August 30, 2013

Taco Polaco (Polish Tacos)

4 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 14-oz turkey kielbasa, cut into 3/4 inch chunks
1 onion, diced
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
8 Old El Paso 6-Inch Flour Tortillas, warmed
2 tablespoons stone ground mustard
3/4 cup jarred or fresh sauerkraut

Bring a pan of water to boil. Boil the potatoes until just beginning to soften. Drain and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Saute the onion and kielbasa until the onions are soft and the kielbasa is beginning to brown, about 5-8 minutes. Add the potatoes, salt and pepper and saute until the potatoes are heated through and evenly distributed amongst the sausage.

Meanwhile, spread a layer of mustard on each tortilla. Evenly divide the potato-kielbasa mixture between the tortillas and top with sauerkraut. Fold to close. Serve immediately.

My thoughts:
When my husband lived in Austin, Texas back in the dark ages before he knew me, he indulged in what was called a "German taco". Texas has a sizable German population and when co-mingled with the Mexican population, this is what happens. You get a German sausage wrapped in a tortilla and sold a festivals. Fusion at perhaps its best. I've never been to Texas but I haven't been able to get the idea of a sausage taco out of my mind. So when Old El Paso asked me to create and share a clever taco recipe, I saw my chance to make my wurst taco dreams come true. Taking a page from my own Baltimore-Polish heritage, I thought I'd make a Polish taco to put the German tacos to shame. To keep it light, I used turkey kielbasa instead but traditional kielbasa is excellent as well. I added some potatoes, onions and sauerkraut. I have to admit I was slightly skeptical but it was awesome! Not terribly different than a hot dog with kraut, just more filling, more flavorful and wrapped in a tortilla instead of a bun. I'm a fan.

August 28, 2013

Hot Pickled Green Tomato Rémoulade

3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup small dice green tomato pickles
3 tablespoons fresh parsley
1 teaspoon minced fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon juice from the green tomato pickle jar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 shallot, minced
1 small green fish pepper*
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Refrigerate 1/2 hour before serving.

*Or cayenne pepper

My thoughts:
I loved the green tomato pickles I canned earlier this summer and couldn't resist cracking open a jar to make this sauce. Normally I try to resist opening my jars until the food contained within is out of season but I'm hopeless against the lure of a good pickle.

Rémoulade is really a fancypants word for what basically amounts to tartar sauce. This one is vaguely New Orleans style in that it has mayo, pickles and paprika (although it isn't quite as veggie packed) and I think it would be lovely on a po boy but it is also great with shrimp and crab or on a sandwich or you can dip fries in it.

August 26, 2013

Grilled Salmon and Summer Squash Packets

2 lb wild Alaskan salmon, cut into two filets
2 small yellow squash, cut into thin 1/8-1/4-inch thick coins
1 very large shallot, sliced
1 lemon, sliced thinly
1/4 cup vermouth or white wine vinegar
3-4 dill flowers/handful fresh dill
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Cut 2 2-foot long sections of foil. In the center, place half of the shallot slices and a quarter of the squash in a single layer. Place 1 filet salmon, skin-side down, on the shallots and squash. Top with lemon slices, remaining squash, dill, salt and pepper. Drizzle with vermouth or vinegar. Close the packet. Repeat for remaining ingredients. Place both packets on a baking sheet and refrigerate until ready to use.

Prepare grill according to manufacurers instructions. Vent the top of the packets with a knife. Place directly on the grill. Grill until the fish is fully cooked, about 10-15 minutes.

My thoughts:
Alaskan salmon is in season right now and I couldn't be more thrilled. The rest of the year, Alaskan wild salmon is quite dear but in August even we Marylanders can get it for under $6 and it tastes miles above the farmed salmon we are normally stuck with (or the endangered Atlantic salmon we don't eat). As such, we ordered 2 lbs for only the two of us so we'd have plenty of leftovers to play with. You can grill it directly on the grill or on a cedar plank, as I did for this salmon with pickled fennel, but placing it in foil allows you to almost poach it while steaming the vegetables within (for an almost 1 packet meal) while still infusing it with smoke flavor. Win-win.

August 21, 2013

Speculoos Greek Yogurt (No Bake!) Cheesecake


for the crust:
1 1/2 cup speculoos crumbs
5 tablespoons melted butter, cooled slightly

for the cheesecake:
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 lbs brick Greek yogurt cream cheese*, at room temperature
1 1/2 cup (full fat) Greek yogurt, at room temperature
1 tablespoon powdered plain gelatin (one packet)
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup speculoos spread (aka cookie butter)

Preheat oven to 350. Mix the crumbs and the butter until damp. Press firmly into the bottom of 9 inch springform pan. Bake for 10 minutes or until it starts to look dry on the top. Cool. Lightly grease the sides of the pan.

Meanwhile, mix together the vanilla, cream cheese and yogurt until well blended. Soften the gelatin in the water in an oven-proof ramekin. Heat about 1/2 inch water in a small skillet. Place the ramekin in the skillet and stir until the gelatin dissolves. While the mixer is running our the gelatin over the cream cheese mixture in a continuous stream and mix until well incorporated. Pour 2/3-3/4 of the batter into the pan. Set aside.

Beat the speculoos spread into the remaining batter. Drop spoonfuls of it onto the cheesecake in the pan. Use the tip of a knife to swirl. Cover and refrigerate 6-8 hours prior to serving.

*Like this, I found it near regular cream cheese at the supermarket.

My thoughts:
When we went to Belgium a few years back, one of the many food items we brought back was speculoos spread (speculoospasta). It was made of ground speculoos, the spice cookie that is incredibly popular in Belgium. It seemed so odd and very Belgian we had to try it. I never imagined it would become available here in the US just a few years later. The same brand that made it in Belgium, Lotus, makes it here but under speculoos' American name, Biscoff. Now I can have it whenever I want. I have made my own speculoos, but I saw some imported speculoos cookies a while back (at an after Christmas sale but they had a long expiration date!) and picked them up with the idea I'd make something out of them eventually.

When my husband said he wanted to make me something special for my birthday, I thought it might be fun to make a speculoos cheesecake! Since it was August we went the no-bake route (except for the crust, I guess you could skip the baking step but it is crispier and better tasting baked) and made a light, Greek yogurt-based cheesecake instead of its winter-worth cousin. It was everything I hoped it would be, full of speculoos flavor, creamy and with just a hint of tang from the yogurt. A perfect blend of the American and the Belgian.

Bit of trivia: speculoos spread was first invented by contestants on a Belgian television show about inventors, de Bedenkers! They were inspired by a trend of crushing the cookies mixing it with butter and spreading on sandwich bread. They came in third place.

August 19, 2013

Peach Thyme Shrub

4 cups large cube peeled peaches
1 cup light brown sugar
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup white vinegar
handful of thyme leaves

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Stir until the sugar dissolves and the fruit is a bit mashed up. Refrigerate 72 hours in a sealed, nonreactive container (like a glass jar or two; I used a quart jar and about 3/4 of a pint jar). Place a metal sieve over a bowl and mash the fruit with a potato masher until any large pieces are well mashed.

Whisk the mashed pulp through the sieve.

Discard (or eat! it is basically pickled peach pulp). Pour the resulting liquid back into the nonreactive container and refrigerate until ready to use.

Yield: about 1 quart

My thoughts:
Shrubs are a great way to revisit our colonial past without the fear of the stockade, trampling horses, dysentery, cholera, yellow fever, outhouses, or lack of proper bathing.

Shrubs were sort of the soft drink of the colonial era. They were refreshing in the hot summer months and the vinegar helped preserve the drink so they didn't need refrigeration, something difficult to come by at that time. (I do refrigerate mine because I like to drink it cold). There are various ways to make a shrub but this method resulted in the perfect sweet-tart shrub bursting with peach flavor. It also yields a surprising amount of shrub considering how many peaches are used and how little liquid. Honestly, it tasted peachier than the actual peaches (which were very flavorful) did. I think it is because they basically liquified in the vinegar during the long soak. At any rate, it is amazing.

To drink: add it to club soda or cold, still water (it is slightly fizzy itself). Historically, it was also drunk with dark rum.

August 16, 2013

Powidla Sliwkowe (Polish Plum Butter)

5 lbs Italian prune plums, pitted and halved
2 cups light brown sugar
1 large cinnamon stick (optional)

Place the plums, sugar and cinnamon stick in an oval, six-quart slow cooker. Cook on low 12-18 hrs, leaving the lid slightly askew for the second half of the cooking time. Cook until a thick paste forms with little to no visible "liquid". Use an immersion blender to process until smooth. Prep your jars/lids. Pour the butter in the jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Yield: about 1 pint "Elite" Ball jar, one 8-oz jar and 1 4-oz jar

Note: A great source for canning information is the Blue Book guide to preserving. I highly recommend it for learning how to can. Here are some of my other favorite canning books and supplies.

My thoughts:
Tomorrow is National Can-It-Forward Day, a day to help share the joys of preserving, and I thought I'd share what I think is the perfect first fruit canning project for a would-be canner. It is super easy, has little prep, doesn't yield a ton (so you don't have to spend a whole day standing over vats of boiling water on your first go) and the results are delish. Since you are cooking the plums down in the slow cooker, unless your slow cooker is defective, there is no chance of scorching, burning or overcooking the plums like there is on the stovetop. You just let them cook and cook and cook. Even if the liquid is at the "mostly evaporated" stage while you are sleeping, it will be hours the mixture would dry out beyond use. Very forgiving. Plus it only makes a small batch so you can process these in a regular stockpot (as long as it is tall enough to hold water a few inches above the cans). I use my 8-quart stock pot and the basket from the $10 home canning discovery kit (you can also use a folded up towel in the bottom, you just don't want the jars to touch the bottom of the pot) for small batches like these. The water boils much more quickly in my stockpot than it does in my big canning pot and you probably already have one in your kitchen. Perfect if you are just trying canning on for size.

August 14, 2013

Baltimore Peach Cake

2 cups flour
1 oz yeast
3 tablespoons lukewarm water
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup milk, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
4-6 halved or quartered peeled and pitted peaches, at room temperature
1-2 tablespoons raspberry jam (I used raspberry-peach jam), warmed if needed


Grease and flour or spray with baking spray a 8x8 inch pan. In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast on the water. Using an electric mixer with a dough hook combine the yeast, butter, sugar, and egg. Add the flour alternately with the milk and mix on low until smooth. The dough will be a bit sticky. Spread the dough out into the cake pan, taking care to reach all corners. Arrange peaches in a single layer, cut side up over the dough. Press the peaches into the dough. Cover and allow to sit 30 minutes to rise. Preheat oven to 350. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the cake is cooked through. Remove from oven and immediately brush with jam.

My thoughts:
Every August like clockwork, I get a flurry of requests asking for a recipe for Baltimore Peach Cake and I haven't had one to share until now. I've thought about making it each year but either time got away from me before peach season ended or we had a bad peach year. This year the peaches are amazing so when I found myself with a bunch of peaches and received yet another request for a recipe over the weekend, I knew it was time.

I remember my Grandpop picking up peach cake at Hoehn's Bakery in Highlandtown when I was little. And the twist doughnuts with the granulated sugar. Honestly, I don't know if I ever actually made it into Hoen's because he would leave me in the car (normally with the dogs because we'd stop for a treat to take to our little house on Bird River) while he picked up the goodies. But he loved peach cake and made the effort to pick it up when it was available.

Peach cake is one of those uniquely Baltimore things that I am always worried is in the process of dying out, like smearcase. It is only available for a month or so a year as it is and I haven't seen a really good recipe for it yet. Most people think of it as a bakery-only cake but only a handful of bakeries in the city still make it. So I felt the need to create one. At Hoehn's the secret ingredient is raspberry jam* so I spent a day making jam just for this cake. I cheated a bit and added peach to it but I think that makes it even better for peach cake if slightly less traditional. Some bakeries use a sort of sugar glaze on their cakes, but that makes it too sweet for my taste and I think it detracts from the flavor. With raspberry jam you get a hint of another summer favorite!

Peach cake is unique in that it is a yeast based cake and in the giant slab format that old time Baltimore bakeries seem so fond of rather than a neat round cake. This makes it easy to slice nice big square pieces and maximize the amount of peaches used. I don't find that peach cake holds up for many days so I think making a smallish cake of 8x8 works out the best if you are making it for home consumption and not trying to feed all of East Baltimore. You can always make more, but the perishable nature of the peach means this cake is best the day it is made. I've seen slabs of peach cake much larger than 9x11 in bakeries around Baltimore!

*Some peach cakes do not feature jam but when they do, it is often raspberry. I think the jam was introduced to help extend the short shelf life of the cake by sealing in the juices. Since the cake Grandpop would buy featured jam and I make my own jam, I included it. You can leave it out if you prefer.

August 13, 2013

Double Decker Turkey Veggie Tacos

1 1/2 lb turkey breast chops, cut into 1/2 inch wide strips
2 tablespoons raspberry hot sauce
1 jalapeno, sliced
1 onion, halved and sliced
1/4 cup Old El Paso Hot Taco Sauce
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided use
1 eggplant, diced
2 zucchini, diced
6 oz crimini mushrooms, diced
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 14-oz Old El Paso Dinner Kit, Hard & Soft Taco kits
1 cup Old El Paso Refried Beans with Green Chiles
1/2 cup mixed shredded Mexican cheese

Place the turkey, hot sauce, jalapeno and onion in a resealable bag or marinating container. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and up to overnight. Toss with taco sauce. Heat one tablespoon oil in a large skillet. Add the contents of the bag to the skillet. Saute until the turkey is cooked through.

In a separate large skillet, heat the remaining oil. Saute the eggplant, zucchini and mushrooms until soft. Sprinkle with chili powder and lime juice halfway through the cooking process.

Prepare the hard taco shells and soft tortillas according to package instructions.

Meanwhile, heat the beans in a small pan. Spread a thin layer of beans on each soft taco to the edges. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of cheese. Fold the soft tortillas over each hard taco shell, bean-side up. Add a couple of pieces of turkey to each taco and then top with vegetable mixture. Serve immediately.

My thoughts:
Old El Paso asked me to come up with a recipe using fresh produce from my farmers market so I decided to incorporate some of my favorite summer veggies, zucchini and eggplant, with my husband's favorite kind of taco: the double decker. I love how they turned out, the turkey was juicy and flavorful thanks to the marinade and the vegetables were soft and stayed in the taco well; my biggest taco pet peeve is escaping toppings and fillings!

August 12, 2013

Tropical Heat Pickled Apricots

9 large apricots, pitted and halved
1 cup water
1 1/4 cup white vinegar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
12 Sarawak black peppercorns
2 whole star anise
2 1/4-inch thick cubes fresh ginger
1/2 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
2 tablespoons large unsweetened coconut flakes
2 fish peppers, diced

Prep your jars/lids. Evenly divide the spices and apricots halves between 2 pint jars. Combine the water, vinegar and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a low boil. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Pour brine over the apricots, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Remove any bubbles. Seal and process in a water bath for 10 minutes. Allow to sit one week prior to eating.

Yield: 2 pints

Note: A great source for canning information is the Blue Book guide to preserving. I highly recommend it for learning how to can. Here is a bunch of other canning books and equipment I find useful.

My thoughts:
Some apricots were tossed into that huge box of peaches I made jam out of. I love apricots but they are pretty fragile and it can be tricky to get a hold of some good, unbruised ones. These made it unscathed but I didn't know what to do with them. They were on the large size, but I'd still need a ton to make jam. Instead, I decided to take advantage of the apricots being nearly as big around as a mason jar and pickle some halves. I just stacked them one on top of each other in 2 regular mouth pint jars. I didn't peel them (though you could) because the skin is perfectly tasty and edible even after pickling. I went for a tropical theme to the flavors to mix it up a bit and used fresh ginger, giant coconut flakes, mustard seeds, star anise and fish peppers (you could use cayenne peppers instead) from my garden for a bit of heat. I also used brown sugar instead of white for a light caramel flavor. They are fantastic! Try them on a cheese plate, in a sandwich or in a salad.

August 11, 2013

Slow Cooker Chipotle Brisket

3 lb brisket
1 onion, sliced into thick rings
1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon dehydrated minced onions
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 pouch (8 oz) Old El Paso® Chipotle Mexican Cooking Sauce


Line the bottom of a 6-quart slow cooker insert with the onion rings.

In a small bowl, whisk together the spices. Rub them over all sides of the brisket. Place the brisket in the slow cooker over the onion rings. Pour the sauce over the brisket. Cook on low 8 hours.

Remove the brisket. Discard cooked onions and any juices. Slice or shred the brisket and serve over rice, in tacos, burritos or enchiladas.

My thoughts:
The folks at Old El Paso wanted me to test drive a new product, Chipotle Mexican Cooking Sauce. I normally don't use pre-made sauces because they are often salty or bland but we actually liked this one! It added a lot of flavor and moisture to the brisket without being too heavy. I love smoked brisket most of all but it has been awfully rainy pretty much since April so I haven't been able to fire up the smoker. The chipotle gave it a nice smoky favor and subtle heat. After a stint in the slow cooker, the brisket was moist and juicy but not greasy, thanks to the onion layer. I shredded it and placed it on top of some rice and beans I cooked with tomatoes and topped it with homemade pickled red onions. Sort of a burrito bowl in an homemade edible shell.

August 09, 2013

Peach Fish Pepper Jam

3 1/2 cups lightly crushed peaches
3 tablespoons powdered low sugar pectin*
2 cups sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 fish peppers, diced


Evenly sprinkle the bottom of the Ball Jam Maker with the pectin. Spoon the fruit and peppers in a relatively even layer over the pectin. Sprinkle with lemon juice. Press the jam button. You will hear a beep at 4 minutes. Sprinkle the sugar over the fruit mixture while the machine is still running. Cover and wait for the jam cycle to complete. Press the cancel button and unplug the machine. If not using a Ball Jam Maker, make the jam on the stovetop using the traditional method as seen in this recipe.

Ladle the jam into prepared jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process in the hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Yield: about 4 8-oz jars

*I recommend these jars of flex batch pectin. 3 tablespoons equals 1/2 of a pouch of boxed pectin.

Note: A great source for canning information is the Blue Book guide to preserving. I highly recommend it for learning how to can. Here is a bunch of other canning books and equipment I find useful.

My thoughts:

My husband loves peaches. I'm more of a nectarine girl myself because I am one of the unlucky few that get itchy when I handle peaches. Luckily, he is happy to peel (and cube!) them for me so I can enjoy them as much as he does. So when the lovely people at the Washington State Fruit Commission and the masterminds behind Sweet Preservation offered to send me some stone fruit again this year (you may remember the peaches in vanilla bean syrup, spicy nectarine barbecue sauce, zesty plum ketchup and ginger-cardamom nectarine jam I made with fruit they sent me last September) I jumped at the chance! It came in a huge box,and all of the fruit looks perfect including some of the biggest peaches I've seen and some fragrant apricots. Of course it arrived the same day I came home with 5 lbs of plums so I'm a bit overwhelmed with fruit at the moment. The urge to make jam was strong because there is nothing like a bit of summer in the dead of winter to cheer you up. I went for a sweet-hot jam using heirloom fish peppers from the garden that will be lovely in any manner of savory (and sweet uses).

I know the jam machine is somewhat controversial among canners, some say that it isn't true jam making unless you are standing over a hot stove to make it. I get it. I'm someone who corned my own beef (and smoked it to make pastrami), made my own mustard and seeded sourdough rye bread for a single sandwich. I'm all for authentic cooking. But, I honestly don't see what the problem is here. I use an electric mixer too and you don't see any up in arms about that. The jam comes out just as good as it does in the pan (sometimes better because there is no fear of scorching or burning) and last night, I made this jam in 35 minutes (including sealing the jars!) at 10 pm. I can't do that on the stove. Of course, you can make this on the stovetop if you prefer.

August 07, 2013

Berry Berry Yogurt Ice Pops

1 1/2 cups fresh blackberries
1 1/2 cups Yoplait® Original Strawberry Frozen Yogurt Strawberry Pint

Place blackberries in a blender. Pulse until a smooth liquid forms. Strain through a wire mesh, whisking to extract the pulp. Discard solids.

Divide half of the pulp among 6 ice pop molds. Add 2-3 tablespoons Yoplait Original Frozen Yogurt Strawberry to each mold. Top with remaining blackberry pulp. Seal the molds. Freeze until solid, at least 4 hours or overnight.

My thoughts:
Yoplait asked me and a few other bloggers to come up with new ways to use their new frozen yogurt. I went the simple route and pureed some fresh blackberries from my garden, added them to my ice pop molds and floated some strawberry frozen yogurt in the pulp, easy, tasty and fun! It sort of tasted like a smoothie in ice pop form.

August 02, 2013

Crab & Pattypan Squash Cajun Risotto

5 1/4 cups chicken or crab stock
2 pattypan squash, cubed (about 4 cups)
3 cups blue crab meat
1 onion, diced
2 Cajun Belle peppers, minced
1 (large) clove garlic
2 cups Arborio rice
1/3 cup Parmesan, grated
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 teaspoon Cajun seasoning

sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

In a saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Heat oil and butter in a large saucepan. Saute the onion, pepper, garlic and squash until softened. Add the rice and spices and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring continually. Add the broth a 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, and waiting until the liquid is absorbed before each addition. When the risotto is creamy and the rice is al dente remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan and crab.

My thoughts:
We had the unthinkable happen last weekend. We picked crabs and we had some crabs leftover. We try to get just enough but they were so meaty (a good problem to have!) that we couldn't finish them so we just picked the leftovers and saved the crabmeat for later. I didn't know what to do with it at first but I saw we had some Cajun Belle peppers (they look like regular bell peppers but smaller and spicy) ripe in the garden and some squash in the fridge and I thought I'd make a summery, spicy risotto.

Pattypan squash always strike me as an underrecognized sign of summer. I can get zucchini and yellow squash (sadly, not crookneck) year-round but it is only in the summer I can find pattypan. Not only does it have a fun shape, it seems a little less watery (to me, anyway) and more sturdy than zucchini. It is perfect for risotto! It kept the perfect texture even throughout all of the stirring and rice cooking.

I was extremely pleased with how it turned out, nothing overpowered the crab and there were big meaty chunks throughout. I kind of want to get more crabs and hope for leftovers!