Tomato Soup and Toasted Cheese

Why does a toasted cheese sandwich and tomato soup “hit the spot” in the winter months?  I’m not sure that was a childhood staple for you, but I grew up in the mountains, and when we came home from sledding, skating, or skiing, that particular menu item filled our bellies and warmed our hearts!   Perhaps Mom and/or Dad fed us that because bread, cheese, butter, and tomato soup we cheap and filling to seven hungry children.  To this day, I think my siblings would say that it’s a “go to” meal.  Well, except my sister, Eileen.  She watches her weight.  I just watch my weight…grow.

If this is your first time reading me, I took a different job within the institution of higher education where I once serve as a faculty member for 13 years.  In this iteration, I am now in a different department where I serve as director of intercultural learning (that’s another story).  So, I am living in temporary quarters until we sell a house and buy one.

One of my roommates, Regan, bakes a fantastic loaf of sourdough bread!  My other roommate has a friend who makes hard cheese (white cheddar), and I like to make tomato soup from scratch.  Together,  served a delicious and simple meal.

My tomato soup:

12 Roma Tomatoes (blanched, peeled, and blended, or chopped finely)

6 ounces (170g) of homemade pesto (I’ve offered my recipe for this a number of entries ago, but you likely have a good recipe yourself).

4 mushrooms of your choice

1/4 of a small onion or 2 shallots

One cup of red wine

1 block of cream cheese (8 ounces/227g)

1 tablespoon (14.2g) olive oil

Begin by heating oil on medium heat.  Add onions/shallots and cook until transparent.  Add mushrooms, and cook until water has evaporated.  Add tomatoes, and cook until liquid has dissipated.  Add wine, and cook until the alcohol has evaporated, but the flavor remains.  Now add the pesto.  You get your salt, more oil, and texture from the pine nuts in the pesto, so you don’t have to add too much more salt, but make sure it’s to your taste.  If you want a smoother soup, you can use an immersion blender, here.  When your soup reaches a thick point, and you are getting close to serving it, add the cream cheese with the heat lowered just a little bit.  Here it is.

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While you’re watching your soup come together, you can build your toasted (sometimes called, “grilled cheese”) sandwiches.  We sliced the lovely sourdough bread, buttered it on the outside, and laid the sliced cheese.  For the two-sided, enclosed sandwich, we buttered two slices of bread to put on the outside so that it made contact with the griddle.  We used a toaster oven for the open-faced, toasted cheese sandwich.  Both are wonderful!  Now, you may think that my tomato soup looks a little like Welsh Rarebit.  I don’t put Worcestershire sauce, or dry mustard, or flour, or stout, but you could modify this recipe to be Welsh Rarebit, which is also quite delicious.  Leave out the pesto, wine, and mushrooms, however.

When we assembled our tomato soup and toasted cheese sandwiches so that we could dip the sandwiches into the soup.  The next morning, for breakfast, I poured the thick soup over my toasted cheese sandwich.

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As with all meals, eat them with people you love and who allow you to be who you are.

Thank you for reading.

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!

Love to Cook and Eat with Friends

It’s good to be back.  While away from my blog these past many days, my attentions focused on lots of writing for my job and preparing presentations around building relationships in multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic populations.  My “lessons” and publications target educators who work with multicultural populations.  So, I have not sat down to write in this blog, but I still have to eat, and I still have many friends who stop by for a meal.

My featured photo today is my jammy fruit compote that I call CAOS (sounds like chaos!)  I created this one Thanksgiving as my answer to cranberry sauce that we serve with turkey.  Making more than one jar at a time also assured that I will have fruit to serve during times of our Native ceremonies where we have some fruit of the bounty.

So, what is CAOS? Cranberry, apple, orange, spice.  I love the taste of Chinese 5-Spice, so I used it as my spice.  Here’s my recipe:

24 ounces (680.39 g) fresh cranberries

6 red (any kind) apples – cored and chopped (do not peel)

3 oranges – chopped (do not peel and remove seeds if applicable)

2 cups (453.59 g) apple cider

1/2 cup (113.40 g) honey

1 Tablespoon (140.18 g) Chinese 5 Spice (my version is a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg). Sometimes I use fennel or anise seeds in place of cardamom.

Combine all ingredients, and bring slowly to a boil stirring to a simmer.  Simmer until nice and thick until to a gelling point.  You can test for gelling by checking your stirring spoon.  I like to put a small pat of butter in my jams to reduce foaming.  When the jam is thickened, ladle into hot canning jars leaving 1/4 inch head space, seal with new lids and rings.  Process in a boiling water bath “canner” for 15 minutes.  Remove from boiling water and place on a towel on the counter out of a breeze.  The jammy fruit is ready to store when you hear the little “pop” that tells you it’s sealed.  Let the jars cool completely before you store on the shelf in your pantry.

Now, dinner with friends, Mark and Kathy, which was sort of a potluck since Kathy brought one of her famous appetizers (“appies”), Vidalia Onion Dip.  Rather than serve with the, usual crackers, we ate the dip with pork rinds to make it a low “carb” snack. I can’t remember Kathy’s recipe for the dip other than 1 or 2 whole onions, Swiss cheese, and mayonnaise.  Then you bake it.  Kathy says it freezes well, too.  I think I prefer it with crackers over the pork rinds.

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For the main course, I served ground lamb kabobs, which are really ground lamb with a handful of chopped cilantro, garlic, and salt/pepper.  Form a log or a patty.  Grill the lamb and serve with tzaziki (yogurt, cucumber, and garlic powder).   Lately, we’ve been sauteing red cabbage in butter with a little pepper.  It’s delicious when you allow the butter to caramelize the cabbage a bit.  We served the ground lamb with a dollop of my cilantro pesto (made with walnuts, Parmesan, garlic,and olive oil) and grilled Halloumi cheese.

  ground lamb kabob tzaziki cabbage and grilled halloumi cheese

Delightful flavors await you when you experiment.  Luckily, I have friends who like my experiments.

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.

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.

 

 

 

Pizza: Origins of the “Humble Pie” and Whipping up a Pizza After Work!

According to the History Channel’s website, there’s a great history of the pizza.  In the town of Naples, in the 1700s, the working class devised a way to get eat large amounts of calories in an easy way: flat bread with oil, cheese, and other toppings.  It was an inexpensive and portable meal that could be consumed in haste.  Seen as a food for the lower classes, pizza became popular when Queen Margherita visited Naples in 1889, and fell in love with the “pizza mozzarella”, which now bears the name of the young queen. Word has it that the queen, especially, liked the fact that the pizza bore the colors of her country’s flag!

Pizza can be made quickly, after work, for a delicious and special meal for you, your family, or for friends. You don’t need fancy ingredients, just be creative with what you have.

A few days ago, I told you about my windfall of basil and about dehydrating veggies for use as seasonings in my cooking and baking.  Last evening, I fixed yummy pizzas after work.

Pizzas from scratch are quick and simple, and the activity can easily contribute to a fun party with guests.  All you have to do, is make the dough, and seal it in a large bowl, for up to an hour, until you’re ready to divide it for your visiting pizza makers.

For my pizzas, last night, I made a pesto and added extra ingredients to make it more zippy, than usual, for the sauce.  It was delicious for lunch, today, too!  We ate it cold!

Pesto Pizza Sauce:

One bunch basil (about 1 cup of leaves)

¾ cup olive oil

¼ cup parmesan cheese

¼ cup of ground hazel nuts with two juniper berries (I did not have pine nuts, so improvised)

3 cloves garlic

1 tablespoon of dehydrated onion, celery, tomato, and chili peppers

Blend to a liquid consistency – set aside

Pizza dough:

2 cups flour

Warm water

¼ cup Honey or sugar

Mix and wait until bubbly

When it’s bubbly, add 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp salt, and 1 TBS oil

Add enough flour to make a thick dough – let rest

Knead and add enough flour to make a nice dough

Roll out flat and place on your gas grill to set the pizza dough – turn over to slightly brown on the other side. Grilling the dough also gives it a wonderful, smoky flavor.

Remove from heated grill and spread pesto pizza sauce on browned pizza dough, add cheese and other toppings.  Place back on grill until finished.

Enjoy with a nice salad and a glass of wine.

Thank you for reading.

Reference:

Turim, G. (2012). A Slice of History: Pizza Through the ages. Access date: August 10, 2018,

https://www.history.com/news/a-slice-of-history-pizza-through-the-ages