Love in the time of…Corona Virus!

Living in the midst of the Corona Virus pandemic caused me to think of Gabriel García Márquez’s book, Love in the Time of Cholera, which refers to the disease of cholera, which has contributed to many outbreaks and at least one pandemic in the past 200 years.  In the throes of this pandemic, I witness the realization of the other part of  cólera, the Spanish word referring to the disease and to the concepts of anger and rage.  I liken that anger and rage to be synonymous with what we’re experiencing today.  Some people are angry at the call to shelter in place and politicize and moralize the disease.  Without getting political, I will tell you about my own sheltering in place.  I cook or I bake.  We eat…just the two of us, but I focus on meals that I’d prepare for a group of friends or our family.  I call that, love in the time of Corona Virus!

If there was a secret to home cooking, it’s sort of a combination of bravery to try new things, understanding flavors and how they interact with one another, and a bit of creativity and lots of love.  We used to live in an region marked by majority “minority.”  That just means that there are more people of color than Caucasian people, and the term, “minority” is not one I prefer since it further minoritizes a group of people.  Anyway, the majority in the region is predominately Hispanic from Meso, Central, and Latin America.  And with them comes wonderfully delicious cuisine.  We love fish tacos made with white tilapia, a super mild tasting fish.  It does not overwhelm the other dishes.  We as the “topping,” we use a cabbage and carrot salad much like the “slaw” used for Salvadoran papoosas.   I cook about three tilapia filet in butter seasoned with salt, dehydrated lemon and lime, pepper, and a mild red chili.  When it’s cooked, I drizzle it with lemon.

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Before I cook the fish, I prepare my version of the “repollo.”

Half head of cabbage sliced thinly

1 grated carrot

Dressing: 1/4 cup (59.15 mL) sherry vinegar,  1/4 c (59.15 mL) sunflower oil, seasoned salt to taste, 1 teaspoon (2.60g) each of onion and garlic granules, salt and pepper to taste.  For most dressings, you always need a bit of sweetener, and I like to use jams, so I add 1 Tablespoon (20g) of my jalapeno or apricot jams.  Shake vigorously and add to the  combined cabbage and carrot.  Put in a lidded jar and shake to assure that each cabbage leaf gets covered generously.

Warm corn tortillas on the stove with just a little butter or oil.  They are better if they are warmed and soft rather than fried.  Frying the corn tortillas are great for beef tacos, but it tends to overwhelm the delicate fish in this case.   Make your taco by placing a serving of the fish on the corn tortilla topped with the repollo.  Sometimes, I’m not sure the pictures does the meal justice, but it was delicious!

Around holidays, I love to cook large meals for family or friends.  Obviously, with the importance of physical distancing, I knew that the grand meal would have to be for the two of us, and we would feasts on left overs for the remainder of the week.

The Easter Dinner – The Menu:

Leg of lamb, grilled flat bread, Greek salad, Tzaziki (cucumber/yogurt),  and deviled eggs with lemon-saffron panna cotta for dessert.  Now the leg of lamb cooked on a charcoal grill takes some practice, and Dale has perfected the skill over the years.  The secret is never letting the charcoals sit directly under the meat.  They must be on both edges of the grill “kettle” with a drip pan separating them.  The drip pan sits directly under the leg of lamb (or turkey if we cook that!).   I prepare the leg of lamb by rubbing it with pesto that I make up in the fall and freeze.  This time, I had three slices of bacon left in a package, so I topped the lamb with that and draped it to protect lean that was not covered in fat.

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Notice the charcoals.  Dale adds 24 already red and ashy charcoals on each side every 30 minutes for up to three hours for this seven pound (3.17 kg) leg of lamb.  We take it off when the internal temperature reaches 150 degrees Fahrenheit (65.56 Celsius).  We let it sit for 10 minutes before we slice it.  We serve it with the Tziziki, diced cucumbers mixed with Greek style plain yogurt.  I season the Tziiziki with salt, pepper, onion and garlic granules).

The Greek salad was a simple mix of romaine, tomatoes, feta cheese, cucumbers, and green onions with a balsamic dressing mixed up by Dale. It was delicious! We served the meal with red wine from the Rijoa region of Spain.  I think we tried to touch as many cultural cuisines as we could!   It worked, and it was lovely!

Now, for the panna cotta, I took a simple box of lemon flavored box gelatin that takes one cup of boiling water and one cup of cold water.  Instead of the cold water, I used one cup of canned milk.  Once all that was mixed, I added about 8 strands of saffron, which I think is one of the most wonderful spice, ever!  The scent of saffron is only surpassed by its subtle but distinctive flavor.  It made a sublime addition to the simple gelatin dessert, which I am choosing to call, “panna cotta.”

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All this was served with great love and friendship with my spouse.  Thank you for reading!

Dense Foods and Other Interests

No matter where you are on this planet, we share similar circumstances of staying at home because of a pandemic.  I am quite fortunate to have my job as an educator at the university.  We are working at home!  I sit, perched, on a tall stool in my kitchen participating in virtual meetings and virtual teaching.  My favorite place in the house continues to be the kitchen.  This is my creative spot.  I get great vibes in my kitchen environment.  Before the pandemic, people gathered in my kitchen, though it’s quite small for someone who loves to cook.  We have lived in this house only since the previous May.  My former house had three ovens for my baking, and it had more room, but a similar kitchen space.  I have but one oven and cooking range in this house.  I am not deterred, however.  I manage to cook at least once a day, but usually two times. We will sample a few of my dishes of late but first, a digression.

Another great thing about this house is that it has magnificent windows!  I have placed bird feeders and bird baths in my back yard with great views of the birds, and my yard list is growing quickly.  My featured photo, though blurry, is a Carolina Wren that frequents the feeders and bath.  I heard a barred owl last night.  That’s a new one for me, now that I live on the east side of the 100th meridian. Now, for the food.

Yesterday morning for breakfast, we had avocado toast topped with Brisling, a.k.a. bristling,  sardines, packed in two layers.  We came upon this idea from the chef and food scientist, Alton Brown.  I’m not crazy about his method, so I changed it up a bit.

One ripe avocado serves two open faced toasts.  I use dense, seed bread, toasted.

Mash one ripe avocado.  Add salt and pepper, to taste, and mix with fresh lime juice.

Mix two tablespoons (225g) of Sherry Vinegar (I prefer that from Spain.  Not sure if it comes from any other place!) in with the sardines, being careful not to break up the tiny, delicate, nutrient-packed, North Atlantic fishes!

After you toast the bread, assemble your food.  Spread the avocado mixture on the toasted bread. Then lay the sardines side-by-side (head to tail, though there is no head!) on the bread.  It is a nutrient-dense breakfast, and you will be set for a full morning!  We had a nice cup of coffee with our toasts! Here’s the picture.

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Speaking of dense foods, here’s a cake with a dense crumb!  First, I must tell you a back story.   Back in the 1970s, when slow cookers first arrived on the kitchen scene, one of the manufacturers produced a cake pan for the slow cooker.  It makes these wonderful, little dense cakes, which work best for chocolate cakes.  I don’t think white cakes do too well, unless you’re wanting a pound cake!

I was in the right place at the right time when I received the cake pan.  At an estate sale auction, a man had given the winning bid for a kitchen and housewares lot.  He looked at the cake pan with a puzzled expression on his face.  I asked him if he knew the identity of the thing in his hand.  He said, “No!”  I told him that it was a cake pan.  He said, “Here, take it!”  The rest is history.

There is a recipe for a chocolate cake which uses mayonnaise.  That makes the perfect, dense, chocolate cake.  Usually, I cut the cake in two so that I have a two-layered cake. In baking/cooking this cake you are “flying blindly,” because you cannot look at it.  Your sense of smell will tell you when it’s done, which is usually about 2.5 to three hours with the slow cooker set on “high.”  You could likely do the same cooking process with a tin coffee can, assuming you won’t find this cake pan.

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This is the cake pan and how it fits into the slow cooker:

 

Here’s the recipe:

Butter and dust with flour one cake insert for slow cooker (or that tin coffee can), and set aside.

For the Cake:

2 cups (250g) of all-purpose wheat flour

1.5 cups (300g) white sugar

6 TBS (36g) cocoa powder

1 teaspoon (5.69g) baking soda

1 teaspoon (5.69g) salt

Mix all the dry ingredients to blend.  Then add blended wet ingredients.

1 large egg

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup (236.59 mL) hot water (not boiling).  This activates the baking soda, salt, and egg as the leavening agents.

Add vanilla to taste.  Pour the batter into your cake pan or coffee can.

Bake, covered,  in your slow cooker on high for 2-3 hours.  I usually check after 2.5 hours.

Once you take it out of the cooker, invert it on a wire rack to cool.  Slice through at the equator of the cake for a two-layer cake, and frost with your favorite cream cheese frosting.  It’s yummy!

Finally, I have to tell you about a virtual cocktail party that I had, recently, with two of my co-workers.  We had made it a practice to meet up after work on Fridays to share a drink and a snack previously.  In this new format of social distancing, we decided to have a virtual cocktail party.  I will only give their initials.  “T” was having jelly beans and a glass of Bourbon.  “M” enjoyed a shot of vodka and some fresh tamales, made by a friend.  I “went all out” and enjoyed Icelandic caviar atop a corn biscuit and sour cream.  Usually, I would have baked small corn muffins for this, but I found these wonderful little corn biscuits on sale.  I chased it with a small shot of vodka in a chilled glass.  We talked about work for a while, but mostly the conversations centered on the future of our lives with family, work, and other social and familial worries.  The important thing is to stay connected one way or another  with out meeting face-to-face with those you esteem and love.  Cheers to you!

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I think we will emerge strong from this pandemic.  Remember to distance from others, wash your hands, and don’t touch your face!  Thank you for reading.