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Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Advanced Pantry - Fridge Staples and Frozen Shrimp

A large part of successful home cooking is having things around. I didn't grow up in a household that kept parsley, shallots or capers on hand, but my daughter did. When preparing simple food, little things make a huge difference. Using shallots instead of onions is one example. Adding a bright pickle, such as capers can make something simple pop with flavor.

This salad was a quick, weeknight meal, and superbly satisfying. When we talk about a pantry, most people will think of things like rice, beans, pasta or canned goods. There are certain fresh items that have a similar place in my kitchen - ever present and reliable. All of the veggies for this salad hold up pretty well too. I didn't have lettuce in the house on this day, but didn't miss it at all.

Here is the pantry roll call that made this salad possible on short notice. Note the flavor super stars in bold:

From the Fridge...
1/2 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/2 of a shallot, sliced thin
1 big handful of flat leaf parsley leaves
1 tsp. capers

The Dressing...
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tsp. coarse Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic, crushed

From the Freezer...
1 cup frozen shrimp, thawed (Thaw these quickly in luke warm water while assembling the salad.)

From the Cupboard...
2 tbsp. toasted pepitos

Toss the salad. Shake the dressing. Dress the salad. Top with pepitos. Eat well.

So, when buying fresh veggies, be not afraid! They will not go bad if you just dress them up and invite them to dinner!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Strong Chicken Soup for Whatever Ails You

It's been a good long time since I've been here to post something new. Since before the holidays! I have some recipes saved up, but I thought I'd return with this timely soother. I have been sick for a week. At this very moment, I'm missing both a baby shower for my cousin and an art opening for my daughter. (Please note: I cannot be two places at once, even when well.) This is my second batch of this great soup and I hope it will get me through the next week.

You may have seen several articles about the benefits of bone broth. The collagen, calcium and protein that can be released into broth through slow cooking is a tasty miracle. There is something about long-cooked broth that feels nourishing and rich. I have learned to use my 7 quart crock pot to good advantage. I'm grateful that this soup needed so little prep and supervision. Any soup can be a bit of magic. Part of the magic is using what feels especially good for you, personally. My soup started with a fancy chicken, veg and filtered water. I've heard of people keeping broth going in the crock pot for days. I had this broth going for over 24 hours. After the first 6 hours of cooking, I removed the chicken, separated and held out the meat and returned everything else back to the pot. I set it for another 1o hours on low so I could make soup the next day. (That is the longest my crock pot will go before converting to the warm setting. I will reset it any number of times until I am ready to strain it.)  If you leave the meat much longer, it will become too mushy. With this timing, the meat, bones and skins separate easily, but the meat still has a good texture.

Chicken Bone Broth
4 ribs celery
4 large carrots
1 yellow onion
4 cloves garlic
1 bunch parsley
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp. dry sage leaves
zest and juice of one Meyer lemon or 1/2 a Eureka lemon
Filtered water to cover

Add all to a 7 quart crock pot and set to cook on high for 6 hours. Remove and de-bone and skin the chicken. Set aside the meat and place the skin and bones back in the broth. Set to cook on low for 10 hours or more. Strain and de-fat prior to use. May be frozen or used immediately. Makes 2 quarts.

Prior to starting the final soup, I strain the solids out and let it sit for a while to assist in removing some of the fat. You may wonder why I put the skin back if I intended to remove the fat later. The reason is that the skin has a lot of collagen and is part of what becomes gelatin.

I'm not super vigilant about removing all the fat, just most of it. I use one of these fat separators. I just keep adding broth and pouring the broth off from the bottom. This final pour shows all the fat removed from the whole pot.

I end up with just over 8 cups of broth from my 7 quart crock pot.

Strong Chicken Soup
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 onion
4 ribs celery
2 large carrots
8 ounces mixed mushrooms
4 cloves garlic
8 cups chicken bone broth
Reserved chicken meat from the bone broth
2 tbsp. gelatin, dissolved in 1 cup cold water
1/4 cup white miso
Salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste

Heat olive oil over a medium flame in a large pot. Chop all the vegetables to about 1/4 inch size and add to the pot. Saute a few minutes and add the broth and chicken. Bring to a brisk simmer. Stir in the miso and taste. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice.

To add even more nutrition and body to the finished soup, I add 2 tablespoons of good, organic, grass fed gelatin.

This is what it looks like after being dissolved in cold water.

I've also learned a couple of nutrition boosting tips from this article by Dr. Weil. If you set your mushrooms in the sun for 20 minutes or so, they make their own vitamin D and become a far greater source than mushrooms straight from the fridge. Also, if you let chopped garlic sit around for 10 minutes before cooking, the reaction with the air makes a bunch of organo-sulfer compounds, which are real good for your heart. And, it's not mentioned in this article, but miso is full of healthy pro-biotics. That's why you want to add it last. When I add rice, I add it separately, to each serving. That provides for calorie control and nothing gets soggy or gummy. Sometimes, when I want some extra anti-inflammatory power, I add a spoonful of turmeric paste to my serving. Not everyone likes the taste, so I save that one for individual servings. You can learn how to make turmeric paste (and delicious golden milk) right here.

Enjoy your soup and feel better!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Random Food Fridays - Best Tuna Melt Ever!


Some cooking is skill - seasoning, grilling, baking - all require precise attention to procedure. Sandwiches, on the other hand, are not defined by skill, but by choice of ingredient. Anyone can put some stuff between two pieces of bread. It takes some shopping know-how to gather the ingredients to take a mundane sandwich to the next level.

 Nope. Not Local. Not even close.

This sandwich is loaded with specialness. 

First, there is the Bella Bru sliced sourdough sandwich bread. It has an excellent and strong sour flavor and with a tender texture. I love a chewy sourdough, but for sandwiches, you don't want large holes or a bread so strong that it fights for custody of the fillings. 

Next, there is Genova Tonno, superbly flavorful and packed in olive oil. It's pricey. It's imported. It's higher in calories. IT'S TOTALLY WORTH IT. Trust me on this one.

Now, we doctor up the tuna. I used my Spicy Zucchini Relish, capers and mayo. Simple and delicious. If you don't have this special relish, use any kind you like. Sweet or dill, you make the call.. However, the capers are a must.

Layer the joy - add slices of avocado, tomato and provolone and cheddar cheese. Toast in a toaster oven until hot and bubbly. If you don't have a toaster over, Toast the bread first, layer on the goodies, and finish under your oven's broiler.

For any sandwich, proportions are strictly personal. I'll do my best to describe what we made and ate. (We being Miss Madelyn and myself.) These were so darn yummy, I knew I had to tell you about them.

Best Tuna Melt
2 cans Genova Tonno
3 to 4 tbsp. Mayonaise
3 tbsp. Spicy Zucchini Relish
1 tbsp. Capers
2 to 3 slices of bread
1 large, ripe, sliced tomato
1 large, ripe avocado
4 to 6 slices provolone and cheddar cheese

Drain tuna. (Not too hard. You may want to consider saving this flavorful olive oil for another use.) Add the mayo, relish and capers. Stir to combine. Load up the bread. Add sliced tomato and avocado and top with sliced cheese. Toast until hot and bubbly. Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Ginger Ale and Root Beer - Getting Down with Fermentation

 Rooty toot toot and ginger yum yum!

You know, I really have been making jam. Lots of it. It's just that, after several cycles through the seasons, I've figured out some of my favorites and I just keep making them. There is far less experimentation on the jamming front and a lot more in other areas. For example, I've been having a great time in my garden. I really have a crush on my garden. I love it. I bring it presents. I talk about it obsessively. I talk to it and its members. (Mostly when I'm alone.) Here's a picture of my little paradise. Not so much food, but lots of herbs and flowers and flying visitors. The view from the chairs is better than the view of the chairs. Just know, it's marvelous.

So between jamming and getting dirty, I have been thinking about fermenting. Controlled spoilage is one of the most genius things that human beings do. I have come into several very large crocks, and I harbor ideas of making sour kraut and curing olives, but I decided to start small, with sodas. I like a bubbly sweet drink now and then. And, I do like to add a splash of homemade syrups to soda water. But then I found out that I could drink a pro-biotic rich bubbly drink that was not kombucha. (I do not like kombucha. I know the world does. Not me. It tastes like socks.) These fermented sodas are just so right for me!

Ginger, my bug.

Rather than tell you the whole business of making a ginger bug and brewing the ginger ale, I will refer you to Wellness Mama. Katie is a wealth of knowledge about good, healthy, for real food. I hope you visit her site, because it is inspirational and I want to give credit where credit is due. I pretty much followed her steps to create the ginger bug. It is equal parts fresh, grated ginger and pure cane sugar, mixed with pure water in a very clean jar. Much like sourdough, you feed it periodically until it gets bubbly. I love it when things come ALIVE! Also like sourdough, you can keep it alive.

First stage of soda fizzilation.

I will share with you my root beer, because it is a recipe that can be personalized for your tastes and the availability of roots and herbs in your area. I'm already dreaming of all the other flavors that can be brewed this way. Once the ginger bug is good and fizzy, you brew a strong tea, using the flavors you prefer. (The ginger ale starts as a strong ginger tea.) Once the tea is cooled to room temp, you add the ginger bug and a few extra goodies, put it in a couple of jars with tight fitting lids and let it sit. It bears watching. I left mine in the big jars for about a week. I then, filtered it and bottled in these sturdy models, designed for home brewing.

I buy mine by the case and they come with Grolsch-style swing caps.

 Gettin' Fizzy wid it. Fo' shizzle.

 They have been sitting at room temp for another week and are just right. I'm putting them in the fridge today, because I'm going on vacation and don't want them to get explodey. 

So far, 4 out of 4 tasters think this root beer is amazing.

Root Beer
3 quarts pure water
1/4 cup dried Sarsaparilla root
1/4 cup dried Sassafras
1 tsp.dried licorice root
1 tsp. dried peppermint (winter green is traditional, but I could not find it locally)
1 stick cinnamon
1 allspice berry
1 cardamom pod (bashed)
1/2 a vanilla bean

Bring the water to a boil and add the spices. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temp. Strain and add the following:

2 tbsp. molasses
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup lime juice
3/4 cup ginger bug

Stir to dissolve the sugar. Bottle in two quart-sized mason jars. They need not be sterile, but should be very clean and do use new lids. Allow to sit until bubbly - up to a week, unless it is very warm. Strain through a fine sieve and bottle in very clean bottles. (You can use coffee filters or cheese cloth for more clarity.) Allow to sit at room temp for about a week. Store in the fridge once desired fizziness is reached. 

I found that the two quart jars filled 3 of my brew bottles, with a little left over. 


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Plum, Nectarine and Vanilla Bean Jam

Sometimes the best jams are not preplanned, but come about by happy accident. I don't mean that you walk into a kitchen, knock over your fruit bowl and say, "Whoa! I made jam!" I mean, you're going... The water bath is boiling. You're already sweaty as all get out and you have just a few cups of pulp left. What's it good for anyway? So, you scout the kitchen for anything to fill out that batch. I'm apt to go for canned crushed pineapple. On this occasion, no pineapple was to be found. However, I did find three big, ripe nectarines. Chop, mix with plum pulp, smell and taste. Throw in half a juicy vanilla bean for good measure. And voila - flavor magic. The rest is easy. Follow the directions on the Pink package and you have some jam that is (as Paula says) fair worthy.

Have fun. Try new flavors. Your toast will be very happy you did. 

Plum, Nectarine and Vanilla Bean Jam
3 large, ripe nectarines, removed from pit and chopped and mashed a bit
Enough plum pulp to equal 6 1/2 cups total fruit
4 1/2 cups sugar
1 package Sure Jell pectin in the Pink box

Prepare a boiling water bath. Wash and sterilize 8 half-pint jars. Place rings and lids in warm water. 
Add the fruit to a large, heavy bottom stock pot. Mix 1/4 cup of the measured sugar with the pectin packet and whisk this into the fruit mixture. Bring to a boil. Once a full rolling boil has been reached, boil for exactly one minute and remove from heat. Skim the foam. Ladle into hot, prepared jars. Wipe the rims and top with lids and rings. Tighten lightly with finger tips. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Carefully remove and place on a towel lined tray. Allow to stand overnight before wiping and labeling. 

Makes 8 half-pint jars.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Small Batch Pectin Booster

Oy! It's June in California, soon to be July. Things have been coming into season, hot and heavy, since April. I've put up over 50 jars of jam in the last two weeks. Sometimes it feels like a long haul, but I feel so happy when I put those shiny jars in the basement. Next month it will be Christmas in July. Yeah. That's how I roll.

My stock of apple pectin from Bill's tree did not make it through this canning season, so I've been picking up apples and making small batches as needed. This works well and is less of a production than the big batch. If you are new to jam making and you want guaranteed success, use packaged pectin and follow the directions exactly. You will not be sorry. Works every time. But, if you have oddball amounts of fruit, not being married to the recipe is great. I have worked out a basic formula that is fairly reliable. If it comes out a little soft - Oh well. Pancake syrup!

So, here's the formula. One cup sugar per pound of prepared fruit, plus up to an additional cup of sugar, to taste. Add lemon juice. Usually, 1/4 cup per 3 pounds fruit. More to taste. If the fruit is high in pectin, such as blueberries or blackberries, you don't need to add pectin at all. If it is a low-pectin fruit, such as strawberries or peaches, add about 2/3 cup of this concentrated pectin for 3 pounds of fruit. Cook until it reaches a soft gel stage.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. I like a soft set. Please don't consider your jam a failure if it is a little soft. It will still be delicious. One of the reasons my jam is soft is that I use much less sugar than traditional jams, which used to be almost equal parts fruit and sugar. I really like it less sweet. That is why, when I do use commercial pectin, I use the pink stuff.

Here are a couple of examples of the two types of pectin. On the left, is plum and pineapple jam, made with commercial pectin. On the right is strawberry jam made with this pectin booster. For that recipe, I used 3 pounds prepared strawberries, 3 1/2 cups sugar, 1/4 cup lemon juice and 2/3 cup of this pectin. It mounds up a bit, but is really more like preserves - fruit suspended in a thick syrup. But, it still stays on your toast.

Small Batch Pectin Booster
4 granny smith apples
1 lemon
10 cups water

Wash and quarter the apples. Do not peel or core. Wash and slice the lemon into 1/4 inch slices. Add the fruit to a large stock pot and add 10 cups of cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a brisk simmer and allow to simmer for about 1 hour. The apples will kind of explode out of their skins and the liquid will begin to get a little thick. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined sieve. Let stand to drain for at least an hour. Place the remaining liquid in a smaller sauce pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until it is reduced by half. You should end up with 2 to 3 cups. Store in the fridge for up to one week or freeze for later use. Like my larger batch of pectin, I tend to use about 2/3 cup per 3 to 4 pounds of fruit.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Random Food Fridays - Roxie Ribs Beans

I grew up eating beans and cornbread. My father was born in Oklahoma and traveled across the country to California when he was 2 years old. His parents had been farmers, but when the war started Pappy went to the ship yards in Richmond. He went on his own and Grammy, one of her friends and their children came by car with all their worldly goods. I learned a lot from my Grammy's cooking style. I also spent a lot of time in their garden. I still dream about being in my grandparents garden. Like many people who have relocated, they grew the traditional foods they could not buy at a store. The okra flowers were beautiful, like yellow and maroon hibiscus. Fried okra, black eyed peas, musk mellon and all kinds of peppers were grown each summer. Their apricot tree was like a candy tree to me.

All of this is why beans are my ultimate comfort food. There are some tricks to making them good and digestible that are well worth learning. Dry beans are not a fast food. But, neither are they as hard as folks seem to think. It's weird to think that cooking an important staple food has become such a mystery in three generations.

Here are the bean rules:
1. Sort and wash. You do not want to bite a bean-shaped stone.
2. Soak. Overnight, or longer,  in cold water. Or, alternately, start with the beans in plenty of cold water, bring to a boil, remove from heat and let stand for one hour.
3. Drain and rinse. This removes many of the components that cause gas.
4. Cook to desired tenderness without salt or acid. These inhibit the absorption of water by the beans.
5. To further reduce gas, simmer with a piece of kombu. This is a type of seaweed.
6. To complete the protein, serve with grains of some sort.
7. The more you eat beans, the more your digestive system with adjust.
8. Beano works!

What makes these beans so flavorful is the use of smoked pork ribs. We have a little deli, called Roxie, a block from our house. They have a big smoker out in front and Wednesday is rib day. So good! We usually get a full rack and eat them for a couple of days, then I make beans with the few remaining ribs. If you are in the Sacramento area, do stop by Roxie. They make awesome sandwiches too.

Roxie Rib Beans
2 cups pinto beans
5-6 meaty, smoked pork ribs
1 onion, chopped
1 tbsp. chipotle in adobo sauce, chopped or mashed
1 clove garlic, minced
1 15 oz. can or jar of diced tomatoes
1/4 cup molasses
2 tsp. salt

Sort and rinse the beans. Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with cold water by at least two inches. Place in fridge and allow to soak over night. You can also do a quick soak by placing the cleaned beans into a large pot. Cover with cold water by at least two inches. Bring to a boil. Cover and remove from heat and let stand for 1 hour.

When ready to cook, drain the soaking water and place the beans in a large pot and add 4 quarts of water and the ribs. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover with the lid ajar. Cook the beans at a slow simmer until tender and the meat is falling from the bones. Remove the ribs bones and tear the meat off with a fork. Return the meat to the pot. Add the onion, chipotle, garlic and tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, until the beans are very soft and the broth has thickened. Add the salt and taste.

This makes a big pot of beans. Serve with cornbread. I had mine with crackers today. (Too hot to bake in June!) Enjoy!