Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cooking Lesson: English Muffin Pizzas

This lesson was all about being comfortable in the kitchen and making the ingredients fairly uniform between pizzas.  Genevieve made these for lunch.  I wandered in and out of the kitchen, folding laundry and coaching her on the next steps.  When seconds were requested at the lunch table, she jumped right up and made a second, and then a third round (the mushrooms ran out).  I was pleased with her enthusiasm and responsibility.

I had set out the English muffins and half-a-jar of homemade pizza sauce to thaw. She used a paring knife to cut the mushrooms. She decided to slice the mozzarella instead of grate it (smart girl).  I explained the toaster oven to her.

I contributed popcorn, baby carrots, and ginger beer to the meal.  It was simple and satisfying, the lesson and the meal.  It's nice to have another worker in the kitchen.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Homemade Almond Extract

I don't know, I woke up and realized that I could put stuff in vodka and it's probably better than the extracts I buy.  I started by putting the kernels from peach pits in a 1/2 cup of vodka (I don't go through almond extract all that quickly!).  Apparently the kernels, the soft inner part of the pit from peaches and apricots, taste like almond extract.  We shall see.  The jar is tucked away for several months in my spice cupboard.  I followed these directions.

And then I talked to a coworker who makes his own vanilla extract and went straight to Ebay and ordered vanilla beans from Uganda.  Now I'm going to make vanilla extract. 

I don't know if this is cheaper, exactly, than buying vanilla extract, but I'm betting it will taste better.  I like to think I am clever with my food money, spending money where it makes a difference in taste, nutrition, and the environment.  Sometimes, all three line up, like now when the local veggies and fruits are pouring in from the careful farmers who are not certified organic, but just farm that way because it makes sense to them. And me.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Bathroom Mirror Cleaning Trick

This tip I discovered by myself by accident one day when I was annoyed with more smudgy fingerprints on the mirrors - life with children, right?  I grabbed a damp bath towel from someone's shower and rubbed the mirror and presto!  fingerprints gone and mirror polished! 

Over the next few months, I experimented, disbelieving that it was possible to clean a mirror without chemicals and a paper towel.

I am here to tell you it's true: rub the smudges with a damp towel and use a dry corner for a final swipe/polish.  The towel trick is less successful if you've got globs of toothpaste or soap bubbles on your mirror - you might have to get out the chemicals or ignore it until the next cleaning day.

We clean the bathroom mirrors once a week with Windex and newspaper.  We have two big mirrors because it's a tiny bathroom and (here's another trick!) small rooms look more spacious with mirrors in them.

It's possible that this a common tip and I just never heard it before, although I do confess to being a tip junkie who adores Hints from Heloise and the tips sections in the back of cookbooks and such. 

What do you think?  Do you have smudgy mirrors that need this cleaning tip?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Several Cold, Creamy Treats

I made the Charlotte Russe from my 1952 Joy of Cooking (here is the Orange Charlotte)  I didn't have "maple flavoring," so I used vanilla extract, a little rum, and a sprinkle of nutmeg.  

After I assembled it, I cleverly googled "Charlotte" and realized, too late, that the traditional mold is more bowl-shaped with the ladyfingers lining the bowl.  So mine looked odd, but everyone loved it and fought over the leftovers. 

About every other day, Ben asks me wistfully if I have some Charlotte Russe in the fridge.  No, my cabbage, I am making other cold treats.

This is a delicious mash-up of several ideas with nary a recipe.

1 ripe avocado
some coconut milk (I froze the rest in ice cube size)
lemon juice (I would have used a lime if I had one)
pinch of salt
smidge of sugar
dried coconut - just a little, and I wanted it to disappear, but it stayed as nubs

I blendered this concoction and kept tasting it until I loved it.  Then I froze it as popsicles.  Rich, exotic, and totally wonderful.

Finally, here is another Jeni's recipe (and as I type, I am chilling Backyard Mint in the fridge).  Pictured here is Sweet Corn Ice Cream with Raspberry Sauce.  Sounds odd, but it's perfect. The sweet corn is cooked with the cream mixture and then strained out.  I gave the cooked corn to the children to eat and then took it back because it was so delicious.  Which reminds me, my sister-in-law saw a recipe on Pinterest for boiling corn in milky water with a stick of butter - wow.

I love summer desserts.  I'll have baked goods later, in the chilly weather.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cooking Lesson: Cucumber Salad with Cumin

I had planned that I would slice the cucumbers for this lesson, but Genevieve used the big knife!  I stayed right next to her and alternately demonstrated, guided her hand, and watched.  She did an excellent job.

I often realize something during these cooking lessons, probably because I am taking the time to look at the kitchen through a little girl's eyes.  Valuable lessons, indeed.  What I realized this time is that I crank out three meals a day most days and I am super-efficient in the kitchen.  I enjoy what I'm doing and I enjoy my efficiency.  No hanging around thinking about how to garnish the salad or stroking the cutting board or staring at lemons before I cut them.  The thinking that I do about cooking happens while my hands are busy with a needle or dishes or clothespins or I'm trying to pay attention in church.  But a child comes to the kitchen world in wonder and amazement that slows down the entire process and add steps to the recipe.  So I can pick up some of her wonder and she can pick up some of my efficiency, don't you think?

We love this salad.  The recipe comes from Fix-it and Forget-it Vegetarian.  We ate it with rice and beans and pickled jalapenos.

Cucumber Salad with Cumin

Toast 1 tsp. cumin seed - either on a small tray in the toaster oven or in a dry skillet.  Takes only a few minutes and watch closely - you want to smell the aroma of cumin but not burn it.  Set aside.

Whisk in bottom of smallish salad bowl:
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise
juice and zest of 1 lemon
the 1 tsp. toasted cumin seed
2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt

Stripe 2 cucumbers with a zester or a paring knife - just for pretty. Halve or quarter lengthwise if you wish before slicing thinly.  Toss gently with dressing.  Serve immediately.

(Another reason to keep cumin seed on hand:  dhal.)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Sunday Dinner: Multitasking Slow Cooker (updated with recipe)

People, it is hot here and my husband is manic on the subject of no cooking heat in the house.  I use my slow cooker pretty often in the summer and I usually set it outside.  That pleases him, as does cooking outside on the new grill.

Sunday, we had a meatless meatloaf which is a lentil loaf which really needs a better name.  It sounds like we are being all 70s alternative or like we miss meat so much we are trying our best to imitate it, but that's just not the case.  At my house, this is just a delicious way to eat lentils and it just begs for traditional meatloaf sides.

The menu:
the loaf
baked potatoes
cucumber salad with basil
espresso granita with whipped cream (I used strong decaf coffee and decreased the sugar by 1 Tbsp.)

I put the oiled potatoes in the bottom of my 6-quart oval slow cooker.  I turned them on high around 7am.  Before we left for church at 9am, I turned the cooker to low and added the lentil loaf (mixed up the day before) in a 9x5 metal loaf pan, sitting directly on top of the single layer of potatoes.  Clapped the lid on. 

It worked so well!  When we got home from church, I put together a cucumber salad. Delicious, easy Sunday dinner and no cooking heat in the house - plenty of other heat, though. . .

Lentil Loaf (originally from a cookbook called The Daily Bean)

Combine and mix well:
1-2 cups tasty cheese such as cheddar with a bit of smoked cheddar if you like
2 cups cooked lentils
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 tsp. salt
pepper to taste
1/4 tsp. dried thyme (or triple the amount of fresh thyme)
1 cup soft breadcrumbs
1 egg
1 Tbsp. soft butter (optional)

Place in greased loaf pan and smooth top.  Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes or covered in a slow cooker on low for 2-3 hours.  You can put the loaf pan in the dry slow cooker and if there are no potatoes beneath, keep it off the bottom with a metal jar lid or small trivet.

If you have to cook your lentils just for this recipe, use a scant cup with a scant 2 cups water.  Cook covered for about an hour, until water is absorbed and lentils are soft.  Or you can cook a big pot and freeze the cooked lentils in 2 cup amounts.

Serve this loaf as you would traditional meatloaf; the wheat in the breadcrumbs in combination with the legumes (lentils) is a complete protein and there is protein from the cheese and egg.  Cold slices of leftover loaf are excellent in sandwiches with ketchup and sprouts.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Handquilting in Black Perle Cotton

I really love the look.  I think other quilters would call this primitive, but I just think of it as emphasis.  I've carried these around to swimming lessons and the like for the past few weeks.

These hotpads went to the local museum gift shop.  I'm especially fond of that green 70s calico that a friend gave me - pieced it into the back of a hotpad, too.

And I saved a set for my own etsy shop - listing here.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Why Raw Milk

1.  More live cultures for my gut (which is very happy right now, thank you).

2.  I trust small farmers to keep it clean.

3.  I come from farmers and I grew up dipping milk out of the tank in the milkhouse to drink.  I can smell the milkhouse, taste the metal rim of the dipper, and feel the wet concrete floor.

Raw milk is terrifically expensive ($5 a half gallon around here), so I buy local pasteurized milk ($2-something a half gallon) for cooking and we just use the raw milk for uncooked applications, mainly drinking and pouring on granola.  I figure if I'm going to heat the milk anyway in cooking, I might as well save money and use the milk that's already pasteurized.  I'm so pleased I finally figured out this frugral, hybrid approach.

I can acquire both milks in glass jugs, which tastes better and pleases me because the container can be reused.  I can acquire the raw milk in two different locations, blocks from my house, so I appreciate not making a car trip outside the city to lug it home.  To be sure to keep the jugs going back to the right places, I made little "raw" tags.  It was a fun way to practice my (lack of) embroidery skills.

Occasionally, the raw milk tastes odd, so I think the cows must have been grazing on something odd.  I'm often drinking kefir anyway or using yogurt with my granola, but a particularly snifty child has complained about the raw milk sometimes.

Whatever.  We are getting good bacteria, supporting our local farmers, and fighting the good fight.  Because let's not pretend that raw milk is not political.  I know it's controversial and we've been drinking this milk for months while I worked up my nerve to say so.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Before You Throw Things Away, Scavenge the Parts

Some things get worn out and we throw them away.  But pretend you are in the 1930s and scavenge them for useable parts first before you throw them away.  The trick (I am speaking to myself here) is to actually use those parts, though, and not just keep stuffing them in closets and corners while you go out and buy the first solution that crosses your mind.

What I had to do was retire an old purse/bag.  I loved it dearly, but it had a hole and 3 broken zippers after  5 years of daily use.  I didn't think it was right to pass it on to a thrift store, so over the course of a bus ride, I took seam ripper in hand and took off the useful parts:  2 zippers, the sturdy webbing strap, and a little zippered pocket from the interior. 

the tan webbing strap in my ribbon drawer

Well, when we took our new canopy to the beach ($50 on sale with a coupon!), we noticed that the pegs and guy-ropes slid right out of the carrying bag's velcro pocket if we tilted it slightly.  I knew just what to do when we got home.  I put the pegs and ropes in the scavenged zippered pocket and put that in the velcro pocket so that it's now too big to slip past the velcro. 

It's so nice to use a saved part for a real purpose.  Just yesterday, I had to admit defeat with a cardboard-sided laundry hamper in the children's room.  I bought it online and I did not know it was cardboard sewn into it for support and of course the children have crashed into it multiple times (legitimately - they're children!).  I was only able to remove the thick rope handles from the hamper, and then I threw it away.  So now I have two pieces of rope next to the webbing strap. . .

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Cooking Lesson: Gingerbread French Toast

I am losing my thoughtful, calm approach to these cooking lessons.  Instead, at the last minute, I try to squeeze it into the plan for the day and get impatient when Genevieve wants to help at other times.  Piano lessons, truthfully, are faltering and it's not because the student is unwilling but rather the teacher (me) loves the idea in theory but is less willing to invest the time. 

That's a little embarrassing to admit.

I am trained as a teacher and I love teaching, but I am having a hard time transferring those skills and plans to my homelife and parenting.  I think of myself as a scheduled person with lists and plans and goals, but really, I often just go with the flow of the day and so I can't be bothered to do something formal with the children. 

Genevieve is also thirsting to sew.  I did recently set up her machine and let her go - showing her oh-so-incidentally how to sew a seam with the right sides together.  She was thrilled.  She made a little purse for herself of the crudest construction and carried it to church on Sunday.  I know this was a good, fun learning experience for her, but I would like to take myself in hand and be patient and instruct my children and teach them the skills and basics in the areas where I am accomplished.

Things are not looking good for homeschooling, ever.

Unless maybe I grow as a parent, as a person. (Pause for meditation)

So, Gingerbread French Toast. 

It comes from Mollie Katzen's cookbook for children, Honest Pretzels.  Mollie Katzen makes great-tasting food and this was no exception.  It was simple French toast (dip bread in egg and milk mixture and fry) with gingerbread spices added to the liquid.   Genevieve did a good job handling herself by the stove and the breakfast was delicious.

This French toast lesson actually comes from two weeks ago. We were at the beach last week.  We are at home now and maybe we should go to the pool less and cook and sew more.  Must meditate on that.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Lettuce-Tomato with Beef and a Lovely Vintage Dessert

One of my very favorite meals is Lettuce-Tomato with Beef.  It has a short window of time in late June when the summer tomatoes overlap briefly with the lettuce which is starting to bolt in the heat.  I make it every year.  The only reason I can think of that I have not blogged about it before is that I so fully enjoy this meal that I cannot be bothered to get out my camera.  For your sakes, dear readers, I tore myself away.

Lettuce-Tomato with Beef - from More with Less with some serious tweaks by me; it's a dinner salad meal from Vietnam

Stir together and marinate in the fridge, preferably for several hours:
1/4-1/2 lb. chuck or round steak, sliced paper thin
2/3 cup grated or pureed onion (I use my food processor)
2 garlic cloves, grated or pureed (food processor again)
1/2 tsp. fish sauce* (or 1/2 tsp. salt, if you must)
1/2 tsp. sugar
freshly ground pepper, several grinds

In a small jar, combine:
1/3 cup finely minced onion
3 Tbsp. rice vinegar
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 tsp. salt
several grinds of pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar

Shake together as dressing and set aside. 

Plan when to start your rice; I use jasmine rice or regular long-grain brown rice.  The secret to fluffy rice is to keep the water scant (so don't use the full 2 cups water for 1 cup rice) and let it sit with the lid on for about 10 minutes when the water is gone, to steam.

A short time before the meal, when the rice is planned or cooking, arrange on a beautiful platter with a small, empty bowl in the middle:
1 head lettuce or mixed lettuces, torn
2 tomatoes, sliced
2 cucumbers, diced, peeling optional
handful snipped herbs such as Thai basil, cilantro, or mint (Asian-leaning, you see)

Heat in heavy skillet until very hot:
1 Tbsp. oil

Add marinated beef and onions and stir fry quickly, just until beef loses red color, 1-2 minutes.  Frying it too long will make it tough, trust me (and I like my steaks medium-well, okay?).  Place beef in the bowl in the middle of the salad platter.  Add a Tbsp. water to the hot skillet, swish, and add the collected drippings/water to the salad dressing.

To eat this gorgeous meal, place a mound of hot, fresh rice on your plate.  Add some lettuce/tomato/cuke/herbs mixture, a smidgen of beef (the Vietnamese wisely use the meat sparingly, for flavoring), and drizzly lightly with the dressing. Keeping the dressing and beef separate from the vegetables means that leftovers will still be nice the next day.

*I love fish sauce.  It is an anchovy-based sauce that has the same umami POW that Worcestershire sauce has (which is also traditionally anchovy-based, did you know?).  Add fish sauce to Asian dishes that need a little boot, or add it to vinaigrette, soups, or meatloaf mix.  I'm trying to talk you into getting a bottle by illustrating that it's not a one-trick pony.  I buy mine at an Asian store, but I'm guessing most major grocery stores have it.

Okay, so the lovely vintage dessert was Orange Charlotte.  I adore pudding-y desserts and this one was fabulous and not very hard to make.  I want to make Charlotte Russe next and I have the ladyfingers to prove it.  I was so pleased with its cool, creamy texture and citrus punch after the Vietnamese salad meal.

Orange Charlotte - taken from a book at work which I cannot credit because I photocopied it months and months ago without noting the title (oops - bad editor)

In a mixing bowl, dissolve 1 envelope unflavored gelatin in 1/3 cup cold water.

Add 1/3 cup boiling water.

scant 3/4 cup sugar
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 1 1/2 oranges)
zest of one orange
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
pinch salt

Place in refrigerator.  When the mixture startes to gel in 20-40 minutes, fold in:

2 egg whites, beaten with a pinch of cream of tartar until stiff
1/2 cup whipping cream, beaten until just beginning to form soft peaks

Pour mixture into lightly greased bowl or pretty vintage jello mold.  Cover.  Refrigerate for several hours until firm.  Unmold if you've used something pretty.  Otherwise, just dish it out.

Whew.  I don't usually publish two recipes in one post.  But you can see why, right?  Deliciousness.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Beginning of a Summer Kitchen

Our old gas grill was really feeble, so we replaced it this year with a Big Camp Chef III grill.  It has three propane burners and a grill box that can be placed on two of the burners.  It is fabulous.  I called several places and searched multiple websites over several weeks until we found the best price (amazon, a few months ago when we bought it).

Next year, we're hoping to launch our grand plans for our summer kitchen (see my Pinterest board for some of my ideas!), but this year, we are getting used to the grill and seeing what it's like to cook and can outside.
grill box on, pot of boiling water on the available burner
I love boiling corn - the burners are 30,000 BTUs which means I can get a huge pot of water boiling in what feels like minutes (I should time it one of these days).

now our butter will stay this way all summer

Last week, I did my first canning project:  dill pickles.  Inside, I would have heated the jars in the oven.  Outside, I heated them in hot water in the canner.  I boiled the pickle brine on another burner.  I kept the lids and rings hot in my slow cooker.  Everything worked beautifully (except that I ran out of salt, vinegar, and garlic mid-project - seems like the first canning project of the season must always be ill-supplied).  

grill box off, three burners available

This year, I added a grape leaf to each jar; supposedly, the tannic acid in the leaves will help to keep the pickles crisp.  I also carefully sliced off each end of the cucumber, which also supposedly makes crips pickles.  I'll report back.

I also made a half-gallon of fermented dill pickles following the loose directions in The Art of Fermentation.  They are in the fridge now after their 3-day ferment, puckery and crisp, but not vinegary which is what I think of for a pickle.  We like them a lot.

Have you thought of setting up a summer kitchen?  Do tell!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Beach Hats

We went to the beach.  I took my camera along, but I only got it out to take these photos:

And then we came home early because it was just raining raining raining and one day with movies and books and pesting each other was quite enough, thank you.  We had a lovely time and I am happily immersed back in my projects (lots more to blog about!).

But for now, I wanted to put the beach hats on The Record.

I made Genevieve's hat.  I am challenging myself to use up my scraps, so I worked entirely from my scrap boxes for this hat. 

See those two yarn embroidery pieces? They're from this bedspread and I'm so pleased to have them beautifully placed and out of my stash.

I love the colors of this hat, but it's a little wonky and Genevieve likes it only in theory.  At the beach, we relied on lots of sunscreen.

Ben's hat came from a family reunion auction (I explained them here - see the comments, too).  It is from his Great-Great-Aunt Helen's trip somewhere in the world.  How a grown lady's hat can fit my 5-year-old is beyond me, but look, it says "Shalom International"  and he is instantly hipster-cool!