Thursday Thoughts

Tomato, Tomahto
In mid-May, I planted two tomato plants — a Roma tomato and a grape tomato. I used a new system that had been recommended by a friend — the Earthbox Garden Kit. This is what it looked like in May…..

This is what it looks like now…..

The tomatoes grew like crazy, and I have never had plants produce so much fruit. I can scarcely keep up with harvesting, much less eating. We eat lots of lettuce salads with tomatoes. I slice up one of the Roma tomatoes every day for Bill’s sandwich. I love my caprese salad with grape tomatoes and basil, also from my garden. Last night this is what we had for dinner…..

…..using this recipe.

Helping Hands
Bec used to tell me that caring for her garden vegetables wasn’t an issue for her; instead, she had trouble keeping up with the harvesting. That’s because she didn’t have a helper like this one…..

Cole has gotten very good at remembering that he can only pick the tomatoes that are red! Or at least pink.

Country Store
Our church is having its annual Parish Festival in a couple of weeks. For the first time ever, the festival will include a brat and beer garden. Perhaps it has something to do with our new young pastor. Just sayin…. At any rate, it also — for the first time ever — will include a country store with the proceeds benefiting some appropriate organization. They have been pleading with parishioners to provide some sort of homemade item(s). I have been been crocheting like crazy, and have managed to complete an afghan, several sets of three each dishcloths, two children’s stocking caps (which I, personally, think are simply adorable), a baby sleep sack, and a pretty pillow. I simply love having a purpose for my crocheted items…..

Hmmmm. Maybe I should contribute a couple of jars of Dee’s Bees honey.

Ciao!

 

 

 

Summer in the Sausage

My mom made dinner almost every night of the week when I grew up. On occasion, there would be a few things to munch on before Mom served our meal. Nothing fancy, mind you. Often she would open up a couple of cans of Vienna sausages…..

…..slice them in half, and we would grab them and eat them as fast as we could. Nothing fancy in which to dunk the sausages; just plain ol’ Vienna sausages. The first time I opened up a can of Vienna sausages and laid them in front of Bill, I believe he thought I’d lost my mind.

But perhaps more often than that, Mom would lay out summer sausage and a hunk of cheddar cheese. Actually, in the Gloor household, summer sausage might be an appetizer; it might be a picnic lunch; it might be a snack in the afternoon. We fought over the end pieces, for reasons I now can’t even begin to remember. What I know, however, is that to this day, if there is summer sausage available, I can’t keep my hands off of it.

I had never thought about making summer sausage or even how it was made; it was just one of those things you buy in your neighborhood grocery store’s deli. Still, our neighbor here mentioned that he made his own summer sausage, and shared his recipe with me. One of my challenges for 2018 was to prepare food I have never made before. With this in mind, I gave it a try this weekend…..

I had everything on hand except the home meat cure. I checked the grocery stores, but like the Elmer’s glue I sought last week, I couldn’t find it at Fry’s. I’m pretty sure, however, that it isn’t an ingredient in slime. Anyway where do you go if you want an unusual ingredient and you want it fast? Amazon, of course.  Dear Amazon: one bag of Morton’s Quick Tender Home Meat Cure, some Elmer’s glue for slime, and a kangaroo to give to Bill for his birthday please. Two days later – ding dong.

My neighbor stressed the importance of getting the fattiest ground beef, so I started with two pounds of 80% lean hamburger meat. To that, I added liquid smoke, mustard seeds, finely minced garlic,  coarse-ground black pepper, and red pepper flakes. I shaped the mixture into two tightly formed logs…..

The meat logs were wrapped in aluminum foil, shiny side against the meat. I placed the aluminum-wrapped meat into the refrigerator for 24 hours.

The next day, I punched holes into the bottom of the foil with toothpicks and placed them on a broiler pan into which about a half-inch of water was added to the bottom…..

The meat was baked at 325 degrees for an hour-and-a-half, and then removed to cool on the counter for a bit before it is once again placed into the refrigerator for another 12 hours.

After 12 hours, I unwrapped the meat, and there’s what I found….

Friends, it is good. It is, in fact, delicious. Even made from scratch, I can’t proclaim summer sausage to be health food. I haven’t had the guts to look at the ingredients in the curing mixture, but I’m pretty sure salt is the number one ingredient. Remember, that’s how Laura Ingall’s mom preserved her meat over the long Missouri winters. I don’t remember ever hearing Laura say, “Ma, I’m a bit concerned about our blood pressure. Could you cut back a bit on the salt?”

But the flavor is delicious and I haven’t even tried it with cheddar cheese and a piece of melba toast. Yum. Here is the recipe I used for my sausage…..

Homemade Summer Sausage

Ingredients
2 lbs. 80% lean ground beef
2 T. mustard seed
1 T. finely-minced fresh garlic
2 T. liquid smoke flavoring
2 T. meat curing mixture (I used Morton Tender Quick)
1 t. coarse black pepper
1 T. red pepper flakes

Process
In a large bowl, mix all of the ingredients using your clean hands just until thoroughly combined. Form into two equal logs, and wrap each log in aluminum foil with the shiny side facing the meat. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Poke holes in the bottom of the logs using toothpicks. Place the logs on a broiler rack into which you have added about ½ in of water.

Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 90 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly on the counter. Place the sausages into the refrigerator to chill for 12 hours.

Enjoy!

 

The Perfect Day

It’s January – that time when 87.882 percent of the U.S. population begins to think about losing weight. Of course, nowadays nobody says they want to “lose weight.” Instead, they say they want to “get healthy.” Which is code for I want to lose 15 lbs. so that I don’t pop the final button on my jeans and no one thinks they are looking at the Titanic when they see me from behind. You know. Healthy.

Since January 1, my email inbox has been filling up with message after message about exercise and healthy eating. I got really excited recently when I got an email from Silver Sneakers, which is a free fitness program for seniors with which I am truly impressed. They actually send useful information for people my age. The email was entitled A Perfect Day of Eating.

AWESOME, I thought. Breakfast: A Cinnabon cinnamon roll and a cup of coffee, followed by a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal; Lunch: A hot dog all the way, French fries, and a Diet Coke; Dinner: A grilled bone-in ribeye steak, Brussel sprouts with bacon, a baked potato topped with a generous helping of butter and some more bacon, a dry Tanqueray martini, up with two bleu cheese-stuffed olives, and a dish of toffee fudge ice cream for dessert.

A perfect day of eating.

Alas, that wasn’t their idea of a perfect day of eating. Their recommendation — Breakfast: a piece of fresh fruit, a handful of raw almonds, and some oatmeal; Lunch: steamed vegetables with olive oil MISTED on top, a bowl of vegetable or bean soup, and fresh fruit; Dinner: a raw salad (obviously dreamed up prior to Romaine lettuce being DANGER DANGER DANGER), more vegetables on top of brown rice, 1-2 oz. of animal protein (Seriously? 1-2 oz.? Who are they kidding?), and yes, you guessed it, fruit for dessert.

How is that a perfect day of eating? Sigh.

The other day I was making our bed. Bed making, my friends, is not a strenuous task. Suddenly a spasm in my back sent me reeling to my knees. I was able to relax, and with some ice applied to the area of the spasm and a couple of ibuprofen, I managed to avert a spend-the-day-on-the-couch crisis. Still, I gave myself a stern lecture. In fact, I heard both of my sisters’ voices in my ear saying, Kris, you must exercise to strengthen your core.

Turns out I listen to myself better than I listen to my sisters. Go figure. I have, indeed, begun doing core exercises, as well as walking. It seems those Nordic walking sticks that I bought this past fall are good for more than retrieving items that roll under the couch……

Though I poke fun at the term get healthy, the fact is I really have no desire to return to the weight I was on my wedding day. That ship (not the same one for which people mistake my rear end) sailed quite some time ago. I do, however, want to be able to make a bed without having to call paramedics.

I won’t, however, call steamed vegetables with a MIST of olive oil a perfect lunch. Nope. Not gonna happen.

I did make a relatively healthy dinner last night, however. Healthy if you call a meal made with five eggs, cream, bacon and cheese healthy, and I do. It’s got spinach, people. I got Bill to agree to eat quiche by bribing him with Dairy Queen for dessert….

 

Bacon and Spinach Quiche

Ingredients:
1 (9 inch) pie crust
5 eggs, beaten
1 c. heavy cream
1 -1/2 c. spinach, chopped
6 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
1 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Whisk eggs until well blended. Add cream, onion powder, salt, and pepper. In the bottom of your pie crust layer chopped spinach, bacon, and shredded cheese. Pour egg and cream mixture into the pie crust. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes until egg mixture is firm and the top is golden. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Nana’s Notes: I used a frozen pie crust. You can use any kind of cheese you prefer. I just happened to have cheddar cheese in my refrigerator. Bribe your spouse with Dairy Queen.

It Only Sounds Like a Dirty Word

The week following Thanksgiving, I was having lunch with a friend at our favorite Chinese restaurant. As we poked our chopsticks into the sesame chicken, I asked her if she had a good Thanksgiving. She said her Thanksgiving had been nice, not the least because she had a total of two – count ‘em – two complete Thanksgiving dinners. The first dinner was good, she admitted, but the second, ahhhh, the second.

She spatchcocked the turkey, my friend told me with reverence.

It’s an understatement to say that I was impressed. I was certainly impressed that the woman had spatchcocked a turkey. But I was mostly impressed that I knew what the word spatchcocked meant.

I frankly don’t know exactly how I knew what it meant. Perhaps it’s having watched Food Network since its very beginning when Emeril Lagasse was getting applause from his studio audience every time he added more garlic or wine to whatever dish he was making (and perhaps spatchcocking). What I do know for certain is that I didn’t learn the term from my mother, who never spatchcocked a thing in her life. She may or may not have butterflied a chicken, but I believe she died without having ever heard the word spatchcock.

Not to wander too far from the point of this blog post (on the off-chance there is, in fact, a point), I looked up the word to see if I could learn its etymology. Here is what Wikipedia says about the word’s origin:

The word comes from “dispatch cock”, that is, a fowl that is dispatched quickly, and is first attested in 1785.

So there.

But as I read on in the article, Wikipedia suggested I also see blood eagle. Foolishly, I clicked on the link (as I often do on Wikipedia which then takes me off into a link-clicking route that may end up explaining the history of crochet stitches). It seems blood eagle is a type of human execution in which the victim lies prone on a table, his/her ribs are severed from the spine with a sharp tool, and the lungs are pulled through the opening to create a pair of “wings.” I’m telling you, those ancient Brits knew how to torture.

But back to spatchcocking, which is simply another word for butterflying. In other words, you use your kitchen shears or poultry shears and cut out the backbone of some kind of poultry, thereby allowing the bird to lie flat and roast or grill more quickly. The result is a crispier skin.

And, my friends, with chicken, it’s all about the skin.

My mother used to make Cornish game hens. She did not spatchcock them. Instead, she stuffed them with wild rice, slathered them with butter, sprinkled on salt and pepper, and roasted them in the oven. They were heavenly.

One day a year or so ago, I invited Addie, Alastair, Dagny, and Maggie Faith to dinner. I was serving Cornish game hens.  They were thrilled at the prospect. As excited as they were for dinner, they were equally disappointed when instead of little tiny hens lying on their plate, there were spatchcocked hens. Cut in half, no less. They would have been more impressed with KFC.

Ever since that lunch in which I was reminded about spatchcocking, I have been itching to get my hands on something to spatchcock. So last night, I made Cornish game hens, and as you can see, I got my chance…..

 

 

I mixed up about a half stick of butter with a couple of cloves of minced garlic, 1 t. chopped fresh rosemary, and 1 t. dried thyme (which came from my summer garden). I didn’t have any lemons, but lemon zest would have been good too. I salted and peppered the hens on both sides. I then put some of the butter under the skin, and (like my mother) slathered the remaining butter all over. I roasted them at 375 degrees for about an hour. I let them sit for about 10 minutes to rest……

Yum.

For kicks, you could drink a shot of Fireball Whiskey every time you read the word spatchcock in this blog post.

What Comes First, the Chicken or the Soup?

If my mother would have ever plopped down a bowl of soup in front of my dad for dinner, well, she just wouldn’t have done it. Pork chops, yes; fried chicken, definitely. Cream of broccoli soup? Rethink it, Marg. Rethink it.

I, on the other hand, occasionally plunk down a bowl of soup in front of Bill for dinner, and he doesn’t complain. I’m sure he doesn’t think to himself Wow, in all of my hopes and dreams, I didn’t allow myself to imagine that we would have cream of broccoli soup tonight for dinner. But he doesn’t complain. He simply eats his mandatory one bowl, and then looks longingly at the freezer, hoping there is ice cream. There almost always is, by the way.

I, on the other hand, love soup. I love it for lunch or dinner. I especially love soup if it includes noodles or potatoes. Best yet, both. If my options for a starter at a restaurant are either soup or salad, and if the soup is homemade, I will almost always choose soup. My favorite lunch among all lunch choices is pho – Vietnamese noodle soup. Someday I’m going to get up my nerve and try preparing pho. Someday.

But back to Bill for a minute. There is a restaurant in our Denver neighborhood that is a Jewish deli. In fact, it’s cleverly called New York Deli News. Though their menu is chock full of good, homemade and hearty options such as beef brisket and stuffed cabbage (and a corned beef and tongue sandwich if you are so inclined), we rarely go there except on Fridays. On Fridays they serve a delicious and affordable prime rib, along with boiled potatoes and steamed mixed fresh vegetables. It really is very good. I want it right now.

Their starter options are — predictably — salad or soup, and their soups are homemade. On their busy Fridays, they offer mushroom beef barley and chicken noodle. I always get the beef barley and Bill gets the chicken noodle. And he always raves, nearly weeps with joy, over the chicken noodle soup. He has gone so far as to proclaim it the best he’s ever eaten, and I’m pretty sure he has said these words: IT’S TO DIE FOR.

Well. As a person who prides herself on her soup-making skills, and who is pretty darn sure has never heard IT’S TO DIE FOR as it relates to any of the meals I have prepared for him, I bristled the first time. Really, I said to him, settle down; it’s only chicken noodle soup. Lots of people make chicken noodle soup. I, for example, make chicken noodle soup.

And so I recently decided I would prove to him that I could make chicken noodle soup that is as good as that served at New York Deli News. I immediately chose to use a recipe I’ve had for a long time from Paula Deen.

Why did I choose Paula Deen? Two reasons, really. The first reason is that she is (to put it bluntly if quite inconsiderately) plump. Fat, really. Or at least, she used to be. I can’t say for sure anymore because she was sent packing after she admitted that she had once used the N word. Which brings me to my second reason. I relate to Paula Deen because there have been a number of occasions in which I’ve said something that I wish I could take back almost immediately. I’m pretty sure she wishes she had kept her past mistake to herself. And as for her being overweight being a reason to use her recipe, I go with the philosophy that you should never trust a skinny cook. I’m looking at you, Giada.

Anyway, I made my soup, and I thought it tasted delicious. Bill ate his mandatory bowl, sheepishly asking for some salt, and looked longingly at the freezer. But I’m pretty sure he will show a bit more restraint when praising the chicken noodle soup at New York Deli News.

Look for yourself…..

And here’s my recipe for chicken noodle soup. While I used Paula Deen’s recipe as my guide, I made quite a few changes. She adds cream, which is perhaps why she’s plump. I find cream unnecessary. Deceased Jewish grandmothers world-wide rolled over in their graves at the thought of cream in their chicken noodle soup…..

Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients
2-3 bay leaves
3 chicken bouillon cubes
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 2-3 lb. whole chicken, cut up
1-1/2 t. Italian seasoning
3-1/2 quarts water
2 c. carrots, chopped
2 c. celery, chopped
1 c. sliced mushrooms
3 T. chopped fresh parsley
2-3 c. uncooked egg noodles
2 T. dry marsala wine or sherry
Salt and pepper, to taste

Process
To make the chicken stock: Add bay leaves, bouillon, onion, garlic, chicken pieces, Italian seasoning, water, and salt and pepper to a large Dutch oven or soup pot. Cook for about an hour, until the chicken is tender. Remove chicken and bay leaves. You should have about 3 quarts of stock. Allow chicken to cool, and then remove the meat from the chicken, tossing away the bones and the skin, and set aside.

To make the soup: Bring the stock back to a boil. Add carrots and celery to the stock. When they are soft (15 to 20 minutes), add the noodles and cook according to package directions. When noodles are done, add the chicken back to the stock, along with the mushrooms and the parsley. Drizzle in the marsala or sherry. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, until the mushrooms are soft. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

This post linked to Grammy’s Grid.

Black-Eyed Peas: It’s What’s for Dinner and Better Than a Funeral

Sunday afternoon, I was watching an episode of Father Brown on Netflix, once again wondering why anyone would hang out with the good Catholic priest when his friends and parishioners are constantly getting knocked off by one murderer or another despite the fact that there are only 250 people in the quiet English village. The way I figure it, anytime Father Brown calls and asks if you want to hang out, you should say you would love to but you are busy washing your hair that afternoon. And, by the way, I’m leaving your church and becoming Anglican like everyone else in England. Oy vey.  Between Father Brown’s Kembleford, England and Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove, Maine, no wonder young people are fleeing from small towns throughout the world!

Suddenly I heard poppity pop pop, the cheerful sound my cell phone makes when I get a text message. I glanced over and saw that it was from my nephew Erik who lives with his family in AZ. Erik rarely texts me, and I immediately began thinking about what I have in my closet that would be appropriate to wear to a funeral in AZ where the temperature remains in the range of 104 to 106 degrees in the shade. My mother would be proud that I went there so quickly.

Anyway, I read the text and it turns out my sister wasn’t dead, nor was anyone else in our family. Instead, Erik was asking me how I made the black-eyed peas I offer every New Year’s Day so that we can all have great luck in the year ahead. Given several cancer scares, a sister-in-law’s broken back, a couple of surgeries, and several hip failures so far in 2017, I am going to go out on a limb and say that relying on legumes for luck isn’t working. I can’t go out on MY limb, however, as my hip is one of them that is failing.

I responded by telling him how I make my black-eyed peas, wondering all the while how he can be planning on making black-eyed peas when 1) It’s 108 degrees outside where he lives; and 2) His wife and his kids can barely be in the same room with a legume, so he would be on his own eating the massive amount of beans the recipe makes. Perhaps he was planning on feeding an entire flatulent village. Who was I to judge?

I called my sister Bec the next day to let her know that Erik had contacted me looking for the recipe. I called her for two reasons (and I must be in a listing mood today): 1) I wanted her to tell me why Erik was seeking to cook something as, well, hearty as beans in unbearably hot weather; and 2) I wanted to tell her that 10 minutes after I communicated with Erik, I lackadaisically logged onto my Pinterest site only to find recipes for black-eyed peas on my feed.  This is the truth, hand to God. Pinterest is reading my text messages.

The answer to (1) is that no matter where you live, sometime in mid-August, your thoughts turn to autumn. And if you like to cook (as does Erik), you begin thinking about cooking things on top of the stove for a very long time. Autumn/winter cooking is all about braising. It turns out that when Erik was in college, his roommate would go home for the weekend, and the boy’s father would always send him back with a big pot of beans. The young men would eat delicious beans for a week. Erik was feeling nostalgic. Our taste buds have more muscle memory than anything else.

The answer to (2), by the way, is that we are fooling ourselves if we think we have even the littlest bit of privacy left in our lives. So really, when people start getting bent out of shape because they fear a loss of privacy, they might as well realize that the horse has already left the barn. No privacy. None.

Anyway,what this all tells me is that since Erik is jonesing  for a pot of beans and the majority of my grandkids are back in school (the Vermonters don’t start until after Labor Day), the deluge of All Things Pumpkin is about to begin. Lord, make me strong.

Here, by the way, are the instructions I gave Erik (and Pinterest) regarding my black-eyed peas…..

Soak the black-eyed peas overnight (or do a quick-soak ). Place beans, some carrots and celery diced small, a teaspoon or so of red pepper flakes, some diced garlic, a bay leaf, a couple of ham hocks or a ham bone, and enough water to cover into a slow cooker and cook all night long. Don’t add salt until the end.

Enjoy, but don’t expect good luck. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

Fill Up the Tub

I learn a lot when I’m driving my grandkids around. Have you ever noticed that? The same held true when I was rearing my son. He told me things in the car he would have never told me sitting at the kitchen table. I always theorized it was because he was in a closed space from which he couldn’t escape, and because I had to stare straight ahead while I drove, he didn’t have to look me in the eye. It led to honest conversation.

But back to conversations with my grandkids. I don’t have conversations in which I expect them to tell me deep, dark secrets. That’s up to their parents, and I’m just the nana. But they tell me very funny things.

For example, the other day I was driving Kaiya and Mylee to my house to spend the day. Now, almost-9-year-old Kaiya is the worst eater of my nine grandkids. She proclaims a dislike of meat, but isn’t particularly fond of vegetables either. That leaves carbs. Mostly she likes pasta with butter and parmesan cheese and Domino’s cheese pizza. So it was kind of a surprise when she informed me – out of the blue, by the way — that she loved the macaroni and cheese from Noodles & Co. Restaurant.

Don’t get me wrong. The mac-and-cheese at Noodles is amazing. I was just surprised that she liked something other than pasta with butter and cheese and Domino’s cheese pizza.

“Really,” I said, showing my surprise.

“Really, Nana,” she answered. “In fact, I like it so much that I wish I could eat a bathtub full of Noodles mac-and-cheese.”

That led to a conversation about how we would like to design a bathtub that had a closed-in section in which we could sit with a spoon or fork so that we could eat everything that was in the bathtub without having to actually sit in what we are eating.

I asked Mylee if she would fill her bathtub with Noodles mac-and-cheese as well.

“No, Nana,” she said. “I don’t really like mac-and-cheese that much. But I know what I would fill my bathtub with.”

She went on to describe a total rebuild of the bathtub. It would be sectioned into two halves, with the closed-in section in the middle. One half of the bathtub would be filled with sushi and the other half would be filled with soy sauce.

“That way I could take the sushi from one side and dip it into the soy sauce on the other,” she noted happily.

I loved that conversation with Kaiya and Mylee. I think we pondered a fun question. It’s a bit different than the age-old question about what you would take to a desert island if you could only take one food (the answer which, for me, is always chicken-and-bean burritos smothered with hot green chili from Santiago’s  — a Mexican restaurant in the Denver area). It’s different because the question isn’t what is your favorite food; instead, it’s what is the food that, once you start eating, you can’t stop.

For me, it would have to be tortilla chips and salsa and/or guacamole. I guess I would need a modified version of Mylee’s modified version – chips on one side, and the other side divided in half with guacamole on one side and my nephew Christopher’s spicy homemade salsa on the other side. It’s true, my friends; once I dip a chip into salsa, I can’t stop until the chips are gone. And then I’m liable to ask for more.

When I relayed the conversation to their father, I asked him what food he would choose. He thought for a few moments, and then said chicken wings. I’m distrustful of that answer. Chicken wings would fill you up too quickly. I believe that’s what he would take to a desert island. But maybe I’m overthinking.

And Court’s thought on what food would fill up Cole’s bathtub? Chef Boyardee ABCs with meatballs.

I insist that anyone who comments on my blog today must include what they would have in their bathtub. And here is Christopher’s salsa recipe….

Christopher’s Salsa

Ingredients
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 can Rotel tomatoes, drained
1 green onion
1/4 c. cilantro
1-2 jalapenos, seeds and membrane removed (unless you want it hot)
1 serrano pepper
1/4 t. garlic salt
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice from one lime

Process
Place all of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend until it’s the consistency you like. The serrano pepper adds lots of heat, so use accordingly.

This post linked to Grand Social.