Monday, September 24, 2012

Crispy Smashed Potatoes

I've taken to making these instead of fries. 

This recipe is so easy and so yummy! Faster, easier and crispier! No measuring, peeling or slicing! Healthier than deep frying!

Choose small new potatoes - the bag will say size B.  Make the "ok" sign with your finger and thumb - about that size.  I like to pick out my own potatoes from the bulk bins. Yukon Gold or white skinned potatoes give a fluffy interior like french fries.  I imagine red potatoes would also be good, but their waxy texture would mean the end potato will be heavier.

Scrub and cover with cool water, and boil until tender, about 20 minutes.  Starting potatoes in cool water results in a tender potato.  Starting them in boiling water would seem to make sense, but the hot water will cause the starch on the outer part of the potato to solidify, preventing the interior from becoming tender.

While they boil, preheat your oven 425F, line a jellyroll pan (cookie sheet with sides) with foil and oil it.  Drain the potatoes, put them back into the hot pot and let the extra moisture steam away. Shake the pan once or twice.  When they have stopped steaming, put them onto the jellyroll pan.  Dry potatoes will be crispier.

Take a pancake turner and gently press down until the skins split and the potatoes are smashed.  Do it gently or they will fly across the room.  I tell you this, because it happened to me. I rinsed it off, dried it, and continued.  Please don't say "Ewww" - remember, they grow in dirt.

Drizzle with EVOO, sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Pop them into the hot oven.

Let roast 15 minutes.  In the photo above, I thought it would be awesome to add some fresh garlic.  It kinda burned, so I would hold off on the garlic until the second roast.

When the first 15 minutes are up, flip them with a pancake turner and if you are daring, top each with a bit of fresh garlic.  Drizzle again with EVOO, sprinkle with kosher salt and fresh pepper.  Then back into the oven for 15 minutes.

So very ugly, and so very delicious!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Solving a Stinky Problem

Have you ever forgotten about that last load of laundry and opened your washer to a big stinky mess?  Or for no good reason, your front loader washer stinks to the heavens?  Here's how to de-stink on the cheap.

Dollar Store!

Rewash the load, adding 1 cup each of hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol to the normal amount of detergent.  Use the longest cycle and warmest water appropriate for the clothes. Dry as normal.

If it's just the washer that stinks, wash a load of whites and use bleach, detergent and hot water.  If still stinky, wash again adding detergent, hydrogen peroxide and rubbing alcohol.

To keep the stink away, wash at least one load of whites with bleach each week and keep the washer lid/door open slightly.

To help get white clothes white again, try soaking overnight in plain cold water. It's not an instant fix, but I see improvement with every wash. I keep a 5 gallon utility pail in my laundry room for just that purpose. The next day, dump into the washer, drain it (usually you can choose rinse and spin; my front loader automatically drains extra water before beginning the wash cycle) and then add detergent and bleach and wash in hot water. Works better for me than OxyClean. Be careful about that bucket if you have little ones! 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Gluten-Free Crockpot Stuffed Peppers

This past month has been a hodge-podge of last minute meals.  Time to get back to menu planning.  I like to plan menus around what's growing in the garden, sales and coupons.  I also plan to use up leftovers and knowing what's for dinner avoids that last minute scramble to get something, anything on the table.

This Week's Menus

  • Swedish Meatballs (Ikea), boiled potatoes, cinnamon honey carrots
  • Pork Loin Roast, baked sweet potatoes, corn
  • Stuffed Peppers in the Crockpot, mashed potatoes
  • Crockpot Greek Lemon Chicken, rice, home canned green beans
  • Pulled Pork sandwiches from leftover pork roast, cole slaw, 3 bean salad

I got the pork loin roast on a buy-one-get-one-free sale and the ground sirloin was free with a coupon when I bought both hamburger buns and beans.  LOVE those kind of deals!

Stuffed Peppers in the Crockpot with OAMC* option
Serves 4 - 8

4 bell peppers
1 lb. ground sirloin
1 cup cold cooked rice
3 tablespoons dried minced onion (or 1 cup very finely minced fresh onion)
2 garlic cloves, grated on the microplane
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons gluten-free quick oats
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 (26 oz.) jar traditional style pasta sauce (not marinara - it will get watery)

Spray interior of crockpot with non-stick.  Reserve 1/2 cup of pasta sauce and pour remaining sauce into crockpot.

Cut tops off peppers.  Discard stems, keep tops and mince.  Discard seeds.  Check to see if pepper will stand upright.  If it won't, trim the base without cutting through to center, so it will stand upright.

In a large bowl, combine beef, cooked rice, pepper tops, onion, garlic, Italian seasoning, egg, breadcrumbs, salt, pepper and 1/2 cup of the pasta sauce.  Mix well.

Fill each pepper with meat mixture, pressing firmly, mounding it on top. *Prepare to this point for OAMC; tightly wrap individually in plastic, place in ziptop bag and freeze.  Unwrap frozen and thaw upright before proceeding.

Place peppers into crockpot.  Spoon some of the sauce onto each.

Cook on Low 6 - 8 hours or on High 4 - 6 hours.  Test temperature for doneness at minimum time.

Leftovers reheat well in microwave.

*Once A Month Cooking

Monday, September 17, 2012

Cleaning the Stove - part 2

In an earlier post, I shared how I clean my stove top with oven cleaner.  The grates and burners get nasty with burned on grease too.  Here's how I clean them in my self-cleaning oven.

In a previous home, I had pale grey stove grates and burner covers.  No matter how much I soaked or scrubbed, that burned on grease and food wouldn't come off.  They were so nasty looking I was going to buy new ones. One day I was setting the oven to Clean and and grumbled to myself that the part of the stove everyone could see should be at least as easy to clean as the oven.  I figured, "Why not? What's the worst that could happen?  If they're ruined, I was planning on buying new ones anyway..."

Place dirty grates and burners on oven racks.  Make sure they aren't touching.  (I don't know if it truly matters, but that's how I do it).

Close the oven, remove combustibles (dish towels) that you may have hanging on the oven handle.  Set it to Clean.  If you have the option, set it to a 2 hour cycle.

The next morning, after everything has cooled.  Remove the grates and burners.  

See those grey spots?  That's ash where stubborn, burned on grease and food used to be.

These burner tops were spattered too.  Now just rinse and towel dry.
It's the smarter, easier way to clean.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Making Pickles

Did you know that fresh cucumbers have spines, like cactus?  They do, and they're sharp! Supermarket cucumbers are already scrubbed free of spines, because they can damage other cucumbers during shipping.  I manage to get at least one spine lodged in my palm during every pickle session.  

Spines rub right off with a scrubby and cold water. My pink scrubby is from the dollar store and does a great job.  After I scrub each cucumber, I run my fingers over it to find any spines that may have been missed.  Then they go into a colander, so I don't keep grabbing the same one over and over.

After their bath, it's time to weigh to see how much brine to make.  Most brine recipes will make twice as much brine as needed.  Don't know why - just an observation.  I often will cut a brine recipe in half.  If cucumbers are growing like crazy in my garden, I know I'll be making more pickles in the next few days and then I'll make the full batch of brine and store leftovers in my fridge.

Time to cut off both ends.  The blossom end contains an enzyme that can make pickles soft and the stem end contains an inedible stem.  So, off they go.

Notice the pencil marks on my cutting board?  A 4" cucumber spear will fit perfectly in a pint jar.  The marks show me where to trim.

 Cut them in half lengthwise, then into 4 or 6 spears, depending on how fat the cucumber is.
Three pounds, 10 ounces of trimmed and sliced spears.  See the rounds on the left?  

And the trimmings on the left?  Salad.  If I have enough, I'll make a jar of Pickle Chunks.

I just removed this jar from a pot of boiling water.  As you lift out the jars, pour the water from some of them into another pot with lids and rings in it. Always prepare 2 more jars than you think you'll use and 2 LESS lids than you think you'll use.  Have them at hand, but don't heat until you've filled all the jars and KNOW you will use them. Unused jars can be put back on the shelf for next time, but once lids have been heated they must be used or tossed. 

Seasonings that were not in the brine go into the bottom of the hot jar.  These will be Garlic Dills, so I've added a peeled, raw garlic clove, a small dried bay leaf and some mustard seeds to the jar.
Grab a big handful of spears and drop them into the hot jar.  Pack a few more, one at a time, into any empty spaces.  You want them wedged firmly into the jar.
Ball Pickle Crisp is added.  This stuff is amazing.  Nice crisp pickles every time.
This is my First Genius Idea:  I make my brine in a stainless steel teapot that I don't use for anything else.  It is so much easier and tidier to pour the in the brine rather than ladling it.  
Second Genius Idea: I pour the boiling brine through a fine mesh strainer, because I don't care for the feeling of dill weed in my mouth when I eat pickles. 

Use a plastic knife to "bubble" the jar.  With brine in the jar, it's easier than you'd think to slide in the plastic knife.  Wiggle it gently between the jar sides and the pickles.  You'll be surprised how many bubbles come up.  The brine will sink down as the bubbles come up. Top it off with more brine. Cucumbers should be completely covered by brine.  Each recipe will tell you how much empty space to leave.
Wipe the jar rim with a clean damp cloth.  The sealing compound on the lids will not adhere if there is anything on the jar rim.
Use a magnetic tool to lift the lids and rings out of the hot, not boiling, water.  The hot water softens the sealing compound a bit so it adheres better.
I like to grab them both at the same time.
And use the tool to slide both onto the jar.    Screw only until resistance is met - finger tight. Screwing them too tightly won't let the air in the jar escape and either the lid will buckle and the pickles will be ruined, or the jar will break and the pickles will be ruined.
Lower the jars into the boiling water onto the rack.  The rack is necessary to a) lift the jars off of the pot so they don't roll around and break and b) allow boiling water to completely surround the jars.  The boiling water must be at least 1" over the top of the jars.  I have an electric kettle full of hot water that I use to top off the pot if needed. 

The water will stop boiling as you put the jars in.  Start timing the recipe after it returns to a boil.  Air will be escaping from the jars, which is good, but don't mistake that for boiling.  Look to see that the bubbles are coming from the bottom of the pot.

When the time is up, turn off the heat and lift the jars without tilting to a heatproof surface.  The sealing compound is still soft.  You could dislodge the lid and allow seepage.  If some seeps out, your seal will be ruined, and your pickles will have to be refrigerated and used quickly, which defeats the purpose of canning - to make them shelf stable (won't go bad at room temperature). 

Cover jars with a kitchen towel and leave undisturbed until completely cool.  Test each jar by pressing down with one finger in the center of the lid.  If it moves up and down and makes a clicking sound, the seal is bad.  Refrigerate and use within a couple weeks. 

Label the jars and include what's inside and the date.  It's surprisingly easy to forget what is in each jar (dill pickles? sweet pickles?).

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Cleaning the Stove

I have a secret weapon to clean my stovetop: Easy-Off Oven Cleaner*.  Spray it on; let it sit for a few minutes until it looks like this:

Then I just wipe that crud off with a paper towel.

All those little burned-on spatters and the stuff that gets under the burner just wipe right off. I have no clue as to how it gets under there.  It seems to defy the law of gravity by moving under a solid object.  Back to topic.

After I get the melted crud wiped off, I switch to a dishcloth and LOTS of water.  Fill your sink with warm water.  Wipe, rinse the cloth, wipe, rinse. Keep going until all the Easy-Off is, well, off.  If you find any stubborn bits, use a green scrubby.  Now you have a shiny clean stovetop:


There's a quick way to clean the burned-on spatter off of your grates and burners too:  The self clean cycle on your oven.  Leave the oven racks in there and place your stove burners and grates on the oven racks.  Set it to self clean.  When the cycle is done and the oven has cooled, your grates and burners will have a fine coating of grey ash.  Rinse in your sink, dry and replace.

*Disclaimer.  This use is totally off-label. Try it on a tiny section first. I wouldn't use for anything other than a gas burning, porcelain stove top.  Other stove surfaces have their own particular cleaners - use them.