Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Make a Great Cup of Coffee

I require coffee. I am not worth a darn without a cup of coffee in the morning. If you want a really good cup of coffee at home I highly recommend a French Press. All of my life, until that life-changing day when Fr. Knott gave me a French Press for Christmas, I was a drip coffee drinker. I think a French Press makes much better coffee than any drip machine. I have never tasted coffee from one of those fancy, overly expensive coffee machines that are so popular today. Maybe they make great coffee, but I am not getting suckered into buying those “pods” that are required by them. It’s a racket. It’s like printer ink. They sell you the printer cheap, below their cost because they will recoup their money 100 fold by selling you the over-priced cartridges – and they will make a killing. 
A French Press takes a little more work than a drip machine, but it’s worth it. Plus, a French Press is really cheap. You do need another piece of equipment if you use a French Press – something that boils water. You can use a tea kettle, but I prefer a hot pot. Get one that automatically shuts off when it boils.

There is a science to making a really good cup of coffee with a French Press, but some of the advice applies to other methods as well. Here are some things to consider …

1. The Right Water.
Filtered or spring water makes for better coffee. Tap water has so many minerals and additives that subvert the taste of a good cup of coffee. Distilled water doesn’t work because all the minerals are removed and you need some to extract the coffee flavor. Put water in your coffee mug or cup and add as many cups of water as you'll need for the number of cups of coffee you want to make. Coffee mugs are often different sizes so this way you boil exactly what you need. Most hot pots have measurements on the side as well.

2. The Coffee
Obviously, the coffee beans you use make a difference. You want a coarse grind for a French Press. Generally you need 1 coffee scoop to 6 ounces of water, but that depends on your beans. This is something you tweak as you first use your Press.

3. The Equipment
The Press needs a good filter. The filter keeps the coffee grounds in the press — not in your cup. Bodum makes some of the best French presses. They have a three piece filter that you can take apart and clean. Periodic cleaning is important to remove any build up of residue from the oils in the coffee.

4. The Hot Water
America’s Test Kitchen did a comparison of coffee makers and noted that the water must be between 195 and 205༠F. If it’s beyond that it will scorch the coffee beans. If it’s below that it will not sufficiently extract the fullest flavor from the beans and will actually make it more bitter. They found that most drip machines did not heat the water to a sufficient level. So, when the water comes to a boil remove it from the heat or turn it off, open the lid and let the steam escape for about 1 minute before you pour it over the beans or add a little cold water to cool it down slightly. I confess, I use boiling water and I don’t think it makes it bitter or harsh.

5. Give It a Stir
After you pour in the hot water wait for the grounds to rise to the top and form a “crust.” Then give them a stir. If you have a glass Press stir with something plastic or wood as metal can crack the hot glass.

6. Let It Sit
Let your coffee sit for 3 to 5 minutes — depending on how strong you want your brew. Then press and pour.

7. Enjoy
If you make more than one cup it will obviously cool in the Press. I find it does not get bitter or strong as it sits like drip coffee which “cooks” on the warming plate. Just zap the next cup in the microwave to reheat.
8. Cleaning
Empty the grinds from the container and rinse both it and the filter under warm water. Occasionally put the filter in the dishwasher to remove any build-up of oils.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Classic French Dressing

When you think of French dressing you most likely think of a that thick, orange-colored, sweet dressing that was popular in the 50s and 60s. This recipe is a vinegar and oil based French dressing that is very delicious – tangy and a tad sweet and, I think, much better than the bottled stuff. It will keep quite a while in the fridge.
Place the following ingredients in a jar with a lid that will hold about 2-1/2 to 3 cups of liquid.
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup white wine vinegar (You can substitute red wine or cider vinegar.)
  • 1/8 to 1/4 cup sugar (start with 1/8 cup and after you mix all the ingredients well, taste it. You can always add a little more sugar if you want it sweeter.)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon grated onion
Shake well and chill several hours.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Bristol's House Dressing

This dressing is the House dressing at a local eatery, The Bristol. It's always nice to have more alternatives to Ranch and Italian and this one is unique and very tasty. It may remind you of a Ranch dressing, but not quite the same.
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 8 ounces sour cream
  • 8 ounces cottage cheese
  • 1 teaspoon fresh parsley finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons finely minced onion
  • 2 cloves finely minced garlic 
Mix all of the ingredients together or shake well in a jar.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Ham Casserole

This is a simple casserole that works great for a family, a brunch or for a party.

Time: About an hour to prep and cook.
Tools: 9x13 baking dish
Serves: 8 to 10

  • 4 cups of ground ham [can be ground in a food processor or buy a small piece of ham or cubed ham and ask your butcher if they would grind it for you. You could also use 2 pounds of a good sliced deli ham and chop it up. But remember, the quality and taste of the ham is key to this dish.]
  • 8 ounces of egg noodles. cooked 
  • 2 cans of Cream of Mushroom soup 
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups sour cream 
  • 2 tablespoon of instant (dried, minced) onion [found in spice aisle] 
  • 1 teaspoon prepared mustard [like yellow or a dijon]
  • (options) If you would like to add peas or some broccoli or even some asparagus you can do that. You would need to steam the broccoli first. Asparagus could be cut in bite size pieces and would not need to be pre-cooked.  
Combine the following ingredients in a small bowl.
  • 1 cup bread crumbs 
  • 6 tablespoon melted butter 
  • 6 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  1. Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish with some butter or cooking spray like Pam.
  2. Mix together the soup, sour cream, milk, onion and mustard.
  3. Layer 1/2 of the cooked noodles in the dish and spread evenly.
  4. Spread 1/2 of the ground ham over the noodles.
  5. (Spread 1/2 of any of the optional vegetables over the ham layer,)
  6. Pour 1/2 of the sauce over the ham (or vegetables if you added them).
  7. Repeat the above 3 layers - noodles, ham, (vegetables), sauce.
  8. Sprinkle topping over the top.
  9. Bake uncovered at 325 degrees F. until brown and bubbly - about 45 minutes.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Club Sandwich

Who doesn’t love a BLT? My guess would be people who don’t like tomatoes. But for the rest of us a jacked-up BLT with turkey is a great sandwich. I make a club sandwich at least once a week in the summer with my home-grown tomatoes. To me, that’s one of the pleasures of summer.
The classic double-decker Club uses 3 slices of bread, but I forgo the extra carbs and make it with just 2 slices. It’s also easier to eat – you don’t have to unhinge your jaw to take a bite! There are variations on what goes into a club so those options are given here.
Before we get to the recipe let’s talk turkey about the turkey which is all important to a good Club. Most people don’t have real turkey unless it’s after Thanksgiving. Deli turkey is generally bad - it has almost no flavor. I have found a deli turkey that stands out above the rest I have tried, but it is a Kroger Deli product which you might not have in your area. It’s their Private Select Oven Roasted Turkey Breast. For deli meat it’s pretty good, but not like real turkey. You have other options. You can use chicken breast from a leftover baked chicken or slice the meat off a fried chicken breast or use fried chicken tenders. These are a better solution to deli turkey. You can always buy a turkey breast and bake it and have it for sandwiches. Freeze portions for future use. You could also buy a roasted chicken at the market for a dinner and use leftovers for a Club. You could also fry a thin chicken cutlet and use that. Real chicken is generally better than deli turkey.
  • You will need 2 pieces of white bread toasted. (If you want the classic version use 3 slices.) Try to use a firm bread, not plain super-soft white bread which has a tendency to fall apart. I use an English Toasting bread. It’s perfect for this sandwich.
  • 3 or 4 slices of fried bacon – enough to cover the toast. If your bacon is thin you may need at least 4 strips.
  • enough thinly sliced turkey (or chicken) to create a nice layer 
  • 3 or 4 slices of tomato (chill the tomato a bit in the fridge if you have time)
  • lettuce leaves
  • mayonnaise
  • (option) you will see cheese on some Clubs, usually a slice of American, but I like to add Swiss.
  • (option) I have seen deli ham on a club as well which seems redundant if you use bacon. A good ham or country ham might be a substitute for the bacon if watching your calories and nitrates.
  • Spread some mayo on the piece of toast for the bottom of the sandwich.
  • Add the bacon (or ham), then the turkey, then tomato, (then the cheese), then lettuce. (If you want the classic Club insert the other piece of toast between the turkey and tomato layers.)
  • Spread some mayo on the top slice of toast as place on top.
  • Place toothpicks about an inch from the crust at 12, 3, 6 and 9 like on a clock and push them through to the bottom of the sandwich.
  • Hold the sandwich down with your fingers and using a sharp serrated knife, cut from corner to corner. You will have the 4 classic wedges of a Club Sandwich. 

Pickles and chips are the traditional sides, but you can have whatever you like. Soup, a salad, Tater Tots …

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Macerated Strawberries

When I was a kid strawberries were small and sweet. Today, the strawberries you find at the market are huge and not sweet. I don't know what farmers have done, but the genetic manipulation to make them bigger has not made them better. Often they are still a bit green at the crown and the tip, hard and lacking a real strawberry flavor. Nothing is more disappointing than a strawberry that is not sweet and has no taste. Perhaps if you buy them at a farmer's market or pick them yourself at a farm they might be like the strawberries we remember as a child. 
My mother always macerated her strawberries. It guarantees a sweet and tender strawberry with real strawberry flavor and creates strawberry juice which is what you want if having strawberry shortcake or putting them over ice cream. This method is even more necessary today considering the strawberries on steroids that are available.
  • Start by rinsing a quart of strawberries under cold running water. 
  • Remove the crowns and any green tips. Cut off any soft bruised spots as well. 
  • Cut the strawberries in half. If they are the size of a golf ball cut them into quarters. Place them in a bowl. 
  • Add 1/4 cup of water, 
  • 2 heaping tablespoons of sugar and 
  • a few drops of lemon juice if you have it. Mix thoroughly. 
  • Now, if you like them sweeter and another tablespoon of sugar.
  • Cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.
You will have tender and sweet strawberries with much more flavor and natural juice.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Parsley - A Cook's Best Herb Friend

I use parsley almost every day. It adds brightness and freshness to any recipe.  Every summer I plant the 2 most common varieties - flat leaf, also called Italian parsley, and curly leaf.  I highly recommend this as a small project every spring if you do not grow herbs. First, it saves you a lot of money and secondly, it's always available when you need or want it. Parsley is easy to grow if you have a sunny location outdoors. Make sure the pot is at least 6 inches in diameter, but 8 to 10 is better. It likes a big pot with damp soil. Some say that flat leaf has more flavor and it is generally more used that curly leaf. 
Parsley is added to all kinds of recipes whether while cooking or at the very end or as a flavorful garnish. It's flavor is brightest if stirred into a dish right before serving or just sprinkled over the top, but it also adds flavor to things that are simmered a long time. It's great to add to a pot of stewing chicken to help flavor the broth or just at the end when you make a pot pie. Melted butter or lemon juice or both mixed with some fresh chopped parsley is the perfect dressing for many things like fish or potatoes. Fresh parsley will add some oomph to some simple buttered noodles or even a salad.
If you buy parsley at the market just cut off the ends and stick it in a glass of water in the fridge to keep it hydrated. You can freeze parsley for adding to dishes when it is stirred in just before serving or during the cooking time - it retains much of its fresh flavor and color, but don't use frozen parsley as a garnish. Always remove the stems as they can be tough or chewy, unless you are cooking it in a something that is simmering a while.
You can chop parsley with a sharp knife, but I like to roll the leaves into a tight ball and snip it with kitchen shears.