Monday, December 27, 2010

My Cast Iron Skillet Hates Me


There are certain things you cannot do to a cast iron skillet. I think I have done all of them at least once. I asked for a cast iron skillet last year for xmas because all of the cool old ladies I've ever met had them. To me cast iron skillet=honorary good cook. I carefully oiled mine and baked it at 350 degrees for an hour or so thinking this would make a magical force field over my skillet and make it invincible.  I was told this was "seasoning" my skillet. Still not sure what this is supposed to accomplish, since my skillet is still one temperamental b*tch, I must be doing something wrong. If I look at it right, the handle looks like a giant contemptuous middle finger taunting me saying, "Eff you, you will never win!"

My husband said the only thing you are supposed to make with a cast iron skillet is biscuits...mainly because his grandma was a master of homemade biscuits so now that's all he can associate a cast iron skillet with. I'm beginning to think he may be right and I just have to get it through my head that "seasoning" does NOT mean non-stick. For example, I tried frying up potatoes the other day...things were just fine until I tried flipping them with a spatula, and instead of flipping, my potatoes clung defiantly to the skillet as if to say "Sorry, skillet wins. Now we will stick together and watch you panic as you frantically try to pry us apart. Muhuhahahaha..." Now the skillet AND the potatoes hate me. Same thing with ground beef, squash, and now even my beloved tortillas have joined the war. They all cling to her like their lives depend on it.

I've even tried to schmooze the skillet and only wipe it out with a paper towel instead of using water or soap...which still kind of grosses me out. Alas, it wouldn't fall for my gesture, and just tore up my paper towel and rolled the small pieces in oily wads and watched delightfully as I had to painstakingly pick out each one like tiny, little, 'F you' spit wads. So, finally I held up my white flag, gave the skillet another shellacking of oil and threw it in my oven where it now lives. Luckily, I have found as long as I keep her oiled up, she doesn't kill my tortillas...other than that she pretty much dead to me and stays in the dark oven cave.


After vowing to agree to disagree with my skillet, I hit the internets to find out what I was doing wrong. I found some really valuable tips that I never knew before. I may make friends with her after all...

Tips To Live By So Your Cast Iron Skillet Doesn't Hate You

  1. To season properly, coat skillet with oil or shortening, bake for 1 hr at 350 degrees. Or you can season by adding a thick layer of kosher salt in the skillet, putting a layer of oil on top of that (1/2 inch), heat skillet until oil smokes, pour out salt and oil, then wipe with a paper towel.
  2. Heat is important, make sure your skillet is hot before you put food in.
  3. Never put food straight from the refrigerator into the skillet, the drastic temp contrast causes food to stick. Food should be close to room temperature.
  4. Never boil water in your cast iron skillet, it will rust.
  5. Be patient, don't flip your food too soon. Wait until it gets a good sear on the outside, then flip to avoid sticking.
  6. Never put in the dishwasher.
  7. Always coat with oil when you are done (learned this from Grammy, not the internet).
  8. If your skillet is hot, don't put it under cold water, it could crack
  9. Wash with mild detergent and scrub brush if you have sticky stuff on the skillet, or wipe out immediately with a paper towel after use. If you let it soak the skillet will no longer be seasoned, so you'll have to season again.
  10. If your food starts tasting metallic, re-season your skillet.
  11. Don't store foods in your skillet, the acids will break down the oils.
  12. Cooking with an cast iron skillet adds iron to your food. This is good, and is a fun fact I never knew, however don't cook tomatoes in your skillet because the tomato's acidity will react with the iron which could cause your tomatoes to turn a dark color and taste metallic as it soaks up the iron. Share this tip with your anemic friends!
  13. Cast iron skillets can last a lifetime if they are properly cared for (my grammy still uses the cast iron her mom used), non-stick pans only last up to 5 years.
  14. Oh, and don't forget, the handle gets HOT, so use a mitt or pot holder :)
I'm going to try these tips, then maybe me and Skillet can be friends after all...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What The ____ Is That?! Part Deux

Update!

 
Decided to take a friend up on her advice and made Spaghetti Squash Marinara for the first time ever. I love spaghetti, and didn't think it was possible for me to love it more...but this totally made my taste buds high-five each other. Freaking blissful amazingness, is the only valid way to describe it. I was a little skeptical when she said, once cooked the squash will make noodle-like shapes if you drag a fork across it...but I'll be damned, sure enough that's exactly what happened.
Here's how you tame the spaghetti squash:

First you cut it in half lengthwise. Then poke holes in the skin with a fork

Pull out all the seeds and pulp and put it face down on a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes. Then just turn it over and start scraping out it's insides with a fork. Here's a sh*tty video for you if you need a demonstration:

video




You can use the squash's skin as a bowl as you scrape out it's innards. When you scrape out all the guts, you can put it on a plate then top it with your favorite marinara sauce, for a nice vegetarian dish. Or if you are an animal lover, and a self proclaimed member of PETA (not the naked, angry PETA, the People Eating Tasty Animals:PETA) add some meat sauce or meatballs to your squash. I chose the meat sauce and just added some ground beef to some marinara that I canned over the summer. SOOOO GOOOD. I didn't miss the starchy noodles one bit, and actually I  prefer the squash noodles, because I can eat a lot more and I don't feel like I'm going to explode. One cup of squash only has 42 calories and is packed full of folic acid, potassium, vitamin A, and beta carotene. I'm definitely going to plant some this year. So in conclusion, I am really pissed at myself for not trying winter squash sooner, I've been missing out for 25 years of my life!  Don't make the same mistake. 

                                                          
Homemade marinara is really easy, once you put your ingredients together it just takes a while to simmer so don't be intimidated! I like a flavorful, thin sauce without the crazy chunks and surprises floating around in it. So my recipe is pretty simple:

My Homemade Marinara
2 16oz cans of tomato sauce
8oz water
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp Oregano
2 tbsp Basil
1 Bay Leaf
2 tbsp onion powder
1 tbsp Chili powder
Salt to taste (1/2Tbsp or so)

Add all ingredients to a big saucepan and simmer, uncovered for at least 45 min or until sauce is the desired consistency. The longer it simmers, the more thick and  flavorful it gets. Be prepared for your stove to look like a war zone if you don't watch your pot. You don't want it to boil, just simmer (small, calm bubbles). Stir every 10 minutes or so to keep from burning. Add to any pasta, spaghetti squash, or pizzas. I always make french bread pizzas with my leftover sauce.



I recently found this recipe for Spaghetti Squash Stir Fry that I will most definitely try soon! Happy eating!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What the ____is that?!

Ever take a trip to the farmers market or grocery store and see a vegetable or fruit you've never seen or heard of before? Or perhaps, you know what it is, but have no desire to try it? Why is that? Fruits and veggies are cheap, so it's not a big deal if you try something you don't like because you can always give it to the neighbor or throw it in your compost pile, or at a friend. So this is my challenge to all of you: try something that's in season that you've never tried before, get recipes online, and experience something fun and new! You may discover something you won't know how you lived without. I did just that last week.


I was given some winter type squashes, or "squarsh" as my relatives down South would say, by my bestie who brought some home from work (another perk of having friends working in agriculture). At first I was thinking, "What the hell am I going to do with those?" I've seen these on people's tables as decorations before, never actually seen or heard of them being eaten...There has to be a reason for that, right? I decided to try and do something with the acorn squash first, since it was the smallest and least intimidating. I looked online to make sure I could saute it, because I wasn't going to make the same mistake I did with Hiyacha persimmons and just plunge into this thing and get a mouth full of prickly sh*t. So...

Here's how to saute acorn squash for a side dish:

I cut the acorn squash in half, it was so tough! I had to use my body weight to crack this thing open. I cut it into 1" thick slices, then cut the slices into cubes. I splashed about a tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet and dropped in my squash pieces. I sprinkled them with onion powder, garlic salt, and a little bit of cayenne pepper and sauteed them on medium heat for about 10 minutes, flipping them over every few minutes to avoid scorching. Make sure to pick out one piece and taste to make sure your squash is nice and soft all the way through. The seasonings form a nice and subtle salty crust and compliment the naturally sweet and savory potato/yam like texture of the squash. Soooo deliciously wonderbar (that's German for freaking awesome)!



I have to say, this is now my new favorite vegetable! Acorn squash is delicious! My husband, who has an aversion to anything green, or healthy, was even amazed on how "un-vegetable-like" the acorn squash is. You can make it as a side dish, or eat it on it's own. Interestingly enough I was given another opportunity to eat acorn squash the other day. I was at an almond grower conference, and at our luncheon we had chicken with acorn squash and brocoflower as sides. They baked our acorn squash with a little butter and brown sugar on top...Oh my, I am now mad at myself for not trying acorn squash sooner! If you could bottle up delicious sexiness, it would taste like this. Baking it with the brown sugar really brings out the savory characters of the squash, it was like nothing i've ever experienced. Funny part was, sitting at a table full of farmers, I was the only one that knew what it was! I saw all of them begin to pick at it, smell it, then take a small bite, smoosh it around on their tongues. I heard one guy ask another, "what is that?" and the other guy replies, "some type of potato?" So, feeling a little more cultured and better than everyone else, since I was now an acorn squash aficionado, I politely let them know that that potato was actually acorn squash. I found a similar recipe that you can use for either butternut or acorn squash; I thought I should share because this is by far the best way to eat acorn squash...I also love how the author of this recipe specifies using clean hands to handle the squash! Made me giggle a little.

So, in conclusion, winter squash, as I have found, is NOT solely for decorations or throwing at friends. It's actually quite tasty!  So, no more being stuck in a rut with you or your partners finicky habits. Introduce something new to your table, something local, and in season of course.

 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Baskets Full Of Pin-up Up Girls and Tasty Treats

I started a new tradition of making baskets of goodies for my family at Christmas. I have been canning all year long, so now's the time to show it off, and what better way to do that than with a great pair of legs. I LOVE the old style 1940's-1960's pin-up girls, Back then, pin-up models were sexy, but still classy and lady-like. So this year I decided to incorporate a pin-up theme to my baskets. Baskets are so easy to make, so much fun to personalize, and you can do them for fairly cheap. If you've been following the blog and learned to make jelly, you can add those to your basket, or just fill them with baked goods in cute little cellophane bags tied up with bows. This year I made cinnamon and sugar coated almonds, several types of jellies and preserves, and dried my own serrano peppers to use in sauces and soups. I made special tags for the various goodies in my baskets by finding a picture from Yahoo! images, then adding text with my photoshoppe program. You can do the same thing by bringing up the picture in Microsoft Paint, or PowerPoint and just adding text. Below are examples of my tags
I had fun picking out my baskets, I got each of them at Goodwill for $1-$2 each! Love that place! I also found some fun little paper doilies at the grocery store that I used to girly-up my jars of jelly. For the bottom of each basket I found some pretty garland and just cut the strand to fit each basket; and for presentation I use either cellophane from the big rolls, or you can use the pre-made bags. This year I found some shrink wrap that worked really well. To personalize each basket, you can pick out some ornaments, or buy something small to add to your basket to make it sparkle and pop. I found the best little decorations at Michael's (a craft store chain in California) for less than a dollar each.
I've had a lot of people ask for my cinnamon and sugar coated almonds recipe, so here it is (WAY EASY!!):

Sugar N' Spice and Everything Nice Almonds

3 cups almonds
1 egg white
2 cups of sugar
1/4 cup cinnamon
2 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a large bowl, add almonds, and stir in egg white and vanilla until almonds are completely covered.  In a small bowl, combine your sugar and cinnamon, then add it to your almonds, mix until all almonds are evenly coated. Spread out almonds in a single layer on a greased cookie sheet and bake for about 20-30 minutes. At 10 minutes, stir almonds around so they bake evenly. To test if your almonds are done, at 20 minutes take one almond out of the oven, pop it in the freezer for a couple minutes to cool, then taste. If the texture is chewy, you need to bake them a little longer, if the almond snaps in your mouth, then their done. Take out, and let cool on the cookie sheet for 10-20 minutes.

Then you can stick them in cute, little cellophane bags, tie them up with a bow and a tag and you have instant Xmas presents.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Merry Xmas: Create Your Own Non-Traditional Tradition

Old Ladies At Heart definitely aren't expected to be old fashioned at mind. For some, Christmas is about doe eyed, sticky-fingered children, presents, and Santa standing over the baby Jesus's manger while he eats a Christmas tree flavored candy cane and sings Jingle Bells. This is okay...for most, but not for me. For those that don't know me personally I am a realist, I enjoy factoids and researching, I enjoy peeling back the layers of something, even if it's something as sacred as Christmas. So every year my Xmas consists of bringing in elements of my crazy, unconventional mind into my home and creating my very own non-traditional tradition. Decorating for the holidays is about expressing oneself, not conforming to what is expected of the masses...This is my manifesto. Two years ago, my husband and I had an upside down Christmas tree, which was perfectly unconventional yet still safe in that grandma wouldn't be offended if she dropped by. It definitely sparked some interest, especially from our cat, Lucy Fur. Scared that Lucy would divide and conquer our top-heavy tree, we decided to retire it after two years.

Next, came our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree which was a refreshing $10 and still made a nice statement of unconventionality.

This year, thinking of my blog and "doing more things from scratch," I decided to make my own unconventional ornaments to adorn a very traditional Christmas tree, and it would be WAY cheaper than buying a bunch of expensive ornaments. The hubby and I cleared the cobwebs from our pockets and shelled out 100 freaking dollars for a fake, pre-lit, plastic, freaking tree...and that was the sale price! I suggest going the day after Christmas, or scouring yard sales instead, but I didn't plan that far ahead. Next I had to think of a theme, and the first thing that came to my mind was "The Evolution of Xmas." I've always had mixed feeling about Christmas, as a child my greedy little fingers couldn't open my presents fast enough. Then I learned about the whole 'Jesus is the reason' shtick, which is a nice thought, but not completely true. I was then betrayed by a fake Santa...I guess that was the time when I started to realize my parents didn't know everything, and my undoubted faith in them, and faith in general began to unravel. Through readings and research I learned how a lot of pagan traditions were inserted into the Christmas tradition in order for it to be a more palatable medium for converting the 'devil worshippers,' and even how the date of the supposed birth of Christ was just a speculation, and purposely chosen to coincide with the Pagan holiday of Yule and the Winter Solstice. Then we can't forget how pagans were converted through brute force, fear tactics, and bloodshed in the Holy Crusades. So viola! There is my tree concept.

I had some photo paper laying around, so I got on my trusty Yahoo! Images search and typed in a few phrases and got some really cool pictures, which I copy and pasted into a Microsoft Word doc., sized them to my liking, and printed them on photo paper. Key phrases I used were: 'Pagan,' 'Green Man,' 'Pagan holiday,' 'Crusades,' 'consumerist Christmas,' xmas', 'consumerism Christmas,' corporate Christmas.' Here are some of my favorite's that I found.


 
Then I went to the craft store and got some scrap booking paper that came in an assorted pack of shiny black, brown, silver, and white paper(expensive! How does anyone afford scrap booking as a hobby?!). I cut out my pictures, glued them with a paste stick to a whole sheet of scrap booking paper, being sure to leave enough room for a border and trying to put similar sized pics in a line so the cutting process could be streamlined. Then I cut them out using a paper cutter and used a hole punch to leave a place for ribbon or hanger. Stupid me didn't foresee how many pictures I was going to make, and ran out of ribbon, so I just used regular ornament hangers for the rest of them. So below is my final product, finished with a garish, ironic bow. Starting with pictures of pagan related items on top, crusades in the middle, and ending with baby Jesus, then presents, Disney characters, wads of money, and pictures of Santa telling you to "Spend!" My favorite Xmas tree to date, and the whole thing only cost about $20 to decorate. So moral of the story, be creative this year! It's cheap, and much more satisfying than putting out the craptastic, meaningless ornaments you have been recycling each year.


*Amended since first published:
My grandma shared a really cool story with me yesterday. She said, growing up, she never had store-bought ornaments or lights. She is the baby of nine kids and told me all year long the kids would save the foil that came from the cigarette wrappers from their older siblings (everyone smoked back then!) and they would cover the "prickly balls" from maple trees with the foil, string popcorn on string and paint pine cones to decorate their tree every year. I thought this was such a cool idea, to know that even a family who didn't have much money could all pitch in, kids and all, to make a really cool Christmas tradition. Which reminds me, if you have kids, or plan on having kids, always include them in the decorating. That was one of my fondest memories as a kid. I would get out my Chipmunk's Christmas record and my mom and I would decorate the tree with ornaments I made in school while listening to Alvin and The Chipmunks.

PS: I also loved making our Xmas card this year! I made this by finding a Grinch pic on Yahoo!, then used Photoscape (A free photoshop program I found on PC World) to insert our pictures and text, and there ya go. Personalized Xmas cards that didn't cost me one red cent. Love it!

UPDATE: Found a cool blog post from a friend who has made it her goal to look up some crazy Xmas traditions all over the world. Click here to find more about pickle ornaments and the "Poop Log..."

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Last Gasp Of Summer

Tonight is the night. My innocent summer garden survivors, the ones who have overcame summer heat and chewing petulant insects, the ones who have done nothing but give, only to watch neighboring plants being rooted up one by one as they withered in the summer sun; the ones who provided baskets and barrels full of earthy goodness, tonight is the night they will be slaughtered. Yes, the first winter frost is on the move and tonight it will be hitting my summer weaklings until they are frozen to the core. I feel kind of dirty as I fill up my grocery sack full of green tomatoes, the poor plants can't even see it coming; stealing their little babies one by one, raping and pillaging...I'm a pirate now, and my garden is the unsuspecting, innocent village.


Well...a little dramatic I suppose; but since gardening isn't the edgiest thing in the world sometimes you have to use your imagination. Might as well make the most of it! I'm a pirate after all, now I must enjoy the bounty of my pillage :)

Recipes for Green tomatoes:
Green Tomato Salsa Verde
Green Tomato Pickles
Fried Green Tomatoes
My Dad's favorite: Chow-Chow

Scarlet Pepper Jelly 

1 lb peppers (mix of red and green peppers, whatever kind you got, depending on desired hotness) I use a ratio of 1:1 half sweet/mild peppers, then half a mix of Jalapeno and Serrano
3 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
6 1/2 cups sugar
1 pouch powdered pectin

Yields 6  1/2pints

Wash peppers and cut off tops. Core mild peppers only, leave hot peppers intact, seeds, membrane, and all. If you want to "sissify" your jelly, You could de-membrane and seed everything though. Puree peppers on the "chop" setting on your food processor. Transfer mixture to a large pot and add the vinegar. Heat to boil and boil for 10 minutes, stir constantly occasionally. Add pectin and stir until dissolved. Add sugar to your mixture, and bring to boil. Boil for another 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Ladle immediately into hot, sterile jars and process in your water-bath canner according to USDA processing times (in Bakersfield, I process my hot-packed jars for 10 min) . Remove and let cool for 24 hours on a towel.

 Use for poultry glaze, add more vinegar to make a spicy poultry or fish marinade, or enjoy with some cream cheese on a cracker. Delicioso!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Taming the Devil Fruit

Using fruits and vegetables that are in season is the most cost efficient, most tasteful, and environmentally responsible way to create delicious masterpieces. So for the month of November, just say no to ethylene gassed tomatoes from Mexico and hello to a succulent head of locally grown cabbage. Put down the sour strawberries and hard peaches and reach for a cinnamony-sweet persimmon or tart, juicy pomegranate. I love the tastes of Fall, they have a certain sophistication about them, a more savory texture, and deep, rich flavor. Since a lot of people who I talk to have never heard of persimmons and have no idea what wonderful things they are used for, I will devote a blog to them. Here's to the persimmon!


My first experiment with a persimmon was quite unfortunate. I had always heard of people making persimmon cookies and bread, but wondered why I had never heard of anyone eating them raw. This was before I learned there are two types of persimmon that are commonly grown: a persimmon used mostly for baking and a persimmon that's okay to eat raw. So, thinking I may be on the brink of discovering something wonderful, I bit into a baking persimmon (the larger, apple shaped kind). Immediately I had realized I made a horrible decision and made that move a cat does as it rejects a pill. Yeah, pretty nasty. I can't remember the taste, I just remember my tongue and throat feeling like I just tried to eat cactus with spines in tact. Bad times.

I made persimmon cookies with the rest of the evil, round devil fruit, and those were pretty bad ass if I do say so myself :) The trick is to not use them until they are really mushy on the outside and jelly-like on the inside. The kind of persimmon used for baking, the Hachiya persimmon, has high levels of tannins that only break down when it is ripe. If not allowed to ripen, the tannins, which are a bitter polyphenolic compound produced by plants, will still be present and will cause your mouth to pucker from it's bitter dryness. This is a lovely defense mechanism certain plants have evolved to insure their seeds will be distributed at peak maturity. This is also the same substance responsible for sour grapes. Gotta love the way mother nature works.

I found out later there is a type of persimmon that has low levels of tannins and can be consumed when it's still pretty firm, these are Fuyu persimmons. They are more flat than the Hachiya persimmons and kind of shaped like little pumpkins. These, you can eat like apples, or you can bake with them, they are pretty versatile. I found some pretty interesting recipes on this site and plan on trying a few of these. One that I will be trying and will have to post a follow up is the dried persimmon. Apparently you can dry the devil fruit kind, it's actually a delicacy in Japan, but it takes four to six weeks. So maybe you guys out there can try it too and we can compare results next month.
UPDATE: Dried persimmons are so yummy! So easy too, take an unripe Hachiya persimmon (orange, but hard to the touch), peel the skin off with a sharp knife, leave the leafy cap (calyx) intact. Tie string around cap, and string up in a dry place until it dries completely. Cut it up and use on salads, or eat it as is.

For this blog I will be making some persimmon jam out of  Fuyu persimmons (the flat kind, not the evil kind) since my Hachiya persimmons aren't even close to being ripe yet. I found a really great community of excellent cooks and home preservers at http://www.food.com/ so I am using a tested recipe for Persimmon Freezer Jam that I found on the website.
Fuyu Persimmon

So, I tried the recipe above, and instead of making freezer jam I decided to can it so I could store it for later in the year. In hindsight, I think that was a bad idea because when I brought the mixture to a boil so I could "hot pack" it into the jars a bunch of air bubbles formed in my jam mixture :( But...it still tastes really good, so not a big loss! It's really an interesting jam, never tasted anything quite like it before. It will go great with some homemade biscuits slathered in butter...Mmm. I used a potato masher to break up the persimmon pieces which worked quite nicely, but I think next time I will wait until my persimmons are nice and ripe because they turn to a goopy, booger like consistency...which isn't so great to think about eating, but works great when making jam or cookies because you don't have to do any mashing.  You've got to try a persimmon if you never have before, you truly suck if you don't, and you are totally missing out. 'Tis the season for sophisticated fruit and an excuse to throw the dieting out the window (seriously, it's winter, baggy clothes easily conceal the muffin top until you start working out again). So, say a toast to your new found love for Fall fruit with a Pom-tini and go heavy on the pumpkin and persimmon desserts this holiday season.

My Persimmon Jam


Besides the Pom-tini linked above here are some other incredible Fall recipes with seasonal fruit, have fun!
The Masters of the Pomegranate-POM Wonderful
Persimmon recipes
Pumpkin recipes

Monday, November 8, 2010

Love, Peace, and Bacon Grease


Every Old Lady At Heart should have a jar or butter tub full of bacon grease at her disposal. Granted, it's not the healthiest substance in the world, but it makes a heavenly addition in your cooking every once in a while. Sounds disgusting in it's own right, but let's be honest, Shortening, which is used in a lot of the same applications as bacon grease, is in most ways worse for you and totally unnatural. So when making a choice between the lesser of two evils, bacon grease wins hands down. You can substitute bacon grease for just about anything savory that you would put shortening or oil in: biscuits, fried potatoes, potato cakes, hoe cakes,  green beans, corn bread, tortillas, and I've even heard of people using it in their cookies....bacon chocolate chip anyone?

Since tortillas are probably one of the easiest things you can make from scratch, I will dedicate this blog to all of those, like me, who are short on time, but still want to experience great tasting, homemade food. For the perfect tortilla all you need is some flour, shortening or bacon grease (Hey, I never said they are the healthiest things you can make, did I?), a little bit of salt and water. I always use bacon grease in my flour tortillas because it gives it a nice smoky flavor. Plus shortening has a lot of hydrogenated oils which I try to stay away from. What exactly is wrong with hydrogenated fats? Hydrogenation is the result of a reaction between added hydrogen molecules to unsaturated, fatty liquids in the presence of a catalyst in turn creating a saturated fat. This turns the oil into a semi-solid form at room temperature and increases its shelf-life. Bacon grease is 40% saturated fat and 114 calories per tablespoon, and shortening is pretty much the same caloric-wise. So if you suffer from high cholesterol, you may want to make your tortillas with canola  or olive oil. If not, bring on the bacon!



My grandma (and this goes for me now that I am a 'seasoned' tortilla maker) never measures ingredients when making tortillas, once you do it long enough (which for me it was about a half-dozen times), you can just "feel" when the dough is perfect. So of course when I asked her for her recipe she just laughed at me...so I took to the Internet and found a recipe and then tweaked it to my liking. Here it is:

Disclaimer: Everything I said about going topless in the kitchen is null and void when working with bacon! Maximize clothing articles until you obtain the dripping from your bacon, then, when it is safe, discard clothing and proceed. :)

Flour Tortilla Ingredients
3 Cups flour
1/3 Cup bacon grease
1 Tbsp salt
1 Cup warm water

Pretty straight forward right?  So tell me, why do tortillas you buy at the store have a paragraph worth of ingredients? Yes, that' correct...it's because store bought tortillas suck; once you have had a homemade tortilla you will concur, trust me! Plus it's way cheaper, and you are recycling (bacon grease that you would have thrown away in the past) at the same time. So, next time you make BLT's, save the bacon grease, no need to filter out the bits in the grease either, that's just extra flavor! Not a fan of bacon (Don't worry, I won't judge)?  Just use shortening or oil, you will get the same great texture without the added bacon flavor.

So let's get started with our easy flour tortillas: Mix your flour and salt in a medium sized bowl, just use your hand and stir everything around. Next add your bacon grease and water, and mix with your hands (This is a great activity if you have kiddies at home!) After everything is mixed and sticky, begin to knead the dough (see video below). Trying to cut overhead costs, I was my own cameraman for this video, notice the one-handed kneading. Normally I would use the other hand to steady the bowl for reasons you will be able to note from this video. Not normally that slow or awkward, haha!




video

Your dough should be soft and squishy, easy to knead, but not sticking to your fingers after a minute or so of kneading. If your dough is too sticky add a little more flour, if it's too stiff, add more water. Knead until your dough isn't lumpy and you can no longer see streaks or blotches of grease. Then put some plastic wrap over it and let it rest for about 20-30 minutes (this time isn't crucial, so if you are making dinner or in the middle of something, your dough can wait). Now for the most important step! Pinch off an inch size piece of dough and knead it in one hand, 12 times, with your thumb and fingers (This is what makes your tortilla soft and chewy, see video below for demonstration). Then roll it in a ball and gently flatten that ball with your palms. Do this to the remainder of the dough, and just put the flattened balls in the same bowl you had the dough in. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 5-10 minutes.


video


Next, prepare a flat surface to do your rolling on. Sprinkle flour over surface and rub some on a rolling pin. My great grandma used to use a piece of a broom handle...but I will be using a rolling pin :). Take one of your tortilla dough pancakes put in in the middle of your floured surface and gently roll one way. Pick the tortilla up and rotate 90 degrees, roll the other way. The trick to getting pretty, round tortillas is a gentle roll and rotation after every roll in one direction. I haven't mastered this yet and still make crazy looking, oblong tortillas but they still taste really good and if I'm lucky, maybe one will look like the baby Jesus and I can make some money on Ebay :).
The tortilla above was the result of a mistake I made when trying to cut corners. Trying to save time, I rolled out one tortilla, and my skillet was taking forever to heat up, so I just kept rolling them out and stacking them -thinking the flour on the outside would prevent them from sticking until I could get them in the skillet- bad move! All my tortillas stuck together when the bacon grease began to seep and soak up the flour. Whoops, now I had a tortilla layer cake who's layers would not be dismantled. What a mess, not wanting to roll them out again I tried salvaging a few, and the above picture was one of those I managed to save. Lesson learned! Be patient and do one at a time, or stack them between wax paper.


While you are rolling out your dough, heat a comal (Flat cast iron skillet used in Mexico), or just a regular cast iron works fine too -This is what I use). If you don't own either, any old skillet will do. Once you have your first tortilla rolled out, throw it on the skillet. Flip when the bottom turns from translucent to white and little tan marks start to form. While you are waiting to flip your tortilla you can start rolling out the next one.  Wrap finished tortillas in a towel or tortilla warmer. Now you can crack the top on your favorite Mexican beer and enjoy!
So there you go, easy right? Your dinner guest's eyes will be rolling back into their heads. Now all you need is some Mexican rice and some authentic frijoles and your life will be complete. That blog will be coming soon!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Just Say No...To Twinkie Babies And Man Boobs

Where does your food come from? Most people can't answer this question correctly. If you say "Well, my food comes from the grocery store," you're wrong. Your food ends up at the grocery store, but that is only the tip of the iceberg on your food's journey. Why should you care where there food comes from? Well that depends...do you mind eating food created a lab? Food that mold won't even grow on as it sits on shelves for years? Food that was grown in third world countries without proper washing and cleanliness standards? Food seeping with chlorine, gassed with ethylene, diluted with water and cheap, artificial preservatives? If you don't mind, go ahead and keep eating crap, but don't be surprised when scientists begin using you in their case studies as people in our society slowly become radioactive petri dishes of pre-packaged goo. You are what you eat, right?
 Awe Twinkie babies...that's adorable; but what about the little boy with man boobs?  Not so adorable now, is it? People don't realize how easy it can be for a company to get their preservative or additive approved for the market. Even pesticides, as long as they don't have any immediate effects on humans, can be approved before many studies can be done on possible long term effects. Why? Because time is money, and this is a free market with little regulation when it comes to studies on long term effects. The longer they wait to get out their product, the longer they will have to wait for the cash flow. Living in a capitalist society is wonderful, but as we are seeing, every great system has it's subtle drawbacks.  A good example of approving pesticides before adequate testing is Methoxychlor, relative to DDT and a pesticide banned in the USA in 2002 for it's neurotoxicity and effects on reproductive structures in pubescent rats. This chemical was used on many vegetable crops, grain crops, livestock operations, and even in the home for 54 years before it was taken off the market. A lot of damage can be done in 54 years. Sure, skeptics would argue that no human studies have been done on human reproductive effects from this pesticide, but the effects are "likely" given the findings from the rat studies and I would rather take an experts opinion, than risk being a human petri dish for the skeptics.


(Copyright: Jackson Laboratories)

Anyway, I'll get off my soapbox for now, but I encourage you to hug a farmer today. Check out your local farmers market! These are the people bringing you seasonal, local, unadulterated produce. If not for farmers, the world would starve.  And don't be afraid to ask them questions about their produce. After all they were in their fields from seed to harvest, so they know their product is safe, the best quality, and as natural as it gets. Most, if not all the farmers at farmers markets practice some sort of Integrated Pest Management, which emphasizes a variety of natural control measures while using pesticide only as a last resort, so you know your purchase isn't just healthy for you, but it's healthy on the environment too. The best time to get out to a Farmers Market is on the weekend, most of the big ones are on Saturdays, but if you are lucky you could find smaller ones during the week. So get to know a farmer, you will find they have so much knowledge to bring to the table. Check out the USDA search engine  for farmers markets in your area!



If you really want to practice being an Old Lady At Heart, start your own garden! Even if it's just one pot. You can even get small starter herb plants at the grocery store or any home improvement store. That's how I started out, I went to a hardware store and they were having a sale on their lettuce and broccoli plants, so I took one of each home,  planted them, had my first taste of garden fresh broccoli, and this year I planted a whole row from seed. I promise, once you've tasted home-grown broccoli, you will never want to buy it from the grocery store again. To figure out what you can grow in your area you first have to know your "zone" by checking out your zone map. Once you figure out what zone you're in, you can see what will grow in your area. Living in Bakersfield, I am zone 9. From there you can research what grows in your zone, and even the best times to plant from one of my favorite sites The Vegetable Garden. See, so easy! You'll have homegrown, sexy veggies in no time.

For those of you who like adventure, I found this really cool site where you can sign up and get your garden started by joining the Seeds of the Month Club. The first month they send you 8 packs of seeds, and the 4 packs any additional months you sign up for. It's a cool way to try new things, and it's way cheaper than buying seeds at the hardware store. Enjoy! :)





Monday, October 25, 2010

Everything Is Better Topless...

Not "Just Another Canning Blog"

Lots of things are better topless, canning is no exception. I have learned, if you want to minimize sweat, stay comfortable, and save your clothing, it's best to leave the shirt behind while working in the kitchen. Your significant other will be shocked at first, but they will get used to it...eventually. Although, if you have kids or easily offended house guests...maybe you should leave the sports bra on ;)

Here is the main reason to go topless:
Exhibit A: Imagine instead of bare skin, this was a shirt. When juicing pomegranates, unless you want to throw away a perfectly good shirt, best leave it in the closet. I would say wear an old shirt, or an apron...but where's the fun in that?! Seriously, if you've never worked in a hot, sticky kitchen without a shirt on, you are missing out (Unless you are a hairy guy...then, best leave the shirt on for sanitary reasons!) After juicing pomegranates for two hours my kitchen looked like a crime scene and I had juice splatter everywhere. All I needed for clean-up was some warm water and a paper towel, Instead of having to wash a shirt or apron at the end of the day. So before you begin your adventures of canning, put down plenty of towels, keep water and a sponge handy, and go topless!



More Juicing and Jelly tips...

Thanks to a fellow Old Lady At Heart, my best friend Ri, I no longer have to juice pomegranates by hand. As seen above, this little juicer, although slightly messier than hand squeezing, is a life saver! I juiced two grocery bags full of pomegranates in only one hour, and my hands weren't aching afterward. FYI: since these old style juicers were made to handle small fruit, like oranges, you have to cut the poms in quarters before smashing their guts out. Thanks to Ri and her mommy for letting me borrow such a cool little blast from the past! I am now obsessed with finding one of these old style juicers, since new ones don't have the cajones to stand up to the sturdy pomegranate. I literally just placed a bid on Ebay for a 1950's Juice-O-Matic for $10, wish me luck! :D  

So let me remind you again why you should try making jelly for yourself at least once in your life:

I'll do the math for you...

 I found that at approximately 2 1/2 Pomegranates makes 1 cup of juice, you will need 3 1/2 cups of juice to make one batch of jelly. So, to make one batch (6 half pints) you will need about 8-9 pomegranates (7 1/2 to be exact, but get more just to be safe). I hear pomegranates are pretty pricey this year, so if you aren't lucky enough to know anyone with trees, you will be paying close to $2 a pop. However, doing it yourself is still cheaper, and it will be better quality than anything you can find at the grocery store. Let me break it down for you. For one, finding 100% pomegranate jelly at the grocery store is almost as illusive as the unicorn. The label may say one thing, but the ingredients always tell the truth. I found a 10oz jar of raspberry, pomegranate  jelly at Vons.com (Safeway.com for all you Northern California people) for $5.99. That is  59 cents per ounce and your not even getting 100% pomegranate and raspberry! Here is the ingredient list: Red Raspberries, Pomegranates, Concentrated Grape Juice, Fruit Pectin. Grape juice? Always check ingredient labels, companies try to pass off all kinds of juices and jelly as one thing, but will commonly dilute it with apple or grape juice because it's cheaper.
Making your own 100% pomegranate jelly: pomegranates ($18) Sugar ($2.75) Jar($2) Pectin ($4.75)= 57 cents per oz. at most. However, if you can get homegrown fruit for free your only real costs are Sugar ($2.75)  Pectin ($4.75) and jar lids ($2.50)since you could essentially reuse jars and jar rings from earlier cannings (always use new jar lids and check the rubber seal before use). If you have the essentials you are looking at a cost of 21 cents per oz. So, not only is your homemade jelly cheaper, but you know it's the real thing, not some cheap knock-off made in a factory.


I Don't Think You're Ready For This Jelly...
 Breakin' it down for ya.

My pomegranate jelly recipe: yields 6 half pints
3 1/2 cups pom juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 pkg of pectin (powdered)
5 cups of sugar

Below are some pictures of all the supplies you will need, I suggest getting everything out ahead of time and laying them out in a logical order. My old cooking teacher in high school at the beginning of class used to say, "Everyone get out your Mise En Place", which I'm pretty sure is French for: all the sh!t you need to create your dish. You should also get your ingredients ready too, especially the 5 cups of sugar the recipe calls for because you will need to add that to your pot all at once.


You will need sterile jars, you can either wash them in the dish washer ahead of time of wash them by hand and boil them in your water canner for 10 minutes. Don't boil your jar lids! You could warp your rubber seal, so instead wash them with soapy water, place them in a small saucepan, cover with water and put on medium heat (this helps to soften the rubber so you get a good seal). Once your jars are sterile, you need to keep them warm by leaving them in your water canner on medium heat while you mix up your ingredients. Add the pom and lemon juice to your pot and slowly stir in your pectin until dissolved. Turn on high heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly to prevent scorching. Remember to use a big a$$ pot, you will be happy you did after the next step.

Over high heat,  pour in your sugar slowly while stirring constantly, let dissolve. Boil hard for exactly 2 minutes. As soon as your liquid starts to boil it will immediately start rising towards the top of your pot. If this happens DO NOT PANIC (like I did the first time). Simply wait until it is about two inches from the top and turn your heat down. Let it drop down a couple inches, then turn the heat back up. You kind of have to play with it, because on the one hand you want your liquid to remain at a hard boil, but you don't want a gooey, black stove-top either. You only have to keep up this madness for 2 minutes and then you can turn it down to medium-low. Now you are ready to start filling jars!




Take out one jar from your water bath canner using your jar grabber and dump out the water from the jar. Place jar on top of a clean towel at your work surface and stick a funnel in it's mouth (all of the water should have evaporated off by now). Grab your laddel and scoop up some of your liquid into the jar leaving 1/4 inch headspace (canning term for 1/4 inch from the top of the jar opening). Wipe rim of jar with a clean, damp paper towel to get off any sticky stuff. With tongs, grab a jar lid and ring out of your saucepan. Wipe the rubber part of the lid with a paper towel and put into position on top of the jar, making sure the rubber part is making contact with the jar rim. Place ring over jar lid, use your finger to hold down lid firmly as you screw on the ring. Make sure you don't screw it on too tight or you won't get a proper seal. Your jar full of liquid will be extremely hot, so try and do this as fast as possible.

Repeat this process for your remaining five jars. Using your jar grabber, being careful not to tip your full jars, place each jar into it's place in the water canner (make sure the water in your canner is at least an inch above your jars). If you accidentally tip the jar just put it back at your work station, open lid, wipe rim, replace lid and ring, and put it back in the canner (The reason for this is the liquid could have worked it's way under your seal when it tipped which could mess with the sealing process). Then turn your heat up and process. If you are in a valley, like I am, your jars need to boil hard for 5 minutes, I always go for 10 minutes though just to be safe. But if you aren't in a valley, use this chart:

1,001 feet to 3,000 feet, add 5 minutes to processing times.
3,001 feet to 6,000 feet, add 10 minutes to processing times.
6,001 feet to 8,000 feet, add 15 minutes to processing times.
8,001 feet to 10,000 feet, add 20 minutes to processing times.

After that, turn your heat down, pull out jars (keeping them upright) with your jar grabber and place them on a towel to cool and set. This will take a full 24 hours, so don't touch them or move them until after that. Be sure to not adjust the jar rings even if they are loose, do not tighten them, this will mess up the sealing process. Then in 24 hours you will have some gorgeous, sexy jelly, that everyone will be asking for. Be strong and try not to be a push-over. If someone not on your X-mas list asks for some, just point them in the direction of my blog and tell them to learn for themselves :)



xo