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Friday, March 30, 2018

May Celebrations

      Hello again, everyone. I know I have been away for a while again, and I have a great reason. While I have been cooking things up in my absence, I have not been cooking food. No, no, no, I have put much time into my second passion of natural soap making. I have created several "signature" scent and additive concoctions that seem to being flying off the proverbial shelves. I say proverbial because I do not actually have a store, as of yet, nor a working website, but I am working on both those options as I write this. Even though times flies by in the speed of light times 10 around here, I don't ever seem to have enough to address everything I want to. Someday, maybe?
     This evening I took some much deserved time-off to try to catch up on things and I got a look at the food celebrations for May. At first I was surprised that May is National Barbecue Month, then I realized that Memorial Day, the "unofficial start of summer" rounds out the month, so why not? And the observed Memorial Day Monday is also National Barbecue day and National Hamburger and Cheeseburger day. Someone was thinking on this one. 
     While I love hamburgers and cheeseburgers as well as anyone I think we should address some of the other foods often served at the traditional Memorial Day "cookout". Learning that cooking foods on a grill, whether gas or wood or charcoal, is not what real "barbecue" means, I have been trying (with much difficulty) to refer to backyard  cooking as grilling, and reserving the term "barbecue" for the real thing.  Whether I will ever address barbecuing in the pages of my blog has not been decided yet, I think I have a lot more research to do before I would even attempt to try to sound like I know what I am talking about. Maybe I just have so much respect for real  cooks, chefs and others that spend many years perfecting their methods of barbecue, and I don't want to insult them by pretending I belong in their class. For not, at least, with a few more years of practice and experimenting here, well, don't be surprised one day if I throw my 2 cents in on the topic as well.
    One day. Maybe.
     So what traditional sides are served on National Barbecue Day?  I think that really depends on where you are, regionally at least.  Speaking strictly for this blogger I admit we are B.O.R.I.N.G. We do the traditional Macaroni Salad, Potato salad, Cole slaw. We do occasionally, however, kick it up a bit: Cucumber and onion salad, carrot and raisin salad, Caprese salad with home made Mozzarella, homegrown Tomatoes and Basil-which is awesome when you have produced everything--if we only owned the cow and milked her ourselves, then, it would be a 99% self sustained dish, but as for raising dairy cow...I pass thank you.
   The men around here also like Italian Pasta Salad, which is a "take" on antipasto, however, they seem to miss the point that the "salad" is supposed to be a salad made with the things you would find on an antipasto platter, mixed in with some kind of pasta and mixed with an olive oil and vinegar dressing, The antipasto salads I have seen, and even made by mixing the ingredients requested by my menfolk, are so far from what a real antipasto is that I cannot even bring myself to eat it. I did learn, recently, however, one of the problems I have with this type of "salad" is that I do not like it cold. I can eat is right after its made and still warm, or room temperature, but once it chills, I do not like it. I don't know if its the oil and vinegar on the cold pasta, but I just don't see what everyone gets all warm and fuzzy over.
    Macaroni salad and potato salad, on the otherhand OMG-- I just love them! The most astonishing thing about those two salads is that I use the same dressing recipe for both, oh and for cole slaw and carrot salad, now that I think about it. One dressing all salads. How convenient is that? Ready? Here goes:
Start with 1-1/2 cups mayo
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup white or cider vinegar. 

Mix the sugar and vinegar to start melting the sugar, add the mayo, and stir until smooth. Now here's a first: if you are making macaroni salad, and ONLY macaroni SALAD, rinse the macaroni in cool- cold water. Yes you read that correctly. You need to rinse the pasta and cool it before mixing the dressing into it, otherwise all that dressing will be sucked up and vanish into the pasta. Yes it still tastes great, but it dries out the salad so much I found I was forever making additional dressing and adding it later. Tried rinsing the pasta in cold water an Voila! problem solved. The pasta still absorbs some of the dressing,  but it does not suck it all up, leaving it dry. Who knew? Probably someone out there. And now we know, too.
     Macaroni salad, in my opinion also requires about 1/4 cup dices red and/or green bell pepper. the raw pepper imparts its mild flavor into the dressing and gives the salad just enough "umph" to make it what my childhood dreams are made of.

   I am just publishing posts that have been sitting in limbo --forever-- I had lost my password and moved and well life took over. 
    Now that I've been able to get back into my blog I plan on seeing how I can get restarted. 
    BUT..... I am about to embark on a long distance move. Like over 1200 miles! And beach and sand and hot humid muggy weather...sounds divine to me! I'm going to Florida!

March Madness...again

     March is upon us once again, seems I always get back here for March.

      Instead of complaining or giving you 1,000 reasons why I have been MIA, how about we just pick up where we left off and just get on with this?

      In a previous post, I am sure, I began telling you about the food celebrations for the month, and because there are so many I probably skipped a few. Maybe I can fix that.

     March is National Celery Month and while I am not a huge fan of straight up celery it is indispensable when it comes to cooking especially when it is combined with onions, and bell peppers in the "holy trinity" of Louisiana Creole and Cajun cuisine. Celery, onions, and carrots make up the French mirepoix, often used as a base for sauces and soups. I certainly use celery in cooking, however, I dice it up very small, because I do not like to bite into a piece of celery. The flavor it brings to the party, however, prevents me from altogether omitting it from my cooking.

     March is also National Flour Month; I have a very strong attachment to flour; unbleached flour is my personal favorite, and I admit I am a big fan of King Arthur Flour. Until I find a way to grow, harvest and mill my own wheat I am stuck buying commercial flour and that's the way it has be.

     Flour, like celery,is not a stand alone ingredient, but there would be far less food products in the world without flour. No cakes or cookies or pasta or bread. Heaven forbid.  Seriously.

     The next food celebration for March is Frozen Foods, so important are frozen foods that not only is March the month they are celebrated, but frozen foods also has a special day, March 6th. With the current trend to go all natural and fresh its a wonder why this is being doubly celebrated, unless, of course you consider Ice cream, sorbet and gelato. Those are frozen foods to be celebrated!

   March also is the National Nutrition Month which highlights First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to raise a healthier generation of kids, and No Kid Hungry which the entertainment industry has embraced.  Raising children to eat properly and teaching as many people as possible how to eat properly is a cause near and dear to my heart. Coming from an immigrant family learning how to stretch the food dollar with nutritious and delicious foods is a combination of skills which need to be handed down to each generation. Our forefathers immigrated here for a better life for their children, feeding them was one of the top priorities on their list. 

  Moving along, March is also National Noodle Month, which goes hand-in-hand with National Flour Month. Noodles offer so many options it boggles my mind. Noodles can mean almost anything, and now with the invention of the Spriralizer® you can make "noodles" or noodle-like foods out of just about anything!

 Moving along, March is National Peanut Month, National Sauce Month and National Caffeine Awareness Month, the latter being one that many of us will sigh and roll our eyes, "they're going to tell us all the evils of caffeine". Yeah, I will have to investigate that one before I weigh in on it. I had to mention it, however, otherwise I would be remiss.

     March also has a few week-long celebrations: the second week honors Chocolate Chip Cookies and National School Breakfast Week, the third week is American Chocolate week.
     One special celebration is Maple Syrup Saturday observed on the third Saturday of March; and who could forget the most famous Irish celebration of them all? March 17, St. Patrick's Day- also known as Corned Beef and Cabbage Day?

      Sadly, very sadly, our Irish ancestors did not really enjoy corned beef much before they settled in America, escaping their homeland due to poverty and starvation spurred by the failure of the potato crop for a few years. Of course the reason the peasantry was so reliant on potatoes is regrettable, as well, due to some competition between Catholicism and the Church of England the English stripped the Irish Catholics of their lands and forced them into the position of tenant farming, and setting up an entire people to nearly starve to death as a result of the potato blight. One thing affects the other on a grand scale. It always amazed me that the strain of potato that was susceptible to the blight that caused the tubers to rot in the ground was not the only species of potato, just the one that flourished in the Irish climate and eventually nearly caused the demise of an entire class of people; the entire country of peasants put their lives in one basket, so to speak.
     Moving back on track, we start with the daily celebrations and as every month's celebrations March's are just as diverse as any other month's. A few years ago I made a Frozen Coconut Torte on March 13 for that day's celebration, and unfortunately working full time out of the home and more appropriately, out of the kitchen, it is indeed difficult to post my personal forays into the food celebrations; most of the time I hand off cooking duties to my right hand, the Big E, and he's done great with cooking for the family. I greatly miss cooking all day and posting photos of my creations, perhaps in my next life, or after I retire, whichever comes first I will be able to indulge myself. In the meantime, I have to make do with what I have "Bloom Where You Are Planted – 1 Corinthians 7:17-24. Okay I hear ya.
     This year we get to observe Good Friday in March, as it is a movable holy day, that coincides with the full moons in spring, if I remember correctly, and Easter, as well; Good Friday is also National Hot Cross Bun day.

     This year I think we will tackle Hot Cross Buns, which will also honor National Flour Month and I will get to work with a sweet dough, which I don't get to work with very much. I am getting excited!
    The following recipe is courtesy of King Arthur Flour:
Hot Cross  Buns:

  • 1/4 cup apple juice or rum
  • 1/2 cup mixed dried fruit
  • 1/2 cup raisins or dried currants
  • 1 1/4 cups milk, room temperature
  • 3 large eggs, 1 separated
  • 6 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves or allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 4 1/2 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Topping
  • 1 large egg white, reserved from above
  • 1 tablespoon milk


Icing


  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 teaspoons milk, or enough to make a thick, pipeable icing

Instructions

  1. Lightly grease a 10" square pan or 9" x 13" pan.
  2. **Mix the rum or apple juice with the dried fruit and raisins, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave briefly, just till the fruit and liquid are very warm, and the plastic starts to "shrink wrap" itself over the top of the bowl. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Note: If you worry about using plastic wrap in your microwave, simply cover the bowl with a glass lid.
  3. When the fruit is cool, mix together all of the dough ingredients except the fruit, and knead, using an electric mixer or bread machine, till the dough is soft and elastic. Mix in the fruit and any liquid not absorbed.
  4. Let the dough rise for 1 hour, covered. It should become puffy, though may not double in bulk.
  5. Divide the dough into billiard ball-sized pieces, about 3 3/4 ounces each. A heaped muffin scoop (about 1/3 cup) makes about the right portion. You'll make 12 to 14 buns. Use your greased hands to round them into balls. Arrange them in the prepared pan.
  6. Cover the pan, and let the buns rise for 1 hour, or until they've puffed up and are touching one another. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F.
  7. Whisk together the reserved egg white and milk, and brush it over the buns.
  8. Bake the buns for 20 minutes, until they're golden brown. Remove from the oven, and transfer to a rack to cool.
  9. Mix together the icing ingredients, and when the buns are completely cool, pipe it in a cross shape atop each bun.
**  Being microwave-cautious I will, instead, warm the liquid and soak the fruits until they are plump.

  I have been doing some research on Hot Cross Buns and was a bit surprised to find they have been around since pre-medieval times, although probably not the same, exact recipe, however the tradition of sweet bread with dried fruits and a cross across the top, sometimes made into the actual dough, sometimes an icing. Here's a link to a very interesting piece about the history of Hot Cross Buns: Hot Cross Buns  Who knew?

     Now that my mouth is watering, I am going to go start collecting what I need to attack this recipe.


     




September 7, 2017

     Hello, all! It has been a long, long time! Sorry, but I am sure as you all know life sometimes takes us in different directions and sometimes our passions get left behind. This was the case with this blog. So much has happened since my last post, and none of it was about cooking or food, so I didn't get to post here.
     Once again, I am hoping to change that and I certainly will try to post at least once a month. I will try. Cannot promise.

     Okay, now that I have that disclaimer posted let's get to it!

    Its September. Still in the first week, so let's take a look at the food celebrations in store for this month.

    The month of September food celebrations start right off with National Breakfast Month, National Biscuit Month and National Honey Month. I don't know about you, but honey on biscuits makes divine continental breakfast fare, in my humble opinion. And I just adore biscuits. Chicken and biscuits, sausage gravy and biscuits, mm, mm, mm.
    September also hosts National Chicken Month and National Rice Month, again these two go together very well, don't you think? But it is also National Potato Month and National Apple Month, although I like the apples that ripen in October, but, yes, I know September hosts the start of you-pick apples. I'll wait 'til the end of September, though, if that's okay. Thanks, I appreciate that.
    To be fair, September also hosts National Cholesterol Awareness Month, and Food Allergy Awareness Month. Don't remind me about cholesterol, I am doing what I can to get mine down, and it starts going down, then I forget and there it goes up again. Oh, bother.  I'll figure it out, sooner and it better be sooner. The doctor has already tried to get me to take a statin drug, but I flatly refuse. too many serious side effects that mask other very serious health conditions. No thanks, I just keep eating whole grain oats and Red Yeast Rice. Yes I know it doesn't sound all that great, but it has already gotten my numbers down (as long as I remember to keep taking it.) You want to take the statins? That's your choice, I don't give medical advise just occasionally share what I've learned. As far as I can tell statins can cause, doesn't mean they will, only the potential, to cause just as much harm as the claim they help. Your health, your body, your choice. I choose not.
     And the story about eggs being all full of cholesterol has been debunked so many times I should not even mention it here, but oops I did. Now, organ meats, shortening, fried foods (especially those fried in shortening) are all on the "do not consume" list, or my "consume in moderation only" list. and I am pretty good on that front. Not perfect, but pretty good. Whatever, sue me.
     September is also California Wine Month, again, not a big fan, I prefer Italian wine. Sparking Italian wine, to be more specific. Yeah, I like the bubbles!
   
     I never finished this post as life got crazed-again--but I finally remembered my password and here I am again! 
     Of course, I'm about to make another big move, so I'm going to be offline again...but I am really serious about getting this blog back up and running.
     I am praying my new adventure will be the one that finally lets me put all my loves in one basket, so to speak and I can get on with life. Yauy!

     Wish me luck...see you as soon as I can!
   

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Eat a Peach or some Rice Pudding

      August is National Peach Month, and among the thirty-one days there is a day designated "Eat a Peach Day, on the 22nd, and National Peach Pie Day on the 24th. Now this is a month I can honestly say, "I'm in!"
      Peaches are, by far, my favorite fruit on the planet, with nectarines running a close second. Some people don't like the fuzzy skin on a peach so nectarines are for you, the same wonderful yellow juicy flesh, and identical in taste, if you ask me.  The aroma is wonderfully fresh and uplifting the color is cool and inviting.  Perfect for hot summer days. And in the middle of the winter, there is nothing finer than to pop open a home canned jar of peach preserves or jam. I haven't even picked my peaches yet and I am drooling imagining a warm scone or biscuit slathered with peach jam. But let's move on to the rest of the month's celebrations!
    August is also National Catfish Month, something else I can definitely get thrilled about consuming. Heck, I even enjoy catching a few myself, but I do not like to bait the hook, or gut the fish. Not my cup of tea. I will let the professionals do their stuff, I'll take the fillets, thank you!
   Individual days within the month are very "summer-mode" celebrations, for example the 2nd is National Ice Cream Sandwich day and the 3rd is National
Watermelon Day; the 6th is National Root Beer Float Day, the 8th is National Frozen Custard Day, the 17th and 18th are National Vanilla Custard Day and National Soft Ice cream Day respectively. The 22nd, as mentioned earlier is National Eat a Peach Day and also National Spumoni Day.
     To remind us that August is a great month for cook-outs, there is also National S'mores Day on the 10th and National Toasted Marshmallow Day on the 30th. Thrown in are a few days and ways to celebrate bananas, also, with 10th also being National Banana Split Day and the 27th being Banana Lovers Day.
     Although I am a huge peach and ice cream fan, one particular celebration caught my eye:  August 9th is National Rice Pudding Day. I have a rice pudding recipe that I found over 30 years ago and have not been able to top it. I so wanted to share it with you. It is a bit labor intensive with all the stirring and maintaining the water bath, but if you have the time to try this you will not be sorry. I also do not recommend this recipe on a 95 degree day. With all the opening the oven your kitchen might heat up too much for a sultry summer day.
               

The Best Damn Rice Pudding I've ever had

1 cup water ½ cup regular long-grain rice (raw)
 2 ½ cups milk
2 egg yolks beaten
1 pinch salt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ cup white sugar
½ cup raisins (optional but worth it)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 egg whites
¼ cup white sugar

Preheat Oven to 350° F. Heat tea kettle full of water for water bath.

In a saucepan mix the rice & 1 cup water ; bring to boil; stir once, cover, reduce heat to LOW, and simmer COVERED (don’t lift the cover) 15 minutes, until all water is absorbed. Shut off heat at the 15 minute mark and keep covered an additional 5 minutes to make sure all the water is absorbed.
Beat egg yolks with ½ cup of sugar in a mixing bowl. Add the cornstarch and salt. Continue beating and gradually add the milk. Stir in the cooked rice, lemon juice, and raisins. Pour mixture into baking dish. Place baking dish in a roasting pan. Pour the heated water from the kettle in the pan so it comes up the sides of the smaller pan by 1 inch. You need to keep hot water ready to add to the water bath if the level goes down, try to maintain 1 inch of water in roasting pan.
Bake in preheated oven approximately 1 ½ hours, stirring every 15 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed.
While the pudding is baking prepare the meringue: beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, continue beating gradually adding the ¼ cup sugar until stiff peaks form. When the pudding is done, remove from the oven, but not from the water bath. Raise oven temperature to 400° F. Dollop the meringue on top of the pudding, swirling meringue to make soft peaks.
Bake at 400°F for 8-10 minutes until meringue is golden. Cool slightly, but serve warm.



Baked Rice pudding with meringue Courtesy Betty Crocker Step by

Step Recipes circa 1975
I wanted to try making a crock pot rice pudding so not to heat up the kitchen, so if anyone has a fail proof crock pot recipe, please share, I'd love to try it out and review it here.
   Until next time, eat a peach, toast some marshmallows, enjoy some ice cream or frozen custard. Autumn is coming in about six short weeks, so enjoy whatever time you can spend outdoors. Oh, by the way August 31st is Eat Outdoors Day! Enjoy!                                                       ~Aunt Barbara


Credits:
American Food and Drink Days retrieved 8/9/15 from http://www.tfdutch.com/foodh.htm

Sunday, March 2, 2014

International Pancake Day -Mardi Gras-Shrove Tuesday

   
     March is a month in transition being the end of winter, and the beginning of spring, it sometimes hosts Mardi Gras and sometimes Easter. It always hosts St. Patrick's Day, and Dr Seuss' birthday (March 2). This year Mardi Gras, also known as Shrove Tuesday and Fat Tuesday,  is on Tuesday, March 4th with Ash Wednesday on the 5th. Shrove Tuesday is also International Pancake Day, oh, yeah, and do I love pancakes.
     Pancakes are by no means a gourmet item, however, I have seen some concoctions that just make me wonder if the people who come up with some of these recipes really like pancakes because when you add a bunch of other stuff you are missing out on the pancake.
     Personally, I am a pancake snob. I am a Bisquick pancake snob, however, I do not completely follow the box instructions--and once you get to know me, you will realize I cannot leave well-enough alone. Not me. Not ever.
    The original Bisquick pancake recipe, as it appears on the box, calls for 2 eggs, however, I only use 1 for the 2-1/4 cups of baking mix. My batter is very thick and I have to add more milk to get it to the right consistency however, my batter still is on the thick side, and please remember not to overwork the batter, lumps are a good thing in pancake batter. What I love about the pancake recipe is that when you flip them (only once) you watch them rise to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Oh, man, and then after they come out of the pan I slather soft butter on them. Most of the time I do not bother with syrup, and I prefer the real stuff, but mostly I just want lots of butter. Yes, I know about the cholesterol, and my doctor is on my case about cutting back, so I eat whole grain and use a drinkable fiber trying to wash it out of my system. I also don't eat pancakes very often, only once or twice a month, everything in  moderation, I guess.
     Another little trick I have picked up with cooking pancakes is that I use an 18/10 stainless steel skillet that I do not wash in a dishwasher, and grease it lightly with real Crisco shortening. (Oopps, there's that cholesterol again). When I say lightly, I mean it, though. I take a paper towel and pick up about a tablespoon of the shortening on the paper towel and wipe the skillet with it. I continue to use the same piece of paper towel and the shortening stuck to it for each of the subsequent batches. Also, be sure you skillet is hot enough. How do you tell if it is hot enough? Well walk over to the kitchen sink and turn on the faucet. Wet your index and middle fingers. Walk back over to the stove and "flick" a few drops of the water onto the pan. If they dance across the surface of the skillet with a sizzle, the skillet is ready. If they immediately evaporate, it is too hot; take the skillet off the heat and let it cool a bit, then try again. If the drops just sit there in a small puddle, that skillet is not ready. You almost never cook pancakes on a high flame, and I usually have the heat at 2-3.
    Do not peak to see if the pancake is cooked. The top of the batter will tell you when its time to flip. The edges of the pancake look dry. Really. Stop and look at them sometime. And there  could be some popped bubbles on the surface. I use a marvelous spatula that I got from Pampered Chef. The spatula is so marvelous I own two of them.
   I also have a pancake server that looks like a stack of pancakes with a big wad of butter on top. The cover has holes in it so the steam will escape so the pancakes will not get soggy. Yeah, just another gadget I picked up over the years.
     If you want to add things to your pancakes, I won't mind, I have only tried wild strawberries myself, and they were pretty good, but I would rather have the extras on top or on the side as opposed to inside the pancake, but that's me. If you want to add stuff, go ahead, and if you find something that really complements the humble pancake, please share.
     All this talk of pancakes has just made me decide I am going to make pancakes and sausage for breakfast tomorrow morning. Don't tell my doctor, though, okay?
    Til next time--enjoy!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Don't know where to start

     I have, at long last, completed my Bachelor's Degree in Cultural Studies with a Concentration in Communications. Howdy do! So now what?
     I've been advised to just start writing about anything or everything. Just write every day, and to keep reading. My last few semesters had me reading books on the frugality of immigrants that came to this country in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth. And the struggles they faced, and how hard it was to keep your family fed, and a roof over your head. In my continued pursuit of information on that topic I also discovered that there are very few words from women's point of view. That disturbs me.
       My continued research has lead me also to the difficulties of living through World War II, also from a women's point of view, and now I am beginning to realize that with so little written works that focus on the women's struggles, and time moving so fast, there is not much time to continue to collect first hand accounts of the struggles. Luckily there are a few women, besides myself who have recognized the loss of their words if they are not documented, and quickly.
     In the writings I have found I am getting to understand the stresses women were under trying to keep the home fires burning, trying to feed their children, themselves, and in many cases, extended families and whole communities through rationing and all kinds of shortages: not just of food, but of material for clothing, fuel for heat, and just about every other basic necessity of life.
     My newest search, now, is to locate as much writings as I can that describe the home front's struggles to keep some kind of normalcy during those stressful years, with adapting to all of the regulations and lack of supplies, the many losses of family members, community members, and in the case of Londoners, the constant bombardment during the Blitz, something this country did not experience, although blackouts were the norm, the bombings never materialized, to our good fortune. Reading how the English women dealt daily with the bombings just shows how important women's roles were in keeping a way of life preserved, to continue and grow after the war.
     Being very interested in food, I also find myself very interested in how families were fed with foods being rationed, and having to grow one's own, to help both yourself and the war effort.