Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Champagne Cocktails for the New Year

I love the You Tube channel "Preppy Kitchen." Mostly, it is about cakes. Incredible cakes. But it is all about John's journey. Once a middle-school math teacher, his full-time career is now You Tube and food. He, his partner, and twin boys recently moved (leapt) from LA to Connecticut to begin a brand new life. His mom, Rita, was often a guest on the LA channel. It was great to see her reunited with her son. Smiles say it all!

I don't know about you, but these champagne recipes are certainly ones I am more than willing to try and to keep for upcoming holidays. What will be your favorite?




Happy New Year!





Monday, December 9, 2019

Pulled Pork Butt with Sauerkraut and Potatoes in the Instant Pot

The only thing missing was a smidge of sour cream.


If you don't already own an Instant Pot, I hope it is on your Christmas list. Now that colder weather has arrived, I love my IP to prepare meals such as this. Slow cooked or oven cooked, a cheap cut of meat this size would normally take hours. In the Instant Pot, it took 45 minutes! It was delectable!

This certainly isn't the prettiest dish to photograph; but, what it lacks in visual appeal, it more than compensates in taste appeal.  This was delicious. Throw in a cold, dreary wet winter day to make it even more enjoyable. Warm. Friendly. Comforting. A frosty glass of white wine ....

How good was it? Well, I'm making it again tomorrow. But I will throw in some carrots for color.

Oh, I already hear the naysayers who think they do not like sauerkraut. Trust me, you will enjoy this. The secret is simple. Drain the kraut, wash well under cold water. Add brown sugar. You will still get some "tang," but it will not be sour or overpowering. Instead, it is a happy marriage of tastes that play off each other. The sweet with the sour. Just a tad bit of heat. And don't skip the caraway seed!

I avoid so-called "fresh" sauerkraut sold in plastic bags. America's Test Kitchen showed that those plastic bags had to use many "artificial" ingredients just to keep their product fresh. Canned did not. If you can find it, Libby "Bavarian" brand is my choice. 

I was lucky enough to snag a close-dated, two-pound pork butt for $3.40. It's a cheap cut of meat. Usually on the fatty side, seek one that does not have humongous clumps of white fat. And only use pork butt. Anything else will simple be dry and unpalatable.

I prefer lots of onion with this dish, so use a big one! If you forgo the potato and prefer mashed (my personal favorite), do use more onion since it makes for a killer gravy. For this recipe, I used 1 large russet simply because it was on hand. I would have preferred baby potatoes or fingerlings. Just be sure not to cut them too small. You do not want them falling apart under pressure. 

Use bread to sop up the lovely gravy. This particular piece of bread is a stale heel piece. I save
lucky pieces like this for their amazing "sopping" quality. The butter doesn't hurt.

  • 1, 2-3pound pork butt with the bone
  • 1, 15-ounce can sauerkraut (I highly recommend Libby brand, Bavarian style)
  • 1, 14.5-ounce can chicken broth, reduced sodium
  • 1 large onion, (the bigger the better) sliced in half, then sliced into thin halfmoons
  • 1-2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 large garlic clove (or two medium), thinly sliced
  • 1 good pinch red-pepper flakes (less is better than more) and do not omit
  • 3/4 teaspoon caraway seed, slightly crushed
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2-3 tablespoons butter
  • Salt and Pepper


Wash and pat dry your pork butt. Why? Meats with an attached bone are sawn. They can have bits of "bonedust" and usually the bone bleeds once it is cut. You just want to clean all that up. 

Season the meat well on both sides with salt and pepper. P ace in the Instant Pot. If you wish, use the rack and place it on top--it's your call.

Drain your sauerkraut into a small bowl. Squeeze it dry. Save the juice.

Run it under cold water and squeeze dry again. Place it in a medium bowl. Mix in the brown sugar, caraway, red-pepper flakes and garlic. Taste. If too sweet, add a bit of the sauerkraut juice. If too sour, add a bit more brown sugar. 

Place the sauerkraut mixture over the pork.

Peel and slice your potatoes. Cut into chunks. Place on top. Now add your chicken broth.

Dot with butter. 

Place lid on IP. Be sure the valve is on "sealing" mode. Process for 45-60 minutes (less time for a smaller butt, longer for a larger). Allow a natural release. 

Remove the meat. Remove the bone and shred. Add meat back to IP. Stir. Serve. Enjoy.








Saturday, November 30, 2019

Teeth.

I grew up in a tooth-oriented family. My father was a dental technician--he made false teeth (in fact, he had one of the oldest dental labs outside of Chicago). My siblings grew up with great, healthy white pearls. I did not. Mine were never "white" and, as a child, I had severe, deep cavities that haunt me today as the outer remnant of each affected tooth breaks off and falls away as I age. Ironically, those deep fillings remain.

Needless to say, I have severe dental phobia. As a young adult, I once had a terrific dentist who understood. She was understandably shocked at my behavior once I had to sit in that chair, even after I had warned her.

On my first visit, my body was so taught and rigid that she and her assistant kept pushing my outstretched legs down to force me to relax. My eyes squeezed shut. My fists clenched. My heart pounded. When I left the chair, it was sopping wet as was my shirt. She told me she had never seen anything like it.

On subsequent visits, I was quietly ushered into a quiet room all by myself.  Gas was affixed to my nose and I sat there for a good 30 minutes until I was totally and fully relaxed. When procedures began, they slipped wads of Kleenex into my hands so I had something to grip and something to keep my hands dry. Once, I almost fell asleep. 

My childhood diet was no different than that of my brother and sisters, yet my mother always singled me out and my horrible teeth. My entire childhood she threatened to brush my teeth with cleanser. One day, I finally gave in. Comet with bleach was the cleanser of choice. Needless to say, it burned like hell--not to mention what it must have done to my tooth enamel. She was not happy. Go figure.

Unfortunately, it did not whiten my teeth.

People do not realize, but teeth are hereditary. It is rare someone is actually born with white teeth. My father had "color wheels" of tooth colors--like paint chips. 

I love this video. This obviously intelligent woman is angelically soft-spoken. She is creative. Her grammar and diction is spot on.

When I see videos like this, I yearn to be a teacher again. I would certainly show it to my students.--from middle school to high school. And I have no doubt it would spark conversations from all them about toothless relatives who are, quite simply, like this beautiful woman, most likely, loved to death.











Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Lime and Pear Jello Mold

Happy Thanksgiving. (Think about cooking in this "kitchen"!)

Thanksgiving is, without a doubt, America's most iconoclastic celebration and holiday. Even now as the ripe age of 70 looms just ahead of me (2022), I still remember, with excitement, creative grade-school projects redolent with construction-paper, scissors, crayons and Elmer's Glue as we re-created Pilgrims and Indians. Hats. Feathers. Turkeys. Pumpkins. Corn. Dried leaves. Acorns. Old wooden desks on old wooden floors. In beautifully constructed red-brick buildings.

Oh, the nervous eagerness of sitting on the bus with one's Thanksgiving creation to show one's mother! A work of art! ART! And then visiting relatives!!!

History.

As a child, I was obsessed with anything  Native American. I read every book I could lay my hands on in my meager, small-town library.

Of course, much was idealized. Truth be told, what saved those scrawny, ill-and-silly prepared Pilgrims from starving to death back then was not a turkey or pumpkin pie (sorry, no sugar back then for pie, let alone butter, even milk). Instead, it was a dude called Squanto who spoke English who had been abducted as a slave and sent to Europe before returning. He told them what and how to to plant crops in this new world.

More importantly, Squanto taught them how to catch eels.

Yes, it was eels that saved those scrawny white people from the East.

In the foodless-producing "R" months that extended well into spring, eels hibernated in mud banks of rivers and creeks. It was Squanto who taught them how easy it was to catch them. No gun. No arrow. No knife. Hands and bare feet were all one needed.

Eels were abundant. I mean really abundant. And, they were easy to dry and to smoke for future months when provisions dissipated and there was nothing else to eat. The protein bars of their time, they also lent themselves to simple stews and soups.

Yes, eels should be a part of every Thanksgiving celebration. Along with shell fish. Oysters and clams were also abundant on the seashore. Even children could "hunt" for them. The coveted "meat" at that first Thanksgiving was venison, not turkey. And water fowl, duck and geese.

But, I digress.

Every family has a favorite Thanksgiving recipe, which includes stuffing (more on that in a later post). For me and my family, this "green jello" recipe is a staple. I have no idea when it first appeared. But, for every Thanksgiving thereafter, it was required. Period. It became a part of our history and family memory.







I have no doubt, whatsoever, it's popularity was dependent on the culinary technology of its time: Tupperware!

Tupperware, named after Earl Tupper, was all the rage in the 60's. Stay-at-home housewives could, like Avon representatives, have a kind-of career that was not-so-much outside the home-- but inside--with an entire captive and burgeoning suburb culture as neighborhood customers.

Tupperware was plastic. It was cheap. It was stylish. More importantly, for mom of baby boomers, it did not BREAK! When my mother died and we emptied her kitchen, I was still kind of shocked to see how much tupperware she had saved. And that included the all-important "jello mold" (below) whose sacred use was used only for this recipe.


I still see people using the Tupperware measuring cup below.  My mother's was so old, one could barely read the red measurements that had been worn away since the 1970's. Once it was white. Most, have now yellowed with age. I now wish I had salvaged it if only for it nostalgia, certainly not its utilitarian advantage.


So, the other day, (and the real reason I am writing this blog) is becauseI read an article that tried to argue Thanksgiving was bad and left a negative carbon footprint:


Whatever. Like I said, I'm pushing 70. My time on this planet is limited. If young people want to "de-colonize Thanksgiving, so be it. It is their future, not mine. But, for as long as I am alive, this Pilgrim is celebrating, without any apologies, and that includes time-honored recipes from my family history.

I cherish the story of Squanto and the Pilgrims uniting under the necessity of food. A feast that blended friend and foe. Mr. Tupper came to the aid of many a suburban housewife. Yes, my education was Norman Rockwell-ish. I loved it. I make no apologies for it. It was what it was.

Be Happy For What You Have, When You Had It, and When You Learned It.
As the American poet Anne Sexton said, "The joy that isn't shared dies young."'
Share Your Joy.

This recipe is also known as "Sea Foam Salad." Cool Whip is a "modern" addition. It was not available "back then." We always used real whipped cream. Mash the pears to a consistency you prefer. With the advent of "stick blenders" this is now an easy step. It is important to have the cream cheese at room temperature. If not, nuke at 10-second intervals until softened.

  • 1, 29-ounce can halved pears in heavy syrup, or 2, 15-oz cans, drained, syrup reserved
  • 1, 6-ounce package lime jello
  • 1, 8-ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup heavy cream or 2-3 cups Cool Whip.


Drain the liquid from the pears into a small saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in Jello powder until dissolved.

Add cream cheese and pears to Jello mixture.  Use a hand-held mixer, immersion blender or food processor to blend the mixture. You are not looking for "smooth" as in baby food. I like to keep some texture of the pears. If using an immersion blender, be careful--it easily adds a zillion tiny bubbles that will result in a "spongey" gelatin, so use a spoon or knife dragged through the mixture to deflate the bubbles.

Meanwhile, if using whipped cream, beat until stiff peaks form. Fold whipped cream or Cool Whip into the Jello mixture until combined. Spray your Jello mold with a bit of Pam or dab with vegetable oil. Pour Jello mixture into the mold.

Cover and refrigerate.

When ready to unmold, dip the mold in warm water for a few seconds to loosen the sides. Invert onto a platter. Hold your breath and pray it easily slides out.


Interested in making an eel stew: check out the video below: