Monday, November 30, 2009

My last post of November

This is it - my last post of November.  I posted every day during November, and what I learned is that sometimes, it's really hard to come up with things to write about.  More writing isn't necessarily good writing!  I'll go back to my old approach - writing whenever my muse strikes or at least once a week.  

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Christmas candy making part 1 - making the cookie for the Twix style bar

This year for Christmas, I am going to make candy bars.   I am making the 4 recipes featured in this Chow post, but I am going to do it my own way.   Since I am going to try to dip these all on the same day (to save on chocolate), it's going to take some strategizing.   Here's how I am planning on doing it.  My comments are in italics.   Ahead of time, I am going to need to make make the cookie base for the Twix like candy bar first

1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
10 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 1/4 sticks),  cut into small pieces.  The recipe said "room temperature" but I don't know how you can cut room temperature butter into little pieces.  I am leaving mine cold.


1. In a small bowl beat together egg and vanilla, set aside.

2. Combine flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to aerate and break up any lumps. Add butter and pulse until mixture looks like sand,  Add egg mixture and pulse just until dough comes together. Form into a flat, rectangular disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate at least 1 hour or until ready to bake.  I might make this a week ahead of time, or some weeknight when I have some spare time. 

3. Heat oven to 375°F. Place dough on a 14-inch piece of parchment paper, lightly flour, and roll into a 13-by-8-inch oval, about 1/8 inch thick. (Work quickly, because the dough will become difficult to roll as it warms up.) Transfer parchment paper with dough to a baking sheet, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 15 minutes.

4. Trim dough to a 12-by-7-inch square and cut into 3-1/2-by-3/4-inch cookies (you need at least 24). Pierce each cookie four or five times with a chopstick or the base of a thermometer.    I am troubled by the whole idea of rolling this out into a round shape and then cutting into a rectangle?  What about patting it into the pan.  Some online research indicates it can be done either way.  But since I don't have a 12x7 pan, I guess I will roll.

5. Place on a baking sheet and cook until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Tomorrow, I will write about making the centers. 

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tempering Chocolate

Everything I ever learned about chocolate I learned from a truffle making class I took from the ever-talented Tammy at Tammy's Tastings.    She is going to retire from chocolate making, but assures me she will still offer her truffle making class.  Like home canning, I think it helps to temper chocolate once with someone else that knows how to do it to get over your fear of doing it wrong.  When she offers a class, I will be sure to let you know.   Here's my perspective on chocolate tempering.....

Why temper chocolate?  Because chocolate is a lot like steel.  When melted chocolate becomes solid again, it's important that it has the right crystal structure.   It's been 25 years since I took metallurgy, and I don't remember much, but one thing I do remember about tempering steel is that the different phases of tempering results in different crystallography, and thus different material properties.  Different kinds of steel are used for different things - you might want to use a certain kind of steel to make a car door, a different kind to make an I beam, etc.   Steel has all different kinds of properties, and that's a good thing.  Same with chocolate.

When melted chocolate returns to solid form the cocoa butter in the chocolate forms a crystal structure, and the crystal structure it takes on depends on the temperature at which they are formed. If the chocolate is allowed to cool on its own, the crystals of fat will be loose, resulting in a chocolate that is dull in appearance, soft & malleable, and greasy to the touch. It won't "set up right", in candy speak.   While tempering,  the goal is to keep the chocolate above that temperature so that the cocoa butter actually forms a dense crystalline structure. Holding the chocolate at this temperature and stirring will allow a whole bunch of these stable crystal structures to form providing a lot of seed crystals to form in the chocolate. When the chocolate is finally allowed to fully cool, if there are enough stable seed crystals, then the chocolate will harden into a very stable hard chocolate with a slight sheen, snap when broken, and hold a nice shape.  In candy talk, it will "set up well" and it will also prevent blooming of the chocolate -  unsightly light brown streaks.  So to make candy, you can't just melt chocolate any old way.

Some other things to know about chocolate for candy making:

  • You have to use real chocolate for chocolate making - not a bag of chocolate morsels to use for baking. At the grocery store, you can buy bars of Ghirardelli baking chocolate at various percentages and those have worked really well for me.  I just recently bought some on sale at Busch's that were 3 for $5.   That works out to about  $6.66 per lb.  It's a little extra work, because you will have to chop it up into small pieces.  Chocolate for chocolate making comes in drops, but if you are just getting started with chocolate making, I'd suggest going with bars from the grocery store.
  • Don't bother with the double boiler.   The microwave is a much better tool for chocolate making.   Double boilers are a pain to do anything in, especially chocolate tempering.  At my house, the microwave is just sitting there, waiting to reheat last night's dinner leftovers or to make a bag of popcorn.   It's good to have another use for it.   (by the way, making rice is also another great use for the microwave, but I will save that for another post).  
  • Great tip I learned from Tammy - use a plastic bowl for tempering chocolate - it retains less heat than glass.   I have some Tupperware Rock and Serve containers that work well for me. 
  • To temper a pound of chopped up dark chocolate, microwave it for a minute and stir, and return it to the microwave for about 30 seconds and stir again, and keep doing this (reduce how many seconds you wave it as it gets closer to being done) until is about 75% melted.  Once it's that far melted, just keep stirring it until  it's all melted.   Check the temperature....the goal is to get it to 90 F without going over.
  • If you blow it and go over 90 F, all is not lost.  Return the chocolate to the microwave and heat it to 115-120 F.  Don't go over.   Then add about 4 oz. of finely chopped chocolate that is already tempered (this is called seed chocolate).   Bars of baking chocolate are already tempered, so that will work.  This gives the cocoa butter some crystals of the already formed chocolate to glom onto.  Remember back in high school chemistry where you made crystals?   No, of course you don't!  Anyway, what you learned and forgot is that crystals beget other crystals.   Once a crystal has formed, it's easier for others to form on it.  Crystals need friends!
  • How to know if your chocolate has tempered?  Dip your finger in and smear it on a piece of parchment paper.   It should set up and get hardin a couple minutes.  You can put it in the fridge to hasten the process. If not, go back and do a redo like described above.   Chocolate is very forgiving. 
I did a little research and the right temperature for milk chocolate is a bit lower than the 90 F max for dark chocolate.  Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking provides says 86-88 F for milk chocolate, so that's what I will use when I use some milk chocolates this year for dipping.  I found a lot of great info about tempering chocolate on this blog - Cooking For Engineers.   It helped me to understand chocolate tempering by relating it to metal.   Not sure anyone but me would care, but I am an engineering geek myself, so I sure appreciated the comparison. 

Friday, November 27, 2009

It's official....

....I have nothing left to write about.   So much for writing during the whole month of December - I can't think of anything to write in the remaining days of November. 

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holiday Season

I guess it's official - we're in the holiday season.  This Sunday is the first Sunday in years past, I have tried blogging for the Twelve Days of Christmas.   It got me thinking - should I try to blog for all of Advent this year?   I think I will!  I've enjoyed participating in NaBloPoMo for November, which is National Blog Posting month.   It required me to get up a little earlier in the morning, which was nice.  I also started making the kids a hot breakfast every morning.   So, I guess I will continue on for the first 25 days of December as well. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What I am making for Thanksgiving

Roasted Brined Turkey and Pan Gravy - Cook's Illustrated
Pioneer Woman Style Dinner Rolls - see below
Mashed Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole - with canned green beans and mushroom soup, because that's how it is supposed to be made
Home Made Cranberry Sauce
Dill Pickles - made last summer
Sweet Potatoes with Ginger Syrup
Pecan Pie - from Grand Traverse Pie Company (school fundraiser)

I quit reading the Pioneer Woman Cooks blog because I just want recipes, not all sorts of photos.   It's a nice blog, though, and it got the Pioneer Woman a book deal, and if you want to see all her pretty pictures, click through to the blog.   So I can remember what I am doing tomorrow,  here is the recipe that I discerned from her post, simplfied and changed to make it more user friendly (at least to me) and reduced in size to a "normal" amount of rolls.  It's a lot like the camping bread dough recipe I use in that for the first rise, you could make it ahead and put it in the fridge for days until you use it.   I have never seen a recipe that used both baking soda and baking powder before, let alone with yeast, so I did a little research.  Cook's Thesaurus says that recipes that call for both baking powder and baking soda are probably using the baking soda to offset extra acidity in the batter (from ingredients like buttermilk or molasses) and to weaken the proteins in the flour.   Since I don't have acidic ingredients, I got to wondering how acidic actual bread dough was after the first rise, and I found out that the amount of sugar at the start affects the the final pH of the bread dough.  This dough does have sugar in it.  However, the yeast doesn't really care about what the pH is.  (I found all of this out in this paper.)  So maybe the baking soda or baking powder is just there to weaken the proteins in the flour.   Further research indicates this recipe is an old Betty Crocker recipe.   Anyway, I'm going to give it a shot.


Dinner Rolls
2 c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
1/2  c. vegetable oil
4.5 c. flour
2 t. dry yeast (or one envelope)
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt

Scald milk, sugar and oil and cool to lukewarm in a dutch oven.  Add 4 c. flour and yeast, stir.  Put lid on dutch oven and let rise for 1 hour.   Add 1/c  cup flour, baking soda, powder and salt.  Stir to combine.  Butter a muffin pan and form dough into 1 inch balls and put 3 in each to make cloverleaf rolls. Allow to rise again 1 - 2 hours.  Bake in a 400 F oven 17-20 minutes, or until golden.  

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Note to self: bulbs planted in the garden

Every year, Downtown Home and Garden prices their remaining spring flowering bulbs half off during mid November.  This year, I bought hyacinths for forcing and then some unique bulbs for planting in the garden.   I'm documenting it here because I will forget what it was and where I planted it come spring.  Along the steps, I planted oxalis adenophyla (Shamrocks) and ornithalgum nutans (Drooping star of Bethlehem) by the stairs and muscari golden fragrance hyacinthoides otisponica pink (can't find a picture of this pink bluebell) and muscari saffier down by the Pink Promise hybrid tea rose bush my daughter planted.  I'll try to rmember to post later about how these all turn out!  I hope the rose bush makes it - I've never had much luck with roses.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Making candy this year for Christmas

I love to make candy - it's a dying one does it any more.   Looking through my blog, I've posted about making toffee and making peppermint patties, which are two fairly easy candy recipes for the newbie candy maker to start out with.  If you can find either of these cookbooks - long out of print, but can be found online and at tag sales and book sales sometimes, they are great to learn how to make candy:

  • "The Candy Cookbook" by Mildred Brand
  • Farm Journal's "Homemade Candy"
Everything I learned about tempering chocolate I learned from Tammy Coxen. of Tammy's Tastings.  If she teaches some truffle making classes this holiday season, take one!  It's great.  Stay tuned here for more of my holiday candy making ventures.   This season, I think I am going to make these candy bars.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Less than $2 per serving...take that, Walmart!

My blogging friend Noelle has started something wonderful - the Anti Walmart Challenge.  Not that I'm against Wal Mart...I haven't ever really shopped at one since they have been drummed out of Ann Arbor every time they propose to build one around here, but I really take issue with their commercials.  If you watch any TV at all, you’ve probably seen one of Wal Mart’s recent ads that feature a mom bragging about how she can feed her family on food from Wal Mart on less than $2 a serving. One of the ads is at breakfast time, and the products featured are a sugary yogurt targeted at kids, toaster pastry, and some soy milk.  Why soy milk when she's feeding them the neon colored yogurt?  The other ad takes place at dinnertime and the meal consists of frozen garlic bread, bagged salad, bottled Wal Mart brand salad dressing and spaghetti.   What Noelle has proposed is for food bloggers to post about how cooking from scratch can save money.   I really like this she is going to donate $2 for every post she gets to Gleaners Food Bank, which helps feed the hungry in the Detroit area.  Detroiters really need the help right now...many people out of work, many families are struggling to put food on the table.

I decided to go right for the Walmart jugular and start with spaghetti.  Yes, it might take a little less forethought to just use a jar of Walmart sauce and a bag of salad and a bottle of Walmart salad dressing and some frozen garlic bread.  With a little forethought, this meal can be made by a working person after a long work day.   First, in the morning, get a head start by making my crockpot spaghetti sauce with 4 lbs of ground beef and an additional can of tomato puree.    The good news here is that it makes enough for 4 meals, so the rest can be frozen for another 3 days worth of meals.  This results in homemade spaghetti that actually has meat in it for $1.17 per serving.  Note that I didn't sale shop for these prices - this is just what happened to turn up at Busch's this week.  $1.99 per pound isn't a great price for ground can sometimes get it for $.99 cents/lb in a 5 lb tube which would even make this price even better.   I am sure Walmart sells it that way...check it out.   Then, serve the spaghetti with home made garlic bread made from a grocery store baguette for $.21 per serving.  This price could even be reduced more by baking a frozen bread dough loaf instead of using a baguette from the bakery.    Lastly, a salad made from half head of iceberg lettuce, a quarter head of red cabbage and 2 grated carrots, and my son's salad dressing for $.52 per serving.

Without even trying hard, my meal is $1.90 per serving.   The hardest part about this venture was tallying up the costs - it certainly wasn't cooking it!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Winter food preservation projects

I was just reviewing all that I canned this year to see what I might like to use for Christmas or hostess gifts this holiday season.    I was surprised to see how low I am already on strawberry jam.   Technically, it's not even winter yet and I am almost out.  Last June, I made 15 pints of Natural Strawberry Jam.   It gets eaten every day around here - next year I need to remember to make more.  I also made salsa and a couple kind of ketchups, brined dill pickles, fresh dill pickles, and pickled green beans.  I made lots of liqueurs...strawberry, blueberry, cherry, raspberry.  But it is nearing winter in Michigan and there's not much local food to put up.  What would be some good things to can for the holidays?

I still have some Major Grey's Chutney left from last April - mangoes come into season in winter and it is the best time to can this chutney.  Another great food preservation project for winter is to make your own vinegar.  I bought some Michigan blueberry, cherry and raspberry wine from the Leleenau that I think will make some great vinegars.  I better get them going today.  Here are some recipes I might try for winter canning.  These would make great Christmas or hostess gifts:

Champagne Grape Jelly

Pickled Garlic, Shallots and Pearl Onions

Friday, November 20, 2009

8 things every Michigan Lady Food Blogger should do...

Today, I put a post on our group blog to discuss 8 things every Michigan Lady Food Blogger should do....check it out!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Next time I can't figure out what to make out of chicken breasts...

Here's some ideas:

Lynn Rosetto Kasper Ginger Shallot Chicken

Lucinda Scala Quinn's Vinegar Glossed Chicken

America's Test Kitchen Skillet-Roasted Chicken Breasts with Potatoes that came to me via a newsletter from the Splendid Table.    Since it's a pain to link to it, here's my interpretation of the recipe:

4 (10- to 12-ounce) bone-in, split chicken breasts
salt and pepper
olive oil
1-½ pounds red potatoes (4 to 5 medium), or any kind of potato cut into 1-inch wedges
juice from 1 lemon
1 medium garlic clove
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves - I'm going to use dried because that's what I have on hand always
Pinch red pepper flakes

1. Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a cast iron frying pan over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add the chicken, skin side down, and cook until deep golden, about 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, toss the potatoes with 1 more tablespoon of the oil, salt, and pepper in a microwave-safe bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Microwave on high power until the potatoes begin to soften, 5 to 10 minutes, shaking the bowl (without removing the plastic) to toss the potatoes halfway through.  I use this technique often for making potatoes.  I learned it from Cooks Illustrated.   Great with added rosemary!
4. Turn chicken skin side up and put it in a baking pan in the oven and bake until the thickest part of the breasts registers 160 to 165 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 15 to 20 minutes.
5. While the chicken bakes, pour off any fat in the skillet, add 1 tablespoon more oil, and return to medium heat until shimmering. Drain the microwaved potatoes, then add to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and tender, about 10 minutes.  I'll probably try putting the chicken in the cast iron pan in the oven for 10 minutes, and then adding the potatoes 10 minutes through to the pan.  One less pan to clean.
6. Whisk the remaining some oil, the lemon juice, garlic, thyme, and red pepper flakes together. Drizzle the oil mixture over the chicken and potatoes before serving.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

I don't read often....

There is plenty of bad things to say about it, but I will try to find the good in it.   Here's a couple things worth reading:

The Fart Story - Ann Arbor thought it would be cool if they had bike racks that supported the arts, but then this happened....

The Kitchen Mailbox - Marge Biancke was the Ann Arbor News longtime food writer.   Her recipes are always good.   She doesn't get featured often in - I am not sure why - but her kitchen mailbox is still a classic. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Crockpot Spaghetti Sauce

I have been making spaghetti sauce in the crock pot lately, and wanted to jot down how I am doing it so I won' forget.    I haven't priced it out, but making it this way has got to be cheaper than buying the jarred stuff.    One batch made 4 8x8 lasagnes that I then froze for eating later on busy days.

Spaghetti Sauce
printer friendly

6 lbs or so of ground beef
3 onions, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
3 large cans tomato puree
3 bay leaves
3 T. Italian seasoning  (I've been using Penzey's pizza seasoning because I have several free samples)
Salt, pepper and sugar, to taste

Brown ground beef in a skillet and place in the crock pot, draining grease.   After last batch, add onions and garlic to pan and saute until softened.   Add tomato puree, bay leaves and Italian seasoning, stir until everything is well mixes.  Cook on high for 4 hours or low on 8 hours.   Add salt and pepper and sugar (about a couple tablespoons) to taste. 

This makes a very rich meaty sauce that the whole family loves.  I'll do some investigating later to figure out how I could pressure can it safely, but for now, I am not sure yet.   It can be frozen instead.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Some interesting facts about my blog....

I like to use Google Analytics to find out things about what people read on my blog.   Not that the numbers mean anything, since I blog totally for free, but it is always interesting to me to understand what posts my readers like the most.

  • My blog averages about 100 reads a day.  I am always a little shocked to find out that it's more than a handful of people I know and love.  Whoever you are, thank you!
  • My most popular post has always been one I wrote in 2006 about pickled eggs.  One time the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel featured it, so I think that's why it is so popular.  
  • My top 5 posts are rounded out with the recipe for Olga Bread from Olga's Kitchen Restaurant...(I used to work there when I was a teen), a canning recipe for Major Grey's chutney,  how to can strawberry jam without adding boxed pectin
  • I started my blog in Jan. 2006.  My first post was about how much I don't like eating at McDonalds.   I had to eat there a lot because the kids liked it then.   Note they have grown out of it!  They have seen the movie Super Size me and they don't want to eat it any more.   They much prefer Taco Bell or Wendy's now. 
I have noticed over my almost 3 years of food blogging, many people start food blogs, few continue.   All I can say is to try to write at least once a week.  That has helped me stick with it.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Greenfield Village - at the Firestone Farm

One of my favorite places at GFV is the Firestone Farm, which is a beautiful Victorian farmhouse that was the childhood home of Harvey Firestone, founder of the tire company.  When visiting the house, the men and women are re-enacting the typical work day of a farm in the late 1800s. The ladies of the house would follow the rules for housework:

  • Wash on Monday
  • Iron on Tuesday
  • Mend on Wednesday
  • Market on Thursday
  • Clean on Friday
  • Bake on Saturday
  • Rest on Sunday

Do you do housework on a particular day?  I think that my schedule would look like this:

  • Work and drive kids to stuff on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday
  • Work, Happy Hour and collapse on Friday
  • Try to get all the housework done and fail on Saturday
  • Shop and do the wash on Sunday, swear I will start on it earlier in the week next week, but never do


Friday, November 13, 2009

Greenfield Village

One of the best things about my job is that I work right across the street from the Henry Ford in Dearborn.  Henry Ford (the man) was quite an ecletic individual.    Even though he is famous for saying "History is bunk", that quote was really part of a sentence where he was talking about not using the past to justify bad decisions made now.  He opposed the build up of American armed forces before World War I, and the quote "History is bunk" was his way of saying just because it was done in the past, doesn't mean we should do it now.   Here's more information about that quote in this blog post.  

The fact is, Ford was always fascinated with history, and one of the quirky, rich guy things he did was collect Americana.  Rich guys always feel a need to leave their mark on society.  For example, Donald Trump has left his Trump Towers in cities all over.  Tom Monaghan (Domino's Pizza founder) wanted so badly to build a crucifix taller than the Statue of Liberty that he left the left wing politics of Ann Arbor to build his own city in Florida to do it.   So, Henry Ford was just doing what quirky rich guys do all over - he was making his mark.   Here's a better quote from Ford and his feelings about history:

"I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used.... When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition..."

I'm the lucky benefactor of Ford's quirkiness, because as often as I can I can step back in history on my lunch hour.  I most enjoy walking the grounds of Greenfield Village during the summer months on my lunch hour.  In the winter before Christmas, it's only open on the weekends, and this blog post from Kim talks about Holiday Nights at the Village.  I am looking forward to making a visit on a non work day this holiday season.   I will write more about GFV - check back soon....most Michiganders have been to the Henry Ford as part of a class field trip, but check it out as an adult.  And bring your holiday visitors from out of town!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Up to my ears in pie orders

Sorry for the short post today - any spare minute I have is spent tabulating pie orders for the 8th grade class trip to Washington DC.   Our middle school does a fundraiser with the Grand Traverse Pie Company and it really is a great one - the pies taste wonderful and each kid earns $5 per pie.    I am in charge this year. Want to buy some pie?  Send me an email before I have to submit the order on Monday morning...(only if you live where I can get it to you). On the Monday before Thanksgiving, I will deliver it.  They cost $14.50.  They come already baked or frozen, and you can then pop it in the oven and pretend you baked it yourself.  I am fussy about pie, and Grand Traverse pies are the only store bought ones I will eat.  They are very good!

Here's the flavors we are selling - all named after spots in Michigan's Grand Traverse area, where local fruit abound:
  •  Old Mission Cherry Pie 
  • Long Lake Berry Cherry 
  • Front Street Apple 
  • Suttons Bay Blueberry 
  • Lakeshore Berry 
  • Fire House Strawberry Rhubarb 
  • Good Harbor Raspberry 
  • Pecan 
  • Pumpkin 
  • Pumpkin Pecan

 Meanwhile, back to the reckoning....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Weekly meal calendar....

Last year, I tried to make the commitment to a meal calendar, and failed miserably.   I am trying to figure out why I couldn't stick with it.   I was inspired by my family's many camping experiences - you simply HAVE to make a menu plan for camping, or else you aren't going to eat very well on a camping trip.   But somehow it requires more energy than I could summon.   I've had some luck in the past with committing certain days to certain things - i.e. crockpot day, pizza day, etc.   Maybe I should play on that theme and select a main dish style for that day.   At the beginning of the school year, I proposed that the cherubs each take a day of cooking.  That lasted about a week, mostly because of my failure to plan adequately.  By the time I was in middle school, my mother had gone back to work and my sister and I switched off making dinner every night of the week.  If my memory serves me correctly, we made a lot of spaghetti with jarred sauce and hamburger.    What to do?

Here are my options:

  • Monday: Husband cooks - he doesn't work Mondays.  It's a busy night for us. We have trumpet lessons and Boy Scouts.  We have to leave the house at 5:45 pm
  • Tuesday: Kids have catechism, it would make sense for one of them to cook so they could eat before they left. One night a month I have a church meeting
  • Wednesday:  One night a month I have a church meeting
  • Thursday:  Kids have piano - it would make sense for one of them to make dinner because we have to leave the house at 6 pm.  Not a lot of time to cook and eat.
  • Friday:  Most of the time everyone's home and no regular commitments
  • Saturday:  We usually try to go to church at 5:30 Mass...makes for a good dinner that can be in the oven for an hour while we are gone.  Farmer's Market day - lots of good food inspiration
  • Sunday:  Usually my grocery shopping day.  Great day for cooking ahead and big cooking projects.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Various and sundry items

I have used all my blogging time this morning trying to remove some malware from my daughter's computer.  But real quick, here are a few things I want to try doing between now and the end of the year:
And here's some feedback about the cutting up chicken....the video worked!  It was really easy.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Reducing my asshole footprint

A couple years ago, Vanity Fair wrote this great quiz called "Know Your Asshole Footprint" which really rung true to me....check it out - if you can answer 4 or more with  yes for your age group, it is suggested that you take urgent action to reduce your asshole footprint.   I do love these suggestions of what can be do to reduce one's footprint:

How to Reduce Your Asshole Footprint:

1. Read a book to a small child, and not in a "Cool! I read this when I was a kid!" way.

2. Stop gelling, mussing, and spiking your hair. You should part it, and that's that.

3. Refrain from ever using the construction "Mmm, I want me some.…"

4. Do not ever order a Cosmopolitan again.

5. Give in to the aging process, through every step of it.

6. Eat leftovers.

7. Go two entire, consecutive days without using a wireless electronic communication device.

8. Do not ever again refer to an elderly person, to his or her face, as "so cute."

9. All those things prescribed by Robert Greene in The 48 Laws of Power? Do the precise opposite.

I also like the section that suggests how one can purchase "Asshole Offsets".  All I can say is that I am guilty of a few on this list, although I am not rich enough to afford being an asshole in my age group.  (i.e. helicopter to summer camp, etc).   I am going to have to ponder some a little more realistic for people my age that live in the midwest....stay tuned.  Meanwhile, I need to work on reducing my footprint.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Cutting up a whole chicken

Around town in Ann Arbor lately, there's been big talk of "reskilling".  There's this group called Transition Ann Arbor whose stated goal is to "build resilience". And by this they mean to teach people things they should already know how to do, but never learned.   One thing I keep hearing about is that people are interested in learning how to butcher their own animals.   There's a class offered by a local farm that charges folks $30 each to let people help them butcher their chickens.  Once again, my country living inlaws would be scratching their heads at this trend...they think we Ann Arbor folks are a real hoot. Wait til I tell them that people are paying money to learn how to butcher animals! This will be a great Thanksgiving table discussion. The last time they laughed that hard at me was when the PETA people protested at the buck pole in downtown Dexter.   That being said, I don't know how to butcher a chicken, nor do I see a need to learn, given that I don't own any.  My brother in law raised chickens for years and my neices and nephews would think nothing of grabbing a chicken and cutting it's head off.  But I really should learn how to cut up a whole chicken.  

Many years ago, I was inspired by Cook's Illustrated to try to do it myself, and it wasn't pretty.   I bought some Wusthof poultry shears, and my one and only attempt was a mess and left me squeamish.  I really didn't like all the popping of bones out of joints as described in the process.   Last year, I took a class at Williams Sonoma and the guy teaching it promised to show us all how easy it was, and then he proceeded to have a difficult time doing it.  He didn't seem very confident in his skills.  

Why learn how to cut up a chicken?  Buying whole chickens is a great way to save money.  Plus, I try to buy local chicken when it's affordable, and it just doesn't come on a styrofoam tray and in boneless skinless form.   I need some "reskilling".   My mom used to cut up all the chicken we ever ate.   It was an easy task for her, but then again, when she was a kid, she probably butchered them too in her Appalachian homestead.  And she probably did it with a kerosene lamp and no running water, either.  They didn't have electricity or indoor plumbing.   Not sure if she remembers how anymore either.  I'll ask her.

Meanwhile, I found this video on the web and I am going to give it a shot today.  This gal sounds like she knows what she is talking about.   And there is no excessive pounding and popping.   It can be done with a knife - but I can dust off those poultry shears and use them, too.  Stay tuned and I'll let you know how it turns out.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

My monastic fantasy

Ever since I read The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris,  I've been fascinated by the monasticism.  The Benedictine lifestyle of communal living and the lectio divina, the balanced life of prayer and work sounds so peaceful.  Praying the Liturgy of the Hours every day seems so relaxing - I can picture myself in a stone chapel reciting the vespers by candlelight.   The hills are alive with the sound of music, and I could be out there....

Time to make it real - a great deal of monastic life is silence.  Me and silence??? I am a big talker...I am always on the phone, or talking on line or talking to my husband (who probably isn't listening) and talking to my kids (definitely not listening).  And the cloistered life means living with a bunch of other people, some of which are certainly going to be a pain in the ass.  Sounds a lot like living in a college dorm without the partying, or being at work 24/7.   Plus, silent praying is really, really hard for me.   I once heard a comedian say "My mind is a scary place - I try never to go in there alone" and that resonates with me.  Each year at Advent and Lent, I cantor a candelight Taize prayer service at my church which is very meditative.   I dread the part of the service that is actually 10 minutes of silence. I usually spend that time trying not to freak out about the next chant I am going to have to sing.  The Taize music is always really hard, but repetitive, so if you sing it wrong once, it sticks out like a sore thumb.  I suppose there is some kind of "Zen" I am gaining spiritually from this, but I haven't figured it out just yet.  So I know that I am a long way from abbey life, despite my love of the the Sound of Music.   After all, even Maria had to ditch the abbey by marrying the the wussy looking control freak Captain Baron von Trapp.    I don't care how well he could dance the landler....she still traded in one life of rules for another.  How do you solve a problem like Maria?  Evidently it's by telling her what to do. 

I think what I really like about the whole monastic lifestyle is the food and drink.   Where would the happy hour be without Benedictine and Chartreuse, Abbey Ales?   How about those Trappist fruitcakes? Let's not forget the Tassajara Bread Book....Also, I love visiting The Society of St. John in Michigan's Keweenaw for some of the most fanstastic baked goods and jams and jellies I've ever tasted.  The idea of living on Lake Superior and baking and canning all day sounds great, but I know that the reality of it all would likely be different.   After all, I am still trying to get through Thomas Merton's Seven Storey Mountain...

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Michigan Lady Food Bloggers

Who are the Michigan Lady Food Bloggers?  It's a group of women that live in Michigan that blog about food.   We have a google group where we talk about food and blogging, and about every quarter or so, we get together for potlucks.    The MLFB started a while ago when there were a few of us that lived in Ann Arbor got together for tea because we read each others blogs.  We've gotten together to shop at the farmer's market, we've held cookie exchanges, we've had outdoor cookouts,  we've tasted French wine and made French recipes featured in MTAOFC a la Julie and Julia.   We've drank many a mojito together.   We've attended folk music festivals together.  We've canned together.  A group of us eats breakfast most every Friday together.  Some of us have moved from Michigan - one now lives in Denver, another in Mexico, but once in MLFB, always in MLFB.   We've got more bloggers outstate now - as far north as Traverse City.  (I'd love to find a Yooper woman blogging about food to add to our group - know anyone?)   Some of us work in the food industry, as food writers or chefs or farmers.  Others are civilians that like eating and cooking.  Some of us are fabulous cooks, and some, like me, are always working on honing their skills.   Being a great cook or a great writer isn't a requirement to join - just a love of food and writing about it.  We write a joint food blog together called My Food Tribe.

Why is it all women?  Early on, we took a poll - because there are many fine food blogs written by men, we wondered if we should include both sexes.   I voted "no" - mostly because I work with all men and most of my friends are men and I wanted to make some more women friends.  The majority decide to keep it all women, so that's the way it is today.  What's the best thing about MLFB?  Blogging can be a lonely endeavor if you never actually get to meet any of your readers face to face - that's where the MLFB comes in.  We comment on each others posts, we link to each others posts.  Also, many people start food blogs, few people keep at it.  Being part of a blogging group inspires me to keep the blog fires burning.    So, are you a woman that lives in Michigan that writes a food blog?  I invite you to join us.   Are you thinking about starting a food blog?  We'll let you join, but you have to promise to start one ASAP, or we will gently nag you about it.   To find out more about joining, send me an email at momskitchen at comcast dot net.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Lard pie crust

For years, I have been reading about how lard makes for a better pie crust, but I admit, I was more than a little squeamish.   I was worried it would taste meaty, based on this article from the NYT.  For years, I have made my pie crusts with Crisco, following my old reliable pie crust recipe.   Last year, I made tamales that called for lard, so I remembered that the lard wasn't as gross as I thought it would be.  It was a lot like shortening, but the texture feels more greasy.  It didn't smell like I thought it would - it didn't smell at all, in fact.

I made two apple pies the other night with lard.   Sure enough, the BH&G pie crust recipe says I could use shortening or lard....I had read that some people use half butter, half lard but I was going "all in".  It was easier to cut in the lard than shortening, and the crust was easier to roll out.   When baking, the crust had a slightly different smell - it didn't smell like meat or anything, it just smelled a little different.  It tasted great!  The crust was more tender than a shortening crust.   Everyone loved it - I didn't confess my little lard secret.   Plus, lard cost about 1/3 less than Crisco.   I am now a lard convert! 

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Some interesting things I came across lately....

The other day, while eating some bi bim bop at Kosmo's Deli in Kerrytown, I picked up a copy of Natural Awakenings  which is one of those free alternative publications that you can pick up in newspaper boxes around town.    As much as I wish I could pick up a paper copy of  The Onion  in Ann Arbor, like you can in Chicago, I'm still grateful for the plethora of alternative news publications we do have offered.   Normally, I don't find much of value in Natural Awakenings, but this month, I found some things that caught my eye:

  • Sacred Essences - this is a local company that specializes in flower essences.   I'd love to learn more...I've added their blog to my reader list.
  • Simplicity - I really do need to read Thoreau - this winter is the time.   Meanwhile, how many of these items on Linda Breen Pierce's Recipe of Simplicity can I start doing and when?
  • If I can't make it to my yoga class...I should at least try these suggested holiday yoga poses...but maybe I need to figure out a way to get to a Sweet Suhka Yoga class once in a while. 
Your thoughts?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

More about vinegar

Some more vinegar questions....answered:

Do you remove vinegar from the top and place into another bottle?

Actually, you remove vinegar from the bottom.  Once you start growing your own vinegar, a nice healthy mother will float on top of it.   When your vessel starts getting too full, or your vinegar tastes like it is ready, stick your hand in there and lift out the mother and place it in another bowl.   I used to try to use a strainer spoon to do this, because it does look kind of gross, and feels a little strange, but your hand is a better tool for the job.  The mother will have several layers.  Once it starts getting too big, you should peel off a few of the layers and give them away.  I put the vinegar in an old wine bottle with a whiskey pour spout on for use.  Occasionally,  vinegar mother will start growing in my vinegar bottle, too.  (cloudy stuff that floats on the top).   That's okay, consuming it won't hurt you.  In fact, it's healthy - consider it "probiotics".   I have never grown a big blob in my vinegar bottle - I think it probably doesn't get enough air and it isn't dark enough to grow that big.    Put your mother back in the vinegar making vessel (I use a small crock) and add more wine and you're ready to make more vinegar.  Sometimes, when I have too much vnegar, I have to start giving it away to friends and neighbors.

How much wine can you treat at once? I have a couple of bottles I want to get rid of.

I never have done a whole bottle at once, but if I had a whole bottle, I'd probably only use a couple cups to start and then save the rest of the bottle to add to it weekly.  

What kind of wine works best?

I think fruity sweet tasting wines work out great, but any kind will work.  I find that after the holidays, I often have sweet wines left over because my relatives prefer those kind over the dry wine I prefer, so I will use that in my vinegar crock.   But I mix wines up all the time - I don't stick to one type.   This year, I might try to make an exclusive cranberry wine vinegar for the holidays.  (Note to self: I better get started asap)

How long does it take to make vinegar? 

A couple weeks, at least.  I just started some a couple weeks ago, and I might taste it to see how it's doing this weekend.  Even when it is done, if I don't have any room to put more vinegar in my vinegar bottle, I will just keep adding more wine.   You really can't over do it, but the mother will die off if it doesn't get any more wine to eat.  Just keep adding wine to already complete vinegar until you need more vinegar in your vinegar bottle.

How do you know if you killed off your vinegar mother?

I've killed off many a vinegar mother - sometimes out of neglect because I forgot to feed it more wine and  and once because I tried a ceramic lidded container and it wasn't getting enough air.   I think vinegar needs darkness, too, but am not sure that's a fact.  So I always keep mine in an opaque vessel.  First sign it's dead is that the mother is not floating at the top.  Secondly, it doesn't smell vinegary anymore - sometimes it takes on the smell of acetone.   When that happens, the vinegar won't taste good, so just throw out the whole thing, sanitize your vessel with bleach water and start over with some more Braggs and some wine.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Make your own vinegar

A while ago, I posted about how you could make your own wine vinegar, and since then, many people have asked me questions about how to do are the questions answered:

How do you get some vinegar mother? Like that Amish Friendship Bread, it helps to have a friend that has some that can give it to you.  Unlike the Amish Friendship Bread, I have never had anyone at work try to give me some.   The fact is, unless you hang out with people that love vinegar, chances are you don't know anyone that has some to start.   No worries, though.  There's a kind of vinegar, like Braggs Organic Raw Appple Cider (with the mother) that usually is found at health food stores.

Locally, I have found it at the People's Food Coop in Ann Arbor.   Let it sit still for a while and you will see the mother - it's a sludge on the bottom of the bottle.   Carefully pour off most of the vinegar on top and reserve the bottom quarter or so of the bottle and that is your vinegar mother to start.

How do I make wine vinegar?   Take the mother and place it in a crock....I use a small one gallon crock.   I tried to use a crock with a spigot and a lid, but it didn't work well and my mother died off.  I think they need lots of air.   So, I put it in a dark place with a dish towel on the top and a rubber band to hold it on.  Add some wine.  Usually a wine glass full.   Get into the habit of pouring your "mother" a glass of wine whenever you have any.   If there's some dregs left in wine glasses, or a small amount at the end of a bottle, you can throw that in there, too.  Don't worry about germs - the process of making vinegar will take care of any germs.  Start tasting it after a couple weeks.  When it is sour enough, it's done.   You should keep adding some wine each week or so.  Taste it before you add more wine. 

Do I have to use red wine or white wine?  You can use either.  I have even mixed the two, but there are some that say that it is verboten to mix red and white wine when making vinegar, I've never had a problem with doing so.  I did once kill off a mother by adding apple cider to one that was living in red wine.

Can I make apple cider vinegar?   Yes, but make sure you start with fresh Braggs mother that hasn't been eating wine. 

Can I use other brands of natural vinegar? I've never had any luck with other brands, like Spectrum, so I stick to Braggs.

Help!  My vinegar mother is growing huge!  What do I do?  It's going to take over my kitchen.  Time to split it up.  Take it out and it will separate into layers.  Find some friends that want to make some vinegar and pass it on.  Just put it in a plastic baggie.  It's like the Amish Friendship Bread.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Local Food Challenge: Crockpot collards and cornbread

Food blogger Chef Brian has recently posted about eating locally on a budget, and his $3-$5 local meal challenge is an interesting quest.  On his wonderful blog (be sure to check it out), he once posted that he could make a local hamburger that's cheaper than a McD burger.  More power to him - I know I can't, the dollar menu McD double cheeseburger has me beat easily. My cheapest local burger I could make is $2.45 - see my math in the comment to his post here.   Eating locally is a priority for me, because I want to support Michigan farmers and I think that local food in season tastes better, but it can be a challenge to do so on a budget. Here's this weekend's attempt....

It's the season for greens - I thought about making some kale because my friend Diana is such a kale inspiration, but it was some collards that caught my eye yesterday at the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market.  (I am sure Diana would rule collards "close enough" in nutritional benefits).   Here's the recipe I made - crockpot collards and cornbread.

Crock Pot Collards

2 lbs. washed collard greens, stems removed, and cut in 2 inch pieces
1/2 c. cider vinegar
3 c. water
2 smoked ham hocks

Put greens in crock pot, add water and vinegar, and put hocks on top. Cook for 10 hours on low. Remove hocks and cut up meat and sprinkle on top, if the idea of eating ham hocks doesn't turn you off. Serve with Franks Hot Sauce and a side of cornbread.   Serves 4.


3 pieces bacon
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
2 to 3 tablespoons sugar
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup milk
reserved baon grease and enough cooking oil to make 1/4 cup

Preheat oven to 400F.  Fry bacon in a 10 inch cast iron frying pan, reserve grease.  Save bacon for another use - a great use is a treat for the cook!  In a medium bowl stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt; set aside.  Pour whatever grease you have from the bacon in  measuring cup, add enough cooking oil to make 1/4 cup.  Place frying pan the preheated oven while you mix together eggs, milk, and fat in a small bowl. Add egg mixture all at once to flour mixture. Stir just until moistened. Pour batter into hot skillet. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cut into wedges.  Makes 8 pieces - 4 servings

So how did I do?   First the good news....I could make a meal of local ingredients in the $3-$5 per serving range.   This one, made with local ingredients, would have cost me $3.52 per serving.  The bad news is that's almost double what it would have cost me if I just used grocery store ingredients.  I'm pretty thrifty - it's a rare meal that I make that costs $3.52 per serving, especially for this one, which is almost vegetarian.   For my grocery store, I used Busch's because they have a neat online pricing feature called "Busch's My Way" that made it easy for me to look up prices.  That being said, Busch's isn't the cheapest grocery store around - I could have probably done better, price wise, at other stored if I really tried.  I could have shopped sales all over town or used items I bought on sale for future use in the past.  Many of the items for this recipe aren't on sale at Busch's this week.   Also, some of the super discount grocery stores like Aldi or the dollar store would provide even cheaper deals.  I'm blessed in that I have enough money to buy food for my family, but I recognize many in our state are really struggling now and buying locally is probably out of reach for most, unless they are able to grow their own.  Here's my math, for readers, such as myself, that are the "show me the numbers", anal retentive engineering types, such as myself.  I am blessed to be able to afford to buy local - and I wish more people could.
Which reminds church, St. Joseph in Dexter, is starting a congregational garden to raise food for the hungry.   I really think this is a terrific idea - last growing season, we sponsored a "Plant A Row for the Hungry" effort that resulted in over 400 lb of food for the hungry in Washtenaw County.  I encourage all locavores to remember the hungry in our midst because eating locally is out of reach for most, if not all, of them.   To find out more about starting a conmmunity garden or planting a row in your own garden for the hungry, check out the Growing Hope website.   Meanwhile, do tell....what are you making that's local and budget friendly?