Monday, January 31, 2011

Homemade Sausages




A plastic bag replaces the familiar casing that a sausage
is packed into. It is then poached in water.

One of the joys of visiting Europe is sampling the many sausages that are a part of their everyday culture. Recipes differ from town to town, region and country. They are a staple of "pub" food. We all know "bangers and mash."

Unfortunately, that's not the case in the United States. Here, we are limited to several mass-produced "corporate" varieties found in supermarkets and they are usually limited to Polish sausage, smoked sausage and Kielbasa. If one is able to find fresh, uniquely-seasoned sausages they are not cheap.

Ziploc "Brats" with boiled potatoes and spicy mustard.
Since I don't have a meat grinder or casings, and since I'm not planning to produce gargantuan supplies of links, I settled on pre-ground pork that is about two bucks a pound and will make four sausages. A real bargain in today's economy of high-priced meats, especially beef.

I went through dozens of recipes scaling them down to fit the quantity and to satisfy my taste buds. As first, I simply fried them. But the heat and oil woefully compromised the taste and often masked the subtle flavors of the spices. What to do?

That's when I hit upon the idea of using plastic bags and poaching the sausage. It worked like a charm!

Be sure to use name-brand bags for freezer or for cooking.
They are less likely to leak at the corners than generic.
Pictured here: Spicy Kielbasa.



SAUSAGE ADVICE
  1. Use name-brand, pint-sized plastic bags. Generic are usually thinner and the corners leak so you will lose the poaching liquid inside the bag resulting in a very dry sausage. Name-brand, such as Ziploc, do not contain BPA, a harmful chemical.
  2. Use less, not more, of each spice if in doubt. You can always add more later on. Keep a notepad nearby to record what you add.
  3. I actually prefer dried spices and herbs, but prefer fresh garlic that is smashed into a paste. Use fresh cheese, not canned/powdered which can dry the sausage.
  4. After mixing, place a good teaspoonful on a plate and microwave for about 30 seconds or until no pink remains in center. Taste. Adjust seasonings accordingly.
  5. The ideal sausage mixture is 70/30. Pre-ground pork is 80/20, but it's okay. If you have a friendly butcher, he will be more than happy to grind some fresh suet for you. You can also add ground bacon. Allow it to partially freeze, cut into chunks and grind in your food processor. But remember it will alter the taste of your sausage.
  6. As the sausages poach, they will shrink. Sometimes the bag will, too.
  7. Be sure to add the water to your mix. This adds moisture and helps to incorporate the spices. You may also add olive oil, which I find myself doing more and more.
  8. If possible, refrigerate your mixture for several hours or overnight before forming into sausages.
  9. These freeze beautifully. I allow mine to thaw before poaching. 
  10. If you want, carefully remove sausages a bit before they are done and brown in a bit of butter/olive oil. 
  11. Smoked paprika adds great smoky taste to homemade sausages.
  12. Because they are lower in fat than regular sausages, condiments work well with Ziploc sausages.
  13. If your sausage mixture ends up too strong in spicy flavors, form into patties and fry. Frying reduces the strong tastes. 
  14. Here's a great site for sausage recipes and even supplies: Len Poli's Sausage Making - Homemade Sausage Formulations and Recipes

Put 1/2 cup sausage mixture in bag and using the the side
of your hand at a bit of an angle,
push into the bottom to begin forming
the sausage.
Roll to for a round sausage.
Simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Try to keep
tops of bags upright.

Allow poached sausage to sit in their pouch
for 5- 10 minutes to absorb liquid.



RECIPES

Adjust seasonings to your taste for recipes. Sometimes I divide the meat into half-pound amounts and add something different to one to see how it turns out. Be sure to add water. I like to mix the meat mixture with the back of wide metal spoon, pushing down and sliding it forward.



BRATWURST
1 pound ground pork sausage
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground caraway seed
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram leaf, crumbled
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon brown sugar (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons water

These are especially good served with sauteed onions and peppers and, of course, spicy mustard. I also make a sandwich out of them by slicing them thinly lengthwise and then placing on bread with a bit of Dijon.




 SAVORY POLISH SAUSAGE
1 pound ground pork
1 teaspoon crushed onion flakes
1 good teaspoon fresh garlic, pressed
1- 2 teaspoons dried marjoram leaves, crushed
1/4 teaspoon allspice, preferably whole berries, crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper--several grinds
1/8 teaspoon crushed, dried rosemary
1/8 teaspoon thyme flakes (scant)
a few pinches of: dried mustard
pinch of sage
2 pinches Cayenne pepper (optional)
Drizzle of olive oil
3 tablespoons water


This is especially good with a side of horseradish for dipping. Serve with boiled potatoes and sauerkraut. Makes a great sandwich on rye spread with horseradish.



It's difficult to know the the fat ratio of pre-ground chicken. Serve with a simple side of mayonnaise for dipping, homemade mayo is even better!

CHICKEN SAUSAGES
1 pound ground chicken
2 teaspoons onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
pinch of thyme
pinch of savory or sage
2 tablespoons water


CHICKEN SAUSAGES
WITH SUN-DRIED TOMATOES AND SPICES
1 pound ground chicken
1 1/2 ounces sun-dried tomatoes that have been soaked in water and squeezed dry (save the water)
2.5 ounces finely diced onions or 2-3 teaspoons dried
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons tomato water


ITALIAN SAUSAGE
1 pound ground pork
1-3 teaspoons fresh garlic paste (to taste)
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed fennel seed
1/8 teaspoon coriander
3/4 teaspoon dried crushed rosemary
1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
1/4-1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (to taste)
1 teaspoon salt
1 - 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons water

Once poached, slice and serve with your favorite marinara sauce over pasta. 

After poaching a bit, I sauteed this Italian sausage in a bit
of olive oil and butter to brown it (but first I sliced off
an end to eat!).

Enjoy making sausages. They are inexpensive and it's fun to experiment with ingredients. They make for a great dinner. Simply remove from the freezer. And they make great "gifts, " too. 















Friday, January 28, 2011

Ham and Hominy Soup



Look for thick, juicy ham shanks, such as these. A ham shank is NOT the same
as a ham hock.
As delicious to eat as it is beautiful to look at, this colorful soup is studded with bright, yellow hominy (corn) to contrast with the orange tomatoes and pink chunks of ham. And it’s pretty easy and inexpensive to prepare, too. You basically chop one onion and some garlic and open and dump cans and throw in some spices. But don't be fooled by the simplicity of it all. The depth of tastes will win you over. I've even had people pay me money to make them a potful.

This recipe really began as a "stew." But people often commented on the deep, rich "broth" and wanted more! So I transformed it into a savory soup. It's one of my favorites.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin or freshly-ground cumin seeds (I grind my own)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crumbled
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
  • 1-2 bay leaves, depending on size and freshness
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried, crushed red-pepper flakes-or to taste
  • 1.5 to 2 pounds smoked ham shanks
  • 6-8 cups canned chicken broth
  • 1, 14 1/2-ounce can sliced stewed tomatoes with juice
  • 3-4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2, 15-ounce cans golden hominy, drained and rinsed (avoid generic brands)




Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, cumin, thyme, bay leaf and red-pepper flakes. Sauté 5 minutes. Add ham shanks, broth, tomatoes and garlic. The tomato slices will break down as they cook. Bring to a simmer. Cover and cook until shanks are tender, at least 1 1/2 hours, but longer is even better. I often go for an entire afternoon.

Carefully remove ham shanks and place on a cutting board. Remove meat and cut into bite-sized pieces. Discard fat and bones. Return meat to pot. Add drained-and-rinsed hominy and simmer until hominy is just tender, about 15-30 minutes. Add the smoked paprika, if using. Ladle into deep bowls and serve. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Reheat until heated through.)

For garnish, dollop with sour cream and sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese.

NOTES: Because ham can be salty, use broth, hominy, and tomatoes that are low in sodium compared to other brands. I crush the cumin seeds in a mortar and pestle. A ham "hock" is the foot of the pig and has little meat. The "shank" is above the foot and has lots of lean meat. Like ham, they are usually smoked.





Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Potato Soup with Leeks, Mushrooms and Dill


Insanely delicious!

At three in the morning I just couldn't stand it anymore. I methodically got out of bed and  found myself standing in front of the opened refrigerator door. I needed--no craved--just one more tiny bowl of this amazing soup! Light yet intense with a perfect blend of flavors, you savor every spoonful. And then want more. And then you lick the bowl clean!

Yea, it's a lot of chopping. But trust me, it's worth it! And do not under any circumstances sub onions for the leeks--NO NO NO! Feel free to mix in cream or sour cream at the end for a traditional "potage," but I found the flavorings just perfect and didn't want them compromised in any way. 




  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts only for 2 cups finely chopped
  • 2 pounds red potatoes (about 8 medium) diced, for 4 cups
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 pound mushrooms, chopped
  • 1, 4-oz. can mushrooms, drained, reserve the juice (optional, see note below)
  • 6 cups chicken stock (canned is fine), including the mushroom juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 2-3 teaspoons dried dill weed
  • 2 teaspoons salt, plus extra for seasoning
  • Pepper, freshly ground
  • Butter and olive oil


Slice the leeks lengthwise and then slice each half again lengthwise. Finely chop. Peel carrots and chop. Slice and chop mushrooms, discarding stems if necessary. Peel potatoes. Slice into about 3/4-inch rounds and then slice each round into fourths or sixths. Set aside.

In a Dutch oven, add about 1 tablespoon each butter and olive oil. When melted, add mushrooms, a bit of salt and pepper and the dried thyme. Saute until soft and juicy, adding more butter if necessary. Remove to a small bowl and add in canned mushrooms.




In same pan, add 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil. When melted, add the leeks and carrots and cook for about five-eight minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add two teaspoons dried dill weed and minced garlic. Stir just until fragrant. 

Add chicken stock and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a simmer. Add diced potatoes. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes until potatoes are soft but still hold together. Add mushrooms. Stir. Re-cover and simmer about 15 minutes.

Taste for seasonings adding salt, pepper and dill if needed. Using the back of a slotted spoon, begin mashing about half of the potatoes against the side of the pan. This will thicken the soup. Remove from heat and allow to sit, covered, for about 30 minutes. Stir before serving. Sometimes I add a tablespoon or two of butter.

If desired, serve in individual bowls with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dill.

Lock the refrigerator door before going to bed.



Notes: If I don't quite have 1 lb. of mushrooms, I'll add the canned mushrooms.







Friday, January 21, 2011

Chili with Cheddar-Cheese Biscuits


There are two foods, maybe three, for which no two people will ever agree how to prepare: meatloaf and chili (the third is ribs). I suppose it all has to do with what one grew up with as a child. I have had chili that was totally bland and tasteless and chili that was so hot and spicy that it bordered on the absurd. For some reason, insanely hot has, in this country, been equated with testosterone and masculinity. Maybe it's the "climax" factor of feeling your head is about to catch on fire and explode: OMG! OMG! OMG! 

Truth be told? My favorite chili of all time was served in the cafeteria at the small-town school in which I taught for twenty years. It was a beautiful Midwestern-blend of chili and spices, peppers, tomato--with just a hint of sweetness. Often, it was served with a slice of "government" yellow cheese and a chunk of corn bread. Their beef stew was to die for. 

The recipe below is a no-nonsense, non-offensive recipe that is palatable to many, including children. It does not use chocolate or cocoa or peanut butter or beer, ingredients now popular to add to chili. You control the "heat" by the amount of jalapenos you add. The smoked paprika (do not substitute regular paprika) along with the bacon gives a nice "campfire" feel to the dish. Like soups, it's important to taste and to correct seasonings  throughout the cooking process.

Yea, I know . . . it's a pretty sad-looking onion but it's all I had . . .


  • 3/4 pound ground chuck
  • 4-6 slices smoked bacon, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1, 14.5 ounce can dark red kidney beans, drained (save the juice)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1, 3-inch jalapeno pepper, seeded and ribbed, finely chopped (save seeds) divided in half
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced (reserve one for later use)
  • 1, 4 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1, 14.5 ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon cumin seed, freshly ground, depending on taste
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2-3 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar (optional)
  • 2-3 teaspoons brown sugar


Fry the bacon until crisp. Remove to paper towel to drain and reserve. Without wiping the frying pan, discard all but one tablespoon of the bacon fat. Add one tablespoon of olive oil and add the onion, green pepper and half the jalapeno and cumin. Cook over medium heat just until the vegetables begin to go soft, about six minutes or so, being sure to scrape the pan clean of bacon renderings. Add the two minced garlic cloves and stir just until fragrant. Remove from heat and add to a medium Dutch oven. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Stir.


Add ground chuck to frying pan and cook over medium heat breaking it apart as it browns. Add a bit of salt and pepper. If necessary, drain. Add to Dutch oven and stir together with the vegetable mixture. Stir in the tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Add the fire-roasted, diced tomatoes, the rest of the jalapeno and garlic, oregano, and, if using, tomato paste. Add two teaspoons smoked paprika and chili powder. Stir. Crumble in the bacon and mix. Bring to a slow simmer. Cover. Simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally.

It's important to taste your chile pepper. Some are hotter than others;
others are more mild. This particular one was quite mild
and I could have used another one.

After an hour, taste the chili and correct the seasonings. If you want more heat, add some of the jalapeno seeds. Add additional smoked paprika and/or chili seasoning if needed. Add the cider vinegar (if using) and about 2 teaspoons of the brown sugar. Stir. Re-cover and simmer for an additional 30-40 minutes. If too dry, add some of the reserved liquid from the red beans. Taste again and re-season, if necessary. Now add the drained red kidney beans and allow to simmer about 20 minutes. To serve, place in a bowl and top with a bit of sour cream and shredded cheese.




Cheese Biscuits

Step-by-step instructions for making biscuits can be found by clicking on the link below:

These tender biscuits use White Lily Self-Rising Flour, a flour easily found in the South but only in gourmet grocery stores in the North. If you don't have access to it, use cake flour and follow the instructions from above for "Cake Flour Biscuits" cutting the recipe in half.

  • 1 cup White Lily Self-Rising Flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon cold lard or shortening
  • 1 tablespoon cold butter
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup cold milk
  • 1/2 cup freshly-shredded extra-sharp cheddar (I prefer white cheddar)


Pre-heat oven to 500 degrees. Line a small baking sheet with a piece of tin foil. Do not begin making biscuits until oven is pre-heated.



Add all the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and stir.

In a small bowl, shred the cheese. Sprinkle with one tablespoon of the flour mixture, carefully tossing with a fork to coat the cheese so it does not stick together. Reserve.

Using a pastry blender, cut in the lard (or shortening) and the butter until crumbly and flour bits are the size of small peas. Now fluff in the cheese mixture. Using a knife or fork, add the milk, using just enough until the dough leaves the side of the bowl. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to get dough to come together. Do not over knead. Gently pat 1/2-inch thick and cut into 2 - 2 1/2 inch circles. Gently re-pat scraps and cut again. Place biscuits on foil-lined sheet and bake 8-10 minutes, just until golden brown. Brush with melted butter immediately. Makes 5-6 biscuits.

While biscuits are traditionally served piping hot from the oven, I think the cheese flavor of these biscuits is more pronounced if served warm, even cold.

















Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mashed Potato Cakes with Ham, Cheese, and Scallions


Potato cakes are entries common in older cookbooks. I've had my eye on one from the 1930s for some time now and adapted it for this recipe. Hint: Do not wait until you have "leftover" mashed potatoes or, like me, you'll never make them. Mash some potatoes just for this recipe. Really, how difficult is that? And, to be truthful, they will turn out better because they are not loaded with butter and milk so you won't have to add more flour.

But enough small talk. Let's talk taste. Well, let's just say I've been making these for the past three days! The savory blend of creamy potato with ham, cheese and green onion is classic. And rich--especially topped with a dollop of sour cream. With a simple bowl of soup, they are a meal by themselves. With a fried or poached egg or two, it's a breakfast made in heaven. And I could see these as a great appetizer, for sure. They are also great comfort food for someone not feeling well. They are warm, filling, and go down easy.

Lately, I'm obsessed with things that are round . . . . potato cakes
and poached eggs . . . not just for breakfast!

For my first batch, I already had all the ingredients on hand, including leftover ham. You could readily use a thick slice or two of deli ham, such as Boar's Head Tavern Ham. Just about any cheese will work. Since I had them on hand, I've used a combo of Fontinella, White Cheddar and a bit of Mozzarella. When I have it, I will use Gruyere. I'm sure Swiss would be great, too--even a smoked Gouda. Just choose a cheese that will melt well.

These are easy to prepare the day before serving and I actually suggest covering and refrigerating the "dough" to let the flavors mix. I prefer to lightly coat them with Panko breadcrumbs which gives just the right amount of crunch to contrast with the soft cake itself or just lightly dusted with flour. If using a cast-iron skillet, watch them closely so they don't scorch. I made large ones for my first batch but found smaller ones much better.

  • 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cut for boiling (1 lb. is about 1 cup mashed)
  • 1 cup mashed potatoes
  • 1/2 cup ground ham
  • 1/2 cup grated cheese (White cheddar, Swiss, Gruyere, etc.)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped scallions, mostly white and light green parts
  • 4 tablespoons White Lily self-rising flour*
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Freshly-grated nutmeg
  • Tabasco
  • Oil/butter for frying


Boil potatoes and then mash using a pastry blender. You should end up with about one cup of mashed potatoes. Season with salt, pepper, several grates of nutmeg and a few shakes of Tabasco. Allow to cool.

Cut ham into small squares and place in mini food processor. Chop/pulse until nicely ground. Grate cheese using large holes on box grater. Chop scallions. Set aside.

Note the nice grind of ham. You don't want "lumpy."

Add egg yolk to potato mixture and stir in. Sprinkle in flour one tablespoon at a time and work in with pastry blender. Dough will be soft. Now mix in the ham, cheese, and scallions. If possible, refrigerate for an hour or two.


Scoop dough into a 1/4 measuring cup and using your hands form into a 2-1/2 inch patty. They should be at least 1/2-inch thick. Sprinkle lightly with Panko bread crumbs or flour.


Heat oil or oil/butter in a pan and lightly fry until golden brown. Flip. Brown other side. 


Drain a bit on paper towel. Sprinkle with several grinds of fresh salt. Plate. Place a few nibs of butter on each along with a dollop of sour cream.

Makes about 6-8 cakes.

*White Lily Flour is readily available here in the South. It is a very soft, powder-like flour. If you don't have access to it, you may use cake flour. If using regular flour, I suggest decreasing amount to 3 tablespoons. I'm not sure that 'self-rising' flour really makes a difference.








Saturday, January 15, 2011

Norwegian Pancakes


I received this recipe decades ago from a church-woman in the Indiana town where I first taught school. I loved them then. I love them now. They are a cinch to prepare--only six ingredients--and the batter will keep for a day of two in the refrigerator.

These are not as large or as puffy as a regular pancake, so only pour enough batter to make a 3 or 4-inch circle. The inside will be wonderfully creamy. I serve with warm maple syrup and, in the summer, with fresh fruit. Makes about two dozen. Easy to prepare the night before for a homemade breakfast.
  • 1 cup small-curd cottage cheese
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup sifted, all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Put the cottage cheese and sour cream in a blender. Blend together. Add eggs, one at a time, and whirl until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients until smooth and well blended.

Bake on a hot, greased griddle, electric skillet, or cast-iron skillet until bubbles break on surface. Flip. Continue to cook just until golden brown.



Monday, January 10, 2011

Crusty Chicken Parmesan Tenders with Fines Herbes

These are especially good served cold the next day.

Okay. This recipe actually begins with pledge and a promise. Raise your right hand and repeat after me: "I promise never ever to use store-bought breadcrumbs. They are bad. They are nasty. They are sawdust. I will always make fresh breadcrumbs. So help me God!"

See, wasn't that easy? I think dried commercial breadcrumbs are a relic of the 1950s or something when chunks of SPAM was an ingredient preserved in JELL-O. I'm sure they all have their uses, (and I do like JELL-O), but fresh breadcrumbs are so superior to the dried there is just no question in my mind at all. And they just don't work in this recipe. I tried.

To make fresh breadcrumbs simply add
torn up bread to mini-prep and pulse.
Store unused crumbs in freezer for later use.
After experimenting with store-bought breadcrumbs (they overpowered the taste of the cheese and herbs with their "powdery saw dust), then tried all fresh breadcrumbs (took too long to brown and crisp up in the oven, but they sopped up the butter and juices really well) to Panko breadcrumbs (too crisp and too much crunch.)

Finally, I used half fresh and half Panko. Perfect! The fresh crumbs absorbed the butter without fighting for the cheese/herb flavor, and the Panko crumbs gave just the right amount of crunch.

I do not recommend the thin-sliced chicken breasts one now finds in the markets. They bake in about ten minutes, not enough time for the bread-crumb mixture to brown resulting in a tough, overdone chicken. You want a chicken filet about 1/2-3/4 inch thick. I've gotten thick ones and merely sliced through them lengthwise. Large chicken tenders work very well, too, and it's what I used for the illustrations of this recipe. If you have children, they will prefer the tenders. Allow these to cool a bit before serving. Refrigerated leftovers are great served cold.

Look for large, meaty tenders. Rinse and pat dry on paper towel.


Baked Chicken Parmesan with Fines Herbes
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 6 tablespoons Kraft Parmesan & Romano Grated Cheese
  • 1 heaping tablespoon fines herbes 
  •    click here to go to recipe: Kitchen Bounty: Fines Herbes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3 chicken breasts or about 10 large chicken tenders
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted

Lightly spray a baking dish large enough to accommodate either the breasts or the tenders. OR (and this is the way I now do it) line a cookie sheet with foil. Preheat oven to 400 F degrees,

Combine the dry ingredients on a plate of sheet of waxed paper. Have the melted butter ready in a small bowl. 


Dip chicken in butter and then roll in crumbs coating liberally. Place in prepared baking dish. (May be made ahead and refrigerated until ready to use.)



Try not to crowd the chicken. Place in oven and bake for about 20 minutes, uncovered and without turning over, until golden.

Cheesy, salty, herby. I love 'em!

Allow to cool 10-15 minutes. Because of the rich nature of this dish, serve with plain rice and a vegetable. 



Notes: I had no problem using the Kraft cheese. You may, of course, use fresh and grate your own. But good Parmesan and Romano is extremely expensive. This recipe is easily doubled.











Friday, January 7, 2011

Sweet and Hot Garlic Pickles


Do you have a pickle lover in the family? There's always at least one. This recipe may just convert the whole tribe with its sweet-but-spicy-garlic-dill essence. And the garlic....oh, I think the garlic slices are the best part! The most difficult step of this whole process is having to wait several days for the flavors to mature. After a week or two, they go from great . . . to incredible . . . to  addictive. Put a bowl of these green babies on a picnic table in the summer and watch them disappear!

  • 1, 16 ounce jar sliced dill pickles (I use Heinz Hamburger Dill Chips)
  • White, granulated sugar
  • Peeled and sliced garlic, at least four large cloves
  • Tabasco sauce

Process:

Drain the pickles but do not rinse. Either using the same, rinsed-out jar, or canning jars, begin layering. First place a layer of pickles, then some sliced garlic, then a layer of sugar. Now sprinkle with several shots of Tabasco sauce. Continue layering until you've used up all the pickles. Screw on the lid and place upside down in the refrigerator. Every once-in-a-while, turn the jar. It will begin to make its own juices from the sugar. BUT they won't be at their peak for at least 3-5 days. 

I place the pickles in two pint jelly jars. To each layer, I sprinkle about 2 teaspoons sugar, 4 slices of garlic, 3-5 drops of Tabasco sauce. When done, I sprinkle the top with one tablespoon of sugar. Remember, you can always make them hotter, but you can't take away the hot you've already created. After several hours, shake and taste for "heat."

These are great served alongside chili.

Any size jar of sliced pickles will do.
Adjust garlic, sugar and Tabasco to taste.



Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fines Herbes


One of my favorite herb combinations is the French classic fines herbes (pronounced feen airbs). It is a combination of equal parts of parsley, chervil, tarragon and chives. The fragrance is at once spring-fresh and "green." The flavor is clean with a rich simplicity that literally adorns the simplest of dishes such as eggs or a simple bechamel sauce. On chicken, it's bliss. In fact, Colonel Sanders used fines herbes in his "original" Kentucky Fried Chicken.

One tablespoon of each of the dried herbs will yield about one-fourth cup. (You can also
weigh them for more accurate equal parts. I usually buy small packets as close to the same amount of ounces.)

When I lived in Michigan, I was fortunate to live in a town that actually had a spice shop. They were more than pleased to mix me up a batch of fresh fines herbes. Now I grow my own during the summer and allow them to dry and then crumble them before putting them up in a jar. 

I avoid pre-packaged fines herbes. They often contain other ingredients including dill, lemon, and sage.

Dried herbs and spices are not cheap. When I have to buy packets of fresh herbs in the grocery store, I don't throw away what I don't use. I layer them between pieces of clean paper towel and allow them to dry before storing in small containers.

Suggested Uses For Fines Herbes:

~~Sprinkle in eggs before cooking, such as scrambled eggs. Before folding an omelet, sprinkle on top along with Gruyere cheese.

~~Add to melted butter and drizzle over fresh asparagus or white fish.

~~Add to mussel liquor and spoon over fresh mussels.

~~Add to sauteed mushrooms along with a splash of dry, white wine and butter. Use leftovers to fill an omelette along with some cheese!

~~Lightly coat chicken pieces with seasoned flour and brown in a cast iron skillet with a bit of butter and olive oil. Finish in the oven. Ten minutes or so before done, sprinkle liberally with fines herbes and a squeeze or two of fresh lemon. Remove chicken and add a bit of chicken stock or water to pan to make a quick sauce, adding more butter and herbs if necessary. Spoon over chicken and serve.

~~Sprinkle in olive oil and brush liberally on chicken breasts. Bake until done. Serve with a lemon wedge.

~~Sprinkle fresh salmon filets with a bit of garlic powder, Old Bay's, Fines Herbes, and dried dill. Drizzle with olive oil and bake until done.

Here's one of my favorite ways to use them with chicken tenders:
Crusty Chicken Parmesan Tenders with Fines Herbes

Once you are familiar and comfortable with this herb combination, you will find uses all your own!














Monday, January 3, 2011

Biscuits!

There's a reason the South is known for its flaky, tender, buttery biscuits. It's all about the flour. Yea, the white stuff. It's just one more thing that separates the North from the South. Wheat, that is. In the frigid North, hard-grained wheat grows best and produces a high-gluten flour that is perfect for bread making. But not so in the South. Here, there ain't no winter. And there ain't no 'winter wheat.' We have what is called "soft" wheat that produces a very soft, almost powder-like, low-gluten flour that is perfect for cakes .... and biscuits!
 

The premiere "baking" flour here is called "White Lily." (Don't you love the name? How could you not love it? It sounds like something out of a Tennessee Williams play! Whenever I say it, I pronounce it with a slight drawl.) It is made from soft winter wheat but is not without controversy. Milled in Knoxville, Tennessee since 1883, it was purchased by the Smucker's Company and milling was moved to the Midwest. Connoisseurs say they can tell a difference.

Be that as it may, it is still a very, very light flour. If you can't find it, the closest thing is cake flour, and I have a biscuit recipe for that, too.
 
I do not use buttermilk in the biscuits only because a) it's expensive b) it sits in the fridge forever and ends up going bad and c) it's getting more and more difficult to find real buttermilk--most is "reduced fat." If I have cream or Half-and-Half, I use it.

And now a word about lard. I use it. The newer lards are much healthier then they used to be. I use Armour brand. I use it in biscuits, pie crusts, and to grease bread pans. One tablespoon of lard has 10 mg of cholesterol. By contrast, one tablespoon of butter has 30mg of cholesterol. What about fat content? Well, one tablespoon of lard has 13% fat, of which six is saturated fat. By contrast, one tablespoon of butter has 11% fat, of which seven is from saturated fat.

One tablespoon of Crisco all-vegetable shortening is 12g of total fat of which 3 is saturated fat but contains no cholesterol. If you are dead-set against lard, use Crisco.

Whatever fats you choose, they should be cold, cold, cold. Over-working the dough is the downfall, literally, of biscuits. They less you handle it, the better. Unless you are making a huge quantity of biscuits, just gently pat the dough into shape. I go for about 3/4-inch thick.

Cut the dough with a biscuit cutter which has high sides. If you use a glass, make sure it is thin, such as a wine glass, and do not twist it. You do not want to "smooth" the sides of the dough. To do so will prevent them from rising and flaking. You may also use a sharp knife and cut dough into squares.
A biscuit cutter is high-sided
to accommodate the height of the  dough.
Mine is fluted and gives a nice crispness
to each biscuit.



Do not begin making the dough until your oven is preheated. And be sure to brush the baked biscuits with melted butter. The untold rule is that biscuits should be served HOT and within 2-5 minutes of being removed from the oven.
If you choose to freeze the biscuit dough: place unbaked biscuits on a cookie sheet and freeze. When they are solid, place in a plastic bag and seal after letting air out. Bake a few minutes longer.

Biscuits

  • 2 cups White Lily Self-Rising flour
  • 2 tablespoons cold lard
  • 2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2/3 - 3/4 cup milk, buttermilk, Half-and-Half

Heat oven to 500 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil.

Blend the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Using a knife, cut nubs of butter into the flour. Do the same for the lard. Toss to coat with flour. Using a pastry blender cut in the lard and butter until lumps begin to form, some the size of small peas. Do not over mix. Do not use your hands to mix the dough since their heat will begin to melt the butter and lard. Using the lesser amount of liquid, begin adding while "cutting" it in with knife, fork or small spatula. Try to avoid "mixing." Add more liquid if necessary just until the dough leaves the sides of the bowl.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and gently knead 2-3 times. That's it. Don't worry if some "cracks" are on surface. Pat into 3/4-inch thickness. Cut into 2-inch round biscuits.

For crisp biscuits, place one-inch apart on foiled baking sheet. For soft-sided biscuits, place closer together. Bake for 8-10 minutes checking after 8 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and while hot brush with melted butter.

Makes about 10 biscuits. Recipe is easily halved.




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Before I had access to White Lily Flour, I made these biscuits from my grandmother's old cookbook. Follow the same directions as above.


Cake-Flour Biscuits

  • 2 cups sifted cake flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chilled lard
  • 2 tablespoons chilled butter
  • 3/4 cup (about) milk or "rich milk" which means cream
My antique pastry cutters from England.

Notes: Be sure your baking powder is fresh. I use aluminum-free and store mine in the freezer. When I make peach and raspberry cobbler, I top it with these biscuits before baking.