Finally!

I have updated the blog theme, and the version of WordPress, as part of a project to formalize and actually post regularly on a collection of blogs on different topics. Regularly may be relative, since I am in a cooking rut and have less to say than I could, but there should always be something out there to link to and talk about. For instance, I see I used to watch and post about Hell’s Kitchen. I haven’t watched that at all for at least two seasons, and failed to watch the whole thing before that. On the other hand, I have been devouring Chopped episodes on Netflix. Heck, I could even talk about History Channel’s Alone, since food was crucial to the survival scenario, and was quite intriguing at times. Of course, the first season is over, but retrospective? There will be at least one more season, too. There is also allergy news. And food cost news. See? I just have to remember! Since part of the problem was my dismay with how the place looked, the update should help.

Powerless Cooking

This article is almost so devoid of details to be not worth linking, but it does give food for thought and discussion. I can’t help wondering what in the word the photo is that looks like stacked dutch ovens, each containing charcoal. I also can’t help thinking it’s rather convenient that civilization is so intact and accessible, and money so freely available, that copious amounts of aluminum foil are handy. Guess that’s a good thing to stock up on, then.

Most of us have cooked rough to some degree, at some time, with varying degrees of success, and the point of possibly needing to do so unexpectedly is a good one, even if you have nary a prepper bone in your body.

I took my kids camping two summers ago and they were horrified by the idea of burgers cooked over a fire, potatoes cooked in foil in the coals, and even the corn on the cob cooked the same way. That last they had reason to spurn, since it was burned enough in places to taste burned. The potatoes were delicious, as were the burgers, but I was stuffed, having to eat all of it myself. They had no interest in hot dogs over the fire, either, and one of them didn’t care for marshmallows. Weirdo.

I’d like to experiment more, even if I cook for one and they eat PBJ, but never went camping this year. For that matter, I wanted to experiment, kids participating, in matchless ways of creating a fire if needed. They aren’t woodsy as I was, growing up surrounded by woods, but even I never got beyond a magnifying glass and sun for fire starting. It didn’t help, back then, that I had it drilled into me not to build a fire because there was dread of forest fires, and there was active observation for same from local fire towers. The current suburban firepit rage seems stunning to me, after that. Not that it stopped me from having some of the best hot dogs I have ever had, cooked in a camp pan over a small fire on a cranberry bog road, but that’s not as rustic as going pan-free.

Perhaps next time I’ll take my cast iron and see what I can conjure up over a fire. Maybe the kids will even try it.

Chocolate Chip Cookie

A history. Always especially interesting to me, given that I grew up in a nearby town to Whitman, home of the Tool House. My father spent the latter part of his childhood in the town where I grew up, but went to high school in Whitman, and knew the person behind another Whitman instutution: Peaceful Meadows Ice Cream. I worked for nine months in 1985 just a couple doors down from the Wendy’s mentioned in the article. I was confused, though, because I remembered the Toll House being up route 18 a couple doors from where Wendy’s is now, and I even applied for a bookkeeping job there in the late eighties. Except… if it burned in 1984, that must have been a new incarnation, and I don’t remember the original. Despite clearly remembering Saftler’s, another institution, on the opposite corner, which held out until just recently.

Unexpect Food Pantry Needs

I found it interesting to see 1o Things Food Banks Need But Won’t Ask For. Spices particularly struck me, because I have thought about what if I couldn’t afford those. I mean, really couldn’t afford those. Not just name brands, less common items, or to order from Penzey’s. I can see going to Walmart and buying a bunch of their 50 cent, perfectly good garlic salt and garlic powder to donate, or going to Job Lot and buying a bunch of their $1 spices, most of which are just fine (poultry seasoning is an exception). When I was single, I pretty much used Italian seasoning, garlic powder, cinnamon, chili powder, and not much else. Just hadn’t explored enough yet, or learned the joys of cumin or allspice. One can go far on the few basics, plus salt and black pepper. The chocolate also struck me. Made me wish I could buy hundreds of chocolate bars to donate to the local pantry. Which is funny, since it would be entirely appropriate for us to use their services, and donating is well above our means for now. Socks? Paper goods? Baby stuff? Who’d have thought of that!

Pea Soup

I have mentioned pea soup a couple times recently, but without writing about it specifically. This is an oversight, given how much of a favorite a new variant on it has become here. I regularly make sweet & sour kielbasa, which needs to be another post if I haven’t done so already. The ideal amount for five of us with little or no leftovers and nobody being disappointed is one and a half of the standard size kielbasa packages. That leaves half of one, or close to it.

My wife grew up on pea soup that was nothing more than peas and chicken broth. She doesn’t mind some ham and the associated flavor, but can’t bear to eat it if there is too much. This tends to happen when I use an entire leftover ham bone. She also prefers disintegrated peas, as you get easily when using split peas. My grandmother always used whole peas. Oddly enough, I don’t remember the peas being much beyond disintegrated, but when I tried whole peas it was nearly impossible to cook it enough for that texture, so my memory must be fuzzy. By the same token, I remember my grandmother’s pea soup having substantial chunks of ham (and ham fat), and that’s what I tend to expect. Anyway, I found I prefer split peas, so that is what I always use. Speaking of my grandmother, and to some extent my mother and sister, it always seems strange to me when I make something I remember fondly as something they made, but mine blows theirs away. I recognize now that my grandmother was a workman-like cook of minimal seasonings, certainly good, sometimes beyond good, but working within a limited range, tastes, and even a limited level of interest.

The solution to extra kielbasa and the need for less meat in pea soup is to cut the remaining kielbasa into small pieces and use that in a pea soup. I start cooking the peas in chicken broth (with chicken bullion cubes) in one pan. In a small frying pan I cook some chopped up onion (keep some frozen for purposes like this) in butter, along with the kielbasa. I also tend to add a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, getting their zing into the oil, and maybe some dried thyme. I finish by adding some broth, simmering slightly, then dumping the whole thing in with the peas. I season the soup further as needed, and at some point I grate in a carrot or three. Cook until it’s as done as you like, though we normally eat at when it’s all the way disintegrated. This tends to be in the house as a lunch or supplemental food, as opposed to being served as a meal, though a couple of the kids do actually eat it.

Bean and Ham Soup

The cannellini beans were so good in the white chili, I wanted to use them to make a soup with a ham bone from a spiral half ham. I’d frozen the bone and residual meat for that or a pea soup.

Not much to tell. It was a lot like making pea soup, including my addition of grated carrots and the use of chicken broth and seasonings like celery, thyme, onion and a bay leaf. The big lesson learned was that there was way too much ham, and ham flavor in the broth, for a single bag of beans (16 oz). If I do it again, I will use two bags of beans and/or save some of the ham broth and meat for a pea soup on the side. The wife prefers her pea soup minimally hammy, so I could have made a double of the bean and a single of pea soup out of what I had to work with.

I thought it was delicious, if a bit strong on the ham. Made my gout twitch slightly without actually flaring. I’ll happily make it again, or make a single soup of the beans with a modest amount of ham or other meat.

My second daughter fell in love with the beans as of this soup, so is begging me to make the chili again, as she no more than tasted that. I could see just eating them as a side, or using them as something different in a burrito, or as a twist in a traditional chili.