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Thursday, October 27, 2016

UPDATE to "This is happening now at our place: curing olives without lye"

Quel désastre !

THIS happened to our first batch of home-brined olives ... 

That's mold floating around the top of the water. Boo, hiss. I should have weighted them down so the olives stayed submerged.

NOTE: Before you preserve food at home, follow all safety instructions such as using clean equipment, etc. Some foods, including olives, can develop botulism. Blech.

Stay tuned for the results of the next effort.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

This is happening now at our place: curing olives without lye

The ultimate forage may be when you're offered something for free without having to go out and search for it! Through such a transaction, we came to possess 20 olive trees in 4 varieties, specifically developed for oil production. 
You can get a sense of how small the trees are, even though they're several years old, from this photo.
The olive trees are in the foreground.
A nurseryman friend offered us as many olive trees as our pickup could hold because they were going to be destroyed before the coming season. Several years down the road now, our little corner of California has a row of about 15-18 surviving olive trees, in 4 varieties for olive-oil production. Two of them are arbequina and manzanilla; the names of the others are lost in the sands of time (aka, I don't want to search for them anymore).

These trees have such a small, tidy growth habit - for example, no huge, gnarled branches, such as you see in the old Mission olive trees - that they can be planted 500 to an acre! Although we don't haul our olives to be pressed at a commercial facility and haven't bought a press ourselves, we would be able to put away several bottles of oil each year from that row of trees. Instead, we experiment with curing them for eating. 

NOTE: Before you preserve food at home, follow all safety instructions such as using clean equipment, etc. Some foods, including olives, can develop botulism. Blech.

This year, we've started a couple of batches using different curing methods. The first, which we set in motion last week, is brining them in salt and water - no lye needed! After picking, washing, and sorting the olives (throwing any damaged or shriveled ones into the compost bowl), I poured them into a 1/2-gallon canning jar, covered them with a brine made of filtered water and pickling salt (for ratios, follow the directions on the pickling salt package). Then I set the cap loosely on the jar, labeled it with the date and type of brining process, and set it in a dim room. One week from the date I picked and pickled them, I'll change the brining solution, tighten the caps, and store them for a couple of months. Full directions for this method can be found here.
These ripe, washed olives look like Concord grapes. You'd know the difference immediately if you bit into one.

The silver maple from which the olives are hanging
The other batch is being cured using a method that worked for us in the past: dry curing with salt. This method involves picking, washing, and sorting just as above; then, you mix the olives with a pound of pickling salt for every 2 pounds of olives. You hang this mixture in a bag (I used an old pillowcase) OUTSIDE (drip, drip, drip) for 4 or 5 weeks and then perform another step or so before storing them for eating.
With mesh bag on the outside for added strength

Specific directions can be found here

Depending on the variety of olives I actually picked last week, some of the olives may turn out mushier than we'd like, but that's OK. What we don't eat goes to the chicken yard, where the fowl either eat it or help turn it to compost.

Because our olive trees produce small olives compared with, say, the canned black olives most widely available in grocery stores, the salt-cured olives will be smaller than some people want to mess with - and both the brined and salt-cured olives will still have their pits. Again, that's OK! This is a fun experiment in seeing how much of the produce we grow will actually get eaten or otherwise used.

Have you cured olives at home? Let me know how you did it and how successful you think it was!

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The 30-Year-Old Bread Pudding

Once upon a time, there was a bread pudding that lived in a ... 

No, wait. Wrong story. This one is about a 30-year-old recipe. Approximately.

It was our first visit to the California State Fair: We were wowed by the exhibits, the farm animals, the model gardens in the ag area, the food contests (shucking corn, eating watermelon, etc., etc.), the performing artists ... so much fun for the price of an admission ticket! What really iced the cake, though, was the huge hall of county and manufacturer exhibits, because this hall was filled with FREEBIES! Counties decorated amazing booths and handed out goodies that represented their community: California Poppy seeds, prunes, Jelly Belly candies, and so on. Commercial manufacturers and trade organizations handed out free samples as well. We told the kids, "Who needs to buy anything on a stick from the food vendors? Go get those freebies!!"

One of the groups with a booth at the fair that year was the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers International Union. Out of all the exhibits we visited that day, why would I remember this organization? Well, they handed out a free recipe, printed on a bookmark, for Old Fashioned Bread Pudding. To this day, I have it stuck inside the plastic cover of my overstuffed recipe binder. It's marked by splotches, and I've "lost" it a few times over the years, but that recipe has been in our kitchen and near my heart forever. 

Is it superlative? Inventive? Daring? Nah. It's just the first recipe I'd ever seen for a wonderfully comforting, homey dessert.

The weather is turning cool (huzzah!), and it's time for comforting, homey foods. Tonight I'm making Old Fashioned Bread Pudding - a dish that surely epitomizes thrifty homekeeping. You take stale bread, add milk, eggs and butter (which most homesteads had available, direct from the sources, back in the day), add sugar, salt, vanilla and goodies of your choosing (bananas, chocolate, dates, nuts, raisins), and bake it for an hour. 

My version is using stale whole wheat-walnut-cranberry bread that my husband made last week. (Yes, made!) I crumbled more than 2 cups' worth and soaked it in a mixture of slightly post-dated 2% milk and the tag end of a carton of vanilla almond milk.
Thanks, o bread maker of mine!
2% cow's milk mixed with vanilla almond milk
Note: Why do some recipes call for scalded milk? According to domestic doyenne Heloise, prior to commercial pasteurization of milk, scalding eliminated bacteria and kept the milk from thickening during the recipe's cooking. Now, even if the milk isn't raw, scalding it (heating it to just below boiling) helps melt butter or other ingredients that need melting. 

However, I've actually melted the butter in the microwave in a Pyrex bowl, because I'm being time thrifty: Instead of having to butter the bowl before baking, I can slosh the melted butter around the bowl before adding the butter to the pot of bread and milk. 

These are all from the same chicken flock. Isn't the size range wild? I call the little ones "starter eggs."
The eggs came from our cage-free chickens. (Yes, they have mud and poop on them. This happens more than you want to know. They get washed, but because the eggs have a natural protective coating on them, I prefer not to wash them until just before using them.) Tomorrow morning, the flock will get the leftover stale bread. :-) 

I've added raisins, even though the bread had dried cranberries. Bread pudding and rice pudding need raisins. The End. I've also stirred in a good amount of cinnamon. (If this were rice pudding, it would be nutmeg.)
Between the whole wheat and the dried fruit, this dessert should keep us regular. :-)

Here's what it looks like prior to baking. Porridge, anyone?

And here's the finished pudding. You know what would make a delicious topping? Whipped cream or ice cream or a fruit sauce. (Cue sound of grumbling stomach.)

Old-fashioned? Yes. Tummy-warming? Yes. Thrifty? Oh, yes. Simple? So simple.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

It started out as a Trader Joe's "W.O.W. Enchilada Casserole." What happened next?

Once again, payday is still around the corner and we have a fridge full of items nearing their sell-by dates. Or, let's be honest, looking back over their shoulder at their expiration dates. Before this evening, one of those items was a package of Trader Joe's precooked carnitas. 

I looked up an easy recipe for this product on TJ's site and found their "W.O.W. Enchilada Casserole." If you want to make that, follow the link.     :-) 

If you want to make a variation with what's in your fridge and cupboards, may I suggest another take on Amy Dacyczyn's casserole formula? (What is that? you ask. And who is Amy Dacyczyn and how do you pronounce that last name?)

Amy Dacyczyn (pronounced "Decision") used to author a newsletter called "The Tightwad Gazette." In fact, her nickname was the Frugal Zealot. HOW FRUGAL WAS SHE? (Thanks, audience.) SO frugal that she and her husband paid cash for a house, barn, and acreage and raised their six children on her husband's Navy pension after she quit her paid job as a graphic designer. Her newsletters were compiled into books (The Tightwad Gazette I, II, and III, and eventually The Complete Tightwad Gazette), all of which I read when I was a very young wife and mom. I loved them and not only learned many tips for frugal living but was excited whenever I read about one that I'd already come up with on my own.

Back to the casserole formula: Amy printed a "flexible casserole recipe" that involved a cup of the main ingredient, a cup of a secondary ingredient, a measured amount of a "goodie" (nuts, olives, etc.), a binder, a topping, and so on ... the discretion to choose all of the ingredients in those categories being with the cook. This formula is great for someone who has gobs of ingredients lying around and just needs to combine them in a palatable and nutritious way.

Inspired by Amy and by TJ's "W.O.W. Casserole" recipe, I decided to mirror the latter by applying the principle of the former; in other words, having fewer than half of the ingredients called for in the TJ recipe, I would sub in others for the rest of them. I also downsized the recipe substantially to make enough for 2 people versus 6-8.

It went a little something like this. (Actually, it went exactly like this.) 

I followed the casserole directions on the Trader Joe's site, more or less, and produced an edible ... nay, a perfectly acceptable dish. As my husband said after finishing his, "That was tasty. Weirdly tasty, but tasty."

Isn't that a happy ending?

Saturday, October 15, 2016

When life gives you leftovers...

... make slowcooker Thai soup!

Apparently, if you believe blogs, I haven't foraged anything for the past 4 1/2 years. It's high time to get cookin' again!

It's a week or so until payday and I don't want to fall down the rabbit hole of the nearest supermarket, where I would undoubtedly find far more to purchase than I went in for. The ingredients for today's dinner weren't exactly leftovers; let's just say that they weren't picked first for any playground games. Today was all about digging through the fridge, freezer, cupboards and garden ... and look what I found!
With the exception of the lime, these ingredients have been in our freezer (chicken breasts), fridge (veggie bouillon paste), cupboard (fish sauce ... don't look at the manufacture date) and spice shelf (red curry powder) for an unreasonably long time. Even the lime has been in the fridge crisper drawer for weeks. After sniffing at the fish sauce (seems okay) and shaking the curry powder to see if it releases any aroma at all (it does; smells good), I decided on Thai Chicken Soup in the Slowcooker. Nummy.

So. These ingredients were a good start, but I needed more. Out to the garden I went for a small stalk of lemon grass, one medium onion, and one large white carrot. The latter is not pretty, but it's fresh, nutritious and packed with flavor. Here they are, chopped up: onion peeled and thinly sliced; carrot washed, topped and tailed, and sliced about 1/4-inch thick. (By the way, I rarely peel carrots unless they're going to be eaten raw and haven't been surgically scrubbed.) The lemon grass, which I peeled, topped and tailed, and cut into 1-inch-long pieces, is supposed to be picked out of the soup before serving, but we'll see about that.
Into the crockpot I poured 2 cans of coconut milk, a large glob (couple of tablespoons' worth?) of bouillon paste, 2 T. of brown sugar, 2 heaping T. of peanut butter, 2 tiny cubes of frozen grated ginger (topped with freezer burn, the last of a little tray I bought sometime after the 2012 presidential election, so don't ask to see a photo), 1 or 2 cups of water, 2 T. of fish sauce, and 1 heaping T. of red curry powder. I would have preferred red curry paste, but it's either buried way back in the fridge or I finally did something with that giant tub I bought at a kitchen supply store a few years ago. I cut the lime in half and squeezed the juice of 1 half directly in the cooker, then threw in the squeezed lime half. Because, why not? (I will remove the lime half before serving.) I also added the chopped veggies pictured above.

I set the slowcooker on low and left everything to meld for a while. Meld, marry, or whatever cooking term du jour you prefer. The chicken breasts were still frozen, so, to conserve energy and speed the thawing process, I propped them on the warm slow cooker lid before slicing them crosswise into pieces about a half inch thick, once they'd softened.
Then I kicked the crockpot up to high; after all, I want to serve this soup for dinner today. Meanwhile, I ran back out to the garden for a head of baby bok choy. (See below. Aren't the plants pretty? Some of them have started going to seed, so we need to eat them soon.) I cut off the root end and sliced the entire head of bok choy crosswise into 1-inch-wide pieces. Those went into the slow cooker 30 minutes before serving time. I also checked a little raised bed box where we have mixed lettuces going for the fall and winter; peeking out between the lettuce plants are cilantro seedlings, and I planned to top the bowls of soup with a few of those just before serving (minus the dirty roots, needless to say). 
Side note: See the little light-green leaves behind the bok choy? Those are volunteer escarole seedlings, the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of plants I bought a year or so ago. Yippee! 
Second side note: See the little cilantro seedlings scattered amongst the lettuces? I snipped the leaves off a few of them and hope those seedlings generate new leaves fast enough to survive the mini harvest. 
Speaking of foraging, can you identify the sweet plant below? I'll give you 5 seconds: 1 Mississippi ... 2 Mississippi ... Did you say sweet potato? If so, you'd be correct! This little guy and another next to it are growing from a couple of sweet potatoes I found sprouting in a bowl in a dark corner of the kitchen counter. I could have tossed them to the chickens, and I'd have felt fine about that. However, I feel positively ecstatic about these lovely plants. I hope a crop of sweet potatoes follows in a few months. 

The grass-like seedlings to the left of the center plant are volunteer onions. These are the great, great, great-grandbabies of some onions we planted years ago, courtesy of our daughter.

During the last 30 minutes of crockpot time, I cooked rice on the stove; this will be the, ahem, vehicle for the soup. (We watch Chopped. The end.) The finished soup smells wonderful and looks even more appetizing with cilantro leaves scattered on top. You'd never know that some of the ingredients were ancient. :-) Incidentally, if you want to make a vegan version of this soup, you can substitute soy or tamari sauce for the fish sauce and tofu or a vegan meat substitute for the chicken. 

Errata: Next time I'll wait to add the lime juice until the end of cooking and serve the lime as cut wedges for everyone to add as desired. It seems to have broken the coconut milk, which makes sense. (You put the lime in the coconut ... but not at the start of cooking.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Good ol' goulash gets gooder (again)

Like zillions of other people, I have a collection of recipes passed down from my mother and grandmothers. Although my maternal grandmother grew up in what we'd call a privileged household, she experienced lean years as an adult in the midst of divorce and the Depression.

I'm sure my mom got her goulash recipe from my grandmother. I don't remember how many times we ate goulash - or olla podrida as she called it to give it a fancy twist. (Ironic that she tarted it up in Spanish because the word goulash already has an interesting derivation: It comes from the Hungarian word gulyás, which I think translates to something like "herder's stew.")

As I recall, Mom told us that olla podrida meant "all in a pot." What it actually means, apparently, is "rotten pot" in Spanish. Another irony: Potpourri also means "rotten pot" in French! Ha!

ANYway, my mom's goulash recipe involves ground beef, macaroni noodles, stewed or other canned tomatoes, black olives, and Parmesan cheese. Yum!

Yesterday I made what I first thought of as an updated goulash. I considered it updated because of the pasture-raised, grass-fed, antibiotic-free beef I used, along with the dark, leafy greens and fresh tomatoes (organic). I got to thinking. . . Before the era of factory farming, it's entirely feasible that my grandmother (and maybe her mother's cook) prepared goulash with pasture-raised, grass-fed, antibiotic-free beef, dark, leafy greens and fresh tomatoes (organic).

So, a more accurate name for the following recipe might be "Good ol' Goulash Like Great-Grandmother's Cook Used to Make." But that's pretty wordy.

1 lb. pasture-raised, grass-fed, antibiotic-free ground beef (locally raised, if possible)
1 bunch of organic dark, leafy greens, cut or chopped into big pieces;
toss stems in chicken scrap bowl (turnip, etc.) - rescued from a box of produce slated to go to my chickens
3 or 4 organic tomatoes, roughly chopped - ditto
1 big squirt from a tube of organic basil paste (or fresh basil)
1 big spoonful of chopped garlic
1 big splash of red wine (Trader Joe's Charles Shaw, aka two-buck chuck, works well)
1 cup or so of water
1 big handful of dry pasta (I used lasagne noodles for casseroles - those little ones)
Black olives (nixed in deference to our youngest, who doesn't like 'em)
Secret ingredient with which I may lose all credibility on the organic/locally grown/nutritious front: 1/4 jar or so of Cheez Whiz
Parmesan for sprinkling over individual servings

Brown the beef in a big pot or really big skillet. If it's very lean, I don't drain the fat. Add everything else except the Cheez Whiz and Parmesan. Cover and let cook over medium heat until pasta and veggies are cooked. Stir in the Cheez Whiz and heat a few minutes longer. Sprinkle Parmesan over individual servings, and serve with warmed sourdough bread. This looks fab and fancier if you serve it in big pasta bowls with wide rims.

Here are the leftovers, waiting to be heated up:

Stay tuned for my next blog: Remains of the fridge. . .

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Like pulling teeth

A few years ago, we put together a family cookbook as our Christmas gift to each family unit of the extended clan. Let me state: If you're thinking of doing the same, START AT LEAST TWO YEARS IN ADVANCE! (Yes, I was yelling just now.)

We sent out an email request for recipes, pictures and family stories to accompany the recipes; that was. . . oh, sometime in September, I think. When we'd received recipes from exactly two people by late October, I sent out another email. Here follows the exchange, edited to protect goodwill and family relationships:

Hi, all--

OK, since you all ignored the first request, I'll simplify it. Please send 3-5 of your family's favorite recipes by email. Forget the stories and pictures . . . FORGET IT!! Just send the recipes AT LEAST!

The lack of response from my siblings is inexcusable. We, however, thought that we had a few months given the lack of any deadline. We will forward the recipes and pictures soon.

[Name withheld]

I realize I didn't give a deadline, and this was a mistake on my part.
I want the pictures and vignettes last week. Thank you.

I don't know who you people are. Please take me off your email.

[Note: Doug is a fictitious member of the family who shows up in family reunion photos and has a place set for him at the holiday table when we get together.]

Dear (if I may be so bold) Doug,
Do you have any recipes to share?

Hamburgers, hotdogs, spaghetti, raisins and corn.
Yours truly,

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I had the following email exchange with my beloved sister, a marvelous and creative cook who worked off and on in the food industry for years (and went to Cheley Camp and Yale):

Dear [name withheld],
I'm on the phone with you right now!
Please email me, stat, some of your favorite recipes-especially ones you've created.

I have no new faves other than our family recipes. None. The turkey. Corn/tom casserole. Colcannon. Dad's carrots. The baked beans.
Nothing new here for years. I don't cook anymore. Haven't for a long long time.
Can we still be related?

Dad's baked beans. Good thinking!

Mom's dilled cuke salad. Dad's cole slaw.

The cuke salad with garlic salt? We make that all the time!
Are you thinking of a diff one with dill? Remind me, please!
Cole slaw=yes, but I need you to construct the recipe, please.

And here is the recipe she sent. It's good, too. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Fine shredded cabbage
Dill weed
One fine chopped onion (optional)
Diced garden toms
Mayonnaise (NOT Miracle Whip or some form of salad dressing)
Green olives (optional)

The majority of the recipes came in too late to publish the book for that Christmas. Two Christmases later, the book made it under everyone's tree.