Friday, April 29, 2011

Green Chili Sauce and Pacific Cod

I'm a big believer in keeping projects.  There are lots of advantages to staying busy and no advantages to being a couch potato.  I've almost always got a few half finished projects.  Right now, I've determined to learn to make green chili sauce using those green tomatillos. 

So off I go to Gateway Produce yesterday afternoon to buy tomatillos and jalapenos.  I'm standing in front of the tomatillos examining and selecting.  I don't have a lot of experience with tomatillos.  Besides me is a lady, clearly Hispanic, putting jalapenos in a bag.  Literally, she must have had a dozen of those things!  I wondered what on earth was she going to do with them and why can't I go home with her to watch.  Most people would have talked to her, asked her what she was making.  I have trouble talking to strangers so I wondered and decided to double my efforts to learn some new things.

I'm cooking from The Complete Book of Year-Round Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howards.  A beautiful little book.

 Tomatillo Mexican Salsa:
1/2 lb tomatillos, husk removed, cleaned and quartered
2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 red bell pepper
1/4 large white onion
1 carrot
1/4 c. each:  apple juice and cider vinegar
1/4 t. pickling salt
1/2 t. each ground cumin and dried oregano
1 T. granulated sugar. 

Chop the vegetables coarsely in preparation for the food processor.  Into the food processor and puree the vegetables, then add remaining ingredients. Of course, I had to stop to taste.  Cleared my sinuses right out, but in a good way.  Uncooked, the vinegar was strong, but the jalapenos was right there talking to me.  Into a pot and bring to a gentle simmer.  Maintain for 30 minutes. 

Meanwhile prepare hot water canner with boiling water.  Previously, I ran several 1/2 pint canning jars through the dishwasher.  They sat on my counter most of a day.  They heated in the hot water canner while I made this sauce.  I heated and sterilized the lids in another pan, also.  This recipe made 2 1/2 pints plus most of another cup.  I filled the jars to within a 1/2 inch of head space, added the lids and bands and processed for 20 minutes.  If you need more detail about canning, start with a basic canning book.   

Meanwhile I started some Pacific Cod to cooking in a little olive oil and a good hard shake of salt and pepper.  Dinner was Pacific Cod with Green Chili Sauce.   For lunch, I used it as a spread on my sandwich bread then added tuna salad, lettuce from the greenhouse and a tomato slice.  Pretty tasty.  Remember to just get started. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Shepards Pie Casserole

I'm the queen of casseroles, a self-assigned title, but it fits.  Casseroles feel good.  They are a good way to pack a lot of food in an easy package.  They can be made ahead.  Baked by others. They usually make good left overs.  I like casseroles.  This is an original recipe that has evolved over time.

Start with potatoes, 6 or so little red potatoes.  I see people in the store picking up individual potatoes, examining them, then putting them into sacks.  I buy them at my local produce market by the 5 or 10 pound sack and keep them in the bottom of Husband's beer fridge.  Keep a root cellar and keep it full of this type of thing.  Peel and half or quarter the potatoes.  Bring a kettle full of water to a boil.  Add the potatoes and cook them until they stick easily with a knife. 

Meanwhile, a scallion peeled and diced and two or three garlic cloves, minced or finely diced.  Brown a pound of the best ground beef you can find with the onion and garlic.  I was simply clueless how much better ground beef can be than the kind you buy at the grocery store.  It's been night and day.  If you are not buying local beef from a butcher who can tell you where it came from and that it was grown all natural, you won't regret the time to find it. Drain any liquid from the meat if necessary now. 

Somewhere around 8 or so cleaned and quartered mushrooms.  A can of green bean beans, drained.  1T. Worcestershire sauce.  4 or 5 T. ketchup.  1/2 C. beef broth.  Stir and cook for a few minutes to combine the ingredients and to soften the mushrooms.  

When the potatoes are soft, drain them and return them to the pan.  Mash them with a potato masher.  Add butter and cream and salt as if making mashed potatoes.  Your decision how rich, but I recommend living a little.  

The meat mixture into a casserole.  The potatoes over top. 

Into a 350 degree preheated oven for like 20 minutes or so.  Until kind of bubbly. More if you've set this aside to cool.  Add some cheese to the top if you want.  

People like it.  Makes good leftovers.  It's just a good thing.  

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Homemade Yogurt My Way

I'm a daily consumer of Yogurt.  Have been for years.  I used to carry the little Yoplait containers with me everywhere.  Then, I switched to plain organic yogurt.  I've made my own for just over a year. Here is how I do it.  

4 c. milk in a heavy bottom pan.  I use 2 percent.  Your choice.  Start at medium heat stirring regularly, until the temperature reaches 200 degrees. 

You can see I use a candy thermometer.  Stir regularly.

You have to be patient, which is not one of my strongest areas.  I recommend thinking of cooking as a Zen thing, a form of meditation.  Do the same thing repeatedly, breath.  Be precise.  There is a little bit of perfection in that if you do it right.

Finally,  reduce the temperature enough to maintain the temperature at 200 degrees for 10 minutes.  I set a timer.    Continue stirring.  Are you breathing?  Breath and think peaceful thoughts with me.  And stir.  Are you stirring? 

In the meantime, prepare a large bowl filled with ice water.  I used to fill the sink with water and add ice. 

Breath and stir.

When you get to the end of your 10 minutes, put the pan in the bowl or sink of ice water.  Watch the thermometer as the temperature reduces to 125 degrees.  Somewhere just before that add 1/3 powdered milk. 

(This is optional.  Don't do it if you don't want to.  The great thing about cooking is that it's your time to do exactly what you want.  But I think it adds a little extra richness to the flavor.)

When you get down to somewhere just around 110 or just above, here's what you do.  Scoop out about a cup or so of the warm milk into a small bowl or large measuring cup.  Add your starter which is 1/4 cup of your last batch of yogurt.  It contains the helpful bacteria which makes the milk turn into yogurt. 

If you are just starting and don't have a previous batch, use an organic, all natural brand.  Mountain High is readily available.  If you are in the Pacific Northwest, Nancy's is a really good option which I recommend.  I'm sure other parts of the country and world have other equally good options.  Just use the best stuff you can find.

Mix the starter well and return to the pot.  Now you need an incubator.  You need to maintain 110 degrees for 4 hours.  My oven will do that.  Before I had this oven, I did it by placing the mixture in a casserole dish with a lid and putting my heating pad on top of the casserole dish, then wrapping the whole thing with bath towels.  It can be done in a crock pot, but you'll have to google that, because I've never done it that way.  At the end of 4 hours, refrigerate and use as yogurt throughout the week.  Start again when you run out. 

I have done this for more than a year.  The great thing about this is that if you need to start over with a new starter, just buy another carton of yogurt.  No worries.  

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Last Big Roast and My Favorite Herb Rub.

This is the last big roast from our local 1/2 beef we bought.  No worries.  I just recently set up a good replacement for our freezer full of local meat.  I'll be talking about this soon.

It's a big roast; 4 lbs or maybe more.  I think it is fun and interesting how different the locally butchered beef looks compared to meat you can buy at Safeway, Albertson's, etc.  But I can't go back.  Meat from the butcher is better.  

My favorite herb rub came from Taste of Home way back.  Probably 10 years ago.  It makes a nice crust and flavors the meat well.  We've enjoyed it over and over.  I've rubbed it on ribs and pork chops, let stand, and then sauced them for barbecue.  It has flavored many types of meat.

Herb rub for a 2 lb roast. 
2 t. salt
1/2 t. powdered garlic
1/2 t. celery salt
1/2 t. dried rosemary, crushed
1/4 t. each pepper, onion power and paprika
1/8 t. dill weed
1/8 t. rubbed sage

Combine seasoning.  Rub over roast.  Cover and refrigerate for at least hours.  Or not, but it improves it.  Place the roast on a rack in a roasting pan.  Bake uncovered until 160 degrees internal temp by a meat thermometer. 

I meant to roast it on the weekend when I had like a reasonable period of time to like do it, but I didn't.  Early in the week, I decided to come home at lunch time and start it.  I got a new Electrolux stove the summer of 2010 as part of the forced remodel.  It has a feature where you put the food in the oven and program the oven to come on when you want it to and go off when you want it to.  I haven't tried it yet.  It shouldn't be that hard.

So, I'm home cooking spaghetti and reheating pasta sauce for our lunch.  Can I do this?  I'm not computer illiterate, but this sucker has a lot of buttons. 

I want it to come on at 2 p.m.  It's 11:20 or so. 

I'm not clear when it will be done, but I set it come turn itself off at 5 p.m.  I'm pretty sure I'll be there ready to supervise the situation by around 4 or 4:30.  

Press start.  Wish me luck.  I grab my pasta and reheated sauce, some fruit, cookies and nuts.  Back to work I go.  

I return home to a nicely done roast.  The meat thermometer reads right.  The slice taken in to Husband gets approval.  Potato and green vegetable and we are ready to eat. 

Remember to do things differently sometimes and don't be afraid. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Spring Sing, Construction, and Little Trees

First, it kind of looks like Meema and Papa are invited to the Pleasant Valley Spring Sing.  Is that cute or what?

Next, look what's happening near us.  Someone is building a few houses.  I haven't seen that for nearly 2 years.  I don't personally think that the consumer economy will feel much more prosperous than right now for up to a year on the bright side, maybe longer. 

Small businesses need to catch up on deferred maintenance, deferred capital expenditures, paying debt and accumulating a little capital assets.  It's a good thing for everyone if small business can regain some stability.  Remember that the economy could get worse and still may. But, it feels good that someone is building houses.  Last week, my construction company submitted a bid to work on a pretzel shop in a mall.  My theory always goes like this:  If someone is willing to build a (fill in the blank) store, it means they are willing to take personal risk on the gamble that people want to buy (fill in the blank).  Here is to hoping there is a pretzel market out there.  

And finally, there is a really pretty little tree in front of our business property.  I tell it that it's cute and give it a pep talk every day.  Last, summer I was delighted to see that it had babies.  I mean little sprouts of it had grown up around it.  I dug up three and stuck them in my greenhouse for the winter.  Only one survived.  I care for it daily and promise that I have a beautiful home prepared for it once it gets just a bit larger. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Killing Ants Naturally

At our work, we have a severe ant infestation, the very small black kind.  Let's just say, there will be no photos.  And it's puzzling.  Although the building is an old house with additions done to it, no one has lived there in years.  There is no food preparation, no food storage.  We bring in our lunches but haul everything out each night.  We are fairly careful with garbage.  What are they eating?

Husband has been diligently waging war on them with chemical products with little or no affect.  Whereever they live, it is scary and has to go. 

Some years back, when I was just a young woman, I had a similar infestation in a house I was living in.  My older neighbor told me a recipe and procedure that he recommended.  I tried it and it worked perfectly.  I going to be trying it again. 

1 part old fashioned powdered borax, 1 part powdered sugar, 1 part yeast.  Although there are no photos, I'm going to be graphic here.  If you are a little sensitive, look away now.

My neighbor said that each of these three ingredients has an important job.  The sugar is the attractant.  They want to carry it back to the nest as food.  The borax is soap.  It keeps the mixture together and sticks to their bodies.  The yeast is what kills them.  When they ingest it, the live yeast activates and explodes the ants. 

Hope I haven't alarmed anyone, but this is serious.

I'm going to try this recipe again over the next few days.  I'll let you know what happens.  

Monday, April 18, 2011

Growing Greens

I was pretty serious about growing greens, swiss chard and others.  They are cool weather crops.  Last time I checked, I lived in cool weather.  My attempts at cooking Kale purchased from Diane's Produce last fall and winter were not successful.  Husband didn't like it.  I think his exact words were "ick."  And I've got to admit it was a little bitter.  Not Diane's fault of course.  Congratulations to Diane for staying open year round and trying to provide all of the local goodness that she can.

I had a long talk with Melissa Rodewold with Century Farm and; Nursery out of La Center, WA, one of my first visits to the Farmers Market.  She suggested a variety of greens grown as cool weather crops, beet tops, collards and some I hadn't heard of.  Wait a second and let me catch up, please.  Her favorite Kale is Red Chidon, says it grows easily and is sweeter and better tasting.  Worth a try.  A start purchased from her has been living in the greenhouse since I bought it.  Today is it's big day. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

My Current Take on Granola

I rarely have complaints with Alton Brown recipes.  Usually, they are simple, with readily available ingredients and just plain good.

Alton Brown's Granola is way too sweet and too salty for my taste.

Here's is my current recipe
3 cups regular old fashioned oat meal, not the quick cook type.

1 c. filberts, aka hazel nuts  (A local product) 

I like them coarsely chopped with a knife, rather than putting them in the food processor.  I like the texture of them.

And a 1/2 cup sun flower seeds, raw and unsalted.  This is from Sumner WA

A cup of shredded coconut (Alton's recipe calls for sweetened, the kind in the bag in the baking aisle.  But I've been getting the unsweetened from the bulk aisle.

1/4 c. of canola oil or your preferred kind and another 1/4 c. of maple syrup in the same cup up to raise the level of the cup to 1/2 c. total.  The advantage of the two in one cup is that it comes out easier and cleans up easier.

1/4 c. brown sugar and mix it well.  Add a cap full of vanilla (Vanilla is optional, but I like it in this.)

1/2 t. salt.  This is less that Alton uses.  I rarely cut back salt in recipes.  It's one of my guilty pleasures.  Love salt.  But it doesn't improve this for me and I may use less next time. 

Slowly start pouring the oil / maple syrup mixture into the dry ingredients.

Stopping to mix and break up any clumps. The first batch I made.  Well the first batch I made I burned.  The second batch was too clumpy.  Now I break up the clumps. 

Preheat the oven to 250 (only; no more) degrees.  Turn the granola onto a sheet pan and cook for 1 hr 15 minutes.  Take the time to turn it and stir it several times during baking.  Nice and dry and nutty.  Crunchy in a good way.   I don't like raisins cooked into the granola. 
I've been adding a c. golden raisin after it's finished.  Good with milk in the morning.  Step granddaughter likes it.  Had it this morning stirred into yogurt with blackberry jam.  Just saying. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Our Work and the Pink Hard Hat

My husband and I own a commercial construction company.  For some time, I've kept one of the company's dark blue hard hats in my office.  That way I have one to wear that isn't too gross when I need to visit a job.  From time to time, a hard hat would disappear from my office.  That's okay.  They are the ones banging sheet metal.  They need 'em.  I'm just a looky-lou.  I'd get another and be fine for a while, then the new one would go missing.  Then another and another.  I've been through a bunch of blue hard hats.

I noticed that in general contractor job shacks there is often a pink hard hat hanging on the wall.  One day, I asked what was up with the pink hard hat.  The general contractor told me, in a very manly way, that a pink hard hat is kept for any employee who comes to work on the job without his own.  As a penalty, they have to wear the pink one for the day.  Serves them right, 'cause they remember their hard hat from then on.  No real man wants to wear a pink hard hat, right?  Construction is a hard life.

So I told our delivery driver to get me one.  I told him to buy one and bring it directly to me.  Isn't she a purdy?  I told everyone I was getting her and would put hello kitty stickers all over her. 

I actually put one of my company's stickers on her.  Companies in the construction trades have stickers made with their business name and phone number on it.  They stick them on everything the touch, kind of like marking their territory.  Workers often collect stickers from different companies all over their hard hats.  

I stop traffic a little bit when I walk jobs.  I've 51 years old, a small woman.  You don't see that often where we work.  People stop and look at me.  Sometimes it's pretty interesting.  That's okay.  I have good self esteem.   

This sticker is from a crane company we sometimes use as a subcontractor.  I don't have the hello kitty stickers yet.  

If you've been here before, you might know we recently cleared out the house my dad built in 1964 and that I grew up in.  I found my dad's hard hat from his work days in a cabinet in the garage.  It immediately went into my car.  The blue sticker is for the company he worked for.  He was a Union Steelworker.  A Brother to our Trade.  The red strip below is from one of those old fashioned labelers.  It says his name.  John Bennett. 

Recently, I've been wearing Dad's hard hat when I visit jobs instead of the pink one.  Dad would have been happy.  Wish I could have shown him our jobs.   Of course, I added one of my company's stickers.

Now people see me and ask me where the pink one is.  I stop and tell them the story of my Dad and his hard hat.  And now I've told you.    

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Swiss Chard

Disclaimer:  I have no medical training. 

Top 10 reasons I'm trying to learn how to cook Swiss Chard:

1.  swiss chardIt tastes better than Kale.

2.  Husband says its "fine."  That's not what he says about Kale.

3.  It's cheap.

4.  1 cup of it supplies over 14% of the daily
 requirement for fiber.

5.  It's got vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, magnesium, manganese, potassium, iron, vitamin E, and dietary fiber. Swiss chard a good source of copper, calcium, vitamin B2, vitamin B6, protein, phosphorous, vitamin B1, zinc, folate, biotin, niacin and pantothenic acid.  And no, I don't know what all of those things are.  Do you?

6.  It's good for your immune system.  It's got like antioxidants and stuff.
    7.  It's pretty.  Don't you think?
    8.  It is fat and cholesterol free  and low calorie, unless you put bacon on it, which wouldn't be a half-bad idea, would it?
9.  I'm thinking I could grow it in the raised beds.  That could be a good thing.

10.  The second link below says you should not eat swiss chard if you are trying to gain weight.  Really?

How we are eating Swiss chard:

One of these pretty purple shallots.  Finely Chopped.
To the chopped onion, add 1/4 t. salt, 1/4 t. sugar, 1 T. Rice vinegar.  Stir to combine and set aside.

Not to confuse anyone, but this is half a bunch.  We'll use half the onion mixture tonight and the other 1/2 bunch and the other half bunch tomorrow night.

Now prepare the greens.  These things are grown in sand.  It's like cleaning leeks, so take the time to rinse them really good.

My mom didn't do this.  I don't really know how.  But I've been slicing it one way.  Then, I turn the board and slicing the other way. I think the stems are tasty and take off just the end. 

After cooking if part of the stem is still a little, well, you know, just pick the sucker out of there and down the garbage disposal. Who's going to know?


A good few squirts of olive oil into the pan and get it hot enough that there is a big sizzle when anything goes in - like medium hot.  Add the greens and a couple T of lemon juice.  Then medium heat.

Keep cooking as the greens and stems soften.  

And remember that you always have my permission to pick out anything that you don't want to eat before it goes to the table. 

A hand full of feta and the lid on while you finish up everything else.  And -  

Remember it's good for you.