Ode to Tabasco

We bought a big bottle the other day. DH said his goal is to finish it by Christmas. I told him it would be gone long before then. We love Tabasco on hashbrowns and eggs of all kinds. You can’t beat a down home breakfast taco that has been sprinkled with Tabasco sauce. MMmm. DH also puts it in Chili, on Taco Salad, in bean soup, anything with cheese on it, and so on. This is how much we love Tabasco.

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall, we were at a meal. The Tabasco was on the table, and I happened to read the label of where it was made. We don’t have family in the South, at least, where Katrina hit. But I called Tabasco headquarters and got the recording stating that the employees were fine and their warehouses were fine. Whew. That was a close one.

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Harvest Time

I finally got to the last batch of apples this past week. I made chunky applesauce and rosy applesauce.  Sit back, look at the jeweled jars of produce and feel a job well done. I am very grateful to a friend who hooked me up with an incredible deal on apples. 50 pounds for $5. Seriously. It was, regrettably, the only preserving I did this year, not counting my salty pickles and my piddly three pints of pizza sauce.

I loved getting my book out and dusting it off: Canning and Preserving by Linda Ferrari, published by Crescent books. I loved gathering my supplies, my jar lifter, my funnel, my magnetic lid grabber, my stock pot, my water bath and so on. It made me glad I saved all my jars and rings. I knew I was going to get back into canning. But all of this isn’t why I’m writing today.

I have, in my possession, an old ledger from my Grandma. It contains in her even hand, lists of expenses and incomes over the course of a couple years. It also has valuable birth dates and names of her children and siblings, but that’s another story. I love to look at this ledger.

1937     Mr. and Mrs. NJP

Aug. 28th Pay Check: 18.50                                  Wagonlanders     6.34

27th Cut Grass:       .50                                    gasoline                   .54

Gradolph               1.00

meat                1.00

Root Beer                 .05

church                    .20

cigar                     .05

Hair Cut                   .35

Isn’t it wonderful? I love it. I feel such a wonderful connection to my grandparents. They didn’t keep journals or letters. This is the only record of them I have besides their children’s memories. But the coolest thing I discovered is a few pages in:

Sept 24       pectin             .70

wax              .14

(sundries)

Sept 25          pectin            .45

peaches        1.50

jar rubbers          .10

can lids           .26

I feel close to my grandma. I knew exactly what she was doing.

Food For My Family

For years I took my little children to the grocery with me. Back when they were more portable and less prone to asking for things, I brought them along to Aldi and loaded up the shopping cart. I carefully followed my list and tallied the subtotal in my head. This was back in the day before the ubiquitous Debit card, and Aldi doesn’t take checks or credit cards. We used to be able to purchase groceries for a week for a family of four for 75 dollars. Wow! Anyway, loading up the cart, and then the trunk, and then unloading it into the house and kitchen, the refrain repeated in my head: Food for my family. I think the effort it took, lots of lifting, lots of straining and twisting and hefting and so on, brought to mind how much harder folks had to work  to provide for their families even a few years ago.

The work I have to do to bring home food for my family involves writing out a menu, a list, turning a key in the ignition, pushing a cart and saying ‘no’ to tagalongs.

My occasional foray into harder food prep also makes me appreciate the ease with which I nourish the people in my house. (Refer to Fish, Dear Readers, for a discussion on fish-gutting.) How wonderful it is to have refrigeration, and water that comes right into my kitchen. The working appliances and gadgets also make my life so much easier.

When we push away from the table, I like looking around at the empty or semi-empty plates. Another meal in the books. Another few hours of energy for us to do what we need to do. I feel a great sense of satisfaction when my meal has included a variety of items prepared by my own hands. I like being the one who cooks food for my family.

Desperate Snacks Call for Desperate Measuring

You know how it is. You’re out of candy bars, M&Ms, Donut Gems, Chocolatey Rice cereal, chocolate CHIPS, what do you do? Besides hop in the car and spend your well-earned money on your fix? Maybe you don’t have gas in the car, or cash in your wallet, or money in the bank, or sick kids at home or it’s Sunday. You Google, of course. You bake brownies from scratch. I don’t recommend this if you are ALSO out of milk. This recipe is great, because I NEVER have baking chocolate at home. If I did, I can bet someone in my house, (Dale) would eat it thinking it was the world’s largest candy bar.

¾ cup butter (170 g)
1+½ cup sugar (330 g)
2 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
¾ cup all-purpose flour (85 g)
½ cup cocoa powder (50 g)
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt (optional)
3 oz (100 g) chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 350 deg F (Gas mark 4 or 180 deg C).
  2. Line a 13 x 9 in (33 x 23 cm) cake tin with grease proof or other non-stick paper and grease the tin. Melt the butter.
  3. Beat eggs with sugar, and add vanilla, flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt (optional) and melted butter.
  4. Add chopped nuts.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, approximately 20-30 minutes.
  6. Cool the cake. Dust with powdered sugar or glace with your favorite chocolate frosting.

How about if you are craving something salty? And you have no microwave popcorn? Or Lay’s potato chips? Here are some of my favorite ‘desperate’ salty snacks; please don’t laugh. I’m a gourmet cook with red-neck tendencies.

Popcorn: you can’t beat kernels that you pop yourself in a heavy-bottomed pan with 1/3 cup of oil. Then you melt some margarine and douse your popcorn along with a liberal sprinkling of salt. If you only want a single serving, did you know you can pop kernels in your microwave in a regular old lunch sack? Awesome! Just put enough kernels to cover the bottom with a tablespoon of olive oil or canola oil. Fold down the top, and push your ‘popcorn’ button on the microwave. You should still hang around and listen, when the popping slows down, pull it out. Salt and butter to taste.

Cold hot dogs. You know those things are LOADED with sodium.

Pretzel sticks in cubes of cheese. This is practically a small meal. I have virtually no guilt about eating this one.

Cheesy Omelet or Scrambled Eggs: When we are scraping the bottom of the barrel, we almost always have an egg or two left and a lonely square of cheese in the back of the fridge. I like sauteing a little garlic and onion, then pouring the egg in, then adding the cheese when it’s almost done. If you have some salsa to go with it, this will cure your salt fix great. Oh, and a slice of toast too. And a glass of tomato juice. What the heck. This is like, fourth breakfast, or something.

Tomato Juice: Sprinkle with salt, and stir with a celery swizzle stick. Salty, and healthy. Unless you can’t do the sodium thing.

Salty Salad: Fresh salad, either the bagged kind, or iceberg that you (gasp!) cut up yourself. Add shredded cheese if you like, but a chopped tomato is really nice. Season with Lemon Pepper and roasted peanuts, and maybe a teaspoon of Ranch. You don’t really need the Ranch. The Lemon Pepper adds such a nice flavor to your greens.

Bread and Butter. It’s not salty, but if I can’t put my finger on what I’m craving, a slice of bread or toast with butter or margarine and maybe a hunk of cheese, will satisfy. Chase with a glass of milk, and you have a full tummy.

Now, back to chocolate cravings, or sweet cravings. For some reason, when I wake from an afternoon nap, I NEED sweet. If the kitchen is Stage Three, then I am not baking brownies from scratch, thank you very much. If there is absolutely no chocolate or cookies or anything like that in the house, then I will put a thick layer of peanut butter on white bread and eat it open-faced. Along with milk, this will take care of that sweet craving. Peanut butter on sliced apples, if you close your eyes when you eat them, ALMOST tastes like caramel apples. The funny thing is, I don’t really like peanut butter all that much. But I guess there’s enough fat and sweet in it to fool part of my brain.

Instant pudding can be a quick fix for a sweet craving. You just have to have plenty of milk on hand.

PB&J: same as above

Frosting on crackers. My family really digs this. I’ll play along and have a cracker with frosting. Then the next morning, when I discover that they have left the chocolate frosting on the counter instead of putting it back in the fridge, I get out a spoon and eat the rest of it plain. So sue me.

White sugar sprinkled on butter bread. Look, don’t tell anyone. This is just really sick, but when you want something sweet and doughy, well this does the trick.

Chocolate syrup stirred into milk.

That’s all I got. A lot of things I picked because it doesn’t involve a lot of work or groceries. That’s where the desperation comes in. Good luck with your desperate snacks.

My Kitchen Gadgets

My son ‘Kevin’ informed me that he would prefer to be called ‘Bob’. Anyway, I was telling him that I needed to write a post about my fave kitchen appliances, and he told me that he would put a headcounter on my blog for me. So look out. You will be counted.

My fave appliances: First, let me just say that I vowed a long time ago to either get rid of unused appliances, or use them. No storing appliances that don’t get used; they’re taking up too much space.

Bread Machine: I use it once a week for dough (for scones!) Sometimes more often if I want to make bread or stromboli. What a feat of engineering. Put the ingredients in, and just like the Star Trek replicator, bread comes out. Love it.

Ice Cream Maker: Once a month. This bad dog makes the most buttery ice cream ever. But, I make slushies with it way more often, because I don’t usually have heavy cream in the fridge. We love our Flavor-Aid (love Aldi brands!) slushies. Red is best.

Mini-Chopper: Once every two weeks or more often, depending on what Stage of Cleanliness my kitchen is in. ha ha I got this mini-chopper at Aldi for seven bucks. What a little workhorse this unit is. It’s like the Burro of the kitchen world.  Onions, potatoes, fruits, veggies, cooked beans, salsas, and so on and forever. It doesn’t hold more than two cups, probably less, but it’s so easy to use and clean, and it halves my work time. Love it.

Waffle Iron/Sandwich Maker: Twice a month. Neat story about this. When I was preggers with ‘Farley’, I borrowed the neighbor’s waffle iron. As a baby gift, she gave me this Waffle Iron/Sandwich Maker. It triples as a waffle iron, panini maker and pudgie pie/sandwich maker. Also easy to use and clean. Very fun, and it has happy memories associated with it. I sent my neighbor a very lovely thank you note for it.

Rice Steamer: Once or twice a month. Glen bought this for me many years ago, and it has proved very versatile. I love Alton Brown’s mantra that kitchen gadgets should have more than one use. I discovered a couple years ago that I could steam eggs in my steamer for hard-cooked eggs. Awesome! I’ve cooked fish, chicken and of course, rice and vegetables in it. Also very easy to use and clean. Plus, I feel healthy when I eat food I cooked in it.

Fondue Pot: Once every six months. I know, this borders on not using it enough to justify owning it, but I have a very big kitchen with lots and lots of cupboard space, so leave me alone. We have made consommé, cheese and chocolate fondue in this pot. We use the skewers it came with too. This is a fun family tradition. I think I posted earlier about the cheese recipe. (Cream cheese, a bechamel sauce, maybe some chicken broth and some Parmesan). The best thing is the homemade French loaf I make to dip in the cheese. (Thank you, Bread Machine!)

Toaster: At least every other day.I had to include it, even though you pretty much can only do one thing with it. Toast things. Bread, English Muffins, Bagels and infrequently, “Toaster Pastries.” My family just eats those cold. And we don’t buy the toaster strudels or toaster scrambles very often.

Blender: Once a week. DH makes shakes all the time. If I have fresh fruit AND yogurt on hand, I will make fruit smoothies. We bought the kind of blender that can handle ice cubes. Yum. I want a smoothie right now.

Mixer: Once a month. I especially don’t like baking unless my kitchen is Stage One Clean. ‘Nuff said.

George: Once a month. I used to really love George, but I realized I haven’t used him in a while. You know, George Foreman grill. I bought him for five bucks at a yard sale. Great for burger patties, chicken breasts and fish. My favorite is to marinate IQF chicken breasts in a honey mustard glaze (read: dump honey and mustard into the bag the chicken came in) and let it thaw in the fridge overnight. You really have to ‘fillet’ the breasts to be about the same thickness so that you cook them evenly. But the grill gives them that nice grilled appearance and flavor, and then I slice the chicken and toss with a bagged salad. Grilled Chicken Salad!

Deep Fryer: Once a week. I know. I should be using the steamer once a week, and the Fryer once every six months. Oh well. My favorite thing to make, because believe it or not, scones have gotten old for me, is homemade tortilla chips. I use my butcher knife, cut corn tortillas into quarters, and fry a basket at a time. The house smells heavenly, and the chips are oh so delicious with a sprinkling of salt. But we fry chicken wings in it too, then douse with butter and buffalo sauce: Instant Buffalo Wings. Also make fries, chips, onion rings, scones, tator tots (you haven’t lived ’til you’ve even a deep fried tot, as opposed to a baked tot.) Etc. You could justify that if you cook at a hot enough temperature, you’re actually ‘sealing’ the food item to oil penetration. So it’s not as fatty as you would think. That’s what I tell myself.

Crock Pot: Once every two weeks. Who can argue against the use of this esteemed appliance? Fix dinner in the morning, eat at supper time, enjoy the smell of home-cooked food all day long.

Major Appliances: Every day. I am SO thankful for modern refrigeration and freezing. I love my cooktop and my oven. But most of all, I am thankful for my dishwasher. I have been without a dishwasher for three years. We have seven people in our family! We are talking two hours, at least every day, to keep up with the dishes. Finally, we went to a “Restore”…this place that is involved with Habitat for Humanity and accepts all kinds of donations and sells items at a reduced cost. We found a dishwasher for fifty bucks. It works like a dream! It’s a miracle of modern technology! I love it! I use it TWICE A DAY, sometimes THREE TIMES in a day. It is so cool.

And finally, thanks go out to the little people. The little simple gadgets that make my life better and easier every single day of the year. The vegetable cutting board, the meat cutting board, the very sharp kitchen knives DH bought me last Christmas, the pizza cutter, the pie server, the potato masher, wire whisk, the spoon…both large and small, the butter knife, the fork and last, but not least, the zip-top bag. Harbinger of leftovers, preserver of cheese freshness, purveyor of lunch snacks: Clear plastic encasement with zip-top closure, I salute thee. May you live a thousand years in a landfill.

Clean Correlation

I find that the cleaner my kitchen is, the more enthusiastic I am about cooking in it. There are four stages of cleanliness. Stage Four is bad enough that I refuse to serve dinner in it, and everyone must fend for themselves, or they have to clean off the table so that we can eat take-out. Stage Three  involves some clutter on the table and countertops, and dishes in the sink, but the floor is swept. Stage Two is that the dishes are in the dishwasher, and the table is wiped off; there are just a couple of cereal boxes to be put away, and the counter is only ten minutes away from decluttered and cleaned. Stage One is a tablecloth on the table with a centerpiece, counters all cleared and disinfected, dishes done and the ‘messy counter’ (seriously, that is the name of this particular two square foot counter) has been tidied up and everything is in a nice neat pile. I love cooking in a Stage One kitchen, and I even clean up after myself as I cook, in order to keep it that way longer. Sadly, my kitchen hovers somewhere between Stage Three and Stage Two  ninety percent of the time. I’ve noticed that the messier the kitchen, the less complicated dinner is. I don’t want to add to an already overburdened workspace or overstuffed dishwasher. So here is a record of some recent meals and their correlating kitchen Stage.

Friday Supper: Stage Two: Homemade Beef Stroganoff and I toddled off to supper with friends and scapbooking. (Chipotle Beef Burrito!)

Saturday Breakfast: Stage Four: Hostess donuts and milk

Saturday Lunch: Stage Two: Grocery shopping, Ramen noodles

Saturday Supper: Stage Three: Beef and Noodles with carrots and dip (opened a can of beef and stirred into hot cooked noodles. Salt and Pepper to taste.)

Sunday Breakfast: Stage Two: Breakfast Burritos

Sunday Lunch: Stage Three: We ate cheese and crackers and grapes in the living room.

Sunday Supper: Stage Three: “Mouse Ears” The boys don’t mind cooking in a Stage Three kitchen. Of course, once they were done with the meal, it was a Stage Four.

Monday Breakfast: Stage Three: Bowls of cereal all around.

Monday Lunch: Stage Two approaching Stage One: frozen pizza (Jeno’s Crisp and Tasty!) As I approach Stage One, I will be canning apple slices this afternoon. Supper will probably be broiled salmon. If I get the kitchen back to Stage One after canning, then I will also make Alfredo noodles to go along with the broiled salmon. Otherwise, it will be salmon and bagged salad.

Here’s hoping I can get my kitchen up to scratch, so I can start cooking from scratch.

Confessions of a Preservative Junkie

I actually like hospital food. And airline food. (I flew back in the day when they still had in-flight meals.) I like frozen pizza, packaged macaroni and cheese, spaghetti ‘rings’ and TV dinners. What is wrong with me? Emeril would probably toss me out on my can. Is it possible for a person who relishes a meal while recovering from childbirth to also enjoy gourmet cooking? What I mean is, can you trust that person’s sense of taste?

Granted, I’ve never mistaken the identity of a frozen pizza.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it, right? So you have your pizza rankings, in order from worst to best:

Dominos (What can I say, I hate their pizza for some reason.)

frozen Aldi brand (Mama Cozetti?)

frozen Kroger store brand

DiGiorno’s

Papa Murphy’s Take and Bake

Marco’s

Papa John’s

Noble Roman’s

Little Caesars

Jeno’s frozen personal pizzas

What?! The .99 frozen pizza trumped a national franchise? It’s true. Which brings me to my next point. There must be something habit-forming in the preservatives. How else can I explain my delight in eating fare that most food critics make a career out of mocking?

There could be an emotional element to this kind of food. Prepared food means less clean-up in the kitchen. It hearkens back to my childhood too. Also, I’m being catered to in some form. Hospital? Literally being waited on hand and foot. Airline? Don’t get up. I’ll bring you a frosty drink. TV Dinner? Dinner and a show. There’s this whole ‘being waited on’ theme that I love. Which brings me to my next point: I’ve never met a restaurant I didn’t like. Okay, except maybe for a buffet which shall remain nameless, but whose carpets were filthy, the buffet was crumby and it was uber crowded. Besides that, same concept. People have prepared food for me to eat. I will eat it.

I’m no dummy, however. I can distinguish a diet soda from regular in one tiny sip. I can tell Coke from Pepsi in the same amount of time. I can tell a grocery tomato from garden fresh, no contest. So I know the taste buds are there and in working order. I always tell my picky eaters at home, “If you’re hungry enough, you’ll eat it.” So maybe I’m just really hungry when I eat substandard food. Or maybe, I’m just a happy eater.

Bon appetit.