Eating Together – At a Distance

I took the “featured image” as “The Guys” began an evening fishing trip on Chautauqua Lake in Western New York, not far from Lake Erie. My memories of floating in that lake on my back with my head submerged just enough to shut out the sounds of the world with only my breathing noticeable, is one of my most healing experiences – ever. This photo, taken with my cell phone, illustrates the colors of peace and serenity at a time that I needed it most, having lost our daughter six months earlier that year, 2016.

Here we live in 2020 during a pandemic. We continue to stay connected with friends and family through calls, virtual meetings, and occasional visits to the back deck. I admit, my usual practice was to invite large gatherings for food, stories, drinks, music, and such. I love to be around people!

Sorry about the random pictures! I’m trying to get used to the “new” format of WordPress! Not sure I like it.

As we navigate the new way of being in community, with others, the onus falls on each of us to practice safe distances. Rather than abandon my social life, I continue to look for ways to engage with my friends, families, and others by opting for outdoor interactions with no more than two to three people. We can be at a safe distance on my back deck or my front patio that way.

Serving food can be a challenge. How can I assure the visitors to my deck for patio that I am practicing safe hygiene practices in my kitchen? I wash my hands, a lot!, and wear a mask when preparing food to share. Also, I use plates fresh from the dishwasher! Instead of my usual cloth napkins, I use paper napkins.

I went to a birthday party last June. My friend staged the party on her concrete driveway. Each of us provided our own chairs, dinner services, drink, snacks, and glasses or cups. The friend provided cakes from a professional caterer. It was a great time for people who were feeling isolated. Look at the cakes.

I thought the distancing for the party demonstrated a rather safe way to interact. There were face masks worn, though the picture shows none. Notice the chalk markings to indicate six feet!

In the meantime, we must be creative to keep our connections with one another without exposing ourselves and others to the COVID-19 virus.

So, what have I cooked lately?

Experimenting in the kitchen, especially during this pandemic, gives me great pleasure. Sure, we like to eat, and we have to find ways to make our meals fun, even if we change places where we take our meal. We like the patio in the front of the house for breakfast. We sit with our hibiscus with our morning eggs and coffee (or whatever else we’re having that morning!). In the evening, we sit on the back deck. We enjoy watching the birds, listening to the sounds of the evening: birds chirping, cicadas making that familiar crackling known as crepitation, and dogs barking. Interestingly, if you listen closely, you hear the hum of car engines, children emoting, and leaves rustling. What a better way to take a meal.

The experiments in the kitchen still surprise me. Nine times out of 10, they are tasty and fun. We have a great Thai food restaurant. My favorite dish is basil fried rice. It’s almost too hot with Thai chilies, even when I order “mild.” I have made the rice at home. The one thing that I’ve not done well is topping the fried rice with the egg that’s been “poached” in about three inches of hot oil. The egg white comes out crispy crunchy while the yolk stays runny and creamy!

Based on my tasting and listing what I think are the ingredients:

1 big bunch of fresh basil, one quarter of an onion, two cloves fresh garlic, one or two Thai or other hot chilies, one-half red pepper, all sauteed in sesame oil on medium high heat. Once the vegetables have properly sweated, add a bit of fish sauce and frozen green beans or peas and carrots. Now add the rice and fry some more with added soy sauce. Top it with a poached egg or fry it in butter, over-easy. The extra flavor from the restaurant comes from “poaching” (actually deep fat frying) the egg in hot oil. The egg should only be in the hot, deep oil less than one minute. The egg pictured here was steamed in butter, and I let it get a little crispy on the bottom.

We enjoyed it very much.

Thank you for reading me.

Garden Gifts and Kitchen Pepper

Since this is a story about gardens, I thought it best to set a featured image taken by my most talented cousin, MLG. She said I could use the picture. I write about basil a lot, so it’s only fitting that this praying mantis sits atop a lush stalk of basil while staring down a humming bird on the feeder. I think she should win a photography contest for this shot!

While I have my own garden, the wonderful thing about having friends and colleagues who have green thumbs is that we don’t grow the same vegetables. Thus, one gets a great variety of veggies and fruits when other gardeners share their bounties.

My colleague, BH, possesses a green thumb that allows peaches that we continue to enjoy thanks to last year’s crop. We are down to the last two frozen bags, and he tells me that a late frost nipped the trees buds last Spring. Not to fear, though, because the Japanese eggplant, chilies, and tomatoes are “going crazy!”

For the eggplant Parmesan, I cooked the tomatoes in a bit of olive oil until I could remove the peelings and mash the pulp to cook down into a paste. I cooked the tomatoes with onions, garlic, and two fat hands full of fresh basil leaves. My own garden is crazy with two pots of basil, and three plants in the ground. I planted extra basil to make sure, at least, one survived. Who knew all of the plants would survive, indeed, thrive! Back to the marinara sauce for the eggplant Parmesan. Once the sauce thickened, I put two big dollops of pesto! I have 40 half pints of different varieties of pesto in the freezer, and I keep one jar in the refrigerator to use randomly in food preparations. Sadly, I did not take a picture of the marinara sauce. I prepared half of the 16 ounce (450g) bag of penne pasta. I tossed the cook pasta in half of the marinara I had prepared with 10 tomatoes, half an onion, three cloves of garlic, and kitchen pepper (more on that later). Oh, I tossed the sliced Japanese eggplant in egg then in corn flour (ground yellow corn), and fried them in butter!

For our next eggplant meal, I fried sliced eggplant with fresh corn I had taken off the cob. It reminded me of the same side dish I make with fresh corn fried with yellow squash. This may have seemed like an odd meal, but I made fried green tomatoes. I have three tomatoes plant that have big green tomatoes. I’m not sure if they’re not getting enough sun, because they don’t ripen. That means I am pickling a lot of green tomatoes, too. Here are the fried green tomatoes. They were delicious.

Kitchen Pepper

I read about “Kitchen Pepper” when I was doing research on recipes and the cooking or baking of other enthusiasts. I found this on another WordPress website called, “Savoring the Past, ” which noted this from “A Lady’s Assistant” by Charlotte Mason, 1777. It was suggested that Kitchen Pepper developed any recipe into a savory dish. I have now added Kitchen Pepper to potato salad, grilled salmon, marinara sauce, and in a chocolate cake. The ingredients, individually, will surprise you, and you may not think they should be in such recipes. I can tell you that any where you would put seasoned salt, kitchen pepper can add greater depth in a flavor profile. Here’s the recipe:

Kitchen Pepper

One ounce (28.3g) powdered ginger

one half ounce (16.1g) of each:

black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg (all should be ground well)

Add 6 ounces (170g) salt (I used pink Himalayan salt)

Mix all of the ingredients well, and store in a tightly-sealed jar, preferably with a shaker fitting.

My friends Paula and Phil visited, and brought vegetables from their garden. We ate fresh tomatoes, and I will make more marinara sauce tomorrow. Phil presented me with a bag of very nice pickling cucumbers. I had eaten some “spicy maple bourbon pickles” that someone had brought to a party, so I thought I’d try making some of those, since I had some peppers in my garden and BH had presented me with some from his garden. I went to my trusty “Ball Canning Book” for the proper ratios of the ingredients to which I added one modification. I replaced the white sugar with pure maple syrup, but I did not add bourbon. Maybe next time. My ingredients for my version of spicy maple pickles:

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

1/4 cup canning salt

1 pint vinegar

1 pint water

1 tablespoon pickling spice

For each jar, I place sprigs of fennel, a sprig of rosemary, two chilies, 1 clove of garlic, and sliced cucumbers and sliced green tomatoes. I heat brine to boiling and pour over the vegetables for five minutes, and then I pour the brine back into the pan to bring to boil. Then I pour the boiling brine on the vegetables, seal, and process for 15 minutes in a boiling water bath “canner.” If I want a crispier pickle, I seal the jars after I pour in the boiling brine. I cool them on the counter and place in the refrigerator. The recommended 15 minutes boiling water bath often yields a slightly less firm pickle. The pickles are delicious with your eggs in the morning or with slices of cheese as an appetizer. They are great with sandwiches, too. Be creative.

For my parting shot, I offer a picture of me with my wonderful hibiscus plant, which yields 3-5 blooms per day. We eat our breakfast on the front patio with the plant every morning since we acquired “her” two months ago.

Thank you for reading my blog.

A Few of My Favorite Cooks

The lovely stained glass sits in my window, and I love the way it washes me in color when I stand by it with sun rays streaming in.  Color can be quite soothing.

I love to cook, bake, and create in my kitchen.  By the same token, I love the foods coming from the kitchens of family and friends, so I thought I’d dedicate this post to the many creative cooks in my life.  I’ll begin with my mother.  She is 90 years old, and goes to the kitchen to cook everyday, three times a day.  My siblings and I want her to slow down by emphasizing that we do not want her to put on the full-blown meals, as is in her nature.  Here are her beautiful hands.  She was a nurse for five decades.  She retired at 80.

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She does cook for her husband and herself daily, which is great for cognitive support.  Growing up, I remember her greatest meals were those with fresh ingredients.  Our hometown has a vegetable and beef farm by day and a drive-in theater by night.  In the summer, Mom would go out to the “truck farm” and get beef  to roast and fresh cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes.  She’d bake the roast until it browned evenly with the crispy ends.  She sliced the cucumbers and onions, and marinated them in vinegar, oil, salt, and pepper, a simple marinade.  She’d slice the large beefsteak tomatoes and laid them out on a plate for serving.  So the menu consisted of roast been, cucumbers and onions in a simple vinaigrette, and sliced tomatoes.  We ate the tomatoes sprinkled with salt.  Dessert was cantaloupe or watermelon; when they were in season.  Dad would bring home sugar beets that had fallen off the railroad car, and he would bake those for a sweet fall or winter dessert.  The sweetness of a baked sugar beet is just like having pie!  Here are some sugar beets I grew a few summers ago.  Beets were a source of sugar to a long time until a Cuban embargo focused the sugar power in the fields of Hawai’i’s cane fields.  Seriously, if you ever grow these, they make a wonderful  dessert roasted.   Back to my story…
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We visited my hometown about four weeks ago.  Mother made this lovely cake for my sister’s dinner (distant) gathering.  I marvel at Mother’s persistence in creating something beautiful and tasty for her family.  Here is her strawberry angel food cake.

Mom cake

Now, you should know that my list  of favored cooks is quite extensive, and I will miss someone, I’m sure.  Our son, Stevie, and late daughter, Riki, have cooked or baked some most memorable meals.  Of course, I’ve written about Stevie’s meat pies and his fabulous bread.  Riki made killer chicken and noodles, complete with homemade noodles.  She baked fabulous bread, too.  Sadly, we lost Riki nearly five years ago, but her memory continues to bless us.

My friend, Kathy, makes this wonderful appetizer, called, French Quarter Dip.  It possesses the most wonderful combination of sweet and savory for a cracker.

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Here’s Kathy’s recipe:

French Quarter Cheese Dip

                              Kathy Sexson

8 oz cream cheese

1 Tbs grated onion

1 garlic clove, minced

¼ c. packed dark brown sugar

¼ c. butter (1/2 stick)

1 tsp worcestershire sauce

½ tsp. prepared mustard

1 c. chopped pecans

combine cream cheese, onion and garlic, mix well shape into 6” mound on serving place.  Chill, covered, til set.

Combine brown sugar, butter, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and pecans in sauce pan.  Cook till butter melts, stir.  Uncover cheese mound, pour pecan mixture over top.  Chill covered till ready to serve.  Serve with crackers.

Kathy’s Low Country Boil leaves memories, too.  I remember the first time we witnessed and participated in the dinner.  I wondered about plates.  Kathy said, “no” it’s served on the table with paper.”  Then, I remembered the wonderful crayfish boils that I had had in New Orleans, so it did not seem odd at all.

Shrimp Boil  AKA Low-country boil

From Kathy Sexson

16 c.    water

¼ c      old bay seasoning or crab boil seasoning w/ quartered lemons (I use latter)

2-3 tsp ground red pepper

2 lb.     cooked smoked sausage, (I grill it first), cut in 1 ½” chunks

2 lb.     tiny new potatoes, halved if large

10        small onions, peeled, about 3 lbs. ( I use the little bitty ones that come dozen or so to mesh bag)

5 ears   fresh corn, shucked and broken into halves or thirds

2 lbs.   fresh or frozen large shrimp, in shells

¼ c      butter, melted (optional)

Optional ingredients:

¼ c      snipped fresh herbs, such as thyme, oregano, and or basil (optional – I don‘t bother with this)

Cocktail sauce – you can use little bowls for this or just pour on table  J

Bottled hot pepper sauce

  1. in large pot combine water, seasoning, and ground red pepper. Cover and bring to boil.  Once boiling, add sausage, potatoes, onions and corn.  Return to boiling, reduce heat.  Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.    Add shrimp.  Cover and cook for 2-3 minutes or until shrimp turns opaque.   Remove from heat, let stand 5 minutes.
  2. Carefully (duh) drain in large colander. Dump on da table.  No forks or plates allowed!      If desired, combine melted butter and herbs and drizzle over food.  Serve with cocktail sauce and hot pepper sauce, and drawn butter (add few drops of olive oil to butter to keep from solidifying.)   makes 10 servings.

Note – this recipe forgives easily, so be creative.  If you like one thing more than another (i.e. shrimp or sausage) add more.

You can serve on table on newspaper, but I prefer to get one of those, large, WATERPROOF picnic table cloths for a buck.

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Here, we are pictured with the blues band, The Nighthawks, from Washington D. C.  They were in town to give a concert at the zoo.  Good times!

My Friend, Mary L.’s 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 stopwatch began counting the time.  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. I use sunflower oil.)

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.

Here is a picture of a mince pie with the oil crust.  You can see that the crust if tender and flaky.  The cinnamon sugar mixture gives the crust a beautiful glow.

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I knew if I began to write about my favorite cooks, I would leave someone out of my story, but let us say that other writing will be devoted, further, to more of my favorite cooks.    I will leave you, now, with one of my favorite breakfasts: Egg taco with Dalgona coffee.

The egg taco is a small 1-egg omelet with green chilies.  I fry/warm it in a small cast iron skillet, 6.5 inches (16.51 cm), which is the perfect size for one corn tortilla. Use a little bit of butter so that the skillet does not stick.   Cook one side of the egg, and lay the tortilla to begin to warm. Flip to cook the other side of the omelette.  All this works best with a small lid to steam the egg.

The coffee, all the rage these days, is simple.  Use 1 teaspoon instant coffee, 1 teaspoon coconut sugar, and 1 tablespoon water, 1 tablespoon milk.  Whip into a froth.  Pour over 1/2 cup milk (on ice or steamed milk).  Pictured here, I have used steamed milk.  Yummy, and it’s low calorie.

egg taco

Thank you for reading!

Gifts from Nature and the Kitchen

Sometime last week, we set out to find some fungi, specifically morels.  On on our way out we saw a neighbor leaving her house. She was headed to another friends to “pick up some mushrooms!”  I asked if her friends had found morels!  “No.”  Well, we took a long walk tromping through the woods near our home.  We returned home to find a brown paper grocery bag on the front door step partially filled with oyster mushrooms.  I have a feeling my neighbor’s friend grows these at home.  That sounds like something I’d like to do!

The cemetery that sits about one quarter mile from our house is a favorite place for us to walk. I found a nice patch of wild garlic, so I picked a small bunch (about 10 little shoots).  I had those in my hand when when we found the bag containing the lovely fungus.   I remembered that we had a rice cooker with a new batch of cooked rice,  Also, I remembered that I had some chicken broth with little strands of chicken.  That meant I had everything I needed to whip up a nice mushroom soup! I sauteed spring onions from the garden, rosemary from my window pot, celery, and the chopped mushrooms!  The chicken broth, thawed from the freezer, added to the saute, made a most delicious soup.  We poured the soup over rice.   We added a crisp romaine salad with an Asian dressing.

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Asian Dressing:

1/4 c (59.15mL) sesame oil

1/4 cup (59.15mL) seasoned rice vinegar

Finely minced: garlic, spring onion, fresh ginger to taste.  Add 1 tablespoon of pure maple syrup and roasted, crushed sesame seeds.  Shake well before using.  It’s quite delicious and makes a simple romaine into something quite sublime.  Actually, the lettuce is just a vehicle to get the dressing into  your mouth, because it’s rude to drink salad dressing!

Two things are happening to us as we physical distance from community while working from home.  I am experiencing less stress.  I work longer hours, but those hours are not stressful, because I can step away to the garden, to the kitchen, or to a book to get a quick recharge.  I am actually more productive at work, because I can do all my meetings and teaching virtually!  It will be interesting to return to campus, physically.

Right now, I take great delight in getting my garden ready with sprouted seedlings I’ve begun in the house.  This is my yard’s first garden in decades, I think.  We have been in this house almost one year.  The soil is heavy clay with lots of limestone deposits.  We have a large populations of bunnies, woodchucks, squirrels, and deer in addition to multiple species of birds.  I will have to write a blog submission on the great birds in my yard!  With a garden, I get to spend lots of time in the kitchen creating dishes from the bounty.  More about all that later. Here’s a picture of my embryonic garden.

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Shortly after the Easter holiday, I wrote about our leg of lamb.  Being only two in the household, we had leftover lamb.  I cubed what was left of the lamb and stuck it in the freezer.  I took it out this week.  It made two more meals.  The first evening, we had lamb tacos.  I forgot to take a picture.  Suffice it to say that I took half the thawed lamb from the freezer container, and placed it in the frying pan.  Though I added no grease or oil, I did add green chili made from roasted Anaheim green chili peppers.  They are a wonderfully, savory chili that is not hot.  On a scale from one to 10, I’d put Anaheim at 2 or three.  Though, I think they are being bred to be much hotter these days.  It was a simple taco with a warmed corn tortilla, the meat, and the green chili.  The tacos were great with a lime enhanced light beer.

The next night, we had lamb curry prepared with the other portion of the lamb.  Here’s what I did, I think.

One quarter of a diced yellow onion

Three cloves minced garlic

1 Tablespoon minced ginger

I sauteed the first three ingredients in a mixture of sesame and sunflower oils

I added one can of stewed tomatoes with its liquid

I added a prepared curry powder and a spice mix my Ghanaian student brought from his home country for preparing Jollof Rice.  That was the winning combination, though I may never be able to create this dish again.  Of course, we served it over rice and ate it with naan bread prepared the night before.

Sometimes, we eat at the dining room table.  Now that it’s warm, we eat outside on the deck.  We may even consume our meals in front of the television with a movie.  The most important thing is that we enjoy the food, and savor the convivial moments.

Thank you for reading.

 

Mother’s Visit

My 90 year old mother had not seen our new (to us) home since we moved to a different town, so she wanted to make the 18-hour drive to see us and arrived on Monday, March 9, 2020.  Luckily, her 82 year old husband and 70-something brother were along to do the driving. My mother makes a great drill sergeant,  so she “supervised” the trip.

They arrived the day after my friends left our house for their weekend visit.  Most interesting, also, it was when the COVID-19 stories began to surface in a serious way.  We went out to eat on the day they arrived, but after that, the university where I work and which was in spring break mode, began to think about what to do with 20-thousand-plus students.  Administration decided to extend spring break one week, and then we’d work on turning all of our classes into a virtual format.  Suffice it to say that I have been conducting meetings and teaching schedules in a virtual format called, Zoom (c).  It’s been an interesting way to do business.

My mother likes to eat, though she eats very little save sweets and starches.  The second night of her visit, I fixed grilled chicken and pesto pasta.  I’m still using the 30-plus small containers of pesto that I made last summer from a prolific basil plant.  The lovely thing is that pesto, when prepared and frozen properly, looks as green and lovely thawing from teh freezer as the day you put it in.  I simply seasoned the chicken thighs with seasoned salt and garlic powder, and grilled until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees F (75 degrees Celsius).  I cooked the pasta until al dente and tossed it with thawed pesto.  I sprinkled it with a little more Parmesan after I served it.  We had a added roasted Brussels sprouts and crusty bread and enjoyed it with a sparkling Cava.  My mother mostly ate the bread with lots of butter.  Last fall, Dale and I took a sparkling wine and Cava tasting class at K-State’s College of Health and Human Sciences’ Hotel and Hospitality department. It was a good lesson.

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Last December when I was home, in Western Colorado, I had noticed a perfect wasps’ nest.  I showed it to my step-father and told him all about such wasps (Bald-faced hornet, actually) being the best of architects!  Low and behold, unknown to me, he had cut it down and presented it to me as a gift.  Please understand that these hornets leave the nests in the cold of winter, but to make sure, I stuck it in the freezer for 24 hours.  Then it became a decoration.  The nest now hangs from my living room ceiling.  Look at its beauty!  The queen builds this paper nest going round and round.  While she builds the walls, she builds the comb, which will hold the workers.  It’s perfect, as many things in nature are.

hive

Interestingly, we discovered a yellow jacket nest in our yard.  They build underground, and they are perfect until an opossum came along and tore it out.   They like to eat the larvae.  That’s another story for another time.

Well, it was a great time with mother.  I am 63 years old, and she still feels the need to tell me that I’m cooking wrong, cleaning wrong, and she has opinions about my behavior.  She did like the variety of birds feeding at my various feeding stations, so that was entertaining.  Here’s another thing that makes mother think that perhaps I was switched at birth with her “real” daughter, because her own daughter would have better sense.  While she was visiting, I created my seasonal centerpiece.  I found the idea somewhere, but I can’t remember, but the idea is not mine.

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Dale drew the horrified faces on the little guys.  Well, as always, thank you for reading me.

I Love to Cook for Friends and Family!

Hello!  I left you, in my previous blog, with the news that friends were coming to spend the weekend followed by a visit from my 90 year old mother and her 82 year husband.  Let’s start first with the visit from Nancy and Lynn.

Nancy and Lynn have been friends with Dale and me for 40-plus years.  Dale and Lynn working in public radio in California.  Nancy was part of a group that brought public radio the the central high plains of Kansas (later the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles).  Nancy grew up on Southwest Kansas.  Dale came to Kansas from California in late 80s to manage the public radio station.  I began working at that public radio station as a news reporter and classical music radio host in 1980, the year it went “on the air.” Dale hired Lynn to do the morning show in 1988.   Nancy and Lynn became great friends, and Lynn is Nancy’s youngest child’s “godmother.”   Here we are many years later talking about retiring in a self-made commune!  That’s how far we’ve come.  I should also tell you that Lynn and I are fellow geographers, too!

Well, I like to cook, and Lynn and Nancy appear to like my cooking.  They arrived on Friday evening in time for a meal of grilled flat bread, sweet potato – spinach – Halloumi curry served over rice, and hummus.  The curry recipe was one I found in allrecipes.com cooking magazine gifted to me yearly from my dear friend, Mary.  I hope I don’t repeat myself in the blog.  I can’t remember if I’ve given you any of these recipes.  Here’s the curry:

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If you follow the recipe the way it reads, it would be great for vegetarians.  I tend to modify any recipe I read, so I used the turkey broth that I made and froze from Thanksgiving.  It had little chunks of turkey, so not vegetarian.  Here’s the recipe:

2 large sweet potatoes

1 can chick peas (I cook an 8 ounce (226.8g) so that I can use half of the cook peas for this recipe and the other half for hummus.

1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 oz./411g)

1 can unsweetened coconut milk (14 oz./396.89g)

1 large hand full of freshly chopped spinach

1 tablespoon (14.175g) hot pepper of your choice.  I use a sprinkling of piri-piri style pepper flakes (birds-eye chili)

1 tablespoon curry powder

It calls for 2-3  teaspoons of chili jam. I made jalapeno jam last summer, so I use that.

1 tsp. cumin

I use 3 -4 cups (0.71 liters) of my turkey stock with bits of turkey, which adds greatly to the overall flavor of the stew.

I fry the halloumi cheese until nicely browned.

Simmer the stew.  Add the browned cheese 2 minutes before you serve the stew

Serve the curry over rice.  I served it with a flat bread and hummus appetizer and a sparkling sauvignon blanc.   We loved it.

The next morning, I wanted to offer Lynn and Nancy one of our favorite breakfasts: Eggs and Soldiers.  I know I’ve written about them before, but it was a new experience for my friends.  There’s nothing like a beautiful -little soft boiled egg, with its top removed, which leaves it open to dip a slivered piece of toast into the eggs gooey yolk!  With a cup of coffee or African tea preparation (black tea brewed with cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and clove buds) with milk and honey).  It’s the best of breakfasts!  We have egg cups I ordered from England!  I just realized that I forgot to take pictures of our breakfast.  It was good.

After breakfast, we spent the day hiking different sites around town.  We live in the Flint Hills of Kansas.  Though I grew up in the mountains of Colorado, I love the rolling tall grass prairie of this region.  Also, we explored a military museum on an army base.

Once we finished our activities of the day, we enjoyed a cocktail while I prepared dinner.  Lynn loves salmon, so I had to prepare our pineapple baked salmon.  We served it with rice (my husband is Hawaiian-Portuguese, and he could eat rice three times a day!) and baked Brussels sprouts.  I’ve showed this recipe previously, but that picture is what it looks like before you put in the oven.  Here’s a shot of it on the plate.

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The beautiful thing about this dish is that there is usually enough salmon for fried rice for breakfast – not to repeat myself.

The next morning, we took Lynn and Nancy to our favorite breakfast spot called, “The Chef.”  After that we did more hiking and then took a nice walk on campus.  Here we are in front of my favorite London plane tree on campus:

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Friends are great, and I have the best!  Thank you for reading.  They left on Sunday, and my mother arrived on Monday.  I was eager to do more cooking.  More later…

Thank you for reading me!

The Cheese or Charcuterie Board

Winter months give me the opportunity to preserve fall fruits.  My native state, Colorado, specifically, the Western Slope, produces, I think, the best apples.  Harvested in the fall, apples stay, wrapped in newspaper, fresh when stored in a dark, cool place about 40 degrees Fahrenheit (104 C).  I make four products from a nice bushel of those apples (other than Waldorf salad), 1) minced meat; 2) Fig Apple jam, 3) Fig Orange Jam, and Cranberry Apple Orange Spice (a.k.a. CAOS, as previously blogged). I tell you this, because the CAOS makes a splendid cranberry condiment (or is it a salad?) accompaniment to the Thanksgiving or Spring harvest turkey meal.  The fig apple and fig orange jams make the perfect pairings for a cheese or Charcuterie boards.

For this blog, I choose to call it “The Spread”, since one offers it to those at table as a “spread.”  Now, I do not doubt that you have not heard of the Cheese or Charcuterie Board.  I find them in many forms at restaurants, cafés, and bistros.  The hands that prepare “The Spread” takes what ever creative license they choose.  The mainstay of my Charcuterie Board, of course is cheeses and meats.  For the meats, I look for Italian salamis, Spanish chorizos (not to be confused with Mexican chorizo, which has the consistency of ground meat stuffed into a casing).  There is a pit smoked summer sausage that I use when available.  Occasionally, I use ham salad (as shown in the featured image).

The cheeses offer another avenue for creativity.  I like to fry Canela cheese.  Its texture squeaks against your teeth, and the browned parts give the cheese another level of texture and add a smoky flavor.  I love Brie in any form. Manchego, a Spanish sheep’s milk with a firm and buttery texture and flavor.  Goat cheese goes well with honey and/or jams.  Boursin cheese is another I like to put on the Spread.  I like to make Boursin cheese from yogurt.  Here’s how:

  • I carton (32 ounces/907g) plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt
  • Herbs to taste (I like to use a blend of dried basil, sun dried tomatoes, oregano, garlic granules, salt, and pepper)
  • Mix herbs, salt, and pepper in yogurt.
  • Pour all into a cheese cloth lined bowl.
  • Wrap and twist the top.  Bind with a clean rubber band or twist tie to make a bag.
  • Find a way to hang the cheese cloth bag (with yogurt mixture inside) over a container to catch the whey as it drips away.  I hang mine at room temperature during winter and hang it in the refrigerator in the summer months.  It takes a bit longer in the fridge.
  • Once you have a firm ball of cheese (think cream cheese or marscapone), then you have your very own homemade Boursin cheese at a quarter of the price!
  • Place the cheese ball in a ceramic bowl.  Serve with crackers or crostini.

Boursin

Other things to add to “The Spread”:

  • Toasted breads
  • Crackers
  • Nuts
  • Fruits (Grapes and apple appear to be my favorites
  • Pickles (I like to pickle okra, cucumbers, and pears)
  • Jams (This is where my Fig-apple and Fig-orange jams make their appearances!)
  • Honey
  • Olives
  • Be creative!

One of my all-time favorite “Spreads” was a time that my friend, Lynn, and I spent the afternoon basking in the shade on a sunny day while sitting in her make-shift wading pool (a galvanized steel stock tank used to provide water to livestock grazing in a field).  Before plunging into the water, we prepared a lovely spread of cheeses, meats, blue cornmeal muffins, sour cream, caviar, hummus, carrot sticks, Caprese salad (chopped), and gravlox. We paired the caviar/sour cream topped corn muffins with vodka served in chilled glasses.  To stay hydrated, we filled glasses with ginger all and limes.  We spent a lovely afternoon watching hummingbird moths gorge on the nectar of petunias.  Here’s our spread:

Snacks by the pool stock tank

Do you see what I mean when I speak of creativity?  On another occasion, my friend, Donna, and I offered plates of inspired canapés, to guests, which I think would go well on a cheese board.  We took grape tomatoes, mozzarella pearls, and basil leaves all skewered onto toothpicks.  We dipped them in my homemade pesto.  On another dish, Donna took thinly sliced Spanish chorizo topped with shaved Manchego.  These paired well with a rich Cabernet Sauvignon or a sparkling Cava.  (Really, I am no expert on pairings.  I just know what I like).  I baked baguettes to go with this.

Tapas

As I write this, I am sad that I did not take pictures of all the Cheese/Charcuterie boads that I’ve prepared in the past three months.  I did take pictures of some ordered in restaurants lately.

The first comes from a restaurant in Wichita, Kansas visited with friends Phil, Paula, and Lynn.  I ordered a burrata (delicious cream and curds surrounded by fresh Mozzarella).  I loved that they crushed pistachios on top of the burrata, and the figs added a rich and subtle sweetness.  It should have been shared, because this was too much for one person.  Take a look at this.

Sample cheese board for one

Finally, I had this little spread on Austin in a little river-side bistro.  Dale ordered avocado toast to accompany my cheese board.

Austin cheese board

The most important thing to remember about the Cheese/Charcuterie board – linger over it slowly with friends.  Remember that term, conviviality? Building your “Spreads” lends itself to building memories with friends and family.  Take time to smell the ingredients.  Aromas tend to connect strongly to memories.  Have fun with it, and be creative.  I leave you with another view of a recent cheese board.  We paired it with Manhattan cocktails.  That’s my crocheting hanging in the background.  Thank you for reading.

cheese board with manhattans

Three Days of Venison On the Table

One of my all-time favorite meats is venison, deer meat.  I grew up in Colorado, and my mother did not like the taste of venison, so we did not get to enjoy it much.  My father purchased a license and went hunting every year, but I later learned that he mostly had gone out into the woods to look at deer and other wildlife (he was a self-made naturalist) while enjoying an occasional cigarette, something he could not do in front of my mother.

Colorado venison tends toward a stronger taste since the beautiful animals are often left with eating sagebrush, lichens, and similar forage that survived during high snowfall in the higher elevations.  Luckily, our Native grandmothers had the answer to any strong meats, such as sage-fed venison and mutton (old sheep): Juniper berries.  They harvested their juniper berries from the Rocky Mountain (Juniperus scopulorum) or Colorado juniper.  Natives used the juniper berries (ripe when they are a purple color) for neutralizing strong meats, for bad breath, for tea, and for coffee substitute.  I like to use one smashed berry to drop into my gin and tonic.  It brings out the flavor of the gin, which is made from juniper berries.

My other favorite meat is lamb.  Since I grew up eating mutton at my grandparents (another thing my mother refused to prepare), I learned in my adult life that lamb tastes much better.  An added bonus is that one of my best friends is a sheep farmer, so I have ready access to buying one or two lambs a year.  Our grandchildren absolutely adore grilled lamb!  I’ll write about that another time.

I know that my featured picture shows me with a buck, but I am not a trophy hunter.  I usually hunt does for their meet.  The buck in the picture, which I had an “any sex” license, but the does were not to be seen that morning.  My hunting pal is Adrian, who, along with husband, Bob, own the sheep farm.  Actually, we’re lucky that we shoot anything.  Bob says we talk too much!  We have been, occasionally lucky enough to “bag” a deer, however.

My venison menus these days consist not of Colorado venison.  Since I live in Kansas (the American Midwest), I get to enjoy grain-fed venison (white-tailed deer), and since they have year around access to farmers’ row crops, they are well fed and their meat is lean and sweet.  My husband and I process the meat ourselves.  Often, if one takes their deer to a meat processor, it’s processed with many other deer.  Processing it myself, I know it’s all my deer.  When I am not lucky enough to get my own deer, I have friends who will share, so we process with them.

Day 1: Venison Curry

Curry is a lovely flavor.  I brown the cubed venison.  In this case, I used the back strap meat, which is the length of loin that runs along the back.  It’s the “ribeye” in beef and the “loin” in pork.  The back strap is quite tender and lovely.  Sometimes, I like to bread and fry it, and fold it inside a homemade flour tortilla or flat bread.

  • Brown the cubed meat – cook until brown
  • Add half an onion – cook until translucent
  • one crushed juniper berry (optional)
  • Then add a three diced carrots and two diced russet potatoes (or what ever you like)
  • Add enough water to cover the meat and vegetables
  • Add curry spices – simmer
  • Add coconut milk to taste
  • Serve over brown or white rice

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Day 2: Venison Stroganoff

  • Brown cubed venison
  • Add onions and garlic
  • Add sliced mushrooms
  • Season with salt, pepper, and thyme
  • one crushed juniper berry (optional)
  • I like to sprinkle with a tablespoon (15 mL) of buckwheat flour
  • Add enough water to simmer and thicken
  • Add enough sour cream to make a nice thick sauce
  • Serve over noodles, white rice, or brown rice

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Day 3: Venison Spaghetti

This time, I use ground venison.  Since it’s quite lean, I like to add a pat or two of salted butter (or unsalted, depending on preference) so that it has some fat in it.

  • One pound (0.453 kilograms) ground venison – cooked in skillet
  • Half an onion
  • 10 mushrooms, chopped
  • two cloves garlic
  • two stalks of celery
  • Dried basil to taste
  • 2 teaspoons (9.857mL) of prepared basil pesto)
  • 1 bottle passata (strained tomato sauce)
  • 2 teaspoons (9.857mL) of tomato paste
  • 425 mL wine
  • Simmer all until thick
  • Serve over spaghetti pasta

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As you may have observed, I like to use my carbon steel wok.  I possesses a well seasoned patina, and nothing spills over the sides.  Oh, here’s how I paired my dishes:

  • Because of the sweetness of the curry, I paired it with Sauvignon Blanc
  • The stroganoff was paired with a whiskey old fashioned
  • The spaghetti was paired with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Enjoy, and thank you for reading me.

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.

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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.

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

Thank you for reading.