Thursday, March 18, 2010

Debi: Cornbread and Butter Beans

This is our favorite song at home these days:

Cornbread and butter beans, and you across the table
Eating beans and making love as long as I am able
Hoeing corn and cotton too, and when the day is over
Ride a mule, then cut the fool and love again all over

It's a great song, old as dirt probably, and a perfect encapsulation of how we want to live. Of course, we aren't farmers -- far from it; we are city mice! -- but the idea that you can sum life up as a series of meals eaten together and sessions of love surrounding some honest work, well, that's just perfect.

Because we've been singing this obsessively since the new Carolina Chocolate Drops CD came out, I decided to try MAKING the very meal in the song. I am not all that good at cornbread, but using Stori's recipe, it came out pretty good! The butterbeans were a different story. David doesn't love beans like the kids and I do, so they had to be part of something bigger. We tried a butterbean stew, with carrots and leeks and mushrooms and peanut butter and soy sauce. It wasn't half-bad!

However, the cornbread was only a minor hit. Everyone had some, but there was a good half-pan left over. As a result, we had to find something to do with it before it dried out and became squirrel food in our alley garbage can. I did some google searching, and discovered this wonderful recipe for fried cornbread with blueberries. Wow. MAKE THIS NOW, PEOPLE.

So, THANK YOU, Stori, for getting that cornbread made over here. It was even better the next morning.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stori: Great minds....

It never ceases to amaze me how two women that live so far apart from each other and have never met in person can be connected by so many invisible hair thin threads.

Tonight we are having leftovers for supper. This happens about once a week, just to clean out the fridge, use up what foods we didn't finish at any particular supper, and it gives me a night off from cooking. Tonight we are having ham and pinto beans, spaghetti, and last night's moose stew. Along with ham n' beans and stew, I always serve cornbread. To not make cornbread would be the same as not frosting a chocolate cake. Sure it would still be good, but not as good as it should be. Since we already finished off the first round of cornbread, I have another batch in the oven baking right now.

After setting it to bake, I sit down at the computer to get my facebook fix only to find a post from Debi. She made my cornbread recipe for supper, along with some butter beans. She even baked it in a cast iron skillet. I'll need to remember to blog about my love affair with cast iron and maybe show a pic or 12 of my cast iron collection.

Not only does the fact that are we both feeding our families cornbread tonight connect us, but a secret ingredient in my moose stew does also. A couple years ago, Debi was sharing with me her recipe for "The Soup" (see previous blog entry) when she mentioned Garam Marsala. "Wait a minute," I stopped her. "What in the hell is Garam Marsala?" She goes to explain that it's a combination of spices based in Indian food that they use a lot in curries. Since I have never eaten a curry, I still had no idea what she was talking about. Along comes the holidays and in my very special Debi package I find it! This beautiful rust colored powder. It almost smells chili peppery, but also kinda cinnamon-y. In her explanation about the spice, she mentioned it's used a lot in soups. Ok, I can deal with that. The very next time I made moose stew, I took the plunge and added it in. The mixture of cubed moose, onions, garlic, carrots, potatoes, corn, and green beans blended so perfectly with the spice, it can never be left out again. Whenever I have the chance to share the stew with friends, they always comment on that one delicious thing they just can't figure out. I tell them it's Debi. She is there with me in my kitchen every single time from the start of the stew, to the serving. I can almost hear her laugh. Although I know she would never eat my stew (moose meat and vegans aren't very good friends) she's with me none the less.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Stori : out of my comfort zone

I am not proud to say that I'm one of the pickiest eaters on the planet. I always have been, probably always will be. My mom likes to joke (but in a serious way) about how growing up the only food I ever actually ate was cheese and sugar. As I've grown older, I've increased my food list quite a bit, but probably not as big as it should be.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from me is my husband, Marc. That man will eat anything! The only food I've found he won't eat and enjoy is Swiss chard. He adventurous food spirit makes him a blast to cook for. Any experimental recipe I can throw at him will receive completely honest feedback. Good or bad.

A couple weeks ago someone in our family mentioned Reuben sandwiches. Marc mentioned how much he loves them. Now I am one of those finicky people that just KNOWS that I won't like something, so I will not ever try it. My mom is the same way. Yogurt has never touched that woman's lips because she just can't stand the thought of it. Corned beef and sauerkraut fall into that category. A couple days after the Reuben conversation, we seen a show on Food Network about corned beef. All the pieces seemed to fall in place yesterday when I went to the grocery store and found a cooler of corned beef brisket. I love to surprise Marc with new food he loves so I figured why not?

That leaves me standing in my kitchen looking at 2 jars of German sauerkraut, a package of Swiss cheese, a loaf of dark rye bread, and a corned beef brisket. There is not a single ingredient that I find appealing. Now what the heck do I do with it? I have a hard time cooking foods that I don't enjoy eating, but I'm willing to try anything.

The corned beef I could figure out on my own. Slow cooking seems to be the key to tender meat. I rinse the excess salt off the roast, wrap it in a tin foil pocket, add some liquid and pickling seasoning. Slow cook at 300* for about 3 hours. Approx. 1 hour per pound.

I now face the sauerkraut challenge. My mom worked in a German cafe when I was a little girl. The lady she worked for always cut the tartness of her kraut with applesauce. That just sounded too vague for me. So I turn to my resident German, Sylvia. My friend Sylvia moved to the US about 20 years ago from a small farming community in Germany. She has her own version of sauerkraut that she claims is fantastic. If any form of pickled/salted cabbage could be fantastic. Per her instructions, I drain and rinse (with water) the kraut in a colander. Using my hands, I squeeze out most of the remaining moisture from the kraut. Transfer to a big pot and cover, till floating, with water. Add 2-3 bay leaves, a couple whole cloves, and a couple tsp beef base. Bring to a boil then turn down heat and simmer for about an hour. Making sure to remove the cloves and bay leaves before serving.

The rest of the Reuben is pretty self explanatory. Butter the outside of the rye bread slices (like a grill cheese), place butter down on a hot griddle, layer with the Swiss cheese, kraut, and finished and sliced corned beef. Top with the other piece of buttered rye and toast.

It was a success! Both my dad and Marc kill a couple of these sandwiches. I forced myself, my mom, and my kids to try all the different ingredients. My mom actually likes kraut, so that part was easy for her. I tried without too much discomfort the corned beef. Salty, and almost jerky like. The kraut, however, about did my daughter and I in. I'm sure as far as sauerkraut goes, it was wonderful. To me, it was REPULSIVE!! Although I was very proud of myself for trying several new foods in one night, I can safely mark on my "never to eat again" list, Sauerkraut.

Debi: Making Things Last

This is a shot of my backyard picnic table during the summer, after a harvest of my herb garden. This was just the limit of what I could comfortably dry at one time -- possibly less than a third of what was available at the moment. On that table is spearmint, oregano, basil, anise hyssop, and an unnamed mint we've not been able to identify (though it sure is nice in tea). All except the basil were here when we moved in, and much of the oregano and mint has taken over large parts of the garden -- even the cracks in the cement patio. If you look in the middle of the right side of this photo, you'll see a patch of green growing along the fence. That's more spearmint. Sammi, my youngest, loves to chew it, and will regularly run over there while playing, just to get another bright leaf to pop in her mouth.

I didn't always know about herbs. When I was a little girl, the only herb I ever saw growing -- and is it really an herb, or is it an allium? -- was chives. My mother grew them in a little patch next to our back door, and they were also wonderful to snag and nibble on as we ran past. They made their way into salads and scrambled eggs and stir-fry dinners. Though my mom grew lots of vegetables in her garden, and our yard was home to an apple and a pear tree, the only ever fresh herb I had seen was dill, which she didn't grow. She bought it in super-pricey little plastic containers whenever it was time to make matzo-ball soup.

I just thought herbs had to be utilized dry, shaken from tiny little containers you bought in the cooking aisle at the grocery store.

Of course, I grew out of that knowledge when we started receiving a box from Angelic Organics several years ago. Herbs start arriving early, big bunches of green fronds and leaves and spiky things, and, thank heavens, instructions on how to use them. The first time I put fresh basil in my food, I could not believe I'd used dried for this long, thinking that it was good. Fresh mint was outrageously good, and made the most fragrant, refreshing iced tea I'd ever had. I'd never really used thyme before, hadn't known what it was good for, but sauteed with mushrooms, it was like magic.

However, you can't use huge bunches of fresh herbs all at once, usually, not before they lose their punch and their beautiful appearance. I had to learn to preserve them, and I'm still learning. The easiest thing to do is to dry them, and so, in summer, my kitchen becomes a witch's laboratory, bunches of things hanging from thumbtacks under every cabinet. I now have a beautiful collection of organic dried herbs: thyme, summer savory, basil, sage, parsley, oregano, dill, mint, anise hyssop, mint. Maybe it's just the work I put into them, but I feel like they taste better than those little vials from the grocery store. I know they make me smile when I shake them into our dinner.

With dried herbs, my favorite thing to do is include them in sauces. I use this basic roux recipe to mix into vegetables in a savory pie. Here's how we did it last night, mixed with cauliflower, carrots, mushrooms, and leeks:

Basic Herbed Roux
2 tbsp margarine
4 tbsp flour
2 cups unsweetened soy milk
2 tsp dried tarragon
1/2 tsp dried summer savory
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp mustard powder
salt to taste

Melt the margarine in a saucepan and slowly add the flour, stirring all the time. Let the mixture get dark and toasted-smelling, then slowly whisk in the milk. Add the herbs and stir while bringing to a boil. Boil 5-7 minutes, stirring/whisking regularly to keep from burning on the bottom. Turn off the heat when it is at the perfect consistency.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Debi: The Soup

You may think "The Soup" is a television show that wraps up the week's amusing entertainment news, but around here, it's an actual food. It's THE actual food, THE Soup, not just any soup, but THE soup, the soup to end all soups. It started as a recipe called "Chris' Aloo Chana Soup" in the cookbook called The Garden of Vegan, but at this point, I think I've tinkered with it enough to post my version without infringing on the intellectual property rights of the authors. (By the way: buy that cookbook. TONS of good stuff in it.)

Let me back up a little. I've always really loved soup, and when my youngest was just starting solid foods, several medical issues made swallowing difficult for her. Soup was a perfect food at that time: soft and liquidy, and it was easy to add extra nutrients and fat to her bowl without forcing the rest of us to eat heavy cream or, the granddaddy of all "supplements," virgin coconut oil (which, at room temperature, is the consistency of vaseline). In some other blog post, I'll write about the soup that got her from age 1 to 2 without her wasting away. But that's not The Soup.

I made The Soup for the first time about two years ago. It had looked daunting to me before then, since it has so many different herbs and spices in it. I thought surely it would be muddy-tasting, and if it didn't taste right, I wouldn't know what to add to make it better. One day, though, I had a hankering for Indian food but didn't want all the fire of curry. I decided to tackle this just once, promising that if it didn't turn out, we could always add it to some black beans or some rice to dilute the flavors.

Bite your tongue, naive Debi!!!

It was love at first sight. All those rich eastern colors pouring into the pot, resting on the sauteed vegetables before being swirled into the broth! The smells of someplace far away mixing with the familiar of onion and my own homemade stock! The luscious sharpness of the tomatoes adding the perfect amount of acid! This is truly the soup of the heavens.

You may have to shop for some of the ingredients. I have to send Garam Masala to Stori in Alaska every year, for example, but if you live near a major city, you should be able to find it reasonably cheaply. Here's my version of the original recipe from the cookbook. Take your time, and savor every moment.

Aloo Chana Soup
Original source: The Garden of Vegan (cookbook) with tinkering by Debi

1 small onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp dried ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock, ideally homemade to avoid the sodium
2 medium potatoes, cubed
1 large carrot, chopped
1 can chick peas
14 oz canned tomatoes, diced
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp dried mint
1 cup steamed broccoli

In a large soup pot, saute the onion, and celery in oil until the onions are translucent. Add the ginger and garlic and saute for another minute. Add the stock, potatoes, carrot, chickpeas, tomatoes, and stir in the turmeric, cumin, cardamom, garam masala, salt, and cayenne. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Simmer for 20-30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the mint and broccoli. Let stand covered for at least 5 minutes (or, in my case, all afternoon). Warm and serve. Mmm!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Stori- my Grandma

Ever since reading Debi's post the other day on her grandmother's recipe, I have been thinking of my own Grandma.

My dad's mother is from back east, Massachusetts. She's a prim and proper woman, very cold emotionally. A fantastic cook and baker. While married to my grandfather, she was the camp cook for him many hunting clients. My grandpa was a hunting guide and outfitter in western Colorado. Running the camp with precision, she struck me as a woman who would allow little room for mistakes. After her marriage ended, Grandma went to work as a cake decorator. She created amazing works of art with cake and frosting. Her kitchen immaculate, her pantry well stocked, and always fresh cookies available.

This is not the grandma I have been thinking of.
If there was ever two opposites in Grandma land, those were mine.

My Mom's mother was the daughter of Scott immigrants. Her family moved often from one ranch to another in Colorado. Although I don't know much about her life before she became a mother and a wife, she's the grandmother I was closest to growing up. My grandparents had 15 kids together. 16 total counting a daughter my Grandpa had with his first wife who died in cow camp when their girl was only 2 years old. My mother was 12th out of the 15 kids. They grew up in a tiny green house in Meeker Colorado. Grandma was a cook by trade and necessity her entire life. Grandma's little house was always filled with people to the brim and where there was any extra room, you could find a house cat on some one's lap. Although cramped, cluttered, and crowded, there was always room for one more. Grandma's door was never locked and anybody was welcome. Immediately after coming in, Grandma would inevitably try to feed you. One of my favorite things to find when going to her house was Apple Pudding Cake. Heavy, sweet, filled with spices, apples, and raisins. The smell of this baking will immediately take me back to her tiny tilted kitchen, sitting on the stool between the basement stairs and the bathroom, watching Grandma. Whether puttering around the kitchen, sitting at the table playing solitaire, or stitching something on her sewing machine, she was mine. She wasn't perfect, she wasn't meticulous, she wasn't always filled with the right things to say, but she was mine. Her love of babies, the always present bobby pins in her hair, a constant pot of coffee on all times, and always a fluffy house cat to be snuggled with. I can go back any time in my mind with the first sniff of this dish.

Apple Pudding Cake
( i have no idea why this is called pudding cake, there is no pudding in it anywhere!)

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup shortening
5 medium apples - peeled, cored, and sliced
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch of salt
good sized handful of both raisins and chopped walnuts

In a large bowl, cream together sugar and shortening. Add egg and mix well. Add in apples. In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Stir into apple mixture. Pour into slightly greased 9x13 cake pan, top with crumble. Bake at 350* for about an hour or till toothpick inserted in middle comes out clean.

Crumble topping

3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup cold butter or margarine
1 cup regular oatmeal
1/2 cup flour

Mix together all ingredients gently with fingers. Do not mix completely, you want this as a lumpy crumble topping.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Stori - food challenge throwdown!

I went on a marvelous date today.

Monday is my nephew, Orin's, birthday. I needed to go to town to pick up a gift for him, my dad didn't want to go, my husband felt like staying at home. I left the 2 little kids with him and Paige and I went to town for a girl trip. Since it was just us two, I offered for us to go out to breakfast. Paige never turns down an opportunity to go out to eat.

There is a place in Fairbanks that is known for great breakfast called The Cookie Jar. I had only been there once before with Marc several years ago. I was not impressed either time. This place was recently featured on The Food Network show "Drivers, Drive-Ins, and Dives". The host went on and on about The Cookie Jar's famous cinnamon rolls. Shortly after being seated, the waitress even mentioned how wonderful they were and a what a perfect start to a Sunday morning. Paige didn't need any more encouragement than that.

I have changed my bread baking habits lately which in turn has produced several treats for my family. In the past, I always made my bread in 6 loaf batches. Leaving 1 or 2 thawed out and freezing the rest. It only takes us about 8 to 9 days to eat all 6 loaves, but the cold even permeates my outside freezer to the point where it will dry out the frozen bread pretty badly during the winter. To fix this, I have decided to cut down on my batch size and only make enough for 3 smaller loaves. I have been turning the batch into 2 loaves of bread and the remaining 1/3 gets put to good use as cinnamon rolls. These do not last long in this house.

After a horribly long wait, which included a full 40 minutes before even the 1st cup of coffee showed up, our breakfast arrived. I ordered biscuits and gravy, and Paige ordered a slice of french toast and a $4 cinnamon roll. Out came this monstrosity of a pastry, served on a big plate along with a steak knife. Paige knew there was no chance of her finishing off the entire thing, but was willing to give it her best shot. She cuts into this huge thing and takes a bite.......looks up at me....looks back down at her roll....back up at me....takes another bite...puts down her fork. I'm waiting to what my restaurant loving daughter's verdict would be. "This isn't very good Mom." she says. "Yours is way better!"

HA! Take that Guy Fieti!

Having to try the test myself, I try a bite. Paige was right. It wasn't very good. Was this what all the hoopla about? The bread was tough and chewy. The frosting more bland than sweet. A disappointing lack of cinnamon. What a let down. Paige took the remaining roll home to let her dad try. He only took one bite and stopped. He agreed. Mine is way better.

Now this is the point where I should dutifully jot down my recipe for home made cinnamon rolls. Nuh-uh, not gonna do it. The perfect cinnamon roll is so embarrassingly simple, I would be ashamed to put it down. Besides that, if I told how easy it was, I would lose my tricky baking reputation.

Instead, I'm including a different recipe. This is what I fixed tonight for supper. After our disappointing breakfast, we braved a trip to Walmart for a birthday gift. While there I seen they had a some half decent fresh asparagus and some nice little cremini mushrooms. These two ingredients sparked an idea for my potato chowder to be added to the menu. Although I claim the use of portebello mushrooms in this soup, creminins are nothing more than baby portebellos. Easier to prep and a lot cheaper than their grown up counter parts, they are one of my favorite shrooms to cook with.

Potato Chowder with asparagus and portebello mushrooms
(measurements are approximate since I don't measure anything)

6 good sized potatoes- peeled, washed, and cubed
1/2 onion- chopped
3 stalks celery- ribbed and chopped
3 cloves garlic- peeled and minced
1 bunch fresh asparagus- cut into 1 inch lengths
1 container cremini mushrooms- sliced
1/2 lb. bacon -cut into pieces and cooked crisp (optional! especially for Debi)
approx. 4 to 6 cups milk
1 tsp sage
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp basil
about 1/2 cup flour

In a large pot, barely cover cubed potatoes with salted water and put on to boil. Put in the already crisped bacon into the potato pot. In a skillet, saute in margarine (or butter) the onions and celery till transparent. Right before they are done, add the garlic and sautee only till you can smell it. Add into potato pot. Next sautee the asparagus and mushrooms in butter till asparagus is bright green and mushrooms are still a bit firm. Add to potato pot. Add the seasonings and stir. Keep potatoes on a slow slimmer for about 20 to 30 minutes. You will want the potatoes to stay firm. Pour in about half the milk, stirring constantly. Bring back to simmer. In separate bowl, whisk together the flour and remaining milk. Pour milk/flour mixture into potatoes very slowly stirring the entire time. Bring back to simmer. If soup is too thick, thin it down with a little more milk. If too thin, do another blend of flour and milk. Taste and season with more salt desired.
Serve with toasted garlic bread or croutons.