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 

 

 

Eggplant Parmigiana – Made Simply

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

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

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

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

eggplant-draining.jpg

My sauce:

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

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

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

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

EPP in the pan

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

Thank you for reading!

 

 

Saturday at Home and Creating in the Kitchen

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

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

So, Saturday lunch was simple.  Menu:

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

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

Okay.  How did I prepare this meal?

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

Chicken fried venison.jpg

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

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

This version of Spanish rice:

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

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

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

Menu:

  • Fish tacos with marinated cabbage topping
  • quinoa garden salad

Here’s how I prepared it.

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

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

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

The quinoa salad:

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

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

Toss and chill before serving.

Fish Tacos and quinoa salad

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

Thank you for reading.