Thursday, April 30, 2015

Meant to Be...

36 years is a long time to do anything.  Really….if someone told you that you had to drive the same car for 36 years, you’d probably think they were crazy.  All those dings and dents, layers of paint, worn out upholstery, sagging springs, cloudy windshield, the MILES….not to mention the strange noises, weird smells, and all the little defects you finally gave up on fixing and just pretend not to notice anymore.  But then again, it’s COMFORTABLE….you have your butt-print in the seat, the stations programed just how you like em, and you know exactly what to do if you really need to make it go – it’s like a part of you.  As long as it never leaves you stranded, it’s been there for you rain or shine, why break in an unknown?
So yeah… 36th wedding anniversary is coming up in May, and it’s hard to believe neither of us has wrapped the other around a tree or launched into a ravine.  I kid…sort of.  As I get older (and I’m fairly certain it has to do with hormone depletion) I’m much more mellow about the man bringing home another lawnmower he found in the dumpster at work, or when I stumble across a stash of shiny new tools bought on the sly at Harbor Freight and put away in the garage immediately rather than on the dining room table to grow cobwebs until he is directed to remove them or dig them out of the recycling bin.  I try to save my righteous indignation for work - peeps should be paid to fear me.

As for the wear and tear, at least we are a matched pair….he has the crinkle between his eyebrows and he HATES that I point it out when he’s mad about something, I have the “mad mouth” wrinkle that makes me look like my mom/gramma in their golden years, and we have matching aches, pains, and titanium stents – we really do believe in togetherness.  But there is nothing wrong with comfortable....I like that I don’t have to suck in my gut all the time, and if I need to, hell, there’s underwear for that.

Speaking of comfort, again with the soup….it’s a warm cozy hug in a bowl, and like a fuzzy blanket will relax you, fill your tummy, and put you to sleep.  Must be old people food….we eat more and more soup as we move through life, I’m thinking it’s the geezer version of baby food.  Easy to digest, not a lot of chewing, and plenty of veggies to keep you regular – it’s geriatric genius!  This recipe came about because I’ve always wanted to make it, but didn’t know where to find the little pasta balls.  I think there is a specific pasta for this, but found Israeli couscous to look suspiciously similar in size, so I got my hands on some, then started googling and came up with my own recipe – it is a new fave, and I use kale instead of spinach, which I recently found is very good for your eyes…anything that helps avoid growing more squinty lines is awesome in my book! 
Italian Wedding Soup

I read that this is a common offering at Italian restaurants everywhere, but I’ve never seen it…wait, is Pizza Hut Italian?  I have, however, seen it at my local grocery store, in a large pot by cardboard cups, and most likely poured out of a gigantic waxed milk type carton and heated to temp so that random people can stick their fingers in it or double dip with the inevitable tasting spoons nearby.  I prefer to make my own, thank you very much, where I control the germ content, know exactly what’s in it, and don’t have to pay $3.99 for a container that won’t even fill one of my special soup cups.  If you don’t like to chop, stir, brown, season, and be creative, there are a few cheats, otherwise you can get yours at the store…it’s like having a close personal relationship with your entire community!

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in 1-2” chunks (or about 12 oz. ground chicken or turkey)
½ tsp. garlic salt
¼ c. panko (or bread crumbs, or make your own by grating a piece of soft bread but use a little more)
1 egg white (just do it, you don’t need the yolk)

1 T. olive oil (or whatever oil, just not motor)
2 Carrots, peeled and cut in half (large ends in quarters) and sliced thickish
3 stalks celery, split and cut in chunklets (I like the middle part…use the leaves)
I small onion, chopped
1-2 tsp. dried thyme
½ bunch of kale, as much of the stem cut off as possible and chopped
2 quarts of chicken broth (use water and a good chicken base if you don’t make your own (wuss) or  buy the stuff in cartons/cans (what’s THAT like??)
1 C. hot water
½ C. Israeli couscous (Not an easy find, but Fred Meyer has in bulk - you can use any small pasta instead)
Salt and pepper to taste

You can pan fry or roast the meatballs, so if you prefer the low maintenance method, heat the oven to 375 and spray a cookie sheet.  If you went boneless skinless, you need to either throw the chunks of raw chicken breast in a food processor, then pulse until it’s all ground up…poke around in there with a spatula (not while it’s running), and pulse again to make sure there are no chunks left.  Scrape into bowl, and add the other ingredients and mix, then shape into teeny, tiny meatballs.  Soooooo cute!!  Put on cookie sheet and bake in oven for about 10 minutes….should get a little golden on the bottom.  Remove and let cool on sheet.  You can also spray a big fry pan and cook them that way….just keep moving them so they roll around, and then let them cool in the pan until you’re ready.

(Feeling extra lazy??  Put meat mixture on a piece of wax paper, and use your hands to flatten and shape into a square about ½” thick.  Use a big knife to cut through it both directions in a ½” square grid, then flop the whole thing, meat side down, into an oiled (sprayed) heated large skillet big enough to accommodate the square.  Let brown, then peel off the wax paper, flip it over, and brown on the other side.  Once they’re browned, you can use the edge of your spatula to separate them all, and voila!  Tiny square meatballs!)

In large stock pot, add oil and heat to medium high, then add carrot, celery and onion and saute until onion is translucent.  Add thyme and stir a minute or so (I hear this toasts the herbs and makes them more flavorful), then add kale and stir in (fresh spinach is the norm, and it’s added at the end – my son in law ate all the spinach so I subbed kale and really liked it).  Pour in the chicken broth and turn up to high and add the meatballs.  Pour the 1 cup hot water into the pan you cooked the meatballs in, and make sure you scrape up every bit of lovely fond, then pour that into the soup….colors it beautifully!

Now, on another burner, heat a skillet until hot and dry.  Add the couscous and shake, shake, shake that pan!  Keep those balls moving, and when a delicate golden brown, dump them into the soup and listen to the sizzle!  When the pot boils, turn down to simmer and let cook about 10 minutes, or until couscous is tender.  Salt and pepper to taste, add fresh grated Parmesan to the top when serving if you like, and have at it….only thing that makes this better is a second bowl!

The other thing about a 36 year commitment is that eventually it becomes, as our grandson points out, a “classic”….that does not necessarily denote great value or desirability, but sure feels like home to me – here’s to another 36 years, HS – you are priceless to me!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Passport to Pudge


I love how foods have traveled around the world, and wormed its way into places where you would never imagine it could get a foothold.  Sure you can expect to find a veritable UN of cuisines in the big city, but when you come across a thriving Greek restaurant in a Podunk little community that doesn’t even have a moving picture screen, THAT impresses me.  Blue House in Vernonia, OR would rank right up there…..a lovely Greek family that shares its love of their heritage in a town probably most notable for having a swimmin’ hole in the middle of downtown.
Mexican food is a fave – its just so earthy and unpretentious, and the flavors from a handful of ingredients can blow your mind….makes me wonder who figure out dried chili peppers were even edible.  I’ve learned to love peppers, which for many, MANY years I would not touch with a 10 foot pole if they were cooked.  Handsome Stranger is not quite as evolved, but he has been known to eat them recently, and without shouts of “NO FAIR!!” and lengthy bouts of pouting.  I still have so much to learn about what all the countries regions have to offer, but because Google will take me places I have never been, it is my tour guide to the treasures our southern neighbors have to offer.

I go through cycles,  and will master/mess with one dish, then move on to another – tamales?  Check. (what a pain in the arse…I know why even Mexicans only make this a couple times a year at most)  Carnitas?  Check.  (If you do it right it should come with a stent….fatty pork DEEP FRIED??)  Pork Verde?  Check.  I’m throwing that in too, because it’s what I use to top the following wonder….

These are a lovely little item that I first had at my favorite (long gone) Mexican establishment….one of the many things I have to live without since I have never found their equal.  Think of the base as a corn tortilla on steroids, but with a tender side….you'll have to trust me.  Toppings can be as varied as your tastes, I just like nice tender meat in a piquant sauce, so you can go wild with that.  As always….eat what you like, not what someone says you should….well, except this, THIS you should eat!

Sopes (the base of Sopitos)
1 C. masa harina (look in Mexican aisle….4# bag I think is the smallest container)
¾ C. warm water
¼ C. vegetable oil (I use light olive oil in everything)
½ tsp. salt (it’s just dough, no raw eggs, so taste it for salt…I LOVE it raw!)

Put masa in bowl, make a well and mix in water and oil with your hands until it forms a moist dough.  It should be soft, and not too sticky….if it’s too dry, it will be hard to form the discs without them cracking.  More water if dry, more masa if too wet….easy peasy.  Divide dough into 4 equal pieces  and roll each into a ball, then put under a towel or in a plastic bag to keep them from drying out.  Roll out each ball with rolling pin or wine bottle (see me for an empty one…) to about ¼” thick - I do them thicker, build up the edge a bit, then put them in a hot oil bath, but I am not right in the head, but this is Aaron Sanchez’s recipe and he’s the MAN.  I have put the ball on the bottom of a plate, then pressed with the bottom of a same size plate to good success as well:

Pinch ridge along edge
Form into ball....
Flatten with bottom of plate...

Heat a skillet over medium to medium high heat, brush with a little oil or use pan spray and carefully put sope in.  Cook until little brown blisters appear on the bottom, about 45 seconds (a bit longer if the heat is lower, same for the other side).  Flip carefully and cool other side another 30-45 seconds, flip one more time, count to 10, and transfer to a towel or parchment lined cookie sheet.  Keep warm in 300 degree oven.   Now for toppings:

Pork verde
If you are lazy or don’t eat pork (you live a sad existence, my friend), rotisserie chicken meat warmed with a little green salsa makes a quick and light substitution)
1 lb. pork butt or pork steaks, remove large chunks of fat and cube 1”
1 T. oil
1-3 jalepenos or serrano peppers, chopped (seed and devein?  Your choice….how hot you like it?)
1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
4-6 tomatillos, husk removed, cored and coarsely chopped
½ onion, chopped
Salt, pepper, and cumin to taste

Heat skillet or large saucepan over medium high, add oil and bring to smoking point, then add pork that you have sprinkled with a little salt and pepper.  Let  sit for a minute or two so it can get nice and brown, then stir a bit and let sit while it comes back up to temp.  Continue to stir and brown most sides of the meat, then add garlic, onion and peppers, cook and stir a couple more minutes, then add tomatillos, salt, pepper and cumin to taste.  Tomatillos have a lot of water, so you shouldn’t need to add any, but keep an eye on it as it simmer and add a little if it threatens to stick.  Bring to boil, cover and simmer for about an hour or until pork is fork tender and try not to burn the skin off your tongue trying it.  It should be enrobed in a beautiful tart/spicy/savory sauce, not runny…if it is, just cook a bit longer with no lid.

Sopitos Assembly:
Refried beans, warmed (optional, but REALLY FILLING and adds a creamy element)
Pork verde
Queso fresco, crumbled, or Mexican blend cheese
Thinly shaved lettuce
Diced tomato
Sour cream

To assemble Sopitos, put your warm sopes on a platter, then top each with a smear of beans, a healthy scoop of pork verde, then top with crumbled queso or Mexican cheese, shaved lettuce, and diced tomatoes, then a dollop of sour cream and a little sprig of cilantro if you wanna get all fancy.  I think you could make twice as many with this verde recipe, or just eat half of it while you’re assembling and pretend you eat like a supermodel at dinner and save your portion for lunch the next day.  

Enjoy, and all I ask is that you not burst my bubble and tell me that some dude in a greasy spoon in the Midwest originally invented this with a corn muffin mix and a can of Dinty Moore beef stew….it would break my fat little Corazon. (I forget how to make that little doohickey above the o….my apologies to my Mexican friends)

Friday, April 10, 2015

Eating Happiness

Holy smokes, Batman….I fail at blogging!!  Sorry for the loooong hiatus, but my computer was invaded by a sticky fingered, dirty dish cluttering, homework littering, game installing, dirty sock leaving 13 year old – I think it’s time for his parents to get him his own computer so he can pollute it in 3.5 seconds flat and then go outside and play with sticks and the dogs.  I think we have all the bugs cleaned off (figuratively and literally), but it appears I have not much space left on ye olde hard drives so hopefully this won’t put it over the edge and take me back to a blue screen.

Part of my issue is writing block and memory (or lack therof)….having a hard time thinking of new things, and remember what I’ve already posted, and I don’t want to be that old lady that constantly repeats herself.  Part of my issue is writing block and mem….HAHAHA, sucker!  Sorry, still a bit of a dufus, and that will NEVER change.  So how bout we just cut to the chase and I recipe you up?  More than a couple new ones have wandered through my kitchen in the last year, so let’s mix it up and give you a little variety – not sure you can use them all together, but it could result in the weirdest lunchbox content grand prize so there’s that.

First and best (really, I don’t kid about stuff like that) is a cookie that came into my sights (and maw) via a co-worker.  Her name is Loreli, and she is a sweet and lovely lady who works with numbers.  And this one is a 10 out of 10….it is hard to express how violently I love this cookie, and how having the ingredients to make them in my kitchen make me break into a sweat.  I made a batch, and they were just as good as hers (that doesn’t always happen), and when I got home the next day, there was only one left.  I sat down, got comfy, and ate that bad boy slowly and with many noises, then texted Handsome Stranger and told him what I was doing and that it was like EATING HAPPINESS.  He replied “LOL”, then again with “I had to explain to the girls at work why I was laughing”.  So without further ado, I give you:

Happiness Cookies

I emailed Loreli and requested her recipe, and she responded “I’d be happy to share – and I will, but honestly – I don’t measure anything… I’ll give it my best shot!”  She was spot on…..and I got brave and eyeballed it myself, worked like a charm!  Phew….I don’t usually do that with baking!

½ cup creamy peanut butter (or chunky)
½ cup Crisco
2 eggs
½ cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 pkg. Heath Bar toffee pieces (these are mui 10-12 oz. of Heath bars and smash them up if necessary, just don't use chocolate chips or you are lame)

Preheat oven to 350, cream peanut butter, Crisco, sugars, eggs and vanilla, then add flour, soda and salt and mix until incorporated, then fold in toffee bits.  Drop by cookie scoop or spoon on cookie sheet and bake 11 minutes; let cool a minute and remove to cooling rack. HIDE FROM KIDS.

I don't have a pic of either, so you get spring
How many times can I post about hummus?  As many as it takes!  On Spring break this year, my little brother who shares a love of food including cooking and inventing it and I went on a culinary adventure – we both work in education so we both had the week to lounge about and thumb our noses at our working stiff spouses who don’t get every holiday known to man off.  I had recently given him a tip on Bob’s Red Mill….for those who have bought their products, there is actually a STORE that carries it all – it also has an in-house restaurant, and you could spend a half day in there and still not see/eat everything.  He texted me on his first trip there and I swear he was hyperventilating in the bulk section....luckily he took his lovely wife so he had someone to hold a paper bag over his nose and mouth until he calmed down.  We decided to go again so we could share each others picks in person, and try a few of their breakfast specialties.  The food is excellent, but we both suffer from the “I can do better at home” syndrome, so it was more about the shared experience and terrorizing the bulk section than anything else – it is a really cool store, and it was really funny when he unintentionally snorted hickory smoke powder from one of the spice jars.

The plan was to then go to my fave Vietnamese restaurant and intro him to sweet tamarind soup, then take him home and show him how to make it, but since we weren't hungry yet I took him to Global World Foods.  It’s a Mediterranean market in our old childhood stomping grounds….used to be the Piggly Wiggly our mom/Uncle Bob worked at as meat wrapper/butcher, but is now home to an excellent selection of Greek and other Mediterranean specialties, including a deli to die for.  I had them throw a couple pitas in the brick oven then we sampled everything that turned his crank in the deli case….we chose a few things to purchase and when our bread was passed over the counter, we stood in the aisles and raked our hot pita through the dips.  I think I mortified him a bit, but once he tasted it I think he no longer cared – and these days if people think I’m weird, I just congratulate them on being right. 

One of my choices was butternut squash hummus.  I lovelovelove hummus done right, and this was sooooo different but AMAZINGLY light and flavorful – it has a beautiful orange color from the squash, and it also adds a sweetness unlike your average hummus….my taste buds screamed “THIS MUST BE COPIED.  A couple days later I grabbed a squash, peeled and cubed (small) half of it, then spread it on a cookie sheet lined with foil and drizzled with olive oil along with a dozen or more whole garlic cloves, and a sprinkling of kosher salt and popped it in the oven to roast, then let cool a bit.

Scene 2:  CUISINART.  How I love my Big C….it can do SO many things and is almost as powerful as Handsome Stranger and nearly as gorgeous – the hum of that motor gives me goosebumps.  In goes 3 cups of drained garbanzo beans….I make my own, I think canned ones are too hard, and mine are delicious just cooked and sprinkled with a little garlic salt.  Save some of the liquid if you have it, or just have some water on hand.  Now comes the unbelievable part.  I used NO nut butter in this…..I was going to add it, but kept tasting and it thought if it could taste THAT good without, why add more fat than necessary?  Lemon juice, olive oil, and kosher salt and pepper to taste and we had a winner!  I don’t care for cumin, so did not include like GWF did…..I can live with it, but why not do it how I like it?  Holy schnikes this stuff is wondermus!

Roasted Garlic and Butternut Hummus

Lovely stuff…..sweetness of the squash, the lovely mellow taste of garlic roasted to remove the POW, a bit of salt and plenty of lemon to balance the flavors out – it is very light and refreshing, but creamy and buttery as well, but with about half the fat of regular hummus, AND with extra veggies and that beany protein punch.  Another trick in my bag of hummus…..I am bean-centric!

½ Butternut Squash, peeled and cut in small cubes
12 (or more) cloves of garlic, peeled
Olive oil or spray
3 C. drained garbanzo beans
 ¼ C. olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375, spray cookies sheet and add squash cubes and garlic, spray again or just drizzle w/olive oil and stir to coat.  Roast in oven 15-20 minutes, stir and roast 15-20 more until slightly browned and tender.  Put squash and garlic in food processor, add beans and olive oil, then start to process.  Add lemon juice half at a time, taste as you go until it’s how you like it.  Once you’ve added all the lemon you’re going to, add water one T at a time until it’s your desired consistency, then a couple pinches of kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper and LET IT RUN.  I walk away and come back in 10-20 minutes….if the sides of the bowl are warm, you should be good.  Give it a taste, adjust seasonings/lemon/water as needed, and it should be smooth as a baby’s butt but far more appetizing!  Serve with crackers, pita, pita chips, tortilla chips, spread on grainy bread, tortilla, or a bagel….it’s sosososo good!

 That gives you a couple things to think about, I have a list of more that are coming soon - if you have a request, just shout it out and I'll consider anything - just no capers, you know how I feel about those little boogers.