Fritters -N- Jitters :)

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: frequenting sites like Groupon, Amazon Local, and Restaurant.com can help you explore new and interesting food in your area … and you can do it at a decent discount, too … often half-price.

Thanks to a Groupon I purchased several months ago, we finally decided to try Fritters-N-Jitters a couple of weeks back. If you’re in the Seattle area (or even if you’re planning a visit), you can find them here:

Fritters-N-Jitters

10610 Woodinville Drive
Bothell, WA 98011
425-482-9876

Note: they have limited hours, so check their website before you make the drive. And–if you have the choice–approach them from the I-405 side. There are traffic barricades in front of the shop that make it difficult to reach if you approach it from Bothell proper. You can’t make a left into their parking lot, so you’ll need to go past and take a U-turn at some point to get back to it.

The Groupon deal gave me a dozen fanciful creations, as you can see in the one picture we managed to take before we dove in :)

There was quite a selection in that box! Starting in the top left and going clockwise, you’ll find (and I’m trying to remember them all here) their signature bacon/maple raised doughnut … a strawberry/white chocolate on vanilla cake … a chocolate-almond on vanilla cake … a cinnamon-sugar raised doughnut … a cream-cheese on white cake … a dark/white chocolate on chocolate cake … a chocolate-pretzel and caramel raised doughnut … a chocolate/peanut butter on chocolate cake … a classic white cake with sprinkles … a white chocolate/Oreos on chocolate cake … S’mores (graham cracker, marshmallow, and chocolate frosting) on a raised doughnut … and–finally–mini-M&Ms and chocolate frosting on chocolate cake.

In other words, it was a sugary/cakey/fun-food orgy in a box … designed to stimulate all of your senses! And I wasn’t the only one enthralled by the look/smell of it either. In fact, the couple in line ahead of me didn’t even make it to their car with the box intact. They stopped in the middle of the parking lot to get their first bite :)

I managed a bit more restraint, though–I must admit–it was hard! But it was definitely worth it in the end! When I got home, my husband had our home-roasted/fresh-brewed coffee ready. We cut each of the doughnuts in half so that we could both taste them all, then settled down to our appointed task. It took us a couple of days, but we selflessly managed to throw ourselves on top of all that sugar … just so that we could report back to you, Dear Reader! ‘-)

All of the doughnuts were tasty enough, though–honestly … even with the more inspired toppings–most of them were not really all that special or memorable, not when compared to the other local doughnut shops we enjoy. Seattle is home to several really good local doughnut makers, and–don’t get me wrong–the owner of Fritters-N-Jitters definitely holds her own in that fine company … but it’s not an easy niche market to really excel in either. Granted, being able to choose doughnut style, frostings and toppings definitely adds charm/possibility to the experience overall … plus, the doughnuts were nice texture-wise and perfectly cooked … so there’s a lot of good there. However, the doughnuts themselves were a little bland … and some of the frostings (especially the chocolate) tasted like they came straight out of the same sort of “commercially-manufactured tubs o’generic frosting” that you find in the back of most bakeries and doughnut stores.

Additionally (and this may not be as big an issue if you can get her to assemble them while you wait/eat them shortly thereafter … but it was an issue for us with the pre-assembled “Groupon” dozen I picked up at after 1pm) … she told me she’d put my dozen together early that morning, and–when we bit into them–we discovered that some of the creative add-ons–the pre-baked ones in particular–were pretty soggy overall by the time I picked them up … even on the ones we tried right as I got home. When you see them added to some other food, you expect pretzels, graham crackers and Oreos to have a bit of crunch to them, so when you bite into them … and you find the taste you expect … but they’re limp/dead texture-wise  … it doesn’t meet the visual expectation. Maybe they should offer to put those extras in a separate container instead. That way you could easily add them on top when you sit down to munch!

Overall, though … don’t let those slight “down sides” stop you! As I said, Fritters-N-Jitters makes really decent doughnuts overall. Any of them would be a tasty solution to your next doughnut emergency … but our favorite–hands down–was stellar enough to make us want to go back, over and over again!

I’m talking about the bacon/maple … the #1 star in the whole box! Imagine this: take a soft, pillowy, raised white doughnut–almost pancakey with its “tender interior, slightly crisp exterior” texture and flavor–then top it with a rich maple glaze … and chunks of fresh, crisp bacon! Think about that for a second and let the potential goodness sink in. It’s like a pancake and bacon breakfast, all wrapped into one easy-to-eat package … delicious … wonderfully salty/sweet … and very convenient!

In other words, the next time we go to Fritters-N-Jitters, we’re just going to cut to the chase … and order a dozen bacon maples … because they ROCK! :)

Overall rating: B+ … Bacon Maple rating: A+ :)

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She’s still alive! :)

Hello, Dear Readers! :)

No, I didn’t fall completely off the planet … but it’s definitely been a very challenging year for your devoted food blogger. I’m not planning to go into a lot of details, but–suffice it to say–I think most of you suspect that I’ve had some fairly hefty health problems since the last time I posted here. Thankfully, though, some recent changes I’ve made seem to be helping me deal with the light of a computer a little better again … after eight+ months of *maybe* getting 20 minutes a day (in 5-10 minute blocks) total in front of the light of a computer screen. It’s helping me in other areas, too, and–for that–I am VERY thankful! I’m not 100% yet (and, unfortunately, I’ve had to accept the fact that I may never be 100% in all areas again) … but I definitely feel like I’m on a much better road these days …

… and I’m looking forward to more adventures along the way :)

Posted in Miscellaneous Ramblings about Food and Life | 4 Comments

My dream came true! I met him! :)

I don’t mean this to sound stalkerish or anything … but I flew almost 3,000 miles this last week … just for a chance to meet my favorite foodie! My sister is the one you have to thank for this impulsive act. She called me a few weeks ago and said “you really want to be in Chattanooga on the 25th of September. When she told me why … I bought my plane ticket right away! :grin:

My daughter and granddaughter took my visit as an opportunity to come to Chattanooga as well, so we all converged on my sister’s house for a Girls Weekend … including attending the Annual Cast Iron Cook Off.

We hit the Chattanooga Market early, just to be sure we got there in plenty of time to get involved in watching the fun evolve. The show was scheduled to start at 11am, but by 10 the Market was already filling up. By the time eleven rolled around, we were pleased we’d gotten there early …

… and that we’d found a place in that crowd that wasn’t too far from the stage.

According to the Chattanooga Market’s website: This year’s event is being held in coordination with the “Serve & Protect” initiative of the Tennessee Aquarium; offering healthy seafood solutions to keep our wildlife safe. The initiative’s goal is to teach seafood sustainability to restauranteurs and seafood lovers alike, promoting local, regional and national seafoods which are grown or harvested responsibly, in ways that do not rapidly deplete their numbers … unlike other forms of harvesting or over-fishing which can reduce or even destroy future crops of fish, shellfish, and other tasty and beneficial ocean and fresh-water food sources, both healthy and delicious.

Seven local Chattanooga chefs came to compete in the live competition, staged a la Iron Chef … from the cult classic first made popular on Japanese television, and later turned into an American version for the Food Network. The chefs for the event included some of Chattanooga’s most notable gastronomes:

In the Iron Chef tradition, our Master of Ceremonies announced the secret ingredients for the event: sustainable Louisiana shrimp and nori, the edible algae (often–and mistakenly–thought to be seaweed) that’s most commonly found dried in sheets and wrapped around sushi. In addition, the chefs were given access to a small shared pantry, filled with basics like oil, flour, sugar, vinegar, and spices.

With the announcement of the secret ingredients, the host gave each chef $40 … and one hour to go out into the market to purchase anything they needed in addition to what they’d been given.

With an hour to kill, I went shopping! After all, I LOVE the Chattanooga Market! And BOY, did I find the perfect souvenir for a canner! :)

I know, I know. I could make them for about $2 each–and they’re charging $15–but I gladly paid the lady … because I appreciated her artistry and crafty idea :smile:

I grabbed a couple of other arty things as well … then hurried them off to the car so I didn’t have to carry them … because my sister had done more than entice me by saying “come to Chattanooga for the Cast Iron Chef contest” … she’d also added “because I can get us backstage.”

You didn’t think I’d fly ~that~ far … just to stand in the audience, did you? :grin:

We were given the rock star treatment all the way through security, thanks to my dearest sister and the eight million people in the greater Chattanooga area who either love her dearly … or owe her a favor. Once we were waved through, we found ourselves a spot out of the way a bit, just so we could watch the action unobtrusively. The chefs were solo on this competition–no sous chefs or helpers allowed–so they were moving at blinding speed most of the time … and we had no interest in interfering with their magic.

I saw all sorts of things in use in those various stations, including one chef who thumped the jiggler off of his pressure cooker as soon as he took it off of the heat … something that would have made me cringe if I’d seen it in a canning demonstration.  However, that’s perfectly okay when you’re pressure cooking. It will definitely stop the cooking a lot faster than just letting it cool normally … just be very, very careful with all that heat and steam coming out of the vent pipe when you do. Steam burns can be vicious, but–I must admit–Chef Palacio handled it with a practiced hand … so I suspect that’s not the first time he’s manhandled a pressure cooker in that manner :grin:

Most of the chefs worked without even acknowledging the crowd around them, even though some of the onlookers were almost leaning over them while they worked.

Their pace needed to be feverish and their concentration needed to be spot-on … since they were only given an hour to cook as well.

The host divided his time between checking on each chef in turn …

… and signing a few autographs …

… though, I’m not sure if he realized how many of us caught all sorts of angles when we photographed him. In my own defense, he moves fast :)

He was always out there shaking hands…

… or having a quick con-fab with the judges-to-be …

… going over the point system and criteria for judging …

… as well as planning on how to bring them all on stage when the right time comes.

… until finally the time came for judging!

The judges included other local noteworthy folks, who the host called to the stage one after the other.

Then–as they tasted and judged–the host went back to meeting more of the folks there ….

… signing autographs …

… and, almost as if there were a real fairy god-granddaughter involved in granting me this wish … it came true :)

In case you haven’t figured it out yet–starting from the far right–that’s my grand daughter … my daughter … me … and Alton Brown from the Food Network … who gave me this bit of culinary wisdom:

:grin:

In case you’re wondering … I’m a happy girl this evening. Tired, yes. Truth be told, after three hours of standing on concrete today … I hurt in lots of places … but I had a great day with some of my absolute favorite women in the world … and I got the chance to meet an idol, too. You don’t get to do that every day :)

Posted in From the Journey, Miscellaneous Ramblings about Food and Life, Restaurant Rambles | Tagged | 6 Comments

Reposting: $2.00 Box Challenge: It’s Blonde Chutney Time!

I stopped by my favorite local fruit and veggie stand today, looking for our next Two Dollar Box Challenge. And, as luck would have it, I had more than one choice:

My favorite small dehydrator is already full of cherries, thanks to the great sale I got over the weekend, so I was debating with myself (and with my husband, who’d decided to come shopping with me) whether I was going to take the box on the left, all bananas … and then dehydrate them in my larger, outdoor dehydrator (a recent Freecycle find) … or if I was going to take the box on the right (that Carol Merrill is pointing to…*chuckles*)–a mix of bananas, plantains, and mangoes–and try to make some sort of tropical preserves.

Kismet is a funky thing, you know. It loves to keep you on your toes :) As we were standing there debating, we were interrupted by one of the clerks who works at the fruit stand. She said: “How about a box of peaches and nectarines instead?

Do you get the feeling they’re beginning to know me there? *chuckles* I’ve told a few of the people who work there about my $2.00 Box Challenge … and, honestly, I’m probably going to need their assistance one day. It never hurts to have the people who supply your supplies know that you’re potentially advertising for them, too! It might help if I start finding nothing but apples in the boxes for weeks at a time. I don’t want to start sounding like Bubba Gump here, live from Washington State: Apple fritters, and apple cake, and apple stuffing, and apple pancakes, and apple …

My husband and I looked at each other when the woman offered us peaches and nectarines instead, and–almost simultaneously–we both said “Chutney!

She loaded the box for us out of what she’d been culling, and we headed toward the checkout stand. Half-way there, another sale bin caught my eye: this one containing really yellow, really ripe whole pineapples. One of those went into my cart as well, worth every nickle of the $0.99 it was going to add to my overall cost for this project.

They keep the actual cardboard boxes at the checkout stand, so we came home with our $2.00 Box in a couple of plastic bags instead. I decided after the last time that I will always give you a quick picture of the fruit and/or veggies before I start, and I’ll always show it to you in the same stainless steel pan each time … my beauty of a restaurant prep pan, that’s been in my kitchen for years! … so that you can maintain the same sense of scope from challenge to challenge:

The box contained lots of white peaches that were seriously mellow and yummy, several equally-yummy yellow clingstones, and then a couple of different varieties of nectarines, all wonderful in their own right. Again, I ended up with another 18 pounds or so of very ripe fruit, not counting the pineapple I forgot to add to the picture. Bad blogger! But so far, so good $2.00 Box Challenge-wise :)

Once I got home, I peeled and chopped all the fruit, then put it in my big heavy-bottom pot over very low heat, just to start the juices leaching out of the fruit while I chopped the rest of the goodies I needed. Many of the individual pieces of fruit were so ripe and mellow that I had juice running down my elbows pretty much the whole time I was peeling them, and it didn’t take long for more juice to start filling the pot as well. I also noticed how “blonde” all the ingredients seemed to be, so I ultimately dubbed this my Blonde Chutney.

In the parts of the world where chutney is king … and with those of us who’ve learned to love those heavily-spiced preserves as well … every cook has their own favorite chutney recipe. Most have more than one. Many have dozens or even hundreds … and then a small section of cooks just make chutney based on whatever they have in their pantry right at that moment.

That’s my plan today :)

Because my fruit’s really ripe in this batch, it’s got less natural pectin than greener fruit would have. The overall ripeness changes it chemically as well. For example, I’d never dry fruit this ripe. It would rot before it dried. Nor would I use it in a lightly-cooked fruit spread. If the over-ripe-to-starting-to-rot places in some of the flesh I cut away is any indication, this $2.00 Box is probably harboring a fair amount of ripening-fast fruit enzymes and less-than-fruit-friendly bacteria. A light cooking probably wouldn’t be enough to prevent the fruit from spoiling fairly rapidly, even made into jam and sealed in sterilized jars. In addition, a light cooking probably wouldn’t be enough to activate the natural pectin in fruit this ripe either. As the graph of the sugar content of fruit goes up as it ripens … the graph of its pectin content goes down. That means that you’ll either need to cook ripe fruit longer … or add more pectin … in order to make it jell properly.

Don’t let that scare you away from really ripe (or even over-ripe) fruit, however. Fruit this ripe is perfectly safe to ingest. It just really needs to either be cleaned and popped in your mouth right now. Or dropped in your brandy crock, where it will make magic of another kind. Or–if you want to make it into something you can store long-term that doesn’t have quite that much alcohol and fermentation involved–it needs to be cooked long enough and hot enough to counteract those bacterial and enzymatic elements properly.

That’s what makes Blonde Chutney perfect for this $2.00 Box Challenge :)

Traditionally, chutney is a spiced version of a preserve. Just so we’re clear on terms, in the world of fruit spreads:

  • Jellies are made from fruit juice, or occasionally–in the case of things like pepper or mint jelly–from veggie and/or herb infusions. All of the fruit and/or herb solids are strained out in advance of gelling. Most jellies require pectin to solidify, but some rely on a chemical reaction between fruit, heat and natural sugar(s) to create the gel.
  • Jams are made from pureed fruits, so–unlike jellies–they still contain fruit solids. Some jams use pectin, but some do not. Many rely on the natural pectin in the fruits, and on extended periods of low heat in order to reduce the overall liquid volume, in order to create a thick fruit spread.
  • Preserves are made from chunks of fruit. A small number of preserve recipes use pectin, but–more often–preserves are created by slow-cooking chunks of fruit together with sugar, and using the gradual chemical reaction between the fruit’s natural pectin and the included sugars (from the fruit itself, and/or from any added sugars) to gel them into a thick, chunky fruit spread.
  • Marmalades could also be considered preserves, but they differ in that they usually contain citrus fruits: oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, etc. Marmalades often look like citrus peels suspended in clear jellies. Because of that use of citrus peels and the oils they contain, marmalades tend to be on the tart side.
  • Conserves are preserves made from whole fruits, so–needless to say–the process of making them requires a lot of time and no small amount of fruit spread skill. Conserves can be made by adding additional pectin, but–done the traditional way–it involves boiling your whole fruits in sugar syrup, then gradually reducing the overall volume while creating the surrounding gel … all without much natural pectin help from the fruit, and without either scorching the pot or stirring the fruit into pieces. Like I said: this takes some skill.
  • Chutneys are preserves made using a chunky mix of sweet fruit and savory veggies, cooked together with spices and vinegar. Most chutneys are made without added pectin, but more and more, recipes are crossing my path that call for a box of Sure-Jel … rather than relying on the traditional low and slow cooking method most chutney-makers use.
  • Freezer Jams are no-cook fruit spreads made using a special version of pectin. Because they’re not cooked, and they’re frozen to prevent spoilage (rather than cooked and canned in jars), freezer jams taste more like fresh, natural fruit than cooked jams do. You can also easily use Splenda or other artificial sweeteners in your freezer jams, so it makes them perfect for diabetics and others who wish to limit their sugar intake … without giving up the taste of fresh fruit in their diets. Stored properly, freezer jams last for about a year, but remember …  you cannot use regular pectin to make freezer jams! You MUST use a pectin that specifically says “for freezer jam.” Regular pectin won’t gel in the freezer. It requires heat.

As I said, chutney is usually made without adding any additional pectin, and that was definitely my plan for this batch. Fresh and/or dried fruits are combined with aromatics–most often garlic and onion–along with spices, sugar and vinegar. The entire mixture is then slow-cooked until the fruit develops its natural pectin and the overall volume is reduced, leaving behind a thick, sticky fruit spread.

Chutney also tends to need some added sugar (up to 100% of the overall weight of the fruit, in some cases) to make the natural pectin in the fruit gel properly … but I’m going to hold off until later in the cooking process before I decide how much sugar I’m going to need. I’m hoping my fruits were sweet enough naturally (thanks to their ripeness) to offset me having to add too much more real sugar. Sugar is the #1 issue we (as in, my husband and I) face in our diet. If I can make it gel using less sugar, then I can still bump up the sweetness using an artificial sweetener (Splenda is our personal preference in canned goods) in the final stages of processing before canning, without having to add hundreds and hundreds of calories worth of pure sugar in the process.

Once my fruit was all peeled and chopped, I estimated I had about 10 cups of mixed peaches, nectarines, and pineapple. Every bit of it was really ripe and mellow, and just smelled awesome! A few pieces of white peach even managed to fall into my mouth as I was cutting it all up. Good thing my mouth was in the way. It would have been a shame for one of those pieces to hit the floor, right? :)

To my mixed/chopped fruit, I added:

  • a tied spice bag, containing six broken cinnamon sticks, one tablespoon whole cloves, one tablespoon whole allspice berries, and one tablespoon cardamom seeds.
  • six cups chopped onions.
  • one cup golden raisins.
  • 1/4 cup worcestershire sauce.
  • one cup red wine vinegar.

Note: if you’re interested in one of the long-handled parts magnets you see in my video, don’t buy one of the expensive, heavy-duty ones like this. The magnet on those expensive ones is too strong for canning lids. Some of them could pick up every lid in the pot simultaneously, and you don’t want that. Instead, look in dollar stores or in the cheap tools section of a Harbor Freight, ACE Hardware, or similar store for one with a weaker magnet. I only paid $1.00 for mine, and it works just fine!

As you can see by the end of the video, the 6+ hours I slow-cooked the chutney concentrated the fruit, etc. down into a dense, sweet/spicy Blonde Chutney spread that should have no problem making your mouth–or a thick slab of fresh naan–very, very happy! :)

One thing I didn’t show you on the video: at about hour-four, I tasted my chutney to see how sweet it was ultimately going to be. I also took a look at how it was thickening without the assistance of more sugar, in order to see how the chemical reaction between the fruit’s natural sugars and pectins was progressing.

I found that it was thickening up pretty nicely all on its own. It looked like–with continued slow cooking–it was going to make a nice, thick chutney. However, the excess juice (when I separated it from the solids) wasn’t clearing the way I like to see it. You see, when you boil fruit juices for a while, their solids separate out, and the juice becomes almost clarified, like drawn butter or ghee. You can tell when this happens visually, because the juice gradually clears … until it gets almost crystal-clear in the end.

That wasn’t happening in my pot. The juices–even after four hours of cooking–were still fairly cloudy when I isolated them. Plus, I knew it wasn’t anywhere near sweet enough overall to suit my husband. I didn’t want to rely on a bunch of added sugar for the overall sweetness, and there was some sugar in the overripe fruit–apparently just not quite enough to go completely no-sugar-added–so I needed to add just enough real sugar to make it cook properly.

In a normal batch of full-sugar chutney, most people tend to use somewhere between a 2:1 and a 1:1 ratio of fruit-to-added sugar. That would mean that I should have put somewhere between 5 and 10 cups of sugar in with my 10 cups of fruit … but that’s a whhhhoooolllleeee lot more sugar than my husband and I have ANY business eating.

I ultimately opted to add in two cups of brown sugar to facilitate the cooking process and create that almost-caramelization chemical reaction I wanted/needed in my chutney, but then my plan was to round out the rest of my overall flavor later, using artificial sweeteners.

I let the chutney cook for another two and a half hours from there, give or take a few minutes. After I reached the stage in the video where you see me sort of temper the chutney, where I crank up the heat to over 180 degrees (to kill the last of the bacteria, and drive off the last of the remaining moisture so that the chutney sets up properly), what I didn’t show you (while I was trying to juggle pots, big spoons, and a camera, too) was … as soon as I hit 180 degrees, I pulled the pot off of the heat, stirred in three cups of measure-to-measure Splenda to bring the overall level of sweetness up to where it would make my cute husband happy … your mileage may vary. Once I got all the Splenda mixed in, I set the pot back on the heat, brought it back up to a boil, and then set a timer for one minute. Once my buzzer went off, the chutney was ready to either can … or eat :)

From there, I ladled the chutney into sterilized jelly jars, and cleaned the lip of each jar well with a paper towel dipped in boiling water before adding the two-part lid. I processed the jars in a Boiling Water Bath for 10 minutes before cooling and storing them away from the light. For as long as they last, anyway :)

So let’s recap, and–just so we’re clear here–I’m basing the pricing of additional items on what they’d cost me at my local Safeway (with the exception of my spices, which I buy in bulk at incredibly cheap prices by haunting local Indian spice stores) … even though I’ve bought most of what I have in my pantry for less elsewhere. I don’t have an exact inventory of what I paid what for what around here … therefore, since I can access the Safeway ‘delivery’ menu online–which mirrors the prices of the Safeway at the end of my street–that’s how I price most things except my $2.00 Boxes and spices:

  • one $2.00 Box of mixed peaches and nectarines
  • one $0.99 pineapple
  • six cups chopped onions, approx. three pounds, $2.97
  • one cup (one-half box) of white raisins, $2.20
  • one cup red wine vinegar, $0.31
  • one quarter cup worcestershire sauce, $1.15
  • spices from my overflowing stockpile, <$0.10
  • two cups brown sugar, $0.50
  • three cups Splenda “measure-for-measure” sweetener, $2.92

That brings my total to $13.14 for seven pints of Homemade Reduced-sugar Blonde Peach/Nectarine/Pineapple Chutney … or $1.88/pint! That works out to about $0.12/oz.

In comparison, Safeway sells a 9-ounce jar of Crosse and Blackwell Major Grey (mango) Chutney for $6.29. That works out to $0.70/oz.

My final product :)

So the choice is yours. Pay a fortune for chutney that someone else made, someplace where you have no idea what they really put in it … or make your own at home for pennies an ounce, where you know exactly how it was made, and what’s in it. Besides, as of the last time I checked … there aren’t a lot of reduced-sugar chutneys on the market.

Enjoy! :)

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Reposting: Adding some links today :)

I decided to scan my bookmarks today to see if I had any I wanted to share here. I don’t plan to overwhelm you with links to things you could have found on the web yourself, but I did want to list some of these as the standards in my bookmarks, the places I tend to repeatedly use in my own research and kitchen.

  • 45 Homemade foods you can make yourself (but never thought you could): The name speaks for itself. Ever wondered if you could make your own vanilla extract? Mustard? Bacon?!?! Here’s your best resource.
  • Cash & Carry, restaurant supply: Like Costco or Sams … but for restaurants more than individuals, and there’s no membership card required. If you live in the Western US, this is one of the best local sources for food in bulk that you’ll find.
  • Creative Canning Cuisine: A marvelous canning discussion group, hosted on Yahoo!
  • Eldon’s Sausage and Jerky recipes: Making your own sausage and jerky isn’t as hard as you think, and Eldon shares some excellent basic recipes here.
  • National Center for Food Preservation: The first place I go when I’m going to preserve something … be it canning, dehydrating, whatever. This is the home of the best science available on the web when it comes to home food preservation.
  • Sugar Mountain Home: More sausage recipes.
  • Sweet Maria’s Coffee: The best home on the web for information on/supplies for home coffee roasting. Join the revolution! Roast your own at home! No more “Char-bucks” (or is that “Four-bucks”) coffee!
  • The “Home_canning” Yahoo group: Another great canning discussion group, especially good if you’re new and need to know the right way to do things.
  • The Food Network: Their recipe database is the best. Hands down. And, no … I’m NOT stalking Alton Brown. I swear ‘-)
  • The Pioneer Woman: An excellent recipe site (and more) my sister recommended, that I’ve plundered many, many times.
  • World Wide Recipes: Joe Barkson’s excellent resource for all things food. Be sure to join his email group! He sends out wonderful recipes on a regular basis.

These links now populate my Blogroll, so you’ll always be able to find them in the left navigation bar. I just wanted to flag you that they were new, and definitely worth a look when you have the time

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Reposting: Pitting Cherries :)

My local Safeway had beautiful Washington cherries on sale for $1.99/lb this weekend, one of the benefits of living in the PNW! I decided to grab a couple of bags and toss them in the dehydrator for use later, since I’m a little ahead right now on fresh things to eat around here.

I’ve never owned a cherry pitter. I’m like Alton Brown of the Food Network (who you’ll probably hear me quote here, ad nauseum … to the point where you’ll wonder if I’m stalking him or something *chuckles* … but I find myself agreeing with him more times than not) … I don’t like unitaskers. In this case, he and I agree completely. My kitchen is full enough as it is, so I try to avoid those special little tools that have one use, and one use only … no matter how geeky/cool they are.

In the past, I’ve always simply taken a knife, cut the cherry in half, and thumped the seed out with my thumbnail. It worked. I ended up with beautiful half-cherries, and they worked … but this time I decided I’d like to try drying some whole pitted cherries instead.

I’d seen someone online back last year (and if I remembered the exact link to the item, I’d cite it here … but I don’t) using a small piece of metal pipe, approx. one-half inch in diameter, to pit their cherries. Well, I started looking around my house for an alternative … and inspiration hit:

As you can tell, my video editing and production skills are very new, but will hopefully improve with time here at AFoodJourneyToGo :)

So, I might not be perfect … but the pipe stem out of our big coffee urn was perfect for the job of pitting cherries. It allowed me to push all the pits right out in record time. I was ready to go to the next step in less than an hour, even with two big bags of cherries to finish.

To dehydrate cherries, you need to “crack” the skin after you pit them. Set a large pot of water on the stove and heat it to boiling. Drop the cherries in by handfuls, and let them boil for 30-60 seconds, depending on how big/fat they are. At the end of the boiling time, scoop them out with a slotted spoon (an Asian “spider” strainer works perfect here, too) and drop them into a bowl of water and ice cubes. Cool water won’t work. You need the shock of them going from very hot … to very cold … in order to condition the skin properly for drying.

Place individual cherries on your drying racks in a single layer. Let dry until leathery, but still slightly sticky. Store in sealed plastic bags.

For more information about dehydrating fruits and more, in addition to all sorts of other ways to preserve food for long-term storage, I always start with the National Center for Home Food Preservation, a Department of Agriculture research facility based at the University of Georgia. Their extensive online information may not cover every single food you’d like to preserve, but it’s an excellent place to start, regardless.

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Reposting: Caspian Grill Persian Cuisine

This evening, we had dinner with a friend at:

Caspian Grill Persian Cuisine
www.caspiangrill.com
5517 University Way Northeast
Seattle, WA 98105-3520
(206) 524-3434

Let me say up-front … I absolutely adore Persian food. It’s probably got something to do with the fact that–after eating nothing more International than my mother’s “hamburger chop suey” for the first seventeen years of my life (every bit as neutered for the American palate as it sounds)–my first boyfriend at college was from Iran. Luckily for me, the man definitely knew his way around a kitchen, and–thanks to him–I got my first tastes of things like lamb, saffron, couscous, sumac, and a whole lot of other interesting flavors that just set my tongue and senses on fire from the first moment I tried them. As my husband often jokes, I don’t believe in reincarnation … but I think I did in a previous life. Well, in my previous life … I think I lived somewhere in what is now Iran/Iraq/Afghanistan/India/Pakistan/etc. … because I absolutely ADORE the flavors of that part of the world. Cardamom, ginger, fenugreek, cumin, black onion, grains of paradise, the list goes on and on. And I’m a lucky woman, because I count among my dear friends one of the finest Persian chefs on the planet, who also just happens to be the mother of some of my husband’s oldest friends.  She likes to cook. I like to cook. The first day we met, we discovered this about each other … and we’ve been fast friends ever since. In fact, I often refer to her as my adopted Persian mother :)

In other words, I’m probably more than just a wee bit predisposed to like a restaurant like Caspian Grill … yet, at the same time (and in addition to the wonderful home-cooked meals I’ve enjoyed at my adopted Persian mother’s home), I have a gigantic measuring stick that I use to judge all Persian restaurants by: Reza’s in Chicago.

I’ve eaten in two of Reza’s three restaurants: Andersonville, where my husband and I are pictured above, which is in the middle of the best spice-shopping neighborhood in the US … and then at River North, where we attended a huge Persian wedding feast back in–I believe it was–2000. I’ve never had a single scrap of average food there, much less anything bad. Their food is absolutely wonderful. Everything’s always fresh, hot, and perfectly cooked and seasoned ……

….. so Caspian Grill had a very steep hill to climb with me this evening … even before I walked in the door :)

Parking was … well … parking in the U District. It is what it is. Some days you get lucky, and some days you part five blocks away and hike. We lucked into a space on the street behind the restaurant that was big enough to dock at least two land yachts. Thankfully we were only driving one, and the brisk walk up one block just helped us both get into a hungry frame of mind.

The restaurant was very clean and inviting. The decor was modern, and yet still captured a bit of the exotic overall, in honor of the distance between the restaurant and its source of inspiration. One of the first things they did was fill everyone’s glass with ice and water … and then they did something I wish every restaurant would do … they put a big frosty pitcher of ice and water on the table for us, too. That small attention to detail made points with me instantly. The menu shared details about the food (more on that in a second) beyond the traditional Persian name, which non-native speakers appreciate. Most people don’t mind asking a question or two when we’re in a restaurant where we don’t speak the native language, but few of us want to have to ask endless questions about every-single-item on the menu in order to decide what we want to eat. The waitstaff was friendly and attentive, and the kitchen service (even though they were fairly busy, and it was the last hour of their Saturday night service) was quick and precise.

We grabbed some BABAGANOUSH for the table first. You could taste instantly that the eggplants had been fire-roasted, and that they didn’t bury them in too much tahini either: something that’s often the downfall of an otherwise yummy babaganoush. Caspian Grill’s offering was wonderfully light and creamy, but then heavily garliced as well: just like we like it! I was tempted to just stick a little behind each ear, just to keep the aroma (and probably my husband) around me for a little bit longer that evening :)

We also ordered a plate of LIMA BEANS & DILL RICE for everyone to share, in addition to the saffron-topped rice that’s normally served with Persian dishes. Dill rice with lima beans is a Persian restaurant staple that most home cooks serve as well. It’s made from long-grained basmati rice that’s thickly dusted with dill weed, studded with creamy lima beans, and then cooked fairly fast and hot in a sealed pot over a thick layer of sliced potatoes, which absorb most of the direct heat … while leaving the rice light and fluffy. Those potatoes become brown and crunchy in the cooking process, and–in turn–that browned potato umami flavors the rice, too. The slices themselves are considered a Persian cook’s treat, something they don’t normally serve … only share with the people they really like … so if you start frequenting a Persian restaurant with any regularity, and the chef comes out one day to serve you a few slices of very brown and crunchy potatoes in addition to what you ordered … you’ve arrived! Enjoy! :)

Lima beans and dill rice is also one of my personal favorites in Persian cuisine. It’s not a very complex dish, but the flavors blend wonderfully … and Caspian Grill knocked theirs out of the park. It was perfectly seasoned, with just the right amount of fat included to make each grain extremely succulent. The aromatic flavor of the basmati itself still came through, plus you could actually taste the flavor of the browned potato layer from the bottom of the pot where it was cooked (a sign of excellent Persian rice), so none of the spicing was overpowering.

For entrees, my husband (a beef kabob man from way back) chose the BEEF KOOBIDEH KABOB. I snagged a bite from him, and it was excellent! Really tender. Very nicely spiced, without going overboard. Excellent all the way around!

Our friend–who’d never had Persian food before tonight–decided on the SOLTANI CHICKEN, so that he could taste two different kebabs: chicken and ground beef. He couldn’t finish the meal because there was just so much food on his plate (none of us could), but he was already planning his lunch as he was packing his leftovers into a doggie bag :)

I decided to try something I’d never eaten before–which is pretty typical for me–so I ordered a Persian stew called GHORMEH SABZI. The menu description read “A tasty combination of lean beef and chopped herbs simmered to perfection with red beans and spices” … so  I was kinda surprised (and checked what the menu said again to be sure what it said) when the bulk of the flavor/substance of the stew was more than half spinach … which isn’t necessarily one of my favorite foods. I like it raw in and salads, or buried under mounds of cheese and phyllo dough … but not so much as a solo or primary ingredient, especially cooked spinach. However, I still ended up eating a fair amount of it regardless, and–surprisingly–enjoyed it.

We all left with heavy take-home boxes, with me clutching the box of leftover dill rice close. I have plans for that which involve adding it to some well-mixed eggs, and turning it into the Persian quiche-like dish my adopted Persian mother taught me how to make years ago. I don’t remember the Persian name for it right off, but it’s one of my absolute favorite homemade Persian dishes. And apparently–from the pleasantly-surprised look of our waiter’s face when I told him what my plans were, I’m not the only one :)

Final opinion? Beyond the momentary bobble about all the spinach I inadvertently ordered for myself, I REALLY enjoyed my meal at Caspian Grill … and I will definitely go back again! In fact, when my adopted Persian mother comes to visit one day … we’d be proud to take her there for dinner. That’s the best endorsement I could ever give a Persian restaurant! :)

A-

 

Comments carried over from the original post in http://www.AFoodJourneyToGo.com:

dadsays:

manga mangia

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