Posted by: Rachel | August 24, 2017

what a difference a day makes!

While I’m waiting to see if the weather everyone is talking about actually happens, I thought I’d share a bit with you. From the forecasts I think (and hope!) that we’ve seen the end of the 100F+ days for this year. I can’t be certain, of course, but I hope so!

However, as long as its been unholy hot here and sunny to boot, I figured I’d do well to see what else I could dry in my car. My thoughts turned to mushrooms.

Now seriously, I had no idea if this would work. I imagined a tray of soggy gray nastiness and that seemed as plausible as anything else. But I got lucky. The ‘shrooms went from this:

fresh mushrooms on a baking sheet

soft and supple

to this:

crispy deliciousness

in just about 8 hours in full sun on my car’s dashboard.

Amazing!

Now I must say that there is not a lot that is more boring than a plain mushroom. They get their yumminess from the olive oil/garlic/onions/(insert your favorite herbs and spices here…) that they’re cooked with. So I improvised a bit.

I made a blend of roasted garlic powder, smoked salt, and truffle (mmmmm) salt, and tossed the mushrooms with it before laying them out on foil on a cookie sheet. I think the salt pulled some of the moisture out and helped them dry faster. At least that’s my story (grin).

That said, I cant even really offer you a “recipe” this time. Just get a pound or so of whatever mushrooms you like (I used shitaake this time). Slice thin and toss with garlic powder and salt. I used about 1 tsp of each for 1 pound of ‘shrooms.

Line a cookie sheet with foil, spread the mushrooms, and put them on you car’s dashboard as long as the internal temp of the car reaches at least 150F. Mine was at 160F. Leave for 8 hours or until crisp. I did open the car door for just a minute or so at about 4 hours to let the steam out… and oh did my car smell wonderful!!

Let cool before putting in a zip bag or other airtight container, and snack at will!

That’s probably it for my dashboard dehydrator this summer. At least I hope so – I miss cooking in my kitchen!

Until the next time… stay safe!

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Posted by: Rachel | July 30, 2017

2 hot 2 do 2 much

Seems like August came in mid-July this year. The past 2 weeks we’ve been over 100F every day, and that in the shade! Miserable, but if you know me or if you’ve been reading this for a while you know that in addition to refusing to turn on my oven until things return to reasonable (I no longer say “normal”…) I’ve been thinking about how to use all that sunlight.

Or, at least the sun that falls on my driveway.

See, my poor little car sits out, uncovered, and if I leave the windows up it gets pretty toasty in there.

oven thermometer showing 160F

hot enough for ya?

In case it is too crudded up for you to read, it is registering 160F. That’s just over 71C. Hot!

In past summers (although never in July, always in August!) we’ve enjoyed sun-dried tomatoes, blueberries and mangoes, and even dates. This year, though, I though I’d try something a little different.

I decided to make fruit leather. I remember enjoying the chewy, slightly sticky flavorful, melt in your mouth gooey stuff as a kid and figured why not? Now if you look for “recipes” for this, there seem to be two main camps; the “cook it first” camp and the “why bother” camp.

Again, if you know me you know I’m lazy, so I fell happily into line with the “why bother” folks. Honestly, unless you are concerned about the chance of stray bacteria or unless your immune system shouldn’t risk it, why bother turning on the stove?? In any event, make this at your own peril, but I haven’t suffered yet (grin). Here’s all I did.

Peachy Leather Unrecipe

3 large ripe sweet peaches, pitted and cut in pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup juicy red watermelon, cubed and carefully seeded
water if necessary (or more watermelon)
1 tsp Chinese 5 spice
1 tsp ground ginger
(nope, no sugar needed if the peaches are sweet!)

Put all fruit (I didn’t bother peeling the peaches) and spices in a blender and whirrr until you have a thick but pourable pulpy mess. Cover a cookie sheet with microwave safe plastic wrap. Pour the pulp onto the plastic wrap and spread out evenly. Put the cookie sheet flat on the dashboard for roughly two long hot sunny days and keep the windows rolled up. Remember to use an oven mitt when moving the cookie sheet to the passenger seat or floor before driving!

When the edges are dryish but the center is still slightly tacky bring it in, let it cool until room temperature, and it should peel right off the plastic. I rolled mine up and put it in the fridge and I’m nibbling on a piece of it as we “speak”. Mmmm!

That’s pretty much it. The spices are, of course, optional and up to you; I just really like ginger! Here’s a photo overview:

pulpy goodness

almost ready

ready to eat!

See? And, oh does my car smell wonderful! If this weather keeps up who knows what I may decide to dry in the car next month. Ideas? I’m open to suggestions!

Stay cool if you can and be safe… more soon!

Posted by: Rachel | June 25, 2017

as promised…

Last time I promised to “show and tell” you a bit about my recent trip. It isn’t quite as recent by now, but fresh in my mind none the less. For all that the weather seemed awful (40s, rainy and very windy) I’d sure love a day or two of that stuff right now!

In any event, here are a few images to whet your appetite. We started in

Amsterdam

yup, Amsterdam

home of

so many cheeses, so little time!

as well as

loads of smokey fishy choices – mmm!

and, I discovered

the whole country seems to have a sweet tooth!

but really, we were there for the

field of tulips

tulips!!!

and

these tulips as well

and the occasional

windmill

windmills

Despite the wind, rain, and hail, it was dreamy. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Imagine fields of hyacinths – intoxicating!!

The food was wonderful (oh, the fish!! ah the fries!!), the King’s birthday was great fun (how nice to live in a country where you happily celebrate your ruler!), and I had a grand time due in large part, of course, to my travel companions and new friends. More soon, from here, there, or wherever… until then, eet smakelijk!

Posted by: Rachel | May 7, 2017

mujaddarah!

Last week I spent a few days at my sister’s, and as is my wont we visited those Armenian markets in Watertown. This time I stumbled over a prepared mixture of lentils and rice. That may sound pedestrian, but it was a lovely side/salady addition to lunch and dinner! The container said “mujaddarah”.

I don’t know it that is mu like moo, or mu like mud but either way is was delicious. So, I went online and found a bunch of recipes for it. The following is what I did.

First understand that in all the recipes I looked at the only difference really was in the spices and what I’d call add-ons. They all seemed to agree that the basics are simply lentils, rice, and caramelized onions. Mmmmmm!

Most of the recipes said to cook the rice, then the lentils, then the onions, and combine. I’m lazy so I cooked the rice and lentils together and it worked fine. You, of course, can do as you wish but in my world, one less pan to wash is a good thing!

The version I bought at the market was vegetarian, the version I made was not at the end. Read on and I will explain, I promise. Both were (I say were because I’ve finished what I made already!) tasty and very satisfying. And both were gluten-free. So…

The hardest, or at least most time intensive part is making the caramelized onions. This is not actually difficult, it just takes patience and a heavy-bottomed pan. If they burn or if you try to rush them, well, just remember I warned you!

There are a ton of sites that will tell you how to do this, but I just put some olive oil in a heavy skillet, cut the onions fairly thin, set the heat to medium-low and let them sort of melt. I stirred them every once in a while, maybe every 5 minutes or so, but mostly I left them alone. It took maybe half an hour or more but they didn’t burn and the flavor was divine. Its worth the work!

So, here’s my overly simple recipe for a fine side or main:

Mujaddarah

2 medium white onions
1 cup rice
1 cup lentils*
2 T butter and 2 T olive oil
water (or stock)
salt, pepper
ground allspice
(1/2 lb ground lamb optional)

In one pan, caramelize the onions. When they are done, add about 2 tsp of ground allspice, stir in, remove from heat and set aside.

In a good sized pot, cook together the rice and lentils. I started mine off as if for a pilaf, meaning I browned the rice in the butter and oil before adding the lentils and water. I used those little French green lentils because I like their texture – they don’t turn mushy. You can use whatever kind you like, of course. Add just enough water to cook the rice and lentils (this will depend on the kind of each, of course) and keep an eye out that it doesn’t scorch.

When the onions and lentil-rice mixture are done, combine them and add salt and pepper to taste. That’s it for the vegetarian version. If you want to add lamb, simply cook the ground lamb and add it to the melange.

This is not a beautiful dish, but it is hearty, works cold or hot, is good for you, and couldn’t be much simpler. All in all it took less than an hour. I like it by itself but it is also good with plain yogurt mixed in I think. So… enjoy.

By the way, right before spending time at my sister’s I was on vacation. More about that coming soon but here’s a hint:

need I say more?

Much more about the vacation next time I promise! Mmmmmm!!

Posted by: Rachel | April 9, 2017

going Dutch

This all started with a group of bakers who share stunning photos of their sourdough bread on Facebook. In their posts they use abbreviations, including DO. I first thought they meant dough, but finally realized they were referring to Dutch ovens.

Ah!

That got me started thinking about our language and how often “Dutch”, as either Dutch something or something Dutch, crops up. Here’s some of how my brain wandered – enjoy the ride!

Dutch oven, as above
Dutch uncle (lots more things Dutch from Wikipedia here!)
Dutch courage (Wikipedia says…)
Pennsylvania Dutch (who aren’t actually Dutch at all)
Dutchman’s breeches (which don’t occur here in Texas, mores the pity)
Dutchman’s pipe
Dutch chocolate
Dutch-processed cocoa
Dutch baby (mmm!!)
double Dutch
Dutch door
and, of course,
Dutch treat, aka going Dutch

Have you even noticed that if you look at a single word over and over it begins to look odd even though you know it is spelled correctly? Hmmm, never mind, maybe that’s just me.

In any event, I just wanted to share what passed for thoughts today. Have fun adding to the list – I’m sure there are plenty more where these came from. Oh, and if you do make that Dutch baby, eet smakeliijk!

Posted by: Rachel | March 31, 2017

out like a lamb

March has been a confusing month, meteorologically speaking. Folk wisdom tells us that if the month comes in “like a lion” it will go out “like a lamb”.

This month has been more of a pushmi-pullyu!

Mind you, I’m not complaining, even though the weather folk tell us daily that we are “about 10 degrees above normal”. Do you suppose it might be time to redefine “normal”? Oh dear…

Anyway, the month is ending on a beautiful note here in central Texas. Nary a cloud, warm but breezy and dry today, greener than green due to torrential rains earlier this month, a great day for kites and al fresco dining!

I was lucky enough to eat outside this noon with good friends. And, I didn’t have to lift a finger (other that transporting the full fork to my mouth, of course).

Here’s some of what we enjoyed:

chicken salad and green salad

a salady duo – mmm!!

The small empty spot on the plate was filled with deviled eggs and a slice (or two) of baguette. For dessert we had:

creamy, dreamy, fresh and fruity – mmmmm!!

So good; spice cake with fresh fruit was delightfully “spring-y”! And, of course, everything tastes better when eating with friends.

Does spring inspire you to new salad ideas? I’m leaning that way myself, even though the weather folk say it will rain heavily over the next two days. Guess we’ll wait and see – it might just be their idea of an April Fools (Fool’s? Fools’? Perhaps all 3!) joke!

In any case, stay well, eat happily (and healthily), and enjoy the season!

Posted by: Rachel | February 26, 2017

easier than pie…

I’m actually embarrassed to share this one with you. I mean, it is so easy that it hardly counts as “cooking”. Still, it sits on the stove for a few hours gently simmering, makes the house smell wonderful, and feeds me (and sometimes friends as well) for days, so I guess it counts. And, you do have to chop the onion…

The thing is, you *could* do it the hard way. By that I mean you could buy five different kinds of dry beans, soak them overnight (after picking out any bad ones and bits of pebbles or other detritus), then cook them each in their own way until done. Or, you could buy five cans of various beans to your taste and go from there.

That’s what I choose to do. But, I’m a lazy cook from time to time.

Honestly, when I measure my time against starting form “scratch”, well, I guess I’d just rather do other things than mind all those dry beans. Enough already, here’s my recipe for the world’s possibly easiest soup.

Stupid Easy Smoked Turkey and Bean Soup

simmering silently

simmering silently


1 onion, chopped
olive oil
1 smoked turkey wing or drumstick
5 cans of beans, drained and rinsed
1 can of “fire roasted” tomatoes

Put a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy Dutch oven. Heat over medium heat and add the chopped onion. Sautée until the onion is transparent. Add the turkey, then all the rinsed beans and the can of tomatoes. Add maybe 1/2 can of water to where you can just see it, do not drown the beans.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 2-3 hours.

Remove from heat and remove the turkey to a plate. Let the turkey cool, remove the meat from the bones and add the meat back into the pot. Stir well and enjoy.
***

See? Embarrassingly easy but oh so good. And, if you are of the vegetarian persuasion you could certainly do this with no turkey and 1/2 tbsp of smoked paprika added to the onion. Mmmm!

Now, just a few notes. I usually use a mixture of chickpeas, kidney beans, black beans, and whatever other kinds they have at the store. Also, if you can’t get your hands on “fire-roasted” tomatoes, you could certainly use something like stewed tomatoes instead.

This freezes well, tastes better on about day 3, and is fine with a simple rough red wine and a hunk of bread. I wish we’d had more cold days this “winter”…

What is your ultimate comfort food? I think this might be mine! Mmmm…

Posted by: Rachel | December 31, 2016

out with the old!

I just realized that in all the time we’ve spent together I’ve never given you a tour of my kitchen. We’ll save the full tour for another day, but what I wanted to share is that my fridge is my spice rack. I know that most spices do best away from direct light if they’re not going to be used immediately, and the side of my fridge is just perfect especially as the designer of this kitchen back in 1963 or so sort of forgot drawers.

Since I am lucky to live near a store that offers an amazing array of spices in bulk (ie: buy as much or as little as you like), I can buy as needed but I almost always overbuy. I mean, a mere teaspoon of something won’t even jog the scales, so I have to buy a little more.

Those littles add up.

The thing is, even when I don’t need any spices I find the draw of the bulk department irresistible. The folks who work there are kind and patient and very knowledgable, and I often find I just need a smitch or dab of something or other just because it smells so good. They sell individual spices and herbs, but they also sell things like smoked salts, dry mushrooms, blends and rubs… you get the idea. See?:

mmmmm!!

mmmmm!!

The side of my fridge isn’t anything like that, really. But, once or twice a year I try to go through all the accumulated tiny bags (sometimes two or three deep under their magnet!) and toss anything that has lost its zing. I don’t feel too bad, they don’t actually go in the trash. I figure its organic so I toss any leavings in a flower pot or in the yard. Why not!

Any unground (is that a word?) things like whole cloves, allspice, fennel, I test and if they’re fresh enough I keep ’em. The rest I toss (and the bags get recycled, of course!). Or, at least I will. This is my plan for tomorrow. I guess it might be a cheat to write about it before actually doing it, but there you have it. Here’s how the fridge looks now:

seems like chaos, but it smells soooo good!

seems like chaos, but it smells soooo good!

So, I say again, my plan for tomorrow is to go through all the tiny bags, keep or toss as appropriate, and make a list of “must haves” to replenish. I’ll update you soon!

Any spices you must have? Ever curious…

And, of course, a very happy New Year to all – good health and comfort and joy to you and yours!

Posted by: Rachel | December 18, 2016

chilly? chili!!

I thought I knew what chili was. Then I moved to Texas.

Now mind you, I’d never put pasta in my chili (sorry you Cincinnati folks), or at least I wouldn’t call it chili if I did. Then again, what I call chili and what you call chili might be at odds as well.

What I can tell you is this. Today we are having winter and this is what I want for lunch and possibly dinner as well.

Now understand, a central Texas “winter” often lasts no more than a day. This year they tell us it might last for two! And, I will give them this – it is coooooold outside! So I’m determined to enjoy winter food before it gets too warm again.

The good thing about my chili (and yes, I will insist on calling it that) is that you can make it quickly. Unless you insist on working with dry beans, in which case winter could be over before the chili is ready, you can fix this in an hour or so and enjoy it almost immediately. Of course it is better the next day (and even better the day after, if winter lasts that long), but it isn’t bad from the get-go.

The name’s the thing. I call this Yankee Chili. Texas chili as I understand it believes that beans are anathema. I, on the other hand, never met a bean I didn’t like. So, rather than calling it bean and burger stew or something equally cumbersome, here’s a quick and easy cold weather pick-me-up.

Yankee Chili

tasty and toasty

tasty and toasty


3/4 lb ground beef
1 onion, chopped fine*
3 cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cans fire roasted tomatoes

Brown the beef in a heavy Dutch oven. Add the onion* (see below) and cook until the onion is soft. Add the beans and tomatoes, stir well, cover and barely simmer for several hours or until you can’t stand it and have to have some.

***

Now, about that asterisk. When I add the onions I often add a tablespoon or so each of ground cumin and ground coriander, a pinch of cinnamon, and some salt. Spices are up to you, but I like my chili this way. Also, note there is no “heat”. Feel free to add chili powder if you like it hot. This is one of those flexible recipes – have fun!

The important thing is, stay safe and warm this season, enjoy family and friends, be healthy (note: I am not saying *eat* healthy – its the holidays, after all!) and have a wonderful start to the new year!

Posted by: Rachel | December 5, 2016

steal this recipe!

I stole this recipe. There, I’ve said it. At least I’m honest about the theft!

When I read this recipe on Measure and Whisk I could actually imagine making these light (yes, really), delicious (oh, definitely!) and easy (actually, yup) truffles in *my* kitchen.

See, I’m a terrible candy maker. I have the thermometers and a few of the other trappings, but I get confounded by “soft ball stage”, “hard ball stage”, and all that jazz. I’m much better at cooking and even baking – those sports at far more forgiving.

Still, this sounded like something even I could manage and sure enough, to my delight, they came out just as promised!

Then, of course, I just had to fiddle with it.

If you know me, then you know that I can rarely leave well enough alone. See, when I read the original recipe I thought it would taste a bit like Nutella ™. Instead, (and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you) they tasted rather like Reeses ™. The peanut butter completely overwhelmed the delicate hazelnut and stole the show.

In my rework, I opted for almond butter and almond powder, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Just so we’re all on the same page (so to speak), here’s the exact recipe I stole (with thanks again to Measure and Whisk).

Chocolate Hazelnut Truffles:

3/4 cup hazelnut meal (I use the Bob’s Red Mill brand)
1/2 cup peanut butter, softened to the point of being a little melty
2 Tbs cocoa powder
10 oz dark chocolate (I like Hershey’s special dark chocolate chips)
large grain sea salt for sprinkling

Begin by combining your hazelnut meal, and cocoa powder in a medium sized bowl. Get your peanut butter nice and softened in the microwave (30 seconds to a minute, stirring once or twice), and pour it into your hazelnut meal and cocoa powder bowl. Stir until the mixture is thick and thoroughly blended.

Roll about a tablespoon of the dough into a ball, and put it on a silicone mat or wax paper lined cookie sheet. Do this with the rest of the dough until you have 20 or so small dough balls. Place in the fridge for about 30 minutes to chill.

Next, melt about 6 ounces of your chocolate chips in a medium bowl in the microwave (I used this tutorial for tempering chocolate, and it was really helpful). You want to melt them just enough to get them totally melted and shiny, but not to the point of being really hot or bubbly. I did mine in about 30 second increments, stirring until they were just melted and pretty warm. Then add the last 4 ounces of chocolate chips, stirring until they are melted in.

Now, remove the dough balls from the fridge, and place one in the chocolate mixture, roll it in the chocolate until it is coated, remove from the chocolate with a fork, scraping the excess chocolate onto the side of the bowl, and carefully push the truffle off the fork onto the silicone mat. Repeat with each truffle. Top with a small sprinkle of sea salt.

Let the truffles refrigerate for 2 hours up to overnight, until the chocolate is a nice hard matte shell. Try not to eat them all, and enjoy!
***

Here’s what I did differently for my round two: no change to the amounts but I substituted almond meal and chunky unsalted almond butter. Cocoa as above, but less chocolate chips as I hate to waste and I ended up with far more melted chocolate than I actually needed the first time. Also, I used a dark chocolate chip that is less sweet. Divine (she said modestly…)

The thing I learned, also, that wasn’t completely clear to me (although probably those of you who have a hand at making candies probably figured this out) is this. When you are making the small balls from the warm paste, its best to portion them out, chill them for a few hours, and *then* roll them into actual balls. This would be a fun thing to have kids help with, I think.

Then chill them again (amazing how quickly your hands can heat up a small ball of yumminess) before rolling them in the melted chocolate. Chill yet again and enjoy. I set mine on parchment on a cookie sheet for the chilling part and it worked just fine.

This is all pretty easy – mostly it takes time to chill everything in stages. Here’s what they looked like in case you’re curious.

batch one, step one (roughly)

batch one, step one (roughly)

finished! mmm...

finished! mmm…

Mine are (obviously) not as perfect as Measure and Whisk’s; they have a bit of that “clay ashtray” (or, as we now say, “artisinal”) air about them, but they sure went like hotcakes and I was hard pressed to restrain myself. I’m thinking I may try a hazelnut meal and hazlenut butter next time… mmmmmmm!

Do let us know if you try these, OK? Stay safe and warm, enjoy your friends and family and any holiday you choose during these wintry times!

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