#OctPoWriMo 17 – Strawberries

She turned her nose up at the berries
I had grown with my patience and toil.
They aren’t the same as the store-bought ones.
They are small, very small, and very red.

“But you love strawberries.
You eat them by the pint.”
“They don’t look right,” she refused,
Shaking her blonde head and scrunching her nose.

So I left the bowl on the counter,
A tangerine bowl filled with crimson fruit
Bright against the mottled brown stone.
I went outside to enjoy the shade of the porch and sip my wine.

Not to my surprise, my girl followed me out,
Bowl in hand and berries in her mouth,
Juice dribbling down her chin.
“I told you so.”

French Silk Pie

With technical difficulties.

I make pies from scratch. Those who know me personally understand that I am a bit of a baking snob.  I don’t like mixes. I don’t like refrigerated pre-made stuff when at all avoidable. (I do sometimes use them for certain recipes, particularly my husband’s comfort food recipes that cannot be altered, so he thinks.)

We were planning on heading over to the in-laws for a little pre-Independence day family fun time. We were only responsible for dessert, so I decided to make a few pies. Chocolate Chip pie was easy and ready the night before.

My daughter “helped” me with the pie crust. I let her put in the flour and use the pastry cutter. Then I let her roll out her own small pieces with a tiny wooden rolling pin while I did the real work. I baked two shells and let them cool overnight.

The next morning I started on the lemon filling for lemon meringue. Sugar, egg yolks, lemon juice and cornstarch cooked into a pudding. Then I whipped up the meringue, making extra because I wanted a lot on top of my pie.

My third choice for the day’s enjoyment was french silk.  I sorted through different recipes, as there are at least a dozen variations. I wanted something that was going to taste similar to Tippin’s French Silk pie (which they’ve now discontinued due to the price of eggs), so I selected a recipe where a softball chocolate mixture is folded with whipped cream to create a fluffy, silky filling.

I had just enough of our favorite glass-bottle heavy cream that needed to be used up that day. I started whipping the cream in a small bowl. The cream started to stiffen, coming closer to yummy goodness – and then skipped completely to chunky butter and liquid stage. Nothing inbetween. I didn’t have enough to start over, so I stirred this into the chocolate mixture and whisked it smooth. Pouring this into the pie crust, I hoped that it would taste good enough to eat.

Turns out, when topped with some fluffy whipped cream, that pie is delicious! Rich and delicious. The chocolate is silky and smooth and the crust was flaky. Now I have to replicate the mishap the next time.

Chocolate Pie

Birthday Surprise

cake

Birthdays have never been big celebrations in our family. There was always cake, a favorite dinner entree, and family around the table. As children, we received one small gift from our parents – in my case it was my annual Barbie doll. (I know it’s girly, but my Barbies and Kens went on some wild adventures.) Another year moving forward, another year or survival.

I’m not worried about getting older. I’m glad I’ve made it this far, considering how easily things can all be over for any number of reasons I chose not to worry about on a daily basis. I’ve earned every year of my life, and I wear the badge proudly. I’m 40 now. Ta-Da!

With my birthday being shortly after Christmas, I’m used to skipping the cake these days. We’ve just spent a few days consuming mass quantities of sweets at the in-law’s house and adding cake to the mess just isn’t on my palate. Plus, I’d have to the my own baker, so I prefer to take a break. What I do like for my birthday is my yearly trip for sushi. I’d eat sushi more often, but we just don’t get around to it that frequently. We cook at home most of the time and eat out on occasion. To go out to eat requires a drive of at least 20 minutes either east or west, and then a wait at the good restaurants. With two kids, that’s a low priority.

The day before my birthday, I went to work (one of the 3 in the office that day) and then drove back to the in-laws’ for another dinner. I thought it was odd that Tara was cooking such a large meal the day after Christmas. Traditionally, we headed out for Mexican food so she doesn’t have to cook and clean again. Everyone in the family was invited over for another evening. I just shrugged and accepted the change. Nothing to fuss about.

My husband and son had run off on an errand to get my birthday present, getting a late start for such an errand at 3 pm. They weren’t at the house when I got there. I sat down at the table with my father-in-law Bob, Stacey, and William to start a game of Munchkin while we waited for the rest of the family. Tara was starting the dinner preparations, navigating various recipes for pasta and sauces. Italian beef simmered in the slow cooker, permeating the kitchen with a savory aroma. My daughter and her two older cousins were downstairs in the basement playing with legos and my little ponies and watching Shrek for the 4th time in the last two days.

My sister had been texting me throughout the day making normal conversation. Margo lives in Massachusetts with her wife, 1400 miles away. We visited last June and weren’t expecting to see them again until later in 2015, when she finally finished her doctoral degree. She was asking what I was up to, so I replied we were having a big Italian dinner and playing games while I waited for my husband to get back. Nothing fancy. Work had been boring and pointless, but at least quiet. The house full of kids was noisy and draining and the quiet time was refreshing. She asked me what my husband was getting me for my birthday. “Not a clue,” I texted back.

The sky had darkened at the five o’clock hour. I was wondering where my boys were, since they’d been gone for a couple of hours now. I assumed they had difficulty getting what they wanted. It’s after Christmas, so stores are a bit cleaned out and last minute shopping doesn’t always pan out. They had probably been to several stores by now on the hunt.

Munchkin was getting ruthless. We were pummeling each other with Wandering Monsters and Monster Enhancers and Curses, keeping levels low. While waiting for my next turn, I strategized what to do with my newest draw of a Level 16 Wight Brothers card, which I couldn’t fight myself, and surveying other player’s items for possible trades.

The front door opened and figures moved in the dim light of the entry way. In my brain I took inventory of known bodies and faces we were expecting. It wasn’t my husband or son. Nor was it Jared or Danielle, whom we were also expecting to arrive for dinner once Danielle was home from work.

It struck me as Margo stood straighter and started to walk in my direction.

“What the hell!” I exclaimed. My sister and her partner were here. They weren’t supposed to be here.

“We’re you’re birthday present!” Dawn cheered as I got to me feet to hug them. Everyone was laughing. Everyone else in the house knew they were coming, yet somehow they hadn’t spilled the beans. The plot had been in the works since late September. I was amazed. Pretty much speechless, save my initial utterance.

They got settled in, being attacked by the nieces and nephews as the children came up the stairs from the basement. My brother-in-law William commented that he’d almost given the secret away about a half-hour before. When Margo’s name had been mentioned, he had almost said, “Aren’t we seeing them later today?” but he’d kept his mouth shut, remembering that is wife had told him it was a super top secret.

Margo had been texting me from the airport and from the back of my husband’s pickup, all under the guise of being back home.

I continued to be amazed as everyone gloated about keeping the secret. I was just happy to see my sister.

BEST. BIRTHDAY. EVER.

 

 

Winter Solstice

Last night, our family celebrated the Winter Solstice, that time of year when the night is the longest it will be for the year and soon the light of day will slowly return to the sky. We lit a row of candles on the table. We prepared a feast of rosemary roast beef, colored carrots, and acorn squash and sweet potato soup. Finishing this off were freshly baked Moravian Christmas Cookies (i.e. ginger snaps). A very tasty start to a new tradition.

For the last week, we haven’t seen much of the sun anyway. It has been cold and cloudy and wet with either snow or rain. The clouds broke for a couple of hours on Saturday, but otherwise, our sky has been completely shrouded by a gray sheet. We weren’t able to view the meteor shower. We haven’t seen the moon. However, the clouds have been keeping it slightly warmer that it would normally be, trapping the reflected heat of the Earth underneath like cozy bedding.

The forecast does not call for a white Christmas day, much to my husband’s dismay. He loves to have snow on Christmas. Instead, the temperature is going to soar to around 50 degrees (F) and will stay above freezing even through the night. For me, this means the kids should be able to go outside and run off some energy. We will be crowded in at the grandparents house for the holiday with 8 adults and 4 children between 3 and 10. Someone is going to need a breather outside. (Maybe I’ll go for a walk.)

Back to last night’s dinner. The soup was delicious. We picked up the recipe from AngelFire.com. I’ll say that skinning an acorn squash isn’t the easiest task, but I got it done with a peeler and a paring knife. It’s the ridges in the body that make it a little tougher. Stewed in homemade broth, the soup was really divine. We plan to have this on our menu more often.

I cooked my roast to a nice medium. I would have been happier with a roast from the meat market instead of the supermarket, but the meat market is closed on Sundays and Mondays. I patted rosemary all over the outside and cooked with the fat side up. Instead of a rack in my shallow roasting pan, I lay down a bed of sliced onions to keep the meat moist.

The cookies were tricky. We bake dozens of cookies this time of year to share, so I’m not new to baking such creations. I love ginger snaps, but I hadn’t made my own before. This particular dough is incredibly silky and must be the coldest you can get it before trying to roll it out. Otherwise, it just falls apart under its own weight. It took a few tries to get the thickness just right. And when it comes to baking, no recipe ever mentions that after baking a few rounds, don’t bake the next few as long. Everything is so hot, including the cookie sheets, that the baking time happens more quickly. I over-cooked a round, and burnt molasses is particularly sooty on the tongue.

We look forward to tomorrow and the continuing changes of the seasons. We look forward to the light.

sunset

 

#OctPoWriMo 15 – Colors

Colors of the Kitchen

 

Orange, brilliant squash

Roasted to soft perfection

Green, fragrant sage

Picked fresh from the garden

Yellow, true butter

Flavorful in the mix

Brown, spicy cinnamon

And nutmeg ground

Pale, kneaded dough

From which pockets are formed and filled

Blue, bright platter on which the meal is served

Painstakingly created by hand

10/15/14

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Hand-made butternut squash ravioli and this prompt from http://www.octpowrimo.com/2014/10/day-13-color-your-world.html inspired this poem.

#OctPoWriMo 13 – Acrostic

Caffeinated clarity

Of thought

Foresight enhance

Fatigue erased

Exceptional abilities

Explode outward from this cup

10/13/14

++++++++++++++

Acrostics are not my forte. I feel too forced to make my words fit and don’t feel the intuitiveness of creativity while writing them. I gave it a shot (several times over several days) and came up with COFFEE.

 

 

/

Octpowrimo

 

Breakfast for Dinner

So, I have to start this blog by saying my husband detests food posts.  However, other people love food posts, and sometime I do, too.  I don’t do them very often, but with the air buzzing with dozens of tiny mosquito voices telling you to eat this and not eat that, every once in a while I just want to throw out there “This is what I’m eating and it’s good because I made it myself.”

From time to time, we like to have breakfast for dinner. I prefer this time for breakfast for several reasons.  1. I have more time to prepare the food. On a daily basis, I don’t get up at the crack of dawn just to go down and cook breakfast for the family like my mom used to do. I’m not even hungry when I wake up, or even a couple of hours after I wake up (Yes, I know. People say you should eat breakfast within an hour of getting up, but others say eat when you’re hungry.)  2. I don’t care for typical breakfast food that early in the day. 3. I like my food made right.  I don’t pull out a can of refrigerated biscuits or pancake mix. No. This is from scratch. Yum.photo(5)

First of all, I make Baking Powder Biscuits, recipe courtesy of my now coverless Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook. It’s held together by a short three-ring binder and the outside cover popped off about 10 years ago and was trashed. Unfortunately, this means part of the index is now missing, as the pages get torn off in the cupboard.  I should really rebind the book. There’s that whole TIME thing ago. If I were a Time Lord, this would not be a problem.

What I love about Baking Powder Biscuits is that they are crunchy on the top and bottom, and flaky and soft on the inside. The absolute best biscuits for holding gravy.  I love a good biscuits and gravy meal, but so many restaurants use bready, soft biscuits and I’m always disappointed. I want my biscuit to offer some resistance.  My sister and I scoured shops to find the style of pasty cutter we preferred, a serrated circle with a handle (not a ricer), and this mixes up in just a minute or two. I roll out the dough and cut out with the open end of a small tomato paste can for a 2-inch round, or  I use a 3-inch circle cutter, depending on my mood. I keep rolling out the dough and cutting until I get down to the last little nib, not wasting a bit. You’ll see there is a mini-biscuit in the corner of the sheet. The kids fight over who gets the mini. Twelve minutes to bake.

photo(2)Secondly, I cook up crumbled sausage.  This pork sausage comes from our local meat market, a great place to find quality, flavorful meat at or below supermarket prices with more selection, including fresh bison, lamb, goat, chicken, pork, and beef. These meats come from farms less than 50 miles from our home. Plus, I know the men and women behind the counter. They’ve worked there for 20 years and they know what you want in your cut. They won’t sell you crappy cuts and they will cut you anything you want. Their sausage usually has a little peppery kick.

After I cook the sausage and remove it from the pan, I whisk up some tasty gravy. I learned how to make perfect cream gravy from my mother. No packaged mix here (too salty)! This is a little bit of meat drippings, a couple tablespoons of flour, and pepper browned a few minutes, then milk added in. I’ve learned by doing that milk with fat in it works the best. Skim milk does not a gravy make. 1% will work, but whole is the best. No measurement on the milk–I just pour in enough until it looks right, stirring constantly until thickened and bubbly.photo(3)

The kids always request pancakes. Again, Better Homes and Gardens is the recipe I turn to, and I am proud I know this recipe by heart. 1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 beaten egg, 1 cup of milk, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Stir until moistened.  It’s important not to over mix the batter. It should be a little bit lumpy.

All of this I cook in cast iron skillets.  I grew tired of having to buy new non-stick skillets whenever the coating came off. I’m sure some people have a sure-fire method to preserving their non-stick coating, but I prefer cast iron. It’s easy to clean, won’t get scratched, if it rusts you just re-season the surface, and you get a decent arm workout in the process. They aren’t light. In my collection, I have two skillets that were used by my mother for all 50 years of her marriage. Find a non-stick skillet with that kind of history. They also transfer to the grill or campfire.photo(4)

Some might be interested in how much sugar is in this meal.  Processed sugar – only in the pancakes. 1 tablespoon.  (We top these with real maple syrup from our connection in Massachusetts.) Refrigerated biscuit dough contains sugar as ingredient, along with artificial flavors, where homemade biscuits do not. Salt content is completely under your control at home, as well. While the recipes for biscuits and gravy usually contain salt, I’m not a salt lover, so I often leave it out or use a fraction less. I find most prepackaged and restaurant foods to be too salty.  I’ll put in a dash of salt where  the recipe calls for a teaspoon. And I rarely add salt to sausage gravy. The sausage is so flavorful already, the end product doesn’t need extra salt.  And did it really take that long? No. Thirty minutes at most. And everybody eats plenty of it, kids and adults.

On Health: I believe everyone should eat a variety of foods in moderation, and not gorge themselves or starve themselves of any one type of food. You can swap the flour in the pancakes and biscuits for whole wheat, or you can swap your pork sausage for turkey sausage if that’s what you prefer. 1% milk makes an acceptable gravy if you want to lower the fat. Every once in a while, it’s okay to enjoy something that’s made just like your grandmother used to make on the farm. Starving yourself actually tricks your body into saving fat to prevent starvation. Allowing yourself a variety of foods and getting a minimum amount of exercise will help with a healthy lifestyle.  My 2 cents on the subject.

Future food topics:  Lemon Meringue Pie from scratch (including the crust), Chocolate Crinkle Cookies, and Baked Macaroni and Cheese.

Kahlua Mudslide Brownies

This recipe came from a small Kahlua dessert and drink book that came with a holiday pack of Kahlua from years ago.

Makes 24

350 Degrees for 25 minutes

(Glaze is best if allowed to rest 24 hours before eating.)

2 cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2/3 cup unsalted butter

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped

3 eggs

1 ½ cups sugar

4 Tbsp Kahlua

2 Tbsp Irish Cream

1 Tbsp Vodka

¾ cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

Kahlua Glaze (see recipe below)

Whole Coffee beans (optional)

Sift flour with baking powder and salt. In small saucepan, combine butter and chocolate. Set over low heat, just until chocolate is melted. Set aside. In bowl, beat eggs with sugar until light. Beat in dry ingredients, chocolate mixture, Kahlua, Iresh cream liquer and vodka. Fold in nuts. Pour into 13×9 inch pan and bake at 350 degreesF about 25 min. cool in pan. Spread with Kahlua Glaze. Decorate with shole coffee beans, if desired. Cut into squares and serve.

Kahlua Glaze

1 ¼ cups powdered sugar

3 Tbsp Kahlua

In small bowl, blend sugar with Kahlua until smooth.

The Best Roast Chicken

Total Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

GraniteWare Roaster
GraniteWare Roaster

ROASTING A CHICKEN to perfect tenderness and flavor sounds like a daunting task. So many times, the chicken turns out dry and flavorless. If you follow these simple steps, you’ll have a tasty, juicy meal that’s easy on the budget. And don’t just waste the bones and dripping by throwing them in the trash. Cook them down for homemade chicken stock you can use in other recipes, saving money on expensive prepared stocks and broths.

Purchase a 4 to 5 pound whole roaster or whole fryer chicken at your local market. If you have a butcher or meat market, patronize them as the freshest and over less expensive option. I find a whole fryer of about 5 pounds costs around $6.00 at our local meat market.

You will need a small roasting pan that fits around the chicken but isn’t too large. For example, a 13″ GraniteWare Roaster is a perfect fit. You will also need an apple or an onion. If you have an apple that is a little older or heading down the mealy side of ripeness, you can use it for the chicken rather than throwing away. The type of apple doesn’t matter.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare the chicken by unwrapping and patting dry with a few paper towels. Less moisture means crispier skin. Choose your favorite herbs and spices to rub onto the chicken skin. In the summer, I use fresh sage, rosemary and lemon thyme, laying the freshly cut and washed  sprigs along the bottom of the roasting pan and on the top of the chicken. In winter, dried sage and lemon pepper seasoning make a great substitute. You can also use barbeque rub for a hotter flavor. I don’t salt my chicken, since using the tasty herbs adds plenty of flavor without salt.

Overripe Pink Lady Apple
Overripe Pink Lady Apple

Place the chicken breast down in the roasting pan. Peel the apple or onion and insert in the cavity of the chicken. This will help retain moisture. Place the chicken in the oven uncovered for 45 minutes in the center of the oven. Remove and carefully flip the chicken over breast up. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake chicken uncovered for another 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before carving.

Serve with potatoes or brown rice and steamed vegetables. Perfect every time.

After dinner, clean the remaining meat from the bones and save in a zipper bag or container for the freezer. Since you probably don’t have time to make broth right after dinner, place the bones in a gallon-sized bag and freeze or refrigerate. When you have an extra two to four hours, place the bones in a large pot with 8 cups of water and boil. Reduce heat to medium and allow the stock to simmer until reduced by half. Strain out bones, fat and other particles and pour into containers for freezing. I use various sized jars from baby food jars to quart jars to have the perfect amount for different recipes.

This recipe credit goes to my sister, Margo. We regularly channel our late mother in our home cooking abilities.

+++++

RECAP

1. Rub 4 to 5 pound whole chicken with favorite seasoning. Insert onion or apple in cavity.
2. Place in 375 degree oven breast down for 45 minutes

3. Turn over chicken and cook breast up for 45 minutes at 350 degrees

4. Rest 5 to 10 minutes before carving.

Presto!!