Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Homemade vs. Store Bought

When it comes right down to it, purely homemade tends to taste so much better than premade, packaged and store bought.  The majority of products are geared towards those of us who are alone.  Canned meals to plop into a saucepan and heat up on a stove top.  Frozen boxed meals that pop into a microwave for 5 minutes, ding, and it is ready to eat.  Of course there are the products pushed upon those wishing to lose weight, and, thereby, become healthier.  Atkins, Weight Watchers and Lean Cuisine are the big three in this regard.  Unfortunately though, and this is my personal opinion on many products tried, the taste, smell and texture are quite questionable.  The ingredient list is usually long, but instead of food edibles, it is chemicals.

Now do I use products geared towards convenience?  Of course!  Whether it is time constraints, a spur of the moment recipe idea, or simply clueless as to what to make; these products help with these issues.  Take, for example, Campbell’s Soups, the creamed varieties especially, can be easily used to blend ingredients together into a hearty, tasty, and fulfilling dish.

Some time ago, an ad link popped up on Facebook and it referred to a recipe called "Angel Chicken".  Basically it was a crock pot recipe where Campbell's Golden Mushroom soup, a packet of Italian salad dressing mix, cream cheese and white wine cooked for about 4-5 hours and was then served over angel hair pasta.  Simple recipe and I was willing to give it a try; that is until I went grocery shopping.  Pricing out a 10.5 ounce can of the soup, at various stores, ranged from $1.50 to $2.19, and I became, well, indignant about it.

I went home, got online and looked up the ingredient list for the soup; salt and sugar were the first two ingredients and the listing of preservatives and chemical additives was longer than the natural ingredients.  Breaking down the basic ingredients, the beef broth already has salt in it; then came tomato sauce, white wine, a roux of butter and flour, water and mushrooms.  Certainly no need for sugar, or additional salt.

Whenever I see mushrooms on sale, I will buy a couple of boxes and dehydrate them for future usage, so I had those on hand; as well as the other ingredients.  The task to make a complete meal now turned into a two-fold project; making the soup, then making the chicken recipe.  The idea of deconstructing the processed soup, and then recreating from scratch was a pretty exciting concept.

As the cooking process of the soup commenced, the smell in the kitchen was heavenly; if the entire recipe tasted as good as it smelled, this would be one heck of an accomplishment.  Now unknowingly, I had run out of angel hair pasta, so served the chicken, mushrooms and sauce over linguine instead...it was amazing; simply amazing!  More work than opening a little can of soup? Oh yes, but so, so worth all the effort.

So sorry Campbell's, but mine is better.


 Golden Mushroom Chicken

 Ingredients:

8 Tbsp. butter

8 Tbsp. flour

1 (8 oz.) package cream cheese, cut into cubes and softened

1 (14.5 oz.) can beef broth plus ½ can water

¼ cup white wine

1 (8 oz.) can tomato sauce

½ tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. each crushed, dried basil, thyme and marjoram

¼ tsp. ground black pepper

8 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, trimmed of fat

1 lb. sliced white mushrooms

1 and ½ lbs. angel hair pasta (linguine can be substituted)

Preparation:

In a large saucepan, medium-high heat, melt butter and whisk in flour; add cream cheese and stir until cream cheese begins to combine with the roux. Add beef broth, water, wine, tomato sauce, garlic powder, herbs and black pepper. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to low; let simmer for 5 minutes.

Set 6-quart crock pot on low; place in chicken breasts, mushrooms on top of chicken; pour the sauce over all. Cover and let cook for 5-6 hours; until chicken is moist and tender.

Prepare pasta according to package directions; place a chicken breast on top a serving of pasta and spoon sauce over all.

Makes 8 servings.

With holiday meals being planned out, think about taking some time to figure out how to avoid using processed products.  Yes, it will be a little more work, but the smiles on family and guests faces will be quite worth it all.  Then again, maybe you have wanted to develop your cooking skills, or even begin learning how; so start from scratch!

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

An Ear of Corn Speaks Volumes.

During the month of October, we were subjugated to Mother Nature experiencing the indecisive phase of menopause.  It started our seasonably warm during the day, and comfortably cool for good sleeping nights.  That was her version of sleeping with one leg outside of the blankets.  Suddenly, it became so cold that snow fell; then sort of cold with thunderstorms, and hail pounding the land.  Most days, we start out wearing a winter coat, switch to a lighter sweatshirt, only to be searching for that coat, once again, at night.

Here we are in November, the in-between of last harvest and the hibernation of winter.  It is also the month to begin planning for the holidays; feasting, presents, traveling and making resolutions for the New Year.  While the various Hallmark channels are playing Christmas themed movies already, 24/7, until sometime in January; Black Friday commercials have been running for weeks.  Basically, while sitting in your Halloween costume, you can shop for Christmas presents, and plan your Thanksgiving meal, all at the same time.  Bah Humbug, I say!

There is something important, that the past two years should have taught us all, and that is to savor every moment.  Correct, tomorrow is never guaranteed, but pushing everything together, just in case, leaves nothing to appreciate later on; like the simple things.

There are many things that are simply good as is, and you do not need a good reason to want them.  A bowl of steaming mashed potatoes, butter oozing over the creamy spuds.  A slice or two of toasted bread smeared with cream cheese and orange marmalade; fruity, rich and that satisfying crunch of the toast.  No matter the weather, no matter the season, or what holiday has rolled around; these are the things that make us feel good, and give us comfort.

Some of our most satisfying comforts come from a versatile vegetable, Corn.  Delicious freshly grilled and coated with garlic or honey butter; or boiled in milk to bring out that rich sweetness.  Or added to casseroles for the taste and crunch it can provide.  Around the world, corn is used, in various forms, to create a basic staple, or an awesome gourmet dish.

In our southwestern states, especially, white, yellow or blue cornmeal is a mainstay staple found in almost every pantry.  Cornmeal is corn ground to a fine consistency; used in baking, as in cornbread or hushpuppies; for dredging when frying, or the making of tortillas.

Grits, a word that comes from the Old English “grytta” meaning a coarse meal and as the name implies, gritty; these are a staple in most southern USA dishes; served for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. Grits have a creamy texture similar to porridge or moist oatmeal.  This can be eaten alone, as a side dish, or as part of a larger recipe.

Polenta, what was known as a peasant food in Italy, was often cooked in a copper pot called a paiola; the grind is somewhere between the consistency of cornmeal and grits; used in baking, or a side dish similar to mashed potatoes.

Using the process of milling called “Stone Ground” retains some of the hull and germ of the corn, lending more flavor and nutrition to recipes. It is more perishable, but will store longer if kept in an air tight container and refrigerated.

Basic Grits

Ingredients:

4 cups water

2 Tbsp. butter

1 tsp. salt

1 cup stone ground grits

Preparation:

In a large saucepan, on high heat, bring the water, butter and salt to a boil. Gradually add the grits, return to a boil; reduce heat to low.  Cook the grits, stirring occasionally, so that they do not stick or clump; they are done when the texture is creamy, about 25-30 minutes.  Season with additional salt and butter to taste, if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

Notes:

Additional seasonings:  ½ tsp ground black pepper or garlic

If adding cheese reduce water to 2 cups, add in 2 cups milk; cook grits according to instructions.  Add ½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese plus 2 additional Tbsps. butter to grits; whisk to fully incorporate.

Basic Polenta

Ingredients:

6 cups water

2 tsps. salt

1 and 3/4 cups stone ground cornmeal

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Preparation:

In a large sauce pan, high heat, bring water to a boil; add salt.  Slowly whisk in the cornmeal; reduce heat to low; cook until the mixture thickens and the cornmeal is tender, stirring often, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat; add butter; stir until fully incorporated.

Makes 6 servings.

Notes:

Polenta can be served as is, or spread in a parchment lined baking pan, cooled in the refrigerator and cut into shapes.

Additional ingredients to make it more savory:  ½ cup of minced mushrooms, red onion or both; sautéed in butter before adding.

Use chicken broth instead of water for a richer flavor.

Reduce water to 4 cups; add 2 cups milk, follow cooking instruction; and then whisk in ¾ cup shredded Parmesan cheese.


 Cornbread

 This is a basic recipe for cornbread.  Chile peppers, such as jalapeno, and/or cheese can be added; the amount is up to the baker.  Personally, if making a cornbread with chile peppers, I only add one fine diced for each loaf being made.  I do not want the flavor of the cornbread itself to be overpowered.

Ingredients:

1 Tbsp. melted, unsalted butter

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 Tbsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt

2 cups yellow cornmeal

½ cup sugar

1 cup unsalted butter, softened

2 cups milk

2 large eggs, beaten

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 400F.  Brush two 9”x5”x3” loaf pans with the melted butter.

Into a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add in the cornmeal and sugar, mix well.  Cut the softened butter into the dry mixture until it forms a coarse meal.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk and eggs; mix with coarse meal until a smooth batter forms.  Divide the batter between the 2 loaf pans.

Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes cleanly out of the center.  Cool the pans on wire racks for 15 minutes before turning the loaves out.  The cornbread can be served warm or cool.  To store, wrap in plastic wrap and it will keep for 2 days in a cool, dry place; or it can be frozen for up to 2 weeks.

Makes 2 loaves.

…and if you are looking for a soup to serve at a holiday meal, something to warm up your bones, or even bring to someone feeling poorly, try…

 


Chicken Corn Chowder

 

Ingredients:

2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1/8 tsp salt

¼ tsp. paprika and ground black pepper

4 large potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 carrots, peeled and large diced

2 stalks celery, large diced

1 small onion, diced

6 Tbsp. butter

4 Tbsp. flour

3 cups milk

2 cups cooked whole kernel corn

2 hard boiled eggs, diced

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350F; spray roasting pan with nonstick spray. Season chicken with the salt, black pepper and paprika; roast for 15-20 minutes; juices in chicken will run clear. Remove and cut into cubes. While chicken is roasting, place potatoes, carrots and celery in a large pot, cover with salted water; cook on high heat until potatoes are fork tender. Drain, but retain 1 cup of water.

In the large pot, melt butter on medium-high heat, add onion and cook for 5 minutes; add in flour and mix thoroughly. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring to make sure the flour is well incorporated. Add in milk, retained water and corn; bring to a boil, stir and continue to cook for 10 minutes. Mix in diced eggs and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Celebrating Those Who Have Passed On.

With Halloween and All Souls Day just around the calendar’s corner, creating a dessert, to honor those who have passed on, would be an idea.  Yes, flowers can be placed on gravesites, maybe some prayers and kind words said, but what about celebrating with the souls?  In Indonesian, dead relatives are dug up in several villages, every three years.  The skeletons are dressed in traditional clothing, group family photos are taken, and meals shared, with offerings made to the dearly departed.  In Mexico, The Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is a happy, and decorative, celebration.  People dress up in festive clothing, paint “death masks” upon their faces, and also have parades and parties to honor those who have passed away. The Mayan people of Pomuch, a village on the Yucatan peninsula, celebrates similar to the Indonesian ways.  A body must be in the ground a minimum of three years, before it can be dug up, cleaned, and displayed in a gaily decorated box at the cemetery. 

Even the Vikings had their own ways of celebration.   Alfablót was the time to make sacrifices (usually crops and animals) to the magical elves, as a way to honor a family's ancestors.  Viking warriors wished to die in battle and have their souls brought to Valhalla; riding with the Valkyrie on fiery, winged steeds.

Their bodies might be buried or cremated; put in ship burials or funerary mounds, but the souls resided with other great warriors, and with the gods themselves.

An offering of a sweet dessert, whether cakes or cookies, is often seen in any culture. Dried nuts, such as almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts or pine nuts are often included in the mixture.  Well, I like cake, but being a diabetic means, sometimes, desserts have to be avoided.  However, life should be enjoyed and making compromises means you can sometimes have your cake, and eat it too. This is what I did with a recipe I found online for Nutella Swirl Cake. Making a few simple changes created a cake that was more diabetic friendly than the original recipe. Less sugar, fat and cholesterol; yet a cake that was full of flavor and moist. Of course I also cut down the portion size from 12 slices to 16 slices, but with my recipe remake...less is more!!!  …and if making an offering, to the celebration of the dead, what’s one less slice of cake, on your own plate, anyway?

First the original recipe from  Il Cucchiaio d'Argento (http:// www.cucchiaio.it), by Breadloveanddreams

Nutella Swirl Cake

Serves: 12

Difficulty: average

Preparation time: 20 min.

Cooking Time: 1 hour

Classification: Dessert, cake

Ingredients:

3 cups cake flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. sea salt

3 cups granulated sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter, softened

6 oz. heavy whipping cream

6 eggs

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

3 Tbsp. Nutella

Powdered sugar, to dust

Directions:

Preheat oven at 350 F degrees.  Grease a 12 cup Bundt cake pan with flour and butter or baking spray.

In a large bowl sift together cake flour, baking powder and salt, set aside.

With a hand or stand mixer, beat butter and sugar at medium speed until creamy and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at the time, until well incorporated. Add vanilla extract.

Reduce the speed then add whipping cream and flour mixture alternately. Pour the cake batter into the pan.

Add 3 tablespoons of Nutella on top of the batter, then swirl with a fork for a marble effect.

Bake for 1 hour or until a wooden toothpick comes out clean.  Allow the cake to cool into the pan.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Now for my recipe remake:

 


Nutella Swirl Bundt Cake

Ingredients:

3 cups Bob's Red Mill 10-grain flour

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1 and 1/2 cups Truvia Baking Blend

2 (16 Tbsp.) sticks unsalted butter, softened

1 and 1/2 cups egg substitute

3/4 cup vanilla flavored almond milk, unsweetened

1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

4 Tbsp. Pyure Organic Hazelnut Spread

Swerve powdered sugar, to dust

Preparation:

Preheat oven at 350 F degrees.  Grease a 12 cup Bundt cake pan with flour and butter or baking spray.

In a large bowl sift together flour, baking powder and salt, set aside.

With a hand or stand mixer, beat butter and Truvia at medium speed until creamy and fluffy.  Continue beating and slowly add in the egg substitute; add the vanilla extract.

Reduce the speed, add almond milk and flour mixture alternately; pour the cake batter into the pan. Add four tablespoons of hazelnut spread on top of the batter; swirl into the batter, with a fork, for a marble effect.

Bake for 50 - 60 minutes; until a wooden toothpick comes out clean; allow the cake to cool in the pan.  











Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

 

Makes 16 servings.

 

The 10-grain flour gave the cake an overall nutty flavor, and there was still a discernible sweetness, even though non, or low, sugar products were used.

 

Remember to celebrate the lives, and happiness you felt, with those who have passed on, for they are always in your heart.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Cobbler vs. Crumble

“If a crumble is crumbly from being all fallen apart.

Why is a cobbler not looking as if created by an elf cobbler’s heart?

A baker’s mind decides what part topping and fruit play.

While hands diligently portray an artful display.

Mix in spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cloves.

As desserts bake, wonderful aromas fill the homes.”

Tired, climbing slowly into bed, head lying upon pillow, and then the dread.  The eyes pop open, wheels in the mind whirl. Not only must a poem be written quickly, but also a recipe from inside the head.  Oh yes, I am one of those people who, no matter how tired the body, the mind keeps going with questions and ideas.  …and so, my mind decided to contemplate the difference between a cobbler and a crumble.  I am not surprised by this, as I had been taking stock of what fruits I had “put up” this year in the freezer…apricots, peaches, cherries, plums, cranberries and blueberries.  So, why in the world would they not invade my mind while I was wanting to go to sleep?

Wanting to know the “technical” baking definitions, I found out, oh, it gets worse than just cobbler and crumble.  There is crisp, Betty, and buckle.  Well, who the heck is Betty, was her cobbler too crisp, so it crumbled, and did she have to loosen her buckle from eating too much???

The easiest description were found, would you believe, at the Farmer’s Almanac website (https://www.farmersalmanac.com/crisp-crumble-cobbler-whats-difference-29174).

"Crisp: A crisp is fruit dessert with a topping made of a combination of oats, flour, butter, and sugar (and sometimes nuts). The topping completely covers the fruit and is baked. It is also sometimes called a crumble.

Crumble: Crumbles are very similar to crisps, but the name originated in England. Both contain fresh fruit and are covered with a streusel topping that gets baked. Crumble toppings, however, usually do not contain oats, whereas crisp toppings do.

Cobbler: Cobblers are a fruit dessert baked with biscuit-style topping. It’s called a cobbler because its top crust is not smooth like a pie crust but rather “cobbled” and coarse. It’s usually dropped or spooned over the fruit, then baked.

Betty: A Betty (as in “Apple Brown Betty”) is similar to a crisp, but has no oats in its buttery crumb topping. And rather than having the topping solely on top of the fruit, it’s layered throughout, then baked.

Buckle: A buckle consists of fruit and cake baked together, with a streusel topping. As it bakes the fruit and streusel topping makes the cake “buckle.” It very much resembles a coffee cake."

…and of course, depending on where a recipe is obtained from, what is called a cobbler, could actually be a crisp; or a crisp a buckle; and do not forget about betty.

The recipe I am sharing with you is not a cobbler-cobbler, but a sort of buckle layered like a Betty, and…you get the gist of it, right?  Anyway, I made it with blueberries, served warm with ice cream on the side, and no one complained, even about the name.


 Easy (Any Fruit) Cobbler

Ingredients:

1 stick butter (8 Tbsp.) butter

1 cup 2% milk

1 cup sugar (or equivalent sugar substitute)

1 cup all-purpose flour (add 3 Tbsp. for high elevation baking)

1 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

*1 quart (32 oz.) chopped fruit or whole berries (if thawed from frozen, drain liquid, but keep for smoothies, or another use.)

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350F.


 

Melt butter and brush against bottom and sides of 9”x12” inch baking pan, or 2-9” square baking pans.

 







Mix together milk, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt until a smooth batter; pour into pan(s).







Cover batter evenly, as possible, with the fruit; do not stir the fruit into the batter.

 





Bake for one hour, or until toothpick comes out clean from cake.  While baking, the batter will rise up, surround the fruit and absorb its flavor.

 

To serve, cut into squares and top with whipped cream, or a scoop of ice cream on the side.

 

Makes 12-18 servings, dependent on square size cut.

 

*Note: if fruit needs sweetening, add 2 Tbsp. sugar and mix thoroughly with fruit.

            :fruit, such as apples, apricots and peaches can be spiced up by mixing with cinnamon, cloves, all spice, nutmeg and/or cardamom before spreading over batter.




The fruit I used was frozen blueberries.  After straining the juice, I froze it for future use.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Frying Up Rice in a Wok.

When I wrote up my article about Hoisin sauce, I promised to also share a recipe for making Fried Rice.  Fried rice is exactly as named, the rice, whether cooked or raw, is “toasted” or fried up in oil before mixing in additional ingredients.  The rich brown color though comes from the addition of soy sauce which flavors as well.

The origin of this dish dates back to the Sui dynasty (589–618 CE), of course being cooked in a traditional Chinese cooking pot, or the Wok.  There are many advantages of cooking with a Wok, and the primary ones are: #1 – Quick, #2 – Easy.  The Wok is a deep pan with a rounded bottom and slanted sides; usually made of stainless steel, aluminum or cast iron.  The metal, while hot, is continuously rolled and pounded out to the desired depth, width and shape.  The shape of this pan allows one to cook food at high, evenly distributed, heat with very little oil.  Besides the traditional stir fry method, Woks can be used to stew, braise, steam or deep fry.  Depending on the dishes you intend to create, a meal can be prepped and cooked in about 30 minutes if using a Wok.

Back to fried rice’s origin which was a simple question of, “What to do with leftovers?”  Leftover rice, meat and vegetables from the day before are still edible, have lost some flavor, but are too good to throw away, or feed to livestock.  Wok-ing them up, adding soy sauce, garlic, ginger, scallions reawakens those flavors, and creates an entirely new meal to enjoy.

Do you need to purchase a Wok to create Asian cuisine?  Of course not; a standard skillet will work just as well; as will everyday kitchen utensils.  However, if you are feeling the creativity bug bite, well, scratch the itch, and get yourself a complete Wok set.  When I said Asian cuisine, I meant it!  Woks can be used to create Japanese dishes, such as tempura (to die for!), Thai, Indonesian, Korean, and even Indian recipes such as curry; it is not just for Chinese recipes.

 


Fried Rice

Ingredients:

2 Tbsp. canola oil if using Wok; 4 Tbsp. for skillet

3 cups uncooked long grain rice

¼ cups each diced onion, bell peppers (red, green, yellow combined)

1 (12 oz.) package frozen peas and carrots, thawed

1 cup soy sauce

5 cups water

½ tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp ground ginger

Preparation:

Heat oil, on high heat, in Wok or skillet; add rice, onion and bell peppers and “toast” the rice for 5 minutes.

Saute' Chicken; Set Aside to Add Later.


 

Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 20 minutes.   Turn off heat, uncover, and allow to rest for 5 minutes before fluffing up with a fork.  If adding any cooked, chopped protein (2 lbs.), carefully add in to not make clumps, or serve rice as a side to the protein.  Want a complete vegetarian meal; add grilled vegetables or tofu.


Completed Fried Rice; Chicken Added In.


 









Makes 6-8 servings

Note:  2 eggs, cooked scrambled, can be mixed in after rice has completely cooked.

Now this is a simplified recipe and can be adjusted to include other seasonings, such as chili flakes and/or garlic.  If adding a protein, season up the pieces that are being precooked, and their flavoring will meld with, and enhance, the fried rice.  For example, when I use chicken, I season the pieces with a little sea salt, ground black pepper and paprika.  It turns the chicken from bland to wow, and the paprika will give a little smokiness to the flavor, like hoisin sauce would do.  Mix in chopped and steamed, or grilled, broccoli and it is a whole new view of a favorite take-out dish, chicken and broccoli.

If using precooked rice, the water part, plus half the soy sauce, will be skipped.  Instead of letting the rice cook for 20 minutes, first add the rice (6 cups cooked), onion and bell peppers to the oil and keep it moving around the Wok, or skillet.  The rice and vegetables will begin to fry up, but you do not want to burn any of it.  5-7 minutes until the oil is absorbed, and the rice looks like it will begin to dry out.  Add in the peas and carrots, ½ cup soy sauce, black pepper and ginger, and keep it moving for another 5-7 minutes, or until the rice and vegetables are uniformly hot.  If you want the color of the rice to be darker, add, one tablespoon at a time, more soy sauce until it is the color you desire.  But keep it moving, as burnt rice is bitter!

Mary Cokenour

Friday, September 10, 2021

The BER Months are to RememBER.

I have been seeing many references to the “BER months are here!” which means the last four months of the year: September, October, November and December.  Why do these months have the same ending?  In ancient Rome, the calendar had only ten months, all named after various gods or emperors.  The ninth month had two months jammed into it, September and October.  The tenth month was unnamed, but contained November and December.  Seems like those four months were an afterthought, and not very important, doesn’t it?  Their names were simplified by using the adjectival suffix “ber”, while the prefix indicted the number of the month.  March was the first month of the ancient calendar, and September, October, November, and December were months 7 (from septem, Latin for seven), 8 (octo, Latin for eight), 9 (novem, Latin for nine), and 10 (decem, Latin for ten).  Thanks goes to Julius Caesar for creating the Julian calendar, and allowing those last four months a free reign of their own.

In more modern times, the “ber” took on a weather related meaning.  When spring and summer have been hot and humid almost the entire six months, the start of the “Ber” months signals the start of cooler weather.  Agriculturally related, it signals the time for final harvesting of fruits and vegetables; or time to plant and harvest the winter wheat.

I believe it has a more profane meaning though.  Spring brought blooming trees and flowers, and a time for animals to bear their young.  Summer, even if hot, was fun in the sun, barbeques, and vacations.  Now, with the start of the “ber” months, it is time to begin to RememBER.  It is now time to begin to look back at the year, as its end will be here soon enough.  It is time to begin reflecting on what we experienced, accomplished, created and shared.  2020 was hard on us all, and remembering it did not bring the best memories to mind.  2021 has also been a hard year on us all, but, at times, eased up and gave us time to relax and breathe.

So, as we begin to crave apple cider, pumpkin spice and the last taste of fresh-from-the-garden vegetables, remember!  Remember your dearest friends and family members.  Remember the good times, and how the bad times were overcome with hard work and endurance.  Remember your neighbors!  Did they share with you their garden’s bounty, but you forgot to share yours with those who needed?  There is still time to make amends, still time to pay-it-forward.  Come December, wishes will be made upon gifting lists.  Remember though, whether it is God, another Deity worshipped, even Santa Claus himself; they are all making their own lists of who has been greedy, and who have been giving.

Now, as much as I love a cold glass of crisp and spicy apple cider, attempting to make it from scratch has not been on my to-do list.  I admit it, I was spoiled by being able to buy it at a farmers market; or even the fruit section of a supermarket.  On a cold night though, heating it up, adding a dash of rum or brandy, and a cinnamon stick to act as a stirrer, is a lovely option.

Who knows though, if the price on apples gets back to being reasonable, I just might take on the challenge!

Until then, let me share with you a recipe from another food blogger, Sally’s Baking Addiction.  Her recipe allows for apple cider to be created in either a crock pot, or a stock pot; and she gives directions for storage as well.  Oh, and let’s RememBER to share, and be grateful to those who shared with you.

 


Homemade Apple Cider

(From Sally’s Baking Addiction: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/homemade-apple-cider/)

 

Ingredients:

1 orange

10 medium apples (use a variety– I use Honeycrisp and Granny Smith)

3 cinnamon sticks (or 1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon)

2 teaspoons ground cloves

granulated sugar*

 

Instructions:

1 - Peel the orange and place the segments in a 4 quart or larger slow cooker. (Pictures show unpeeled- we prefer peeling it for a less bitter flavor.) Wash the apples, cut into quarters, and place in the slow cooker. Add the cinnamon sticks, ground cloves, and sugar. Add enough water to cover the fruit.

2 - Cook on low heat for 6-7 hours. (Or high heat for 3.)

3 - After 6-7 hours, the fruit will be very soft. Use a large spoon to mash the fruit and release its liquids. Allow the cider to cook on low for 1 more hour.

4 - Very slowly strain the chunky liquid though a fine mesh sieve into a large pot or pitcher. You can discard the solids. Strain the cider one more time to rid any other solids. Serve the cider warm.

Leftover cider keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 5-7 days. Warm up on the stove before serving or enjoy it cold.  Yields about 1 and ½ quarts.

Notes

Freezing Instructions: Cider can be frozen up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator.

*Sugar: Adjust the sugar to your taste. We usually use 3-4 Tablespoons of granulated sugar for a spicier cider. If you prefer your apple cider on the sweeter side (like the kind you buy at the store), use 1/2 cup (100g) of granulated sugar.

No Slow Cooker? No Problem! In step 1, place all of the ingredients into a large stock pot instead of a slow cooker. Turn the stove up to high heat and bring everything to a simmer while stirring occasionally. Once simmering, reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 2 hours. Mash the fruit as described in step 3. Then, allow the cider to cook for 1 more hour. Continue with step 4.

Special Tools: Slow Cooker (4-quart or larger) & Fine Mesh Sieve

…and once you have made that cider, go back to the November 17, 2020 issue of the San Juan Record, and look up my recipe for Apple Cider Donuts.  The smile on your face will just get bigger as you indulge in those.  Or click on Here to go directly to the recipe, on this food blog.

Mary Cokenour

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Crack that Coconut!

Several weeks ago I received a tropical fruit gift basket and one item included was a coconut.  My first reaction upon seeing it was, "What the heck am I supposed to do with that!?!"  I had never worked with a real coconut before, just the bagged shredded coconut you get in the supermarket. On the counter it sat, watching me, staring at me, mocking me.

Occasionally I picked it up, walked over to the trash can, but no, I did not throw it out.  I refused to be beaten by a mere coconut.  I would shake it and hear the liquid inside; that is a good sign that shows that the coconut "meat" is still fresh and moist. Then I decided to do the most insane thing possible; I gave it to my dog to play with.  She loved tossing and chasing it around the yard, but then I noticed that she had stopped and was licking it profusely.  The coconut had a slight crack, and liquid was leaking out.

The coconut was small and I did not give much thought to cracking it open and trying to do something with the liquid myself.  Remember, I was looking at it as a protagonist; an enemy that needed to be conquered. Yes, I could have gotten a hammer, cracked it open in a proper way eventually.  What fun would that be? Anyway, I grabbed the coconut, took it out to the driveway and let it drop and split open completely.  The outdoor cats enjoyed the treat of the spilled coconut liquid and I felt good spoiling them a bit.

 

Right, so what do I do now? Finally went on the internet and looked up how to handle a coconut. I gave the two parts a good wash in water to remove any dirt. Most sites said to roast the coconut between 400F to 450F, so took the middle of the road at 425F and preheated my oven. I placed the two halves, open ends downward, into an aluminum baking pan. Now the coconut has a rather "hairy" exterior, so I covered them with a sheet of aluminum foil, leaving the ends open for air circulation. How embarrassing it would have been to have the hair on the coconut catch on fire.

 

The coconut roasted for 20 minutes; the edges of the meat, closest to the shell, started turning brown. Removing the pan from the oven, the halves cooled till I could comfortably handle them. Using a meat mallet to whack the shell and a butter knife between the shell and meat, I removed the meat; it will break apart if you are not gentle with this procedure. The meat will have a firm brown skin on it and this can easily be removed using a vegetable/potato peeler. Again, be gentle as it can break apart easily.

 




The final tool you will need is a grater for shredding the deskinned coconut meat. Now you might want to use a food processor, but the meat is very moist, so do not be surprised to constantly be cleaning your blades. In this instance, a grater is just more logical and efficient to use.  After shredding, I was able to fill a quart size freezer bag; squeeze the air out before sealing and it will last about six months in the freezer.

 


Would I ever try this again?  Yes!  I have a bag full of freshly roasted and shredded coconut that I created with my own hands.  I will be more careful when cracking it open though, and save the liquid for another use.  Sorry dog and kitties, but this treat you only get one shot at. 

Mary Cokenour