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.

Happy Accidents…in the Kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading.

In the Kitchen From the Garden

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

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

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

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

basil oil

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Joys of Jam!

I love color.  I like to fill my house with color! I think my favorite color in a window is cobalt blue.  Oscar Wilde, my favorite 19th Century  Irish playwright and aesthete once said, “I fear I will never live up to my cobalt dishes.”  I think it was actually decorative urns to which Wilde referred.   I would have to agree with the great intellect.  Cobalt does delight the senses.  The featured image is my kitchen window.  It looks to be a setting sun outside, which gave the blues an extra boost of color.

Speaking of color, I like color in my foods.   Jams are a good example of a colorful food.  While jams, that wonderful concoction of sugar and whole fruit, may not appear to be useful beyond peanut butter and jam, bread and jam, jam glaze, etc., for some, I think they can be used every day in a myriad of recipes.  I like to create jams.  I am less inclined toward jellies, made of fruit juices and sugar, though they make wonderful sweetener for, say, tea!  This week, I created a new jam.  I give my jams weird names.  Actually the names derive from the acronym that comes from the main ingredients, like “CAOS,” pronounced, chaos, is my cranberry-apple-orange-spice jam that I make in November when cranberries come to the grocery.  My CAOS graces the holiday table, and goes splendidly with turkey and its trimmings.

“FAJ” and “FOJ,” pronounced fahje and foeje, are my fig-apple jam and fig-orange jam.  They pair nicely with brie and other buttery cheeses.  I think I’ve written about these previously.

To assure that I measure fruits, sugar, and other ingredients going into the jam, I look at other recipes.  My latest is called, APOS, and now I’m sorry I didn’t arrange those letters differently, because some use a similar acronym derogatorily.  Going forward…APOS is apricot-pineapple-orange-saffron jam.  I followed a recipe for apricot jam.  First, you should know that my freezer is full of apricot pulp.  My mother has a prolific apricot tree.  She picks and cleans the apricots.  She adds a “produce protector” with dextrose, ascorbic acid, and citric acid, so that the fruit keeps its brilliant orange, and she adds some lemon juice and freezes in jars.

apricot pulp

I thaw the jar and mix my “jam.” For APOS, I used this quart (453.59g) of crushed apricots, and chopped up enough fresh pineapple and  two whole oranges to make eight ounces (226.80g) of additional fruit.  To which I added four cups (860g) sugar, and two ounces (56.70g) of lemon juice and four good pinches of saffron (about 20 threads for stigma).  Saffron is a rare and fragrant spice.  Each flower of the crocus produces three stigma and must be harvested by hand.  I visited Spain 15 years ago, and I still hang on to the saffron I purchased there.  Luckily, my mother’s friend, who lived in the Middle East gifted some.  I am using that now.  Here it is cooking down to a thickened state.  Notice the saffron threads imparting their brilliant color to the already colorful blend of apricot, pineapple, and naval oranges.

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While the jam thickens, jars must be cleaned and sterilized.  The rings must be clean, and the lids must be covered with hot water to soften the rubber seal.  Pour the boiling jam into the prepared jars, and the lid-ring must be adjusted to fit properly.  Lower each jar into a boiling water bath canner where the water covers the jars by two or more inches (5.08 cm).  Place the lid on the canner, and begin the count (15 minutes) once the water comes back to a boil.   Consult your canning guide for best results.

I tested the jam with silky goat cheese, and it did not disappoint.  It went well on a freshly baked slice of sourdough, too.  I think it’s a keeper.  bread

Jams are a must when you present a meat and cheese board.  We like a meat and cheese board when we’re watching a movie on the television.

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On this particular board, I used whole figs in place of the jam (What was I thinking?).  My husband loves kippered snacks (herring), which is great with cream cheese and crackers.  Eat this kind of meal slowly so that you know when you’re full.  Otherwise, it’s easy to stuff yourself, because everything is fresh and flavorful.

I’m off to visit my mother for her 90th birthday.  My sisters and I are preparing a great feast.  Perhaps I’ll share.  Thank you for reading.

The Joys of the Kitchen

While my feature photo is not that of the kitchen, it’s one of my favorite places. It’s an arch that connects two buildings.  Named after its donors (Bird), the arch connects the Marianna Kistler-Beach Museum to its offices and education department, on the campus of Kansas State University.  I think I had snapped this picture during one of my winter visits to admire the exhibitions.  I like the lines in the photo…

Now, for time in the kitchen, I realize that many people talk and write about food, cooking, and “this is what’s happening to me,” sorts of sharing.  These types of communications illustrate ways that we connect to the world.  I like to write, and I like to cook, so I share these two things with you.  Here are some meals that I have prepared these past few days.

While I’m preparing food for only two of us, of late, I find it interesting to using what I buy or grow to the fullest of the life of the food.  For example, if I by a jar of pickles, and we’ve finished all the pickles, I like to use the brine for preparing another jar of pickles, because there are these lovely garlic bits left behind.  Here’s how you do it.

Refrigerator Pickles: Take one or two English hothouse cucumbers.  Slice the cucumbers, and place them in a bowl.  Sprinkle the sliced cucumbers with two tablespoons (17.06g) of salt.  Toss to mix the salt into the cucumbers. Let the cucumbers sit for 10 minutes.  Then rinse and pat dry, and place the cucumbers in the cleaned, sterilized, and dried jar that held the original pickles.

In the meantime, bring the brine to boil.  Assume that you will not have enough brine, so prepare additional brine with equal parts water and vinegar.  Likely, you won’t need more than one cup (227g) of the additional brine.  Then pour the boiling brine over the cucumbers in the jar.  The brine should, entirely, cover all of the pickles.  Replace the lid, and allow  the jar of cucumbers-about-to-turn-pickles to cool, slightly, before you refrigerate.   They keep in the refrigerator for as long as it takes for you to eat them.

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Also, during our physical distancing, we do cook a lot more, which I was greatly missing when I was, physically, going to the office every day.  Keep in mind, I am thriving working from home!  I’m much more productive in my job, because I can step away for a moment to come back to my computer with a brighter mind to complete the task as hand.  I’ve even lost weight with the decrease in my stress levels from the office.  I, greatly, dread the idea of returning to the, physical, office.  I love my home office!  More recipes…

This has been a week of turning to other proteins, besides beef.  We love beef, but try to vary our proteins.  I prepared pinto beans.  We buy “new crop” pinto from a small farmer in the Arkansas River Valley of Southeast Colorado.  Pinto beans are harvested around October and November.  New crop pintos easily cook in one or two hours, don’t need soaking, and taste wonderful, if you like pinto beans.  I love pinto beans, as do many of my Indigenous peers.  Most of the beans you buy in the grocery store are old, and that’s why you have to soak them to rehydrate before cooking – not so with new crop beans.  I cooked the beans with ham pieces and served them with a sort of “Spanish Rice.”    I didn’t take pictures of that meal, but I did make a luscious breakfast the next day with the beans.  I steamed eggs in a wee bit of butter, added savory green chili to the beans, and put it atop the eggs.  It was quite memorable in beginning the day.

The next night, we had salmon.  First, I sauteed a roma tomato with spring onions, and garlic in butter and sesame oil.  After the vegetables softened a bit, I added the seasoned (with soy sauce and pepper) salmon and place the lid to allow the ingredients to steam and cook the salmon.   I had never used rice noodles, so this was a new one for me.  They are simple.  Pour boiling water over the noodles, and let them sit for 20-25 minutes.  After the salmon reached its cooked temperature, I took it out, and set it aside while I thickened the veggies in the saute.  I added the rice noodles to the vegetables in their sauce.  The rice noodles, in this case, are wide meant for Pad Thai.  I think they could be used for linguini and clam sauce, especially for those with wheat intolerances. Here was our meal.  Oh, we had a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, which made it perfect!

 

One night, I prepared a similar dish with shrimp, but my focus was on garlic (It’s a good thing we are physical distancing, because our garlic intake has increased of late), and I served it with spaghetti and mozzarella pull-apart bread.  The sauce for the salmon and shrimp is rather easy.  I saute the garlic, onion, and celery in butter and olive oil.  Once the vegetables cook, I add white wine and simmer to thicken the sauce.  For the shrimp, I used one tiny Roma tomato.  For the salmon dish, I used red pepper and a bit of spinach.   The garlic shrimp dish required a buttery Chardonnay as its accompaniment.

I will continue to practice a sort of artistry in preparing delicious meals.  Sometimes, there are failures, but I just learn more from them.  Also, I tried making mozzarella.  It was partially successful.  I’ll keep you posted on that, too.

Thank you for reading.