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.

Raspberry Season

rasp 1This week has been the peak of the raspberry crop at our farm.  Raspberries coming out our ears, raspberry stains on our clothes, stains on the counters in the kitchen and around our mouths.  The house smells strongly of raspberry jam and syrup, hot and thick and pungent in the air.  Yum! It makes my mouth water just to think about it.

Yesterday we had fresh raspberry syrup on our waffles for breakfast.  Wow, what a flavor burst.  It is truly summer,  if only in taste and aroma.  It is very grey outside, but amazingly the berries are still ripening.  I even saw a black, but not ripe, blackberry when I was walking the dog. Two months early.

Needless to say the birds are getting their share of berries as well.  One landed just on the other side of the row from me when I was picking, and just blinked at me about eight times before flying away.  He seemed to think it was his patch, not mine.  There are still enough berries for us and for some of our friends.

Last week, when they were first coming on, I made fresh raspberry/yogurt popsicles and we ate those for desserts for several meals.  The berries in the popsicles are fresh, not cooked and have a very lively flavor.  The yogurt is from the recipe in a previous issue of my wordpress.  You can read how to make it and combine it with any fruit for popsicles.

We planted these berries about ten years ago.  For a long time there was no fence around them and the deer would eat the leaves.  This made the berries easier to see and pick, but didn’t increase the vigor of the plants.  The coyotes love berries, cherries, plums and more.  Because of these two varmints eating our produce, we have since fenced them.

Raspberries aren’t difficult to grow, but you do have to prune every year.  The plants produce canes which do not produce berries the first year.  This means that you are picking off second year canes while fighting around the new ones.  In the winter, all the fruit bearing canes from the previous summer must be cut out and the newer canes tied up to trellising.  This is a bit of work.  If you don’t stay on top of removing old canes, the patch will diminish over time.

There is a kind of raspberry that is call everbearing, and I have a ten foot row of these.  If you cut these back to the ground in the winter, the new shoots will produce berries in September.  This is an iffy thing in our climate because we do not always have Indian Summers here.  But….if we do, we get a second crop of berries in the fall.  These are larger and firmer than the other varieties.  If the weather turns cold, however, the berries will not be as sweet.  Still we try for it every year.  If you do not cut them back completely in winter then they will produce a large June crop on the old canes and a much smaller crop on the new canes in September.

Raspberries are one of the products of summer and one that makes me feel that summer is really here.  It may not be sunny and this 4th of July, we expect rain, but it is summer when the berries start.  We have had red huckleberries and salmon berries already, but now the raspberry season is in full swing and we are loving it.

 

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Sausage making

saausages

Boy, do we love sausages and sausage.  I used to purchase sausage in the grocery, but began to notice that it was either too salty or too fatty.  Since living in China, where ground pork is used a lot I find that I am seeking more, unseasoned product, which is not readily available where I live.  The sausage in China does not have additives, just pork.  It is sold with little fat and then you can purchase fat separately to add to your liking, no salt.

Often I wanted to make dishes that didn’t have the usual sausages spices of sage, rosemary and thyme.  I wanted to use the Chinese spices, or Greek spices, or Italian.  Chinese five spice does little to mask the western spices added to store-bought sausage.

Now I go to a meat wholesaler and purchase various cuts of pork, in bulk, and make my own sausage.  Sometimes I purchase Boston butts, or fresh leg of pork, or picnic cuts.  These I bring home and grind in my commercial grinder.

The nice thing about the grinder that I purchased is it has a number of attachments including sausage stuffing equipment, coarse blade, fine blade for bockworst and such.  I can make links, chubs and more.

Recently, my husband and I made apple sausage to eat for breakfast.  It has fresh apple added to sage, mace, allspice, a small portion of salt and white pepper.  I freeze this in small batches which is just enough for us to each have a patty for breakfast.  I also use this to make cornbread and sausage stuffing for the turkey for the holidays.

One delightful recipe we found was for an Italian Cheese sausage which we made into links and use for pasta with tomatoes, garlic, onions and green olives.  A great quick meal.

At Christmas last year we made traditional potato sausage, stuffed in casings and rolled into coils to eat with lefse for a Swedish holiday dinner. I guess that is my Swedish half coming out.  I love it.  We made lots so it isn’t just a holiday meal.

Chinese dishes we make include dan dan mian and ma po dofu, two of our favorites and easy to make after I get home from work. These both require sausage that has been coarsely chopped which one of the discs makes beautifully.  In China they chop the pork with two cleavers to get the same effect.  I can do it in the grinder.

The coarse ground pork makes the most delicious chili, but it isn’t as good as the coarse ground elk for chili.  Of course, the elk is harder to come by.  Almost all the sausage we make is coarse, apple, chorizo, italian (both hot and mild), salami (both wine cured and Genoa), and the Chinese dishes.

I feel that the money we spent getting the grinder and the money we save buying the pork in bulk far outweighs the store bought sausage.  We bought the grinder at Grizzly Tool.  I get pork from our local wholesaler, Cash and Carry (Western Washington).  If you have a grinder, for your Kitchen Aid mixer or another brand, try a small batch and if you love it, invest in something more substantial.  I also recommend the book, Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing by Rytek Kutas.  The copy I have is the fourth edition.  Good reference material.

Get adventuresome and try making some of your own sausage, like Apple Cinnamon Sausage or Chorizo or Sulzworst Einfach.  These you will find in the above mentioned book.  Very tasty.

If nothing else try something new when you cook.  You never know where it may lead.

Corncakes for Breakfast

When I was growing up, Saturday mornings were always corncakes.  Mom would make a mixture which is similar to cornbread, but wetter and make cornmeal pancakes.  My grandmother lived in Santa Barbara, California.  She had a gigantic lemon tree in her backyard.  Every so often she would send us a box of fresh lemons.  She would include fresh figs from her fig tree to if they were in season.  The lemons were always a treat because, at the time, they were very expensive to buy in the local grocery.

We would eat corncakes a little larger than silver dollars with butter, white sugar sprinkled generously, and lemon juice squeezed from fresh halves of lemons over the top.  This was a real treat for us.  I don’t think we had ever tried maple syrup. It just wasn’t something in our cupboards.  I don’t know where we got this idea, but the butter, sugar and lemon must have been reminiscent of lemon curd to someone in the family, though my sister and I had never heard of or tasted it.

Cornbread had an important place in my family history.  My mom always said it was cornbread that won my father’s heart.  My father always said it was his Oldsmobile convertible that won my mom’s heart. Anyway cornbread appeared often in the menus of my childhood.  We ate cornbread with chili. We had cornbread slathered with sausage gravy for breakfast.  Sausage gravy that was dark and well browned during the frying to create a brown, not white and gluey, gravy with onions in it.

Corn pone was another manifestation of cornbread in my youth.  When there was a turkey carcass around, the bits and pieces were picked for Turkey Pone.  My husband and I still carry on this tradition and he is very disappointed if I make turkey soup from the carcass instead of pone.  Make a batch of corncake batter.  When it is ready to cook, pour a little into the pan and smear around until you have a thin corncake. Sprinkle liberally with the turkey pickings.  Cover with a little more corncake batter.  Cook, flip and serve with leftover turkey gravy and leftover cranberry sauce. Yum.

This morning I treated myself to the corncakes with lemon and sugar.  I remembered those Saturday mornings of my childhood when I could smell it cooking as I arose from bed.  I never tired of it.  The smell of fresh lemons is still a reminder of those days.  You should try it sometime.  Another variation is to use honey instead of white sugar, which is almost as good, but not the same.

Enjoy!