Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day Love

Well, folks, it is officially the last holiday of the summer before we dive into about 6 months of cold weather. Naturally, all of America seems to turn to the outdoors on Labor Day; I was among the millions spending time on decks, beaches, and/or patios with a grill nearby and a beer in my hand.
Hosting a dinner party for foodies is always a good time; attending a dinner party thrown by other foodies... sometimes is even better. The lack of preparation, not having to keep an eye on your guests at all times, not as much clean-up. As much as I do love having people over, I was grateful to go over to a friend's home yesterday and participate in a Labor Day Grill-Out. The food was as eclectic as the company; both were fantastic, though. Unlike every other party that Nik and I are invited to, we were assigned to bring an appetizer and a side-dish. Well, the side dish wasn't too hard to come up with: all-American potato salad. I mean, come on! It is about as Midwestern as corn on the cob. Because I wasn't able to get a hold of my mother, whose potato salad has always been a magical experience, I was left to my own devices and ended up creating my own fantastic dish.
Beneath that recipe is going to be my explanation of how I managed to stumble across a pretty great way of making Jalapeno Poppers without any kind of frying.

All in all, it was a fantastic day.

Scott's Potato Salad

2 lbs of potatoes (either Russet or Red), cooked and cubed
1 celery stalk, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 Tablespoon celery seed
1 cup (ish) of mayonnaise
3 Tablespoons yellow mustard
1 Tablespoon brown mustard seed
1 Tablespoon yellow mustard powder
1 Tablespoon garlic
1 Tablespoon paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
2 hard-boiled eggs peeled and diced
pinch of cayenne pepper

After cubing the potatoes, I cooked them until they were fairly soft but still sturdy. Because that took about 20 minutes to get the water boiling and getting them to the right consistency, I had plenty of time to dice up the onion and celery; then mix those in with all of the other ingredients (not the eggs). Speaking of eggs, Nik threw them in with the potatoes as they cooked- so we had one less pot on the stove. Genius idea.

Once the potatoes were done, all I had to do was stir them into the mayo mix. It probably would have been better to let them cool for about 20-30 minutes, though I was in a rush. Because it was so warm, it changed the consistency of the mayo (separating it a little)- but the end product was still delicious. I knew that not everybody likes their potato salad with egg in it, so I diced them and put them on top of the whole thing instead of mixing them in. I added a little bit more brown mustard seed as well as a fair amount of pepper. Delicious.

Jalapeno Poppers

15 jalapeno peppers, split length-wise and seeds removed

1 egg
2-3 Tb of milk
**mix together in a bowl

1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (stale bread, saltine crackers, or whatever)
2 Tb of flour
2 tsp garlic
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp onion powder
dash of cayenne pepper
**mix together in food processor or mash up in ziplock bag with a meat mallet, then shake around until mixed together

1 package cream cheese
4 oz shredded mozzarella
4 oz shredded monterey jack cheese
**cream together

1- spoon cheese mixture into peppers (or use a pastry bag with a wide tip)
2- dip filled jalapenos in milk mixture and then dredge in the bread crumbs
3- set onto cookie sheet with aluminum foil
4- sprinkle remaining bread crumbs on top of all the peppers
5- cook on 400 for 20 minutes, then switch to low broil for 3-5 minutes

Friday, September 3, 2010

Welcome to Fall 2010

The past few days, I've been lamenting how hot it has been in my fair city. Chicago, with its miles of coastline along Lake Michigan, is usually pretty nice during the summer. Within a half-mile of the coast, like where I live, this is even more true. However, it has been hot. Even a few blocks off the lake.
So this morning, when I woke up and read the temperature as being in the low 60's, I rejoiced. Fall has arrived: you can feel and smell it in the air. Personally, I find a little extra joy in the cold weather simply because of the lack of allergens after the first frost. Beyond that, fall and winter is a time of cooking and baking at home; constantly warming up the kitchen with the oven and filling the house with the smells of pumpkin muffins, apple cider, apple pie... all kinds of delicious things that you forget how much you love while constantly grilling during the summer and attempting to stay cool!

So for my first Fall baking experience, I decided to go with a classic: Cornbread. Last Christmas, my mother gave me a lovely set of cast iron loaf pans along with my new cast iron skillet. No lies: I have a very expensive set of cookware that I use throughout the year- but cast iron is still my go-to for many things. (I look forward to adding to my collection!) There are all kinds of traditional cornbread recipes that are made in a skillet; I opted for the loaf pans today simply because I don't use them often enough. Side note: the oven is set at 400 in this one instead of the usual 350.

Corn Bread (aka Johnny Cake)

1 cup Corn Meal
1 teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

...mix all together in a medium-sized bowl; make a "well"

2 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1 cup sour cream
1 cup canned creamed corn

... mix together in small bowl
... combine wet and dry ingredients together in larger bowl
... pour half of batter into metal loaf pan (well greased)
-you could also pour all of the batter into a 8x8 pan
... bake in oven at 400 for 20-25 minutes; top will be golden brown and the bread is pulling away slightly from the sides of the pan. Stick a knife in the center of bread to see if done (batter on knife = not done; dry = done)