Thursday, March 23, 2017

Kitchen FOMO


Fear Of Missing Out. The first time I heard my knitter friend Missy use "FOMO" in a conversation, I thought it was something her family had made up. And then within days of hearing it for the first time, FOMO popped up everywhere. TV ads. Websites. Other conversations. FOMO was everywhere. How had I never heard of it?

Well, I fell victim to FOMO this week. Kitchen FOMO. If you keep up even the tiniest bit with cooking and kitchen trends, you've heard about the Instant Pot. It is one of the hottest new kitchen appliances to hit the market since microwave ovens. And like microwave ovens back when they first came out, there is a fair amount of confusion about using them.

I was working as a home economist when microwave ovens first came onto the market for household use. People were curious. The information was limited. So I dug in and did my homework. Daddy-O gave me a microwave (they cost a bundle back then) and it was huge. They were all huge at that point. I tried all sorts of recipes. I baked cakes, cooked whole turkey breasts, made meatloaf in a ring pan. I microwaved naked looking cornbread, steamed vegetables, scrambled eggs in a mug, and on and on. I developed a recipe booklet with the recipes that worked.

Then I offered a class called "Microwave Cooking." Of all the years I worked, this was hands-down the most popular thing I did. There was standing room only the first few times I taught it. Everyone wanted to know what a microwave did and how to use it.


That's about where the Instant Pot is right now. What is it? Do I need one? How do I use it? Those were my own questions. So for the last month, I have done my homework. I have read so much, both pro and con. There are rave "it changed my life" reviews and those that think it's a passing fad. Time will tell. (The Instant Pot is an electric pressure cooker that also can be used as a slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, etc.—7 functions according to the ads.)

So this week, in "fear of missing out" on the newest kitchen appliance, I ordered one. It arrived yesterday. I had found a fabulous video that explained the basics of operation. So I followed her lead and last night did the water test. That's just to make sure the pot works and you know how to use the controls. Her video really was a big help.


And this morning, I made hard cooked eggs. The big deal with doing hard cooked eggs in the Instant Pot is that supposedly they are easier to peel that stovetop hard cooked eggs. After my one time doing them, I agree. Easiest eggs to peel ever. (High pressure for 6 minutes. Quick release. Plunge into cool water for a few minutes.) Were they faster? No, but they didn't take longer either. The cooking time was about the same. But once I pushed the button, I didn't have to stand around and watch for the water to boil and then set the timer. I was free to go make the toast.

You don't need a microwave oven OR an Instant Pot in your kitchen to cook. On the other hand, if I only had a microwave or an Instant Pot and a sink, I could keep people fed. But they are primarily conveniences you enjoy and appreciate. It's too early to tell how I'll use the Instant Pot in my own kitchen. And it's too early yet for me to know how often I'll use it. (Note—it is NOT called "Insta" Pot.)

I think it will be like my microwave learning. In the beginning, we found that the microwave oven could do nearly anything but it didn't do everything particularly well. Over the years, people gave up trying to cook everything and the useage has settled down to heating leftovers, melting butter and chocolate, baking potatoes, plus maybe a couple of things that suit your own kitchen. But even with fewer kitchen duties, we don't want to give up our microwaves. (I have made wonderful microwave pickles, btw!)

I think the Instant Pot will settle out over time as folks find out what it is best suited for. I think expectations will adjust as we figure out what the IP does best. Much of the disappointment I read about was with doing things that might be cooked better with some other method. I don't plan to reinvent the wheel here and tell you too much basic stuff. There is so much information out there already. Google will be your friend here. But as I find something that works well, I'll share here.


If you are a total kitchen nerd like me, you'll enjoy reading this article that tells about how the Instant Pot came into being and how they have used social media as a marketing tool instead of regular advertising.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Let's Call It Irish Stew


My mother called her beef stew "Irish stew." It was a big pot of stew beef cooked with potatoes, carrots and onions. If you google Irish stew, you'll find a multitude of recipes, some with lamb, some with mutton, US versions with beef, some with carrots and some without, and on and on and on. I'm not sure what makes a stew an authentic Irish stew. And Google didn't tell me for sure. I only know that's what my mother called hers when we were growing up.

This was in the day before slow cookers, so hers simmered a long time on the stove top, long enough for the beef to be tender. She would sometimes make it for us on St. Patrick's Day so that we would have an "Irish" meal. I like to use the slow cooker so that I can put it together in the morning and forget about it until dinner.

Here is a new-to-me recipe for slow cooker beef stew that I made last week. And since tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day, we'll call this one "Irish stew," at least for a day. 

I have made so many versions of beef stew over the years. And I don't remember any of them as a bad recipe. But I will admit that I had my doubts about this one because there are virtually no seasonings added to this. No Worcestershire sauce. No herbs. Just salt and pepper and sugar. (Sugar? Where did that come from?) But it was nearly perfect. Daddy-O said, "Sometimes simple is best."

So why did I make it when I wasn't sure about it? Well, I had nearly a whole bottle of tomato juice left from the cabbage casserole I had made the week before. This was a good way to use it up. And I needed a slow cooker meal on a day when my afternoon calendar was full.


Tapioca was also a questionable ingredient as far as I was concerned. It is not a staple ingredient in my pantry. I walked the entire a grocery store a couple of times looking for it. I looked with the baking ingredients. I looked with cereals. (I obviously don't know much about tapioca.) But when I ran into a friend I had not seen in ages, we chatted a minute then she said, "I need to let you go." And I replied, "Yes, I'm on a search for tapioca", a store manager, who was crouched near us adding prices to a new display, piped up, "Aisle 7. Near the Jello."

And I still had trouble seeing it. Top shelf. Single row of red boxes. And it turned out to be the perfect way to thicken the stew. Thick enough, but not too thick. (Later, at my closer-to-home Bilo store, I spied it down on the bottom shelf.)

This very simple stew was as good as any recipe that I've ever used. It makes a huge amount, especially when there are only two of us here. So I put some of the stew—minus the potatoes—into the freezer. I have not had much luck freezing cooked potatoes. They get a mealy texture. So I fish those out of the part that goes into the freezer. Since the potatoes are in large chunks, that's not hard to do.

I used red potatoes, well scrubbed, and left the skins on. And we served this over brown rice. Comfort food to the max.

SIMPLE BEEF STEW

2 lbs stew beef (I used about 2-1/2 lbs)
3 cups cut up potatoes (large chunks)
2-3 large carrots, sliced thick
2 medium onions, cut into wedges
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup instant tapioca (also called Minute tapioca)
3-4 cups tomato juice

Put stew beef, potatoes, carrots and onions into a 6-quart slow cooker and. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, sugar and tapioca and mix. Pour juice over all. Cook on LOW for about 9 hours. (To help the carrots cook more evenly, I cut the fat part thinner and the tapered end into longer sections.)


Add a salad to your dinner and maybe some fruit for dessert and you'll have a meal that's good and good for you.






Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cave Point Shawl

 
Pattern:  Cave Point, by Paula Emons-Fuessle
Yarn:  Quince & Co. Chickadee, Lichen colorway
Needles:  size 7

Well, it's not quite an Irish kind of green, but it IS green. Green enough for me to avoid being pinched. This was a fun knit, finished just in time for St. Patrick's Day this week.

The body of the shawl is super easy. I started it back in January before we were all hit with the post-Christmas crud. And I quickly got to the end of the easy part and was ready to start the edging. I even had knitted the row where I added all the markers between little "menorah" repeats. (I heard someone say that the edge pattern looks like menorahs. Do you see them?) And then everyone got sick. I stuffed the shawl into a bag to wait for better days.


A couple of weeks after my fever was gone, I pulled out the project bag with this half-knitted shawl. I looked at the shawl and looked at the pattern. Absolutely nothing made sense. I felt like this was the hardest pattern ever (it isn't)...but it was more like I still had brain fog left from my bout with the winter illness. I read and reread the pattern but my brain would not process it. Maybe the illness or the medicines had killed a few brain cells? So I crammed the shawl back into the bag again.


I let more time pass and then I looked again. 'Bing!' The light went on. It all made perfect sense. This time my brain was ready. For the first time, I noticed the link to the video tutorials that explained a couple of things. It didn't take long after that for me to finish this crescent shaped shawl.

What's the lesson here? Know when it's time to lay a project aside. I'm glad I waited until my thinking was clearer. It's too easy to make mistakes when you don't feel well, when you're tired, and when you're rushed. Be honest with yourself. This knitting did not come with a deadline, so there was no need to push. Maybe pull out an even simpler knit, but those under-the-weather days.

And thank you, Mother Nature. You turned the thermostat down this week for a last blast of winter so that I don't have to wait until next year to wear this.


 Happy St. Patrick's Day!





Thursday, March 9, 2017

Heart Healthy Foods


I don't get home until 7:30 on Wednesday nights. That means I need a supper that can be table ready in a flash. Sometimes it's a slow cooker meal. Other times it just means leftovers. But last night it was salad. I turned a simple side salad recipe into a main dish salad and added a toasted slice of the artisan bread to the meal. Yum!

A salad was also a healthy choice. Several times this week on assorted news outlets, I saw reports about a new study on the ten foods that significantly affect your heart health—6 foods to include, 4 foods to avoid.

This was reported, on our local news and again on morning national news:
Just 10 foods —eating too much of them or too little — account for nearly half of all heart disease deaths in the U.S., researchers reported Tuesday.
If people ate less salt and meat and ate more nuts, fruits and vegetables, they could greatly lower their own risk of heart disease, the researchers at Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy found.
For the most part, we already know these are choices we should make, but the new study added weight to the importance of those choices. In your diet, include more (1) fruits, (2) vegetables, (3) tree nuts, (4) healthy oils, (5) omega-3 rich seafood and (6) whole grains. Avoid (1) salt, (2) sugar-sweetened beverages, (3) processed meats and (4) red meat.  

Hello...we are beef cattle producers here. Let me say that the television report did say that red meat was at the bottom of the harmful list. The least harmful of the "harmful" foods. Red meat does make some good nutritional contributions to our diets. And we know that research also shows some benefits from eating lean red meat.. So we will still include beef in our meals—but in smaller portions and certainly not every day.

If nothing else, this list of 10 foods is a reminder that what we eat affects our health. Some illnesses and health problems are simply beyond our control, but why not choose good foods if they might help us live healthier lives?

You see much of what I cook here at the farm. Our food choices could be worse, but there is certainly room for improvement in the "healthy" department. Last night, a big portion of dark leafy greens—one of the best vegetable choices—was on the menu. I loved this easy recipe.


To turn this salad into a dinner salad, I added feta cheese and sliced roasted chicken on top. The flavor combination was a winner. (A dinner winner. Ha! Sometimes I amuse myself.)

I mixed the dressing ahead of time. I had put two chicken breasts in the oven in the afternoon (sprinkle with rotisserie seasoning-bake at 350 for 1 hour, uncovered) and refrigerated it until dinner time. If you work all day, cook the chicken the night before. Or, use a rotisserie chicken from the store.

APPLE KALE SALAD

4 to 6 cups chopped kale, or assorted salad greens
1 large apple, diced (I used a Honey Crisp)

Dressing:
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoons honey

Put greens and diced apple in a large bowl. In a small bowl (I love to use a custard cup for this) mix the dressing ingredients until blended. Drizzle over the kale and apples. Toss to coat.

This made two large dinner salads. It would serve 4-6 as a side salad.



I will admit that when I see a salad recipe call for kale, I usually choose this baby blend that is more tender and is milder. If you are new to kale, this is a good place to start.





Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Yes, You Can Bake Bread


So you think you can't bake bread. If you want to bake homemade bread, but have always been afraid of the unknowns—proofing yeast and rising dough and punching down and kneading—let me urge you to try again. This recipe for no-knead artisan bread isn't a new one. This no-knead method has been around for quite some time. It made a big splash in all the food media outlets for a while. A book, Artisan Bread In Five Minutes A Day, was touted as a "must have" for bread bakers about ten years ago.

Well, I have the book. And I read and read and read. But I never baked from it because the instructions and information were a lot to absorb. Now, it IS a good book. But I think there is an easier way to get started. You can see my first go at this no-knead method here. I had found a wonderful website that explained this process in a more user friendly way than the book. I still recommend that you take a look at all of her information. There are a zillion questions and answers in the comment section that you will find helpful.

I had pretty good luck using her method after I found out then that I couldn't use my standby flour, White Lily. It's the protein content that's different. I switched to King Arthur All-Purpose flour and things immediately improved. I still use White Lily for other baking—but not for yeast breads.


And this week, that same basic recipe—the same basic one that was in the book, the same basic one that is explained on the Simply So Good website—popped up again on Instagram. Posting as @enlightenedhomemaker, she often has photos of simple, healthy recipes. When I saw her bread photo, I recognized it as the same no-knead bread that I'd made a few years ago. But I took an extra minute to follow the link back to her blog. And lo and behold, I felt like I'd struck gold!

The ingredient list is the about same as the original Jim Lahey recipe and the Simply So Good verstion. It's only four or five ingredients. But her instructions have enough differences that I wanted to try it again. No more trying to plop soft dough into a blistering hot pan without touching the sides. (Can you say "ouch!"?) The rising time has a range of 4 to 24 hours. Total flexibility.  So I stirred it up yesterday.

The whole premise of those first versions is putting the dough into an extremely hot covered Dutch oven, so that the hot covered pot creates a "steam oven" for baking your bread. The method I'm passing along today starts with a cold pan. I really had my doubts. But it worked.

Try this recipe from The Enlightened Homemaker and see what happens. Or, go back and read about the previous methods. "Kosher salt" vs "sea salt." "Cool water" vs "hot water." "Preheated pan" vs "cold pan." "450 degrees" vs "425 degrees." "Let it rest" vs "no resting needed." They all seem to work. The worst case scenario is that you waste three cups of flour and a tiny bit of yeast and you'll have to wash a bowl.


This is a heavier, more dense loaf that my usual sourdough. It is what you call "rustic." That means it has holes in the inside of the bread and the crust is chewy. A hearty loaf. With the herbs added this tastes like something I've had in upscale restaurants. (Next time I'll add less of the herbs de Provence. A tablespoon was a tad much for my taste.) But it's hard to beat a simple white bread.
 
NO-KNEAD ARTISAN BREAD

3 cups all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur)
1/2 teaspoon yeast (I used Fleishmann's BreadMachine Instant yeast from a jar)
1-1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon herbs or seasoning, optional (I used Herbs de Provence) 
1-1/2 cups hot water (I used hot tap water)

Put flour into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle yeast, salt and herbs over flour and stir to blend. Stir in water until it's all moist. Cover, and let sit for 4-24 hours.

Dump dough (which is very sticky) onto a well-floured counter or mat. Form into a round or oblong loaf. Just tuck the sides in turn over.

Place dough in a Dutch oven that has a piece of parchment paper on the bottom. (Cut paper to fit.)

Bake, covered, at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove lid and bake for another 10-15 minutes until golden brown. Carefully remove from hot pan and let cool for 10 minute or so before slicing. (The crust is nearly rock hard straight out of the oven, but it will soften and be easier to slice as it cools.)


As I typed this recipe, I realized that last night I baked my bread at 450 degrees—the directions from Simply So Good. I'll do this again soon at 425 degrees to see if there is much difference. But I'm beginning to think this recipe is hard to mess up. I let mine sit yesterday for about 8 hours before baking. I want to try again and let it go for more like 18 hours and see if it rises higher. The huge range of resting times give you great flexibility to fit it into your schedule.

Don't have an oven-safe Dutch oven? I've used a large Calphalon pot with a lid that worked fine. Others have used clay pots, the insert from a slow cooker, or other large pot (at least 4-6 quarts) with a lid that can safely go into a very hot oven.

You can read about a multitude of variations on Simply So Good and Enlightened Homemaker. People have added in everything from nuts to cheese to herbs. They have tried it with whole wheat flour and made it with a blend of spelt and kamut (I don't even know what that is.) Make it your own.

There is something very "real" about homemade bread. In a world of manufactured, prepacked foods, people are seeking whole foods, where you know exactly what is in the food you eat. This recipe is a good one to add to your repertoire. People will think you have crazy mad skills! If you try it, let me know how it goes.






Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Most Favorite Recipe

Bourbon Marinated Pork Tenderloin

Today I realized that I needed to post this recipe again. It's been a few years since it's been on the blog. We are having it for supper tonight. (I borrowed a finished photo from an earlier blog post.) But what pushed me to share it again is that Mommy and Jessica have both made it this week, too. All three of us picked this recipe in a single week. Three times in one week might be a record. This pork tenderloin is right at the top of our all-time "best recipes" list.

On Tuesday night, Mommy prepared dinner for J-Daddy's boss and a few co-workers. She had to keep an eye on Baby Girl and Little Sister while she cooked, so a tried and true recipe was a must. On Friday, Jessica took dinner to a dear friend. And this pork tenderloin was her choice. We are having the pork tenderloin tonight because it was on sale last week at the grocery store.


Mommy's menu was pork tenderloin (she doubled the recipe and used the oven directions) served with macaroni and cheese, sauteed apples, roasted asparagus, rolls, and a blueberry pie. She worked out a detailed cooking schedule in advance to get everything done on time. That meant doing as much early preparation as possible. She still had to do school pick ups that day. The pie was baked the night before. The sauteed apples were done a little early and kept warm in a slow cooker until serving time. The mac and cheese was prepped that morning and it was ready to bake late afternoon.

When she entertains, Mommy writes down her schedule in detail to hopefully avoid surprises. She keeps a notebook of menus that includes each recipe and the cooking schedule for each "company" meal. She is building quite a collection of meal plans that will be used again and again. I suggested that she add the guest list and the date to make it fun in years to come.


For her Meal Train delivery yesterday, Jessica prepped the tenderloin on the grill. Her meal included roasted vegetables (Brussels sprouts, butternut squash and red onion) and creamed corn casserole, along with a dessert. In addition to taking the meal, they stayed to share it, providing some welcome company.


When there was a cake fiasco the afternoon the dinner was to be delivered, this clever girl made a quick adjustment. The cake, while still delicious, had overflowed the pan. Jessica cut the cake into cubes and layered them with fresh berries and whipped cream into pint Mason jars. She turned the disaster into individual desserts. That was probably more fun than the original cake!

Tonight we are having the pork tenderloin with roasted asparagus and baked potatoes while we watch the SEC women's basketball tournament on TV. Then I'll put one of those tenderloins into the freezer for later. That's like money in the bank, as far as I'm concerned!

A dirty recipe page usually means the recipe is a good one.

If you look carefully at the cookbook page pictured above, you might notice that the recipe posted here is slightly different. We've made this so many times over the years that we've adjusted it to suit us--less black pepper and no added salt. And current best practices say not to rinse meat. Just pat it dry.

BOURBON MARINATED PORK TENDERLOIN

2-1/2 lb. pork tenderloins (usually one package contains 2 tenderloins and is about this weight)
3/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup bourbon
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced (I used 2 teaspoons of jarred minced garlic)
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
 
Pat tenderloins dry.

Combine soy sauce and remaining ingredients in a gallon ziploc plastic freezer bag or shallow dish. Add tenderloins. Seal bag or cover dish and chill 4-12 hours. Turn once or twice while they marinate. Remove pork from marinade, discarding marinade.

Grill, covered with grill lid, over high heat (400 to 500 degrees) for 30 minutes or until meat thermometer inserted into thickest part of meat reads 155 degrees, turning occasionally. Remove from heat; cover with aluminum foil and let stand 10 minutes or until thermometer reads 160 degrees.
 
It's also good cooked in the oven, if you don't have a grill, or if it's raining,
Put tenderloins in an oven that has been preheated to 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes, until thermometer reaches 155-160 degrees. Let rest before serving.



It does a mother's heart good to see that her daughters have become excellent cooks, but more importantly, to see that they are thoughtful, hospitable people. Well done, children.


*Thanks to both daughters for sharing their food photos.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Don't Want To Cook? Me, Either

Cabbage Casserole

While I was recuperating a couple of weeks ago, I watched "Austin Powers" for the umpteenth time. (Don't judge. I was sick.) There's a whole lot of "lost my mojo" stuff that goes on in that silly movie. And this week, while I am better, I still feel like I've lost my mojo—my kitchen mojo that is. I simply cannot think of anything to cook. If we had plenty of restaurant options nearby, I might give myself a cooking vacation and eat out or order lots of take-out. You know that's just not an option when you live in a rural area like we do. But we still need dinner.

So today I looked back at my own recipe index. You can find that tab right above the blog post. And Cabbage Casserole caught my eye. I have not made it in two years. It's a one dish meal. Check off "easy." ✓ It's one I know we like. Check off "tasty." ✓ It has cabbage, onion and tomato juice in it. Check off "vegetables." ✓  We needed vegetables.

Ready for the oven

It took me not much more than 15 minutes to have it ready for the oven. If you are "knife challenged" (I'm looking at you, daughters!) I had the thought that you might could use a large bag of slaw mix and skip the cabbage chopping part. What do you think?

We will have enough for supper tomorrow night. Since I have handbell practice at 6:00 pm, that means we can eat as soon as I get home. This recipe tastes much like stuffed cabbage but it is WAY easier to make. I'll be honest. The name is about as un-glamorous as it gets. If the word "casserole" is a turn off, call it something else. But sometimes all we ask for is a good supper. This fills the bill.


CABBAGE CASSEROLE

1/2 head of cabbage (medium-size), finely chopped
salt
1/2 cup uncooked rice
1/2 cup diced onion
1 lb. lean ground beef, browned
salt & pepper
1-1/2 cups tomato juice
 
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread half of cabbage in a 9x13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with salt. (Don't be too skimpy.) Add rice, onion and ground beef in layers over cabbage. Spread remaining cabbage over top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Pour tomato juice over all. 
Cover dish with foil. Bake for 1-1/2 hours, or until done. Let stand, covered, a few minutes after you remove it from the oven. 



So, we've eaten dinner now. Would I serve this to company? Maybe not. It might depend on who the company was. Will I make it again? For sure. It's just a good weeknight meal. And on a dreary Tuesday night, that's all we ask for.