Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Two days before Christmas, gingerbread cookies are all frosted, the shortbread cookies are gone, the homemade marshmallows are topping coffee and hot chocolate. The real cooking frenzy is about to begin. The more savory stuff is about to come at a rapid pace.

Tomorrow, on Christmas Eve we will continue a fifty-one year tradition for my family, we will eat what my mother prepared for her first Christmas Eve as a married woman and every year since: pork chops, baked macaroni and cheese, and applesauce and family made fruitcake (We will eat no other fruitcake). I’ve asked her why she chose this meal, her response: “I really didn’t know how to cook anything else!” We usually ate pretty late, because my mom usually didn’t start wrapping presents until that day and the whole house had to be cleaned before the extended family came over on Christmas Day. Around 9:00 PM, we’d sit down to this meal, which really set it apart from the rest of the year, because we usually ate promptly at 5:30 PM.

When I lived alone thousands of miles from my family, I made this meal for myself on Christmas Eve. Visions of feetie jammies, Mario Lanza caroling, and the raw anticipation of a kid on the big night run through my mind as I prepare this meal. It wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without it. This year, my mom took pity on my family and shipped a bottle of her homemade apple sauce for us to eat. Florida can only grow two kinds of apples (I only know of one orchard) and they are ripe in the spring, so making applesauce around here just isn’t practical and the jar stuff from the supermarket leaves much to be desired. We’ll eat our meal knowing that my sisters and my mom will be eating exactly the same meal 1800 miles away.

It’s funny that Christmas Day for us has less in the way of food traditions, growing up we would have roast beef, ham or turkey, with whatever sides we felt like having that year and with assorted pies—always including mincemeat and squash--for dessert. This year, my family will be really non-traditional, we are having chao shi (Chinese roast pork), mien tang (noodles in broth with shitake mushrooms and greens), and eggplant with garlic sauce. We will have pumpkin pie and cookies for dessert (if any are left at that point, hmmmm might need more).
Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Squash Posole Pantry Scrounge

Trying to find ways to cook that involve minimal standing time in the kitchen and then minimizing cleanup time has been a challenge since many processed foods contain dairy (cow milk) products. Using the items available that do not contain dairy products, I have been able to conjure up a few interesting meals.

Last night I took some Boston butt roast (about 1.5 lbs) and popped it into the pressure cooker with tomatoes and water intending to make chili. While it was cooking, I changed my mind. Thinking of a recipe I have made a few times that uses squash, tomatoes and green beans with chipotle peppers, I started improvising. First considering the seven year old taste buds that were to eat this, the hot peppers were relegated to a condiment.

Next, I pulled out some frozen squash and defrosted it, then chopped an onion and caramelized it in olive oil. When the pork was tender I pulled it out of the tomatoes to cool, then added the squash, caramelized onions, chili powder (the, oh so chic, Sam’s Club variety), a couple of good shakes of smoked paprika, lots of black pepper and a bit of salt to the tomatoes. That cooked down a bit while I chopped the pork into bite sized pieces and then returned it to the pot. I added canned kidney and black beans (rinsed), and in a moment of inspiration tossed in a can of (drained) hominy. This was served in bowls with gas flame toasted tortillas (done right on the burner of the stove, as one of my former students who hailed from Michoacan, Mexico taught me-the best method I've found so far), a dollop of goat’s milk yogurt and red pepper for the adults. It ended up being a squash posole.

This meal dirtied a total of two pans, one cutting board, one sharp knife, one wooden spoon, four bowls, and four spoons.

It tastes even better for breakfast the next day!

Low Effort Squash Posole
Approx 6 servings
1.5 lbs Boston butt pork roast
1 can diced tomatoes, 15 oz
2 c water
1 pkg frozen cooked winter squash
1 onion, chopped
1 t cumin seed
1 T olive oil
2 t chili powder
½ t smoked paprika
1 t oregano
Black pepper to taste
Salt to taste
1 can of black beans, 15 oz, rinsed and drained
1 can of kidney beans, 15 oz, rinsed and drained
Yogurt or sour cream to garnish
Your favorite hot pepper condiment
Cook pork, tomatoes and water for 45 minutes in the pressure cooker (until pork is tender). Meanwhile chop the onion, and caramelized with the olive oil with the cumin seed in a skillet. Drain and rinse the beans and drain the hominy. Have a cup of tea and read a book in the extra time. When the meat is tender, remove it to cool. To the pot add the onions, squash, spices, beans, salt and hominy. Chop the meat into bite sized pieces and return to the pot. Cook about ½ hour longer to develop flavor, get back to your tea and book. Immediately before serving toast tortillas directly on the burner of the stove (it works on both electric and gas stoves) and only takes a few seconds. Place into serving bowls and garnish with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream and hot pepper condiment of your choice.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Empty Pie Plate

My mom tried to let me off the hook for promising to make her a pineapple pie for her birthday, but I wouldn’t let her. I have been craving this pie for months, but just haven’t had the right chance to make one, so we compromised, she made the crust and I did the filling and the meringue. She worked her strength and I worked mine.

This pie has a special place in my heart and taste buds. It is not only rich and creamy, it has chunks of pineapple creating a tangy contrast and neat texture and then there is the meringue, I’m a sucker for good meringue.

It is one of my grandmother’s recipes and I have tweaked it enough to make it mine now. I have taken my version to a holiday potluck only to be urged by one of my friends to rush to the dessert table to taste the pineapple pie, there was only one piece left, and she knew that it was something I would love. She knows me pretty well, I guess, since I had made it because I adore it. I did return to the dessert table later in the evening, there were heaps of chocolates, fancy layer cakes, and traditional holiday diet-destructors and in the center of it all was my empty pie plate. There is no greater compliment that anyone could pay to this pineapple pie.

Baked pie crust
1 1/2 c hot soy or goat’s milk
½ c sugar
½ tsp salt
2 Tbs cornstarch
3 eggs, separated
1 slightly heaped cup drained crushed pineapple
½ tsp vanilla
6 tbs sugar for meringue
¼ tsp salt for meringue

Mix sugar, ½ tsp salt and cornstarch in a double boiler (a saucepan if you are really careful and stir constantly). Add milk. Cook until thickened.

Place egg yolks in a small bowl, beat them, add a Tbs of milk mixture and beat quickly, repeat until yolks are hot and can be added to the pan without making poached scrambled eggs. Cook until mixture is thick.
Add pineapple and vanilla.
Pour into crust.

Make meringue
Beat egg whites until they make soft peaks, add salt (if using) and sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form.

Spread on the pie and bake at 400º for 10 minutes or until the peaks are lightly browned. Thoroughly chill.

Make a pot of tea and enjoy your pie!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Stoicism and Bar Stools

It was a quiet Thanksgiving for four for us this year. Everything cooked was a tried and true recipe and nothing was left to chance. Keeping everything very simple has been the motto of my cooking lately, nothing fancy, nothing time consuming, good plain food. It is pleasant for a while, but my taste buds get bored a little too easily and it cannot last for too long. I am hoping my orthopedist and physical therapist can assist me in getting my groove back in the kitchen.

My grand achievements for this past week have been yummy chocolate cupcakes (Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook recipe) and Chocolate Continental Frosting (Fannie Farmer Baking Book) for a Gator football party (at someone else’s house), a so-so dark carrot cake (FFBB) for Kirk’s birthday. All this is done with a well placed bar stool and a little New England bred stubbornness and stoicism.

In the next 24 hours, I will create a pineapple pie (custard) with meringue, an old family recipe and one of my very favorites, for my mom’s birthday.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Potato Pie

Today's experiment was inspired by some of the old American cookbooks I've been reading lately.

Yesterday, I made a mountain of potatoes, knowing that there was absolutely no way that my family could eat all of them. I had potato pancakes made with mashed potatoes in mind. Today I mixed up the potatoes, two onions finely chopped, some flour, two eggs, a tablespoon of baking powder (the only thing I measured), milk and a pinch of salt.

They half cooked, the side closest to the center of the pan was gorgeous, brown and crispy, but the side by the edge of the pan was potato mush. I tried slowing down the cooking until it almost stopped to get some decent ones, but it would have taken all evening to cook enough for dinner at that rate. I took the rest of my batter and thickened it a bit more with flour added a bit of oil to the cast iron pan, poured in the mixture and popped it into the oven at 375 degrees. It was crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside.

There is a bit left to pop in the toaster oven for breakfast, it will be a good morning.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Got My Goat

Got My Goat
A local supermarket (SweetBay) carried goat for a while, stopped carrying it and is now carrying it again!! I almost did a little dance by the meat case, but being a bit gimpy at the moment, I refrained. I did hum to the 70’s tunes and sing along a little though.

Goat has a flavor similar to lamb, but takes a bit longer to cook. I find many people’s aversion to goat meat puzzling. Most have never tried it, they even seem to fear it, but they are willing to eat bottom feeders such as lobster and catfish. I don’t get it. The “mutton” that the Brits ate in India was almost all goat meat. They just couldn’t call it by its proper name, somewhere along the way goats unjustly started getting lots of disrespect. They are smart animals unlike their vacuous sheep cousins; maybe their craftiness is their downfall. I believe that long ago the folks who kept Western civilization moving along were shepherds and fought the goat herders for land, water, power, religion (all the usual stuff) and then vilified the poor goat along the way, they even gave the greatest villain of all goat horns and a beard.

Luckily, some folks appreciate a little goat meat once in a while and enough of them live close enough to Sweetbay and complain enough (like me) to make them carry it again. I bought some to support the cause, and pulled it out of my freezer yesterday, uncertain what I was going to do with it this time. I wasn’t in the mood for Scotch broth or a curry, so I pulled out my Middle Eastern recipes and looked through the lamb recipes and then spotted a chicken recipe that I had made quite a few times and had forgotten over the years. Out came my trusty pressure cooker, into it went a can of beef broth, the goat meat, some additional water, about 1.5 cups of tomatoes, a couple cinnamon sticks, a good amount of coriander, black pepper, and turmeric, then a pinch of each cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg (I measured by sight, not spoons). I didn’t have orange or lemon peel to toss in, so I used tangerine zest (I sent the peeled tangerine in Jillian’s lunch today). I pressure cooked it for about 45 minutes and then dumped it into the crock pot, because I wanted to soak and cook some chick peas quickly in the pressure cooker. The cooked chick peas were dressed with lemon juice, garlic, olive oil and a bit of salt. I served the goat and chick peas with creamed spinach and rice.

Jillian had creamed spinach for the first time last night, she didn’t want to try it, but we used our best parental “persuasion”, then she did try it. A moment later she said she wasn’t sure if she liked it. We encouraged her to take another taste and didn’t say anything. It didn’t seem to be going over well, so I scraped the last of it on to my plate and ate it. Moments later she asked if there was more spinach left, hers was gone and she was a convert.
The meal must have been pretty good because Kirk thanked me for the nice dinner, twice. He seems to have missed my cooking (the gimpy state gets in the way of standing in the kitchen; I started dinner at 2:30 and took numerous breaks to serve dinner at 6:15). The parrot snatched up the tidbit of goat in her bowl at dinnertime, and clutched it tightly, not dropping a crumb, very unusual for a very messy parrot.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Dip Success

Headed to a friend’s house for dinner last evening before the kids headed out for trick or treating, I decided that the menu was skewed toward the kids and the adults needed a little something interesting to go with it. So, I thought that I would bring hummus, but there wasn’t enough time to soak and cook the chick peas and my canned goods pantry didn’t help me out.

I puzzled over something quick to toss together, but interesting. So, I mixed mayonnaise and Miracle Whip, apricot preserves, Vietnamese chili garlic sauce, and lime juice to make a dip. I was thinking that it would go with the Sun Chips that the hostess had mentioned on the phone, but the other guests were waaaaaaaaaay more creative than me. One suggested that we put it on the hot dogs (worked well), another guest drizzled some on sliced apples (worked well, again) and then another started dipping pretzels in it. One suggested to use it on a salad, but we weren’t having salad, so that experiment will have to wait. I guess I’ll have to name the dip now, but inspiration hasn’t hit me, yet.

Yesterday for lunch we had corn chowder, it has been a while since I have made it and I needed to use up some goat milk before it spoiled. I only needed to stand in the kitchen while stirring the bits of salt pork and onions, the rest of the ingredients cream style corn, corn, potatoes, black pepper and milk didn’t require much attention at the stove. There are leftovers, so it will be lunch again today!!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pie for Breakfast

Trying to get into the Halloween spirit with the air conditioner running is a bit of a challenge…but there is always a solution. Since apples are $1.49 lb, making applesauce doesn’t seem to be a viable option. There were a few less expensive apples in the market but they looked as if someone had been playing tennis with them.

I bought a jar of applesauce, not too exciting, texture wasn’t quite right…so to use of the rest of the jar before it got fuzzy in the back of the fridge I decided to make a Marlborough pie this morning, it’s just the thing for breakfast with tea or coffee. It’s an old fashioned recipe that hangs around in many cookbooks, but I’ve never seen anyone else make one. I made it once a few weeks ago and did it again this morning. It is extremely easy and uses mostly pantry staples. It is clearly a comfort food.

Here is my version (I am completely incapable of following a recipe all the way through.)

Marlborough Pie
1 single pie crust
2 c applesauce
½ c sugar
2 eggs
½ stick margarine, melted
2 Tbsp lemon juice
½ c goat milk (you can use cow or soy milk, I’m sure both will work, the original recipe called for evaporated milk)
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg
Pinch of cardamom
Pinch of cloves
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Place foil covered pie crust in oven for 6 minutes, remove foil and bake 4 more minutes. (Since the pie goes into the oven for 45 minutes this might be unnecessary, but I haven’t tried that, yet. If a step can be cut I’m all for it!)
Mix remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl and then pour into the pie crust. Bake 15 minutes at 450 degrees, then reduce the temperature to 350 and bake for 30 minutes.
Cool for at least a few minutes, so it will firm up a bit. Serve with tea, coffee, or with the variety of milk of your choice.

Kirk and Jillian are carving pumpkins, one will last through the photo shoot that follows and then become the victim of my giant vegetable cleaver to become pumpkin puree. Pumpkin cinnamon rolls come to mind...hmmmmmmmm

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Never-Ending Chuck Roast Parts 3 & 4

The never-ending chuck roast lives on…last night it was tossed with sesame-ginger noodles and veggies and tonight the last of it will make its appearance as shepherd’s pie. I’ve tried to mix up the flavors so it didn’t feel as though we were eating leftovers. It is 83 degrees and humid, not quite shepherd pie weather, but it will travel better than soup would in lunches.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Never-Ending Chuck Roast

Last night trying to find an easy low-prep meal I found a use for the nearly five pound chuck roast hanging around, which had been threatening the toes of anyone who dared open the freezer door. I defrosted it in the microwave to the point where I could break it into smaller pieces and dropped it right into the pressure cooker (How did I cook so many years without one??); within the hour there was lots of tender beef ready to take on the flavors that I had prepared. I simply placed about a quarter of the meat in a serving bowl and placed it on the table. Next to the serving bowl I placed a small dish filled with lime juice, an insane amount of garlic and a bit of kosher salt, mojo! The beef was dressed by each of us to our taste at the table. I served it with microwave “baked” sweet potatoes, and the one thing I labored on for this dinner, stuffed okra a la Madhur Jaffrey . The okra was filled with cumin, coriander, a tiny amount of red pepper and amchoor powder (green mango powder), which gave it a tangy, spiced, but not spicy flavor. It was sautéed with onions and then to finish the cover was placed on to steam it. It has never turned out gummy and is a favorite of my family. I have taken this okra to potluck dinners several times and have always come home with a completely empty casserole dish.

Tonight, trying to find something that I could throw together without too much time standing in the kitchen resulted with burritos filled with some of the leftover beef, refried beans, tomatoes, onions, spinach and Seminole squash (a native American squash that can deal with this wet, mildew-y climate). The squash was started in the microwave and then transferred to a 450 degree oven for about 25 minutes. We had multi-grain tortillas toasted over the open gas burner. I poured leftover mojo sauce on my burrito and sprinkled it with hot banana pepper rings.

Now that we have consumed about half of the meat, I need to figure out before dinner time tomorrow two more ways that it can be reincarnated (or is that re-in-carne-d) without everyone becoming tired of it. The variables include a head a broccoli, a head of cabbage, a little spinach, a pound of carrots, a little leftover squash and a multitude of beans to work with, hmmmmmmmm…beef and barley vegetable soup maybe, or beef tossed with sesame-ginger noodles and veggies, or shepherd’s pie or make gravy and serve it over Yorkshire pudding…

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Back into the Kitchen

In my forced leisure I have been reading vintage (pre-canned soup era) cookbooks. I tried to dump my preconceptions of older cooking as too rich and bland and came out with some interesting conclusions. #1 Servings sizes were much smaller. #2 Sure, most vegetables were done with a little white sauce, but a little is the key, it seems just enough to form a thin coat on it. #3 Recipes containing cheese only include 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the cheese, a sprinkle, versus our 1-2 cup shredded cheese wonders. #4 They ate a lot of bean soup. #5 There is more variety than I had anticipated. #6 The folks back then must be the reason there are so few oysters left, there is a recipe for oysters with virtually everything, except dessert.

My return to cooking has begun, this week we did take out a couple of times and I resorted to tomato sauce from a jar, but I could not do that for long. I was up to tossing blanched broccoli rabe with tons of garlic and caramelized onions, Italian tuna in oil, cannellini beans and lemon juice, no leftovers. The balance came out just right, Jillian, who is not fond of many greens scarfed it down thinking that the broccoli rabe was broccoli. I did something similar a couple nights later with the rest of the broccoli rabe with fresh tuna that was sold in chunks for half the price of the tuna steaks, only I added roasted red peppers and capers.

This morning, after the first cold night of the season, our somewhat insulated Florida home needed a little warming, so I decided to try a recipe that I found on another blog, German Apple Pancake
( ). It is apples sautéed in butter (margarine for me), brown sugar, and cinnamon, and then a thin sweet pop-over type batter (made with four mini eggs from our bantam Cochin chickens) poured over the top and then placed in a hot oven. Very yummy. This recipe may become a “regular” in our house. Jillian offered to peel the apples tomorrow, so that I can make it again. Since she leaves for school at 7:15 AM, she will change her mind when I awaken her at 5:30 AM to do it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Screeching Halt

My cooking has come to a screeching halt. I have been told by my doctor not to do anything that hurts, and since my issue involves muscles that are used to support the body when standing, sitting, rolling over, squatting and kneeling, that doesn’t mean much in the way of movement or comfortable positions. So, I have been torturing myself by reading all sorts of cookbooks and gardening books, being unable to do either.

One benefit is that I have had the excuse to eat other people’s food for a bit. My husband and I sampled some Indian vegetarian food from a local shop. It was very good, and very filling. We started with vegetable samosas (mostly potato), rather spicy with the tamarind sauce that sealed the whole deal. Sweet and sour dal soup, with one flavor that I just cannot figure out that rounded out everything, I now have a mission to seek out all the sweet and sour soup recipes to see if the secret ingredient reveals itself. It had toasted black mustard and cumin, bits of tomato, red lentils, turmeric, and definitely something else that gave a smooth, almost creamy, mid-note, but since it was vegan so it was not cream or butter.

Dinner was naan, basmati rice, and okra masala for me and spinach and potatoes for my husband. The okra was spicy and did not have any of the gluey tendencies that okra can have. The spinach and potatoes was comforting with its smooth texture and flavor.

The best part of the whole meal was the mysterious dal. Now I have a project that I can complete to keep me from going nuts from inactivity.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Chinese Roast Pork Rolls-Cha Shi Bao

Cha shu bao or Cha shi bao (the cookbook says one thing, the class I took in Mandarin a couple of years ago said another).

I had to repeatedly shoo my daughter away from the roast pork only to discover her hovering over it with telltale greasy fingers. I find the roast pork in Chinese restaurants to be rather dry and nasty most of the time and try to avoid it, but this stuff… divine. Filling bread dough with it is pretty easy, if the vultures don’t eat it all while your back is turned. The bread is on the sweet side and the meat is coated with a salty-sweet sauce and the combination has been enough to make me take the commuter rail into Boston to get it.

Of course, now that I am 1200 miles from Boston that is not going to be happening again anytime soon. For the second time in two years I decided to throw some together. The recipe for the bread part is from a website that I did not record two years ago, I think it was a discussion group. The meat recipe comes from An Encyclopedia of Chinese Food and Cooking by Wonona Chang. I think I achieved better results the last time I made them, this batch seems dry. The bread doesn’t seem to have quite the right texture , but I swear that I used the same recipe. I must have used the Roast Pork II recipe last time. The pork is great on its own but it is not quite right for these particular rolls. This is a do-over. The result is good, but not quite what I had in mind. I would not ride 45 miles on the commuter rail for these.

Cha shu bao and spinach pies

Both are in the works today, the first reminds me of Chinatown in Boston and the second reminds me of bakeries in Providence and Cranston, RI. Results later.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Mother of All Spice Racks

I have basket upon basket of zip bags filled with smaller bags of herbs and spices that I have picked up at ethnic grocers. I had to buy another spice rack with jars; my collection was getting out of control. I spotted a rack at a yard sale and thought that it would be just the thing that I need, but when I got home I realized that the quantity of bagged spices that I own far exceeds the number of little jars and the volume of many of my zip bags is far beyond the size of those bitty jars. So, I have filled many of the jars with things that I do not use very often, so it doesn’t help as much as I had hoped. I have found that jelly and pickle jars to be about the right size, unfortunately I have never seen a spice rack with jelly sized jars.

The miniscule jars all had labels on them for things like rosemary flakes and thyme flakes (flakes??). I wonder how it was decided to include some herbs or spices and not others. There is a jar labeled pickling spice, not exactly something that there is much call for these days. I’ll be making new labels, because not one of the labels says panch phoran (Bengali spice mix), garum masala, fenugreek, star anise, Sichuan pepper, smoked paprika, cardamom, cumin, turmeric, or coriander.

I think it is time to design my own spice rack, it would have a row or two for small jars, and then four or five for jelly sized jars and two rows for pickle sized jars. The rack would be about three feet wide and four feet high and the depth of a large pickle jar deep, about five inches. Each shelf would have a very small lip to keep jars from sliding off. Maybe a large CD/DVD shelf without the slots would do it.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Fall Garden Update

Most everything is up, but some critter has eaten all of the bitty carrot seedlings and most of the beet seedlings. Time to replant and create some protection for two of my favorites, that appear to be the favorites of something else, too!

The mu radish is coming along so well that I will have bits to stir fry soon.

Chowder and Clam Cakes

I made clam chowder the other evening, I do not call it New England Clam Chowder. I grew up in New England and the yummy, rich white stuff I created has no resemblance to what I ate as a kid.

My first memories of clam chowder (with clam cakes, of course) were fire station fund raisers. It always seemed to be a chilly and breezy day in the fall. The local volunteer force would set out a few picnic tables, create giant vats of chowder and fry up some clam cakes. The chowder was clear with salt pork, potatoes, quahogs (hard shell clams), onions and a few chunks of tomato here and there. It was not Manhattan style with a tomato base. It was brothy and not a drop of cream went into it. It was what they now call Rhode Island style clam chowder, except that in certain places in Rhode Island people would be up in arms at there being any tomato in it whatsoever. It had simple clear flavors and was just the right thing on a brisk fall day.

Ordering chowder in the area these days, you can run into almost anything. The different immigrant groups each come in and put their own spin on it. Since I believe that all food is fusion food (no culture is pure), I think it is great, as long as someone in the crowd keeps on making it the old simple way. I have had chowder done with spicy sausage instead of salt pork in a restaurant run by a Portuguese family, it was good. I have had it with Italian style seasonings, it was good also. These variations keep it current and keep it alive, some folks would say the old style is too bland, but it all depends upon your expectations when you sit down at the table.

The clam cakes are another story, crisply fried batter balls with bits of clams and lots of salt, a golden brown fritter, so hot that you would burn your tongue on the first few. Recently, when ordering clam cakes the clams seem to be barely present, but in the past the concentration was greater. These were the real treat. These were why I put my jacket and Keds on quickly and hopped into the VW bus without the least whine.

Since I am living in Florida and I have never seen clam cakes any farther than a few minutes out of the Rhode Island/ Massachusetts zone, I’m on my own here. I have not tried to make clam cakes at home, yet.

As soon I get myself equipped properly for deep frying, I will give them a go and post my results.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Results of the Experiment

Our un-biased tasters gave the meal a two thumbs up. One reviewer came to the table and said, "Is this all we are having for dinner?", expecting several dishes to be on the table. The very biased creator thought that scaling back on the lemon peel and increasing the fennel would inprove it. Also, a couple of grates of romano cheese wouldn't hurt either. More collards, I ony put a little in, it could have used a little more color. We had watercress, onion and carrot salads to go with the roll up.


It’s four’clock and I’m pausing for my tea. No soccer or meetings this evening, so we are having a real family dinner. I’m experimenting, he, he…

I had half a Boston butt roast in the freezer, an assortment of veggies and a yen for bread. So this is what is in the works:

The Boston butt roast is in the pressure cooker turning into pork to shred, it is depressurizing at this point. Since my daughter is picking up finicky ideas from other kids, visible hunks of onion are out, so I put one into the food processor with some fresh carrot, six cloves of garlic and some frozen bits of collards that are taking up too much space in the freezer. I tossed in salt, black pepper, fennel that had been crushed in the mortar, lemon peel, a bit of thyme and a little of my not-so-secret flavor enhancer, Vietnamese fish sauce. The bread ingredients that I put in the bread machine an hour and a half ago will be ready soon. I’ll shred the pork, roll out the bread dough, and layer the pork and veggies on the bread dough, roll it up, glaze it with beaten egg and bake it.

I'll post the critical reviews of it later.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Stinky Cheese

Stinky Cheese
One of my flavor quirks is that I like stinky cheese. I like to be able to un-wrap cheese in the kitchen then turn my back and still be able to smell it. Whether it is blue, runny, ripe, etc., I love it. So, when I discovered that I am allergic to cow’s milk I was horrified—how was I going to eat my cheese? I am very thankful that sheep’s milk and goat’s milk cheeses are now readily available in the US, but very pricey and often very stinky.
I will not forget the day I walked up to the cheese counter in Whole Foods and told the attendant, “What do you have in stinky sheep and goat’s milk cheeses?” His eyes lit up, a Cheshire smile formed as he leaned down into the case to present the varieties of fragrant dainties he had to offer. He looked at me as if I was about to be initiated into a secret society and was about to test my mettle. He did not know that I had been a card carrying member of the Stinky Cheese Society for years, but you get more samples if you play the initiate. The samples were exquisite; it appeared that I had passed his initiation as he set aside my choices. The prices stretched skyward, but I chose two small slices to take home (one was coated with ash) and meditate over with fruit and nuts, because sometimes I just need to be alone with my cheese.
Sometimes I share. Yesterday, my wedding anniversary, my husband brought home something in just the right size and color, ½ lb of blue, Roquefort, to be exact. He also picked out a neutral beige slice of aged goat cheese buche to accessorize. The man knows how to shop in all the right places!! I pulled out the dried fruit and nuts and arranged them with the grapes he picked up on his way home and placed them on the table next to the candles. The goat cheese on dates with a pecan amalgamated into textures and flavors that produced sighs on two sides of the table. My daughter, sitting on the third side chose not to become a stinky cheese initiate, just yet. She may have spied a possessive glimmer in my eyes when I offered her some and decided not to take the risk. Tonight after we have put her to bed we will slice some pears and meditate together.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Fall Garden Beginnings

The first planting of green beans is about four inches high, the second planting just went in this afternoon. My daughter and I just planted a good sized section of carrots, since we eat tons of carrots and fresh juicy garden carrots are distant relations to the fibrous supermarket carrots. Collards, kale, gai lan, bai tsai,bok choy, mizuna, komatsuna, daikon, and rutabagas will be planted in two to three weeks when the temperatures start staying in the eighties instead of the nineties.


Walk through any supermarket checkout line and read the covers of the magazines.

In a magazine with a triple layer chocolate cake with white chocolate and raspberry ganache and a very thick layer of dark chocolate frosting photographed so that you can almost taste it, is an article about how to lose thirty pounds by the holidays. Feel set up for failure? You are, they sell more magazines that way.

My nephew, a very perceptive 14 year old, who got the food obsession gene from both sides of the family, pointed out that inside the fancy cooking magazines there are advertisements for quick to prepare, highly processed foods that are the antithesis of gourmet cooking. They are products in which ingredients are bought by the shipping container load, with laboratory synthesized flavorings and then overcooked in processing. Confused? Me too.

Magazines about living a purer more connected life advertising food made in factories. Is highly processed organic food an oxymoron?

Things I that leave me scratching my head:
“Franken-chicken” nuggets, with beef flavoring. Have a burger if you want beef.

Drinks that look like window cleaner. Appetizing aren’t they?

Sports drinks? If you aren’t training for a triathlon or trying to be the state champion of your chosen sport, why drink beverages that taste like chemicals? (This is a heretical statement here in Gainesville, birthplace of the most famous sports drink!)

Powdered lemonade, real lemonade has three ingredients, and has the same preparation time. Why drink flat tasting stuff made with thirty unpronounceable mystery ingredients?

Artificial strawberry anything.

Tofu hot dogs, I guess I just have a problem with a food pretending to be another type of food. I like tofu, I like hot dogs (and, yes, I know what they are made of), but tofu hot dogs are just silly and for that matter nasty tasting.

Jumbo anything (except elephants, but they don’t qualify as food for any living culture, that I know of) More of mediocre to bad food is a bad thing, isn’t it? Particularly egregious: muffins bigger than softballs with a day’s worth of calories, monster calzones, just order an unsliced pizza with quadruple everything then fold it in half…I must mention that a restaurant in town has Japanese bento meals, American style, of course, and the bigger version of any of their platters is called a Hippo Meal, now that’s honesty!!

Fellow foodies, please add to my list of stuff that just doesn’t make sense, tastes nasty or is just silly. I don’t watch television, so my list is very limited.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Little Ceremonies

It's late afternoon, I've made myself a cup of mint tea and I'm thinking about the time when I realized that I am continuing a tradition, going back, ummmmm, a few years:
Why do you always have teeeeeeeeeeeeeah? My college roommate whined in her nasally Boston suburb accent with her nose and her little finger in the air.

I was puzzled, I was just having a snack. “What do you mean?” I replied, scrunching my brows together.

“Every day at four o’clock you stop everything, make a pot of tea and have cookies.” Pointing her nose farther into the air, “You’re so English.”
“You do it all in a certain order, you put the kettle on to boil, never use the microwave, you wait for the water from the faucet to get hot, you rinse out the pot, pour it out, put the tea into the pot, which is inches away from the kettle, place the cup on the table with a plate with two to three cookies on it with a sugar bowl and the pitcher of milk. You get something to read and arrange it all on the table. The water boils and you pour it into the pot and place it on the table. After a few minutes you pour yourself a cup. You sit, read and drink tea for about a half hour. Everyday it is the same. You have teeeeeeeeeeeeeeah.”

I thought was just getting a snack to hold me until dinner time and taking my first real break of the day. It was my meditative time. I never considered it as part of my heritage.

Reflecting on my time at home with my family, every afternoon when my mom was home she would take a bit of a breather with a cup of tea, once in a while with a cookie, before beginning to cook dinner.
When she was working at the hospital, I did exactly the same thing. I came home from my after school activities, made myself a cup of tea, rested a bit and then cooked dinner.

On Saturdays, it was more of an event, because my dad was home. We’d be doing some projects around the house and around four o’clock he’d seek everyone out and ask, “How about a cup of tea?” There would be an extra bounce in his step if someone had made a pie. He would put the water in the English electric teakettle (bought in England in the 1970's while on vacation), which he had run special major appliance wiring for because it was 220v. In about a minute, the water would be heated (thanks to the extra electricity), the cups, napkins, sugar and milk placed on the table, with the cookies or pie ready. In a few minutes an announcement passed through the house to come have our tea and something sweet. I don’t ever remember any of us raising our little fingers, though.

It was our transition from our busy afternoons to our evening time. The world could wait a few minutes until our cups were empty.

I realize now that a little ceremony, a cookie and some tea might be what my daughter, husband and I might need to help settle in for the evening.

Besides, it’s our heritage.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Noodling Around

A few days ago when some friends came over for dinner I decided to try making whole wheat noodles with the four kids old enough to help, ages 2 ½ to 7 years old. I made the dough (the weather was finally perfect and they were playing outside with the chickens, otherwise they would have helped make the dough), and called them to wash up and to help stretch each individual noodle by hand. They had contests to see who could stretch the longest noodles, hanging them on the backs of tea towel covered chairs for comparison. The longest appeared to be slightly over 2 feet long. The two year old had the technique, but not the patience for the task, so he made pretty lumpy noodles, but when he wasn’t looking we thinned them out a bit, so that they would cook evenly. The noodles were cooked and served in 4 cups of chicken broth with a teaspoon of Vietnamese fish sauce, chopped scallions and grated carrots. The kids, beaming, would hold up a noodle from the plate and say,” I made this one! I can tell because…” There were no leftovers.
Last night I made dumplings of my own sort. I started with the recipe for Kazakh noodles in Beyond the Great Wall, I tweaked the dry ingredients.
My goal was to increase the fiber content and to vary the wrappers nutritionally, and just to experiment with the besan flour for the heck of it. I have twice made the regular noodles with the whole wheat flour substitution and they came out well, so I decided to go the next step and try to make dumplings with it.
1 ½ cups of whole wheat flour
1/4 c besan flour (chickpea)
1 ¾ cups of white flour
1 t salt
2 eggs
¾ c water
Mix dry ingredients. Add eggs and water stir until it makes a dough. On a well floured surface. Divide into four balls; flatten each to a long narrow rectangle that is about ½ inch thick. Cover with plastic wrap, and then a towel. Let it rest for 30 minutes.
For me there was no rest, I made the filling.
For filling
10 oz ground turkey
2 slices of apple smoked deli ham, minced
¾ of a cup of leftover cooked carrots, mashed
1 leftover boiled egg, mashed
2T garlic chives from the garden, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced

I cut the rectangles into eighths. My daughter rolled out the wrappers, while I made the sauce. I made a basic white sauce, but substituted 1c of chicken broth for 1 cup of milk, for seasoning my daughter added our favorite garlic/herb seasoning, 2 good shakes.
Then she stirred the sauce while I filled and sealed the wrappers. We boiled them until they floated in a saucepan filled with water and sauced them and added Romano cheese to our taste at the table.
When it was all placed on the table my daughter was resistant to put the sauce on the dumplings, but with encouragement and referral to a movie she once saw, where a rat combined flavors to create new and more complex flavors, she gave it a try. She hesitantly broke off a small piece and dunked it in a small puddle of sauce. Her eyes flew wide open and she dunked it a second time, and made what we call nummy noises. Success!!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Regional Impulses

I went into a Korean market today. I needed both a kimchi fix and a little lunch to tide me over so that I could complete my errands. I filled my basket with cucumber kimchi, rambutans, lychees, spinach and some mung bean sprouts and headed for the register. While waiting my turn I checked out today’s selection of foods that were freshly prepared in their kitchen. Today included chap chae, a dish with transparent sweet potato noodles, spinach and bits of beef, a Korean comfort food; spicy fish cake, which doesn’t taste fishy, and has a neat texture and flavor that my daughter can’t resist (me either), sushi-like rolls with seaweed, rice, eggs, vegetables and “krab”, spicy tofu with scallions, which is very spicy and filling, and a rice cake lightly sprinkled with black beans and shreds of pumpkin. I chose the chap chae and fish cake for my lunch.
After it was all rung up and paid for, I weakened and asked the cashier to ring up the rice cake also. It was my adventure for the day. It wasn’t the type of rice cake that you find in a plastic bag in the cereal aisle. It was a moist, dense, cake-like snack with just a hint of sweetness. It had a very pretty look to it, so I had to give it a try. It was a nice finish for the salty and spicy lunch, very simple. There are enough leftovers of noodles and fish cakes from my lunch to get my daughter fueled up for soccer this evening, so I don’t have to cook if I don’t want to tonight.
I love to check out the food kept by the register in other small markets and convenience stores. Growing up in Southern New England, with its huge Italian population, I thought that all convenience stores had pizza strips next to the register. Pizza strips are rectangles of pizza dough that are about 12 inches long and 3 inches wide, which have a slightly sweet tomato sauce with little puddles of grease, but no cheese, they are utter simplicity and very delectable. They are typically found with a layer of grease soaked waxed paper between the strips.
When I lived in central California the registers all had corn nuts and churros by the register. I haven’t seen corn nuts in many years, so I just did a web search and they still seem to exist, but clearly not in the stores I frequent. Lime & Chile flavor was my favorite. In Pennsylvania I remember baked goods being in that same spot.
Around here in Florida it seems that pickled eggs in bright red brine and boiled peanuts fit the bill for the regional impulse buy treats. I haven’t gotten my courage up yet for the pickled eggs the brine just looks unnatural, but the boiled peanuts’ were less of a leap, their texture and the salt are good for nibbling on the go, if you aren’t the driver.
I just got a book on inter-library loan about dumplings, I may have to read it, test it and write about it in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

We're Jammin'

I eat grape jam about four times a year, other family members eat much more of it, but it is me who plans the annual trip out to the u-pick to fill our buckets with grapes.
We got up early on Sunday as planned, slapped on the sunscreen and big hats, had a quick bite and were out the door as the fog was burning off, which meant we were leaving just a little later than we should have.
At the vineyard, there were two other families already there, one, clearly early risers, were leaving. As we exited the car the farmer started pulling out the picking buckets for us. He directed us to the variety that most jelly makers prefer Ison, rather than Black Fry and we headed out to the vines. Muscadine grapes are different from any other grapes I have ever seen. They have the dark skin and gelatinous insides like the Concord, but they are almost the size of a small plum. Every year I marvel at their enormity.
We each took our bucket and we headed for the far end of the vineyard, hoping that the fruit would be less picked over since it was a longer walk. There was plenty of fruit, some of it had already gone by, but there still was a huge amount of perfectly ripe fruit left on the vines. We started to pick. Knowing that the fruit hangs down below the vines where you cannot see it, I crawled underneath. I checked for fire ants, finding it clear, I kneeled on the ground. The grapes were just above my head, as I tried to ignore the thoughts of the giant Florida spiders as the leaves brushed my hair. I began to pick, just barely touching the ripe ones as they fell into my hands and then into the bucket.
I picked some and then tossed one into my mouth. Immediately, I was transported back to 1970’s Massachusetts, to the grape vine alongside my grandparents’ driveway with my cousins running around with my sisters. The flashes continued for the rest of the day as the scents, sights and smells nudged my memory.
My daughter ran amongst the vines, picked a few grapes, studied the bugs and chattered more than the squirrels. Between the three of us, we picked two and one half buckets of grapes, weighing in at 16.06 lbs. They were a bargain at $1 lb.
We brought them home to begin the jam and juice making. The scent of the grapes in the big stock pot as they warmed was my time machine back this time to my mom’s steam filled kitchen in Rhode Island, with newspapers spread all over the table, with the food mill, big pots, pans, ladles and spoons and boiling mason jars. My kitchen right down to the style of the food mill was the same, except we used a dark colored towel instead of newspaper to catch the drips, because we read the news on-line. The cutting board turned a glorious shade of splotched purple, just as I remembered.
My daughter clearly enjoyed extracting the juice from grapes, “Squish this!” was an instruction I did not have to repeat or encourage, it just happened. I filled the mill with hot grapes, she rotated the pestle until the skins were dry and the pot underneath was filled with thick juice, and then requested more to squish. She seemed to know when the next batch from the stove was ready to squish, because she would disappear for a while, but as soon as the food mill was prepped for more she was right there, purple pestle in hand.
The whole hot, steamy, messy affair tangibly produced six pints of jam and three quarters of a gallon of juice, which will probably end up as jelly, since none of us drink much grape juice. The intangible products will have to wait thirty or so years, when my daughter craves connection to her past and the past of the women before her,and buys herself a food mill.

I use a cone shaped mill with a cone shaped pestle, there are many types which can be found in antique shops for about $40,or in the church thrift shop where my mom socializes weekly for about $3, I understand that she practically dove across the room to get it for me when it came in.

Janet's Grape Jam
Adapted Recipe from Ball Blue Book:

2 quarts Muscadine or Concord Grapes
6 cups sugar

Wash and de-stem grapes.
Place in a stock pot and cook over low heat until the grapes begin to burst.
Place some in a food mill set over a large pot. and process until the grape skins are nearly dry and the juice ceases to flow. Repeat until this procedure until all grapes are processed. (I don't have the patience for the process in the book of separating the skins and pulp and processing separately, apparently my mom doesn't either, because I know she has never done that)

Add sugar to the pot of juice. Bring slowly up to heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Then bring to a boil and stir frequently until it reaches the gelling point, the spoon that you stir with will cool and it will gel on it, then it is ready. Skim foam. Pour jam into sterilized canning jars leaving 1/4 in head space and process 15 minutes.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

It's The Breakfast Inquisition

My daughter and husband went out to breakfast this morning. My husband loves to eat breakfast out, it is one of the little luxuries of life for him and he wants more than anything to share this with me, but I often send them off without me. In theory eating breakfast out is a good thing, someone else touches hot burners, stoves and toasters, while I wake up and sip my coffee and juice, but the reality is much different.
The Scenario: First, I try to use the most pleasant voice possible to break the news to the server. I brace myself for the sharp edge of the black coffee as I explain to the wait staff that that milk shows up in unexpected places. We usually start with non-dairy creamer which invariably has dairy products in it. I have no idea why they call it non-dairy creamer, because it isn’t. Then, I have to examine the package the bread comes in to see if I can eat the toast. Then I need to inquire about the cooking oil/grease to see if it contains butter or whey. Sometime around this point, they usually start looking around to see if they are being filmed for some sort of reality programming or if someone has a cell phone camera pointed in their direction.
I move on to the menu. I eliminate anything with cheese, so most omelets are out, anything with a sauce, so eggs Benedict are out, then I eliminate all the buttermilk pancakes, crepes, and waffles, the white gravy with the sausage and the biscuits and English muffins…and so on, until I order fried eggs over medium, bacon (cooked in a clean pan not on the griddle) and, maybe, dry toast.
Ahhhhhh, it is so very relaxing as I sip my bitter coffee and subject the staff to the inquisition. I wonder what Torquemada ordered for breakfast?
As I wait for my food to come I watch the other tables diving into their Belgian waffles with whipped cream and strawberries, imagine the texture of the sausage gravy, and soak up the scents of the savory stuffings of the omelets, knowing that had I stayed home I could have had something similar.
I closely examine my Spartan food as it comes to the table, because I know that if I aggravate a cook, the food may contain some very personal, unspoken messages. Once satisfied it is safe, I sigh and eat my breakfast. The next hour or so, I keep checking myself to see if I am developing any allergic symptoms.
An hour and a half at home writing, drinking light, sweet coffee and eating leftover spaghetti with capers and sausage is just the thing, while they are out eating breakfast; it is one of life’s little luxuries.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wanted: Dish Elves

This evening I’m not hungry, it happens every once in a while. I just do not feel like cooking. I think it has to do more with dirty dishes, but tonight if I were to just have rice with a little soy sauce, and green onions, it would be okay. I think of it as my single woman meal, a meal I cannot do anymore. Some days are just blah, and I really don’t want much, but others are expectantly waiting for their protein/complex carb/vegetable boost. Since I am the cook, I just buck up and open the freezer and hope that there is something in there that will fit the bill for the others dependent on me for nutrition. Tonight, there is still more of that leftover chicken in the freezer. We had a bbq and folks ate less than expected, ergo we had 10 lbs of cooked chicken in the freezer. The nutritionally dependent ones will have to deal with it, again.
Back to the dishes, I always consider the story of The Elves and the Shoemaker, I keep hoping that if I head to bed, leaving a pile of dirty dishes dumped on the counter, the elves would come in the dead of night and I would wake to a sparkling kitchen. Virtually no one hand sews shoes anymore, so those elves should have ample time to come wash glasses, sponge off counters and polish the bottoms of pots and pans! They keep skipping my house, so I need find a supply of elf attractant. I wonder what department that would be in?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


“I’m nibbly.” I’ve announced this many evenings and it always gets my husband attention, because nibbles, like pie crusts, are about as easily made for two as for one. He raises and eyebrow and asks casually, “What kind of nibbly are you?” Now, I know that women have the reputation of craving chocolate and sweets, but in my personal, very casual, research, the snacks to have are salty, and crunchy. This disappoints my husband. One friend and I rhapsodize over salt and vinegar potato chips with another friend it is sauerkraut, by our tone of conversation, you’d swear we were discussing something else entirely.
Gardinera, sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi of all kinds all qualify in the salty crunchy category, and all have their particular moments. My husband knows when I get a certain look in my eye in the late fall that trouble is afoot. He knows that one day soon he is going to walk into the house and smack his nose against the wall of fresh, five days fermented in the hall closet, kimchi vapors. He doesn’t get it, but that’s okay, then I don’t have to feel guilty for not sharing.
He often shakes his head as he walks into the bedroom late in the evening to find me reading with a pretty tray on the bed next to me displaying a bowl of kimchi, a fork, and a glass of goat milk. Gardinera, sauerkraut, and even hot banana pepper pickle rings all serve the same purpose and get their chance on the tray, but those usually indicate that I have not had the chance to stop by the Asian grocery lately, or that the bai tsai cabbage and mu radish are out of season in my garden.
It may be a hereditary thing, because my mom has always been a popcorn woman, I sure have that gene and I passed it to my daughter. We buy popcorn in bags of straight popcorn, none of that overpowering palm oil-"butter" flavored stuff, nope just the popcorn. We have special poppers for the microwave and then season it on our own. Back in the days when it had its own appliance and was bathed in oil my Mom popped many fields worth of corn, the smell of it brings me back to my childhood lying in bed sniffing the air for my mom’s popcorn. Some nights she would flavor it with garlic or what we called green cheese from a shaker and it made it very difficult to stay in bed, but since my mother was a stern disciplinarian, I did stay in bed. I know that I am not a stern disciplinarian, because if I pop corn before my daughter is asleep I know I will hear the quiet creeping noise of a child sneaking out of bed and soon see oversize eyes like those of the kitschy cat pictures peering around a corner, beseeching me for just a little taste. My flavoring of the moment is two shakes of garlic-herb seasoning, two shakes of smoked paprika, two shakes of cayenne pepper, a bit of salt, and more margarine than I feel comfortable talking about.
Mom is a salty-crunchy female, so are my daughter and many of my friends, we appreciate chocolate, but for the visceral snack needs, cravings and obsessions, it is salty-crunchy all the way.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Trapped in a Children's Story

Yesterday, I decided that I needed a pie and suddenly I found myself entangled in a situation that reminded me of a storybook that I had once read to my daughter, see if you can guess what well known story (actually there are several on the same theme).
I asked my husband if he had an idea for the kind of pie I should make. He suggested banana cream since we had four ripe bananas that would be “past due” and headed for the banana bread freezer collection the next day. That’s a single crust pie, no sense in making just one crust and since it takes about 2 minutes longer to make two crusts than one. Sooo, there I had two crusts, whatever was I going to do with the second? I decided to make something for dinner in it, a quiche (as mentioned yesterday) with leftover chicken. Okay, so I set out to make one pie now I have a pie and a quiche, but the pie required four egg yolks and there I had four egg whites going to waste, if I didn’t find a use for them. To me egg whites equals meringues, not nasty diet omelets…on to what kind of meringue? It had been a while since I made Forgotten Cookies, chocolate chip-nut meringues, that get placed in a moderate oven and then the oven is shut off and you go to bed, forgetting all about them until the next day.
I started out just craving something sweet and ended up with a pie, a quiche and cookies, a very well fed family and a very messy kitchen.

Dinner tonight? Something with the rest of the frozen leftover chicken, nothing too heavy after the quiche and cream pie.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Leftovers for Breakfast

The high point of my morning is opening the fridge and spotting something delectable leftover from dinner the night before. I do not think that foods have different times of the day in which they are supposed to be served.

The Chinese serve noodles with pickled vegetables and shreds of meat for breakfast and I’m with them on that. The last thing I need as I struggle out of bed in the dark, to keep my daughter on the school schedule that some die-hard morning person created, is a greasy or sweet breakfast. The noodles sound just right to me, warm, moist, salty, sour/tangy, (another one of my favorites) and with a touch of meat, but not too much to be heavy.

So, if I open the fridge and there are noodles or rice or even potatoes packed up from the night before, bits of meat leftover and numerous odds and ends of veggies and my collection of easy flavoring ingredients from Korean chile paste, Vietnamese fish sauce, spice pastes, bean sauces, Siracha, salsa, chutney, jerk, and pickles…I’m equipped with all the ingredients for a yummy breakfast with endless variations. The mornings when I realize that we consumed all of the food the evening before, I have to forage in the cupboards for something to sustain me through the morning. Those are the mornings when my (goat) milky coffee will often keep me going until I can get everyone off to their destinations and I can put together something.
My secondary obsession is history; I know the breakfast foods of today are modern creations. I have seen menus for farm breakfasts, industrial worker breakfasts, etc. and they contain everything from porridge, to fish and Johnny cakes to apple pie (Pie for breakfast! More on that around Thanksgiving.) Not one mentions cold cereal (a historically recent innovation), waffles, English muffins with eggs and bacon, French toast, pop tarts or even orange juice. The food processing/food marketing industry has convinced folks that breakfast requires food that was created or processed in a factory much to their benefit and our expense.
We had a quiche with leftover chicken that I had frozen, broccoli and roasted red peppers with goat’s milk mozzarella from the farmer’s market for dinner tonight, the eggs really didn’t seem to care that it was dinner time.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Subversive Goat Milk

I've just completed my subversive activities for the week, I bought a gallon of goat milk from a farmer. I've found a new farmer, who sells me "pet quality" milk to meet the local laws. My cats drink a gallon of it a week and I make cheese--for them--of course. I just happen to have an allergy to cow's milk and can't process the stuff through my body without my immune system torturing me with extreme fatigue, itching and respiratory distress. So, I drink some of the very freshest milk available, no, I mean my cats drink the very freshest milk available. This morning I saw the milk coming directly out of the goat into a very clean stainless steel bucket and then be filtered into the jar that I had provided. It was still warm.

I give my money to farmers and their families, which for milk is often illegal. We all have our faults and little secrets. mine is I buy fresh milk, ummmmmmmmmm, for my cats, of quality milk....

The nasty liquid that they sell in supermarkets as goat milk seems as if it is designed to convince people that cow milk is vastly superior...but it isn't. The American goat taboo does seem to be weakening somewhat in the last few years, since goat cheese has been a regular supermarket item since the early nineties, but people are still leery about goat milk and meat. I can understand their leeriness if their goat milk is the ultra-pasturized cartons in the market that contain a liquid that smells like a male goat in rut, I cannot call it milk. The creamy, sweet flavored liquid in the glass jar in my fridge is goat milk, from goats with names, personalities, personal relationships, lots of space to roam and someone who really cares about them.

I'm looking forward to next week when I can take my daughter to go buy milk, so she can meet the "girls".

Dinner tonight? Maybe something with panir (paneer)? Greens (collards), onions, hing, and paneer with toasted mustard seed, sesame, cumin, garam masala and after I've separated out some for my kid, chiles. The "cats" will love it.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Matter of Taste

Last night I tried to experiment with flavors that have been used together in other recipes in a new way. I tried the sausage/seafood combination, but made several key mistakes that I will have to consider learning experiences. First off, I put in too much sausage and the sausage I put in was too salty (even for me), so the rest of the tinkering I did with the recipe was to tame the salt and balance the flavor. The seafood hadn't a chance of shining through, unless I turned my dinner for three into a giant vat of food. The next issue was that I reached for the chicken broth, didn't read the label and realized as I dumped it in that it was beef broth. Now I had overpowering sausage mixed with an over-powering broth. I added water, lemon juice, lemon peel, mirin, lots of sliced onion and minced garlic. I added the seafood (which I had promised my daughter) and thickened it a bit. It ended up okay served over pasta, but all of the ingredients could have been used better. My husband and kid liked it, my daughter took extra pasta to soak up the sauce after she was told she couldn't use her fingers to convey it to her mouth. She studied the squid tentacles, compared them to caterpillars and then gleefully popped them in her mouth. My husband ate the leftovers for breakfast.

I'm glad its gone and not staring me in the face as I open the refrigerator today, reminding me that I cooked bad food.

Tonight is girl's night, just my daughter and I. Broccoli, cauliflower, tofu, pork chops...hmmmm, what region of the world shall provide inspiration?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Dumpling Dogmatism

We made jiaozi, savory boiled dumplings, last night. The recipe came from Beyond the Great Wall Recipes and Travels in the Other China by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Dugiud, which I have on Interlibrary loan, this book may end up being purchased, because I'm going to hate to part with it.

I like the recipes in this book because the authors stressed that there were as many ways of making noodles and dumplings as there are cooks who make them. Often, I find recipes about regional cuisine dogmatic, "This is the only way that these are made!" This always puts me off, I have an Italian cookbook with perfectly good recipes in it that I rarely use, because of the "my way or the highway" tone of the author. Even within my very small family there are numerous versions of the basic family recipes, each person adds their own personality to it.

The dumplings (pork and leek and pork and carrot) took quite a while to assemble, but they weren't difficult. Next time, I will set up to make them at the kitchen table instead of standing at the counter. (Who decided that ceramic tiles for a kitchen floor are a good thing??? They kill my feet and legs, and they are slippery when wet...but, I digress.) I substituted green onions for the leeks in the recipe, because they were what I had on hand, otherwise I followed the recipe. They were very good, but a tad salty, which for me, can be a plus.

Peer Pressure

My daughter was starving when I picked her up at the bus stop after school yesterday. The children in the cafeteria had decided to target her because she was different.

It was all my fault.
I had packed a chicken leg in her lunch. She loves chicken legs, and had been looking forward to lunch because of it. She said that the girl next to her pointed it out to some others and an older child decided to make an issue of it. Everytime she reached for the chicken leg, which had been long marinated in a ginger/onion and Indian spice paste, the raucous laughs and finger pointing commenced.

I'm sure that those childen had food that had been well processed in a factory somewhere and hermetically sealed in plastic or were eating a tray of food with five items, which had a cost of $0.94 to meet Federal standards. Poor things, they may not have recognized real food. My child, who does not like to be the center of attention in large groups, ended up throwing the chicken away and coming home to tell the tale of peer pressure and processed food.

She asked, with a hopeful tone, if there were more chicken legs. That's my girl.