Monday, December 31, 2012

Holiday memoires and pancakes for supper

      The holidays bring back memories; or maybe it is simply sentimentality mixed with senility.  Whatever, during the holidays my mind often wonders back to the simple foods from my childhood: creamed beef or sausage gravy on my mother’s homemade biscuits, peanut butter mixed with Caro syrup and spread liberally over plain white store bought bread and, my all-time favorite, fluffy pancakes served with fried eggs for supper.
            To this day I am unsure why pancakes tasted so much better when mother made them for supper than they did when she made them for breakfast.  Perhaps it was the idea of breaking some rule.  Or maybe it was the scent, vision and taste penetrating the chill of a winter night; the savory soft burnt smell of the batter sizzling in the skillet, the bubbles rising and bursting on top as the cakes formed and the sweetness of the syrup poured over the toast colored circles.
            I still get the urge to have pancakes for supper on occasion and they taste just as good now as they did back when.  The problem for the single cook is that you cannot make just one pancake, or at least not just one scrumptious pancake.  Why would anyone want to?  I simply stir up a batch, fry them up, eat what I want and freeze the rest.
            To freeze, lay the cooked pancakes on a parchment-paper lined cookie sheet and set in the freeze 15-20 minutes.  Once the pancakes are frozen, place them in a re-sealable freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to a month.  To serve, remove individual pancakes from the freezer bag and microwave on high until thawed and hot, approximately one minute for one pancake.
            The lemon gives the recipe below a subtle freshness and the blueberries add a bit of sweet tartness.  Sprinkle on some powdered sugar or pour on some syrup and serve.  A fried egg on top is optional, but it is not really a true pancake supper without one.

Lemony Blueberry Pancakes.
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
¼ Cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 ¼ Cup milk
¼ Cup vegetable oil, plus more to coat skillet
1 Egg
¼ Cup white sugar
1 ½ Cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ Teaspoon baking powder
1 Teaspoon baking soda
Dash of salt
1 Cup fresh or frozen blueberries, more to serve on side (optional)
Powdered sugar or your favorite syrup to top

1.     Zest and juice one lemon.  Stir lemon juice and zest into milk.  Lightly whisk egg and add to bowl along with the oil.  Mix well.
2.     Whisk the dry ingredients together.  If using frozen blueberries, coat the blueberries with a tablespoon of the flour mixture.
3.     Gently stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture leaving a few lumps.
4.     Fold the blueberries into the batter and place in the refrigerator for 30-45 minutes.
5.     Lightly oil a large skillet and heat over medium heat until hot.  Working in batches, oiling the skillet between batches, pour ¼ cup of batter for each pancake onto skillet.  Fry until bubbles appear, 2-3 minutes, turn and fry 2-3 minutes on second side.
6.     Sprinkle with powdered sugar and garnish with fresh blueberries or serve with blueberry or other flavored syrup.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Almost Turkey and Waldorf salad

              Uncle Frank stood his ground at the head of the table, knife in hand, relishing his importance as the annual turkey carver. My Aunt Roberta smiled deviously from behind; her two sisters Myrtle Mae and Loretta supporting her with devilish grins of their own.
                  Frank lifted the tinfoil covering pressing the outline of what appeared to be a rather large bird, slowly at first and then quickly to reveal a small Cornish hen seated in the center of the otherwise empty platter. His mouth flew open but no sound emerged. “Well, I believe we see Frank speechless for the first time in his life,” said my grandfather, who followed the remark with a laugh that vibrated around the room, joining the laughs of others just now getting the joke.
                  Finally, Frank laughed too. “Okay, you girls got me. Now, where’s the real turkey?”
                  My aunts and mother content with knowing they bested the biggest prankster of the family returned to the kitchen and retrieved one of the largest turkeys ever served at one of our annual family gatherings.
                  Years later I have often wondered how long it took those three women to create and pull-off this legendary act that became known in the annals of our family as the “incredible shrinking turkey” prank.
                  I thought of it again last week as I pulled my Thanksgiving Cornish hen from the oven. This was the first Thanksgiving in years that I stayed home rather than making the drive to Kansas to be with family. I missed the camaraderie much more than the food, but somehow it seemed important to keep the day by preparing at least a couple traditional dishes like mashed potatoes and gravy to pare with my tiny turkey substitute.
                  I drew the line on pumpkin pie since I would need to eat the entire thing myself, but wanting something sweet, I settled on a fruit salad based lightly on a Waldorf salad. It went perfectly with my tiny bird, not too heavy but sweet enough to tickle the tongue if not the funny bone.

Almost Waldorf salad
1 Red delicious apple, cored and chopped
1 Banana, peeled and sliced
1 Orange, cut in half
1 Cup red, seedless grapes, halved
1 Tablespoon mayonnaise
1 Tablespoon plain yogurt
¼ Cup chopped walnuts (optional)

1.     Place apple chunks and banana slices in a small bowl. Squeeze the juice from one of the orange halves over the apple and banana and toss to coat. Remove the peel from the remaining half of the orange, cut into sections and add to the bowl along with the grape halves.
2.     Mix the mayonnaise and yogurt together, pour over fruit and mix well. Stir in walnuts if using.

                  Note: This makes three or four servings, but keeps well in the refrigerator for a couple of days. The orange juice keeps the apples and bananas from turning brown.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Chicken with Death-Defying Noodles

           Loretta Arlene Elder Clasen Lallman made noodles that melted in the mouth like chicken-flavored pudding.  But this feisty woman, who happened to be my mother, made noodles only when the mood struck her because cooking anything just because someone wanted her too might indicate a weakness of character, something no one dared suggest she possessed.  We never knew when the mood would strike, or what that moment might celebrate.  We just waited for the words, “I think I’ll make noodles” and prepared ourselves for a heavenly treat; think cliché, “to die for.”
            All of my mother’s cooking depended on her mood, which meant delicious when she felt kindly toward the idea; not so good, possibly terrifying, when she felt forced into the kitchen, which rarely happened mainly because no one wanted that experience.
            I believe she inherited that attitude from her mother.  My Grandmother Grace could create one of the most delicious pots of Chicken Gumbo ever to grace, pun intended, a southern table, but expect burnt crusted, interior bleeding when it came to fried chicken.  She could also massacre pork chops and steak and do not even mention eggs unless you want yours over hard and crisp.
            Once as I watched Grace making gravy, which always tasted burnt like the chicken, a bowl of sugar fell from a shelf above the stove and landed in the skillet.  “Oh, well,” she said, removing the bowl and stirring the spilt sugar into the gravy, “no one will notice.”  Of course, they did, but no one dared say a word.
            The cooks in the family included two of Grace’s daughters, Roberta and Myrtle, and two of her daughters-in-law, Jean and Polly.  These four women manned the kitchen at family gatherings that happened nearly every Sunday when I was growing up.  The fare might include: fried chicken, Aunt Roberta’s specialty; ham baked with a glaze of honey and Heinz® 57 Sauce, Aunt Polly’s treat; always an array of flaky-crusted pies and light and fluffy cakes, Aunt Jean’s contribution; a variety of salads, generally furnished by Aunt Myrt; plus mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans (cooked with bacon until mushy); or other vegetables depending on the season.
            On rare occasions, to everyone’s delight, my mother added chicken soup with homemade noodles.  How she made noodles so velvety and smooth remained her secret until well into my adulthood when she finally fessed up, mostly because she had given up cooking entirely and wanted to make sure mine would measure up.  Her secret; she used only the yolk of the egg and replaced the white with two tablespoons of heavy cream.  Yes, that is a huge amount of fat.  But as Loretta would say: “Do you want to live forever or enjoy your time on earth while it lasts?”
            Those who want to live forever can make the noodles using the entire egg and skip the cream.  Just be warned that they will not be “to die for.”
Chicken soup with homemade noodles
(Makes 2-3 servings)
For the Broth
2 Chicken thighs
1 Tablespoon canola oil
5 Cups water
1-2 Bay leaves
3-4 Sprigs fresh parsley

1.     Heat the oil in a 3-quart saucepan until smoking and hot.  Add thighs, skin-side down and fry until crisp and brown, 4-5 minutes per side.  Add water, bay leaves and parsley. Bring to boil, lower heat and simmer 30-45 minutes.
2.     Remove thighs to a plate and set aside.  Pour broth through a strainer lined with cheesecloth, skim off any excess fat and set aside.  You should have about 5 cups of broth.  If not, add enough water to make 5 cups. Note: At this point, the broth and thighs can be stored in the refrigerator for several hours or over night.

For the noodles
1 Egg yolk plus two tablespoons heavy cream, lightly beaten (as an alternative, use one whole egg, lightly beaten)
½ Cup all-purpose flour plus more for rolling

1.     Place the flour in a bowl and make a hole in the center.
2.     Pour the egg into the hole and using a fork, mix until flour and egg come together.
3.     Scrape from the bowl onto a floured board and knead, adding enough flour to make a stiff dough.  Do not over knead.  
4.     Roll out to a thickness of 1/16-inch (the thinner the better), using flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to the board and rolling pin.  Allow to dry uncovered 10-15 minutes before cutting the noodles.
5.     To cut the noodles, roll into a tube and, using a serrated knife, cut across the role at ¼- ½-inch increments, depending on whether you prefer narrow or wide noodles.  Unroll each section and lay on the cutting board to dry another 10-15 minutes.  Note: You can also cut the long strips into pieces if you prefer shorter noodles.
6.     While noodles dry, make the soup.

For the soup
1 Tablespoon canola oil
2-3 Carrots, chopped (1 to 1 ½ cups)
2 Stalks celery, chopped (1 to 1 ½ cups)
½ Onion, chopped (1 cup)
5 Cups chicken broth (recipe above or use canned broth)
1 Recipe egg noodles (above)

1.     Heat oil in saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add vegetables and sauté until soft, 5-6 minutes.
2.     Add reserved broth to the saucepan, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are soft, 20-30 minutes.
3.     Meanwhile, remove skin and bone from chicken thighs and cut meat into bite-sized pieces.  Set aside.
4.     Bring the soup to a full boil and stir in the noodles.  Cook at full boil until done, 8-10 minutes.
5.     Add the thigh meat, season with salt and pepper to taste and heat through, 4-5 minutes.  Serve and enjoy.  Note: Notice that I do not add salt until the end to prevent over salting.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Rain and pea soup

            As I sit here writing this, rain falls gently outside my office window.  It is a special rain that drips softly, allowing fields to absorb its critically needed moisture.  Our recent dry spell has been deadly to area crops.  This rain could save recently planted wheat, but is probably too late for most of the area’s dry land crops.  Still, it brings promise for the future.
            This rain also signals the arrival of fall, one of my favorite seasons.  While most parts of the country enjoy four seasons, northeastern Colorado often experiences three seasons: summer, fall and winter.  Spring, if it shows its pretty face at all, often brings blizzards that lay a heavy wet blanket over emerging foliage or killing frosts that blight budding plants and trees.  Experienced gardeners know to hold off planting until Memorial Day because sudden brief return visits from winter can appear unexpectedly.
            Most years, May sees the end of winter just as summer makes her showing in June.  This past year was an exception.  Winter ended in April and summer began almost immediately afterwards.  Do not take this wrong.  I love northeast Colorado’s mild climate.  Winter nights and mornings bring dropping temperatures, but sunshine takes the chill off most afternoons.  Ninety-degree days may rule in summer, but low humidity makes the heat bearable.  Most summers do not fill with 100-degree days as this past one did.
            Because this past summer saw more blistering days than normal, I more than welcome this rainy fall day’s coolness.  In addition to giving me added energy, it sparks a hunger for a soup.  One of my favorite soups, split pea with ham, is easy and quick to produce.  The following recipe makes enough for two generous servings.

Split Pea & Ham Soup
1 Tablespoon canola oil
¼ Cup finely chopped onion
1 Cup green dried split peas

4 Cups water
4 Ounces thickly sliced ham
1 Slice bacon
½ Teaspoon dried thyme or 1 sprig fresh
1 Bay leaf
1 Carrot finely chopped (1/2 cup)
1 Small stalk celery copped fine (1/2 cup)
Salt and pepper to taste

1.     Heat oil in three- or four-quart saucepan.  Add onion and sauté until soft, 2-3 minutes.
2.     Spread peas on cookie sheet or plate and pick out any small stones.  Place peas in fine mesh strainer and rinse until water runs clear.
3.     Place cleaned peas, water, ham, bacon, thyme and bay leaf in saucepan.  Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer 30 minutes.  Remove ham and set aside to cool.
4.     Add carrot and celery to saucepan, return to a simmer and cook 30 minutes longer.  Remove and discard bacon and bay leaf.  If using fresh thyme, remove thyme sprig and discard that as well.
5.     Shred ham, return to soup and heat through.  Enjoy! 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Relish: moments of therapy

            I missed my gardening therapy this summer.  For the first time in many years my back lot went gardenless; mostly due to the heat, but also because my life suddenly took a turn toward busy as I began researching museum archives and the memories of locals in order to write a history book.
            Wouldn’t you know then, that this is the year I ran out of my stored jars of dill pickles and sweet pickle relish?  That left me begging area gardeners for cucumbers, small for the dill pickles and large for the relish, plus bell peppers and onions.  My dill volunteers itself each year, so I had plenty of that.
            Luckily, one of the best gardeners in our area, a woman named Cindy, fed my veggie desire.
            Normally when I grow my own cucumber vines, I pick the small cukes as they come on and make a jar or two of dill pickles at a time as I pick them.  This requires making the brine ahead of time and storing it in the refrigerator.  The brine consists of two quarts of water, one quart of cider vinegar and one cup of canning salt.  Some people use white vinegar, but I prefer the taste of the cider.  Do not use regular salt in place of the canning salt unless you want shriveled, dark pickles.
            Heat the brine long enough to dissolve the salt unless you are making pickles right away.  In that case, bring it to a hard boil.
            While the brine is coming to a boil, place heads of dill, one for a pint, two for a quart into the bottom of sterilized canning jars.  Add cleaned garlic cloves, two in each pint and four if using quart jars unless you like less garlic taste.  In that case, cut the number of cloves in half.  Then sprinkle red pepper flakes, ¼ to ½ teaspoon depending on your preference for heat, into each jar.
            Pack the jars with scrubbed unpeeled cucumbers measuring 3-4 inches each.  Fill the jars with the boiling brine, use new, clean sterilized lids to cap the jars and place them in a water bath for 10 minutes for pints, 20 minutes for quarts.  If I am canning one or two jars, I use any covered pan with enough depth to cover the jars.  I have an asparagus cooker that works great since the insert also keeps the jars off the bottom of the pan.
            Now comes the warning.  If you have no experience in canning, find your local Extension service or buy a canning book and read the rules.  I sterilize everything, the jars, the lids, the rag to wipe the jar lip.  Processing time starts when the water comes to a boil.  Many things come into play, so take no chances.  Get the facts from a reliable source, not this blog or any other blog that does not have certification in food safety.
            With the dill pickle shortage now taken care of, I turned to relish.  This requires dicing 12 cups of cucumbers, and seven cups of peppers and onions per batch.  A friend once asked me why I did not just place chucks of vegetables in the blender with water and chop that way.  I suppose I could, but the pieces would not be as pretty, and I would also miss all of the free therapy that I get from dicing vegetables by hand.  Maybe I have some repressed anger toward cucumbers.  Who knows?  I just turn on some tunes and chop away.  The end comes almost too soon.
            My gardener friend managed to bring me enough cucumbers to make around 10 pints of dill pickles plus two batches of relish, which amounts to around 20 pints.  Plenty to get me through the long winter until next summer when hopefully I will get in some good gardening therapy.
            My cousin Karen gave me the following pickle-relish recipe years ago and I have been making it ever since with only minor changes.  I use it on hot dogs, hamburgers and in potato salad, tuna salad and egg salad.  It has the sweet, salty taste of bread-and-butter pickles.
            The original recipe calls for either cucumbers or zucchini.  I have never made it with zucchini, but I did grow a lemon cucumber plant one year that produced an ungodly number of little round yellow cukes.  Those worked fine, so maybe some year when I have a zucchini plant acting in the same manner that yellow cucumber did, which come to think of it is normal for a zucchini plant, I might try it.

Pickle Relish
10-12 ½ pint jars with new lids, washed and sterilized
5-8 Quart enamel stockpot
Large colander
Water bath canner with insert, mine is the half-sized used for pints.
Jar lifter (Tongs work)
Heat-resistant long-handled spoon for stirring
Two heavy kitchen towels, one for holding hot jars another for tightening lids.
A good canning book or instructions from your local Extension Service.

12 Cups peeled, seeded and diced cucumbers or zucchinis (9-10 large or 12-14 medium)
4 Cups diced onion (1 and ½ large or 2 medium)
3 Cups diced green and red bell pepper (1 and ½ of each)
5 Tablespoons canning salt
2 ½ Cups cider vinegar
6 Cups sugar
¾ Teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 Teaspoon dry mustard
¾ Teaspoon turmeric
1 ½ Teaspoon celery seed
1 Teaspoon ground black pepper
¾ Teaspoon cornstarch

1.     Place diced vegetables in a 5-8 quart enamel-coated stockpot.  Sprinkle with the salt, mix, cover and allow to set overnight.
2.     The next morning, pour the vegetables into a colander, wash with cold water and drain while bringing the remaining ingredients to a boil.
3.     Bring vinegar, sugar, seasonings and cornstarch to a boil in the stockpot.  Add drained vegetables, return to a simmer and cook 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
4.     Fill sterilized jars to within ¼-inch from the top with vegetables and juice.  Secure lids but do not tighten.  Place filled, capped jars into the insert rack of a water bath canner filled with enough boiling water to cover jars.
5.     When the water returns to a boil begin timing.  Boil filled jars 15 minutes.  (Check with the Extension Office or canning book for time differences in high or low attitudes or larger sized jars.)
6.     Remove the jars from the canner using the jar lifter.  Using kitchen towels, turn lids to tighten then place jars on a rack to cool.  You should hear a popping sound as each jar seals.  If a jar does not seal, store in the refrigerator.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Chowder near a sea of corn

         My granddaughter Shannon and I spent a day recently strolling through the crowds on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
            A highlight of the day came at lunchtime when we sat on a restaurant patio eating soft and chewy sourdough bread, a wonderful bowl of clam chowder, mussels in spicy tomato sauce and crab legs baked in buttery garlic sauce.  We washed it all down with a woody amber ale then spent the rest of the day walking away the added pounds as we watched the sea gulls and various artists selling their wares or talents.  Once, we stopped to watch a ragged juggler toss balls and other objects around his person as he jabbered a constant stream of foolishness that kept us laughing.
            Shannon, a traveling nurse, spent five months working at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco.  She drove out alone this past January, so when it was time for her to return, I decided to fly out, spend a day sightseeing and then accompany her on the drive home.  The best part of the trip came from spending one-on-one time with a special child who turned into a beautiful, caring young woman—a little grandmotherly bonding time.
            Her mother, daughter Teresa, gets most of the credit for Shannon’s wonderful character, but our friend Darcy and I take a bit of the credit since we gave her our undivided attention for two years while her mother completed college.
            I flew into San Francisco on a Friday night so Shannon gave me the grand tour via car through China Town, Little Italy and other historic parts of this city built on hills where trolley cars provide a historic mode of travel.
            We ate that first evening at a restaurant that specializes in Russian and Thai cuisine, ordering a mixture of h’ordourves like Herring, which fell flat on both our pallets, pickled vegetables that left a bitter aftertaste and a lovely chicken liver pate.  We followed with a beef Stroganoff that I feel certain would have cost any chef working for Count Pavel Stroganov his head.  Shannon and I both agreed that we paid for the “experience.”
            Lunch the next day at Fisherman’s Wharf exceeded or “experience” expectations beyond delicious starting with the clam chowder and ending with the succulent baked crab legs.  I wanted to go home and try making them all.  Alas, finding seafood of any quality in the middle of the Great American Dessert, especially in a town of less than 1,000 people is near to impossible.  Even ordering over the Internet is out of the question with a per pound price of between $30 and $70 before you tack on the overnight shipping.
            I thought I might try replicating the chicken liver pate, but here again I ran into a problem with availability.  I cannot remember the last time I purchased a whole fryer chicken that came with giblets inside.
            “Okay, seafood and chicken livers are out,” I said to myself.  “But what do we have plenty of, especially this time of year, in the High Plains of Colorado?”  Sweet corn, of courseWhy not make corn chowder?  Came my mental response.
            Down to our local grocery story I went, hope in my heart, only to find that others beat me to every ear of corn in the store.  What next?  Surely not frozen.  Never fear.  Tomorrow is another day and this time of year, there are always farmers’ markets or a new delivery of fresh sweet corn to the grocery story.
            This recipe for corn chowder takes a little extra work, but I think you will find it well worth the time and effort.  Add a slice of toasted sourdough bread on the side and it is as close to San Francisco as you get in Colorado farm country.

Yummy Corn Chowder
3 ½ Cups milk (whole or low-fat)
3 Ears fresh sweet corn, shucked and cleaned
1 Bay leaf
1 small carrot, diced (1/3 cup)
1 Stalk celery, diced (1/3 cup)
1 Small or ½ medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 Slice bacon
1 Medium Yukon Gold or Russet potato, peeled and diced (1½ cups)
¼ Cup chopped red bell pepper
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
1 Teaspoon sugar
1 Teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
½ Teaspoon pepper
½ Teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (1/4 Teaspoon dried)

1.     Pour milk into a 2-quart saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.
2.     Meanwhile, cut the corn off the cob using a sharp paring knife.  Place in bowl and set aside.
3.     Break the cobs in half and place in simmering milk along with the bay leaf.  Turn heat to very low and allow the corncobs and bay leaf to gently simmer for 30 minutes.
4.     While cobs simmer, chop remaining vegetables and fry the bacon slice in a 10-inch skillet over medium high heat until crisp.  Discard the slice of bacon (I eat mine).
5.     Lower the heat to medium and sauté the chopped onion in the bacon grease for 4-5 minutes.  Add the chopped carrot and celery and sauté 6-7 minutes longer.  You want vegetables soft but not browned.
6.     Scrape cooked vegetables into a dish and set aside.
7.     Remove the corncobs and bay leaf from the milk and add the potato and bell pepper.  Bring milk back to a simmer and cook until potato is tender, 30-35 minutes.  Do not boil.
8.     Melt one tablespoon of unsalted butter in the skillet, add corn kernels and sauté, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes.
9.     Stir together sugar, salt, flour, pepper and thyme in a small bowl.  Add to corn and sauté one minute longer.
10.  Add corn mixture and received vegetables to soup and simmer 5 minutes longer.  Serve with croutons or a slice of toasted sourdough bread.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Cow sexing with laughing aunt

           Sometimes life resembles a cartoon.
            Recently, while watching the animated movie Barnyard, my Aunt Roberta showed up to haunt me.  Not that Aunt Roberta looked anything like a cow.  On the contrary, she was a small pretty woman with dancing brown eyes and a sense of humor that caught you off guard because she would say off-the-wall things in a serious voice that made you think there might be truth in her comment.  Then, she would look at you with a piercing glint pouring from her laughing eyes and you knew immediately that she fooled you.
            On the occasion the movie brought to mind, Aunt Roberta handed me a newspaper story about a 4-H youth who won a championship ribbon in the bovine division at the Kansas State Fair.  “The reporter doing this interview really knows her cow stuff,” she said with not a hint of humor in her voice.
            “What makes you say that?”
            “Well, just read that last question she asked.”
            I read the article to the end where I discovered the reporter’s gaffe.  “Was your championship cow a boy cow or a girl cow?”  She had asked the ribbon winner.
            It took me a minute.  By that time, my Aunt Roberta was laughing like a loon.  “Boy cow or girl cow.  Ha!  Ha!  Ha!”  I thought she might never stop hee-hawing, but she finally did, then turned serious.  “What are we teaching our young people these days?  Wouldn’t you think a reporter would have better sense?”
            I thought something similar as I watched Barnyard.
            The main character, Otis, is the adopted irresponsible, fun-loving son of Ben, who watches over the other animals on the farm, which includes, among others, a pig, a mule, Everitt the dog and a mamma hen with chicks.  These lively animal characters walk upright, talk, sing, dance and play instruments at the nightly barn dance, while a gang of gofers operate the underground black market.  The animals live quite well with little to fear, except the coyotes, since the farmer who owns them is a “vegan.”
            Otis runs with a rowdy bunch of “guys” called the “Jersey Cows” and he falls in love with a pregnant cow named Daisy.  The movie contains the usual elements of a good action flick: a car chase, love, rap music, death, destruction and birth.
            If there was any doubt that Ben and Otis are male, the writer erases that doubt with Ben’s final words of wisdom to Otis, “A strong man stands up for himself, a stronger man stands up for others,” and the marker on Ben’s grave, which reads: “Ben, a Good Cow.”  The problem is that the illustrator drew all of the bovine characters, male and female alike, with udder bags and teats, and calls them all cows.  There is no bull on this farm.
            Okay, it’s just a cartoon, so why worry about small inaccuracies.  Why not just let cows be cows and forget it?  Because my Aunt Roberta is up in heaven laughing her head off, that’s why, and I bet God is laughing with her.
            Enough on udders and teats, let’s move on to yogurt.
            Some years back when I was trying to take off some added pounds, I purchased the book, French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano.
            One of the things that Guiliano talks about in the book is the benefit of yogurt and she offers a couple recipes for making homemade yogurt.  I tried one and was amazed at how much better I liked it compared to what you buy in the store.  The homemade yogurt turns out smooth and yummy with no additions needed, but I sometimes add a small amount of honey or some sweet fruit.  Very nice.
            I substitute yogurt for half the mayo when making creamy salad dressing and find I like the taste better than straight mayo.
            To make your own yogurt, you need a two-quart saucepan, a quart of milk (you can use whole, low-fat or non-fat, but I prefer whole), two tablespoons of plain yogurt (either from the store or from your last batch of homemade) and a glass or ceramic container large enough to hold your mixture.
            Heat the quart of milk in the saucepan over medium heat until bubbles appear around the edges, or until the temperature reaches 180°F on a candy thermometer.  Then remove the saucepan from the heat and allow the temperature to cool to 110°F.
            Whisk a small amount of the cooled milk and the plain yogurt together in small dish until combined.  Pour the yogurt mixture into your glass or ceramic container then add the milk, one-third at a time, whisking to blend between additions.  Cover the container with a heavy cloth, place in a warm spot over night, and then refrigerate for 8 hours before serving.
            If you prefer Greek Yogurt, place some cheesecloth inside a strainer and set the strainer in a deep dish.  Pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth lined strainer, cover with plastic wrap and allow to drain in the refrigerator for 4-8 hours or overnight, depending on the thickness you prefer.  Greek yogurt makes an excellent substitute for cream cheese or sour cream.

Creamy Macaroni Salad
Ingredients for salad:
¾ Cup dry elbow macaroni
1 Hard-boiled egg, peeled and cubed
2 Scallions, thinly sliced
¼ Cup diced celery
¼ Cup diced red, orange or yellow bell pepper
2-3 Tablespoons sweet pickle relish (undrained)
Parsley to garnish (optional)

Ingredients for dressing:
2 Tablespoons plain yogurt
2 Tablespoons mayonnaise
½ Teaspoon yellow mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1.     Cook pasta until al dente, 10-12 minutes in plenty of salted boiling water.  Drain and rinse with cold water.  Set aside to cool while chopping egg and vegetables.
2.     Place pasta, egg, relish and chopped vegetables in a bowl.
3.     Place dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together until well combined.  Pour over salad mixture.  Stir well and garnish with fresh parsley if desired.  Makes about 4 servings.