Posts Tagged ‘learning to assemble food on the late end of the bell curve’

This was my first time to host Mark’s side of the family for Thanksgiving, and so it was vegetarian Thanksgiving brunch.  I took some photos beforehand….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had a greek yogurt bar, with the homemade granola, and honey and fresh fruit.  I made pancakes as people sat down, which seemed to work okay.

mashed and gravy

Had mashed potatoes and cashew gravy…I discovered sort of the hard way, that even though the cousins were open to eating some of everything….adults are more difficult.  Adults don’t try things like fake sausage.  I thought the sausages turned out delicious….but it’s too weird for some people to try on a holiday.  Cashew gravy isn’t a revelation or new or weird in this house.  I have to remember that this is still an alien food to some.  The cranberry ginger sauce turned out great, too.  Though because this, too, was a slightly weird food….I’d intended it for the pancakes, but people put it on mashed.  It was good there, too, though.  I was happy everybody liked it.


The seitan sausage rocked.  I did prepare it beforehand, and all I did was fry it lightly in some olive oil just to give it a bit of crunch.  It’s awesome, and I’ll definitely make it again.  Though the kids and Jane (who is vegetarian) and Mark and I had some at brunch, the rest was leftovers.  After everyone was gone though, Mark and I finished it within a day.


I made two quiches…I went with both of them being identical, basically Mom’s recipe.  Quiche isn’t too weird at brunch, and that went over just fine.  Jane had brought one, too, which didn’t even get carved up.  (We had a LOT of food.)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABeverages, too.  Had mimosas, which most grownups had…with Chandon Brut.  The white was something called Mohua, and it was crisp and green apple-ish.  Forgot which red we served, but it was a nice one, too.

Most of the family liked the brunch, and the vegetarians and the kids loved it.  (Chase did try everything…I made him…and he dubbed the pancake ‘awesome’).  (Had I been sitting next to him, he would have eaten more quiche….but his father sat next to him.)

pumpkin pancake setupCooking lessons from Thanksgiving:

Serving hot pancakes is easier with smaller groups than seven adults and three kids.  The first kid is done with her pancake before the adults have started theirs…and she wants seconds.  😀

People need the centerpiece fussy dish….it’s the meat-eater way.  Spiced pancakes are not turkey, nor is quiche.  A nibbling many-dishes is a great brunch…but the fussy big main dish still says Thanksgiving to many.

Even with the pancake-flipping, I timed brunch pretty damn well fabulously.  Everybody had a hot meal, all at once, in front of them.  Things got cold in the kitchen by the time most of us pushed back to rub our bellies at the table.  I did not account for people coming an hour late.  So when they arrived, the mashed, the gravy, the sausages were cold.  I offered to flip pancakes, but they didn’t want any.  I didn’t account for that.  Not sure how I could have better handled it, but I’ll think about it next time.

Adults didn’t quite get the yogurt bar.  Even when I told the kids to put yogurt in cups and add whatever toppings they wanted (which they took to, enthusiastically and immediately), it didn’t quite happen with grownups.  Dunno why.  Also, nobody goes for the nonfat yogurt.  (I should have known that.)

Nobody but me in the family drinks coffee….gasp!  I had a cute setup with a large pot of coffee with fixins and my grandmother’s china and the whole bit.  I set out holiday tea with the way die hard coffee-drinkers do….I have the stuff, and expect one person will have tea.  One person did.  And I was the only one drinking coffee….no wonder my husband is strange and is not a coffee-drinker.  Nobody in his family had any.

I was happy with my effort.  It was a LOT of effort, but I was really excited about different dishes.  Most of what I served were new recipes to me, and every one came out on a range of good to fantastic.  Lesson learned?  Some folks aren’t into ‘new’ on Thanksgiving.  *shrug*  And also, family is family.  You get everybody together for a fun meal, and you’re still the same family that was snapping at each other last week.  The reason Mark and I hosted is because we get along well with everybody.  We are Switzerland.  As fun as it was to make cool interesting and yummy food, sometimes some folks are more interested in glowering at each other across the table than in your cool food.

But I’m a mighty decent food assembler.


I have taken my inspiration from Bex Hodgkins and Janelle Edmondson, who’ve been cooking and canning/preserving food this month.  I’d like to learn how to preserve food in general.  Bex assures me that jams are easy, and indeed this recipe looks easy.  Canning just seems intimidating, with a touch of macrame and unshaven legs.  I’m told that it is 2012 and macrame and hair are bad things from my childhood, and there are adult women who happily can food without these associated memories.  It’s probably like knitting, crochet and quilting now….a generation had to pass for us to realize these things are not only cool, but have always been cool.  And smart.  And practical.

I chose plums to try because they looked good, they were Colorado local and my palette doesn’t have strong feelings about what plum jam SHOULD taste like.  I also may try mint apple jelly because I have more mint than I can possibly eat AND give away in my garden for the next three years….and mint apple jelly happens to be both my, and Chase’s favorite.  (And we are the only two people I know who eat it.)  Also, I’d like to do either a pear and/or peach cinnamon jam, because those, or fig jam, with goat cheese?  *swoon*  There’s bushels and bushels of beautiful Colorado peaches out there, too.

But let’s start with experiment #1.  Here we go.

source:  Ball Blue Book:  guide to preserving

“vegan” (if the vegan in question eats generic sugar, and many do not), gluten –

  • 5 c coarsely chopped plums (~ 2 lbs) (I used the seven plums pictured)
  • 3 c sugar
  • 3/4 c water

Combine plums, sugar and water in large saucepot.  Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves.  Cook rapidly to gelling point.

I didn’t know what this meant, and if you do, skip this paragraph.  Gelling point:  dip cold metal spoon into boiling jelly.  Lift out a spoonful, and move away from steam.  Tip spoon.  When jelly comes off the spoon in “sheets” it is done (as opposed to syrupy).  I think it made more sense as I saw it.  My jam went from solid, clear cut shapes of plum soaking in what appeared to be a ponderous amount of sugar syrup, to looking like jam is supposed to look.  This took longer than I thought it would….about 45 minutes?  Maybe an hour.

As mixture thickens, stir frequently to prevent sticking.  Remove from heat.  Skim foam if necessary.  Ladle hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace (at the top).  Adjust two-piece caps.  Process 30 minutes in a boiling water canner at metro Denver or foothills altitude.  (Sea level:  15 minutes, Summit County, 35 minutes)

This came out inCREDibly good.  Got a big YUM! from Chase.  This made us 32 ounces total of jam….8 little 4 ounce jars.  I am not concerned about the immediate consumption of the jam (which starts tomorrow morning…..OH!  I wonder if I have a good muffin recipe!).  I do wonder how it’ll work out for longer term storage.  I don’t think these eight little jars will last long at all, especially since I’ll probably give some away, too.  (Because sharing at harvest time is fun.)  I guess we’ll find out. 

But I do feel like, now, that I can do this, and it really is pretty easy.  Time-consuming, yes.  But a perfectly lovely way to spend a Saturday afternoon in the kitchen.  My house smells mouth-watering.  If you’ve been canning and doing this for years, you know all this already.  In case you haven’t, I blundered into it and the results (so far, I’m still processing) are astonishingly good.  I’ve made 32 oz of jam from organic fruit.  It contains sugar, but not high fructose corn syrup or anything else complicated.  It cost me a bit of an afternoon, and about $3.50.  For comparison, 30 oz of Smucker’s Red Plum jam, which has HFCS, is about $13.00.

I realize that I’m very slow to figure out that this is a good thing.  But I got there.  Yup.  Feelin pretty smug right now.  Eat your heart out, Betty Crocker.

I wanted acorn squash for dinner.  And since I’m on call, there’s a high likelihood that even if I can get dinner made, I could get called at 4pm to go to work until 7p anyway.  So I needed acorn squash that could sit awhile and be warm, ideally in my crock pot.  I flipped through books and stopped as soon as I saw the title of this recipe because it sounds awesome.  However, it’s not a crock pot recipe at all.  Making food in a crock pot is my favorite way to cook because it feels like meals cook themselves and though there’s some preparation, you can go away and forget about it….then come home and yay, your dinner is done.

I’m going to give you instructions from Greens (and Greens is one of the most fabulous restaurants in the world, so they know food.)  …..and also the instructions that I made up as I went.  It’s stew, right?  How hard can stew be?

Hope it turns out okay.

lacto-ovo vegetarian, but easily vegan, gluten –

source:  The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison

  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 3 tbs sesame seeds (all I had on hand was black sesame seeds used in Indian cooking…so I was brave or stupid and tossed it in…black sesame seeds DO have a different flavor)
  • 1 oz (~ 24) whole almonds
  • 2 pasilla chiles for chile powder or 3 – 4 tbs New Mexican chili powder (I have decent quality chili rojo…and I don’t have time to go milk cows and churn butter today, so we will be using somebody else’s chile powder)
  • 2 tbs corn or olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, cut into 1/2 in squares (and I measured every one through bleary, crying eyes…with a ruler…)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 c winter squash cut into 3/4 in chunks (this is why Greens restaurant is Greens restaurant…they hire somebody to measure the squash chunks, I’ll bet)  (I ended up with probably 5 or 6 cups because I can’t eyeball 4 cups of acorn squash.  Oh well. I hope this is good because I’m making a LOT OF IT.)
  • 6 to 8 ounces mushrooms, wiped clean and halved or quartered (I went with two hands’ full because I could see how much squash I had….and Mark likes mushrooms)
  • salt
  • 3 – 4 c water, juice from tomatoes or vegetable stock, heated (I went with 4c thin stock)
  • 1/2 cauliflower, broken into florets
  • 1 sm can hominy, drained (I don’t buy canned hominy.  I tossed three handfuls of dry in my slow cooker with water to cover, set to high and went grocery shopping.  By the time I was ready for it, it was ready for me.  Hominy is good easy cheap food to take for lunch, with chopped Anaheims and some beans and salsa and cheese.)
  • 2 lb tomatoes, fresh or canned, peeled, seeded and pureed. (I was going to use my frozen tomatoes, but when I pureed them, something was *off* about them….so I went with canned puree, because it’s what I had)
  • 1 c peas, fresh or (frozen)
  • 2 tbs chopped cilantro leaves
  • sour cream or creme fraiche
  • sprigs cilantro for garnish

As I’m typing this, my recipe looks like it will be quite different from Greens’ version.  Oh well….I’m wondering about those sesame seeds, but we’ll see.

Toast cumin seeds in a dry pan over med heat for several minutes until they smell amazing.  Shake pan back and forth frequently so they won’t burn.  Add oregano until it smells even more amazing.  Remove to a bowl.  Using same pan, toast sesame seeds until they are lightly browned.  Set aside; then toast the almonds.  When they are browned, roughly chop.  Grind cumin and oregano to a powder in a spice mill; then grind the almonds and the sesame seeds to a fine meal.  (As much as I’m sure this method is fabulous, my life — and I’ll bet yours — is short.  I ground all things up together in a mini mixer.  Smells great.  Because I mashed it all together, I’m adding the spices all at once.  It’s a stew….how complicated does it have to be, right?  Right?)

If you’re making homemade pasilla powder:  Preheat oven to 350F.  Roast chilies until they puff up and are fragrant, about 4 – 5 minutes.  Cool slightly; then cut open, remove stems, seeds and veins, tear into pieces.  Grind chilies in a spice mill or small blender jar to make a coarse powder.  (Greens doesn’t tell you this, but you should wear gloves while tearing and mixing homemade chili powder.  Otherwise, ouch.)

Heat oil in a casserole (I used a small frying pan), add onions, saute over med-high heat until they soften.  Then add garlic, cumin and oregano (I added to the crock) and 2 tbsp of chili powder, cook another minute.  (At this point, I transferred the onions to a crock pot because my stew will be burbling in it all day.  In theory.)  Next add squash, shrooms, a sprinkling of salt, and your water/tomato juice/stock.  Boil, then lower heat, cover and cook slowly until squash is tender, about 20 minutes.  Check to see if the mixture dries out while cooking, then add more liquid if necessary.

Add almonds/sesame seeds, cauliflower, hominy and pureed tomato.  Check for salt, season as desired with chili.  Continue cooking until cauliflower is nearly tender, then add peas and chopped cilantro, and let stew a few minutes.  Serve with sour cream or creme fraiche and garnish with cilantro.  These spicy, peppery squash stews are good with a California vin gris or dry sauvignon blanc, or a light to medium zinfandel.

(In crock pot cooking, nothing ever dries out.  And you can add almost everything at once.  So I tossed in the squash, shrooms, salt, stock, spice mix, hominy, pureed tomato, cauliflower and peas.  Everything but the cilantro and creme fraiche (obviously).)  I’m gonna cook it on low for a while and we shall see what happens.  By the aroma, it smells good…but very different because of the sesame seeds.  I had in my head I wanted a Southwest acorn squash something….and I think I’m getting a Southeast Asian acorn squash something.  Which ….might be fabulous, too.  Potentially.  And regardless, Mark will never know.  😀

p.s.  Turned out really geat.  Warm veggies stew with a little brightness with the cilantro, a deeper hum of the chile, a slight cool smoothness of the creme, and all that crunchiness of the veggies.  Good winter stew.

I am sort of embarrassed to show you my breakfast burritos, but I do so cos Anne Marie asked. She’s looking for homemade fast food stuff.

Remember:  I am not a cook.  I am a food assembler.  I make no claim to being a gourmand anything.  This blog is just about stuff I make.  Right?  Right.

I work 12 hour shifts, and depending on which hospital I’m working at that day, I get up at 4:25 or 5:25 am.  I am NOT a morning person.  But I have to have something solid in my stomach in order to hit the floor running.

I remember how nice it was to start my days when I was a computer geek.  I had my own office (sans window, but with a door).  (If you are up on your Dilbert-speak, that tells you where I was in the pecking order of my software company.)  It was the size of a closet.  I ambled in around 9am, and didn’t have to speak to anybody until maybe 10.30 or so.  I had plenty of time to ingest a pot of coffee, nibble on some fruit or yogurt or whatever.  It was my office so I could eat what I wanted….I could have had pancakes with maple syrup.  Geeks are often not morning people, so any communication required before the decent hour of 10.30am could be handled by instant messaging the person who sat in an office five feet away from you.

But now I’m an ICU nurse.  I come into work and walk into a patient room, and there’s a person whose loved one is possibly dying, broken bleeding, diseased….and that family member wants me to be 1000% sympathetic, soothing, emotionally connected to them and the loved one in addition to being perfectly accurate in my medications, communication to physicians and multi-disciplinary team, and fully present for their needs.  To hold their hand, weep with them, be joyful with them over improvement….

At freakin 0700.  Before I’ve had more than an ounce of coffee.  They don’t even HAVE and instant messaging system in the hospital.  Bastards.

Why didn’t they tell me that when I got out of IT to become a nurse?

(And yes, that photo is my freezer.  Notice that much of my freezer is given to fake food that the eleven year old eats….like vegan corn dogs.  When I ATE meat, I didn’t eat freakin corn dogs.  Why any human would choose to eat tofu dyed pink and slathered with cornmeal glued together with corn syrup is beyond my comprehension.  The “drumsticks” just means the child doesn’t know what good ice cream tastes like.  I’m his stepmother, so I got to his already broken tastebuds when he was nine.  I do my best, but some fights I lose.)

Also, I’ve done breakfast burritos the vegan way, with beans and rice, and I hated it.  The beans, frozen and reheated, were tolerable, but the rice really didn’t come out okay.  Not sure why.  Someone must have this secret.  One of these days, I’ll find it.  So instead this is the starch and cholesterol version.

lacto-ovo vegetarian, gluten + (unless tortillas exist that are gluten free, and they may…perhaps cornmeal tortillas, though I can’t speak to how they freeze)

source:  I made this up, but probably everybody who makes food already does this

  • pckg 16 tortillas, burrito sized
  • 3 – 6 Idaho potatoes
  • 9 – 12 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • generous cracked pepper
  • ground garlic
  • 2 tbsp butter or Earth Balance (just because the recipe isn’t vegan doesn’t mean you can’t lower the fat or animal sources, if desired)
  • 2 oz cheese of your choice, totally optional
  • 3 – 4 oz salsa of your choice

Chop potatoes into small pieces (skins on).  In a 9 x 12 Pyrex, melt your butter or Earth Balance on the stovetop.  Toss potatoes in, with salt, pepper, garlic.  Mix it around a bit and put in the oven to cook at 375 for 40 to 50 minutes.  Turn the potatoes occasionally, so they all get cooked through, and a little crunchy.

In a large skillet, melt another dab butter/Earth Balance, and crack your eggs into the pan.  Scramble, add a pinch more salt/pepper/garlic.  Add cheese if you are using.  When eggs are cooked through, break them up a bit.

When both potatoes and eggs done, set up an assembly line in your kitchen.  I set out plastic wrap, tortillas, potatoes, eggs, and salsa.  Each tortilla gets 1 1/2 wooden spoons full of potatoes, 3/4 spoonful potatoes, a dollop of salsa.  Then I wrap the tortilla, wrap it in saran wrap and set it out to cool to at least room temp.

I make anywhere from half dozen to a dozen of breakfast burritos this way, then stash them in the freezer.  In the mornings, I zap for 1:30 in the microwave, and go.

I did promise I’d make this complicated Latin meal. I don’t have a fantastic photo of it, because Mark and I dug in and snarfed down before I remembered to photograph.  The full meal is toxic to the glutenless, I’ll warn.  However, both of my gluten-free friends eat meat, which would make an easy substitute.

The rice is a filling lunchbox alone for me, and the whole meal is very filling, just-enough lip-smacking spicy, starchy goodness.  I made a big batch and brought some to my future mother-in-law, Jane, this morning, and she enjoyed it, too.  Now I’m having me time and I am typing this with a glass of wine.  I shall blog about my culinary adventure, then head upstairs, lie down on my bed in a puddle of me, and flip around for Law and Order episodes.

Yellow Rice with Garlic source:  T.H. Romero’s Viva Vegan!

vegan, -gluten

  • 2 tbsp annatto-infused oil (2 -4 tsp achiote paste plus 2 tbsp canola oil, same thing, different form, and I was able to find at the Savory Spice on Platte Street, which is up the street from my coffeeshop)
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 c uncooked long-grain white rice (i used 2 c brown rice, knowing that I was making enough for my lunches and Jane)
  • 1 2/3 c veggie broth (4c veggie broth, brown rice needs more fluid)
  • s & p
  • 1/4 c finely chopped cilantro (omitted cos Mark isn’t a fan of cilantro)

In a large pot, heat oil and combine achiote paste and garlic.  Smush paste, and the oil turns orange.  Cook until fragrant.  Stir in rice until it’s colored.  Pour broth in, and stir.  Increase heat to a rolling boil, then lower to medium-low.  Cook and cover 20 minutes if using white rice, and 40 to 50 minutes for the brown rice.  Ignore the rice, don’t stir.  (Sorry.  I had to be told about that.)  Remove from heat, fluff rice with a fork, and add cilantro if using.

A simple meal in itselfI made this Thursday…5 minutes of cooking preparation, 45 minutes of ignoring it.  Turned out great.  Cookbooks say things like “can be a staple for weekly meals”, “easy enough that your family can it this once a week.”  This is actually the first thing I could see myself making every week.  (Even the pasta and tempeh thing is once every 2 weeks at this point.)  Spanish brown rice.  High protein, high flavor, forty-five minutes of effort, forty of which I can do something completely different.

Maybe everybody else knows this already.  I did not.   Now I do.  😀