Comforting Winter Breakfast

January 4, 2012 § 3 Comments

While putting in an unusually long day at work today, I found my weary mind pondering comfort foods. I began thinking of how wonderfully warm and comforting a nice bowl of oatmeal is. I have been known to eat it almost any time of day, but particularly for breakfast or a late evening snack (or supper on late nights like tonight).

I remember Mom making it for us for breakfast, when I was very young, in a big saucepan on the stove. She made it thicker and firmer than most others I have experienced. I loved the contrast of the hot cereal against the moat of cold milk she poured around it. The creamier, softer versions I have had in other people’s homes and in restaurants just don’t satisfy my like Mom’s did. I really like something to chew on and hers was amazing. The one thing I do differently now, though, is to add mixed, dried fruit. I wasn’t much for raisins when I was growing up, but now I love a mix of golden raisins, cranberries, currants, apricots, cherries, and just about any other dried fruit I can get my hands on. Chewy and sweet, they eliminate the need for added refined sugar.

I mentioned that she made oatmeal for us when I was very young. As we got older, instant oatmeal packets became widely available in a huge variety of flavors. My younger siblings really loved these. As I recall, I pretty much avoided said packets because they just didn’t satisfy like Mom’s home cooked. The texture was never the same and the flavors seemed artificial to me even when they were marked “natural flavorings”. They also seemed much sweeter and I just don’t care to start my day with all the sugar. To this day, the only “instant” oatmeal I can stomach is the plain, unflavored variety. I have found that “quick-cooking” oats are as easy to prepare and much cheaper to measure myself. Hot water from the coffee maker and a minute in the microwave and my office breakfast (or late night supper) is ready to eat.


“Eat More Fish”

January 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

“Eat more fish,” they keep telling us.  It’s good for our hearts, blood pressure, and brain function.  However, I don’t think they were endorsing tonight’s menu.  Southern-fried catfish with plenty of hush puppies and tartar sauce.

I am afraid the picture doesn’t do it justice.  I must do something to improve the lighting in the kitchen.  (It may have something to do with the country blue paint on the walls.  It seems to give an off-blue hue to everything.) Perhaps I will try taking my photos in the dining room next time.

I remember Mom making mounds of fried fish and hush puppies, especially after one of our trips to Minnesota to see the grandparents.  There were always multiple trips to the lake to fish.  We ate what we caught — catfish, northern, walleye, sun fish and perch — then we would load up the ice chest with dry ice and head to the fishmonger for the fresh catch of the day and haul it home with us to Oklahoma.  Fresh, wild fish — I am not sure my children have ever enjoyed it.  Everything we have available these days is farm-raised.  It leaves so much to be desired in the way of texture and flavor.  Farmed fish is fed corn so it will grow fast and kept in small ponds so they don’t get any exercise.  This produces fish that is mushy and flavorless.

I did recently discover a cousin of the catfish called Basa.  It has improved flavor and texture because it is river farmed.  They are raised in net enclosures in a rapidly moving river.  This allows them more exercise and they get to feed on wild things that come to them through the river.  The biggest concern is that it is raised in South Vietnam.  While it is safe to eat, it is not one you want to eat every week due to the risk of pollutants because their environment is not as carefully controlled as in the United States.  There are also green concerns when you consider the distance it has to travel to our markets.

I would love to see the fisheries in the U.S. embrace the river farming method…

New Beginnings

January 1, 2012 § 3 Comments

And so it begins….

I always look at January first as an opportunity for new beginnings.  I can appreciate a new way of doing things, or a new perspective on life.  This year I have been challenged to do something I never have.  I am going to attempt a 366-day project.  You can look for regular, daily posts here.  I won’t guarantee how many recipes I will publish, or if they will all include photos, but I am hoping you will find something interesting or thought provoking every day.

You can help me with that project, too.  Perhaps you have a food related memory or insight that you want to share with me as a catalyst for discussion, or perhaps you have a question about something you never have had opportunity to ask.  Feel free to post in the comments or e-mail me.  I love the interaction.

As long as I can remember, my family tradition included ham and black-eyed peas for New Year’s day.  This will be followed by many days of ham sandwiches, casseroles, and a big pot of beans made with the bone.  I love this time of year!  We were really blessed this year as a friend at the church brought me the bone from her ham this morning.  I get TWO pots of beans this year and I CAN’T WAIT.

I would love to know about your New Year’s Day food traditions.

Perhaps I will share some of the things I do with my ham along the way…

Holiday Leftover Mash-up

December 2, 2011 § 4 Comments

Holiday leftovers…

Do they produce fear or anticipation for you?  I anticipate them every year and can’t wait to find something new to do with them.  As creative as I want to be, the thick slices of breast meat with Miracle-Whip on white bread are always a requirement so the white meat is reserved for such wonderful midnight snacking.  I anticipate it so much that when we travel out of state for Thanksgiving (which of course means no leftovers), I come home and roast a turkey of my own for leftover goodness.

Always on the menu at some point is turkey noodle soup or turkey and dumplings.  This year is turkey noodle.  I start by removing most (but not all) of the meat from the body of the turkey.  I then put the carcass in a pot with water, salt, pepper, some whole celery stalks (cut in half to fit in the pan better), a whole, unpeeled carrot (if I have one) and a whole small onion (halved, skin on).  This I simmer for an hour or so, extracting all the flavor from the bones and remaining meat.  Strain all of the solids from the stock and remove meat from the bones, reserving it for the soup later.  Refrigerate stock until fat solidifies, then skim it from the top.  To make the soup, simply simmer the stock, reducing it by about a third to concentrate the flavor.  Adjust the salt and pepper, as needed.  Boil egg noodles until al-dente, add turkey to stock.  Serve soup by spooning the stock/turkey over the noodles in individual bowls.  This will keep the noodles from turning mushy.

I actually made this soup twice this year.  When I dispatched the turkey, I reserved the leg quarters intact.  For the second batch of soup, I used one leg quarter, one quart of unsalted chicken stock-in-a-box, and about a quart of water.  I then followed the same method as above.  There is little fat on this so there is no need to de-fat the stock.  My guys never complained about having turkey noodle twice.

I did discover an interesting new method for dealing with leftovers from the whole meal.  Of course, every year it will be slightly different, but that is what makes it so wonderful.  I took half a bag of frozen mixed vegetables (because I didn’t have any vegetables leftover from dinner), thawed them in the microwave and put them in the bottom of a casserole dish.  Then I chopped the meat from one leg quarter (the one that didn’t make it into the soup above) and layered it over the vegetables.  I re-heated the leftover gravy and poured it over the vegetables and turkey, then topped this with about a half-inch layer of stuffing.  To make it even more amazing, I finished it off with a layer of leftover mashed potatoes and baked it for about 30 minutes until it was bubbly and hot.  I have never heard my guys go on about leftovers like they did over this mash-up.  I have to admit it was pretty tasty and it will definitely be on the menu in the future.  My son said it was like having all of Thanksgiving in one bite.  The only thing missing was the cranberries.  If I was thinking, they may have made it in there, too.

What interesting things do you do with your leftovers?

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road – 3

December 2, 2011 § 3 Comments

I grew up in a time when the cafeteria ladies at school, still actually cooked from scratch.  Fresh, homemade dinner rolls, beef stew, beans and cornbread, goulash….  One of my favorites was Chicken Pot Pie.  For the cafeteria ladies, this meant a creamy chicken and vegetable stew with biscuits baked on top.  It really hit the spot in the winter.

Pot pies in my home, growing up, were usually the little frozen ones that came in the metal tin with the pastry crust.  My favorites had both a top and bottom crust, because the best part was the crust.  As an adult, I still enjoy a microwaveable pot pie from time to time for a quick, satisfying lunch.  I do recall mom making pot pies from scratch from time to time, too.  She could make the most amazing crust!

My kids have benefited from my love of pot pie.  Yes, I have fed them the ones frozen in tins, and the ones that were microwaveable, but their favorite is when I take time to make one from scratch.  I have made both the biscuit topped and pastry crust varieties, and the consensus is the pastry crust is better.  I have also served it in individual ramekins with a puff pastry top for a special occasion.

There is so much you can do with the filling of one of these pies.  The best ones I have made (and hardest to duplicate) were from leftovers.  Take a little leftover chicken, vegetables, and gravy and pile them into a store bought crust.  Bake it according to the directions for a two-crust pie on the pastry box.  This is one of my best kept secrets for a quick one-pan meal that I don’t have to stand over.  You can build it the night before and put it in the refrigerator.  Then, when you come home from work, put it in a cold oven, turn it on and let the oven do all the work.

Hmmm…I believe I have a bit of chicken in the fridge…….

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? – 2

October 17, 2011 § 2 Comments

Grandma’s chicken and dumplings…..

Need I say more?  What memories well up?  I remember having dumplings once at my grandmother’s in Minnesota.  As I recall, she made the traditional, rolled, German style dumplings in a stew of chicken and thick, creamy gravy.  I sometimes wish I had spent more time up there.  (She also made some amazing donuts, but that is for another time).

Mom had an altogether different take on chicken and dumplings.  She started with a milky, broth-y soup with chicken and onions and dropped biscuit-style dumplings in, putting a lid on and letting them steam until they were fluffy and light.  This was one of my all time favorite winter meals.  I remember that soul-soothing aroma wafting through the house as she boiled the whole chicken.  I was fascinated with her ability to handle that bird before it had a chance to fully cool.  She added milk to the broth and while it heated to boiling, she mixed a biscuit-style dough of flour, baking powder, shortening, salt, dried herbs, and milk.  She quickly dropped it by tablespoon into the boiling broth and put the lid on the pan, trapping in steam, which made the little, dense balls of dough puff into the most amazing clouds.  We were all more interested in the dumplings than the broth or chicken, so Mom had to make a double batch to fill us up.

To this day, I am convinced that the only way to make a chicken broth is with the whole bird.  I have tried other methods in an effort to find an easier way for the daughter who still cannot bring herself to deal with a bone-in, skin-on bird.  It just isn’t the same.  Nor is substituting boxed/canned stock.  You can get something edible, but not as satisfying as doing it the long way.  I plan ahead so I can get several meals out of my chicken-boiling efforts and not have to do a chicken every time I want broth and cooked chicken.

My own version of chicken and dumplings borrows heavily from Mom’s with a few enhancements, and my kids beg for it — sometimes even in the summer.  I kept Mom’s dumplings (although, I am ashamed to admit, I have used biscuit mix in a pinch).  I have added mushrooms and thickened the broth a bit so it becomes more of a cream of chicken and mushroom soup before the dumplings.  I also eliminated the celery and substituted celery seed.  I love the taste of celery, but it seems I use one or two stalks and wind up throwing the rest away.  I just couldn’t bear the waste.  The celery seed gives the soup a wonderful flavor and keeps for months in the pantry.  I find it is working its way into a great number of dishes these days.

I am presently perfecting the recipe for the book but will publish a version here very soon because I have already heard from many of you requesting the recipe.  My apologies for not posting more regularly.  It seems there is a lot of life happening here lately.

Next time — Pot Pie!

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

September 24, 2011 § 2 Comments

Why did the chicken cross the road?  She crossed it to get to the TASTY side!

What memories do you have of chicken?  It is such a blank canvas, I am sure we all have many — fried, baked, boiled, grilled, wings, nuggets, tenders.  Over the next few posts, I will try to cover the many ways we enjoy chicken and what memories it invokes.  Today we will look at fried because, face it, we have found a ga-billion ways to fry that glorious bird.

While mom made some amazing fried chicken (which I have yet to duplicate), I also have loving memories of the Colonel’s original recipe on Sunday afternoon so Mom didn’t have to cook.  Don’t get me wrong.  Mom’s chicken was far superior to the Colonel’s.  The memory maker for me was the wonderful smell of chicken in the car on the way home from church, the red and white cardboard bucket of greasy goodness warming my lap, and the anticipation of all that went with it.  Dinner around the table with the whole family without the blare of the television, looking at each other’s faces and talking to each other, these things are etched in my mind.

Church dinners always presented fried chicken in some form.  This incredible food was tasty hot and fresh out of the pan, at room temperature, or refrigerated.  At church dinners you could find home fried chicken seasoned in any number of ways sitting next to broasted chicken (deep-fried in a pressure cooker) from the grocery store, and the Colonel’s (of course).  Needless to say, we all wanted one of each.

Then, of course, there is “oven fried” in it’s many forms.  I remember following Mom around the kitchen as she made this tasty treat.  Mom always cooked a whole chicken.  I stood amazed as she deftly cut that bird into 11 pieces (believe it or not, Dad liked back and the tail).  She would melt margarine or butter in a 9×13 baking dish in the oven, dip the chicken in it then roll it in crushed saltine crackers.  She baked it for an hour or so until it was crispy and delicious and the house smelled of chicken and butter.  I can smell it now and may have to cook this dish this week.  I have been known to change it up a bit by using those little square cheese crackers with fantastic results.

Since I have not been able to duplicate Mom’s fried chicken, I have pursued my own fried version using chicken tenders or boneless, skinless, chicken breast strips.  A quick dunk  some buttermilk (or milk with a bit of vinegar or lemon juice), seasoned with some hot sauce, salt and pepper,  followed by a shake in a bag of Italian seasoned breadcrumbs and Parmesan, and sauteed in olive oil or roasted in the oven (depending, of course, on whether I wanted to be healthy or fast).  My kids loved these quick chicken fingers and it was one of the first things my daughter cooked for her husband before they were married.  As a matter of fact, I seem to recall her cooking them for him in my kitchen….

How do you fry — tenders, nuggets, whole bird?  Do you use breadcrumbs or seasoned flour?  What makes this special to you and your family?

Next time — Chicken and Dumplings!