Monday, February 28, 2011

Vietnamese-style Meatball Spring Rolls

For my meatball recipe this week, I was inspired by these Vietnamese-style lettuce cups (click here) that are in the most recent issue of Bon Appetit. I decided to use meatballs, instead of the shrimp that I usually use to make fresh spring rolls. I couldn't decide between pork or shrimp meatballs, so I mixed them together and used both meats, which made the most amazingly delicious meatballs ever!

Mix together:
1 1/2 lbs. each ground pork and minced shrimp meat
1 finely minced lemongrass stalk
3 T. minced cilantro
4 garlic cloves, pressed
3-4 T. fish sauce
3/4 c. finely crushed saltine crackers
Mix well and form into 1 inch sized meatballs. Chill at least one hour before cooking, or freeze for later. I used about 2/3 of these meatballs to make the spring rolls here, and I froze the rest. While the meatballs chill, make the dipping sauce and prepare all the components for making the rolls.

Spicy Dipping Sauce
Mix in a wide mouth pint jar with a tight fitting lid:
1 c. water
juice of 2 limes
1/2 c. fish sauce
1 T. sugar
3 pressed garlic cloves
1/2 T. crushed red peppers
Shake to dissolve sugar and mix. Store refrigerated.

I cooked the meatballs in two batches in a large caste iron skillet then transferred them to a bowl. Lay out all the components for making the rolls: meatballs, fresh red leaf lettuce, fresh cilantro, cooked fine rice vermicelli (cook in boiling water 5 minutes or so, drain, rinse in cold water, and drain again), pie dish of warm water for softening rice sheet wrappers, rice sheets, and a platter for the finished rolls.

Making attractive spring rolls takes a bit of practice. Even if the first few attempts look rather sad, they can be either wadded together, or completely deconstructed, and they will taste just as delicious as a more artistic roll. These are rather fun to make and are really not that difficult to get the hang of making. This is how I do it: Soak a rice sheet for a few minutes in warm (not hot) water until pliable. Place on a flat surface. On it, place a torn bit of lettuce leaf (remove and discard the ribs) in the center or slightly off to one side, top it with two meatballs, a tiny mound of vermicelli (1-2 T.), and several cilantro leaves. Fold the shortest end over to cover fillings, then fold first one side and then the other over that, and finally roll the package towards the far end, securely but not too overly tight. I soaked one sheet while I was constructing and rolling another, which seemed about the right amount of time to soften it without it disintegrating.

I thought a platter of these would be enough to eat for dinner while watching the Academy Awards last night, but there was some quiet grumblings of discontent among the ranks, so we made a pot of rice and some stir-fried cabbage with a bit of sesame oil to go with. I'm glad we did, the rolls all quickly disappeared, and the simple cabbage and rice was perfect alongside. Even if not very photogenic, it was really delicious.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Fish and Chips

My husband is what is known as an easy keeper. The man will cheerfully and appreciatively, with very few exceptions, eat whatever I make and serve to him. When asked what he'd like for dinner, he invariably replies, "Something good." So in planning our meals, I simply strive to make some sort of 'something good.' Saturday, when he intimated that fish and chips sounded really good, I agreed that it did. Our last child still living at home was making plans with her friends, and fish and chips for two is easy enough to make. Since the plans of teens can change by the minute, she MIGHT be eating dinner with us, but even so, frying for three people is no big deal.

As a general rule, and as much as they always loved it, I really avoided making fish and chips at home for my family when they all lived here. I feel like a bit of a kill-joy about this, but it is almost impossible to make perfectly done beer battered fish with crispy French fries to serve simultaneously to five or more people for a sit down family meal. However you orchestrate it, by the time you've finished frying everything, that which you cooked in the beginning is no longer crisp. The only way for me to pull it off, without the inevitable soggy meal component, is to essentially crank out alternate batches of potatoes and battered fish and serve each person individually, or to allow a good natured scramble and sharing of each batch as they come out of the oil until everyone has had their fill, which seems more like a feeding than a family meal. And then of course, you always have to mop the floor when you're done.

But a fish fry for two or three people is not such a big deal. I had been putting off THE SHOPPING TRIP all week out of sheer laziness, but the desire for cod, and a lack of any other genuinely pressing activity, sent me to the store. As four bags of groceries (including a generous package of cod and new jar of tartar sauce) and I were parking in our driveway, my cell phone rang. It was my son and he was thinking about coming for a visit. Fish and Chips are for dinner I told him. He said he'd be on the next Metro bus from Seattle's ID where he lives. I put the groceries away, then was inspired to whip up some Red Velvet Cupcakes. While I was baking them, my husband went to the bus station to pick up the incoming son. As I was heating the oil, the teen girl's plans changed. She asked if her friends could come over to our place instead. I remembered I had some frozen shrimp and salmon stashed in the freezer (it wasn't THAT generous of a package of cod), and said, "Sure." As the hungry began to trickle through our back door and into my kitchen, I got down to the serious business of frying and serving a steady stream of battered fish and crispy chips to everyone. And later that night, of course, I had to mop the floor -but I didn't mind, really. It is a rather small price to pay for having fantastic fish and chips at home that makes everyone so very happy.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Crock-Pot Ghee

I made ghee (clarified butter) last week in my Crock-Pot for the first time. As often is the case, I may be one of the last to hear about this simple method for making ghee. I am an ardent fan of my Crock-Pot, even going as far as declaring it this Shepherdess' Best Friend, and I have made countless meals in the various slow cookers I've owned over the years. Besides having dinner ready and waiting at the end of the day, they are also handy for making soap, and for dyeing fiber -though once you use a Crock-Pot to dye fiber, it CANNOT EVER be used to cook food in. Making ghee in the Crock-Pot was as simple as putting 2 lbs of unsalted butter, each cube cut in half, in my slow cooker and leaving it alone with the lid off for 4-5 hours. I left it until a layer of foam formed on the surface that browned a bit where it touched the crock, and the milk solids had all settled to the bottom. I then skimmed off the foam, and taking care to leave the milk solids behind, I VERY CAREFULLY poured the clarified butter through a fine mesh sieve and into a pint and a half-pint jars, which gave me three cups of golden ghee.

Removing the milk fats from the butter allows it to be cooked at a higher temperature without burning. It is commonly used in Indian and other ethnic cooking, and I made this to use in a Lamb Tagine I plan to make this week (in my Crock-pot, of course). Ghee can be used in many, many ways. After making this, I put some in the mashed potatoes I made for dinner, and also used it to saute some chopped garlic with thawed, frozen cauliflower, which was heavenly. I won't make any wild claims as to the health benefits of cooking with copious amounts of ghee, but cooking with a bit of clarified butter gives a big flavor boost to foods cooked in it, it stores well, and it is so amazingly simple and fool-proof to make in a Crock-Pot. Need I say more?

Finally, my Christmas Cactus bloomed! It actually is more of a Valentine's Day Cactus, whether that's it's natural tendency or a result of my neglect, I can't say, but I find its flowering quite cheering this time of year and I had to share with you. It reminds me that, despite our recent snow and cold, Spring IS on it's way!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"There are mistakes too monstrous for remorse.."

"At this point in my life
Done so many things wrong
Don't know if I can do right." -Tracy Chapman

I will never be good at lace knitting. My tendency to deal with life's hiccups by forging ahead and turning a blind eye to the inevitable mistakes and inconsistencies that occur, well, it doesn't work out so good in knitting lace. The many mistakes present in my shawl may be something I can live with, but they will be less acceptable to the discerning eye of any competent lace knitter.
But in the overall big scheme of things, and among the many mistakes I've made in my lifetime, it's no big deal.

"I shall know day from night
Until I die, but there are darknesses
That I am never to know, by day or night;
All which is one more weary thing to learn,
Always too late. There are some ills and evils
Awaiting us that God could not invent;
There are mistakes too monstrous for remorse
To fondle or dally with, and failures
That only fate's worst fumbling in the dark
Could have arranged so well."
-from Arthurian Poets (Tristram) by Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Banana-Nut Muffins

Yesterday, while I was waiting for my oven to preheat to bake these Cream Scones (click here) that I saw over at Food in Jars, I got distracted. Somewhere between washing the dishes, leafing through Diner Desserts, a cookbook by Tish Boyle I checked out from the local library, and looking at my calendar and noticing that today is Banana Bread Day (it's an old oven and it takes forever to heat up), I changed my mind and made these muffins instead. Diner Desserts is an absolutely charming cookbook filled with fun retro photos and fabulous recipes of, well, classic diner desserts. So far I have resisted buying it, but I couldn't resist making these muffins.

Banana-Nut Muffins
Adapted from Diner Desserts by Tish Boyle
1 1/2 c. flour
1/2 c. wheat germ
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. nutmeg
1 c. finely minced walnuts

Mix separately:
2 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 c. butter, melted
3/4 c. yogurt, plain
1 large egg
3/4 c. brown sugar
1 T. vanilla

Combine two mixtures without over mixing. Fill paper-lined muffin cups. I had a bit more than 12 cups of batter and baked the extra as an adorable little mini banana bread loaf. Bake 350 degrees 18-20 minutes for muffins and 5 minutes extra for the mini loaf.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Shepherdess Scotch Egg

Do you remember the cookbook series: Monday is Meatloaf, Tuesday is Chicken, Wednesday is ...? Well, it seems Monday is now Meatballs here. I've slipped into the groove of it, and following my resolution to make a different meatball recipe every week, this weekend with a bowl of hard boiled eggs sitting in the fridge alongside a bit of leftover sausage, I just couldn't hold myself back from making a Scotch Egg, a fried, sausage-covered hard-boiled egg. I'd never made one before, but I simply had to do it; as far as meatballs go, this is the granddaddy of them all!

Scotch Egg
Adapted from Great British Cooking by Jane Garmey

Hard-boiled egg -I used a duck egg, but quail eggs would be perfect here (Our quail won't be laying eggs until it's 70 degrees outside, which probably won't be until July)
peel egg and put in a small Ziploc bag with 1/4 c. flour, and shake gently to coat egg.

Flatten a portion of breakfast sausage to form a patty large enough to encase the egg

In a small bowl, beat 1 egg. Dip floured hard-boiled egg into beaten egg, and coat completely. Place egg in center of sausage patty, and wrap and form sausage around the egg to completely cover it.

Place sausaged-egg in another Ziploc bag with 1/4 - 1/2 c. Italian-Seasoned bread crumbs and roll to coat.

Heat oil to hot. Use a slotted spoon to lower the egg into the hot oil, and deep fry until well-browned all over.

Drain on paper towels for 1-2 hours before serving.

I know very few of us are going to be eating one of these as a part of our daily diet, though Jane Gramey says this is a popular pub snack in England. Having no personal experience with British pubs, I can't say if people really tuck into these on a regular basis or not, but I can just hear some of you exclaiming, "Good grief! Who is going to eat a colossal sausage-covered hard-boiled egg?" Well, if you have any friends hiking the Pacific Crest Trail and you are meeting them for a food drop -a couple of these is just the thing to bring them. If you know a fisherman, lumberjack or coal miner, I'd suggest putting one of these in their lunchbox. Otherwise, what I suggest for the rest of us to do with a Scotch Egg is to share one.

My grandfather called this sort of thing a 'Dutch Lunch.' I remember excitedly eating similar lunches that my Grandmother Leona would put together for us, when I spent the night with them as a child. Served as part of a picnic spread, or simply on a lunch plate at the kitchen table, a SLICE of Scotch Egg with cheese, crackers and an array of home canned pickles -here my Dilly Beans, Bread and Butter Pickles, Pickled Beets, and Sweet Pickles- is a tasty treat.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Asian-style Rice and Chicken Soup

The Japanese have Okai, the Chinese Congee, the Korean's Juk, the Filipino's Arroz Caldo, and the Vietnamese Chao Ga. The list goes on and on for the different versions that each different culture has of their own specially nuanced Asian-style Rice and Chicken Soup. The recipe I use to make Juk/Jook (the spelling and pronunciations for this soup vary), was given to me years ago by a Japanese-American friend, who told me it is her ultimate comfort food. I had the good fortune to be discussing this soup with her, while sitting amidst a group of friends, and their collective multi-cultural perspectives on this food was illuminating. Besides myself and my Japanese-American friend, there was a Japanese woman (married to a Norwegian), an American married to a Filipino man who's a prolific cook, a Korean who immigrated to the US as a schoolboy, and a Vietnamese man who immigrated as an adult. They all are very fond of different variations of this soup, and we discussed the similarities and differences of their different culture's, and each individual family's, versions of rice and chicken soup. This soup is just one of the many foods first introduced by our immigrants that was hybridized and adapted in American kitchens, and is now an integral part of the family favorites repertoire for many home cooks, like myself.

I often make this soup when one of us has a cold, and it was a lifesaver when each of my three kids were unable to chew for several days because of the torture resulting from orthodontic visits. Just as for my Japanese-American friend, this soup has become the ultimate comfort food for my youngest daughter. She's spending this weekend recovering from an oral surgery taking out all four of her wisdom teeth. Despite her horoscope earlier in the week declaring she would "start thinking about a weekend adventure," (needless to say) she's been less than thrilled by the whole experience. I made this soup for her to eat, once she could move beyond the broth, yogurt and applesauce foods stage.

Jook or Asian-style Rice and Chicken Soup

Put all the following in a pressure cooker:
1 c. sushi rice
7 c. water, or chicken or vegetable broth
2-3 green onions or 1/2 sliced yellow onion
1 carrot, whole
1 celery stalk, whole
5 cilantro stems
1 jalapeno, whole
1/2 c. sliced (or 5 whole, broken) dried shitake mushrooms (don't bother soaking them)
1 t. salt
1 inch ginger root, sliced or grated
1 can drained, sliced water chestnuts
1-2 chicken breasts, or leftover remnants of a roast chicken or duck
3 garlic cloves, whole

Bring to high pressure. Cook for 10 minutes, then quick-release pressure. Cool a bit, then remove carrot, celery, jalapeno, and onions and discard them. Remove the chicken breasts to a plate, remove and discard the bones, shred the meat and return to the soup.

Serve with any, or all, of the following condiments:
minced cilantro leaves
Black Bean Sauce
Garlic Black Bean Sauce
chili paste or Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce
Hoisin Sauce
soy sauce
sesame oil

This is my youngest as a toddler (taking her guinea pig, Jake for a ride), and I can't help but see her as that tot now, with her face all puffy from surgery, recovering from the ordeal and feeling terrible. Even though she'll turn 18 this summer (and she is one of the most competent and independent teens imaginable), in my heart, a part of me will always see her as this tiny little girl.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

"There may be things better than beef stew and baked potatoes and home-made bread -there may be." -David Grayson

Aside from unguarded stray desserts, my preferred breakfast is toasted home-made bread with home-made jam. I just made this basic whole wheat buttermilk bread this morning. It's rising now and I'll bake it later today. I don't think there is anything better than warm home-made bread. When I am on top of things, I make bread once or twice a week, but I am often not on top of things, and we sometimes find we're out of bread which makes the people I live with rather cranky -not that I blame them. Tomorrow, I will toast this whole wheat buttermilk bread to eat for breakfast. That will be much more cheerful than this morning, when I grumpily discovered I have NOT been on top of things, and we are now OUT of bread.

A beef stew is so simple to make, and mine at least, is rarely ever made the same way twice. I usually don't use any particular recipe, but simply brown stew meat (or not), floured (or not), add onions, leeks, or shallots, broth or water, and vegetables. I always include potatoes and carrots, but not always celery. In February I use canned corn, green beans and tomatoes, and in August I use an assortment of fresh vegetables from our garden. Stew can be made on top of the stove, or in a crock-pot; last night I started the stew on top of the stove and then finished it in the crock-pot. I find any type of stew (beef, vegetable or whatever) hard to beat for comfort, flexibility, and frugality. Really, what could be better than a beef stew?

I admit that if my oven didn't take forever to heat up, and if I didn't see a baked potato as a good excuse to eat a ton of butter, salt and sour cream, I would happily eat a baked potato every single day for lunch. Instead, I have my usual 'that's disgusting' (says my daughter) salad, composed of whatever leftovers I find in our fridge that could conceivably be eaten as a salad. This one is with supermarket 'spring' greens, salmon, hard boiled duck egg, chopped sweet pickles and corn. And a salad WITH a baked potato is my idea of the perfect lunch -or leftover beef stew and warm home-made bread!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Ready. Set. Garden!

A few lonely leeks are all that remain in the garden now, post winter and almost spring.

This is the time of year when my husband begins preparing the garden beds for planting. I could call him Gardening Husband, following the example of those who refer to their spouses with names such as Marlboro Man, Chubby Hubby, Hunky Farm Guy, Well Fed Farm Guy, Mr. Fix-It, Beloved Vegetarian Husband and the like. My youngest brother (who's wife refers to him as her Fourth Child) often comments on my husband that, "he's as handy as a pocket on a shirt." Believe me, he is; everything would fall apart around here without him. Actually, it was during a fence building experience that our friendship and budding romance first began -even at sixteen with plans to leave farm life behind me, I couldn't help but be impressed by a guy who could build a really good fence. And rebuild a car engine. And...but I digress. The point being, this is his garden, he is the one that does most of the work of growing our food -and I don't have a clever name for him. I nominally help in the garden by weeding and watering, and exhibiting short and erratic bursts of enthusiasm during the growing season. My planting activity is usually limited to growing a few short rows of turnips.

My husband, the gardening scientist who builds really good fences and can fix anything, is like The Little Red Hen this time of year. He turns the soil, and buys the seeds, and plans and plants our garden. I cheer him on and make occasional requests such as, "Hurrah, Fava Beans! More edamames, please? I don't think we can have too many. And can we grow a few parsnips this year, I love parsnips!?!"

So though I'm not the one doing the work, I am very excited about the start of the garden and the beginning of the gardening season, and I love watching it all taking shape. It may not look like much now, but I know from experience, with lots of hard work and a bit of luck, it will produce a profusion of foods from May through November.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Individual Chocolate Souffles

What did you have for Valentine's Day Dinner? If you are currently single, did you treat yourself or ignore the whole thing? Did you go out as a couple to a nice restaurant dinner, or simply have a special little something at home (it being a workday Monday and all), or did you go all out and make your special someone's (or your own) favorite dinner last night? Please comment and share what you had for dinner on Valentine's Day. I don't know about everyone else, but I love it when someone shares with me what they cook or eat for dinner -any day of the year. Last night, I made one of our favorite dinners: a broiled salmon fillet (luckily, there's still some salmon left in our freezer) seasoned with lemon-pepper and olive oil, pasta with defrosted pesto (made and froze last summer), a good bread, a green vegetable (I found more frozen edamames), and a simple green salad. He brought home a small bottle of champagne, and I made these delicious, though imperfect, chocolate souffles for dessert. They are surprisingly, rather easy to make.

Individual Chocolate Souffles
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

In small bowl, microwave 1 minute:
4 oz. Baker's Sweet Chocolate
3 T. strong espresso (I used decaffeinated)
Melt and stir until smooth.

Butter 4 individual dishes and place on a baking sheet (not necessary, but it makes them easier to handle)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees

In a saucepan with a heavy bottom,
Melt: 2 T. butter
Add: 3 T. flour
Make a light roux and cook 1 minute
1 c. milk (I used almond milk)
Stirring constantly while it cooks, make a smooth sauce. Cook 2 minutes.

Separate 3 eggs.
To beaten yolks, add a bit of the cream sauce to lighten and add yolks to cream. Remove saucepan from the heat. Stir in:
1-2 t. vanilla
melted chocolate

In a mixing bowl, beat egg whites and a pinch of salt till frothy. Gradually add 1/4 c. sugar and whip on high until they form stiff, shiny peaks. Fold into chocolate cream. Divide between 4 dishes, filling 3/4 full.
Reduce oven heat to 35o degrees and bake 14 minutes or until done. Serve immediately, with a dusting of powdered sugar, and/or with ice cream or whipped cream, if desired.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Meatball Beef Pho

Happy Valentine's Day, or rather, Happy Chocolate Day! I prefer to celebrate this Hallmark holiday without the Hallmarkness, and I see this calendar holiday mostly as a good excuse to bake a decadent homemade chocolate dessert. Tonight, I'm making individual chocolate souffles (cooked exactly 14 minutes) using Julia Child's recipe. With the typical February weather we are having today -wet, cold and nasty- they will be perfect.

"We got up in the morning to the persistent steady thumping of rain on the roof and we lay in bed at night and listened to the persistent steady thumping of rain on the roof." "It rained and rained and rained and rained. It drizzled -misted -drooled -spat -poured -and just plain rained." -Betty MacDoanld, The Egg and I

When the weather is wet and cold, a beef soup is the perfect food to have. Beef Pho, a Vietnamese beef broth and rice noodle soup, is always a popular choice for a quick and filling lunch or dinner. It is especially comforting to have when it's rather cold outside and the skies have been pouring down rain for days on end, as is generally the case here in the Puget Sound area, off and on from the first of November to the end of May. With a decent bowl of Pho available on practically every block in the city, it may not seem worth it to bother to make your own, but we live thirty some miles north, and when I have a craving for a bowl of Pho, I find it much preferable to spend my Sunday afternoon puttering in the kitchen making beef broth, than to drive through traffic in search of good Pho -and there's the added bonus of having leftovers the next day (or freeze half for a second meal later). This is not at all difficult to make, and the time required is mostly hands off cooking, so you can make Pho while you're watching a movie, knitting (or both), or whatever.

The key to really good Pho is a genuine broth. Beef is classic, though I often make a Duck Pho that's really pretty amazing. Canned beef broth can be used (and I have) but it is just not quite the same thing. Beef shanks, or some other bone-in soup-bone-type cut, are what you need for this. I made this in the pressure cooker Sunday afternoon, and our kitchen smelled absolutely heavenly with the fragrance of the beefy cinnamon, star anise, ginger and lemongrass broth.

Pho Beef Broth
Place in pressure cooker:
2 # beef shank meat (best if browned first, but I forgot to)
5-6 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
3 whole garlic cloves
1 large shallot
5 black peppercorns
4 whole cloves
2 inch ginger root, sliced
1 t. vegetable oil
1-2 carrots, whole or broken
1 stalk lemongrass
1 stalk celery
Fill cooker to 3/4 mark (about 3 quarts). Bring to high pressure, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for one hour. Shut off heat, allow pressure to drop, and broth to cool a bit.

Remove shank bones and meat, shred, and set aside. The pressure cooked shank bones made a tasty treat for our old dog, Jane.

Strain the broth, and discard the STUFF. To strained broth, add:
2-4 T. fish sauce
1-2 t. sugar
salt and ground pepper to taste

meatballs -I used these frozen meatballs (click here), but pork meatballs would also be great. Simmer 10 minutes, or until the meatballs are done.

Meanwhile, cook 12-16 oz. rice sticks in boiling water for 8-10 minutes or until tender. Drain, rinse in cold water, drain and set aside.

Place a serving of noodles in a large bowl, add meatballs, shredded beef, and broth. Top individual bowls with:
fresh bean sprouts
fresh whole or shredded cilantro, basil and/or mint leaves
finely sliced Thai chilies
sliced green onions (or diced yellow onions)
squeezes of lime juice
soy sauce and/or hot chili sauce, as desired

Friday, February 11, 2011

Phat Thai

Is she here yet? Is that her? With our hay?

YES, HURRAH -It's her, it's hay time! Everybody in the barn! Go, Go, Go!

The sheep are absolutely overjoyed every morning when I feed them. They are quite happy to eat the exact same alfalfa hay, every single day for six months. Our dog is also SO EXCITED to be fed the exact same food, day after day after day. Every evening, after we lock up the poultry, I feed her, and every time she responds the same way -OH BOY, I GET KIBBLES AGAIN!!!! The people living here, on the other hand, would balk at the same old thing put before them every single day, though they do respond rather cheerfully to homemade pizza once a week, and they'll happily eat pasta several times a week -if it's not the exact same recipe. This is the something-with-noodles-that's-different-recipe I'm making tonight. It isn't an Italian-style pasta recipe, but rather an Asian-style noodle recipe, and I swear, this is the very best Phat Thai recipe. It is actually very easy to make at home, and there have been long periods of time when I've made this almost every single week.

Our chickens have recently woken up from their winter funk and are laying in earnest once again, and I can use quite a few eggs when making this Phat Thai. When I first learned to make this, it required a special trip to an Asian market, but now most grocery stores (at least here in the Puget Sound area) carry the basic ingredients for cooking Southeast Asian foods. After the necessity of making a shopping trip (unless you have a particularly well-stocked kitchen), the key here is to prep everything first, and then it all cooks up rather quickly. Substitute what you have (tofu or chicken, instead of shrimp), leave out what you don't like (one of my kids hates peanuts put in this), use more or less (or no) eggs as preferred, and the vegetables used can be varied, though when I added Savoy cabbage my kids were all rather cranky about it.

Phat Thai
Soak 1 lb. rice sticks in warm water for 20-30 minutes.

Have ready:
3 T. garlic, chopped
2 lbs large shrimp, cleaned (or sliced chicken breast, or whatever you want to use)
4 (or more) eggs, beaten in a bowl
1/3 c. honey dry-roasted peanuts, chopped
2-3 c. bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
14 oz can cut baby corn (and/or straw mushrooms, sliced water chestnuts, etc.) opened and drained
3 limes, juiced
1/2 - 1 c. fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
1-2 limes, cut into eighths and put into bowl to serve with Phat Thai
3 T. fish sauce
2 T. sugar

Heat a large skillet or wok. Add 1-2 T. oil and heat. If adding any fresh vegetables, saute them first until until tender-crisp, and remove them to a large serving bowl. Add 1-2 T. more oil to skillet or wok. Add garlic and when it browns, add shrimp. When shrimp is no longer pink, transfer to the large serving bowl.

Add 1 T. oil to pan, add eggs and tilt to spread evenly. Scramble, or cook in a sheet (or cook eggs in a separate pan, if preferred). Remove when just cooked (cut if in a sheet), adding to cooked shrimp in large bowl.

Drain rice sticks, and add 1- 2 T. more oil to pan. Add rice sticks to hot oil, then using two spoons, chopsticks or spatulas (or any combination of) pull apart and turn, or clump and turn and spread, to evenly coat with oil and cook. Add sugar and fish sauce as the noodles cook. Add bean sprouts and peanuts (if your kids will let you add them) when the noodles appear cooked, and keep turning until the bean sprouts are cooked to just tender-crisp. Add canned vegetables and when warmed, transfer all to the large bowl, pour lime juice over all -and sprinkle with fresh cilantro leaves, if available and everybody at the table likes cilantro.

Serve with lime wedges, soy sauce and hot chili-garlic sauce. This makes four generous servings, but almost everybody really likes this, so I double the recipe for more than five at the table. This truly makes the very best Phat Thai ever -any night of the week.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Homemade French Fries

This is me and my 'Old Granny,' Grandma Leona, back in the 1980's. My father's mother, Leona was in her 40's when my father was born, and my mother's mother, Arlene was 16 when my mother was born, and cheeky thing that I was, I would refer to them as Old Granny and Young Granny when talking about them. I talked about them often, and today I almost daily contemplate what they would think of things, or how they would respond to situations that arise in my life. I dearly loved them both, my Grandmother Leona inordinately so, and I would tease her that I was her favorite -knowing I wasn't, but just to get a rise out of her. Back then I didn't buy Kalamata olives or many other ingredients that have since become staples in my kitchen. Back then I was really, really poor. I was just learning to make pizza dough and bake bread -heavy, dense and toothsome loaves (I have come a long way in that art)- and we ate LOTS of potatoes (we, being myself and my then 19-year-old boyfriend, who is now my potato-growing-gardener husband of over 25 years). One of our favorite ways to eat potatoes was as homemade French fries. With only a bag of potatoes, a bottle of ketchup, and a bottle of vegetable oil, all cheaply bought, we were set!

We grow our own potatoes here, just as my Grandma Leona, and later my parents, did on the the ranch in Eastern Oregon. The potato patch back on the ranch in the 1970's, was HUGE -potatoes being one of the main foods eaten daily all year round by over ten people- and I hoed and hilled my fair share of spuds in it. Now, we grow a relatively tiny potato patch in our garden here, yet despite it's modest size, every year we have a rather impressive spud harvest. Growing potatoes is easy and enjoyable, and harvesting potatoes is quite fun, like an Easter egg hunt in the dirt! The truth in cooking something that's basically one ingredient, like homemade French fries, is that the quality of that one ingredient makes a huge difference. If you grow your own, you know that a potato is NOT just a potato. Homegrown Yukon Gold potatoes make the most amazing French fries, but even a pretty low quality spud, as we were buying back then in the 1980's, will make a perfectly decent French fry.

Plan for 1-2 potatoes per person, depending on how big the potato and how ferocious the appetite of the persons eating. Active teens, and twenty-somethings short on money and eating irregularly, will both eat an enormous quantity of homemade fries, but a single medium spud is usually good enough for the rest of us. Peel and cut the potatoes into fat sticks. Leave them to set a few minutes in cold water to remove the outer starch.

Heat peanut, canola or vegetable oil, until a bread cube dropped in browns in about 15 seconds. Fry potato sticks in relatively small batches. I use this old caste-iron Dutch oven my mother gave me, but in the 1980's we used our stainless steel wok. Though not really very good for stir-frying on an electric stove, a wok is JUST THE THING to use when deep frying.

Fry the potatoes until only about three quarters done. Drain on paper towels or newspaper, and continue until all the potatoes are partially cooked. It is OK if they get cool, or even cold. If you are really, really hungry, you can skip all this and just keep cooking until it looks like something everyone wants to eat, but twice frying the potatoes really makes noticeably better French fries.

For the finishing, second fry, the heat can be raised a bit, and larger amounts can be put into the oil at one time -3 batches of the first frying can be done in two batches the second time.

Fry potatoes until golden brown, remove to paper towels or newspaper to drain, and sprinkle with salt immediately. Serve hot, with lots of ketchup, to hungry and applauding people. Of course, one can jazz these up with all sorts of seasonings, and they can be served as a side with all sorts of foods, but when the wolf of hunger was snarling just outside our door during the 1980's, making homemade French fries with ketchup would always drive him away.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

February Food, Farm and Fiber

I am a big fan of the blog, Food in Jars and it seems that the rewards of preserving are being discovered and enjoyed by a growing number of people. I grew up putting food in jars -lots and lots of jars- and eating food from those same jars all year long. A child's hand will fit into a quart jar much easier than an adults, and before we had an automatic dishwasher on the ranch, I was assigned jar washing duties as soon as I could reach the sink. I don't have a dishwasher now -I'm opposed to owning one, much to my offspring's exasperated bewilderment. I have never really enjoyed washing jars, but it's an important part of the process of putting food in jars, and few things give me as much pleasure as the process of preserving food. The thing to remember is putting food in jars means eating food from jars. The irony of this coming from me, a woman who recently made Kiwi Jam when she's allergic to kiwis, and now is trying to figure out what to do with the kiwi jam she made and can't eat, is not lost on me. I know that if you don't empty the jars, you'll be buying LOTS more jars when preserving season rolls around, and then trying to figure out where you'll be stashing all your lovely food in jars...or be forced to refrain from preserving. Sometimes, we have STUFF that just doesn't get eaten. After several years those jars are eventually emptied and fed to the pig or chickens, but for the most part we do eat what we grow and preserve. On the rare occasions when I clean out the fridge, I find it's mostly filled with jars, and when washing the dishes there is usually one to five emptied canning jars included. Here is a list of what we've recently eaten from jars: Grape, currant and carrot homemade wines in the evenings while knitting; raspberry freezer jam on toast and ice cream; tuna; bread and butter pickles on tuna salad sandwiches and sweet pickles diced in same tuna salad; apricot-pineapple jam on toast, bread pudding and pineapple sherbet; corn as a vegetable side, and leftovers with ranch dressing as a salad; mango chutney with tandoori lamb; curried squash relish with 5-spice roast chicken and mustard rabbit; applesauce served with pork chops; Mexican pickled carrots, and pickled Apache jalapenos in burritos, and with chips and salsa; dilly beans; and Poppy Seed Salad Dressing (I love this dressing) -a rather quick 'in-the-jar/out-of-the-jar' food, but nevertheless, it was in a jar! It is useful this time of year to take stock of what we're actually eating, to help in deciding what we want to grow (and then preserve) for the coming year.

This is the time of year when kids goats are often born. Donna at Schoonover Farms, and Aimee at New to Farm Life have both posted new baby goat pictures recently. This is Virgo, our retired dairy goat who will not be having any more kids. I will skip all the sad and dreary details of the disease she carries (Johne's Disease), but it means we no longer breed or milk her. It is also why she is so skinny -not because she is inadequately cared for. Our family is divided about goats. There are the "I simply LOVE goats -they're so PERSONABLE" folks and the much quieter but no less adamant, "I hate goats -they're a pain in the ass" people. I am in both. I love the first three weeks of having baby goats but my enthusiasm doesn't last. When they are approaching 50 lbs and we play a little game called 'goat tossing' which involves them finding and slipping through a 6 inch gap in the fence, eating as quickly as possible the few things I really wish they wouldn't, me spotting them being OUT, catching the little f...riend and then 'tossing' them over the fence, back into where they are suppose to be. After the sixth time that day, I REALLY HATE GOATS -and am always shocked (a goat couldn't be going through THAT little hole could they?) to discover how they are getting out.

But goats are personable animal when they're not being a pain, and I also really liked making goat milk soap and cheeses. I made mozzarella, farmstead Cheddars, ricotta and chevres, and I miss the process of cheese making and eating the cheeses, which were pretty good. I don't miss the milking twice a day, EVERY DAY no matter what, and my husband and I do not need a gallon of full fat goat milk produced every day. We do not want to be milking a goat to predominately feed the pig and chickens, so we chose not to get another dairy goat. No milking schedule, no goat tossing -but no joyful kid goats and no cheeses.

This shawl I'm knitting seems a perfect metaphor for life -I knit three rows and take out two, knit five and take out three, knit two and keep looking for a mistake I can't find because I haven't actually made one lately. Looking back at the beginning of my shawl, I see a mistake I made very early on but couldn't see then, though it's glaringly apparent to me now. I'm leaving it in and going forward. I do not want to start all over -and accepting and owning one's mistakes keeps one humble.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Old-Fashioned Bread Pudding

When was the last time you had bread pudding? I actually make bread pudding fairly often, but I'm wondering if other home cooks do too, or if it's become an out-dated dessert that no one makes anymore. I like to use up those last bits of bread before baking a new loaf, though what we don't use goes to the chickens so it's not completely wasted. Also, my husband is a big fan of bread pudding -and I like to make him happy. I find it quite cheerful to have bread pudding, made the night before, for breakfast. Not that toasted homemade bread for breakfast, like a slice from the loaf of the Golden Squash and Flax Seed Bread in the picture below, isn't good -it's just that a little bread pudding is a more festive version of my usual toast and jam.

Bread Pudding
Adapted from Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen

2 days before making this, cut up leftover bread into cubes to make 3-4 c. and leave it to get stale. Raisin bread is particularly tasty, as is challah and stollen, but any kind of bread (except maybe a garlicy one) will work. I used a whole wheat yogurt bread to make these puddings.

Butter 6 individual dishes. Place stale bread cubes in buttered dishes. Top with 1/3 c. golden raisins and 1/3 c. chopped nuts, divided evenly between the six dishes.

Using wire whisk attachment, beat 3 eggs for 3 minutes on high speed. Add:
3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 t. each nutmeg and cinnamon

Melt 2 T. butter, mix with 1 1/4 c. milk (I used almond milk) and add to egg mix. Pour evenly and carefully over bread cubes in dishes. Leave to sit for 30 minutes to allow cubes to absorb the custard. Use the back of a spoon (or hands) to gently push down the bread every so often.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, then immediately lower to 300 degrees when you put in the puddings. Bake 25 minutes for individual pudding dishes. Increase temperature to 375 degrees for an additional 5 minutes to brown tops. Check to make sure they don't burn and remove when lightly browned on top.

I served these with a covering of the Apricot-Pineapple Jam I made back in August. With a bit of whipped cream on top, this makes a very comforting old-fashioned dessert or breakfast!