Friday, October 25, 2013

Sampling Some 5280 Pork: Mom's Wilted Salad

Last March I had the pleasure of writing a guest post for Barb at CREATIVE CULINARY. I was really excited about this particular post because not only was I able to help out a friend and fellow blogger, but I was also getting to craft a delicious recipe using a great quality Colorado product.

For that particular recipe, Ty Gates, owner and operator of 5280 Land and Cattle Company, which works under the 5280 BEEF and 5280 Pork labels, furnished me with some of his all natural beef from his family owned ranch in Meeker, Colorado.

MY RECIPE FOR BRAISED SHORT RIBS IN SWEET AND SOUR PORTER SAUCE really turned out to be everything that I hoped it would be, and the star of the show, those short ribs, were some of the best I've every had. Thoughtfully raised with integrity and sensitivity towards animal welfare, 5280 Beef is a delicious product that you can feel good about eating.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. Ty contacted me once again, offering me a sample of his 5280 Pork. Of course being a pork lover, I gladly accepted his offer and met him at his scheduled pick up point in my area.

Raised in the same manner as the beef, 5280 Pork comes from free-range Hampshire/Yorkshire blended pigs that are fed a vegetarian diet and are allowed to forage on native plants and grasses in a stress free environment.  The meat from these pigs is always free from added growth hormones, antibiotics or steroids.

My sample box had a nice assortment of bacon (how did he know?), breakfast sausage and some gorgeous pork chops.  The chops were beautifully marbled, the bacon was lean with the perfect amount of fat for great flavor, and the breakfast sausage was nicely seasoned with just a spark of spice at the end.

Even though it seemed to me that this assortment was trying tell me something, I felt like I can do breakfast anytime. After much thought I decided to use this beautiful bacon in a dish that I have been looking for a reason to make for sometime now.

When I was a kid, my mom used to make this great 1960's wilted salad every now and then. We absolutely loved it because it had lots of bacon, and since she was awesome, she would always fry a couple of extra slices for me and my sister to enjoy on top of our salads. Besides the occasional BLT or breakfast for dinner, bacon at night didn't happen all that often, so this was an extra special treat.

I've added a few fall ingredients to my mom's recipe to make this a more seasonal offering than what she used to make, but one thing I'll never change is frying an extra couple of slices for my kids, because I'm awesome too.

Want to order some of this quality, thoughtfully raised pork or beef for yourself? For more information about 5280 Beef, 5280 Pork, prices, and ordering, PLEASE CLICK HERE.

Mom's Wilted Salad

I've jazzed up my mom's original recipe by adding the apples, pecans and bleu cheese to make it a bit heartier for the fall weather.  Whether you like my heartier version or want to serve it with just eggs and onion like my mom's, be sure to make this salad right before you want to serve it, as the dressing is at its best warm.

4 slices of thick cut bacon (oh well, make 5 so you have one to eat while you are cooking)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic or 1 medium size garlic clove, crushed
4 - 6 cups of mixed salad greens (I threw some iceberg in for old times sake)
2 boiled eggs (peeled and sliced)
1/4 of a small red onion, very thinly sliced into rings
1/3 cup coarsely chopped and toasted pecans
1 medium size Fuji apple, sliced or chopped into chunks (your preference)
2 heaping tablespoons bleu cheese crumbles

Fry bacon in a large frying pan over medium high heat until golden brown and crispy.  Remove bacon from the pan and transfer to a plate to cool.

While the bacon is frying, place the salad greens, eggs, onion, pecans and apple in a large salad bowl; set aside.

Leave approximately 2 tablespoons of the drippings in the pan, discarding the rest.  Reduce the heat under the frying pan to low.  To the drippings, stir in the sugar, vinegar, mustard and garlic.  Stir well to combine. Pour the hot contents over the salad greens in the bowl.  Toss well to coat the salad.

Transfer to serving plates.  Sprinkle with desired amounts of the cheese.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pure Comfort From Home: Sausage Rolls and Kolaches

For some reason I always get a little bit sentimental and homesick this time of year. Maybe it is because I long for the mild fall weather I grew up with.  Here in Colorado the fall colors, although vibrant and breathtaking, are fleeting and all too quickly give way to the gray, bitter cold of winter.  Back home there are still many warm days to enjoy before the big chill blows in permanently.  My heart aches for home sometimes.

I grew up in a part of Texas where the towns have names like Schulenburg, Shiner, Hallettsville and Gonzales.  Nestled among the prairies and wildflower covered meadows between Houston, Austin and San Antonio, you won't find any towns with more personality and good food than these.

The residents of this area have names that echo that of their towns. There is a strong Mexican presence from the south which somehow blends with the heavy German and Czech influences from the European immigrants who settled here years ago. As you can probably tell it is a pretty mixed bag of nationalities and traditions, but it mostly works pretty well.

Stop at any convenience store or gas station in this area and you will most likely find one of those counter top electric roasters full of breakfast tacos and tamales along side plastic bags of homemade noodles and beef jerky, right next to the cash register that sits on top of the kolache case. These residents give you no excuse not to eat well while you are here.

Hungry for seafood? Don't be afraid to stop and buy some at the pickup trucks with homemade signs advertising fresh shrimp and oysters for sale.  You will see these little roadside shops set up at almost every four way stop in this part of the state.

Years ago, news of a study done by Texas A & M swept the state proclaiming that these vendors had fresher (or just as fresh) products than you could find in most grocery stores and seafood markets. Since then my family and I have bought shrimp from them many times and I'm glad to report that I'm not dead yet.

When I am struck by a bout of homesickness like this, I do what people have been doing for hundreds of years, I cook familiar foods from home.  Next to barbecuing a brisket or a slab of ribs, nothing says home to me like kolaches and sausage rolls.

If you've never had either one or heard of them, my best description would be that kolaches are soft, sweet bread pillows with depressions in the center that are filled with a poppy seed, fruit or cream cheese mixture and most often are sprinkled with a crunchy streusel topping. I guess you could say that they are the Czech answer to the Danish.

Not a sweet eater? Well, there's something for you too. Sausage rolls (sometimes called sausage kolaches) are made from either small sausages or pieces of large link sausage that have been wrapped and baked in a soft, fluffy dough. You can also find these rolls filled with other savory ingredients like ham and cheese and even barbecue.

One of my favorite quick breakfasts in this world is a sausage roll for my main course and a cheese kolache for dessert. Those Texans, you gotta hand it to them.  Where else can you get a two course breakfast and enjoy it on the road straight out of a paper bag? Genius! 

Even though I posted a recipe for peach kolaches back in September of  2011, I have never posted a recipe for sausage rolls . . .  until today. The bread that I am wrapping it in can be used for either sweet kolaches or savory rolls, but since it is a bit on the dense side, I like it best for savories. It is soft, doughy and slightly sweet which compliments the salty sausage perfectly. Pure comfort food like this will certainly feed your stomach and soul, no matter where you're from.

Sausage Rolls

This recipe makes 24 sausage rolls. Even though this sounds like a lot, they'll go quicker than you think. Don't like your neighbors enough to share and don't want to make so many? You can easily cut the recipe in half, but you'll still probably need 4 cups of flour or so and two eggs for the dough. 

2 envelopes fast acting yeast
1 cup warm water
6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/3 - 1/2 cup sugar (use the max amount if you like sweet Hawaiian rolls)
3/4 cup shortening
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
2 - 1 pound rings of fully cooked Polish sausage (or your favorite)*

Sprinkle yeast over the top of the water. Let sit for at least 5 minutes or until yeast is foamy.

Place flour, salt and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached. Turn mixer on and mix ingredients for a few seconds to combine.  Add shortening, eggs and the yeast mixture. Mix on low until combined and smooth, approximately 3 minutes. You are going for a smooth, elastic dough that while still soft, doesn't stick to the bowl or your hands. If dough is too soft, add a little flour.  If dough is too stiff, add some warm water a little bit at a time.

Spray a large bowl with non-stick cooking spray. Transfer dough to the sprayed bowl and turn over to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, approximately 1 - 1-1/2 hours.**

Remove risen dough from the bowl and placing it on a clean, dry surface.  Cut into 24 equal pieces that weigh approximately 2 ounces each. Cover lightly with plastic wrap.

Working with one piece of dough at a time, flatten each to an oval that measures approximately 4" x 5". Place a piece of sausage in the center of the dough. Pull one side of the over one of the long sides of the sausage.

Roll the sausage towards you so the dough meets in the middle on the underside.  Roll back over and fold the ends of the dough towards the middle.  Press the seams to close.

Place the rolls, seam side down in 2 greased 9" x 13" baking dishes.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place for 15 - 20 minutes.

Remove plastic wrap and bake uncovered in a preheated 400 degree oven for approximately 20 minutes or until they are a light golden brown.

Makes 2 dozen sausage rolls.

*Most, if not all, commercially produced sausage is fully cooked when you buy it.  If it is not stated on the label or when in doubt, place sausage in a large skillet in about 1" of water and bring to a boil over medium high heat.  Reduce heat to medium, cover and simmer for 5 minutes on each side. Remove from pan, drain well and use as desired. 

**If you are new to making yeast doughs, don't panic if your dough takes more or less time to rise. Sometimes in a cold house, my dough takes up to 2 - 2-1/2 hours to rise.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

My Fifth Anniversary Celebration: Sticky Toffee Pecan Rice Krispies Treats

It is really hard for me to believe that my blog is 5 years old today.  When I published that very first post I had no idea if it would be my first and last or something would keep me inspired to continue hitting "publish" week after week.  As you can tell, I'm either still inspired or full of hot air, but either way I'd like to thank you for reading.

In that first post I featured a couple of recipes for my English readers to serve in celebration of Bonfire (Guy Fawkes) Night. Like most western celebrations, this night is usually spent with a big group of friends, lots food, and in this case people standing around a large fire with an alcoholic drink in their hand.  

It was at a Bonfire Night party in England about 6 years ago that I discovered one of these recipes, a friend's toffee flavored Rice Krispies treats.  My host Karen had given me advanced warning that if I wanted one, get it as soon as she took the cover off of the plate because they would go fast.  I am so glad that I took her advice.

Rosemary's toffee Rice Krispies treats were everything that Karen said they would be.  Buttery, sweet and crispy, these treats are still the Rice Krispy treats that you recognize, but they are kicked up a notch with a toffee flavor that is just what the old recipe needed.

Close to a year later when I was planning my first blog post, I contacted Rosemary and asked her if I could use her recipe and thankfully she agreed. While really delicious, her recipe wasn't exactly super friendly for my American readers, so over the years I've kind of played around with it in an effort to come up with something easy to make that still has that sticky toffee taste. Once I was pleased with the results I added some toasted pecans because they are so darned good, and came up with a treat I adore.

I hope that Rosemary won't mind that I made a few adjustments to her recipe, but I think if she tries it she'll have to agree that it still tastes pretty great.  In fact, I believe it to be so good that I would be more than happy to serve it for a Bonfire Night get together, Halloween party or even a 5th anniversary celebration.

Sticky Toffee Pecan Rice Krispies Treats

1/2 cup chopped pecans
1 stick unsalted butter
3/4 cup lightly packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 cups (approximately 7 ounces) mini marshmallows
7 cups Rice Krispies cereal

Spray a 9" x 13" pan lightly with non-stick cooking spray.  Line the bottom of the pan with wax or parchment paper and lightly spray it with cooking spray too; set aside until ready to use.

Place pecans in a large stockpot that has been set over medium high heat. Stirring frequently, toast pecans until they turn a golden brown and their aroma is released.  Transfer them to a plate to cool; set aside. Wipe the pot out with a paper towel.

Return the cleaned stockpot to medium heat.  Melt the butter in the pot. Add the brown sugar and salt stirring until they are all combined.  Stir in the marshmallows and continue to stir until they are melted.

Add the pecans and cereal to the marshallow mixture.  Remove from the heat and stir until the ingredients are combined.

Pour the cereal mixture into the prepared pan.  Spread evenly with the back of a spoon. Spray clean hands with cooking spray or coat with butter or oil.  Gently press the cereal into the pan to remove air bubbles. Set aside and let cool completely before slicing into desired size pieces. 


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Something From Nothing #17: Polenta Fries

Every month when I start planning my Something From Nothing post I stand in front of my open pantry door and gaze around for inspiration.  I must admit that the longer I do these posts the more challenging it becomes, so I had to stare a little bit longer than usual this month.  Then I saw my salvation in the form of a box of cornmeal.

I decided that cornmeal, or polenta as some might prefer to call it, is a perfect ingredient for my next recipe in this series.  Growing up in south Texas, I saw my relatives use it for cornbread, stuffing for a turkey and as a crunchy breading for fried fish and okra. As an adult, I then began to enjoy it in Italian dishes as polenta.

I really like it any way you want to prepared it, but one of my favorite ways is polenta fries. Really no more than a firm set cornmeal mush that is twice cooked, polenta fries are delicious all on their own as a cocktail snack, or as a hearty crunchy side dish for grilled steaks or chicken.

Even though it is easy to cook, this recipe does take a little bit of advanced planning. The first stage of cooking takes about 20 minutes, then the polenta must be cooled and cut which takes 30 minutes or so, and then the fries are broiled for and additional 15 - 20 minutes or so. Aside from the fact that it takes a few extra minutes, this is really a perfect example of something great from nothing.

Polenta Fries

3 - 1/2 cups water or chicken stock
1 teaspoon kosher salt (if not using stock)
1 cup white or yellow cornmeal or polenta (there is really no difference)
2 tablespoons light olive or vegetable oil
Cheese and herb seasoning (optional):
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning (optional)

Place water or stock, salt (if using water) and polenta in a large stock pot (use a big pot because as the polenta boils it splatters high and wide) set over medium high heat.

Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a boil. Once it boils, swap the whisk out for a wooden spoon, reduce heat to medium and cook while stirring frequently for approximately 15 minutes or until it is very thick (about the consistency of oatmeal).

Spray an 8 inch square baking dish or pie pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Pour cooked polenta into the dish, spreading it evenly with the back of a spoon, and allow to cool and set completely.

Line a cookie sheet with foil and brush with on half of the oil; set aside.

Invert the cooled and set polenta onto a clean cutting board. Cut in half across the middle then into 1/2" thick slices in the opposite direction.

Preheat oven to broil, placing an oven rack one level up from the middle.

Transfer slices to prepared cookie sheet with the cut sides up.  Brush with the remaining oil.

Place cookie sheet into the oven and broil until tops begin to brown (approximately 10 minutes). Remove from the oven, turn over and return to the oven to cook the other side for an additional 5 minutes.

If making the optional seasoning, combine the cheese and Italian seasoning in a small bowl; set aside.

Remove the fries from the oven and sprinkle with the cheese and herb seasoning.  Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ham, Swiss and Green Onion Bread and Butter Pudding

I decided a few years ago that all I want for my birthday is a quiet dinner with my family. Since no one can say no to that, every late September I hold everyone hostage with their cell phones turned off and put away for at least 2 hours at a venue of my choosing. 

This year I chose a seafood restaurant because I had been craving shrimp for a couple of weeks. My special evening was really wonderful. I satisfied my craving for both the attention of my family and shrimp embrochette. We laughed, talked and stuffed ourselves with some really great food, and since the birthday girl always orders dessert, I ended my meal by choosing one of my favorites, a sweet bread pudding. 

In the past my chosen restaurant's desserts have always been excellent.  This time (wouldn't you know it) I was served a big slab of rubbery white matter that was drenched in a flavorless beige sauce topped by a big scoop of melting vanilla ice cream.  I'll stop short of saying that it was horrible, but I will say that the scoop of soupy mediocre ice cream was the star of the show.

"That's why I hate bread pudding.  It is that rubbery texture that I don't like. Yuck!" said my daughter looking up from the text that she was certainly composing for an emergency at the United Nations, otherwise she wouldn't have dared been texting during my birthday dinner. 

I was stunned. I had no idea that she was so deprived of good bread pudding that she HATED it. This coming from a girl who just slurped down half a dozen raw oysters.  If the bread pudding she has eaten tastes worse than snot on the half shell (I HATE oysters if you can't tell), then she's had some pretty bad stuff.

So ever since this experience last Thursday night it has become my mission in life to change her mind about bread pudding, both savory and sweet. Since that terrible sweet pudding is so fresh in our minds I don't think she would even be open to trying it yet, so that is why I am starting with a savory one.

Sometimes referred to as a strata, savory bread puddings are most often served at breakfast or brunch. I also love having them for luncheons or light dinners with a crisp salad or fruit. I've created this recipe today with things I had in my fridge, but I encourage you to make this one your own.  It is delicious made with tomatoes, asparagus, broccoli, bell pepper and any combination of cheese or meat that you can come up with. 

Ham, Swiss and Green Onion Bread and Butter Pudding

The beauty of any casserole like this is that if you don't like or have any of the ingredients (with the exception of the eggs, bread and milk) you can leave them out or substitute them for something else you do have.  This is one bread pudding that will turn out light, fluffy and flavorful. Not a slab of rubber in site.

6 thick slices day old bread (I like buying any day old artisan bread that is on sale at my supermarket)
3 tablespoons softened butter
3 tablespoons shaved Parmesan cheese
4 ounces grated Swiss or Gruyere cheese
2 green onions, thinly sliced
6 ounces ham, chopped
3 ounces thinly sliced mushrooms
6 large eggs
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk or half and half
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 - 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

Spray a medium size casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray; set aside.

Spread equal amounts of butter over one side of each slice of bread. Lay bread side by side on a flat surface.  Sprinkle with equal amounts of the of the cheeses, pressing gently to get the cheese to stick to the bread; set aside.

In a medium size bowl, toss together the green onions, ham and mushrooms, set aside.

In another medium size bowl, whisk together the eggs, garlic, thyme, sage, cream, half and half, pepper, salt and mustard.  Whisk until the mixture is frothy; set aside.

Lay one slice of bread at the end of your prepared casserole dish.  sprinkle with 1/6 of the ham and mushroom mix.  Lay the next slice of bread over the top, overlapping but not completely covering the previous slice of bread.  Repeat with the remaining bread and ham and mushroom mix.

Gently pour the egg mixture over the top of the bread in the casserole dish.  Do not press on bread slices if you want fluffy results.  The bread will absorb the fillings on its own as it sits.  Cover the dish with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 12 - 24 (recommended) hours.

After the sitting time, preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Remove the plastic wrap and place dish in the center of the preheated oven.  Cook uncovered for approximately 45 minutes or until the bread is golden brown on the top and egg is set at the bottom of the dish.  Remove from oven, cool for 5 minutes before serving.  Your pudding should be fluffy yet firm on the bottom and slightly crunchy on the top.

Serves 4 - 6 people

I would like to be able to tell you that I changed my daughter's mind about bread pudding and she loved every bite, but this was gone so fast she didn't have a chance to drive across town and try it. I am proud to say that my dog loved every morsel that he was able to beg off of us.