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...'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 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 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 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 !

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Day 6... Not going hungry yet...

  This looks like the cookstove I had for a time back in the 70' was the love of my life, even if it's co-owner and I didn't turn out to be a forever kind of love. It took, as I recall, (well--it WAS the 70's! )   6 big farm boys to carry in the cast iron top because it was thicker than the one in the photo.  It was made by the Sears Roebuck Company. That round spot on the front of the door was the heat indicator and it read  COLD--WARM--HOT.  lol  It took some practice to learn to use it, but it made the best bread in the whole wide world.  It kept the house warm all winter. It smelled so good all the time. It had a water reservoir over on the far right side and warming cupboards up top.  I baked everything imaginable in those days (and still do, kinda) .  People (especially my inlaws) thought I was insane for even wanting that monstrosity in my house. Of course, they thought I was insane for a lot of reasons, and that probably was the least of them. lol  They were farmers. An old family of farmers that had lived on their land for over  a hundred years. Commercial farmers--soybeans, wheat, corn...raised pigs and cows. Sprayed every godawful chemical on their acreage that was known to man. Anything their Farm Service guy told them would be better for--yield, weeds, bugs-- they bought it all and that's what they all did back then. And then came the crazies (me) who started talking about organic methods and no pesticides and they screamed and yelled and said that won't work !!  I remember one time, he came on our place when he thought we were both gone (I was hiding in the house) and sprayed pesticides all over my beloved peach trees.  I nearly had a seizure ! I called my husband screaming and crying and went outside and was told in no uncertain terms that I was crazy if I thought I could get peaches worth eating if I didn't spray for bugs and that this was HIS family farm by God and he'd spray whatever wherever he wanted.  (Looking back, that was probably the beginning of the end. lol)   BUT--I digress...I had a wringer washer too and hung my clothes out on a line to dry. Ah...the good old days...

  Pantries.  Oh

  Last night's supper was breakfast.  I didn't get to write this blog post last night because I lost my internet connection around 11:30 when I finally sat down to write.  By 1 AM it hadn't come back on and I had read about as much as my eyes could take for one night, so off to bed I went.  I dug through my box of potatoes from last year and found some nice sized ones, scrubbed them clean, pared and parboiled them. I had a smoked sausage in the fridge drawer and so I cut it into 3 inch pieces and then cut those in half, browned them in an electric skillet and set aside. Then I sauteed onions and red & yellow bell pepper , put the partially cooked potatoes in and set them to brown. In the meantime I fixed eggs and toasted bagels and had a fine supper. 

  Tonight I will have a simple supper because I will be gone all day. Tomorrow is himself's birthday...57 he will be. I will be making him a cherry pie, and I think I've decided on a pasta dish that is his favorite. It's called Aglio y Olio. I will make some soft garlic breadsticks to go with it and a salad.  I was going to share a recipe for a roasted vegetable pot pie for today. It is simple, tasty and nutritious.  It also uses up any root vegetables that need to be used lurking around the bottom of your vegetable drawer. One time (looking for more filler, I must admit) I diced up a sad looking apple and threw it in and now I NEVER make this dish without an apple. I have even used some of my dehydrated apples from time to time if I don't happen to have any left (--if the chickens got them all). lol   This recipe makes a lovely winter dish especially as it's comfort food at it's finest.   And it's beautiful...I make it sometimes for our vegetarian potlucks at the ecological center.

  I'm taking the easy way out today because I'm rushed, but here's the link to this recipe I have posted before, about 3 years ago.

It's a beautiful dish. I used my Christmas angel cookie cutter to do the topping. 

  Eat well my friends.  I'm off to the races...

Monday, February 6, 2017

    I am beside myself. We had to toss 2 crates of sweet potatoes  into the compost because they rotted. I have never had this happen all the years I've been growing and storing sweet potatoes. (So--it must have been time).  Those babies were a very important part of my food storage...and I love them. I only grow Beauregards, in my opinion they are the best.  After they are dug up, we always set them out on tables to cure and we did that this year too. I don't know what happened.   Aarrggghhhhhhh...

   This is Day 5 of the Pantry Challenge.  This morning's breakfast was granola, lunch was PB&J sammiches, and for supper I cooked chicken thighs in the electric skillet with Italian dressing. We had leftover Quinoa and peas with it.  It was tasty, satisfying and healthy. I only have about 2/3 of a loaf of bread left. Some skinny bread and a package of everything bagels. When those are gone, I will go into bread baking mode. I like making bread. I like making bagels. It's just so easy to not do it. lol  I had some of my recipes (bagels and crackers and hummus) published last year in Grit magazine. I was pretty puffed up about it for a bit.  I taught a cracker making class as part of a cracker and flat breads workshop too. THAT was fun. I used to make all our bread because it really galls me to pay almost 4 dollars for a loaf of bread at the store, when mine tastes so much better. Then I started shopping at Aldi's and could get a decent loaf of 12 grain bread for under 2 dollars and ...well...But I am excited to get back into baking bread again. It is easy to be excited about it in winter. lol

  Less than a week in, and the pantry is holding it's own. I need to plan some vegetarian meals to sprinkle throughout the week. I would probably do better with a weekly meal plan, but it's hard for me to get that organized.   I gave away a dozen eggs and still have 3.5 dozen.  Sometimes I like to make omelettes for supper, paired with a salad.  Or quiche. Or Trouchia. The hens are doing a good job of producing eggs this winter. Some winters they stop almost entirely.  The weather has been all crazy here this year and that's probably the explanation.  We keep Rhode Island Reds. They are a hearty bird that handles our normally cold midwestern winters well.  They lay gorgeous big brown eggs. And they are pretty user friendly. Well--the hens are. Roosters, not so much. We don't keep a rooster anymore. I lost one too many fights with one and that was that. And the girls seem to be fine without one, so...

  It is late (almost 2 AM) and I am tired. Off to bed I go, and will be back tomorrow with updates and a new recipe.   Sweet dreams...