Sunday, September 26, 2021

Comfort Food: Easy Cheesy Tuna Casserole

Tuna casserole? Really? Too many people associate the words "bland" with "tuna casserole." This casserole has a tangy taste, thanks to the use of real mayonnaise as the base for the sauce. Add to this the rich flavor of white and sharp cheddar cheese, and you have a go-to comfort food that nearly eveyone will crave.

Please don't substitute low-fat mayo or other whipped salad concoctions for the real mayonnaise. The mayo creates a creamy texture, and the egg and oil blend allows the cheese to melt and blend with the other ingredients easily. You can, however, substitute another prepared salad dressing, such as bleu cheese or even coleslaw dressing for the ranch, if you wish.

Easy Cheesy Tuna Casserole

2 cups cooked egg noodles, drained
2 cups frozen mixed broccoli and cauliflower
1 5 oz. can flaked tuna in water, drained
2 cups shredded four state cheddar or white and sharp cheddar blend
1/2 c. real mayonnaise, mixed with 1/4 c. (4 tbsp) prepared buttermilk ranch dressing

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together mayonnaise and ranch dressing; set aside.
Spray a casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. In a large bowl, toss together the noodles, tuna, vegetables, and 1 1/2 cups of the cheese. Coat all ingredients with the mayonnaise mixture and pour into casserole dish. Top with remaining shredded cheese (you can add buttered dry bread crumbs for an au gratin topping if you wish). Bake for 20-25 minutes or until cheese is well melted and vegetables are cooked through. Serves 4-6.


When tuna casserole is this good, one serving just won't do!

Saturday, September 25, 2021

 Sunday or Weeknight Dinner: Ultimate Oven Fried Chicken

Oven fried chicken served on a bed of noodles

Fried chicken has been a Sunday staple for centuries. Back when households had a flock of laying hens, eating chicken meant choosing between eggs tomorrow and meat today. Chicken was an expensive commodity, a treat, and a platter of fried chicken was quite the treat. Fast forward to today: chicken is abundant and priced reasonably. It's also touted as a healthy option for people with high cholesterol or a history of heart problems. And this oven-fried chicken retains the "healthy" label while tasting totally indulgent.

This recipe uses a combination of seasoned croutons and packaged fried onions to create a crunchy, seasoned coating that browns beautifully. The recipe also requires you to separate the skin from the chicken meat; creating an air pocket underneath the skin allows chicken fat to drain out, and it makes the skin extra-crisp. Once cooked, you can remove the skin if you wish, but the crunchy, seasoned skin is a big part of the treat.

Breaded chicken before baking

This fried chicken pairs wonderfully with a side of rice, noodles or mashed potatoes and cole slaw.

Ultimate Oven-Fried Chicken

1 pound bone-in chicken thighs with skin

1 cup seasoned croutons
1/2 cup crispy fried onions
1 egg white, beaten with a fork

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Using a blender or food processor, pulse together the croutons and fried onions until they form a crumb mixture. Pour crumbs into a large bowl or pie pan.

Separate the skin from the chicken meat by thrusting the handle of a fork or your finger underneath the skin. Once the air pocket is created, dip the chicken piece into the beaten egg white, then coat thoroughly with the crumb mixture. Place into a roasting pan or onto a broiler pan.

Place chicken pieces, skin side up, into preheated oven. Cook for 35-45 minutes or until juices run clear, coating is browned and internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Makes 4 servings. 

Monday, September 6, 2021

Apple Peach Cobbler

Apples and honey are the traditional treat for Rosh Hashana, and apple peach cobbler is a variation on this new year's dessert. It uses early-season sweet apples and late season (or frozen) peaches, with a smattering of dark brown sugar that adds a deep caramel flavor to an already indulgent fruit mixture.

A cobbler is basically pie filling topped with biscuits. The biscuits take the place of pie pastry, and help soak up the fruit juices when the cobbler is served.

I made this using my Pound Sweet heirloom apples. Pound Sweet is a variety whose name describes the fruit to a T. Each apple is large, weighing in at close to 16 ounces each. They are exceptionally sweet, with very little of the tartness that you associate with apples. They retain their firmness when they are cooked, so they make an excellent apple for pies and other desserts. Because they are more sweet than tart, however, they need something acidic added to keep the dish from being bland. Lemon juice serves this purpose as well as keeping the fruit from browning while you are preparing your biscuit mixture.

Apple Peach Cobbler

6 cups peeled, cored and sliced sweet apples
1 c. peeled and sliced peaches
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 c. dark brown sugar
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. corn starch
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmet
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place apple and peach slices into casserole dish sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Toss with lemon juice to prevent browning. In a small bowl, whisk together sugars, spices and corn starch. Sprinkle sugar mixture on top of fruit and toss to cover. Set aside while preparing the biscuit mixture.

Cobbler Biscuits

1 c. all purpose flour
1/4 c. cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 c. evaporated milk
1 egg

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in butter until mixture resembles crumbs. Blend milk and egg together and stir into flour mixture to create a stiff batter.

Using a tablespoon, top the fruit mixture with six biscuits of equal size. Bake for 40-45 minutes at 350 degrees. Biscuit topping should be golden brown.

Serve warm, scooping fruit over the biscuit, or serve cold. Top with ice cream or whipped cream if desired. Makes 6 generous portions.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

 It's Tomato Time: Easy Marinara Sauce

Finished marinara sauce in freezer container. I cut the banana peppers in large chunks to add texture.

Labor Day weekend is the unofficial end of summer, and in the midwest it's the time to harvest and begin preserving tomatoes. As the night temperatures fall, heat-loving tomato plants slow down production, anticipating the arrival of frost. So now is the time to make and freeze some awesome and easy marinara sauce.

Although any good, ripe red tomato can be used, the best tomato sauces are made from roma-type tomatoes. This year, I grew one of the best plum tomatoes. It has the rather unglamorous name of Hybrid 46, but don't let the name fool you. The fruits were perfectly shaped and meaty. Each weighed between 6 to 8 ounces. And the plants were very prolific. It didn't take a lot of picking to get enough to produce a good sized batch of marinara sauce.

The most labor intensive part of making tomato sauce is peeling the tomatoes, but I learned a neat trick to make this process fast and almost mess-free. First, I cut the blossom end off each tomato. I then put the whole tomatoes into a pressure cooker, added just enough water to cover them and put the lid on the cooker. Adjusting the gage to high pressure, I put them on heat for 15 minutes or so. After removing from heat and allowing any pressure and steam to escape, I removed the lid and used a pair of grilling tongs to slip the skins off. The tomatoes were mushy but still intact, and the skins came off as easily as peeling a banana.

Once the tomatoes are peeled, place them into a 3 quart saucepan with just a little water and a pinch of salt. Begin to simmer on low heat with the lid on the pan, stirring occasionally to ensure that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. When the tomatoes are very mushy and begin to fall apart, use a stick blender to puree the mixture. Measure your puree and return to the saucepan.

For every 2 cups of tomato pulp, add the following:

1 whole onion, chopped
3-4 sweet banana peppers, chopped
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
2 tbps. dry oregano
2 tbps. dry basil
2 tbsp. dry parsley
2 tsp. garlic powder
dash pepper

Stir chopped pepper, onion, sugar and herbs into the tomato puree. Add 1/2 cup water, tomato juice or dry red wine. Return to low heat and simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce is no longer runny. Allow to cool and freeze in 1 quart containers.   

This sauce can be used as pizza sauce or over pasta. It retains its bright,  fresh-picked tomato flavor after it's frozen, so you can enjoy a taste of summer in January.

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Oven Barbecued Spare Ribs

Oven Barbecued Spare Ribs

Now that you've prepared a few quarts of barbecue sauce, it's time to put it to work! The sweet and tangy sauce brings out the tender and meaty taste of pork; using it on a slab of ribs is a must.

I don't have an outdoor grill, so rely on my trusty oven to barbecue my ribs. Cooking ribs indoors is a three step process, but the end results give you fall off the bone tender ribs that are packed with flavor.

Oven Barbecued Spare Ribs
1 3-to-6 lb. slab spare ribs
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tsp. kosher or coarse salt
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1 cup barbecue sauce

Preheat oven to 225 degrees.  Place ribs, meat side up, on broiler tray. Fill bottom of tray with 2 cups of water.

Combine sugar, salt and spices. Rub the ribs with this mixture, completely covering all meaty surfaces.
Ribs covered in spice rub
Ribs covered with aluminum foil tent

Tent the ribs with aluminum foil, and heat at 225 for 2 hours.

After baking, remove ribs from oven and remove aluminum foil tent. Turn on broiler, and allow to preheat for 5 to 10 minutes.

Using a pastry brush, cover the ribs generously with barbecue sauce. Place under broiler for 10 to 20 minutes, or until sauce is bubbly and becoming caramelized. Remove ribs from oven; allow to rest for  minutes before slicing. Serves 4 to 6.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Sweet And Spicy Barbecue Sauce

Sweet and Spicy Barbecue Sauce

When you grow tomatoes, the end of the season always means harvesting, canning and preserving. A single tomato plant can produce 20 pounds of fruit, and this season mine did just that. Luckily, I grew plum (Roma-type) tomatoes, so making different sauces is a great way to use them up.

I came across a traditional barbecue sauce in a preserving cookbook. It was a Texas-style sauce that was heavy on the chili peppers. I prefer being able to taste the tomato in my barbecue, so after a few modifications I came up with a recipe that was, like Goldilocks' porridge, "just right." It has just enough heat to let you know it's barbecue, but not so much that hot pepper overshadows all of the other flavors.

There is one ingredient that causes much contention among a lot of people, and that is corn syrup. There are many people who believe that commercial barbecue sauce manufacturers add corn syrup to please Big Corn interests and to make us all fat. Not so - the corn syrup, molasses or honey that is added to barbecue sauce gives the sauce enough adhering ability that it sticks to the meat during cooking. It also allows the sugar in the sauce to caramelize, rather than burn. So please don't leave the syrup out!

You can freeze your sauce after it's made, or you can go the distance and can it. The recipe easily makes 3 full pints.

Sweet and Spicy Barbecue Sauce

24 Roma-type tomatoes, peeled and stemmed (4 quarts)
2 c. chopped onions, red or white
1 1/2 c. chopped red or green bell peppers, seeds removed
1 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. black pepper
1 1/4c. firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 c. apple cider vinegar
1/2 c. dark corn syrup
2 tsp. ground mustard
2 tsp. paprika
2 tsp. kosher salt

Place peeled tomatoes in a large bowl, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Allow to sit at room temperature for several hours or overnight.

Dump tomatoes and liquid into a 3 or 4 quart saucepan. Add onions, peppers and herbs. Cover the saucepan and bring to a simmer; simmer on low heat for 30 minutes.

Using a stick blender, pulverize all of the ingredients until they form a smooth liquid. Add the sugar, vinegar and corn syrup. Bring to a simmer again; allow to simmer with the lid slightly ajar for another 90 minutes. Stir infrequently during the first hour, but stir more frequently during the last 30 minutes to prevent sticking. The finished sauce should be the consistency of ketchup.

If you are canning the sauce, ladle your sauce into hot, prepared pint jars. Leave 1/2 inch of headspace. Remove any trapped air bubbles, wipe jar rims and threads with a clean, damp cloth and add lids and rings. Process in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Too Many Cukes? Juice 'Em!

Cucumber Cooler
Too Many Cukes? Juice 'Em!

It's inevitable that this time of year, if you grow cucumbers you'll have a bushel of them. Two or three happy cucumber vines can produce 15 pounds or more of fruit, and it all seems to come at once.

After making cucumber sandwiches, salads, tabouleh and pickles, there was still several pounds to contend with. So, why not make cucumber juice drinks?

A cucumber is largely composed of water, so one cuke was able to produce about 12 ounces of liquid. Use a "burpless" variety to eliminate the possibility of bitterness. Mixed with lemon or lime juice and a dash of sweetener, you have two pints of tangy and refreshing juice. I put the cucumbers through the juicer with the skin on; this adds more flavor, but does make the juice a very bright green. For a lighter color, peel your cucumbers first.

Cucumbers, apples, muskmelon and watermelon flesh combined and juiced make a drink akin to fruit sangria. Add some sparkling water to thin it out for a fizzy summer punch. Experiment with proportions; the flavor and level of sweetness will vary depending on the varieties of fruit and vegetables used.

And of course, cucumber coolers can be punched up by adding gin, vodka or bourbon.

Cucumber Cooler
1 large ripe cucumber
1/4 c. lime juice
2 tbsp. sugar or artificial sweetener
sparkling water
maraschino cherry

Put cucumber through a juicer that is able to separate juice from pulp and has a very fine screen. Add 1/4 c. lime juice to the extracted cucumber juice. Add two tablespoons of sugar or stevia. Stir until sweetener is dissolved. Add sparkling water if desired. Serve over crushed ice, and garnish with maraschino cherry. Serves 1.