Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas Cookie Roundup

One of my favorite things about Christmas is making and eating Christmas cookies. In years past, my mom would have a cookie exchange with her co-workers, and we would end up with a large assortment. The best part of the cookie exchange is assembling a large plate of cookies and contemplating which ones to eat first. Now that she is retired, I usually would bring home a variety of cookies and my sister would make some too. This year I didn't contribute to our annual cookie tray, but I still made my usual five types to take to my in-laws. The selections for this year:

Classic Peanut Butter (Recipe from The Joy of Cooking)

First Federal Credit Union Holiday Cookies--This particular recipe came as an advertisement to join their credit union. There are pecans, chocolate chips and caramel chunks in the mix.

Classic chocolate chip (Recipe from The Joy of Cooking). These are the best chocolate chip cookies I have ever made.

Christmas Spritz (Recipe from Betty Crocker's Cooky Book). These were not a hit--Too plain and too almondy. I thought they were delicious.

The fully assembled cookie selections. My mom sent coconut cookies (white cookies far left), mint chocolate chip (green cookies, center left), and chocolate caramel thumbprint (brown cookies, center)

Close-up Christmas Spritz

My mom's cookies

I also made chocolate truffle cookies (front, center).

Next year, I'm sticking to the classics (peanut butter, chocolate chip, sugar), and I may make a wild card. I may even try making cookies for dogs, especially since our pug seemed to enjoy her giant peanut butter bone from her stocking this year:

But that depends on if she's a good girl this year, Santa may already be planning to bring her a lump of coal...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Steamed Oysters

Oysters are in season! And we bought a bushel from a family member who catches and sells them.  We broke in our gigantic steam pot and single outdoor burner for the occasion. I forgot to take pictures of our set-up, but here is our set-up for eating:
This is one bushel steamed. Our steam pot has this bucket for easy lifting out of the larger pot.

Ours were a little undercooked, and this gigantic oyster was slightly raw. But still good.

I prefer oysters more cooked, and this smaller one was cooked through.

Oyster Shells!

Apple cider vinegar, melted butter, hot sauce, and cocktail sauce were used as accompaniments.

I needed a little leverage to find the right one.

Top view!
I definitely needed more newspaper on the table since there was still some liquid in the oysters and the newspaper laid down was soaked through. A very successful evening, and I can't wait to steam more stuff in our pot!

Joy of Cooking Tuna Noodle Casserole

Canned tuna is something I didn't always like. I eventually came to like it, and started making tuna noodle casserole. My dad always liked tuna noodle casserole with crumbled potato chips on top, but I think I prefer a Ritz Cracker top, which is what The Joy of Cooking  recommends in their recipe. After making The Joy of Cooking recipe for tuna noodle casserole, I think it is my favorite. This recipe does use cream of mushroom soup, but it works in this recipe. I like this particular recipe because of the Worcestershire sauce, the diced roasted red pepper, and the frozen peas added to the mix. I served mine with some baked zucchini. To make the zucchini, drizzle some olive oil over halved slices, and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper on top. Bake in a 350 degree oven for around 20 minutes.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Butternut Squash and Bacon Pasta

I've gone a little overboard with the butternut squash this fall, but this particular recipe is great: Butternut squash and bacon pasta comes from Cooking Light. It is super cheesy and rich. I keep extra sharp white cheddar on hand, and I used that instead of the provolone recommended in the linked recipe. I also used skim milk instead of 2%, and the recipe was still full of flavor. I could eat cheese and noodle recipes like this time...

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Chili

I noticed I was late on all of the pumpkin recipes this fall, but I did run across a pumpkin chili recipe that I modified slightly. I love the spicy notes from the chipotle chiles, but you really can't taste the pumpkin. I tend to prefer meaty chili instead of chili with lots of beans. I didn't save the link to the recipe that inspired me, but here is how I made mine:

Slow Cooker Pumpkin Chili
Serves 4

1 tbsp olive oil
1 lb 90/10 ground beef
1 medium onion diced
1 can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1 can cannellini beans
1 can petite diced tomatoes
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1/4 cup diced roasted red pepper
1/4 cup pureed chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (around two peppers and 2 tbsp adobo sauce)
Shredded cheddar cheese for topping

1. Add olive oil to a skillet on medium heat to soften onion. Once onion is translucent, add ground beef and brown. Once the meat is no longer pink, drain the excess grease from the meat.
2. Combine the pumpkin, beans, spices, broth, red pepper, and chipotle peppers in a slow cooker. Add the onions and beef. Stir to combine.
3. Cook in the slow cooker on low for 4-5 hours or on high for 2-3 hours. Top with shredded cheese.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Baked Bean Quintet

Growing up, I didn't really like beans. As an adult, I have slowly grown a taste for them. I recently decided to try Better Homes and Gardens Baked Bean Quintet recipe, and I have a new fondness for beans.  The bean combo I used was a follows:

1 can baby lima
1 can butterbeans
1can great northern beans
1 can pinto beans
1 can garbanzo beans

Bacon, garlic, onion, catsup, Worcestershire sauce, molasses, brown sugar, and pepper were also added for the sauce. I made this particular recipe in my crockpot by cooking the mixture on high for 4-6 hours:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Steamed Blue Crabs

The blue crab season ended November 21 (the day I got married!), and before it ended, we purchased a bushel and steamed them Tangier Island style. When someone orders steamed blue crabs from a restaurant, they are steamed with the backs on and covered in Old Bay seasoning. When cooking crabs what I call Tangier Island style, the guts are cleaned out prior to steaming. Restaurants usually don't clean the crabs prior to steaming because it is time consuming.  To clean out the guts, the back is taken off first:
A bushel of crabs--best cleaned outside.
A close-up--notice the back on. These are still alive, and you have to work around their claws to avoid being pinched to get the back off while cleaning.
Once the back is removed, the eyes are cut off, and the lungs are removed. The cleaning process probably sounds really disgusting, but the meat tastes so much better with all of the guts and stuff removed prior to steaming.
The traditional Tangier Island way of steaming the crabs includes layering the crabs with onions and sprinkling them with Old Bay. Once the crabs are layered with onions, rendered fatback grease is poured over the top along with a cup of water (just enough to fill the first inch of the pot), and the strips of fatback are also laid on top. A healthier option is to steam the crabs with vinegar and water or beer and water.
We needed three pots to steam our bushel.
Set the table by covering it with newspaper and having rolls of paper towels available. Bowls are laid out for the muddy gravy. Saltines are also a necessary for consuming the crabs and sopping up the gravy.
Once the crabs are steamed, you pick the meat out of the body. On Tangier Island, the liquid in the pot is called muddy gravy and is poured into bowls. Once the meat is picked, it can be placed in a bowl to soak up the gravy. It can then be eaten by itself or eaten on top of a saltine. The crab meat is also excellent soaked in regular white vinegar.
Best enjoyed with a Pepsi.
Crabs and onions in the pot ready to be eaten.
Crabs are best steamed outside, especially if you cook them with fatback. The fatback smell lingers for quite awhile after they are cooked. Since it was November, it was a bit chilly to cook ours outside. We have an outdoor burner, and received a really big steam pot as an early Christmas gift. I can't wait until crabs are available in the spring. In the meantime, we have oysters to look forward to!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ode to Tomatoes

I had to look up what an ode was as a type of poem, and it seems there isn't a general consensus as to what it is. What I did gather from the various definitions I found was that it is meant to address a person, place, or thing. Instead of writing an actual ode to tomatoes, I thought I would post three pictures of tomatoes to symbolize the three stanzas traditionally included in an ode:

Extreme close-up.
The stripped heirlooms aren't the most flavorful tomato, but still pretty!
The biggest and most strangely shaped tomatoes of the summer!
My tomato plants have finally been killed by the frost, and I have a container of store bought cherry tomatoes on the counter. I will definitely miss being able to go outside and pick a tomato when I need one. Until next year tomatoes!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Baked Trout

My brother-in-law is a fisherman, and recently gave us a bag of trout. I had a breakfast version of trout on a trip to Tangier Island, but I wasn't a fan of the flavors. The trout was boiled and then covered in the rendered fat from fatback. The fatback grease was too overwhelming to me, so I decided to bake our trout with breadcrumbs, Old Bay seasoning, and butter. I made the bread crumbs from a whole wheat hamburger bun, and I toasted them slightly. I then sprinkled them evenly over the fish, which I placed in a lightly greased glass baking dish with the skin side down. I then sprinkled the Old Bay over the fish, and evenly poured melted butter over it. The fish baked in a 350 degree oven for around 25 minutes.

I served the fish with some buttered bread and creamed peas and potatoes:
The pea and potato side dish wasn't the best accompaniment to the fish, but it worked. The Old Bay on the fish was the best! I don't know how I ate seafood without Old Bay before moving to Virginia.