Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fall Harvest Pork Stew (getting the kids to eat "weird" veggies)

When fall hits, no matter how slight, I love making stews, soups, and chilis for dinner.  With the overabundance of winter squash hitting the produce market, I decided it was time to experiment a little.  When you have kids, especially picky ones, you have to find ways to sneak in new veggies. Since I've already conquered sneaking in spinach, zucchini, yellow squash, and even, parsnips, I decided that it's time to introduce them to acorn squash.

Jeremy, probably because of his meat & potatoes gene, loves stew...thick, hearty, meat & potatoes.  I especially love stewing pork.  My mom did it when I was little, and something about it has always stayed with me.  Last night was a culinary success.  Jeremy loved the thick, heartiness of the stew; I got to have stewed pork, and the boys had no idea that they were eating "weird" veggies.  Score one for sneaky moms!

Fall Harvest Pork Stew

1 lb. boneless pork tenderloin or pork shoulder--cut into cubes
1/4 c. veggie oil or olive oil
1/2 c. chopped onion
1/2 c. chopped celery
1/2 c. chopped bell pepper
3 cloves garlic
1 poblano pepper--seeds removed & chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 TBSP dried parsley flakes
6 c. water
1 c. diced sweet potatoes
1 c. chopped carrot
1/2 c. chopped parsnip
1 c. diced white potatoes
2 c. diced acorn squash
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
3 TBSP cornstarch
1/4 c. water

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, heat oil and brown meat over medium high heat.  As meat browns, add onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, and poblano pepper.  Stir to combine and saute for 5 minutes.  Reduce heat.  Add water, 1 tsp ground cumin, red pepper flakes, black pepper, 1 tsp salt, and parsley.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.  Add sweet potatoes, carrot, and parsnip.  Continue cooking for 7-10 minutes.  Add white potatoes, acorn squash, and remaining seasonings.  Reduce to low and cook until potatoes are barely fork tender...approximately 10 minutes.  In a ramekin, dissolve cornstarch into water.  Pour into the stew.  Stir to combine and continue cooking until thick.  

Serves 6.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Cooking for My Men: Meat & Potatoes & Everglades Stew

I live in house dominated by men...one husband, two sons, and even the dog is male.  They are as manly as it gets...meat, potatoes, dirt, mud, guns, trucks, boats...totally male!  Every once in a while, I cave and give them a break from girly food and perfect platings.   Needless to say, I have to cater to the meat & potatoes gene every so often.  Little do they know, even with meat & potatoes, I can have fun. Meat & potatoes doesn't have to be boring.

Steak & Sweet Potato Hash

1 TBSP vegetable oil
1-2lb. London Broil
2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1/8 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. chopped onion
2 garlic cloves-smashed & diced
3 c. sweet potatoes--peeled, diced
1 c. white potatoes--peeled, diced (slightly larger than sweet potato dices)
1 c. water
1 TBSP cornstarch

In a large, preferably cast iron, skillet, heat vegetable oil. Sprinkle both sides of London Broil with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  In hot skillet, sear steak on both sides.  Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking until medium doneness--approximately 7-10 minutes.  Turn off burner and allow steak to rest.

In a large, deep, non-stick or stainless skillet, heat 1/8 c. vegetable oil.  Add sweet potatoes and toss to coat with oil.  Cook for 2 minutes.  Add onion, garlic, and white potatoes.  Again, toss to coat.  Reduce heat to medium and continue sauteing until almost done.  Meanwhile, on a chop steak into small, thin pieces.  Add steak to potatoes and stir to combine.  Continue cooking over medium-low heat.

Heat steak skillet and add 3/4 c. water.  Bring to a boil.  In a small bowl or cup combine cornstarch and remaining water.  Pour cornstarch mixture into steak pan to thicken the sauce.  

Pour sauce over steak & potatoes.  Stir to combine.

Serves 4.

My Grandfather's Everglade's Stew 

This is one that my mom cooked frequently when I was a kid. It originated during my Grandfather's hunting trips to the Everglades.  It required minimal prep and only 2 pots, making it a great meal for the men to cook in the woods. Since my grandfather was a big fan of cast iron, I grew up learning to make it in a large cast iron skillet.  Now, that I have kids of my own, I've started making it again, telling them that it's Rattlesnake Stew.  They love it!

1/8 c. vegetable oil

2 large Russet Potatoes--peeled & diced
1/2 large onion--chopped
1 garlic clove--smashed & diced
1 can corned beef
1 (28oz) can crushed tomatoes
2 c. cooked rice

In a large skillet (I now use stainless steel), heat vegetable oil.  Add potatoes to skillet and toss to coat with oil.  Saute over medium high heat for 5 minutes.  Add onion and garlic. Continue cooking for approximately 10 minutes or until potatoes are nearly done. (cooking time will vary based on size of potatoes).  Break up canned corned beef into small bite size pieces.  Add corned beef and crushed tomatoes to skillet with potato mixture.  Cook over medium low heat until bubbly and potatoes are tender.  Serve over rice.

Serves 4-6.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Salt Springs Recreation Area...Heaven in the Ocala National Forest

As a general principle, I hate dirt.  I don't ride 4-wheelers; I don't go "mudding;" I don't walk barefoot if the ground is dirt.  (Beach sand and grass are different--they're clean.) With that said, the idea of camping has always turned me off.  I don't like feeling dirty.  I can't stomach the idea of bath houses and port-o-potty type facilities.  There's just something gross about all of it.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not a girly-girl; I'm not a prima donna; I'm certainly not a "princess." Simply put, I don't feel clean when I camp and I don't get clean in showers that other people have used (and done who knows what in!).
On the flip side, I do like sitting by a fire pit in the evening with a glass of wine or beer.  I love sleeping in a tent, listening to the crickets and frogs. However, I can't have ambiance without dirt, so camping just isn't for me.

Buying a Camper

After being rained out (flooded would be more like it) of our Fort DeSoto camping weekend, we began discussing a pop up camper.  After looking at a used one on Craigslist, we stopped in at a Camping World just to see what a new pop up would cost.  During my quick trip to the ladies' room, Jeremy & the saleswoman hit on the small travel trailer idea.  You know me...immediate answer, "NO."  We don't have the space for a travel trailer, and I'm certainly NOT going to pay that much for a toy.  Two hours later, we'd decided to buy a Coleman 15' travel trailer.  Between the cost, amenities (no dirt, AC, my own bathroom and shower) and the promise to buy me an outdoor carpet, we decided it might be a great way to travel with the kids and dogs. 

Let's Go Camping

Less than a week after buying our new travel-trailer toy, we set out on our first camping trip to Salt Springs in the Ocala National Forest.  I've lived in Florida my ENTIRE life, and I've NEVER heard of this place...and for good reason.  They don't even have cell service...or a stop light...or a McDonald's...or anything else that signifies civilization.  Oh well...

After a three hour drive up, we arrived and were set up in less than 10 minutes.  (Tent camping always took nearly an hour...hauling stuff from the car, laying out the tent, setting up the tent, prepping an area to cook, airing up mattresses, putting sheets on...uugghhh.) I was able to grill chicken outside and steam veggies on my stove.  We ate, were able to wash dishes in a sink, and were sitting by a fire before dark.  So far...not so bad!

The Springs

The initial reason we chose the national forest was for the kayaking and the springs.  Once we got to the campground and spring area, we abandoned the idea of kayaking and decided to play in the springs all day.  Salt Springs in one word...WOW!  Absolutely Beautiful! (ok...so that was three words)  We walked from our campsite to the springs.  The swimming area opened at 8am, and even when we got there around 9am, there were only a handful of families.  We attempted getting in to just swim around and float, but at 70 degrees, it was a bit chilly.  Luckily, the camp store sold tubes, and at $19 each, it was still worth it.  We floated around the swimming area/springs
all day.  We left around 1pm to get some lunch, but came back immediately and floated until nearly 4:30pm.  Honestly, we were thirsty, and since beer is only allowed at your campsite, we called it a day.  Even at the peak of the day, there were less than 50 people swimming in the springs.  A half dozen boats were anchored at the entrance to the spring area, but they stayed on the other side of the buoyed ropes. One of the boat captains played music all day, which made the entire day feel like a party.

Two deer and a BEAR!

After dinner our second night, we decided to walk back down to the springs to take pictures and check it out at sunset.  Again...absolutely beautiful!  It feels and looks like a secluded, secret pond.  We walked around the spring area for just a few minutes before another couple alerted us to a bear in the picnic area beside us.  I was thrilled to see the bear, but he wasn't as thrilled at my excitement and he ran off...bummer!  On the walk back to the campground, we came across two deer--a young buck and a fawn.  We took a side trip to the over flow parking lot.  Unknown to my dear husband, I was still looking for the bear...and I found him.  However, this time, we heard him in the bushes and he ran out near us.  Jeremy quickly recited the "Bear Beware" pamphlet to me, and we decided that where there is a young bear, his mother may not be too far behind, so we sped up our trip back to the campsite.

All in All

First of all, my opinion of camping has changed.  With the amenities and comforts of a travel trailer, it's not so bad.  In fact, we're planning another trip this weekend.  
Second, Salt Springs is a definite encore trip.  The entire time we floated around the springs, I thought about the boys swimming & snorkeling.  As it is now, we're planning on Spring Break.  We can walk to the springs, float as long as we want, walk back to the campsite, and disconnect.  Remember, when I said no cell service?  Yep...none!  No Wifi either.  If you want to use Wifi, you can walk to the camp store/ranger station, but other than that, you can hang up communicating with the outside world.  Over the entire weekend, I picked up service once and it lasted all of 10 seconds.  There is either no service or AT&T hasn't heard of Salt Springs yet.