Monday, August 30, 2010

Mustard & Herb-Encrusted Lamb Chops, Fried Cornmeal-Battered Okra, and Sweet Potatoes

I received this recipe via text message from Martha Stewart Living.  Each day they send the name of a recipe and if you think it sounds good, you text, "Cook", in reply.  You receive another text with the shopping list.  You have to go online to get the preparation directions.

We don't often eat lamb, so this sounded different and delicious.  The bonus was that it wasn't hugely labor-intensive.  The lamb chops came from a local meat market.  They were rinsed, patted dry, and seasoned with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

While the lamb chops were adjusting to room temperature, I sliced up a some fresh okra.  Since there was only enough for two people, I don't think it qualifies as a "mess of okra".  (I've always loved that figure of speech, though.)  I read somewhere that if you use too much water to wash the okra, it becomes sticky,.  The okra was briefly rinsed and patted dry immediately before going into the dry ingredients, a simple mixture of yellow cornmeal, salt, pepper, and a tiny bit of sugar. 
Meanwhile, the lamb chops were brushed with a mix of Dijon Mustard and minced garlic.  They were then dredged in bread crumbs, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, and Herbs de Provence.  The recipe actually called for rosemary and Italian herbs, but I didn't have any on hand.
Herbs de Provence contains both of these, plus several other herbs, so I thought it would be a good substitute.  It was.

The lamb chops were fried in a small amount of vegetable oil over a medium-high flame until browned on each side.  The Parmesan in the crust made the chops brown a little faster than I wanted, so I had to move them around a bit.  We also prefer our lamb cooked a bit more than you see on television cooking shows.  (We cook ours to a medium level, while the cooking world suggests a very rare, red meat.)  The okra was fried in a different skillet until golden brown on each side.  Sweet potatoes with honey and brown sugar made a nice side dish for this home-cooked meal.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Strawberry Lemonade Marmalade

I found this recipe on another local blogger's site, The Errant Cook , and decided it would make a good first try at home canning. .  Since I consider her also to be a friend, I asked if she would mind if I blogged about making the recipe.  She generously agreed, and only asked that proper credit be given to Doris and Jilly Cook, where the recipe originated.  If you click on the hyperlink for "The Errant Cook", you will be taken to her post about making the same recipe.  If you click on the hyperlink for "Doris and Jilly Cook", you will be taken to the actual recipe.

I remember helping my mother and oldest sister do some canning way back when, but I had never tried it on my own.  The original recipe is actually titled, "Strawberry Lemon Marmalade", but the finished product reminded me a lot of strawberry lemonade, so I renamed it.  I had some Ball canning jars, lids, and rings in the garage so the only immediate cost was for the lemons, strawberries, and sugar.

Starting out with a bag of lemons, I selected 5 small to medium ones.  I cut off the ends of each lemon and made sure the pith (white part covering the lemon flesh) wasn't too thick.  Next, I used the mandolin slicer to thinly slice the lemon, rind and all.

I chopped the lemons and placed them in a 5-quart dutch oven.  They were covered with water (no real measurement, just about an inch above the lemons).  I boiled them for five minutes, then turned off the burner.  The recipe directs you to leave the lemons on the stove overnight.  I did, but the next day I realized I couldn't finish the marmalade, so I put the lemons in the refrigerator.  In the meantime, I sliced up a quart of strawberries and put sugar over them.  I left them in the refrigerator, too.

After the strawberries and sugar had made a sufficient amount of juice, I took them out and smashed them with a potato masher.  This made them nice and pulpy.

The lemons were poured back into the 5-quart dutch oven and added the strawberries.  The recipe called for 3 cups of sugar, but I added about 3/4 cup more after reading how some people thought the recipe was a bit too tart.  I cooked the fruit mixture over medium-low heat until it started to boil.  

The flame was reduced enough to keep the mixture at a low boil, which kept splatters to a minimum.  (I used a high-heat silicone-based plastic spoon to stir the mix on a regular basis.  I found the spoon at The Stock Pot in Tulsa.)  In the meantime, I put the canning lids in hot water in a shallow pan to heat thoroughly.  This is so the seals are properly prepared.  I didn't have a water bath, so I filled my pressure cooker 3/4-full of water and began to heat it to a boil.  I didn't have a jar rack, either, so I crumpled several pieces of aluminum foil and heated them with the water. 

Since there is no pectin in this recipe, it took a long time to get thick.  After about 30 minutes or more, the mixture started to cook down.  After about an hour, it was a rich ruby color flecked with bright yellow particles.  
I had to ask "The Errant Cook" how to know when the marmalade was ready, as I couldn't see it actually jelling (again, probably because there is no pectin in the mixture) and I was having trouble finding this information on the internet.  She graciously told me to chill a small plate in the freezer.  After the plate is chilled, you take a spoon of the mix and place it on the plate.  Turning the plate on its side, if the mixture runs, it's not ready to can.  If it stays in place, it has jelled. It turned out my marmalade was ready to can, so I got out the Back to Basics Canning Tools (a set I also purchased at The Stock Pot), which includes a jar lifter, a magnetic lid lifter, canning funnel, kitchen tongs, and a jar wrench.  I had prepared the jars and rings by running them through the dishwasher, so they were clean and dry.  I carefully filled seven jars and two small baby food jars.  The lids were removed from the hot water and placed on the jars.  The jar rings were placed on and tightened.  I used the jar lifters to transfer the hot, filled jars to the homemade water bath.  I had one casualty. 
After picking up the glass and metal and mopping up the mess as best I could, I transferred the other jars to the water bath.  I carefully set the jars into the aluminum foil crumples and made sure the jars were not touching.  I added more hot water to the pot, covering the jars by 2 - 3 inches.  The jars were boiled for 10 minutes.  I lifted the jars out and placed them on a kitchen towel to cool.  I listened as the jar lids made their distinctive pops and wheezes indicating that they were properly sealed.  I later checked to verify that the jars were properly sealed and they were, with the exception of the baby food jars.  As they were used jars, the lids didn't seal and actually popped off in the water bath.  The marmalade remained in the jars, so I poured off the water and replaced the lids.  I put these jars in the refrigerator, along with the small amount of extra marmalade that was left over.  (NOTE:  If the jars don't seal, you can safely refrigerate the jelly for several weeks.)  As the jars cooled, I cleaned the kitchen and properly mopped the floor.  

I finished up with 6- 1/2-pint jars (7, if you count the one that broke) and 2 small baby food jars of marmalade.  I loved the ease of the recipe and the flavor was incredible!  With each bite, you get the sweetness of the strawberries and just enough of the tartness from the lemons.  It's really a complex mix of flavors.  The finished jars also looked very pretty with the different colors showing through the glass.  

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Peanut Butter & Banana Sandwich... Sort of...

My nephew, Drew, recently turned 18-years-old.  When I asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he responded, "A peanut butter sandwich."  Attempts to prompt him into giving me a real answer were futile.

I realized that I was just going to have to give him money for his birthday.  However, I really like to be creative with my gifts, so I decided to make a peanut butter sandwich out of art foam.  Initially, I thought I would make the peanut butter out of cardstock and put a check in to represent jelly.  This didn't suit my vision of a peanut butter sandwich, as the nothing but the "bread" had any real substance.  I decided to see if I could find a peanut butter-colored clay.  I found Pluffy, a clay that can be shaped and baked in the oven, which preserves the shape of your design.  They had a wide assortment of colors and, fortunately, there was one that was very close to peanut butter.  I found some light yellow cardstock that was the color of banana slices.  This was the perfect solution to my dilemna, as banana slices would be a great disguise for $1 gold coins.

I bought one sheet of white art foam, two pieces of light yellow cardstock, and one package of Pluffy clay.  I fished twenty-five $1 coins from one of my banks and dragged out the Cricut Expression machine for the very first time. I took my X-acto Knife and carefully cut one "slice of bread" from the art foam, then took that piece and used it as a guide to cut a second "slice".

 A brown Sharpy was used to color the edges of the "bread".  Next, I molded the Pluffy clay to the shape that I wanted to best resemble peanut butter spread. The Pluffy is baked at 275 degrees for 15 minutes. 

After the clay had cooled, I placed it on the "bread" and set out to make the "banana slices".  After watching the Cricut DVD and doing a bit of trial and error, I cut 50 1-1/4" circles out of the yellow cardstock.  I took a black Sharpy and added dots and lines to imitate the seeds and natural markings of bananas.  

 Double-sided adhesive was placed on the unmarked sides of each "banana slice".  A $1 coin was secured to one circle and a second circle was pressed onto the coin.  The edges of the cardstock circles were slightly depressed.

The "sandwich" was now ready to assemble.  

When my nephew opened his "lunch", he said, "Ha!  That's funny!"  He later told me the gift was "awesome", which made all the work worthwhile and was why I wanted a more creative way of giving him cash than just writing a check, anyway.