wow, I could have had (something other than) a v-8

When I hear “Mott’s,” I think apple juice.

motts_products_vegetable_juice_spicyBut Mott’s has introduced a vegetable juice (re-introduced? It seems to have been introduced, then went away for a while according to some web sites, and now is back in a different-shaped bottle).

Most store brand vegetable juices try to copy V-8 as closely as possible, but the Mott product is deliberately different from V-8. It’s not as thick and the vegetable blend is different – zestier, with flavors like green pepper, garlic and dill that you might associate with salsa or salads. Like V-8, it comes in regular, spicy-hot and low sodium versions. (The regular versions contain almost as much sodium as V-8, which is to say a lot.)  I’m trying the spicy version, after seeing it at the store. The spicy is what I would usually get if buying V-8. I like it. I really like the flavor of it better than V-8.

The Mott’s product, probably because of the different vegetables, is not as much of a vitamin powerhouse as V-8, but it does have 100 percent of your daily requirement of Vitamin C and 25 percent of Vitamin A, plus some iron and potassium. But if you don’t like V-8, you might like this, and it would be better for you than something sugary. It tastes a little closer to bloody mary mix (which I sometimes buy and just drink by itself, sans booze), so those of you who make bloody marys might want to try it as well.

the elusive sicilian

UPDATE: I found the coupons after all! They’re round, and like Frisbees they flopped out a little farther than I had looked for them. Apologies, Screamin’ Sicilian; you did a great job after all.

A week or two ago, I posted this photo to Facebook:

WP_20150423_003

I explained that I had an online coupon, loaded to my Kroger Plus card, for something called Screamin’ Sicilian pizza, a brand with which I was not familiar. The pizza box includes a punch-out moustache on the back.

The pizza was wonderful – outstanding for a frozen supermarket pizza, with really good flavor. It is priced as a premium product, not surprisingly, and so I tried to go to the company’s website and sign up for its e-mail list, which supposedly gets you a dollar-off coupon. I tried from two different computers, a Mac at work and a PC at home, and the signup process wouldn’t complete – the site took me to a page with an error message and some HTML code. I posted about this on Facebook, and the company – which does a commendable job of following social media – responded and asked me to send them my mailing address.

I did, and sure enough, today in my mailbox I got a hand-addressed envelope from Screamin’ Sicilian Pizza. The letter apologized for my trouble and invited me to use one of the enclosed coupons and give the rest to my friends.

The only trouble?

There were no coupons in the envelope. I looked in the envelope to see if I’d missed them, I looked on the floor to see if they’d fallen out without me noticing. There was nothing.

I know it was an honest mistake, but I swear it reminded me of some dialogue from an old Marx Brothers movie. Groucho is dictating a letter to someone, probably Zeppo, to one of his creditors. The letter ends with “enclosed, please find 20 dollars.”

“Do you want me to send them 20 dollars?” Zeppo asks.

“You do, and you’re fired,” Groucho shoots back.

singin’ in the grain

For some years now, Betty Crocker has sold its “Suddenly Salad” line of pasta salad kits. The kit contains dry pasta, maybe with a few tiny little veggies, plus an envelope of dressing mix. You boil the pasta, mix the dressing mix with mayo (or some other ingredient, depending on the specific flavor) and you have a pasta salad. You’re encouraged to add other ingredients, of course.

harvest-grains.jpgWell, they’ve now expanded the line to include three grain-based salads. I’m trying the “Harvest Grain” flavor tonight. It has brown, white and red rice, plus quinoa, all in a boil-in bag. There’s a separate package of cranberries and almond slivers to stir into the finished salad, and there’s a dressing mix that you combine with oil and water. (The tanginess which would normally be provided by vinegar or citrus is in the dry mix.)

It’s not bad. It makes me want to go and get some quinoa by itself, though, and make it with a nice chicken stock.

There are also southwest and Tuscan flavors. I have a box of the southwest flavor in my cupboard and will try it out later in the week.

bread head

My friend Sue Thelen was baking bread today, with a sourdough starter I gave her, and posted about it on Facebook. Something in her post reminded me of something I heard once – there are cooks, and there are bakers. Cooks tend to change and adapt recipes to suit their taste, their imagination, and whatever happens to be in the cupboard. Bakers, however, have to follow a recipe a little more closely. In many baked goods, for scientific reasons, a slight difference in, say, the ratio of flour to water can make a big difference. Bakers care whether they use bread flour, all-purpose flour or cake flour, and they know the difference.

I tend to be a cook, and I’m not the type to bake desserts or pastries, but I do love to bake bread, and I can generally stick to a recipe well enough for bread to turn out. I’m still amazed that I’ve been able to keep my home-grown sourdough starter alive for so long now.

Father Dominic Garramone, an actual Benedictine monk, used to have a show on public TV called “Breaking Bread with Father Dominic.” Yes, baking can be picky, but you can’t stress over it too much; Father Dominic used to say, repeatedly, “It’s bread; it’ll forgive you.” I’ve found that to be true. Even if a loaf of bread is a little denser than expected or a little softer than expected, it’s still usually good.

After I told Sue that earlier today, however, I had a less-than-forgiving moment tonight. I had reserved half of the bread dough from this past weekend, frozen it, and then thawed it overnight last night. I let it rise today and put it in the oven tonight. So far, so good; I now know I can safely freeze bread dough.

The trouble is that the rickety oven in my apartment does strange things sometimes, and I had the thermostat turned up a little too high tonight, causing the broiler to turn on, burning the top of the loaf before the center had even started really baking. I had to throw it out.

Sue’s loaves today turned out well, and since that was my starter I can at least take some solace.

I was happy that our conversation made me think of Father Dominic, by the way; I had no idea that he had a website, and a blog. There are some short videos, “Breadhead Minutes,” which apparently still run on some public TV stations (I haven’t seen them locally, but I may have just missed them).

Interestingly enough, my tech column in today’s Times-Gazette referenced Leo Laporte’s TWiT Network and the new relaunch of “The Screen Savers,” both of which feature another Catholic father who dabbles in television on the side – the likable and knowledgeable Father Robert Ballacer, a Jesuit priest. If the Wittenburg Door were still active, I’d be pitching interviews with both of them.

just loafing

Today, of course, was my second Saturday in a row to spend eight hours working a Relay For Life fundraiser – in this case, the Times-Gazette’s second annual Community Yard Sale, which was a huge success.

It was early in the day – not long after the official start time – when, wandering around, I found this:

loaf-pan

It’s a cast iron bread pan, from the fine folks of Lodge Manufacturing in South Pittsburg, Tenn. I love cast iron cookware and have several pieces of Lodge product in my kitchen, which I use constantly. I got to tour the plant once for a newspaper story, and I love their factory outlet store. (They have a store in South Pittsburg and two stores up in the tourist mecca of Sevier County, but the South Pittsburg store is best because it’s the only one with factory seconds.)

The pan had obviously never been used, although the little Lodge tag was kind of stuck together, as if it had gotten wet. Because Lodge now factory-seasons its products, the pan has the black coating which you used to have to build up through repeated use. The pan itself was in perfect shape.

It was only $7, and I snatched it up immediately. I immediately started thinking about using it.

I’ve been baking a lot of bread lately since creating my own sourdough starter. The recipe I’ve been using most often makes two loaves, so I’ve generally been throwing one loaf into the freezer and thawing it once I’ve finished the other loaf. But now, I have a dilemma. This cast iron pan obviously has different thermal properties than the matched set of non-stick loaf pans I’ve been using. I don’t want to bake one loaf in the cast iron pan and another one next to it in a much lighter-weight pan.

After checking online, I think what I’m going to do is freeze half of the raw bread dough. The sources I’ve found online say it’s best to do this after the first rise and before the second rise.

Even though I was exhausted, I ran by the grocery store on my way home from the yard sale because I was running low on bread flour. Now, I’ve got a batch of dough mixed up that will rise overnight. Tomorrow morning, I will knead it and then divide it into two portions, one of which will be frozen immediately for later use. The other portion will rise all day in the cast iron pan and then be baked that night.

I’ve been very pleased with my sourdough starter, and I’ve even shared it with a friend. (Let me know if you want some.) I have no green thumb, and have trouble keeping plants alive, but apparently I’m better with yeast.

I also know how to take care of cast iron. I never immerse mine in soapy water. I occasionally use a soapy sponge or rag from the sink to wipe it out, but because of the non-stick properties of properly-cared-for cast iron soaking is not required. I usually just rinse it out while it’s still warm, using a brush or one of those little flat nylon pot-scrapers to dislodge any stubborn particles, then give the piece a quick hit of cooking spray and wipe it down inside and out with a paper towel.

Tomorrow’s entree

chili_9000_jarI was at Walmart this evening and ran into my co-worker Jason Reynolds. He noticed that I looked like I had some specific items in my basket and asked me what was for dinner tonight. I told him that I was going to church for dinner tonight – but tomorrow night, I’m making chili.

I’ve been anxious to make chili ever since receiving some items from Penzey’s a few weeks ago, and this is the first real chance I’ve gotten. Unfortunately, Walmart still didn’t have any chili grind beef. So I bought a pound of pork stew meat on manager’s special, just to save a little money, and a pound of beef stew meat at full price. Tomorrow, I’ll cut them up into smaller bits.

As I explained in another recent post, chili grind meat or small chunks of meat are better than regular ground meat in long, slow-cooked, Texas-style chili recipes. This will not actually be a slow-cooked chili, though – at least, not according to the clock on the wall. I’m going to warp time by using the kitchen equivalent of a TARDIS: my pressure cooker.

I will use the basic parameters from Alton Brown’s pressure cooker chili recipe, although I won’t use his exact ingredient list. The chili powder I got from Penzey’s (they make several different kinds) is Chili 9000, which is a little non-traditional, and I want to enjoy it, so I’m using a little more of the chili powder than Alton calls for and eliminating a couple of other things.

I’m already looking forward to it.

spice update

I posted here a week or two ago about Penzey’s Spices. I had just placed an order – most of which was a gift for a family member, but I took the opportunity to order a couple of things for myself. I got Penzey’s taco seasoning for the first time, and made tacos with it today. Yum. I also have some Chili 9000 – one of several different chili powders they offer – and I’ll be using that some time soon. Walmart was out of chili grind meat today, unfortunately.

I have eaten on a weird schedule today – my biggest meal, those tacos, was sort of in mid-afternoon. So I was a little peckish just now and wanted a snack. I have a loaf of my homemade sourdough bread, and I decided for some weird reason to make cinnamon toast. I have cinnamon, of course, but then I remembered I also had a little bitty jar of Penzey’s apple pie spice. I never ordered it – it was a little “thank you” gift with a previous order, maybe a year ago. It’s mostly two different kinds of cinnamon, but with some nutmeg and clove. I did make an apple pie with it – my first ever – which turned out quite well.

So I made cinnamon toast with the apple pie spice. Unfortunately, I walked away and burned it just a little, but it’s still edible, and the apple pie spice gives it a nice interesting flavor.

the spice of life

If you love to cook at all, you really need to go to the Penzey’s web site and order something – or, at least, sign up for their mailing list. The recipes in their catalogs are worth signing up for.

Penzey’s is a Wisconsin-based mail order company which sells herbs and spices. They’ve now added some brick-and-mortar locations as well, but the closest one to me is in the Memphis area, so for me they’re still a mail-order house.

They have a variety of different products:

  • Individual spices: These range from the ordinary to the exotic, and are all of high quality. Ever seen a chef on the Food Network scrape out a vanilla bean, but you can’t find whole vanilla beans in your local supermarket? Penzey’s has you covered. Need some exotic spice for Indian or Thai cooking? Ditto.
  • Seasoning blends: They have a number of their own proprietary seasoning blends, including five or six different types of chili powder, salt-free blends, and on and on.
  • Gift boxes: This was how I first learned about Penzey’s; one of my sisters-in-law gave me a gift box. They have them in every price range, from stocking stuffers to big expensive housewarming or wedding gifts that let the happy couple set up shop with all new, fresh spices. Some of the gift boxes are packed in actual, usable bay leaves and whole nutmeg nuts. (Whole nutmeg, by the way, is the way to go. Grate it when you need it, and the taste is much, much better than the pre-ground stuff.)
  • Pepper mills: I’d love to have one of their pepper mills – I usually buy cheap ones from Walmart and then just replace them when they break or wear out. Of course, they have a variety of different peppercorns to go in the mills. They also sell matching salt shakers, with slightly larger holes than the normal shaker to accommodate coarse salt.

Seriously, this is a good company that makes good products. And, as I said, they have great recipes in their catalog, so it’s worth signing up for the mailing list (or just go ahead and order something, which I assume will put you on the list as well).

Laissez les bons temps rouler

At Kroger yesterday, I saw andouille. That’s unusual – I have seen a couple of national smoked sausage brands that tried to promote “andouille-style” or “Cajun-style” flavors in the past, but they weren’t true andouille, and you could see that as soon as you sliced into the link. Actual andouille, at least the kind with which I’m familiar, has a grain to it – speckled, with little bits of fat and meat. I’m sure there’s a term for it that I should be using. A cross-section of the “andouille-style” smoked sausage I’d seen in the past looked just like regular smoked sausage – a uniform pink color, with no bits of anything.

ragincajunBut this was labeled as andouille. It was from Georgia, not Louisiana, but I figured it was worth a try.

A few days earlier, I’d bought a slightly-punctured bag of brown rice, which I love, for only 99 cents out of the bargain bin at Kroger. I decided to try to make a jambalaya with brown rice. Traditional? Probably not. But I like brown rice, and it’s much better for me.

I sliced into the andouille and it looked pretty much like the actual Louisiana andouille I’d tried in the past.

This was a seat-of-my-pants preparation. I chopped up onion and bell pepper, sauteed them, then added a little minced garlic, the brown rice, water, some Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning, a little bit of extra cayenne pepper, and some beef base (Better Than Bouillon). Chicken base would probably have been better, but I’m running lower on my jar of chicken base than I am on my jar of beef base, so I decided to use the beef base. I brought it back up to a boil and then I added the andouille, sliced on the bias into little disks. It will take longer to cook than regular jambalaya because the brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice.

It’s simmering now. My friends who are Cajun food experts will probably find fault with some part of another of this, but I’m anxious to see how it turns out.

accidental chicken soup

I use a lot of chicken thighs. I buy them in a value pack, cook a couple, and then put the rest of them into freezer bags.

I had defrosted a couple of thighs earlier in the week and didn’t get to them as quickly as I thought. Friday night, even though I’d already eaten dinner, I decided I needed to go ahead and cook them before they went bad.

I decided to poach them, in water, Italian seasoning, onions , red pepper flake and a little salt. I pulled them out of the water when they were done – and then it occurred to me that I had some wing tips in my freezer. No, not shoes. The third, inedible segment of a chicken wing. I do occasionally buy chicken wings, and when I do I cut them up myself and I save the tips for making stock. They may not have meat, but they have some flavor, and they have lots of connective tissue (which helps give body to stock or broth). I tossed the tips into the water I’d used for poaching the chicken and let them cook until bedtime. I strained out the wing tips and the onions and put the broth in a jar to chill overnight

I tasted the stock the next day –  it was delicious. A wee bit too salty, but it had so much flavor that I knew I could add a little water to it.

So today, after getting home from church, I put the stock and a little bit of water to the boil and threw in some dried Amish noodles I bought at the Cheese Barn. When the noodles were almost cooked, I added the chicken meat from the other night, plus a little bit of fresh-squeezed lemon juice just to perk up the flavor. I even grated the lemon zest and sprinkled it on top of the bowl.

Turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself.