Sunday, December 21, 2008
Parts of Texas, Colorado, Arkansas, Oklahoma and other midwestern states were opened to the land rushes and homesteading that allowed Americans and foreighers to have a last chance at getting a piece of America just by settling and farming or ranching the land. For these farmers this was a dream come true. The virgin land was ready to be tilled and planted and they tore up millions of acres. They planted wheat and some even got wealthy as long as the wheat prices stayed high during and right after World War I. But the price began to fall over the years until the price paid for wheat went below what it cost to produce. Farmers who had ben given extensions of credit bought tractors and cars and built homes. But when they could no longer pay their bills, they found themselves in big trouble. As if that weren't enough, the Great Depression struck in 1929 and banks began to fail across America. Many of these farmers lost all they had saved putting them deeper into debt. Then the 1930's saw a horrendous seven year drought. Suddenly nothing would grow. Poor agricultural practices soon had the parched land beginning to literally blow away. Dust storms of epic proportions, wind blowing across the prarie tore lose the top soil and blew it across America. Combined with blistering summer heat and frigid cold winters, misery made up their daily lives. These courageous people tried to stay and thousands died trying--trying to hang onto a dying dream.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Alice Waters introduced sustainable gardens in schools and museums; she even tried to convince the White House to create one. She was able to convince school districts to begin cooking according to the seasons, using organic foods cooked from scratch rather than the commonly used procedure of processed foods. Her efforts encouraged small local entreprenurial farmers and ranchers to begin producing foods organically for her restaurant's needs--fruit and veggies, seafood, beef, cheese, etc. The local availability of these foods created a demand which influenced communities far and wide to begin supporting farmer's markets which have proliferated across America.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Pasta isn't that hard to make. There are plenty of easy to use devices on the market to help you out and the fresh pasta that results can not be compared to any of that dried stuff on your grocery shelf.
So, what tools do you need? Not much really. Or, you can buy an extruding type machine with dies. They come in all price ranges. I bought my first one from Ron Popeil. Yeah, the pocket fisherman and ginzu knives guy. He actually makes a pretty good machine. I bought mine used on e-bay real cheap and it came with 30 dies, each making a different shape of pasta.
You can also buy very expensive extruders with better dies and more horsepower.
A pasta roller of some type is pretty imperative as the alternative is a lot of pretty hard work--rolling and rolling. The pasta roller machines roll the pasta dough into sheets, thinner and thinner until it is ready to be cut into fettachini or spaghetti, etc. These type machines are limited as to the types of pasta they'll make but they have a reputation for longevity and they do what they do very well. Imperia and Atlas are the most popular brands and they can come with an electric motor. These machines can run $75 and up.
The Kitchen-Aid mixer has a pasta roller option attachement that runs about $100. It will flatten dough, make angel hair, lasagne, or spaghetti.
All of these machines have limitations all have their pluses. Basically if you can get your dough rolled out flat and thin you can cut it or shape it into all sorts of pasta types yourself.
Or, you can make it from scratch on a counter top as in the old style or in a bowl or a food processor. There will be those that turn there noses up at one or more of these options, but in the end you will still have made fresh pasta at a fraction of the cost of the store brands.
Here is the recipe for a basic handmade pasta dough. If you bought and extruder, follow the recipe in their book.
Making the Dough by Hand
4 extra large eggs
1 extra large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
Make a deep well in the center of the flour.
Break the eggs into the well.
Add the salt and oil.
Mix together until the dough forms a firm, solid ball.
The dough should be in a solid, firm ball that is not sticky. Add more flour if it is too wet. Don't over knead. Wrap the ball in cellophane and set aside for 30 minutes.
Egg noodle fettucine
Three colors honoring the colors of the Italian flag.
Alternative: Use only one color of pasta and purchase a high quality pasta pre-made.
Italian plum tomatoes either fresh or canned
Red pepper flakes
Marinated Artichoke Hearts
Kalamata Olives pitted
Sea salt and Fresh ground pepper to taste
Sweet and hot sausage links
Roasted Marinated Chicken Breast
Quick Tomato Sauce: 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 1 pound sweet and or spicy Italian sausages sliced on the bias ½ inch thick
And or chunks of roasted chicken breast pulled from the bone
1/4 medium onion, diced (about 3 tablespoons) 3 cloves garlic, chopped 3 1/2 cups whole, peeled, canned tomatoes in puree, (one 28-ounce can), roughly chopped Sprig fresh thyme Sprig fresh basil 2 teaspoons kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the onion, garlic and red pepper flakes stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and the herb sprigs, olives, capers, lemon zest, artichoke hearts and chicken and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
Cook pasta in large pot of well salted water until just al dente. Drain but do not rinse cooked pasta. Arrange pastas on large platter according to color of Italian flag. Ladle finished sauce over the top of the pasta. Serve.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Monday, December 1, 2008
Our holiday was low key yet had all the trimmings of a great Thanksgiving meal.
I tried a brinning solution for our turkey using what sounded like a great recipe from the Neeleys from the Food Network. I'd seen the Neeleys themselves demostrating this recipe on two separate shows the week before Thanksgiving. Looked pretty good so I decided to give it a try.
I have considered brinning a turkey for several years now but put it of since my turkeys always come out very moist, which is the point of brinning in the first place. This recipe looked so good and easy I decided this would be the year to give it a try.
1 gallon of fresh cook water
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup of brown sugar
1 cup of bourbon
1 Tablespoon of pepper corns
Mix all ingredients well inside a bag large enough to fit the turkey and liquid. Carefully lower the turkey into the bag. Close up the bag and lower it into an ice chest. Cover bag with ice and set out in the garage or other cool room. Or, place it in your refrigerator if you have the space.
Brine the turkey for up to 24 hours ahead or at least 12 hours turning the turkey over at least once during the process. Keep an eye on the ice adding more ice as needed to keep the turkey ice cold.
Remove the turkey from the brine when ready to roast it. Pat the turkey dry and prepare it for roasting as you usually do.
I tried this brinning solution and let it brine for about 24 hours. When all was said and done I really couldn't tell any difference in the taste. Of course, I suppose it is possible that this turkey could have been very dry had I not brinned it. But as you can see, it looked great and it tasted as good as any turkey I've ever prepared.
So will I bother to brine next year? Well, it wasn't a lot of extra work, but any extra unnecessary work at holiday time is just a waste of time. So probably not!
The rest of our 2008 Thanksgiving dinner menu:
- Roast Turkey
- Turkey gravy
- Cornbread and Sausage Dressing
- Roasted Brussles Sprouts
- Orange Cranberry Chutney
- Cranberry Fluff Salad
- Pumpkin Cheesecake w/ Pecan Crust
We had friends over for the dinner as well and Peggy, Lara and Fred all contributed to the meal as well. We spent a wonderful afternoon with Gram and the Wepprechts. Along about time for dessert our friend Scott Opsahl came by for a short visit. By about 9:00 pm everyone had gone and the dinner was all but clean up. I finished carving the other half of the turkey and we found a home for all the left overs in the fridge. ________________________________________
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Tears of pride and joy streamed down the faces of millions of Americans, many, of course, the faces of African Americans who have waited for over 200 years for this moment of ultimate acceptance. But all Americans could feel proud of this moment. Here is a leader all can look to as a man of honor, integrity, passion, commitment and intelligence.
His victory speech was eloquent, beautiful, articulate, hopeful and it mesmerized the over 100,000 folks standing in Grant's Park and the millions watching around the world.
Mom and I sat in a living room across town at an election party which was loud and talkative. But when Barack took the stage the mood turned serious--all eyes glistened, all ears taking in his every historic word.
A real sense of pride in our country and a feeling that we had truly rejoined the human race after 8 years of living in the dark ages filled the room.
This morning newspaper headlines across America announced the dramatic news! I looked all over trying to find a copy of the video of the speech and found this link. Enjoy!
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Monday, October 6, 2008
My family today almost never enjoys this comforting dish since the carbs and fat are a no no. But when my wife asked me to cook dinner for her choir retreat, which I have done for almost 15 years now, we started brainstorming. Most years we do a carb fest of one type or another anyway--spaghetti or lasagne. I had been doing Costco frozen lasagne for years and I was tired of it. Tired of serving up a frozen dinner to college kids who pretty much survive on that kind of diet and tired of the routine. The kids love home cooking so why not our macaroni and cheese?
This recipe is as easy as they get, very filling and cheap to make, all three important features for this particular dinner. So here it is:
Mama's Macaroni and Cheese
2 pounds elbow macaroni
2 pounds sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
salt and pepper
In a large pot of salted, boiling water add the macaroni. Cook until al dente. Pour off into a colander. Drain well.
Using a cheese shredder, shred all the cheese into a bowl.
In a baking dish place a layer of the macaroni. Lightly salt and pepper the macaroni. Spread a layer of the cheese over the macaroni. Repeat this process twice more.
Bake the dish in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and crisp and the interior miost and gooey.
Yep, that's it! I told you it was easy. No sauces to make. Just mac and cheese. Once you've tried this you'll never go back to that Kraft box! Bon Apetit!
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
With several groups coming to our home this week, students from the University, friends, etc., I thought it would be a good idea to make a pot of our two favorite and most popular soups--Potato Cheese Soup and my chili beans. My focus in this episode of A Fork in the Road is my chili.
I know there is great debate about how chili should be prepared and taste, whether it should have beans or not, whether it should be sweet or spicy. I have had a lot of bowls of chili in all parts of the United States, most recently on a road trip through the midwest and one of the "chili capitals," in this case, Cincinati, Ohio. I enjoyed the locally famous 3-way chili at Camp Washington and less so at the chain called Skyline. But the chili is to sweet and has no beans. The locals sweeten their style of chili with cinnamon and cocoa powder. Not really my cup of tea, but it was fun and different to have a platter of spaghetti land in front of me slathered with chili, onions, cheese and other available additions, each adding to the name 3-way chili, 4-way chili and so on. Pretty amazing to look at and attempt to consume. Still, I like my chili better!
I can't account for the heritage of my chili's. I learned to make it from my mother who was an Okie and whose parents were from Texas and Tennessee. Does that explain anything?
Regardless, my chili has made a satisfying fall or winter supper for my family for years. It tastes great with chopped Walla Walla or Maui sweet onions and grated cheddar cheese over the top. We have also served the chili over a layer of Fritos and, while living in Hawaii, a layer of sticky white rice. Awesome!
With that big build up, you are maybe wondering just how good is this chili? Well, here's the recipe. Let me know what you think and as always, don't be afraid to tweak my recipe. Add something new to it, increase the spicing. Have fun!
Michael's Chili Beans
1 pound--ground beef
2 pounds--pinto beans (dry or in the can)
3 T chili powder
3 T cumin, ground
3 T brown sugar (optional)
2 T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic, cloves minced
1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes, crushed
salt and pepper
With dry pintos make sure to pick them over looking for small rocks, dirt or other inedible material. Rinse dry beans in colander, place in a bowl and cover with water over night.
Next day, place soaking beans in a stock pot and cover with fresh water. Bring to boil and cook until the beans are tender.
With canned beans, drain in a colander. They are already cooked so cooking will take less time.
Saute onions and garlic in saute pan with olive oil. Pour out onto paper towels and drain. Add back into saute pan along with ground beef. Break up beef as it browns and stir together with garlic and onions. Add in tomatoes, cumin, chili powder, sugar and stir until heated through.
Pour beef mixture into simmering beans. Continue cooking until mixture is well combined. Taste adding salt, pepper and further spicing to match your taste.
Serve with corn bread and top with your choice of accompaniments--sour cream, cheese, onions, Fritos, or rice.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
Leslie will be at the airport tomorrow night waiting anxiously for her first sighting of them coming up the hallway and into the main terminal at Seatac. I'll still be at home since I have to work.
They'll head for the nearby hotel or decide to just sit, relax, play a little Cribbage and chat. . .and touch. A hour or so later Elise, Kate's maid of honor arrives from Baltimore and then they can all head for the hotel for a good night's sleep.
Even before their arrival home on Friday afternoon, they will be busy all day shopping in hopes of finding the perfect wedding dress for Kate!
The anxious feeling in our house is palpable. We have waited so long for this moment and now as the actual moment closes in it seems time has slowed to a snail's pace.
To have the entire family under our roof, knowing they sleep safely and soundly across the hall, is a feeling only a parent seperated too long from their child can know. Your heart is almost ready to burst with the joy that you somehow, even if for only a few days, have some at least some power over their safety and comfort!
I only have another day to wait and I can make it. But I wish I didn't have to.
Monday, September 1, 2008
Saturday, August 30, 2008
They have already moved on to the next step long ago--the wedding. In fact part of their time spent here will be shopping for the perfect wedding dress. Shops all the way from Seattle to Bellingham have been located on the map and the plan of attack set in place. Hopefully, by the time Kate actually arrives home, after a couple of days of shopping, the dress will have been purchased. Check!
Then we can all throw ourselves into the preparation of the party on Saturday. The band, the Julian McDonough trio, who played at our 30th anniversary blow out last summer, will return at Kate and Nick's request, to play into the evening. They play the hottest jazz in the area and everyone loved their playing last year.
We have settled on the menu and at Kate's request we will have:
- Barbequed Chinook Salmon (I caught on my recent fishing trip to Canada)
- Roasted Red Northwest Potatoes
- Northwest Micro-Green Salad with Oregonzola Bleu Chees and Granny Smith Apples
- Northwest Bumbleberry Cobblers
Lots of Northwest wines and micro-brews will be on hand so the party should go splendidly.
80 of our family's closest friends have RSVP'ed and plan to help celebrate into the night.
So how do we top that? What's next?The invitations are sent, the band hired, the menu set, the wedding party all set, the checks are in the mail and plans for flying to the U.K. all done. Check!
So we wait for Kate and Nick's arrival in another week so we can have a few moments of precious time with them and we await the celebration of the biggest occasion in the life of two people who have committed their lives to one another. We are excited, anxious, nervous (mostly the father of the bride speech is causing that) and so proud. Here's to the happy couple--Cheers!
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Well, the tradition, if 2 years in row counts as a tradition, continued this year. This trip was especially important since at least part of the catch is to be the main course for our daughter Kate and her fiance Nick's Engagement Party to be held at our home in September. Those paying attention to my blog would remember I have mentioned "The Party" many times this summer when referring to the goals and objectives of my garden projects.
Rick, my fishing guide, and I plus a friend of his, headed off for the west coast of Vancouver Island and the small, isolated village of Ucluelet, British Columbia. This year Rick bought a brand new boat, a Campion Explorer model 682, complete with galley and head.
We left about 5:30 am on Friday, August 15th heading for the Canadian border at the Peace Arch truck crossing. We took the ferry from Tsawwassen, having breakfast on board after finally getting the truck and boat aboard the ferry, then I sat back and napped for the hour and a half ride to Naniamo, B.C.
The inner harbor at Ucluelet, British Columbia. This is where we moored the boat for the night. It is always full of commercial and private fishing boats and some sailing vessels as well, so we sometimes had to tie up to another vessel and walk across it to get at the dock.