It’s July! We are halfway to 2014 and it’s National Ice Cream Month. Yea!

Actually, I’m not excited about 2014, but National Ice Cream month does excite me.  I wish it didn’t because the pounds are creeping onto me again. They wouldn’t if I would just Work Out like any sane forty something woman should do. But, I don’t want to work out. Or run. Or eat better. I want to make ice cream and sit on my deck at 5 pm and drink a beer!

Which is what I’m doing right now because it’s 84 degrees at 5 pm on July 1 in Texas. That? Has never happened in my lifetime.

Hey, at least I’m drinking a Michelob Ultra.

Anyway. Three things are going to happen on the blog this month. One, I’m going to post every weekday. Two, I’m going to make ice cream and tell you all about it. Three, I’m going to read Historical Fiction and do a better job of writing reviews for each book. I’m going to have to if I want to post 23 times. I might even post about writing again since I haven’t in a while. I’ve been a slacker for the entire month of June in the writing department but that stops tomorrow! I need to do a little revising of my MS then get back on the wagon with the sequel.

But, back to ice cream because, really. Ice Cream.

My first ice cream post will be about a fool proof, inexpensive chocolate ice cream recipe I found. Except nothing is fool proof when it comes to me and cooking. More on that later.

I want to find a banana pudding ice cream recipe because, really. Banana Pudding.

I also want to make Peach Ice Cream because, really. Peaches in the summer is nirvana.

What’s  your favorite ice cream flavor? Do you make homemade ice cream? If not, why?

Also, unrelated to any of this: Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon was the stupidest movie I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen my fair share of stupid movies.

My Favorite Things – Instapaper

I have long wanted a recipe program so I can get rid of this:

Yes, that is a ziploc bag full of recipes. I have never claimed to be super organized.

Let’s be honest here. I will never put all of my loose recipes into a computer program. My first job ever was data entry. This was the mid-80’s and it was mind numbing. I imagine typing in all of my recipes would be similar.

Another admission: I rarely use recipes from that baggie. Or the loose ones I cut from the newspaper. Or the ones I print out from the internet. I am an experimental creature of habit. Basically that means if I’m not making a new recipe, I am making a recipe I know by heart. Where do I get my recipes? From the internet.

Since I will also never step up and create The Great American Recipe App©, I have found the next best thing. Instapaper.

Instapaper is based on the simplest of concepts: saving digital documents, web articles or pages in one app to read later, which makes it the perfect tool to save the recipe for Nutella Cupcakes with Triple Cream Cheese Frosting. The FAQ says it isn’t designed to store thousands of pages to keep, categorize, tag and search contents of every web page you’ve ever found. As a long-term solution to a central storage place for online recipes, Instapaper isn’t ideal. But for someone who collects recipes to try later, it is darn near perfect.

It is super easy to save pages to Instapaper. Simply install a button on your bookmarks toolbar, like Pintrest’s Pin It button, and click it when you  want to save it. You will be able to access the saved pages through the Instapaper website or your iPhone and iPad app. Instapaper will sync your account across all of your devices. An Android version was just released, making Instapaper available on all Apple products, Kindle Fire, Nook and Nook Color as well as Android phones.

Cooking in the Swamp – Texas Pork Ribs

I have made ribs twice in my life.

I know, it is shocking when you consider I’ve lived in Texas, where there is a barbeque joint on every corner – usually next to a church ;) – for 40 of my 42 years. Those were dark, BBQ free days in Minnesota. In fact, I don’t make barbeque at home. I don’t have a smoker and frankly making true Texas barbeque is intimidating. The closest I get is having my Mom buy a pre-smoked brisket from HEB when she goes to South Texas to visit friends.

The leftover rub.

Apparently, this is the summer where I get outside of my cooking comfort zone because I bought a rack of uncooked, unseasoned pork ribs and determined to make them. The recipe I found through All Recipes was straightforward and surprisingly easy. Every recipe I found required cooking the ribs in the oven first then finishing them off on the grill. I thought that was only required for beef ribs, but maybe it is required for all ribs. I guess with either type it couldn’t hurt.

The recipe below made a metric ton of spice rub, even though I halved the recipe. Yes, I put plenty of rub on. The rub could be easily adjusted to suit the taste of your family. When I make this next, I will decrease the amount of salt.

Because of my schedule, I cooked the ribs in the oven the day before and finished them on the grill before serving. It worked well enough. Be sure to pull the ribs out of the refrigerator so they can get closer to room temperature before you grill them. Otherwise, you might overcook them on the grill to get them hot through. Also, I did not use wood chips.

The homemade barbeque sauce was delicious. Important to note, 4 cups of ketchup will kill all but the largest bottle of Heinz. Plan accordingly.

TEXAS PORK RIBS

Ingredients

  • 6 pounds pork spareribs
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 5 tablespoons pan drippings
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 4 cups ketchup
  • 3 cups hot water
  • 4 tablespoons brown sugar
  • cayenne pepper to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup wood chips, soaked

Directions

  1. Clean the ribs, and trim away any excess fat. In a medium bowl, stir together the sugar, 1/4 cup salt, ground black pepper, paprika, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, and garlic powder. Coat ribs liberally with spice mix. Place the ribs in two 10×15 inch roasting pans, piling two racks of ribs per pan. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 275 degrees F (135 degrees C). Bake uncovered for 3 to 4 hours, or until the ribs are tender and nearly fall apart.
  3. Remove 5 tablespoons of drippings from the bottom of the roasting pans, and place in a skillet over medium heat. Cook onion in pan drippings until lightly browned and tender. Stir in ketchup, and heat for 3 to 4 more minutes, stirring constantly. Next, mix in water and brown sugar, and season to taste with cayenne pepper, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour, adding water as necessary to achieve desired thickness.
  4. Preheat grill for medium-low heat.
  5. When ready to grill, add soaked wood chips to the coals or to the smoker box of a gas grill. Lightly oil grill grate. Place ribs on the grill two racks at a time so they are not crowded. Cook for 20 minutes, turning occasionally. Baste ribs with sauce during the last 10 minutes of grilling, so the sauce does not burn.

Source

The Long Hot Hamburger Summer – This may be easier than I thought

Our first foray into making the perfect hamburger at home was surprisingly successful. My oldest son decided to help me and since he likes thin hamburger patties, that is what he made. I shrugged and said okay. I prefer thin patties as well. We used meat from Costco, which never puts what the fat content of their meat is, but I’m guessing at least 85/15, if not higher. Our seasoning was sea salt and cracked black pepper. Because of their thickness, the grilling time was short and they were cooked all through.

The verdict? Pretty darn awesome. Flavorful without being over seasoned. Juicy. Easy. My one complaint is the patties, after cooking, were a bit too small. If you want a big, beefy flavor for your burger – and most people probably do – then this isn’t the right equation. But, if you aren’t a huge burger fan but still want to eat a burger with everyone else, a simply seasoned, super thin patty will do the trick.

Son1 made the patties using a tupperware patty shaper. Nice and uniform to allow for even cooking times.

Check out the spread Son1 put together. He is going to make a fine husband someday and a great host. He says the key to good burgers are buttered, toasted buns. The secret to the buns? Butter on the top as well. The cooked patties are in the left hand corner. Look closely, they shrunk. Random red plate is random.

We are celebrating Father’s Day tonight with my husband’s family and I am making burgers. I told my son we have to make thicker patties for company, otherwise they will think we are being cheap. Plus, I need more fodder for blog posts. I’m going to make 1/3 pound patties. A half pound is too much meat, IMO, a quarter is too little.

Now, for a reader question: What was the last great hamburger you ate?

Cooking in the Swamp Yum Alert! – Strawberry Shortcake Pavlova

  1. pa·vlo·va/pävˈlōvə/

    Noun:
    A dessert consisting of a meringue base or shell filled with whipped cream and fruit.

Before baking.

Since the nightmare I had making a pavlova in May (or was it April? time flies I swear), I have been determined to make another pavlova to figure out what exactly I did wrong. Why did it take over an hour for stiff peaks to form? Were my egg whites were too cold? Should I not have used pasteurized egg whites from a carton? Was it my substitution of regular sugar for super fine sugar? Driven by the rapidly deteriorating state of an extra large clamshell of strawberries, I determined I would make Strawberry Shortcakes and use pavlova as the base.

After baking. Note how they increased in size. These are larger than what I consider “individual size.” If you make them small, adjust the baking time down a bit.

The answer to my April pavlova debacle  is my egg whites were too cold. Actually, the pavlova I made that day was still very good, but it took forever to get the egg whites to form stiff peaks. This time, I wanted to make individual pavlovas and wasn’t sure about the cooking time. I found this recipe on Good Life Eats. Super easy and delish. I plan on making the lemon curd and raspberry version sometime this summer. What is wonderful about pavlova is it will literally go with any combination of cream and fruit. You are only limited by your imagination. Granted, after days with children fighting their way through summer break, you may not have much imagination to tap. In that case, follow the recipe. :)

Strawberry Shortcake Pavlova

For the Meringue Nests:
1 teaspoon vanilla extract OR 1 vanilla bean (seeds only)
juice of half a lemon
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/4 cups sugar
6 ounces egg white, about 5-6 large eggs

Toppings:
Lemon Curd – Recipe: Citrus Curd 3 Ways
Fresh Raspberries, Strawberries or Blueberries
Whipped Cream
Mint Leaves, for garnish

Directions:

Divide the egg whites from the yolks. Save the yolks for a later use, such as Citrus Curd or another favorite recipe that requires egg yolks. Bring the egg whites to room temperature for 30 minutes before beginning the recipe.

Prepare by preheating your oven to 250 degrees F and lining a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside. Whisk the cornstarch and sugar together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Add the egg whites and cream of tartar to the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, turn the speed on to low. Mix for 1 minute, then gradually increase the speed to medium-low.

Continue to beat at medium-low for another minute, then increase mixer’s speed to medium. Continue until the mixture has small bubbles and soft peaks start to develop, about 2 minutes.

Slowly add the sugar mixture into the bowl as the mixture continues to beat. Increase the speed to medium-high. Beat for 2 minutes.

Add the vanilla and lemon juice. Increase the speed to high and beat for an additional 2-3 minutes. It is ready when the meringue is shiny and has developed stiff peaks.

For individual pavlovas, you can spoon little nests (6-8 total) of meringue onto the prepared baking sheet. Then, bake at 250 degrees F for 45 – 65 minutes. Rotate the pan(s) halfway through baking.

Finished meringue should be crisp and dry, but not cracked. The insides will have a marshmallow-like consistency. Cool baked meringue on a wire rack.

Tip: Form a dip in the center of each pavlova with the back of the spoon before baking to act as a dish to hold the lemon curd and berries.

After pavlova has cooled, top with lemon curd and fresh berries. Best served immediately. If you assemble the dessert too soon then the lemon curd with begin to dissolve the meringue.

Cooking in the Swamp – The Long Hot Hamburger Summer

I didn’t make this but it was awesome.

I make horrible hamburgers. No really. It’s true. Even my family thinks so. Last year when I suggested we make hamburgers for the dinner we make for everyone at the beach house, all three balked. “Hamburgers aren’t your best meal, Mom.” Bless him, he was so polite it gives me hope he will make a good husband one day.

I don’t think I have made hamburgers since.

It is shameful I can’t make a good hamburger, the most American of foods and the easiest, crowd pleasingest cook-out dish there is. So, I have decided that this summer, instead of focusing on ice cream I am going to search high and low for the best way to make a good hamburger. My perfect hamburger is cooked through but still moist, not too thick and cooked on a grill. My burgers have a tendency to shrink into a little ball no matter how thin I make the patty. I am sure that has to do with using meat with a too high fat content but fat, in some form, is needed to make the patty moist and fat is what gives a burger its flavor. Fat is not a friend to my pouchie stomach.

In the past I have tried different tips to make a better burger, such as:

  • Using equal parts higher fat burger meat with lower fat. That tip was from Bobby Flay. It gives you the fat content to keep the burger moist but the lighter meat decreases the calories and the shrinking. Of everything I’ve tried, this has worked the best.
  • Forming the patties loosely. You can imagine how this turned out. It was a mess. How can you even “form patties loosely?” Seems like an oxymoron to me.
  • Adding diced cubes of butter to the meat. Of course, that suggestion came from Paula Deen. I was set to do it but could not in the end. It’s like fried chicken. I can eat it out but can’t make it at home. Seeing that chicken fry in an inch of oil takes out all the joy of eating the fried chicken. I prefer to eat high fat foods in willful ignorance. If I don’t see it’s bad for me then it isn’t, right?

My first goal is to make the best plain (seasoned only with salt and pepper) hamburger, then to start experimenting with flavors and add ins after that (Juicy Lucy, anyone?). Then I will start on tricked up hamburgers – salmon burgers, black bean burgers, etc.

Here is what I need from you: tips. What is your advice on making a good burger? Have a tried and true recipe? Let me know in the comments. Later on in the summer, I will ask for your tricked up recipes. I will be posting about this as I go. My plan is to make burgers weekly. I just hope I, and my family, don’t get sick of them before its all over and never want to eat my perfected hamburger again.

Goal this summer to learn how to grill a good hamburger.

Cooking in the Swamp – To fail or not to fail, that is the question…

Thursday, in a characteristic fit of procrastination, I made a Sourdough Starter. I followed the directions to the letter, leaving it in a warm dry place, stirring a couple of times a day. It looked great Thursday and early Friday. Then, Friday afternoon when I checked on it, the water was still separated from the flour slurry at the bottom of the bowl. I pursed my lips and wrinkled my nose, wondering where I went wrong. That I went wrong somewhere was without a doubt. I’ve had too many failures of this kind to blame anyone or anything but myself. Coming up with nothing, and seeing little bubbles percolating still from beyond the layer of murky (and frankly unappetizing water) I decided to Let It Ride. I’m working on my Zen, handwaving, it’ll all work out in the end attitude. How am I doing?

This morning, same thing. Hmm. Too early to call friends. I could post a question on Food52, but I am going to be leaving soon for a lacrosse game so Google-Fu it is! After very little research (again, time constraints) I decided I could either start over, dashing my hopes of making sourdough pancakes tomorrow morning, or I could feed my starter. I went with the latter option, adding one cup of flour and one cup of water and hoping that makes it look like it looked earlier in the process. Of course, nothing in the recipes I’ve read tell you what the finished starter is supposed to look like and none of the pictures I’ve seen illustrate it very well.

Anyway. We will see how this goes.