The Love Language of Food

Remember Gary Chapman’s book about the love languages?  I see truths in it.  Chapman’s premise centers on ways a couple demonstrate love to one another: words of affirmation, quality time, gift-giving, acts of service, and physical touch.  Actually, this communication and service go beyond couples in a committed relationship.  I think one can demonstrate loving language to any one.  Of course, there may be parts that are off limits.  For example, I have a co-worker that gives me vegetables from his garden, but I can’t imagine that we’ll ever exchange hugs!

So why is my featured photo a cauliflower steak?  I think I share the love language of cooking with my spouse.  We certainly share the desire to eat tasty and creative foods.  Cooking together, I suppose, falls into the love languages of “quality time” and “acts of service”.  Our meals together seem to be an affectionate time of the day, so I share our delicious meal tonight: grilled salmon, cauliflower steak, and rice with my ginger-soy-shallots-quince sauce.

First, I made a marinade for the salmon.  In the bottom of a rectangle glass cake pan, I added:

2 tablespoons (28g) sesame oil, 1 tablespoon (14g) grated ginger, 1 teaspoon (4g) garlic powder, grated pepper, 3 Tablespoons (42g) soy sauce, and a splash of teriyaki sauce to assure browning.  Mix it in the glass cake pan.  Then add salmon skin side up.  Smear the salmon in the marinade, and then repeat on the skin side.  Grill on the skin side down, with the grill lid closed, until  it reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. (63 C) taken on the thickest part of the flesh.

I cook my rice in a rice cooker, and we usually put start it in the morning, and it stays warm until we’re ready to use it.  For the rice, I made a sauce.  We have a quince tree in the front yard.  It produces about six pieces of fruit on a good year.  Quince, related to apples, adorns a yard quite beautifully.  It blooms a lovely pink blossom in the spring, and turns a pale yellow in the fall.  The quince tree protects itself from predators with long thorns, which make harvesting the fruit a bit perilous.  My harvest take today was one piece of fruit.  Here’s the tree in the spring.

quince-in-bloom.jpg

The fruit packs a wallop in pectin, so it’s prized for thickening jams.  The one tiny, little fruit added pectin to thicken my sauce, and a sort of glutamate  flavor enhancer.  Here’s my recipe for the rice sauce.  I’m not going to call it a gravy, because it’s not heavy.  It’s a light sauce.

2 cloves garlic, 2 TBS (28g) sesame oil, 2 chopped green onions (set one chopped green onion aside for the final garnish), 2 TBS (28g) chopped ginger, 1 peeled and grated quince. (If you don’t have a quince, grate a half small apple), and 3 TBS (42g) soy sauce .  Cook all ingredients until it begins to thicken.  Add 1 cup (.23 kg) water.  Continue to simmer until thickened.

Rice topping

As featured in the header, the cauliflower was cooked in butter with some added salt and pepper.  Now it’s time to eat!

Salmon and the C steak

We usually eat our Asian-inspired rice dishes with chop sticks.  Here’s the rice.  To finish it, I sprinkled it with the chopped green onion and toasted sesame seeds.  We added a nice white wine, and watched Robin Hood with Russell Crowe (old movie).  Voilà!

Rice with my topping

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.

A Meal for a Special Friend

In another life, I worked in Adult Education.  I worked with a fine group of women with whom I have occasional contact.  I was able to see a friend this past weekend.  Her name is Cheryl, and her expertise was early literacy for children and their, mostly, under-educated parents.  Working in adult education afforded my colleagues and me a chance to interact and work with people from around the world who came to our part of the state as political and economic refugees.  They came to our part of the state, because there are plentiful job opportunities in the agricultural sector.

Well Cheryl came for a town visit, and I was to be out of town when the old group planned a gathering – a homecoming, of sorts.   That meant I would invite Cheryl to dine with us Sunday evening.  “I will come if you don’t go through any trouble.”  Okay.  Keep in mind what is “trouble” to some is therapy for me – cooking.  So, here was my menu:

  • Grilled leg of lamb – slathered in a fresh pesto sauce before grilling
  • Caprese Salad – you may remember that I have a basil “tree” that won’t stop producing!
  • Freshly baked bread with OGB as a dip (olive oil, garlic, and basil) – featured photo!
  • Baked and whipped sweet potatoes
  • Crème de banane for dessert (an original recipe!)
  • Wine

How do you grill a leg of lamb?  We have a large kettle-style Weber barbecue.  Dale uses an “indirect” method of grilling large items such as turkey and leg of lamb.  Our friends, Bob and Adrian have a sheep farm about 13 miles away, so we always have lamb and venison, from the same county as the lamb, when I’m a fortunate hunter.  We’ll talk about venison another time.

Back to grilling the lamb.  I prepare the lamb by rubbing it with the pesto (which is well-seasoned) and black pepper.  The charcoals are prepared in a charcoal starter, which is a cylinder, which is about 2 feet tall (0.6096 meters), that has a wooden handle.  A small basket inside the cylinder holds the charcoal briquettes, which are ignited on an open fire.  Once the briquettes are glowing, they are ready to be place in the grill.  I neglected to take a picture of indirect grilling, so I borrowed an illustration from the Weber website.  Keep in mind that we roasted leg of lamb, NOT ribs.  The meat is never directly over the hot charcoals, but rather sits above a drip pan.

6-Hot-Charcoal-Briquette-Holders-in-Kettle-Grill-with-Ribs

So, you put about 25 coals on each side of the meat.  You must add newly heated coals about every 30 minutes. Once the meat reaches 130° F (54.44 C), take if off the grill and let it sit until it reaches 140° F (60 C).

Of course, I’ve written about my caprese salad, so that recipe can be found on one of my past blog posts, but here’s a picture of it.

Caprese and Pesto

Also, since I’m still working on using up basil, I decided to blend three large hands full of basil with 8 cloves of garlic and enough olive oil to make a nice liquid concentrate of OGB for later use.  I put the plenty in the freezer for later use.  Since it’s so very concentrated, I put a large spoon full on a bread plate to which I added a little more olive oil and a spoonful of  balsamic vinegar for a nice bread dip.

The sweet potatoes were baked, mashed with butter, salt, and a spoonful of pure maple syrup.  You may notice the color of the sweet potatoes are more like Yukon Golds.  Their dullness of yellow instead of orange is off-putting, but they are delicious!

Lamb and mashed sweet potatoes

I prepare banana cream for dessert.  To make it sound fancy, I used the French, crème de banane.  I found some very nice ripe bananas at the market, so I put three in a glass bowl to which I added 8 ounces (226.80 grams) of mascarpone cheese and four ounces (113.40 grams) cream cheese, one half cup of pure maple syrup, one spoonful of dehydrated orange rind (something I produce to flavor biscotti).  I whipped it all with a hand mixer until all was creamy.  I chilled the banana cream in individual “berry bowls”.  I was an interesting texture, which surprised the guests!  “Interesting!”  “Thank you!”  I think.

Banana Cream

Perhaps not as pleasing to the eye, I found it tasty and not too filling as a dessert.  We drank a rosé and a zinfindel with the meal.

Mostly, it was about reminiscing with Cheryl and getting to know her friends, Darryl and Ann.  At the end of the day, the food becomes a companion for conversation, which contributes to those convivial moments.

Thank you for reading.

Growing a Tree

I saw some sort of add (video) on social media about a device called an “avocado boat”.   So, the premise was that you’d float an avocado seed in this little boat, and the seed would sprout (germinate) to, eventually, grow into a tree.

According to the video, you peel the pit/seed before germination.  First, one must figure out which end of the seed to face down and which side goes up.  I found an article that said the “fat side” is the bottom, so that is how I proceeded.  The little boats appeared to be a clever way to germinate the seed, but I didn’t want to waste my money on a gadget, so I devised a way to float the seed in the water without piercing it with toothpicks, as I’ve seen previously.

As an alternative to the “avocado boat”, I took a sandwich storage bag and cut a small hole in the corner so that the bottom of the seed would be immersed in water.  I held the bag onto a jar with a rubber band.  I  place the jars with their seeds on a railing on my back porch so that they would have light and warmth, but not direct sun light.

germinated avacado seed

As you can see, there is a nice root reaching to the bottom of the jar, and a nice stem reaching for the sun.  It takes a while, about six weeks.  With this kind of root beginning, the next step required placing the root in well drained potting soil.  My featured photo in this submission is the plant after two months.

I found it better to place the pot with the seedling indoors, because I have squirrels, and they help themselves to any seeds in my yard pots.

sprouted avocado seed

Perhaps, next year, I will be able to show a larger tree.  At which point, I may be able to move the pots outside.  I am not sure if these projects ever produce fruit.  There is the concept of pollination.

Thank you for reading.

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.

The Joys of Breakfast Cookies with African Tea

One of the joys of experimenting in the kitchen, is creating something that taste delicious and happens to be nutritious, as a bonus.  Some mornings, I would love to have baked goods to go with a cup of coffee or tea.  However, the crash of having food with high glycemic responses, isn’t worth it.  So, I began to hunt for a breakfast cookie that gives the satisfaction of eating baked goods but is healthy enough to sustain me until lunch time.  I found some recipes, but most had too much sugar and white flour.  I hoped for something with high fiber and high flavor, so I came up with my own recipe after borrowing, here and there, from other cookie recipes. 

I like to have one cookie in the morning (Believe me, it’s most filling!) with a cup of tea prepared the way my friends at the African Store, in town, prepare tea.  I do add less sugar than my African friends, however. 

For the four servings of the tea: 

Pour 4 cups of boiled water in a teapot containing:    

4 tea bags of  Ketepa ( Kenyan Tea Packers)  

1 whole cinnamon, broken into pieces 

1 tsp whole cloves 

8 cardamom pods 

*I like to crush, coarsely, the spices in a small mortar and pestle 

Let the tea and spices steep for 8 minutes 

Remove tea bags but not spices 

Add hot milk and 1 TBS of honey 

Serve with Breakfast Cookies 

Protein Breakfast Cookies 

Ingredients  

  1. 1/2 cup salted creamy peanut butter or almond butter (I prefer almond butter) 
  1. ¼ (or a little more) cup honey  
  1. 1/2 cup mashed bananas 
  1. 2 eggs 
  1. 2 tablespoons coconut oil melted 
  1. 1 cup zucchini shredded (I like to use shredded carrots and apples) 
  1. 1 1/4 cups organic rolled oats 
  1. 3/4 cup almond or hazelnut meal (I like to use ½ cup nut meal and ¼ cup protein powder) 
  1. 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon or Chinese 5 Spice 
  1. 1 teaspoon baking powder 
  1. 1/2 cup raisins, or dried cranberries 
  1. 1/2 cup pecans (or whatever type nuts you prefer) 

Directions 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.  
  1. Add the first 5 ingredients into a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. 
  1. Mix in the shredded zucchini or carrots/apples. 
  1. Add the oats, nut meal, baking powder, and cinnamon (or Chinese 5-Spice) and mix until all the ingredients are fully incorporated. 
  1. Fold in the dried fruit and peanuts. 
  1. Use a large ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup measure to scoop out 4 cookies per baking sheet. Use your hands to press down the cookies to 1/2-inch thickness. 
  1. Bake the cookies for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. 
  1. Allow the cookies to cool completely on the baking sheet before removing from the pan. 
  1. Enjoy this hearty, protein-packed breakfast delight with a cup of coffee or tea! One cookie in the morning, keeps you satisfied until lunchtime! 

Yield 14 cookies