Wednesday, October 27, 2010

'Got Myself Hitched'

I just wanted to post something real quick concerning my lack of posts this summer. I got married on October 16th and the summer has been a blur. I have done a lot of things that are worthy of posting articles about, but just haven't had much time. Now that I have my new lovely wife moved in, hopefully I can post some new articles soon. However, my wife Sue has quite a Honey-Do list made up for me and it doesn't look like things will let up much very soon!

I have one article that is almost completed and I think you will like it. It explains how to make homemade mozzarella cheese. It is SO good, fun to make, and takes maybe an hour, or less. Also, I have smoked some of the cheese in my cold-smoker for smoked mozzarella and it is to DIE FOR.

So hang in there, I hope to post that and more very soon.

If you are interested, I posted some wedding/honeymoon pics on my picasaweb space, HERE .

~ Marty

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Decorative Oil Bottles

*** WARNING ***
These are ONLY for decorative purposes and are not meant to be used in food. After further researching this, I found that there is a danger of botulism poisoning if used for food purposes. This is because when food is placed in an anaerobic environment, as when placed in oil, there is a danger of botulism forming its lethal toxins. So again, THESE ARE ONLY TO BE USED FOR DECORATIVE PURPOSES. You COULD use them in food, but ONLY within a couple weeks of preparing them, AND it is kept in the refrigerator. But oil congeals when kept cold and it looks horrible.
*** OK, I'm done with my disclaimer!

OK guys, I realize this is kind of a 'girlie' project, oh well. This makes some nice gifts and the woman in your life, friends and family love handmade gifts.

I've made these before, but the hardest part of doing it is finding nice bottles. Empty decorative bottles are incredibly expensive. If anyone knows a good source of decorative bottles that aren't too expensive, let me know.

I found some olive oils in fancy bottles marked down drastically at Kroger's recently. I bought about a dozen of them, they were marked $2.00 and $2.50, so I got as many as I could at the time.

First I had to remove the labels. Many will come off easily after being soaked in water. A few of them were very stubborn and I had to use mineral spirits. I just had to be careful not to get the spirits near the opening. I don't think anyone would like mineral spirits flavored olive oil!

Then I got my garlic out, then cut a few things out of my herb garden; oregano and a little chives, including one flower top of the garlic chives.

I gently smashed some garlic cloves with a butter knife

I smashed it to release some of the oils from the garlic. I placed several garlic cloves in the jars. In some bottles I also placed a sprig of oregano. Here is a before and after picture

Here's a hint, to remove garlic smell from your hands. Wet your fingers a little bit in water, then sprinkle salt liberally on the affected areas, and rub it in (don't do this with an open cut on your hands!) then rinse the salt off. POOF! Gone!

In others I placed a few lengths of chives, in one of them I placed a flower top from the chives

Basil works well this also. To make dipping oils, just be imaginative and use spices that would work well in a dipping oil; hot pepper flakes, or basil/oregano/chopped garlic, whatever you want to use. Here is a bottle with a little hot pepper flakes and chopped garlic

These make nice gifts and I was able to do this for about $2-$2.50 per bottle.

Spinach, Blanching and Freezing

My spinach is ready so I cut a small amount to show how to blanch and freeze it. It's a lot more efficient to do this in larger batches, but I cut just a small amount to show how you do this. It's very easy, and a simple text explanation would probably suffice, but I know that pictures and step-by-step directions are helpful.

After cutting you want to wash the spinach well. Spinach has all kinds of nooks and crannies for dirt to hide. After washing your sink well, place the spinach in the sink and move it around in cold water.

Start a pot of boiling water and after the water starts to boil, pour the spinach into the pot

It will shrink down to almost nothing. Boil it for one minute, then remove it from the pot and dump into cold water to stop the cooking process.

Now you want to drain it, and drain it WELL. First I drained it in a colander

I even went as far as placing it on a CLEAN towel and squeezing more water out of it.

Now all you have to do is place it in a freezer bag, or freezer container of some sort. I like to use my FoodSaver vacuum sealer

ALWAYS label your freezer bags/containers. The few times that I haven't, I have regretted it. Six months later you don't want to pull something out of the freezer and wonder "What the heck is this, and how old is it?"

So, as you can see, blanching is easy. The only thing that varies is the amount of time you hold it in the boiling water. Things like broccoli/cauliflower take about 3 minutes, but something thin like spinach only takes a minute.

Blanching slows or stops the action of enzymes in the plants. While the vegetables are living, enzymes cause vegetables to grow. If vegetables are not blanched, the enzymes continue to be active during storage causing off-colors, off-flavors and toughening of the vegetable.

I grew a lot more spinach this year than I usually do, just to try freezing as much as I could. Spinach doesn't grow well in hot weather and normally I get to eat it only for a few weeks. I hope to extend the spinach-eating this year!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Spring 2010 Garden Update

As you can see above, I cut my first salad this past Wednesday, May 5th. I use May 1st as a target date; last year it was about April 28th, the year before it was about May 5th. As I have stated before, I like to harvest my first salad at about the same time most people are thinking of breaking ground and buying seed. I'm fairly competitive, even with my gardening. I think they should come out with a full-contact gardening Olympic event.

Here I am cutting my first spinach, lettuce and pulling a green onion for salad

The two rows of green in the pic are two different plantings of spinach. I grew a lot of it and hope to blanch/freeze some of it.

You can't see it in the pic but in the back row is garlic, in between the two green rows are a couple rows of onions. I'm going to plant more onions from sets because I end up eating so many pulled early for green onions for salads.

My taters are popping through the ground too. Yukon Gold was the variety I planted this year. I've had pretty good success with that variety, and can't wait for my first 'new taters.'

Every year I try something new, and this year it is kale and collards. They popped through the surface just in the past couple of days. I just discovered collard greens this year, and really like them. I cook them with a piece of bacon added to the pot, then add vinegar to them when I am ready to eat them. That's how I learned to like spinach when I was a kid, the vinegar really made it good.

I also have Bibb and a Black-Seeded Simpson lettuce that are ready to be cut. You have to plant lettuce and spinach early, they don't do well after things heat up outside. I usually plant these early veggies about mid-March here in central Ohio.

Sugar Snap peas are an edible-pod pea variety and I planted two 10-foot rows of those, each row on other sides of a trellis. I trellis them with a couple of 2x2 posts with wire strung between the posts. What I don't eat fresh I blanch and freeze, then vacuum pack.

I have grown herbs for a number of years now, but increased my planting this year. Usually they are limited to my small herb gardens, but planted a couple of 10 foot rows of basil, and a row each of cilantro and parsley right in my veggie garden. I think I might be able to sell some of them at a local farm market(?) Even if I can't sell them, fresh herbs are a great gift and I will give a lot away to friends and neighbors.

Purple basil is something I discovered last year. It can be used as any other basil, but I infused vinegar with it and it looks beautiful. The vinegar turns a beautiful purple/pinkish color and has the basil taste also. So I am growing it again, but this year I am growing a row that is about 6 feet long.

Most of my perennial herbs are doing well again this year; sage, oregano, lemon thyme and lime thyme, chives (and some garlic chives.) I planted tarragon last year, for making tarragon vinegar, and didn't realize until this spring that it is a perennial also. It came up with a fury and my tarragon plants are already a couple of feet tall!


I planted a LOT of sweet basil this year. I like to use it fresh in cooking, but a good way to use it is to make pesto. I make large batches of it then put it in ice cube trays and freeze it. Then I put the cubes in freezer bags. I can already taste it spread on a piece of homemade Italian bread, or a dollop of it in a pasta dish.

Here is one of my two little herb gardens as it looked the other day. I will plant a few more things in the spaces that are open. The 2 potted plants are my babies, my bay trees. You can't beat fresh bay leaves for cooking and you won't go back to store-bought, dried out bay leaves once you have tried the fresh ones.

The fall is when you are supposed to plant garlic, and I usually do plant it then. However, it just didn't work out this past fall, and I planted the garlic early this spring. If you plant in spring, the bulbs are much smaller compared to autumn-planted garlic. I had some HUGE garlic bulbs the past couple of years, and I am kicking myself for not planting it last fall. Oh well, there's always next year...

Just for kicks and giggles, I planted a line of Mammoth Sunflowers in the back row of the garden. That should look pretty nice, and they produce quite a few seeds for eating, roasting, etc

The temperature is supposed to go down to an overnight low in the high 30's this weekend, so I am going to wait to plant the maters and peppers. I can, however, plant broccoli and cabbage any time now, they tolerate cool temperatures very well.

My grapes (Concord and Catawba) are growing well too, and showing small flowers/bunches already. I need to spray them with Mancozeb soon, this will help prevent what I think is called black rot. The grapes will form normally, then almost overnight a black spot appears on the end of the grape and the whole grape dies, and dies quickly. One day you notice a spot on the grapes and in a couple of days your grapes are gone. It broke my heart when that happened a couple years in a row until I discovered Mancozeb.

I think I am losing my favorite tree, my sour cherry. Last year the leaves formed then a large number of the leaves just wilted, and I didn't get any cherries from the tree. This year it appears that the same thing is happening. I need to get a picture to the extension office or some other experts for their opinion of what is happening.

So the garden is progressing. I'm eating out of the garden already, but still have things to plant as soon as I can, and when the weather permits. Things are getting pretty exciting for this gardener

Monday, May 3, 2010

Jalapeno Poppers

I wanted to use my fish batter recipe in something new, and thought of making jalapeno poppers. When the garden starts producing later this summer, this should be good for some other varieties of peppers also.


I will save some typing and point you
HERE for the batter recipe. Basically I am substituting stuffed jalapenos in place of the fish.

Stuffing the jalapenos

I made this up as I went, just do it to taste. Use some imagination and add whatever you would like. I started by frying about 5 pieces of my homemade bacon (check it out
HERE) You can use store-bought bacon, of course. Make it crisp then break it up into fairly small pieces.

Next I added the crumbled bacon to about 8 ounces of whipped sour cream. Then I added a bit of salt, freshly-cracked black pepper, garlic, and onion powder

Next I picked out 12 of the largest jalapenos I could find. First, let me strongly advise you to use rubber gloves when working with hot peppers. I used to work in an emergency room and every summer at least one person would come in with terrible pain, because they were working with hot peppers but no gloves on.

I slit them lengthwise on one side so that I could make a pocket for the filling

Then I used a very small spoon to scoop out the seeds, being careful not to break or crack the jalapeno since I needed a pocket to place the filling.

Then using a spoon (you could use a pastry stuffer) I filled the pepper with the filling

Following the fish batter directions, the first step in coating the fish is to roll the fish in the dry ingredients on the cookie sheet. Jalapenos are not sticky like fish so I had to improvise. I didn't want to dip them in water or milk because it would have been too much liquid. So I wet my fingers a little bit and rubbed the outside of the pepper, to break up the surface tension on the slick peppers. Then I could roll it in the dry ingredients and it stuck fairly well

Then I rolled it in the batter

Then rolled in the dry ingredients one more time

I brought the peanut oil (you can use other types) up to 375 degrees and placed the peppers in the oil. After a few minutes they turned golden brown. I pulled them out and drained them on newspaper. Brown-paper grocery bags work well also.

These turned out really good. I made a mental note to make these the next time I have a group of people over, or there is a church event or something like that. I also want to try smoking the filled peppers first, then adding the batter and deep-frying. After all "If it's already good, it will probably be better when smoked."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Smoked Tomato Soup

My brother-in-law Jim was the executive chef in a restaurant in California for many years, Slocum House, and one of his specialties was Smoked Tomato Soup. I never had the pleasure of tasting it at the restaurant, but my interest was piqued when he told me about it. This isn't his recipe, I wanted to see how I could do on my own. I didn't write down things as I went (duhhh...) but this is pretty close to how I did it.

4-5 pounds fresh beefsteak tomatoes(or any large variety for that matter)
Olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
Salt and pepper
Pinch of cayenne
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/2 gallon chicken stock
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 cup heavy cream
Fresh basil sprigs

First I washed the tomatoes then sliced in half. Then I removed most of the seeds by squeezing gently and scraping seeds off

This is an easy way of seeding tomatoes

Next I put the tomatoes in a bowl and poured a tablespoon or two of olive oil over the tomatoes and mixed them well. I fired up the smoker and kept it on a low temperature but a good amount of smoke. Most recipes that I saw online called for smoking for about 30 minutes. I'm a guy, so I think that if 30 minutes of smoking is good, then 2-3 hours must be even better. I was NOT disappointed.

I'm sure if you like smoking foods, I am sure that this is a lovely sight to you also:

After smoking it's back to the kitchen with the 'maters'.
In a pot I added the garlic, smoked tomatoes, some salt and pepper to taste, and the onions. I added 2 quarts of chicken broth, brought it to a boil, then reduced the heat to a simmer and cook for 1 hour or so. Using a blender (a hand-held blender would have been perfect in this situation) I pureed the soup, leaving it slightly chunky. Then I stirred in the parsley, then the heavy cream. If needed you can re-season with salt and pepper. Right before serving you can add a sprig of fresh basil to the bowl if you would like.

This turned out so good; thick, smokey, rich. You can bet that I will be making this again soon.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

April Garden Work

Things are starting to come alive here in central Ohio finally! The big snow melted a few weeks ago, the days started warming and I got to work.

With a grass rake I scratched in the mud and roughed up the surface, and planted a little spinach and lettuce. This normally works just fine, but I was disappointed in how little came up this time. I don't think that I covered it enough this time. Oh well, it was a start anyway. Here's the 'baby spinach' as it looks today:

And the rhubarb is shooting up:

And the asparagus:

After a couple weeks of warmer temps and sunshine, things started to dry out some and I fired up Ol' Bessie:

I got the whole garden tilled, this is unusual in early April. Unfortunately it rained right after this and I wasn't able to do much more. If we get another couple of dry days I can start some more planting. I want to plant more greens this year; more spinach, will try kale and also collards.
I want to plant a lot more spinach and try freezing it. I figure that if you can buy it frozen, then you can freeze it yourself. It appears from what I have read that it is just a quick blanch-and-freeze process.

So I am chomping at the bit, waiting for things to dry out a bit more.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Smoked Beef Tenderloin

This is another idea sparked by a meat sale at a local grocery. I found some whole beef tenderloins marked down 40%. I wanted to buy all 7 of them, but that would have been about $300.00, so I settled for one. I've been using my new smoker a lot lately and figured 'why not smoke it?'.

It was about 5.5 lbs, so I cut it in half (there are only 2 of us here now.) The seasoning that I placed on the outside of it was only freshly-cracked pepper and salt. Then into a low-heat, heavy smoke for a few hours.

Just for kicks and giggles I smoked some jalapeno peppers while I had the smoker going. I smoked those for a lot longer time, then finished drying those in the oven on a very low setting. Then I ran them through my food processor for smoked jalapeno powder.

After the tenderloin smoked for about 3 hours, I placed it on a very hot grill and charred it for about 5 minutes or so on each side

It came out a perfect medium-rare. It looked so good it seemed like a crime to eat it!

I risked imprisonment and ate it anyway. Oh my goodness gracious, it was one of the best pieces of meat I had ever eaten! It was so tender I could have cut it with a dull butter knife. The outside was charred perfectly and gave it a fantastic flavor.

I had some left over, so after it cooled in the fridge overnight I ran it through my meat slicer. I have plans to flash fry it quickly with some portabellas that I just bought, unless I come up with a better idea.

I am going to keep my eyes peeled for another whole beef tenderloin!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Deli-Style Roast Beef

I've been a little too busy for my own good lately, and haven't written anything new in about a month. But I have been making some good things in the kitchen, and with my smoker, and need to tell you about a few new things I have done lately.

I thought that making deli-style roast beef involved rocket-science knowledge, based on the prices that you see in the stores. This was SO easy, SO good and SO much cheaper than at the deli. I think the secret to this is cutting the meat across the grain and slicing it thin. My meat slicer helps with the thin slices, but if you have a good knife and can keep a steady hand, I think you can get good roast beef slices too.

So far I have found that eye-of-round is probably the best cut of beef to use, with bottom-round roast a close second. Eye of round is a straight-grained, very lean cut of beef and can be found fairly cheap. Bottom round is similar with not as straight of grain and a bit more fat, but just be choosy when picking one out at the store and get one with as little fat as possible.

I didn't take any pictures when I used eye of round, this is two pieces of bottom round

I first seasoned it with freshly-cracked pepper and a bit of salt. Next I baked it at 500 degrees for the first 25 minutes or so. Then I turned the oven down to 350 degrees and baked it until my meat thermometer showed an internal temperature of 130 degrees, the temperature taken in the thickest part of the meat. 130 degrees will give you medium rare meat.

After it reaches the desired temperature, remove it from the oven and tent it with some foil and let it rest for 30 minutes. Now slice it across the grain and very thin.

I've been giving one-pound freezer bags of this away to friends and they have LOVED it. I have too! Add a little horseradish and/or spicy mustard on a good bread and you will love it too.

Monday, February 8, 2010

New smoker!

My girlfriend really takes care of me! For my birthday Sue bought me a new smoker. I had thought of building one (still might build a cold smoker) and I was disillusioned at a lot of the prices I saw on some of the smokers I saw online.

This one is a very nice compromise between size and cost. It was $189.00, at Sears of all places. I hadn't been looking at Sears before I stumbled across this one. It has 4 shelves, shelves large enough to handle a half of a pork belly, or at least a medium sized turkey. It is large enough to handle 95% of my smoking needs so I am REALLY happy about it.

"Some assembly required" means that I spent 2 hours assembling it. However, it was so much fun it didn't bother me at all (I was watching the Super Bowl while I was doing it anyway!)

Here is what it looks like

And with the door open

So look out! I will be smoking a lot of things now. My pork loins have been curing in the refrigerator for about 5 days now, so I will smoke those first, tomorrow. Then my pork butt will be finished curing in a few days and I will be doing a much longer smoking with that one.

The only thing I can foresee doing with this smoker is building a block stand for it, to make it more easily accessible. I might add a gasket to the door to make it tigher also, but I don't know yet.

Can you tell I am excited?!?!? Well, I am. Sue knows how to take care of me; nothing says love like a new smoker...

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Smoked Whole Chicken With An Oriental Twist

Many of my ideas recently have been from finding a bargain on some cut of meat, then thinking of ways to prepare it. Such was the case when I found two whole young chickens marked down 50% at the grocery recently. I wanted to brine them, then smoke them, then decided to jazz up the brine with a few extra goodies.

Here is the brine that I concocted, I totally winged this and made it up on the fly:

1 gallon of water
1 cup canning salt
1 cup soy sauce
1 Tablespoon powdered ginger
1 Tablespoon powdered lemon peel
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tablespoon onion powder

I mixed all of this together well in a plastic tub and placed the whole chickens into all of this.

To keep the chicken submerged in the brine I placed a plate on top of the chickens, then put the lid on

The tub went into the refrigerator for almost 24 hours. After that I drained the chicken well and patted it dry. Next I put it on my smoker, I had to use both racks to keep the chicken spaced well apart to get a good smoke on all of it.

This is what they looked like after 4 hours of smoking

Next I wrapped them in heavy-duty aluminum foil with a little water, and placed them in a 350 degree oven to bring them up to a safe temperature of 160 degrees.

Here is one of them when it was all done.

This may have been the best chicken I have ever tasted. However, the spices weren't as pronounced as much as I had wanted. The next time I do this (probably soon!) I will increase the amount of soy sauce, ginger and lemon. This was really good though!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Smoked Beef Ribs

This is one of those things that turned out so good I wanted to serve it up to the whole neighborhood just to show it off! I saw some beef ribs at the store and thought that my babyback/sparerib recipe would be just the ticket for them. Luckily they turned out just the way my pork ribs do; juicy, tender, full of flavor.

The secret to great ribs

You probably know people that boil their pork ribs for tenderness. Yes, they are tender, but they might as well be unflavored pudding since all of the flavor is cooked out of them. About 7 or 8 years ago I got the idea of pressure cooking them, thinking that I can get the same tenderness without losing the flavor, and not having to slow smoke them all day. Then I follow that up with a few hours of smoking. It works great! And as you will see, it works great for beef ribs too.

First, into my pressure canner at 15 lbs for 20 minutes

As soon as the pressure is down to zero and it is safe to remove them, they go on the smoker for 4 hours

Here they are after being smoked

Now for a good sauce. I usually just 'wing-it' when I make bbq sauce and it always comes out the same (very well, if I may say so myself) but this time I actually wrote down the ingredients and measurements.

Marty's Kansas City Style Rib Sauce

3 cups catsup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup prepared mustard, any mustard that you like, I used a plain yellow mustard this time
2 Tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon liquid smoke
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder

Heat all this up in a pan on low to medium heat for about 15 minutes or so, to blend the flavors well. This is my quick sauce, when I have more time and ambition I sautee finely chopped onions and add some other things like lemon juice. The next time I make a really good sauce I will post that.

The pressure cooking makes these so juicy and tender, and the smoker gives them the best rib flavor you ever had.