Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Apple harvest

Sunday, August 17th, 2008

We have apples.  When we moved into the house in 1994, there was one small apple tree almost buried in the tall grass:

The yard looking south

Later I bought four apple trees and planted them.  This seems like maybe five years ago.  When I went to look up information about them in my garden notebook yesterday, I was astounded to find out that this happened in 1998.
One of those trees died in a very hot, dry summer in 2002.   Another one, despite several efforts to prop it up, has fallen completely over on its side, and I’m just letting it be that way.  Two of the new ones, though, and the one that came with the house, are doing well and bearing a lot of fruit.


That’s the same tree that came with the house, by the way, now all grown up.

I decided that the fruit on two of the trees was ready to pick, and I wound up filling a laundry basket and a large box with apples. Here are some of them -


They’re more or less organic, since I never manage to get around to buying sprays and putting out fertilizer. I did spray some roundup on the poison ivy underneath the one that came with the house this year. In any case, they certainly look organic. They taste good, though. The tree that came with the house is susceptible to cedar apple rust, a fungal disease that is endemic here in the ubiquitous eastern red cedar trees. The ones I bought are all cedar apple rust resistant, so the spots on their apples are all just from bugs.

Today I need to peel, core, and slice a buttload of apples and freeze apple pie filling.

Another trip to Family Friendly Farm

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

So, as mentioned previously, I’ve quit eating confinement-raised animals this year. And as also previously mentioned, I’ve been buying chicken from Family Friendly Farm over near Oriole, MO. This spring I put in an order and put down a deposit on 30 chickens, half a hog, and a turkey. Yesterday was the first day I was scheduled to pick up some of the chickens, so I drove to Oriole with a cooler or two, and pulled up at the farm.

First thing I saw were the puppies — their dog had a litter early in the spring, and they’re trying to sell pups. We don’t need another dog.

Puppies at Family Friendly Farm

Although I must admit the mother does a great job of watching over chickens, etc.

Anyway, after I’d parked, Matt came out and we went to his processing shed, where I helped him bag 15 chickens. They’d slaughtered them on Friday morning. Matt tells me they had five people working, and killed, gutted, plucked, and iced down 350 chickens in a morning. I had planned to come then, as Matt said I could have as many chicken livers as I wanted for free if I would fish them out myself, but I had to teach a workshop and couldn’t make it.

Anyway, I got my chickens ($2.10 a pound, including the discounts for pre-ordering and picking up on scheduled day), and loaded them in the car. On the way out I took a few pics of the newest batch of chicks, now about 2 or 3 weeks old.

Chicks at Family Friendly Farm

Yeah, they’re awfully cute, and here I’m planning to eat them.  Still, they are running around loose in a nice grassy place, so I think it’s ethically preferable.  My friend Sarah, who is a vegan, says my current eating habits are worse than just buying Wal-Mart chickens that have been raised in boxes, because I’m just trying to assuage my conscience.  I say she’s killing defenseless plants all the time, and it’s just kingdom chauvinism.

I took my chickens home and froze 4 of them whole for roasting later.  The other 11 I cut up and froze in bags of sorted pieces — boneless skinless breasts, thighs, drumsticks, a big bag of wings, and several large bags of backs, necks, and bones for making stock.   Tonight we’re going to have Hannah’s favorite, chicken puff pastry.

Okay, I made a New Year’s resolution

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

Yeah, I did. I resolved to quit buying and eating confinement-raised animals.  Chickens at least, preferably also pigs and cattle.  I’m an omnivore, and have been all my life with only about an 18-month hiatus some 30 years ago.  I have no particular problem with killing innocent chickens, piggies, cows, etc. and eating them.   However, I do have a problem with torturing them first.

I don’t need to go into the whole Confinement Animal Feeding Operations story — suffice it to say that I think animals ought to be able to run around, see the outdoors, that sort of thing.  I already eat mainly eggs from chickens raised by a friend in the Chemistry department.  I frequently ride my bike past his place and see the chickens running around out in the field.  Damn good eggs, too.  He also sells chickens, and this year I plan to start buying them.

Of course, there’s a problem here — I’ve been in the habit of eating a mesquite-broiled chicken breast (you get them at Sam’s Club, frozen in a bag) every day at lunch.  I can’t afford to eat a breast from a wild-and-crazy-running-around-loose chicken daily.  So I’ve switched to Boca burgers for lunch.  My concern for the treatment of soybeans is limited at best.

Now I also like pork occasionally, even sausage.  What to do?  Well, there’s a meat processing place right in Pocahontas.  It’s the kind of place you can take your deer around to the back to get made into chops or whatever.  They also have pork chops, loin, and 12 kinds of brats.  Seems likely that these would be from local, wild and crazy pigs, eh?

So yesterday I went to Reis Meat and picked out some chops and some brats, and I asked the woman at the counter, “Where do the pigs come from?  Are these from local pigs?”

The woman looked a bit confused, but then she answered.  “Oh, no, no they aren’t.”  My heart sank.  Damn, they get their pigs from some giant operation in Nebraska or something.  She continued with, “They’re from Bollinger farms down by Bloomfield.”

Yeah. In other words, about 50 miles away.  I don’t know Bollinger farms specifically, but I did some reading on the web — there have been some bills in the Missouri legislature recently about confinement operations — and it turns out that there are some large-scale confinement feeding pig farms in the state, but they’re all in the southwest part, not near us (or even 50 miles away).  So, unless someone out there knows different, I’m pretty sure my pork chops came from pigs that, like the ones I see around here, are sort of lolling about in muddy farmyards.  Not maybe the ideal existence, but then again, well fed and not locked in a stall too small to turn around in.

As a colleague was pointing out, there’s also venison.  I know a number of people who hunt — maybe I should try it.  I certainly don’t think it’s more ethical to eat animals that other people kill than to kill your own.  For that matter, apparently you get a discount on chickens from my friend the chemist if you help slaughter them.

So, we’ll see where this leads.  I may wind up on a tofu-only diet, or I may become Nimrod the mighty hunter.  Stay tuned.

That week between Christmas and New Year’s

Saturday, December 29th, 2007

It’s about 8:30, and Robin and Hannah are still in bed.  So I’m having a cup of tea and thinking about what I need to do today.  Fortunately our friends Don and Janet are coming over for dinner, giving me some tasks for the day (clean up living room, cook dinner).  This helps distract me from being post-Christmas depressed.

We normally leave the Christmas tree up until New Year’s day — it makes sense, since we don’t usually get a tree until pretty late, around the 20th or so.  I have a rule that if the tree is up and I’m in the room, the lights on it must be turned on.  Otherwise it looks forlorn, especially after the gifts are gone.

Cabell got back to Madison safely; Hannah’s here until the 31st.  I just sent an email to Sophie, but she seems to get in touch maybe once a week, so I don’t expect to hear anything soon.
Meanwhile, I just got a new stem for my touring bike that raises the handlebars by a couple of inches, putting me in a more upright position.  Bad for wind resistance, but I think better for my back — and for that matter, I’m wondering if being bent way over for many hours didn’t cause the blood clots this summer.   It’s supposed to be sunny later today, and I plan to take the bike out and try the new arrangement, maybe do some adjustments.  More keeping busy.   I think I need to go back to work.

Thanksgiving photos

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

Here’s the contortionist turkey:

Spatchcocked turkey

This actually worked out pretty well. Having removed the ribs, spine, and breastbone in advance made carving really easy, especially the breast, which is what most people want to eat. The stuffing underneath was exceptionally moist (i.e. full of grease, but what the hell, it’s Thanksgiving), and got rave reviews. It did get a bit crunchy right on the bottom of the pan, but that didn’t seem to stop anyone from eating it. My roasting pan is a thin enameled-steel job, and I think if I do it this way again, I’ll set it on my baking stone to even out the heat a bit.

I thought the breast was a bit dry, but other people didn’t. Or maybe they were lying.

The pumpkin cheesecake was great. Sorry, no pic, but it’s excellent, and the bourbon/caramel/pecan sauce is incredible. My apple/cranberry pie was good, but unremarkable. Terri views it as a required dish for Thanksgiving and Christmas, so she was happy. I had some for breakfast today.

We watched Team America after dinner; it’s traditional to watch a really bad movie, but this one didn’t really provide a chance to make fun of it — it’s supposed to be like that. I wasn’t too impressed.

Sophie also opened some Christmas presents, since she won’t be here for Christmas.  She’s taking the rest with her in her luggage, unwrapped for security reasons.

Anyway, everyone had a good time. Here we are at the table:

Thanksgiving dinner

That’s Sophie’s friend Chloe, Sophie, Michael, Terri, Robin (hiding), and Walt.

Here are Robin and Sophie:

Robin and Sophie


Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

Every Thanksgiving we go to our friends’ (the Lillys) house for Thanksgiving.  Diana Lilly makes all the other food; I do turkey, stuffing, and desserts.  Except she usually makes desserts too, but you can’t have too many.  Yesterday I rode my bike to WalMart in Jackson to get stuff to make cheesecake.  It’s about 30 miles round trip, with a fine mist of rain on the way there, and some patchy, but fairly heavy, rain on the way back.  It was actually a very nice ride; I had all the appropriate rain gear on, and the groceries were in a waterproof pannier.  Halfway home my cell phone rang, but I couldn’t get to it.  I found a tree to stop under and hit redial.  It was my sister Gerry; she meant to call her husband but was fumbling with the phone and called me by accident.  We had a nice chat, and she mentioned that my nephew Scott and his family were driving to Pearl River that afternoon — so later I could call them and wish my grand-niece Libby a happy 6th birthday.
I spent the rest of the day in the kitchen, cleaning, making the cheesecake, making enchiladas for dinner, and spatchcocking the turkey.  This last consists of cutting out the backbone so that the bird can be spread out flat for roasting, which purportedly gives faster, more even cooking, with moister meat.  With the 22-pound turkey I bought, there was no way that it would have fit in my big roasting pan spread out like that, so I wound up removing the ribs and breastbone, and cutting it down the middle.  The two flat pieces then fit in the roasting pan, but only if you turn one so you have a leg pointing each direction.  Sophie said it looked like a contortionist turkey.  I rubbed it with fresh sage, rosemary, and thyme, covered it with plastic wrap, and stuck it in the fridge.

This morning I got up at around 7 and  cut up all the day-old bread that I’d bought into cubes, then spread them on baking sheets in the oven to dry out a bit more.  I sauteed a large onion in butter, then some Italian sausage, and a pound of mushrooms.  All that went into a bowl in the fridge, then I cut up more fresh herbs and mixed them in with the bread cubes in my biggest bowl.  I took the turkey out of the roasting pan, cleaned the pan, and dumped the bread cubes in to see if the amount was right — it was, about 3″ deep throughout the pan, so I can spread the contortionist turkey on top of the stuffing when it’s time to roast it.  Then I did a little more deboning — just getting small bits of rib, etc. that I’d missed — rubbed the turkey with chopped garlic, and put both halves in a giant zip-loc bag, and back in the fridge.  Dumped the bread back in the bowl, and buttered the roasting pan.

Then I took all the bones that I’d cut out of the turkey and put them in the stock pot along with an onion, filled it with water and put it on the stove.  Morning Edition was on NPR, and they were with some chef at his Vermont farm with his family, talking about how they prepared their traditional dinner.  They said that Thanksgiving is a day when families get together and do the same thing every year.  It’s true, pretty much.  This year, though, Cabell can’t be here because of her DVT, Hannah is spending Thanksgiving with her boyfriend’s family in Massachusetts, and Sophie is about to leave for Costa Rica for a year.  They cut to some plaintive, folky instrumental music on the radio, and I had to go sit down for a while because I was about to cry.  I get anxious and panicky sometimes when I have to be away from the kids.

So I made a cup of tea and I’m writing about it, and I feel a little better.  Now I need to go make pumpkin pie and apple pie before it’s time to devote the oven to the turkey.  On the plus side, I’ve got Robin and Sophie and Sophie’s friend Chloe, and the Lillys.   And I’ll see Cabell and Hannah at Christmas.  Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

In which I am inexplicably annoyed

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

This happens every once in a while, but it’s happened twice just recently.  For some reason, it comes up in conversation that I do almost all the cooking at home.  The person hearing this then asks me “Are you a gourmet cook?”

For some reason I find this very aggravating.  I always respond with something like “I don’t really know what that means.  I try to cook things that taste good.”

Maybe it’s because it seems that there’s some sort of implied sexism here.  I’m male, and I cook, therefore I must be a “gourmet” cook, because a man wouldn’t just cook food.

I also imagine some implied hostility toward the presumably elitist sort of cooking that would pass for “gourmet” — candied nightingale’s tongues and the like, as opposed to good honest fare.  “Gourmet” sounds so prissy.

Or maybe I’m just a jerk, and I don’t know how to deal with people who are trying to be nice.  Hard to say.

Getting ready for the Hillsboro Roubaix

Saturday, March 24th, 2007

Next Saturday is the Hillsboro Roubaix. As I’ve mentioned earlier, they have a division for 50 and over, and I did register for it. This is a 66 mile race, and although the other 16 guys registered for this division are, by definition, also old farts, they’re probably all in better shape than I am. I figured this weekend was my last opportunity to get a long training ride in. So, I did a 62 mile ride, starting at home in Pokey, then to Oak Ridge, Jackson, Tilsit, Whitewater, Crump, Burfordville, Millersville, and back through Oak Ridge to Pocahontas again. The entire ride is hills, especially the Whitewater to Burfordville section, which goes over a big ridge with some steep grades. Anyway, it went fairly well, but I’m clearly not any threat in the Hillsboro Roubaix unless the other guys have beer bellies.

Meanwhile, there are some important sights on this route.

Yes, this is FOO junction. Just south of Tilsit.

This little garden ornament, while not quite a lawn jockey, is in the ballpark. It’s on highway B, and I pass it often, but not usually with a camera. Every time I see it I think of this Flannery O’Connor short story. My English Lit teacher in junior college was big on F O’C, and we read this one among others. You might have thought that people didn’t have these any more, but this place is a bit of a time warp.*

Anyway, now I’m back, and I’m really sore. And I’m making lamb korma. With homemade naan.

*And no, it’s not ironic, and the people who live there aren’t black. I saw a black guy while I was riding through Millersville the other day. He was doing some surveying for the electric company, and I was thinking that he’d be the bravest man in Millersville at the moment if it weren’t for the fact that I was wearing spandex.

Thank God for technology

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

About two months ago I decided to quit using Crisco in my pie crusts.  I’ve made pies with Crisco for about thirty years, and one might suggest that they haven’t killed me so far, but it seems clear that trans fat is bad for you and should be minimized in the diet.  So, I figured I’d just learn to make pie crust with a different fat.

A lot of people swear by lard, but I just find the idea distasteful.  I learned to make pies from my sisters, who learned from my mother, who always used Crisco. (It was first sold in 1911, the year she was born, which is fitting).   Besides, I have some vegetarian friends; I wouldn’t want them to be unable to eat my pies.

So, I figured I’d use butter.  My first attempts at this came out pretty badly.  Butter isn’t just fat, like Crisco; it has some water in it too.  If I make pie crust with butter using the same amounts of flour, fat, and liquid that I do with Crisco, the crust sizzles when baked, and turns tough.  It’s kind of like very tasty leather.
So made up a bunch of little test batches of crust with different amounts of liquid and butter added; I found that you get a very nice, flaky crust if you keep the amount of liquid really low (like 3 C flour, 1 C butter, 6 Tbsp water for a large two-crust pie).   The problem is, the crust is practically powder before baking.  I can line the bottom of a pan with it, but as a top crust, it’s almost impossible to get onto the pie. It crumbles.  And forget woven lattice tops.

Still, it tastes good, and it doesn’t have any trans fat in it.

But today, after a frustrating experience with an apple pie for the Unitarian potluck tonight, I went to the Crisco web site, and discovered that they’ve replaced all their formulas with a new “zero trans fat” formula.  Okay, it has some trans fat, but since it’s less than 0.5 g per serving, they can round down.  And I’m ready to accept this as a triumph of food technology, and resume making pie crusts the way God intended, with Crisco.  Preferably butter-flavored Crisco.

Roasted Vegetable and Cheese Enchiladas

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

Slice four or five medium yellow summer squash, a red sweet pepper, a yellow sweet pepper, and four green onions.  Spread in a single layer on a Pam-greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt.  Put under the broiler.  Turn every 2 minutes until they have brown spots on all sides.  Turn oven down to bake at 350.
Heat 10 whole wheat tortillas, one at a time, in a dry frying pan or griddle.  Stack on a plate.

Microwave four cups of frozen spinach. Salt to taste.
Grate about two cups of cheese (mozzarella and a little cheddar)

Open two small cans of diced green chiles, and three cans of red enchilada sauce.

Spray a 9×12 baking pan with Pam.

Put 1 oz of cooked spinach (I used a black Volrath disher to measure), 1/8 of the grated cheese, 1/8 of the roasted veggies, and a heaping teaspoon of diced chiles on a tortilla.  Roll it up and place in the baking pan.  Repeat until you have 8 in a row across the pan, then put the last two at right angles lengthwise along one long edge.

Pour the three cans of sauce over the enchiladas.  Sprinkle any extra cheese and chiles over the top.  Place in oven and bake until cheese on top is lightly browned and sauce is bubbling — 30 to 40 min.

Serve hot with a nice Shiraz.