Eat Meat.

I was a vegetarian for a couple of years in high school. Not a real one: I ate yogurt, cheese, butter and eggs. As well as salads and bread.

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I quit that gig when I was visiting my great aunt in Sacramento. She cooked steaks for dinner once, for everyone except me, the vegetarian (an idea she and my grandma scoffed at). For me, she sautéed onions in the grease from the steaks and put them on a hamburger bun. I could taste that savory deliciousness in every bite. I didn’t say a word about this blunder of vegetarian ignorance — after all, she did fix something special for me to acquiesce to my food preferences.

Yeah, that killed that ruse. I love meat. Not the stuff you kill to eat. The kind that comes in packages from the grocery store.

Just to be clear.

Steaks, sausages (most kinds that I’ve been exposed to), bacon (although not to the degree of the current national obsession), pork chops (even if fried to crispy dryness like my Grandma used to make), ribs —I love ribs! Pork or beef, or pork AND beef—, ground beef if done interestingly, ham … are all on my list of Yes, Please! — when done well, but not well-done. Although ribs are good with a little burn on them.

Roasted chicken is the best. Yum. I could eat chicken (which I can cook to a degree — no pun intended) five times a week. Okay, maybe three. I love it. Turkey is good once in a while as long as it’s the dark meat, but chicken is so much better. Except in the ground stage: there I prefer the mixed turkey. Chicken is soft and pale, reminiscent of what rice that has stuck to the bottom of a pan looks like after you’ve let it soak in cold water for a while. A bit maggoty.

Both chicken and turkey, white or dark meat, make excellent sandwiches. Plain with some real butter, salt and pepper — or loaded with mayo, mustard, lettuce. Okay that’s not really loaded but I don’t like too much on those sandwiches. Home-baked white is my bread preference, if available. I’ve been known to make a loaf just for that purpose. Otherwise, a good many-grained organic bread is yummy too!

I don’t eat a lot of meat in all. Maybe a little each day. Since I can’t cook steaks or any other beef that doesn’t require braising, we eat ground beef or chicken a lot. Hot dogs.

Now pork tenderloin I can cook to perfection, for some reason. Other cuts of pork — besides bacon — not so much. Seems my taste for overcooked greasy pork chops is in the minority. So, I have to rely on others (chefs in restaurants) for my “real” meat fix — meaning something that hasn’t been through a grinder and bone separator (one would hope)— although my husband grills a mean steak, and great burgers.

I can do the vegetarian for a couple of days at a time, but then I need a fix. I’m a meat girl at heart.

No pun intended.

How To Eat an Avocado

(This is a reprint from a previous blog)

How to Eat an Avocado

I love avocados. I grew up having tastes of them since my dad loved avocados too, but they were certainly not as available to us when I was growing up as they are now, so they were considered a specialty food, almost exotic… and Dad got the bulk. He would eat slices with a little mayonnaise, salt and pepper and I adopted this way of eating avocados. It’s good — if you like mayonnaise. Which I do, much more then than now.

I also like avocados sliced in an omelet, just at the end so they heat slightly. I knew a woman who made egg-and-avocado salad for sandwiches. It seems to me that the textures and even the flavors are so close as to be redundant. If that makes sense.

The first time I had guacamole I was hooked. I don’t know where or when that was, but I’ve loved it ever since. My method of making guacamole is simple: roughly mash a couple of large avocados (I like texture to my guac); add one small clove of garlic, crushed and chopped a little; a very tiny bit of minced sweet onion, maybe a teaspoon to two avocados; and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.  A pinch of  salt, and black pepper. Serve with salty crispy corn tortilla chips.

I read an article (Bonappetit.com) that said the addition of lime juice is not authentic, at least not in Mexico. Or that if it is added (said the article), they don’t use as much as we in the USA use. It cuts the richness a little and helps keep the guacamole from turning brown while leaving the creamy dreamy flavor and texture intact. Unless you let it sit too long.

I’ve heard of pouring a thin layer of olive oil over the top of the guacamole to keep it from turning brown as well. I suppose one just pours it off when ready to serve.

Sometimes I add several squirts of Tabasco or other hot chili sauce. Usually I like to leave that on the side for others to add at will.

My mother-in-law shared with me a surprisingly tasty way in which to eat avocados. She mashed a little piece, spread it on a saltine, and sprinkled a little ground black pepper over it.avocadocrackers (2)

You wouldn’t believe how good that simple little snack is!

But the very best way in which to eat avocados is to cut one in half, sprinkle liberally with salt and black pepper, and scoop out spoonfuls as if eating a melon.

That’s the way to eat an avocado.

 

Salad Dressing

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A couple of summers ago,  my daughter and boyfriend traveled along with my husband and me to my brother’s place in Salmon, Idaho. It was dry and hot there. We had come from Washington State where we were having an unusually hot and dry summer ourselves.

For the two nights we were in Idaho, we barbequed on my brother’s outdoor grill set up with un-mortared bricks, and steel cooking racks. The nice thing about that is the bricks can be rearranged for the food being cooked. For instance, my brother and the kids re-arranged them to make an outdoor smoker, placing the bricks closer together and making two shelves with the racks, creating a deeper, narrower space below so the smoke went straight up. A large board placed over the top kept it in. We smoked salmon on it. And strips of marinated steak for jerky.

When the smoking was done after a couple of hours, the board was taken off and we grilled our vegetables and tri-tip steaks on it. Man, it was so good! The dogs loved it too!

My daughter made a green salad, with the usual lettuce, cucumber, tomatoes, onions… and avocados cut into small chunks. She dressed it with olive oil, rice wine vinegar, a bit of salt and black pepper. Then tossed to mix and let it set out while dinner cooked.

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half an avocado

The avocados broke down a little, becoming creamy, creating a lovely coating on the salad greens when tossed again, with bits of avocado still recognizable. It wasn’t too heavy, or thick. The texture and flavor was very tasty. I imagine the vinegar, as mild as rice wine vinegar is, and the heat of the evening, helped the avocados to “melt.”

I am still trying to replicate that smooth creamy dressing that came about sort of like one of those magic pies where everything is mixed together but it somehow separates into a pie crust with filling…

Maybe the smell of cooking food over a fire, and having only had nachos and a couple of beers earlier made everything taste even better, but that salad really topped off the dinner.

Well, except for the gooey rich frosted brownies I had made. Those came later, and really topped it off.

Gotta love grilling over a wood fire~

Bread

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Cloverleaf rolls

Bread has to be my favorite food.

I love desserts, but bread, ahhhh . . .

I’m a big fan of butter too. Or margarine. And honey, yes lots of honey, oh and cinnamon sugar. And salami and onions, olives, cheeses, cold roast chicken, cheeses, hummus, olive oil, did I mention cheeses? Gravy. Soft boiled or fried eggs with runny yolks. Beef stew, spaghetti with a rich tomato sauce, slow-cooked pork and black beans. . .

I do not digress: these things all have a common theme. That is, they are wonderful in, on, around bread. Think of crispy flat bread, thick olive-oil crusted focaccia, soft white bread, hearty rye or wheat, a chewy bagel, a warm na’an—there are more breads than I can list in a reasonable amount of time and space!

Toasted whole wheat is tasty for soaking in soft egg yolks or to nestle a piece of roast beef and Swiss cheese in, complimented by whole-grain mustard and pickle slices. A slathering of sweet cream butter on freshly baked soft white bread makes the beginnings of an onion sandwich. Sprinkle with a little salt, a little black pepper and that’s all you need. Tear a piece of an Italian or French loaf, slice it in half, add a drizzle of olive oil, sliced tomatoes, onions, and some red wine vinegar. Maybe a chunk of salami. Wash it down with a cold dark beer…

Of course, that lists only a few of the yeast breads. Scones are short and sweet, biscuits fluffy and somewhat plain, coffeecakes redolent with cinnamon and Marion berries. Quick breads take well to butter and honey (scones); gravy and sausage (biscuits), jams, marmalades, fruit (any of the above). Corn or flour tortillas encompass meat fillings, rich with flavor and heat; cornbread is a tasty accompaniment to soups.

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Blueberry Buckle

 

My mom used to make bread daily. Rye, whole wheat, Parker house rolls, soft white loaves, yeast coffee cakes. She made crumb cakes and blueberry buckle, waffles, pancakes and biscuits–something every day. At one point, she sold bread to make extra money, thinking of a future bakery. She was also working part time in a real estate office, had four kids and a house way out in the country to take care of while my dad was gone working long days, sometimes gone a week at a time, depending on the job. Mom had to step back to rethink it all when family friends who had been buying loaves of bread regularly from her asked for a standing order of 10 loaves per month! That was just one order! Mom quit selling bread, but fortunately she didn’t quit baking it for us.

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Corn bread with butter and honey

Holiday time — Easter and Christmas — Mom could be found up early as usual, or late at night, making sweet dough to form into lovely yummy coffee cakes with apricot or other jam filling for the neighbors. We lived on a small saltwater inlet we referred to as “the bay”, and there were only a handful of people who lived out by us year-round. Five or six golden, raisin and cinnamon, or fruit-filled coffeecakes would be delivered the eve of the holiday to these  neighbors. Of course, there was always one for our family too.

Mom raised her bread with a pan of hot water in the oven, or on a rack over the wood stove. The mother of a friend of mine used to set her bread to rise by the floor registers. When we got a real furnace, I’m not sure that my mom ever did that. We always had

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First rise

dogs and cats, and kids running in and out, without much care. The floor would have been a dangerous place to put rising bread in our house!

Mom would give my siblings and me a little piece of bread dough to make our own mini-loaf or roll when she was baking. We would roll and form it, then proudly place the misshapen forms to rise on the baking pan Mom had ready for us.

Ironically, the first time I made a loaf of bread from start to finish was with an acquaintance who lived with her hippy boyfriend in a big old house in the woods. They had a great kitchen, shopped at a co-op for whole grains. The bread didn’t turn out so well, to my thought. We used whole wheat flour and wheat berries, or buck wheat. All of which makes a heavier loaf, but I still could tell from the looks and feel that we used too much flour. I tried again once I got home. I must say my loaf baking solo turned out much better. I guess I had picked up more from my mom by osmosis than I realized.

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Potato roll

Still my bread has never been as good as hers. Mostly because she was a great baker, possibly because there is a little nostalgia in there of childhood in a warm kitchen with the baking smells and textures part of our everyday life.

I could go on describing the sensuality and earthiness, finesse and sophistication of breads, depending on what kind, but it’s something you’ll have to discover for yourself. Baking yeast breads gives a warm, grounded feeling of good will; making pastries and waffles says “you’re home.”

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Sour cream coffee cake

COFFEE: It’s what’s for breakfast

It’s the start of many a person’s day; the end to an exquisite meal; an accompaniment to a rich dessert, a snifter of brandy, a fine chocolate: coffee.

Coffee is thought to have originally been discovered in Southern Africa, where, around 600 A.D., tribesmen of Ethiopia ground the berries and rolled them into balls with animal fat to eat as a pick-me-up on long journeys. According to the National Coffee Association, USA on-line, legend says coffee beans were actually discovered by goats. The herders noticed the increased energy in their flocks, and followed the goats to the source. They wanted some of that.

Eventually coffee seeds made it to Arabia, where the people began using coffee as a beverage, steeping the beans in water. Not surprisingly, coffee was thought of as a restorative as well as a delicious beverage. Although it had been fermented to produce a wine-like drink, this was the first coffee was used as the beverage many people enjoy today.

The coffee trade thrived in Arabia for several hundred years where those entrepreneurs kept the business to themselves. Eventually, according to The Coffee and Tea Cookbook, Revised Edition by Kristie and Thomas Katona, a Muslim pilgrim smuggled beans to India, where the first coffee plantation was started (Katona, 2004). From there, seafaring men introduced coffee beans to the West Indies; they migrated on to Central and South America, where many plantations were established. On the European front, Venetian tradesmen were probably responsible for introducing coffee to the rest of Europe (Katona, pg. 2).

Coffee in the U.S. became the beverage of choice, of its type, after the Boston Tea Party (December 17, 1773), when tea from England was boycotted. Beer was pretty popular too, as well as a plethora of loaded drinks.

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Thousands of people like a coffee fix first thing in the morning. Some enjoy it with sugar and cream; some with flavorings created for just that: flavored coffee. Hazelnut, French Vanilla, and Irish Cream are a few of many flavors available. There are those who like only sugar, or only cream, or those of us who are purists and like their coffee “black,” meaning without embellishment.

Then there are those who hate the taste but want the caffeine… they are the sweetener-milk-flavoring-whipped cream types. They want their morning cup of coffee to taste like anything but coffee, so they mask the flavor with heavy embellishments.

At the end of a rich, satisfying meal, a cup of hot strong coffee — or espresso, poured over thin ribbons of lemon peel with a spoonful of raw sugar —is a nice finish. Served with a sweet, perhaps, such as raspberry-filled butter cookies, or a piece of fine chocolate.

A grown-up dessert of coffee with a scoop of coffee ice cream and a dash of crème de cacao keeps the kid in us satisfied in a whole new way. Thick, sweet, dark Turkish coffee can be enjoyed with a serving of nuts and dried fruits. Decaffeinated is a good choice for those who don’t sleep well at night when sipping too late in the day.

Choosing a coffee is a matter of taste. Choices are dark, medium, and light roasts, which is dependent on how long the beans have been roasted. A main component for a good cup of coffee is to make it as close to serving as possible. Freshly made is when the flavor is best, no matter what roast is used, or what is added to it.

Below are listed a few simple rules for great coffee:

  1. Start with clean equipment.
  2. Use good quality beans.
  3. The beans should be ground specifically for the coffee maker to be used. Freshly ground is ideal, but not always practical; newly ground is best if used within a week.
  4. Use fresh, clear water. Distilled is best—it doesn’t have to be anything fancy; run it through a pitcher-type water filter to remove the taste of chlorine and minerals that can affect the taste of brewed coffee.
  5. Use the right proportion of coffee to water.
  6. Serve coffee as soon as possible after making it.

To clean equipment, refer to the coffee maker’s instruction manual. It should tell the basics in how to wash (and dry) the maker, including which cleaners should and should not be used. There are cleansers specific to cleaning the inside of a coffee machine, using either the brew cycle, or on some models, the cleaning cycle. The cleaning cycle on my electric coffee maker takes longer than brewing; the solution sits awhile to remove mineral and residue build-up. I use one part white distilled vinegar to three parts water as the cleaning solution. After it’s done, I wait until the coffee maker is cooled off a bit, then run clear water through to get rid of any taste the vinegar might leave.

Good quality beans can be found at popular coffee houses, or in the supermarket. The brand one likes is subjective; the relative freshness and quality depends on sales turnover and the ability of the roaster to use the best beans with the best equipment and expertise to roast the beans. A smaller coffee brand may be limited; a mass-marketed general coffee company may use a combination of beans to give the best flavor for the best price. Go with what you like, keeping in mind that a small coffee company may need your help of testing its beans; but the coffee may sit on supermarket shelves longer.

The coarseness or fineness of the grind depends on which a specific coffee maker requires to extract the most out of the ground beans without becoming bitter, or too weak. Refer to your specific coffee maker’s guidelines, or inquire at the local coffee shop. If the incorrect grind is used, the result will either be watery coffee (too coarse, the water for the maker runs through too quickly) or bitter (too fine, the water takes too long to get through the coffee, resulting in undesirable bitterness from the oils).

Good clear water, with as few additives — natural minerals or otherwise — is essential for a great cup of coffee. Just think: coffee is mostly water. So the largest component is going to add unwanted flavor if it’s present. Coffee is a strong element; but its purity of flavor can be tainted by chlorine, minerals from hard water, fluoride, etc. A simple distiller, such as a pitcher with a filter, can make all the difference.

Just as the right grind for the right pot is important, the amount of water to coffee is important. Six ounces is the standard measurement of a cup, according to the National Coffee Association, USA, using 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground coffee per six ounces as a good guideline. If one likes it stronger, add more coffee grounds; weaker, use less. Espresso uses a much higher ratio of coffee grounds to water; the coffee is also ground finer because it is expressed at a faster rate and higher pressure than other coffee brews. This helps the water to pass through and extract as much as possible from the ground coffee in the short contact with the water, or steam. Espresso is concentrated; it is usually served in very small portions, 1 U.S. fluid ounce for a shot, according to SeattleCoffeeGear.com.

The most important way to enjoy a cup of coffee is to not delay serving it. After going through the trouble and steps to brew a perfect cup, enjoy it immediately. If that isn’t possible, the best alternative is to pour the freshly brewed coffee into a thermal jug or server made for that purpose. It won’t be nearly as good in even ten minutes; but it will be kept hot for a long time so the coffee doesn’t have to be reheated, or worse, sit on a burner. Both of these methods can give coffee an unpleasant, burnt taste because it can become overheated. Also, evaporation occurs in the process, intensifying the flavor — not in a good way.

There is always cold brew. Cold brew is made by pouring cold water over ground coffee and letting it steep for several hours. The result is a coffee concentrate that can be used as is, or with the addition of water and/or ice to create the strength you like. Cold brew is especially good for iced coffee. I suppose you can heat it to have a cup of hot coffee, reasoning that since it hasn’t been heated, it won’t taste burnt (keeping careful watch of course as it heats). I don’t know, I haven’t tried that yet.

I made what was called Japanese iced coffee this summer which is brewed by pouring hot water over the coffee grounds into a mug filled with ice. I experimented to get the right strength and came up with a really good cup of iced coffee without much effort. It’s worth checking out.

To recap: if you’re a coffee lover, use the best ingredients (as one should in making anything enjoyable), the right proportions, and drink it fresh. The results will be a great cup (or pot) of coffee every time!

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Bake Appeal

I was very young when I became interested in baking. Cooking, not so much. In the past several years, with the emergence of televised über-chefs and the home-cooking craze, I have become more inclined to upgrade my usual (read that boring) dishes with some gourmet touches. Such as using more herbs, or some combinations I may not have thought of before.

Still, I prefer the science of baking. The precision. The ingredients. Flour, sugar, butter, eggs — I get a warm feeling inside when I think of these things. Some people like puppies, some like motorcycles. I like a good large egg, and a perfectly measured cup of flour, topped neatly with a straight spatula. Packing brown sugar, creaming butter, whipping egg whites to a glossy sheen—these things give me a thrill. Scraping vanilla beans—ah! There’s nothing like the aroma of cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, lemons zested! Nuts toasting in a skillet, permeating the air with an earthy warmth. Yeast bread rising, adding a peculiarly homey aroma to the ménage.

I love to chop nuts, and fruits; set raisins to plump in warm water spiked with a little rum; to sip a bit of brandy while I “measure” it for chocolate truffles. Sifting, stirring, beating, whisking: the music and rhythm of the baking kitchen is my niche.

Searing beef or steaming vegetables just doesn’t do the same thing for me—although the browned, caramelized crust on a roast ready for the oven, the gentle crispness of a perfectly cooked vegetable, does make me want to pull up a plate. I like to make Hollandaise, and dark gravy, as well as to eat these sauces with vegetables and meats. Mixing smooth creamy bases for soufflés or a gratin; I like the combination of ingredients. Butter, flour, eggs. . .

In short, I love the elaboration of the measuring, mincing, mixing; the science of baking soda and baking powder and eggs used to lighten; the denseness from sour cream, the short flakiness of butter, the perfect layering from shortening. It isn’t the actual baking, or forming the cookies (tedious, to say the least) or decorating I love—it’s the combination of ingredients which fuse and form a complete change to produce those fantastic pastries and desserts for others to enjoy without a thought of what went into them.