"Reclaiming Homemade in a Small Space"

Monday, November 28, 2011

My First Oyster Roast

I have always felt very fortunate that my mom, Vivian, grew up on the Eastern Shore Virginia.  Every summer we'd make the long trek from the suburbs of Dallas,Texas to teeny Nassawadox, VA (remember the speed limit back then was 55!) and spend a couple weeks enjoying the ocean, the waves, the sand, the barrier islands and the FOOD!  My grandfather was a waterman so he cultivated oysters and softshell crabs.  My great-aunt's neighbor would take us deep-sea fishing where we'd catch trout, flounder and the occasional nurse shark!  I remember bushels of blue crabs and clams sitting in the back yard waiting to be steamed.  I'd stand there with a stick and poke at the crabs, pulling them up as they grasped the end.  In addition to the fresh seafood, there were turnip greens, august pears and Grandma's fried potatoes.

It was a completely different world from what I grew up in. My Aunt Rhoda's house was a big old house with minimal modern comforts a few hundred yards away from the ocean.  There was no shower or tub, you bathed in your room with a basin and pitcher.  There was a giant wood burning cook stove in the kitchen in addition to the ancient gas stove.  She had a walk-in pantry with the "Frigidaire".  The bathroom was just a commode and sink.  Oh, and there was NO air conditioning, just a huge screened-in front porch.

Eventually, we stopped the annual visits.  Grandma passed away away in 1986, Grandaddy came to live with us in Arkansas in 1992 and passed in 2000.  The old house was sold.  I would occasionally get a chance to go back, but it would be only for a few hours...just passing through.  In 2009, my mom decided it was time to move back home to the Eastern Shore.  Now that Matt and I are in Pittsburgh, I get the chance to visit more often; instead of a two day trip, we can make it in 9 hours.

We spent Thanksgiving at the Shore with my mom this year. She bought Matt and I tickets to an oyster roast put on by the Cape Charles Historical Society. As a child, I had only been to the Shore in the summer.  Now that we were there in the late fall, oyster season was upon us!  Like the clam bake, crawfish boil or catfish fry....this was a community event.  One that you went to wielding a knife....don't worry, it was just an oyster knife.  There were bushels and bushels of oysters...most being roasted over an open fire.
Large, wet burlap sacks were placed over the oysters so that they steamed in their own juices.  Two big guys would pick up the handles on each end of the grates the oysters were roasted on and then dump them right on the table we were standing at.

Folks would either stand at the table with their oyster knives and dig right in, or they'd grab a plate or box and pile them high to sit down elsewhere.  Some people had gloves for their opposite hand so they didn't get cut while handling the hot oysters.  I had one but didn't use it....I only got one cut.  The oysters were open but you needed your knife to pry them open all the way and then scrape off the part still attached to the shell.  The roasted oysters were delicious...briny from the ocean, hot and slightly smoky from the fire.  The biggest ones were the best as they were still slightly jiggly and moist.  I ate them plain and dipped in melted butter or cocktail sauce. There was also a station with guys there shucking raw oysters....yes, I tried one with Franks Red Hot and loved it!
This oyster roast was so much fun.  I definitely want to go to another one. Matt and I were stuffed the the gills a little over an hour and left full and happy.  The oyster roast is as much Eastern Shore culture as anything.  There were locals there (one claimed he had dated my mother back in the day) and vacationers alike.  Every table was filled with people enjoying the bounty from the sea.  Though I'm technically a tourist...the Shore is in my blood and I feel like I have a little claim on the culture there.  Sharing in this experience was something I will always look back on with fond memories!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Curried Pumpkin Soup

"That sounds gross..." was my initial reaction to Matt's request that I try a recipe for pumpkin soup.  You see, Matt loves all things pumpkin.  Starting on the first not-hot day in late summer, Matt starts hinting for pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cookies, pumpkin pancakes...you get the idea.  He had heard that there were pumpkin soup recipes out there but I was skeptical.  I only had eaten pumpkin in sweet applications....savory pumpkin soup sounded odd to me.  But such is Matt's love for pumpkin, he kept on.  I am so glad he did.  This has become a family favorite, even the kids love it.   My son, Brandon, who doesn't like pumpkin pie, eats this willingly.

I found a recipe for Curried Pumpkin Soup and decided to give it a whirl.  With a few tweaks of my own, I came up with this soup!  Everyone I have shared it with raves about it and it is very easily made vegetarian.

Curried Pumpkin Soup:
Printable Version
1/2 lb. of bacon, chopped  (2 T. butter for vegetarian version)
large yellow onion, chopped
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1/4 t. salt
2 T. flour
1 T. curry powder
3 c. chicken stock (vegetable stock for vegetarians)
12-oz. can evaporated milk
15-oz. can pumpkin puree
1/4 t. fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 t. cayenne  (opt.)
salt and pepper to taste

(Keep in mind, I doubled this recipe when I was taking pictures to blog.) In a Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat until crispy. (If you are going vegetarian, skip this and just melt the butter then add onions and mushrooms.)
Remove bacon from pot with slotted spoon and set bacon aside.  Add onions and mushrooms to the bacon drippings with 1/4 t. salt and cook until mushrooms have given up their moisture.

Add flour and curry powder; stir to combine and cook for 2 minutes.                                   

Using a wire whisk, add chicken stock (or vegetable stock) into the curry mixture.
 Bring to a boil over medium high heat and cook until thickened.  Add evaporated milk, pumpkin, nutmeg, optional cayenne, salt and pepper.  Heat through.
Ladle into bowls and garnish with reserved bacon. 
This bowl actually has the cayenne sprinkled on as a garnish since Matt and I like it a bit spicy and the kids don't like the spice.   I like to serve this soup with a green leafy salad (like spinach) and nice, crusty Italian bread.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Pittsburgh Cuisine

I have always been fascinated with what "the local people eat" and knowing what the everyday food is for people in different regions.  When Matt and I visit new areas, finding out the local eatery hot spots is important to us.  Not the big flashy restaurants, but the hole-in-the-wall spots that have the best flavor.  I have been blessed to know people from all over the country and a few from around the world and I have tried to glean their culinary know-how.  I am reminded of the famous quote by Anthelme Brillat-Savarian "Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are."  What we eat is like our taste in music or movies or art....it is a part of who and what we are.  It goes beyond what just tastes good, it helps define our personality and our identity.

So with that heady thought...we had some real Pittsburgh food last night:  Islay's chipped/chopped ham and pierogies.  When we moved our family here, I wanted to immerse myself in the food culture because of what I stated above, you get to know a place by its food.  Pittsburgh cuisine is heavily influenced by the different European cultures that have settled here.  Take pierogies....there is a Polish deli down on The Strip ( S&D Polish Deli ) that serves up some fab pierogies.  Did you know that Pittsburgh eats more pierogies than any other region in the country BY FAR??  I've seen some stats that say 11 times more!

Islay's chipped/chopped ham is another Pittsburgh institution.  My first exposure to chipped/chopped ham was over 13 years ago when our friends Dave and Luann Habuda (native Pennsylvanians) served it at a church function in Arkansas.  Matt (who grew up in Pittsburgh) immediately said, "I remember chipped/chopped ham!"  It is kinda like a sloppy joe made with Islay's luncheon meat ham instead of hamburger.  Islay's chipped ham was on sale at Foodland and so was the sauce....so I bought some and gave it a whirl last night.
Here are the main components:  The sauce and the ham.  It is 16 oz. of jarred sauce with 1-1/3 lbs. of chipped ham.  I then ran my knife through the ham, put it and the sauce in saucepan to heat it through.

Being from The South, I am a little wary of anything that the north says is barbecue.  ;) The Islay's Barbecue Sauce was very tomato-y, like a sweeter, thinner version of tomato soup.  There was little spice to it and with the very salty ham, it was nice.....and QUICK!  It was served on a white bun and a side of pierogies.
For the pierogies, I just followed the package instructions....yes, they were store bought.  (It was Thursday night, what can I say, I can't make everything homemade all the time.) I also served asparagus last night, but I don't know what's so very Pittsburgh-y about that.

The children enjoyed them though it was a messy meal.  It wasn't exactly high cuisine but it was definitely a meal I will do again, especially when I'm in a pinch for a quick dinner.
Now Luann told me to ditch the sauce and try this instead (and I think I will next time!):
‎1/2 cup Ketchup
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
3 Tbsp vinegar
1/2 tsp horseradish
1/2 tsp mustard
1 lb of chipped chopped ham. 
Mix the sauce together until it thickens and then add the ham. Serve on nice fresh hard rolls.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Eating Season!

My husband and I have recently lost nearly 40 pounds between the two of us, by counting calories and exercising.  I will be the first to admit, I exercise not for health but to eat.  And in case you were not aware, the eating season is upon us! So that means extra time on the treadmill for me! We get a little bit of a warm-up for the eating season when the kids bring home all their Halloween candy.  (Of course, Mom and Dad get a cut....)  And then there is the pre-season of eating...what we are in right now.  As we gear up for Thanksgiving, we try new recipes and start making richer food.  I have made two apple pies recently since I now live in apple country.  The Dutch Baker's Daughter mentioned in her blog how she is making several pies for Thanksgiving.

We are going to my mom's for Thanksgiving and she and I have been on the phone more than once talking about our Thanksgiving feast.  Pecan pie, pumpkin pie, and maybe even a chocolate pie (for my son Brandon who doesn't like fruit pie) are our pie offerings...then the usual turkey, dressing, my fresh cranberry compote.....  Did I mention that my mom lives on the Chesapeake Bay???  AND that she bought Matt and I tickets to an oyster roast???  I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am about that. 

After we loosen our belts after Thanksgiving, Christmas feasting begins at my house.  I have so many recipes that have become "tradition".  Truffles, dipped vanillas, pumpkin cookies, cranberry orange bread, pumpkin bread, toffee, Italian wedding soup, bourbon pecan pie, cranberry meatballs, curried pumpkin soup, etc.......  I think I just gained weight typing that list!  You can also bet that I will be trying new Pittsburgh Christmas traditions too! It all winds up for a fabulous Christmas feast and more stuffing, turkey and carbs....and treadmill running.   But this IS my favorite time of year...the food, the feasting, the family, the music, the snow...I love it all.  Seasons greetings, everyone...Happy Eating Season, that is!

(And I get to share all those yummy recipes with y'all in this new blog!)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reclaiming Bread: Honey Flax Whole Wheat Bread

Who doesn't absolutely LOVE fresh, warm bread straight from the oven?  A nice slice with slightly melty butter dripping off the sides.  Mmmmm....my mouth waters just thinking of it.  Even the aroma that fills the house when bread is baking is so enticing.  Real estate agents say to mimic bread baking when you show a house.

As a teen, I loved baking bread and even wrote in my journal that I wanted to make bread for my family instead of buying it.  You see, I hate the taste of store bread....always have.  So much so, that I didn't like sandwiches as a kid.  My mom would send me Chef Boyardi and soups for lunches at school.  I find that there is a weird "wang" in the flavor of those bagged loaves.  Several years ago, I started baking bread weekly for my family.  We have all come to love it.

I don't think baking bread enters the heads of most modern cooks.   Why should it?  There are myriads of different brands of bread lining the grocery store shelves...from cheap, simple white bread to the more expensive artisan loaves. Relatively inexpensive as well, from around $1 for the store brands to $4 for a loaf of artisan bread.  Bread baking is an investment of time, but so worth it.  Not only is the bread delicious...you get the control what goes in the bread AND it is considerably cheaper.  I figured out once that I spend around $0.90 in supplies and get THREE loaves of "the-grocery-store-can't-compete-with-this" bread.

The basics for bread are yeast, water, flour, salt and maybe a little oil.  BUT with a few more ingredients, you can add flavor and nutrition.  I find my Kitchen Aid mixer invaluable to making bread since it kneads for me, but if you don't have a mixer, don't fear the kneading.

Honey Flax Whole Wheat Bread:
Printable Recipe
1 c. warm water (not too hot...like the temperature of a nice bath)
4-1/2 t. yeast (not rapid rise)
1 T. honey
1-1/2 T. kosher salt
1/3 c. honey
1/4 c. butter
2 c. milk  (you can also use 2/3 c. dry milk and two cups of water)
1/2 c. ground flax seed
1/2 c. wheat germ
1 c. bread flour
7 to 8 c. whole wheat flour

With a whisk, dissolve yeast and 1 T. honey in 1 c. of warm water in the bowl of your stand mixer. Wait five minutes. It should look like this:
During the five minutes that your yeast is "waking up", place salt, butter and honey in a 2 c. pyrex measuring cup and microwave in 30 second increments until the butter is melted. (Don't get it too hot or it will endanger the yeast when it is added to the mixer bowl.)  Add one cup of milk to the pyrex cup and make sure the salt is dissolved.  I like to use a whisk.  Add the second cup of milk.  This mixing cup really represents the flavor you are adding to the bread. 
Add the milk, butter and honey mixture to the yeast in the mixing bowl.   Next, add the nutrition part of this bread, the wheat germ and the ground flax.  Also, add the cup of bread flour.  (The bread flour is used to develop gluten.  If you omit this, your bread will not rise properly.) Use the paddle attachment of your mixer to do a quick mix.  It will look lumpy.

Remove the paddle attachment now and used the dough hook.  Add whole wheat flour one cup at a time with the mixer on the lowest setting.  (NOTE:  My Kitchen Aid is only a 4.5 qt. model...a work horse that has served me for over 12 years.  As wonderful as my machine is, it isn't large enough for this dough, so after I add 4 or so cups of flour I have to divide the dough in half.  If you are kneading by hand or have a large enough mixer, skip the dividing part and continue to add your flour until it isn't sticky and knead it for 8 minutes.)
After about 4 cups of flour, divide the dough so that it will fit in the 4.5 qt. mixer.  Place half the dough in a greased bowl and set aside .

(This is about half of the dough in a greased bowl.)  Next, continue to add whole wheat flour until the dough is no longer sticky and looks like this in the bowl:

 At this point, keep the mixer on second to lowest speed and knead for 8 minutes, checking from time to time to see if the dough is sticking to the bowl.  If it does stick, then add a bit of flour.  I normally do that a couple of times during the kneading.  After eight minutes, take the dough off of the hook, switch it out with the dough in the bowl and repeat with the second half, adding flour as needed.  After both halves are kneaded, knead both together for about 30 seconds to make one large dough ball.
Place about 1/2 T. of vegetable oil in the bottom of a large bowl and with your hand, coat the inside of the bowl.  Place the dough in the bowl, cover with little more oil, spread over the dough and and place a clean dish towel over the dough.

Now it is time for a rise in a warm oven, but don't turn the oven on.  If you have a gas oven, the pilot light will add enough heat.  If you have a electric oven like me, turn the light on and that will add enough heat.  Let it rise until it doubles in size, about an hour or so.
 Punch the dough down and take it out of the bowl.  Knead for about 30 seconds, just to get into a tight ball again. Divide into three equal pieces, about 1 lb. 8 oz. each.

Next, shape each dough ball by flattening it on the counter into a kind a square.
 Roll it up with your hands, until it makes a loaf and tuck in the ends.

Place it in a greased loaf pan (I used stoneware so I don't have to grease it) and push it down to fill as much of the bottom as you can.

Repeat with the other two loaves and cover with the same clean towel.  Let rise in a warm (but not heated) oven until doubled in size, from 45 minutes to an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350.  Add all three loaves and bake for 35 minutes or until it develops an deep brown crust.  If the crust isn't brown, then it isn't done.
Remove from the oven, and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes on a cooling rack.  Take a metal spatula and gently scrape down the sides to release the bread from the pan.  Turn out on a cooling rack for two hours before storing a plastic bag.  This bread freezes very well.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Very Foodie Family

Yesterday, my kids were off school.  There were the normal complaints of "I'm bored" but gradually it settled into a game of Iron Chef.....Battle Play-Doh.  The two oldest (Emma and Brandon) were battling it out in the basement as Robbie kept tabs with the time.  They couldn't find a timer in the basement so they used the one on the stove.  Robbie would bound up and down the stairs to check the time yelling, "Ten minutes on the clock, Chefs!"  I don't know who won Battle Play-Doh, but later when I went downstairs, I saw several play-doh concoctions. At dinner, Brandon tried to have a "Man vs. Food" moment as he attempted to cram an entire biscuit in his mouth.  Luckily, he didn't succeed with his plan! Later, all five of us settled in to watch "The Next Iron Chef" together on the DVR with everyone taking guesses on who won and who was going home.  Emma nailed which chef won the challenge and we all guessed correctly who was going home.  Yeah, food is our hobby!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Reclaiming Ranch Dressing

As a kid in the late 70's, I remember my mom having salad on a regular basis.  She would always pull out several commercial salad dressings, including Ott's (my Dad's favorite), Catalina  and Creamy Italian.  Creamy Italian was my dressing of choice, not because I loved it but because it covered the raw veggies and made them more palatable to me.  Occasionally, we'd go to a potluck at church and there would be the standard vegetable tray with that Ranch dip made with mayo.  I would always pile my plate up with raw veg and get a nice, large spoonful of that cool, creamy dip, wishing I could have that same flavor on my salad at home.  Then, my mom came home from the grocery store one day with a bottled version of Hidden Valley Ranch!  It instantly became my favorite dressing...not one I just put up with.

Over 10 years ago, Matt and I made the decision for me to become a stay-at-home-mom.  My job was no longer making money but SAVING money.  That meant when it came to food, if I could make it instead of buying it, I would.  Not only did this save us money, but it also cut down on preservatives, artificial colors and flavors.  (The stuff I call "Frankenfood.")

Now, what does that have to do with Ranch dressing???  I decided to start making Ranch dressing from scratch.  Searching the internet, I found a recipe that was designed to be "light".  Now, generally, "light" items have ingredients that are not necessarily "normal".  Just check out the difference between light mayo and regular mayo some time.  So I tweaked the recipe to make it fit my family's needs.  It takes me around five minutes to make this dressing AND it is a third of the cost than buying it. If you feel you must reduce the fat, then use plain non-fat yogurt and fat-free buttermilk.  Just keep in mind that the dressing will be thinner if you use yogurt.

 Homemade Ranch:
1 c. mayonnaise
2/3 c. sour cream or plain yogurt (Update: Try using homemade sour cream )
1/2 c. buttermilk  (fat free is fine too)
1 t. dry mustard
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. thyme (or whatever dry herb you'd like to use)
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper (fresh ground is preferable)

Stir all ingredient together in a medium bowl with a whisk.  Store in the refrigerator.  Makes a little over 2 cups.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Get your motor running.....

Hi!  I'm Jenny Smith, wife of Matt, mother to Emma, Brandon and Robbie and now,  a food blogger.  I'm not much of a writer...but I do think I can cook.  I read cookbooks for fun (think Alton Brown and Julia Child), my favorite shows on T.V. come off of FoodNetwork (Chopped is one of my favs.) AND cooking is something I have been interested in since I was young.  I come up with original recipes and tweek existing ones.... 

What is my culinary point-of-view???  If it is yummy, I will cook it.  My roots are definitely Southern.  I can pan fry ANYTHING, but I can also make a mean pizza and have a few vegetarian entrees that my carnivorous family loves.  From time to time, I'll will blog Matt's successes on the grill and smoker. 

We recently moved to Pittsburgh, PA from Searcy, AR and I am very much enjoying learning the food culture here.  We've tried pierogies (a new family favorite), haluski and other dishes new to us.  But I will have to admit that going to the grocery store for the first couple of months made me homesick...every time.  I was used to a HUGE flour selection, here, even at the gourmet store, the selection was much smaller. 

Be patient with me as I work on making this blog stream-lined and pretty!  Thanks for taking a look!