Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Turkey Legs

I know, a post about cooking turkey legs.  Something so simple that it may not warrant a bit of time as a full post.

Except they are so delicious, make a great addition to soup, can be used in enchilada's and are the perfect size for a family of one or two.

I remember being a young couple living in TX at Bergstrom Air Force Base (which is now the airport in Austin) and being overwhelmed with the idea of cooking a huge turkey.  First, I did not think we would eat a whole turkey; secondly, I did not know the first thing about preparing a bird, a whole bird.

So for these two reasons-easy to prepare and can be used in so many things-I decided to go ahead and write a short recipe of how I prepare our turkey legs.

I buy two at a time from Whole Foods and they range in price from $4-$5…very affordable.

I set my oven to start preheating to 425 degrees while I get the legs ready to cook.

I use four basic ingredients:

garlic powder
olive oil

Now if I want to jazz up the flavor I can add any or all of these:

curry powder
dried herbs: thyme, rosemary, basil or oregano
onion powder
Old Bay Seasoning (Maryland  required spice that works on everything…LOL)

I like to use my cast iron pans but you can use any pan the legs fit into.  Try to give them some room, I try to keep them from touching.

Bake for 20 minutes, turn legs, and bake another 20 minutes.  These legs are larger than chicken legs and I like to check the internal temperatures to make sure they are done. Use a thermometer to do this.
Internal temperature should not be below 165 degrees.

Remove from oven and let legs rest for 10 minutes.

I have served them whole, one per guest.  Picked the meat off and used them in a variety of recipes.  Used the leg bones to make broth.

Turkey legs are simply useful in my kitchen when it comes to creating easy or gourmet dishes.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Cheddar Cheese Crackers #glutenfree

UPDATE:  2-5-2015  Hi, I had a comment that a reader made the crackers and they spread on the cookie sheet and did not hold their shape.  I have remade them again, using the instructions below, and I didn't have the same issue. I will note that I use a high end sharp cheddar cheese.  I use Cabot to be exact.  My oven temperature holds at 400 degrees so it is very hot.  I will include a few pictures below to show you the batch I just made.  These are white because I used white sharp cheddar cheese and not the orange this time.  I also tried putting the dough in the freezer but it made it very brittle and hard to work with.  I recommend if you do this, letting it warm up a bit before trying to roll it.  My cracker dough is similar to pie crust--its thick.  If your dough, after adding the milk, is not coming together in a ball, then add a drop or two more milk until it forms a ball.   I hope this helps and please leave a comment if you have any questions or comments. The thinner the dough is rolled, the crispier the cracker gets.

  I just ate 10 crackers--LOL  I forgot how good they are!
Before they went into the oven.

After baking for 10 minutes.

My cutting set up and how thin I roll the dough.

I enjoyed these tasty cheddar cheese crackers with tuna fish and an extra slice of cheese for lunch the other day with my husband.  My taste buds were pleasantly surprised at the flavor of sharp cheddar.

The crispy cracker was a welcome to my longing for something crunchy.

I was delighted that I made these from scratch.

The cheddar Cheese Crackers are gluten free but you don't have to eat that way to enjoy a delicious alternative to a store bought product.

Some times labels can scare us away from trying something new, especially if you feel that flavor and texture will be sacrificed.  I was satisfied with the results and wanted to share this with my readers.

All of the products can be purchased at a health food store, Whole Foods or most major grocery chains in the baking aisle.

This recipe calls for Potato Starch, not to be confused with Potato Flour.  You will NOT get the same results, please check the packaging carefully.

I used a sharp cheddar but you could easily use a milder cheese or a different variety, like parmesan.

The shape of my cracker was achieved by using a special round cookie cutter that I received as a gift from my kids.  It has a scallop edge and makes the crackers into a cute "RITZ" shape.

Honestly, I was too lazy to make a fish and make Fishy Crackers with this recipe but you could definitely do that if you have the cutter and the time.

Enjoy these simple crackers with your favorite topping or eat them straight from the cooling rack (they may not last any longer than that).

Recipe:  Cheddar Cheese Cracker
Makes roughly, using a 1.5 inch cookie cutter,   35-40 crackers

1 cup of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4 tablespoons of butter, soft
3/4 cup of potato starch (Not potato flour)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon flax meal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons of milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

I used my table mixer with the paddle blade.  You can use a bowl and hand mixer too.

Combine all of the ingredients.

Mix until a smooth dough is formed.

Add a piece of parchment paper to a cookie sheet.

With a separate piece of parchment paper on your work surface, add the dough.  Add another piece of parchment paper to the top of the dough and push down.

Using a rolling pin, roll the dough between the two parchment paper pieces until you reach your desired thickness. I think 1/4 inch is too thick, I like mine a bit thinner than this.  They do puff when baked and to achieve the crispy texture, they cannot be too thick or they will be soft.

Using a cookie cutter of your choice, I used a 1.5 inch scallop cutter, start cutting out your shapes and moving them to the cookie sheet.

I used a knife and my hand, lifting the bottom piece of parchment paper, to help get under the dough.  Most of the shapes came right up but there were a few that needed help.

Place shapes every inch.

Bake crackers for 10 minutes.  I turned my tray, because of how my oven cooks, every 5 minutes.

If you like your crackers to have a nuttier flavor then add 2 extra minutes to the bake time.   The edges of the crackers will be darker.

Store the crackers in a baggie or sealed container.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Homemade Marinara Sauce

2020 Update:  I am using our recipes during the quarantine and updating notes. This is a family favorite and easy to make with fresh ingredients too.

My family enjoys quick and easy meals on busy nights.  Sometimes we are running from school to home, to soccer, to home and then to band or girl scouts.  

There are days that our schedules feel more like a marathon than a busy family.  I try really hard to not over-commit myself or my kids but it just happens.

On these nights I am looking for fast, healthy meals.  I could open a jar of pre-made spaghetti sauce and call it good, but I would rather plan ahead and have this sauce in the refrigerator for just those moments.

I have several reasons why I don't do this.  Personally, I don't like super sweet marinara sauce and I feel like the pre sauces that you get in the store are overly sweet.  I also don't like paying the higher prices for a good marinara sauce.  Some jars are upwards of $10.00 a bottle.

I find it takes me about 10 minutes to put the ingredients together for a homemade batch of marinara vs. the few minutes to twist the lid of a jar and microwave.

When I have more time, I will let it simmer on the stove so that the flavors can develop into a thick marinara.  I will admit, with time, I sometimes warm it up knowing it will be better the next day but my family is hungry and they need to eat sooner than later.

As the Mom and cook in the family sometimes I have to overlook a few gourmet embellishments for the sake of a simple, healthy dish. 

In the summer, I enjoy julienned zucchini sticks in place of noodles.  I have always found that zucchini and tomatoes pair well together and in this case, the sauce and vegetable take center stage.  We add a bit of freshly grated parmesan too.

This sauce can easily be turned into a yummy and delicious meat variety by adding hamburger, veal or sausage or a combination of all three.  I have also used it in lasagna and with my eggplant parmesan recipe.   

Recipe:  Homemade Marinara Sauce

2 cans of diced tomatoes (I often use fresh tomatoes too)
1 can of tomato sauce (15 oz or close to it)
2 teaspoons of minced garlic
1/4 cup of onion, diced small
2 tablespoons of olive oil, for sautéing + 2 tablespoons for sauce
1 tablespoon of fresh basil
1 teaspoon of dried oregano
1/2 -1 teaspoon of kosher salt ( start with less and add more as needed) 

BONUS FLAVORS TO ADD: I will add carrots, celery, or bell pepper to add small nuances to the flavor. We love this for pizza toast, lasagna, or zucchini roll-ups.

In a small saute pan add 2 T. of oil and saute onion and garlic together until onion is clear.

In a medium-size pot, on medium heat, add the remaining ingredients.  Add the sauteed onion and garlic.

Let simmer, with small bubbles popping on the surface of the sauce, for 15 minutes.  The sauce will get thicker the longer you simmer it.  I usually shoot for an hour if I have the time.

Taste your sauce to see if more salt is needed.  This is an important step because the right amount of salt makes this really shine.  

Thursday, September 6, 2012

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich

What is not to love about BBQ pork sandwiches?

I always find room in our summer schedule to make this at least once.  


Two reasons.

First, it is a great way to use up my extra BBQ sauce that I had made for something else like BBQ chicken legs or ribs.

Secondly, it feeds a crowd.  Our summers are busy and we find ourselves with friends and family over on the weekends.

The last thing I want to do is spend my time in the kitchen when I have my family in town.  I would rather be shopping, talking, laughing and playing games.

I add the pork and the BBQ sauce to the crockpot, set the temperature and I am set for the day or a few hours. 

Easy, simple and always a crowd pleaser.

Along with making the pork and coleslaw, I made some gluten free flat bread for those of us that are trying to stay wheat free.

I used a cookie cutter to cut them into the shape of a bun.  The bread held up remarkably well despite the juices from both the coleslaw and pulled pork. I was impressed.


Wether you use gluten free bread or regular buns, coleslaw or no slaw, eat one or two, serve for dinner or lunch…this meal is easy, simple and always makes great left overs.

Recipe:  BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich
makes 6-8 very full sandwiches

2 pound pork roast
1 cup of BBQ sauce, I use my homemade version (recipe below)
8 buns
coleslaw, optional

BBQ Sauce:

Makes 3 cups of sauce, after simmering for an hour

1.5 cups of ketchup
1/2 cup of tomato sauce
1 cup of red wine vinegar
1/4 cup of Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup of soy sauce
1/4 cup of honey
1/4 cup of packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons mustard powder
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
2 cloves of minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons hot sauce
1/8-1/4 teaspoon of liquid smoke (start with less and add more based on your taste)

Combine all of the above ingredients into a medium size pot.  Turn heat to medium high and bring sauce to almost a boil, bubbles around edges.  Reduce heat to medium low and let simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally. 

You will start to notice your sauce getting deeper in color, thicker and reducing.  This is what you want.

NOTE:  I use two cups for BBQ chicken legs or ribs and save 1 cup aside to make this recipe a few weeks down the road.  

In a crockpot, add your 1 cup of sauce and pork roast.

Set temperature to high and let cook for 3-4 hours. If you wish to cook this on low you can, it will take 8-10 hours.

When  the meat is done, meat will PULL apart easily.  Continue to pull pork apart into bite size pieces and mix into the sauce so that every piece is covered.

Serve pork immediately or refrigerate for later use.

We add coleslaw to our sandwiches and the recipe can be found here.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Crockpot Refried Beans

Dried beans come in a  variety of sizes, colors and the flavors are countless.

The dishes that can be created by adding beans are also numerous, they can include soups, salads, side dishes, salsa's, puree's, etc...

Sometimes I just don't have time to rehydrate them though.  I buy the packages and when I want to use them I have not given myself enough time to prepare the red bean, black bean or pinto bean.

White lima beans, kidney beans and navy bean sit at the bottom of my pantry anxiously awaiting the day that I remember to soak them overnight or boil them in hot water for a few hours.

Like many, if I need some beans right now, I run to the store and buy them in a can.

We love refried beans and I will often serve them as a side dish when we have enchilada's, on our nacho's or in the bottom of a corn tortilla before we add the cheese, lettuce and ripe tomatoes.

Refried Beans is a simple dish.

I also learned it is an easy dish.

I found inspiration to try this recipe when I woke up one morning and my beans fell out onto the kitchen floor.  I felt that they had flung themselves at me.  THUD, landing at my feet.

My crockpot was sitting on the counter, and together, the beans and the crockpot, were telling me I needed to give my crazy thought a try.

In the end, I was so excited that I did because this dish came together nicely.  I made it in the early morning and it was done by dinner time.

When you make your own refried beans you have so much control in how the flavors will be paired and the end result.

I will be making these from scratch for now on because I learned several things.

Great flavor.

Easy preparating.


Yep, they were simply good.

Good taste, texture and flavor.

Recipe:  Crockpot Refried Beans

6 cups of water
6 chicken bouillon cubes
3 cups of dried pinto beans
1 tablespoon of granulated garlic
2 teaspoons of onion powder

2 teaspoons of cumin
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/4 cup of jalapeno (optional)
Cheese (optional)

Add all of the above ingredients to a crockpot.

Set temperature to high and cook for 4-5 hours.  If you choose to cook it on low the time will be much longer, 8-10 hours.

I checked the beans after 3 hours to make sure they were doing okay and every hour after that.

You will have to remove some water when the beans return to their desired doneness.  I removed almost one full cup.

I used a potato masher to mash the refried beans together.  They will get thicker as they sit for a few minutes or even the next day.

I liked having a variety of beans in the dish that ranged from whole to mash.

Sifting Through Life: First Day of Kindergarten

Here we go!

School has started and so has the buzzing of this time of year.  I think I signed my life away for my son who is a sophomore in high school.  Every teacher has sent home a consent form, some teachers sent a safety form and others, a supply list.

Sign, print, date…REPEAT..over and over.

College has not yet started for my oldest daughter. She is home with me during the day.  Soon enough she will be back with a full load, preparing for mid terms and anxiously counting the days until she is finally done with school.

With Rye we sign one thing…the check. We are fortunate that we can pay for some of her schooling.

Kindergarten was a bit more laid back for Isabella, we met the teacher on Tuesday and she attended a staggered schedule on Thursday.  A few papers were filled out: birthday, name and locker tag.

The moment we left the classroom Isabella professed her love for her teacher.

"I just love my teacher," she says.

I was curious how a quick meeting with a woman that she just met could cause such a reaction in her small heart.

"Why is that?" I asked.

She sweetly replied, "Because she is beautiful Mom and she is my teacher".


Is she not the sweetest little five year old?  This morning as we left for school, she needed a gift for her new teacher.  We went out side to our back yard and looked around.  What could we quickly throw together?

The only thing we have blooming in our yard at the moment is a pretty bush with a cluster of pink blossoms at the very end of each branch.  We grabbed the kitchen shears and headed to the back of the yard.  We fought our way through spider webs and dead leaves.  Reaching up, we discovered that the pretty pink blossoms were wilting and slowly losing their beauty.

We picked them anyway.  I had taken three different types of ribbons in three colors to create a pretty bow to secure the small bouquet.

Our walk to school is short and sweet, it takes us about 5 minutes to weave around the cars parked in the street and cross the busy road to finally arrive at the new school.

I was impressed that Isabella was not nervous or scared.  She was so excited to deliver her gift that it helped to keep her mind off of the fact that she would be going to a new school.

Ms. (kindergarten teacher) did not disappoint.

There, in line, standing behind 4 or 5 little kids, Isabella patiently waited with her orange and pink back pack and Hello Kitty lunch box.  She was wearing the tennis shoes that she picked out with a cute floral shirt and jean capris.

With every opening and closing of the door she waited to see her teacher.  Her head would turn to me and then the door wondering when it would be her turn to go inside to see her new room.

Finally Ms. KT arrived.  Holding her short list of kids for the day, she spotted Isabella immediately and hugged her.  She saw the flowers, or what was left of the few blossoms that had made the trek from the back yard, down the street and to the front door of the school.  All the while being swung back and forth rubbing against her capris.

She smiled down at Isabella and I could see the admiration that Isabella had as she looked up into the eyes of the lady that would be responsible for my little girl, five days a week for 6.5 hours a day.

Isabella trusted her new teacher and was eager to stay.

There were no tears from her or from me.  We hugged and parted ways for a few hours as she adjusted to her new schedule, new friends and a new teacher.

I had planned on homeschooling Isabella as I had done with my older two.  She had other plans.  If we had another child closer to her age, I would have kept her with me, but we don't.  I have a college student and a high school student who are gone all day.  She longs for someone to play dolls, dress up and kitchen with her.  We play and play but it is never enough.

I don't have the stamina I had when my older two were this age and I don't want her to be bored.  I want her to be challenged and happy.

It was hard for me to decide to send her to school but I saw the joy that she radiated, the love she had for her teacher and the friends she was eager to play with on her first day of school.

I will take each year as it comes and if she is happy and doing well we won't change a thing.

I am grateful for teachers.  We feel lucky to live in an area with small class sizes, friendly families and great support from the school board.

I can't believe that we are already here: the first day of kindergarten.

I don't know how the time went by so fast, but it did.

I told my son the other day that I did not want him to grow up anymore.  I hugged him and realized I was not hugging the little boy anymore but a young man.  He looked down at me and smiled and said, "I know Mom".

He shaved for the first time this week.

Rye is moving on with her life too.  Establishing new friends, looking for a job, trying to figure out her future.

Oh, it's hard watching them grow up; yet it is exhilarating at the same time.

My kids will always be my most treasured possession.  I can't keep them in a fancy jewelry box or protect them from being stolen.

They have their whole lives ahead of them, just as we did.

The first day of kindergarten is the beginning of a whole new world for them, then high school and finally college.  It all goes by too fast.

I will watch them go and wait for them to return with arms wide open.

…there she goes!  

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cauliflower and Zucchini Crust for Pizza

I took a huge risk trying this recipe on my family.  Only a few us should not eat wheat and so most of our bread that I make is not wheat free and this would include our pizza dough.

I feared that if I tried this my family would boycott the pizza party.

I had a few odd looks from my kids when I told them what the crust was made out of but the overall response was positive.

It helped that I made a homemade red sauce to accompany the cauliflower, bell pepper and zucchini crust.

Yep, I went there.  To that special place reserved for those of us trying to push the envelope with recipe development.  Could the crust handle two more added ingredients or would it change the dynamics of the crust and create a gooey glob of vegetables.

I guess it was a chance I was willing to take.  My gut told me it would work and it did.

The key to making this crust turn out is "less is best".  You must squeeze out every last drop of water from the vegetables that you can.  I used a towel and wrung it until my hands could not wring any more.  LOL  Next time I may recruit my hubby for this.

Does the crust replace a traditional pizza crust from NYC…heck no, but to those of us that are trying to eat less wheat, less carbs and eat a bit healthier, this is a great alternative to try once in a while.

Recipe:  Cauliflower and Zucchini Pizza Crust

6 cups of raw cauliflower, chopped finely, I use my food processor
1 cup of zucchini, chopped finely, I use my food processor
1/2 cup of yellow bell pepper, chopped finely
1/4 cup of parmesan cheese, grated fine
4 oz or 1/2 cup of cream cheese, soft
1 egg, beaten
1/2 teaspoon of dried italian herbs
pinch of salt

Pizza Sauce, your choice
Pizza Toppings, your choice

I used my food processor to finely chop (rice) all of my vegetables.

Boil one inch of water in a large pot and add veggies.  Cook for 5 minutes.

Line a large colander or strainer with a thin dish cloth and pour vegetables into strainer.  BE VERY CAREFUL if you decide to squeeze the veggies at this point without letting them cool first, you will burn your hands, trust me, I already did the first time.

Two things can be done: let the vegetables cool for 15 minutes or rinse them with cold water.  You decide.

Gather up the edges of the towel and start wringing out the water.  Even when you think you have done all you can do, try again.  It should be as dry as possible.

Take a large bowl and add cheese, cream cheese, egg, herbs and salt.  Mix well.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and dump the "dough" in the middle of the pan.

Using your hands, push the crust until you have the desired thickness.  I went for a 1/4 inch. Your hands will get messy and sticky.

Your crust should look like this before it is baked.

Bake for 40 minutes at 400 degrees.  The crust will have a golden appearance.

Add your sauce, cheese and toppings and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Cut your pizza like any other crusted pizza with a pizza wheel. The crust will be easier to pick up and eat if cooled for a few minutes.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Steak Spring Roll with Red Wine Reduction

Thinking outside of the box is something I seem to do pretty well in my everyday life and now it seems to be trickling over into my kitchen.

I have made the traditional spring rolls with shrimp and have found that my family is not a fan of the shrimp but they love the concept of using the round rice disk as a way of holding delicious veggies.

Recently I found some beef that had been cut into thin wide strips at Whole Foods.  I figured this could be used for any number of dishes so I included it in my shopping cart.  I will often buy unique things in the store without having any idea of what dish I may include it in.

The next day I noticed I had a few vegetables that needed to be used up that day.  This idea came to my mind.  A steak spring roll.  Would it taste okay?  Sure, steak is kind of like bacon in our family, added to most things, it will taste fantastic.

Reaching for a baggie, I started adding a bit of this and a little of that to season and marinate the beef.  I had a feeling this would be amazing and so I wrote everything down as I went.  I don't always do this when I first try a recipe because it usually requires some tweaking over the next few months.

When you use certain ingredients a lot you learn their qualities and attributes to a recipe and when marrying the ingredients together you are able to create an explosion of flavor.  This happened. 

I wanted the meat to be somewhat strong in flavor, I was okay if it tasted a bit saltier than normal.  With the pairing of the fresh veggies and rice wrapper, this combination would allow the meat to shine in every bite.


Rye, my oldest daughter, is usually my taste tester when she is not in college and I knew this was a hit for the mere fact that she was pacing the halls back and forth from her room to the stove, asking me on more than one occasion, "are they done yet?" and telling me, "that smells so good".

The longest part of this dish?  Julienne vegetables.  I love the look and I wanted those thin matchstick pieces to shine in the pictures of the spring roll.  My hand and mind needed to work together to create these narrow sticks of beauty.

As I started to line up the veggies next to each and could see the rainbow of flavor that would be featured in each spring roll,  I was motivated to continue on to the next ingredient.  I do have a OXO mandolin that has a julienne blade but I wanted the challenge of doing it by hand.  

I love my kitchen gadgets that help me to save time but on this day I wanted the experience of doing this simple, yet taxing task, the old fashion way…me and steel.

Working with the rice wrappers is a new experience for some.  You have this hard disk and you are expected to create a spring roll of deliciousness how?  LOL

I have given you step by step instructions below to help you work with and use this ingredient.  

I love these steak spring rolls and cannot wait to make them again for myself, my family or friends. 

Recipe:  Steak Spring Rolls with a Red Wine Reduction 
makes 8, 16 halves

6 slices of thin strips of beef, cut 1/4 in thick
1/4 teaspoon of onion powder
2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon Worceshershire Sauce
dash of pepper
oil, for searing meat
3/4 cup of red wine
salt to taste
toasted sesame seeds
assortment of veggies for filling: cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, onion,  bell pepper, etc…
8 rice spring roll wrapper disc

Marinate meat in a baggie along with onion powder, soy sauce, worceshershire sauce and pepper for one hour.

In a large skillet, heat oil and add meat.  Dispose of left over marinade.  

Cook meat for about 2 minutes on each side.  The thin strips will cook quickly and you don't need them well done and chewy.  Sprinkle each side with toasted sesame seeds. 

The meat marinade and juices, when combined with the oil in the pan, will create a small amount of liquid.  Remove your meat to a plate.  Set the pan aside with the juice for creating the sauce later.  Any juice that is left on the plate from the meat sitting should be added to the pan too. 

After the meat has cooled a bit, cut each piece into thin strips to match those of the veggies.  Try to cut across the grain so the meat will be easier to bite into.  

Prepare you veggies.  To help stack the veggies and meat, they will work better if everything is cut into thin strips.  The lettuce can be shredded.

The picture below will show you what a single rice disk will look like.  They are sold in packages at most grocery stores in the Asian sections.

I use a shallow pie dish filled half way with warm water to soften my rice disk in.  This process is quick.  You will place the disk in the warm water and wait about 30 seconds.  The disk will slowly go from hard to super soft in about 3 minutes.

Remove the disk to your work surface and start stacking your veggies and meat.

Try to work quickly.  Take the left side and the right side and fold into the middle.   Starting at the bottom, flip that over the filling, tighten a bit to secure all of the ingredients and proceed to roll into a spring roll form.

Your spring roll is complete.  I lay my rolls on a plate in a single roll.  The skin of the roll becomes tacky to the touch and if you lay them on top of each other they could tear apart.

Serving the spring rolls is easy.  I have an assortment of dipping sauces available and cut them in half.

Recipe: Red Wine Reduction

Drippings from pan and plate (around 1/4 cup)
3/4 cup of red wine

Heat pan and let the juices and wine simmer (gently rolling) until it reduces to 1/3 of a cup.  Stir occasionally. Taste the reduction to see if salt is needed.  The time for this step will depend on how thick you want the sauce.  It took me about 10 minutes.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fried Oysters

If you have made it this far, you either like oysters or are curious.

I hope both.

I LOVE LOVE LOVE oysters and I get the pleasure of living in Maryland where we have access to them during the "R" months fresh from the Chesapeake Bay.  The "R" months are the best time to eat fresh oysters and those months are September-March.  So why did we have oysters in the summer?

This advice was given long before there was refrigeration in most homes and the concern would be how to preserve them from day to day. This made sense because the oysters could easily go bad if not eaten soon.  The preferred months stay the same but eating an oyster in the spring or summer will not get you uninvited to your next dinner party.

Peggy Filippone has this to say about why we eat oysters in those desired months. "Oysters spawn in the warm summer months, usually May through August, although natural Gulfwater oysters can spawn year-round due to the warm waters. Spawning causes them to become fatty, watery, soft, and less flavorful instead of having the more desirable lean, firm texture and bright seafood flavor of those harvested in cooler, non-spawning months."

Maryland oysters are named the Eastern Oyster, also called the Virginia Oyster.  In recent years the bay has struggled to sustain the oyster population and our state is working hard to meet the demands set by companies and locals that still desire to partake of this shell fish.  The oyster also offers benefits to the eco structure of the bay with their oyster reefs and their built in filtering systems.

At one point in time the oyster beds were so abundant that boats would scrape the top of the oyster reefs in passing.  Times have changed. To give you an idea in numbers, I found this stat quoted from the Historic American Engineering Record for JC Lore Oyster House, "In 1885, more than 15 million bushels of oysters were harvested, but by 2004, that number had dropped to26,495 bushels."

Arriving in Maryland was a dream come true.  We were finally able to live by water and not just a small seashore, but more miles of seashore than the eastern and western shores combined.  The Chesapeake Bay shoreline is a total of 11, 684 miles stretched between 200 miles.

One of the first places we visited was a place called Solomon's Island.  Little did we know that this was also home to an earlier oyster business.  We learned so much about the industry in the early days.  My favorite were the pictures posted on every wall displaying the men and ladies working long hours shucking oysters.

How do you shuck an oyster?

Step by step instructions were written out and followed for every step of the process.  The company was concerned about safety and sanitation for the oysters and their workers.  Below you can find a general how-to and you better be fast.  The workers were paid by the bushel, so the more you shucked the more money you would have.

"A shucker grasps an oyster in his left with its flat shell up, presses it against the table, the hinge end pointed away from him, and inserts the tip of the oyster knife between the shells at the broad end. The knife enters the oyster about one-third of the distance from the bill to the hinge and on the side nearest to the man. This point is opposite the large muscle that holds the two shells together. In the next motion, the muscle is cut, following which the knife is used as a lever and one or the other of the shells is pried off and discarded. Better shuckers employ only six motions in this entire procedure. The oyster, or "meat," as it is now called, is now cut from the remaining shell and dropped into a pail.", the whole article can be read here.
I find the oyster business fascinating back in this time period.  It created jobs for the locals, provided a name for the town and food for thousands of oyster eaters.

The company is no longer active but you can eat at the building which once housed the oyster plant.  It has been turned into a lovely restaurant and the walls are a history lesson of what took place so long ago.

Oysters are eaten in a variety of ways: raw, fried, grilled, in sandwiches and soups.  This is just a few of the many styles that a person can enjoy a delicious oyster.  I would not recommend starting with a raw oyster unless you have no qualms about the texture.  Most people don't like the slimy consistency that a raw oyster has.  A fried oyster on the other hand has the crispy outside, soft inside and that yummy oyster flavor.

My first attempt at eating a raw oyster was a few years ago and my hubby begged me to try them.  I believe he thought with wine, chocolate and some oysters he might be in for a grand night…LOL

Oh, and by the way, he hates oysters.  So I knew I was on my own and what ever I ordered I would have to eat all alone.

I was worried that I would get stuck with some of the largest oysters that a person has ever seen…I just wasn't sure how this was all going to go down, literally.

To make a long story short, I ate one and then another until the half dozen was gone.  I did not think I could eat a full dozen by myself.

I can now say that I belong to the "I ate a raw oyster" club.  Your right, that club probably does not exist.  DANG IT.

I was surprised that the slimy oyster did not bother me.  Along with the oysters, they bring you all types of toppings and sauces.  This may be what helped me down 6 raw oysters in one night, heck, in 30 minutes.

Fried oysters are still my favorite and I do make these at home 5-6 times a year.  My son used to love them but with puberty he has decided he does not like seafood anymore, so I may not be making them as often in the future.

I usually buy my oysters from a seafood store in the local Annapolis area.  They are usually brought in that day.  I would suggest you get them as fresh as possible and it is nice to know where they come in from.

The coating on this recipe was created to create a crunchy outside with a soft warm inside, the oyster.

I know that oysters are not for everyone, but for those of us that enjoy them, they can be made at home with ease and good results.

I like to think this is a simply delicious gourmet meal to make in your own kitchen for fans of the oyster.

Recipe:  Fried Oysters

20-25 small to medium raw oysters, shucked and cleaned
2 eggs, beaten well
12 Ritz Crackers, crushed (GF crackers can be used)
1/3 cup of corn meal, fine works best
1/3 cup of flour, (GF version, use almond meal)
1/4 -1/2 teaspoon of pepper
1/2 teaspoon of salt
oil, to fry oysters

Combine flour, corn meal, crushed crackers, salt and pepper together.

Drain oysters.

Prepare your station:  oysters, coating and eggs.

In a large sauce pan, add enough oil for the oysters to float and cook.  Let them cook for 4 minutes and then flip. Remove from oil and let them cool on a wire rack.

Serve with your favorite sauces. I made a tartar sauce using dill pickles, mayonnaise and red onion.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Pizza Dip

My kids request this all the time, especially when they are having friends over on Friday and Saturday nights.

I think this is for two reasons.  One: it's cheesy and creamy.  Two: the leftovers make excellent midnight snacks.

I will buy a couple loaves of french bread to serve with the dip or make my own.  A great recipe for rustic white bread, in under an hour, can be found here.

I make the base and let the kids add their favorite toppings.

You can customize this with different cheeses, toppings, meats and veggies.  Have fun creating your version of "Pizza" dip.

Recipe: Pizza Dip

2-8 oz packages of cream cheese, soft
1 cup of mayonnaise
1 cup of mozzarella cheese + 1.5 cups for topping dip
1/4 cup of parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons of green onion
1 cup of pizza sauce or marinara (you can use less, we just like the sauce)
toppings:  pepperoni, olives, mushrooms, red onion, hamburger, bell pepper, bacon, etc…

Preheat oven to 350.

In a medium bowl, combine soft cream cheese, mayonnaise, 1 cup of mozzarella cheese, green onions and the parmesan cheese.  Stir well.

I use a round stone ware oven proof pan to cook my dips in.  It measures 12 inches across.  The smaller the pan the thicker the dip, the larger the pan would result in a thinner cream cheese base.  I have made both and they are both delicious.   The thicker dip may require a few more minutes to cook.

Spread the cheese mixture in the bottom of the pan first.

Spread the pizza sauce next.

Sprinkle the cheese over the sauce.

Decide on your toppings and scatter those around the top of the cheese.

Bake your dip for 25 minutes or until bubbly.

Serve with chunks of french bread.

This dip is very hot when it comes out of the oven. Please be careful.  The cheese makes it stringy and gooey.

Donut Breakfast Casserole

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