Chicken soup still good medicine

Tuesday I finally succumbed to the pollen – I couldn’t lay down in bed, or my sinuses would close up like Tupperware. My dog Badges was also having some sort of breathing problem – same as a couple of weeks ago, he was coughing and gagging, as if he had something stuck in his throat. 

So, having laid awake since 1 am, I finally gave up the bed about 2:30, pulled up my little ottoman and settled into my cushy Walmart office chair to see what was on the late show. Oh, my God, all kinds of crap.

I like NBTV, out of Santa Rosa. It’s a small privately owned station that has lots of different shows. The other afternoon I watched a half hour documentary about a century run called  “The Barkley”.  Very interesting – the kind of stuff you used to see on PBS before they went all cooking and home improvement.  

They produce their own shows too.  At about 4 am the owner hosts his own show – “Creature Feature”.  Tuesday night he was playing one of my all time faves – The Head That Wouldn’t Die!  So I turned on the coffee pot and decided it was too late to try to sleep.

Last time this happened he was playing “Little Shop of Horrors,” the original from 1960.  I had never seen that, always felt left out – wow, it was great!  What Schlock!

But yeah, the party was over when the sun came up and I realized I’d pulled an all-nighter.  My eyes were so dried out I couldn’t decide which was worse, closing them or holding them open. My neck and head hurt from sitting in a chair all night. 

I had wanted to go to a “Local Government Committee” meeting at 3:30 that afternoon. I realized that was out. I knew I would not be able to take a nap, and by 3:30 I’d be a piece of walking toast. The North wind was already picking up outside, and at 3 am the weatherman had told me – there would be a pollen “advisory”.  

Nothing beats the pollen like a bowl of chicken miso soup.

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Comfort food.

My husband had just bbq’d an enormous boneless chicken breast. We get those in a 40 pound box at Cash and Carry. They are frozen in a big wad – I usually leave them in the sink overnight, they soften up, and I can separate them, wrap each one in plastic wrap and put them in Ziplock bags for the freezer. They are full breasts and probably twice as big as the chicken breasts they have at Safeway. I fillet them for the grill and we get at least two dinners and sandwiches for a couple of days. 

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We got four fillets out of one double breast, here are two of them. Each fillet is almost as big as the single breasts they sell in the pack at Safeway.

I usually make soup with a raw chicken thigh, but it’s certainly easier to use the cooked chicken. I saute the onion and celery tops as usual, then add the chicken, cut into bite size pieces.  I try to keep chicken broth on hand, it’s good for cooking rice and other dishes.  I added about two cups and then another two cups water, with a teaspoon of salt for each cup of water.

Once this is simmering along, I ladle out a little of of the broth into a cup and mix it with a couple of tablespoons of miso paste, then put it back.

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Miso is getting so available now.

I’ve just started using miso paste again since my son gave me a little container. It used to be hard to find and expensive, the packaging was such that I could never use the whole thing before it went bad. Nowadays there are lots of different brands, and good old Westbrae has it in these neat little plastic containers. There is a plastic film inside to keep the remainder fresh. I’ve been using it for a couple of weeks now, and it’s hanging in there fine.

To that I add chopped carrots and more celery. When the whole thing is really cooking I add noodles. This time I had the rest of a pack of dry udon noodles – we use these for stirfry alot.

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You can keep these dry Westpac noodles around the house forever. Since I made this pot of soup we found Safeway again carries the “fresh pac” noodles, in the produce department, near the mushrooms. But these were good in a pinch.

The dry noodles have to be boiled for about 8 minutes to attain that fat, slippery udon texture. The fresh ones just need to be heated – you can dump them in and turn off the pot, leave it setting on the stove. The great thing about udon noodles is they just keep getting fatter and yummier. 

I call this “instant soup” – it took less than half an hour to put together. We ate it for three days – the first night we had soup and salad for dinner.  After that we ate it gladly for lunch and anytime we needed a pick-me up.  It really made us feel good to come in from the pollen storm to a pot of soup. 

I did it! Gluten-free birthday cake!

Thanks fellow bloggers for your support – I made the gluten-free birthday cake! 

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Well, giant cookie, really.

I got the recipe from my grandma.

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You can tell from the grease stains, this is one of my fave recipes.

Because my son is trying to cut gluten from his diet, I made some substitutions. 

 

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Here’s the usual suspects – oatmeal, Rice Krispies, and good old white sugar – I’ll work on a different sweetener next time, but Basil Rene is right – the world of sugar substitutes is fraught with peril. I used half and half brown and white like Gram says.

In lieu of a sugar substitute, I just cut the amount of sugar down to 2/3’s  cup. 

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Here’s the brown basmati I buy at Cash and Carry in 10 pound sacks, and here’s some coconut oil I found at Walmart for less than $4.

I wasn’t sure about buying the coconut oil at Walmart, but it was the cheapest. My son told me the more expensive oils are “refined” so that you can use them at higher temperatures, for stuff like sautes and stir-fries. I like it for baking – it’s very light, without any odor.

As for amount, I thought I better check, so I googled cookie recipes using coconut oil. I found one that matched my recipe – half a cup of liquid coconut oil for a half a cup butter.  

When I added the oil to the sugar, it didn’t seem right, too wet. But the egg mixed in well, and when I added the rice flour, oats and Krispies, it looked just like the dough I got using butter and wheat flour. It’s always kind of crumbly, when I make cookies, I mash it into spoonful-size balls and set them on the sheet, where they melt into thin, crispy wafers, just like  Gram used to make.  Or I just mash the whole pile of dough into a pan and make “cookie bars.” 

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I wanted a cake so I mashed it into a cake pan.

Baking time was the variable – for my usual size pan I bake them 20 – 25 minutes at 350, waiting for the top to turn brown. This pan was smaller and deeper so I had to bake it closer to 35 minutes. This made it more like a cake than a cookie, but the edges were still  crunchy.

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Here’s the topping – looks like a mess!

I got an idea for a “cookie tart” from Chef Pepin, it just didn’t turn out exactly the way he did it – we just dumped a couple of pints of blueberries and a cut pear into a sauce pan, without sugar or anything, and stirred it into this mess. It was delicious, the tart fruit made the perfect compliment for the sweet cookie-cake. 

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We sent most of the cake home with the birthday boy, but I saved a piece for my husband to eat for breakfast.

Like Chef Pepin would say – et voila! There it is, a gluten free birthday cake. 

 

 

 

Waiting out Winter

As if to remind us, it’s only February, Jack Frost rode into town last night.

Back to Winter

Back to Winter

Clear skies mean lower temperatures. As eager as we were to get out in the sun yesterday, we found ourselves running back inside with numb hands, poking at the thermostat, hovering around the kitchen. After a morning of storm clean-up, I spent yesterday afternoon cooking,  made a big batch of tortillas and a pot of rice.

One pan wonder.

One pan wonder.

My husband got a steak out of the freezer and cut two thin steaks with his filet knife, then threw them into a pan with the rice. Before I knew it we were eating burritos.

I love it when a good plan comes together.

I love it when a good plan comes together.

Try new things – Juanita goes gluten-free

Did you know, you can make flour out of rice? Am I the last person to find out about this?

I try to avoid food fads, but I’ve heard for years that the gluten found in wheat flour will exacerbate pollen allergies. My husband and son are both extra sensitive to pollen – trees like almond and mulberry have made them really sick. Their eyelids puff up, their faces turn red, and they get instant headaches after being exposed to those type of trees. 

My husband has learned to wear a mask when he has to expose himself, he’s also lost a little of his sensitivity over the years. Meanwhile my son seems to be headed right into the worst of it – he’s still in his 20’s, when your body seems to fielding a new set of hormones.

So he and his girlfriend have decided to avoid gluten. My first thought was – what will you eat? I couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of life without wheat.  For Cripessake – I’ve spent years learning how to make my own bread, pasta, pizza, etc, why would I want to give up wheat?!

I just bought a 25 pound sack of hard red wheat berries. I had a hard time finding a reliable source of wheat berries here in town, so I went online and got a big bag. And of course it was about half the price per pound, so nya nya Raleys!   As you know, I have storage – it sits in jars and zipper bags on the little turnaround shelf under my counter. I’ve already polished off a big jar’s worth. 

But of course I buy rice in bulk too. So, when I noticed, on the box in which I store my wheat mill, it says all the things the mill will grind, including rice.  I read rice is gluten free. 

In fact, my son had sent me this picture of his rice pancakes one morning.

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My son wanted to assure me he and his bgf were eating right.

Well, you never learn if you don’t try new things. So I dumped a cup of rice into my mill and it ground up into the nicest flour, a little grainier than wheat flour, but usable. I made a batch of oatmeal cookies with it, having read that oatmeal is also gluten-free. They turned out really well. 

So, my son’s birthday is coming up, and instead of the usual gluten-rich angel food cake, I will make him a cookie tart covered with fruit. I got the idea from Jacque Pepin. He made a sugar cookie one day on his show and covered it with glazed raspberries heated in a frying pan. The other day they had blueberries on sale at Safeway, $3 for a big container. I will also get some peaches out of the freezer – I still have a gallon zipper bag full from last Summer. 

One thing I know is that my son is happy when his parents pay attention to what’s going on in his life. They grow up but they don’t stop being your kids,  thank goodness! 

Rack of lamb as good as it sounds

Irises and bay flowers have appeared over the course of the last storms.

Irises and bay flowers have appeared over the course of the last storms.

Our bay trees are sparkling with little white flowers, something I try to watch for every year as it happens fast and is over. But I’ve been enjoying the purple iris flowers for a couple of months now, they just couldn’t wait for Spring.

Which is, as you know, right around the corner.  

Winter has been sitting on us hard these days. The Sun has gone off somewhere, lah-tee-dah!  We’ve been trying not to sit inside too much, going out whenever the dumping lets up. We’ve spent the last week or so cleaning up dead stuff around the yard, whacking into an old grape vine that was  smothering some trees, tearing out last year’s garden, etc. My husband tears the fence off the garden every year and tries to move it out a few feet when he puts it back again.  

They say old people like us should try new stuff, which is good in Winter, keeps us alert. A friend of ours orders all his organic chicken online, and a few months ago, the company sent him the wrong order – along with the usual chicken, they found lobster tails, a whole rabbit, and a rack of lamb. When he contacted the company about the mix-up, they not only apologized, they told him to keep the stuff he’d received at no charge,  and they’d have his own order shipped out immediately. 

He had no problem with the lobster – chicken of the sea – but had no idea what to do with the whole rabbit or the rack of lamb. So he gave them to us. We did the rabbit a while back.

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That was delicious, but we were kind of timid about the rack of lamb. I kept reminding my husband it was wasting away in the freezer. Finally he sat down with his favorite recipe book – Google – and figured it out.

It was not as easy as the rabbit. Check this out:

 

There’s quite a bit of fat to be trimmed. We were a little intimidated, worried  that there would be no meat left on our little rack, but my husband took out his filet knife and went for it. 

Cooking was quick by comparison – less than 45 minutes all total. It had to be browned in a skillet first, and I steamed the potatoes and carrots for about 10 minutes before we tucked the whole thing into a pan and covered the meat with a mix of horseradish, diced onions and garlic.  

Here’s what we pulled out of the oven.

Rack of lamb, wow, it tasted as good as it looks.

Rack of lamb, wow, it tasted as good as it looks.

I’m sorry I didn’t get more pictures. When it was done my husband  divided it up into the most beautiful tiny rib steaks you have ever seen, and I tell you what, we ate almost the whole thing in a sitting. Get it while it’s hot.

I had expected it to taste “gamey,” but no, it had a very delicate taste, like a good prime rib.  We’ll finish the rest for lunch today, and feel lucky to have got it. I would eat it again if I got a good deal on it. 

Try something new – the Himalayan salt block we got for Christmas is a new twist on grilling

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These are two steaks my husband cut from a boneless rib roast we bought at Cash and Carry, sizzling away on the Himalayan salt cooking block my son got us for Christmas.  The fingerling potatoes are also from Cash and  Carry.

Wow, this weather has had us on our toes. Every morning I look out into the darkness to see if any tree branches have fallen, our sycamore trees have had a whopping from that wind. I’m on edge for a power outage – just the other side of the park, a whole neighborhood was dark and cold for hours yesterday when a tree took down a power line. We’re ready, our nerves are tingling, and our hackles are up. 

What we’re really watching for is a break in the storm, so we can fire up the grill, and get some meat going. Standing around the bbq with that fresh cold wind in our hair seems like an adventure after being stuck in the muck all day.

Our kids were very nice to us this Christmas – they know us, and they know what we like, even if we haven’t tried it before. The older one is always coming up with something new.  He grew up imitating Dad, now he seems to be taking the lead. This Christmas he gave us a cooking stone made of pink salt. The first thing I said was, “it’s too pretty to use!” Silly, silly Mom!

Salt and food have gone together since man first licked his salty finger. I think it was an instant addiction, but wonder how long it took people to figure out about curing food. I know it was important from very early on – there is a “salt trail” in Glenn County that leads all the way to Oregon. Archaeologists and the local people claim it was trekked for a thousand years, great wars took place along that trail – over salt. There are salt licks all around the foothills on the west side of the valley, people dug it out, and fought for it. It was like gold to them.

So I guess it was a natural feeling I had, holding that heavy block of pure salt in my hands – I wanted to wrap it up and hide it. 

But my son insisted, if we handled it correctly, it would get a nice patina like my pizza stone, and we would have it for many years. The most important things are don’t get it too wet and don’t heat it too fast. 

My husband took care of heating it – he put it on the grill  as soon as he got the charcoals going. As it heated up, he was afraid he hadn’t added enough charcoal, that the coals would be out before the meat was on the stone. That was not a problem – once that stone gets hot it’s like a frying pan. The meat sizzled away.

We got a boneless rib roast at Cash and Carry for about $100.  This was our second attempt at cutting it – this time we got 19 steaks, a bag of stir-fry meat we trimmed out of the fat, and a neat little roast to put in our smoker.  We wrap the steaks in plastic film wrap and stack them into zip-lock freezer bags. We wrapped a half dozen for each of our kids – it’s comforting knowing they have meat in their freezers. 

We threw the last two steaks on the salt stone. We’d found a nice bag of fingerling potatoes at Cash and  Carry – I steam those whole for 10 minutes and then toss them with olive oil, salt and garlic powder. They roast really well whole on the bbq.  

The steak was done to perfection before the coals were gone. I had to force myself to slow down eating it, I tried to chew each bite slowly, it was hard. Those meals seem to go too fast, given the anticipation that goes into it.

And then were left with that greasy stone. My husband  put it on a little baking rack in his shop to cool, and we forgot it overnight. He brought it in the next morning and I had the sudden compulsion to toss it out, but remembered what my son said. I got a hand-size piece of green scrubber, ran it under hot tap water, and then went about scrubbing off the baked on grease. It essentially washed right off, leaving a light stain. I held it over the sink and just scrubbed the grease. The whole stone got damp, but not wet.  I patted it dry with paper towels and set it on the baking rack. It was dry and smooth within an hour. It cleaned up a lot like my pizza stone – you could see stains, but it feels clean to the touch. 

We used it again, this time for boneless chicken breasts.  At first they looked weird without grill marks, but wow, they melted in our mouths, they were so juicy and tender. 

So, I will give the salt block two thumbs up. We keep it stored in it’s box in my husband’s shop, where it is relatively dry and close to the grill. Next time we’re going to throw some shrimp on there. 

I’ll keep you posted.

Life is full of surprises

My husband wandered into the garden with a cup of coffee this morning and came back with a cup of tomatoes.

My husband wandered into the garden with a cup of coffee this morning and came back with a cup of tomatoes.

Just when we had stopped looking, the garden provided us with a sweet surprise.  These little maters will be delicious in a salad or on some tacos this week. 

It’s good to take a stroll out about 6:50 am, the sky puts on an incredible color and light exhibition. I can’t really catch that with my digi-cam, it moves so fast – like a river of melted crayons. 

The sun comes up quickly in the morning, moving across the sky and starting to sink by early afternoon. I feel the days getting shorter – it’s like a friend is getting ready to go on a long trip.  By 6 o’clock I’ve lit my candles around the camp stove, my husband has lit the bbq, and we sit watching the flames. The dogs draw so close up to the stove I have to constantly pull one tail or another out of the ashes.

When it’s raining and we’re stuck in the apartment, I really miss that stove. I try to cook more, get the house warmed up and get food.  Sometimes I make a good meal, other times I give in to whimsy. 

My sister had a boyfriend named Roy who worked at a restaurant called Ricky’s Rib Cage.  It was  very popular, not just for Ricky’s ribs, but for Roy’s sweet potato pie. One night we had dinner at their house and Roy made the pie – I never forgot it.  It wasn’t the standard sweet potato pie, which is really  a pumpkin pie filled with sweet potato. No, it was different – more of a cake in a pie pan.  

Roy was pretty tight with his recipes,  being in the restaurant business, so my sister waited until he left the room to hiss the secret into my ear – “number 7 yellow cake mix and a can of 7-Up…” That was all she had time to tell me because Roy came back into the room. Boy did he look suspicious. I never told, and I never figured  out how to make the pie either. I was afraid to ask Roy for help cause he’d know my  sister gave him up.

They broke up over a dog – Roy’s rottweiler turned on him one day and let him know he was not allowed in my sister’s house anymore.  A sad ending to a gourmet relationship, but I have to admit – my sister was getting way too fat living with that guy.

30 years later, I was still thinking about that damned pie, but until recently, I just didn’t have the confidence to try it. This Thanksgiving something came over me and I picked up an average size sweet potato, a box of yellow cake mix (they don’t number them anymore) and a bottle of 7-Up –

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Hecho en Mexico?

my husband convinced me that can  or bottle wouldn’t matter, even though my sister insisted that it did. Some people are real superstitious about cooking.

The dough boy looks so coquettish.

The dough boy looks so coquettish, this just has to be fun!

So, I just guessed – prepare the cake as instructed on the box,  then add the pureed sweet potato and 7-Up.  See what happens. Holidays  are good for experiments, there’s always the store if you screw up.

Ever cook a sweet potato? Takes for-ev-er.  I thought steaming would be quicker, so I cut it into pieces and put it in the pot. It took almost an hour, and I kept having to add water to the steam pan, but I got it.

Sweet potato is really good, very mild taste, creamy texture. I almost feel guilt for what I'm about to do to it.

Sweet potato is really good, very mild taste, creamy texture. I almost feel guilt for what I’m about to do to it.

Mash the crap out of it, then mash it some more.

Mash the crap out of it, then mash it some more.

And then dump it into a bowl of yellow cake batter. I’m sorry – probably a great way to hand diabetes down through the family! Be sure to add that bottle of 7-Up nice and easy – it’s like NITRO! 

I couldn’t get pictures, too much action, only so many hands.

Then you put it in a pie pan and bake it according to the cake mix instructions - 350 for about 40 minutes.

Then you put it in a pie pan and bake it according to the cake mix instructions – 350 for about 40 minutes.

Something that didn’t occur to me is a batch of yellow cake mix is a two-layer cake, or 24 cupcakes, and that translated into two sweet potato pies. Luckily it was very good, and my husband and  I sat down immediately to eat a quarter of a pie each. We work hard, we get hungry. A friend who stopped by polished off another quarter and took a slice for his bgf.  I told him he should just staple it to her ass, cause that’s where it was going to end up. He said he liked a little sweet potato pie on his woman’s bones!

Who cares, I’m old, if I want to eat stuff like this, I will do it. But yeah, not every day, that’s for sure. Don’t forget the whip cream. 

Thanks Roy-Boy, wherever you are.