Blog

Preparations – #JusJoJan

I love cooking but I have come to the conclusion I need a sous-chef de cuisine. Someone to do all the measuring and chopping and setting up my station with all the ingredients set up ready for me to create!

Today I am attempting to make fresh rolls to make meatball subs using the meatballs I made yesterday. I love bread making (even if it does not turn out the smell is divine! 😂) but there are a few steps I could allow someone else to prepare for me.

Then I need a dishwasher. I am THAT cook that seems to dirty more dishes than necessary. I am not crazy about the cleanup that follows one of my forays into new recipes.

I would love to be that cook that waltzes into the dining room without flour in my hair, guests seated with anticipation in their eyes as I say, “Prepare to be amazed!” Unfortunately I’m not quite there yet!


Written as part of Linda Hill’s JusJoJan.

Prompt word today (prepare) submitted by Jenny from Coffee in the Rain.

Blog

Throwback Thursday #22 & JusJoJan – For the Love of Cooking


Welcome back to Throwback Thursday. This week Lauren is taking us to the kitchen to revisit how and when we learned to cook. This should be a great topic because everyone I know cooks to some degree. My husband is a fantastic cook and not just on the grill.

Lauren has some great notes to jog your memories. Pop over to her post to read her suggestions and join in the fun.

This week’s prompt is: Cooking Skills

My post follows.


I chuckled when I read the topic today because my exposure to the idea of cooking came through play. I was quite the master at making mud pies. Now, my sisters would tell you I would buy mud pies from them and eat them, but I question their memory recall just a little. 😂

We had a small grape arbor and we would make a feast of grapes and grape leaves artfully designed on my grandmother’s discarded Guardian Service platter. We would take it up into the barn loft (not a working barn so no hay or animals) and serve it to our friends. There is nothing like the taste of a warm grape just off the vine.

Much of my early life centered around food. My parents and grandparents had a large garden so I was taught early on about rotating crops, what plants benefitted by being planted either close to or far away from another. Of course, the food was also preserved for the winter, so I was also exposed to picking and preparing food for canning.

My paternal grandmother made grape jelly from the concord grapes. The top of the glass jars would be covered with melted paraffin wax to seal it. When my grandmother was not looking, I would dip my fingertip in the hot wax. I loved peeling it off my fingers and seeing the lines my skin made on the wax.

Every adult in my family cooked and as kids, we were always in the kitchen. I remember being amazed at my grandmothers when they made biscuits and cakes from scratch. I remember my maternal grandmother always adding ingredients to boxed cake mixes so they would taste better. Wait! You can add whatever you want?

In high school, I took Home Economics. One of the first meals we prepared was scrambled eggs – something I had been cooking for years. Each kitchen had four or five students and we each had our role. Prep cook, dish washer, cook, etc. I remember the recipe calling for a pat of butter and the girl cooking put the cold butter in the dish with the egg and attempted to whisk them together. (The butter was for the pan, but she wasn’t reading the recipe). I was surprised she did not already know how to make scrambled eggs.

I also recall an assignment to prepare an entire meal, including appetizer and dessert (we never had appetizers in my house) which we would then be asked to prepare. We had access to a number of cookbooks, many with table settings, meal plans, etc. I was enthralled with the idea of cooking something no one else would consider. While looking for what I wanted to cook I stumbled on a recipe and photo of jellied consommé. My teacher tried to talk me out of it but I would not be swayed. Yuck – it was awful. Jellied beef broth, served cold with lemon juice – I remember it well!

When I was a junior in high school, my friend Marilyn and I decided to cook a meal for our boyfriends on New Year’s Eve. We planned a meal of Lamb Kebobs, Wild Rice and a Parfait for dessert. All very fancy. I was living in the suburbs of Akron, Ohio – not the lamb capital of the world. Needless to say we could not find lamb, so in all our wisdom, we selected stew beef. Now if you know meat cuts, you will know that stew beef is tough and needs to be cooked in a particular way. That did not dissuade us. We put together kebobs, skewering the stew beef, alternated with cherry tomatoes and onions. These would be cooked in the oven under the broiler. Yikes. We prepared a parfait with fruit and tapioca, layered beautifully. The only problem was they did not set properly, so we put them in the freezer to hasten it along.

We served that meal proudly. I remember stepping out of the dining room and spitting out my meat – it was awful. I remember Marilyn’s boyfriend saying “this is really good but the meat is a little chewy!” Those poor guys tried to be nice. 😂 Of course to top things off, we had left the parfaits in the freezer and they froze solid.

A few years later I had come home to visit my parents for the holidays. The phone rang and my father said it was for me which surprised me because my parents had moved to Virginia and no one I knew would be calling me. I took the phone and a familiar voice said, “I just wondered if you were having lamb kabobs for dinner.” My high school boyfriend had tracked me down, remembering that horrible meal. We both had a good laugh and agreed it would always be one of our fond high school memories.

When my sister had back surgery, I went to live with her for a time to help care for the household while she recovered. We cooked a lot during those years and we each wore out our respective copies of our Betty Crocker cookbooks.

Today, hubby and I share the cooking. We each have our specialties. We rarely eat out – even before the pandemic, cooking was something we enjoyed doing together. He loves to experiment with new recipes he finds on the internet. I love my cookbooks and we both enjoy watching cooking shows. One of our latest favorites is on Netflix – The Chef Show. No gimmicks – just cooking.

Both of my children are good cooks. Considering how many hamburger helper meals and frozen burritos they ate, I am thankful they found their way to a love of cooking.

As with all these topics, I could go on and on, but this is getting too long so I will close here. I may come back and write another post to share an old family recipe.

Thanks, Lauren. This was a fun walk down memory lane.


Written as part of Linda Hill’s JusJoJan.

Prompt word today (looking) submitted by Di from pensitivity101.

Blog

Monday Missive – March 15, 2021

Good Monday morning. I had a bit of a lull this weekend after having my second dose of the vaccine on Friday afternoon. It’s time to play catch up and get started on the week.

  • Friday we had dose 2 of the Moderna vaccine. I was chilled Friday night but never thought to check my temperature. I woke Saturday, still chilled after a restless night. I took my temp and realized I was running a low grade fever. I spent the day under a blanket with a slight headache and achy joints. Roughly 24 hours after my shot all the symptoms had subsided. I was left with a sore arm, but even that is gone now. All well worth it.
  • Late last week I spent a lot of time cooking and baking. I made hummus, kale/chard (from our garden) and potato soup with chorizo sausage, and two loaves of pineapple macadamia nut bread. The bread is from a recipe out of the Mary and Vincent Price cookbook adapting well known dishes from famous restaurants for the home kitchen. It is so tasty, but the next time, I think I will add coconut.
  • Our lovely spring weather will pause a little this week bringing rain and some cooler evening temperatures. The weekend may bring low temperatures close to freezing.
  • Wednesday I am taking Mary Smith’s workshop. So excited!
  • I have been following the CDC changes in their recommended guidance for fully vaccinated people and what it is safe for us to do. We do not plan to change much about our daily activities, but I really want to see my family. One of our daughters and her husband received their first dose of the vaccine, so we are one step closer in having some much needed family time. No other members of our family are yet eligible for the vaccine. And now we have the variants to also consider.
  • We have postponed clearing our property of fallen branches and leaves. These areas are so important for insects that winter over. Many of the ground feeding birds are finding their meals scratching in the leaves.
  • One pair of our bluebirds have definitely begun laying eggs. There is a nest in the other birdhouse, but we have not seen much activity there of late. In 30 days the hummingbirds should return and will remain until they migrate in the fall. Such a rewarding time to observe nature.
  • I have been trying to observe small changes as I take my walks. Color is appearing in the distant trees. It will transform quickly now.
Blog, Home

Comfort Food

Day 21

Nothing says home like comfort food. The smell, the taste and often times the simple thought of it induces a feeling of well being and happiness. It can be a memory from our past or some flavor combination that maybe stimulates something in our distant DNA. I am not a scientist, so I do not know, but what I do know is that food and memory go hand-in-hand.

Breakfast

eggs and toastThis morning was chilly here in the foothills. The overnight temperature hit 42 degrees F. We have not yet hit the freezing mark, but we have danced around it several times. Our house has a lot of windows so the house is not always toasty warm in every nook and cranny. I have already donned my fleece pants and sweats to keep me warm.

When I started thinking about breakfast, I knew immediately I wanted ‘chopped up hard boiled eggs’ — a breakfast meal we had many times growing up. It is a homey concoction of hard boiled eggs chopped up with butter and salt and pepper. Always served with buttered toast. It is warm and inviting and says everything about home and sitting around with family in our PJ’s enjoying a meal together. My husband has never tried it. He thinks the idea of putting butter on hard boiled eggs is not at all appealing.

Most of my comfort foods I associate with growing up seem to revolve around breakfast. My grandmother made pancakes — hotcakes as she called them — always served with butter and warm syrup. The syrup had to be warm. I am sure a warm breakfast meal was always important as it was often very cold in the valley where I grew up.

My other breakfast favorite was leftover biscuits, sliced and toasted under the broiler, served with butter and syrup. I am seeing a pattern here – warm foods, butter and warm syrup. Maybe I just respond to carbs more that the average person.

Of course there were meals I did not like AT ALL. We often had oatmeal to which my grandmother added raisins and brown sugar. Lord, save me from warm puffy raisins. Ugh. The other was ‘corn meal mush’. Cornmeal cooked in boiling water served hot with milk. Yuck. It was especially bad when I bit in to a lump of dry cornmeal that did not get mixed well with the water. Nope. Do not miss that at all.

Cast Iron Cooking

Cornbread seems to be served in one or two basic ways. Sweetened or unsweetened. I like both okay, but warm unsweetened cornbread with melted butter (butter again!) is a food I will never tire of. Always baked in a cast iron skillet in a hot oven so you get an amazing browned crust.

I remember one meal at my maternal grandparents house. We sat down to eat when my grandmother brought a plate to the table, slices of delicious warm cake — or so I thought. It was cornbread. My paternal grandmother never sliced her cornbread, it was always broken, so sliced cornbread was new to me. I was sorely disappointed (even though I love cornbread) to learn I was not destined to have cake for dinner that day.

The other comfort food always made in a cast iron skillet, was pineapple upside down cake. Again, butter in the skillet, slices of pineapple and brown sugar topped with a rich batter and baked in a fairly hot oven. My mouth waters just thinking about it. We never had cherries on ours and it is still my preference not to have cherries. But it must be warm.

Every southern cook has a cast iron skillet. It is used for everything from eggs, to cornbread, to frying chicken and even dessert. Definitely a must-have in my kitchen.

My Mom

My mom was a great country cook. She made wonderful fried chicken with biscuits and milk gravy. I have never been able to achieve her level of expertise in frying chicken. She would never buy a pre-cut chicken – it always had to be whole so she could cut the pieces the way she wanted them. It was the best – hot or cold.

The other thing my mother used to make was a salad/dessert we just called ‘banana salad’. It was simple – a banana sliced in half lengthwise. The flat surface of the banana spread with Miracle Whip, then topped with chopped peanuts. The idea of this delicacy seems to turn more people’s stomaches that any food I talk about. But, it was so delicious. Unfortunately, I developed a minor peanut allergy late in life, but I discovered that it is just as delicious with chopped cashews.

Cool Weather Fare

Panang CurryNow that we live where there are four seasons, we are getting back to eating more hearty meals. Especially in the winter. We look forward to sweater weather and pots of homemade soup. I absolutely love Trisha Yearwood’s recipe for chorizo and kale soup. It is so good and one we eat often (with cornbread of course). My husband also makes a killer homemade vegetable soup that has also become a winter staple.

It’s not just food you make at home. It’s food that speaks to us. Last night it was take-out Thai food from a great local Thai restaurant. I had Panang Curry as I always do. My daughter got me hooked on it and it has become one of my favorite comfort foods. Maybe I will even try to make it myself someday if I can find kaffir lime leaves somewhere locally.

Comfort means a lot in this crazy world. I do not eat the foods I mention often, but they are foods that mean home to me. And home means comfort.

“Food is a lot of people’s therapy. When we say comfort food, we really mean that. It’s releasing dopamine and serotonin in your brain that makes you feel good.”
Brett Hoebel

 

 

Blog, Home

Home Cooking

Day 16

Nothing says home like a meal taken to the table and eaten with those people we love. It is our very identity. Food is such an important part of our heritage and cooking says a lot about our relationship with the people who raised us.

Gardens As a Food Source

IMG_7213My families were great cooks. We grew up with meager means, but heck, I didn’t know it. I thought we had everything. My mom, my step-mom and my grandmothers were great cooks. They cooked simply – everything taken from their environment. We were farm to table before it was a thing.

It started with the garden. Planting a garden was a lot of work. It started in the fall. Often old plant stems were plowed under so they could again become part of the soil. In spring, the soil was turned over (a term for plowing under) and the dark rich earth was brought to the surface.

Planting and tending the garden was everyone’s responsibility. I learned early on how to plant, fertilize, weed and hoe a garden. We did not think of it as work – it was just part of what we did.

Harvest Forward

IMG_7214Once plants were mature, the harvest began. Again, as children, we learned to pick and string green beans at a very early age. Pulling onions, ‘hilling’ potatoes, picking cucumbers and tomatoes was just part of the routine of growing up country.

We had a small grape arbor where we grew the most amazing concord grapes. Those were picked and turned into jam and jelly and even a little wine – which we were never allowed to touch. Thinking about it, I can close my eyes and picture the bees swarming around the fallen grapes and tasting the warm grape right off the vine. It was divine!

We sat on the porch and shucked corn, snapped beans and sorted potatoes. It was a communal time of conversation and just getting the work done. After we were finished our jobs, the preserving started.

Mothers and Grandmothers

I came from a fabulous line of amazing cooks. None ever used a recipe, but I have watched them cook more times than I can remember. In late summer and early fall we ate fresh vegetables but it was also time for ‘putting up’ food for the winter.

Tomatoes were canned and turned into tomato juice. Fruits were turned into jellies. Cucumbers were turned into pickles. Beans were canned. Beets were pickled and potatoes were put into the cellar where they would stay cool for use all winter.

My paternal grandmother made grape jelly. I was always fascinated by the paraffin wax she melted and poured on top to seal the jelly from any contaminants. I used to sneak behind her and put my fingertips in the hot paraffin and then, once cooled, pull off my fingertips in utter amazement — fingerprints and all! My maternal grandmother made apple jelly from a pound apple tree in her front yard. It was so clear you could see right through it.

Recipes? What Recipes?

Recipes were few and far between. There were some that may have been clipped from a magazine or some were written if acquired from a neighbor. But, for the most part, all the ‘know how’ was in their heads. They cooked, they tasted and they served the most amazing meals.

IMG_7229I do have my maternal grandmother’s recipe for ‘Angel Biscuits’ but mine never rise high and fluffy like hers did. She made the BEST ‘Angel Biscuits’ I have ever tasted. She also wrote down her ‘Fool Proof Piecrust’ recipe for me — but I think I might be a fool!

I cook much the same way, although I do love cookbooks. I have a few favorites that I consult over and over again. Tonight I tried a new recipe. It turned out well, but I am already thinking about how I would alter it. That’s just the way we learned to cook.

My son recently asked me to cook for him on his 40th birthday. He asked for flank steak and mashed potatoes. It was one of our staples when my children were growing up. I bought flank steak because it was cheap – not so much anymore folks! It is his memory of the comfort food that he is after, not so much the food.

The Legacy

Both my children are good cooks in their own right. They both cook for their families frequently. My daughter makes THE BEST meatloaf ever. I am not sure either of them really use recipes much, but this I know — they are building memories and a lifetime of comfort for their children.

And that makes me proud.

“No one who cooks, cooks alone. Even at her most solitary, a cook in the kitchen is surrounded by generations of cooks past, the advice and menus of cooks present, the wisdom of cookbook writers.” 
Laurie Colwin