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.

IMG_0423[1]

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.

IMG_0422

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

Thank you for reading.

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!

IMG_2922[1]

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!

IMG_29321.jpgIMG_37871.jpg

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]

img_3746[1]

It’s Time to Return to Blogging

Too much time has passed since my recent blog dating back to September when I paid tribute to our deceased daughter.  Since that time, I visited by home town, as the featured photo shows, and I’v had a life-changing event: a new job!

Now, I have been on my new job, which was a move from one department to another at the university where I work for nearly one month.  I have gone from social researcher and community educator to another exciting job that works to ensure the success of multicultural students.  Now remember, “multicultural” means all cultures!  One thing that I’ve realized in my work with the many cultures, ethnicities, and dominant populations these past 25 years is that many think the word, “multicultural” means anyone who is not White and middle-class (in the United States).  That means finding common definition or understanding to assure that 1) Every human is from a culture, 2) Everyone has an ethnicity (belonging to a social group that has a common national or cultural traditions), and 3) Every human can find common ground from which to build a relationship.  As you can see, I have my work cut out for me.

One thing I didn’t report, here, is that my former work was at an agricultural experiment station in SW Kansas.  Now I am on the campus, which is 4.5 hours away.  That means sell a house and buy a house.  Wish me luck.

So, in terms of friendships that change because they have become long-distance, I have wonderfully close friends in my former town.  I will see them often, for now, because I go “home” on the weekends. I am making new friends, too.  I will return to my soon-to-be former home this weekend to eat, drink, and be merry with my friends.  I love them dearly.  I have gone to a few dinner gatherings since being in the town of my new position.  Since many of our readers like food, I will share a newly-created appetizer that I took to one of the gatherings.

It’s a fruit, cheese, and nut medley, and I’ve named it, “Fall Colors”.

1 bag of fresh cranberries

2 oranges

1/2 cup (64g) coconut sugar

2 teaspoons (8.5g) Chinese 5 spice

One “log” of goat cheese

1 cup (28g) shelled walnuts

Brandy or vanilla is optional (brandy would be added during cooking and vanilla added when removed from the heat)

To make the compote, chop the oranges (peeling and all) and combine with the other ingredients in a saucepan to cook gently until the liquid comes out of the cranberries and oranges and the compote is thickened.  Remove from the heat.  If you use vanilla, add it now.

After the compote has cooled, place the goat cheese on a plate, and arrange the compote around the cheese, and top with the walnuts.

Fall-Colors-compote-and-goat-cheese.jpg

When you scoop it up, make sure you have a nice distribution of the cheese, compote and the nuts so that you have the advantage of all the flavors.  It goes well with nut crackers, and enhances the taste of red wine.  I call it “Fall Colors”, because cranberries and oranges are fresh at this time in the Northern Hemisphere.

Enjoy, and thank you for reading.

Cooking with Wild Game

First of all, I should tell you about my featured photo, which has little to do with my story today.  The community in which I live hosts a wide cross-section of refugees and other immigrants, so I like to visit their markets.  Keep in mind that my county is 40,000 people, and the city where I live has about 26,000 inhabitants.  Today, I visited the Burmese, the African (I’ve told you about their delicious tea-making), and the El Salvador markets.  From each store, I purchase a variety of cooking ingredients.

Pictured here is the betel nut, which comes from the areca palm (Areca catechu).  The nuts are known their stimulant properties much like coffee and tobacco.  In fact, those who make a regular practice of chewing these nuts expose themselves to a variety of ill-health conditions such as rotting teeth and mouth cancers.  I purchased the half nut that you see here.  I like the patterns.  The convolutions remind me of the brain.

I really want to talk about cooking with wild game today.  I am a deer hunter, because I love the taste of venison.  I hunt white tailed deer.  They are a beautiful animal: graceful and lithe.  Part of me rather mourns before I take the shot, and even more when the animal goes down.  I always thank the creature for giving his or her life so that I have a bountiful table.  Debra Hunting

Today, I made a wonderful marinara sauce for topping a plate of pasta.  My ingredient list:

  • I pound (.45 kg) of ground venison
  • 5 cloves smashed garlic
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 1 large bunch fresh basil (chopped)
  • 1 spoonful of OGB (my mixture of olive oil, garlic, and basil). Venison is super lean and needs some oil
  • 4 Tablespoons (56.7 g) tomato paste (I like to purchase large jars of tomato paste at the African Store. It comes from Instanbul)
  • 1/2 Cup (113.4 g) red wine
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Usually, I add mushrooms, but in the absence of the tasty fungi, I used my dehydrated mix of onions, mushrooms, and celery.

Let simmer on stove top until all ingredients are blended. I like to prepare my sauce in the morning.  Then I place it in the refrigerator.  At noon, we come home and prepare the pasta and re-heat the marinara.  Here’s my sauce:

Venison Marinara

If I would have remembered to take the picture of sauce on the pasta, it would have made more sense.

When cooking with wild game, the flesh often takes on the flavors of what the animal eats.  In Colorado, where I grew up, the high snowfall hinders access to grains, leaves, and other browse.  Consumers of that meat will say, “That’s really gamey!”  My grandmothers used juniper berries to neutralize the strong flavors, which worked beautifully.  It works wonders for mutton, too.  My grandmothers fed us mutton all my years growing up, and I never noticed the strong flavors, thanks to juniper berries (Rocky Mountain or Utah junipers).

In Kansas, where I live and hunt, the deer enjoy farm fields of sorghum and corn, much to the chagrin of local crop producers.  Kansas venison tastes quite delicious!  I hope you get to try it sometime.

Last summer, my friend Bob, when rabbit hunting.  When he returned, he called to ask if I would/could make something out of rabbit.  I said, how about rabbit cacciatore, hunter’s style rabbit?  I use passata (rich, strained tomatoes), garlic, fresh rosemary and basil, mushrooms, and white wine.  I cut the rabbit in pieces as one would with chicken.  Simmer until all ingredients are well blended and the liquids are thickened.  Serve with pasta, white wine, and lots of crusty bread to sop up the rich juices.  Here I am with a skinned rabbit.  My friend, Adrian, is married to the rabbit hunter, Bob.

debra-with-rabbit.jpg

Hopefully, I have frightened you with this talk of eating beasts, large and small.

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.

 

 

 

History of Mince Pie and a Recipe

I was an English major as an undergrad and for graduate school.  It was later that I worked in Human Ecology for a second grad school.  I must say that I fell in love with the food in so many British and American classics such as Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, and the books by Jewish author, Chaim Potok.  One thing these books had in common was superb descriptions around food preparation.  Oh, I forgot to mention that Patrick O’Brien’s books about the British fleet on the high seas during the Napoleonic Wars were full of great description of the foods on board a ship.

One of the things that peaked my interest in Dicken’s Great Expectations was the traditions around the food.  Especially those served during holidays.  In case you have not read Great Expectations, there’s this great scene where the story’s main character, “Pip” stole mincemeat from a jar in the pantry to feed an escaped convict, named, Abel Magwitch.  This was an act that endeared Pip to Mr. Magwitch forever.  Earlier in the story, before the theft, Pip’s sister, Mrs. Joe, had already made the “handsome mince pie” for the holiday gathering, so she did not notice any missing (Dickens 22) shortly after Pip had stolen it to feed his convict.

I love mincemeat!  I continue to be intrigued that my Native American grandmother, born in the New Mexico, made mincemeat much the same way that the Brits made it.

Mincemeat has its origins in thirteenth century England when the aristocracy kept large amounts of dried fruits in their larders because varying climate made the storage of fresh fruit impossible.  In addition to the variety it added, dried fruits served to disguise meat past its prime. Mrs. Joe likely served it because of tradition, and almost everybody in England continues to eat mince pies at Christmas, presently (Hale 86).  The World Atlas of Food cites “Mrs. Beeton’s Household Management of 1856-1861” as having the original mincemeat recipe, which bakers continue to use today.  It includes raisins, currants, lean rump steak (my grandma used beef tongue), beef suet, sugar, candied citron peel, lemon peel, orange peel, nutmeg, apples and brandy all mixed and stored in glass jars to mature for about two weeks (87). The Kerr Home Canning and Freezing book written more than a century later offers the same basic recipe as well (25). However, Kerr promotes the use of a pressure canner, 10 pounds of pressure for 90 minutes. Mincemeat’s function, besides serving as a sweet treat, lay in its relatively long shelf life, essential in not having adequate refrigeration (Davidson 507).  At Pip’s Christmas dinner, the mince pie came just before the “savory pork pie”.   Here’s a notes about pie crusts:

Quick Pie from Scratch

After finishing a lovely meal on a cozy winter evening, one of our friends said, “I wish we had a pie!”  Luckily, our dear friend, Mary Lake, was at table, too.  She’s one of the best pie-makers in the world!  Mary and I bet, those around the table, that we could produce a pie from scratch in 30 minutes.  The race was on!  The stop watch began.  Mary got busy making her famous oil crust, and I set to getting the apples ready.  Fortunately, I had several quart jars of canned apples from the previous summer’s windfall of crispy, sweet apples.  I dumped a quart of apples in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of quick tapioca, cinnamon, 3 tablespoons sugar, and a pat of butter.  Here’s Mary’s crust recipe:

2 cups of all-purpose flour

Dash of salt mixed in flour – put flour/salt mixture in a bowl.

½ cup of vegetable oil (Mary likes corn oil for its nutty flavor)

5 tablespoons buttermilk (Make some with milk and vinegar if you have no buttermilk on hand)

1 glass pie plate.  It must be a clear, oven-proof pie plate.

With a fork, emulsify the oil and buttermilk until well blended.

Add to flour mixture

Stir with a fork until all flour is well-moistened

Divide, and put half of the dough on a square sheet of parchment paper. Shape into a round, flat disc without handling the dough too much. Place another square sheet of parchment, and roll out the dough with a rolling pin.  Once the dough is the size of your glass pie place.  Shape to the pie plate.  Repeat for the top crust.  Once the top crust is rolled out, place the fruit in the pie plate with the bottom crust.  Settle the fruit in to the crust, and then place the top crust. Shape the edges of the pie crust, cut air vents with scissors, and sprinkle crust with cinnamon sugar.

Place your pie in the microwave oven for 12 to13 minutes.  Meanwhile pre-heat your conventional oven to 400°.  After the time sounds for the microwave, remove the pie from the microwave, and place it into your conventional oven for 12-13 minutes, or until the crust is browned.

Mary and I put our apple pie on the table in 35 minutes.  The microwave oven gets the fruit cooking and thickened.  This shortens the time in the conventional oven, and prevents burned edges.  Starting the pie in the microwave only works for fruit pies.  Do not try with custard pies.

The featured picture is the mincemeat pie with the oil crust.  You can see that the crust is tender and flaky.  I did not add the cinnamon sugar mixture here, but it gives the crust a beautiful glow.

Mmmmm…I’m hungry!   Thank you for reading.