Happy Accidents…in the Kitchen

My featured image proves that there are happy accidents in the kitchen.  It’s cheese with a dollop of my APOS jam, i.e. Apricot-pineapple-orange-saffron jam.  While one may want to consume a bite of this with a cracker, I found it wonder to take a small serving and eating it with a small spoon.  Think – small spoon with which one might eat caviar.  Also, it’s great on a nut cracker, which does not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the cheese and the jam.

How did I make the cheese?  That’s the happy accident!  Backstory: I drink lactose-free milk.  I have a favorite brand, but I was at a different grocery store a few weeks ago, and I bought the “store brand” of lactose-free milk.  An ingredient added to lactose-free (lactose is milk sugar) milk is lactase, an enzyme that helps us to digest milk sugar.  Cells in the walls of the small intestine produce lactase.

Well, I was heating up the milk on the stove for coffee.  It separated, just like when you put a rennet tablet in milk you’ve heated to 118 degrees fahrenheit (47.7779 C) for cheese.  Noticing that curds had separated from the whey, I poured it all in a cheese bag.  After squeezing more whey out of it, I had a creamy, solid ball of cheese.  The natural sugars in milk rendered a slightly sweet cheese.  I added salt to the forming curds to give it some body.  Voilà, c’est fromage!

Always looking for yummy happy hour appetizers, I purchased another of the “store brand” of the lactose-free milk, this time from a different store.  I heated it to about 120 degrees F. (48.8889 C), and this time, the curds that separated from the whey were smaller.  Well, I thought a nice dessert cheese would be nice, so I added a small box of lemon flavored gelatin and 6 strands of the wonderful saffron!  I rubbed the lovely orange-red (crimson?) stigma and styles in my hand to release the aroma and flavors.  After I spend a few minutes deeply inhaling the perfume of the saffron, I mixed the gelatin and the saffron gently so as not to disturbed the developing curds too much.

I let the mixture gather, drain, and form in the cheese cloth for about 8 hours.  The result was the most scrumptious, creamy cheese you could imagine.  Quite incredible considering that I did not age it in a dark room surrounded by little pine wood cases (I’m thinking of one of my favorite cheeses, brie!).  It turned out to be a great appetizer with a small glass of sweet vermouth.  Or it could be a small dessert with a small glass of port.

Notice the color imparted by the lemon-flavored gelatin and the orange-red streaks from the saffron.  I’ve used the lemon-saffron combination for Thanksgiving “jello” salad last fall.  Right now, I am thinking about other flavors.  I wonder how blueberry would taste.  I mean, it’s best not to expect, like, Stilton, which goes great with blueberry.  It may be worth a try.

Actually, I found the best cheese cloths are handi -wipes.  I think handi-wipes are a cloth-paper hybrid.  They’re great for a semi-disposable dish  cloth that dries easily to cut down on bacterial build-up in the kitchen.  I use those freshly from the bag – never used.

Now, this is not a happy accident, but my friend, Mirta, asked if I knew how to make lavender honey.  I had some locally-sourced honey, which carries the local pollen, which helps us to build up immunities to those pollens as allergens.  Also, I had some locally sourced lavender from a friend.  I heated the honey, which was starting to crystalize, just enough to make the crystals melt.  Then I crushed the lavender buds to add them to the honey.  I used about two cups of honey and 1/8  of a cup crushed lavender bud and one drop of lavender essential oil, for good measure.  The result was delicious!  It’s great on toast, with peanut butter on bread, and in teas.

The immersion blender helped to whip the honey into a creamy substance while it assured that no lavender buds would get stuck in your throat.

I have more creations from my kitchen, but I will share those later.

Thank you for reading.

In the Kitchen From the Garden

One of my gentle readers, thank you SLA, asked if I could show a picture of the San Juan Mountain Range as it’s viewed from my hometown.  Can you imagine looking at that every day?  Such an auspicious sight to behold.  Though, this blog has nothing to do with this magnificent mountain range, it is part of who I am.  Perhaps I shall engage some experts for another blog, my brother Lee and sister Eileen.  For they climb these great “hills” just about every weekend.  Yes.  I was up on those ranges in my younger years with my brothers Dan and Lee, but I don’t get to there as often as I’d like.  I live a long day’s drive from my hometown and there is no easy way to get there by plane.  If you visit these lovely mountains, leave them better than you found it.  They are a precious resource.

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About two years ago, I wrote about a crazy prolific basil plant.  This year, my garden has proven to be basil prolific.  Plus, I have a few other herbs from which to create: rosemary and thyme, too.  Of course, the obvious is, pesto. That wonderful mixture of basil, olive oil, parmesan, pine nuts, garlic, and a little salt and pepper.

This year, I decided to try other things such as OGB: Olive oil, garlic and basil, used for a bread dip.  It goes into the freezer quite well.  You may want to add just a touch of pepper flakes and a little salt to make it even more scrumptious.

Another way to preserve the basil, was to blend with olive oil for sauteing mussels or any other light fish.  Just add garlic.  Yes. It’s a bit different from pesto. It stays as green and fresh as the day you put it in.  I froze one and refrigerated the other.  I call it, “basil oil.”

basil oil

Here is something new for me: Basil Rosemary Pesto.  I give the ingredients without measurement, because I just put it together until it looked and smelled green and fragrant.

  • Large bunch of rinsed and drained fresh basil (three big hands full!)
  • About five long rosemary sprigs (pull the leaves off the stalk)
  • About 1 cup (236.59 mL) olive oil and a half cup (118.29 mL) sunflower oil
  • 4 big cloves of garlic (I threw in about four small cloves of wild garlic, too!)
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios (I didn’t have pine nuts)
  • 10 juniper berries (from the Colorado juniper). Since I had no pine nuts, the juniper berries added that nice “piney” taste.
  • Parmesan Romano cheese to taste
  • Salt

For this batch, I added a small piece of a hot pepper from my garden just to add a bit of spice, but not too much!  It freezes quite nicely, and I keep one in the refrigerator for a spoonful here and there in my cooking.  Notice the little hot pepper in the upper right corner.  It’s a hot little devil, so I only used a tiny bit.

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So, you can use pesto as pizza sauce.  Just spread it on your dough before you add the vegetables and/or the meats.  It can be a subtle flavoring for a pot roast or chicken.  It makes a wonderful spread on hot bread.

I think it’s a near perfect food.  Basil is an antiviral. Olive oil is good for your “happy” fats.  That’s how I remember that HDL is the good cholesterol.  “Happy” is my mnemonic for the “good” cholesterol. Parmesan and the nuts are a good source of protein.  Garlic is said to be a vasodilator.  There you have it.  Pesto is a great food!

Finally, I leave you with one of the dishes made this week with my pesto.  It’s a simple vegetable pizza.  I used a fresh tomato paste (simmered with garlic until thick) and pesto as the base for the cheese and vegetables.  It was yummy with a glass of cabernet sauvignon.  Thank you for reading.

Time with Family and Yearning for Home

My featured image is my sister and brother-in-law’s backyard.  They have the pleasure of enjoying a splendid view of the San Juan Mountain Range every evening as they wind down from a day’s work.  I’ll tell you about our fun meal a little later in the post.

Social distancing surely interferes with many things, but I’d rather be safe and healthy.  Also, writing about fun things does not mean that I am not feeling the pain of my community and the world right now.  I’ve been working from home since March 16, 2020.  I am doing quite well working from home.  I sit at my desk.  I teach virtual classes.  I meet in project committees.  When the workday is finished, I create new recipes.  I modify recipes from magazines.  I tend to my garden.  I clean the house, but not as often as when I entertain, which is none right now.

About a week ago, we ventured out to my home state (Colorado) and enjoyed mother nature with my 90 year old mother, my brothers and sisters, cousins, and nieces and nephews.  We were quite aware of keeping our distances, too.

Colorado is a lovely state, but it has been over-run by people who come, in droves, to enjoy its beauty.  Dare I say that the landscape continues to change from the caravans of cars, trucks, off-road vehicles, and hoards of people.  Some of them respect the natural beauty, and some just run over it.  I suppose we enjoy at whatever capacity we allow ourselves.

water fall

We talked, hiked, cooked, ate, drank, built fires, told stories, laughed, and looked for places to gather wood.  We grew up in these mountains, and our Father taught us to love the land, though his people were displaced from it and onto reservations so that settlers could have the lands.  (A nasty part of U.S. American history).

We camped for four days.  Then we returned to the valley.  I worked, distantly, and had time for visits in the evening.  I was in Mountain Time, but had to continue to orient myself to Central Time, as that was my work day times.

My mother likes to do all the cooking when we visit, but I had so much food from the camping menus, that never was prepared, because everyone else brought food for as many days.  So, one night I prepared a, sort of, taco salad that featured ground beef, Fritos, salad mixes, and Catalina dressing.  In spite of a weird sounding combination, it remains to be a tasty dish.  I think I got the recipe from some Mormon women back in the 1980s.  We did have an important celebration, however.

My mother turned 90 on June 7, but we were all unsure of gathering.  Though we were greatly cautious, we did celebrate with lunch-time mimosas.  My friend, Mirta, sent a giant bottle of sparkling wine, and we had some good orange juice.  Here’s my Mother:

Mom with sparkling wine

As I was beginning to assemble the mimosas (orange juice and sparkling wine), I was aiming to make each one in each flute separately.  My sis said, “Mix them in this crystal pitcher!”  That sounded great!  Who knew that one should not stir the mixture!  Well, it all bubbled over, and the countertop was awash in mimosa!  Anyone else’s countertop would be questionable about cleaning it up from there, but mother is immaculate!  While I think this is an embarrassing photo, you deserve full disclosure!  My husband took the shot of us “cleaning” up the mess.  Undoubtedly, a blow to my credibility!

sucking mimosa

We consumed the mimosas with cheese, grapes, and bread – a most satisfying “lunch!”

As previously mentioned, my sis has an incredible backyard.  She and hubby invited us to a lovely dinner of chicken wraps.  Her hubby grilled skinless chicken breast, and then she had sliced them into strips.  She presented a vegetable course of avocado, arugula, shredded carrots, shredded cheese, bacon bits, and thinly sliced cucumbers.  We wrapped the chicken and vegetables in a tortillas, and consumed great quantities.  She accompanied it with white wine.  I forgot to take picture.  We gathered, again, the next night for a Charcuterie, one of my favorite ways to eat!

We knew this charcuterie/cheese board needed to be good, because my mother is a picky eater.  She does love snack-type foods, though.  Here we have the menu:

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I know I’ve written about similar menus previously, but I love the beauty of combining the color and flavors of these foods.  For example, about 10 years ago, we ate in an Italian restaurant in San Francisco.  On the menu: Sicilian Candy.  What is that, you ask?

Take a small baking dish.  I prefer cast iron for this.  Place garlic cloves, butter, and olive oil and bake, covered with aluminum foil, until the house if fragrant of the ingredients.  I think it was about 50 minutes at 350 degrees (176.667 C).  Covering it with the foil assures a slow bake without burning the butter. It spreads like butter on bread!

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The rest of the menu is quite self-explanatory.

My sis added dried apricots, and mother added a delicious strawberry angel food cake.  Fun was had by all, and we had red wine with the evening as we watch the sunset shadows play on the San Juan Mountain Range to the south.  You would have loved the serenity.  Thank you for reading.