Author Archive: Jay

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 world 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, 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.

White Chili

I make standard chili pretty regularly. Usually it’s beef, cut up into small pieces, pinto beans, and then all the other things to create the liquid aspect and the flavor. I like it meaty, but it can be mainly bean, get us fed cheap, and be delicious.

When my wife and kids were visiting her family in Oregon during the summer, her brother’s wife made a white chili with white beans, ground turkey, and anaheim peppers. Only one of the kids tried/liked it, but she loved it, despite it being pretty mild.

With no actual idea of the recipe beyond cruising through some similar things online for ideas, I sought to create something similar. I’d figured to use white beans and chunks of chicken breast, but ended up buying a 3 lb pack of turkey. Meat purchases are almost all at traditional supermarkets, based on sales, but Walmart routinely has 3 lb ground turkey packs at a reasonable price. The size is convenient. Sometimes it makes turkey burgers, which one of the kids eats preferentially over traditional burgers. More often these days it makes meatballs, which are delicious and are an excuse to stretch the meat with fillers (preferably Townhouse Crackers, but can include bread crumbs/shredded up bread and heels, or oatmeal). I believe the pack I used for the chili did a small batch of burgers for the freezer, so it was maybe 2 lbs in the chili. Could be remembering wrong, though. (Not an exact recipe, in case you hadn’t guessed.)

I am used to using dried spices, except generally some fresh or frozen onion (I chop up sweet onion and freeze it in a zipper bag for use as needed), and once in a while fresh garlic. The pepper in my red chili comes from red pepper and chili powder. Using a real pepper, and one so mild, was relatively new to me. I was also sensative about “ruining” the white color of the chili by putting in a seasoning that would impart color, as chili powder does.

To start, I lightly roasted two anaheim peppers over burners. Gas stove FTW! (Never used electric and plan to avoid that changing.) The Internet said put them in a paper bag for 10 minutes after that, so I did. Not sure the point, but I didn’t need them yet. When I was ready, I cut them up into tiny pieces, some of which are visible in the picture that will appear below. Those went into oil in a wok-like saute pan, along with some onion and other seasoning. I forget the details, but I may have used a bit of red pepper flakes, and definitely used oregano, a small amount of red pepper, and cumin. The trick is to season the warm oil. I may have let that sit a while, after the initial heating to par-cook the onion and pepper, for that reason. It’d be standard procedure, anyway. Then I cooked up the turkey in the pan, mixing that stuff with it, probably adding more, especially cumin. The idea was even the red pepper in small amounts would disappear into the turkey mix, and cumin wouldn’t change the color at all. I wouldn’t have added the red pepper, but I was afraid the anaheim peppers would not be strong enough, between their mildness and the larger numbers (like six) called for by recipes similar to what I was making with two.

In the meantime, I had done the standard bean soaking with dried cannellini beans. That is, put them in cold water, bring to a boil, turn off, soak, rinse and repeat if desired, or soak a bit longer in cold if desired. I found they soften up faster than pintos. In fact, I loved the flavor and their creamy texture. It will not be my last time using that variety of beans, even if I don’t make white chili again. Which I will. At the appropriate time, I started them cooking at length, getting them nice and soft. A lot less time-consuming than for dried pinto beans.

Anyway, cooked the beans. Cooked the meat mixture. Put the meat mixture into the beans, retaining the bean water. Seasoned some more, though not much. There may have been salt involved. Oh! Garlic. I used garlic powder and garlic salt. Forgot that in the early discussion of seasoning the turkey. Cooked it together to finish it off, since it is imperative the flavors get a chance to combine and settle. I believe I also forgot about cooking the beans in chicken broth, which for me means using bullion cubes in the water.

It was beyond tasty, and not that mild. Not nearly as mild as I’d expected. My wife is amused that our definition of spicy differs. She considered it quite mild. I took several pictures, none of which came out very good. I blame the CFL bulbs. Darn regulators! The color and sheen may not have helped. This is about as good as I got: