Mac and Cheese: One of my Favorite Comfort Foods- What’s Yours?

It snowed about 13 inches (33.2 cm) in my neck of the woods, so it seemed like a good time to make one of my favorite comfort foods: macaroni and cheese. It seems that I love cheese. And I love pasta! I hope this blog can be an interactive one. So, I’m asking you to share with me, in your comments, about what is one of your favorite “Comfort Foods”. Would you be willing to share your recipe? You know, that favorite dish that gives you the feeling of being completely satisfied by the aromas, the textures, the feel in your mouth as you chew it. What is is about macaroni and cheese?

My recipe varies, but this is what I did last Saturday. I began with four tablespoons of butter (56.7g) in a hot pan. I sautéed about one-fourth of a cup (56.7g) of diced onions. Then I added 1 strip of bacon (diced) and cooked until crisp. Then I added 2 tablespoons (28.3g) of rye flour (I didn’t feel like using white flour). Once my liquids had absorbed the flour and I had a smooth paste, I added milk, about 2 cups (500ml), and stirred to cook until it began to thicken. Oh, yes. Before I added milk, I added about one-half cup (125ml) of dark stout to the thickening sauce. It added, yet, another dimension to the aroma of the sauce.

Once the béchamel was becoming thick, I added 4 cups shredded cheddar (450ml) and 1 cup shredded mozzarella (225ml). To that I added one 16 ounce (454g) of shell pasta, which I had cooked al dente in salted water. I combined the pasta and the béchamel in a buttered glass pan, and baked at 350 degrees F (180 C ) for about 30 minutes until the Mac and Cheese was bubbling. It went well with a sparkling Viognier wine. We loved it and were greatly satisfied.

Some our other comfort foods include homemade bread, beef stroganoff, linguini and clam sauce, and salmon and rice (I will do another story on salmon and rice, a specialty of my deceased mother-in-law). One of our favorite breakfast comfort meals includes “Eggs and Soldiers”: soft-boiled eggs and toasted bread cut into strips. We love it with Earl Grey tea.

Now it’s your turn. What are some of your comfort foods. If you can, share a recipe and a picture. I love to share!

Thank you for reading my blog.

My New Book – Cook Book!

My dear friend, Carole, gifted me, her Indigenous friend, a wonderful book of stories about my Indigenous ancestors and traditional recipes using ingredients of the hunter/gatherer culture that marked their existence. The recipes, some of which I remember from my grandmothers, include wild game, such as venison; which is the only meat in my freezer next to lamb; and juniper berries; used to tame the “wild flavor” when deer have to resort to lichens and sage for food during the long winters of Colorado and depleted fresh browse.

The author, Chef Sean Sherman (Lakota), who grew up on Pine Ridge Reservation, empowers the gentle reader, and would-be cook, to explore his or her own backyard to see what’s there. I remember my Grandma Margaret (May she Rest In Peace) using purslane, a delicious, succulent-type green that grows in gardens and along sidewalks. She would fry it with squash and corn to serve with pinto beans. We call that trio, The Three Sisters. Sherman says that purslane packs more vitamin E than spinach. Here’s the book:

Don’t you love his play on the French word, “sous” meaning “under” and often referring to the chef working with or “under” the master chef. In Sherman’s case, he’s referring to his lineage of Lakota Sioux. I love the book because he combines food history, or the concept of “food sovereignty” (Eating as our ancestors rather than the government commodities given to us when we were removed from our lands and put onto reservations) along with recipes. We eat quite delicious food! My friend, Nancy says when I prepare “Grandma’s food, which features the Three Sisters, she could likely “sell tickets” to the event, because of the “great food”!

Speaking of Nancy, I paid her a visit this past weekend, armed with lamb, mushrooms, green onions (wrong time of year to gather wild onions), and Colorado juniper berries. I cooked the Hunter’s Stew from the book. Don’t think of the famous Italian Hunter’s Stew made with chicken. Not this. This recipe calls for bison, a very lean meat. I’ll get to that later. Here’s some background. Sherman tells the story of the bison hunt of the his people Indigenous to the Central High Plains of the American Midwest. The women processed an entire bison, about 1800 pounds ( ~816 kg). Bison provided food, clothing, tools, other household items, and shelter. One could say it was a “keystone” species for the Indigenous peoples of the Plains. In the U. S. Government’s efforts to annihilate Indigenous people (called “Indians”) it chose to wipeout their source of life: the bison. Bison appear to be making a small comeback: most on ranches, and they run free at Yellowstone National Park.

Okay. Let’s get back to the recipe for Hunter’s Stew. Notice the wonderful ingredients in the list.

I didn’t have sumac or bison stock, so I used a little beef stock and omitted the sumac. I made corn meal mush the previous night so that I had firm corn “cakes” to brown in butter. The corn cakes provided the base for the stew, per Sherman’s suggestion, the stew be served over the corn cakes. I made and served bread to round out the meal. Nancy’ s son, Landon joined us, a handsome young lad who loves my cooking!

I love to cook, and I love to share a meal with good friends. Here, our meal:

I took the picture with an app called “foodie”, and I’m not sure it did the meal justice, but it was delicious, and Landon ate three to four servings. I love it when people eat my creations with hearty appetites! You can see the corn cake peeking out from under the stew. Next time, I will salt the corn meal cooking water just a little more. As usual, experiment with your cooking. As the author of this cookbook says, ” Cookbooks are suggestions “. Create, experiment, have fun, and share with friends.

Thank you for reading.

My Son- Food Lover and Wonderfully Creative Cook!

Stevie loves to cook! Who knows how much a child observes a mother, who loves to cook, to becomes a cook, himself? Or if watching mom in the kitchen was even the reason he fell in love with the creative process of cooking? Well, Stevie loves to cook and bake! I may have already written about his first loaves of bread that came out of the oven perfect, the very first time! “Mom, just tell me what to do.” That was one conversation on the phone. He even went to culinary school for a semester (carpentry is his first love, so culinary became an avocation) where he soon became lead bread baker for the school’s cafe. Keep in mind this was a kid who thought school lunch was wonderful when he was young. He was a favorite of the school cooks, I can tell you! “That was the best lunch, ever”. He’d say on a daily basis. I imagined they thought I gave him “Spagettios” at home, or some other canned stuff. So the first loaves of his fabulous bread turned turned into years of inspiring loaves.

His loaves make people happy, They are simple, tasty, aromatic, and wonderfully satisfying plain, slathered in butter, or with jam. The next day, Stevie’s loaves make the best French toast.

I went to visit our son; and his girlfriend, Paige. He made his newly found favorite, meat and vegetable pie! It wasn’t even Christmas! He would have made Charles Dickens’ character, Mrs. Joe Gargery, proud. Anyway, Stevie made a two-pie crust. Meanwhile, on the stove, he combined ground beef (a quicker version), onions, mixed vegetables, seasonings, and dark oatmeal stout. He simmered it until thickened, and set it aside while he finished the pie crust. When the crust was ready, he poured in the “stew” and topped it off with the other crust. He sealed the crusts, and popped it into a very hot oven for about 40 minutes.

We ate the meat pie heartily, and chased it with more oatmeal stout!

Here’s the happy couple!

I wonder if he’ll make his own wedding cake…hint…hint!

Tomato Soup and Toasted Cheese

Why does a toasted cheese sandwich and tomato soup “hit the spot” in the winter months?  I’m not sure that was a childhood staple for you, but I grew up in the mountains, and when we came home from sledding, skating, or skiing, that particular menu item filled our bellies and warmed our hearts!   Perhaps Mom and/or Dad fed us that because bread, cheese, butter, and tomato soup we cheap and filling to seven hungry children.  To this day, I think my siblings would say that it’s a “go to” meal.  Well, except my sister, Eileen.  She watches her weight.  I just watch my weight…grow.

If this is your first time reading me, I took a different job within the institution of higher education where I once serve as a faculty member for 13 years.  In this iteration, I am now in a different department where I serve as director of intercultural learning (that’s another story).  So, I am living in temporary quarters until we sell a house and buy one.

One of my roommates, Regan, bakes a fantastic loaf of sourdough bread!  My other roommate has a friend who makes hard cheese (white cheddar), and I like to make tomato soup from scratch.  Together,  served a delicious and simple meal.

My tomato soup:

12 Roma Tomatoes (blanched, peeled, and blended, or chopped finely)

6 ounces (170g) of homemade pesto (I’ve offered my recipe for this a number of entries ago, but you likely have a good recipe yourself).

4 mushrooms of your choice

1/4 of a small onion or 2 shallots

One cup of red wine

1 block of cream cheese (8 ounces/227g)

1 tablespoon (14.2g) olive oil

Begin by heating oil on medium heat.  Add onions/shallots and cook until transparent.  Add mushrooms, and cook until water has evaporated.  Add tomatoes, and cook until liquid has dissipated.  Add wine, and cook until the alcohol has evaporated, but the flavor remains.  Now add the pesto.  You get your salt, more oil, and texture from the pine nuts in the pesto, so you don’t have to add too much more salt, but make sure it’s to your taste.  If you want a smoother soup, you can use an immersion blender, here.  When your soup reaches a thick point, and you are getting close to serving it, add the cream cheese with the heat lowered just a little bit.  Here it is.

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While you’re watching your soup come together, you can build your toasted (sometimes called, “grilled cheese”) sandwiches.  We sliced the lovely sourdough bread, buttered it on the outside, and laid the sliced cheese.  For the two-sided, enclosed sandwich, we buttered two slices of bread to put on the outside so that it made contact with the griddle.  We used a toaster oven for the open-faced, toasted cheese sandwich.  Both are wonderful!  Now, you may think that my tomato soup looks a little like Welsh Rarebit.  I don’t put Worcestershire sauce, or dry mustard, or flour, or stout, but you could modify this recipe to be Welsh Rarebit, which is also quite delicious.  Leave out the pesto, wine, and mushrooms, however.

When we assembled our tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches so that we could dip the sandwiches into the soup.  The next morning, for breakfast, I poured the thick soup over my toasted cheese sandwich.

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As with all meals, eat them with people you love and who allow you to be who you are.

Thank you for reading.

Afghani Baked Chicken and Vegetables Made by Patty

Patty, my temporary roommate, welcomes a variety of people into her home, which she operates as a sort of temporary/long-term “boarding house”. Some of these situations are called, AirBnB.

In a university town, we get multiple opportunities to interact with students and their families from at least 82 countries – not to mention our domestic multicultural students from varying backgrounds. It’s absolutely delightful for this social scientist! Patty, a nurse, has embraced the concept of welcoming many beautiful people in to her home, so it is today that I learn a recipe that Patty learned from her friend, Ariana from Kabul, Afghanistan. Ariana could not come to eat with us since our chicken is not halal, so Patty watched the process with her friend and fetched the spices from Ariana’s house wrapped inside a tissue. Here’s her process.

The spices: whole cumin, masala mix, and black pepper are mixed in a marinade of oil, spices, garlic, and potatoes. The chicken and potatoes should sit in the marinade for at least 45 minutes. Bake it at 325F (~150 – 170 C) for 30-45 minutes. At this point the fresh vegetables are added: onion, yellow sweet pepper, tomatoes. Patty added celery, because she did not have tomato.

While we were waiting for the chicken and vegetables to bake, we chatted about life, our jobs, our families, our preferences, and our varying critiques of political challenges in current news. To keep our appetites whetted, we enjoyed baked Brie topped with my own “signature” fig apple jam and placed on a walnut. Popped in our mouths and chased with a sip of Cabernet Sauvignon, which may not have been the perfect pairing for chicken, but it’s what I like, we waited patiently for the chicken to reach a temperature of 165 F (75 C). It began to smell so rich and savory!

As it turned out, the meal was absolutely delicious! The savory spices mingled in the thickened marinade. Patty plated the meal with a dollop of Ariana’s homemade yogurt. We ate it slowly to savor the flavors, and we toasted with a glass of wine. Patty creatively cooked the long-grain, white rice with onion, small bits of celery, whole fenugreek, whole mustard seed. She added the rice after she brought the spices and vegetables to the point of fragrance. Then she added the rice and water and cooked over medium heat with a cloth-wrapped lid. The rice cooked until somewhat dry. For extra protein, Patty added Urad Dal (split matpe beans). It gave extra body and texture to the rice.

We ended our meal with homemade hard cheese dipped in home-spun, home gathered honey! Patty’s Dad, Dean, is a bee keeper, and the honey is from his hard work. Mmmmm….

Thank you for reading!

Exploring Other Cultures Through Music and Food

Two of my favorite things in life, beside my family, are music and food. Music as a medium is a way to explore cultures. I have co-hosted a two-hour music show on public radio, with my dear friend, Lynn. Our theme was curating, broadcasting, and discussing music of the world in the folk tradition. What does that mean? I am quite sure there is a human group on this planet that does not have music. Music is the ultimate communication tool. We use some form of music, on instruments or voices, to express love, faith, happiness, sadness, and the whole range of human emotions. We explore political systems with music. We relate stories about birth, death, dying, murder, disaster, and other events in the human experience. We may sing about our dogs, cats, our cars, our bicycles, trains, and other forms of transportation.

Some of my favorite forms of musical explorations are those that related news of the day and other current events. The English and Scottish popular ballads collected by Francis James Child were broadsides, sort of news-carrying posters, that told stories of, for example, a man killing his mistress for becoming pregnant, or about a hanging on the “gallows pole”. Led Zeppelin once recorded that vary song, which was a “Child Ballad”. Folk Duo, Simon and Garfunkel recorded a song called “Scarborough Fair”, which was Child’s “Elfin Knight”. Child was Harvard’s first oratory and rhetoric professor at the end of the 19th Century when he collected more than 300 ballads of English and Scottish origins. He also noted that many of those ballads arrived on, what is now, United States soil largely intact and made their way into the Appalachian mountains, Arkansas, and Virginia. There are other stories of song collectors, like Ralph Van Williams, known for orchestrating the traditional “Greensleeves” as other orchestration of poetry, like George Meredith’s “A Lark Ascending”. We can look to music to give us a glimpse into the history of a people. That is why I love it.

For the past eight years I’ve played in a band. In my first band, I played with very good musicians. That helped me to be a better musician. In my most recent band, there did not seem to be a desire to practice, and we were not the best musically, but we had a great time, and the people who came to hear us had a good time. Now, I meet with a group of musicians weekly. They are very good, and I can see that I will have to step up my game. One thing for sure, each musician in these musical gatherings walks away feeling good about the two or more hours spent together in expressions about the fabric of humanity. In the picture above, a friend and I entered a “talent” contest, and we performed a song called, “Sweet Violets”, which is a rather goofy song once performed by Mitch Miller and his Orchestra. Look it up. It’s a fun song with unexpected poetic forms.

I have moved recently. I used to live in a small rural community that boasted 36 languages and dialects. My job (and passion) was researching the new communities to understand better their lives around health, well-being, and social connections. I ate many a wonderful meal around tables with families from 10 countries of Africa, eight Latin-American countries, 10 Asian countries, and many others. Now, I’m in a university town, and I still have the wonderful opportunities to share meals with international families. Until we get fully moved from our previous town to this new town, I live in temporary quarters with another person, Patty. A good fit for me, Patty connects with many people from different parts of the world. One evening I came “home” to find friends from China who had brought their “hot pot”. On the table were many-colored vegetables, raw meats, tofu, and noodles laying ready for us, gathered around a pot of exquisitely-flavored broths, to plunge our chosen food-stuffs in for a fragrantly-cooked meal. The pot held two types of boiling broths. One was mild, and one was hot. (I’m sorry that I can’t rotate this picture. Apparently, it has something to do with doing this from my iPad).

During our meal, we talked. We laughed. We ate, and we shared stories of our personal experiences. Once again, food was a vehicle for socializing, and transmitting of culture.

A few days later that week, it seems to go in cycles, we shared a lovely mean with one of our best-friend-couples, Bob and Adrian. They are sheep ranchers, and the source of my beloved lamb that graces my freezer. Adrian wanted to present a lovely meal around lamb, so her menu: Rack of Lamb, braised Brussels sprouts, tiny baked potatoes, and homemade bread. Sublime!

Adrian finished the meal with a densely-packed apple pie. Look at this:

I love to cook, and, somehow, I have close friends who love to cook, too. We eat. We laugh. We love, and we are happy to be alive!

Thank you for reading my blog!

Food in Social and Intercultural Interactions!

In the past three months, I’ve attended a Diwali (The Hindi celebration of Light in the Darkness) in my rural Kansas town, thanks for my friends and colleagues from India.  Two days later, I had a wonderful Filipino meal, which included Pancit, stews, and bread.  There I watched as my friends, Karen and Jonathan, parents witnessed their first snowfall, back in November.  All this while, I had the honor of interacting with a wide range of folks.  I learned a little more about them by sharing in their cultural celebrations and the foods of their regions and countries.  It’s my favorite thing to do!  I walk away, a little fuller in my stomach, heart, and mind.  I will chronicle some of the events, here.  The food from the Diwali included curry spices, chick peas, basmati rice, potatoes, chicken, and, in the white bowl, Gulab Jamun, these wonderful little pastry-like rounds soaked in syrup.  This food fed my soul!

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Eating with my friends, who hail from the Philippines, we were treated to pancit, a clear noodle and vegetables dish with lovely flavors of garlic and savory flavors of pork (the preference of our host).  We were also treated to a stew with beef and Lumpia, a spring roll of vegetables and meat.  Yes!  Also the first snow for Karen’s parents!

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Well, it’s been a few weeks since this pleasant evening out on the porch, but I’ve wanted to tell you about it for a while.  We call it, “Happy Hour”.  We each bring food and drink to share.  In addition to the homemade pizzas, cheese, and dessert that I offered, my friends brought cooked carrots, the best Leche de flan from my friend, Karen, who apparently learned to bake this velvety, smooth custard in her home country of the Philippines.  She’s pictured above with her parents’ first snow fall while on a visit to the U.S.  Another friend offered her sweet carrots, and another brought apple cobbler, and we had chicken pot pie.  In such “happy hours”, I’d say the conversation stands as the most important aspect with food bringing up a close second.  I found it interesting that, on this particular occasion, the men sat outside, and the women sat inside.  Hmmmm….I wonder why this happened. more-party-goers.jpg

For an appetizer, I made my own type of Bourisin cheese by draining whole-milk, Greek style yogurt in a hanging cheese cloth.  I added my own blend of dehydrated vegetables for a tangy cheese spread.  One of my favorite things to do is make pizza dough and have all the trimmings of vegetables, meats, cheeses, sauces (marinara and pesto are my favorite sauces to have available), and attendees make their own pizzas.  We have a great time.  Here are some of the offerings for this lovely October evening: 1) My “Boursin” cheese nestled in a clay pot, 2) Baked pizza with pesto, and 3) Leche de Flanimg_3742[1]img_3744[1]

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