Welcome to my world...

Let me begin by telling you I’m not a nutritionist, dietician, or Cordon Bleu Chef. I’ve never even worked in a restaurant. What I am is a wife of over 30 years, a mother, and a grandmother who loves to cook. I have, at times, needed to use all “101 Ways to Cook Hamburger”, made tuna casserole and split pea soup until my husband begged for mercy…and had fun doing it.

As times and finances improved, so did my repertoire. I had the freedom to try more exotic fare, like pork chops. By the time the kids were in high school, I had progressed as far as shrimp and crab. Now the kids are all grown up, it’s just the two of us, and I’ve had to re-learn to cook yet again. Of course, trying new foods and new recipes is part of the fun. My motto is “I’ve never met a recipe I didn’t change.”

That’s what this blog is about, sharing recipes, stories and memories. So, enjoy your food, enjoy your life. And most importantly, don’t forget to have fun, playing with your food.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Happy Easter Brunch

        Easter, to me has always been about coloring eggs and springtime…a new dress, Sears-photo-studio pictures for Grandma…and of course, good food.
        As a child, we went to church, (one of the three times we went each year). Afterwards, we would go out to neat, usually at a place like North’s Chuck Wagon. My first taste of fresh asparagus with hollandaise sauce was at an Easter buffet. So was my first shrimp omelet. I remember much more about the food than the church service.
        My husband and I have always celebrated Easter with our family and friends. A backyard egg hunt, followed by a lovely dinner, was an annual ritual until the kids outgrew Easter baskets. The dinners continued, but I missed the hunts. Now that we have young grandchildren, we’re hiding eggs again.
       I love to have an Easter brunch, but I don't want to spend the whole morning in the kitchen. The following is essentially a savory bread pudding that can be
 
assembled the night before. Make a fresh fruit salad and muffins ahead of time, brew a pot of coffee, and let the entrée bake while the kids hunt for eggs.
 
Shrimp “Soufflé”
Serves 6-8
 
1 lb. cooked salad shrimp
1 - 8oz. package cream cheese
6-8 medium Crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
6 slices English muffin bread, cut into cubes
2 tbsp. butter
6 eggs
½ - cup milk
½ tsp. dill
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. white pepper
2 ripe Roma tomatoes, seeded and thinly sliced
1 cup prepared hollandaise sauce

Heat oven to 325°. Beat the eggs, milk, dill, salt and pepper until well blended. Fold the bread cubes into the egg mixture. Cover and refrigerate 15 - 30 minutes until the bread is quite moist. 

Melt the butter in a small skillet and sauté mushrooms over medium heat until softened. Butter or spray a two- quart oblong casserole dish. Repeat layers of bread mixture, cream cheese slices, shrimp and mushrooms, finishing with a bread layer (5 total).  Arrange the tomato slices on top.

Cover and bake at 325° for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Serve topped with hollandaise sauce.
Jordan & Connor, Easter 2012

 
 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Feeding the Bear

(A Sequel to Waiting for Cheese - Oct. 2011)
 
            There have been feral cats in the San Juan Islands for as long as there have been people. They have adapted, become as much part of the environment as the squirrels. The population remains quite stable, and the cats are amazingly healthy. Most likely, that's because so many people feed them. There is still a healthy population of juncos, finches and stellar jays. I've had to refill birdfeeders daily in the winter. During parts of spring and summer, hummingbirds invade the deck like swarms of bees. It's hard to keep three bottles full of nectar. The cats don't seem to bother the birds. As an added bonus, we don't have a rodent problem, either.
My husband and I refer to these felines as free-range. It seems so much kinder than feral. We had been told the old black-and-white Tom that "came with" our farmhouse was one of the founding fathers. He was long gone, but many of the cats that crossed our property bore his tuxedo markings. Not being cat people, we never paid much attention to them. Then one summer, our son found a tiny kitten, abandoned in my herb garden. He brought her inside, and Smokey became part of our family. She has not set a paw outdoors since.            
Two years later, we were adopted by two of Smokey's siblings. There was dark grey JR, who looked like Smokey, but with long hair, and golden Brownie. Both were friendly, with lots of personality. They had been living in our garden rockery since they were tiny, first with their mother, then on their own. We grew quite attached to them. As autumn approached, my husband built a shelter for them on our porch, and I started feeding them regularly. The young cats were sleek and fat. However, they were anything but tame.
That was the problem. When we decided to relocate, we didn't know what to do about JR and Brownie. We discussed and considered every option, from taking them to the local rescue shelter (where they would surely find homes), to taking them with us to our new location. Either way would involve actually catching the cats. 
As moving day approached, I began putting their dinner in the laundry room, with the door open. Cautiously, the shy critters came in to eat, as long as no one was in there. My plan was to get them accustomed to being inside, gradually closing the door, until they would let me pick them up. After a couple of weeks, it became obvious that being tame housecats was not in these guy's plans. They would purr, and rub our legs, but would scurry away at any motion to touch them. We decided then that finding them a "new home" would do more harm than good. They had been born in the woods, had come from parents many generations free-range. My husband compared them to young raccoons.
We made the rather painful decision to leave the boys at the farm. I spoke to the new tenants, (who were happy to have resident rat-catchers), provided ten pounds of kibble to get them started, and waved a reluctant good-bye to JR and Brownie.
Smokey had lived exclusively indoors since she was four weeks old. The old house had been her whole universe. After watching her adjust to her new surroundings, I felt better about the choice we had made. She might as well have been on Mars. Fearfully, she stayed under our bed for hours at a time. At least the boys were in their familiar territory. They only "needed" us at feeding time.
I ran into the new people several times in the first month. Each time, I was told that the "little gray cat with the white boots" hung around the woodshed. They had been putting food out for him, trying to make friends. However, there had been no sign of Brownie. I toyed with the idea of making a poster to put down at the little store, just to see if there had been any sightings, but discarded the notion as rather silly. My husband and I were both certain he was alive. About 18 months old, he was sturdy and muscular. Brownie knew how to take care of himself.
Several more weeks went by, and life got back to normal. It had taken a few days for Smokey to discover the joys of wall-to-wall carpeting. After that, she was quite comfortable and happy. We were still on acreage, surrounded by forest. A herd of deer made daily foraging trips across our yard, and a flock of wild pigeons roosted in a large hawthorn tree. One afternoon, eleven of the neighbor's sheep found a break in the fence, and came over to visit us. Every so often, we would see cats near the edge of the meadow, hunting. One was a huge animal that could have passed for a bobcat, except for its distinctly domestic face.
On a sunny April morning, I was on my way to work when I saw a flash of ginger fur, just outside the door. The animal disappeared before I could get a good look at it.  Over the next few days, we saw the orange cat several times, but always from a distance. Then there he was, close enough to see the little scar on the pink nose, the kink in the tail, Brownie had found us!
Speaking softly and moving slowly, I approached the little cat. He backed off, but didn't run. His fur looked somewhat ragged and he had lost weight. I got a dish of cat food, set it on the step, and walked away, careful not to make eye contact. Brownie waited until I was in my car, then he attacked the food ravenously.   
I drove to work with a smile on my face. I had really missed the little cat. Excited, I called my husband. Our new place was about a mile up the road by pavement, much less, as the cat scampers. In his cat-ly wanderings, he must have recognized our vehicles or the scents on them. It's very unlikely that Brownie had been looking for us, but I like to think he was glad, anyway. He was gone when I got home that night, and we didn't see him again for several days. Each evening I stood on the porch and called his name. I was nearly ready to give up, when one night I heard a soft meow in response. "Hey Brownie-boy," I coaxed. "Welcome home buddy. Come get some dinner."
Setting a dish of table scraps on the porch, I stepped back inside. Cautiously, the cat approached, his whiskers twitching, smelling the food. "It's ok, good fella," I crooned softly, "Come on, Brown-bear, that's for you."
Hunger finally won out over his fear. Nervously he stretched forward, grabbed a bite and darted away. I went inside, and slowly, Brownie came back to the dish to finish his meal. The shyer of the two kittens, he had always been very quiet, rarely making a sound.  As I watched through the open window, I could hear him purring, the loudest purr I had ever heard.
It went on like this for several days. Every evening, Brownie would come a little closer. The day he actually started eating, before I backed away from the dish, it felt like a small victory. I had finally won a smidgen of his trust. I watched him, contentedly eating. The young cat was obviously thinner. He had been hunting mice, and eating garbage, and was probably infested with parasites. A dose of worm medicine, and some flea drops between his shoulder blades would take care of that problem.
Being on his own, away from JR, Brownie's personality began to shine through. Talkative and friendly, he was happy to rub his body on our legs, while purring and meowing softly. As spring turned to summer, he stayed near the house, sunning on the warm gravel, or curled up on the steps beside the door. He gained weight and filled out, growing into a compact cat, stocky and strong. He started to look like a little brown bear.
Over time, Brownie became quite approachable, by his standards. A good ear-scratching or back rub would earn much purring, as long as we didn't try to pick him up. We folded an old quilt into a thick pad, and placed it in the mud room, near his dish. That night at dinnertime, my husband and I watched through the window. After finishing his cat food, Brownie gave the blanket a cautious sniff, and lay down tentatively. From then on, he was very comfortable, eating and sleeping inside, as long as the door was ajar.
The first truly cold evening of autumn, I let Brownie in and shut the door. Distracted by the dishing-up of dinner, he didn't notice at first. I set his bowl down, saw him start eating, and went into the house, leaving him alone in the mud room. Good, I thought, he doesn't mind. He'll be safe and warm, with a soft place to sleep.
"How's Brownie doing out there?" my husband asked an hour or so later.
I said I didn't know, and let's go check. Peering into the dim room, we fully expected to see the cat curled up, asleep. Instead, we didn't see him anywhere. Flipping on the light, I stepped into the mud room and called his name. Instantly, I heard a low growl. Following my ear, I saw Brownie, crouched in the corner behind a stack of flowerpots, looking terrified.
"It's okay, fella," I said, feeling terrible, "I'm so sorry, boy, I didn't mean for you to be scared." Quickly, I crossed the room and opened the outside door. Brownie was through it in a flash of ginger fur. No amount of coaxing would bring him back in, that night.
By the next day, however, all was well again. We made sure the door remained open a bit. My husband stretched a mini-bungee from door-knob to door-frame, held in place by a coffee can doorstop. Brownie had made his wishes abundantly clear. No matter how much he trusts us, confinement is not his cup of tea. So, we do what we can by providing some food and shelter, and he does his part by keeping the rodents away.
The Brown Bear was born a free-range cat, and free-range he has chosen to remain, but he still enjoys his blanket.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Rushing Spring

         Seeing the newly opened, seasonal, garden center at the local Thriftway made me think of our early years on Orcas.
         Coming from here in the Willamette Valley, and eager for Spring, I really didn’t appreciate the differences in climate. According to all the gardening books, the San Juans were still a solid “Zone 8”, just like Portland. Tax day was the last frost date I was used to, and often it was safe to plant hardy annuals even sooner. With that in mind, I started my first island garden.
         It was late February, the weekend of the annual salmon derby. Pat was out on the water with his fishing buddies, and I was left with a beautiful faux-spring day ahead of me. With visions of bluebells and petunias, I drove to the nursery in town. Instead of the row upon row of bedding plants that I expected to see, there were bare-root shrubs and not much else. I spoke to the lady in charge, and she patiently explained that there were no less than 18(!) separate microclimates on Orcas, and she didn’t stock annuals until the first week of May…but I was welcome to order anything I wanted.
         Undeterred, I went to the hardware store. They’re part of a chain, so they carry what the mainland suppliers send them. I bought a flat of primroses and one of violas. Turns out it was too early for petunias even by Ace Hardware standards. I rushed home to prep my flowerbeds. By the time the fishermen came home, I had everything planted, and protected from the deer. It really looked like spring had come early.
         Unfortunately, the beautiful day was followed by a night with a clear sky. As the sun went down, so did the temperature. In the morning, I was reminded that Violas are also known as “pansies”. Every one had succumbed to the frost. The primroses were wilted, but recovered as the day warmed up. Fair enough. I waited until May to buy more bedding plants.
         You would think that taught me a lesson, but no. The following year, I managed to hold out until the middle of March. Then a string of unseasonably warm days got the better of me. I’d been reading about cool weather crops, and decided it was time to set out the cabbage and broccoli. I had started these from seed, (too early) and they were already getting to big for their pots. The plants had been growing in the unheated utility room, so I didn’t think the temperature shock would be too great. After a day of hardening off, I planted my little treasures. They did beautifully…for eight days. Then on the day of the Vernal Equinox...laughingly known as the first day of spring…it froze hard, then it snowed. So much for cool weather crops.
         The late April night I found myself shivering in the dark garden, covering my tomato cages with plastic bags, I admitted defeat. I realized that spring in the islands just couldn’t be rushed.

         Now, back in the valley, I'm still in a hurry for spring, but it's not so hard to wait until mid-April. At least I'm relatively certain that it won't snow. 
 
 *****

        I like to make this recipe when the garden is in full production, but there’s really no reason to wait. You can use pretty much any vegetables, as long as you get varied textures and colors. It’s the salsa that’s important. The smokiness of the peppers is what makes this dish. I served these to my teenage sons, and neither noticed the absence of meat.

Chipotle Veggie Wraps         A vegetarian entrée

8 Whole wheat Tortillas
2 tbs. corn oil
1 ea. red, yellow & green bell pepper, sliced
1 med. onion, cut into thin wedges
Other veggies (mushrooms, zucchini, etc.) to equal 2 cups
1 lb. pkg. tofu, cut into strips
½ tsp. each cumin and chili powder
1½ cups Chipotle salsa
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Shredded lettuce
Sour cream for garnish

Heat oil to medium high in heavy skillet. Add peppers and onions. Cook until tender.
Add remaining vegetables and cook to desired tenderness.

Reduce heat to medium. Season tofu with chili powder and cumin. Add to skillet along with the salsa. Simmer until heated through.

Wrap in warmed tortillas and top with lettuce, cheese and sour cream.


 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Taking the Easy Way...

      As much as I love to cook, I still like to find shortcuts to make a recipe easier, or faster to create. When the family was growing, I made most everything from scratch. It was far more cost effective, and peeling potatoes or dicing carrots can be therapeutic. But, I just don't feel like doing all that after a long day at work. Now, I get a lot of "kits" and add my own variations.   
      Idahoan makes an instant mashed potato that tastes homemade, especially if used as a crust for shepherd's pie.
      A Totino's frozen pizza (or {"peetzee") as we like to call it) can serve as the base for all kinds of great toppings, when we don't want to get a "real" pizza.
      A bag of frozen mixed vegetables is a staple in my freezer. I use them in soups, stews, and casseroles, anything that needs those kinds of veggies.
      A perfect example of "fast and easy" is this simple sauce. I use an envelope of Knorr white sauce mix, and serve it over Ramen noodles. Allow about 2 packs of noodles for every 3 servings. Cook the noodles per package directions, but use half as much of the seasonings. (I use shrimp flavor with this dish.) Drain off the broth. The noodles will absorb some of the flavor without overpowering the clams.

White Clam Sauce
Serves 4 to 6

2 - 6.5 oz. cans of chopped clams
3 cups basic white sauce, homemade or packaged
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
3 tbsp. finely diced sweet onion
4 medium button mushrooms, sliced (or 1 can sliced mushrooms, drained)
1 tsp. minced parsley
½ tsp. garlic powder

Drain clams, reserving liquid. Make white sauce, using the clam nectar for a portion of the liquid, adding milk or half-and-half to make 3 cups. Set aside and keep warm.

In a heavy saucepan, heat oil and butter over medium heat. Add onion. Cook slowly, stirring frequently until translucent. Add mushrooms and reduce heat to low. Add parsley and garlic powder. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally until mushrooms are tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the white sauce, followed by the clams.

Simmer on low, 15 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve over your choice of pasta, garnished with parmesan if desired.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Seahawks Super Bowl Party

Unless you are somewhere completely without communication,(in which case you probably wouldn't be reading this blog) you know that next Sunday is Super Bowl. The Seattle Seahawks will be facing the Denver Broncos. The last time the Seahawks played in the big game was in 2005, when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The night before, there was a huge wind storm in northern Washington, leaving much of Seattle without electricity. The venues with generators did record business that day.

This year, we will be watching the game with our family and friends, cheering and enjoying awesome food. Pizza and wings are expected. We are not, however, talking about take-out wings or delivery pizza. Nope, these are to be homemade, from scratch. I used to make pizza as a way to kill time during the game. Now-a-days, though, I'm as much a fan as my husband and kids. I make my pizza before kick-off, put it in the oven just before halftime, and it's ready by the third quarter. The wings require a bit more attention, but I just set and carry a small kitchen timer in my pocket.

When I started making wings, I didn’t care at all about being authentic. I’ve never been to Buffalo, and I like my wings a bit less fiery, with no dip required. So, after many trials, this is what I came up with. We prefer our wings well done, so I slow roast them for about 2 hours. The chicken comes out falling-off-the-bones tender. I included brand names in my recipe, but I've had good results with McCormick's dry rub and Sweet Baby Ray's barbeque sauce. I think the key is to use both Hickory and Mesquite in some combination.

Sweet & Spicy Chicken Wings
Heat oven to 350°

2½ lb. bag Foster Farms Party Wings
2 tbsp. (or so) Lysander’s Hickory Dry Seasoning
1 cup Stubb’s Smokey Mesquite Barbeque Sauce
1 tbsp. Stubb’s Wicked Chicken Wing Sauce or other hot sauce (optional)
 
Combine 1 cup barbeque sauce with 1 tablespoon wing sauce. Stir well and set aside.
 
Make sure the wings are completely thawed. Place in a single layer, skin sides down, in a large baking dish. Sprinkle generously with Lysander’s, enough to make a visible layer. Bake for 30 minutes. Drain if necessary. (I use a turkey baster.)
 
Turn the wings over and season the skin side generously. Bake an additional 30 minutes. Turn the wings again. Brush well with the sauce. Bake another 20-30 minutes. Turn skin-side-up and sauce that side generously. Return to the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the glaze is set. Serve hot or cold.
 
***
 
A good crust is the foundation of any pizza. There are plenty of good refrigerated pizza crusts, and even boxed mixes, that work very well. I even used biscuit mix once, when I was out of yeast. But a good, basic yeast dough is still the best way to go. If you have a bread machine with a pizza setting, use it. Just follow their directions.
 
Super Bowl Pizza  
Makes one 14” medium crust pizza

1 packet active dry yeast, quick rising
1 cup warm water (105° to 115° F)
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. olive oil
2½ to 3½ cups all purpose flour

OR
1 - 12” to 14” ready made pizza crust

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add salt, olive oil and 2½ cups flour. Mix well. Turn onto floured board. Knead, adding remaining flour until dough feels elastic. Place in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover; let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour. Punch down. Let rest about 10 minutes. Brush pizza pan with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Press dough across bottom of pan, forming a collar around edge to hold the toppings.
 
Toppings:
1 - 14 oz. can pizza sauce
1½ cup shredded mozzarella
¼ lb. pepperoni
¼ lb. salami
¼ lb. Canadian bacon
½ lb. Italian sausage, hot or mild
¼ cup diced onion
¼ cup diced bell pepper
½ lb. sliced mushrooms
1 - 3oz. can sliced olives

Brown sausage and drain well. Sauté onion and pepper in a little olive oil until soft. Spread sauce across crust. Layer all topping ingredients, finishing with cheese on top. This can be done a couple of hours ahead. (Your crust may continue to rise if it’s made ahead and not refrigerated.)

Bake at 450° for 15 to 20 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before slicing.



Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dungeness Crab Delight

             When I was a freshman in high school, my best friend, Julie and I spent spring break at her mother's cabin near Mt. Hood. It was our first excursion without adults, although we learned later that the neighbors had been keeping a discreet eye on us. At fifteen, we considered ourselves quite self sufficient, and we really did pretty well. We hiked, shot pellet rifles, and rode our bicycles into the town of Rhododendron for breakfast one morning.
            One unseasonably warm afternoon, the temperatures topped 70. We decided that it would be fun to go swimming. We dressed in some of Julie's old cut-off shorts and t-shirts and headed for the creek. By the time we walked the mile or so, mostly uphill, to the swimming hole, we were really hot. The deep water of Still Creek looked inviting. After checking for submerged hazards by poking aroung with a long stick, Julie ran to the bank and jumped in. I was right behind her.
            The cold shot through my body like an electric shock. My hands and feet were instanly numb. It had not occurred to us that it was only mid-March, and the creek was full of snow melt. (We were on the ascending slope of Mt. Hood, after all.) Our "swim" lasted approximately 15 seconds. Just long enough to get back out of the water. It had also not occurred to either of us to bring towels. Shivering, and on the verge of hypothermia, we made our way back through the very shady woods. Back at the cabin,  Julie stoked the woodstove, the only source of heat. We were very glad that cooking required fire, and we had built one that morning to make coffee. Soon we were in warm, dry clothes and the pot was bubbling. Life was good again.
            Julie and I, even as teenagers, enjoyed good food. Her mother was a gourmet cook, happy to cook for us, and teach us anything we wanted to know. My first taste of caviar was in her kitchen. We were both learning to cook, and found the woodstove at the cabin a lot of fun. Being true Oregon tomboys, we grew up with the lore of the pioneers, and wanted to learn all the skills. The week at the cabin was as close as we could come in the 70's. And much of it revolved around food. We roasted a rabbit (that we brought from the butcher shop) on a spit in the fireplace, and baked potatoes in the coals.  It took about five hours, and countless burnt fingers, but it was a delicious meal.
            Coffee was in a stove top perculator, and not very good. We either used too much coffee, or let it perk too long. The pancakes we made on the cast iron stove top were another matter, and wonderful. Likewise the pepper-cured honey bacon that we found at the market in Rhododendron.
            We lost touch after high school, but have re-established contact. Our lives have taken us to, quite literally, opposite ends of the country. Mine to the San Juan Islands of Washington State, hers to northern Maine. No surprise that we both live in the woods. We still both love the outdoors, and fantasize about pioneer living, although on a tamer scale. And we both still love to eat, and cook
            Here in the Pacific Northwest, it's the season for fresh Dungeness crab, in my mind, far tastier than any lobster. Julie's mother passed away a few years ago, but I asked if she would share her special crab soup recipe. I remembered it as her entry in one of the James Beard contests. I believe it won an award, but neither Julie or I can recollect the details. The original recipe was for twelve main course servings, and called for a total of four pounds of crab.This adaptation calls for quantities of a more managable size, and the results are scrumptious.
 
Dungeness Crab Delight             
Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer
 
1/2 lb. cooked crab meat
1/2 lb. cooked crab legs
1 to ½ quart half & half
¼ lb. butter
¼ cup flour
1 tbsp. onion, grated
2 drops hot pepper sauce or ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
½ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. Scotch or Bourbon Whiskey (optional)
Salt, Pepper, Chopped parsley, Paprika
 
Melt butter in double boiler. Add Flour and onion and cook at least 20 minutes up to two hours (the longer, the better). Slowly add most of the half & half, stirring at low heat to keep from lumping. If too thick, add more half & half. Add a sprinkle of black pepper and the Tabasco Sauce. (Up to this point can be made ahead of time and allowed to cool).
 
An hour before serving, heat slowly to a simmer. Stir in whiskey and add the crab meat and legs, being careful not to break it up too much. Check for seasoning and add salt if needed (often, the crab is salty enough on its own).

To serve, pour the heavy cream into serving bowls and pour the soup over it. Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley and plenty of paprika.
 

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Cure for the Common Cold?

             Eastern European peasant food, this lentil soup was a staple when I was growing up. Definitely a comfort food, the smells evoke a feeling of nostalgia to this day. It was one of my Czech mother's signature dishes, and a favorite of my dad's. During the winter, there was almost always a pot simmering on the back of the stove. 
            Traditionally used as an appetizer, it was said to ward off chills and colds. My grandmother, mother, and aunts swore by the healing powers of the garlic, and would use copious amounts. I'm more partial to the soothing aroma of the sweet marjoram, the essential spice in this dish. (Don't be afraid to use a lot. The flavor is mild, and the fragrance is heavenly.) Either way, it's good for body and soul.
            Easy to make, and relatively fast, I make it for dinner. My family loves it, which is a bonus. Early on, it became part of the rotation for "Soup & Bread Night." I like to serve it with a good, toasted potato bread, or a light rye. Just don't do garlic bread, it's overkill, I found.
Babi's Lentil Garlic Soup       Flavorful, Satisfying, and Meatless
About 4 - 6 servings
1 cup diced celery, with leaves             
1 cup diced onion
2 tbsp. olive oil                                    
2 cloves garlic, or more, to taste - minced
6 cups vegetable broth                         
1/2 lb. dried lentils
1 tsp. or more dried marjoram leaves               
Salt and pepper
 .
In large, heavy soup pot, saute celery and onion in oil until tender soft. Add half of the garlic cloves, lentils and broth. Be aware of the heat of your garlic and use accordingly. If you like lots of garlic, use more. The cooking time reduces the bite. Season to taste with salt, pepper and marjoram.
Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until lentils are tender, 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally. The longer you simmer, the thicker the soup will be. Add remaining clove(s) of garlic just before serving. Serve with hearty whole grain bread. 
 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Mycology is Mushrooming

            One of my fondest childhood memories is of going mushrooming with my aunt and
 uncle. I remember the smell of the moist soil, walking on a carpet of pine needles so thick that our footsteps made no sound. The awe of that ancient forest, with bracken fern fronds nearly as tall as I, has stayed with me. My cousin and I would scamper around, searching for 'shrooms. We were taught not to touch any, just show them to an adult. Some were picked, some were vetoed. I don't remember anything about the art of mycology, I was too young, but I definitely remember feasting on the fungi. Baskets full of mushrooms would mean mushroom soup for supper. Breakfast would be a mushroom frittata. The flavors were always wonderful, earthy and rich.
            I did learn a healthy respect for wild mushrooms, and don't recommend hunting  them yourself, unless you really know what you're doing. Just too many are deadly toxic. Personally, I'm happy to stick with a reliable source:¦my neighborhood grocery store. Fortunately, these days most markets are carrying more than just white button mushrooms. Now we can enjoy "wild" mushrooms, and all we have to learn are recipes. Criminis, the brown buttons, are baby portabellas. Less expensive, they are nearly as flavorful as their larger, trendier siblings. Fresh chantrelles and shitakes have become standards in some produce departments. Many of the more exotic can be found dried, if not fresh.
            The year our son, James, announced his intention of becoming a chef, Grandma gave him a "mushroom farm" for Christmas. It was a kit consisting of a foot-long piece of log, pre-treated with shitake spores. He followed the instructions, and sure enough, at the expected time, he was harvesting succulent shitakes. Our family enjoyed the abundance for several weeks.
            This recipe is the closest I've come to duplicating my aunt's soup. Her's was made with homemade beef stock and herbs from her garden. It was velvety smooth, punctuated with perfect slices of mushrooms. A dollop of butter floated on top of each serving. She counted on heavy cream and arrowroot to thicken her broth. Trying to lighten it up, I use mushroom puree and milk for thickener. The end result is very similar, and much lower in fat and calories. A few shitakes or other "wild" mushrooms thrown in for extra flavor are a nice touch.
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Cream of Mushroom Soup     
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2 lbs. crimini mushrooms
½ lb. shitake, chantrelle, morell or an assortment, fresh or dried (optional)
3 stalks celery, strings removed, thinly sliced
½ cup diced red onion
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
2 cups beef broth
4 cups milk or half & half
¼ tsp. thyme
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper
Chopped chives for garnish
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If you're using dried mushrooms, put them in a bowl with just enough warm water cover. Let stand for at least 10 minutes. Drain, reserving liquid.
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Wipe crimini mushrooms with a damp paper towel. Pick out the 6 best looking ones and slice thinly. Set aside  with the more exotic mushrooms.. Chop the remaining criminis coarsely.

In a stock pot or Dutch oven, heat oil and butter to medium-high. Saute onions and celery until tender. Add chopped mushrooms and continue cooking until some aroma develops. Pour in broth. If using dried mushrooms, add the liquid they soaked in, too. Bring to a simmer. Add thyme and bay leaf. Reduce heat and cover. Simmer about 15 minutes until mushrooms are tender. Remove bay leaf.
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With a slotted spoon transfer the mushroom/onion/celery mixture into the food processor or blender. Puree until smooth. Pour the puree back into the pot and stir well. Add mushroom slices and dried mushrooms. Stir in. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Continue to simmer on low heat 10 minutes. Slowly add milk and heat gently. Do not allow to boil after milk has been added.
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Sprinkle with chopped fresh chives. Serve with crusty bread or cheese toast. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

A Meat and Potatoes Man

             My father was of the school of thought that a real meal consisted of soup, salad and a main course. A real meat and potatoes man, there were certain things that just didn't count as dinner. If it didn't require a knife and fork, it was not considered a meal. Pizza, tacos, and hamburgers were unknown in my house as a child. (Not that I was deprived of these kid favorites, there were plenty of sleep-overs and pizza parties at friends homes.) An exception to the rule were his favorite foods: the gulashes of his childhood in Czechoslovakia. There are many versions in many cookbooks, but these are truly authentic, eastern European dishes, just the way my grandmother used to make. Simple and hearty, both are still family favorites, even though Dad has been gone for many years.
            These are the basics for the meat gulash. If you like a lot of heat, add a dried chili pepper or two. If you prefer mild, omit it.  We raised sheep, and Dad hunted deer and elk, so the meat of choice was seldom beef.  Even the gamiest of game is succulent and tender when done this way.  Mom used to serve it with a hearty rye bread, topped with garlic butter, and fruit.
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Lad's Gulash                 Just like Dad used to make
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1 lb. Beef, venison or lamb, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 large onion, chopped
Flour
Salt, pepper, paprika
Bacon drippings, oil, or butter
1 quart beef stock or water
Whole, dried chili pepper (optional)
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Season the meat with salt, pepper and paprika. Heat the bacon drippings in a heavy pan. Cook the onion until golden. Sprinkle with paprika.
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Add the meat and cook until it browns on all sides. Sprinkle with flour and continue to cook, stirring constantly to prevent sticking. When the flour starts to brown, pour in just enough liquid to cover everything. Stir well, scraping the bottom to loosen any bits. Add chili pepper(s) if using.
Reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until meat is tender, 1 hour or longer. The gravy will thicken as it simmers. Add extra liquid as needed. Adjust seasoning to taste. Remove chili pepper before serving.
 
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Although traditionally made with russet potatoes, this can be a little starchy if they cook too long. Using a waxy type spud, like reds or Yukon golds, helps with that.
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Sausage & Potatoes       A simple "old country" peasant dish
About 4-6 servings
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1 lb. kielbasa style lean smoked sausage
6 medium russet potatoes
½ cup chopped onion
2 tbsp. butter or oil
2 tbsp. flour
4-6 cups broth or water
2 tsp. sweet paprika
salt, pepper
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Peel potatoes and cut into uniform chunks. Slice sausage into bite size pieces.

Saute onion in butter until golden brown. Add potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with flour and stir to coat. Pour in water or broth to cover and stir well. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes until potatoes are fork tender.
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Stir in sausage slices and paprika. Mixture should be fairly thick and reddish brown. Cook a few more minutes until sausage is hot.
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Serve with a crisp green salad or fresh fruit.
 

Friday, November 15, 2013

A Drive to Remember


With Thanksgiving just two weeks away, I was reminded of a trip we took in 1979. Newlyweds, my husband and I were living in Central Oregon, while our family all lived in Portland. That's a trip of 180 miles or so, usually about 3 hours, if obeying the horrendous 55 mph speed limit that was in effect at the time.

We had spent Thanksgiving Day with my in-laws, and Friday and Saturday visiting friends and family. Now it was Sunday, and we had brunch with my mother before getting on the road back home. The forecast was calling for more snow in the mountains, with a traveler's advisory for the Santiam Pass. Fretting as we prepared to leave, Mom fixed us a care package. "This is way too much food for me," she said. "You kids take this home."

Before we reached the highway, we heard that the Pass was closed. Pat had to be at work the next day, so we wanted to get home, if we could. We turned around and headed toward Mt. Hood. Up and over the mountains, then Highway 97 all the way home.

At the base of the mountain was a roadblock, traction devices required beyond that point. Fortunately, we had chains for our old, two-wheel-drive pick-up. Unfortunately, the sheer number of vehicles chaining up created a massive bottleneck. A single lane of traffic was open in each direction. We started the up-hill climb, amidst hundreds of holiday travelers. Creeping slowly, bumper to bumper in driving snow, progress was minimal. About halfway to the summit, the line of eastbound cars ground to a halt. Minutes passed. The occasional O.D.O.T. truck or county vehicle would pass going the other way. Every so often, we would move a car length or so.

The snow continued to fall hard, the wind blowing. Time dragged on as we sat, trapped in an icy caravan. After four hours, we had yet to reach the summit. I was nine months pregnant with our first child, due any day. Cranky and uncomfortable, I was ready to be home. Pat was worried that I might go into labor, and I was trying not to think about it. He tried to keep the old Ford at a comfortable temperature, but it seemed we were always too cold, or too hot.

Brunch was a long time ago, and we were getting hungry. We remembered mom's care package. Inside was a piece of ham, a brick of Swiss cheese, and several ripe tomatoes. We had excellent sandwich fixings, with no bread or utensils. Laughing, we cut chunks of ham with Pat's pocketknife, broke bits off the cheese, and ate tomatoes like apples. Food never tasted so good.

Inching along, we finally reached the summit of the pass, the marker barely visible through the snow. The downhill grade did nothing to speed things. As dusk fell, the snow and wind stopped simultaneously. We had been sitting in the truck for nearly seven hours. The line of vehicles stretched as far as we could see, both in front and behind. There seemed no logical explanation for the hold up. No emergency vehicles had gone by, in either direction. We realized that nothing at all had passed for hours.

Three cars up ahead of us, a yellow International Scout suddenly put on his turn signal. He pulled into the available left lane, and started down the mountain, oncoming traffic be damned.

Pat looked over at me, "what do you think?"

"Go for it." I was as sick of the mountain as he was. He pulled out, following the Scout.

The chains bit easily into the new snow, and we progressed steadily. Passing literally hundreds of cars, we encountered no obstacles. Eventually, we reached the front of the line. At its head was a small white sedan, traveling at a snail's pace. Everyone else had apparently fallen in behind, dutifully staying in line, until it caused an eleven mile traffic jam.

Soon we were off the mountain. The snow behind, the road clear, Pat pulled over and removed the tire chains. Finally, we were able to make some time. The desert shimmered under a layer of frost as we drove through the moonlight. The road spun out before us, long and straight. A far-off flashing red light announced the turn to Warm Springs. Up ahead, we could see taillights. Probably Mr. Scout, we hadn't seen any other cars. He reached the stoplight…and didn't even slow down.

"Look at that crazy bastard!" Pat exclaimed. "He just ran right through that red light!"

A moment later, we came to the light…and slid right through it. The entire surface of Hwy. 97 was coated in black ice. We continued, slower and wiser.

Finally reaching Bend, we pulled into Denney's at the edge of town to thaw out, and eat. The place was packed. We got a small booth, and ordered soup and coffee. As we waited, we gazed idly out the window. There was plenty of snow here, the road plowed and hard-packed. Just then, a huge Buick station wagon approached the diner. Trying to slow, the wagon slid, turning sideways across the four-lane road. We could clearly see the faces in the car. Dad was white-knuckled on the wheel and mom looked terrified, while the kids in the backseat laughed, waving at people in the restaurant.

We waved back as Dad corrected the skid and continued down the street, completely unscathed. He'd had the entire block to himself

By the time we got home, we had been on the road for over ten hours. We were exhausted, and caught colds, but were otherwise fine. It was another two weeks before Laura was born.

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With that happy memory in mind, I'd like to add a recipe that has been a tradition in the Brown family for four generations. It's labor intensive, but worth the work. Known regionally as 24-Hour Salad, Overnight Salad, or "that salad with the little marshmallows", this is one of my husband's favorites:
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Ambrosia
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2 cups Royal Ann cherries, halved
2 cups pineapple tidbits
2 cups mandarin oranges
2 cups quartered marshmallows
1 egg
1 ½ tbsp. sugar
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup orange juice
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
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Combine well-drained fruit and marshmallows.
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Beat egg until lemon colored. Gradually add sugar, lemon juice and orange juice. Mix well. Cook in double boiler until smooth and thick, stirring constantly.
Allow to cool completely. Stir in whipped cream.
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Pour over fruit and fold in. Chill 24 hours before serving. Do not freeze.
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            Going from the labor intensive, to the beautifully easy, this is a way to dress up your cranberry sauce. You still need to plan ahead a little, but the prep time is minimal. It's a jell-o salad that even cranberry-shy kids like, and the shape is a departure from the classic "can mold" of my youth.
            I've used various size and shape molds, but my favorite is a 3-cup copper ring. This makes two of those, or one 6-cup Tupperware mold.
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Cranberry-Orange Wreath
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1 - 6oz. box red jell-o, raspberry, cran-raspberry, or cranberry
2 cans whole-berry cranberry sauce
2 small cans mandarin oranges, drained well
¼ tsp. each, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice
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Dissolve jell-o in hot water, per box directions. Add spices. Stir in cranberry sauce in place of cold water. Chill for and hour until partially set. Gently fold in mandarin oranges, and pour into 6-cup mold. Allow to set at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
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To make un-molding easier, dip mold to the rim in very hot tap water for 10 seconds. Immediately flip onto serving plate and re-refrigerate until ready to serve.
Garnish with whipped topping just before serving, if desired.