Saturday, February 27, 2010

Beef and Barley Soup

My paternal grandparents lived in Oklahoma while I was growing up.  Every other year, we had a vacation to visit them.  Mom drove during the day and Dad drove at night.  Straight through, we stopped to use the bathroom and eat.  Most of two days.  Happy times. 

Once we got there, in rural Northwestern Oklahoma, it wasn't much better.  I remember arriving one time and being so happy to be out of the car, that I ran out along the sidewalk, through the car port and into the lawn only to come running back crying because I had stepped into red ants in the grass.  Let's just say they sting.  They don't have red ants in Oregon.  I didn't know you can't run around bare foot, until then.

I was, well, a busy child.  To keep me from going crazy, mom and I would cook in Grandma's kitchen.  Everything from cookies to pot roast.  All day.  I never stopped being amazed by the depths of her freezer and pantry.  She had food put by that would have lasted for months.  She had raised small children during the Depression, right there.  And she learned to put the things she needed aside.  

One year a package arrived.  It contained a cookbook from Grandma in Oklahoma.  Here it is.  I'm 50 now and this happened when I was a teenager, so this cookbook as seen a few things.  It has tape all over it and splatters of who know what throughout.  My handwriting is on many pages. 

It is from this book that I started making Beef and Barley Soup, so heres to you, Grandma in Oklahoma.

Beef and Barley Soup
In a large soup kettle, 2 T. Canola oil, 2 lbs stew meat, 1 medium onion, finely chopped and 2 stalks celery finely chopped.  Cook on high stirring to brown the meat and wilt the vegetables.  It isn't necessary to cook the meat through at this point.

I don't think my meat guy doesn't cut stew meat small enough, so take the time to cut it smaller.   

When the meat is mostly brown and the vegetables have softened, add 8 cups of good broth.  Reduce heat.  Cover the pot and simmer for 2 hours.  Sorry, this is not a weeknight soup.

Now, my theory is that I taste with every step.  Not because I'm hungry or worried about seasoning.  Because I want to.  It's a wonder I ever eat at the table and that I'm not overweight.  So take a piece and put it on the tasting plate and allow it to cool then taste it.  
1 T. dill weed, 8 or so crimini mushrooms, quartered, (my favorite kind), 1 cup pearl barley, 8 carrots, pealed and chopped, into the pot. Stir, bring to a simmer and put the lid back on for another 45 minutes.  Do this type of cooking early in the day while you are doing other work like housecleaning or whatever.  When it is finished, set it aside for instant dinner that night.  I'll be freezing most of this for lunches.
And look at what happened later in the day instead of having to cook. 
And This.

And This.

Remember to get your work done early so you can play.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bleach your Boards :)

Don't cook because you need to eat.  Don't cook because someone said you should.  Don't cook because you have to.

Cook to be happy.  Cook to be a bigger person.  Cook to create.  Cook to provide support for those around you.  Cook to create a life time of happy family memories.

Cooking for someone is one of the most intimate things you can do for them and also one of the most mood altering things.

For me, creating order is pleasurable.  Being organized in the kitchen is sort of a meditative thing.  Be clean.  Feel good. 

Bleach your boards    
It's a good habit to soak your cutting boards in bleach water once every week or two.  I haul them up to my laundry room because I have a sink large enough to accommodate the lot.  Pour a sink of warm water.  Add a cup of bleach.  Add your cutting boards and soak for an hour.  Drain and rinse well.  Dry them and return them to use.  Keeps the white ones white and the wood ones light and bright. 

Remember to stay clean. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Potato and Ham Soup

I've discovered something very interesting.  I can use a 10 pound sack of potatoes.  I didn't know that.  I've always bought my produce a week at a time. 

But a while back, I bought a 10 pound sack of potatoes at the produce market and have been happily making potatoes ever since.

They've been living in my garage frig next to the beer.  Wonder what else I can do.
Anyway, I'm on a real soup kick, seeking comfort and pleasure and giving it when I can.  We were sick with the flu a while back.  For a couple days we ate canned soup.  My husband said, "Your soup is always better.  I wish we could have that, but of course you are sick."  And he looks over at me wistfully.  

My mother put soup in quart canning jars and froze them.  I remember being very happy to come home from school and find a frozen canning jar in the sink filled with chili or split pea soup or chicken and noodles or potato soup and knowing that and corn bread with be on the dinner table.  Those were happy nights.  Dad was happy.  We were happy.  Mom wasn't stressed out.  Dad would come along and give her a pat on the bottom when he thought we didn't see.  

As I mentioned I'm on a soup kick.  I've got two packages of ham from a previous ham dinner in my freezer and fresh chives from my greenhouse, so perfect!

Potato and Ham Soup
3 T. butter
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, finely diced
1 T. flour
2 cups milk
1 t. chicken bouilon granules. 
1 14.5 oz can chicken broth
1 c. 1/2 & 1/2
4 medium russets, baked, skins removed and mashed
2 cups diced ham, 
1 t. salt. 
Fresh chives, chopped

Bake the potatoes until they stick easily with a fork, as you would for a baked potato. Melt butter in a large soup pot and add vegetables, cooking until slightly cooked,  just a few minutes.  Add the flour and stir to make a paste.  Add the milk, bouilon, broth, 1/2 & 1/2.  Stir well. Keep warm but don't boil.  Remove the skins from the potatoes and mash them with a potato masher.  Add them to the soup.  Add the ham and salt.  Now carefully bring the soup to a slow simmer.  Stir regularly to make sure it doesn't stick on the bottom.  Continue cooking on low and stirring until the vegetables are cooked to a desired softness.  5 - 10 minutes.

And now a little bit about baking potatoes.  Baking in the oven produces a very different baked potato than the microwave.  I much prefer oven baked, but it takes more time.  I have oven cooked them the night before, then microwaved the cooked potatoes to heat them.  That works fine. 

If you plan to eat them as bake potatoes, rubbing the skins in shortening then rolling them in good sea salt is gives an awesome texture and feel.  For this, though, naked potato is fine.  Bake at 400 degress until they stick easily.  About an hour.  The skin starts to separate from the meat.  The meat takes on a browned appearance just inside the skin. 

Peel away that papery dry skin to reveal the purpose of all this and go for it.  Mash away.

Remember to smile.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Notes from the Greenhouse - Week of 2/21/2010

I have a little greenhouse which gives me pleasure.  This time of year I use it to seedstart and to plan projects for my garden later in the year.  I keep a journal of my greenhouse projects.  My intent is to share a summary of my notes from the greenhouse journal each week.  So here goes.  I live in Vancouver, WA

60 degrees on the patio and 85 degrees in the greenhouse.  12:30
  • Moved the spearment plant to the patio
  • 1st planting of dwarf dahlia seeds are up and looking pretty cute.  Planted more
  • Bibb lettuce starts spouted at a rate of 7 out of 8.  Planted 16 more
  • I'm a sucker for volunteers.  Spotted 3 volunteer tomato plants in the pot that had the patio tomato last summer.  Dug them up and moved them to the greenhouse last week.  They are five inches and looking good. 
  • No show on the beef steak seed starts I planted, but it is early.  
  • The chives plant in the greenhouse is all back and going to get clipped for the potato soup I'm planning.  The chives plant in the raised bed is MIA but should reappear.  
  • I have oregano.  Everything else is questionable or worse.  I miss Parsley, Basil, and Tarragon
  • Too hot to stay in the greenhouse comfortably, so I opened a window.  Need to remember to close it this evening
  • Weather report for next week:  Some nights low in the mid 30s but rising to the 40s later in the week.  During the day, 60s.  But of course going back to showers by Thursday, so back to a high in the 50s by end of week.
  • Buds are popping on the blueberries.  Yeah.

Life is good.  Remember that the details are important.    

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hamburger Vegetable Soup/Remember what is important

There has been a little drama recently in my husband's family, a disagreement, some boundary issues.  And not in a good way.  In a defend-my-husband sort of way.  In a I-deserve-to-speak-my-truth sort of way, but also a please-come-for-potroast-on-Sunday sort of way. 

Life is not easy, kids.  Not for anyone.  That's just it.  So you have to decide what is important.  You have to decide where you stand.  You have to make decisions about what life you are going to live.

So here is My Declaration.  Here is where I stand.  I'm going to make more soup.  It's as simple as that.  Soup is comfort.  Soup feels good.  Soup is a reminder that the simple things are the most important.  Soup feeds the souls around you, no matter what, but doesn't take sides.  If you don't want to eat my soup, fine.  But I recommend my soup.

And so, this recipe happened quickly one evening when I need to relieve some stress and feel good. 

Hamburger Vegetable Soup
1 pound of hamburger
1/2 a yellow onion, diced
2 stalks of celery, chopped
2 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes
1 8 oz can tomato sauce
1 32 oz box of beef broth
1 T. dry oregano
1 1/2 c. small pasta
2 large carrots, sliced
1 14.6 can green beans
1 t. salt.

In a large soup pot, brown hamburger with onion and celery until vegetables are soft.  Drain off any liquid from meat.  Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer, cover pot, and cook for 30 minutes.  I like a little sour cream and parmesan cheese on soup like this.  Left overs make good lunch or can be frozen for later.

And look at this cutey pasta.  I've been looking for a place to use it.  Don't know about you, but I'm feeling better already.

And a couple more things about that.  With an adult mind, I realize that my parents had a tough time when I was young.  I remember it, but I never felt it, because they didn't share it with me.  For me, growing up was safe and warm.  And when it was cold, there was always a place to go to get warm again.  Handle your problems carefully, privately.  Keep a safe place around you that the people you love can come to if they need to get warm.  But remember that it is okay to set boundaries in that space. 

Remember to feel good and not carry other's problems on your shoulders.  

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Stir Fried Chicken and Vegetables

I could eat Chinese food every day.  Well, what I like is probably not authentic Chinese.  I love beef and brocolli, sweet and sour chicken, orange sesame anything.  Just keep it coming.  I love the smell of it, the way the air feels, the sizzle, it makes me warm and happy.

Husband had a little upset stomach yesterday and didn't eat much lunch today.  So I wasn't really sure whether to cook.  But I started pulling out things and decided that if he didn't want any, we'd have good left overs.  And I'm glad I did.  At dinner time, he came down sniffing the air and said that he was glad I had cooked because he was hungry.  And I got my kiss on the neck, so all is good.

Stir Fried Chicken and Vegetables.

3 boneless chicken breasts, sliced into bite size pieces.
Merinade for chicken
1/4 t. minced fresh ginger
3 T. Soy sauce
1 T. white wine.

Combine merinade and chicken pieces in a shallow bowl or pie plate and set aside.  With a fork, turn the pieces of chicken over to coat every 10 mintutes.  Merinade for at least 30 minutes.  This is a good base to any chicken dish that has an
Asian feel.  Lots of flavor.  This advice about Asian food comes for the daughter of a couple of Oklahoma farmers, so take it for what it's worth.

Stir Fry Sauce
1/2 c. beef broth
1 1/2 t. hoisen sauce
1/4 t. sugar
1 t. corn starch. 
1 t. sweet chili sauce
This is my standard stir fry sauce.  Combine ingredients and set aside.
Any one who has a really good basic stir fry sauce, please e-mail it to me, but this is a pretty good one.

4 small carrots peeled and cut into match sticks
8 oz pkg snap peas
3/4 lb crimini mushrooms cleaned and quartered
7.25 oz pkg of good Asian style noodles.

Now in a large skillet, heat 1 T. canola oil. Add the chicken a piece at a time with tongs, then carefully add the marinade.  Cook on medium temp turning the chicken pieces to cook on all sides.  As the chicken gets mostly cooked, add the vegetables and continue cooking. 

When vegetables are mostly cooked, add the stir fry sauce and noodles.  My currently favorite noodles are soft and come in the refrigerated section of the store. 

If you are using a dry noodle you may need to cook them separately.  See the package.  If your noodles come with a seasoning packet, throw it away.  Don't cook with powder.  It isn't food.

My stir fry sauce will thicken only after it comes to a boil.  So bring everything back to a boil, stiring gently to combine.  When the sauce is thickened.  Serve.

Remember to create little comforts for those around you.  

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentines Day

I'm a lucky girl.  I have very good Valentine.  Husband and I have been through thick and thin over the years.  This last couple years of running a business has taught me that we are strong and capable and that we will be okay if we work together. 

I've been trying to be frugal with my grocery store purchases, to rethink how I'm doing things.  My grocery bills has decreased significantly with simple intent and small changes. But on Valentines day, I wanted a special meal.  As I've mentioned all of my favorite things involve shell fish and melted butter.  So here is my special meal.   

Two lobster tails on sale at Safeway for $6.88 a piece.  I haven't actually cooked lobster very often, but I can cook anything so I set off with full intention, read several thermador recipes, read everything Emeril had to say on the subject etc. etc.

But I ended up with a simple broiled lobster recipe

 But they weren't split. 

Here is husband trying to cut through the shell with a knife.

Until we discovered that they cut open with a kitchen scissors easier.  Husband is saying "Careful, Babe.  Ya want me to do it?"

Still took some work.   But I'm sure it will be worth it. 

We had a good time.

The finished product was pretty.  Husband says, "Who needs to go out?  This is more fun than the time we had dinner in the Space Needle."  Well, I wouldn't go quite that far!

Home Made rolls from earlier in the day.

Husband's favorite vegetable is broccoli.  Currently, our favorite way to prepare it is roasted.  Baked Potato from the 10 Pound Sack of Russets adventure.
A feast for 2.  Then, OPB and 60 minutes on the couch. I'm a lucky girl.  

Remember to eat with and cook with the one you love. 
And remember to be happy.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Cooking Techniques

Okay. Let's talk abou the cooking techniques that go into making Twice Baked Potatoes. 

Cleaning vegetables
First, the potatoes.  My mom always said that potataoes baked in the oven were just better than those from the microwave.  And, okay, Mom was just right about that.  The flavor is the same.  The texture is different.  To bake a potato in the oven.  Preheat to 425 degrees.  Scrub the holy heck out of them under running water.  I use what I call the mushroom brush on the left.  No because of the vegetable I'm cleaning but because of the shape of the thing.  I alternate with what I call "green scratchy pads"  I don't know the marketed name, but they are made by Scotch.  In the past, I've purchased vegetables that came in a plastic net bag.  Saving that and using it for scrubing works great, but I'm not buying that now.  This isn't rocket science.  Just decide what you are going to do and do it.  No pure or perfect answer.  Just thinking it out and being organized.  Live true to your values and do it. Don't let anyone stop you.

Bake cleaned potatoes in a 425 oven for 40 to 60 minutes.  To test for done, pinch between thumb and third finger to get plenty of give.  Or stick with a sharp knife until it easily goes in. 

To microwave, before cooking stick uncooked potatoes with a sharp knife to release pressure while cooking.  Skipping this step can create a potato explosion in your microwave.  Cook until done by the tests described above.  About 8 to 10 minutes for 4 potatoes.

Minced Garlic
Now Garlic.  I have very strong opinions about the stuff.  A love-hate relationship.  I love the stuff used a certain way.  It is great flavor.  I grow it in my ground, so I know what I am feeding people.  One of my good days in late June/ Early July is the day I get to dig garlic. If you're interested, here is more about that.

I like to mince garlic using the tool to the right.  Do what you want.  I watch food shows where they mince it with a knife.  I haven't have good success with that.  This tool gets the job done quickly and with minimum trouble or mess. Do what you want. 

When working with thing that need chopping, it is best to do that all before starting to cook.  It's more organized and lets you enjoy cooking.  

So keep a couple cutting boards for this purpose.  Wash in soapy water with your after-cooking dishes.  Once a week or twice a month, I soak them in bleach water in the big sink in my laundry room.  

There is an order to the world.  Practice order.                                                                     Remember to enjoy the Zen of Chopping.

Twice Baked Potatoes

I'm really in to local food these days.  Winter is the hardest time.  And yes, I need to go back to canning when farm direct food is available again.  But for now, I'm buying at locally owned produce markets.  There are two in my area.  I like two things about them.  First, they aren't a chain grocery store. In one case, the owner is there most of the time.  And two, they sell only produce.  Not sure why I like that but I do.  Free market system at it's best, I guess. 

It was on one of these trips that a 10 lb sack of russet potatoes jumped in my cart.  I can't actualy tell you what I was thinking.  Russets are not a long lasting potatoes.  They start to sprout fairly quickly. I want Yukon gold or purple skinned potatoes for roasting.  Russets are best for baking, which is the beginning of the Twice Baked Potato story.   

And what food story do I tell that doesn't start with my Mother?  So anyway, my mother made a wonderful and delicious twice baked potatoe.  Three kinds of cheese (Jack, Cheddar, and Cottage Cheese) plus sour cream and butter.  How could it have been bad?  When I was a young adult, I made a version which had bacon.  I can't find either of these recipes and I suppose it is for the best. 

I'm looking for vegetable dishes that Husband the Carnivore/Wolf will enjoy, so the Russets are going toward operation Twice Baked Potato.  My mission, to invent a veggie filled twice baked potato without the use of too much butter fat that Husband eats and enjoys.  When I am inventing recipes I keep a sort of diary where I record what I do.  It changes over time as I figure it out.  I have the record and can write a clear recipe that others coulf follow. 

Twice Baked Potatoes
4 small russets
2 T. olive oil
1 large head brocolli, chopped
1/2 red pepper, chopped
9 crimini or white mushrooms, chopped
1/4 c. white wine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t. salt
1/8 t. pepper
1/2 t. dry oregano
1 Roma tomato, chopped (optional)
1/4 c. sour cream (low fat is okay)
1/4 c. parmesan cheese, shredded

Start by baking the potatoes in a microwave or oven until they stick easily with a knife.  Set them aside to cool a bit.  To a skillet, add the oil then the brocolli and pepper.  Cook on medium heat, stirring for a few minutes.  Add the mushrooms, wine, garlic and seasonings.  Continue cooking as the vegetables soften and the liquid reduces.

Add the tomato now, also if desired.  By the way, garlic burns easily in a skillet and I don't like burned garlic, so I tend to add it late in the game.
Now cut the potatoes as you would a baked potato and with a spoon scoop the potato out of the center leaving enough so that the skin stays intact and you create a little boat.  I break the potato up with my spoon but don't mash it.  I like the chunks.  Add the sour cream and parmesan cheese and fill the boats with the mixture.  Put them on a baking sheet and put them in a 350 degree oven until they are very hot throughout - about 20 mintues.    
Leftovers make a good lunch. Remember to eat your vegetables. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mushroom Soup

I didn't start out with the idea that I wanted a blog of my own. Actually, I kind of thought that blogs and bloggers were a little too into themselves. One day it occured to me that being into myself a bit more might be a good thing, but now I'm ahead of my story.

No, I started out looking for blogs I wanted to read. I didn't have much success the first days I looked. There is a lot of things out there that this middle class working kid doesn't know about and doesn't need to see.

But little by little I started finding things I liked, people who seemed like a kindred spirit, people who simply had a story to tell. And I decided (1) that I had a story of my own and (2) that it was actually all right for me to tell it. If you look at the early posts, it has changed and evolved. I consider it self-expression. It's fun. I enjoy it.  I look forward to it.

But along the way, I've found interesting people saying interesting things. I stumbled across, who is apparently a rock star of food bloggers and a very interesting person. My own family comes from ranching (and farming) in Oklahoma. I see my cousins and aunts and uncles in the people she talks about.

So I find myself looking at a post of hers about mushroom soup that was so lovely and felt so good that I knew I had to do it. I rushed home yesterday after a quick trip to the store for mushrooms and cream and start cooking.

Husband comes down sniffing the air, but he does that most nights. Daughter in law comes through to borrow some eggs and hurry back to their house. They both get spoons and dipped into my soup and announced it "good."

And thanks to the other interesting people who keep me thinking in a world bigger than my own and keep me wanting to try new things.

And others.  Remember to try new things.  

Vension Meat Loaf

My husband knows not to bring me flowers.  They are too expensive and only last a few days.  I'm not really crazy for jewelry either.  He know exactly what type of chocolate to bring me, though; I know exactly what will appear on Valentines day.  He knows that my favorite food is anything that lived in a shell in the water with a side of melted butter.  I have such a good husband.

Last time my sister visited, she brought packages of rhubarb from her freezer.  The time before that, she brought me bread from her favorite bakery.  Yes, the people in my life know to bring me food when they want to give me a present.

So recently, a family friend came to visit with a package of ground vension.  Now, I have elk in the freezer, thanks to my step-son.  See previous blogs about my hunter men under the label "elk."  And actually this family friend is my step-son's hunting buddy and a relative of step-daughter.  He has worked in our business and will again.  

I've enjoyed playing with game this winter.  My ground vension was very lean and dark in color.  Here is the recipe I used.

And it didn't last long.  Thanks, Jeff.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Verde Chicken Enchiladas

The old fashioned version of a birthday party involved cooking at home with family.  There was a homemade birthday cake.  To a lot of people this seems too humble, not nice enough.  Especially, the young ones want to go out.  But birthday parties were happy memorable events in my childhood.  Adults got a party too.  My memories of birthday dinners for my father are more memorable to me than the ones for me.  I wish more people would go back to that.   

It was recently our lovely daughter in law's birthday.  She is truely a wonderful person and we value her greatly.  When they agreed to celebrate with us a couple days after her actual birthday, I asked her what she wanted to eat.  The recipe she asked for follows.  By the way, I often have a container of cooked chicken in my freezer.  Half a roast chicken from a previous meal, but I did not have that this time.  Here is how I quickly got them cooked.

I save those bags that crackers and cereal come in.  They are tough enough to take the meat mallet.  I love my meat mallet for tenderizing and preparing meat to cook.  In this case, chicken breast flattens into a very thin fillet, so that it will cook more quickly and evenly.  Pounding meat with a meat mallet is fun.  Try it next time you've had a bad day. (If cooking the chicken for a casserole is a problem for you, use a deli rotisseri chicken or the 10 oz cans of white-meat chicken you find next to the tuna which really isn't that bad in a pinch.)

Into my largest skillet with a little canola oil and a little salt and pepper.  They cook in just minutes.  I've got a garlic, rosemary chicken dish that's finished in wine that gets the meat prepared like this.    Once cooked, chop it.

Verde Chicken Enchiladas
3 boneless chicken, cooked and chopped
2/3 cup mild green taco sauce
1 cup sour cream
12 10 in flour tortillas
1 can refried beans
1 c. cooked white rice
1 cup Mexican style cheese
1 16 oz jar of your favorite salsa
1/4 c. mayonnaise.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl, combine the chicken, the green taco sauce and sour cream.  

A little oil back in the skillet and place the tortillas, one at a time in the skillet to heat.  Flip them over with a utensil to heat the other side.  Then to a plate.  Don't let them brown, just heat 

A little of the chicken mixture, a little of the beans and a little of the rice.  Then a little of the cheese.  Roll it burrito style or in a little package.

Place them in a large casserole dish or two medium size dishes.

Combine the salsa and the mayo and pour over the enchiladas.  Bake for 10 minutes or until bubbly and very hot.  Serve at once.

This is one of two casserole dishes.  There really isn't a lot of meat here.  And I didn't say it was low fat, but it is really good.

Now desert.  No time for a pie.  They are almost here.  Husband comes down and sets the table.  Thank you dear.

Apricot Crisp.  
My mother made this with whatever fruit she had on hand.  She had a real thing for canned peaches for some reason.  For a long time, I could barely look at canned peaches.  

For this dish, three cans of lite apricot halves into a baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray.  I added a 1/2 c. sugar. 

Cream together 1/2 c. quick oats, 1/2 c. packed brown sugar.  1/4 c. all purpose flour and 1/4 c. butter.  This recipe is very common.  Spread this mixture over the fruit.  Back for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. 

A scoop of this and some good vanilla ice cream and you have a party.  

And this silly girl was one of our guests and the daughter of the birthday girl. 

Remember to celebrate.