Monday, February 28, 2011

Terrorist blender blade: a smooth operator

Americans beware.  A previously unknown threat, which the Transportation Security Administration is determined to stop, now invades the skies of this great country.  The danger involves the common, everyday blender found in many kitchens across the nation.  Well, not the entire blender, just the threatening terrorist blade found inside the blender.

This blender-blade crisis surfaced when my granddaughter Shannon boarded an airline flight in Dallas, Texas, headed for Denver, Colorado where I retrieved her from Denver International Airport a week before Christmas.

Shannon arrived with a perturbed look on her lovely face.  “I have a funny story to tell you, Grandma,” she said, as we proceeded to the baggage department.

It seems Shannon purchased a blender for her younger sister as a Christmas gift and opted to carry it on the plane rather than add to the weight of her already heavy, large suitcase, which the airline charged her $20 to cart.

At the time she checked the suitcase, she asked the agent whether she could carry on the blender, which was in its original, unsealed box.  The agent told her, “no problem,”

However, when she reached security, a TSA employee told her he needed to inspect the blender, which he promptly did by opening the previously unopened box.  He then removed the blender blade and informed her that she could not carry it on the plane.

“What am I going to do with it?”  She asked, incredulous at this new development.

The TSA agent wrapped the deadly device, put it in a box nearly large enough to hold the entire blender and told her to take it back to baggage, where the baggage agent promptly charged her $30 for a second piece of checked luggage.

Reaching the baggage carousal after she landed, we retrieved Shannon’s large suitcase and patiently waited for the box containing the blender blade.  Luggage appeared and thinned as other passengers retrieved suitcases, but no box.  We waited.  We waited.

Hell, I thought, they lost the darn box.  Sure enough, the last of the luggage from the flight made its way to the carousal but the box failed to show.

Long story short, the airline paid for a new blender and we left the blender blade floating somewhere in baggage claim continuing its threat to the safety of all Americans.

I am not sure how Shannon’s sister Sierra plans to use her new blender, but my less dangerous blender works well for making fruit smoothies.  Here is one how-to.

When my local market puts overripe bananas on sale I purchase several large bunches along with several bags of frozen berries.  Bananas sweeten as they ripen, so the riper the better as long as they are not rotten.  It does not matter what kind of berries: mixed, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries or blueberries; pick what you like.

I peel the bananas, slice them onto a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet and place the slices in the freezer to harden.  This takes about an hour.  Once the slices harden, I place 1/2 cup of banana slices along with 1/2 cup of berries in a sandwich bag.  Remove as much air as possible and place the small bags of fruit inside a larger freezer bag (gallon size works well) and keep in the freezer until ready to use.

When I want a smoothie, I remove one bag of fruit and place it in the blender along with a cup of non-fat milk and blend.  You can use whole milk or low-fat milk or even soymilk if you like.   All work well.  You get a wonderful sweet treat with no threat to your health.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Turkey: a dumb bird with smart possibilities

My Aunt Roberta never met a bird she did not like.  She filled bird feeders outside her kitchen window and watched as Sparrows, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Doves and Finches flew in to eat.  She also kept birds in the house.  She once set up two love birds in a small home and watch hopefully for them to engage in what their name implies, allowing their tiny eggs to lay in the nest waiting for them to hatch.  Unfortunately no little ones emerged since neither bird seemed inclined to sit on the eggs in the nest.

When my mother passed away, I took her orphaned Parakeet Peter to live with Roberta and he/she (one never knows with a bird) chirped happily in front of a large picture window until Roberta joined my mother in the hear-after and Peter went to live with my daughter, Teresa.  We won’t mention the cat that ultimately sent Peter’s little bird spirit to join mom and Roberta.

While Roberta’s inside birds bring smiles, my most cherished memories surround the fowl that roamed the farmyard where Roberta, her husband Bob and three sons Johnny, Glen and Gary lived.  These birds at one time or another included: chickens of all shapes, sizes and colors; a male peacock; ducks; guinea fowls, some of the ugliest, noisiest birds you ever want to meet; and last by not least a herd of turkeys.

“They are the dumbest birds you ever want to meet,” said Roberta one day as she scattered feed around the yard.  She then related how when a recent rainstorm hit the farm she looked outside to see the turkeys looking toward the sky while the rain fell.  “They were too dumb to go into the coop and half of them drowned before I could get out there and shoo them inside,” she said with a glint in her cocoa brown eyes.

It took a minute or two for me to realize that she was feeding me a bit of her dry-Kansas humor.

Dumb or not, anything a chicken can do, a turkey can do more of, especially for the single cook.

Just before Thanksgiving a local supermarket chain advertised 10- to 12-pound turkeys for $4.99 with the purchase of $10 worth of groceries.  Sounded like a great deal to me, especially if I could stretch this bird over time and meals, which is what I did.  Here it is February and the turkey’s meat continues to feed me well.

After roasting my turkey and allow it to cool slightly, I sliced the white meat and pulled the dark meat off the bone.  I then froze the meat in 4- to 5-ounce packages, separating the white and dark meats and marking the packages white or dark along with the date.

What then remained was the turkey carcass, which I slowly simmered in a pot along with a stalk of celery, a couple of chopped carrots, a chopped onion, a clove of garlic, a bay leaf and enough water to cover it all (Allow to simmer for at least an hour or longer).  After skimming off the foam and removing the vegetables I had a good amount of stock that I also froze in 1-2 cup containers for use in soups later.  This boiling of the carcass to make stock saved my mother a trip back to earth from heaven to haunt me.  A child of the depression, she wasted nothing and scolded me if she caught me tossing anything she considered “still of use.”

The small packages of frozen turkey meat thaw quickly in the refrigerator and can be used in place of cooked chicken when the recipe calls for it.  How about a little turkey salad in a sandwich?  The white meat works well for this purpose.

The dark meat adds a hearty flavor to soups like the one below.

Turkey-zini Soup with red beans

Ingredients

1 Tablespoon oil

¼ Cup chopped onion

½ Cup chopped carrots (about 2 small or 1 medium)

1 Garlic clove, minced

1 15-ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

3 Cups water

1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes

3-4 Ounces cooked turkey, preferably dark meat

1 Small bay leaf

1 Small to medium zucchini, quartered lengthways and sliced

Salt and pepper to taste (keep in mind that canned beans contain some salt)

Heat oil in two-quart pan.  Add onions and carrots and sauté 3-4 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté 1-2 minutes longer.  Add beans, water, tomatoes, turkey and bay leaf.  Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer 30 minutes.  Add zucchini and simmer 15 minutes longer.  Season and serve.  This makes 3-4 servings, but it heats well and in fact improves with time.  You can sprinkle on some grated Parmesan if you wish.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Salmon: Let me count the ways

So many ways to cook salmon; so little time.  Not really.  Salmon is a quick fix for busy schedules.  Depending on how you favor your salmon.  Some prefer rare.  Others, like myself, want it flakey and moist but done (I leave eating raw or rare fish to my California sushi-loving relatives.).  Cooking time for a 4- to 6-ounce salmon filet is 10 minutes for rare, 15 minutes for medium and 20-25 minutes for well done, which is my preference.

In addition to quick and easy, salmon also responds well to today’s push for healthy eating.  Attempting to respond to the advice to add more fish to my diet, salmon has become one of my favorite health-conscience alternatives to meat.  Not, however, the dry salmon patties my mother used to mix from canned salmon.  There are many tantalizing ways to prepare fresh salmon, which is readily found, single-wrapped for the single cook, in your grocer’s freezer.

You can also purchase unfrozen fresh salmon from most super markets these days, but I prefer wild salmon, which is often specified on the package when you purchase it frozen.  Just make sure you are getting fresh salmon that has not been tampered with.  By that I mean, watch out for pre-seasoned filets unless that is what you want.

One simple and easy way to fix salmon is to lightly salt and pepper the meaty side of the filet and lay it skin-side down on a lightly oiled grill or skillet.  Turn the filet over halfway through your desired cooking time.  All you need is a salad and a side of rice, which I will discuss in a future blog.

Any of the recipes below can be easily doubled if you are cooking for two.

Here’s some other ways with Salmon:

Poached

1 4- to 6-ounce salmon filet, thawed

¼ Teaspoon dried dill weed

¼ Teaspoon lemon-pepper

1 Tablespoon olive oil

¼ Cup finely chopped onion

¼ Cup chicken broth or water

Sprinkle salmon filet with dill and lemon-pepper.  Set aside.  In small skillet heat oil and sauté onions until lightly browned and caramelized.  Using a rubber spatula, move onions to side of the skillet to make room for the salmon filet.  Lay the filet in the skillet, skin side down.  Pour the chicken broth into the skillet and cover.  Poach until salmon reaches desired doneness as outlined above.  Pour the onions and any sauce over the salmon to serve.

Glazed

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 Tablespoon molasses or honey

1 Garlic clove, minced

¼ Teaspoon lemon zest

1 4- to 6-ounce salmon filet, thawed

In small bowl, whisk together the oil, molasses, minced garlic and lemon zest.  Lightly oil a small skillet over medium heat.  Once skillet is hot, place salmon filet in skillet, skin side down and brush the top with the sauce.  Halfway through desired cooking time (For me this is 10 minutes), turn over, baste once more and continue cooking until desired doneness.  Serve with any remaining sauce.

Baked in paper

1 4- to 6-ounce salmon filet, thawed

1 Garlic clove, minced

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

½ Tablespoon olive oil

Tear a sheet of parchment paper large enough to wrap the filet.  Place the filet in the center of the paper.  Mix the garlic, lemon juice and oil together and pour over filet.  Wrap the filet and juices, securing the edges.  Place on a baking sheet in a 425°F oven for your desired cooking time.  For me, that would be 20 minutes.