Sunday, August 28, 2011

Hurricanes and Hurricane Soup

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

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

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

Is somebody trying to tell us something?!?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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






Saturday, August 27, 2011

PRODUCT REVIEW - Meatloaf Pan and Meatloaf Recipe

 As if there are not enough kitchen gadgets around already.....!  But then again, are there ever enough?

Some are horrible, wastes of time and money....making one wonder if the inventor ever beat an egg or boiled a kettle of water!
The Perfect Meatloaf Pan in use
Then again, there are those gizmos that make you wonder how you ever survived without them.

Such is the case with this meatloaf pan I ordered through a t.v. add recently.  Called the "Perfect Meatloaf" pan, it comes with instructions for use and care along with a handy little recipe guide. It looked simple, even logical.  A loaf pan with an insert that lifted the food away from accumulating grease.
 How many of us have had to suffer through greasy, soggy, falling apart, stuck to the pan meatloaf?

Putting the meat onto the insert
Well, not with this handy tool!  It really does perform as promised.
As you can see from the photos, the loaf sits on the insert within the pan, cooks the normal amount of time, and comes out solid, maintaining its shape. We like our meatloaf with a tomato or ketchup top (see below), but that's not necessary.  

Also, you can use it for other things....they suggest stuffed peppers....I'll try that some time
Some product use hints: Of course don't use it in the microwave-metal and microwaves don't mix! The manufacturer also recommends to not use it under the broiler.
Placing insert w/ meat in pan

As in all new kitchen gadget purchases, clean the pan and insert with warm, soapy water before the first use and dry it completely before putting on your non-sticking agent (release spray like Pam, margarine or oil).

For now, here's a Meatloaf Recipe.
Please note that you can use beef, ground chicken or turkey, or anything that has the same sort of consistency.   Some folk like to make a nut/tofu loaf....they can be pretty tasty.  I don't know how they'd work with this pan, but if anybody gets one and wants to try it out, let me know!

MEATLOAF BECAUSE....

2 lb ground meat (beef, chicken, etc.)     
salt/low salt
pepper to your liking         
garlic diced
1 egg                                                      
onion diced
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or                         
1/4 to 1/2  rolled oats                            
ketchup  or tomato sauce for top
release spray or oil for pan

Preheat oven to 350 Degrees   Prepare pan and pan insert by spraying all surfaces with release spray or greasing it all with margarine or olive oil

Pretty much combine all ingredients except for the release spray/grease  and ketchup in a large bowl.
Completed meatloaf before removing from pan
You may wish to add more seasonings, it's up to you.   Shape the whole thing into a loaf  and pop it into the pan.  I like to put the ketchup on top of the meatloaf so it cooks into kind of a crust, but it's optional.
 Bake in the oven 45 minutes to 1 hour.   Test by inserting a knife in the center.  There should be some resistance, it should feel firm and the knife should be fairly clean and hot-feeling when you withdraw it.
Enjoy!


Great side-dishes - steamed broccoli, cole slaw, macaroni and cheese....think comfort food!


And don't forget-Meatloaf means Meatloaf Sandwiches for lunch!  YUM! 

In short, I was pleased with the product's ease of use and the fact that it worked as promised.

PRODUCT RATING:
On a scale of one to five mixing bowls, one being YUCK!  five being YUM!
We'll see how it lasts the test of time, but as a new gadget, 
I give the Perfect Meatloaf Pan a rating of five, for performance, quality and truth in advertising.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Kitchen song/rhyme

I offer the following-with explanation afterward.  This is stream of consciousness and has to come out all at once.

Kitchen drawing by rcw
Sometimes in the kitchen 
is the only place to pray
inside the times when
life just gets to me that way,
it's where I go to sort things out
when only pots and pans can hear me shout.

Sometimes in the kitchen
is the only place to cry
inside a shadow
after midnight, wond'rin' why....
It's where each moment needs no tense,
it's where I can regain some common sense.

Sometimes in the kitchen 
is the only place to scream
into my towel
when someone shatters my dream,
it's where this late night gypsy still find hope
it's where I always go to help me cope.

Sometimes....

One of those nights....too many thoughts, not enough answers.Jack had been in the hospital the previous two days and....well...the feelings just had to go somewhere.
So I went to the kitchen...my sanctuary....and wrote this.

Recipe for the day?   Breathe in....breathe out....live.

Will write more after some rest

Sunday, August 21, 2011

MC Food With A Purpose

Friends have been finding this blog, and that's great!  My hope is everyone feels encouraged to not only explore their own culinary creativity, but that this becomes a vehicle for sharing....growing....and learning from one another.

To that end, I must include what some might feel is a controversial category....medical cannabis cooking.
I am and have been a medical cannabis patient for a number of years.....self declared originally in 1980, then finally made legal with the passage of California's Prop 215 in 1996.

You'll notice there's now an "Adult Content" announcement when the blog first comes up.  This is simply to assure folks I'm not out to destroy the youth of America by teaching them how to make Pot Brownies.  Call it a disclaimer if you will.  Call it a bit of ass coverage too....both are right.

I don't wish to corrupt any body's morals, there are people much more suited for that sort of work. If anyone wishes to take offense at the presence of Medical Cannabis cooking on this blog, so be it.
No apologies will be offered, because Medical Cannabis is something I truly believe in.  If this is disturbing, perhaps there are other blogs out there more suited to your sensitivities.

All that being said, the Medical Cannabis recipes will be noted appropriately, with MC at the beginning of the blog entry title and appropriate notations in the tags and labels.

Where to begin? Where to begin?
Why, at the beginning, of course!

MEDICAL CANNABIS COOKING
Preparations
   Freeze your leaf!
   Believe it or not, it actually helps in a couple of ways.  The most obvious is that freezing keeps things fresh.
The not-so-obvious thing is that I think it actually helps boost the potency....or at least keeps any from being lost through improper leaf storage.
   Most folk start with Cannabis Butter and just stay there....figuring that's the only way to extract the active ingredients and incorporate them into food.   It's tried and true, dependable, and easy. 

1) CANNA-BUTTER
Butter-1 to 2 pounds in a  heavy, deep pan with a good fitting lid.
Medical Cannabis - 1 ounce (leaf is okay for this....also lots less expensive than buds)
Put a low flame under the pan with butter in it, add the Medical Cannabis a bit at a time, stirring it as the butter melts.
Once everything is in the pan, keep stirring slowly for a while until the butter is completely melted.  Lower the flame and cover.  Let simmer on the stove, stirring occasionally, for 8 hours.
Be careful not to burn the butter!  Flame must be put to lowest possible setting to avoid this, and keep an eye on everything...remember to use all your senses including the sniffer!  Sometimes that can tell when something's gone awry before anything else kicks in!
As long as the butter has that familiar nutty, cannabis smell all is right with the world.  Anything past that, remove the whole thing from the heat and let it cool.
Anyway, once the butter is done, strain through several layers of cheese cloth, squeezing until it drips no more. Let the butter cool in a heavy glass jar...keep it in the fridge 'til ready to use.

This butter can be used in any recipes that call for butter or margarine.   Things to be careful about-the resultant flavor will be decidedly Medicated.  Some people like to add a bit of ginger and coriander when making cakes using the butter.

2) CANNA-FLOUR
 This preparation is a great additive with dry ingredients.....adding it with regular flour for example.
What is needed here is a coffee and/or spice grinder and leaf.  I'd recommend cleaning your leaf ahead of time to remove sticks, twigs and other such things.  Don't just throw the cast offs away!  They'll come in handy for making tea!  Put  the clean leaf in the grinder a bit at a time and let it rip!
You notice it has a flour-like consistency....but don't be fooled!

Pour the CannaFlour through a sifter or sieve and you'll see there are still some impurities, things nobody needs to be eating, so put them in a pan of boiling water for tea.  No use wasting a thing!

At this point, some people just add the CannaFlour to the dry ingredients.  Personally I think there's another step....the Activation.
For that you need a dry metal pan.  Do not, repeat Do NOT use one of those non-stick coated pans!  A metal spoon is necessary, too.  NOT wood or plastic or anything else.  An old tablespoon from the drawer will work fine.
Put the pan on a medium flame.
Take the cleaned CannaFlour and pour it into the heated pan.  Start stirring it around, moving the entire contents, watching for little whisps of smoke and color changes.  You'll notice both.  Remove the pan from the heat periodically, stirring constantly.  Place it back on the heat and keep stirring. When it's done (the color change will have become uniform) stop the heating.
IMMEDIATELY REMOVE CANNAFLOUR FROM THE PAN TO A COOL BOWL.  Toss it a few times.
NOW it is ready for inclusion in recipes as part of your dry ingredients.
NOTE:  CannaFlour prepared this way is very potent.   Get a feel for proper dosage by making something like pancakes with a blend of regular flour and CannaFlour.   A 3 to 1 ratio or thereabouts works (3 parts regular flour to 1 part CannaFlour) seems to work, but experiment!  Each person is different.

3) CANNA-TEA
Quick and simple, Cannabis Tea soothes the soul and warms the heart....alone it tastes a little nutty, sometimes a little botanical.   Depends on the strain used among other things.
Canna-Tea can be made from leaf steeped in boiling water or by infusing some CannaFlour in boiling water.
Either way it's great.  Some people like it with a bit of honey.

CannaTea can be made into a nifty substitute for milk in recipes-real simple!  If you can find some powdered milk, whole milk is best, just add the tea and powder together and whammo!
You've got yourself medicated cow juice! Perfect for bowls of cereal or that favorite recipe.

Now, these preparations are fine as stand-alone methods, but they can also be combined to produce very potent medicinal food.

I'll be using all three in my next Medical Cannabis recipe, coming soon.

More "regular" recipes coming too!

Feel free to share your recipes, thoughts and ideas!  And above all else, ENJOY!

PLEASE NOTE: If you wish to share, you can do so anonymously or using your name to receive full credit.
 

Saturday, August 20, 2011

KITCHEN THOUGHTS and Grilled Cheese

Is there a more wonderful place on earth than a warm, inviting kitchen?
Pots and pans hanging within reach, clean work surfaces and tools at the ready....a well appointed. properly outfitted kitchen is any cook's hope, desire and goal.
Randi's kitchen
Most of us aren't in possession of stainless steel walls, professional strength burners or that oh-so-useful salamander!  Drat the luck!

But in truth, the room doesn't have to be huge or full of the latest appliances.  Most of us have to work with what's available.  There are very few of us with the (be still my heart!) instant hot water spigot over the stove.  But we all have a place to prepare our meals....from a window sill and a hot plate to the Waldorf's main kitchen we all have that one location from which good things can come.

And that place should be seen as special, treated with respect and kept clean...ready for meal prep or snacking at a moment's notice. After all what comes out of there goes into not only our bodies, but the bodies of those we know and love.
What makes a great kitchen?  Part of it is the room itself, some of it is the tools available...no lie there. But the most essential ingredient-the one that makes or breaks everything else?  The cook.

It boils down to the cook and their commitment to produce the best possible food experience. The cook's passion.  Without it, the resulting meal can seem lifeless....even if technically perfect. 

So when you're setting up that special part of your world, treat it as special....sacred...ready for the task at hand and unavailable for bullshit.   Arguments don't do well in kitchens-too many sharp objects!  Clutter doesn't work well in a kitchen-garbage and good food don't mix!

What does work is a clean surface, some ready tools and the best ingredients you can get.  A bit of thankfulness to the Cosmos during preparation couldn't hurt, either!

As for a recipe today....how about something simple?!
Let's celebrate Saturday with some good old fashioned Grilled Cheese!

What makes this version stand out?
It's crunchy....inside and out!
This is accomplished by pre-toasting the inside  portion of the bread before adding cheese.

A hot skillet and release spray works, but so does a toaster, especially the kind with the bagel setting. Put both slices of bread into one toaster hole and press the bagel button and let it go on a mid-low setting.

When it comes out, the exposed parts of the bread will be toasted and the other will still be waiting for the pan!  Also, with the toaster method, you don't add any extra butter or grease.  Nifty way to cut a few fat corners, eh?   As for bread choice, that's a personal matter.  Sometimes I absolutely JONES a toasted sourdough....other times my tasters will have nothing if it can't have a multi-grain or even toasted oat.  Toasting is to bread what grated cheese is to spaghetti....another opportunity for the Yum Factor.

Types of cheese?  Again it's a personal decision.  Have fun!  Mix it up!  Try some Pepper Jack! Throw a couple tomato slices into the mix!  Maybe even experiment with left over pieces of French Toast-minus the syrup and confectioner's sugar-for an added dimension of taste.  Try cooking it with a little bacon grease or olive oil, garlic and herbs-just make sure your skillet is very hot, but not smoking before adding the food...that to insure crispiness.  Otherwise it'll get grease soaked and nasty.

I've had it made with thin-sliced, toasted eggplant....between softened tortillas....
I've even heard of someone trying it with waffles....although I've personally not had that experience to date.
REMEMBER-Slice your cheese thin...repeat THIN!  Better to layer thin sheets of cheese than wait for a big chunk to melt! Your bread will be hopelessly burnt by the time it does! 

No matter how you slice it, Grilled Cheese is simple, satisfying and adaptable for most people.
If you have any suggestions, ideas or anything feel free to share!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Japanese Eggplant in the Menu Plan

For anyone who may be concerned about my lack of vegetable mentions, please be assured I do include them in the daily fare.  We are fortunate to live near some of the greatest and most bargain-filled outdoor markets in San Francisco, so don't always have to pay supermarket prices for veggies and fruit. There's literally no excuse not to have something on hand when it's all laying out there, ready to be gotten.

Even when money is tight.....which as we all know, it. is.

But I have lived in places where the only thing we had to depend on was the local grocery...that's when juggling the food dollar really gets complicated.  My main idea there is to make a list of essentials and get them first, then it's all pricing and menu planning.

Speaking of menu planning, it's always good to change things up if you can.  Of course, there are those who like a schedule....Meatloaf Monday, Ratatouille Thursday....hey! What ever beats your egg!  But if you can, give the old palate a new sensation once in a while!  Surprise the family! Astound your friends and still come in within the budget.

Eggplant can be a wonderful way to do that.  Japanese eggplant is long like a zucchini but smooth and shaded a pale, beautiful purple....gradient shading on a lot of  them from pale, almost while, through lilac into purple at the tip.  This version has a subtle sweetness to it, very tender.  Cut it in thick, diagonal  rounds and add to a wok that's already had garlic, onion,coarse chopped celery, green peppers and what ever else strikes your fancy.

For me that would include some spicy small red chillies, bits of stir-fried tofu (firm packed survives best, but still make sure to drain it well before cooking!) and even a tablespoon or two of cooked black beans.   Of course I'd top it off with a last minute addition of mushrooms-these I like almost raw- and a lightly thickened sauce made with soy sauce, a bit of dried sherry and some orange or lemon juice - combination to measure about 1/2 cup to about 1 or 11/2 tablespoon (at most) of cornstarch. Put all this into a small sauce pan and whisk or stir.  It'll start to bubble.  Turn the heat down and continue to stir. When it's slightly thickened, pour over the wokking food and toss.

Feel free to add a few other spices if you wish, but taste-always taste before you do, then add them gradually.
The sauce should help thicken any residual liquids in the wok.
Top the whole thing with chopped green onion and some toasted sesame seeds if you like and serve over rice.

Rules on Rice:
It's a 2 to 1 ratio there.  2 parts water to 1 part rice every time.    Heat the pan with some butter, stir in uncooked rice and stir around 'til the butter is melted a the rice is coated then add the water and cover.  Bring to a boil, lower flame to simmer and allow it to simmer for 20 minutes then turn it off, remove from the heat and don't open it for five minutes.  When you do, fluff it with a fork and it's done.

That's only one recipe for one type of Eggplant....and there are so many more to explore!
Feel free to write and let me know what you think, share your recipes and your passion for cooking and living....because that's what it's really all about!


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fundamentals of Chicken Stew

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Breakfast Begins With.....

Money's tight. No argument there.  Much as we'd like to be eating everything healthy, low fat and non-meat, the budget doesn't allow for a great deal of "extravagances."  I've found myself more and more in the marked-down sections of the store, watching like a hawk for my chance at the pickin's.   Most times I come home with a treasure or two...mind you, they need to be used that night.

Sometimes though, I don't come away with much and we make due with what we can get.  Sound familiar?

I'd love to be vegetarian, but have you seen the prices?  Broccoli, carrots, onions....the standards are going through the roof; God forbid ya try for anything fancy like a mushroom.  Tofu's even gone up, and with Jack's current medication regimen we have to use soy products sparingly. But we manage.

Today for breakfast I wanted something homey, comfy, tasty and filling.  I didn't want to have a lot of hot cereal or pancakes, but wanted us to have something substantial enough to keep us from extra snaking during the day.

With a quick scan of pantry and fridge, I produced the following:
            4 eggs,  mild Italian sausage (bulked not in skin),  1 small red apple,   dried grits,   margarine,   milk,
           whole wheat flour,   garlic,    2 slices of bread,    apple juice,     water
I immediately thought of a country breakfast!  Yum!
       Over Easy Egg, Sausage and Apples,  Grits and Gravy (made with pan drippings, apple juice, a little whole wheat flour, garlic and milk) and even a bit of Toast.  Sounded great!

Some may be shouting "but that was ITALIAN sausage!"  To which I reply "Italians eat breakfast too, besides when cooked with a bit of butter or margarine, some apple juice and apple slices, the flavor tones down a bit.

NOTE: Do not repeat DO NOT add cloves and cinnamon to the sausage and apples!  This is not that kind of dish! You want the sausage's personality to still be known, with the apple flavor as a compliment rather than an actual main feature.  Let it hint about itself with each bite.

Eggs, Sausage, Grits and Gravy Breakfast
I use a cast iron skillet that's been well seasoned through the years....heat it over medium flame. To this I add a tablespoon of water, letting it hiss for a moment.  Add the sausage pieces, cover for two minutes.  Turn and cover again.  After two more minutes, remove cover and turn the pieces again. They should start to brown.  At this point you can add 1/4 cup apple juice and stir it around. Sausage and juice will start cooking.....let meat brown for about 3 minutes (go by your senses though, sometimes it takes less sometimes more), turn again.

Add apple slices at this point...they should be small, bite sized pieces.  Add a dash more juice if pan is dry, cook uncovered, turning often until everything is browned on all sides and sausage is done.
Apples should be softer, but not mushy. NOTE: If you peel the apples, they'll cook quicker. I usually don't peel mine.

Remove sausage and apples from pan.....let drain. (a mesh strainer is good for this) to remove any grease, also a good idea to pat it off with a paper towel.

While that rests, we can prepare the other components.

PAN GRAVY for SAUSAGE  and GRITS
Mix 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour with 1 cup of cold milk. Use a wire whisk to make sure it's mixed well.  Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of margarine to the pan and bring to heat.  Add the milk mixture and whisk in skillet, bringing it back to slow bubbling. Lower the heat so it doesn't burn.  The mixture will be thickening at this point.

Add more apple juice if needed and adjust flavorings. Remember, you are going for sausage flavor NOT apple pie!  Garlic would be good in this, and I can recommend adding it to the sausage while it's cooking, too. Right along with the apples!

Some people even add a bit of coffee to the gravy....a "Red Eye Gravy" so to speak.  If you do so, adjust your seasonings again after adding it!  Coffee can lend a bitter dimension that can either play well with the other flavors, or not.  Use a judicious hand!

GRITS
Grits (Hominy) are great as a cereal or as a substitute for mashed potatoes.   As part of breakfast, Jack likes 'em in a bowl with a little brown sugar, butter and milk.  I'm kinda partial to the old Grits N Gravy thingie.  A throw-back to my traveling days when I grew to appreciate fine Southern hospitality and cooking.

To satisfy both of us, I make the grits a bit on the firm side by bringing 2 cups of water to a boil, adding about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of grits a bit at a time and a little margarine or butter.  Then when it comes back to a boil I reduce the heat, cover the pan and let it cook for the package recommended time.   Then the IMPORTANT thing is to remove it from the heat, keep it covered for five minutes in a warm place then open and stir it around.  Very similar to rice preparation....and why not?  It's a cereal grain, too!

EGGS
The eggs are standard over-easy.....I cook the first side, flip then turn off the heat and let the pan cook the egg the rest of the way.  After a few moments of that, I remove the pan from the heat, wiggling it slightly to see if the yolks need more firming.  Most folks in this house like a medium-firm egg yolk, so the pan usually heats it well enough, but if not simply turn the heat back on the pan for a few more moments cooking time then they're done!

TOAST
Toasters make toast great.  Each person likes it their own way, so I'm not going to go into it right now...other than to maybe recommend trying pan-toasting the bread once in a while.   There's an extra flavor that comes with pan toasting!

Back to the action.
Assembly is easy.    Toast, buttered.  Egg(s) placed on top.  Sausage and apples on plate,  Grits next to them.  Some folks like gravy on the side, others....like me....want it on the grits and the sausage, too.

Jack's grits are served in a bowl on the side, eggs, toast and sausage on the plate.
Naturally I have some fresh fruit too, when we have it.

So that's one version of breakfast.  Workin' with what we got. 







Monday, August 8, 2011

Adaptability Is The Key...In Food, Life and Surfing

Did you ever have one of those days where nothing seems to be going right, THEN you have to make dinner on top of it all?  Talk about Mercury in Retrograde! I've learned the hard way, the very hard way, to read the signs of a bad day.

Sometimes Duck and Cover can be a very handy tool.

Unless of course cooking's creative process works as a relaxant....which it does for me most of the time. Then I can go all out and produce something wonderful.  But if it starts to go south, I've learned to adapt.

Take a couple of nights ago....it had been a long day; running errands, helping a friend, coming home and trying to do the many things needing to be done.  A lot of the day went okay, at least in the outside world.  Once home, when it was time to tend to my personal things, it all went to crap.

I just missed a very important call, one I'd waited all week to receive and would have to wait 'til the following Monday to get back in touch.   Phone tag, I'm It!  The washing machine decided to have one of it's spells....heck, at that age I'd feel the same way!

The cat box, one of those automatic LitterMaid gizmos, finally died....after seven years of that sort of work, wouldn't you? 

The microwave stopped working mid-cycle, which isn't so bad but I REALLY wanted that cup of reheated coffee!  The oven-a slow one to begin with-decided to not cooperate with my plans for simple baked chicken,  and God only knows what happened to the rice!

"Okay," I said to myself in the middle of the kitchen, "this sucks.  What to do?"  The food had to be saved,
all else would follow. 

The chicken was salvageable, thanks to a nice cast iron skillet and some quick chopping.  Suddenly we were having stir fry. A couple veggies thrown in for color, flavor, texture and nutrition helped round out the dish.

The rice was another matter. It needed some TLC-read Technically Ludicrous Creativity-but I managed to get it un-sticky and un-gloopy by stir frying it too, using some release spray rather than saturating it with butter or grease. Not sure what went wrong with it in the first place, probably too much water or not enough cooking time....or maybe it needed rinsing. Rice can be tricky.

At least the food disaster was averted!  As for the other things, the microwave still needs to be replaced (another seven year old appliance-bought around the same time as the cat box), but I don't depend on it as a primary cooking source so we can wait 'til we save up the money....which may be a while.

The cat box too will need replacing....but we do have one of those "regular" ones for our kitty for the time being. (He is NOT amused).  I guess we're all making adjustments.

Today's entry isn't a recipe, so much as a method....but I wanted to illustrate one of the main points in Cooking and Life - adaptability. It's the true key to survival.  Be it making a meal, planning your next big conquest or just catching a wave on your board....be ready for anything, 'cos it's bound to happen.



Sunday, August 7, 2011

Been A While....good things take time

If Blogs truly reflect a person's life, mine is either too busy to write daily or too scattered to keep up the discipline.  As writing "Fifty Five Is The New..." would indicate, I am capable of the discipline of almost daily writing....so what gives? 

I don't know. What I do know is that cooking is a daily occurrence, at least for me.
Many mornings begin with eggs in our household.
Over easy with a dab of melted cheese over top of the slightly liquid yolk.
Sometimes I do something extra.....like so:

OVER EASY EGGS ON A RAFT OF TOAST

For each egg you need a piece of bread.
Take the bread and with a cookie cutter, glass or lid from non-stick spray can, cut a hole in the center of the bread.  Toast bread slightly on both sides, including the cut-out pieces. They will be the "caps" on top of the eggs.

Eggs cooking inside bread
Spray hot pan with release spray (Pan or so on), add toasted bread slice.  Crack egg into center of toasted bread slice hole.  Egg should begin cooking.  When it seems firm (white looses transparency, yolk still soft)
take spatula and lift toast piece.  Egg should come up with it at this point.  Turn or "flip" so that bottom side is up.  Cook for a few moments more, depending on how firm you want your egg yolk.  Turn off heat. Remove pan from hot burner.  Flip egg again so that original side is back on top.  Place cheese slice on top of yolk. Cover with lid and let sit for 2 minutes, until cheese melts.
Serve alone or with sausage, fruit or other sides.

That's a pretty good starter for the day.

So 'til next time!
Life is a feast- DIG IN!





Thursday, August 4, 2011

KITCHEN TOOLS - Jiffy and other Baking Mixes

Pre-packaged baking mix - no sin within
Using a pre-packaged baking mix isn't a mortal sin.  It's not even a venial sin.  As a matter of fact, I hardly think using Jiffy or Bisquick or any of those other fine products rates knee time in a confessional.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I freely admit to having used them in a pinch. Although most of my preparations are "from scratch," I'll be damned if I'm going to kill myself after a hard day at the studio or whatever.
I keep a box of Jiffy in the pantry and am not afraid to use it!

HELPFUL HINTS: Use the same amount of baking mix in place of the flour, soda and baking powder plus half the amount for shortening or oil called for in recipes.

For example, if your recipe calls for 2 cups flour, 1 tsp. soda, 1/2 tsp. baking powder and 1/2 cup of shortening, substitute 2 and 1/4 cups of baking mix for those ingredients. The soda and baking powder are very small amounts that do not substantially add to the measured amount. Since the shortening or oil is already in the baking mix, it does not take up as much room in your measuring cup, so add enough additional baking mix to equal half the amount of oil or shortening.


The best place to use Jiffy Baking Mix as a substitute for flour is in recipes designed to make biscuits or dumplings, because the mix contains the right ingredients for these items. Don't sift or pack the baking mix in your measuring cup when using this substitute.

Muffins and quick breads have a higher fat ration than is given in the baking mixes, so you may not be pleased with the results of using it as a substitute for flour and other ingredients.  But generally the pros outweigh the cons.

For more information about Jiffry and subsitutions, go to this link:
http://www.livestrong.com/article/448384-can-jiffy-baking-mix-be-substituted-as-flour/#ixzz1Yih5BDOy
Recipe time!

CINNAMON ROLLS IN A PINCH

One of my favorite "in a pinch" things? Cinnamon rolls!  These beauties come in handy morning, noon and night...for company, for family....the sky's the limit. They're easy, quick and tasty....and form the base for so many possibilities!
Making cinnamon rolls

The basic recipe is simpler than simple.

2 cups Jiffy baking mix
2/3 cup milk
3 Tablespoons butter or margarine     
3 Tablespoons sugar/sugar substitute
1/2 to 2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4  teaspoon cloves

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.
Grease a cookie pan, set it aside.
Mix together the sugar and spices, set this aside.
Take the 2 cups of Jiffy baking mix and stir in 2/3cups of milk.   Once the batter is formed, turn it out onto a board or cookie sheet on which you've sprinkled some Jiffy mix.  Knead the dough 20 times by hand.  Then roll the dough to about 1/2 " thick.
Spread the dough with the margarine, then sprinkle the sugar/spices mixture evenly over the dough. Roll the dough like you would for a jelly roll.  Slice rounds 1/2" thick.  Place on cookie sheet, spaced about 2" apart.
Put in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until slightly golden brown.  Eat warm.

Of course, I like to mix things up a bit, so have a few additions.
1/4 teaspoon cardamon - add to the Jiffy mix so the dough has some flavoring
2 Tablespoons grated orange peel - add to the Jiffy mix so the dough has some flavoring.
2 - 3 Tablespoons grated orange peel - mixed in with the sugar/spices
1/2 to 2/3 cups chopped raisins that have been dusted with some of the Jiffy mix.

Spread the dough with the margarine, sprinkle with spices, orange peel, raisins.  Follow the directions above for rolling and baking.   Tasty and oh so Quick! Enjoy!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Components - not just for stereo anymore

Hooking up modern electronics isn't pretty.  Nope.  Right up there with sausage making, high school science class dissections and cleaning behind the dryer.  Nope.  Not pretty at all.  But it has to be done.

In our house I am fortunate....both of us are equally willing to go through the torture of re-routing wires, programming the t.v. and figuring out the remote control. But I know of some households where there is only one Techie for the entire domicile. You can tell which one from a mile away.  They are the ones who look frazzled a lot of the time from  doing battle with the alleged plug-and-play equipment.

You might wonder where I'm going with all this.  Well, that's easy.
We're going to talk about something I call a "component" salad.  That is, a salad with many parts and features.
I know....I can hear it now.  "Okay, so you wanna make a salad.  Don't all of them have 'many parts'?"
Component salad components

Well....yes....and no.

To me, a "component salad" contains three main elements.  The cool, crunchy leaves on the bottom, a warm, veggie and protein bit in the middle and a topper of tomatoes, other cool veggies, croutons and dressing.

 It's a great way to use up leftovers like chicken and mushrooms, which is what I did this time out.  I heated them, with a little extra garlic and some carrot shavings for good measure, while cutting up the other ingredients-Romain lettuce, green onion, tomatoes and so on.
Component salad assembled
Go crazy.  It's a salad fer cryin' out loud!   Chill these things in the fridge for a few minutes.  We want the contrast to stand out.

Assembly is easy too.  Start with the chilled lettuce, then the warm things then finally the toppers.  You can make what ever dressing you want, served in a cruet on the side or drizzled over the toppers.

This salad is one of those you either love or hate....there doesn't seem to be a middle ground.  Some people like the idea of contrast, others don't.   But you won't know until you try. So give it a shot and let me know what you think.