kitchen tip: start a “stuffing bag”

What is that old adage? Waste not,want not?

I have a kitchen tips for the holidays that I am going to share with you. And it’s very simple.

Everyone knows homemade stuffing tastes better. And the problem with using a pre-packaged stuffing mix is it’s loaded with sodium and preservatives.

So what I like to do is create a “staffing bag.”

Everyone always has bread that goes stale. Don’t waste it. Cut it up into little cubes put it in a Ziploc bag and put it in your freezer until you’re ready to make your stuffing.

When you are ready to make your stuffing pull the cubes out of the freezer and put them out on a sheet pan lined with parchment and let them thaw. Then pop them in to the oven (heated at 350°) for a few minutes to dry them out a little more. And by a few I literally me like five or six and keep an eye on them so they don’t burn if your oven runs hot.

This is an easy kitchen hack and it beats bread either getting so stale and going to waste OR turning moldy and going to waste.

the evolution of apple-pear butter

I love Apple Butter and Pear Butter. Snd I like to make a hybrid cross mix of both in the fall. I always have. Maybe it’s my Pennsylvania German heritage shining through – my maternal grandmother was Pennsylvania German and I learned how to make a lot of things from her.

I have been reading various recipes on the Internet and decided to try making my apple pear butter in the Instant Pot.

I have an 8 quart Instant Pot. I cored apples and pears. I cut them into chunks of a fairly even size, and filled my Instant Pot to just below the “max” line.

I know, I know that isn’t very exact for some of you home cooks but apple butter consists of apples cooked down….

I did not peel either the apples or the pears because when you make everything all fine with an immersion blender after the fruit is cooked it all is very smooth and lovely.

But let me back up. After the fruit was loaded into my electric pressure cooker, I added a quarter cup of orange juice, maybe closer to a third of a cup I wasn’t measuring too precisely.

To that I added half a cup of brown sugar, four cinnamon sticks, 1 teaspoon ground mace, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 3 teaspoons ground cinnamon, a healthy dash of salt, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla.

The vanilla is a quirky thing I read about it in a recipe when I was researching this and I thought I would try it and it ended up working out well.

Anyway give everything a toss within your Instant Pot to make sure the apples and pears are kind of coated.

Set your Instant Pot to the manual high pressure setting for 9 minutes. The valve should be at the top sealed position. When time is up, turn off the machine and allow the natural pressure release to occur. That will probably take a good half hour or so. I didn’t time it exactly.

Meanwhile make sure your canning jars are properly prepared and sterilized and get your big pot ready for water if you are doing a canning bath.

When your pressure cooker is de-pressurized and it is safe to remove the lid, take off the lid and remove the four cinnamon sticks. Using your immersion blender, blend the fruit until it is smooth and seamless.

But wait, it’s not ready yet here’s the next step.

Turn your Instant Pot back on to the sauté setting and adjust the sauté setting to LESS. Simmer the apple pear butter for 30 to 40 minutes until the apple pear butter is thickened and at your desired consistency. Most recipes I studied suggested 15 to 30 minutes but I actually did 40 minutes today to get it where I wanted.

I will caution you to stick around in your kitchen with a silicone spoon or spatula. You will need to stir it occasionally while it’s continuing to cook down or it will stick to the bottom of the Instant Pot.

When you think it is thick enough and cooked down enough, turn off your machine and allow the apple pear butter to cool down. I basically ignored it for a good hour.

At that point you can jar it up and either do your canning bath or store in the refrigerator. I did the canning bath because now that I have gotten the hang of it it really is my preferred way of dealing with preserves and chutneys and things like this.

I will leave my jars sitting on a wooden cutting board on the kitchen table until they’re completely cool and then I will add the labels and the date I made the apple pear butter. I made six jars. Not big jars – small jars and two taller skinny ones – see the photo at top of the post.

Making apple pear butter is one of those fall things. It’s definitely something that fills your kitchen full of false spice smells. And I do tend to combine both fruits when I make it.

You can serve apple pear butter on toast, bagels, English muffins, cheese and crackers, pork roast, all sorts of things.

I will note doing it in a pressure cooker reduced the time spent canning considerably. I think I am going to research other kinds of preserves and even chutneys to see what else I can make and can via the Instant Pot.

Try it!

fall dinner….mmmmm

Fall cooking. The humidity is finally gone and the temperatures have cooled enough that I don’t feel like my kitchen is a sweatshop.

I have thawed one lonely beef shank we found in the freezer, but it’s not enough for dinner, but I decided it was going to be dinner and decided to get it a companion. So off to Worrell’s Butcher Shop in Malvern Borough I went. They had beautiful fresh beef shanks!

I continued along King Street to Kimberton Whole Foods in Malvern. There I picked up the produce I wanted to add to this recipe plus a few other things. (I would’ve gotten adorable little pumpkins there to except they were $2.99 a piece and I thought that was a bit expensive for pumpkins that were literally very small, but I digress.)

So the ingredients – 2 to 3 beef shanks, Crimini mushrooms, Shitake mushrooms, leeks, shallots, celery, carrots, 2 red hatch chilies from my garden , red wine, two 8 oz. containers of Pacific vegetable broth, one 14.5 oz. can of Muir Glenn fire roasted diced tomatoes, sweet paprika , smoked paprika, 4 cloves of garlic diced, dash of cumin, salt and pepper, fresh rosemary, two bay leaves, fresh thyme.

First I start by dredging the beef shanks in a little flour and kosher salt. I toss into a Dutch oven on the stove with olive oil heating. I brown each of the beef shanks ( I ended up with three for this recipe.)

Then I add about a third of a bottle of wine and let that simmer as I am slicing up my vegetables.

As I am adding my vegetables beginning with the garlic, shallots, and leeks I also add one of the 8 oz. containers of vegetable broth.

After I add the garlic, shallots, and leeks I add diced up Hatch chilies, followed by carrots, celery, and the mushrooms.

Next I add the fresh herbs and a little more kosher salt. (I don’t start with a lot of salt I can adjust it later so I really am being judicious with it.)

Then I add a dash of cumin, smoked paprika, sweet paprika, black pepper, the can of tomatoes, and finally another third of a bottle of wine.

Now my beef shanks are ready for the oven. They will cook in a low oven for 3 to 4 hours.

People like to serve these over mashed potatoes, I also like to serve them over rice. And I like brown basmati rice, or a wild rice mixture.

My apologies that this recipe is it more exact, but it just isn’t. I think people need to judge for themselves the amount of herbs and spices and salt and pepper they want in a recipe.

Anyway beef shanks and mushrooms are a wonderful and hearty fall meal. Slow cooking it means the meet will be fork tender.

Bon Appétit!

raisin sauce for that easter ham

Raisin sauce for ham wasn’t a family tradition. It was somebody else’s tradition that they shared with me years ago. Or more precisely, they said they would really like to have that with ham but didn’t know how to make it.

So I monkeyed around with it and came up with the recipe I’m about to share with you. Having done research over the past few years again on a raisin sauce for ham mine is different because I add onion, and I use the Wondra quick dissolving flour and not cornstarch. I also add both a dried mustard and a grainy mustard, allspice as well as cloves, a bouillon cube, and a little hot paprika.

What you end up with is a savory sweet sauce for ham. It complements the smoked salty nature of a ham rather well.

Here’s how I do it:

* 1 cup dark raisins
* 2 cups water (hot with a bouillon cube added)
* 3 Tablespoons Wondra flour
* 1/3 Cup brown sugar
* 1/4 Teaspoon dry Coleman’s mustard
* 3 Tablespoons grainy mustard like Grey Poupon Country Mustard
* 1/4 Teaspoon ground cloves
* 1/4 Teaspoon ground allspice
* 1/2 Teaspoon hot paprika
* 4 Tablespoons butter
* 1/2 Sweet onion diced
* 2 Tablespoons cider vinegar or maple champagne vinegar

Chop up the onion and toss it in the sauce pan with the butter. As you are cooking the onion down and it starts to get translucent, add the raisins.

Then add the water with the dissolved boullion cube, add the sugar. When the sugar is dissolved add the flour – and yes I pretty much stir continuously at this point. Next add the spices and the mustards (powdered mustard and the grainy mustard), and finally add the vinegar.

A lot of people when they’re making the sauce will serve it right at this point. I don’t. I turn off the stove and I put the lid on the saucepan and I let it sit for at least an hour. I reheat it gently when I am ready to serve my ham and all you do is put it in a gravy boat and let people spoon what they want over warm ham.

Oh and I changed up my ricotta pie this Easter. I toasted up pine nuts and chopped pistachios and added them to the ricotta mixture before baking!

Happy Easter!

snow day minestrone

Another snow day…I do not know what it is about snowy days that makes me want to cook, but it does.  It’s like another form of nesting, I suppose.

So today I decide one more last hurrah for the winter soup of it all.  I have a bunch of leftovers, a bunch of fresh vegetables, and a bone and gizzard bag in the freezer for Instant Pot bone broth.

The first step was loading the following into my Instant Pot: 1 roasting chicken carcass I had frozen for such a purpose and 2 packets of frozen necks and gizzards saved from other chickens.  To that I added a bunch of celery ribs (cut in half only), a chunked red onion, 4 or 5 carrots, cut in half.  I add 1 bay leaf, a small handful of Juniper berries, quatre epices, salt, pepper, herbes de provence.  I add water half way up my 8 quart Instant Pot and I set to manual and 50 minutes.

When the 50 minutes are up, I turn the Instant Pot off and let it de-pressurize by itself.

Meanwhile I take my big dutch oven (8 quarts) out and get ready to add stuff to it.  I recently got a new dutch oven because my large vintage Dansk was getting a bit shabby.  I replaced it with a Sur Le Table Lightweight Cast Iron Dutch Oven and so far so good.

Into the dutch oven I put: 1 drained can of Goya chick peas (15 oz), 1 can of Hunt’s Diced Fire Roasted Tomatoes (14.5 oz do NOT drain), 2/3 cup Israeli couscous (dried not cooked), 1/2 cup orzo (dried not cooked) , a few ribs of celery chopped up (over a cup), four carrots rough chopped, 5 small to medium red potatoes chopped, 1 red or orange or red bell pepper, chopped small, an end of a solid piece of Parmesan grated rind and all (I save odd bits of cheeses and cheese rinds for cheese sauces and other uses like this), some more oregano, basil, thyme, a couple solid dashes of sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, leftover roast chicken shredded, and a smoked sausage (or kielbasa) cut into manageable pieces.

When my  Instant Pot was de-pressurized, I removed all of the bones, gizzards and cooking vegetables and strained my broth into the stove top dutch oven. I brought my broth and veggies and pastas (orzo and couscous) to a boil on a medium low heat (uncovered), stirring frequently.  I then put the lid on my dutch oven and turned off the stove.  There it will sit covered until about 40 minutes before dinner time at which time I will warm up on a low flame to serve.  Add a green salad on the side and it’s a wonderful winter or end of winter snowy day dinner.  If you have any fresh biscuits or a crusty bread, even better.

Buon Appetito!

baking day: banana bread and collecting cookbooks

I made pumpkin bread the last time around and this time I decided to make banana bread. My banana bread is a little different from some recipes but I think it’s delicious.

Start with preheating your oven to 350°.

Next, your ingredients:

3/4 of a cup of butter, almost melted

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

Four eggs

2 1/2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon cardamom

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups all purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup dried cranberries

1 cup dark raisins

Five large bananas mashed up

The first thing I do is in a medium bowl is mash the bananas. I have a hand potato masher that works nicely for this chore. I try to use very ripe bananas the flavor is better.

Next I grease and flour two pans – I think the dimensions are 9″ x 5″ but don’t hold me to that. I grease with butter and with almond meal (almond flour– I use it a lot in baking). If you don’t have almond meal in your pantry just use flour.

Put the pans to the side.

And a second bowl, mix together with 2 tablespoons of other flour or almond meal your raisins, chopped pecans, dried cranberries

Throw your butter in the microwave in a microwave safe dish for almost a minute. Add it to a large bowl with the butter and sugar. Cream until smooth add your vanilla and your eggs, mix again. Next add the mashed bananas and your cardamom and cinnamon.

After that is smooth and well mixed, add in your salt, baking soda, baking powder and give it a stir. Add in your flower one cup at a time. Once the batter is well mixed if you have been using a hand mixer switch to a regular old-fashioned wooden spoon and stir in the nuts and dried fruits.

Split your batter equally between your two pans and dust tops with granulated sugar. Next, place next to each other but not touching in your preheated oven.

The banana bread cooks for about an hour, and when a toothpick comes out relatively clean your bread should be done. Cool at least 20 minutes in the pans before removing from pans and cooling completely on baking racks before wrapping up. You can freeze a loaf or not. They last about a week. Or less depending on how hungry everyone in your house is!

Ovens are funny so sometimes it’s a little less time sometimes it’s a little more time. I don’t remember what it was that I baked and wrote the recipe down and posted, but the time I listed for me worked perfectly with my oven yet a reader wrote to me that with their oven it took a little more time.

Baking is not completely an exact science when it comes to ovens and cooking times. And there’s also trial and error. And it also depends on the home cook. I am more of one that uses recipes as a guide and I will wing it a lot. If it’s something I make often enough, I will try now to write the recipe down.

My problem is that a lot of the women of older generations in my family that taught me to cook from the time I was a small child didn’t actually use recipes. Maybe they had the basics on an index card, but more often than not it was straight out of their head and you learn how things were right by the feel of batters and doughs and what not. So that is kind of the way I learned. Some things had recipes and exact measurements, and some things just didn’t. Homemade pasta, for example, was one of the things that didn’t have anything written down. It was just passed from person to person how to do it.

My mother has a great collection of wonderful cookbooks, and what I learned from her includes having a great collection of wonderful cookbooks. It was my mother taught me to check out the regional cookbooks that various Junior League chapters and ladies aid societies and women’s church groups would put out.

For example, decades ago at this point (like around 1980), the Philadelphia Orchestra West Philadelphia Women’s Committee put out a wonderful cookbook called The Philadelphia Orchestra Cookbook. I still have it in my cookbook collection today and it has wonderful recipes including one from my mother! I don’t recall ever had anything from the Philadelphia Junior League, but I do have a cookbook called The Philadelphia Cookbook of Town and Country circa 1963 that was by Anna Wetherill Reed. This cookbook has many wonderful recipes including for oldschool cocktails like a Philadelphia Old Fashioned cocktail and a recipe for Fish House Punch attributed to State In Schuylkill.

As far as the regional cookbooks go I have a couple from Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, a few southern Junior League cookbooks (like Charleston, Virginia, and Shreveport Louisiana). Sadly, as far as my regional and fundraising type cookbooks go the one that was the largest disappointment is the one that was put out by the Devon Horse Show a few years ago called Appetizers at Devon. I never fell in love with any of the recipes. I guess maybe it just reflects the changing style of the women’s committees in general all over today versus days gone by. A lot of these women don’t get into their kitchens, they order out, they buy prepared foods, they have boxes of portioned out foods delivered like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and what not, they use caterers, they go to restaurants.

One of the best cookbooks and most fun that I have the counts as a regional cookbook is Greek Cooking in an American Kitchen. These are recipes compiled by the Saint Luke’s Greek Orthodox Church Women’s Auxiliary in Broomall, Pennsylvania. Those ladies started putting out a cookbook in 1973, and the addition I have is the fourth edition from 1997. If you can get your paws on a copy, and you like Greek food, this is an amazing cook book and the recipes are easy to follow.

I even have a cookbook from the Italian market in Philadelphia. I have course, also have a nice selection of cookbooks from the professionals like Ina Garten and the New York Times. I have also mentioned in prior posts that if you can get your hands on volumes one or two of The American Contry Inn and Bed And Breakfast Cookbooks put out years ago by the Maynards, they are wonderful as well.

A new cookbook I am going to suggest that everyone go to Amazon to get (and it’s going to be released soon because I just got my shipping notification) is by Delaware county native Elisa Costantini and her son Frank Constantini. It’s called Italian Moms: Something Old Something New 150 Recipes. I also have her book Italian Moms: Spreading Their Art to Every Table which was self published.

Enjoy your day!

hummus tahini

With the exception of a few short days between the flu and flu related viruses I have now been sick off and on but mostly on since the 28th of December. (On the news when they run through the list of people who are susceptible to flu, especially if they forget to get a flu shot, I’m right up there.

As a result I have become the master of sick food. It has not been a month where I have been overwhelmingly starving. And the foods I have been eating have been pretty basic. A lot of chicken soups, in particular. (I have to tell you having an Instant Pot to make bone broth, soups, and stews has been a god send.)

I am not a big giant sandwich eater for lunch most days so things like yogurt and hummus have also been up there on the list of things which have tasted good to me.

I love hummus tahini. My mother has been making it since we were little. When we were little it was a sure sign of company coming over because it was one of her “go to” hors d’oeuvres kind of things.

I have never really used a recipe to make my hummus. I just watched what my mother did for years and then I have created my own recipes as an adult.

I made it again today and I think it’s extra delicious this time, so I decided to commit the recipe to paper, or blog. (And yes I still have that draft of that unfinished cookbook on my computer desk top and this recipe will be added to it.)

Hummus Tahini Ingredients:

1 extra large can of Goya chickpeas – 1 lb. 13 oz. DRAINED

1 large sweet onion rough chopped

4 large cloves garlic

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 large red bell pepper rough chopped

Juice of two large lemons

A couple of dashes of Cumin

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper.

Approximately 1/3 cup Tahini paste (you can add more or you can add less – truthfully it’s a matter of personal taste)

1/3 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste.

Olive oil and sweet paprika to dress the hummus before refrigerating.

A food processor or a blender that works like one. (I have a Breville blender it seems to do everything except take out the trash.)

Now to put it together…

I put into the blender the red pepper, onion, garlic, cumin, cayenne. I then add a couple of dashes of salt and pepper to taste and blend well.

Then I add the pine nuts and blend well.

Then I add the chickpeas, and blend well again.

Then I add the tahini paste in three parts because it’s a pain to work with and blend some more.

I taste it and adjust the salt and pepper as necessary, and also may add a little more lemon juice or a couple dashes of balsamic vinegar if I don’t think the acid balance is right. The thing about hummus is there is a balance to the acids you add, and when people omit the acid it doesn’t taste as good.

I will also tell you that I know some people who blend the tahini paste and lemon juice first to break down the tahini and make it more pliable. I do that sometimes too, but also breaking the adding of adding tahini in three bits also makes it manageable.

When my hummus tahini is velvety smooth, I put it in its own container and I dress the top of it with a few swirls of olive oil and sweet paprika. I then refrigerate until cold.

Hummus is fabulous with pita bread of course, but also goes well with carrots and other vegetables. it also makes a great base to a vegetarian type sandwich if you are so inclined.

Truthfully hummus is one of my favorite things especially for lunch. And not just when I’m not feeling well. I will buy prepackaged hummus tahini but I still think nothing is better than making it yourself and it’s so simple and takes very little time.

Enjoy!