5 sweet foodie gadgets you can’t live without

I should preface this by saying that I am not, in principle, a gadget person. I have a small apartment on the beach with a kitchen befitting my apartment’s size (you don’t even want to know my square yardage), and frankly I don’t need a lot of things that take up a ton of space and are only good for one thing. Although, as you can see by this list, I totally broke my own rule for a few items.

I get a lot of questions from readers about what sort of products I would recommend, so I decided to make a quick list of the gadgets I use regularly. Since as you know (and much to my mother’s chagrin), I do not get paid to write this blog or to recommend or advertise any product. If I tell you I like a thing and that you should buy it, it’s because I own it myself and I like it.

Also, I eat a lot of yogurt and rice, so I have a yogurt maker and a rice cooker as well. They take up very little space, and the yogurt maker especially saves me a lot of money in store-bought yogurt with who-knows-what added to it.

1) Everyone needs a slow cooker.

I use my crock pot for about a third of the meals I make — from pork carnitas to beans and greens to smoked chicken stock to every kind of chili or soup you can imagine, to apple butter for canning  (or not) and bacon jams for just about everything.

Plus, a crock pot, or slow cooker, isn’t technically a gadget, right? Everyone should have one. They’re cheap, they last a long time, they don’t require anything fancy, and most slow-cooker recipes are pretty fool-proof.

Even if you buy a really fancy and expensive one, it’s worth it. The first time you enjoy a hot, homemade soup that has been cooking slowly all day while you’ve been at work, the thing will have paid for itself.

crock pot stew

2) Princess.

I bought a Masterbuilt M7P 7-in-1 Outdoor Cooking system a few years ago. I bought it on Overstock, which for certain purchases gives you free shipping, and I paid about $160 total (although I have seen it on other websites for similar prices or cheaper). I paid another $40 for a used propane tank and another $30 or so for a fancy digital thermometer (which I would recommend regardless of the smoker).

The M7P use both charcoal and propane, and can be a grill or a smoker. It can also be a campfire grill  (you simply remove all but the base and you can lay firewood on it) a boiler (use the giant pot in the kit on the flame without the drum-shaped piece), and a steamer (add the big steamer pot to the other pot).

My M7P 7-in-1 Outdoor Cooking System. Best $150 I ever spent.

My M7P 7-in-1 Outdoor Cooking System. Best $150 I ever spent.

In addition to the insanely amazing smoked turkeys, chickens, hams, and grilled foods, I have been known to make a pretty kick-ass crab boil using my M7P.

beer can chicken and ribs
Even if you opt to not buy this particular model, I think everyone should have the ability to smoke their food … or at the very least, grill it outdoors. Don’t just use that propane grill or that charcoal smoker for special occasions, or even just for meat. Try roasting some pumpkins or squash for soup in it, or smoking some garlic and peppers to use for other dishes. Try smoking your wings.

3) I kill plants. Yet I love this mini-garden for non-gardeners.

How about THIS thing? Cool birthday present, a four-level seed sprouter. As you can see below, it takes up very little space on your countertop and it’s easy-to-clean plastic.

sprouter

It’s also very simple to use … you get some seeds. A few come with the kit, plus I got a few more as part of my present, but they generally cost less than $4 a pack. You soak the seeds for a few days, then spread the seeds on the sprouter.

seed sprouts

Once it’s done, you have a great pile of sprouts, perfect for sandwiches, salads, and a myriad of other dishes.

sprouts
4) Farmcurious fermenting set

I won this set in a cool contest from Killer Pickles this spring, and I’ve been using it pretty much nonstop. It’s basically a set of caps and airlocks.

Farmcurious set
This was my first use of the kit … some red cabbage, fermented with green garlic and green apple.
fermented red cabbage
fermented red cabbage and bratsIt made its debut with some Bratwurst at a Memorial Day party this summer, and it was SO AMAZING that I had to go buy some half-gallon-sized mason jars, which is the largest size jar you can buy and still fit the airlock caps. So … I’m not new to fermenting, but I needed to try all of my previous recipes using these bad boys.

Since then I’ve made some amazing pickles …

fermented dill pickles

… and tepache …

tepache fermenting

… and now some peppers are fermenting for sriracha.

fermented red jalapenos

I also fermented some pears with spicy peppers. I think they’ll be amazing on a cheese plate.

fermented spicy pears

5) Preserving on a different level with a food dehydrator.

I’ve been making homemade jams and pickles and preserves for a few years now, and I had been focusing on them so much that I neglected one of the best and oldest forms of preservation – drying. I scored a Nesco brand dehydrator — a promotional version of the 4-tray dehydrator called a “Jerky XPress” that comes with a jerky gun and spices and curing salts for making jerky.

parmesean kale chipsdried strawberries

Of course, it can be used to dehydrate anything … lately for kale chips with parmesan cheese, fresh berries, and spicy peppers.

Check back later to see what I’m making with those dehydrated peppers. :)

 

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Curried Cauliflower Soup

I love a good soup, and I love a versatile dish. This amazing soup can be ready in 30 minutes, and it’s delicious served at any temperature. Right now, it’s a muggy 80 degrees in southern California, but my CSA box hasn’t gotten the message … the produce sections everywhere are full of cauliflower and other fall-like vegetables … so I ate this cold, too! This is also a super-healthy recipe, and will be a big hit during the October Unprocessed challenge next month.

For just a few cheap ingredients (either fresh, or probably in your pantry), you can have a simple filling, yummy, spicy soup. Customize it any way you like: I made mine extra spicy, and I used smoked chicken stock (homemade of course), but if you don’t like spicy foods, you can use a lighter curry paste or less of it than I did … and if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can use vegetable stock.

Curried Cauliflower Soup

  • 1 large head of fresh cauliflower
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 head garlic, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced (optional)
  • 1 can of coconut milk
  • 1 quart of chicken stock (or use vegetable stock to keep vegetarian/vegan)
  • 1 tablespoon ginger paste
  • 1/2 cup Thai curry paste, any type (I used red)*
  • 1/2 cup ghee or butter (or olive oil to keep it vegan)

First, dice the vegetables and saute them in the ghee for a few minutes, and add the Thai curry paste and ginger. Cover with stock and bring to a boil. Let boil for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is tender.

curried cauliflower soupRemove from heat and, using an immersion blender, puree the ingredients. Add the coconut milk (be sure to shake the can first), and then taste and season accordingly.

* Depending on how spicy your curry paste is, you might want to add more broth or more salt. I like mine spicy, so I use an authentic red curry paste. If you don’t like it hot, use less than a tablespoon, or use a milder paste. For this brand (see below) a tablespoon is more than enough to fully flavor an entire pot of soup.

red curry paste

Sprinkle with a bit of chili powder on top and serve with some good bread. It will be spicy, but it’s worth it.

curried cauliflower soup

Try your leftovers chilled the next day. :)

 

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Alex’s Lemonade Stand-inspired wings and cake toppings

This week I have two awesome new recipes for you, inspired by a great charity. I am partnering with friends to support Alex’s Lemonade Stand in San Diego, which is one of the biggest fundraisers in California and one of the top ten Alex’s Lemonade Stands in the country. Since its inception, Alex’s Lemonade Stand has raised over $80 million worldwide for childhood cancer, and has funded more than 450 research projects at 94 institutions. They also help families struggling with childhood cancer through a Travel Fund and an annual Educational Symposium.

If you’re in San Diego, here’s the info for the foundation event:

Saturday July 26: 10:00-6:00 pm
3366 Adams Avenue, 92116 at the Masonic Parking Lot
FM 94.9 Live Broadcast
Bands, lemonade, silent auction, kids’ activities, and more!

ALS_postcard_Revised071014

If you can’t attend, please click here to donate. Let’s help the Miller Tribe reach their goal of $15,000 this year, which would be a total of $100,000 for the nine years they’ve been running.

MillerTribe
I’m helping out by participating in the San Diego Food Bloggers Lemonade Online Challenge, sponsored by Melissa’s Produce. In addition to my two recipes (below), more than a dozen San Diego Food Bloggers will be cooking with lemons in support of Alex’s Lemonade Stand. Please check out their lemony recipes online between July 21-28, and make a donation to the Stand through links on their blogs, linked at the end of this post.

I accepted the lemon challenge and came up with a savory and a sweet recipe using the delicious fruit from Melissa’s Produce. I hope you enjoy these. I sure did.

Savory Lemon Challenge:

Epic Lemony Wings

For the savory part of the challenge, I opted for the best recipe I have made all summer, Epic Wings. Seasoned. Smoked. Fried. Tossed in sauce. I’ve made them a number of times so far this summer and you can’t beat them for crowd-pleasing. They’re the best. And as usual, one of my favorite things about this recipe is its extreme versatility.

plate of lemon wings

I decided since I was doing a lemon challenge, the sauce for these Epic babies would be a delicious Meyer lemon sauce. I based mine off of this one, but used more lemon juice and lemon zest, and had a different preparation process.

To really switch up the flavors, I decided to try some different wood chips than I usually use; the Jack Daniel’s brand wood chips, made from the oak barrels they use to age the whiskey. Just remember: Oak chips need to pre-soak a little longer than most.

jack wood chips

Feel free to use any type of wood chips because all of them taste good, and frankly, I don’t think it’s possible to screw up these wings.

Ingredients for the chicken wings:

  • 4-5 lbs chicken wings
  • 2-3 tablespoons of salt-free house seasoning
  • 1 cup bacon grease or vegetable oil
  • wood chips for smoking (your choice)

Ingredients for the Lemon Sauce:

  • 1 cup fresh-squeezed Meyer lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tsp. corn starch
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • zest from 1 lemon

First, season the wings. Make sure the seasoning you use is salt-free (or at the very least low-salt) because too much salt will dry out the meat during smoking. Prepare your smoker according to manufacturer specifications with soaked wood chips of your choice, and let the chicken wings smoke for at least one hour.

smoked wings

While the wings are smoking, prepare your sauce. You should do this regardless of which sauce you decide to use, but for the lemon sauce, I mix the water and sugar in a pot and bring it up to a simmer. Separately, mix the lemon juice and corn starch, while the liquid is still cold, and add it to the pot, stirring constantly. Add the lemon zest and set aside.

Fry the wings in bacon grease or oil. I don’t really need to tell you why bacon grease is the optimal setting for this, or why you can substitute oil if you so desire. I don’t have a deep fryer so I used bacon grease in a cast-iron skillet, but again, the idea is to deep-fry the wings you just smoked, so it really doesn’t matter how it gets done. If you have a deep fryer, use it. If you have duck fat or something somehow tastier than bacon grease or duck fat, then by all means, fry it in that. They’re already fully cooked in the smoker, and the flash fry will seal in the meat juices and the flavors of your seasoning and smoking, and add a nice crispy edge to your wings so that the last step doesn’t make them soggy.

lemon wings

The last step: Toss the wings in the sauce, and make sure you get them nicely coated. Serve immediately. Sit and bask in the compliments you receive.

 Sweet Lemon Challenge:

Key Lime and Lemon Swirled Curd

For the sweet lemon recipe, I wanted to make a nice lemon curd like this one I used from Linda Ziedrich’s book called “Jams, Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves.” It’s simple and delicious, and a beginner like myself can make it. My box of produce from Melissa’s Produce had two kinds of lemons as well as Key Limes, so I opted to make a curd from Key Limes, a curd from lemons, and then swirl them together for a fun dessert topping.

lemonlime curd on angel food cake

Yum!

First of all, I would recommend, especially if you are cooking with Key Limes, that you get yourself an assistant. Preferably one with strong hands. Or when you plan your cooking, add at least a half-hour for juicing. For the curd recipe, you need 2/3 cup of lemon juice (or lime juice if you’re making lime curd), and for those tiny Key Limes, you’ll need about a dozen to get 2/3 of a cup.

juicing

I added a bit of green food coloring to the Key Lime-flavored curd, because with the egg yolks and eggs, the finished product looked too yellow. In the end, the lemon curd and the lime curd together was lovely on top of a fluffy angel food cake.

lemonlime curd on angel food cake

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Confessions of a Foodie
Deleting the Adjectives
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Kirbie’s Cravings
Making It Sweet
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Event Partners:
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Summer Favorites

If you are a regular reader of this blog, thank you.  Sometimes my daily or weekly food projects aren’t much more complicated than “hey, I smoked this tasty chicken,” so I don’t always do a full blog post on everything I make. I do not post often enough, so I thought I would remedy that by sharing with you some of the foods that have been pleasing crowds at Casa de Starbright all spring and summer long.

Also, if you are so inclined, I encourage you to check the links on the right of this page and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter, which are updated far more often.

First up is the old standby: beer-can chicken. I do this all the time. It takes only a couple of hours to smoke, and every time it’s perfectly juicy and tender. if you have a vertical smoker like I do, you don’t even need one of those fancy racks … just manipulate an empty aluminum can snugly into the inside the bird, make sure you can see the tab through the top (see picture below) and then when you set the whole thing on your smoker you can work the chicken’s legs around so it’s sitting up on the can. Then you fill up the can with the liquid of your choice (pretty much anything except really strong liquor as that will just be a fire hazard), coat the outside with a dry rub and a bit of oil, and smoke it til the internal temperature is at least 160.

beer can chicken

This is the chicken I smoked on the Fourth of July, alongside a homemade pastrami brisket (just a corned beef brisket coated in brown sugar, black pepper, coriander and paprika, and then smoked), and a foil packet full of garlic, onions and other items.

I usually have a packet of something random smoking alongside of my meat. If I have a few extra cloves of garlic or jalapeno peppers, those will always get smoked. Sometimes if I have a huge surplus of onions or other fruits I will smoke those for a BBQ sauce, and sometimes I will also smoke the sauce ingredients with the meat the sauce will be used on, which is always delicious.

Here, I smoked a nice rack of baby back ribs … this is the “after” photo when they came off of the smoker, and before smoking they only had a very basic dry rub. On the top rack of the smoker I had a few small foil packets, containing red onions, whole heads of garlic, and two ripe peaches.

baby back ribs

After about an hour I took the fruit, onions and garlic off the smoker, and put it all in a pot on the stove with a large can (14 oz.) of crushed tomatoes, 2 cups apple cider vinegar, 2 tbsp. kosher salt, 2 tbsp. brown sugar, and 1 tbsp. each of black pepper, oregano, paprika, cumin and chipotle chili powder. The smoked peaches and onions had the same smoky flavor as the ribs, so it wasn’t too sweet, and the sauce complimented the meat perfectly.

ribs with peach BBQ sauce

And a couple of days later on some BBQ chicken breasts, served with roasted corn and some warm greens.

peach BBQ sauce with chicken

Of course, one cannot forget the cocktails! Homemade tepache is getting to be one of my favorites … it’s so simple, it’s delicious and unique … and it impresses the hell out of your friends when you tell them you just made your own alcohol.

tepache

Check out my first blog post here about tepache, back when I was just discovering it, but know that this is just as adaptable as any fermented drink like beer or kefir … adapt it to your tastes and style. I’ve tried it with a whole pineapple (you can re-use that boozy fruit later) or just the core and peel, and I’ve also added whole peaches to the mix. Te-peach-e is definitely something you should try.

I’ve also tried making it in my Korean fermenting crock, and lately with my new Farmcurious airlock cap set (see below), and if you are into fermenting at all, I would definitely recommend one of these cap sets. It makes fermenting anything really simple.

tepache fermenting

Of course man cannot live by meat and boozy fruit alone, so we must also make somewhat healthy snacks. I guess. Sorta healthy. It has fruit in it.

I subscribe to a number of websites wherein people send me samples of things. Like, all the time. At any given moment I have no less than a dozen sauces, glazes, toppings, jams, jellies, pickles, and various other things in jars, most of which I have not made myself. One of those jars happened to contain a salted caramel sauce for desserts, so I decided to see what it could do with some grilled fruit.

Grilled fruit skewers

Pineapples and blueberries happened to be both ripe and in my kitchen, plus a single slightly underripe peach. They made very lovely skewers, and were topped with the salted caramel glaze right at the end for a little extra sweetness. It was perfect.

Grilled pineapple and blueberry skewers

I also got to enjoy a number of awesome food festivals so far this summer, including a Greek festival  … where I may or may not have bought a hunk of homemade feta cheese the size of my head. There were no witnesses who are talking. However, I did entertain my guests with many, many, many feta cheese dishes for the next few days, including this  … well, can you even call this a “recipe” or a “dish”?

Slice a watermelon. Crumble some really good feta on top. The end.

watermelon feta

Seriously, that’s really all there is to it, and I could totally eat that entire plate right there. The slightly salty flavor of the feta is so perfect with the melon. I have also seen a number of variations on this dish, but all of them seem way too complicated to me. One called for freezing the slices of feta, then coating them in breadcrumbs and frying them, then serving those fried cheese squares in the most picturesque, Pinterest-worthy plating with the perfectly molded hunks of watermelon you’ve ever seen.

However I am a simple girl. Like my adorable niece right here. All she needs is some fruit to match her outfit, and look at that smile! She doesn’t even need the cheese! (But don’t omit the cheese unless you are also a baby.)

Moxie

This summer, I also started cooking with orzo for the first time, and I think it is going to be my go-to starch for cold salads from now on. Orzo is actually made of barley, so it’s extremely healthy for you. It also cooks up in no time, chills really quickly, too, and then takes whatever flavor you give it. And it holds its own with hearty veggies. What more can you ask for?

Orzo salad

This tasty salad is a 1-lb packet of orzo, boiled about 6 minutes in salted water, then cooled, and tossed with extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, green peas, diced carrot, sautéed yellow squash, sliced red onion, and bits of leftover pastrami.

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Epic wings are so … epic.

I have found the dish that will forever be the star of your outdoor dinner party. I first tried these at a friend’s house (he was trying to copy some wings from a local bar) and I have made them a few times. I’m in love. And I am no slouch with party snacks.

It’s a fairly simple recipe, taking a total of about 2 hours, only about 1 1/2 of them are hands-off (unless you are making your own sauces). It can be adapted for size, tastes and ingredients. It also showcases two of the best ways to add flavor to some meat: smoking and frying. Lastly, you drown those delicious wings in lots of epic sauce, and you can get really creative with the toppings.

097

Very simply, epic wings are so F*^%^% epic because of the easy, yet profound cooking process.

smoked wings

Step 1: Season the wings. I use a simple herb mixture. Try to keep the salt content low so it doesn’t dry out the meat during smoking.

Step 2: Smoke the wings. Of course I use my awesome Masterbuilt 7-in-1 smoker/grill, which is well-seasoned and smokes pretty quickly. Use any type of wood, for at least an hour. If you smoke it longer than one hour it will add more flavor, but they’re already fully cooked after about 45 minutes on 250 degrees.

smoked wings

Step 3: Fry the wings. A good flash-fry, in hot oil. Preferably in a cast-iron skillet with bacon grease.

fried wings

Step 4: Toss the wings in sauce. This is a great time to get creative, or even (especially at a BBQ or party) to do a few different types of flavors.

dipping the wings

Get ‘em saucy. They can take it; that flash-fry got them nice and crispy, so they won’t get soggy.

smoked, fried, tossed in sauce

When my friend tried this recipe for the first time, he tried to re-create the local bar’s “dirty sauce,” which is all four of their sauces — Buffalo wing sauce, sweet and sour sauce, BBQ sauce and ranch dressing — and it was really amazing.

epic dirty sauce

Those were using generic, store-brand sauces, except for Sweet Baby Ray’s brand BBQ sauce and Hidden Valley Ranch from the packet.

I also made this same recipe and dirty sauce using my own homemade BBQ sauce and homemade Buffalo wing sauce (traditionally made with Frank’s Hot Sauce and butter, instead of Frank’s I used my own homemade, lacto-fermented sriracha).

 

 

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The perfect cheese plate

Ok, I am not an expert on most things, but since I was a little kid, there are a few things I know I can do well.

I can write well. I can put on eye makeup without the assistance of a mirror. I can smell when milk is even slightly sour. I can write my name using a pen between my toes. I can make an excellent mix tape … and that was back in the day, when you made a mix tape from recording songs off of the radio, and you had to be super-fast to hit the “stop” button before the DJ came on, talking over the end of the song you were trying to record. Nowadays the kids have it much easier with the mP3s and playlists. But I digress.

cheese plate

And I can make an excellent cheese plate. This isn’t hubris or boasting, it’s a simple fact. Part of the reason is because it’s nearly impossible to make a BAD cheese plate … I mean, honestly, just take a look at Pinterest one of these days and search for the term “cheese plate.” (Or check out mine right here! Shameless plug!)

mini cheese plate

Some people seriously pull out a pretty platter, slice a few bits of cheese and meat, and call it a day. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you’re going to do it …. if you’re going to have a great party and you want to really hit it out of the park … there are a few simple guidelines to follow.

1) Have a good selection.

Don't be afraid of the sample basket!

Don’t be afraid of the sample basket!

Seriously, people. No matter how much you love that one awesome cheese, not everyone at your party is going to like it. Present a blend of hard cheeses, soft cheeses, and stinky cheeses, and switch up the types of cheese as well … you want some sheep’s milk cheese, some goat cheese and some cow’s milk cheese.

cheese selection

My favorite local cheese shop keeps a basket near the register full of the odds and ends and weirdly-shaped chunks of cheese they have left over. This is an excellent way to sample certain cheeses you might not otherwise try.

2) The cheese is just the star. It needs a limo.

salted watermelon jelly and kokos gouda

salted watermelon jelly and kokos gouda

Don’t forget the rest of the plate! You want a nice crusty bread and at least one type of cracker, and some vehicles for cheese that are fresh fruits or vegetables.

apples and gjetost cheese

apples and gjetost cheese

Try mixing up different breads and crackers, and different fruits and vegetables like apples, pear, strawberries, endive, celery, carrot sticks, and radishes (slice them lenthwise).

endive and spicy cheese dip

endive and spicy cheese dip

carrot marmalade and port wine-soaked cheese

carrot marmalade and port wine-soaked cheese

Always have at least one savory spread and one sweet spread on the plate. I love the selection of jams and toppings from the Friend in Cheeses Jam Company, a small buisness that specializes in things that go great with cheese. (Seriously, how awesome is that?) More than once, their amazing creations like salted watermelon jelly, strawberry tarragon conserve, carrot marmalade and pisco pear butter have been the best parts of my cheese plates.

bacon jam and cheddar

bacon jam and cheddar

Meat items are also important to keep a good balance on your platter. The salty and sweet punch of bacon jam, or the smoky depth of smoked chicken liver pate or storebought liverwurst, are excellent accompaniments to most cheeses.

3) It’s a carpenter, not his tools. But get some nice tools.

mini cheese graterOk, not crazy tools. Or expensive tools. Just things like a tiny cheese grater so you can grate your cheese on the spot. Or a few of those tiny forks and knives for spreads and cheeses. Just a handful of toothpicks for your olives and your bits of meat, and a few small bowls or rammekins for those jams and jellies.

cheddar and strawberry tarragon conserve

cheddar and strawberry tarragon conserve

4) Be an artist about it.

cheese plate 2

I usually set up my larger selections on a handmade wooden board, but it’s certainly not necessary. A cracked plate works as well as a fancy decorative platter. What matters is how delicious everything looks.

cheese plate 3

cheese plate 4

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Easy squash and vegetable soup (perfect for the holidays)

This is a great, easy soup that is perfect for Thanksgiving or other family dinners. It’s vegetarian (although it can be adapted to include chicken or meat stock), and it’s great for an appetizer or as part of your holiday meal.

As usual when cooking with butternut squash (or any squash or gourd that has a very hard outer shell), I made the process easier on myself by cutting the giant squash into a few manageable chunks, then I dry-roasted it on my grill until the peel was charred. Let it cool down until you can handle it with your bare (clean) hands, and it’s super-easy to peel the rind off and cut up the sweet squash inside.

Butternut squash and vegetable soup

Easy Squash and Vegetable Soup

  • about 2 lbs of butternut squash, roasted, peeled and chopped
  • one container (about 14 oz.) soft tofu, chopped
  • one large onion, diced
  • 2-3 carrots, diced
  • 2-3 small red potatoes, diced
  • 3 heads garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. dried sage
  • 1 tbsp. paprika
  • 1 tbsp. ginger
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 1 bottle of good beer
  • salt and pepper
  • crumbly feta cheese or blue cheese, for serving

Feel free to clean out your fridge when picking the vegetables to use … I just used the few items I had on hand, but a few stalks of celery, maybe sweet potato, some fresh fennel, or some fresh leek(s), would be a great addition to this recipe.

I simply added all of the ingredients (no pre-cooking needed except for the butternut squash), and cooked everything together in my slow cooker overnight. Cook it for at least 6 hours on the low setting, but the longer you cook it, the more the flavors will develop. Then puree the entire contents of the pot with your trusty immersion blender, taste the soup, add more spices if necessary, and serve.

Posted in cooking, food, holidays, leftovers, soups and stews, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Smoked Thanksgiving Turkey – plus a bonus recipe

You may have read about my previous attempts with smoked beer-can chicken … one of the tastiest and coolest-to-adapt  and insane-leftover-making smoker dishes out there. I have switched it up several times, trying it with different types of beverages and liquids inside the beer can, and changing up the seasonings I put on the outside.

This year I wanted to try the same procedure with smoking my Thanksgiving turkey, and it worked out beautifully.

smoked beer-can turkey

It’s really a super-simple procedure: oil and season your bird on the outside, and stuff it with a beer can for the smoking process. Cook it to 160 internal temp, and you’re done. The hands-on time that you have to actually spend doing things is maybe 10 minutes.

Since I have done this a few times, I wanted to offer some tips before I get to the specifics.

  • Get a good digital thermometer. My smoker is vertical, so every time I lift the lid to take the meat’s temperature, some of the precious, sweet, sweet smoke escapes, and flavors the air instead of my dinner. I don’t like it when that happens. I invested in a good digital thermometer that tells me both the meat temperature AND the oven/inside of the smoker temperature. It even has an alarm so it will let me know if my smoker gets too hot or when my meat is finished. This is the one I have and it has served me well.
  • Experiment with  different seasonings. I use a Misto, which I can fill with extra-virgin olive oil and spritz the outside of the chicken or turkey, then I sprinkle it with seasoning. Since most of the flavoring is from the wood smoke, you can literally coat your bird in salt and pepper and it will be awesome (I like to use a pre-made Cajun seasoning — I am a huge fan of the Cajun Power company). But use what you like.
  • Experiment with different types of wood chips with different types of meat. For this turkey, I used hickory wood chips, but I also really love mesquite wood chips for smoking poultry.
hickory chips for smoking

Soaked hickory chips on the smoker.

So this is the deal (and this works the same with chicken and with turkey):

  • Clean and trim the turkey (I had to cut off a bit of the fatty part by the neck, etc.).

trimmed

  • Spritz the outside of the turkey with a light layer of oil, then sprinkle your favorite seasoning blend over the skin (I like a Cajun seasoning mix).
  • Situate the beer can inside of the turkey. Since turkeys are generally much bigger than chickens, I used a larger beer can. I also, just to avoid wasting beer, poured most of the beer from the can out into a cup, then when the bird was situated on the smoker (and didn’t look too wobbly), I poured the beer back into the can through the top of the bird. Depending on the size of your turkey and the dimensions of your smoker, you may have to maneuver a bit to get the beer can in there and get the turkey legs around it so the turkey is literally sitting on the can. You want to be able to look down into the neck cavity and see the top of the can.
Rosemary sprigs are optional. :)

Rosemary sprigs are optional. :)

  • Smoke until the internal temperature is 160 degrees. For a chicken that is 5-6 lbs., that takes about 3 hours. For a turkey that weighs about 11 lbs., it took six hours.
halfway done

Halfway done!

Temperature is more important than time, and depending on your smoker, it might take considerably less time … or for that matter, considerably more time. Also when the turkey is done, the smoking process leaves it with a pink-colored smoke ring, and sometimes people can confuse pinkness with doneness. Just make sure the temperature is high enough and you should be fine.

Fully-cooked smoked turkey ... look at that color!

Fully-cooked smoked turkey … look at that color!

  • Let it rest for at least 20 minutes after smoking before you cut into it. Just like a juicy steak, all of those juices inside the turkey will spill out right away if you don’t give them a few minutes to redistribute. Try to cover your bird with foil and keep it away from grabby hands until it’s time to eat. :)
Before and After.

Before and After.

Oh, but wait!

Don’t forget to save those insides!

BONUS RECIPE

So, every turkey you buy in the store comes with that little packet inside, that has the turkey’s heart, gizzard, liver, and usually also the neck bone. It’s Thanksgiving tradition in my house to (obviously) remove these from the turkey before roasting (or, in this case, smoking), and putting the offal either in a pot on the back of the stove and out of the way of all the other Thanksgiving dishes, or in the slow cooker, and making a big pot of turkey and rice soup.

One would think that a huge pot of soup would be kind of superfluous given the huge bounty of food going around on T-Day, but you’d be surprised! After the initial meal, then the dessert, then the subsequent football game/ food coma, you might want to eat a little bit more, but not like, a full meal again … and then, this soup is perfect.

Trust me.

  • offal packet from your store-bought turkey (liver, gizzard and heart, plus the neck bone)
  • 1 cup of rice (add more later if needed)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 2-3 stalks chopped celery
  • 2-3 chopped carrots
  • 2 gloved garlic, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 diced jalapeno (optional)

Of course, you could also wait until your turkey has also been smoked, and add some of the smoke turkey bones to the soup for added smoky flavor. No one would blame you. Smoked chicken and smoked turkey carcasses make some of the best soups you can imagine. (Seriously, take any chicken soup or turkey soup recipe and substitute smoked chicken or smoked turkey. The meat or just the stock. It will change your life.)

turkey rice soup

You can also use the liver (plus a few more chicken livers) to make an insanely delicious pate for your Thanksgiving appetizers. Toss the livers on the smoker for a while (they will probably take less than an hour) and try this smoked chicken liver pate recipe. To. Die. For.

Posted in cooking, food, holidays, leftovers, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

October Unprocessed: Butternut Squash Chili

Last week, I got a big butternut squash in my CSA box and wasn’t sure what to make with it. Someone on the October Unprocessed Facebook page recommended tossing it into a chili.

I am a huge fan of chili, particularly in the cooler months … it seems to go so well with football and cold, windy weather; but also with cold beers and slices of watermelon in the summertime.

I have found in my years that people who are into chili take their chili very seriously and like it a certain, specific, personal way. Some people don’t like beans in their chili, some don’t like the meat. Luckily, chili is also one of the most easily adaptable dishes in the world. I don’t think I have ever made it exactly the same way twice.

Personally, my signature chili is with ground meat (beef, turkey, lamb, pork, or a mixture) and beans (usually more than one kind). It always has tomatoes (canned and/ or fresh) and usually has corn, and depending on the style, has some sort of chili pepper in it. Since this one is already packed with levels of flavor, I didn’t want to overdo the spiciness, so I used dried chili powder to taste and chopped sweet peppers. Also I would usually load a bowl of chili up with sour cream and grated cheddar, maybe even served over the contents of a bag of Fritos. This month I am doing the October Unprocessed challenge, so I am just eating it “plain” … if you can call this plain. It’s not.

But chili is a personal thing; if you don’t want meat in your chili, or you don’t want the beans, or you would rather have a wicked hot jalapeno pepper, then by all means, adapt this recipe to your tastes. This is just my way. I basically adapted my standard chili recipe to include the squash and some other Autumn-y flavors.

Seriously I think this is the best chili I’ve ever made.

Butternut squash and beef chili

A note about how to get into that butternut squash: Some of you may recall that last year, when I first ventured into cooking fresh pumpkins, how happy I was to have discovered an easy way to get the most out of the gourds. I pretty much have used the same technique with Red Kuri squash, pumpkins, and now butternut squash. Basically, if you have a type of squash with a very hard peel, and you are using it for the meat inside (as opposed to say, a baked acorn squash where you just stuff the squash and leave the gourd intact), it’s super-simple: cut it as much as you can, into workable chunks, and then broil, grill or roast it.

How to roast pumpkin

Personally, I use my outdoor grill to roast the squash, mostly because it’s fast, simple to use, and doesn’t require turning my oven on (which always makes my apartment really hot — even in the fall, it’s too much). So I hacked the butternut squash into 4-5 hunks, and put them, dry, on my grill over high heat for about 30 minutes. Keep an eye on them if you roast them over an open flame like that, or do them in your oven for about 30-45 minutes, or until they get a little bit soft (but not too soft).

Once the pieces of squash have cooled a little, the peel will come off very easily.

Butternut Squash and Beef Chili

(*Feel free to omit the beef and use vegetable stock only to make this totally vegetarian)

  • 1 butternut squash, roasted and peeled (see above for tips)
  • 1 lb ground beef*
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, diced
  • 3-4 sweet peppers, diced
  • 1 large can of stewed tomatoes
  • 1 can sweet yellow corn
  • 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 can white beans
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 small can of tomato paste (about 8 oz)
  • 1 bottle of good beer
  • 1 quart vegetable* or beef stock (or both)
  • 2-3 fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. each of cumin and coriander
  • 2 tbsp. chili powder (omit or reduce if you don’t like it spicy)
  • 2 tbsp. dried parsley
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh cilantro, as a garnish

By the time my squash was roasted and cooled, I had already started to brown about a pound of ground beef, a few diced cloves of garlic, and a diced onion in a big pot. Once the meat and onions cook down a little, add the diced carrot, a diced, peeled sweet potato, and the cans of corn, tomato and beans. Mix together well and add chopped sage and other spices, then add the beer and stock. Make sure there is a lot of liquid (it might even look like too much, but don’t panic), then add the tomato paste and squash, and bring to a boil.

Once the whole mixture has reached a boil, cover the pot, reduce to a simmer, and let it simmer for at least 2 hours. The liquid – which might have seemed excessive earlier — has now been absorbed and it should be nice and thick.

Butternut Squash and Beef Chili

You can also just brown the beef and roast the squash, dump everything into your slow cooker, set it on low and let it cook for 6-8 hours.

As with most chilis, the longer you let it cook, the more flavorful the final product will be.

Posted in cooking, food, leftovers, October Unprocessed, soups and stews, Thanksgiving, Uncategorized, unprocessed, vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

October Unprocessed: Quinoa Salad

October is a great time to be unprocessed. Most stores still carry the last of the summer produce, and the pumpkins, squashes and gourds of all types are plentiful.

This challenge is a great opportunity to try new recipes and new ingredients, especially when you can substitute new, healthy ingredients for processed ones. One of those ingredients for me is quinoa … I really enjoy it and want to find more ways to use it. For the second week of the challenge, I combined several different quinoa salad recipes, plus improvised with what was fresh in this week’s CSA box.

Quinoa Salad

  • 4 cups quinoa, cooked and cooled to room temperature
  • 1 can of tuna in water, drained
  • a bunch of fresh sunflower greens, chopped
  • a bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 5-6 large mushrooms
  • about a pound of fresh Brussels sprouts (10-12 heads), halved
  • 2-3 carrots, chopped
  • a dash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper to taste

Warm Quinoa Salad

While the quinoa is cooking and cooling, roast the mushrooms and Brussels sprouts over high heat with a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar until the vegetables are nicely browned. Allow them to cool and slice the mushrooms.

Toss the quinoa with the tuna and feta cheese, add the roasted vegetables (as well as the juices that came from the roasting pan), carrots, and fresh greens, and mix well. Season to taste and top with sliced avocado.

Posted in cooking, food, leftovers, October Unprocessed, Uncategorized, unprocessed | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment