A Milestone

Breakfast Welsh Rarebit
Poached egg on English muffin with crab cake and sharp cheddar sauce

I heard on the radio the other day that the U. S. has accomplished a new milestone.  We have now caught up with England.  Americans spend more money eating out than they do on groceries.  I guess that is a milestone.  I am not sure what it says about us, but maybe we are more affluent?  Not as many people cook?  Too many bad cooks?  More people work full time so they have an excuse not to cook? More offerings out there that tempt us away from our own meal preparation.

I know families that haven’t eaten together in years.  I was surprised to find that a neighborhood family hadn’t sat down to a meal as a family in over eight years.  Kids off to soccer, dates, studies, etc. Mom down at Zumba and dad getting home late from work.  Often times none of them eat the same meal.

Now there is so much fast food that meal preparation is considered a bother.  Then there’s cleaning up as well.  Most folks have a dishwasher so that isn’t as bad as it use to be.  I still don’t own a dishwasher, but my husband and I pitch in together to get the clean up licked lickity-split.

Grocery stores now have full service food isles that have complete meal selections heated and ready to serve.  They also have ones that you can heat.  Restaurants now have take away meals (usually at the same price or higher) for eating at home or office.  So many things are offered at a quality that far exceeds the capabilities of the normal home cook.  Throw out the containers when done and all you have expended is money.  No wonder our dining out costs exceed our grocery bill.

For all my life I have avoided fast food.  I have also avoided prepared foods at the grocery.  My shopping trip at the grocery involves going around the outside isles of the store, fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats, and cash register. I have shop at grocery wholesalers.  I still (2017) purchase a month’s groceries for about $120 for two people.  These are staples like cheese, meat, seafood, dairy, fruits and vegetables we don’t grow ourselves, flour, sugar, salt, spices, etc.  This month about the only prepared item I bought was granola.  We cook from scratch.

I am an excellent cook and former restaurant chef.  This makes it difficult for us to eat out and enjoy excellent food.  Few restaurants can provide us with a meal that surpasses what I prepare at home.  Even still we manage to spend more on eating out than we spend on groceries.  This has been the case for most of my adult life, but it is easy to spend more than $120 at restaurants.  We spend that much on one dinner in a truly excellent establishment.

When I was growing up we were all in the kitchen from a very young age, helping in some way to prepare the meal, even if it was just setting the table.  I started cooking full meals when I was six years old.  It was a tough chore for someone who couldn’t even reach the counter.  I had to stand on a chair to do most of the prep and cooking, but it was a joy for us all to be together for the celebration of those meals.

I am not saying that it is right or wrong to spend more on outside dining than on what we prepare ourselves.  I am bemoaning the fact that we do not spend time, with our family, preparing and eating a meal that gives us time to commune with one another.  We do not have the bonding that preparing and eating a meal together gives. Many of those meals prepared by family were truly memorable even years later.

Cold poached salmon
Cold poached salmon with chipotle aioli, & salsa

 

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Making your own

Yogurt that is.  I have given this lesson before, but this time I am including some additional photos in hopes that you will try it.  Making yogurt is very easy, but it does take a few hours setting time.  Often I make it after breakfast, but I also make it sometimes in the evening and let it set overnight so it is ready for breakfast.

yogurtFirstly, find a large clean glass jar with a tight fitting lid.  I use an old peanut butter jar.  Make sure it is clean and has some kind of rubber seal in the lid.

IMG_4015 I use a fresh unopened carton of milk for the milk.  I want to be sure it is free of unwanted bacteria.  It isn’t good to use a carton that the kids left open on the counter when you weren’t paying attention.

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Clean Jar–Whole milk

I use whole milk, but you may also use low fat or non-fat milk, whatever your preference. If you like cream top yogurt, you may add fresh (previously unopened) whipping cream.  Yum!

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Teaspoon of sugar

We like to add a teaspoon of sugar to the mix just to give the milk a little sweetness.

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warming in the microwave

Now you need to warm the milk.  There are several options for this.  You may warm the milk in the jar with the lid on in a pan of warm water on the stove, but be sure that you don’t break the jar.  I use the microwave and for a quart of milk, it takes one minute to bring up the temp to lukewarm (no higher than 90 degrees).  It should feel warm to your finger.

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If this is the first time for you to make yogurt, or you have exhausted your old batches, then purchase a small plain carton of yogurt with live cultures from the grocery.  We like the Greek Yogurt because of its wonderful taste which is transmitted to the new batch you are making.  If you have made a batch, be sure to save some, at least a quarter cup, for the new batch of yogurt.

Stir the new package of yogurt or the quarter cup you saved from the last batch, into the milk thoroughly.  Screw the lid onto the container tightly.

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This photo shows the cooler/thermos that I use to culture the mixture.  It is an Igloo drinks cooler.  You need one that will hold the jar plus at least a quart of hot water.  If you do not have enough water, it will take a long time to culture the yogurt as it will cool too fast.  Refrain from adding boiling water.  It is sufficient to use the hottest tap water you have in your kitchen.

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I have placed a spacer in the bottom of the cooler so the lid will sit up a little higher in the container.  I then fill with the hottest tap water I have up to the edge of the lid of my yogurt container.  Screw on the top of the cooler.  The lid of my cooler is uninsulated, so I put a kitchen towel over the top to insulate it.

IMG_4023Now comes the waiting.  Usually this will take about six hours.  Longer is OK.  What you want to see is yogurt that is thick and creamy.  Remember it will be a little thicker after chilling.  If you want to make quark, you can pour the entire contents,  into a colander lined with cheese cloth and let drain. Remember to save 1/4 cup of yogurt for your next batch.

This yogurt is smooth and creamy with no pectin or gelatin.  It is not real thick, but you can allow it to drain through cheesecloth if you prefer the Icelandic variety of yogurt which is almost spreadable.  If you are making quark, let it drain for several hours, covered to avoid mold spores getting into it.  Then add basil, thyme, oregano or other herbs to make a nice dip or spread or if you want you can use cinnamon, nutmeg and a sprinkle of brown sugar and granola.

We eat it soft with granola, bananas and apple chunks for breakfast or in smoothies.  It also makes great tzatziki.  Enjoy!

Easter

easter 2017

Easter use to be a religious holiday.  When I was growing up, we went to church every Sunday morning and evening.  Easter was a time of special significance.  Now we can no long call them Easter Egg Hunts.  They are now just Egg Hunts that happen prior to the day of the lunar month that holds Passover.  Passover is on the full moon and Easter is the first Sunday after the full moon.  Easter egg hunts now happen on the Saturday before Easter.

With the secularization of religious Christian holidays, society has brought about many changes.  Santa is now the symbol of Christmas as are the bunny and eggs of Easter.

When I was growing up everyone would dress in their finest for Easter Sunday.  Some folks only attended church for this day.  I guess they felt this was the most important Christian holiday.  It is the only one that falls consistently on a Sunday, thus it is easy to attend church on the holiday.

In the town where I grew up, Spring break coincided with the week before Easter.  Because some students needed time off for Passover and some for Good Friday, it was just easier to make the break the week before Easter.

Having learned to sew at a young age, Spring break always included making some new clothes, back then, dresses, as we seldom wore pants in public.  I always took the opportunity to make a new Easter dress for Sunday.  This ensemble almost always included a hat, the Easter Bonnet.  No one wears hats as a decorative accessory these days.  Hats are functional, the keep the head warm or hide the loss of hair, not decorative.

I loved hats and made a few of those as well.  When I was in college, it was still common for women to wear hats to church and special events.  I made one which was especially my favorite.  It consisted of a pheasant feather skullcap-like hat with three long tail feathers raked to the right side and back.  It featured a black tight-fitting veil that came down to my nose with black dots woven into the quarter inch holes in the netting.  It was gorgeous and I wore it until the feathers were too tattered to continue.  The long, tail feathers were replaced several times before the hat’s demise.

Easter morning always included an elaborate breakfast.  My mother liked to make eggs goldenrod.  This consisted of a base of toast on which was poured a white sauce made with the addition of chopped hardboiled egg whites.  Over this you would place egg yolk which had been forced through a sieve creating a fine powder of egg yolk over the entire dish.  It was good and we had it with fruit.  I almost made it this morning (Easter morning) just for old time’s sake, but the idea of the white sauce with boiled egg whites just seemed to blah.  I opted for a Pecan/Coconut Coffeecake, which is my husband’s favorite, and scrambled eggs with green onion.

Easter now is a turning point in the seasons here in Western Washington State.  It is about the time to clear out the greenhouse and start the seeds for plants which will be set out in the middle of May.  I plant late.  The plants do better than ones started early which languish in the cold soil and produce produce* the same time as mine. This Easter is intermittent sunshine and clouds and it is fifty-one degrees.  If we still had bees, they would take their purging flight today.

I sent my husband to the grocery to purchase lettuce for dinner and discovered that the price was $5 a head.  Horrible and probably caused by the fact that California has had so much rain.  It beats the lettuce into the mud and makes it inedible.  We will start the hydroponic lettuce bed today in the greenhouse and in a few weeks have $500 worth of lettuce.  I WISH! We will have the lettuce, but the price will have probably fallen at the grocery by that time.

This morning on my way to the woodshed to get wood for the stove, the cacophony of birds really told me of the joy of Spring and Easter.  It is hard for me to take the religion out of this holiday. Though I did not attend church this morning, the woods behind my house are a sanctuary for me and for the birds that sang so wonderfully this morning.  Though I didn’t make a new dress for the holiday, I do try to make life new with the renewal of spring chores.  Soon I won’t need the firewood to warm the house; soon the birds will have lots of little ones; soon the plum and apple and pear trees will burst into full blossom.

Ah Easter, a wonderful time of renewal.

 

 

*Chinese students of mine, here is a good one.  Notice the difference in pronunciation but not spelling.  Also a difference in meaning.

 

 

An Inspired Breakfast?

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An Inspired Breakfast?

Sometimes you get inspired to do something silly like make an extravagant breakfast.  This happened this morning.  I had purchased a bag of nice, sweet red peppers.  I had a can of homemade marinara in the refrigerator.  The pullets have started laying eggs, so I could be generous with eggs.  Why not make something special, although it was the middle of the week and not Sunday brunch.

I started by chopping the top off of the red pepper and microwaving it until it started to get soft.  I had supported this in a custard cup as I was afraid the whole thing would fall apart before it reached the table.  I think, when it was all completed, that it probably would have supported itself.

Next I put some sharp cheese in the bottom of the pepper.  I partially cooked some of our homemade pork sausage, about a tablespoon per pepper.  Next crack in a fresh egg.  This was topped with more cheese and homemade marinara.  Just a sprinkle of parmesan cheese and popped did continue to cook while it sat.

I put it into the 400 degree oven.  My husband likes his eggs medium and I like mine will done, so I put them in for differing lengths of time.  I was unsure, but his took about fifteen minutes and mine a few minutes more. Let it sit (rest) for a minute or two before serving as the container was so hot.

I served them in the custard cup, but he eventually lifted his out so it was easier to eat.  He suggested that next time I make a boat out of the pepper by cutting it lengthwise and then preparing as above, placing it in a gratin dish instead of the custard cup.  I will try that next time.

I did It was a yummy breakfast served with homemade onion rye bread and fresh oranges.  Elegant!

 

What do you eat?

What do you eat?

What kinds of food do you eat?  I was thinking about making dinner tonight and what I should make.  When I was thinking about that, I realized that the scenarios I went through were all “foreign” foods.  But really, what is American food?  Isn’t most of the foods we eat these days an amalgamation of many countries?

When I was in junior high, I was tutored for a whole summer in Hong Kong Chinese cooking.  When I lived in China in 2001 and 2002, I learned northern Chinese cooking and Szechuan and Hunan styles as well.  Hong Kong is more Cantonese or Southern and the dishes are sweeter.  Most of the early Chinese restaurants in the U.S. served southern style.  I also learned to make Dim Sum.

When I was in Mexico, I prepared Mexican dishes almost exclusively.  I have taught myself many other cuisines as well, French, German, Swedish and more.

I used to teach Greek cooking classes and prepared such things as domas (stuffed grape leaves), baklava (phyllo dough filled with nuts and honey), spanakopita (phyllo filled with spinach and feta cheese).  Later I taught Mexican, Italian, and foods from India.

When I think about what to eat, I usually think of something from another country.  Maybe it is because I am getting old and I crave strong, flavorful food.  Somehow a plain hamburger just doesn’t meet that need.  Cajun food does with its hot and spicy flavors, but it is really a combination of many cultures including French, African and American.  Their cornbread is not original to the U.S.  I ate corncakes for breakfast in China and they have been serving it since long before America existed as we know it today.  Cornbread (corncakes) is a staple in many countries around the world.

So what’s for dinner?  Chili Verde (pork in green chili sauce) with rice and black beans with fresh tortillas.  It is really cold, so this dish should warm our hearts and our taste buds. Since it takes a little while to cook, it will help warm the house too.  Sounds perfect for a twenty-five degree day.  Even better with eggs for breakfast burritos tomorrow morning.

Homemade Biscuit Mix

When we go camping and even at home, I have a batch of homemade biscuit mix in a container in the cupboard.  We have waffles, pancakes, muffins, or biscuits at least a couple of times a week and I found having a mix on hand makes the morning’s chores go more quickly.  My general mix is for the buttermilk variety.  If you want to make the recipe with sweet milk, then leave out the baking soda.

For the batch I make for the RV, I use powdered buttermilk in the mix so all I have to add is water, oil, and for all but the biscuits, eggs.  If you want to make scones, add a little sugar.  If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use a cup of milk with a tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice added and let it set for a few minutes before adding.

 

The mix:

6 cups all purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 tablespoon baking soda

2 teaspoons salt

Shake all these together in an air-tight container and you are ready to go.

If you are camping you can add 1 cup powdered buttermilk to the mix, in which case, you just add water for the liquid. Remember buttermilk needs the soda.  Regular sweet milk only needs the baking powder, not the baking soda.

When you are ready to make biscuits, take 2 cups of the mix.  Add 1/4 cup vegetable oil and 1/2 to 3/4 cup buttermilk (if you are using the camping mix, just add waterand oil).  Variations:  You can add grated cheese, herbs, red pepper flakes, bacon bits or whatever inspires.  If you want to make scones, increase the oil to 1/3 c or substitute butter and add 3 tablespoons of sugar.  I like to add white chocolate chips and dried cranberries.  Any nuts are good, try hazelnuts and when you are ready to eat spread with Nutella. Yum!

For waffles or pancakes, use the same proportions as above, but add a little more liquid (about a cup)to achieve the correct consistency.  We like to add nuts to the waffles or bacon bits.  Pancakes can have sliced bananas added (if served with peanut butter, Elvis would be happy).  Ricotta cheese added to pancakes with a goodly amount of lemon zest shavings makes a great pancake, but plain is good too.

For muffins, line the tins with greased muffin papers or just grease the pan.  Mix 2 cups of mix with 1/3 C white or brown sugar, 1/4C vegetable oil, and 1 cup buttermilk mixed with one egg.  I like to add dates, cranberries, craisins, nuts, bacon bits, pieces of dried fruit, blueberries, orange zest, lemon zest, vanilla or almond extract, just about anything.  I sprinkle them with coarse raw sugar and bake at 400 degrees about 15 minutes.  Any of the additions make for great muffins.  Serve with lots of butter and jam.

Hopefully you will find this is a great mix to keep for camping or just making your mornings easier.  You can make almost any recipe you find on a biscuit mix box, but you need to add oil as the commercial stuff has shortening added.  If you add it to your homemade mix, then it needs to be refrigerated.  I usually skip that and add it when I am making breakfast.

Happy baking.

Blackberry Season

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Yeah! It is blackberry season.  Two weeks earlier than usual and at sunset a couple of nights ago, my husband and I went for a walk and picked enough for breakfast.

I probably should explain, for those of you who don’t live in Western Washington, that we have an abundance of terrible bramble patches that produce blackberries.  We have three kinds and for the most part we consider them a blight.  The state considers them invasive species.

The smallest come in June and early July.  These creep along the ground and have VERY small berries which are a delight to eat and virtually seedless.  However, it will take hours to pick enough for a pie as they are so tiny.  I snack on these while working on the garden.  Beware though, these little ankle-biters can do major damage to your ankles.  Knee high rubber boots are best for wondering where this species grows.  They tend to invade the flower beds and grab at your sleeves and wrists while weeding.  The tiny briars are just about impossible to see for removal.

Generally, in August we are blessed with a larger, seedier berry that is truly the blackberry season.  These giant briar patches can totally encompass a house or outbuilding, automobiles, small children, if they stand still for any period of time.  They can scratch the paint off your car. They are real tigers but worth the effort.  They make great seedless jam and blintzes.

Though these are seedy, they are juicy and fragrant and this is what my husband and I were picking.  Blintzes for breakfast! What a treat. We were in heaven.  I used montrechevre goat cheese (any soft cheese will work like chevre or even cream cheese) with a little sugar, vanilla and orange bitters for the innards.  Wrapped this in a crepe.  Heated until just warm.

I took about a cup and a half of fresh blackberries and added water, cornstarch and sugar.  Simmered until hot and thickened, but not until the berries fell apart. Poured it over the warmed blintzes and we had a superb breakfast.

If you are half asleep in the morning, you can make crepes and keep them at ready in the freezer separated by waxed paper.  Thaw and prepare.

I know, it sounds like a lot of work for a meal most of you don’t eat, but this took fifteen minutes including making the crepes, but not counting the berry picking time.  You may substitute blueberries, strawberries, even rhubarb compote for the blackberries at other times of the year. Enjoy.