Thursday, December 27

Solar-Baked Holiday Beef Pork Turkey Rolls

I hope you all have had a Merry Christmas because I certainly did. Made it easy on myself, this year, and did a lot of early preparation for the holiday meals. Having recipes on hand that will be just as tasty, after frozen, as they would be prepared the same day never hurts; don’t you think? For the Christmas Eve celebration, I wanted to bring something that would be easy to add to buffet plates, leaving plenty of room for the other goodies.
My original recipe, of course, was so involved; I’d need Post-Its® on my utensils. (This has been a lifelong pattern. First pair of knit socks was Argyll!) By the time of execution, it had been reduced to the most expedient method -- combining my proteins and using wonton wrappers, rather than making a pasties dough (but, for those of you who want a traditional method, I’ve included the recipe, below). I think I’m going to need the Spice Police in my kitchen because nobody stopped me and I ended up with a serious list of ingredients that just happened to turn out absolutely fabulous. Hope it doesn’t daunt you from giving it a try.
With a pound each of the ground beef, pork, and turkey, you can make up to 3 dozen rolls. Both the rolls and mixture freeze well and it’s worth making a big batch so that you have plenty on hand. Let the cooked rolls cool completely and freeze in individual wrappers to prevent them sticking together. They’ll also be ready for some quick lunches, too. You can always put them in a larger container to keep them together in your freezer.

Presoak the rice for at least 30 minutes to rehydrate and you won’t have to cook the rice before adding it to the meat mixture. If you use regular long-grain rice, presoaking isn’t necessary.
Gently combine ground meats in a large mixing bowl or plastic bag. Using your food processor, finely chop the mushrooms, garlic, onion, and anchovies; add to meat mixture, along with the rest of the herbs and spice, and mix thoroughly.

 Brown the meat mixture over medium-high heat in a large skillet.
When meat is browned, add the rice and mix thoroughly. Remove skillet from heat and allow mixture to cool.

While mixture is cooling, soften cabbage leaves by placing over meat mixture and cover.  

When softened, slice enough strips of cabbage and bell pepper to have at least two of each per wonton wrapper.

Place strips almost to center of wrapper.
Add about two tablespoons of meat mixture and create roll by bringing up corner nearest you and folding over top of meat mixture then folding over each side. Use fingertip to add water to the wonton wrapper before rolling it up toward the opposite point. (I use a mini-spray bottle and it works like a charm!) Place rolls close together on baking sheet, seam side down.

Bake in solar oven until just beginning to brown, if you’re going to freeze ahead of time. If cooking to serve, turn each roll over, return to oven and continue to bake until browned.
Holiday Beef Pork Turkey Rolls

1 lb.  ground beef
1 lb. ground pork
1 lb. ground turkey
1 7oz can sliced mushrooms
2 medium bulbs garlic
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 cans anchovies
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 tsp anise
2 Tablespoons fresh basil
1/4 tsp Black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground mace
2 Tablespoons fresh oregano
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley
1 tsp fresh rosemary
1 Tablespoon fresh sage
2 Tablespoons fresh thyme
1 tsp salt
1 cup sushi/basmati rice, uncooked and rehydrated (will be almost 2 cups)
5-6 Cabbage leaves, softened and cut in strips
1 bell pepper, sliced in strips
1 package large Wonton wrappers (or, pasties pastry, see below)
Olive oil

DIP:  2 Tablespoons Raspberry Mustard, 1/4 cup Honey, 2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar. 

Pasties Roll Pastry:  3 cups flour and 1 stick cold butter, mixed together until resembles small peas; add egg yolk and mix thoroughly. Add 3-4 tablespoons cold water, as needed to make light dough that won’t stick to fingers. Let rest in refrigerator for about an hour. Remove and roll into 6-inch circles/squares. Prepare as above and bake.


Salami Rolls

These were super-dooper easy to make and everybody loved them. Thinly slice your favorite salami and score the backs so that they will bend easily. Add two tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce to four ounces of cream cheese and blend thoroughly. Using your favorite bread dough or pizza dough, divide into smaller balls no larger than an inch. Finger-press ball into a 1/8” thick circle. Place a dollop of the cream cheese mixture in the center and top with a slice of the salami. Slowly ease up and pull over the dough to seal completely and finger-press the seams. Place the roll seam side down on your baking tray or in one of those mini cupcake pans. Bake until lightly browned, freeze and/or serve. I served these rolls with some whole-grain mustard and it really makes them pop. 

Why not try these for that New Year’s get-together. They’re great fillers that help absorb those holiday drinks! 

Thursday, December 13

Solar Cooking is Slow Cooking – on SPEED!

One of the benefits of having a booth at Midtown Farmers' Market on a weekly basis is discovering how to help visitors understand the limitless possibilities of using the sun's energy to prepare delicious meals -- for FREE. If they have any questions, they know where to find me. Addressing the most common question of "What's the highest temperature a solar oven can reach?" has been the hardest -- not that the cooking temperature, itself, is my problem but discovering that a number on a dial is so important to this generation.   I started out on my grandmother's wood stove, similar to the one at the left that I found on Photobucket. (In fact, all my pix today were from Photobucket and then attached to my Blogger account so they wouldn't disappear.) My grandmother's stove was solid black but looked exactly like this reproduction. It was in the kitchen, never without a burning fire or coals, and helped her cook the most delicious meals and delicate desserts -- and, kept the house all cozy and warm! There were no dials or knobs on her stove, so I'm guessing the knobs you see 'opened' under the burners to expose the underside to more heat. As in real estate, cooking on old wood stoves had more to do with location and moving pans around. Folding the old longjohns over the door in the mornings provided a nice warm layer under your winter clothes, too.

So, coming from a time when most cooking was done with dial choices of "Low," "Medium," and, "High," and having worked on my grandmother's wood stove learning where the "Slow," "Moderate," and "Hot" parts were, it's hard to understand a dependence on numbers that may or may not reflect an actual temperature. 

Although older electric stove models were available, this was my first apartment stove before becoming a homeowner in the 60s. Apparently, the landlord firmly believed in the, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," philosophy. Nothing like my mother's GE stove. Definitely a step up from the wood stove but a learning curve, nonetheless. You could move a pan from its position on a wood stove and stop the cooking. The electric stove retained heat long enough to oftentimes overcook delicate sauces and baked goods. But, we all adjusted.

My first stove from hubby had all these wonderful buttons -- still, WM to HI but, now, they had added numbers 2 and 3 for medium choices. As in the old days, trusting my eyes, nose, touch, and toothpick, told me when the cooking was done. Probe thermometers were added to my accessories, as cook books began to line my shelves. Even though recipes in print and on boxes might tell me what temperature to use, there were many times when either the recipes needed additional time or my oven's uniqueness required pan rotations to get things done. Here is a wonderful article on how recipe temperatures came to be and, as it turns out, it was a post-WWII marketing need.

So, I entered solar cooking with little or no more expectation than having my meals cooked using a different energy source.

Today, we find hundreds of Crockpot® and slow cooker recipe books available because of the convenience and discovery of just how delicious food can be when cooked at lower temperatures. This has made my job so much easier. Now, I'm able to help my visitors understand that solar cooking is best described by imagining a Crockpot® -- on "speed!" Folks from the 60s and 70s enjoy the comparison and, if you don't get it, you might have to hit the history books for a refresher.

Once my visitors know that most solar ovens (even the cardboard and tinfoil types) have a low temperature of around 200°F to 225°F and those temperatures are still higher than the national standard High of 190°F+ of a slow cooker, they become more open to the idea of solar cooking.

As an example, most slow cooker recipes give timings between 3 to 4 hours on the High setting and 8 to 12+ hours on the Low setting. If you were to prepare your foods in the same way but use a solar oven, your average recipe would be cooked in just over 1-1/2 to 3 hours at 225°F and 4 to 7 hours for denser recipes.

The majority of homemade solar oven users say that the highest temperatures reached on a regular basis are between 225°F and 275°F. Sharon Clausson, inventor of the Copenhagen Solar Cooker, has shown with oven thermometers that her oven often reaches temperatures of 350°F to 375°F. (And, I believe, in one instance when it was almost 475°F!) More often than not, she uses a combination of a cooking vessel inside a "ball" of glass bowls clipped together, creating an insulated oven chamber. Other cardboard and tinfoil ovens will reach varying degrees from 200°F to, in some instances, 300°F, depending upon the size and height of the oven and its reflectors. Sharon Cousins, inventor of the EZ-3 Solar Cooker , can alter her oven temperatures by the size of the box corner used. In all cases, however, these temperatures can only be achieved by either placing the cooking vessel inside an oven bag or enclosing the open side of the solar oven in double (for best results) oven bag layers to create the baking chamber environment.

Commercially-built solar ovens available today are insulated and reach very high temperatures. The Global Sun Oven® boasts a potential high of 400°F; but, as with conventional ovens, once the cooking vessel has been placed inside, the temperature drops almost 15 to 25 degrees, not returning to the higher temperature until both the food and vessel have equalized in the cooking chamber. Foods placed in a Crockpot® are heated to the full height of the food from the outside in and it isn't until the center has reached the same temperature that cooking begins. Foods in a solar oven cook from the top down but that environment is easily changed by either placing the vessel on a heated base or preheating the foods through recipe construction, hot liquids, and/or the microwave to get the process started. If you're cooking away from home, you are restricted by the environment and should expect longer cooking times. Regardless of time of year, the best solar cooking time is between ten a.m. and two p.m.

The most obvious difference between a commercially-built solar oven and a slow cooker is that solar cooking is FREE, every time. And, you know how I love that! Solar cooking is a moist environment with little, if any, evaporation. Even though you can leave food unattended in a slow cooker, most do not stop cooking until they are manually turned off or unplugged. The food can be overcooked, dry, and even burnt, as the liquid evaporates. It is very difficult to overcook or burn recipes that are solar-cooked. When the food is cooked, the temperature will drop to a warming temperature from 180°F down to 150°F until you retrieve it. I believe it's condensation that forms on the underside of the oven door when the food has been cooked that causes enough filtering of the solar rays to turn the oven into a retained heat chamber.

This is why I don't worry about the cooking temperature in my solar oven because I know the food will be cooked at a temperature much higher than the average slow cooker. Unfortunately, it's very hard for today's conventional cook to accept that, until they've personally experienced a solar-cooked meal. In my opinion, every family should have some form of solar oven available for nourishing hot meals during long-term power outages to feed their families, to pasteurize their drinking water, and, if necessary, to sterilize utensils.

In trying to bring solar cooking to the mainstream, my sincerest wish is for the home cook to make it an accessory appliance as opposed to an adversarial product that has to keep proving itself. Every new appliance has its own learning curve and comes with a booklet not only describing its use but includes recipes to help the consumer discover the potential. That's all I'm asking, is that you give a solar oven the same opportunity. There will be days when using the sun to cook your meals will not be feasible and my suggestion would be to use those appliances that draw 110 volts, if possible. It's all about saving money, reducing fossil fuel usage, and feeding your family healthy and nutritious meals. And, you know what? It's still the best kept secret from the mainstream cook.  


Saturday, December 8

Tallow 2012 – Too Late Smart!

An expression I've heard all my life is "too soon, old; too late, smart." Applying that to my own life has been as normal as breathing and I'm always tickled when it's SO obvious – after the fact. A perfect example is this winter's tallow rendering. Oh, yeah, 'too late, smart,' rang loud and clear in my kitchen and has only taken about 40 years (something, I never thought I'd live long enough to be able to say!). To save you the same fate, I will now share my discovery with you, although, I'm sure many others have already figured this out and only have to look forward to, 'too soon, old.'

It was time to render suet into tallow. In gathering the needed equipment, I was hit with a fantastic idea – why not use oven bags to keep everything neat and tidy! "Eureka," (an old-fashioned "duh!") I said, giving my forehead a palm slap. Working with large amounts of fats can be messy and, when heated into a hot oil, very dangerous. I decided to give it a try.

Here is an example of suet from the butcher. It is taken from around the organs of venison, cattle, or sheep, and not from around the muscles. It has a creamy texture, is a soft white, and will break apart, unlike muscle fat that looks bubbly and comes off in strips. Pork suet renders into lard and poultry suet into schmaltz. You can find out more in this posting in my primal post!

If you don't have direct access to suet, most meat managers are more than happy to save/order it for you. A word of warning: make sure you find out how many pounds the manager has to order for a basic order from the supplier so you don't end up having to buy forty pounds more than you need. In the cool months, you may find that your local market has it on hand because so many people like to mix wild bird seed in suet. It not only prevents the seed from spreading all over the yard, suet is the only fat birds can digest. They come in one-pound sealed packages and cost under a dollar. Even though you may be able to cook with fresh suet, if not rendered, it will spoil and get quite nasty. Rendering and straining out the connective tissue and small bits of meat leaves you with clear tallow that will harden and last for a very long time at room temperature. Freeze or keep it in the refrigerator in an airtight container and it can last for a couple of years.

The most important thing to remember is that you want to reduce suet to liquid, you do not want to cook it. You need to maintain a low temperature.  If your oven won't let you bake lower than 190°F, try a temperature of 200°F and keep the door opened a crack. If you don't have a solar oven, go with the slow cooker. Depending on how much suet you are working with, rendering can take anywhere from 8 to 10 hours, which is way too much energy usage, for me, and is the perfect job for the solar oven. I had 15 pounds of suet and used three pots – one in the Global Sun Oven® and two in the SolarChief® and had them in the ovens by 9:15. This amount will be enough for the next two years, as I do very little deep frying and only use tallow for sautéing. One pound should render enough tallow to last you for a month, or two.

You'll want enough cheesecloth to completely enclose the suet. If you don't have access to high grade cheesecloth, use at least three layers of the kind you can get at a craft store or the market. Lay the cheesecloth over the pot and add the suet a piece at a time so that it will take the shape of the pan. Secure by knotting or using rubber bands/string so that it doesn't come apart in the pot.


Lift the cheesecloth bag out of the pot and gently place it down so that it doesn't lose its shape. Position an opened oven bag (DUH!) in the pot and then place the suet bag inside, being careful not to change its shape. Twist and tie the oven bag closed. As I wasn't the least bit worried about the bag exploding at such a low temperature, I did not add flour to coat the inside. Now, go read a book or clean out the attic!

When the suet is liquid and just starting to bubble around the edges, it's time to remove it from the oven and strain your tallow into its final container. This is when the 'too late, smart' comes into play. I used tin foil to line and raise the edges of standard-sized loaf pans. The next step requires total concentration to prevent oil from squirting all over your kitchen. Using pot holders or a kitchen towel around the tied section of the oven bag, raise the oven bag just enough to allow you to pierce the BOTTOM with a sharp knife or ice pick to let the oil flow into the same pot while automatically straining through the cheesecloth. Keep the holes as close to the bottom as possible. Hot arcing oil is not fun! This will take a while and you will need to make sure those little pointy side bag edges don't sneak out of the pot. When most of the oil is in the pot, begin rotating the oven bag as much as you can to squeeze out the rest without popping the bag. Don't worry. There'll be plenty of oil for you to use.

IMPORTANT! Discard the drained oven bag and any drippings into the trash, NOT YOUR SINK DRAIN. Tallow gets hard at room temperature and will stop up your drains so, please, don't think 'just a little bit' won't matter.

Slowly pour the tallow into the loaf pan and let it do its thing.

Before long, your tallow is ready for use and/or storage. There will be some oil that escaped and hardened between the foil and the pan. Have another large piece of foil ready and transfer the tallow loaf. Seal the first foil cover and then seal the second around the first. It's ready for your shelf!

The third pan of tallow was transferred into a standard fat pot (available in any housewares department) and fit perfectly. The top is not smooth because of the scrapings from the other pans. But, because even the smallest amount of tallow can make your recipes pop, I like to save every bit. Tallow will remain safe and hard at room temperature, but I prefer to keep mine in the refrigerator.

I can't believe how easy this job became by using the oven bag. (Another palm slap to the forehead!) You may wonder why it wasn't done directly in the loaf pans or fat pot. It can be, if you're rendering a pound at a time and you cut down the oven bag. You want to make sure that there is enough room above the actual suet that, when you lift your bag, the leftover suet is still below the top side edges. Why not pierce the bottom holes in the oven bag, to start? Because the oil will run up the sides and possibly overflow because of the bulk during rendering and make it very unwieldy to strain.

BUT, using the cheesecloth inside an oven bag has made tallow-making a snap! If you've checked out my first posting on rendering fats, you can see how many steps have been removed from the process. I hope you'll give it a try and share your results with us.


Monday, December 3

Turkey Gizzards End Round One of Holiday Cooking

Phew! This has been such a busy period and I've been terrible at posting. I apologize and hope you haven't given up on me. To make up for it, I do have a confession about something I have done these many years, though. You see, at Holiday time, I keep the turkey heart, half the gizzard, and the juicy tenderloin, all to myself! Oh, yeah. I consider that one of the perks of being the cook and do not feel the least bit guilty.  Just finally confessin'. Of course, when making gravy, I will add the precooked liver, other gizzard half, and some turkey neck meat to make up for the "missing" protein. Tee hee hee.

You can find any number of ways to prepare turkey gizzards online and you should try them all. But, one of my favorite ways of introducing them to folks who have been denied this tasty treat is to slice, Southern fry, and braise them. As with most tough proteins, the slower the cooking, the more tender the meat, making it the perfect candidate for the solar oven. One turkey barely gives you enough to make giblet gravy (and, feed the cook in the kitchen!), so keep your eyes open for packaged gizzards at the market. They are very economical and you should be able to pick up a pound for under three dollars.

As you know, I'm a firm believer in washing my packaged meats, regardless of how much I'm told that it's no longer necessary. Not every recipe requires slicing the gizzards but it will definitely create a tenderer treat for first-timers. Personally, I love the natural texture and braising does the job for me. Regardless of choice, whole or sliced, you will have to remove the tough membranes before dropping the gizzards into your breading mixture. I used flour, salt, pepper, basil, parsley, and garlic salt.  Gizzards are not perfectly round but can still be a challenge on the cutting board, so please be very careful. One trick I use is to pierce the gizzard with a dinner fork so that my slices are even and my hands are nowhere near the knife.

 Sauté in olive oil/tallow over high heat in a heavy skillet and then transfer the gizzards to your casserole dish. Add the wine, water, and butter to the skillet; bring to a high simmer while scraping the little bits and pieces into the gravy. Pour over the gizzards; cover and bake in the solar oven for one and a half hours or until all liquid is absorbed. Serve with your favorite sides. I used Basmati rice and corn because the breading mixture was very spicy and I didn't want to overwhelm my poor little taste buds.

Okay, it's official. I HATE green plates. Thought I'd take advantage of a sale and am really sorry. Just sucks the life out of a meal; don't you think?

I hope you'll give turkey gizzards a try because I just know you're going to like them. And, by all means, feel free to let us know what you did and give us a link to your recipe!

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