The Ghosts of Vegetables Past

Giant Mutant Pumpkins.  The larger one still reigns on the front porch.  The smaller one has deflated.

Giant Mutant Pumpkins in their  glory.

Deceased mutant pumpkin.

Deceased mutant pumpkin.

This is not a refrigerator story.  It’s a tribute to the dead mutant pumpkin on our  front porch …

…and a reflection on why white blobs embalmed in red liquid creep me out.pickled turnipsThe dead mutant is one of three giant pumpkins produced in the garden this year, grown from giant pumpkin seeds.  One of them–a white pumpkin– cracked and had to be cooked immediately.  As a result, I have many little bags of white pumpkin puree in the freezer. The dead mutant is number two, not quite making it until Halloween and definitely not making it into any pies.  The fate of the  third and Greatest Mutant Pumpkin is yet to be determined.

Now, as for the white blobs embalmed in red liquid…they are pickled turnips.  This is so completely not on my list of anything I have aspired to eat.  When Pioneer Man laid out his fall garden to include rows of turnips, I rolled my eyes.  I do not eat turnips.  I have never bought turnips. But God, with His Ultimate Sense of Humor, blessed the turnips above all other plants in the garden.  We have a bumper crop of turnips.

Pioneer Man is thrilled.

I am trying to overcome my childhood aversion to turnips.

I wasn’t traumatized by turnips, per se.  It’s just that my exposure to turnips came when a well-meaning adult—probably my paternal grandmother because I don’t recall my mother ever buying turnips– would hide them in a meal with the potatoes.  Cooked turnips, mashed, can hide with the potatoes, but they don’t taste like potatoes.  It’s a nasty trick.  The innocent child-mouth anticipates the creamy buttery goodness of mashed potatoes but is assaulted instead with the zippy tang of turnip.  It’s like telling your mouth you’re eating ice cream but tasting yogurt instead.

Now, as an adult, I can appreciate the flavor of a turnip.  I have to.  Pioneer Man keeps cooking them.  And they are tasty.  They have a zing reminiscent of radish and horse-radish.  I love radish and horseradish.  Tell my mouth to prepare for that zip and I’m all with you. But my childhood memory is still crying, “gack!”

Pickled turnips present their own problems.  They are pickled with a beet.  The beet turns the brine red.  When the red brine turns the white turnip red, the pickling is complete. Yeah, see, it’s the pickled beet thing.  And I am going to blame my mother for this one.

My mother was pregnant most of my childhood and she had her food cravings like any pregnant woman.  To this day, I’m not sure if my memories of what she ate back then reflected actual food preferences or pregnancy cravings.  At any rate, I have distinct memories of pickled beets and cottage cheese.  And the beet juice running around the plate dyeing the cottage cheese a  bloody red.  Who, besides my mother, wants to eat bloody cottage cheese?

I finally discovered the pleasure of fresh beets through a food co-op.  I never realized how wonderfully sweet beets are.  Ok, ok, I know they are sugar beets, but I didn’t believe it.  There is so little correlation in my mind between sugar beet and the thing on the plate with the bloody cottage cheese.

So now my husband is offering Wife I Am pickled turnips in beet brine.

I will not  eat them from that jar,

I will not eat them near or far,

I will not eat them here or there,

I will not eat them anywhere!

With trepidation, I taste one.

And, just like Sam I Am, I discover that they are good!  They would be a tasty appetizer with the oysters and sausages at Thanksgiving!  And I can see how fresh turnips would provide a nice zip to mashed potatoes…

But I promise–traditional mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving.

Here’s how Pioneer Man pickled his turnips, based on how old buddy Sam Wahbe’s mother used to make hers:

Pickled Turnips

  • Fill 4 quart jars with peeled, sliced raw turnips
  • Add a couple of whole jalepenos to each jar…pierced with a fork
  • Add 1/4 of a raw beet to each jar
  • Fill each jar with brine.  Pioneer Man used 3.5 cups water, 1.25 cups apple cider vinegar, 1 T. sea salt.
  • Put lids on jars and let sit until the white turnips turn red, a couple of days.
  • Then enjoy and try to convince another family member to try them, too.

pickled turnip 1

Not to the Store Blackberry Sauce

Not a picture of blackberry sauce

Not a picture of blackberry sauce

I almost went to the store yesterday.
There is nothing unusual in almost going to the store. Many days I almost go to the store. Many more days I refuse to go to the store. I hate going to the store.
Yesterday, however, I had an urge to go to the grocery store. But I fought it.

It’s like that old adage about what to do when you feel like exercising? Lie down until the feeling passes.
So I did.

What’s my big deal about going to the store?
I’ve been trying to see what I can make with what I have on hand. But I got into recipe hunting and then enthused by recipes for cucumbers and for blackberries and thought, “Oh, I must go get these ingredients.”

Or not.

So, lying on my porch glider with Ipad perched on my belly, I continued to wander around cyberspace.

One of the wonders of the internet is the ability to plug in search terms for anything you could possibly want to find.
One of the skills of researching is to narrow the search to what you actually need to find.

Googling blackberry recipes yielded plenty of wonderful stuff. But I had two salmon steaks in the freezer. Does blackberry work with salmon? And this is where everyone in Washington State salmon country with overloaded blackberry bushes screamed, “Yes!”

I found a blackberry sauce to go on grilled salmon…and I had all the ingredients in the house!  I reworked the dinner menu: grilled salmon with wild Maywood blackberry sauce; Greek salad starring Maywood cucumber, tomato, and oregano; sliced polenta. The farm-to-table queen rules!

The recipe is from tasteofhome.com. It was for a cedar plank salmon with blackberry sauce. I don’t care for cedar plank grilling, so we skipped that part. I only had one cup of berries and it was just for the two of us, so I halved the sauce. We had plenty of sauce to pour lavishly over two pieces of fish, so I’m guessing we could have drizzled it over four pieces.

It was seriously delicious. I would show you a picture but we were too busy eating it.

Wild Blackberry Sauce
(Yields about one cup)

Mix the following in a food processor:

1 cup blackberries
1 tablespoon white wine (I donated some from my glass)
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon honey (Maywood honey, of course)
3/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce (I used Tabasco because it’s what was in the house)
pinch of salt and pepper

Strain the mixture through a sieve to get the blackberry seeds out. To the strained mixture add:

2 tablespoons chopped onion or shallot (I used red onion because I was out of shallot and the sauce is red anyway)
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic

That’s it. Just pour over hot grilled salmon.

And just so you know, I did go to the store today. I had to stock up at Wegman’s for an upcoming grandkid weekend and nearby Coldwater Creek, my favorite clothing store, was having a 90% off going out of business sale and it was my last chance to shop there ever.
Sigh. Now I really won’t want to go shopping because I have to find a new favorite store with clothes that fit. But I found some nice things real cheap, so I’ll have a few new things to pull out from now until long after the blackberries are gone.

In summer we gather, but we don’t gather chocolate

Cucumber Pear Gazpacho with Mint

Cucumber Pear Gazpacho with Mint

My daughter asked her two year old for dinner ideas because she was, yes, that desperate for help.
“Emily, what would you like for dinner?”
“Chocolate!”
If it were the middle of the hectic teaching year instead of the middle of summer, my daughter might have gone along with it.

Ah, but it is summer.

What I am loving about food planning right now is that it is based on what is growing at Maywood. (Or hereabouts!)  Instead of pondering all the choices of all the foods from all over the world that are all on display at Wegman’s, I start with the mound of produce on the counter and in the fridge.

It’s so much easier! Give me three little choices. I can handle that. Even a two year old can handle that.
“Emily, what would you like for dinner: zucchini, pickles, or roasted beets?”
And her answer will be, “Chocolate!”
(Ok, I made that up. Emily would totally eat any of the above, but we discovered Emily’s fixation with chocolate when she spied a closed box of fudge at our house.  She can’t read.  There were no pictures of candy on the box.  “Is that chocolate,” she asked.  “I looooove chocolate!”)

Emily looooves chocolate.

Emily looooves chocolate.

Admittedly, I will not be so optimistic about meal planning when my choices are limited to butternut squash, acorn squash, or pumpkin, and I may be tempted to add chocolate to all of them, but for the moment we are eating really well.
Last night’s meal was as good a meal as one we experienced at an upscale farm-to-table restaurant on vacation recently. In fact, the search for gazpacho recipes came from a delightful Cucumber Pear Gazpacho that was served at the Ebbitt Room in Cape May.  The one I made is not their recipe and I would love to have it!  In the meantime, I will search and tweak.

Here’s what we ate last night:

First Course:

Cucumber Pear Gazpacho with Mint

Entree:

Grilled Pork Tenderloin

 Roasted Beet Salad with Feta,

Corn sautéed with White Wine, Dill and Lime.

Dessert:

 Fresh Blackberry Tart

The cucumbers and mint came from the garden. The pork was already in the freezer. The corn was leftover from a grandkid cook-out/bonfire the night before. And the beets (already roasted!) were from my daughter’s garden. I picked the blackberries in the back yard. My grocery run for that meal was for Greek yogurt and almonds, and I’m thinking I could have used the non-Greek yogurt I had on hand and maybe eliminated the almonds.

Summertime at Maywood brings out the little pioneer woman in me. John hunts and plants while I gather. I gather berries and gourds and then gather recipes online. Instead of scouring the limitless possibilities of “what should we eat?” I ponder “what do we have?” and “how should we eat it?” It’s so much fun to see the abundance of what we already have and make something of it.

And I delight in the time to do it. Once the hectic school year starts, if I do not have summer stored in a jar or a freezer bag, I am likely to join little Emily in eating chocolate for dinner.

Here’s the recipe for Cucumber Pear Gazpacho from Cookthink.com.

Ingredients:

1 cup blanched, unsalted almonds, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup water
3 medium cucumbers, chopped
1 cup Greek yogurt (preferably 2%)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
10 mint leaves, sliced
1 Bartlett pear, diced

In a food processor (or blender), pulse the almonds, garlic and salt until finely ground.  Then add the water, cucumbers, yogurt, lemon juice, mint, and all but 2 tablespoons of the pear.  Pulse until combined.  Top each bowl with diced pear. 

The gazpacho really needs to be served COLD. The leftovers I had the following day for lunch had the benefit of a good chill and blended flavors. So, even though it is quick to make, it is best not made at the last minute.
I bought non-fat plain Greek yogurt but had whole milk regular yogurt on hand. I might try that next time. The recipe called for almonds chopped in the blender. They chopped into a nice fine powder but still gave a gritty feel to the soup. I didn’t care for that, so I wonder about eliminating the almonds altogether or maybe substituting almond milk for the almonds and the water.
Who wants to experiment and get back to me on that?

I’m Gonna Get Squashed

On a fishing pier Saturday with my mom, watching the waves roll to shore beneath us, I said, “Pretend it’s a tsunami and you have to outrun it.”  Right. The great-grandmother to my grandkids had already walked close to twenty miles with me during our week at the beach. Running was not going to happen.

The garden tsunami beginsReturning home I encountered the first wave of our garden tsunami. Cucumbers. And yellow squash. And zucchini. With blossoms on the patty pans, acorn squash, butternut, watermelon and pumpkins.  My farmboy (oh, fahmboy!) husband loves to say, “As you wish” to his Princess Bride, but the profusion of squash plants in our garden is most definitely his wish.  His 100 x 100 foot fenced garden is about half filled with squash plants, including seeds from a ginormous pumpkin that promised to produce more ginormous pumpkins.

In addition to blueberries, the wild blackberries,  brambles, and raspberries are ripening.

In addition to blueberries, the wild blackberries, brambles, and raspberries are ripening.

When the blueberries ripened, I was pleased with the pacing of the harvest…just enough every day for us to eat. As the blueberries waned, the wild raspberries ripened. What a God treat to have the berries coming in delicate succession like that, like little waves lapping at our ankles.

Ah, but the squash. How to keep ahead of the tsunami of squash.  To be precise, what we have is a tsunami of cucurbits, or gourds.  Cucumbers and melons and summer squash and winter squash and pumpkins belong to the family of  cucurbits.  And here’s a little etymological tidbit to ponder while scooping the innards and adding fillings, dips, and soups: the word came into Middle English by way (of course!) of the Old French cucurbite which came from the Latin cucurbita, meaning gourd or cup.

So cucumbers are not squash.  They are cucurbits.

We picked four pickle cukes the day before vacation and immediately made two jars of pickles. One jar was gobbled on vacation and the other when we got home. But we came home to eight cukes plus about four that my in-laws saved for us with our mail. (That does not include the ones they ate while we were gone.)

Monday I began running to beat the tsunami.

The paletas are cucumber lime ginger popsicles.  They are amazingly good and just as amazingly simple to make. Daughter, grandboy and grandgirl joined me in sampling them.  There is enough ginger to provide grown-ups with a pleasant gustatory zip, but not so much to turn away a three year old and his one year old teething sister.  Follow the link above to the easy recipe at Bon Appetit.

The pickle recipe began with a refrigerator pickle recipe from Allrecipes.com, but after comparing a few recipes with ingredients I had on hand, I ended up with this. I share it here so that I will not lose it!

Refrigerator Pickles

The measurements for the brine make enough to cover 4 cups of pickles.  Adjust quantities according to the amount of cucumber you have.

  • 4 cups pickles, sliced in rounds or in spears, whatever you like
  • 3 1/2 cups water
  • 1 1/4 cups white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt

Bring water, vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil.  Let cool completely. (Pouring hot brine on the cucumbers will soften them a  bit.  We want crisp cucumbers!)

Fill quart size mason jars with cucumbers.  To each jar add:

  • 1 tablespoon dill seed
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • sprinkle of dried dill weed or sprigs of fresh dill (for effect!)

Pour cooled brine into each jar to cover cucumbers.  Put lids on.  Store in fridge 3 days  before eating.  Pickles keep 6 weeks in the fridge…if you don’t eat them first.20140723-143512.jpg

So, I have used up all the cucumbers… for the moment. Now to outrun the zucchini…

 

 

 

Snow Bees and Honey Butter

He deserves some pumpkin bread and honey butter.  And maybe even a backrub.

He deserves some pumpkin bread and honey butter. And maybe even a backrub.

There’s a break in the weather.  After a foot and a half of snow, Mr. Beekeeper trudges out to the tractor to plow  before the next batch of snow comes in this evening.  The “break” means that it is merely raining.  “Merely raining” means that the foot and a half of snow is  getting packed down.  He will be out on the tractor for hours.  And then it will snow some more.  It might be nice to do some cooking for him.  I’m thinking pumpkin bread with his homegrown pumpkin and some honey butter using our Maywood honey.

But first, a trip to the bee yard.

One of the advantages of cleaning out a closet is finding things.  Often it is useless stuff the girls left behind when they moved out, but today I have found snow pants.  And they fit! So, even though it is lightly raining, I don snowpants and boots for a trek through the snow.  I can’t access the yard from the driveway because John has plowed a wall of snow there (which I will back into with the car until it melts), so I exit the house from the screen porch and wade through knee deep snow to get to the bees.

The bee yard during the Winter Storm Pax.  Who names a winter storm "Peace?"

The bee yard during the Winter Storm Pax. Who names a winter storm “Peace?”

I’m feeling bad for all the hard work John is doing plowing, but it is no easy hike to the bees today.  I have marked my walking stick in six inch increments.  Even packed down with rain, the snow still measures 18 inches with every step I take.

Hive B

Hive B

Down at the bees, the hives are putting off enough heat to keep a slim gap between the snow and the hive.  I only look at Hives B, C, and D.  Beekeeper Man determined recently that Hive A is kaput.  Probable diagnosis: dysentery.  (My last bee post commented on signs of dysentery on the hive.  With all the cold weather preventing more frequent cleansing flights, they succumbed.)  However, three hives are still hanging in  there.

Trudging back up to the house, I am tempted to swoosh snow from the garden bench and take a breather.  In the drizzling rain.  Visiting the bees seemed like a good idea when I was heading down to the bees.  Well, I’ve gotten my heart rate up and had a little workout, so even if I haven’t worked as hard as John, I won’t feel guilty having some pumpkin bread with honey butter.

It was easier walking down to the bees, than coming back up!

It was easier walking down to the bees, than coming back up!

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Here’s my ratio for honey butter:

  • 1 stick of butter
  • 1/2 cup Maywood honey

I blended the two with my immersion blender.  This is because I couldn’t find 2 matching beaters for the hand mixer, but the immersion blender worked better anyway.  So creamy!  The honey we have on hand right now (from the hives we lost last year) is really dark and loaded with pollen.  John spun it from the brood frames after losing the bees.

************************************************************************************

And here’s the recipe for the pumpkin bread:

  • 3  1/4 cups flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1  1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 cups fresh, not canned pumpkin (mine was frozen, then thawed in microwave)
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs (I used jumbo sized)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Put all dry ingredients into large bowl and mix together with spoon.  Add all wet ingredients and the nuts.  Mix until combined.

Pour into 3 greased bread pans.  Bake at 350 degrees for an hour.  Test with toothpick for doneness.  My loaves took an extra 10 minutes or so.

(I found this on Allrecipes.com.  The recipe originated from the mother of V. Monte, who used canned pumpkin and added 2/3 cup water.  Reviewers suggested eliminating the water, especially if using fresh pumpkin.  Even without the water, this is a yummy moist pumpkin bread!)

Pumpkin bread with Maywood honey butter

Pumpkin bread with Maywood honey butter

Whole Milk

“You’d yell at me if I did that.”

So true.  My offense this time was to bring home a gallon of whole milk.  My husband has been scolded in the past for bringing home 2%.  But whole milk?  That’s positively decadent–like pouring half-and-half on cereal.

The photo of Wilson Dairy predates me by a long time.

The photo of Wilson Dairy predates me by a long time.

The irony of this situation is that I grew up a product of the Wilson Dairy Company in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  Literally.  It was the family dairy.  And I grew up on Wilson milk.  Whole milk.  Unlimited quantities of whole milk.  I don’t think 2% passed my lips until I was a teenager.  By 1970, Wilson Dairy was no more and, with the seven Wilson teenagers in my family still drinking unlimited quantities of milk, I’m guessing my mother cut the fat to save a couple of cents a gallon. (She also cut out the milk delivery which resulted in the milkman–desperate not to lose the business of our large family– bribing her with a case of Cap’n Crunch cereal.  We went through a lot of milk eating up that cereal.  It did not turn out to be an effective strategy on his part.)

At any rate, 2% became the new norm with 1% appearing by the time my own girls were teens.  Skim milk had a short lived run with a Weight Watchers Points Calculator–and protests from the family, including my own dairy-girl conscience. Almond milk even showed up in the fridge when our middle daughter was on her high health kick and not constrained by an actual budget.

Sometimes, however, you just have to have whole milk.

Saturday, I decided to make some of my grandmother’s Cornstarch Pudding.  My motivation was my mother, whose tummy was not feeling well. In a weak, pathetic voice, she had said, “I need a mother.”  Well, nothing comforts a sad little tummy like Cornstarch Pudding.

The original recipe called for “milk.”  For my grandmother, that was, of course, whole milk.  By the time I last made it, I was using 1%.  Now, this recipe has always made a thin pudding.  Whipped egg whites are folded in to fluff it up.  But over the years I was finding that the pudding was too thin and I needed much more cornstarch than the original recipe called for.

Saturday, I chose to use whole milk in the pudding.  First of all, Mom needed a yummy treat.  And secondly, I had a sinister plan to fatten her up.  She hasn’t eaten well in a couple of weeks, she’s “hiding” in her cute little sweat suit, and she hasn’t given me a weight report.  That says to me that she has lost weight.  Whole milk was my plan to keep her from  blowing away.

Well, this was the best batch of cornstarch pudding I have made in years.  The consistency was perfect.  Not thick.  Creamy.  Oh duh…this cook who has been making turkey gravy for years and knows all about the ratio of fat to flour in a good gravy completely forgot that the same principle applies to puddings.

So, a double batch of pudding used half a gallon of milk.  What about the other half?  Some went into creamy mashed potatoes.  Some will surely soothe me with a bedtime hot cocoa.  My morning coffee is going to taste great this week.  The rest is for my hubby to chug.

But don’t get any grand ideas, John.  Next gallon, we’re back to low-fat.  Or you’ll get yelled at.

Here’s the recipe…I recommend using whole milk!

Dooda’s Cornstarch Pudding

  • 1 qt. milk, divided
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • pinch of salt
  • vanilla to taste (1 teaspoon)

In double boiler, heat 3 cups of the milk until scalded (steaming hot, but not boiling).

In another bowl, mix 2 egg yolks, beaten.  Then add sugar, cornstarch, salt, 1 cup cold milk.  Mix well and stir into hot milk.  Stir constantly, about 15 minutes, until pudding has thickened.  Add vanilla.

Save egg whites for meringue.  (When pudding has cooled, whip egg whites with 1/4 cup sugar til stiff.  Fold into pudding.)

Arrrrrrrrrrrr is for Oysters

Indian Summer has finally given way to crisp chill of oyster weather.  It’s November, the third month from September through April containing an “R,” and we are well into oyster season, but it took a monster late season hurrricane/nor’easter/winter weather event to usher in the appropriate chill.  Which raises some questions:  how do oysters fare during such an extreme weather event?  Are they safely snuggled in their oysters beds while a storm rages overhead? Or are they, too, in need of disaster relief?  Will there be Blue Points for Thanksgiving?  And if not, will it be because of a lack of oysters or because the oystermen are are still pumping out their homes?

This calls for some research.  Hmm…high winds, heavy rains, and storm surge all cause problems for oyster beds.  Pounding waves can physically damage their beds; storm surge can bring damaging sedimentation; and heavy rains or ocean surge can bring about extreme changes in salinity.  Ocean surge can dramatically increase the salinity of bay oysters; storm run-off can dilute the salinity of ocean bivalves.  This does not bode well for the Blue Points this year.  Or the incredibly tasty Cape May Salts.  The Chincoteagues were spared the violent brunt of the storm, but it remains to be seen if the huge rainfall and storm water run-off impacted them.  The Susquehanna watershed is pretty big.

I partook of my first oysters of this season last month in Cape May.  The local Cape May Salts are a good briny oyster, and I thoroughly enjoyed slurping the tender, slippery, seasalty bivalves.  A couple of weeks ago we were dining in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia, and enjoyed some salty Chincoteagues.  Now our mouths are primed for oysters, and we’re pining for more, especially the Blue Points that we traditionally have on Turkey Day.

Friday night, John stopped at Gibby’s to buy oysters on his way home from work.  Being way too tired to want to shuck them himself, he bought them in a plastic container.  Normally, we prefer to eat the oyster from its own shell, but pre-shucked oysters are better than no oysters at all.  I’ve even figured out how to serve them—on deviled egg plates.  Seriously, how often do I make deviled eggs?  Once a year on Easter.  But those egg plates, shaped not-unlike an oyster shell, have twelve little scoopy spots that are just perfect for serving shell-less oysters.  I plop twelve oysters into each of the two plates and serve one to John and one to me, ideally topped with my mignonette or a bit of cocktail sauce.  Ta dah.  It sure looks nicer than a little bowl of gray oyster loogies.

(Personal note to this year’s Thanksgiving oyster initiate:  you did not just hear me compare oysters to loogies.  If you can eat tough, chewy clams, you most certainly can eat delicate oysters.)

Friday night’s oysters were fine, but they weren’t salty.  Alas, the seafood store could not attest to their origin.  They did not shuck those oysters themselves; they just accepted delivery of oyster-filled containers.  For all we know they came from the Gulf of Mexico.  They would have tasted better with a good mignonette, but I was too worn out by my Hurricane Sandy induced one-day work week to chop up the ingredients.  Anyway, by Saturday night they were destined for oyster stew, a worthy culinary fate.

John’s Oyster Stew

Here’s the recipe for John’s Oyster Stew.  The one he made Saturday was perhaps the best ever, so, even if don’t rave over a raw oyster, that does not mean I won’t rave over it in a stew.

John’s Oyster Stew

  • 1 quart shucked oysters, strained with  1 cup oyster liquid saved
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2/3  of a half-pint of heavy cream (Yeah, it’s  a weird amount but that’s what he used. I think I’d dump the whole container in, but, hey, it’s not my recipe.)
  • 6 tablespoons butter, divided
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • worcestershire to taste
  • tabasco to taste
  • fresh parsley for garnish
  • oyster crackers

Saute the strained oysters in large soup pot with the 4 T of butter until oyster edges curl and liquid has started to boil.  Add the milk, 1 cup oyster liquids (the “liquor”), and the cream.  Add the remaining butter.  Heat the stew until hot–the butter should melt, the soup should be steamy but must not boil.  Add salt, pepper, worcestershire, and tabasco to taste.  When steamy hot, remove from heat.  Serve garnished with fresh parsley and oyster crackers.

I like my stew to have a little zip to it.  John does not want to actually taste the worcestershire or the tabasco.  He wants the oyster flavor to shine, but the worcestershire and tabasco are still necessary to add interest and complexity to the milk based broth.

So support the oyster industry–go buy some (preferably local) oysters.  Or, if you really can’t swallow an oyster, show your solidarity by drinking a Flying Dog “Pearl Necklace” Oyster Stout.  I don’t know how they make beer with oysters, but this is a nice one.  Really.  And it doesn’t taste like oysters at all.  Here’s hoping–and praying– that the East Coast oystermen and their oysters make a speedy recovery from Hurricane Sandy.

Yeah, it’s made with oysters. And proceeds benefit Chesapeake Bay Oyster Restoration.

Making room for a new season of venison… and football

We know it’s hunting season when friends show up with gifts–a heart and a liver that they just harvested from a doe in our woods.  While they might normally toss them, they know that John will use them to make an amazing venison liverwurst.  The new heart and liver will join what John has in the freezer and will soon appear as John’s redneck pâté.

With bow season upon us and guys outside climbing into their tree stands, we’ve been inside noting a lack of freezer space.  We still have venison from last year.  One reason for this is that venison lends itself to stews and chilis and other slow cooking dishes that I don’t tend to cook in the summer.  However, the main reason we still have so much is because John stored it all in the man-cave freezer.  I had no idea it was down there!

Quelle bonne surprise– a freezer full of white butcher paper wrapped packages of ground meat and roasts.   Bring on the venison pasta sauce.  Let’s eat some pulled venison sandwiches. And absolutely, positively John gets busy making venison-jalapeno sausage  and Italian venison sausage.  So the freezer goes from  being full of raw venison to being full of sausage.  Not a problem.  The hunters often stop in for a beer after an evening in the woods.  A jalapeno sausage is the perfect post-hunting snack to go with a cold beer.  It’s also the perfect snack food for a Sunday afternoon Ravens game.

MomMom & little John fixing chili in their matching Ravens jerseys. Photo by Mario.

This Sunday got off to a promising start with all the kids and grandkids coming over to watch the Ravens-Eagles game.  Sixteen-month-old grandson John, whose first word was “cook,” was most eager to help whip up a huge pot of venison chili.  We were too wrapped up in the game ( and nibbling jalapeno sausage) to eat the chili until afterwards, at which point it served to console us in our loss.

Unlike liverwurst, which has a select group of devotees, chili is eaten by pretty much everyone.  It’s a good first way to get used to venison.  Substitute ground venison for ground beef and then don’t tell anyone.  They’ll love the flavor and then you can tell them what it is!

Here is one way to use up a bunch of ground venison:

Chili for a crowd

  • 5 lbs. ground venison
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 2 large cans of dark red kidney  beans
  • 2 large cans of  diced tomatoes
  • 1 can of tomato sauce
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • a fistful (or two) of dried oregano, crumbled
  • chili powder  to taste (for me, that would be several  tablespoonfuls or maybe half the jar)
  • cumin to taste (a little less than the chili powder)
  • salt and pepper

Before the game starts, brown the onion and the meat in a large stockpot.  Puree one can of the kidney beans (drained first) in a food processor and add the ground paste to the pot.  Add the second can of kidney beans whole (but drained).  Stir in the remaining ingredients and let simmer until half-time.  Serve with garnishes of grated cheese and sour cream or Greek yogurt.  Eat as a dip with tortilla scoops or as a dinner with corn bread.

I personally like to add green pepper with the onion, but a certain son-in-law doesn’t eat green pepper.  (Plus I didn’t have one.)  The batch of chili I made for the pathetic Ravens-Eagles game did not use my usual spices either.  I was out of chili powder so I used Black Dust Coffee & Spice Rub that I bought at Savory Spice Shop in Boulder, Colorado last June.  The interesting combination of ingredients (coffee,  black pepper, cumin, Alderwood smoked salt, brown sugar, cocoa, mustard, coriander and chipotle) made for a mellow chili.  Wanting more zip, I added some red pepper and dried jalapeno flakes.  (Don’t tell John I used his dried jalapeno!) It still wasn’t very zippy, though, and every time Kristin came upstairs the aroma tricked her into thinking that I was baking brownies.  I should have used the rest of the jar of dried jalapeno, but I might have gotten in trouble with the resident sausage maker.

For a zippier chili, I could have used Savory Spice’s Red Cloud Peak Seasoning.  I used it Saturday night to coat a round roast.  Mmmmm.  It has hot chili powder in it, but no cumin.  But I do have cumin, so I could have added that to the chili myself.

What did I learn from today’s chili?  If you want the home team to win, don’t eat mellow chili and don’t flavor your chili with seasonings from the Denver area (as good as they may be).  From now on, for Raven’s games at least,  I’ll stick with hot chili powder from the home team–McCormick.

Meditations on a Grilled Cheese Sandwich (with a recipe for Winter White Martinis)

I already ate the grilled cheese.

Sometimes you just need a grilled cheese sandwich.   You have a hunger in the pit of your stomach and you’re stressed out.  A grilled cheese sandwich is comfortably warm and creamy while also offering a most satisfying crunch.  (Crunch is important for releasing stress and anger.)

So you get it into your head that your hunger will only be satisfied by grilled cheese.  Not tuna.  Not peanut butter.  Not roasted veggies on ciabatta bread. Grilled cheese.   And you want it now.  You are so hungry you can feel your blood sugar dropping.

You know you have cheese slices because you just bought a package three days ago.  So you get out two slices of bread, observe that the butter is already soft, and open the fridge to get the cheese.

You pull out the orange square.  (This being a household that does not buy them individually wrapped.)  You attempt to peel off a slice.  You can’t find a “line” defining the slices.  You turn the block of cheese around looking for a place to peel off a slice and realize that there are no lines.  There are no slices.

Who left the cheese slices out to melt into one solid blob?

Oh, wait.  This isn’t the block of cheese slices.  This is just a block of cheddar cheese.  So you return to the fridge to get out the cheese slices.   Except that there aren’t any. No slices.  Nowhere.  Gone.  Disappeared.  Devoured by someone else!

But you must have a grilled cheese sandwich!  Nothing else will do!  Well, there is a block of cheddar.  You’ll just have to use half a muscle and slice it yourself.  So you do.  And, after an unnecessary amount of emotional angst, you enjoy an immensely satisfying creamy, crunchy sandwich.

This grilled cheese sandwich, dear readers, is a metaphor.  Oh, it was a real sandwich, but the experience of making it was paralleling my week with health insurance benefits.  When you are ten days away from a particular surgery at a particular in-network hospital with a particular in-network doctor and your insurance company says that the procedure is not in-network–well, that can get you really upset.  But they are fine with your in-network doctor providing the same procedure at a different hospital.

So you talk yourself into believing that is is just a question of making your sandwich with pre-sliced cheese or slicing it yourself.   Even though you really, really prefer pre-sliced cheese, you try really hard to adjust your attitude to accept that the other way will still result in the same positive outcome.

Ah…but then the surgical coordinator says that Hospital B won’t give your doctor a slot for your surgery.  And then the insurance company says, “Oh, you can have your surgery at Hospital A, but for out-of-network costs.”

This is like saying you can have your pre-sliced cheese but you will pay ten times as much for the experience.  This is where you start slashing your vacation and other planned expenses.  You call the insurance company to find out how expensive this could be and they tell you, “Oh, we decided that you can have it done in-network after all.”  In other words, “you can have your pre-sliced cheese and eat it, too.”

And that, dear readers, is why I needed a grilled cheese sandwich in the first place.  And a chocolate mint truffle to go with it.  To be followed this evening with a Winter White martini.  And then a good long soak in the tub with Lavendar Bath Bubbles.

If there is no Mondays at Maywood posting next week, it will be because I am at Hospital A with my in-network doctor getting my preferred procedure the way I want it.

In the meantime, you might join me in a Winter White Martini.  This drink was introduced to me by my sister-in-law Kathe, who first loved it at Bonefish Restaurant.  She made some tweaks (freezing it) and I made some tweaks (flavor) and here you go.

Winter White Martini

For one:

  • 2 shots of white cranberry juice (white cranberry-peach is ok, too)
  • 1 shot of cranberry or pomegrante vodka
  • a splash of triple sec
  • a couple of fresh whole cranberries or pomegranate pearls for garnish
  • Directions:  shake over ice and pour into martini glass.  Serve over ice.

For a crowd or to have on hand for health insurance claim emergencies:

Make  this in a half-empty cranberry juice bottle

  • fill (or empty, as the case may be!) the bottle to the almost half-way mark with white cranberry juice
  • add the vodka to the 3/4 mark
  • add some triple sec, leaving room at the top of the bottle for freezing
  • Directions:  combine the ingredients in the bottle, shake, and store in the freezer until it is slushy.  When completely frozen, it will have a texture like a granita.  Scoop into martini glasses and garnish with the cranberry or pomegranate pearls.  This is quite delightful sipped in front of a roaring fire. 

Heirloom Mashed Potatoes

Passing the baton...um...potato peeler...

I have asked daughter Shelley to make the mashed potato casserole for Thanksgiving.

Her response was: “You want me to make your mashed potato casserole?”

Um…yeah.  My hip hurts, and I dread the thought of standing at the sink peeling ten pounds of potatoes and then standing at the counter mashing them.  And for those of you thinking, “Hey, just sit on a stool”–really, that is harder on the back than standing is on the hip.  Yes, I know I’m announcing geezerdom, but that’s just how it is this year and your turn is coming, so zip your lip.

But here’s my real point.  At some point, someone (nephews Andrew and Brendan) designated my mashed potato casserole as  Aunt Kathy’s special, classic, traditional, gotta-have-it-on-Thanksgiving dish.  Shelley feels entrusted with the honor of making it this year, like I’m passing it along to the next generation.

Really?

It’s just mashed potatoes.  It’s a recipe I found in Cooking Light a few years ago and tried because it was a way to have mashed potatoes prepared in advance of Turkey Day.   They also happen to be low-fat and absolutely yummy.  I quadrupled or quintupled the recipe to feed a crowd of forty and, ta-da, it’s now a family heirloom recipe.

Really?

Heirloom  recipes are passed from one generation to the next… Oh.

You get heirloom recipes from people who are grandmothers… Oh.

But, heirloom recipes are really old and came over with the Pilgrims on the Mayflower or, according to an international student at our school, the Titanic.  Well, maybe not so much.  My mother’s heirloom recipe for Vienna Cake was one she started making from her Fanny Farmer’s Cookbook.  My grandmother’s famous raisin bread recipe was clipped from the newspaper.

Heirloom recipes are also enshrouded with the mystique that no one can make them like the originator or  the designated heir to the recipe.   Furthermore, no one has permission to make them except the originator or the designated heir to the recipe.  Some people protect their recipes because they want to be needed.  Others like the honor of being recognized for excellence. For whatever reason, heirloom recipes are supposedly closely guarded family secrets.

Secret or not, eventually heirloom recipes get passed along, even if one has to steal the deceased cook’s recipe file.  But I propose to you that the Number One reason for passing down an heirloom recipe is this:  The cook is too daggone tired to do it!

Here’s Aunt Kathy’s Famous Mashed Potato Casserole recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 10 lbs. russet baking pototoes, peeled and cut into small pieces
  • 5    8 oz. packages of fat-free cream cheese
  • 40 oz. fat free plain yogurt (in 8 oz. containers, that’s 5!)
  • 2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 stick of butter
  • paprika

Directions:

Cook the potatoes, covered in water, in a stockpot until very soft (about 20 minutes).  Drain.  Return the potatoes to the nice warm cooking pot and add the cream cheese, yogurt, garlic powder, and salt.  Mash well and then beat well with a mixer.  (This is too much to fit into a stand mixer, so it’s best to use the cooking pot and a hand mixer.)

Spray  2 extra-large  (14 x 10) baking dishes with cooking spray.   Spoon the potato mixture into each.  Melt the butter and drizzle over both casseroles.  Sprinkle paprika on top.

(Note: I do not recommend trying aluminum disposable pans for this.  The potatoes are runny when they come out of the oven, and a disposable pan may not be sturdy enough.)

Cover the casseroles with plastic wrap and store in fridge.

The next day, remove the casseroles from the fridge early enough (30 minutes) that they are not cold when they go into the oven.  (Pyrex does indeed crack!).  Cook in preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Do not expect leftovers.