Cooking for the Love of It

I love to cook .   I recently saw a survey that said people now spend more on dining out than at the grocery.   It is something I have a hard time getting my head around.   I think it is so because I not only love to cook, I love to feed people.    To me cooking is part art, and part escape.  Definitely an expression of love.  When I cook I get to vicariously by making a meal go to other places and make things that I might never get a chance to taste otherwise.  Today I had a roast and a busy schedule full of work,so I wanted a recipe that I could crock pot this and turn it into something fun.   I went  online and sought out a  new recipe using the ingredients I have on hand.    I found a recipe that I truly wondered how it would turn out, time was running out and because I had everything I went with it.   My rule of thumb is the first time  on any recipe is by the book, so I did just that.   By lunch time   I  had decided that pie was in order  to go with my roast dinner and put together a cherry pie.

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My baking creation today, cherry pie.

Tonight when RangerSir got home he was greeted by the smells of our crock pot roast and his eyes feasted on a cherry pie worthy of Instagram.    I put a dinner feast  on the table worthy of the love for RangerSir.

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Crazy for Corned Beef

OK that title is a little crazy, because I would not say we are crazy for corned beef, but we do enjoy it at our house.    We live near Butte, Montana a town rich in Irish history.  According the 2010 US census it is the most Irish town in the country with over 23% of the people having Irish heritage, as opposed to Boston where just under 20% of the folks claim their Irish roots.    I could talk about the crazy St. Patrick’s Day traditions, but being the foodie I am I will skip over it all to the Irish-American dish corned beef.   I call it Irish-American because it did not come from Ireland, but became a staple of the Irish who immigrated to the USA.

I grew up eating corned beef and cabbage.  The beef my mother bought in the Midwest was that nasty stuff you bought in a sealed plastic bag with brine and pickling spices.   It was salty, fatty, and well-preserved in that cryopack bag.   Not much nice I can say about it except it was dinner and it filled our stomachs.    Here in Butte you will find that the local meat shop actually brines the brisket in their own recipe.   The brisket here is fresh and lean.  If you have never had an opportunity to eat fresh corned beef it is  a completely different animal than that thing from the plastic bag.

We bought our corned beef on Saturday and we could not wait until today to fix it.    We made the “traditional” dish of corned beef and cabbage on Sunday.   Our version is a bit of an updated recipe.   We highly recommend the cooking of your corned beef with Guinness, though in a pinch a good stout will work.    We have also learned that unless you like your veggies cooked to mush they should be cooked separately in some of the juices.  A favorite recipe for this can be found on the website Steamy Kitchen, and here is a link to the recipe we use.

Guinness Corned Beef with Cabbage

So after doing the corned beef and cabbage we had some leftovers that we made in to a chowder to go with the chilly rainy day we had today.   It was a new recipe for us Corned Beef and Cabbage Chowder from the website The Foodie Affair.   It was a flexible recipe that could be made with or without leftovers.   We opted for the leftover version using our potatoes and carrots along with the broth and corned beef from Sunday.   We added some fresh onion, celery, some more cabbage and beef stock along with the milk base.   I serious had some reservations but I can tell you this is going to be a new favorite with us.   Both RangerSir and I agreed it was well season and worth repeating, though not as often as we would like due to the scarcity of corned beef.

Corned beef and Cabbage Chowder

What did you cook for St.  Patrick’s Day?   Did you include corned beef in your day?   If so how did it turn out?    If it wasn’t so great, might I suggest you bookmark this page for next year.

Menu Planning

I am one of those folks who does menu planning. I think like home cooking it is a bit of a lost art.  Menu planning is something that takes time and if changing things up bothers you can become a bit of an albatross around your neck; creating more stress when its purpose is just the opposite.   I do menu planning for one of several reasons.

First I don’t work in town and hence don’t grocery shop but once a week.    If I plan to serve interesting well-balanced meals that I need to have everything I might need in my pantry.  My pantry is well stocked with staples: flour, sugar, can goods and a freezer with beef, pork and lamb.    Perishables like milk, fruits, vegetables, cheeses and bread constantly need to be restocked along with what we have used up since our last time at the grocery store.   Shopping with a plan helps to ensure not only do I have what I need, but  I don’t end up throwing things out because  they have spoiled from lack of use.   It also helps keep us from going crazy buying things we really don’t need or are likely to use just because there is a sale.

Second I hate leftovers.   I can’t imagine eating the same thing two days in a row.    This for me means planning how to repurpose a meal so it is not the same.   I often cut my meat in to two or three pieces before I cook it.  If we have pork roast one night,  the leftover will be split and we will have pulled pork  or Cuban sandwiches then the next possibly chili verde.   It is highly likely one night a week will be smorgasbord of leftovers.   No matter how well I try I do end up with leftovers.   Usually it is a little of this and a little of that.  Sometimes it enough for another meal and that goes into the freezer for a future no cook night.   With my leftover tidbits, not enough of anything to make a meal, but when it is all served at the same time with a new veggie for fruit salad thrown in makes a nice meal.

Lastly we like to eat a wide range of foods and have an adventuresome palate.   We are always looking for a new recipe to try.   After work if we don’t know what we are going to make with the recipe handy , we have a tendency to fall back on the same old things.  Also Montana is not the place to come if you are looking for restaurants to sneak out to feed your need for serious ethnic cuisine fix.  Good authentic ethic foods is made in the home with ingredients you horde from online shopping or trips to the cities where there are ethic neighborhoods with grocery stores that stock what you need.     Montana is the place where beef is king, but don’t be surprised to be fed elk, antelope and lamb.   Our season are too short and growing many veggies that the rest the US sees as normal is hard here , as a result it is carnivore heaven.   Meat and potatoes is the main fare here.   We enjoy a good piece of meat, but it just doesn’t have to be roasted or broiled.   It can be wrapped in the spices of the world and served in ways that meat  is a piece of the total menu, not the over running piece of whole meal. Some nights we even do a meatless meal.

Menu planning is a Sunday evening chore for us.   RangerSir and I sit around and talk about what we are hungry for.   Possibly what one us has an urge to make.   Once that is decided the plan mode kicks in,  where we suggest what we might do with the other parts of the cut of meat if we make x or y.   We spend some time on our Kindles surfing the net for something that looks good and printing off recipes.   Once done we stack them in to make order, make notes about sides.   Look at the ingredients list and compare it to what we have on hand.   Monday night is shopping night, and we eat one of those frozen meals we have on hand.   The rest of the week we work our way through the printed out recipes, sometimes shuffling them base on time and preference.   Occasionally things really change up and the roast that was supposed to make three meals only makes two then we move in to full comfort food mode, making a simple soup, burgers or dinner salad with what we have on hand.

Menu planning isn’t for everyone or every family, but if you have thought you might want to try it, I hope you will give it a shot.   Like  every other kind of planner, customize it up and get it to work for you, not the other way around.

Grown Up Movie Date

Last weekend RangerSir and I went to town and did a movie date.   It is not something we do very often, because we don’t have the same taste in movies, I can not imagine sitting still for two hours, and the thrifty side of me hates the expense.     I was in the mood to splurge and it was my turn to pick.   I choose “The Hundred-Foot Journey.”   I did this for two reasons.   I like Helen Mirren and I like food.   I wasn’t expecting great things, possibly a little more of an art film bent than your standard boy/girl move.  I tend to enjoy art films, even subtitles and my little corner of Montana is definitely short on that.   This had the look of a possibility.

No doubt there is the standard “love story”, but I found so much more to enjoy.

First let me say, the movie had  the usual cliché story of nice looking young fella and gal attraction  who get together, torn apart and together in the end.   I let this all take a back seat to the wonderful acting and interaction of the adults who were in their sixties, Helen Mirren and Om Puri.   It was so great to not see the grown-ups relegated to supporting walk-on roles but in was be part of center stage and the story.   Helen did not disappoint me, and I enjoyed seeing  her work with Om Puri, who was great as well.  I loved glimpses of the beautiful scenery of France, that I am likely to never seen in person.

Though RangerSir and I were chopping away at the monster bag of popcorn in lieu of lunch, we both were wishing that there was any Indian restaurant near by to satisfy our gastronomical senses that had been aroused by the cooking and spices shown on screen.  I think that there is maybe one or two Indian restaurants in the whole state of Montana, so Indian food was only going to happen in my kitchen.   I am now wondering about adding cardamom to some things that are not considered “normal”, as it is one of my favorite spices.  After this movie I am thinking a little adventuresome uses of the collection of spices in my drawer.

My biggest disappointment was the missing subtitles.  I know most American’s hate them and this after all was an American target audience film.   There was lots of French and the native tongue of the Indian family spoken.   All of which I missed because the film maker thought it was alright to sum it up with an occasional English blurb that would give you the  gist of what was spoken.   If you don’t like them, don’t read them, but don’t leave me out by not including subtitles, and giving me a shorthand version of what was said.

When we left both, RangerSir and I, agreed it had been worth the spluge.   We had enjoyed the movie more than we had planned.   It was worthy of our time and glad we had gone. Besides that it was a date and you never get old to date, look at Helen and Om.

Huckleberry Heaven

One of the highlights of the long trip I took last week is that it put me in in huckleberry heaven, an area of Montana where they are so plentiful if you are willing to get out your checkbook you can buy them.Local folks collect them by the gallons and sell them for crazy folks like me.    I did just that, took out my hard-earned cash, and came home with a gallon of the rare delight, huckleberries  

I had never heard of huckleberries before moving to Montana other than Huckleberry Hound and Huckleberry Finn.   Once here, like all the natives I became enamored with the fruit.     For those of you who have not experienced them here is a little primer. They are sort of like a blueberry, but they have a much more distinct fruity aroma that any blueberry.   They will create stains on any and everything, and huckleberries make the stains from blueberries, beets and black walnut skins look like amateur hour.   If you intend to pick them you need to go in twos one to pick and one to carry the bear spray.    Don’t expect anyone to take you to their spot to pick.  Spots are more sacred than a gold find and are never shared with anyone.   

Huckleberries

Having said all that I now have five pints of huckleberry sauce that can be used on everything you can think up.   Last night it was served on ice cream.   For breakfast we had it on french toast.   Tonight we plan to have it on cheese cake.   Tomorrow a little will go on my yogurt with my granola.   There is nothing that isn’t a little better with a little huckleberry sauce.  

 

 

Slaving Over the Stove

We picked up a small bunch of apricots last week at Costco.   They were the last package and they called my name as I love apricot jam.  I love to can and make jams but have no need to make or desire to have a dozen pints of anything.   I have been doing lots of reading about small size jam making and decided that this was the perfect opportunity to try it out. I was going to make two or three half pints of sunshine in a jar…apricot jam with a little bit of apricot brandy in it.

I grew up with a mother who canned and have done a fair amount myself over the years, but nothing like I was going to try this time. Part of it plays into the fact my house is at 6,000 feet above sea level and that impacts how long things have to process and the temperatures that it reaches are not the same as the cookbooks state.   I was going to have adjust for where I lived.   The second factor was most of my tools were nothing like what I had used in the past.   No big old white and blue speckled enamel canner and not measuring ingredients in pints, quarts and pounds.   I was going to use my stock pot to do the water bath not the big old kettle.   I bought a nifty little jar holder on Amazon. It was a simple wire rack just like Mom had, no sturdier or fancier.  This one fit in my much smaller stock pot (just under 9 inches across) and could only hold 5 half-pints.   I also used my largest in diameter skillet to cook the apricots, no big heavy old pot.     The theory in all of this is that the larger air surface allowed for “quicker” evaporation i.e. shorter cooking times.   I honestly don’t know if it was true, but I ended up with jam.

Making jam in a very small batch

Making jam in a very small batch

When I was done I had two 8-ounce jars and two 4-ounce jars of jam.  It all set up very nicely, in spite of the fact I could not find my thermometer and had to use the sheet test.  Thank heavens I still had an old Ball canning book from years ago when people tested by look and not temperature on a thermometer.    Some of the jars  did not seal, but I attribute that to the instructions having me pulling the jars and setting them on a towel while I cooked the jam.   In the future I will leave them in the pan of hot water until I fill them like in times past and the old Ball book suggested and I used to do.     So my first small jars of sunshine in a jar  will need to be given and used as gifts immediately instead of saving for the winter, but oh well I had fun and it is pretty yummy.

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Bounty for my larder

Making Yogurt – I met with success

Making homemade yogurt for me has never been easy.   Actually it has been quite hard.  I have given more yogurt to the chickens that I care to admit because my yogurt has never  set up.  I am once again trying a foray into yogurt making because I found a yogurt maker in the clearance corner at the local department store for less than $10, and my grocery store yogurt has gone up to over $8  container. I have become convinced that my problem is the long-term holding temp that I don’t think I am achieving.   I am an experienced home cook who has no problems with yeast breads and complicated candies so it seemed that this holding temperature was my problem.  I read and “chatted” with internet folks about their yogurt making and no matter what people suggested I could not get a yogurt out of my efforts.

I have never been much of yogurt person until I  found a commercial yogurt that had two ingredients milk and cultures, nothing else.  On top of that most commercial yogurt had not only milk and cultures but also thickeners, stabilizers and shelf-life extenders which I am not in favor of.   It was revolutionary for me when I found this two-ingredient yogurt because I liked it plain, no sweetener or  fruit necessary.   I had tried every brand, every style under the sun over the years  without success of turning me into a yogurt eater.   Yogurt was a necessary evil, not a good food I liked.  It was sort of like a milk version of Jello, with a spoonful of crappy jam in the bottom.  Yuck!

My first batch of yogurt came out just perfect.   I have been eating it all week on my homemade granola.  It was nice and thick, and I ate it before we had a chance to strain some of it to make  Greek style.

Seven jars of wonder

Seven jars of wonder

Now I have my second batch in the maker again.  I am also checking out the internet learning about  the different cultures out there I may wish to try in the future.   Cultures affect the thickening and the taste of your yogurt (tart vs. naturally sweet and things in between).  I am setting the timer for a little longer this time as well to see how that impacts the tartness of it as I am thinking of straining some of this week’s yogurt that we will use in lieu of sour cream.

As you can see it set up nicely.

As you can see it set up nicely.

A couple of things that about the electric yogurt machine in case you come across a deal like mine and decide to give yogurt making a whirl. The little glass jars do have the little line in the bottom where the sides and bottom meet and they are as hard to clean as anyone who has written any  review you might see has suggested.   I already had a bottle brush and use it immediately upon emptying the jar.    Long-term you will probably need a second set of jars, since you need to make your next batch within seven days, and I had one more left in the refrigerator when I started this batch that I need to transfer it out of to use again.    A second set of jars is more twice what I paid for the maker so am going to look at some of the glass containers I have around the house and see what I might come up with as I am only short a bottle or two.

My yogurt on my granola.  Mornings can't start out much better than this.

My yogurt on my granola. Mornings can’t start out much better than this.