**MOVING**MOVING**

Unfortunately after struggling with WordPress for a while, even prior to posting my first official post, I have decided to move to Blogger. I have found Blogger to be more user friendly and more reasonable with the allowance of customization. Not to mention the ability to add some small Google ads that may give me some small change. I apologize for the inconvenience! I am still learning the ropes, please bear with me. My new “address” is: http://bluejeanfoodiequeen.blogspot.com/

Come see me!

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Lesson Learned

I learned an important lesson this week; one I had surprisingly never “taught” myself. Though aware of the potential consequences I never ran into it personally. While slicing bell peppers for the corn chowder I was making I became distracted by someone speaking to me and I nearly added the tip of my thumb to the recipe! Naturally cutting myself with a serrated knife was not pleasant. Three things occurred to me at that moment, well after the cursing was over, I had gotten the bleeding stopped, and a bandaged applied: 1. these great new knives I have are sharper than any knife I have ever used 2. Cutting myself really, really hurts 3. I can do a blog on knife safety skills and review them myself. (Then, of course, I told myself how clever I was for thinking that up.)

Knife skills are not something that only professional chefs should know. I am not suggesting that you go out and learn to chop in that super-fast method you see on cooking shows. I cannot do that and I would not expect most average people to be able to it either. What I am saying is that there are some basic skills to know and remember anytime you pick up a knife.Knife-Safety-Signs-91822-001-ba

Remember the mantra “a sharp knife is a safe knife”! Trying to force a dull knife through whatever you are cutting can make the knife slip. If you were to cut yourself; it is better to do it with a sharp knife because the wound will be cleaner and heal faster, with less care needed than if it were jagged from a dull knife.

Make sure your cutting surface is appropriate! Glass, metal, or marble surfaces can damage blades and are not ideal for true cutting boards. Wooden cutting boards are great but difficult to keep clean. Keep an eye out for the reasonably priced space age plastic type boards. I love mine! Make sure that your cutting board either has non slip feet on the bottom or set it on a damp towel to prevent the board from slipping.

It seems obvious but never reach to grab a falling knife. Instinct causes us to reach for things that are falling. Try and make sure that knife handles are always away from the edges of counter space so that it is less likely to be knocked off. If a knife does get knocked off your work surface, for whatever reason, do not grab for it and step back so you do not impale your foot! Let the knife fall and then deal with any damage. This sounds totally obvious when I say it, but as previously mentioned instinct works against you here; this is not something you think about first. Not reaching for falling items in the kitchen is something you have to retrain your brain for.

When chopping anything it is better to go slowly and proceed with caution. It is best to cut away from your body. For me this takes some thought because I tend to pull knives towards me when I am preparing foods. I have to stop and remind myself to turn the food or my body so I can pull the knife away from me. Incidentally I was not turned away from my body when I cut myself. I was chopping though, so I was not pulling the knife but even then this is a no, no!

When cutting something always keep your eyes on the blade. I broke this cardinal rule and nearly gave the tip of my thumb for my efforts! The kitchen always seems to be the Grand Central Station of the home, the hub of activity. Whenever I have people over or go to someone’s home we always seem to end up in the kitchen! Think about it, the food and the liquor are usually in the kitchen so that is where parties end up. (That’s why I always say your kitchen should be immaculate, screw the rest of the house.) Even with all this activity you cannot take your eyes off what you are doing, even for a moment! If someone speaks to you or distracts you in some way pause your cutting! It makes sense if you think about it; you are not likely to cut yourself if you are watching what you are doing.

When you are carrying your knife through your busy kitchen always carry it with the blade pointed down and turned towards you. It seems obvious but it is also a bad idea to go skipping through your kitchen swinging your arms, at any time but especially with a knife in hand. With the knife pointed down and the blade towards your leg you are probably not going to slice someone, including yourself.

NEVER put a knife in a sink full of soapy water! Never submerge your knife in soapy water because it hides it from view. I have reached into sinks before and felt the knife sitting at the bottom of the sink; fortunately for me it was the dull, crappy, knives I grew up with so cutting actual flesh was not an issue. Soaking your knives in water is probably not that great for them anyway so just wash them well with a good scrubby sponge and put them away.

Curl your fingers under as you cut.knife skills This will feel weird and a bit awkward at first but with practice should become easier. Curling your fingers under helps to lessen the chance that you will lose the tip of any of your fingers. Obviously I wasn’t following this rule either. I have yet to personally master this one, but I am working on it.

The tip of the knife should never leave the work surface. Unless you are using a serrated knife to cut bread the motion you use to cut should be a rocking motion. The tip of the knife should rest on the cutting surface, only the back end of the knife lifts up to accommodate the movement of your other hand feeding the cutting process. This lends stability to the knife; think of those giant paper cutters that your teachers used in grade school!

Make sure you are using the right knife for the job. Again, I did not heed this rule. I was using a serrated knife to chop up vegetables. I should have been using a chef’s knife but I was lazy and just used the knife that was most available at that moment. Try to keep your knife block within reach of where you do most of your cutting and prep work. Keeping knives close to you helps discourage the inclination to just use what knife you can reach.

I know what mistakes I made and I hope that you can learn from my mistake and not have to “teach” yourself like I did. Prep work, in the kitchen, is often not the most enjoyable part of cooking but avoid the temptation to rush through it. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.

Sources:

http://cafe-la.lausd.net/Chef%27s_Corner/Knife_Safety

http://busycooks.about.com/od/howtocook/a/kitchenknife.htm

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Eat, and Be Merry!

Twice this week I have prepared soup and I make no apologies for this. The weather has been crappy and there is nothing better on cold, blustery days than a good bowl of soup to warm the soul. Isn’t that what eating is all about? I know that it is probably about nutrition too… But seriously, if nutrition was the only thing we focused on then we would not have sweets or French fries! Think about all the things you eat, because you like them or crave them, which have NOTHING to do with nutritional values. You eat gummi bears, caramel popcorn, or pizza not because it is good for you but because it makes you happy; it warms your soul. There are so many people out there writing about how to eat this or that and make all these healthy substitutions and that is great. I love to make healthier substitutions from time to time. What I am writing about is the cooking I was taught, which is more about loving what you eat but not eating so much of it you feel like you will explode. Honestly a great small bowl of soup is much more satisfying than a huge bowl of watery diet soup. Just my opinion… Quality not quantity…

 

Corn Chowder Final

I will be open and honest that I am working to take off some weight. (Honestly I always wanted boobs, but these girls of mine are starting to take over, and I am not having that.) Looking at my recipes I can understand how my saying I want to lose weight could confuse people. I pay very close attention to how much I eat and making sure that everything is balanced. During the day I eat small meals that are healthier, like that wonderful bowl of fiber I eat in the morning. I am usually not hungry for lunch so that meal usually consists of some fruit; I cannot eat if I am not hungry, I get sick. Dinner, dinner is my time to splurge. I count points instead of calories and I am cognizant of what my balance is come dinner time. So a cup of a good soup (with cream, butter, or both in it) takes a good chunk of those points I count, but what a WONDERFUL way to spend them! Sometimes eating a rich (and points expensive) meal means I cannot eat my favorite desserts and have to opt for some fruit instead or nothing at all; I understand this concept. So many of us have forgotten these simple rules of portion control, so I feel it is important to remind people of that. This is what is working for me and as long as I remember to keep my portions reasonable I do okay. At the time of this writing I am .4 pounds away from my first weight goal!

Corn Chowder

corn chowder beginning

1 bell pepper

1-2 carrots chopped

1-2 celery stalks chopped

4 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped

1 (4 cups) Chicken Stock

2 cups half and half or Milk

½ pound of cheddar (could use another cheese or reduced fat cheeses, I like the 2% cheese)

½ cup all-purpose flour

3 cups (1 family bag) White and Yellow sweet corn

1 stick of butter (I usually use the half sticks and tell myself they are full sticks, but use a full stick for the roux.)

Make Roux

Melt 1 stick of butter add bell pepper, carrot, and celery, sarouxuté for a few minutes. Add flour, make a roux. (Roux is a very old way of thickening sauces and soups. Commonly used in French or Cajun cooking) Cook roux until it is lightly brown, remove from heat.

Soup Base

Combine potatoes and chicken stock in large soup pot. Bring to boil, simmer 10-15 minutes until potatoes are tender. Half ways through simmering add the corn. Spoon small amounts of the stock liquid into the roux and stir smooth rouxor whisk vigorously to avoid lumps forming. Once the mixture is smooth, add roux to potatoes, corn, and stock. The soup will become thicker at this point; slowly add half and half, then cheddar, stirring as you add. Season soup mix with garlic powder, salt, pepper, and nutmeg; you may be tempted to leave out the nutmeg (I was when someone suggested it) but it really does make this soup! Add slowly and to taste. When cheese is fully melted serve! corn chowder after cream

You can freeze leftovers of this soup and use them on nights you don’t feel like cooking! Various members of my family and friends top this soup with different things such as bacon bits, a dollop of sour cream, more cheese, hot sauce, and plain pork rinds. Yes you read that right pork rinds. They add a different texture to the soup and really are not that bad. Feel free to experiment!

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Apple Pickin’

After posting about apple pie I was thinking that Cameo apples, while my favorite apple, are not the usual baking apples. Then my good friend J asked me what apples are good for baking and which ones are better to just eat? So I started doing a little research on the subject. applesWhile I still firmly believe that cooking and baking with a filling is more about following your own preferences than hard and fast rules or traditions… Obviously baking has an element of chemistry to it so you do have to follow recipes more closely than in just regular cooking. Though when you are filling a crust up with some kind of fruit what difference does it really make which fruit you use?

Apples can be tricky. If you do not use the right apples you could bake them into this gorgeous looking pie and then cut into it, only to find applesauce! This would likely happen to me in front of the (well accomplished pastry chef) mother of a man I am trying to impress, or at least I am trying to impress his family. Usually some snide remark or joke at my expense would be made and I would want to crawl into a hole somewhere. But that’s me not you… I digress. Cutting into your beautiful pie to find applesaucethat the apples have disintegrated could be very depressing. I am never one to turn down a good dessert so I would go ahead and try it. How bad could it really be? You like pie, and most people like applesauce. The pie won’t win any prizes but eh… If you are baking to impress or just not a fan of mushy apple pie then read on.

Selecting a good apple is the first step to any pie, cobbler, brown betty, tart, or crisp and fundamental to enjoying any apple. Look for apples that are firm, have a good color, and usually about the size of your fist. NO mushy, pale, behemoth apples for you! Look out for soft spots or breaks in the skin. I am really picky with my fruit; in fact the majority of my grocery shopping time goes into picking out fruits and veggies. I want to find as close to sheer perfection as I can. (Except bananas, then I want them green… but that’s another post) Local apples are usually much fresher and sometimes have a better flavor if you can get them.

It is good to note that three medium apples weigh around a pound. fresh-apples-from-last-summerRemember that medium apples are about the size of your fist, sounds small doesn’t it? We are conditioned to think that way in these days of super sizing. You will get about a cup of slices out of one medium apple.

According to my research the best apples to just eat are:

Gala, Fuji, Mutsu, Jonathan, Cameo, Golden Delicious, Cortland, Empire, Red Delicious, McIntosh, Braeburn, Winesap, Pink Lady, and Sundowner.

Apples used a lot in pies are:

Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, Rhode Island Greening, Pippin, Granny Smith, Pink Lady, Gravenstein

Best for applesauce:

Pippin, Rhode Island Greening, McIntosh, Elstar, Cortland, Fuji, Gala, Gravenstein

Best for baking:

Rome, Jonagold, Granny Smith, Pippin, Gala, Braeburn, Northern Spy, Gravenstein, Rhode Island Greening, York Imperial, Cortland, Winesap

Best for making salads:

Cortland, Golden Delicious, Empire, Gala, Red Delicious, Fuji, Winesap, Criterion, Pink Lady

The reason my Cameo apples didn’t break down in the pie is due to their firmness. Firmer apples do well when baking and the softer apples are better for sauces. apple-pie-slice-ABFOOD0506-deSierra Beauty apples are wonderfully juicy, slightly tart apples but do not hold their shape when baked. They have a softer texture than some other apples and therefore are not an ideal candidate for pies or baking.

When baking a pie, it is recommended that you choose an apple that is a bit tart so that the sugar added to the pie doesn’t overwhelm the apple. Sweet apple + sugar = super sweet pie! My favorite, Cameo apples can be a bit sweeter than the more traditional apple for pies, Granny Smith, but that is my preference. I like the added sweetness.

What you are looking to accomplish is apples that have a slight snap to them when you bite into your slice of pie. You don’t baby-food-apple-mainwant baby food, but a bit of resistance from the apple as you take that bite is a good thing. Most importantly you want to be happy with your final product.  That really is all that matters!  I hope that this bit of apple knowledge will help you in baking your next pie. Remember to make it your own! Mix a bunch of different apples together and see what happens! Let me know about your results!

 

Sources:

http://bakingbites.com/2007/09/the-best-apples-for-making-pie/

http://sonic.net/~alden/Apples.html

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Creamy Chicken and Spinach Tortellini Soup

This recipe just came to me one night!  I swear!   Everyone (I think) grows tired of cooking chicken the same way over and over and over again.  My fridge was full of stuff just nothing I thought I could use to make something new and exciting. HO HUM.  Then it occurred to me that I could make a soup.  This soup became one of my all time favorites! My family is not big on soup eating; this dish has changed all that!  After I made this soup the first time it was requested weekly for several months! 65336_1678376721971_1314103698_1789242_3549814_nThen I added other soups to my repertoire! (I love my recipe for Corn Chowder.) This recipe is done the way I typically cook, by taste.  My measurements are usually approximations. You should always taste anything you are cooking and adjust as you see fit.  Never, ever, be afraid to make a recipe your own, if it is horrible and burnt then… Chinese takeout is always phone call away, or in my sad little case (ie: broke), grilled cheese is the backup plan.  Over years of trial and error though I generally do not have grilled cheese nights anymore.  Every now and then you will hear horrible expletives rupturing forth from my kitchen, usually followed by loud crashing noises….  On those nights no one is surprised to see me emerge with grilled cheese for everyone.  Occasionally the family takes pity and we splurge on pizza, but my point is that you should never be afraid to experiment!  Just go for it!

Creamy Chicken and Spinach Tortellini Soup

4-6 Chicken Breasts (trimmed of fat and gristle pieces, then cubed)

1-2 bunches of Baby Spinach OR 1-2 bags of baby spinach (I find I end up picking through either one of them so I save money by buying the bunches, the amount of spinach you use depends on your taste for spinach…. I love spinach)

1 1/2 pint of heavy cream or half and half

1 large package of cheese tortellini (I use the one you find in the refrigerator section usually next to the cheese)

1 box of Chicken Stock

1/2-3/4 cup lemon juice (more or less depending on your taste)

Dill (dried or fresh, I use probably two tablespoons because I love dill)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Garlic Powder to taste

Basil (fresh is best) optional, again to taste

1/2 stick of butter

How to:

Bring a LARGE soup pot filled 1/4 to 1/2 way with water and chicken stock.  (I throw in a couple of chicken bullion cubes to intensify the chicken flavor.)  How much water you use depends on how soupy you like your soup to be and how many people you are feeding.  Place over high heat.  Once boiling put cubed chicken in water/stock mix.  Allow the chicken to cook in the water/stock.  Put butter in the water when chicken is half way done, allow to melt.  Mix in cream or half and half, lemon juice, and seasonings.   Bring liquid back to boil and drop in tortellini.  Do not over cook the tortellini; it will get mushy and fall apart!  When tortellini is almost “al dente” you can tear the spinach and mix it in the pot or use the leaves whole.  Spinach cooks fast! Much more than dunking the spinach in the soup can over cook it. I usually give it about 2-3 minutes in the soup.  Make sure you have tasted the soup as you cook to make sure the flavor agrees with you.

I always end up with extra soup, typically 2-3 extra servings, they freeze well and reheat straight from the freezer on those nights you just don’t want to cook.

I love to dunk bread in my soup; I recommend ciabetta bread or crusty French rolls.

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As American as…

This post will be about one of the biggest icons of American cooking. We do not say “As American as watermelon granita” for a reason.  What you may not know is that apple pies have been around since the middle ages!  Originally the pastry surrounding the fruit was not meant to be eaten; only used as a container to hold the fruit until it was time to be eaten….  Also the pastry contained no sugar and were called coffins, very unappetizing. Sugar became more readily available in the 1500-1600’s and pastry started to sweeten up a bit. Most European countries have some version of the apple tart or pie of their own, if you have ever eaten in an IKEA then you know about the Swedish version. So what about these pies make them American? More than likely, that our apple pie is truly a blending of the different cultures that make us American; our apple pie recipes take a bit of all the best parts of other European recipes and make the sumptuous dessert we know and love.  Nearly everyone I know has a family recipe for apple pie, usually dating back further than anyone can remember.

Apples, if you don’t know, are not native to the United States.  English settlers brought the seeds with them, planted the trees, and introduced these wonderful fruits to the new world.apples google(1) The famous saying about the patriotism of the pie is actually a short version of the original saying “As American as mothers and apple pie.”  This saying of course brings forth all the warm fuzzy feelings of your mom cooking for you in pearls and apron.  So next time you bite into an apple pie think of the journey that sweet treat has made and of course ENJOY!

My recipe of apple pie is my own blending of research on other people’s apple pie recipes and my southern heritage.  (I throw some pecans in for a slightly nutty taste.)  While I do cheat a little by using a prepared pie crust you could always make your own pie crust should you choose to.  I usually do not have time (or the patience) to wait for pastry to set up.  It should be noted I don’t make really healthy desserts…. In my opinion, desserts are not health foods they are meant to be pleasurable experiences.  Please try my pie recipe and let me know what you think!

Apple Pecan Streusel Pie

1 pie crust prepared

Apple Filling

7-8 large, peeled, cored apples (I use Cameo apples because I like their taste. However any apple or combination of apples would work.)

1 Lemon (Squeeze juice over apples as you slice, if you like grate some rind into the mix for added tartness.)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 flour

1-2 teaspoons cinnamon (based on your liking of cinnamon)

1/4 cup melted butter

Streusel

1 cup chopped Pecans (I chop in a food processor for a fine chop)

1 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt (I only eyeball this to cut my sodium)

1 stick of COLD butter (cut into small cubes, do this ahead of time and put back in the refrigerator to make sure they are really cold)

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prepare Apple Filling:  In large bowl combine apple, lemon juice, sugar, flour, cinnamon, and melted butter. IMG00029-20101214-1524 Let this mixture sit at room temperature while you are preparing the streusel. (or about 15 minutes.)


Prepare Streusel Topping: In food processor place your pecans and chop until a find chop is achieved, don’t make pecan butter just a fine chop.  Blend in the remaining dry ingredients, flour, sugar, brown sugar, salt.  Add butter and use the pulse option on the food processor to just combine the butter. IMG00030-20101214-1557 You want this mix to be coarse and to have clumps of butter in the crumbs; this is how the streusel is made.


Fill the prepared pie crust with apples and juices, you can press down on the filling to pack it if you like.  Spread streusel topping over entire pie.  Make sure all the filling is covered.  Place pie on baking sheet or foil lined oven pan, and bake 15 minutes.  This causes the pie to brown.  Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and continue baking for another 60 minutes, until filling bubbles and streusel is golden brown.  IMG00032-20101214-1724If necessary ( I always find it necessary) cover pie loosely with foil, I always spray the underside of the foil with cooking spray to keep it from sticking to anything.  The foil will prevent the pie from burning.  Remove from oven.  Cool for 2 hours.  Serve!

 

 

 

 

 


Source: http://whatscookingamerica.net/History/PieHistory/ApplePie.htm

http://www.theworldly.org/ArticlesPages/Articles2005/MarchApril05Articles/ApplePie.html

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