Tag Archives: culinary adventures

Culinary Adventures: Cooking Octopus

My adventure getting over my fear of cooking octopus. It turned out delicious and wasn’t as difficult as I thought.

 

I love octopus. During our last trip to the Yucatan in Mexico, I ate octopus almost every day. The two entrees I had with octopus as a main course were some of the best dinners I’d ever had. But I’d never tried to cook it at home. I have a memory of my mother’s attempt at cooking octopus when I was a kid. She didn’t really know what to do with it, so she cut the legs off and baked it in the oven. The result was the equivalent of chewing on a rubber tire, and we all ate TV dinners instead.

I asked our waiter at Kitchen Table in Tulum how my amazingly delicious octopus was prepared, and he said the trick to cooking octopus was to boil it for a very long time prior to finishing it in a saute pan or grill or however you plan to prepare it. Boil it PAST the rubber tire stage to edible perfection.

This last New Years Eve, we were inviting a few food-loving friends over for dinner and drinks, and I decided I was going to do it. I was going to cook a goddamn octopus.

But first, extensive research. I looked up some Spanish octopus recipes (Pulpo a la Gallega), and watched a couple YouTube videos. I learned that in addition to boiling the octopus for an hour, you need to tenderize it by freezing it and thawing it first.

This video of Eric Ripert cooking Spanish octopus was my main inspiration:

I procured my octopus at Uwajimaya in Seattle, the large Asian grocery store in the International District. Uwajimaya is a great place to go for all kinds of fresh seafood.

I found my octopus in the frozen section, which saved me the step of freezing it. It came in a solid square block. I tried thawing it for a day in the fridge, but ended up taking it out and leaving it on the counter for several hours the following day after fridge thawing yielded slow results.

Finally, my slimy, gelatinous blob of octopus was ready to cook.

cooking octopus
Cooking octopus: thawed raw octopus ready to cook

Paddy is convinced that octopuses are not of this planet, that they came here from somewhere else.

cooking octopus
Cooking octopus: thawed raw octopus ready to cook

I put my octopus in a large pot of water with some chopped celery, onion, several cloves of garlic cut in half, chopped parsley, and some paprika. Several of the recipes and videos advised to “shock” (or “frighten,” as one Spanish chef called it) the octopus by dunking it in the boiling pot for 10 seconds and pulling it back out for 10 seconds three times before submerging it for an hour-long boil.

From my understanding, the point of “shocking” the octopus before boiling is to help the tentacles curl up nicely.

Cooking octopus: "shocking the octopus"
Cooking octopus: “shocking the octopus”
Cooking octopus: "shocking the octopus"
Cooking octopus: “shocking the octopus”
Cooking octopus: "shocking the octopus"
Cooking octopus: “shocking the octopus”
cooking octopus
cooking octopus

After an hour, I pulled the octopus out and put it in a bowl with a lid to keep it hot while I boiled some red potatoes in the octopus broth, adding a generous dash of kosher salt. I boiled the potatoes until they were almost done, and then pulled them out and sliced them.

I then cut up the octopus, cutting the tentacles in long pieces, and then slicing the rest of the leg meat up to the head. I saw videos on how to remove the head and beak prior to cooking, but it didn’t really seem necessary since it was going to get cut up anyway. I discarded the head and beak area, using as much of the leg meat as possible.

cooking octopus
cooking octopus–cooked octopus pulled from the pot after boiling for an hour
cooking octopus
cooking octopus–cooked octopus pulled from the pot after boiling for an hour

I finished the octopus pieces in a pan with more onions and garlic, some high-quality Spanish olive oil, salt, and a mix of sweet Spanish paprika and smoked paprika. I then fried my potatoes in the same pan with the same ingredients.

I finished my “pulpo a la gallega” by arranging the sliced potatoes on a serving platter, and sprinkling with a little more paprika and drizzling with a little more Spanish olive oil. I then arranged the tentacles and leg meat slices on top of the potatoes with more olive oil, a pinch of salt, and more chopped parsley.

cooking octopus: pulpo a la gallega
cooking octopus: pulpo a la gallega

It turned out fabulous. The octopus was flavorful and tender, and was a nice compliment to the potatoes.

If I had to improve on this dish next time, I would add a tiny bit of salt to the octopus broth while boiling it (I saw one recipe say not to add salt, but I wasn’t sure why). Also, I would be a little more heavy handed with the olive oil, and use fingerling potatoes instead of red potatoes. (Fingerlings weren’t available at Uwajimaya when I was shopping, and I was too lazy to go to a different grocery store). A squeeze of lemon might be a nice touch. I noticed that Eric Ripert added ham to his broth while boiling it. I was concerned that this might overpower the flavor of the octopus, but I am curious to try it next time.

I am over my fear of cooking octopus, and am excited to try it again this summer and finish it on the grill to get a nice charred flavor. Octopus is delicious and not as intimidating as it looks. Easier than roasting a chicken.

 

 

 

Culinary Adventures: Mexican Chocolate Pumpkin Pie

Mexican chocolate pumpkin pie: a spicier and richer version of the classic fall favorite.

 

Paddy and I are both big fans of spicy chocolate, and I wanted to shake things up a bit for Thanksgiving this year. I found this recipe for Mexican Chocolate Pumpkin Pie in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, and decided to try it out. I changed it up a bit, using pre-made chocolate cookie pie crusts, dividing the recipe into two (the cookie pie crusts were pretty shallow) and tripling the chocolate ganache recipe. It turned out fantastic and our families loved it.

Better Homes and Gardens Mexican Chocolate Pumpkin Pie Recipe:

  • 1 recipe Baked Piecrust (I subbed out a pre-made chocolate cookie crust
  • 1 3.1 ounce disc Mexican chocolate or 3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped plus 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon mild chili powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 15 ounce can pumpkin
  • 4 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup half-and-half or light cream
  • 1 recipe Chocolate Ganache*
  •  Grated chocolate (optional)
  •  Chili powder (optional)

Directions

  1. Prepare Baked Pastry Shell; set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a small saucepan heat the chocolate, cinnamon and butter over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, just until melted; set aside to cool. In a large bowl combine the brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, salt, 1/4 teaspoon chili powder, and cayenne. Stir in the pumpkin and eggs until combined. Gradually stir in half-and-half until combined.
  2. Stir 1 1/2 cups of the pumpkin mixture into the cooled chocolate mixture. Pour chocolate mixture into baked pastry shell. Gently pour remaining pumpkin mixture over the chocolate layer. If necessary, cover edges of pie with foil to prevent overbrowning. Bake for 60 minutes or until edges are puffed and center appears set. Cool on a wire rack. Chill within 2 hours. Serve with Chocolate Ganache. Sprinkle with grated chocolate and chili powder, if desired.
CHOCOLATE GANACHE: (I tripled this recipe to make enough for two pie toppings)

Chop 3 ounces semi-sweet chocolate and place in a small bowl. Heat 1/4 cup whipping cream to a simmer and pour over chopped chocolate. Let stand 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. Immediately spoon over center of cooled pie.

The Mexican chocolate I used I found at the little Mexican tienda across the street from our house. We live in a pretty culturally diverse neighborhood, so it was pretty easy to find. If you don’t have any Mexican grocery/variety stores in your area, you could try using regular chocolate and adding in cinnamon and cayenne, but it probably won’t turn out entirely the same.

Mexican chocolate pumpkin pie
Mexican chocolate

The chocolate comes in disks inside the package. The recipe called for one disk.

Mexican chocolate pumpkin pie
Mexican chocolate

The filling wasn’t so different from a regular pumpkin pie, aside from mixing part of the pumpkin filling with the Mexican chocolate for the bottom layer, and adding a few extra spices. It was pretty easy.

Mexican chocolate pumpkin pie
Mexican chocolate pumpkin pie –the chocolate/pumpkin layer on the bottom
Mexican chocolate pumpkin pie
Mexican chocolate pumpkin pie –pumpkin layer
Mexican chocolate pumpkin pie
Mexican chocolate pumpkin pie –pies ready to go in the oven

The pies came out the consistency of a regular pumpkin pie, and when they were cool I made the chocolate ganache and poured it over the tops. Once the ganache was cool, I grated part of a chili chocolate bar and sprinkled it on top. I used the local Seattle Theo Chocolate chili bar.

Mexican chocolate pumpkin pie
Mexican chocolate pumpkin pie
Mexican Chocolate Pumpkin Pie
Mexican Chocolate Pumpkin Pie

Paddy says he expects Mexican chocolate pumpkin pie every Thanksgiving now. I will try to accommodate, but I do love trying a new recipe every year!

Culinary Adventures: Pumpkin Pancakes with Apple Cider Syrup

Pumpkin pancakes with apple cider syrup: our favorite fall brunch recipe. The apple cider syrup is what makes this recipe the best–a sweet and spicy mouthful of fall in every bite.

 

I found this pumpkin pancakes recipe years ago on www.bbonline.com shared from Mountain Home Lodge in Leavenworth, WA. Looks like they have since taken the recipe down and put up some other pumpkin pancakes recipes instead. This one is perfect though, and the apple cider syrup is what really makes it great.

Mountain Home Lodge’s Pumpkin Pancakes with Apple Cider Syrup Recipe:

Ingredients

2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/4 cup oil
1-3/4 cups pancake flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 ounces melted butter
1/2 teaspoon or more of each: cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground ginger 

Apple Cider Syrup

1/2 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 cup apple juice or cider
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup butter

 

Directions:

In large bowl, beat the eggs well with the sugar. Add the other “wet” ingredients and mix. Whisk in pancake flour and spices until the batter is smooth. Batter may need more milk to make it thick, but pourable. Cook on griddle until golden brown. Serve with Apple Cider Syrup.

pumpkin pancakes with apple cider syrup
Pumpkin pancakes with apple cider syrup


**Note--The pumpkin in the pumpkin pancakes batter makes them cook quicker than normal pancakes. I made a few black ones until I realized I needed the burner on lower than normal. Try a few small ones first until you get it right. 

Apple Cider Syrup: 

Mix sugar, cornstarch, and spice in a medium saucepan. Stir in apple juice and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until it boils. Turn heat to low and allow syrup to thicken. Add butter, stirring in a Tablespoon at a time. Remove from heat. Refrigerate any unused syrup for another morning.

It seems like every fall we have at least one visitor from out of town, and that’s usually when I make pumpkin pancakes. It makes too big of a batch for just the two of us, so it’s nice to have someone to share them with. We like to pair them with chicken apple breakfast sausages and eggs–protein to balance out the sugar.

pumpkin pancakes with apple cider syrup

 

 

Culinary Adventures: Oyster Stew

Our favorite oyster stew recipe: Alex Hitz’s Oyster Stew is a great fall or winter warmer.

 

I came across this oyster stew recipe in House Beautiful Magazine (I think it was one of the ones floating around my Mom’s living room) and tore it out and took it home. We loved it so much we shared it in a cook book of our favorite recipes last year for family (Mom got the recipe back, with style). It really brings out the oyster flavor. The original recipe (found here) calls for 1/4  cup bourbon, which was good but we like to use beer instead. Your call.

Alex Hitz’s Oyster Stew

Ingredients:

Serves 6 to 8

3 tablespoons salted butter

2 bunches green onions, thinly sliced, including both green and white parts

2 small cloves garlic, minced

2 cups milk

2 cups heavy cream

1/2 can of light beer 

1 cup very rich chicken stock

1¾ teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon white pepper

2 pints fresh raw medium oysters, plus 1½ cups of their drained liquor

Directions:

1. In a medium-size stockpot over medium heat, melt the butter. When the foaming has subsided, add the onions and garlic and sauté for three to four minutes until they begin to be translucent.

2. Add the milk, cream, beer, chicken stock, salt, white pepper, and oyster liquor. Bring this mixture to a boil for 10 minutes.

3. Remove the pot from the heat and add the oysters. They should “steep” in the hot stock for about three minutes, until they are heated through fully and just begin to curl at the edges. Do not overcook them. Serve immediately.



Oyster Stew
Oyster Stew with Caesar salad and cheddar biscuits warmed us up after a fall beach day in Grayland, WA


We have added some smoked oysters to this oyster stew recipe along with the regular ones on our trip to Grayland, WA, and it turned out really good. We like it both ways. Serve with warm crusty bread or biscuits.

Culinary Adventures: Chocolate Cherry Cobbler

Culinary Adventures: Chocolate Cherry Cobbler recipe. Cherries and chocolate, together in harmony.

 

I was trying to decide on a dessert recipe to bring to our friends’ BBQ the other week and the latest issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine showed up in the mail with a really good looking chocolate cherry cobbler recipe on the cover. I realize that last sentence makes me sound like  a Minnesota housewife, but hey–don’t knock BHG. They do have good recipes and landscaping ideas.

I decided to give it a try. I made a few adjustments–I couldn’t find ground chipotle chili powder so I used regular chili powder, and I couldn’t find frozen tart pie cherries at the grocery store I was at, so I got sweet black cherries and some fresh rainier cherries and mixed them together.

Better Homes and Gardens’ Firecracker Chocolate Cherry Cobbler recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chile pepper
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
  • 1 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 7 cups fresh or frozen pitted tart red cherries
  •  Milk
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sugar

 

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 2-quart round baking dish.
  2. For the biscuits, in a medium bowl combine 1 cup flour, 1/3 cup sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and ground chipotle. Add the butter and, using a pastry blender or 2 forks, cut the butter into the mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the chocolate. Add the 1/4 cup milk and stir until just moistened. Knead the dough 3 to 4 times in the bowl until it holds together. Form the dough into a disk.
  3. In a large saucepan combine the 3/4 cup sugar and 1/3 cup flour; stir in cherries. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly. Cover to keep warm.
  4. On a floured surface roll biscuit dough out to a 3/4-inch thickness. Cut dough with assorted 2- to 3-inch star-shaped cutters, rerolling dough as necessary. Spoon hot filling into prepared dish. Arrange dough cutouts over filling. Brush cutouts with milk and sprinkle the tops with the coarse sugar.
  5. Bake 30 minutes or until filling is thick and bubbly and biscuits are baked through. Remove and let stand 30 minutes before serving.

Honestly, I didn’t purposely plan on doing star shaped cobbler biscuits like the recipe said to, but I happened to find a star shaped cookie cutter in my baking drawer that I didn’t know I had, so I did. You can do any shape, or use a small drinking glass to cut rounds.

chocolate-cherry-cobbler-1

chocolate cherry cobbler

Pitting the fresh rainier cherries was kind of a pain in the butt but not too bad, since I was mixing them in with the already pitted frozen black cherries. Do make sure you stir the cherry mixture, it will start burning on the bottom and sticking. Keep the heat on medium, don’t turn it up too high.

chocolate cherry cobbler

I also deviated from the recipe a bit by adding chocolate chips to the cherry mixture after I poured it into the pan. I think next time I would even add a few more.

chocolate-cherry-cobbler

I had exactly enough stars to cover the cherries in the pan (including the last gimpy one in the corner). I just has to taste good, right?

chocolate cherry cobbler
Chocolate cherry cobbler ready to bake

The cobbler turned out pretty good and everyone seemed to like it. We ate it with vanilla ice cream. I do think that not using tart pie cherries made a difference though, and if I make this chocolate cherry cobbler again I will make sure I can get tart cherries.  I would also do salted butter instead of unsalted. I usually use salted butter in all baking projects, the extra salt brings out the flavor a bit more–especially with chocolate. I’d also like to try it with the chipotle pepper instead of regular chili powder–that sounds delicious.

Chocolate Cherry Cobbler
Chocolate Cherry Cobbler

If you have a star-shaped cookie cutter and can get some good tart pie cherries, this chocolate cherry cobbler recipe would be a good one for the Fourth of July.

Culinary Adventures: Atlantic Beach Pie

Culinary adventures: Making Atlantic Beach Pie. This southern-style citrus pie is super easy and tastes like a big creamy lemon bar. Great to bring to a BBQ!

I was looking at recipes for lemon pies on Pinterest and happened across a pin from NPR with a recipe for Bill Smith’s North Carolina -style Atlantic Beach Pie, and decided I had to try it.

Recipe from http://www.npr.org/2013/04/11/176279512/a-north-carolina-pie-that-elicits-an-oh-my-god-response

Recipe: Bill Smith’s Atlantic Beach Pie

Makes one pie
For the crust:
1 1/2 sleeves of saltine crackers
1/3 to 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sugar
For the filling:
1 can (14 ounces) sweetened condensed milk
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon or lime juice or a mix of the two
Fresh whipped cream and coarse sea salt for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Crush the crackers finely, but not to dust. You can use a food processor or your hands. Add the sugar, then knead in the butter until the crumbs hold together like dough. Press into an 8 inch pie pan. Chill for 15 minutes, then bake for 18 minutes or until the crust colors a little.

While the crust is cooling (it doesn’t need to be cold), beat the egg yolks into the milk, then beat in the citrus juice. It is important to completely combine these ingredients. Pour into the shell and bake for 16 minutes until the filling has set. The pie needs to be completely cold to be sliced. Serve with fresh whipped cream and a sprinkling of sea salt.

I crushed the saltines in the packages, and while I liked the chunkiness of the texture, it didn’t hold together that well. I think that next time I will crush a bit finer in either a food processor or a gallon zip lock bag. It did taste great though.

Atlantic-Beach-Pie (2)
Crushed saltines, butter, and sugar
Atlantic-Beach-Pie (4)
Baking the crust

For the juice I used my electric citrus juicer to squeeze lemons. I didn’t use any lime juice, just lemon. I would strongly recommend using fresh lemon juice over bottled, the bottled has an acidic taste that I’m not fond of. I only ended up needing one large lemon for the 1/2 cup of lemon juice.

Atlantic Beach Pie
Juicing the lemons
Atlantic Beach Pie
Egg yolk, lemon juice, and sweetened condensed milk mixture

The filling mix for the Atlantic Beach Pie was rather runny when pouring it into a pre-baked pie shell. The result after baking was a smooth, firm, custard however.

Atlantic Beach Pie
Filling the pie ready to bake

The Atlantic Beach Pie turned out delicious, and it was ridiculously easy. I sprinkled the top with a little sea salt like the recipe called for, and served with whipped cream. It tasted kind of like a big, extra-creamy lemon bar. I’m keeping this recipe in my mental lexicon of easy summer BBQ potluck dishes.

Atlantic Beach Pie
Finished pie
Atlantic Beach Pie
Atlantic Beach Pie
Atlantic Beach Pie
Atlantic Beach Pie

Culinary Adventures: Japanese Style Deviled Eggs

Make Easter brunch more interesting, or add Japanese style deviled eggs to your next party spread. They take a bit of planning ahead, but are so easy and so delicious.

 

This recipe for Japanese style deviled eggs is essentially just a Japanese marinated egg topped with a squirt of mayo, a squirt of Sriracha, and some toasted panko. The only hard part is planning ahead to marinate them. Other than that, they are actually less work than regular deviled eggs.

Japanese marinated soft boiled eggs (Ajitsuke Tomago) are what they use in Japanese ramen noodle bowls. For this recipe, I just made standard hard boiled eggs and marinated them with a marinade recipe that I found on SeriousEats.com.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sake
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup mirin
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 eggs

Also needed: Mayonnaise, Sriracha sauce, and Panko (Japanese style bread crumbs)

If you’re not familiar with mirin, it is a sweet rice wine product used for cooking, and is pretty essential in Japanese cuisine. You can find it in the Asian foods section at the grocery store, usually near the rice vinegar.

Mix the liquid ingredients and the sugar and whisk the sugar until it is dissolved. Hard boil, cool, and peel the eggs and add them to the marinade. Cover eggs with a folded paper towel saturated in the marinade to help hold the eggs in the marinade, as they tend to bob to the surface and leave a side exposed. Marinate in the fridge overnight.

If you want to make more Japanese  style deviled eggs, adjust the recipe above accordingly.

Once your eggs are marinated, pull them out, pat dry with a paper towel, and cut them in half. Squirt a little mayo and a little Sriracha sauce on the cut halves. I like to use Asian Kewpie mayo which you can find at most Asian grocery stores, it has a fine tip. Regular mayo works just as well.

Japanese style deviled eggs

Next, take the panko and spread it on a baking sheet and toast it for a few minutes. I do this in the toaster oven. If you don’t have a toaster oven, you can toast them in the regular oven on a high temperature as well. Keep an eye on them, they toast quickly.

Toasted Panko Japanese style deviled eggs
Toasted Panko

Sprinkle the toasted Panko on top of the eggs, adding another delicious layer of crunchy toasty goodness. Your Japanese style deviled eggs are now ready to serve.  If you make these for a party, use at least a dozen eggs. They will go quickly.

Japanese Style Deviled Eggs
Japanese Style Deviled Eggs

Culinary Adventures: Maple and Apple Cider Brined Roast Chicken

Culinary adventures: Maple and apple cider brined roast chicken–our favorite fall/winter roast chicken recipe.

 

I got this recipe out of a magazine a couple years ago, and unfortunately the page I tore out of it has no indication which magazine it was. It is my favorite fall/winter roast chicken recipe now.

**Before you get started, note that this is a two-day recipe as you need to prepare the brine and brine the chicken in the fridge overnight for cooking the next day.

I did modify the recipe a tiny bit. The original roast chicken recipe called for a whole cup of kosher salt for the brine, but it ended up being pretty salty. A friend of mine who tried the recipe thought that was way too much salt and made it with half a cup instead, which is what I use now. It is plenty of salt.

The recipe also recommended marinating the vegetables in salt, pepper, and olive oil in the fridge overnight as well. I tried it the first time, but I really don’t think it’s necessary. There is a lot of fat in the chicken that flavors the veggies so I don’t think a lot of olive oil is needed. I put them in the roasting pan with a tiny bit of olive oil, salt and pepper (just enough to lightly coat the veggies and help the salt and pepper stick).

Ingredients:

1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
4 cups apple juice or apple cider
4 cups water
1 cup pure maple syrup
2 tbsp Dijon-style mustard
1 5-6 lb roasting chicken
6 large carrots, cut into 2 inch chunks
2 large onions, cut into1/2 inch slices
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into wedges
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 medium orange, halved
salt and ground black pepper

**You will also need kitchen twine and a large roasting pan.

Directions: 

1. For brine, in an extra-large stainless steel pot combine the kosher salt and brown sugar; stir in apple juice, water, and mustard. Cook and stir over medium high heat until salt and sugar are completely dissolved. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. 

2. Remove giblets from chicken, rinse inside and out with water. Place chicken in stockpot, making sure it is immersed in the brine. Chill for 12 hours or overnight. 

3. Once chicken has brined, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove chicken from brine and discard brine. Pat chicken dry inside and out with paper towels. Sprinkle chicken cavity with salt and pepper. Place orange halves and four springs of the thyme in cavity. Skewer neck skin to back, tie up legs and tail with kitchen twine. Twist wing tips under back. Spread vegetables around chicken evenly in roasting pan. 

4. Roast chicken for 1.5 to 2 hours, or until a meat thermometer inserted into center of an inside thigh registers 180 degrees. We put the lid on the roasting pan for the first hour or so, and then take it off. Remove roast chicken and vegetables, let stand 10-15 minutes before carving.

maple and apple cider brined roast chicken recipe

I always let Paddy truss the chicken, he’s the pro. If you’re not sure how to do it, here is a good instructional video I found on YouTube:

We arranged the veggies in the pot around and underneath the roast chicken, so that the juices would flow down and flavor the vegetables.

maple and apple cider brined roast chicken recipe

 

A satisfying meal for a cold winter day.

maple and apple cider brined roast chicken recipe

Culinary Adventures: Buttered Popcorn Cupcakes

Culinary Adventures: Buttered Popcorn Cupcakes, a great recipe for our outdoor movie party.

 

We were planning a summer outdoor movie party in our backyard, and I wanted to come up with some appropriate snacks. Food Network Magazine had a pretty genius recipe for “Golden Butter Popcorn Cupcakes in their September 2013 issue, so I thought it would be perfect for the party.

The genius part (in my opinion), was that they simply took a golden butter cake mix, and subbed out the water required for canned corn juice. Easy-peasy and it creates a great buttered corn flavor in a cupcake. I know that sounds weird, but it was really good.

Buttered popcorn cupcakes (2)

The frosting part of the recipe was where I deviated a bit. They called for frosting made from two cups of heavy whipping cream with 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar, beaten into whip cream. I wasn’t so into that, so I made up my own:

7 tbsp butter

2.5 to 3 cups powdered sugar

1/2 cup heavy cream

Dash of salt

I did follow Food Network’s directions for the popcorn with the frosting, however. I used Pop Secret Home Style popcorn, and mixed it in a bowl with about 4-6 ounces of melted Ghiradelli white chocolate chips.

Buttered popcorn cupcakes (3)

I took a handful of the white chocolate popcorn and crushed it up a bit (make sure you don’t put any un-popped kernals in the frosting), then added it to the frosting mixture

Buttered popcorn cupcakes (4)

I frosted the cupcakes and added the rest of the white chocolate popcorn to the top of each cupcake.

**Note: always make sure that cupcakes are cool before frosting

Buttered popcorn cupcakes (5)

Buttered popcorn cupcakes (6)
Buttered Popcorn Cupcakes

 

I’ve seen some “popcorn cupcakes” on Pinterest where a regular cake mix was used and the popcorn was mini marshmallows painted lightly with yellow food coloring around the edges. While those cupcakes look cute, these are the real deal and the sweet buttery popcorn flavor will trump any mini marshmallows. (Side note: I also think that painting food coloring on mini marshmallows sounds like a lot more work.)

 

Buttered popcorn cupcakes (8)
Buttered Popcorn Cupcakes
Buttered popcorn cupcakes (9)
Buttered Popcorn Cupcakes

So there you have it–super easy and tasty Buttered Popcorn Cupcakes, guaranteed to be a hit at your next movie party. Our party guests kept making a point to come up to me during the party and tell me how good they were. There weren’t any leftover.

 

 

Culinary Adventures: Dill Pickles

Culinary Adventures: Canning homemade dill pickles

I began pickling and canning a few years ago, and everything I know I taught myself from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. If you’ve never canned before, I’d strongly encourage you to buy this book (it’s a great book) and read up on the how-to before you begin.

There is a lot of science involved in canning, and not following the directions can lead to things going horribly wrong (i.e. botulism). The method of processing and the ratios of ingredients in recipes are designed to ensure that all harmful bacteria are killed off and are unable to grow in the jar once it has been sealed. Always follow the directions and use a tried and true canning recipe.

Fortunately, pickles and jams have a high acidity and are a bit easier to process using the “water bath” canning method. I have yet to try pressure canning regular vegetables, but I’d like to someday.

I bought my inexpensive canning kit on Amazon, but there are a lot of grocery stores that sell them as well. Once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy and pickles make great gifts. My favorite part of canning in August and September: getting a large portion of my Christmas gifts knocked out early.

Canning kit
Canning kit (ladle was not included)

For this dill pickles recipe, you will need to prepare the pickles the night before. The recipe is for seven pint jars, but I always can an entire box of pickling cucumbers (go big or go home, right?). I order them from my local produce stand Top Banana in Seattle, but you can order them or find them at produce stands and farmers markets near you. The season varies a bit for harvest, but August/early September is usually the time that they are available. I’ve waited until the end of September before and been out of luck. If you are selecting a small amount of pickles yourself instead of ordering a whole box–the smaller the pickle the crisper it will be. Small is good.

The night before you can these dill pickles, you need to brine them in ice water and canning salt overnight for 12-18 hours. Because I have such a large batch, I bleached out a cooler and brined them in there.

Some things you’ll need in addition to the ingredients:

* A pressure canner or very large stainless steel pot with lid, and a rack for the bottom to keep the jars from sitting directly on the bottom of the pot.

* Cheesecloth for creating a “tea bag” with the pickling spice

* Canning kit and ladle (canning funnel, magnetic lid thingy, jar tongs)

* Another large stainless steel pot for the pickling liquid

* A small pot for keeping the lids hot

* Quart sized or pint size canning jars (or a mixture of the two) with NEW lids

*Counter space and a clean kitchen to work in

*A counter or table with a towel over it for putting the hot jars to cool (don’t use a nice wood table, I ruined a wood TV tray once as the heat from the jars made big light spots on the table surface even through the towel). I like to set up card tables.

how to make dill pickles

 

The recipe is as follows:

 

Grandma’s Dill Pickles

 8 lbs pickling cucumbers (3 to 4 inches long each)

16 cups ice cubes or chipped ice

1 1/4 cups pickling or canning salt, divided

12 cups water, divided

2 tbsp pickling spice

6 cups white distilled vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

7 tsp mustard seeds

11 dill heads or dill weed

7 cloves of peeled garlic

Day 1:

1. In a large, clean crock, glass, or stainless steel container, layer cucumbers and ice

2. In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, dissolve 1/2 cup of the pickling salt in 4 cups of the water. Pour over cucumbers and add cold water to cover cucumbers, if necessary. Place large clean inverted plate on top of the cucumbers and weigh down with two or three quart jars filled with water and capped. Refrigerate (or let stand in cool place) for at least 12 hours, but no longer than 18 hours.

As you can see, I didn’t follow the directions exactly due to the volume of cucumbers, but they all soaked overnight in the ice water well.

how to make dill pickles

Day 2:

1. Prepare canner, jars and lids

Step one is very important. Again, I strongly recommend you buy the Ball canning book as I’m giving you the quick and brief version and there is a lot to know.

I wash the jars, and put my first batch in the canner and turn the burner on to heat them up. It is important to pour the hot pickling liquid into hot jars.

how to make dill pickles: Heating jars in the canner
Heating jars in the canner

Next, I put all the lids (not the bands, just the lid part) in a small pot with water and heat the water up to just below simmering. I keep the bands close to the stove for easy access. Do not re-use jar lids. The bands and jars are re-useable but the lids must be new every time. Ball does sell lids in packages by themselves as well as complete jars at most grocery stores.

how to make dill pickles: Heating up the lids
Heating up the lids

Last, I prepare all of my ingredients: Mustard seed, measuring spoons, garlic cloves, and cut all the dill heads and put them in a bowl ready to go. I also cut the garlic gloves in half to let the garlic infuse better.

**Tip: Mustard seeds are insanely expensive in the regular grocery store and come in small containers. I ordered mine online through Amazon for much cheaper in bulk bags.

how to make dill pickles
Ingredients

2. Tie pickling spice in a square of cheesecloth, creating a spice bag

3. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine remaining 8 cups of water, vinegar, remaining 3/4 cup pickling salt, sugar, and spice bag. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve salt and sugar. Reduce heat, cover, and boil gently for 15 minutes, until spices have infused the liquid.

how to make dill pickles: Making the pickling liquid
Making the pickling liquid

4. Transfer cucumbers to a colander placed over a sink and drain. Rinse with cool running water and drain thoroughly. Pack cucumbers into jars to within a generous 1/2 inch of top of jar. Add 1 tsp mustard seeds, 1.5 fresh dill heads, and 1 clove garlic to each hot jar. Ladle hot pickling liquid into hot jar to cover cucumbers, leaving 1/2 inch of head space. Remove air bubbles and adjust head space, if necessary, by adding more pickling liquid. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.

For quart jars, I doubled the ingredients. Pickling cucumbers are better the smaller they are, but I always end up with quite a few big boys that won’t fit in pint jars. I like to do a mixture of pint and quart jars for dill pickles.

pouring pickling liquid into jars with canning funnel
pouring pickling liquid into jars with canning funnel

 

Always leave a 1/2 inch of head space in your jar. If it is too full, it might not seal correctly. Use the magnetic lid thingy (I have no idea what it’s real name is, sorry) to pick up a lid out of the small hot  pot and place it down on the jar. This keeps you from burning your fingers, and also keeps your fingers from contaminating the jar with more bacteria. Twist on the bands and use the jar tongs to place the jar in the canner.

Putting the lid on the jar using the magnetic jar thingy
Putting the lid on the jar using the magnetic jar thingy

5. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool, and store.

Once all jars are in the canner, cover them with water to at least 1 inch of water over the tops, cover, and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling (watch it so you don’t accidentally over-process), set the timer for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn off the burner, remove the lid (watch out for steam and splashes! I always use pot holders just in case) and wait five more minutes. Then remove the jars with the canning tongs and set the hot jars on a flat surface with a towel over it to cool for 24 hours.

Removing processed pickles from canner
Removing processed pickles from canner

how to make dill pickles

The sealing process completes during cool-down, and it’s important not to disturb the jars or tip them sideways or anything like that. As the jar cools, it creates a suction that inverts the lid, tightening the seal. You might hear a popping sound as jars invert (I love that part).

Continue on until all dill pickles are processed. One of the biggest challenges for me is the hot jar thing. Keeping the jars hot but still getting them ready to go is a bit of a conundrum. I’ve worked around it by filling jars with the ingredients and putting them in a roasting pan, then pouring hot water in around them several minutes before they are ready to fill with liquid. If you’re an experienced canner and this is a totally bad idea -please let me know. So far no problems, so this is my “assembly-line” work-around.

how to make dill pickles

A friend of mine uses her dishwasher to keep jars hot, which is pretty genius. She keeps them in a hot steam in the dish washer and pulls them out as she is ready to process the next batch. I don’t have a dishwasher, so I’ve never done that.

So there you have it, dill pickles. I find that these make the best Christmas gifts. There is so much sugar and fat going around as gifts during the holidays, that everyone I’ve given these to is totally stoked to get something other than more cookies. After the first year I made these, I got lots of hints the next year that more would be appreciated. And doesn’t everybody like dill pickles?

how to make dill pickles
Dill pickles
how to make dill pickles
Dill pickles