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52 Things I Learned In One Year – Part 1 of 3

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Photo by Stephanie Bartz Photography

Some people have mentioned to me that planning all of my cooking and baking must have been the hardest part about committing to a one-year project. I confess however, that it was actually the blogging that was most difficult. While I truly love to cook and bake and take on “never made before in my kitchen” kinda projects, prior to this I had never kept any kind of diary, especially not about my life in the kitchen. You see I’m not really the “journaling type” so accounting for the highlights or lowlights of each week and sharing it with friends and strangers, and stranger friends, was quite difficult for me at times. Putting it all out there to the world without knowing what kind of response I would get was rather intimidating. Before I started the project I read the many “snarky” comments people would make on various blogs and I was a bit apprehensive about the first one I might receive. But the snarky never came. In fact I was surprised at how the positive responses really encouraged me and kept me going when I felt like quitting. Thank you all so much for that!

SO… that brings me to write about what I learned over this past year. This comes in no particular order, mostly from the ramblings in my head, however it leaves me a little surprised at the impact this has had on me, as well as the lives of others I now know through this experience.

A Year Of Learning, Inconveniently

52 – Convenience foods are packed, I mean PACKED, with sodium. Start to cook it all from scratch and your taste buds will notice the difference in a few short months.

51 – When making pasta, make sure you locate your flour well in which you will add the eggs, AWAY from the edge of the table. Cautious as you may be with stirring it together, the egg will break the wall and you will have to keep it from running onto the floor.

50 – I love bread and nothing compares to bread fresh from the oven.

49 – You can bake bread with a crusty, artisan-like texture by adding moisture to the oven. Keep a spray bottle with filtered water on hand to mist the top of the loaf. When using a baking stone, set a cast iron pan in the oven when heating, and add 2-3 ice cubes to the pan to create steam as you slide the loaf on the stone.

48 – When making mozzarella cheese remember one thing: kneading and stretching curds hot out of the microwave are quite honestly like touching the sun.

47 – I really, really, really hate cooking beans from scratch. Really.

46 – Someone in your life (aka: Mom) will try to feed you salty snack foods at every opportunity when she knows you are seriously trying to avoid them.

45 – A good stock (chicken or beef) takes 3-5 hours of slow simmer to give it a rich flavor. And a little fresh thyme is the secret ingredient.

44 – No one should have to buy chicken stock from the grocery store. It’s so economical to make, you can freeze it in whatever portion you like, it thaws in the microwave in no time, and it makes your house smell great while you’re making it.

43 – The secret is in the sponge, or in the starter. All great bread begins with a sponge or starter.

42 – The freezer is your best friend. You need a full upright or chest freezer to take on this type of cooking, without a doubt.

41 – Cooking from scratch requires a commitment to a production day once a week, if you have a busy work schedule and plan on eating a variety of foods.

40 – There aren’t many reasons to buy salad dressing when you can make great dressing yourself. You control the fat, the flavor, the salt, and the quality of ingredients. And there are plenty of good recipes out there.

39 – Mustard is one of the easiest condiments to make.

38 – Some of the best “foodies” live in Milwaukee and they have a great passion for sharing recipes. Check out many of them listed in my links of favorite food blogs, such as BURP, CakeWalk, Eating Milwaukee, and Good Graces!

To Be Continued…

52+ Weeks of Recipes

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Breads, Pastry, Pasta

Bagels

Cinnamon Raisin English Muffin Bread

Cornmeal Crackers

Corn Tortillas

Croutons

Egg Noodles

Eggless Pasta

Flax Crackers

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

Pie Crust (Curried Chicken Pot Pie)

Pizza Crust

Multi-Grain Sandwich Bread

Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas

Sweets & Breakfast Treats

Christmas Stollen

Chocolate Graham Crackers

Cinnamon Rolls Quick & Easy

Granola Number Five

Granola Bars

Whole Grain Pancakes

Beef

Bison Chili

Bison Stroganoff

chipotle meatloaf

Corned Beef & Cabbage

Lasagna

Pork

Frijoles Borrachos

Pork Carnitas

Posole

Tomatillo Pork Stew

Chicken or Turkey

Curried Chicken Pot Pie

Curried Turkey (or lamb) With Autumn Vegetables

Mediterranean Chicken with Potatoes

Tomatillo Chicken Dia de los Muertos

Vegetarian & Vegetables

Anasazi Bean Burgers

Corn Salsa

Rainbow Chard With White Beans

Refrigerator Kimchi

Roasted Tomatoes (oven dried)

Spring Asparagus Salad

Sushi

Super Lentil Dal

Sauces, Dressings & Condiments

Bechamel Sauce

Balsamic Salad Dressing

Buttermilk Ranch Salad Dressing

Coffee Bourbon BBQ Sauce

Marinara Sauce

Mustard

Pizza Sauce

Tomato Sauce

Tomatillo Salsa

Vita’s Pasta Sauce

Make It With Milk

Crock Pot Yogurt

Meyer Lemon Cheese

Recipe Request – Chocolate Graham Crackers

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It’s cold and rainy and just plain dreary outside today here in Milwaukee. So much for getting outside and spending some quality time in our gardens. To make the best of the day I think I need to get the house smelling of chocolate and comfort. These chocolate graham crackers were one of the best recipes I (well actually Lisa) discovered over the past year. The most difficult part of the recipe is waiting for them to cool down to a nice soft crunch before devouring the entire plate!

Chocolate Graham Crackers

½ cup all purpose flour

¾ cup whole wheat flour

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup dutch-process cocoa

1 ¼ cups powdered sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons cold milk

Preheat the oven to 325°and line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.

Whisk together the flours, salt, cocoa, sugar, and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Using a pastry blender or your fingertips, cut the butter into the flour mixture until evenly crumbly. In a separate bowl, combine the honey and milk, stirring until the honey dissolves. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and toss lightly with a fork until the dough comes together. Add a little more milk, ½ teaspoon at a time if necessary, to make the dough pliable but not sticky.

Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and fold it over gently until smooth. Divide the dough in half, keeping the other half covered with plastic.

Put your half of dough onto the parchment paper or Silpat, and roll it into a rectangle about 10 x 14 inches. The dough will be about 1/16 of an inch thick (pretty darn thin). Trim the edges and prick the dough evenly with a fork. Repeat with the remaining half of dough on the other piece of parchment. Place the parchment/dough on a baking sheet, and bake for 15 minutes or until they begin to brown. Immediately cut them into rectangles with a pizza wheel or knife. Transfer on a rack to cool. They should crisp up as they cool down.

52 Weeks By The Numbers

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Let the countdown begin. When I began my year of inconvenience I thought it might be interesting if I kept track of the quantity of staples I was buying and making. Not everything mind you, but mainly the items I would have typically purchased conveniently at the supermarket (or in this case at my co-op). I’m pretty sure I missed tracking a number of items, or at least it feels that way now recalling how many weeks these items were part of my at times, frustrating routine.

Here’s a glimpse into my 52 weeks of inconvenience, primarily cooking or baking for just the two of us (although some food items became gifts, while others were served to our dinner guests. I started to provide links to the recipes below, but decided instead to develop a recipe listing in one of my future posts just to stretch this out a bit further.

Ingredients Made From Scratch
40pounds of flour(14 lbs. whole wheat flour and 26 lbs. white flour) 40 loaves of sandwich bread, 7 loaves of cinnamon raisin bread, 3 loaves banana bread, 6 Christmas Stollens, 24 hamburger buns, 24 flour tortillas, 24 popovers, 18 bagels, 12 pita breads, 12 pizza crusts, 4 batches flax seed crackers, 2 batches chocolate graham crackers, 8 crusts for chicken pot pies, and 4 pounds of pasta. Oh, and a crazy cake, cinnamon rolls, cookies, and I’m sure I missed a few other things as well. Whew!
52 pounds of tomatoes 144 ounces diced tomatoes, 96 ounces tomato sauce, 80 ounces pizza sauce, 54 ounces pasta sauce, 28 ounces roasted tomatoes. And I was worried I wouldn’t have enough to last.
8 pounds of rolled oats, 5 pounds of pecans 21 pounds of granola8 batches of granola bars (200 of 2×2 squares)The rest of the pecans were used in the Christmas Stollen
5 pounds Masa 7 batches (80) corn tortillas. I love making these and likely will not go back to buying them pre-made.
13 pounds of whole chickens and 13 pounds of turkey breast About 4 chicken and turkey dinners as well as leftovers for sandwiches, soup, and stock.
448 ounces (or 56 cups) of stock Chicken soup, veggie soup, turkey soup, lamb stew, tomatillo pork stew, chicken pot pies, dozens of rice dishes and other crock pot dishes
48 Tablespoons or 24 ounces Instant yeast Sandwich bread, cinnamon raisin bread, stolen, hamburger buns, bagels, pita bread, pizza crusts.
52 ounces honey Breads, 8 batches of granola bars (200 squares)
48 ounces maple syrup Granola (sweetener) and pancakes. Life is so sweet.
10 pounds fair trade sugar Okay that number should scare me into a five-mile hike. Yikes, that’s a lot of baking.
3 pounds (48 ounces) brown sugar Granola, some breads, granola bars, cookies
8 pounds (256 tablespoons) unsalted butter Wow, really? What did I make with all that butter? I only use unsalted for baking and some cooking. And I wonder why I gained 6 pounds this past year…
97 ounces or 12 cups of olive oil Salad dressing, marinades, pasta sauce, and all of those made from scratch dinners.
20 dozen eggs (that’s 240) Okay, if Lisa and I averaged 4 eggs/week total for breakfast that would be understandable. Many, many eggs were used in baking and pasta – and the rest made for some great breakfasts.

My year ended on April 17, and I still have some of the tomatoes and chicken stock in my basement freezer. I remember when I was so worried about putting up enough tomatoes last summer, to last me through the winter, and much to my surprise I didn’t use them all. We’ve eaten a few meals over the past two weeks (since the year officially ended) that were part of my stocking up on frozen dinners. Things like curried chicken pot pie, turkey meatloaf, turkey noodle soup, and pork carnitas have added a bit of value to what might have otherwise been a convenience food splurge for me.

In fact, over the past two weeks not a whole lot has changed for me… uhm yet. I baked two breads, made a batch of granola, one pizza, a number of from-scratch dinners, and averaged at least 3 out of 7 lunches from scratch each week. What did change is that I purchased pasta, chips, salsa, breakfast cereal, canned beans, a few salads and one sandwich from my co-op. I have a half-gallon of milk in the refrigerator right now for making yogurt (tonight) and I also think twice before buying anything convenient, partly out of habit and partially out of guilt. Could I actually be a changed woman? Only the next 50 weeks will tell for certain.

Week 52 – The End Of The Road?

For a reason I may have never quite imagined, I’ve been putting off writing this post all week. I guess it was too hard to envision some 52 weeks, 365 days ago that I would be lamenting the end of an experiment that at times brought me to tears and frustration. But I actually am a little bit sad. There’s a routine I think I’ll miss, and other parts that I hope will stick, like the discipline I learned in planning out our food options each week. My year of inconvenience is technically over.

So a lot of people are asking me, what’s next? While I know I’m typically an over-committer, I can’t quite bring myself to commit to the next steps that follow this journey. I think I want to keep blogging. In fact I have several posts planned after this one – things like the 52 things you should know about inconvenience – along with a few production totals of the things I made routinely during the year.

What I absolutely loved about this year was the discovery, although I feel like I still haven’t discovered what I need to know about dough, and flavors, and techniques, and canning, and growing food. I discovered for instance, that a lot of the food processing we take for granted really takes a lot of time (like turning a bushel of tomatoes into future ingredients). While others, such as corn tortillas from scratch really aren’t a bother at all. But the discovery doesn’t really end here does it?

My week officially ended on Saturday, April 16. That meant our Saturday shopping trip after work was geared towards what I would eat on Sunday and a few days that followed. I didn’t want to go too crazy, all hyped up on the idea of convenience foods. After all many shoppers in my store now know me as the “woman who cooks from scratch” and tarnishing that reputation may not be as easy as I thought it would be. Ha – who am I kidding? The first thing in my shopping cart was the box of Cinnamon Harvest Cereal I’ve craved since I first tried it on my December Florida vacation. If you’ve followed my blog all along you may have guessed the second and third items into the cart were canned beans and package pasta even though I didn’t have any plans for them. I just took comfort in knowing they would again be available in my pantry when I wanted them. My disclaimer for this picture is that the cookies were Lisa’s first convenience purchase. Give her credit now for putting up with this for a full year (thank you sweetie).

I actually held off on buying any chips until Thursday night the following week (which in our house became a celebration we like to call Taco Thursday), a quick meal I haven’t been able to make very quickly for over a year. So if you really want to know, the convenience foods I purchased and consumed the week following week 52 were:

  1. Cinnamon Wheat Cereal (which I ate 4 of the 7 days)
  2. Garlic bread chips from a local bakery (oh what a decadent impulse item they were)
  3. Caesar Salad (my lunch one day from our co-op’s deli)
  4. An antipasto sandwich and balsamic beets (another lunch I split with Lisa)
  5. Canned San Marzano tomatoes, which made a perfectly wonderful oven-roasted pasta sauce, and ditalini packaged pasta (thank you chef John at Food Wishes)
  6. And the grand convenience meal of all: whole wheat tortillas, Spanish olive salsa, and local tortilla chips for a wonderful bison taco dinner

That slow roasted tomato sauce was super simple to make. We doubled the batch so we could freeze part of it. Serving it with goat cheese and ditalini pasta makes for a grown up spin on Spaghetti-O’s. Plus the house smelled fantastic all day!
So instead of focusing just on what was convenient, know that I haven’t totally fallen hard off the wagon in the first week. I still baked bread and granola, packed up or made three lunches and four dinners from scratch, and have so far avoided anything that resembles processed junk food.

I guess what this all means is to let the year, after the year, adventure begin!

Week 51 – Relief or Regret?

I’ve been feeling a little guilty about my second to last week of this challenge. Not because I was cheating per se, but because I was away from home on business for almost the entire week and couldn’t do any cooking. Really Pam… guilty because you can’t cook? What has this year done to me?

I guess I wasn’t thinking too carefully about the return trip home, as my guilt turned into panic looking at the empty refrigerator and pantry. No bread, no granola, no leftovers for lunch. You see most of the time I’m away from home Lisa lives like a bachelorette and eats fish from a can, or just cooks a head of cauliflower for dinner – all the foods I don’t really like to smell in the house. Speaking of smells, when I returned home my kimchi from the week prior was fermenting away in the refrigerator but putting off what I thought was a rather unpleasant odor. In fact, as the week went by the kitchen kept getting smellier and smellier each time we opened the refrigerator door. “Good lord, we’re going to eat that stuff?” I couldn’t believe how bad it smelled. Lisa got out two plastic storage bags and double-bagged it. Well that didn’t help, in fact it was really starting to smell more and more like dead fish. Fast forward to Tuesday night and as I’m digging through the vegetable drawer I stumble upon the tiny little bowl of chopped garlic I put in the refrigerator about two weeks ago. Yes it was covered with a small piece of plastic wrap, but that didn’t stop the wretched stench from escaping it. Thank goodness it wasn’t the kimchi (that I almost threw out) because I finally had the courage to taste it and my, it is soooooo delicious.

I returned home late Friday night, thankful to sleep in my own bed again but even more thankful to leave all the conference buffet food behind. When you mainly cook everything from scratch you really begin to notice the amount of salt and fat in other foods. I came home to a weekend of get-togethers with friends and family, so my cooking from scratch jump started on Saturday preparing some rock shrimp tacos (with homemade tortillas) , pork carnitas, and guacamole for the evening food fest at my DPW gathering. The DPW’s (my four girlfriends and I are an unexpected group that stumbled upon each other from the professional world), we gather quarterly to laugh hard and often, cry mostly from laughing so hard, and to eat some really great food. For anyone who cares the DPW stands for Dirty Polish Whores and really has nothing to do with who we are (trust me), but has stuck with us over the years. Each time we get together I believe we unintentionally try to outdo each other in the food category, much to the surprise and pleasure of all of us. While my homemade corn tortillas entered into the “wow” category, Margaret’s Whoreo cookies (yes you read that right), were da bomb.

After a long and laugh-filled Saturday night, Sunday came a bit earlier than expected and a Sunday brunch invitation meant getting up earlier than my body wanted to in order to make the asparagus salad. Ah yes, it is spring and the best part of spring in my opinion are the sweet delicious stalks of asparagus. While April is a bit early here for any local crops, it is coming into our store from domestic sources which are much more delicious than from Mexico or Chile. I used a recipe from my co-op that was a great accompaniment to hot ham sandwiches at brunch, but went even better with the BBQ chicken I made for dinner. We had a rare day in spring here in Wisconsin where the temperature got way above the 60 degrees we would all settle for, so when the temperature peaks at 80 everyone in my neighborhood dusts off their grill and throws on some kind of meat. Since barbeque sauce was on my list of things to make that I had never before tried, I pulled together what was more of a marinade but it did however give the chicken both a sweet and savory flavor. As the recipe says, “deep flavor, rich tasting… fabulous with steak, chicken or pork.” The recipe said to “mop” this on at the end of the grilling process so the skin wouldn’t char, but I decided to brave it and marinade the chicken pieces in the sauce for about an hour before cooking. I made sure to keep the chicken away from the direct heat of the coals so I could continue to mop on the sauce as they cooked. While I do prefer the tomato-based barbeque sauces, this one was really rather good and since I have some left over I will be using it again.

I’m almost at the end of week 52 as I’m writing this post, and feeling a little sad that this adventure is almost over. Or is it? I mean once you start something like this does the adventure really ever end? It is food we’re talking about, and while I learned a lot about cooking from scratch over the past 52 weeks, there is still so much more to learn. So my question is, should I keep blogging? What do you think?

Coffee Bourbon BBQ Sauce (from The Gourmet Cookbook)

1 cup strong brewed coffee

½ cup bourbon

½ cup packed light brown sugar

½ cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat (a simmer) for about 30-45 minutes. Stir occasionally. You want the sauce to cook down to about 1 cup so the flavors can develop nicely. The sauce will be thin.

If you are cooking the meat over direct heat, the recipe says to brush on the sauce at the end of the cooking so that the sugars don’t char.

Spring Asparagus Salad (from Outpost Natural Foods Co-op)

1 ½ pounds fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon tamari (soy sauce)

1 teaspoon white sugar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Salt to taste

Whisk together the vinegars, tamari, sugar, Dijon, and oils. Make sure you whisk them vigorously in order to emulsify. Set aside.

Bring a pot of lightly-salted water to a boil and add the asparagus. Cook for 1-4 minutes, until just tender but still mostly firm. Remove from the water and rinse under cold water immediately to stop the cooking.

Place the asparagus in a large bowl and drizzle the dressing over the asparagus, tossing it until it is evenly coated. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and toss again.

Chill or serve immediately.

Week 50 – Inspiration Comes In Many Forms

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My inspiration in week 50 came in the form of two pretty amazing experiences. The first was the launch of my co-op’s new magazine, appropriately titled GRAZE. The second was a culinary trip to one of the newer Asian supermarkets in town called Pacific Coast. When I put the two amazing experiences together, it resulted in a batch of homemade kimchi, something I’ve never considered making before this.

GRAZE is the inspiration of our fabulous marketing team at Outpost Natural Foods, and the very essence of what my co-op is all about. Subtitled, “around the kitchen table” GRAZE promises to tempt novice and experienced foodies alike with the products, flavors, and recipes of our amazing local artisans. The magazine, only available in our stores, is not supported by any outside advertising so that we could be sure and have the space to talk about the foods and vendors we love. The inspiration I drew upon this week was a recipe we published from local chef Jan Kelly from the restaurant Meritage. We gave Jan a challenge of one ingredient that she needed to design a meal around, and that was kimchi. Jan of course even made the kimchi from scratch, so I figured, why don’t I try?

Making kimchi from scratch meant picking up some traditional flavors to stock up my pantry, which meant a trip to Pacific Coast. Now growing up as a child of the 60’s and 70’s, an Asian-inspired dinner at home usually meant chicken chow mein, often but not always from a can. I’m sure we had an Asian grocery store in town back then, small as it might have been, but my family would have never ventured to see it. I do however remember going to San Francisco for the first time, must have been around 1972, and my parent’s friends took us to Chinatown for dinner. My world of Asian flavors was expanded that night, not only on the streets and in the marketplace, but also at the dinner table. When I first heard about Kimchi a number of years ago what I heard was that it was some kind of pickled concoction of rotting food that was buried in a jar (yes, in the ground) for a year or so until it was ready to… um, eat. But if you search for it online you’ll see that it can be interpreted a number of different ways, everything from pasta sauce to pickles. Everyone has a different take on it and claims theirs is the best. At least that means it can be customized to include whatever your favorite vegetable or flavor. There were at least three very different looking varieties of kimchi offered fresh at Pacific Coast.

My first impression of Pacific Coast was that I had just stepped into the Mecca of Asian convenience foods. During the past 50 weeks of inconvenience I really haven’t been spending much time at all in the center aisles of any store, so it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to me that foreign convenience foods would be so enticing. Freezer upon freezer was filled with noodles, pot stickers, buns, shumai dumplings, purple yams, mochi ice cream, and an inordinate amount of fish balls. Lisa began filling her shopping basket almost immediately in what appeared to be a convenience inspired food frenzy. Meanwhile I was having fun looking at all of the graphics and marketing ploys used to sell products to people of differentcultures, knowing how easily it is to buy into the kitsch of it all. Yes, we came home with the giant tin of cream crackers (perfectly toasted and flaky like a pie crust), rice crackers, udon noodles, as well as the ingredients needed for my kimchi. Heck, I could easily be eating those convenience foods in just two short weeks from now, if there is any left that is.

So I started the kimchi that afternoon, before leaving town for a week on business. That meant Lisa would finish making the kimchi as the first step was to let the cabbage tossed with salt and sugar, sit overnight in the refrigerator. She said that she modified the recipe somewhat, using two carrots and grating them instead of julienne, and using a little less chili powder not knowing how potent it was going to be. The size of the cabbage will definitely determine the yield, our batch made about a quart.

I’m really looking forward to getting home from this business trip I’m on, so I can try it on a grilled pork or chicken taco, or with fish as chef Jan had prepared. Do share your kimchi experiences with me, I’d really love to learn more about it.

 

Refrigerator Kimchi (from Jan Kelly, chef and owner of Meritage Restaurant)

1 head Napa cabbage

2 tablespoons Kosher salt

½ cup sugar plus two tablespoons

3 tablespoons chopped garlic

3 to 4 tablespoons chopped ginger

¼ cup soy sauce

¼ cup fish sauce

½ cup Asian chili powder

2 teaspoons salted shrimp (in a jar)

½ cup julienned carrots (optional)

½ cup sliced green onions (optional)

Water if needed

  1. Cut the cabbage in half then cut crosswise into one-inch pieces.
  2. Toss cabbage with salt and two tablespoons sugar and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator.
  3. Make the bring: combine the garlic, ginger, Asian chili powder, fish sauce, soy sauce, shrimp, and ½ cup sugar. The consistency will be like creamy dressing. If it’s too thick, add a little water.
  4. Add the carrots and green onions to the brine if using.
  5. Drain any water off the cabbage and add it to the brine. Make sure and coat it really well.
  6. Cover and/or store in jars in your refrigerator. Let it sit for at least 24 hours before using. The longer it sits, the stronger the flavor, so keep trying it until you find the flavor that you like.

We used less hot pepper and it was still plenty zesty. We also cut back on the soy sauce and fish sauce because both are quite salty. That’s the beauty of kimchi, it’s infinitely customizable to your taste!

 

Weeks 48 & 49 – From Blur To Bliss

At this point week 48 is a blur. When you’re in a job where you can’t pass your work on to anyone else, preparing to take a vacation means you will really need it when the week is over. And so we move on to week 49.

From my experience a vacation in the southwest, specifically the mountains of New Mexico, is a total sensory overload. From the heat and flavor of New Mexican red chilies to the sweet smoky of the green, the clear blue sky in the daytime to the star-studded sky of the evening, the unmistakable aroma of the piñon fires to the short-term effects of the altitude – my senses were definitely on overload.

We began our adventure in Santa Fe at the local farmer’s market, with the purchase of red chili powder, fresh goat cheese with green chili, German butter potatoes, farm fresh eggs, a giant bunch of rainbow chard and multi-grain bread. I was having a blast. My last visit to a farmer’s market was this past summer when my biggest concern was how many fresh tomatoes could I buy in order to get me through the winter. But this time it was about the food and more importantly the food already made by others. My vacation rules allow for the convenience food already prepared by someone other than myself, so I pretty much had to contain myself from purchasing every roll, cookie or bread in sight. The market in Santa Fe was one of the better ones I’ve been to – very well organized, a great variety of options, and to carry on with my theme – total sensory overload (which believe me was a really good thing).

This vacation was yet another art retreat unlike any other I’ve taken or written about. The ten of us, all women (mostly retired) stayed in the Taos home of a local artist whose colorful artwork filled the walls of most every room, and whose sense of style created an atmosphere of curiosity and wonder. It was the perfect setting for creativity, in both art and food and as one of the designated cooks for the week I saw the opportunity to let my food love shine using the foods I purchased from the market. Leading with the two pounds of granola I baked before the trip (which our instructor joyfully claimed as her prize), I decided I would bake us some bread.

From my year’s experience so far I’ve learned enough about baking to know that things like heat, humidity, or even altitude can have a serious impact on the results. With iPad in hand, Lisa researched any potential precautions I should take in baking bread in the thin and dry air at 7,000 feet. Breads rise quickly at high altitude and the dough needs to be adjusted for moisture. Yes indeed, my English muffin bread that typically takes sixty minutes to rise took only 30 minutes to get to a stage of puffiness that kinda’ scared me a bit. The dough was beautiful and it filled the loaf pan looking like a professional had their hand at forming it. Ha – was I going to impress everyone with this bread! My next challenge was adjusting the baking time, not only for the difference in altitude but because I was using a convection oven. Okay, that meant I should lower the heat by twenty-five degrees and shorten the amount of baking time. Piece of cake… er bread. If I thought this bread looked beautiful before it went into the oven it looked even more amazing coming out of the oven. I couldn’t figure out what was the big deal about altitude adjustment? I was totally for this high altitude baking.

Well as you may have guessed that feeling of amazement and success of was pretty short-lived. The next morning I put on the pots of coffee and started to slice into my perfect loaf, setting up my cinnamon raisin “toast bar” for breakfast. The first slice was beautiful although not quite the usual texture. The second slice was equally as enticing to the on-lookers now forming over my shoulder and I couldn’t have been more proud of the treat I was getting ready for them. Onto the third slice, and the fourth which started to be a bit more crumbly with a slight hole in the middle. Well take a look at the photo because it wasn’t just a slight hole that had formed, it was a giant cavern right through the center of the bread. Needless to say we got a laugh out of it and toasted each slice in several pieces. Ah, my little lesson on baking in high altitude.

One meal that did go well was one I made using the fresh rainbow chard and potatoes from the farmer’s market. Fortunately for me I had convenience foods on hand, my first encounter with canned beans and a carton of chicken broth since last April. I served the beans and chard directly over the steamed German butter potatoes for a quick, simple, and delicious meal.

And what would vacation be without souvenirs? Many of mine, were of course, food related from sun-dried red chilies to smoky chitpotles. I plan on recreating the flavors of New Mexico at home, but I might wait until using canned beans are ‘legal’ after the year is through!

 

Rainbow Chard With White Beans

1 large bunch (about one pound) red chard or rainbow chard, rinsed well

½ cup shallots, sliced

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ cup white wine

¼ to ½ cup chicken broth (or vegetable broth)

1 can (15 ounces) white beans, great northern, navy, or cannelinni (drained)

Salt and pepper to taste

Remove a good portion of the stems from the chard, reserving as much as you might enjoy in the dish. (The reason you’re removing them is that they cook slower than the leafy green part, so they need to be cooked separately.)

Once the stems are removed, roughly chop the leafy green portion of the chard and set aside. Now dice up some of the stems, along with the shallots and garlic.

Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan, and add the shallots and diced chard stems. Sauté the mixture until the shallots begin to caramelize, about 8-10 minutes. The chard stems should begin to soften at this point. Add the minced garlic and stir for about one minute to release the flavor.

Add the white wine to the pan to deglaze it of any browning from the vegetables, and slowly add your chard greens allowing each addition to cook down a bit before adding more greens to the pan. Cook the greens stirring frequently for about 10 minutes.

Now add the white beans to the mixture, along with the chicken or vegetable stock. Cover the pan and let simmer on low heat for another 10 minutes, allowing a good portion of the liquid to absorb into the dish. Season with salt and pepper.

This can be served as either a main dish or a side dish. Serves 4.

 

Week 47 – St. Patty’s Is Simple, So Do It

I struggled again with what to write this week. No whining, no complaining, no sniveling as the Irish say. It was a tough week for me, as tough as week six was last May. So many hours spent working, so little time spent preparing for meals. So when faced with those pressures this past week I learned a few more cooking shortcuts. Too little too late you ask? Perhaps, but it gave me some peace of mind in terms of finishing up what I’ve started.

Short cut number one, bake off the easy things while enjoying your morning cup of coffee. I made a one-pound batch of granola on Saturday morning, which took me 10 minutes to combine the ingredients and 20 minutes to bake (stirring two times at each 10 minute baking interval). How easy was that? It didn’t need to be time away from a fun or productive day (okay, it was another day of work) but we were out of granola and believe me, it almost got ugly the day before when I ate the last bit of it. I did the same thing on Sunday morning, making up a batch of my favorite granola bars. Again it took about 20 minutes toasting the grains and combining them with the sweeteners, and another 20 minutes of baking. The second delicious accomplishment that didn’t dig into my Sunday hours one bit.

Short cut number two, and you still have two days to accomplish this yourself, is to make yourself a nice Saint Patrick’s Day Corned Beef and Cabbage dinner in the slow cooker. Seriously, this was one of the easiest meals I’ve made this entire year, and was right up there on the list of deliciousness. What could be better than a one-pot meal that cooks while you are away at work, filling your kitchen with that savory aroma of someone slaving over the stove all day? Just make sure you don’t over-cook it, so if you have a timer or a crock pot with a timing function, set it for 6-7 hours just to be safe.

Here is my St. Patrick’s offering, the quick, easy, and delicious recipe. I don’t think I spent any more than 25 minutes all together in gathering the ingredients from my refrigerator, peeling, chopping and putting them into the Crockpot. Enjoy with a tall glass of Guinness after that long day of work.

St. Patrick’s Day Corned Beef And Cabbage

One 3-4 pound piece of uncooked corned beef

2 cups water

One 12-ounce beer (Guinness or any kind of lager will do)

1 small head of green cabbage, cored and quartered

1 large onion, quartered

2-3 large carrots, sliced diagonally into bite-size pieces

6-8 red potatoes, peeled slightly (not thoroughly) and quartered

2-3 generous sprigs of fresh thyme

1-2 bay leaves

 

Lay the corned beef on the bottom of the slow cooker and top with all of the vegetables, thyme, and bay leaves. Pour in the beer and water. Cover and cook for 6-8 hours until the beef is tender.

Transfer the beef to a cutting board and cut into thin slices. Serve in shallow bowls surrounded by the vegetables, and make sure you serve some of the cooking liquid over the top because that is the truly delicious part!

 

Week 46 – An Einstein I’m Not!

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What does a middle-aged German girl like me know about bagels? Well I know they were a childhood favorite of mine growing up in the 1960’s in a community with one of the first bagel shops in the area. Bagels and lox were a treat in our house and I learned to appreciate both the appropriate texture and flavor at a very young age. We didn’t have the Brugger’s or Einstein’s shops known today – no these shops were small local bakeries that perhaps learned the craft of bagel baking in New York or Chicago – and opened up in my neighborhood I’m guessing on the demand from the Jewish community.

What do I know about bagels today? Well first of all I haven’t eaten a bagel in more than 46 weeks. Prior to my voyage into the from scratch food routine, I had avoided bagels for a couple of years because of the calorie content – a whopping 72 calories per ounce – or about 364 calories for an average size bagel. Spread on the cream cheese and we’re talking 1/3 of the calories I might consume in an entire day. But I got a craving for bagels this week and naturally if I wanted them, I would have to make them myself.

Research led me to the particular recipe I’ve included in this post – not too technical for my abilities – but descriptive of what I remembered about the texture and flavor of a really authentic bagel. A bagel by definition is known as dense, chewy and rather doughy with a nicely browned and crispy crust. That’s the bagel I was in search of!

Naturally I wanted some kind of cheese spread to go along with my bagel. Since I didn’t have the necessary mesophilic starter for cream cheese, and since I was hoping to do something low-fat, I decided to use this recipe that I’ve had my eye on since getting my cheese making book for Christmas. It’s super simple to make, and since you add your own salt and/or herbs, it can take on whatever flavor profile you love. I was happy to see Meyer lemons were in season, as they tend to be a bit sweeter than regular lemons (they are a cross between a lemon and either a mandarin or common orange).

While these two recipes took up a big part of my Sunday time (ie: I prepared no other food for the week), they were really worth the effort. I brought the majority of them into work today at the delight of my co-workers, or at least that’s what they tell me. Enjoy!

 

Meyer Lemon Cheese

½ gallon milk (I used 2%, you need a little milk fat)

¼ cup lemon juice (I used Meyer Lemons)

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or other herbs

 

Heat the milk on the stove in a large pot, stirring frequently until it reaches 185-195°. Remove from the head, add the lemon juice to the milk, and stir. Cover the pot immediately and let rest for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes check you curds and whey. The whey should be clear and not milky. If it’s milky, add a little bit more lemon juice to the pot and wait a few minutes more.

Pour the curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth. I save the whey from both the curds dripping through the cheesecloth as well as from the rest of the cheese-making process. (see week 41)

Tie the corners of the cheesecloth and hang the curds over a bowl to drain for about an hour. Remove the curds from the bag and add the salt and herbs. My cheese was a bit dry, so I just added back some of the whey I had saved to make it creamier.

Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks, if it lasts that long.

 

Bagels (from the book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, by Hertzberg and Francois)

For The Dough

3 cups lukewarm water (100°F)

1 ½ tablespoons active dry yeast (2 packages)

1 ½ tablespoons Kosher salt

1 ½ tablespoons sugar

6 ¼ cups bread flour

Extra flour for dusting

Sesame seeds and/or poppy seeds

For The Boiling Pot

8 quarts water

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

This dough mixes best using a 14-cup capacity food processor with dough attachment, or a heavy-duty stand mixer with a dough hook. Mix the yeast, salt, and sugar with the water in the bowl of your mixer or food processor. Add the flour to form what will become a very sticky dough. If you don’t have a machine to use, keep your hands wet to incorporate all of the flour.

Cover the dough and allow it to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on the top), approximately 2 hours. You can use the dough immediately, but it may work better refrigerated for a few hours. I also read in Mark Bittman’s book, that refrigerating or resting the dough for several hours will also contribute to a more developed flavor.

Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat your oven to 450°F, with a baking stone (preferably) in the middle rack and an empty broiler tray or cast iron pan below. You will use the second pan to create steam. If you don’t have a baking stone, a lightly oiled baking sheet should work.

Generously dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 3-ounce piece of dough about the size of a small peach. Dust the piece with more flour (on your counter top as well) and shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go. (Tuck and spin, tuck and spin. You’re creating elasticity in the dough.) Set the dough ball on a floured surface and keep working the rest of the dough. Cover the balls loosely with a towel that has been lightly floured (you’ll use this towel again in a bit). Let the balls rest for 20 minutes.

Start you water boiling (don’t forget to add the sugar and baking soda once it begins to boil).

Next, punch your thumb through the dough ball to form the hole. Hold the dough in your hands and ease the hole open with your fingers as you rotate the dough in a circle. Your dough should look like a fat bicycle tire. The hole will get smaller as the dough rests, so don’t worry that it’s too big.

Drop the bagels into the simmering water one at a time, making sure they are not crowding one another (3-4 at a time). Let them simmer for 2 minutes, then turn them over to cook for one more minute. (I was so busy dropping bagels into the water and shaping the others that I forgot to take pictures. Whoops!)

Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and place them on a clean kitchen towel (the one you used to cover them) that is lightly floured. This will help absorb some of the excess water and keep them from sticking.

Place the bagels on a well-floured peel if you’re using a baking stone, or on a lightly greased baking sheet if you’re not using the stone. Sprinkle with poppy seeds and/or sesame seeds. Yes they looked funny, I was worried.

Slide the bagels directly onto the hot stone or baking sheet onto the middle oven rack. Throw 2 ice cubes into the broiler pan or cast iron pan and quickly close the door to keep the steam inside. Bake for about 20 minutes until brown and firm. Repeat process with the rest of the batches.

Oh and if you find my description or process to not be helpful, take a look at a post by the authors of the recipe.