Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Asparagus now, asparagus later

The statistics of our life: Chuck and I are leaving on Friday, to drive the 1006 miles to visit our children. Before that, he will drive 500 miles roundtrip to pick up the college student who will be house sitting while we are gone. There is a lot to do, the packing, cleaning the house, shopping for road food as well as making sure there is some food here for the house sitter. Which might lead one to wonder, then, why I was blanching and freezing 115 spears of asparagus this evening. (One might also wonder why I am sitting here blogging, but hey, there has to be some mystery in life!)

Well, the statistics of local food- the asparagus is ready now, and it won't wait for me to get back from gallivanting about the country.

My sons tell me I am the weirdest woman in the world when it comes to food texture. Not only do things have to taste right, they also have to feel right in my mouth. I've been known not to eat things that have a fine flavor but a disturbing texture.* Asparagus is definitely on of those things. I've always felt that asparagus is one of those things that is perfect when fresh, lightly steamed or sauteed so there is a satisfying crunch when you bite into the stalk. Frozen asparagus is tolerable IN things like stir fried vegetables, but not eaten by itself like fresh. Canned asparagus is vile, good only for things like asparagus quiche, where the soggy green spear can vanish into the whole- the texture of canned asparagus is so very creepy, even though the flavor is acceptable. I have a jar of pickled vegetables made by my brother-in-law in the cooler, and I can see asparagus spears lurking in there. I have to admit, it's the main reason I haven't opened the jar- I can't quite get my mind around pickled asparagus. I'm afraid that neither the taste nor the texture would be quite right.

For the same texture reason, I was rather put off when I saw a recipe for roasted asparagus. Sure, the drizzling with oil sounded good, the balsamic vinegar and the sesame seeds sprinkled on top. But the texture? How could asparagus be good if it wasn't crisp, and how could it be crisp if it were roasted? I rolled it over and over in my mind, and finally decided to give it a try. On Mothers day, no less, because asparagus always reminds me of my mother- she is the one who taught me to love the first thin stems of spring best.

Wow- It was terrific! It was soft, but the roasting gave it a crispyness different than but not inferior to the crispiness I was used to. I used an olive oil infused with a hot red pepper, so there was a little bite, and I added garlic. This is definitely something we will have again.

And now we have come back to the 115 stalks of asparagus. They cost, all told, $20.25, which is $0.18 a stalk. I washed them, blanched them, and lined them up in layers in my 9 by 13 inch cake pan to freeze individually. Tomorrow I will parcel them up into my vacuum sealed bags, and will seal them up. My hope is, if I put them in the oven still frozen, that I can approximate the yummyness of Sunday's dinner.

115 stalks of asparagus will give us about 10 asparagus meals. And at each one, I'll remember this evening. That's one of my favorite parts of eating local- I love the connections.

There really is no recipe for the asparagus- I washed about 20 stalks, snapped off the woody parts on the ends, put it in my 9 by 13 inch cake pan. Drizzled a little (a couple of tablespoons, if that much) over the asparagus, chopped some garlic cloves fine, and sprinkled that and some sesame seeds. I heated the oven to 400 degrees F, and left them in for 10 minutes. Cooking for Engineers has a slightly more hands on method, and Kalyn, at Kalyn's Kitchen has a slow roasted asparagus I may try with some of the larger of these frozen stalks.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007


Rhubarb is one of those things that you either love or hate. At least one, perhaps more, of my sisters loathes it. Understandable- back in the early 70's my mother was always on the look out for diabetic friendly foods. Rhubarb, sweetened with the nasty artificial sweeteners of the day, was one of those foods, and she served a lot of it. It was, in fact, pretty loathsome. Slimy and stringy.

However, while I developed an intense dislike for artificial sweeteners, I never developed an antipathy for rhubarb, and it's a HUGE favorite at our house. My husband and sons like to eat it raw, right out of the garden, and while I don't like it quite so fresh, I still enjoy it many ways. We've had it stewed, roasted, made into jam, muffins and pies. I've dried it, frozen it and canned it to eat later. I even tried making rhubarb ice cream. And I proved my "good mom-ness" by sending each of my sons a rhubarb cobbler kit- a bag containing some dried rhubarb, another bag containing the correct amount of sugar and flour for the pie, and directions calling for refrigerated crescent rolls as the crust. All they had to do was buy the rolls, add water and cook! (Did they make it? No. Crummy kids.)

I thought rhubarb was native to the US, but the Rhubarb Compendium tells me that the earliest written reference to Rhubarb was in 2700 BC in China. It also mentions that the name is derived from the Rha River, an early name for the Volga in Russia, because rhubarb grew along the banks. The Rhubarb Herbal at lists 3 kinds of rhubarb; Turkish, English and Monks. It describes the medicinal uses of the plant.

Finally, for those who REALLY enjoy rhubarb, there are the Rhubarb Festivals. The Wakefield Rhubarb festival in the UK is over for this year, but the festival in Intercourse PA is next weekend, May 18th and 19th. I'll have to put it on my schedule for next year; Intercourse is just a hop skip and jump over the mountain for me. Alas, I'll be in Kansas City that weekend.

I'm not the first to write about rhubarb for Weekend Herb Blogging- Writing at the Kitchen Table did a savory mutton in saffron and rhubarb sauce. Food Lover's Journey made a rhubarb streusel loaf, while Delectable Victuals did rhubarb scones. They all sound wonderful- especially the scones. While not a weekend herb blog entry, this rhubarb and custard sounds divine, and the photos are stunning.

This recipe for rhubarb tea sounds appealing, although it calls for strawberries and citrus along with the rhubarb. This tea is more basic, just rhubarb and sugar, with a strawberry for garnish if you desire.

I love my rhubarb plant- it takes little or no care from me, just a dressing of compost in the fall. I think it is beautiful- the long red stems, the deep green enormous leaves. I love the way they smell when I cut them up. Like my grapevine, it was planted by the previous owner of the house, and every time I harvest the stalks (by the way, the leaves are poisonous, eat only the stalks) I am so happy I bought a gardeners house!

Weekend Herb Blogging is being hosted by Up a Creek Without a PatL this weekend. I am terribly envious of her lovely visitor mentioned on the May 5 entry- go check this out! And, of course, see the round up of other Weekend Herb Bloggers.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Tofu, anyone?

I always thought I was a pretty good cook, if not a fancy one. The people who ate my food seemed to agree. But last summer, a foreign exchange student from Belarus made an off-hand comment that has stuck with me, causing me to re-evaluate.

One of the best things about having foreign students live in your house is it makes you think hard about your way of life. In order to answer their questions, you have to truly understand why things are the way they are. And just hearing the questions they ask makes you question yourself and the way you do things. Or the way your fellow citizens do things. When Vadim was here last year, he mentioned that he thought American had too many prepared food items. I was taken aback by that, because I thought, at least at our house, that we ate very few prepared items. At that time, we were hip deep in our CSA vegetables, I haven’t bought a frozen lasagna or tv dinner in years, and I never buy box meals; heck, we don’t even eat out very much. I dismissed his comment by assuming he meant it as applying to Americans in general, not to us in particular.

But over the months since he was here, I keep returning to that statement in my mind. After participating in the Penny Wise Eat Local Challenge last week, I think I understand what he meant. And, as usual, I am grateful for the questions both asked and answered.

It was hard for me last week to not reach into my cabinet and pull out a barbeque sauce (Gates, from Kansas City is the best!) or a curry sauce to enliven our meals. It seems I am not so much a good cook as I am a good “combiner”. The bare bones of my meals– meats and vegetables- are usually minimally processed and local. But the other parts of the meal- the sauces and marinades, rubs and seasonings, are mostly “store-bought”. I doctor them up so they are more or less unique, but is it really cooking? I can make my own salsa and tomato sauces, but I just don’t like them as well as some of the commercial ones. I rely on commercially produced ingredients to add “pizzaz” to our meals. Perhaps this is what Vadim noticed.

On the other hand, I am always interested in the process of creating things from beginning to end. In my fiber life, I have taken fleece right from the sheep all the way to a finished garment; washing, spinning and then weaving or knitting and finally wearing.

My food life is no different- I make my own yogurt and yogurt cheese, have made my own butter and ice cream, granola and bread. We don’t raise our own food animals, but if we did, I would love to smoke my own bacon, or make my own sausages. Recently I read an article on how to farm catfish, and found myself eyeing the goldfish pond in the backyard in a whole new light.

I can, freeze, dry; make pickles and jams. I’ve been known to harvest wild black walnuts and hunt the elusive morel mushroom. My gosh, I made dandelion soup, for goodness sake! When my sons were little, I took great pride that I made most of their clothes, and the food they ate was either breast milk LITERALLY made by me or, as they grew older, bits of our dinner unseasoned and ground in our handy dandy baby food grinder. I may not BE self sufficient, but I like to think that I have the knowledge and skills should I ever really NEED self sufficiency. (Besides, I just like to know stuff.)

Well, one of the things I now know how to do is make my own tofu. Using The Book Of Tofu, by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi. I’m not going to describe the process in great detail, but here are the highlights.

First- soak 1.5 cups of soybeans overnight
Then divide the soaked beans in half, add 2 cups of water, and grind fine.

Put the ground beans in a big pot, repeat with the other half of the beans.
Bring it to a boil and cook for a while

Strain the ground soybeans through a cloth, catching the soymilk in a container.

Press the liquid out of the ground beans. Keep the pressed beans to use other ways.

Heat the soymilk to boiling again
Add solidifier

curds and whey

Ladle curds into a pressing box lined with a cloth

Press liquid out.

Take out of the box and unwrap
I am not sure what we did wrong, but instead of a cube of tofu, we got what Chuck termed a "laminate" of tofu- barely enough for us to eat. It did taste good, I thought. (Chuck's taste comment is below.) One thing, I didn't soak the beans overnight, instead I brought them to a boil and soaked for a couple of hours in the hot water. I may not have ground the beans long enough, although the okara, or residue from the beans seemed pretty fine. We'll try changing those two steps next time and see what we get.

I found a couple of sites with good directions if you don't want to rush out and purchase The Book Of Tofu. Lili Pintea-Reed wrote this article on Bella Online, and I found this on (I was excited to see Lili's name here- I met her several years ago on a Fiber Arts mail list.) Both sites provide easy to follow directions. And I bought my tofu making box and solidifier from SoyaJoy-Chuck did say he thought the tofu tasted like cedar...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hearty Oatmeal Pancakes

The picture over on Plants and Animals is better...

We ate these pancakes for our first meal on the Penny Wise Eat Local Challenge. They are my favorite pancakes, from a cookbook trio I find myself using most often these days. Simply In Season, published by Herald Press, is terrific. Years ago, I bought a cookbook called More With Less, also published by Herald. The recipes were contributed by members of the Mennonite Community, and came from all over the world. I used it for years, and gave copies of it to some of my sisters- I wanted to share the low-impact eating and cooking style.

Last year EunJee gave me a copy of Simply In Season, the next cookbook commissioned by the Mennonite Central Committee. The book is divided into sections- starting with Spring, passing through Summer, Autumn and Winter, with a fifth section called All Seasons. The recipes in each section feature the foods that are abundant during that time. But even more than the recipes (which are delicious), I enjoy the comments found on most pages. The cookbooks are an education just to sit and read. Take, for example this comment on page 295, the same page as the pancake recipe

"Who's the most efficient?

One common perception is that farmers today must "get bigger or get out": in order to compete, they must become as economically efficient as possible. That is thought to mean having bigger farms, more powerful machinery and fewer types of crops.

A growing number of studies, however, show that small farms are more productive than large ones, yielding as much as four to five times greater output per acre. The difference is largely attributed to the kinds of crops grown. A thousand acre farm that grows only corn and soybeans may produce more than a small farm where corn is grown with other crops. But the total amount of food will be more on the small farm, whether judged by volume, weight, calories or cash value."

It reminds me of the comparison between spinning wheels and drop spindles; Industrialized people can never understand why indigenous people would want to keep spinning with drop spindles when spinning wheels are available. But to spin on a spinning wheel, the spinner must sit and do nothing but spin, whereas a spinner using a drop spindle can mind children, herd animals, even cook, if he or she has sufficient skill. Drop spindles, a technology that has been in use by humans for thousands and thousands of years are said to be "slower by inch but faster by the mile because the spinner can utilize all the odd bits of time available to her, and end up with more yarn overall.

OK, Now everyone is wondering "What on earth is she going on about? Yarn? This is a food blog! Sorry, that's my life, I see connections everywhere. But now that I have drug you down a completely irrelevant path, here's the recipe.

Hearty Oatmeal Pancakes

2 cups (500 ml) rolled oats
2 cups (500 ml buttermilk or plain yogurt
The night before using, combine together in a large bowl.. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

2 eggs (lightly beaten)
1/4 cup (60 ml) oil
In the morning, stir into oat mixture

1/2 cup (125 ml) flour (We use white whole wheat)
2 Tablespoons sugar (We used 2 Tablespoons honey because of the Eat Local Challenge)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

In a small bowl, mix together, then add to batter and mix briefly in a hot, greased fry pan (or griddle.)

The batter is VERY thick. Often we will add grated apple to the batter which makes it a little thinner. The recipe also suggests stirring in blueberries. I think I would add almost any fruit, to tell you the truth. Peaches would be very yummy. This time we used a jar of canned apple slices- Chuck put the apple slices on the griddle and then spooned the batter over the apple slices. We like to eat them with peanut butter and maple syrup.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Almonds, almonds everywhere

What do Toffee Marzipan Walnuts, raw food and Tofu have in common? Not very much, but they all floated through my consciousness at about the same time, and resulted in this post.

Synchronicity- it's a wonderful thing.

Recently, Chuck and I started craving nuts, and purchasing mixed nuts to eat as snacks. We congratulated ourselves on the Omega-threes we were getting.

Never one to take something off the shelf and eat it straight, I bought different kind of mixed nut combinations (with NO peanuts- they have their place, and it's not in my mixed nuts!) Cans of exotic blends marched into the house, and were promptly dumped into a huge mixing bowl, recombined and poured back into the original cans, surprising Chuck every time he opened one. My favorite- cashews, pecans, pistachios, macadamia nuts and a spicy smoked almond, combined with a run-of-the-mill deluxe mixed nut blend, and a couple handfuls of dried cranberries thrown in for color and surprise. Something different in every handful.

Unfortunately, it become expensive. And salty. I decided we needed to cut this out.

A week or so ago, Haalo down under at Cook Almost Anything Once posted about Toffee-coated marzipan walnuts. Visions of marzipan danced in my head, walnuts sounded appealing, even though I really haven't liked them much. I'm a pecan woman, myself.

During this time period, in ways that will be explained in another post, I became interested in making my own tofu. To the amazement of the young woman visiting us for Spring Break, I pulled out a book I purchased years (I'm talking back when I was a vegetarian, before 1979) The Book Of Tofu, by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi. There will be more about this in this other post, but deep in the book, Shurtleff talks about making tofu from almonds. An whisper of an idea lodged itself in my brain.

About the same time, my sister Amanda told me about some sprouted almonds she had eaten, and how wonderful they were. She described the process she was told created them. I was intrigued.
My will power crumbled, and I took myself off to my local bulk food store, around here run by Mennonites, and frequented as often by women wearing prayer caps arriving by horse and buggy as by those of us in bare-headed in cars. The price was better (But still not cheap, as is the nature of nuts) and the nuts unsalted.

Many dollars later, I returned with pounds of walnuts, mixed nuts, almonds, whole pecan halves. No marzipan.

My main goal was to coat my almonds with a spicy, sweet coating to add to my mixed nut compilation. But I saved some out for sprouting, so I could let Amanda know how it went.

To coat the almonds, I looked in my cabinet. At any given time, I have a wide variety of stuff to make food spicier. Since we are still working on getting the pantry cleaned out from before I became a local food fanatic, not a bit of it is local, (spicy isn't high on the taste priority list around here. ) Well, I consider the stuff from Original Juans (with the screaming faces, or 100% Pain) local, but only because I stop by the factory outlet when I am in Kansas City.

I decided on the two at the far left- Dan-T's smoked chipotle sauce, and the Fiesta Raspberry Jalapeno. I was hoping for a sweet, hot, smoky flavor.

I combined 1/4 cup of each sauce in my big Pyrex mixing cup, and tossed 4 cups of almonds in it until they were well coated.


I dumped them into a 9 by 12 cake pan, and roasted at 350 degrees F for about an hour, stirring every so often.

These were OK- not as hot or as sweet as I wanted, but OK. Next time I'll add some honey to the mix, and perhaps a habanero sauce instead of jalapeno. OR, I might get fancy and make my own sauce.

I also wanted to try the sprouting almonds thing. I did a little research on at a place where I have shopped before- Sprout People. Turns out sprouted almonds are really soaked almonds, because they aren't left long enough for a real sprout to appear, just long enough for the enzymes to activate and (supposedly) make the almonds both more digestible and healthier.

Now, my bulk store lady isn't sure whether or not these almonds are really raw- they don't say so on the bin, but the label that prints up when she enters the code comes up as raw. Anyway, I soaked them overnight, then put them in a sprouting jar for 24 hours. I rinsed them, and then put them on my dehydrator for another 24 hours.

They are OK- certainly not the marvelous taste delights Amanda described, but nicely crunchy and light.

The final two items in my Almond Synchronicity- this article about the California Almond Board and their decision to pasteurize almonds but still market them as raw

And this post from bad home cooking with a recipe for almond lemon almondrados. I once handed my dog a piece of particularly aromatic Provolone cheese, and she threw it to the ground and rubbed herself all over it in ecstatic delight before she ate it. At the time I found that peculiar, but just reading about these almondrados makes me understand the urge...

Sorry for the terribly long post. It took me 3 days to finish!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Do you know the muffin (wo)man?

(These are apple muffins)

Actually, I am the muffin woman. It's a fairly recent transformation, and mildly surprising even to me. I never liked to make cupcakes or muffins because of the fussiness about them- I didn't like playing around with the paper liners, I didn't like measuring out the small amounts of batter. But last fall, I became the muffin woman in a big old way.

My younger son was married in September of 2006. The bride and groom, as well as all other members of our extended family, live in Missouri. The wedding was to be held here, in Pennsylvania, because this is the bride's home; all of her family lives here, as do my husband and I.

For some reason, about 3 weeks before the wedding, I became concerned (some might say obsessively concerned) about the number of people from our side of the family who were making a long trip for the wedding. I decided that the best way for me to honor them for making this trip was to make them breakfast every day. All of them. To that end, I started making muffins. Fourteen dozen muffins. I filled my freezer, and the freezer of my co-worker with muffins. We had a lot of muffins.

Some were good, some not so good. We had muffins left over. I sent muffin care packages back to Missouri. I took muffins on a work retreat a few weeks later.

In all the muffin making, I found a good, versatile recipe. Last night, my son told me that he had started on a healthy living routine, one facet of which was eating breakfast instead of skipping it. He added that his lovely new wife was making him muffins for breakfast. So I thought I'd share my good muffin recipe with my daughter-in-law and all of you!

This recipe is adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks- Simply In Season, from Herald Press. In the cookbook, it's called Nutty Pumpkin Bread, on page 178.

1.5 cups (375 ml) flour
1.5 cups (375 ml) whole wheat flour (I like white whole wheat)
1 cup (250 ml) wheat germ (I use oat bran instead)
1 cup (250 ml) brown sugar (I use sucanat*)
1 cup (250 ml) white sugar (I use sucanat for this, too)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1.5 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I alter this based on what fruit I use)
0.5 teaspoon each ground ginger, nutmeg, cloves (ditto on the altering)

Mix together in a large bowl and make a well.

2.5 cups (635 ml) pumpkin or winter squash cooked and pureed (I have substituted grated zucchini or chunky applesauce or peachsauce or other thick cooked fruit puree for this)
4 eggs lightly beaten
1/2 cup (125 ml) oil
1/2 cup (125 ml) pecans or other nuts (I have used almonds and sunflower seeds)
1 cup (250 ml) raisins or dates (I have used dried apples, dried cranberries, dried peaches, any dried fruit)

Add into the well and mix just until all of the ingredients are moistened. Pour batter into 2 greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pans (I use 2 silicone muffin pans- I know a lot of people don't like these, but I love them- I freeze the muffins right in the pan, and then pop them out to seal in a bag)

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F (180 degrees C) until a toothpick place in the center of the muffin comes out clean 50 minutes for loves, 30 minutes for muffins.

Now, it may be that I have a high tolerance for variance in muffins, but I have been happy with every combination I have used. I think the yummmiest were the ones I made with peachsauce, dried peaches and pecans. These are pretty dense, which is OK with me, but some others might find them overly heavy. Anyway, Jen, this muffin's for you! (actually, you have the cookbook!)

*Sucanat is a very lightly refined sugar cane product. I have read that it has a higher glycemic index than white or brown sugar. I buy mine in bulk.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

What's for dinner?

More food I didn't cook.

Sometimes I have to fight a battle with myself. I want to be good, and eat locally. I also want to sample all the foods of the world. Sometimes I can make reasonable facsimiles at home, but sometimes I just have to bite the bullet and go with the real thing.

Sunday we stopped at the European Grocery in the next town. I bought some of thier wonderful flatbread, a container of Kajmak and a jar of Ajvar. Kajmak is sort of like butter, and sort of like cream cheese, and very tasty. Ajvar is a roasted pepper spread. The flatbread is unlike any I have had before- less flat and more bread-y. At any rate, it's all yummy. And it was supper 2 nights in a row.

I don't know if you can read the label on the top of the ajvar jar- it says "Home Made". This summer I plan to try to make my own Ajvar, guess I'll have to make myself little home made labels!

Here is a recipe from . I haven't tried it, but it's probably what I will use as a springboard this summer. If you make it before I do, let me know what you think!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Korean Home Cooking

Sorry, no recipes this time. I'm just going to tantalize you with pictures of some yummy Korean food, cooked for us by two lovely young women. This past week, EunJee and HyeJin came to visit us while they were on break from school. I thought they would do what most teens do when they are on a holiday break- sleep, shop, do laundry and watch DVD's. They did all that, but they also cooked for us. It was a treat- they made a terrific dinner, all the while telling us that they really couldn't cook.

I don't know the names of many of the dishes they made- they kept the menu and recipes a secret. There was a little bundle of rice and ground beef, tied with a strip of nori (seaweed), and a another meat dish that consisted of slices of beef in a sweet brown sauce, (not bulgoki) accompanied with slices of cooked green pepper and mushroom. My husband is convinced the little bundles were called chewibap; I don't know about that, but bap is the korean word for rice, so he could be close. There was a salad of cucumbers, spinach and silken tofu in a vinegar dressing. They cooked some commercial dumplings- mandoo- and melted cheese over them. Oh, and Korean rice- a white, short grained, very sticky rice.

My personal favorite was kimchijaen. Jaen is a pancake; pajaen has scallions, hae mul pajeon has scallions plus little bits of seafood. Kimchijaen, obviously has chopped kimchi. Kimchi, spicy fermented cabbage, is the traditional food of Korea, and Koreans eat it everyday. Koreans consider kimchi to be a health food. lists it as one of the worlds healthiest foods because the bacteria aids in digestion, but other sites have broader claims. This site talks about the research. I've tried to make it at home, but my efforts amused my husband and Eunjee. One of the things I love about Korean food is all the little side dishes that go with dinner. We had a relish made from carrot and white daikon radish, odang, which is a spicy fish cake, soybean sprouts, a cucmber dish called uwikimchi, and a spinach dish. Sometimes we get gokdugi- a spicy relish made with daikon radish. We bought all of the side dishes at the Korean grocery.

If you are looking for Korean recipes, try My Korean Kitchen, TriFood, and KoreanInfoGate . Zenkimchi's food journal is interesting, too.

EunJee came to our house as a foreign exchange student in 2003, we had her weekends while she went to boarding school the next two years, and she is now finishing up her first year of college. HyeJin was a student at the boarding school, and will be starting college next year. This is the time of year to be thinking about having a foreign exchange student. We have had 3, they have all been pleasant experiences. (I know there are people who have less than pleasant experiences, but we've been 3 for 3 on the good side, and I really have met relatively few people who had a bad experience.) You don't have to be the typical nuclear family with kids in high school to have a student, either- single people and empty-nesters can apply. In fact, I think it was an advantage that our children were grown before we started having students- there was very little chance of conflict between the kids. Think about it- visit AYUSA's website and find out what it takes to be a host family.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

An Avocado a day...

I like apples, but just think how marvelous life would be if we could substitute "avocado" for "Apple" in the old adage about keeping the doctor away.

Well perhaps that's not so far off the mark. On the Cancer Cure Foundation website listing of cancer fighting foods, avocados are first on the list (probably because avocado starts with "A"). According to the website, "Avocados are rich in glutathione, a powerful antioxidant that attacks free radicals in the body by blocking intestinal absorption of certain fats. They also supply even more potassium than bananas and are a strong source of beta-carotene. Scientists also believe that avocados may also be useful in treating viral hepatitis (a cause of liver cancer), as well as other sources of liver damage." And WebMD praises the avocado, citing a study that showed subjects who ate an avocado daily for a week had a significant drop in total blood cholesterol levels, and LDL ("bad fat") levels while at the same time their HDL ("good fat") levels rose.

I did a little happy dance when I read this, always delighted to have an excuse to eat an avocado. My happy dance got a little more frenetic when I spotted grapefruit on the Cancer Cure Foundations list, as well.

Every winter, my parents send us a case of the most wonderful Texas Ruby Red grapefruits from Bell's Farm in McAllan, Texas. There just isn't a better gift than this! Huge, sweet and wonderful, Chuck and I try to make them last as long as we can. Chuck carefully removes the peel and the bitter white layer just underneath by scraping lightly with his pocketknife; we split one per evening, eating them segment by segment like oranges. Cancer Cure says about grapefruit "Grapefruits, like oranges and other citrus fruits, contain monoterpenes, believed to help prevent cancer by sweeping carcinogens out of the body. Some studies show that grapefruit may inhibit the proliferation of breast-cancer cells in vitro. They also contains vitamin C, beta-carotene, and folic acid." To make a good thing even better, an Isreali study, also mentioned on WebMD found that participants eating a low fat, low calorie diet showed a greater drop in cholesterol if a red grapefruit was added than if they ate a white grapefruit or no grapefruit at all. Triglycerides in the red grapefruit group were also lower than with the other two groups. (And red grapefruit taste far superior to pink or white, in my opinion.)

Despite enjoying them just as they are, I do occasionally, make a very simple and delicious salad, combining grapefruit, avocado and red onions. When I tell people about this, they are always surprised and a little hesitant about the combination. But everyone who has tasted it has thought it was terrific. I am very happy to enter it into Mele Cotte's Cooking to Combat Cancer Blog event.

Grapefruit, avocado and red onion salad

For 2 servings

1 ripe avocado, peeled and coarsely diced (Avocado should be soft but not squishy)

1 large Ruby Red grapefruit, peeled, segmented and membranes removed

approximately 1/4 cup chopped mild red onion.

salt to taste

pinch of Korean red pepper (or other coarsely ground red pepper) (optional)

Combine everything but salt and red pepper in a bowl, mixing carefully so that the avocado and grapefruit don't get overly squashed. Sprinkle salt , toss again, and sprinkle the pinch of red pepper over the top.

The citrus should keep the avocado from darkening, but this should be eaten fairly soon after preparing- I've not found avocados to keep well once they have been cut.

Neither grapefruit nor avocados are local foods here in Central Pennsylvania, but there are some things and some times when the rules have to relax. Both of these fruits fall in that category!

(Please note, if you are taking any meds you should check with your doctor or pharmacist about possible drug interactions between grapefruits and a number of commonly prescribed drugs for a variety of conditions. In the course of writing this, we discovered that the Lipitor my husband takes is one of those cited, and we will be checking with his doctor before grapefruit season next year.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Home made yogurt- is this ambrosia?

In a recent post on Local Forage, Carla gives a "thump on the head" to Stonyfield Farm for joining other dairy operators in lobbying the USDA to NOT require the Organic Standards Board recommendation that organic cows receive 30% of their feed from pasture.

I was dismayed by this, because I have been buying Stonyfield's yogurt for the past year or so. I like it, and the inulin fiber they add, purportedly to boost calcium absorption, gives the yogurt a really nice smooth texture. But it also started me thinking. Stonyfield isn't in my foodshed- in fact it's almost 500 miles to Londonderry, NH.

Here in S. Central PA, dairy farming is important. In fact, we are here because of the dairy industry- my husband worked for a cream cheese company that moved us here. Around my house, fields are speckled with black and white Holsteins and Belted Galloways, creamy brown Jerseys providing contrast. Our friend Ashley was Dairy Princess last year, a duty that entailed promoting milk and dairy products at various functions. The dairy farms run the gamut from 300 cow automated operations, with indoor cows who seldom see the out of doors, to small family herds of pastured cows, milked by mom and dad and any siblings old enough. With this tremendous bovine presence, I began to wonder why I was not getting local yogurt.

Well, the answer to that is, "Because there isn't any." I can get local milk and ice cream, lots of cheese, but as far as I know, no one is marketing local yogurt. I have no idea why that is.

As a wedding present, we were given a Salton Yogurt maker, an odd little machine that made between 4 and 6 single servings of yogurt (I don't remember how many now- that was 30 years ago!) I used it a lot, but it never made enough for me- I love quantity. So I learned to make yogurt without a machine (What a concept!) I always used non fat dry milk, but I quit when I realized I didn't know where the milk came from, or how the cows were treated and fed.

Obviously, the answer to my yogurt dilemma was to make my own, using local milk. The first batch I made used 2% milk. Wow- was it ever terrific! Tonight, my friend EunJee, visiting us for her spring break from SUNY helped me, and we used just under a half gallon (1.9 L) of 2% and a full half gallon (1.9 L) of non-fat. This netted us about 9 pints (4.25 L) of yogurt.

You will need
Containers for the yogurt- pint or quart sized ( .5 or 1 L) canning jars work well, or plastic yogurt containers.

An ice chest or cooler, with a lid, that is big enough to hold the containers.

A pot large enough to hold the milk you will be using, and still leave at least 2 inches (5 cm) head space and a stirring utensil that will reach the bottom of the pan.

A thermometer that will measure temperature of the milk up to 180 degrees F (83 degrees C)

1/4-1/2 cup (118-236 ML) plain commercial yogurt with live cultures- Dannon works best, in my opinion. You can use your home made yogurt to culture the next 2 batches, but you should go back to a commercial yogurt every 3rd batch. This makes sure your bacteria haven't mutated or become weak.

Milk- 1/2 to 1 gallon (1.75- 3.5 L) More would be difficult to deal with, less wouldn't be worth the time.

Make sure everything is impeccably clean. We are going to be encouraging a bacteria to ferment milk by inoculating the milk with the bacteria we want growing there. If everything isn't scrupulously clean, we could introduce a wild bacteria into the mix that might not have the same pleasing end product!

Based on how much milk you are using, decide how many containers you will need for your end product, and then add 1 more, just in case. I used pint canning jars and lids. Spread a clean kitchen towel, or several paper towels out on the counter top.

Step 1-
Wash containers in hot, soapy water, rinse in the hottest water you can. (Jars straight out of the dishwasher can also be used) Invert the clean jars on the towel- this keeps airborne bacteria or dirt from falling in your clean jars. Fill a mixing bowl with the hottest water you can. Wash lids, rinse and then submerge lids in the bowl of hot water to keep them sterile. Wash pot and whatever you are going to stir with. I repeat- Wash everything!
Step 2-
Pour the milk into your pot. Heat the milk to 180 degrees F (83 degrees C), stirring constantly, all the way to the bottom of the pan. This step is very important if you are using raw milk, probably less so if you are using pasteurized milk, but better to be safe than sorry. Don't boil, though, because that alters the taste of the milk. This picture is from a batch of yogurt I made using "cream line", or non-homogenized, milk- the yellow is butter fat floating on top of the milk.

Step 3-
Cool the milk to 120 degrees F (49 degrees C). I usually fill the sink with cold water to cut the time this takes, and put the pot in the sink. In the summer I even use ice water.
Step 4-
Stir the commercial yogurt into the cooled milk. Make sure it is all dispersed through out the yogurt. Step 5-
Ladle the milk into the containers, and put the lids on. (Sometimes I put a teaspoon of yogurt into each jar, just to make sure there are plenty of bacteria in there.) Place the containers in the ice chest. Step 6-
Put enough hot water (about 130 degrees F- 54 degrees C) in the ice chest so that it comes about half way up the jars or containers. Put the lid on the chest, and walk away for 8-12 hours. I usually make the yogurt after supper and leave it until the next morning. Longer fermentation means tangy-er yogurt. I love to combine yogurt, fruit and a little honey or Sucanat in a bowl, then freeze for a couple of hours. It's almost as good as ice cream! Bananas work especially well in this, so did the apricot/raspberry mixture left over from my fried pies.

Now it's time to move onto making tofu!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Texas Pecan Cake

Wednesday is my Grandmother Cleo’s birthday- she would have been 95. I’m sad to say, I never made her a birthday cake while she was alive.

Both of my parents are only children, and for much of my life, my grandparents all lived in the same small town, roughly an hour and a half from Kansas City. When my grandparents were younger, they drove to KC to celebrate the holidays with us, but as we all became older, we went more often to celebrate down there. Because my birthday falls on or about the American holiday that prominently features turkey, too many of my birthday dinners also featured turkey. And pumpkin pie for dessert. I don’t remember when Cleo started making this cake for me each year, but I am willing to bet it was prompted by my complaints about the pumpkin pie.

I adore this cake. It is actually a fruit cake, but don’t let that deter you- it has NOTHING in common with the much maligned fruitcakes served at Christmas. Because it is a fruitcake, there is no icing- one of the reasons I love it so much. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, and this cake is exactly sweet enough for me. After Cleo died, I missed it for several years. Last year, my sister J (Baker Extraordinaire) took pity on me, and made one for my 50th birthday. This year past birthday, my husband and daughter-in-laws came through for me. I love my family!

It’s a heavy cake; a little goes a long way. It does freeze well, and if it dries out too much to be good to eat plain, makes a wonderful addition to bread pudding. I always thought this was an old, secret family recipe, but apparently my grandmother cut it out of a women’s magazine. The golden raisins are important in this cake- dark ones just won’t do. But I have often thought that it would be pretty tasty with cranberries instead…

Texas Pecan Cake
1 lb Unsalted butter
2 cups Granulated sugar
6 Eggs, well beaten
1 tsp Lemon extract
4 cups Unbleached flour
1 1/2 tsp Baking powder
4 cups Pecan halves
2 cups golden raisins
The recipe yield is: 10 Servings

Preheat the oven to 300F.
Grease and lightly flour a 9 3/4 in tube pan. Shake out any excess flour from the pan.

With a mixer or by hand, blend the butter and sugar together in a large bowl; beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Gradually add the eggs and lemon extract, and beat well. Sift the flour and baking powder together three times; add the nuts and raisins.

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and blend well.

Pour the batter into the tube pan. Bake 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Cool the cake for 15 minutes, then remove it from the pan. Serve it dusted with powdered sugar, if desired

Mary, over at Alpineberries has a recipe for a Red Velvet Cake that reminds me of Cleo, as well. I don't remember that she made them frequently, but she did make them. I didn't care for them- I was convinced, I think, that there were beets in there, and that turned me off. Now, however, I find them quite acceptable!

This ends my month of grandmotherly food. I had been thinking that I needed a theme for this food blog, but nothing was coming to mind. After struggling to meet the Grandma theme this month, I now know not to tie myself down to any theme. It was tough restricting myself, and there were lots of yummy dinners I wasn’t able to put up here because I was trying to stay with the Grandma deal. So- no more monthly themes for me! I’m free! (Gosh, who would have thought I would have trouble being restricted!)

Monday, March 26, 2007

2 for 1 Moroccan carrot appetizer and Lentil and Carrot Soup

I started out this month by saying that there was a trio of March birthdays in my family. My sister Amanda is the third member of that trio, and her birthday is tomorrow.

Amanda is an amazing woman, and I'm not saying that just because she's my sister. She loves to travel and to be out in nature. I am in awe of her because she does such a wonderful job of living her life according to her convictions; something that seems like it would be easy to do but isn't always.

I thought the recipe mirrored many of the things Amanda holds important. Vegetarian, low fat, and reflective of world cultures, I think she would really like it. I'm sorry we don't live close enough for me to run a bowl over to her, but next time I visit her, I'll make it for her.

About a month ago, my husband Chuck and our friends Pat and Zip ate at a Moroccan restaurant near Harrisburg. Zip had a cold cooked carrot appetizer that I thought was very one of the best things we had that night. Chuck wouldn't try it, because he doesn't like cooked carrots. Neither do I, but this was tasty.

This past week I was looking through a copy of Crescent Dragonwagon's Passionate Vegetarian, and found a recipe called Morroc' n' roll oven roasted carrot dip on page 14.

As always, since I just can't seem to follow a recipe without making changes, I noted the changes I made to this one.

Morocc’n’roll oven roasted carrot dip
Passionate Vegetarian

oil or cooking spray
1 pound (6 medium) carrots, unpeeled, stem end left on
1 large red onion, unpeeled, quartered
1 head garlic, cut in half crosswise (I should have used 2 heads)
2 T olive oil
1 T tamari or shoyu soy sauce
2 t ground cumin (I used about 2 Tablespoons)
2 t paprika (I left this out because I didn't have any
Pinch cayenne (I used about 1 t Korean ground red pepper)
1-4 T vegetable stock, water, carrot juice or olive oil (I made a cup of mint tea with 2 teabags and used that instead)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 Preheat oven to 375.

2 Oil or spray a baking dish large enough to accommodate the vegetables in one layer.

3 Bring a large pot of water to boil. Drop carrots into boiling water and blanch for 4-6 minutes depending on size

4 Place carrots in prepared baking dish, along with onion and garlic. Toss vegetables with 1T olive oil, rubbing oil into vegetables a bit. Drizzle with tamari and toss. Arrange cut-side down.

5 Bake until carrots are soft- can pierce with a fork and quite brown hereand there, especially on the edge that has touched the dish. This will take about 40 minutes, longer if carrots are plump. Let cool.

6 Cut stem ends from the carrots, remove paper skin from onions. Place in a food processor. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skin directly into the food processor, discarding any that are either still hard or deep brown. Add cumin, paprika, and cayenne, along with remaining T of oil, and pulse. (I scraped the baking dish out with a rubber scraper and used that in the food processor- it was not crusty and baked on, just a little brown-ness and some oil and tamari.)

The mixture will be dry and chunky. Add stock (or other liquid) a T at a time. Pulse until smooth, then season to taste with tamari, salt and pepper. (Be careful here- I overloaded the food processor and got big hunks surrounded by paste. I should have done a few carrots at a time, but I got impatient. Next time I will process most of the carrots, and then hand chop to a small dice about 1/3 or them, so I have small chunks.)

Let spread mellow overnight or up to 3 days in refrigerator. Take it out 1 hour before serving to let it reach room temperature.

I tried this on crustini, and it was very good- the flavors blended together, but each added it's own individual note. The mint flavor was very subtle. I thought it needed more garlic, but perhaps then the garlic flavor would have drowned the others. I reserved about 1/4 of the recipe, and used the rest for the lentil soup.

To make the soup-

Lentils- I used a 1 pound bag of green lentils, and about 1 cup red lentils
2 quarts vegetable stock

Cook the lentils in the stock until they are soft but not mushy. Add the carrot mixture. Let mellow in the refrigerator over night. Serve with a dollop of yogurt

Monday, March 19, 2007

Yummy Fried Pies

I love breakfast- it's perhaps my favorite meal. I love eggs over easy and bacon, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, muffins, Eggs Benedict. I even love oatmeal.

When we stayed over at Cleo's, her breakfasts were always a treat. We didn't often have eggs, because she had a cholesterol problem and avoided them. But we didn't miss them, because the other things she made were so delicious. Two of my favorites were Rice and Raisins, and Fried Pies.

I'm not going to give a recipe for Rice and Raisins, because it's just like it sounds- basically boiled white rice with golden raisins, served like oatmeal with butter, sugar and milk. The trick with this is to plump the raisins in hot water before adding them to the rice. I have to say, I have tried this with brown rice, and it just isn't the same. I guess it's the layer of memories that makes this the only time I prefer white rice to brown!

Fried Pies, though, are another story. Filled with dried apricots, cooked and mashed, these things were so marvelous just thinking about them makes my mouth water even now. When Cleo died, we didn't find a recipe for them amongst her things, and she hadn't made them for years. My sister and I discussed how we could reproduce them, based on some pretty old memories.

Enter the Internet- I did a search on Fried Pies, and came up with several recipes. None seemed quite right to me- I was convinced that Cleo made a yeast raised dough for these. But none of the recipes were yeast raised, and most of them had an apricot filling, so I thought perhaps my memory was faulty.

I found this recipe on Texas Cooking Online, and made some changes.

Grandma's Fried Fruit Pies
Makes 12 fried pies

3 cups all purpose flour (I used 1 & 1/2 cup white, 1 & 1/2 cup white whole wheat)
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup Crisco or other good vegetable shortening (I used butter)
1 egg, lightly beaten (I used 2 eggs)
1/4 cup cold water (I used 1/2 cup cold water)
1 teaspoon white vinegar.

Mix the flour and salt together, cut in the shortening until the mixture looks like large crumbs. Mix the eggs and water together, sprinkle over the flour mixture, Sprinkle in the vinegar. Mix lightly, until ingredients are well combined. (At this point, I thought my dough was too dry, so I added the additional egg and water)

Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap , refrigerate for at least an hour.

3 cups dried fruit; apricots, peaches, apples (I used some commercial apricots, some apricots I dried myself, and some commercial dried raspberries)
1 & 1/2 cups water
6 Tablespoons sugar (I used 1/4 cup apricot flavored honey)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon (left this out)
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice (left this out)

On low heat, simmer the dried fruit in the water for 30-45 minutes, or until very tender. Add more water if necessary to prevent scorching. Allow to cool, mash fruit slightly, stir in sugar and spices. (I put the fruit, water, and honey in my large Pyrex measuring cup, set the microwave at 40% and cooked for 20 minutes, checking after 10 minutes to see if it was soft enough.)

Divide the pastry into 4 equal pieces, then cut each of these into 3 equal pieces. You should have 12 golf ball sized dough balls. (I was only able to get 8 dough balls, larger than a gold ball- I am not very good with dough.) On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball into a 5-6 inch circle.

Put 2 generous tablespoons of filling onto one side of the dough circle. Fold over and seal the edges. The picture shows 2 sealed pies, one pie with filling and one dough circle.

Deep fry 3-4 minutes, or pan fry in about 1/2 inch oil, turning as needed. Sprinkle the hot fried pies with confectioners sugar or cinnamon sugar. (I didn't do that)

The pies were OK. The dough was much as I remembered it, which surprised me since it had no leavening in it what so ever. The filling was tasty. Given my inexpertise with dough and frying, I think they turned out pretty good. I think my sister, who is a better pastry chef than I, would have done a better job with them. I had much too much filling left over, but I didn't measure the fruit very accurately. I can always find a use for cooked dried apricots! My husband ate them warmed over the next day, and felt there was too much whole wheat, but other than that they were good. Again, I think if I were better with pastry and had been able to get the dough thinner, he wouldn't have had a problem with the whole wheat. By the way, the picture of the finished pies, at the top, are shown on a small plate- they aren't as big as they look!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Party Foods ala Cleo

One of the family jokes around my house when I was growing up was that my Grandmother Cleo had no sense of humor. She couldn't tell a joke to save her life, and if you told her one, she picked it to pieces. But despite her lack of humor, she loved a party. And she loved the new, "fun" convenience foods of the '60's and '70s. It was at her house that I first tasted Pringles and Bugles.

When I was very young, Cleo had a job that required her to travel a lot. She sent packages of exotic food to us every so often. (What I remember most clearly were the tins of smoked oysters. I loved them so much that I literally made myself sick on them one time, and can no longer face them.) When one of those boxes arrived, we would have what we called "funny suppers"- an evening of snacking on whatever was in the box.

Later, when her job changed and she settled in the same town with us, Cleo used to babysit us quite a bit. On the weekends, we usually stayed overnight. There were a lot of us, all girls, and as she lived in a 1 bedroom apartment for some of the time, our stays had a slumber party ambiance. Cleo played to that ambiance- lot's of girly stuff. There were bottles of witch hazel to put on cotton pads to make your eyes less puffy, interestingly scented bath ingredients for luxurious bubble baths, and of course, party fare. If we requested some special food, she would go out and purchase it, but these three favorites showed up every time.

Turkey Pastrami roll-ups: (I still love this to this day!)

Take some deli-sliced turkey pastrami, spread cream cheese on one side of the slice, roll it up.

Apricot mocktails

Dilute Apricot nectar half and half with Seven-up or ginger ale. Drop in a maraschino cherry, or a little grenadine syrup. Serve over ice.

(Actually, I still use a version of this, on the rare occasions when I really want a sweet carbonated beverage, I will dilute fruit juice with seltzer water)

Bean Dip with Capers

Add some sour cream to a can of Frito-Lay bean dip, along with half a jar of drained capers. Eat with Fritos, preferably the big, wide ones..
(And we're three for three- I will eat this when I am deep in a comfort food seeking funk! It's just as good with a can of refried beans, some chili powder and a few more capers. But the Fritos are an integral part!)

By the way, Cleo was the only grandmother I knew who drove a 1968 red fastback Barracuda Fastback. It looked just like this one and I looked Way Cool tooling around town in that thing once I was old enough to drive! (Her previous car had looked like this, but I never got to drive it!)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

What's for dinner?

Tonight, the answer to that question is roast leg of lamb, baked sweet potato and sesame kale.

I remember eating lamb for the first time at my Grandmother Cleo's house. Most people I knew didn't eat lamb, and if they did, it was lamb chops, and they used mint jelly as a garnish. I have no objection to either lamb chops or mint jelly, but that's not how it was done at our house.

Cleo seasoned the leg of lamb with garlic cloves. Using a paring knife, she would poke small holes in the roast, and then slip a peeled garlic clove into the meat. When you sliced the meat, you often would get a sliver of garlic along with it.

On this picture I put little red arrows to show some of the garlic.

Cleo roasted her lamb in the oven, but we chose to smoke ours tonight. After larding with garlic cloves, and salting the roast, we put it in the smoker with some applewood.
We cooked the lamb for 3 hours, to an internal temperature of 145 degrees. It came out looking like this:

It was wonderful. The meat had that lovely red color around the edges you get when it is smoked well, and it was tender and delightful. We have enough leftover slices for sandwiches for 2 for 2 days, and chunks for 2 casserole and/or stir fry meals for 2 people/2 days.

We chose a white sweet potato instead of the usual orange. I thought the white ones were yams, and the orange ones were sweet potatoes, but I looked it up and found out the white sweet is a variety of the orange sweet. Cook's Thesaurus has the best page explaining the difference between sweet potatoes and yams.

The sesame kale was simply torn pieces of kale, with the stem removed, stir fried in about 2 Tablespoons of olive oil with 1 Tablespoon sesame oil added. I let the oil get hot, then threw the greens in. When they were sufficiently wilted, I added about 2 Tablespoons of roasted sesame seeds, and tossed everything together. All in all, a pretty tasty dinner, and fairly healthy. The lamb is not terribly fat, (and because I buy pastured lamb, it should be lower in fat) the oils in the kale are "good oils" and the sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index than white potatoes.

I think my Grandmother Cleo would have been pleased.