Monday, April 24, 2017

Seasons, life and soup

           The seasons come and go and life continues even as blogging takes a three-year hiatus.  The purple blooms on the lilac bushes outside my back door signal the arrival of spring and remind me that last year at this time I was away in Texas offering support to my granddaughter as she began the battle of her life against breast cancer.  She continues to fight, showing more courage than seems possible from that remembered toddler who would climb onto the back of her highchair daring it to tip over.  She speeds toward life head on, just like that two-year-old who raced on short, chubby legs to the dog door where she poked her head out and shouted, “train, train,” each time one traveled past our back yard; even when no one else heard the “clack, clack” of its iron wheels beating against the tracks.

            Shannon continues to thrive as she battles this horrid disease, faces her fears, works in her chosen career as a nurse and cares for her and husband Femi’s two-year-old son Camden, who reminds me so much of her at that age; just as daring and personable—a miniature individual with intelligent laughing eyes and a smile that melts.
            My own life continues too as I morn lost loved ones, two long-time friends who remain ingrained in so many of my warm, happy memories and other dear-to-me people whose spirits walk through my mind at unexpected moments.
            Life pulses on as my brother Stan and I deal with the loss of our third brother, this one estranged for over 20 years, and we attempt to figure out what emotions we should feel, how to forgive, how to remember the positives and let the negatives go.  “He might have been an asshole,” Stan said when our sister-in-law suggested we leave his remains for others to care for, “but he’s our asshole.”  How true, I thought, and smiled.
            Life going on means encounters with the aging process—aches, pains and diminished energy—while exclaiming that getting old is better than the alternative though I admit to having no clue what that might be.  I suspect no one else does either, even those who swear by heaven and hell.
            My writing life goes on as well; a novel that I can’t seem to finish, short stories of unique lives lived, a church history that coincided with a 100th anniversary celebration of its building and two commissioned memoirs that actually paid.
            And, as always, life mandates food.
            I’ve gone through a number of experimental phases over the past dozen seasons: cooking large pots of soup in a slow cooker, then freezing individual servings; grilling up a bunch of hamburgers and pork chops with the thought that I could just zap one as needed in the microwave; fixing entire meals then splitting them into ready-in-a jiffy plates.  Of these ideas, the only one that satisfied my taste buds completely was soup, the flavor and texture of which stands up well to freezing and reheating.
            One soup that worked well in my freezer came about when some kind soul left two bags of onions at our local Post Office with a note that said: “Free onions.”  I started to walk off, leaving them for, someone more in need, then thought better of it.  Actually, I thought, French Onion Soup, and grabbed up one of the bags, which contained around a dozen nice yellow onions.  I used them all to make a double batch of the recipe below.  Keep in mind that French Onion Soup takes time but the result warms a winter day.

French Onion Soup
1 Stick unsalted butter
6 Yellow onions (medium)
1 Teaspoon kosher salt
½ Teaspoon granulated sugar
1 Cup dry white wine
3 Cups low sodium beef broth
3 Cups low sodium chicken broth
2 Garlic cloves, minced
10 Sprigs thyme, tied in a bundle
2 Bay leaves
1 Baguette loaf, cut into 1” slices
4-6 Ounces Gruyere Cheese

1.     Preheat oven to 400° F
2.     Peel and halve onions then thinly slice root to tip.
3.     Melt butter in five- or six-quart Dutch oven over medium-low heat.
4.     Add onion slices, salt and sugar to melted butter; cover and cook for 30 minutes over medium-low heat.
5.     Stir onions and move pot to oven for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes.
6.     Remove pot from oven and add wine.  Stir to loosen any brown bits from pan bottom.
7.     Place pot on burner and cook wine over medium heat for five minutes.
8.     Add broth, minced garlic, thyme bundle and bay leaves to pot and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 45 minutes.
9.     To serve immediately, divide into six bowls, top with toasted Baguette slices.  Sprinkle with shredded Gruyere and place under the broiler until cheese is hot and bubbly, 1-2 minutes.
10.  If freezing, divide into six airtight containers, cool completely and date.

            Note: I slice the Baguette into thick slices and freeze them in a separate bag.  When I feel like a bowl of French Onion Soup, I thaw out a serving of the soup in the refrigerator over night or thaw one in the microwave.  While I’m heating up the soup in a small pan, I pop a couple of the Baguette slices in the toaster, place the toasted slices on top of the hot soup, add the shredded gruyere and place the bowl under the broiler.  Yum!!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Dill and Stuff

            After my granddaughter Sierra and I spent June 14 in Kansas celebrating our joint birthday, I returned home to Colorado and began the process of reorganizing my life.  Starting on Monday and continuing each day throughout the rest of the week, I cleaned every corner, crevice, closet and cupboard in my small house although I can tell you “small” seemed an inappropriate adjective by the time Friday arrived.
            This kind of thorough cleaning caused me to question how well I perform my weekly housekeeping tasks; not good it seems as indicated by the dust, cobwebs and other unlikely debris found in the corners and crevices and the amount of clutter found in closets and cupboards.
            My housekeeping influences came from polar opposites.  My mother detested cleaning and her house showed it.  My father came from a family that held cleanliness far above godliness, which is saying a lot for his staunch German Catholic ancestors.  Growing up, I lived most of the year in my mother’s dust-covered clutter but spent summers with my father’s two matronly aunts, who never allowed a single dust particle to accumulate.  My father, a seasoned alcoholic, still managed to maintain a spotless dwelling after he and my mother divorced.  I often wonder if living with her haphazard cleaning style drove him to drink.  My own housekeeping skills fall somewhere in the center.  I can handle a bit of dust and some clutter, but find myself becoming grumpy when the dust and clutter become noticeable.
             Housekeeping aside, it amazes me how much apparently useless “stuff” one accumulates in a short span of time.
            Minutes into cleaning and sorting, I decided that people other than myself might need most of that stuff that I accumulated, so I began applying price tags (exceedingly cheap price tags) to a number of items before placing each in a box to hold for our community’s annual town-wide yard sale, which takes place in July.  Now, my home is free of dust, smells better and I have cleaner, neater closets and cupboards.  However, I also have boxes of stuff filling up half of the space in my office.
            It sort of reminds me of my asparagus bed, which I planned to replant but never quite got around to.  Instead, I allowed a few dill plants to go to seed last fall, which resulted in a bed filled with lush dill seedlings.  Now, that is what I call good clutter.
            I love the smell of Dill while it is growing, but adding it fresh to food, like in the potato salad below, is even better. 

Dilled Potato Salad
2 Large Yukon Gold or Russet potatoes (about 1 pound), peeled and cut into ½” cubes
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
2 Tablespoons plain Greek Yogurt
¼ Teaspoon salt or to taste
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh dill weed

1.     Steam potato cubes until tender, 8-10 minutes.
2.     Place cooked potato cubes in a bowl and set aside to cool to lukewarm
3.     Whisk mayonnaise, yogurt, salt and dill weed together and pour over warm potatoes.
4.     Toss gently to coat, cover and allow to cool at least 2 hours in the refrigerator before serving.

Note:  You can add a small amount of chopped celery and/or onion if you desire, but I like the simple taste of the dill with the potato.  You may use low or no-fat mayonnaise and/or yogurt if you wish.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Blame and Deviled Eggs

          I apologize to my fans.  Every single three of you who hung in during my four-months of blog neglect.  If there is a hell for fallen bloggers, I suppose I’m headed down there, so confession might redeem my soul.  Here goes my “Act of Contrition.”  “The Devil made me do it.”  Actually, the devil was nowhere in the mix.  My excuses are other writing, yard work, gardening and maternity leave.
            The other writing involves the biography of a wonderful 90-year-young local woman commissioned by her daughter.  Lola’s story contains all of the elements of a great character-driven novel: love, tragedy, happy and sad times, thrills and spills, struggles, accomplishments, unlimited courage through the difficulties of life and appreciation for the joys around her, including her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  It should be a best seller.
            Yard work and gardening are what old women do while wearing big funny hats.  Shirley McClain said something like that in the movie Steel Magnolias, although she may have specified elderly “southern” women.  I once agreed with that cliché.  Now I know that old is a frame of mind, hats drive me crazy and I love the feel of the sun on the top of my hatless head.  Also, the exercise involved in yard work actually keeps one young and gardening offers a chance to play in the mud without accusations about going through one’s second childhood.
            The maternity leave started earlier than expected because little Evan Dean opted to play head games with his expectant mother.  Before I get into that, however, perhaps I should explain why a woman of my age would be dealing with maternity leave in the first place.  It so happens that when I sold my weekly newspaper at the end of 2010, the two young women who purchased it negotiated maternity leaves into the contract.  In other words, I had to agree to work when and/or if they needed time off to add to the population.  They both chose this year to collect on that promise.
            Spring was due to deliver on May 3 and Candie is due on July 18.  I question whether their husbands, Jeremy and Ron, knew about this conceived plot ahead of time.
            Evan Dean came up with his own plan, however, arriving on Easter Sunday, April 20.  I started my first maternity leave on Friday, April 18 and ended it on Friday, May 30.  My next maternity leave should start on July 18, but I’ve learned to expect the unexpected and relish my patio while I can.
            Speaking of summer and being outside, one of my favorite summertime foods has always been a deviled egg even though the taste of each can vary with the cook.  At a recent potluck at my church for instance, another woman and I both showed up with deviled eggs; her’s a mustardy delight, mine with a more traditional sweet tartness.  We both went home with empty platters, proving the point that nearly everyone loves a deviled egg of any flavor.
            One answer to deviling eggs one or two at a time for singles and/or couples is to premix a sauce to add as needed to the mashed yolks.  My recipe makes the traditional sweet-tart flavor, but you can add more mustard or other flavors to suit your own taste (Although be cautious about what you add if you plan to store for a long period of time).

Deviled Egg Sauce
½ Cup mayonnaise (use low or no fat if you wish)
¼ Cup cider vinegar (or a vinegar of your choice)
¼ Cup sugar (use less if you want a tarter flavor)
1 Teaspoon mustard or to taste
½ Teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper (optional)
            Place all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together until well mixed.  Store indefinitely in a covered glass container in the refrigerator.

Note:  You can also use this sauce in small amounts of potato or tuna salad.

To make Deviled Eggs
            Place the number of eggs you wish in a saucepan and add cold water to ½ inch above eggs.  Bring to boil uncovered over medium-high heat.  As soon as water boils, remove saucepan from heat, cover and allow to sit for 10 minutes.  Pour off hot water and cover eggs with ice water.  Allow to sit until completely cooled before peeling.

            Peel eggs, slice in half, remove yolks to a small bowl and mash with a fork.  Add approximately ½ tablespoon of sauce for each egg yolk or more to get the consistency you want.  Season with more salt and add pepper if you wish.  Spoon the filling back into the egg white and sprinkle with paprika or garnish with slivered Basil or minced dill leaves.

Monday, January 20, 2014

White Magic Freezer Sauce

           At a book signing back in November at the Julesburg, Colorado Community Library, I happened on a box of cookbooks that the librarian planned to weed.  Cookbooks just happen to me.  By that, I mean I cannot resist the temptation to buy bargain cookbooks that seem to magically appear where least expected.  What can I say?  It’s an addiction that I have tried desperately to break to no avail.  I have looked for a Cookbook Anonymous group but if there are such groups, they stay well hidden.
            I also clip recipes and when my friend Rose,, recently posted a blog about the collecting of recipes, reading it was like peering into a mirror except I’m not nearly as organized as my dear librarian friend.  My clipped recipes just go into a drawer rarely to surface again for actual use.  Periodically I do after much hesitation and anguish toss a few.
            A decade or so ago I did weed my cookbook collection, which at the time numbered in the hundreds.  I managed to pull around ten, but have purchased at least three times that many since.  The thing is, I read them.  Sometimes, though I must say this happens rarely, I cook recipes I find within their pages.
            The one cookbook I do rely on often is my copy of Better Homes and Gardens “new” Cook Book.  I purchased my first copy of the Better Homes and Garden Cook Book as a teenager and used it until it became so dilapidated that even masking tape would not keep the pages from falling out.  Then, a few years ago I spotted a 1953 edition at an estate auction and determined to claim it as mine.  The bidding started cheap enough at one dollar, but then the unthinkable happened.  Someone bid against me.  I finally managed to out bid the other bidder and bought the book for six bucks.  Later I learned that I was bidding against then Haxtun Mayor Gay McDaniel.  Gay, it seems, also has a fetish for cookbooks.  However, I suspect she really does cook from hers.
            But, back to the Julesburg Library, which by the way is a beautiful building with a great history.  If you find yourself near this northeastern Colorado town, it is worth spending some time exploring its many historic features, including this library built by local women’s clubs with Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds back in the 1930s.
            At the end of the book signing, I spent some time looking through the box of cookbooks and had nearly talked myself out of buying until one of the titles, Hazel Meyer’s Freezer Cook Book, flashed by my addicted brain cells.  I paid a dollar, feeling that was a good bargain, and brought the book home.
            What really caught my eye was chapter two, “What’s Sauce for the Freezer Is Sauce for the Gourmet Cook.”  Meyer’s not only includes recipes for basic white and brown sauces, but how to thaw the frozen portions and use them as a base for soups or other sauce variations.
            After reading the book (Remember that I read the cookbooks.), I decided that, as a single cook, this one I could utilize and immediately went out to buy a stockpile of various cup and half-cup freezer containers.  At the dollar store in a nearby town, I even found some tiny containers that hold 2.4 ounces.  These I figure I can use to hold enough sauce, like say Hollandaise, to pour over a serving of vegetables.  Yes, the book even contains a recipe for Hollandaise Sauce that can be frozen and thawed.  Hip, hip, hurray (Me between the lines getting excited).
            I love Hollandaise Sauce, but could never justify making a whole batch just for one.  Expect a report in a later blog; possibly included in one about planting asparagus in a blizzard.
            For now, I’ll start with Meyer’s basic white sauce, how to freeze, thaw and use in other recipes.
            The important thing to remember when making white sauce is to use medium-low heat so the flour cooks but does not brown.  I poured the finished sauce into one-half cup containers, and then cooled those in the refrigerator for an hour or so before placing the containers in a gallon freezer bag, which is where I wrote the name of the sauce and the date placed in the freezer.  This eliminates the need to mark each container and prevents the small containers from being scattered about the freezer.

Hazel Meyer’s Basic White Sauce for the Freezer
¼ Pound (one stick) of unsalted butter
½ Cup all-purpose flour
1 Quart of whole milk (You can use low or non-fat milk, but I prefer the result gained by using whole milk.)
½ Teaspoon salt
¼ Teaspoon ground pepper (You can use white if you prefer)

1.     Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat.
2.     Whisk in the flour and cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly. (The flour mixture should bubble and cook, but not brown.)
3.     Add the milk and continue to cook until the sauce thickens. Do not allow the sauce to boil.
4.     Remove the sauce from the heat to cool, stirring often.

5.     Pour sauce into ½ cup containers, allowing space for expansion as the sauce freezes. You should end up with seven half-cup containers.  If you have any left over, toss it with a serving of cooked frozen peas for that night’s dinner.
6.     To use, open the container and spoon out any frozen crystals from the top.  Replace the lid and place the container in a pan of lukewarm water to release the contents.  Dump the contents in the top of a double boiler set over simmering water.  As the sauce heats, break it apart and whisk briskly to recombine.  If the sauce seems too thick, you can thin it by adding a small amount of scalded milk.

Pasta and Broccoli Alfredo
½ Cup frozen white sauce
1/3 Cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 to 3 Ounces dry fettuccine
2 Teaspoons salt
½ to ¾ Cup fresh broccoli florets (Can use frozen)
Additional salt and pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)

1.     Place container of white sauce in warm water to loosen.
2.     Meanwhile, bring one quart water to boil in a three-quart saucepan.  Add salt and Fettuccine, return water to a boil and cook until al dente, 12-14 minutes.
3.     Meanwhile, fill the bottom of a double boiler with small amount of water (the bottom of the boiler pan should not touch the water.  Heat the white sauce in top of double boiler using directions above.
4.     Once the white sauce is thawed and hot, whisk in the cheese and cook, stirring until cheese melts
5.     Cut the broccoli florets into bite-sized pieces and steam in the microwave until crisp tender, 2-4 minutes, depending on the power of your microwave.
6.     Stir the cooked, drained noodles and steamed broccoli into the sauce.  Adjust salt if needed and pepper to taste.
7.     Serve in a pasta bowl garnished with parsley if using.
Note:  A grilled chicken breast goes nicely with this dish, but it also makes a nice meal served with just a tossed salad.

Baked Mac and Cheese
2 to 3 Ounces dry elbow macaroni
2 Teaspoons salt
½ Cup container frozen white sauce
½ Cup shredded medium cheddar cheese
Pepper to taste
2 Tablespoons bread crumbs
2 Tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese

1.     Place the frozen dish of white sauce in warm water to loosen.
2.     Meanwhile, bring one quart water to boil in three-quart saucepan.  Add salt and elbow macaroni and cook until al dente, 10-12 minutes.
3.     While pasta cooks, bring a small amount of water to a simmer in the bottom of double boiler (Do not allow the bottom of the boiler to touch the water).
4.     Place the white sauce in the boiler pan and proceed according to directions above.
5.     Add the cheese and continue to cook until cheese melts and blends into the sauce.  Stir in the pasta.
6.     Dump the sauce coated pasta into a 16-ounce oblong baking dish.  Mix the breadcrumbs and Parmesan together then sprinkle over the top.  Bake in a 400°F oven until the topping browns, 10-15 minutes.  Serve as a side or as a main dish.