Category Archives: Food

Preserve and Protect

Preserve and Protect

So, my garden didn’t perform the way I had expected or necessarily hoped this year.  I’m the only person I know who can plant 12 zucchini plants and get 3 zucchini. My pickling cucumbers went nowhere, but the slicing ones went MAD.  Do you know how much use there is for slicing cukes?  Outside of a salad, not much. I got a couple of nice stir fries from the pea pods, and the carrots loved the new bed, but the winter squash were decimated by vine borers.  I have to get more aggressive next year.  All learning opportunities, right?

But as fall settles in, I get the urge to can.  I know it’s from watching my folks do it when I was a kid.  Even though half the time I didn’t like what was in those jars (dilly beans, bleah!), I just loved the way they looked.  And now that I have both a water bath and a pressure canner, I can can just about anything.

A couple of weeks ago, I did.  I think the cat was getting nervous that he would be next.

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It started with the end of my tomatoes.  They were looking scraggly and brown no matter how much I watered them, so I picked them all.  Even the green ones.  Honestly, the biggest reason I grow tomatoes is to be able to make green tomato relish.  But then we were running around to this and that, and by the time I got back to it, half the green ones had ripened and suddenly I didn’t have enough to make my relish!  Lucky for me, Jen in my running club was sick of her tomatoes and said I could help myself to green ones.  So I went over with a shopping bag and did just that.

I got a little carried away.

Turns out less than half of that would have been enough for a double batch of relish.  But never mind.  I had a long weekend, and I was going to put up food for the winter.

First I cleaned out the freezer and did a full freezer cook.  Well, I say cook.  Most of it was dump this, layer that.  I didn’t even cook the chicken I needed, instead buying precooked chickens from Costco. (They’ll be back in the story later).  I got about 30 dinners squared away in the freezer.  That was Saturday.  Sunday would be can all the things.

I started with my creole recipe.  This is the base for a shrimp creole recipe my mom gave me, and really it’s stupidly easy.  You chop up a lot of tomatoes, onions, green peppers and garlic and cook it all down, then can it.  Water bath canning seems to work fine for this, or at least I haven’t had any problems.  When it’s time to eat, heat it through, add a pound of shrimp and a tablespoon or two of Worcestershire sauce, heat until the shrimp is cooked, and serve over rice.  Easy peasy!  With all the tomatoes from my garden and some of the ones I’d gotten from Jen the ripened in the week since I got them, I got 18 pints.

Then I started on the green tomato relish.

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I doubled the recipe and got nine and a half pints, in full and half pint jars.  Happy!

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But I still had a lot of green tomatoes left.  I vaguely remembered from the Little House on the Prairie books Ma making a green tomato pie, so I grabbed my LHotP cookbook to look it up.  The filling was good for fresh tomatoes, but wouldn’t work for canning.  So I went to the internet and found over and over again the same recipe for green tomato and apple pie filling.  Okay, well, how bad could it be?  I got the apples and raisins and started peeling and chopping away.

By now, the fever had started to kick in.

Look at all those jars.  Aren’t they pretty?  Don’t they make you feel like you’ve done a good job taking care of your family?  (Who cares if they won’t actually eat the stuff.)  Surely there’s more that you could do.  I looked down at the apple peels and cores.  Hrm.  I bet I could make jelly out of this.  Do I have any half pint jars left?

I didn’t.  In a fit of sanity, instead of going out to buy MOAR JARS, I just put all the cores and peels in a freezer bag in the freezer.  Maybe later.

I got the dutch oven full of tomatoes, apples and raisins and was just starting to add the seasoning when it suddenly hit me.

I think this is my mom’s mincemeat recipe.

The mincemeat that I HATED as a kid.

And I had a vat of it.

I called my mother then and there to confirm.  She laughed.  Longer and louder than was probably necessary.

I ended up with 6 quarts of it.  (Although after the fact she said I only need a pint for a pie.  But all the recipes said can it up in quarts, so that’s what I did!)

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But I still wasn’t done!  Remember those chickens?  Yeah, they spent all day Sunday in the stockpot, and Sunday they got their turn in the canner, this time the pressure canner.  11 more quarts.  I would have liked to have done them up in pints, but by then I was out of jars.

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So now I have everything neatly stashed in my basement, just waiting to be used.  I may not be quite done.  I have beets in the garden yet that may or may not get big enough to do another batch of pickled beets with (I did the first back in July).  And if I can find cheap apples, I may do up some applesauce or apple pie filling.

But I’ll have to stock up on jars first.

Shoe Pastry

Shoe Pastry

The title of this should tell you just how familiar I am with this particular delicacy.  Two series of GBBO, and I was sure this was how it was spelled.  After all, eclairs kind of look like shoes, right?  They’re long and hollow.  And French.  French cooking terms don’t always make a lot of sense to me.  Probably because I took 4 years of Spanish instead (not that I had a choice.) Thankfully I searched “eclairs” instead of “shoe pastry” when I went looking for recipes for this project, or I never would have found it!

For those as unenlightened as I was, it is actually CHOUX pastry.  See?  French.  Choux is French for cabbages, which the buns the dough was used for resembled.  I’m assuming these original buns were something similar to our cream puffs, and yeah, I can kind of see the comparison.

Technically, I have made choux pastry before.  Back when I was a pre-teen, we lived in a town that had a nice hotel with a really nice (to my uneducated eyes) restaurant.  Their claim to fame was the aforementioned cream puffs.  I got to go once to have one, and OMG it was so good!  But I couldn’t afford to go often (mostly since my brother and I were busy spending our quarters across the street in the pool hall.  Seriously.), so I decided to try to make them myself.  I don’t remember where I got the recipe or how I did it, but I remember the smell.  It has a very distinctive smell.  Not necessarily unpleasant, but not all that pleasant, either.

But back to the present.  I tracked down a recipe (The Kitchn website seems to be my go-to for these recipes these days), picked a day and got started.

Step one was organizing the ingredients.  Not too many of them, it’s actually a pretty basic recipe.

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I was even good and made sure everything was at room temperature.

Step two was getting the template together.  I wanted these to all be the right size, so I took a tip from GBBO and marked up a piece of parchment paper that I could then turn over and see through.

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Nice straight lines to pipe on!  To get them the length I wanted, though, I had to use the bottom of my cookie pan.  The lip around the top made them just that much too narrow to fit them all in.

As soon as I put the first stage of the dough together, the smell came back to me from all those years ago and took me right back to my parents’ 70’s day-glo orange kitchen.  I’m not sure why butter, water, salt and flour would have such a strong smell, but it does, and it’s not entirely pleasant.  Once the basic ingredients come together, you have to mash the crap out of it while it cooks down. 5 minutes may not seem very long, but when you’re stirring and mashing thick paste constantly, it seems like FOREVER.  My arm’s going to fall off kind of forever.  But that was the hardest part.

Once it was cooked down, I could dump it into the mixer and let the machine do all the work.

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At this point, you just beat it until it’s cool enough not to cook the eggs you’re about to add.  It still smells, and it doesn’t look very appetizing, but it gets better.  Once it’s cool, you start adding the eggs.  You can’t just dump them in, though, because too much and the dough won’t set up right when you pipe it.  Do it right and you get a lovely, glossy, thicker-than-batter that’s starting to look more like something you might want to eat.

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Then I got out my fancy piping bag and loaded it up.

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The piping went pretty well, considering how rudimentary my tools were.

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There was paste left, so I got out the other sheet and another piece of parchment paper and piped out a bunch of puffs as well.

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Then into the oven they went.

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These have to cook in stages.  First you cook them on a high heat to puff them up, then a medium heat to brown them, and then a lower heat to dry them out.  All in all it takes about 45 minutes.  So really, not terrible.  I did get an object lesson in the difference a pan can make, though.

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The éclair was done on an aluminum pan, while the puffs were done on a dark, steel sheet.  Same temp, same time.  Major lesson for me, especially since all my cake and muffin pans are the same darker metal.  Time to turn the damn oven down! Or get new pans…

Once they all came out (aren’t they pretty?), we just had to let the steam out and wait for them to cool.  In the meantime I made lemon curd.  Well, technically, I made my mom’s lemon meringue pie filling.  Which is close enough, right?  But that took a long time to come together, and we did have some whipped cream in the fridge…

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Oh yeah, them’s good eating!

Again with the piping bag, I filled the eclairs with the lemon filling, dipped the tops in the chocolate, and voila, eclairs!

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In the end, I was disappointed with the flavor.  The lemon really overwhelmed the chocolate, so I probably won’t do that combination again.  And they ended up kind of small for my taste.  But that’s me.  That said, I will definitely make choux paste again, this time maybe with pastry cream filling instead.

And cream puffs.  Definitely making cream puffs.

Laminated

Laminated

Okay, finally, the first of my Great British Bake Off posts.

I started out, like a lot of people, watching Series 5 on Netflix.  A word on terminology here.  I know here in the US it’s called the Great British Baking Show.  But it’s a BRITISH show, so I will be using the BRITISH title.  Or the abbreviation, GBBO.  Second, yes, it’s SERIES, not SEASON.  Again, BRITISH.

So anyway.  Series 5.

As I watched all 12 episodes over the course of two days, two things started catching my attention: hot water pastry and laminated dough.  I had never heard of hot water pastry before, although it turns out I probably had it once as a kid.  We were on a camping trip to the Upper Peninsula and stop for an incredibly rare meal out, where I had my first ever pastie.  Not PAY-stee, you perv, PAH-stee.  You know, a hand pie filled with meat and root veggies.  They’re pretty common in the part of the UP we were in because a lot of Cornish miners had ended up there during the copper mining boom and brought their food with them.  I remember not liking the crust very much, but I blame the lard.  I am not a lard fan, which made the pie we bought at a church fair in Maine last summer particularly disappointing.

Laminated dough looked even more intimidating.  The concept, for those who haven’t watched the show, is to fold a sheet of dough over a sheet of butter, roll it out, fold it, chill it, roll it out, fold it, chill it, over and over (at least 4 times) until you get a dough that is dozens of layers.  If you do it right, when you bake it, the butter melts into the dough, the steam from it evaporates and makes lovely, open layers.  The next time you have a croissant, tear it open and take a look.  That’s what you’re doing.

I have never done this.  And watching so many of these bakers try it and fail was frankly not making me any more inclined to try it.  But then they got to one of the technical challenges.  Again, for those who don’t watch the show, each episode is in three parts based around the theme of the week.  The first challenge is to make a recipe to the theme but that epitomizes them: a family recipe, a flavor profile, or even just their own creativity.  The second is a technical challenge, where all the bakers make the exact same recipe, usually one they have never seen before, given a recipe with only the bare minimum of instructions (no baking temperature or time, for example).  Then finally they have to do a showstopper, in which they take the theme and make something that could be displayed at a fancy party or in a shop window, something with real wow factor.

So back to this technical challenge.  It was advanced pastry week, and the challenge the bakers were set was a pastry called koiugn amann, a sweet pastry from Brittany in France.  They looked like a cross between croissants and popovers, and my mouth started watering just looking at them.  These aren’t the kind of thing you can just run out and buy, though.  (Okay, well, it turns out Trader Joe’s has them, but I didn’t know that at the time.)  So after stewing on it for a week or two, I decided to try making them.  The big blizzard was coming, so I was going to be stuck in the house anyway, so why not?

Man, I needed the whole day to make them.  I don’t know how the GBBO bakers did them in 4 hours!

I started with this recipe from The Kitchn.  I tried to keep in mind all the tips and advice and problems I’d seen on the show as I worked, and all the warnings about melting butter.  Since I had the time, I took the time.  (Although next time, I think I’ll make the dough ahead and let it chill overnight.)  The dough was pretty straight forward.  If you can make bread dough, you can make this.

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I think I scared the cat when I started pounding out the butter!  It was actually kind of frustrating trying to get two sticks to stick together instead of having one big block, but after I’d folded it a couple of times, it started to come together.  Stuck it in the freezer, pulled out the dough, got it rolled out, added the butter and away we went.

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It seemed to go pretty well.  It had a lovely, silky feel to it, and the butter didn’t fight me too much (which actually may not have been a good thing!)  I probably should have rested it a bit more so I could have stretched those corners to meet better.  Another reason to make the dough the night before.  This recipe had you adding sugar between the layers of both of the last two folds, and a LOT of it, but I kept hearing Paul insisting that it should just be on the last layer and they shouldn’t be too sweet, so I did what he said instead of following the recipe on that point.  Only about a third of a cup before that last roll and fold.  Even so, I was having a hard time getting the sugar to stay put, so I’m glad I went that route.  I also didn’t put sugar down on the board when I rolled it out to cut.  Again, I really didn’t want to overdo it.  I think there’s European sweet and American sweet, and I didn’t really want American sweet.

It was fun to cut it out, and I got them all mostly square!  Again, you can see where I didn’t quite square up the corners.  Definitely need to be more careful about that.

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And into the muffin tins for their last rise.  I sprayed these suckers within an inch of their lives, and I’m glad I did!  Aren’t they pretty?  You can even kind of see the layers in them!

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Oh, and somewhere in here, is when I managed to break my toe.  Kicked a chair going back and forth to the kitchen.  It stayed aligned, so there’s nothing to do about it but take it easy.  Which again, with this weather, isn’t such a hardship.

Still keeping in mind Paul’s advice and not wanting to get dinged for being underbaked, I left them in until the points were just this side of burning.

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I was really proud of these as they came out of the oven.  But as ever, the proof is in the eating.

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Not bad!  I stick by my description of them being the love child of a croissant and a popover.  For a first timer, I think I didn’t do too badly on the layers.  Some I lost by not getting those corners square enough, and some because I didn’t dust the flour off as I was folding.  Loose flour absorbs the liquid as they bake, so instead of puffing up, the layers cludge together.  So that’s that lesson learned.

I will definitely make these again, but they are absolutely a special occasion bake rather than an every weekend thing.  Next time I may put chocolate in the center, or maybe sweetened ricotta and strawberry jam.  And the really nice thing about them is they keep really well in the freezer!  Wrap them up individually in cling wrap, drop them in a freezer bag and just take a few out as you need them.  I toast them up in the oven just to make them warm and crisp again.  So next time I’ll definitely double the batch.  Although I’m going to need a bigger work surface!

Next up: eclairs!

(For another great post on laminated dough, check out this one at King Arthur Flour’s blog.  I may try this next time!  How hard can croissants be, right?)

In the Kitchen

In the Kitchen

It’s nesting season.  Too cold to go outside, so you hunker down in the house and putter.  We’ve been tidying the house up for our house guest, although no deep cleans yet.  That’s probably going to wait for spring.  I haven’t had a lot of enthusiasm for knitting, although the new Nerdopolis tourney has started, so that’s given me some motivation.

Which leaves the kitchen.

Even post surgery, I still love cooking.  It’s just very satisfying to put something nourishing and comforting together, even if your children don’t appreciate it.  I’ve found that unless it’s sweets, I have to feed them something 3 times before they come around to liking it.  And of course with three kids, I get three different opinions.  So I just cook what I want, and they can eat it or go hungry!

It also doesn’t help that I’ve been watching a LOT of the Great British Bake Off.  Watching 9-12 different bakes every other night gets into your head and starts planting IDEAS.  And IDEAS want to be realized.  So yeah, I’ve been baking.  I’ll save the epic projects for individual posts (they deserve it!), but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been trying smaller things.  Like my first Victoria sandwich.

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I wasn’t pleased with this.  Not the concept, because I still deeply love the premise of it.  Come on, cake, jam and whipped cream.  What could be better?  But the recipe I used (it was Mary’s, so I was a little shocked) used margarine instead of butter, and mixed it all together at once instead of creaming the butter and sugar first.  The cake tasted good enough, but it was more a cornbread consistency rather than the spongey texture you’d expect from a cake.  We also messed up the whipped cream a little bit.  I found the one situation where you don’t want really firm whipped cream, and we overdid the vanilla a bit.  Who knew that was possible?  But we redeemed it in a later bake.  More on that in another post!  But it did taste great, rather like strawberry shortcake. So I’ll definitely be trying this again.

I’ve also been trying to eat more from the freezer, which has required thinking harder about side dishes to jazz up what could potentially be a lot of boring casseroles.  I pulled out a jambalaya the other night, but the only veg I had was lettuce.  So salad it was to be.  But I’m so sick of the two salad dressings we have.  I had some avocado in the freezer, so I improvised an avocado dip/dressing that ended up being to die for.  Here’s the recipe.  I just hope I remembered all the ingredients!

Avocado Dressing/Dip

1-2 ripe avocados
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup mayo (any kind is fine)
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup onion
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
White wine or chicken broth

Put all ingredients except the salt and wine/broth in a food processer (I did this in the blender, which worked, but slowly, and it had a hard time chopping up the veg.)  Blitz until mixed, then slowly drizzle in wine/broth until the mix is the consistency you want (thicker for a dip, thinner for a dressing.)  Season to taste, and dig in!

Thicker this works GREAT as a guacamole replacement, either with chips or veggies.  Thin it down, and it makes a great salad dressing.  I tossed it with romaine and a handful of parmesan cheese, and it was perfect.

The kids need to eat it a few more times…

South Africa in my Kitchen

South Africa in my Kitchen

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Last night was the big South African dinner.  What a great experience!  Not everything met with universal approval, and there were a couple of bumps in the cooking, but it was fun, and I learned a lot!

The Menu:

Bobotie
Chicken potjiekos
Cape Malay curry
Sweetcorn bake
Chakalaka
Yellow rice
Miele pap
Blatjang
Milk tart
Malva pudding

(All these recipes and some others I found in my research are on my Pinterest board for South Africa.)

The Cooking:

This was a LOT of food, kind of like preparing for Thanksgiving.  But I’ve gotten really good at Thanksgiving, so I went at it with the same kind of organizational plan as I do for that:  Make as much as I can as far ahead as I can.  I actually probably could have started a little sooner than I did, but it all worked out.

I started on Thursday with the blatjang, which is a kind of fruit chutney served with meat dishes.  Several of the recipes I’d looked at called for it as a side, so I figured I’d better have some.  The recipe said it made 2 1/2 quarts, which was way more than I needed, so I halved it.  The only liquid in it is apple cider vinegar, which you cook down like you would a jam.  The only problem with that is that as it evaporates, the whole house smells like vinegar.  A couple of times the kids came into the kitchen and winced from the smell.

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Dried apricots and raisins soaking in the vinegar overnight

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Almonds and spices added, ready for the long, slow cook.

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After an hour

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Another 45 minutes later and it’s ready!

Even after cooking that all down, it still made more than a quart.  I’m going to have to run it through the canner.  I filled a pint jar and 7 half pints, so yeah, lots more than I needed!  I had expected it to be sweet, like a mango chutney, but while it had some sweetness, it’s still very acid.

Friday night was the chakalaka and milk tart.  I love chakalaka.  Mostly because it means I get to say “chakalaka”. Which is an awesome word.  Everyone should eat this stuff just because of the name.  And because it tastes good.  It’s basically carrots, peppers and black beans, but it has great flavor and a really nice mouth feel.  Which sounds pretentious, but honestly it does.  We all liked it warm, although the recipe says to serve it warm or cold.  I served it cold for dinner, but I think I like it better warm.  You could eat it as is, or throw some cooked chicken or pork on it to make a nice meal.

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The milk tart didn’t go as well.  The initial recipe wasn’t well written, with no instructions on how long to boil the custard mixture or even if you should, and the sequence of instructions wasn’t clear.  But I trusted it as best I could and ended up with this:

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Ugh.  Maybe it will set up over night, thought I.  I made the custard sauce for the Malva pudding and went to bed, hoping.

It didn’t.  *sigh*  Into the trash it went, and I scrambled to find a new recipe.  Found a good one on Allrecipes and banged out the crusts before I went to PT.  I didn’t get back from that until 10:30, and then it was full bore cooking until dinner at 5.

First off I finished the tarts.  This filling thickened up nicely and made two beautiful, smooth pies:

20151024_113243Then I did the Malva pudding, figuring I could add the syrup just before dessert.  Which worked out pretty well.

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I was a little worried at how full the dish was that it might overflow.

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But it worked out just about perfect!

I figured I’d do the bobotie next, as it was kind of like a meatloaf, so I could put it together and stick it in the fridge until it went in the oven.

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All the yummy bits

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All mixed together

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And in the casserole.

Oh yeah, that was a good choice.  All the lovely smells of onions and curry and turmeric were starting to fill the house.  Hero helped me with the knife work on this part until she forgot the difference between sliced and chopped.  Honestly, what do they teach kids in culinary school these days? 😉

So that went in the fridge while I made the pap.  I figured I could make that ahead and keep it in the crockpot on warm until dinner.

20151024_171217I don’t think I made it right.  It came out as more like a really dense dough than a polenta, and it was still really grainy, even though I added more water.  I think this is one of those situations you need to have had the real thing to know if you did it right.

The sweetcorn bake took no time to throw together and in the oven, although I was reminded again of the fact that I cannot cream butter by hand.  Thank you, Kitchenaid mixer!  Put that in the oven, set the time, then figured I’d do a clean up before the final push.  Loaded the dishwasher, wiped counters, pulled the plug to move the mixer back…and pulled the entire powerstrip out of the wall.  Which was fine, I just plugged it back in, completely forgetting that the microwave that had just been reset had had the timer for the sweetcorn bake.  Which I’d forgotten was in the oven.

Next up was the curry, as that had the longest cooking time.  Another round of sauteeing onions and garlic, veggies, meat, then adding in the tomatoes, fruit and spices.  Oh. My. God.  Before it had even had its stewing time, I wanted to crawl into the pot of this stuff and never come out.

20151024_152852Yes, you’re seeing right, those are banana slices in there.  And apricots, raisins, almonds, carrots, ginger, curry, turmeric, cardamom… Foodgasm doesn’t even come close.  I had been excited about this recipe even before this just because it seemed to have all the flavors of Indian food that I love without the heat that I can’t cope with.  But honestly?  You can’t really compare this two.  They’re just totally different creatures that share genes.  Very, very good genes.

That had to simmer for a couple of hours, so I put the bobotie in the oven…and found the sweetcorn bake.  Just in time!  It was perfectly done, despite my inattention, and looked yummy!

20151024_171331Then it was back to slicing up veggies for the potjiekos.  Potjiekos is Afrikaans for “little pots”, and basically it is a layered dish intended to be cooked in a cast iron pot over a fire.  For this one, we sauteed onions, garlic and chicken, then layered on potatoes, sweet potato, squash, carrots, green beans and mushrooms, then added cinnamon stick, bay leaves and pepper, put the lid on it and forgot about it.  On purpose this time.

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The recipe specifically says not to stir it, so I didn’t.  Much.  I just couldn’t see how the seasoning was going to get through everything!

Last up was the yellow rice, which, once you get it in the pot, is pretty hands off.

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From there I added the custard to the top of the bobotie and started laying out the table.

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Most of the custard slid down the sides, dang it!

 

The Dinner

 

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None of the adults I’d invited aside from Nikki were able to come, but most of Hero’s friends were there.  Have you tried feeding new foods to teenagers?  But I have to give them points for trying.  They all liked the potjiekos best, probably because it was a) chicken and 2) the least seasoned of everything.  To my surprise, they liked it with the pap, so maybe I didn’t go entirely wrong there.  My favorite was the curry with the yellow rice.  I was disappointed in the bobotie, which I had expected to really like.  But the flavor of the lamb just overwhelmed everything else in the dish.  the blatjang helped a little, but it wasn’t my favorite.  But that’s okay, because Morgan really liked it and wasn’t crazy about the curry.  Balance!

We had the main courses, then took a break to clean up a bit while I put the finishing touches on dessert.  Which I completely forgot to take pictures of.  Doh.  The milk tart was nice and refreshing, not too sweet.  Nikki and I agreed it would be really good with some fresh fruit or compote, or a nice sweet wine.  The Malva pudding was the opposite end of the spectrum, almost too sweet!  It’s like a dense bread pudding soaked in simple syrup.  It really needed the custard to cut the sugary sweetness, but it was still really good.  I think both of those are being added to the recipe collection.

The Aftermath

As I expected, there was a lot of food left over.  I had prepared by getting take out boxes from the dollar store, and packed up samplers for the folks who couldn’t make it.  The curry I packed up in single(ish) meal containers for me to take to work, and did the same with the bobotie for Morgan to have for his lunches.  The potjiekos I split into two containers to be the meat and veg base for a couple of last minute soups.  So not much went to waste.  Except the pap.

So all in all, a good experiment.  I’m looking forward to the next one!  The mother of one of Hero’s friends is Colombian and has offered to send us some dishes if we do a Colombian night, and I’m not about to say no to that.  Apparently she makes amazing cicerones.  But it will be a couple of months.  Next month I’m cooking actual Thanksgiving, so I’m not putting myself through two major meals in a month.  I think I’m going to take them out to a Japanese hibachi place instead.  It’s a kind of cooking I can’t do myself, and while they’ve had sushi, they haven’t had other kinds of Japanese food.  December will be crazy with getting ready for the holidays, so I thought we’d to something Scandinavian (cuz you know, that’s where Santa comes from), so I’m thinking fondue.  We do a home fondue for New Year’s Eve, but this way the kids can see just how bad I do at it!

So, farewell from South Africa!  I’ll report back with our next destination!  And if you have any questions about what we ate or how I made it, let me know!

Sagittarius By Any Means Necessary

Sagittarius By Any Means Necessary

I think I’m a pretty traditional Sagittarian.  Philosophical, intellectual, a bit of wanderlust.  The only problem is I’m poor.  No matter how much I would love to travel to… well, anywhere, really, I barely have the means to leave the state.  This eats at me at times, especially when my friends get to take these great trips all over.  This summer was an anomaly that I doubt will be repeated for a while, barring a lottery windfall.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t dream about it.

Since I broke my foot, I’ve been spending a lot of time on the couch.  Great knitting time, but I need to have distraction while I’m doing it.  I paged through Netflix and ended up on a couple of Anthony Bourdain’s travel shows.  Which I pretty much inhaled.  I can sit for hours watching these shows.  It’s how I tend to experience new cultures, unsurprisingly for a fat (even former) girl.  But it makes me want to climb through the screen to inhale all the smells of the places he visits.  Yes, even durian fruit.  I want that experience.

I’m sick of the food I normally cook.

Take these three seemingly random facts, put them together, and you get my latest project.  I’ve decided that once a month, I’m going to let the kids pick a country, any country, and I’m going to make a big sampler dinner of foods from that country.  It’ll give me an excuse to spend a few weeks poking through recipes and learning about the culture, and then I’ll cook 3-4 entrees, 2-3 sides and a couple of desserts so we can try everything.  I’m inviting anyone who wants to to come over.  Certainly my friends, but also the kids’ friends, hell, you can come to if you want!  You don’t have to bring anything, but if you do, it has to be from the country du jour.

I presented this idea to the kids last night.  The boys looked kind of not impressed, but Hero immediately came out with “South Africa!”  Which, okay, where the hell did that come from?  My second thought was, “How different could that be from other European colonial food?”  I picked up my phone and started looking and wow, it’s REALLY different!  Now I’m getting excited! I’ve got about a week to pull recipes together, and I’m going to cook for the dinner on the 24th.  None of the ingredients seem too far out there, so it will be interesting to see how it goes.  Just need a bottle of South African wine!

So expect monthly reports as I travel within the confines of my kitchen!  And if you have any recipe or resource suggestions, shout them out!  I need all the help I can get!

Another One For the (Recipe) Books

Another One For the (Recipe) Books

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I’m working from home today.  As I tweeted earlier, this is dangerous, as home is where the food lives.

I’m back up to 145 pounds.  Which isn’t bad, but I was almost to 140 before I started comfort eating.  This is a big problem for me, especially now that I’m not as active.  Starting Monday, I’m back to tracking and behaving.  Not going down that slide again.

But I’m not going to regret finishing the homemade brownies this morning.  Because brownies.

I’d show you a picture of them, but I can’t.  Because I ate them.  Still not sorry.

This is another one of those recipes from my mom that I ended up tweaking.  It calls for baking chocolate.  Who the hell keeps baking chocolate these days?  Certainly not me.  My kids would eat it behind my back.  (Well, we did the same when we were kids.  Well, not me.  Ben.  Ben would eat anything marginally sweet if he thought he could get away with it.  Even though he usually didn’t.  It was totally Ben.  Every time.  Honest.)(Okay, yes, I tried it once.  That was all it took.  Never again.  Have you tasted plain baking chocolate?  UGH!)

Where was I?

Oh yeah, baking chocolate.  Which I never have.  But I did have cocoa powder.  And on the side of the container, it had instructions for how to substitute cocoa powder and Crisco for baking chocolate.  Well, I had that.  But as always, I called Mom to see if she thought it would work.  She was…doubtful.  But I wanted brownies, so I figured bad brownies were better than no brownies and gave it a shot.

Sorry, Mom, I like these better than yours.

They were a little softer than hers, with a really nice mouth feel and perfect chocolate-ness.  And I had half a bag of walnuts, so in they went.  Perfect, perfect brownies.  I’ll make them this way from now on.

Cocoa Powder Brownies

3/4 c cocoa powder
1/2 c + 1 T Crisco
2 c sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 c flour
1 t baking powder
1 t salt
1 c chopped walnuts (optional)

Put cocoa powder and Crisco in a glass measuring cup or small bowl and melt in microwave in 30 second bursts, mixing until smooth.  In separate bowl, mix eggs and sugar until well blended.  Add melted cocoa slowly until well blended.  Add flour, baking powder and salt, mixing until fully incorporated into a thick paste.  If using nuts or other add ins, fold them in.  Press dough into a greased 9X13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes until done.

Feel free to add other goodies (chocolate or other flavor chips, peppermint pieces, fresh raspberries) in place of the nuts.  Go wild!

The Whole Enchilada

The Whole Enchilada

One of the things I’ve been doing during my recovery is cooking.  A lot.  I’ve mostly mastered Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes and several variants, I made 3 different kinds of cookie dough for the freezer, and I roasted a chicken upside down.  Oops.  But I also have been easing into “throw it in a pot and see what happens” cooking.  See, I’m a strict by the recipe sort of cook.  I’ve never been one of those people who could see what’s in the fridge and pantry and whip up a meal.  But when you can’t go shopping and you’re running out of groceries, you start to get creative.  So first off, I took an old family standby my mom used to make us and goosed it a bit.  Spanish rice (which really isn’t very Spanish at all) was a cheap and filling meal we had pretty regularly.  It’s just browned hamburger, onions, green pepper, tomato sauce and rice seasoned with salt and pepper.  A lot of times we’d have it with American cheese on top.  I had all the ingredients in the house, so I made it for dinner.  But I also realized I had a can of whole corn and one of black beans which we were never likely to eat, as I don’t like black beans.  But they’re Spanish, right?  Ish?  So for grins, I threw them in (after calling to check this out with Mom.  When in doubt on cooking, I always call her.  Sorry, Mom.)

It was really good.

Good enough that I’m actually going to start keeping black beans and corn in the pantry for just such an occasion. The kids LOVED it.  Which, yay, because they don’t usually like rice.  They did leave enough for one or two more servings, though, so I bagged it up and put it in the freezer.

Another night, I thought I’d make enchiladas.  I had pork carnitas in the freezer, cheese and tortillas in the fridge.  All I needed was the enchilada sauce.  But a) Hero doesn’t like enchilada sauce and 2) I couldn’t fecking go out to GET enchilada sauce.  So I started poking around and found a quick hit sauce recipe.  It was mostly good, and I had all the ingredients, although most of the commenters said it didn’t make very much.  So I doubled it.  And then doubled it again, so I could make a second pan for the freezer.  I tweaked some of the ingredients (tomato puree instead of sauce, more cumin, less red pepper) and ended up with a wonderful thick red sauce that wasn’t too spicy but still flavorful and was just perfect.  Even Hero liked it!  And it made a ton, so I have 4 pints of it in the freezer for future dinners.

Then I remembered the leftover Spanish rice.  Wouldn’t that be the perfect filling for an enchilada?  Why yes.  Yes it would.  Some cheese, maybe some refried beans just as a binder.  Perfect.  So I made a pan!  Can’t wait to eat them!

So here you go.  Two recipes so you can have the whole enchilada as well!

Spanish Rice

1 lb. ground beef
1 large onion, diced
1 large green pepper, diced
1 28 oz. can tomato puree
1 can black beans, drained
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
Rice (I made 2 cups uncooked and used it all)

Sauté the onions and green pepper until starting to soften, then add the ground beef to brown.  Add the tomato puree, beans and corn and heat through.  Add the rice and stir through, then season with salt and pepper to taste.  Since there is no chili powder in this, be generous with the pepper or, you know, add chili powder to taste!

Enchilada Sauce

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup chili powder
1 large can tomato puree
5 cups water
2 T ground cumin
1/2 T garlic powder
1/2 T onion powder
Salt to taste

In large, heavy bottomed sauce pan, heat oil.  Add flour and chili powder to make a slightly thickened roux.  Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer until desired thickness. Mine was about the thickness of a white sauce, but you could make it thinner or thicker to your tastes.  Makes a little over 10 cups.

Next time I might sauté minced onions and garlic instead of using the onion and garlic powder.  But for quick and dirty, this worked well!

(Sorry there are no pictures.  My cameras have all given up the ghost!)

Recipes

Recipes

A couple of goodies I’m mostly writing down so I don’t lose (Can’t put everything on Pinterest!)  Plus I know you’re dying to make what I do!

First up: DIY pot noodles!

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In desperation and low funds, I bought the kids some ramen packs to have for lunches.  And stole a couple of mouthfuls for myself.  I like ramen well enough, but I don’t like the seasoning packets, and they’re way too high in fat and carbs for me now.  So when I saw this great post on the Kitchn website for DIY ramen, I got a little excited!  I need to play with the recipes given, but I had an opportunity to get creative on Wednesday night.  We had leftover spaghetti and sauce from dinner, so I thought, why not try to do a minestrone bowl?  And it wasn’t bad.  I think I used to much beef paste, as it was REALLY salty, but otherwise it was yummy!

Minestrone Pot Noodles

1/2 T beef bouillon paste
1/4 c pasta sauce with meat (or without if you prefer)
1/4 c frozen mixed veggies
1/4 c frozen spinach
1-2 T canned white beans (I used garbanzos as that was what I had on hand.  Red beans would work, too)
1 c cooked spaghetti
1 T shredded fresh basil
1/2 scallion, sliced
1 T parmesan

Spread bouillon paste on bottom of a widemouth pint jar.  Layer pasta sauce, then frozen veggies and beans, then spaghetti, packing down tight.  Put basil and scallion in a snack size bag, roll up and tuck into jar.  Do the same with the parmesan.  When ready to use, remove the bags, fill jar to 1 inch from top with boiling water, stir, put lid on, wait 3 minutes, then add the basil, onion and parmesan, stir again and eat.

More of these as I try them!  But go to the Kitchn post for the basic method so you can try your own combos!

Another website find was homemade English muffins.  These may be my absolute downfall.  When I was in grad school, Thomas’ made these things called Australian toaster biscuits, which I LOVED.  Mom would get them for me every time I came home.  But then they stopped, and I was sad.  Fast forward way too many years.  I’ve started doing Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day off and on.  I know it sounds kind of gimmicky, but honestly, it’s an easy way to have great bread around.  Since I shouldn’t eat much bread these days, I like the bread I do have to be really good.  We make the brioche dough a lot, as it makes really good cinnamon rolls easily.  The only problem is that it makes a lot of dough in each batch, as a batch is intended to last up to two weeks.  I could have the dough, but that’s no fun!  So I was looking for ideas for other things to do with the dough, and found the English muffin post.  I had about a pound of dough left, so I figured I’d try it out.  OMG, they were SO good!  They remind me of those Australian toaster biscuits, dense and chewy without the bitterness of traditional English muffins that I don’t like.  I think I’m going to make a full batch of dough tonight to turn all of it into these for the freezer.  They came out very thick and broad, so I think for the next batch I’m going to cut it down to 2 ounces instead of 3.5 but still pat them out as wide.  And I only get to have a half a one at a time. I ate most of the six from the first batch, and I’m not ashamed of it, but the scale was a little unhappy this morning…  (I’m sorry there’s no pictures of these.  I ate them all.  As I said.  Still not ashamed.)

And finally, I owe you marinade recipes!  I used these on salmon, but they would work well on chicken or pork, too.  Hrm, or maybe grilled shrimp…

Maple Dijon

4 T maple syrup
2-4 T Dijon mustard (depending on how mustard-y you like things)
1 lb fish

Mix the syrup and mustard to combine.  Put fish or meat in a freezer safe zipper bag, pour in the sauce and seal.  Squish it around gentle to cover everything, then freeze flat.  Thaw to use, then broil or grill as you prefer

4 tablespoons of mustard was a little much for us, so next time I’ll halve that.  I may put some curry powder in it as well for variety.

Mustard Soy Marinade

1/2 c soy sauce
2 t red pepper flake
2 t whole grain or Dijon mustard
1 t garlic powder
1/3 c oil
1/3 c brown sugar
2 lb fish

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.  Put fish or meat in two freezer safe zipper bags, pour in the sauce and seal.  Squish it around gentle to cover everything, then freeze flat.  Thaw to use, then broil or grill as you prefer

We haven’t tried this one yet, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?

Balsamic Glaze

2/3 c balsamic vinegar
3 T brown sugar
2 T Dijon
2 lb fish

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.  Put fish or meat in two freezer safe zipper bags, pour in the sauce and seal.  Squish it around gentle to cover everything, then freeze flat.  Thaw to use, then broil or grill as you prefer.

This is the one I’m most excited about!  I have a sacred bottle of orange cranberry balsamic vinegar as thick as molasses that we got in a shop in the Italian Market a year or two ago, which I love to use on pork, but this seemed an even better application of it!

There, I think that’s the lot of it for now!  Payday’s today, so once I pay all the bills, (ouch) I’ll see how much I can put towards expanding my pantry to keep ingredients for all these on hand!

Food Security

Food Security

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When my finances get tight, I worry about food.  For some reason, when the money runs low, I want to bake.  Not a great coping mechanism for someone who’s had weight loss surgery, but there you are.  Fortunately I have teenagers, so none of it lasts long.  But from a practical angle, it makes sense.  I try to keep a well stocked pantry so that even when the money’s tight, I can still feed everyone without breaking the bank.

But occasionally the pantry isn’t enough.  That’s when freezer cooking is my friend.  I don’t do it regularly (no Once a Month cooking for me), but when the urge and the income align, I spend a week planning and a weekend cooking.  This past weekend was that week.

It started with the list.  What did I want to put up?  I try to get a mix of proteins in.  Chicken recipes are easy to come by for the freezer, beef, pork and fish less so.  I try to do about 10 different recipes, figuring to get 2-3 meals out of each. I have some pinned on Pinterest, but I really need to start a dedicated binder just for freezer cooking recipes.  Although many of the recipes I do are just my regular everyday cooking that I package up and freeze.  Most things you cook anyway are freezable.  Just double the recipe when you cook and stash one away for later!  It’s not leftovers, it’s just frozen.  If you eat frozen pizza, you’ll be fine with freezer prep meals.

Next up is cleaning.  Trust me on this one.  You need to clean the fridge to have room for all the ingredients, and you need to purge your freezer(s) to have someplace to put the finished products.  Plus you want clear decks and an empty dishwasher for production day.  DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.

Then there’s the shopping, which I do the day before the cook.  I make 3 stops.  First off is the dollar store.  Yup.  You know all those tinfoil pans you can get 3 for $3.50 at the grocery store?  Guess how much they are at the dollar store?  Aw, you cheated!  And they have both square and round ones with the waxed cardboard lids like you get from takeout places, which are perfect for freezer cooking.  So I got a dozen of the rectangular ones, and then off we went to Costco.

I love my Costco membership.  It pays for itself with three trips to get cheese, as long as I can resist buying any of the optional extras.  Ground beef is a lot cheaper, and the fresh salmon was $1.50 cheaper as well.  Even the chicken thighs were cheaper, although you had to buy a lot.  Not a problem.  We eat a lot of chicken.  And it’s vacuum sealed in 4 packs, which is perfect for us.  Add in three kinds of cheese and my protein bars (plus lunch for my shopping helper) and we did well.  $250 for 25 lbs of raw chicken, 12 lbs ground beef, 3.5 lbs salmon and 2 rotisserie chickens as well as 5 lbs each of cheddar and mozzarella, 2 lb of string cheese, 3 bottles of ketchup, the protein bars and parchment paper.  Oh, and Ziploc bags, although I goofed and got the regular kind instead of the freezer bags.

All the fragile stuff went into the cooler in the back of the car before we went to stop #3, the grocery store.  I like the local Giant, because the store brand is good quality and the prices are the best around me.  I’m not going to go to multiple stores to get stuff, as I’m already trashed from Costco, so Giant it is.  From there I get all the canned and dried stuff like pasta and tomatoes, plus anything else we need at home (why does milk cost more than a gallon of gas? And why do my kids drink so much of it?)  We spent about $70 there this time out.  Came home, unloaded it into the fridge and pantry and then I got the heck out of Dodge and went to spent the evening with Nikki and Deb.  I probably should have gotten to bed a teensy bit earlier.  Learn from my mistake.

Sunday morning, I got up at 8 and got to work.  Well.  I emptied the dishwasher and had breakfast.  I should have already had a strategy for how to go about this, but the weather was putting a damper on things.  It finally decided to go into the 90’s with massive humidity.  We had an excessive heat warning on for that afternoon, but by then I was committed.  Fortunately most of the things I had planned didn’t require actual cooking, so I figured I’d get the hot things out of the way first.

First thing I did, though, was throw half a dozen onions into the food processor.  80% of what I was cooking needed chopped onions, so I just got that out of the way, put them in a Tupperware on the counter and scooped from that whatever I needed.  Next I put dinner in the crockpot.  I found an interesting recipe for Jambalaya online, so that was dinner and three meals for the freezer. (If you make this, plan extra time for the rice to cook through)  I plugged the crockpot in in the laundry room so it wasn’t in my way on the kitchen counters.

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Then I got serious.

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Shepherd’s pie

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Lasagna rolls

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Stuffed shells

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Mini meatloaf

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Chicken cordon bleu casserole

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Cacciatori

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Mozzarella filled meatballs

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Chicken dump bags (called that because you dump stuff into the bags) in Caribbean, Cantonese, Sticky (peanut butter based), and “Sticky” (kind of barbecue) flavors, 2 bags each

By the time that was all done, it was 4:00 and I could barely stand, so the salmon waited until Monday, when I made three different marinades: Maple Dijon, Asian, and Balsamic that I snazzed up with my precious orange/cranberry balsamic. (I’ll share the recipes in another post.) Should make a really nice fish!

In the end, I had 33 meals in the freezers, and not much room left.  They were both working so hard, they were having a hard time of it.  Our popsicles all half melted, to the point that when Morgan took one and went to pull it out of the wrapper, all that came out was the stick!  And that was all from stuff that wasn’t even hot from cooking.

But now, as long as I don’t lose power, I’ll always have something to feed everyone.  I only cook outside the box 4 days a week (the box being mac & cheese on Mondays (which Morgan cooks), spaghetti on Wednesdays, and pizza on Fridays), and most of the time I don’t need something out of the freezer.  I’m only using one of these this menu cycle, or at least that’s all that’s planned.  But if we have another scorching day, at least I know that I can grab something and drop it in the crockpot, or if I want to bake, I don’t have to do that on top of making dinner.

Now I just need room in the freezer for ice cream so I can make these blueberry pie ice cream sandwiches I found…