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Plated Sunday Dinner 10, 07,2018

When Dave says “I am going to make a fancy dinner tonight”, there is no doubt it will not only taste good but will look great too. He is having a lot of fun lately plating dinners.

Since the meat tonight was MahiMahi, my plate showed up with a palm tree and a beach, and the fish “beached”. Now, most restaurants would consider that out of bounds, reminding people that that delicious filet came from a dead fish, but for us, it was perfect and hilarious.

This was my Greenbean and Honeydew melon palm tree.  The melon was an amazing compliment to the Mahi Mahi.  That salad has a handmade fresh pomegranate dressing….

Parboiled potatoes with mushrooms and onions.. I could only eat about half of them, but they were delicious.

A better shot of the salad.

The sky view… Palm tree on the beach.. and beached fish..

Perfect Meal for a Sunday.

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On Soup

Someone asked me about a recipe for my currently simmering pot of soup, and the real answer is just too long for a Facebook reply.

Soup is a staple in our house, at least once a week, often more.  95% of the time, it is a “from scratch” pot, although we have not been above doctoring a can of soup- especially a tomato soup base.

Good  soup starts with good stock.  Stock takes some amount of time and patience, so I try to make the stock when materials and time are available and then freeze it.  Sometimes I have time to make the stock “soup ready” – pre-loaded with the first batch of veggies, and sometimes it is strictly meat broth cooked down.  Both of these can be useful.  If you have a really big batch of vegie broth stock, you can also freeze that for later quick cooking rounds of soup.  My vegie broth tends to be less frequent ( usually driven by guest diets) and thus cooked fresh to need.  I currently have chicken,( with and without meat bits), duck, beef ( maybe??) and 2 kinds of pork stock in the freezer.   This particular soup was made with a dark pork stock that is very meaty and made from hog neck. Because that particular stock was not soup ready, I thawed out 2 containers yesterday and did round 1 on the soup last night.

Soup is all abut blending flavors and getting the texture you want. I make some soups that are very thin and light— a veggie infused chicken broth for cold recovery, for example. Other stocks are thick and hearty- a stew, really.   Today’s soup is a hearty corn and potato cream soup and I want it to be pretty thick, so it needs body.  From the very start, I add veggies that will assist with this.  Given a lack of time and/or those veggies, I have also been known to thicken up soup on the quick with cornstarch- scratch soup is about what time and materials you have on hand. There is not a right or wrong way to do this.

Two summers ago we had a bumper crop of zucchini. We ate and gifted until people started to duck and hide when they saw us coming 😉  We froze a giant laundry basket full of pints of shredded zucchini.  One day, I stumbled across the idea of dumping a bag ( 2 cups worth) of the frozen shreds into the early stages of the soup cooking. It is awesome and any time I am going to do a long cook, I add in one.  It adds equivalent body as adding celery, and all the nutrients from the zucchini as well.  It cooks down to basically nothing but thickness in the soup– no little green strands or bits.

My preferred soup pot ( the one that feeds us for a few days) is a medium sized pot.  I think it holds a gallon and a half, but it might be two gallons.  When I clean up from this batch of soup, I will measure.  It is OFTEN true that soups grow into needing the larger, taller aluminum stock pot, but for cream soups I limit myself hard.  This is an indulgent soup, I do not need 4 gallons of it around!

So last night, into the stock pot went the following:

2 containers of the pork stock, mostly thawed

1 bag of frozen zucchini shreds

1 bag of frozen corn ( vintage 2015 – it is older, but still great in soups)

1 whole onion, quartered

the remains of my celery ,chopped up ( it was about 4 stalks, but if I had more, I would have added it… again, I want this to be a nice thick soup)

top the pot off with water to be pretty much full.

 

Boil.

 

This is also a point when I might have added carrots or other root vegetables, if that was a flavor I wanted in the soup.  Since the meat is already very strong and hearty and I wanted to be able to taste the potato in particular when it was added, I left out any  other root vegetables.

The goal here is to cook down this round of vegetables until they are not visible, or are at least just a very translucent soft mass.  This is flavor layering, not soup texture creation.  The exception last night was the corn. This round of corn was to add flavor and thickness ( think corn starch), but I knew it would not go translucent. That is fine. LID OFF for most of the time, once it got going.  I wanted to reduce the contents of the pot down to half. Any time it got to half or below, but the veggies were not done, I just added some more water.

This is a time intensive, but almost no work step of the making. When I have the time, I like to do some stocks to this point and then freeze, which makes it easier to do the last step of the soup on days when I have less time all at once.

I got the soup to the point I wanted before bed last night, and  put it on pause for a few hours of sleep.

This morning I brought it back up to a full boil to get it started, then turned it back own to low.  A little extra water added in and potatoes where chopped and added, along with a half a bag of corn (this time for texture).  I added in some thyme, some white pepper and a little salt.  I add salt gradually to taste over time, it is easy to add more, it is a pain to try to suck it back out if you added too much.  Taste your soup frequently…. just like any cooking adventure.

This was simmer time.  I want to slow cook the potatoes until tender, but not boil so hard they become mash. It was at this point that I had made the original post and this picture.

2017-02-25-12-02-13

 

Honestly, if you were not wanting a cream soup, you could stop here and have a very nice soup.  But it is cold and snowy and my brain was set on a nice cream soup. I did this last simmer with the lid off, so the fluid volume would reduce down just enough to have room in the pot to add dairy.

Once the potatoes are tender, the pot is turned down to very very low and I added cream and some shredded cheese.  I let it have about 15 minutes of simmer and tasted. It was still not the creamy I wanted, so I added a bit more dairy.  It is now on super low simmer, heating the soup back up ( after adding cold dairy) and read for whenever we want to grab a bowl.

What dairy and how much? This depends on your diet needs ( how much you are watching calorie add) as well as thickness state.  Straight milk will water out a very thick soup. Heavy cream will thicken it just a little as it simmers.  You an use this or anything in between, depending on what you have at hand.  How much dairy depends on the broth. A light chicken stock need much less dairy than a heavy dark stock to give the same result.  Taste and add until you are happy…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Year Brunch

It is a quiet New Year Morning around here, the kids are all scattered and we are puttering about and recovering from a late night. Seemed like the perfect time to use some of the Christmas gift we got from my niece … Farm fresh eggs from her chickens !

Mix in a bunch of fresh spinach, small bits of bacon from the farm and some crumbled dried hot peppers from our garden… Perfect Brunch Frittata. I topped it with a bit of Salsa and now I am contemplating a nap….

Nap or paperwork? hmmmm

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Food Prices Rise, thus my garden grows

Pea Plants Sprouting- Aptil 15, 2011

Gardening is good for the soul. It is meditative, relaxes and helps restore us to balance.

It also feeds my family.  In the summer, we have a minimum of 6 mouths to feed (I am always glad to have friends and family over at meal time, so our table size often grows beyond immediate family).

Ours are no longer little tots who barely count as a mouth. The youngest is 11, the eldest is 19 and almost all of them now out-eat me on a regular basis.

Putting fresh vegetables and fruits on the table in the needed quantities could quickly become daunting- and not just in the summer. We often have the majority of the family here on weekends, holidays and other school breaks during the rest of the year. We always have at least a few of us here.  And now, food prices are on the rise.  It really doesn’t matter if it is energy, weather and unrest; rising fuel prices, or just people playing the futures and gambling some people’s starvation against their profits- it is hitting all of us. Food prices in February had the highest jump in 36 years, and there is no end in sight. It is not just processed foods or finished, packaged goods that are rising- even staples are going up in cost. The continued rises are expected to push more and more people into poverty and into starvation or malnutrition. I was even interviewed by the Christian Science Montior about rising food costs earlier this winter.

What bothers me the most about all of these articles is that they document the rise of costs and the increases in problems, but I do not see any recommendations to people on how to cope. All they do is raise fear and hopelessness.  It is time that we in the US return to our roots, so to speak, and tackle this the old fashioned way- start planting and growing some of your own food.  Give me an excuse why you can not, and I can counter it.  Plants are expensive? Seeds are cheap. And for many plants- like these sprouting tomatoes, the packet holds many more seeds than any one family needs- share with friends and family. A packet of tomato seeds holds on average 30 seeds. If you want 5 plants just to supplement in the summer and fall months, that is 6 families worth of tomato plants for about $2.  When you go to the grocery and tomatoes are 3-5$/lb, the savings seems obvious.  Don’t have time to start seedlings? You buy the seeds and let someone else start them    in exchange for some of the plants.  Have the time and money? Sprout extra plants and give away the extras to someone who has neither.

Container Grown Lettuce Sprouting

Space is always cited as an issues- but there are a myriad of vegetables and herbs you can grown in containers, on balconies and rooftops. And many cities and towns have community gardens that you probably already have access to. Now is the time to claim your spot. This early lettuce will never leave the container, it will provide a first crop of lettuce before the ground is warm enough to sustain.

There are a million reasons to grow food- even if you pick just one thing to grow. Besides taking the pressure off of food demands, you know where the food  has been and what it was exposed to. You will taste flavors and textures you can never get in a grocery store. Given the opportunity to pull dinner from the ground and help prepare it, you will be surprised the foods your kids will eat.  At a minimum, if you are not physically able to grow your own food, stop by your local Farmer’s Market this weekend- almost all of them are now open – a simple google search will turn up local opportunities you might not have known existed.

Early Sprouts of Spinach

It is time to combat the fear of food prices with a few simple tools- some seeds, some dirt, some water and some sun.

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Eating outside of the box

Todays CNN.com article on the choices being faced by the unemployed to eat or to pay other bills got me thinking that maybe it was time to tackle the problem with a little outside the box thinking. There is no doubt that the food stamp program does unimaginable good for the recipients. The editors of the NYT Times recently pointed out that not only does the food stamp program feed people, but it also does direct good to assist with stimulating the economy as well. While there are a lot of people starting to emphasize with those struggling to make ends meet, including a CNN reporter trying to live on the SNAP ( food stamps) budget for a month, I have not seen many people trying to address the problem raised by one woman in the CNN article:
“Sears stretches her food budget by buying cheap and sometimes fatty meals. She said she doesn’t like doing that but can’t avoid it. With food prices high, she said, grocery shopping is stressful.

“We get like the mac and cheese, which is dehydrated cheese — basically food that’s no good for you health wise,” she said. “Everything is high in sodium and trans fats … and that’s all we basically can afford. There’s not enough assistance to eat healthy and maintain a healthy weight.”

Advocates for the hungry say many people on the food stamp program opt to buy less-healthy foods because they can’t afford fresh fruits and vegetables on such a tight budget.”

What if we look at other method for getting food into people’s hands and on their tables instead of just looking to spend more money at the grocery stores ? We are lucky to live in a nation with a long growing season and lots of good soil. Even in the depths of cities, there are many gardens and green areas. Because of this, the American Community Garden Association lists 120 community vegetable gardens in New York City alone. What if we added funding and support for gardening to the fod stamps program? Let the program help pay for staff that can assit, mentor, and administrate the gardens (people need jobs, right?) and people who volunteer in the gardens get a portion of the harvests. They get fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs for a few hours of work each week. The peak growing season is summer- when students are out of school. This would also provide and activity that even younger kids can participate in and they will learn useful life skills as well.

Don’t live in an area with a community garden? Allow food stamps to pay for seeds, basic gardening tools and items that individuals in rural and/or suburban areas could use to plant provate gardens. Allow regional areas to purchase and loan out garden tillers that folks who want to plant in their yard can use. If we are worried about enough people being able to use a tiller, or the tillers getting abused or stolen, then again- hire people who can travel the rounds of food stamp recipients’ houses to till a garden.

Want to make the impact really lasting? Build a social media site and some print pamphlets with gardening tips, cooking tips, recipes and information on canning and preserving food. It would need to have some non-online resources as not everyone can afford to be online, or has the time to cruise the net at the library every week.

Want to really surprise people? Make it easy for home gardeners to band together to sell excess food in small farmer’s markets, or to trade zucchini that they grew for carrots that someone else had success with.

This is not an unprecedented idea. During World War I and II, the Victory garden program called for people to grow food at home or close by to assist with the conservation of oil being used by the war efforts. Today, the Liberty Garden program also calls on individuals to grow food in backyard gardens to help conserve energy and to make eating more eco friendly.

By implementing a “garden growing” portion into the SNAP program, we will not only alow people to eat in a more healthy way, we will also add jobs and be more eco friendly. Seems like a certain win on all facets.

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Fat Tuesday without the fat

I have been playing with pancake recipes lately.. and have come up with a tasty, hearty, nearly fat free recipe that can be modified in truly unique ways with outside the box thinking. Taking a breakfast treat and turning it into a meal with more protein and less fat.

Basic recipe:

1 1/4 Cups flour
1 cup egg beaters
1/2-2/3 cup skim milk (to consistency you like)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar ( your choice…can be optional)

Mix until batter is smooth. If you make a dozen medium sized pancakes with this , each pancake is aproximately 67 calories, with about 2 calories from fat.

Ways to make them more interesting:

Classic Blueberry: Add a sprinkle of frozen whole blueberries to the uncooked batter and allow them to thaw and soften just slightly as it cooks. For some extra kick, add a sprinkle of cinnamon as well.

Mushroom madness: Sprinkle chopped portabello mushrooms into the batter as it cooks. Drizzle balsamic vinegar over the cooked pancakes and enjoy. For extra kick, sprinkle with cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes. I have not tried garlic yet, but it is next up on the list to try.

Chili-yow: Sprinkle freshly crushed flakes of your favorite hot pepper into the batter as it cooks. For a double indulgence, add in flakes of dark dark chocolate as well.

Try them out and let me know what your favorite non-traditional add-ins are…

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Whoa! That’ll clear up sinuses

Tomorrow Sam starts back to school at a new school, so while we were folder and notebook shopping, I bought a bag of little bags of potato chips for lunches as a treat. They are awful, they are environmentally evil, I know all of this. I never buy them, but I was just in the mood to take the sting off this whole thing for her a little bit. And they have little bags of Fritos in them. I was craving a Frito so badly I could taste it, and it has easily been over a year since I have had one.
Eating the Fritos not only would have broken the diet in an evil way, they probably would have had me doubled over in pain, because of the fat content. I was resisting, but it was making me nuts. So I decided to chaw on a piece of a sourdough pretzel to ease the craving a bit. And we have this really yummy looking stone ground horseradish mustard in the fridge that Ogre bought for NYE… it seemed a logical thing to squirt and dip the pretzel, just to kill the deep flavor craving.
Oiy. This is good mustard, but this is NOT a dipping mustard. I never had a bite of pretzel that cleared my sinuses and made my eyes water before…
It did, however, successfully kill the craving for Fritos…now I am pondering the 20 minute power nap.