After a busy and stressful week, I decided to take last weekend off and do things I enjoy–like reading cookbooks. That is one of my favorite ways to relax. As I looked through one, I found a recipe for carrot, celery, and onion bouillon. Many will recognize that mixture as a mirepoix, the basis of many soups, sauces, and other dishes. Since I love soup and make a lot of it, it only follows that I make a lot of mirepoix. It’s not a long or complicated process, still it does take time I could spend doing something else. And for some people, it might mean they’d pass on homemade soup and reach for a can. Shudder. According to the recipe, all you had to do was chop the ingredients, whir in a blender with water, and freeze in ice cube trays. When completely frozen, pop into a freezer bag to have at your beck and call. I went to bed that night determined to make some the following morning.
But then the brain kicked in.
When you make a mirepoix, instructions usually call to sauté the vegetables in a bit of butter, oil, or a combination. Not only do you get the flavors of the vegetables, it’s enhanced by the sauté, adding another layer of flavor. I tried to think of how to get that flavor using the recipe’s instructions. Though you might be able to do so if the combination were dehydrated and then powdered, I couldn’t think of a way to get it in ice cube form. Maybe I should pass.
But no. There had to be a way. And then it came to me.
Sauté the veggies first. Okay, that’s easy enough. And that’s exactly what I did. I took a carrot, a stalk of celery (including a few of the leaves), and an onion. I chopped them and sautéed in a bit of oil, just as I do most times I make a mirepoix. When finished, I turned them out onto a dish lined with a paper towel, so some of the oil could be sopped up. I patted them a bit more and let them cool a bit.
The rest was according to the original recipe. I put the veggies and cup of water in a blender and whirred away. Then into a 12-compartment ice cube tray. One carrot, celery, and onion–plus one cup of water–filled one tray. After 24 hours, and most likely sooner, they were completely frozen, so I transferred them to a freezer bag.
Of course I couldn’t wait to try them. So the next day I pulled together a mushroom and veggie soup using the cubes. And it worked great! I used 2 cubes for a smallish (technical term) pot of soup.
I know many people store homemade stock in ice cube form. And truth be told, if I had the freezer space, I might do so, too. But in the meantime, I think I’ll make a few more bags of mirepoix cubes. Saving time can be a good thing.
The other day someone asked what my favorite kitchen gadget is. Now this person knows me well. Especially my love for kitchen gadgets. He knows I’m often glued to QVC for all-day cooking products. Not that I buy much. I’ve become a much more prudent gadget shopper. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like looking at them.
I think I shocked him when I told him what it is. After all, I own some high-end kitchen appliances and gadgets. Still, when it comes right down to it, my favorite is my Ball collapsible funnel.
So why do I consider this indispensable? Well, for me it’s a necessity when I’m canning. But to be honest, I probably use it more to fill jars for storage than for canning. I love using glass jars to store dry goods, such as beans. (Hmm, this may explain why I don’t seem to have as many jars as I once did.) It shows off what’s inside, and it gives me easy access to determine when it’s time to buy more. While some may find it a simple task to open the bag and pour the contents into jars, well, it’s not always easy for me. Pouring through the funnel into the jar is easy peasy.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I often prepare foods so there are leftovers. When possible, I like to freeze soups in jars (make sure to leave plenty of headroom, and use jars with straight sides). Using the funnel makes it an easy process. I sometimes freeze soup and other leftovers in FoodSaver bags. Standing the bag in a large measuring cup or something similar and using the funnel to fill makes for a much less messy fill.
It may not be fancy, but this funnel has probably saved me hours in cleanup. And the fact it collapses for storage is frosting on the cake. So that is why it’s my favorite kitchen gadget. I just hope the Danish dough whisks and the “meat” fork don’t get jealous.
Except for ice cream and the occasional pie, I’m not big on sweets. When it comes to baking something sweet, my go-to of late have been cookies. Though I’ve baked cookies for as long as I can recall, it has increased since moving, as has all of my baking. I’m chalking it up to actually having room to do so.
The other day I was sitting around, wanting to make cookies but not sure what kind. I’d replenished some of my spice blends (ras el-hanout, curry powder, and za’atar) and wanted to use some of the same spices I used for those. That included cardamon, because, well, I’ve become a bit obsessed with it. And I thought about the orange spice cake I made a while ago. I wanted those spices as well.
After some experimenting, I ended up with my Spice Cookies.
The ingredients include vanilla and cinnamon extracts, ground cinnamon, ginger, ground pepper (seriously), ground mace, and ground green cardamon. You’ll see there is no baking powder, so they don’t really spread or rise. After forming the dough into little balls, roll them in turbinado sugar.
Despite the number of spices included in the cookies, the predominate flavor is cinnamon, a flavor familiar to and liked by most people. You can always adjust the spice amounts to your liking.
Though I’m usually not a dunker, these cookies are perfect for dunking. I find they stay together better than many cookies used for dunking. And when you dunk them in tea, the cookies add a very nice spice element to the tea.
Here’s my Spice Cookie recipe.
A few weeks ago, I read about a contest sponsored by Healthy Solutions Spice Blends. You selected the spice blend you wanted to use, and they send you a package of that blend. While the idea of first prize was tempting, I was most anxious to try a new product–and support a woman-owned company. Then there’s that thing I have for options.
I can hear it now. “Uh, a commercial spice blend? Aren’t you the one always pushing for making your own?” Yes, and yes. I do make my spice blends. That’s my choice, because I want to know everything that goes in them. But I’m also a realist. Most people probably don’t make their own blends. Sometimes they don’t know where to begin, feel they don’t have the time, or believe it’s more economically feasible to purchase already made blends. As long as you get what you want, and it inspires you to cook, I really can’t argue with that.
Anyway, I selected the Pork and Poultry Rub blend. According to the package (.97 ounces), it contains dehydrated onion, tomato, and parsley, as well as orange peel, spices, and cranberries. There’s also less than 1 percent canola oil used for processing. My mind went first to making a sausage to use for wontons. But if you read my last post, “Repurposing Food,” you’ll see I first used it as part of a rub for chicken. It worked really well for roast chicken, and it added a nice flavor component to the “chicken jelly.”
Let’s just say the wontons didn’t work out. Operator error. So I decided to turn to soup. You all know how much I love soup. I was able to use the mixture I made for the wontons to make 1-inch or so meatballs. That was the easy part.
For the broth, I used chicken stock with some rice wine vinegar. I added some bok choy, because I like it and had some. The other day I bought 5 pounds of carrots, so I was surely going to add some. But I didn’t want them to look like the carrots I put in almost every other soup. So I halved them and julienned them. And since I wanted mushrooms and had actually grown my own oyster mushrooms, I added some of those, too.
And along the repurposing food line, I made rice a few nights ago and had some left over. Yes, into the pot it went. I served myself a bowl and stirred in some gochujang paste. How much? Let’s just say my sinuses were clear.
The soup was fabulous. And the meatballs had a great flavor. Of course I tested before making them into meatballs, and the spice blend added a nice touch.
So my opinion of Healthy Solutions Spice Blend? Keep in mind I’ve only tried the Pork and Poultry Rub. It made an excellent rub for my chicken, and I’ve no doubt it would be the same for ribs, loins, and other pork cuts. When you’re trying to cut down on fat in your foods, you’re usually advised to add flavor through herbs and spices. Sometimes that’s all you’re told and left on your own to find the combinations. Many products are chockablock with additives. Healthy Solutions Spice Blends contain no MSG, salt, or sugar. I am bothered, however, by the general ingredient “spices.” I want to know what’s in my food, and though I understand proprietary recipes, this concerns me. Probably more than it would most folks.
They have several blends available, and I would like to try some of their other combinations. Check out their website. Maybe there’s something that inspires you to cook or grill.
Here’s the recipe for Asian Meatball Soup.
Let me first apologize for getting you hear under false pretenses–well kind of. If I had titled this as I originally planned, I was concerned I’d run some of you off. The original title?
Leftovers: Be Not Afraid
I am amazed at how many people do not like leftovers. When I was growing up, Mom usually fixed enough so we could have leftovers during the week. Sometimes Dad took them in his lunch. Besides, it was unthinkable to throw away perfectly good food. And that is what leftovers are–perfectly good food that should be embraced, not thrown away.
It’s also a way to save money. You don’t have to be told that food prices are increasing rapidly. This is especially true of meat. The obvious way to cut food costs is to buy bigger packages. You’ve likely seen them in the stores. They have names like “family pack” or “club pack.” You pay less per pound when you buy larger packages. Simply break down the big packages into smaller meal-size ones. This is a good way for people who cook for one to save money. Yes, you pay more initially, but the savvy shopper notices the per pound reduction.
Let me digress a bit. People often comment about my food choices. Sometimes they’ll say something like, “Oh I wouldn’t spend that much on something to eat. It’s just me.” People, people, people. Get off the, “It’s just me,” train. You’re worth it! You deserve it! You have value. If you’re not worth a good, healthy meal, then who is?
Let’s Talk Chicken
Most weeks I have chicken. It’s relatively inexpensive, it’s tasty, and it’s versatile. Last week I decided to roast a chicken. Except for those rare times when I buy a package of legs, thighs, or breasts (and I seldom do), I buy a whole chicken and cut it up. It’s not difficult. There are websites and YouTube videos showing how it’s done. I happen to enjoy cutting up chicken. But if you don’t, just remember you’re probably saving money per pound than if you bought a whole, cut-up chicken.
I cut the chicken in question into 9 pieces. All but the back went into this dish. The back is in the freezer for stock-making day. The dish couldn’t be simpler. I oiled the chicken and added a rub. Ordinarily I would have used my own, but I am participating in a contest by Healthy Solutions Spice Blends, so I used that. (The contest recipe will be the subject of an upcoming recipe.) I put some onions in the bottom of my dish, added the chicken, and then some lemon slices. It baked about an hour, and the results are in the photo above. I served it on a bed of spinach and with some smashed potatoes with paprika.
I’m sure you all know that fat rises to the top and solidifies when it cools. I poured the drippings into a bowl and refrigerated them until the next evening. The oil I put in the bottom of the dish and used to coat the chicken stayed liquid and was easily poured off. There wasn’t a lot of solid fat, but what was there was also easily removed. I was left with chicken gelatin!
So what do you use that for? Well, part of it became a sauce for the next night’s chicken dinner.
Besides saving money buying whole instead of pieces and cooking more than you need for a meal is saving time. The past few weeks have been really busy, so it’s been a real help to be able to reach into the freezer and grab something that just needs to be heated. When I make soup, I always make enough to be able to have some in the freezer. For whatever reason, it gives me a sense of security.
I’ve always loved to cook and bake. For many years, my preference was baking. In fact, I earned extra money one year making cooking trays for Christmas. Then I switched over to cooking. That kind of makes sense, because I do tend to prefer savory to sweet. Since I’ve moved to the Adirondacks, I seem to have found a nice balance between cooking and baking. I think I’ve done more non-bread baking in the past few months than in the last 2 or 3 years combined.
We all know food and memories are attached at the hip, so to speak. With me, it’s the smell that evokes my memories. Sadly, when it comes to my food-related memories, they seldom have much if anything to do with people. Well, there is the association between pickled pigs feet and my brother and father, but that’s an exception rather than the rule.
Actually, there is another exception. I do like cake, and my last cake brought back memories of my father. Dad liked cake, too. As a kid, my favorite was chocolate. As I’ve gotten older, chocolate and I have broken up, though I do have some from time to time. My dad’s favorite was spice cake. We had many spice cakes as I grew up, because they were his favorite. They all had one thing in common–they came out of a box. But then except for mayonnaise cake, I think they all did.
After I left home, I never had a spice cake. Not sure why, but I didn’t. The other day, though, I wanted cake. Specifically, I wanted a spice cake. And there was no way I was going to use a box mix. I mean, why should I? I looked at some recipes, and I had all the ingredients called for. I knew I wanted to add some in my cabinet that weren’t called for, like cardamom and orange zest.
If you look at the cake above, you might be surprised there is no frosting. I don’t really like frosting, another change from my childhood, when I would eat the frosting first. While the cake was still hot, I poured 1/4 cup of freshly squeezed orange juice on top.
Speaking of cardamom, I ground whole seeds. To get rid of the smell in my grinder, I just grind some white rice. Seems to work.
This spice cake only has the basics in common with that of my childhood–it’s a cake, and there are spices in it. But it did allow me to enjoy a happy childhood memory. Oh, and a tasty piece of cake.
As a child, breakfast usually consisted of cold cereal–the more sugary the better. I had a close personal relationship with Tony the Tiger, and the chocolate milk that came from Cocoa Puffs was a favorite. Oh we had hot cereal, bacon and eggs, pancakes, and french toast sometimes, but it was usually on the weekends and often made by dad for dinner.
Though it wasn’t super sweet (though topping with tons of sugar made it so), one of my favorite cereals was and continues to be Wheaties. You know, the “Breakfast of Champions.” So it seemed obvious that after flaking my own rolled oats and cracking my wheat for my version of Cream of Wheat, the next logical step was to make my own Wheaties.
So why make my own when Wheaties, or a store version of it, is probably available on every store shelf in the United States? Have you looked at the price of cereal lately? A box of Wheaties at the village market is almost $4. And it’s not even the big box. Sure, it’s probably less expensive at other stores, but for many, this store is their only option.
Then there’s my quest to know what’s in all my food. Sure, I can read the label on the Wheaties box. There are about 18 ingredients in commercial Wheaties. The main ones are whole wheat grain, sugar, salt, corn syrup and preservatives. Vitamins and minerals follow. Oh, there’s a warning that it may contain almond ingredients. Color me weird, but I thought it was supposed to be wheat and maybe a sweetener.
And therefore I began my quest to make my own. Since I grind my own wheat for flour, I had wheat berries. And because I flake my own oats for oatmeal, I have a flaker. My first thought was to run some berries through the flaker. It seemed like a good idea, but in practice, not so good.
Then I did some research and found most wheat flake cereals were made using whole wheat flour. Well, again no problem. Most call for brown sugar. No problem; I make my own. I gathered my four ingredients—flour, table salt, water, and light brown sugar—sifted the dry ingredients and added water. The batter is very thin, but that’s what you want. Then pour the batter onto a parchment lined or lightly sprayed cookie sheet. Bake until crisp, let cool, then break into flakes.
It really is that easy. The only problem was of my own making. I wanted to bake them in my counter oven, and the pan I used was smallish. My layer of batter was a bit too thick. I took it out when part of it was done, let cool, and broke off the crisp parts, I flipped over the rest and let it bake a while longer. It was fine then. Next time, I’ll use the regular oven and a bigger pan. As long as you get a thin layer, and I mean really thin, it doesn’t have to cover the pan completely.
Like the commercial versions, my wheat flakes include salt and sweetener. But when I make my own, I can use the kinds and amounts I want.
I encourage you to try making your own whole wheat flakes. Here’s my recipe. I’m going to try rye, too. If you don’t grind your own wheat (and I suggest you try), you can use store-bought flour. If you prefer dark brown sugar, use it. If you’d rather not include salt, leave it out. Make them your own.
The fourth International Bake Bread Weekend has come and gone. I was happy to hear so many were baking in celebration. As for me, it’s a chance to celebrate something I love to do.
This year I decided to break in a new sourdough starter in honor of IBBW. Most of my starters I make myself using different combinations of flour and liquid. But I was intrigued by one of the dehydrated starters Jane Campbell has available on her Fermenters Kitchen site. I ordered the Tuscan starter, which she obtained from a friend who went to Italy. I must admit it was a hard decision, and I’m sure I’ll be back for more.
The starter arrives dehydrated. To activate, you feed it flour and water twice a day, making sure to stir vigorously each time. I followed directions (don’t laugh) but was beginning to get discouraged after about 4 days. Patience is not one of my virtues. I could see very tiny bubbles (cue Don Ho) when I looked at the side of the jar, but I was used to really big bubbles. There were some larger bubbles on top, though. I let it go a few more days, but didn’t see much bubble increase, though it certainly grew after feedings. Some people say to do a float test to see if your starter is ready. I’ve never had a starter float, though they’ve made great bread. Since I had my doubts about its viability, I decided to try the float test. Eureka, it floated! So on day 8, I made bread.
Incidentally, Jane says it takes 5-8 days before being ready to bake with it, so mine–Miss Marple–certainly came within that window. But remember, patience and I are not necessarily on a first-name basis.
Using Jane’s recipe for a small loaf of bread (and it is small), which I obtained in one of her Facebook groups, I put Miss Marple to work. She has the tang many expect from sourdough, but it’s not a smack-you-in-the-face type of tang. I can see using it often. Jane’s friend says it makes a great pizza dough, so I’ll have to try that, too.
There’s disagreement about whether starters from another location maintain that uniqueness or, after some time, take on the characteristics of the place they’re used. It’s not that important to me. If you’re not comfortable making your own starter or want to experiment, I encourage you to take a look at what Jane has available.
Thanks for participating in the fourth IBBW. The fifth annual will be
February 13-14, 2016
See you then!
Oh yes, it’s almost that time of year again. No, I’m not talking about spring or planting my garden. Or my birthday. Or Thanksgiving. And thought it falls on February 14, it’s certainly not Valentine’s Day. No, it’s the
4th Annual International Bake Bread Weekend!
This year’s celebration of bread bakery falls on February 14-15. It’s a time to pay homage to home-baked breads of all forms. Whether you use your hands, a mixer, a bread machine, or any combination, the important thing is to BAKE BREAD. Make it for yourself, for others. Teach someone to bake bread. And most important, have fun.
On average, I bake bread once or twice a week. If you follow me on Facebook, you’ll know my go-to bread is Jim Lahey’s basic no-knead recipe. You can find it here. In fact, some wonder if I can make any other type of bread. Short answer: yes. But I like his bread, it’s easy to make, and it’s a great canvas to changing it up from time to time.
I made the bread again last night. This time I swapped out 1 cup bread flour for home-milled hard winter wheat. Instead of all water, I used equal parts water and whey from cheesemaking. I usually bake in a loaf pan, and last night was no different. But I’ve seen loaves consisting of three smaller ones melding together in one pan. I decided to try that, but I only did two mini loaves.
When I cut into it, I was definitely not disappointed.
I don’t like a hard crust, and this one is perfect. It also has a very tender crumb.
Bulk fermentation was about 22 hours. After shaping, I let the loaf proof for about 3 hours. Incidentally, the last few loaves have proofed overnight in the refrigerator. In the morning, I let them proof at room temperature before baking, and the results have been excellent. This time, however, I went back to proofing and baking the same day.
As for what I’m going to do for International Bake Bread Weekend, I’m not sure. Right now I’m leaning toward a sourdough. I have a couple new starters I want to try. But then I’ve been wanting to make cinnamon rolls. Oh well, I’ve got time to make up my mind. And change it a few times. Whatever it is, I’ll have fun.
I’ve blogged about my love of onions, especially raw onions. It seems to me I am in the minority when it comes to eating raw onions. Almost everyone else loves them cooked–especially caramelized. Well, I have a confession. Unless it’s in French onion soup, I do not like caramelized onions. Call me weird if you want, but that’s just the way it is.
Imagine how I feel, then, when I keep seeing recipes using caramelized onions. Or shows on the Food Network that extol the flavor of them on sandwiches, including one of my favorites, hamburgers.
A couple weeks ago, I decided to try to find a way I liked caramelized onions. And I did. Powder. Why not? I’ve already made onion powder and smoked onion powder. Caramelized onion powder seemed like the next logical step.
I took 6 small to medium onions and sliced them thinly. I used my food processor to make sure I got a consistent thickness. Then I threw them in the Crock Pot with 8 tablespoons of butter and let it go until they were brown and soft.
They took about 12 hours on low, stirring occasionally, to get to this consistency. Slow cooker temperatures vary, of course. And you can cook on the stove in a heavy pot if you want.
The next step is to drain the onions. Be careful not to throw away the liquid. It can be frozen or refrigerated and used in sauces and cooking liquids.
After the cooked onions are well drained, put them in the dehydrator. I dehydrated mine at 115 degrees for about 9 hours, until they were dry and could be easily crushed. Many factors influence the length of time it takes to dehydrate things, so keep an eye on the onions.
But remember, I wanted powder. So most of them went into the spice grinder and became The Enabling Cook’s Caramelized Onion Powder.
As for storage, I’m not sure it’s shelf stable, because the onions were cooked in butter. So I’m keeping it in the refrigerator to be on the safe side.
Even if you like caramelized onions, I encourage you to give the powdered version a try.