Thursday, August 11, 2011

On primitive living (but it's not all that primitive, really)

Dear readers that may or may not have electricity or egg-beaters,

Lacking equipment, the hotel has caused us to come up with creative new techniques for cooking.

Fortunately for me, I had an old self-inflicted rule that is now serving me well.  For years, I insisted on doing everything in the kitchen by hand - I envisioned women two hundred years ago doing everything without the benefit of electricity, and I determined it would be prudent for me to be able to do without, too.  I just mean everyday sous-chef processes, like chopping and dicing and mixing.  I shunned things like electric mixers, stand mixers, food processors, and other human skill replacements.  I didn't give up such items as microwaves or light-bulbs (mere flame-replacements)!

Did you know that throwing baking soda on a fire in your oven will put it out?
Trust me, tossing water in would be a bad idea - this is, after all, the modern
age of electricity. 
Eventually I realized that, without the benefit of servants and scullery maids and live-in cooks, it would be much easier to take advantage of Useful Modern Inventions.  About a year into my marriage, my husband surprised me by buying a beautiful stand mixer for me - my "first child", as I jokingly refer to it, because I love it so much!  It has become my right-hand man in the kitchen.  During our normal home life, I used it about every day, and on baking day it would be in use for several hours.  I also started using an electric hand mixer that was given to us on our wedding day.

Scullery maids were the lowest on the house-help food
chain, and weren't usually even deemed important enough
to eat with the rest of the servants!  You'd find her eating
in the kitchen, keeping an eye on the bubbling pots.  

Yeah, I've made meringue without an electric mixer, and believe you me, it takes long enough.

Now that I am living in a hotel room with two other wives (Mrs P and the intrepid islander, Mrs T), and cooking with a bare minimum of Useful Tools, and virtually no electric gadgets, I am having to fall back on old skills I learned back in the day.

Finely minced? Yes sir!  Would I want to do this all by hand when canning
 five gallons of picalilli? Probably not, but I did once, because I had no choice. 

I've never been a big fan of washing multiple components after using an electric food processor, so I usually shred/dice/julienne/mince everything with a variety of sharpened knives.  I brought one with me, and used it to conveniently mince cabbage, carrots, onions, and celery for a pierogi/egg-roll filling.

I suppose this is not an average pantry, anyway; food next to clothes, next to dishes next to hair soap, next to cookbooks next to bath towels ...  Why should anything else be average around here?

The bottom blue tub is full of dishes like a drying rack, food scale, and baking
pans.  The box on top of that is full of books.  The smallest blue box is chock
full of spices.  The white box on the bottom is full of food such as tuna cans,
jell-O powder, dried fruit.  The blue box on top of that has baking ingredients like
flour, oil, and the like.  The canning boxes have jars of pickles and cider!  And
the lovely red suitcase is all of my clothes, yes, it is stuffed like a Thanks-
giving turkey ... 
A crock-pot serves as an excellent oven; so far I've had no trouble baking quickbreads like cake or cornbread in my small crock; sometimes the outer edge is a little crispier than the center, but generally speaking, just doubling the bake time and keeping the crock on high and the lid on tightly has produced delicious results.

A canning jar makes a useful candleholder,
especially when the power goes out, as it did
during a recent storm here!  However, I would
not recommend using a narrow-mouth jar unless
you don't want to can with it any more, because
it can be difficult to get the wax out! 
I was serving Gary a piece of leftover Dutch apple pie the other evening, and we had just enough cream in the fridge to make a little whipped cream.  Of course, we had no electric blender, so I improvised.

See the recipe below to learn how to improvise it on your own!

Making do,

Mrs H

Handmade Whipped Cream

I poured a half-cup heavy cream into a cool canning jar, added some sugar (1 to a few teaspoons, depending on your taste preference), and a dash of homemade vanilla extract that I brought with me.

I capped the jar tightly, tossed it to my husband, and got busy serving some leftover pie onto a plate and heating it up.  He shook the jar for a few minutes until finally, a vigorous shake produced no noticeable movement inside the jar.

I took off the lid, used a spatula to scrape it onto the pie, and we enjoyed our dessert.

Warning: this cream is not very stiff, and will melt quickly!  So serve it just before eating, and have it as cold as possible when mixing and serving.  

It's the blob!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Ever-So Weird and Well-Read Family; and, make your own recipe!

Dear judgmental reader,

Only I can call my family weird!  But don't worry, I do it enough for everyone. 

My mom and sisters were at home the other day and decided they needed to clean.  This is the conversation they held ...

The family that cleans together ...
Mom: This house is a mess.  Addresses daughter, Mandatory. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.

Mandatory: I regret that I have but one life to live.

Mom: Give me chores or give me death!

Second daughter, Mel-Belle: I have not yet begun to clean!!

If we are a product of our environment, and some would argue we are, then you now see why I am so strange ...


Mrs H

The Craving Cure: Applesauce

If reading the last post left you hungry for the real deal, let me leave you with a solution.  This is not a recipe - just instructions.  You are going to learn how to make your own recipe!
Apple selection: Technically, any kind will do. But some varieties are better for saucing than others; for instance, a Granny Smith will be tart, and might not be exactly what you had in mind.  If you like, use one-third Granny Smith, one third Golden Delicious, and one third of Red Delicious, for a flavorful blend.   There are many other sweet apples that lend themselves to saucing such as Gala, Fuji (Mr H's favorite), Jonathon, and others you may have in season in your area.  If they are a sweet snacking apple, chances are they'll work well for sauce. 

Water or cider
Heavy-bottomed pot
Optional: sugar, cinnamon, other spices of your choice

Write down the varieties of apples you use, and the weight before peeling/coring. 
Thoroughly wash the apples; peel (if desired) and core. 
For chunky applesauce: Cut into slices somewhat thicker than you would for apple pie; halve and put into the pot.
For smooth applesauce: Chop coarsely - eighths will do, but the smaller the pieces, the faster they'll cook.
Write down which option you used.  Did you peel them?  How finely did you chop them? 
Pour a little water or cider into your saucepan to prevent scalding (this is not strictly necessary, but I suggest it as all too often I turn around for thirty seconds and they stick!).  Throw in the apples.  Cover; let them cook and steam, stirring occasionally or constantly, depending on how high your heat source is, until they are as soft as you like.
Note the time they started cooking, and how frequently you lifted the lid to stir - a lot?  Once?  Every ten seconds? 
As they break down and begin to fall apart, add the sugar and cinnamon, if desired.  For the chunky sauce, break them down further with a potato masher if you want.
Add the sweeteners in measured increments - use a tablespoon, or a quarter-cup measure, etc; note how many times you added this measure. 

You can use applesauce to replace oils, or to halfway replace oils,
in quickbreads like johnnycake or spice cake.  Just use the same
measure, 1/2 cup sauce for 1/2 cup oil.  The cake will have a
somewhat denser crumb, and be slightly less moist. 

For chunky applesauce: remove from the stove when they are bubbling, falling apart, and juicy to the tenderness you desire.  Taste, and add additional sweetener if desired. 
For smooth applesauce: when they break apart readily with a fork, scoop them into a blender and blend until they are as smooth as you like. BE CAREFUL - if you overfill a blender with hot ingredients - i.e. much more than one-quarter/one-half full - it will explode on you.  I have scars to prove it! 
Return the blended apples to the pot on the stove - it will now want to bubble up and pop like Paint Pots of Yellowstone!  Taste and stir, adding any sweeteners you desire.
Write down which method you used, anything you found desirable or undesirable about the process, and how much additional sweeteners or spices you added.
Serve your delicious applesauce! 
Use your applesauce in recipes for cake,
muffins, breads ...
When you serve it, ask for a rating (use a letter grade, a five-point scale, or whatever works best for you) and for comments.  "Too sweet!  Perfectly smooth ... I like it chunky ... I like it less chunky ... I hate cinnamon ... Why is there peel in here ... You are a terrible cook ... Is this from that stupid blog ..." Be prepared for any comments, and never ever criticize the commenter for disliking your food - or you'll never get their honest opinion again!

Review your handwritten recipe and make changes, additions, or try it again the next day to test a new idea.  Make sure you name it after yourself, so you can be famous!!

Maybe this is the real appleasuce attack!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Applesauce Attack!

Dear saucy Reader, and I know you are,

Mr H and I love applesauce; last year we canned a couple hundred pounds of apples into sauce, producing quart after quart of a delicious three-apple blend of smooth sauce.  Miz Carmen and I canned even more apples into her family's favorite, a chunky blend with cinnamon and a little sugar. 

A little sugar. 

Just a little!

I'm pretty sure this cinnamon roll I bought at a local farmer's
market had more than just a little sugar in it .... 

Strolling through the local grocery store in town here, I thought Mr H might like some applesauce as it had been a long time since he'd been home.  I hadn't ever purchased applesauce before, because we always just made our own.  So after looking at all the jars and seeing that none were organic and none looked particularly better than the other, I just grabbed a random large jar and chucked it in the cart.  

Don't do it!!! Not recommended!!!
So, this afternoon Mr H and I sat down to a little supper and I served a bowl of applesauce.  I took one bite and gagged!  It was so sickeningly sweet that after two bites, I had to stop.  Na├»vely, my first thought was What kind of apples did they use, anyway!?   But, my next thought was the typically jaded thought that we home-canners tend to have from time to time - and how much artificial preservative did they use?? 

Gross - I flipped the jar around and saw that it was sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup!  

Betrayed by the sauce! 
Lesson of the day - always, always read the label, and when you don't need to read the label, read the label!!! 

Reading the label,
Mrs H

Editorial Note: A reader suggested this variety of widely available applesauce, which she has been purchasing with no complaint for some years.  There are no added sweeteners. 

Editorial Note Again: At a later date, a reader shared this article about moldy applesauce which was re-packaged for school lunches.  Several children were sickened by this; the FDA is investigating.  Shocking?  Yeah.  Surprising?  Definitely not.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hotel Room Potato Gnocchi by Mrs S

 Dear fellow carbohydrate and starch lovers,

In an earlier post, I made a reference to a mysterious Mrs S.  "Who," you asked, "is Mrs S?"  She is another Navy Wife - she lives in an apartment near the hotel where I am staying, only about ten minutes away.  She and I met in a morning kickboxing class at the gym, and she came over to our hotel room after class for an oatmeal-and-dried-fruit breakfast.

Somehow, we realized that we both share a passion for good food.

She is a vegetarian, a voracious reader, and a vigorous believer in organic produce.  Ah!  An oasis of cold, non-GMO water in a desert of Midwestern McDonalds and Walmart towns.  She is a reviewer for the Sacramento and San Francisco book reviews, and has already shared with me a stack of delicious books and recipes.

When I found out she had her own oven, I immediately suggested she invite me over to bake bread - I'd give her a cut, of course; as a serf, it was only fair that I pay my taxes!  She saw the wisdom of my generous offer (ha!) and said sagely, "There's something to be said for sharing an oven!"

The next day, I was at her house with pans of bread dough ready to bake.  Since then, she and I have had several festive baking affairs; most recently, we made some pies on a stormy morning.

Mrs S made a lattice-top cherry pie, I made a cast-iron skillet Dutch apple pie,
and she made two pans of rustic hoe-cake!  
After baking pies in the morning at her apartment, we made a dinner that evening in the hotel.  Potato gnocchi in a homemade marinara sauce!  Four couples sitting on various beds, chairs, and the floor, eating from shared plates!

Fortunately, I have yet to meet any strangers here in Illinois.

Cooking and now baking happily,

Mrs H

Hotel Room Potato Gnocchi
Dress this up as much as you like by adding chopped cooked vegetables, meats, and herbs.  

2 to 2-1/2 lbs potatoes
1 - 2 cups flour
1 egg
Sauce (alfredo, marinara, four-cheese, etc)

Peel (if desired), quarter, and boil the potatoes.  Mash or rice them until they are perfectly smooth.  Mix in one egg, and then begin pouring in flour and kneading with a spoon and then by hand, until it takes on the consistency of a very thick dough.  (I used a mixture of white, whole wheat, and cornmeal - you could use any flour.)  Try not to knead the dough to death, or it will be a bit tough.

I kept mixing, while Mrs S kept pouring flour over the mound!

Roll pieces into slender logs and chop into short, 1/2 inch stubs.

Drop the pieces into a pot of boiling water; as they float to the top, skim them out and drain in a colander.  Place in a mixing bowl and add sauce a little at a time to keep from sticking together.  (You could rinse them in cold water, too, but we did not do this.)

Mrs S set them carefully in the hot water so she would not be splattered!

Serve piping hot!  I dashed some Louisiana Hot Sauce on mine ;)

This rich dinner of gnocchi, hoe-cake, and pie was so filling, we were all feeling
lazy and happy afterwards!  



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