Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Finish---another month ?

    (Chicken and Dumplings)   

    Well, the end of the month is upon us. Today I bought some lettuce and fresh vegetables and fruit, but otherwise I have spent only a tiny bit of money at the grocery store.  The good news is--it was really easy.  The bad (?) news is--I could probably do it another month. There is a lot of food in this house.  Am I a hoarder ?  lol

    I have been busy this month with a lot of outside the house stuff.  I still haven't canned all those bags of beans, although I have bought a few boxes of lids. I do this every year in the spring, when I am in a store that sells them, I buy a few extra boxes, and painlessly build up my stash of what I will need when the garden canning time comes. The price of lids goes up every year and right now around here is at about 2.25 for regular mouth lids and 3.15 for wide mouth--a dozen in each box. So... you can see how easy it would be to spend a hundred dollars on lids alone (If you can like I do). 

  The weather is bizarre.In the 70's again today. The neighbors forsythia is in bloom. The lilies around my yard are at least 5 inches high. 

  I made this batch of chicken and dumplings to give some to a friend's daughter who was DYING for some. lol  I made the dumplings from scratch--and used home canned chicken breast and broth for the rest. My granny always made the biscuit type dumplings, little pillows floating on top of the rich broth and chicken. Those will ALWAYS be my favorite. This recipe (like Cracker Barrel serves) is called Southern Dumplings and is really just like my homemade egg noodles. They cook up plump and yummy and you just can't go wrong.

 Roll 'em out, cut 'em with a pizza wheel and drop 'em in the simmering broth.  Comfort food at it's finest.

   Tonight we're having bbq ribs, red potatoes boiled with the jackets on, and salad. I have some leftover rice in there I thought I'd make a small rice pudding with for dessert. Sounds yummy, doesn't it ? 

   I have about 2 hours until himself walks in the door from work. He will be tired and hungry. We got a new puppy--her name is Myma (Irish Gaelic for beloved). She is a miniature beagle/min pin mix.  She is adorable, and as always when there is a new baby animal in the house, everyone is adapting. The 2 big dogs have been good (so far).  The cats are not impressed.  I am laughing all the time as she tries to chase Molly up and down the hall and Bella tries to decide if she's a predator. Myma is under 2 pounds and 8 weeks old. lol   Both dogs get terribly distressed when she cries (when I put her in her box to sleep and she wants out). It's very sweet, actually.  I think tomorrow we will go to PetCo and see if we can find a tiny harness so I can take her outside on the leash.   I always forget how much work a new puppy is....but still, it's fun.  Here she is:  making her escape. And believe me, she pole vaults right over the side of that box !

  Alright. I need to head to the kitchen.  Life is good, here on Honeysuckle Hill !!!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Day 22 of the Pantry Challenge

  And THIS...this is how I see it.  The world would be a better place if there was more sharing and much less greed.  I have tried so hard to stay out of politics lately, mostly, well--as much as I could.  It is almost impossible. I sit here watching the world being smashed to an even bigger  immoral and unspeakable mess than I have seen in my lifetime. Unadulterated greed and selfishness on a massive level.  And many of us so shell shocked we cannot begin to know what to do.   If I hear one more time that I was wrong about that man I will scream until my head explodes. How can people be so blind ?  Now the climate and water protections we have fought so hard for are being thrown out. Women's health rights. Immigration rights. HUMAN rights. Families being torn apart. Children separated from their families.  Will there be anything left?   Anything...of the America that I have known and loved ?  My heart hurts. My stomach hurts. My head hurts.  I am sickened by all of it.

  It's Day 22. My pantry is still full. Relatively.  I have not bought anything at the grocery except the asparagus, parsley and coconut ice cream. And fresh raspberries.  For the celebration dinners.  I'm pretty happy with that.  I'm making bread regularly again. And liking it. lol

  I have been able to share food with a few people.  That is important to me as well. Today I am taking home made bread and jam to a friend recuperating from surgery. I am down to my last 3/4 of a stick of butter, but I have canned butter in the pantry. lol  High class problems...

  We've been eating well...plenty of leftovers for lunches and last minute suppers too. I have had a frantically busy week and it isn't over yet, but today is a bit of an oasis in the middle of it. I'm moving slow and doing what I want today--no schedules, no deadlines.  Ahhhhh....relaxing....

  Tonight's supper will be something a little more involved than it has been, because my fridge is about out of leftovers. lol  Not sure what...pork chops or ribs or something maybe. I made chicken last. Trying to keep it mixed up. Or maybe it's vegetarian time again. Hmmm... I have a lot of eggs...maybe fried rice or something. Or quiche. Or a trouchia. Or none of the above. lol  I can't think...

   I still have enough fresh veggies for another salad or two. Then I will be completely out of peppers and cucumbers and radishes and  lettuce.  I really didn't think I would make it through the month on that front.  But I rationed the salad portion of my meals pretty strictly and it worked out okay. 

   This has been an interesting exercise.  I think I will do it again one month this summer.  WooHoo !

   Okay--Out of here and into the day. Eat well, my friends.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Day 15--- Vegetarian supper tonight

   Today I made a lovely lentil soup. With coconut milk and Indian spices.  A light vegetarian meal packed full of nutrition, after last night's rich supper. I really like cooking with spices from India...they are so aromatic and lively. This soup is an easy pantry fix, assuming you buy coconut milk by the case like I do. Full fat organic coconut milk. It's a very useful thing to keep on hand and I use it for everything from puddings to whipped cream to soup ingredients to noodle salads. I was dreaming of making this soup when I started the bread the other day and tonight that's exactly what we had...big steaming bowls of soup with sliced bread and butter. It was a cool day and so by the time we were eating the weather was perfect for soup.

  I started this soup with 2 onions, some garlic and butter. Saute over low heat in a soup pot  until the onions and garlic are translucent.

  When they are, add 2 teaspoons of turmeric powder and 1 tsp thyme, and cook stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups of washed and sorted green lentils.  Add 3 cups of vegetable broth or water.  Bring to a boil and turn heat down and simmer for about 30 minutes.

  In a separate small pan, stir a tablespoon of garam masala spice mix into about 2 tablespoons of coconut oil. If you don't have coconut oil (shame on you !!)  you can use butter.  With the heat set on low, stir the spices and cook, releasing the marvelous aromas for about 3 minutes. Watch that it doesn't burn !  When the lentils are tender but still holding their shape, stir the spice mix in to the soup. Add one can of full fat coconut milk into the soup. Stir well, bring back to a simmer and cook for another 15 minutes.


  Serve it up with some of that yummy dense artisan bread. Or whatever pleases you.  It makes a filling and complete meal.

   Oh My Goodness.  Could soup BE any better ??

Do you know about lentils from a nutritional standpoint ? Check this out--

Lentils are a powerhouse

   They are a good source of all kinds of vitamins, of protein and fiber. They are a great food for vegetarians. They are versatile (soups, burgers, stews)  Here's a link to a great bunch of ideas and recipes for using lentils:

      Lentil recipes

  Okay--enough for tonight...stay happy and healthy my friends.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Day 14...halfway there...

   Yes...it's Valentine's Day my darlings. Hope you all had a day filled with love.  I broke my no grocery store rule for just a second, as I ran in to pick up some dairy free coconut milk ice cream, asparagus and fresh raspberries. HEY !!--It's a special occasion !!  I thought about getting some steaks, but decided that the bulk of this special occasion meal still needed to come from the pantry/freezer.  I rummaged through and found some beautiful boneless pork loin chops...hmmm...  So, here was the menu:

  Coriander Crusted Pork Chops with caramelized Onions and Sauteed Apples.
  Blanched asparagus with brown butter and pepper.
  Mushroom rice pilaf.
  Multi grain artisan bread.

  Dessert was coconut milk ice cream with fresh raspberries.

  I found a bottle of Pellegrino sparkling water in the pantry, so we drank that too, with a floating slice of lemon. 

  It was magnificent.  The pork chops are coated in a honey, Dijon and spice mixture (coriander, cumin, pepper and ginger), seared for 2 minutes on each side and finished off in the oven for about 7 minutes. They were moist and tender and delicious.

  The rice turned pretty dark because I made it in the same skillet I had caramelized the onions in, but tasted great. I had some juices and oil in the skillet, added the dry rice and sauteed it until it started to pop. Then added the mushrooms, onions, celery. Once those have started cooking nicely, add the water and spices (I use thyme and garlic powder and black pepper). When it comes to a boil, lower the heat, put a lid on it and let it cook. Takes about 35-40 minutes.

   The asparagus was beautiful. Small to medium stems and a gorgeous green. I brought a pan of water to a boil, blanched them for 2 minutes and drained the water. They were the perfect crispy tender that asparagus should be ! Put some butter and a squeeze of lemon in and shook it about. YUM
Sprinkled a bit of fresh ground pepper on it on the plate.

  The bread turned out great--dense and chewy and delicious. I cooked it in my vintage Pyrex bowls with lids. I let it raise about 24 hours instead of 18, so I was a little worried.  But it is perfect.  

  Husbandman said that the meal was OUTSTANDING !  That's all I needed to hear.  lol

  I'm tired and have an early and long day tomorrow, so I'll end here. Bon Apetit, baby...

Day 13 ...

  More freakishly warm weather this week and next. 60's and 70's are unheard of in February in Illinois. The lilies are pushing through the ground and the trees are budding. We haven't had much winter to speak of around these parts.  But I am hungering for green...

   It's after midnight.  That means that this will date the 14th even though it's really the 13th still to me. lol  And it is the 13th day of the challenge.  I wasn't feeling great today and the only thing I actually accomplished was making bread dough to sit so I can bake tomorrow.  I love the artisan bread recipes and have a multi grain dough with sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, millet, wheat germ and 10 grain cereal in it. I'm hoping for a dense chewy loaf.  You gently mix up this no knead concoction , put it in a big bowl on the counter and cover it and let it sit for 12 to 18 hours.  I'll bake it first thing in the morning. I was dreaming of making a coconut milk lentil soup to go with the bread and then I realized tomorrow is Valentine's Day and should probably make supper a little more of a romantic endeavor than peasant soup and bread.  Or not.  I'll see how I feel when I get up. This afternoon  I took a 2.5 hour nap. And I've been yawning already for an hour. 

  So...the bread is exceptionally easy. If you don't make your own bread because you're intimidated by the idea, well, just stop that right now. Here's the drill for these artisan breads:

   Get a BIG bowl.  In this big bowl, dump 4 cups of all purpose flour. You can use half white flour and half wheat, or whatever you like. Then mix in 1 tsp. yeast and 1.5 tsp salt. Add whatever seeds, nuts, wheat germ you want.  Mix these up. Then add 2 1/4  cups warm water.  Not hot or it will kill the yeast. I also added a little honey to it here. Use a wooden paddle or spoon and mix the water into the flour and make sure it all mixes good with no dry flour left in the bottom of the bowl. It will be a very wet sticky dough. Leave it in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let it sit on your counter for 12-18 hours undisturbed. GO ON !! Get on with your life !! It will be just fine without you. lol


Next you want to preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.  The very best way to bake this is in a cast iron Dutch oven.  Turn your bread dough out onto a sheet of parchment paper covered with flour. Flour your hands as well. Take the dough out of the big bowl and roughly shape it into a ball. Line your pot with another sheet of paper and then put this one in too with the ball of dough sitting on it. In an x shape so the bread doesn't come into too much contact with the pot. It can stick pretty badly otherwise.  You can slash the top or not.  Put the lid on and pop it into the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, remove the lid and bake another 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool.

That's it.  Fresh healthy bread for pennies a loaf. At a time when a decent loaf of bread is costing around 4 dollars, this is a slam dunk.  Good luck trying to let it cool before you cut it.

  Tomorrow (which is now today) we'll do up a Valentine's Day extravaganza.  And after I bake this bad boy, I'll show you some pictures.  

Good night, all y'all...

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Oops...Day 12 of the Pantry Challenge

 I'm dreaming of spring. This is a yard salad I made last year in the late spring. You know the time...the violets are blooming, the dandelions are young and fresh and brilliant. The chives in the garden are flowering. The chickweed is taking over with the slightest hint of warm weather. Mint leaves, plantain, wild mustard, dock, chicory, grape leaves. All free for the picking and all wildly nutritious.  And it is breathtakingly beautiful as well as tasting amazing. 

  I have been very busy and very tired these past several days. Twice I started to write and fell asleep at the keyboard.  The weather keeps yakking back and forth between spring and winter (70's one day, 30 the next). The chickens laying schedule is all willy nilly.  None of us seem to know what to do. lol  I have been on the run a lot and that's all the excuses I have for now.   

  I have planned our meals and done all my cooking out of the pantry, save the parsley I had to buy to make his birthday supper of aglio y olio --  a glorious pasta dish consisting of angel hair pasta, extra virgin olive oil, thin sliced fresh garlic, Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.  It is a delightful dish and it's one of his very favorites.  Served it with a salad, fresh baked soft garlic bread sticks and a cherry pie and he was one happy birthday boy.

  I was trying to think what to write to try to bridge 5 days of absence from here.  Tonight we went out to eat for supper, to our favorite Japanese restaurant called Sakura. It is so good to have a day off cooking now and then ! Let someone else cook for me, for a change.   Since Valentine's Day is on a Tuesday this year, we decided to celebrate early and beat the rush by going tonight. I had spent most of the day householding...laundry, vacuuming, etc. I was more than ready to change clothes and head north 22 miles for some great food.  We ordered a Miami roll (sushi with smoked salmon, avocado and cream cheese)  and gyoza (which are beautifully delicate pot sticker- like appetizers made in a very thin skin and filled with meat). Himself had the tempura shrimp bento and I had Yakiniku and shrimp hibachi meal.  It was lovely as always. One of our favorite local places to eat. They do not disappoint.

  IN the past days, we have eaten a roast (gifted to me by a friend) with mashed potatoes and gravy and green beans from our garden last year. I cooked it all day in the crock pot and it was sumptuous, even though it was a low tier piece of meat. Enough leftovers for one more meal.   Chicken salad that I made with previously cooked and frozen dark meat chicken , celery, onion, dried cranberries, diced apple, sour cream and mayonnaise.  Burgers one night. And a tuna casserole another night.  All from the pantry. 

  Tomorrow I will have to make bread. (I GET to make bread) lol  There are 2 slices left in the breadbox and I vowed to start making bread again as soon as it ran out. Someone in this house is very happy about that. I have about 3 bagel's left too, so later this week I will be making bagels as well. As far as the bread goes, I am still debating whether to make good old fashioned bread bread or do the artisan bread. There is a recipe that makes up to 5 loaves of bread. You mix up the dough and let it rise once and then make a loaf and put the rest in the fridge. It will keep well in there and you can bake a loaf fresh every day or so. I like making thick hearty multi grained artisan breads. I really like eating it too.  I think that for Tuesday I will make a lentil soup and the bread will really be great with that. Hearty and healthy. I made a recipe I found for lentil soup that was made with coconut milk and it was rich and creamy and incredible. I remember when I made it I thought--I will never make lentils any other way again !  The friend that gifted me the roast also gave me about 15 bags of different kinds of beans (and 2 packages of lentils-- I ALWAYS keep lentils in my pantry). At some point when I have a day at home, I will be canning more beans. Black beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans, Great Northerns and red beans. It will be a wonderful addition to my pantry...and basically free. Good source of vitamins and protein, easy to prepare, and a good basis for a large number of recipes. All important things to keep in mind when building your pantry. 

  Alright. I will be back tomorrow. A bread baking tutorial perhaps ? Hmmmm...   BTW--I recently received my charter issue of a new magazine put out by Christopher Kimball. He is a chef from Vermont, always wears a bow tie and started the infamous Cook's Illustrated magazine back in the 80's.  You might know him from the famous America's Test Kitchen. Anyway...the magazine is a beauty...I just subscribed for a year .  Home cooking with an international twist.  

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Day 7 ... and they're calling for snow

   There are a lot of reasons to be prepared.  The LEAST of which is Zombies. lol  One of the things that has gotten lost in our crazy world is the idea of long term planning. (Unless it's our stock portfolios).  We live in a time where instant gratification is the norm and it stands to reason that when that is true, you tend to not think much about anything but the here and now.  Emails and iPhones and text messaging and skype...all just some of the modern  technologies that feed this Now! Now! Now! attitude that is being ingrained in even our children.  We're all guilty of it-- it's almost impossible to not be. We expect a reply to a text message or a phone call STAT because everyone (almost) carries their phones on the person 24-7.  We expect to be informed of news and things happening all over the planet IMMEDIATELY, because-well- we  are.

   We think we can go to the grocery store any time, any day (or night) and get anything we want. We eat foods out of season. We truck exotic (and even  basic) foods all over this country, so that if I want one, I can have a mango in March. In Illinois.  Or a tomato in January. Not a good tomato, mind you, but we have lost our ability to discern between really good tasting food and everything else. We have lost that because the processed food we eat is loaded with enough fat and salt and sugar as to disguise the honest flavor of food while it burns out our taste buds. I remember reading Sharon Astyk's book Independence Days where she was talking about how her family ate only local and seasonal food and once a month the children (one at a time) got to pick ONE thing at the grocery store that they really wanted from the fruit and produce department.  The taste of a banana or an orange when you haven't had one in a while is indescribable she said. It really made me think about how we take so much for granted. And everyone knows that when you take something for granted, you do not appreciate it. I am an old restaurant person and when you do that for a living for a lot of years, you have a terrible tendency to eat like a chainsaw going through a log.  Standing up. On the run. Hurry Hurry Hurry.  Over the years I have had to really become mindful about the WAY I ate as much as WHAT I ate.  When you eat like that, mealtime becomes one more chore, one more inconvenient waste of your valuable time when you could be doing something..I dunno...productive ?  We have forgotten how to slow down and pay attention. To savor. To become immersed in one of the most vital and pleasurable activities of our lives-- Eating.  I still love the idea of a 5 course meal...the delicious slowness of eating one thing at a time. Savoring the item, slowly and deliberately tasting and feeling the bite in your mouth, inhaling the aromas of exquisitely and lovingly prepared food. The colors, the sensual assault of spices, the textures...the Art.

    The past couple of decades I have been able to return to  growing my own food. Much of it anyway. I lived this way when I was in my late teens and early twenties, then got caught up in the working world and I was lucky if  I could grow a few tomatoes.  When I was in my forties I slowly began gardening on a larger scale again. And in 2001 my life underwent a major change and I suddenly had nothing but time on my hands.  In 2005 we moved out here to Honeysuckle Hill, where we had enough dirt of our own to put in any kind of garden we wanted. I couldn't do all of it myself but luckily, I had staff. lol We started at the bottom, building up raised beds with all manner of organic ingredients. Straw, leaves, grass clippings, horse manure...you name it and we used it. We planted fruit trees. Started an asparagus patch. Tried to tame the blackberries. Planted raspberries. It was exhausting. lol  It was heaven. 

  Nothing , and I mean NOTHING will reintroduce you to humility like a garden. It's miraculous. It's frustrating. It's spiritual. It's backbreaking. And until you have picked a pea pod off a plant in the early morning, when it's all wet with dew, and popped it into your mouth...you have not lived. It the skies refuse to rain, you worry. If the Japanese Beetles descend, you freak. When there isn't enough sun. When there's way too MUCH sun.  When the spring rains just won't stop and you can't get the plants and seeds in. When the spring rains won't come, and it's like trying to garden in an asphalt parking lot. Even in winter you worry. Not enough cold. Not enough snow to impact the ground water levels. Gardening is a gamble. Sometimes all the great plans in the world are for nought. Other times, you wind up with so much bounty that you learn how to preserve it, remembering that last time when you had almost nothing to get you through the winter, and had to buy everything. (EGADS!)  You plant things that seem like a good idea and at the end of the season, you cross that thing off in your garden journal. Too high maintenance- didn't grow well here- not a good yield. Not resistant to bugs or blights or whatever.  You live and you learn. And you LOVE it. And even after a hard year and you are so glad that the garden is finally put to bed and the season is over...you put your feet up and the fist seed catalogs start coming in the mail. In late January. And you start to dream...

  There are so many ways to preserve the food you grow or buy or get from your community garden. Canning, dehydrating, freezing, brining, pickling, curing.  So much to learn. So many ways to go about feeding yourself and your family.  To be prepared for emergencies. To weather out the storms of life. Or whatever else might happen in this world...

  Today is the Irishman's birthday--I have to go bake that boy a cherry pie !