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THOUGHT FOR FOOD – Passion

October 25, 2011 2 comments

You’ve heard the question a million times…”What’s your passion?”  W hen it comes to cooking, the term is used all the time….and I think it’s appropriate.

Throwing a bunch of ingredients into a bowl, mixing them about then throwing the stuff into an oven for a specified amount of time can be considered  “cooking,”  if you want to get technical.  But is it really?

Have you ever thrown your heart and soul into a project?  By contrast, have you ever just “phoned something in”?  I believe there is a noticeable difference in the quality when extra effort is applied.  It’s impossible to do that when distracted or your heart’s not into it.

Being passionate about cooking doesn’t mean you have to give up your present life, go to le Cordon Blu Academy and get a show on the Food Network.  Fundamentally, being passionate about cooking means that you are interested, engaged, enthusiastic about what you are doing and why.  

People can loose their passion. I’ve seen it a lot.  Folks who’ve been in the restaurant business can get burnt out as the burdens of running a business overshadow their love of preparing food.  Homemakers can get sick of things, too; being forced into a culinary rut because of finicky family members, having too many mouths and not enough food and having to cook after an already long, duty-filled day constitute only the tip of the iceberg.   Personally I’m amazed at how many mega-multi-taskers survive!

So how does one keep passion alive?   That question has been asked since the beginning of time.  Granted, most folks ask it with regards to their sex-life,  but passion is passion….to me, anyway.

The answer to both is surprisingly similar….keep it interesting.

Try new ingredients or new methods of preparation.  Consider involving family members, including kids, in cooking projects.  Change the meal menu once in a while; if Mondays are always meatloaf try burgers instead.   There’s no reason why chicken and stuffing should be reserved for Sundays, either!

If you feel overworked, consider delegating some chores to those wonderful people who live in the house with you!  Why should everything fall on to your shoulders?  You’ll be surprised at how much more time there is when others help keep the household in order!  You may even find some of that elusive “me time” hiding in the rafters!

Between the heat, manipulations and mess, one might say that cooking and making love have a lot in common.   Just like in the bedroom, you have to work at it to keep passion alive in the kitchen too.

We’re heading into the “food holiday season” – a perfect excuse for bringing some fun back into your kitchen!
Try making food gifts…a way to try new and different recipes without alienating finicky family members.  Their curiosity may be aroused as they see new dishes being made….and who knows?
They may try something new, and like it!

So go ahead….turn up the tunes, put on your favorite comfy clothes and have at it! 
Enjoy!

v

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KITCHEN THOUGHTS – Cooking and "Me Time"

September 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Busy, busy, busy day!  I woke up thinking there’s be a few moments to myself then the phone calls started. Then the errands started piling up-you know the kind…..can’t be put off, needing immediate attention and there’s nobody else who knows how to do it just right.  So much for “me time!”

“Me time…”  I thought back to when there were hours, even days of the stuff. I have reams and reams of paper covered in poetry, prose, songs, artwork, ideas, blueprints…..cassette after cassette of songs and stream-of-consciousness compositions….even rolls and rolls of old film. all stored lovingly in three ring binders and boxes awaiting further attention.   

Present day “me time” happens in what feels like 15 minute chunks during the day, usually in the morning, and the night after every one else is asleep.  Luckily, I’m an insomniac so the night hours work for me. 

The kitchen…THE place for “me time”

Some chores qualify as “me time,” cooking for example.  For me, creativity in the kitchen is a real sanity saver! It’s a chance to let it all hang out….go a little crazy….ye-haw!

Sometimes it’s quiet as church, sometimes rockin’ with favorite tunes in the background…this  kitchen is at once meditation and dance hall, laboratory and artist studio. And if it means once in a while I’m found baking something at 3 a.m., so be it.   Don’t worry, I’m fine….I’m in the kitchen and breakfast is bound to be something yummy!’

Yams To the Rescue!

September 13, 2011 Leave a comment

“What’s cookin’?” Jack asked as he came into the kitchen, “What ever it is, sure smells great!”

“An experiment…” I paused to look up at his face, “an experiment in pork chops.”   My favorite guinea pig nodded and smiled.  His faith in me a restorative to my sagging spirits.  See, things had been going horribly wrong up to that point.

True, the pork chops, garlic, onions, apples and green peppers were filling the apartment with a wonderful fragrance….but the rice had already gone awry turning into a starchy ball of yuck before my eyes. Neither of us was in the mood for grits, again.  Noodles? Spuds?  Hmmmm. 

I was on the verge of giving up when he stopped by. 

I looked up from my handiwork, hoping I could live up to Jack’s confidence in me.  “Well, the pork should be good at any rate. But I’m thinking of a  couple of alternates for side dishes.  Sorry. I know you wanted rice.”

“Anything you do will be fine,” he said, patting me on the head. “just no potatoes. Okay?”   Well, I thought, scratch that idea!  I looked around the kitchen.  What to do? What to do?

Add caption

My eyes fell apologetically on the basket of potatoes…
“Sorry guys,” I quipped, “he’s just not that into you.”

But….there in that same basket lay the meal’s salvation.  Yams!  Beautiful, flavorful, colorful Yams!  They would be a perfect compliment to the Pork Chops and Apples!

Suddenly my sinking heart was soaring skyward!  Those wonderful red gems, so often relegated to holiday side dishes or hidden in pies, these humble beauties would bring this meal home!  I grabbed a couple out of the basket, looked at the clock and commenced with the preparations.
There wasn’t time for anything fancy, and at this point I wasn’t in the mood.   There wasn’t a lot of time, so what ever did would have to be, as we say in the computer geek world, “quick and dirty.”

A simple thing, really….made even easier by the invention of the microwave.    
MICROWAVE?!!?  Yes.  Considering how long it would take to cook ’em via the more traditional route, the microwave was the only way to have everything finish at the same time. Sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

So after a good scrub, I scored each tuber with an “X” on two sides, set them on a paper towel in the microwave to cook on high for five minutes. After that, I flipped them so the underside was on top and let them cook for another five minutes on the same high setting.  The flipping is important.  It insures everything is done evenly, and keeps the texture from getting what I call “microwave weird.”

While they were being zapped,  I finished the chops then got everything ready for service by putting some of the apples, onions, garlic and green peppers around them. Of course a few stray bits made their way on top of the chops too, Made for a better presentation. Then I buttered the yams, added some lettuce and tomato slices to the plate called Jack in for dinner.  Boy, was he happy!

From disaster to dinner in ten minutes flat!   Whew!
I’ll be blogging the pork chop recipe soon, just wanted to get this yam thing out right away.
If you have any suggestions, ideas or comments feel free to submit them!

September 11….Ten years after

September 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Living isn’t always pretty….sometimes it’s downright ugly.

It’s been ten years since commercial airplanes were turned into instruments of terror and death in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C. Memorials about it are all over the news…..the film clips, the interviews, they’re everywhere

I remember waking that morning earlier than usual for some reason…the t.v. was already on, Jack fell asleep to it the night before.  I had just put on my glasses and was getting out of bed when I saw the strangest thing.  Where I was expecting the morning news on our t.v., there was something that looked more like science fiction.

Two towers, one smoldering the other just standing there with a plane flying into it.  I couldn’t believe it at first. Thought it was a movie.  But it wasn’t.

I dressed quickly and got down to the Patients’ Co-op, where I was volunteering at the time.  Others were already waiting to get inside.  Everybody was in shock.  Most were silent…their eyes glued to the large t.v. screen.

Around lunch time I took a walk with a friend to a nearby hill and looked at the San Francisco skyline.  “It could have been us, you know.”  my friend said to me.  I had no reply.  We just sat there….looking at the world around us, knowing it would never be the same.

We all remember this day in our own way….some are attending prayer vigils, others are attending protests.  Me? I’m going to spend it here at home, with the people I love….grateful for what we have.

A million prayers for the thousands who lost their lives that day…..in the towers, at the Pentagon and in the field in Pennsylvania.  May their families and loved ones find comfort and peace.

Today’s recipe is really simple.
Take humans of assorted varieties, add their surroundings  and stir carefully.  Add love in large amounts, continue stirring and adding more and more love.  It’ll be done when we stop hating one another.

Coleslaw de tante

September 9, 2011 Leave a comment

Is there any more sure-fire way to stimulate a conversation these days than to bring up politics?
You could be at a gathering of total strangers, and within three minutes of the topic’s instigation you will be surrounded by every possible person….expounding every possible point of view. The only trick after that might be to extricate oneself before becoming embroiled in a heated, perhaps even physical tet-a-tet.

Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Greens, this party, that party….perhaps this is not the sort of discussion to be held so close to kitchen utensils….especially sharp knives.

We grew up in a somewhat “politically conscious” family; if by politically conscious you mean Republican.
We children were expected to tow the party line…from waving the flags at rallies as little kids to voting “the  ticket” when we came of age.  It was assumed.  And ours was not the only family like that. The neighborhood was crawling with them!

The Vietnam war…er, I mean conflict….er, I mean war….anyway, It tore through our town like a hellfire, drawing the Generation Gap battle lines straight through the family nucleus.  It destroyed parent-child trust, eradicated innocence and annihilated Ward and June Cleaver’s brats status as role models to us kids.
The blinders were off.
 .
No family was spared, although some had it far worse than others.

Ours was an interesting scenario.  Naturally we had the heated discussions between Dad and his sons about long hair, the war and the draft….but there seemed to be a line in our clan that nobody would cross-a DMZ, who’s location, depth and length were known to all parties involved.

That isn’t to say things didn’t come close….real close.  Def Con Five close.

While the “boys” were cutting their teeth on such things, we girls were expected to learn the ways of women….read “Stepford University.”  Keeping house, raising children, walking, talking, acting, thinking, breathing and being “ladylike…”  this was supposed to be our fate; and we were expected to desire it as surely as a thirsty traveler craves water.

For some reason, even though Vietnam was knocking on our own front door via the evening news playing in the background during our dinner hour, we women were supposed to continue as we always had….stoically
clearing the table while the daily draft numbers were called.  And when the numbers came too close to home it was time to pull out the rosary, assume the position and let God do something about it.

It was a strange, emotionally charged time to be growing up….for all of us.  Parents and kids alike.  We were all learning from one another-whether or not anybody wanted to admit it.   Parents were learning what it was like to put their children’s lives on the line…and the kids?  We were learning how to either “man up” or duck.

“Manning Up” meant either enlisting or going to prison, ducking meant going to Canada or getting some form of deferment.  The deferment usually involved some sort of school.  

But even on the tip of that Damocles’s Sword known as the mid-and late ’60s, there was that place of retreat our family seemed to find within itself – wounds, battle scars and all.  It had to do with traditions. 

Our family holidays became our DMZ.  The Thanksgivings, Christmases, 4th of July’s, birthdays, weddings, christenings and funerals where everybody left their war-weary weapons at the door, sat down at the table and shared.  Once in a while somebody’d get a wild hair up their posterior…hey, shit happens.  But for the most part, our family always seemed to know how to get together. And they still do.

I know, we’ve all heard the horror stories of Thanksgiving food fights, shouting matches as a result of too much booze and too much baggage…dangerous combination, that.

Fortunately my personal memories of these times hold real beauty, warmth and love….even when the events of the 60s had us sometimes at each others’ throats.  We seemed to know how to pull back from the brink, fix up the house and sit down to dinner.

Coleslaw with apples and raisins

One of the staples at these holiday meals was Coleslaw.  No holiday was complete without it.

To this day when I make this salad, my mind is drawn back to those days when everything was so intense….
 …..back also to the first times Mom let me try to shred the cabbage and carrots…without shredding too much of my fingers.    Watching the news today made me crave Coleslaw….a little corner of peace and tastiness in a world gone mad.

COLESLAW WITH APPLES AND RAISINS
Depending on how much you want to make, adjust your measurements.
I like to make a nice mid-sized bowl to have on hand in the fridge for a few days. The flavor enhances with time, kind of like Kim Chee.

1 large head of cabbage           6 carrots              
   (or 1 small head of green cabbage
   and 1 small head of red cabbage)
3 to 5 green onions chopped4 small red delicious (or other variety) apples – chopped     
1 to 3 teaspoons garlic powder (optional)
1 to 1 1/2  cups of raisins – chopped     
4 Tablespoons (more or less) sugar or sugar substitute
1 to 1 1/2 cup mayonnaise  
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar  
4 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
dash of salt or low salt (optional)  dash of pepper (optional)

Start with a large bowl….

Rinse all fruits and veggies in COLD water.  Shred first cabbage(s), then follow up with carrots.  Chop green onions fine.  Add to the cabbage and carrots.  Mix thoroughly so that the flavors begin to pull.  Add chopped raisins and apples, mix again.  Set aside.

Add mayonnaise, vinegars and sugar together-stir with a wire whisk.  If you like it thicker add more mayo.
add spices, whisk again. Pour over the cabbage, carrots and so on.  Mix all of this together like you’re tossing a salad.  I use two spoons.

Put this conglomeration into a covered bowl and refrigerate for an hour or two before serving.  Some people like it with paprika on top…I like mine a la natural.

OPTIONS:    
Waldorf Coleslaw – add chopped walnuts
 Hawaiian Coleslaw – add dried pineapple
 (fresh pineapple does WEIRD THINGS to certain foods…dried is the only option here)
Beer House Slaw – don’t add sugar/sweetener, loose the raisins and apples,
 consider yellow onions instead of green, regular vinegar or balsamic instead of apple cider
 Broccoli Slaw – use grated broccoli instead of cabbage
 Kitchen Sink Slaw – close your eyes and start adding stuff.  Marshmallows might be a bit over the top, but what ever floats your boat.
Naked Slaw – nothing….absolutely nothing but the shredded cabbage, carrots and green onions.
 Clothing optional

 Enjoy!   Let me know what you think and if you have any recipes you want to share!
                

Hurricanes and Hurricane Soup

The weather has been beating the east coast like a rug!
Water, water and wind, tornadoes….evacuations!  Even my poor mother had to leave her little home in New Jersey.  Thank God for dear cousins Joy and Tom….I’m sure she was kept safe and snug ’til the danger passed.
But even now, as the storm slowly leaves them, I wonder what will be left behind.

There’s talk of massive flooding from Irene…a name usually synonymous with old songs and petticoats.  No dainty little feather, this one!  Hurricane Irene was big, even though not a powerful storm in its own right…she moved in and lumbered slowly up the coast, reeking havoc from beach town to city street.  Whooo!

And just a few days previous, the same area was hit with an earthquake.

Is somebody trying to tell us something?!?

Those of us not in the storm’s path sat glued to the t.v., internet or other info service for news of storm intensity and peoples’ safety.  Many have relatives who live in or the storm’s path…wishing to be able to do more than watch, wait and pray.

Prayer is a powerful thing.  Many more lives could have been lost than have been reported so far….and while I’ll not rule out planning, coordination and follow-through, I believe the bottom line is simple-even Mother Nature answers to a Higher Authority.

So for those folks who’ve been through Hurricane Irene, how about a nice big steamy bowl of something I’ll call Hurricane Soup…a little bit of this and that, to warm the body, mind and soul. Our love, thoughts and prayers go to you all!

HURRICANE SOUP
So-called to send a warm, homey, comforting bit of love to those in need of some right now.

Soup bones if you have them

Hurricane Soup

If not, clean and cut veggies and add the refuse along with bits of meat skin, bones, stuff you don’t want in the final soup.  These will make your basic stock.

Heat a large soup pot, add some olive oil.  When it comes to fragrance, lower the heat to medium and add the refuse to the pot.  Stir it around periodically so it browns.  Things like onion tips, carrot ends, celery bottoms, broccoli stems and so on would do real nice.   Add some extra celery, onion and garlic too…and a bit of butter once everything gets going.

If you want meat, any ends, bones and bits that would be too tough for eating can still be used for flavor.

There’s talk against using skin for stock these days….I think it’s a personal option, and will say that it does add a great deal of flavor, especially browned like this.  But remember to remove the grease from the resultant stock!  Otherwise the entire top portion of your broth will be nothing but grease.

There are commercial stock separators around, kind of like a measuring cup with a spout that comes up from near the cup’s base. These work fine. But if you don’t have one, simply pour the stock in a clear or opaque bowl and refrigerate it for a while, maybe 20 minutes.  The grease will separate and float on top of the other liquid and you’ll be able to skim it off, carefully, with a spoon.

If you do have soup bones-lucky you-they can be prepared by pan browning or oven browning. Both methods require attention so they don’t burn.  There are good points to both methods…I like the oven browning, followed by an immersion into the veggie/meat stock that’s been developing on the stove (yes, even with bones I like to have a stock pot base).  It just adds that extra something…a richness not possible via boiling alone.

If you do add the soup bones after oven-roasting, don’t forget to add the pan drippings too! Maybe even find a bit of wine, apple cider or even just a bit of your broth and put it in the roasting pan.  Swirl it around with a spoon and get all those brown bits, all that gelatinous smooshiness in the corners and mix it into the liquid, then pour it into the stock pot too!  That’s the defining difference between a flavorful soup and a watery soup.

While the stock is developing, cut up your remaining ingredients being mindful to keep meat and vegetables separate-from cutting board and knife to where you put them afterward! I use a red handled knife for meat and a black handled one for veggies-and of course two separate cutting boards and two separate bowls.
Remember: Cross contamination is dangerous!

Season and brown the meat you intend to add….brown it lightly and quickly in a skillet.  Remove the meat from the skillet and set aside.  Pour some wine, water, cider or some stock (about 1/4 to 1/2 cup) into this pan and stir while it reduces.  When reduced by about 1/2, add this to the developing stock.

After the stock has been prepared and degreased, bones and refuse all removed, it’s time to add the other ingredients.   Start with your “hard” veggies; those that are going to take some time cooking and won’t get all watery in the process.   Carrots are a good candidate….rutabagas, turnips, potatoes….that sort of thing.
But remember, even these fellers can get over cooked, so pay attention.

As these hard veggies start giving up the ghost, you can add your mid-range veggies.  Things like onion, garlic, celery, string beans, broccoli bits, corn…including baby corns are good here.  They’ll cook up as the hard veggies finish their process.

After that come the “old softies,”  you know the ones…zucchini, mushrooms, peeled crushed tomatoes (if you want)….whatever you want.  However the kitchen sink should have been thrown in with the “hard” veggies-porcelain, you know…takes a while to cook.

The final thing to add is the meat.  It should go in only long enough to cook for about five or ten minutes, no more.  Remember it’s been cooked already!  AND you’ve been capturing it’s flavor since the very beginning, so don’t worry about the soup being watery or bland.

The last thing to do?  Taste and adjust the seasonings to your personal taste.
A little bread and butter, a little glass of wine….mmmmm!
Bound to take the chill away!

Fundamentals of Chicken Stew

When trying to decide what to do about needing a week’s worth of food with a slim budget, I look for elasticity….that is, things that stretch.

A roast is great for first night meal and produces some great left overs, not the least of which is stew.  Of course, these days such a purchase may require taking out a loan. So what to do, what to do?

The mark-down section of our grocery store is my usual haunt. It’s there I’ve been able to find items to sustain us…providing the booty is used up right away.

The other day I found some marked-down odd chunks of chicken.  It had been a while, so I made some stew with it.  Yummy!

The way it’s usually done is just to lightly brown off the meat then dump everything else into the pot and let it simmer.  That’s perfectly fine, only don’t let the chicken get dried out.

I like to layer the flavors…..even going so far a seasoning the stew pot.  Put a low flame under the pan and clean an onion.  after adding a small bit of olive oil or butter, add the onion’s “caps” (top and bottom) flat side down to the pan and let them brown.   Then turn your attention to the rest of the veggie prep.

Cut onion, celery and garlic into bite-sized pieces.While you’re at it, slice the other veggies so that they’re ready for adding to the foray. Add the veggie ends and cast offs to the pot and let them brown too. Don’t forget to stir everything once in a while….browning is okay, scorching isn’t!

When all the odds and ends are brown enough, remove them from the pan.  They can be tossed at this point…all their flavor and nutrition has been rendered.
Do not….repeat…DO NOT rinse the pan!  All that brown stuff and those little bits of flotsam are EXTREMELY IMPORTANT!  They are the difference between bland and bravo….the backbone of your dish….the Flavor.

Brown off the chicken (use other meat if you prefer….or just use veggies) in that same pan -do not over cook it…the REAL cooking will come a bit later.  For now you just want to sear in the juices.  Then remove it and add stock or water.  Stock is better.

Stir the liquid ’round…scraping the sides and bottom of your pan to incorporate the little specks and smooshes.  See how the liquid picks up the color?  It’s also picking up flavor….that’s something you wouldn’t get with just adding water to meat and setting it to simmer!

Next add the veggies that will take the most time to cook….potatoes, carrots…that sort of thing.  Some people steam these items part way before adding to the stew pot, and that’s fine-only remember to use the liquid from the steaming as part of the stock/liquid added for cooking the stew!

Once these ingredients have cooked most of the way, add the ones that don’t take too long….corn, peas…..the last things to add would be items like zucchini and mushrooms, then finally the meat. Let all that simmer for about 20 minutes or so, until everything is done.  You may have to thicken the gravy…if so, it’s approximately two tablespoons of cornstarch to about equal measure of cold water, stirred ’til cornstarch is incorporated, then add to the stew.  Let it all simmer some more…you’ll notice it thickening.   When it’s done, remove stew from the heat and let it rest after a final stir.

Some folks use flour and water as a thickener and others don’t bother thickening it at all….personal preference wins out here.

Serve with biscuits, bread and butter or rice.  Egg noodles make an interesting alternative, especially when tossed with a bit of garlic, herbs and butter before service.

Learning to make stew taught me a great deal about cooking….how to layer flavors…..how to create a gravy out of vegetable odds and ends and how not to over-cook the chicken. But mostly, it taught me that there are always possibilities….even when odds and ends are all ya got.