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.  For tips on using fresh dill weed and seeds go to: http://homecooking.about.com/od/herbsspices1/a/dilltips.htm.

Dilled Potato Salad
Ingredients
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

Directions:
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)
Directions:
            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, http://oldbroadsheet.blogspot.com, 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
Ingredients:
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)

Directions:
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
Ingredients:
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)

Directions:
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
Ingredients:
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

Directions:
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.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Apple moon pie al a mode

           Two things I never mastered, knitting and rolling out the perfect piecrust, or even a barely redeemable piecrust.  My motto has always been, “don’t learn to do anything that frustrates you or that you do not want to get stuck doing from that moment on.”  For that reason, I also never learned to scale a fish or dress wild game.  If you were ever married to a hunter/fisher male you understand.
            My friend Ada tried with all of her patience to teach me to knit, but I could never get my brain to coordinate with the needles between my fingers.  Ada finally gave up trying to teach me and instead knitted me three Afghans over the years.  The first, crafted of orange and olive green yarns (a hint to its age), continues to be my favorite.  I have tossed this thing over my legs on many a cold, winter night and thrown it in the washing machine more times than I can count.  Still, it holds its shape and barely looks used.  The other two, one a soft blue and the other a creamy pink, though more subdued in color are just as substantial and durable after much use.
            When Ada passed away this past October 25, my Afghans became irreplaceable.  Now when I wrap up in one, it is like snuggling in the warmth of her friendship.
            Mom Loretta, Grandmother Grace and Aunt Roberta, all gone now except in my memories, tried to teach me the fine art of rolling out a piecrust.  But try as I might, I could never get one to roll out without cracking open around the edges, sticking to the rolling pin or clinging to the counter no matter how much flour I threw about.  I tried all of the tricks, vinegar, refrigerating the dough for given amounts of time and turning the dough ball at intervals as I rolled.  Loretta, Grace and Roberta made the task look easy, but no mater how often I watched, listened and tried to mimic the process, nothing worked.  The result, after making many attempts at rolling out and putting the dough back into a ball, was a piecrust so tough it came out more resin than flaky.
            The day following the first Halloween after I married, my late husband, Lonnie Gray, requested that I make a pumpkin pie from the kid’s jack-o-lantern.  In response, I informed him that if he really craved pie, he should learn to bake one since I refused to endure that kind of anguish.  I then took myself off to work and put all thoughts of pie out of my mind.
            That evening when I came home two of the most beautiful pumpkin pies I ever saw sat on the kitchen table.  “You baked these?”  I asked.  He simply smiled and let the question hang.  I strongly suspected that he bribed his mother, my dear mother-in-law Bonnie Gray, into baking the pies, but I just acted impressed and said:  “Wow, your job from now on.”
            Those were the last pies made in our house until I discovered already rolled out piecrusts in the freezer and refrigerator departments at my local grocery store.  When I had family or company to feed, the frozen piecrusts worked well for making whole pies.  As a single person, however, having entire pies at one’s disposal is not a good idea unless you want to balloon to an outrageous weight.
            Still, one of my favorite desserts is a piece of warm apple pie with a scoop of ice cream on the side.  The answer to having your pie without needing to eat the whole thing comes in the form of what I call mini-moon pies that I make by cutting circles from already rolled out refrigerated piecrust dough.  There are several brands on the market and you can easily get sixteen mini moon pies from four nine-inch refrigerated piecrusts.  Of course, you can also make and roll your own piecrust if you feel compelled to suffer.  I never do.


Mini-moon apple pies
Ingredients for filling:
2 ½ pounds Granny Smith apples
Juice and zest of one lemon
¾ Cup light brown sugar
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
½ Teaspoon Apple Pie spice (available from Penzey’s Spice) Note: the original recipe called for cinnamon
3 Tablespoons Dr. McGillicuddy’s Intense Apple Pie Liqueur Note: the original recipe called for Calvados (apple brandy)

Directions:
1.     Peel, core and chop apples.  Toss with lemon juice.
2.     Combine brown sugar, spice, flour and spice and add to apples.
3.     Cook over medium heat until apples begin to soften and sauce thickens, 25-30 minutes.
4.     Add zest and liqueur and cook 1-2 minutes longer.  Cool filling before making dumplings.

Note:  Recipe loosely based on “My Mom’s Pie” found in Great Good Food by Julee Rosso.

To make the mini-moon pies:
            Bring two boxes (four 9-inch refrigerated piecrusts to room temperature but leave wrapped until ready to cut.  Using a 5-inch circle (I use a plastic lid), cut the rolled piecrust into 16 circles.  Wrap these to prevent them from drying out.
            Whisk together one egg and ¼ cup of water to make a wash to use as a sealant.
            Place 2 -3 Tablespoons of the filling in the center of the circle then fold over, coat the edge with the egg wash and, using a fork, seal the entire edge.  Cut three slots in the top of each to release steam while baking.
            Place pies on cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and bake in a 400°F oven until crust is golden and filling is bubbly, 15-20 minutes.
            Remove pies to a wire rack and cool.  Place rack on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer for 2 hours.  Remove frozen pies from the freezer and place in labeled and dated freezer bag before returning to freezer.  Allow individual pies to thaw in the refrigerator.  To warm, place thawed pie in the microwave for 30-40 seconds.  Serve with your favorite vanilla ice cream and enjoy.