Basil, and More Basil!

I’ve written about my basil windfall, previously.  I can’t help but write about it, again!  The fragrant plant and its deep green leaves, says, “summer” to me.  Never before, have I enjoyed this over-abundance of basil.  Now, let’s talk about basil.

Basil, also known as “St. Joseph’s Wort” belongs to the mint family, along with catnip, spearmint, and peppermint.  Most Italian-style cooks use basil in many dishes, because it goes well in tomato-based dishes.  I like to use basil in much of my cooking, and the marriage of tomatoes, garlic, basil, and olive oil can be a sublime experience when used in soups, sauces, beef roasts, and grilled lamb.  The vegetarian or vegan can even use different combination for vegetable dishes.

Pino Luongo, one of my favorite cookbook writers (actually less cookbook and more stories to go along with the ingredients of favored recipes) talks about the way he uses basil in his Tuscan cooking.  He reminds us not to be tied, so much, to recipes that tell us how much of what to use.  Luongo, says, “Use your senses, and learn through trial and error.”  He also suggest that we “improvise based on your acquired knowledge.”  I come from a family of people who like to cook, so that’s an example of my “acquired knowledge”.  Of course, I add, use safe food handling practices.

Besides being in Italian cooking, basil has a popularity in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.  Having just eaten Pho (Fuh, which means noodle) today, which is a wonderful soup with cellophane noodles in a generous beef broth (in today’s case), I delighted in the soup brought to the table in its cavernous bowl.  Presented separately, on a small plate, are bean sprouts, mint or basil, and a wedge of lime.  We place the sprouts and mint/or basil in the steaming bowl of soup and top is off with a squeeze of lime.  I’ve only had Pho with beef brisket in its broth with its condiments.

Holistic health practitioners recommend basil for its anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties.  This comes from Medical News Today, and it adds that basil is “nutrient heavy” and calorie light, but then I cannot think of any herbs considered calorie heavy!

As mentioned, previously, I continue to find ways to preserve my basil, in addition to drying it for later use.  In the dead of winter, I love pulling my frozen pesto from the freezer, as green as the day I put it in.  Yes.  I’ve related that in previous blog entries.

Seasoned Basil Freeze

With the large batch of basil plucked from the plant, I decided that 15 jars of pesto may need to be enough (actually my plan is for 20-25 small jars before winter sets in), I decided to preserve some pesto as a seasoning.  I took one large bowl full of basil leaves.

Basil

All together, it compresses into 2 heaping cups full in the blender vessel.

To that I added:

  • 1/4 cup Mediterranean olives – pitted
  • A dehydrated mix of celery, onion, mushroom, red pepper – 1 Tablespoon
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon smoked salt
  • 3 grinds of black pepper
  • 1 cup of olive oil (add more if mix is too thick)

I blended this until nice and liquid.   I put it into the freezer, and use the “seasoning” in dishes throughout the winter months.  Remember, the olive oil preserves the basil perfectly, and (I say it again), it’s as green the day you thaw it as the day you froze it. Look at that color!

Seasoned Basil

I prefer freezing such things in glass.  Remember to label it, and put the date on it so that you use the oldest items first.

Enjoy, and thank you for reading.

Hummus and Flatbread

I am passing the week with my 82 years old brother in law (Bill) who is in treatment for cancer.  While he does not want to be “taken care of”, I cannot help but want to cook, though I am not surrounded by the things in my own kitchen.   Fortunately, Bill and his late wife stock a well-used kitchen, as far as cooking utensils are concerned.  The ingredients in the kitchen are rather dated, so I am pleased to explore the groceries of Southern California (SoCal).  My focus turns on nutrient-rich foods served in small courses, more like appetizers.  My husband and Bill’s late, Hawaiian, mother would call them “poo-poos”.  Now before you snicker, Islanders serve “Poo-Poo Platters” much the same way Spaniards serve “tapas”, in other words, small bites.

Lucky for me, I once worked with an Egyptian woman who taught me her version of hummus, and it continues to be my favorite hummus, to this day.  My first challenge is that Bill declared to me that he “dislikes” hummus and chick peas.  I said, “Fine, then I’ll make it for us!”.  So, I will let you know how I make hummus and flat bread.

I like to cook with fresh ingredients.  No, I did not grow my own garbanzo beans, but I do purchase about 10 ounces of the dried beans.  I cook those in boiling water which as been generously salted until they are soft.  Once those are cooked and cooled, I am ready to proceed.  Oh, yes!   I don’t like the high price of tahini, or sesame paste, so I make my own.

Tahini:

1/2 cup raw sesame seeds.  Put them in a small, dry skillet and heat them, stirring often, until they are brown and toasted.  Notice in the photo, what “browned” sesame seeds look like.

Once the seeds are toasted, cool them.  The next step is to grinds the toasted sesame seeds.  I have a coffee grinder that I use exclusively for spices, seeds, and other things I need to grind.  I do not grind coffee in this grinder.

When the ground seeds resemble a paste, add olive oil to support a thick paste consistency.  Again, notice the tahini in my pictures.

Hummus:

Blend – 1-2 cups soft garbanzo beans (chick peas), 4 gloves of garlic, 1/4 to 1/2 Tahini, Salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, the juice of half a lemon, and plenty of olive oil.  Blend until you have a nice consistency, to your taste.  ( I hope I remembered all the ingredients!)

Spread the hummus in a walled plate or wide glass pan.  Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle smoked paprika on top.  I like to decorate the middle with a few, set aside, beans for garnish.  Serve with flat bread.

The whole presentation of hummus and flat bread

Flatbread:

I just use a simple bread recipe of flour, yeast, a little sugar, salt, and a little oil.  Make a good dough, and let it rise for a bit (1/2 hour).

Form the dough in small rounds, about the size of a golf ball.  Roll out and cook on a hot griddle.  Cook on one side, and when you flip it to cook on the other side, a nice bubble will form.  Then you can call it a “pita”!.  I like to cut the round flat bread into fourths.

Serve with the hummus , which is high in fiber, protein, and good fats, with the olive oil.  The garlic is good for you, too.

Oh, I should tell you that Bill, who earlier said he dislike hummus, had three servings of his “small” bites!  Turns out he loves homemade hummus!  Things are always better when we make them from scratch!  I should mention that Bill likes herring in sour cream, so we served the hummus and flat bread with a side of herring in sour cream, to take from many cultures today.  The color of the food would have looked better on a darker-colored plate, but I made do with what I had.

On the plate

Enjoy, and thank you for reading.

Eggplant Parmigiana – Made Simply

I might be a little brain dead at the moment, so I’ll just write about this evening’s dinner.  Again, I didn’t set out for this to be a blog only about food, though its preparation wanders into a sort of therapy for me, sometimes.  I have many topics on which I want to share.  I don’t want to be boring, however.  Sooner or later, I plan to discuss food in books a bit more along with other points of interest such as music, film, history, culture, and themes of social justice.  Let’s continue with food, for now.

My all-time favorite cookbook, given to me by my friend, Lynn, is more of a story book, called There’s a Tuscan in my Kitchen, written by restauranteur, Pino Luongo, who hails from Tuscany (Toscana) region of Italy.  Tuscany sits on the same latitude as Corsica (birthplace of Napoleon) and would be considered the upper part of the “boot” (but not the upper flaired part!), that is Italy.  The Tuscan region is on the Ligurian Sea.  Luongo’s book tells a story of each featured dish. My favorite part is that he does not give the reader/cook ratios and measurements for each dish.  He trusts the reader to make his/her own judgement.  He does list the ingredients based on where one might find them: pantry, cold storage, and market.

Yes.  I love Luongo’s book, but my food travel, this evening, goes north to Parma!  This evening’s menu: Eggplant Parmesan on linguine (literally, “little tongues” from the Liguria region west of Parma).

Since my basil garden continues to be quite prolific, I have a goal of incorporating the “mint cousin” into as many dishes as possible.  First, however, I sliced the eggplant, and salted it on each side before laying the slices on paper towel to drain from lunch time to evening.

eggplant-draining.jpg

My sauce:

  1. 1 can whole tomatoes
  2. 1 very large bunch fresh basil leaves
  3. 4 cloves of garlic
  4. ¼ yellow onion
  5. 1 TBS mix of dehydrated and ground onion, celery, and mushroom (my own creation)
  6. Salt and pepper
  7. ¼ cup red wine

Blend all ingredients, then pour into cooking pot and simmer for three- four hours (I put these ingredients in the pot when I came home for lunch and simmered on low until I returned).

Put 2 eggs into a pan.  Dip the sliced eggplant in egg mixture then in flour before placing in hot oil to fry until golden brown.  Place browned slices into a glass cake pan in one layer until all slices have been browned.

Pour your simmered red sauce on the browned eggplant slices, then cover with Parmesan cheese and mozzarella.  Bake in a 350-degree oven until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is browned.

EPP in the pan

Serve the eggplant and sauce on top of linguine or spaghetti.  Enjoy with a salad and a beverage of your choice.

Thank you for reading!

 

 

Saturday at Home and Creating in the Kitchen

We have not been home for many weekends, so this weekend, we stayed home.  Dale mowed the ever-growing lawn because of an unusually wet July.  The wet July also gave rise to ants!  I cleaned shelves, placed oil of peppermint in every nook and cranny to ward off the little creatures. We woke up to clear counter tops and shelves in the kitchen, so those essential oil home remedies work!

All that work in the kitchen did not stop me from cooking.  I love to cook, and the summer’s bounty contributed greatly to locally-sourced meals.

So, Saturday lunch was simple.  Menu:

  • chicken fried venison steaks
  • baked and mashed sweet potatoes
  • Spanish rice made with a wild/sweet/black rice mix.

I live in a region of Kansas popular for its hunting opportunities.  Hunters come from other countries and from different corners of the U.S. to hunt for pheasant, quail, and deer in this region.  Having grown up in Colorado, I know the wonders of great-tasting venison.  However, I am loathe to say, that Kansas venison may be a bit better.  Colorado deer resort to eating sage and lichens when the snows are too high for their usual forage.  When someone says, “This venison is strong!”  He or she is reacting to the tastes of sage and lichens, for example.  My Native grandmothers would crush juniper berries and rub it onto the meat, and that neutralized the “strong” flavor in any wild game and old mutton.  Try it sometime.  It really works.  Kansas venison does not need juniper berries, because this wild game feeds on corn and sorghum, which makes for wonderful tasting meat!

Okay.  How did I prepare this meal?

Before frying my venison in a combination butter and sunflower oil, I dusted it with sprouted wheat flour, and sprinkle some seasoned salt.

Chicken fried venison.jpg

I like sprouted wheat flour from my childhood.  The grandmothers used it cooked as a gruel with milk and sugar.  They did the same with ground blue corn, and called it, “chackawe”.  The Spaniards called it, atole. It was said to fixed “what ailed you!”

The sweet potatoes were simply baked.  I scraped the baked flesh into a bowl, added salt, ¼ teaspoon of brown sugar, and butter.  I mashed them and served with a pat of butter.

This version of Spanish rice:

In a tablespoon of oil, sauté onions, yellow sweet pepper, (some of my dehydrated tomatoes, onions, and green chili), and 1 cup of rice until veggies are soft and the rice is browned.  Add about 2 cups of chicken stock and bring to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer for up to 40 minutes until liquid is absorbed.  In the end, I didn’t like the rice mix, because the wild and brown rice took longer to cook than the sweet rice.  It was a little hard to judge.

I looked for the history of “Spanish Rice”, but I just kept finding recipes for “Mexican Rice”.  Having eaten my way through Spain, about 10 years ago, I wonder if what we call Spanish rice, is a form of Spain’s “paella” (pie-yay-yah), which is rice, veggies, fish, sausage, chicken, and flavored with saffron.  So, since saffron was not readily available when Spain was colonizing what is now New Mexico and, a bit later, Meso, Central, and South America. What we cook today, may be a cousin to paella.    I’ll keep looking.  If you know, let me know.

So, that was lunch.  We ate a wonderful supper (dinner), too.

Menu:

  • Fish tacos with marinated cabbage topping
  • quinoa garden salad

Here’s how I prepared it.

2 cod fillets – Sautéed in ghee (clarified butter) and olive oil and seasoned with a dried “fish tacos” seasoning.

I sliced the cabbage and tossed with olive oil, sherry vinegar, smoky salt and garlic powder.

We grilled the locally sourced corn tortillas made freshly on a daily basis.

The quinoa salad:

  • 1 ½ cups cooked quinoa (keen-wah) – a lovely South American grain
  • 3 ears of grilled corn cut off the cob
  • 1 ½ cups black beans
  • 1 large grilled zucchini (not too large!)
  • 5 green onions
  • 2 TBS snips of celery (off my celery plant from my window pot)
  • 1/2 cup thawed sweet yellow and red pepper (I had thawed my chopped/frozen pepper for the noon meal.  This was the other half cup).

My dressing for this salad: olive oil, lime juice, sherry vinegar, seasoned salt, chili powder, and cumin.

Toss and chill before serving.

Fish Tacos and quinoa salad

Try these meals.  Let me know what you think.  If you don’t have one or more of the ingredients, don’t hesitate to substitute.  It’s fun to experiment.  I don’t use a lot of measurements.  Use what works for you.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

Regional Foods of Patabamba – Peru

A few years ago, I went on a study trip to Peru.  I wrote about it previously.  Of course, I’m always up for a new adventure in eating, though I love interacting with people with different backgrounds from my own. (Which is every day, really!  I don’t have to go to another country to do that!). My study group and I took many trips in-country, so I will talk about those from time to time.  This story begins in Cuzco, and it includes food, too!

The Cuzco church bells pealed at 4:00 a.m.   We ate a lovely breakfast of ham, cheese, eggs, fruit, granola made with puffed millet in place of our traditional oatmeal, liquid yogurt, and hot espresso.  Espresso is the only type of coffee served in Cuzco!  Having only been a consumer of coffee for a few years, this was strong for me, but it proved to be beneficial in the high altitude.  Cuzco is considered the Peruvian Andes and is 11,152’ altitude.  Coming from a mountainous region in Colorado, I adjusted quite well.  As for the espresso and any coffee in Peru, I must say that there was no such thing as a bad cup of coffee in Peru.  After a lovely breakfast, we chewed on some coca leaves for good breathing, and then, we boarded the bus to Patabamba.

Patabamba, in Quechua, means “upper flat.  Originally, it was Patapompa, but the Spanish colonizers changed it to Patabamba.  From what I could gather regarding Quechua, it is a complex language, which was largely replaced with Spanish after Spain’s invasion in the 15th Century.  Many of the remote villages around Cuzco are functionally monolingual speakers of Quechua.  It is a beautiful language with only three vowels (i, a, u), and in some words the vowels are completely devoiced (silence, a stop, or a sort of throaty sound).  I was able to observe the language in action when village members relayed instructions to one another as they prepared our most sumptuous and interesting meal of the whole trip. At first, I did not understand that the, aforementioned, stops, hisses, and throaty sounds were part of the language.  Then after, I learned to listen for the “devoiced” part of the language that is Quechua (Ketch-wah).

Our menu of lamb, chicken, llama, potatoes, sweet potatoes, lima beans (cooked in their pods), plantain, and blocks of farmer cheese were baked in a rock “oven” especially built for the occasion.   We watched as the hole was dug, and then lined with the rocks.  The most impressive was the dome built by the large stones leaning against each other. The crowing touch came when the “keystone” was placed in the ground oven.

Peru Oven

The domed rock oven was filled with wood fuel and burned until the rocks were hot.  When the rocks reached the target temperature, the dome was deconstructed by first removing the cap stone which held all the stones in place.  The rocks that made the dome were removed, and the raw foods were placed on the hot stones.  The cheese was wrapped in brown paper before being place on the other ingredients.  When all the food was in place, green branches with yellow flowers still in place, were spread on top of all the foods.  Then large sheets of heavy plastic were laid out on the green branches.  Then the moisture-rich soil dug to make the cooking pit was spread out on the plastic until nothing, but soil was visible.  The food stayed in the “oven’ for 35 minutes, and voilà!  We ate the most agreeable meal with cups of coca tea to wash it all down.  The meats, plantain, and vegetables cooked to perfection.   We ate with our hands.  I ate my potatoes with the peelings still intact, and I noticed that the villagers peeled their potatoes.   It was my favorite meal of the trip.

Peru cooked in Patabamba

While the meal was cooking, my fellow travelers and I met the elders of the village.  The elders, male and female, invited us to try on their beautifully dyed and woven dresses, ponchos, capes, and hats for photo opportunities.  One of the featured photos in a past blog was me and one of the elders.

After interacting with the village elders, we went for a walk to gather plants and flowers.  That was followed by a lesson on the plants used for dying wools for weaving.  The flowers gathered that day became the dyes of brilliant reds, yellows, and blues from which all other colors were made.  After spending a fine luncheon with the villagers, they set up a store for us to purchase handmade clothing, wraps, and hats.

What struck me most was the happiness of the people.  They seemed to be quite contented.  As they told us about their plans for promoting the village for tourism, which includes home-stays, I wondered if the influences that would inevitably follow would interfere with the peace they appeared to possess.  I wonder how they are faring these few years later.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

Pizza: Origins of the “Humble Pie” and Whipping up a Pizza After Work!

According to the History Channel’s website, there’s a great history of the pizza.  In the town of Naples, in the 1700s, the working class devised a way to get eat large amounts of calories in an easy way: flat bread with oil, cheese, and other toppings.  It was an inexpensive and portable meal that could be consumed in haste.  Seen as a food for the lower classes, pizza became popular when Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889, and fell in love with the “pizza mozzarella”, which now bears the name of the young queen. Word has it that the queen, especially, liked the fact that the pizza bore the colors of her country’s flag!

Pizza can be made quickly, after work, for a delicious and special meal for you, your family, or for friends. You don’t need fancy ingredients, just be creative with what you have.

A few days ago, I told you about my windfall of basil and about dehydrating veggies for use as seasonings in my cooking and baking.  Last evening, I fixed yummy pizzas after work.

Pizzas from scratch are quick and simple, and the activity can easily contribute to a fun party with guests.  All you have to do, is make the dough, and seal it in a large bowl, for up to an hour, until you’re ready to divide it for your visiting pizza makers.

For my pizzas, last night, I made a pesto and added extra ingredients to make it more zippy, than usual, for the sauce.  It was delicious for lunch, today, too!  We ate it cold!

Pesto Pizza Sauce:

One bunch basil (about 1 cup of leaves)

¾ cup olive oil

¼ cup parmesan cheese

¼ cup of ground hazel nuts with two juniper berries (I did not have pine nuts, so improvised)

3 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon of dehydrated onion, celery, tomato, and chili peppers

Blend to a liquid consistency – set aside

Pizza dough:

2 cups flour

Warm water

¼ cup Honey or sugar

Mix and wait until bubbly

When it’s bubbly, add 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp salt, and 1 TBS oil

Add enough flour to make a thick dough – let rest

Knead and add enough flour to make a nice dough

Roll out flat and place on your gas grill to set the pizza dough – turn over to slightly brown on the other side. Grilling the dough also gives it a wonderful, smoky flavor.

Remove from heated grill and spread pesto pizza sauce on browned pizza dough, add cheese and other toppings.  Place back on grill until finished.

Enjoy with a nice salad and a glass of wine.

Thank you for reading.

Reference:

Turim, G. (2012). A Slice of History: Pizza Through the ages. Access date: August 10, 2018,

https://www.history.com/news/a-slice-of-history-pizza-through-the-ages

 

Celery and Dehydrated Veggies

Based on what readers are following in this blog, it seems that writing about cooking is a bit more popular, so here goes another entry about food.

If you have a thriving garden, no doubt, you wonder what to do with odds and ends of the vegetable waste.  I have a few ideas for you.

Whether you grow celery or buy it in a store, it can keep feeding you even after you’ve used the stalk, ribs, and leaves for varying recipes.  You can grow your own, for continued use, right in your own kitchen!

Hold your whole celery with the leaves on top.  Cut from the base of the stalks up about 2-3 inches from the bottom.  Put the ribs/stalks in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator.  I like to wrap mine newly cut celery in a clean dish towel for a dryer storage.

Place that cut base in a small jar filled with water.  After a week, or so, you will begin to see roots sprouting from the base in the water.  When you see many small roots coming off the bottom, you will, also, see small leaves and stalk begin to reach up toward the “sky”.  Either you can use snips of the growing stalk to add flavor to your cooking, or you can plant the rooted base in potting soil.  After a week, or so, the celery will begin to grow taller each day.  You can use those growing celery stalks to further flavor your cooking.  I’ve used my growing celery for about six months.  Each time you cut the growing stalks and leaves, they will keep growing.

Those small stalks are tender, and work well in tuna salad, stir-fry, and that ubiquitous, aromatic trio of carrot, celery, and onion.  French cooks call it “mirepoix” (meer-pwah), Spanish cooks call it, “Sofrito” (so-free-toe), and Italian cooks call it Buttuto (boo-two-toe) or Soffritto. This lovely “trinity” pulls the best of flavors from the other ingredients included in your cooking and makes a lovely base for many soups.

Another thing that I do when I get to the end of my vegetables, if I have more than I need, or if I don’t think I will use the veggies before they go bad, I chop them into small pieces and put them in my food dehydrator. 

 Once the vegetables are dehydrated, I grind them in my coffee grinder (used only for herbs/spices) and process until the dried mixture resembles small flakes. 

I put the vegetable flakes in a small jar with a shaker top (used herb bottle/jar) for use in a variety of food preparations. I have some favorite combinations: 

General Dried Blend: 

  • Celery 
  • Kale 
  • Carrots 
  • Leeks 
  • Orange Peel 
  • Sweet Red Pepper 

This blend goes well in soups, on cottage cheese (for a Bourisin Cheese taste), on eggs, etc. 

 My next favorite blend I like to use in seafood soups, on fish, etc. 

Seafood Blend: 

  • Fennel bulb 
  • Celery 
  • Carrot 
  • Lemon Peel 
  • Sweet Red Pepper 

 Drying veggies takes about 24 to 48 hours to dry on the “dried vegetable” setting of the dehydrator. You can be creative in the kinds of vegetables that you dry for your mix. You can also dehydrate veggies without grinding them for use in soups. 

As mentioned previously, with the Mirepoix, I make a dehydrated Mirepoix, and I add mushrooms to the trio before drying.  The mushrooms add extra glutamate for more enhanced flavor in cooking.  I like to use this mix in my marinara or pizza sauces.

Somehow, I think creating dishes in the kitchen becomes a sort of therapy that feeds my artistic side.

Thank you for reading.