after breakfast, I think I’ll go online and check around. Somewhere out there, I know Cornelius must be climbing the walls, just waiting for me.

PHYLLIS’ PANCAKES
2 1/2 c. flour
4 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 c. milk
2 tbsp. vinegar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 tbsp. oil
maple syrup

Sift dry ingredients into a large bowl. In a small bowl, add milk and vinegar. Add slightly beaten eggs and oil to the milk mixture. Pour liquid mixture into dry mixture and fold gently. Ladle pancake mixture onto hot griddle and cook until browned; flip and brown second side. Serve immediately with warm maple syrup or keep pancakes warm in 200-degree oven covered loosely with foil.

HOMEMADE BREAKFAST SAUSAGE
Adapted from Alton Brown
2 lbs. pork butt, diced into 1/4-in. pieces
1/2 lb. fat back, diced into 1/4-in. pieces
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. sage
1 tsp. thyme leaves
1/4 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 tbsp. light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. fresh grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

In a bowl, combine diced pork with all other ingredients and chill for 1 hour. Using the fine blade of a grinder, grind the pork. Form into 1-inch rounds. Refrigerate and use within 3 to 4 days, or freeze for up to 3 months. Sauté patties over medium-low heat in a non-stick pan until brown and cooked through, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Makes 2 lbs. bulk sausage or 16 (2-in.) patties. Note: Adjust the amount of fat and seasonings to suit your taste. Try substituting real maple syrup for the brown sugar.

HOMEMADE TURKEY SAUSAGE
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp. ground sage
1 lb. ground turkey
2 tbsp. maple syrup
1 tbsp. olive oil

Combine salt,
pepper, fennel and sage in a bowl. Add ground turkey and mix with hands to combine. Add maple syrup and combine with hands again. Shape sausage mixture into round patties - about 2-3 inches each. Heat skillet on medium and add olive oil. Cook sausage patties until brown on one side and turn to brown second side – about 5 minutes on each side. Remove sausage patties and drain on paper towels. Serve warm.

TUPELO’S BEST BISCUITS
2/3 c. shortening
2 c. self-rising flour
2/3 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut shortening into flour with a pastry blender, or two knives, until mixture is the size of small crumbs. Add buttermilk. Turn out onto floured surface. Knead lightly by folding dough over a couple of times – about 20 seconds is enough. Roll 1/2-in. thick and cut into biscuits. Place on baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes, until golden brown. Serve with homemade preserves, honey butter, or sausage gravy.

BISCUITS AND GRAVY
1 lb. bulk breakfast sausage
4 tbsp. flour
2 c. milk
freshly ground pepper to taste

Place sausage into a cast iron skillet and break into pieces. Cook over medium heat until brown and crumbly. Remove meat from skillet, leaving 4 tbsp. fat – add a little oil if there is not enough grease left in pan. Stir the flour into the fat with a whisk over medium heat and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the milk to the skillet, stirring constantly until blended – add a little more milk if gravy is too thick. Turn heat up to medium high and continue to stir every now and then until gravy thickens. Add crumbled sausage to the gravy and season with pepper to taste. Serve over hot biscuits.

BROILED GRAPEFRUIT
2 medium grapefruit
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Cut the grapefruit in half crosswise; remove the seeds, cut out the center core and loosen the sections. Place the cut side up in a broiler pan. Mix together the sugar and spices and sprinkle on each grapefruit. Broil until the sugar is bubbly, about 2 to 4 minutes. Serves 4.

EASY BLOOD ORANGE MARMALADE
1 medium blood orange
2 tbsp. water
1/2 c. sugar

Wash the orange. Cut off the ends of the orange. Cut the orange in half and cut each half into eight sections. If there is a lot of white pith between the orange and the peel, remove the peel and pull off and discard the white part, before placing everything else in the food processor. Pulse the food processor until the peel is in tiny pieces. Place the processed orange, the water and the sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Boil for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. Cool the marmalade and spoon it into a jar with a tight fitting lid. Store in the refrigerator. Makes one jar.

February 15, 2009

MENU OF THE WEEK #16


The meatball subs I couldn't stop thinking about the whole time I was eating the Barefoot Contessa's Real Meatballs and Spaghetti last Thursday have finally made their debut on Menu Wednesday. Check out the twofer meal that puts to good use any of those sixteen gorgeous meatballs you happen to have leftover. Or, make an extra batch just for the subs. I guarantee your tastebuds will be happy with every mouthwatering morsel. Prairie Wood Kitchen has the whole menu, complete with a Lemon Garlic Vinaigrette Salad and some sweet Lemon Icebox Cupcakes.

February 14, 2009

Bear Naked Valentine's Day Breakfast

No breakfast in bed on this Valentine's Day! We were up and out early this morning. Well, early for us - 9:30. MFH was off to visit Renee, his favorite hairdresser -- gotta look good for date night. I was off to workout with my workout buddy and friend, DR. I can imagine anyone who knows me is on the floor right about now, having fallen off her/his chair.

I returned to an empty house, so I made my own breakfast -- my new favorite breakfast of champions. The Bear Naked Fit Granola I found at the Neighborhood Coop the other day has become my post-workout addiction. Unlike most granolas, it does not have all that annoying gummy dried fruit, nor does it have hard sugar-coated globs of stuff. No, it is nice and light, with very lightly sweetened, vanilla-flavored, crunchy oatmeal flakes and whole almonds. Layered with plain Greek yogurt, sliced fresh fruit and drizzled with some excellent local honey, it is the perfect breakfast for this getting-fit food blogger.

A valentine to myself and a reward for working so hard on all those cruel machines. And so far, reward enough to keep me going back for more -- workouts, not breakfast.

I think I'm in love with Bear Naked Fit Vanilla Almond Crunch Granola!

February 12, 2009

Real Spaghetti and Meatballs - Barefoot Bloggers


Real Meatballs and Spaghetti was chosen by Rebecca at Ezra Pound Cake to kick off February for Barefoot Bloggers. I really enjoyed making the recipe, as I do most of Ina's -- not too complicated, normal ingredients, simplified process, and excellent results.

I had to make a few minor substitutions for things I couldn't find at my grocery store, or didn't have in my pantry, but nothing that changed the essence of the dish. No ground veal at my store this week, so I chose ground pork for flavor, and a very lean ground beef to balance the fat ratio. I guess I could have used chicken or turkey in place of the pork, but the pork and beef seemed like the most flavorful and moistest combo.


No seasoned bread crumbs in the pantry, so I successfully added a bit of my own Italian herb blend and made my own. I also used some leftover white hamburger buns, crusts and all, for the fresh bread crumbs. My final substitution was Kraft Shredded Parmesan cheese, instead of grating my own. Oh my, did I just admit to the world that I even buy that green canister cheese? I had it. I thought it might not get as gooey the "fresh" kind when the meatballs were fried. And I was right! Anyway, I always have both kinds of Parmesan cheese -- fresh and the green canister, thank you! -- so I can satisfy every taste at my house.


There are also two items that should not be subbed or changed, to my way of thinking. The freshly ground nutmeg adds a very nice flavor to the meatballs, so it is a key element for me. Also, the fresh Italian parsley is a must. No comparison to the curly stuff, or especially to the dried stuff. Go fresh for the best flavor!


It took two huge skillets -- one non-stick, one not -- to fry the meatballs simultaneously. I was tempted to use a Dutch oven to cut down on the splatter mess from frying, but I didn't want to spend time doing them in batches. The skillet was just big enough for the sauce and the 16 meatballs when I added them for the additional simmer and cook time. By the way, non-stick is definitely the way to go when it comes time to turn the meatballs and brown the other side.


Next time around I would reduce the amount of salt in the sauce -- it was too much for me, and I'm no salt wimp. I'm also tempted to bake the meatballs -- as I normally would -- and drain the fat before adding them to the sauce to finish cooking. However, I will have to give this more consideration, because I think the browned bits of meat left in the frying pan probably enhance the flavor of the sauce considerably.


Ina's original recipe says it serves six, but when I ate just two of the enormous meatballs with my spaghetti, I was stuffed! If I divided 16 meatballs into 6 servings, first of all it wouldn't divide evenly. Secondly, I think it would be more than most people could/would/should eat in one sitting. But wait! That's good news, because I think the extra meatballs would make magnificent meatball subs! I would double the amount of sauce though for subs, because I just think I would want more to sop up with a crusty Italian sub roll.

Add a salad and a little dessert and you have all you need to make a meal with these giant meatballs and sauce, on pasta or rolls. I shared some with my neighbor, made two meals for the two of us, and still had plenty to put in the freezer. Gotta love a recipe that tastes good, makes plenty and doesn't break the bank.

Thanks to Ina for another good recipe that adapts easily to how Cora Cooks!

REAL MEATBALLS AND SPAGHETTI
a la Barefoot Contessa Family Style Cookbook

adapted by Cora Cooks

For the meatballs:

1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. very lean ground beef
1 c. fresh white bread crumbs
1/4 c. dry bread crumbs
1/4 tsp. Italian herb blend
2 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 c. Kraft shredded Parmesan cheese
2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 extra-large egg, beaten
Olive oil

For the sauce:
1 tbsp. good olive oil
1 c. chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1/2 c. good red wine (I used a Merlot)
1 (28-oz.) can crushed tomatoes, or plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
1 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

For serving:

1 1/2 lbs. spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
Freshly grated Parmesan

Directions
Place the ground meats, both bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg, and 3/4 c. warm water in a bowl. Combine very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-in. meatballs. You will have 14 to 16 meatballs.

Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large (12-in.) skillet to a depth of 1/4-in. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don't crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don't clean the pan.

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in the same pan. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 mins. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more min. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 mins. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 mins., until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve hot on cooked spaghetti and pass the grated Parmesan. Serves 6.
PRINTER FRIENDLY RECIPE - click here

February 7, 2009

Cooking Up Something Good In The Kitchen - or - Kids Do The Darndest Things!

I am bursting at the seams with motherly pride and words fail me . . . well, almost.

Last night, I opened an email from Grant, my one and only kid, and what I saw brought a tear to my eye. I was shocked . . . stunned . . . amazed . . . in complete and total awe!

Perhaps I should back up just a little and set the stage. Grant and Kristen were married last May at a lovely wedding out in our yard. Then in July they bought a house -- a great house, but a real fixer-upper in many respects. They lucked into an incredible deal, in the exact community they thought they would never be able to afford.

The house is in an older neighborhood - well, I say older, but actually the houses are considered "Mid-Century" in age and style - not unlike me! The location is close to both of their jobs and everything else they need or want. They are probably the youngest homeowners in their neighborhood, by about twenty years, but consider themselves very fortunate to have so much going for them in their "starter" home. So do we!

Just one hitch. There's always a hitch, isn't there? The house needs a little - oh heck, a lot of work. The previous owners, the couple who also own the store where Grant is a manager, had moved out of the house a few years earlier and were in the process of remodeling it. But, when they heard Grant and Kristen were looking for a house in that very town, they offered them an excellent price, "as-is". That suited G & K quite nicely, so they jumped at the opportunity. Ah, the optimism and energy of youth!

Now you know, and I know, that remodeling = $$$$ + work. Grant, who has an indomitable can-do spirit and Kristen who has an impeccable fashion sense and eye for color, got involved right away designing a true gut-it-and-start-over kitchen. Grant did it on the computer, and it was beautiful - very impressive. The mother in me could not help but suggest Grant might want to start his own kitchen design business - it was that good!

But, as we also know, if you want to gut a kitchen, you need nerves of steel, a good marriage and a pot full of $$$$! Without that pot full of money, you gotta go with the first two and throw yourselves into your own "renewal" project, while you wait to save up for the whole "gut-the-kitchen" remodel project.

Old Mid-Century BEFORE kitchen, complete with orange Formica counter tops!



New Twenty-First-Century kitchen AFTER homeowner sweat-equity + some paint, some hardware, some appliances, and some hard work. WOW! What a difference!



And if you happen to have some mid-twenty kids of your own, you'll appreciate the best part of the newlyweds-buy-move-renew project - the parents have not had to lift a finger to help! Unless you want to count all the years spent of cleaning up Lego buliding blocks by the thousands for a budding kitchen designer.

We are so proud! Now where's my dinner invitation? I want to see what they can cook in that enviable kitchen chock-full of Williams-Sonoma wedding gifts.

Do you remember your first kitchen as newlyweds? What were you cooking then? How soon before you invited your parents to dinner at your house?

February 4, 2009

MENU OF THE WEEK #15


It is freeeeezing outside! The TV is full of gloom and doom, and ranting about gloom and doom. I'm headed into Prairie Wood Kitchen to calm my nerves and warm my bones. Comfort food is the order of the day for this Menu Wednesday. If you could use spirit-lifting, soul-redeeming goodness for dinner, then Prairie Wood Kitchen is the place for you too. Just click here to see Menu #15.

February 3, 2009

Homemade Deep Dish Pizza

Surprise! More pizza! Today is deep dish and doesn't it look really, really good? Well, it is. The perfect crust, sauce, cheese, and topping combo. Amazing, simply amazing and amazingly simple to make at home. C'mon . . . you know you want to try it.

CHICAGO STYLE DEEP DISH PAN PIZZA

Dough:
2 1/4 tsp. SAF Instant Yeast
3/4 c. warm water (105 - 110 degrees F.)
1 tsp. sugar
1/4 c. corn oil
2 1/2 c. King Arthur all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
olive oil

In a mixing bowl, add water, yeast and sugar and stir to blend. Add the corn oil and blend. Add 2 c. of the flour and salt and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle additional 1/2 c. flour on a flat surface and knead dough for about 5 mins., incorporating the flour as needed. When dough is smooth, shape into a ball. Coat a large bowl with a little olive oil. Place the dough ball into the bowl and turn it twice to coat it with the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise for two hours. Place the dough ball into an oiled deep-dish pizza pan and press to cover the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Note – Once the dough ball is placed in the oiled bowl, it can be refrigerated to rise overnight. Remove from the refrigerator one hour before assembling pizza.

Pizza:
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
12 oz. bulk Italian sausage
1/4 c. diced pepperoni
8 oz. sliced mozzarella
1/2 c. Parmesan cheese
4 oz. shredded Italian cheese blend

Heat oven to 475 degrees. Blot any excess water from the tomatoes with a paper towel and stir in Italian seasoning and garlic powder; set aside. Layer the mozzarella slices to cover the dough in the bottom of the pan. Oil two pieces of foil and place sausage between them. Roll with a rolling pin to flatten into a thin disk (1/8 inch thick) the size of the pan. Peel off one piece of foil and place sausage over the mozzarella slices. Carefully remove second piece of foil. Sprinkle pepperoni pieces over sausage. Next, spread tomatoes over sausage. Finally, sprinkle Parmesan and Italian cheese over tomatoes. Place pizza in oven and bake until crust is brown and cheeses are just beginning to brown. Let pizza cool for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

The pan I used for this pizza is heavy and has holes in the bottom. When I place this pan on my pizza stone, the crust cooks evenly and is nicely browned and crisped - strong enough to support the toppings, if you want to eat it out of hand. Most deep dish pizza pans I find online do not have holes, but they will do a fine job with the crust, especially if baked on a stone.

Of course, if you have a cast iron skillet hanging around the house, it will do quite nicely for baking a deep dish pizza. Use a well-seasoned skillet and coat it with olive oil and you will have a crisp, golden doughy crust. Of course, the advantage to using a cast iron skillet is having a handle to . . . well . . . handle the pizza going in and out of the oven.