Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Preparing Broccoli for Freezing: Microwave Blanching

Broccoli finally arrived in my garden and I have cut three to four bunches for meals later in the year. I like to eat a handful and freeze the rest. Preparing broccoli for later use or freezing is pretty simple. Typically I prepare my cut veggies like beans and broccoli by blanching in hot water bath then transferring to a cold water shock, then into the freezer.

However, time has seemed to have got away from me this past week.  My veggies were cut a few days ago and their time spent in the crisper was just about up. (My cut broccoli was going on day three of refrigeration). As I got home last night to a very warm home courtesy of our current heat wave, I decided to forgo the traditional stove top blanch technique and  opted to steam the broccoli or as I call it, “microwave blanching” or steaming. I basically precooked the broccoli in a microwave safe container. I placed the small portion of broccoli in a microwave safe dish and placed a few teaspoons of water in the dish. I covered up the vegetable with another dish to create a steam effect and microwave on high for three minutes. As soon as the broccoli was done, I immersed in ice water bath, then removed patted dry and froze in sealable freezer bags. I had to repeat this process three times to accommodate all the cut broccoli. The results were bright firm green broccoli spears that will serve me well for the next few months. For those that do not want to heat up their kitchen during the hot season, I recommend the microwave broccoli steam or blanch method to pre-cook the veggies for freezing.

With any luck this summer, my broccoli plants that were recently cut will provide another harvest or two so I can keep going. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Growing White Zucchini in the Garden

There are several zucchini plants starting to really produce in my garden. The network of vines seems to be overcrowding just about every corner of my vegetable lot. I may have been overzealous in planting four plants from seeds as each vine is going crazy. Nestled throughout the garden are a few long green zucchini fruits; and of greater surprise are a few robust white zucchini! I am not sure the reason for these mutated zukes other than they look like something out of a science fiction movie. These different looking fruits seem to run a tad shorter and much wider than the usual thin green zucchini. The good news is that these vegetables show no difference in taste or quality to their typical green counterpart. I had spoken to several folks and did a little bit of web searching on this anomaly which I am quickly learning is not uncommon in the garden world. Gardeners will often get mutated versions of the ordinary zucchini fruit that becomes white in appearance. My options for cooking with our zucchini harvest seems to be wearing thin as our household has already endured breaded and fried zucchini, grilled zucchini with seasonings and herbs, baked zucchini, and of course zucchini bread. We have even managed to freeze a bit of the zucchini for later baking. If anyone has any ideas on other ways to prepare zucchini, please feel free to comment below. We are in for several more on the way! 

Friday, August 16, 2013

German Apple Pancake Recipe

Allow me to intoduce a family favorite recipe that brings back many fond memories of waking up to the smell of baked apples, pancake batter, and bacon on occasional sunday mornings in the late fall and early winter. Restaurants and households that I have visited all seemed to have done a pretty decent job of creating the Apfel Pfannekuchen, but this home recipe seems to take the cake. Yes, that pun was intended. I like the flavor and texture of the german apple pancake as it seems to be a "culinary mixer" in which custard meets bread pudding who in turn meet french toast with baked apples. Please give this one a try next time you want to create a fun breakfast for family or guests. The recipe is ideal to prepare right now as apple harvest season is upon us. The beauty of this recipe is that the batter can be prepared the night before and refrigerated prior to the next morning's use. I also highly recommend a crisp tart apple such as a granny smith to offset the sweetness of the cinnamon sugar. Feel free to also divide this recipe in half as it serves about five to six people.
German Apple Pancake or Dutch Baby Recipe
Easy To Make Apfel Pfankuchen Recipe

8 eggs
1 cup unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon of salt
2 cups of milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Apple Mixture
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar, divided two containers
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 medium granny smith apples, peeled and sliced.

1.To make the batter, blend the eggs, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Slowly add in the milk while constantly stirring. Then add in vanilla and butter. Set batter aside for twenty five to thirty minutes or refrigerate if preparing for the next morning.

2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
3. To make the apple mixture, combine sugar (1 of 2 reserved containers) with cinnamon and nutmeg. Now melt butter in two cast iron or oven proof skillets. Make sure to work the butter along the sides of the pan. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar mixture into both pans. Now place the apple slices into the bottom of pans trying to avoid stacking. Try to get all the apples to cover the bottom surface or avoid stacking. Now sprinkle remaining sugar over apples. Once the mixture become hot and starts to bubble, pour batter into both pans.
4. Place both pans into oven and bake for 15 minutes. Then reduce temperature to 375F and bake for another 10 minutes.
5. Once removed from oven, allow pancakes in skillet to cool briefly then dust with confectioners sugar and squirt a little lemon over the pancake. (The Dutch Baby Effect).
6. Serve while still warm.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Easy to Make Bohemian Rye Bread

A few weeks back, I had a desire to make a sour dough starter to initiate my own homemade bohemian rye bread.  As mentioned in previous posts, this experiment has failed for a few reasons, so I went to option number two – using dry yeast. I scoured the internet in pursuit of Bohemian rye bread recipes and found one here at I was disheartened that there weren’t any pictures nor testimonials next to this recipe, but the recipe appeared to be easy to follow and used a combination of rye flour and all purpose flour.  Since I was a young child, I enjoyed a good Czech or German rye bread at restaurants and have been in pursuit of trying to imitate some of those good table breads. I like Bohemian rye bread because it is lighter in appearance and density (not too heavy on the rye grains) and it works well as pre-meal offering and partners well with soups or with assorted meats and cheeses.  This rye bread recipe I found adds in the European accent of caraway and fennel seeds. I skipped the fennel since I don’t have any in stock.
This bohemian rye bread process is simple from start to finish when I used this recipe. The ingredients are easy to find and bread can be made in a matter of about three hours (Proofing time included). I made my bread in two stages since I only have one baking stone (and that is my preferred cooking surface for homemade breads). A greased or lined cookie sheet will suffice. The first baked rye bread loaf was a huge success and rose much better than bread number two, which was a little flatter when finished baking. The bread had a heavenly aroma (I could really smell the rye/caraway!) and tasted really good.
As much care as I put into kneading, proofing, and baking, I did not completely duplicate a rye bread that would be produced by a Czech bakery.  Restaurant and bakery rye breads have a smoother texture that is obtained most likely from Czech or European fine grain rye flour.  The texture of my rye bread was much more coarse.
The only thing I would have done differently with this recipe would be to add another teaspoon of caraway or actually used the fennel seed. This bread was still considered a success and will go well with soups, or with some tasty deli meats such as corned beef or ham. Check out the recipe here.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sour Dough Starter Results - One Week Later

I am one week into this process and the results look grim. The week long activity of feeding the mixture with a few tablespoons of water and flour each day yielded no results. By “results”, I was expecting the mixture to start bubbling and increasing in size (as reaction to the daily feeding).What went wrong? My guesses are many.  First of all I kept the covered bowl of this mixture in a window sill that is a tad drafty. I would expect the temperature in this area reaches no higher than sixty five degrees Fahrenheit. The ideal room temperature for a yeast culture to grow should be warmer. Also, I am using wheat flour that is a tad old. Not sure if this makes a difference. Third, the recipe I am following did not mention adding any outside sugars to kick start the process. Some of these sour dough starter methods I have read online mention adding a little sugar or juice to move this along. My concoction so far is nothing more than a flat bowl of mush that occasionally separates, but does not have really any bubbling or rising. I will continue this process a few more days before I try something else.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Making Czech Rye Bread Using a Starter - Experiment

One of my latest endeavors currently is preparing a Czech rye bread. There are so many variations of how to make a rye bread that it gets really confusing on which one is the appropriate method. One common theme I am realizing while I research via the web is that the rye flour in the states is much different than those sold in Europe. The rye flour here in the states is much coarser and produces a tougher texture than the smooth rye found in the Czech Republic.

I have not begun my search yet for rye flours but will maybe have to suffice with what is available at the local store if I cannot find any refined rye flour. So, the first step in preparing rye dough is by making a starter. Many recipes prefer that the rye bread is made with a starter as opposed to using quick or instant yeast. The "starter" process is basically growing your own yeast /bacteria culture by mixing flour with water and covering it. Throughout the next seven days or  more, the yeast will become active as bacteria enter the mixture. The process takes about a week and requires daily feeding. The feeding process requires adding fresh flour and water to keep the existing yeast culture “fed”. I began this process last night where I mixed a quarter cup of whole wheat flour with equal parts tap water. (I used whole wheat as I am anxious to get this process started now even though I don’t have rye flour). The mixture was covered with a towel and placed on the counter. I will check the mixture every day and feed it (with rye flour and water) and provide updates in another week. This currently seems more like a science experiment as opposed to a kitchen creation. My overall goal is to produce a decent quality bohemian rye bread seven days from now, caraway seeds and all! Iif I fail, I will defer to the Czech bakery in Berwyn. Only time will tell.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Apricot Kolacky Recipe

Some of my favorite after dinner Czech treats are kolacky.  There are hundreds of kolacky recipes out there, but I still stick with this simple one, especially when I am worried about having time to prepare other items be it dinner or other holiday bakery such as a houska/vanocka. Most kolacky recipes you will find do not use cream cheese in the dough; which is one of my favorite ingredients in this recipe. The rich cheese dough tastes delicious aside from the fruit filling.

I have posted a raspberry recipe on this site before and I just recently prepared a batch of apricot kolacky. For the filling, just about any apricot fruit filling will work whether using Solo filling, preserves, or jam. The recipe is a family keeper and I even enjoy one or two of these for a quick breakfast.

Fruit Filled Kolacky

1 Cup All Purpose Flour
1 Stick Butter, softened
3/8 Cup Cream Cheese, softened
¼ cup sugar
Apricot Fruit Filling (Jam, Preserves, or Canned Pastry Filling)

1. Cream softened butter, sugar and cream cheese
2. Slowly add Flour
3. Thoroughly mix dough until well blended/moist.
4. Refrigerate dough for a few hours.
5. Roll out dough to about 1/4 inch.
6. Cut Dough into Squares.
7. Place squares on greased cookie sheet.
8. Spoon fruit mixture onto center of pastry square.
9. Fold opposite corners into center forming a square.
10 Bake for 12-15 minutes in 375 degree oven.
11. Cool and serve.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How to Make Raspberry Crumble

 I had the benefit of taking a rare Tuesday off work to get in some personal time at home which equated to sleeping in late, having an extra cup of coffee, and spending some quality time with the youngest. Another side benefit to being home today was making dessert courtesy of having three cups of raspberries in the freezer from our generous berry crop from the summer. We actually reaped way more than three cups during the growing season, though my children picked the bushes clean several times over, thus most berries never made it to kitchen or freezer. A lot of neighbors consider the raspberries a nuisance as if they are weeds; I actually get a kick out of watching my children raid the bushes like birds. They actually reap a great refreshing snack while they help me pick vegetables and weed the remainder of the garden, so no complaints here. Raspberries are so easy to grow (more so than some of their berry counterparts such as strawberries and blueberries). If anything, I will encourage a greater growing area next year. Hopefully my two blackberry plants will get going in 2013.

Anyhow, I prepared a blueberry pear crisp (which was posted on this blog) a few months back, so I decided to do something similar. Instead of making a crisp, I baked a crumble. A crumble is layer of fruit between two crusts consisting of shortening, flour, sugar, and oats. If you don’t use oats, but add more flour, then you have what is considered a “crunch”. I decided to go with a crumble which made the dessert softer and little healthier since I substituted using oats instead of more flour. Here is my recipe. As with any crumble, crisp, or crunch using tart berries, I highly recommend serving a la mode.

Raspberry Crumble

3 cups raspberries

1 cup rolled oats

½ cup all purpose flour

1 cup brown sugar

½ cup granulated white sugar

8 tbsp (1 stick) butter, cold (not softened)


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Arrange oven rack to be located in middle of oven.

3. In a large bowl combine dry ingredients of oats, flour, and brown sugar

4. Using pastry knife or two knives, work cold butter into dry mixture until crumbles form.

5. Take half of crumble mixture and line bottom of 8 inch by 8 inch pan.

6. Spread raspberries over top of crumble crust. Dust with white sugar.

7. Take remaining crumble topping from bowl and sprinkle evenly over top of raspberries.

8. Bake crumble for one hour.

9. Remove from oven and cool for about twenty minutes before serving.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Different Ways to use up Leftover Bratwurst

Whether hosting a large backyard cookout with friends or having a low key Sunday family grill out, chances are if you are cooking a large batch of bratwurst, one will most likely have leftovers. Typically, leftover grilled meats are usually served up the second time in a same manner as the initial offering. In other words, leftover sausages and hot dogs are most often micro waved the next day for lunch or dinner and eaten in a bun with condiments on top. Been there, done that. Then there are those times when the party will provide a bounty of extra bratwurst in which a little creativity and imagination are required especially if there are no longer any more buns or you are tired of the condiments. Here are some creative ways to use up Bratwurst without eating them in their typical setting.

Bratwurst and Pasta

There are numerous ways to prepare bratwurst with the aid of pasta. Dishes can be a simple as sautéing cut up brats, peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes in a little olive oil or butter. The one pan dish is then served over a bed of ziti or bowtie pasta. Other fun dishes include preparing a pan of lasagna with crumbled leftover bratwurst.

Bratwurst and Eggs

Just about any kind of grilled sausage partners up well with eggs. Bratwurst is no exception. Take a leftover brat or two and chop it up. Sautee it in butter or oil with some other omelet worthy ingredients and you have one amazing scramble. I usually add in diced onion, mushroom, diced tomato and fold in some shredded cheese. If you have a left over baked potato or two, diced it up and add to the scramble. Other great dishes include Bratwurst Frittata.

Bratwurst and cabbage

Bratwurst’s German accompaniment is usually kraut or shredded cabbage. Leftover bratwurst can be cleverly re-purposed by cooking in a slow cooker with cut cabbage, onions, potatoes and a soup base or broth. This slow cooked stew will be quite satisfying and require minimal work (other than cleaning the cooker). Serve this dish wish a good hearty rye and a cold pilsner. Just remember the strudel for dessert!

Bratwurst and Rice

Leftover sausages also can be prepared with any good red beans and rice recipe. If you don’t have one, go with a ready to prepare item such as the Vigo or Zatarains products. Follow directions as noted on package, but add in cubed or thinly sliced bratwurst in final minutes of cooking.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Newest Addition to Yard: Planting a Cortland Apple Tree

Every autumn our household goes into apple frenzy and consume a ton of the fruit whether serve plain packed in a lunch, baked in pies, or served up as cider or juice. The items produced by apples are numerous and never-ending. It is this long appreciation of the apple that I recently decided to plant a Cortland apple tree. I purchased the tree from Menards nursery as this store had fruit trees on sale 50% off the normal price of $25. The tree was one of a few Cortland the store had in stock. There were a few State Fair apple trees, but I am unfamiliar with that type so I decided on the Cortland which was a tad over six feet tall and quite the task transporting home in my Accord.

We decided to plant the tree on the side of the house relatively close to the neighbor’s apple tree. This was strategically placed to capture cross pollination from the other tree as well as provide some pretty blossoms and landscaping to the side of the home.

I dug the hole large enough to plant the root ball. I loosened the dirt I dug out and mixed with some store bought black dirt that was treated with plant food. Upon planting the tree into the ground hole, I covered up the roots with this combination dirt and pressed down a bit on the soil around the tree to really anchor down the root ball. I gave the area a good soaking and finally covered with some cedar mulch and watered again.

It is to my dismay after doing some research on the web, that I will have to wait anywhere from four to five years for the tree to grow well enough to produce some apples for baking. I do think they will well be worth the wait and I may even buy a second tree while I am waiting.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Easy Pear & Blueberry Crisp Dessert

We were the lucky recipient of some surplus ripe pears courtesy of our neighbor. Their fruit trees have had an excellent yield which really surprises me given the drought hitting our state this summer. For the past few weeks I have noticed how their fruit trees have been very productive without much rain. They even inspired me to plant a Cortland apple tree a week ago. I am just depressed I have to wait a few years to get apples!
Anyhow we were gifted six pears of which I decided to make a dessert crisp this past Saturday. The crisp recipe is pretty standard but I decided to “pair” the pears up with some blueberries. Pears do not really stand out on their own when it comes to flavor as the fruit usually picks up whatever else is added. So I decided to mix in some berries to give the crisp a little more fruit filling and some definite flavor. The recipe is super easy to follow and yields enough crisp for about five people.
The photo above is obviously a “before” shot as this dish was being prepped. I did take a final photo of the crisp, but the photo came out blurry and the pixels were out of whack. I really think I need to upgrade my camera for better food photos! Anyway, give this dessert a try and don’t forget to make it ala mode.

Tip: After peeling and cutting pears, soak them in a small dish of water with a teaspoon or two of lemon juice to keep them from browning up.

Pear and Blueberry Crisp
6 ripened pears, peeled and sliced thin
1 cup blueberries
1 stick salted butter (do not soften)
¾ cup flour
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1.       Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit
2.       Place fruit (pears and berries) into shallow baking dish or five individual baking dishes or ramekins.
3.       Using a pastry knife or two knifes, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and chilled butter until mixture becomes crumbly (or resembles bread crumbs).
4.       Sprinkle crumbs evenly over fruit mixture.
5.       Bake for one hour or until topping becomes golden brown.
6.       Cool enough until warm and serve with vanilla bean ice cream!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Do It Yourself Hamburger Buns

So this past Sunday for dinner, I decided to prepare the usual grilled burgers, but this time with a twist. I decided to make hamburger buns from scratch. A lot of time is spent making the perfect patty and having the right condiments, it made sense to develop a really tasty bun. I don’t have a family recipe for homemade sandwich buns, so I proceeded to search the web and found a recipe here.
The ingredients list are short and simple. The recipe yields eight decent sized buns which is perfect since that is the typical count in a store bought package of buns. The recipe was fairly easy to follow using nothing more than yeast, sugar, all purpose flour, and some liquid (milk, oil, egg). The dough was easy to mix and knead with prep time taking a few hours. I productively use the time (between kneading and rising) to do some overdue backyard work and play with the kids. After the dough had risen, and was separated into balls to rise again, I baked them with a little brushing of butter.  The buns came out a beautiful brown and made the kitchen and entire house smell like a bakery! I enjoyed making these homemade buns for dinner, though my only critique of this recipe is the density of this bread. I would have preferred a lighter fluffy hamburger bun that what this recipe produced.
I think these buns would be better suited as a good quality dinner roll to go with soup or stew.  I am not sure what makes a lighter bun? Is it less kneading? Different flour? I will have to keep experimenting and perusing the web for answers as I would like to be able to produce a super light hamburger bun. If anyone has a good recipe to make light and fluffy hamburger buns, please share.