Post #677 Joe’s Spaghetti

October 20, 2019 at 10:34 AM | Posted in Basics | 3 Comments

I’ve had a love affair with pasta and meat sauce for more than half a century.  Sounds like a long time, doesn’t it?  It’s one of my favorite things in the whole world.  It doesn’t hurt that I love pasta in almost all its forms (or shapes.)  But spaghetti was the “go to” because it was easy and delicious.  I’d love to tell you the story of the first time I ate it, but I don’t remember it.  It seems like I’ve been eating spaghetti for as long as I’ve been alive.  My mom made spaghetti at least twice a month, and in my home, we have it probably once a week.  We go through dry spells where it isn’t on our radar, for some reason, but then we make a big pot and eat it every other day.  I notice I’m usually wearing a white shirt when I eat the stuff, almost like it’s a law or something.

One summer, when I was in my teens and bored, I was making spaghetti and got bored with the standard seasonings my mom directed me to use.  Her recipe was tomato sauce, tomato paste, browned hamburger, onions, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper.  Very innocuous and almost bland, but it satisfied the lowest common denominators in our family.  I wanted to make something “authentic”.  This was in the days long before the internet, and my cookbook was the standard American cookbook, probably the one my mom got her recipe from.  It didn’t have the Italian herbs listed for the dish.  So I went to my mom’s pantry and I read every single spice bottle and box she had.  And there were a ton!  She collected them like other people collected stamps or coins.  I’m sure some were over a decade old.  At least, according to the dust they were.  I pulled out anything that said Italian, or good in Italian sauces, or great for spaghetti.  You get the idea.  When I started the sauce, I put a pinch of everything in it.  I let it simmer for a while, then tasted it.  I added more of one thing or another, and eventually I had a sauce that was tangy and sweet and had a depth of flavor I’d never tased before.

Two things happened from that exercise.  The first was that because the sauce had simmered so long (not my usual method) the tomatoes had lost their sharpness and mellowed into a wonderful smoky sauce with a bunch of other flavors.  The second was a resolve to refine and redefine the sauce until it was “perfect.”  My sister truly disliked the flavor of bay leaf in the sauce so I left it out when I was younger.  Recently, I’ve started using it again in various things and I like it.

When I started my quest for the perfect spaghetti sauce, I was sharing it with a good friend, all my triumphs and mistakes.  She told me about the first time she made spaghetti.  She opened a jar of sauce and heated it.  She put a pot of cold water on the stove and put the noodles in and turned the burner on.  She waited for it to boil then waited the requisite number of minutes.  I was already grinning, knowing what was going to happen.  “It was inedible,” she said.  “It melted to the bottom of the pot and I couldn’t get it out.  I had to throw the pot away.”

Spaghetti sauce is deceptively simple since it’s completely up to the maker as to what’s “perfect.”  Some people want a fresher flavor; some people want a deeper, richer, longer-cooked flavor.  It can be a complex process, and it can be a pretty simple process.  It can have a ton of meats and herbs, or it can have none at all.  I’ve made sauces that have cooked for hours, and I’ve made sauces where I put tomatoes in a blender, heated it up with some salt, garlic, and basil, and was done.

When I started working, I used a crockpot to make my sauce.  It was always a meat sauce cuz I’m a carnivore and want meat in all my main meals.  I used two cans of tomato sauce, two cans of tomato puree, and one can of tomato paste.  I added a pound or two of ground beef (thawed or frozen), and my herb blend.  My standard herb blend is a tablespoon each of powdered garlic, powdered onion, and Italian Seasonings blend.  I also add an extra tsp of oregano for extra kick.  I stirred it all together, turned the crock pot on high for a few hours, then turned it down.  If I was going to be gone all day, it stayed on low for the entire time.  By the time I got home, or was ready to use the sauce, it had cooked into a thick viscous blend of tomatoes and meat that clung to any pasta.  I’ve used that sauce for lasagna, spaghetti, pizza, and a host of other dishes where a tomato sauce is needed.

NOTE:  I mentioned above starting with thawed or frozen ground beef.  You can also use ground meat blends, roasts, etc.  If you start with thawed or fresh, the ground meats will fall apart and flavor the sauce but kind of disappear.  If you start with frozen, it will cook in the sauce giving it the meat flavor, but will stay in one piece to be broken up later into large and small meat lumps that act like meatballs.

But it’s a labor of time and I developed short cut that still takes a little time, but not as much, and still gives the long slow cook flavor.  I start with a jar of good quality spaghetti sauce.  It can be flavored any way you personally like.  Then I add one or two cans of petite chopped tomatoes, a least two tablespoons of tomato paste (but usually just a whole small can), and extra spices of various types.  I usually cook the hamburger first and add fresh onion and garlic to it while it’s cooking before I add the sauce ingredients.  I always fill the jar of sauce half full with hot water, close it, and shake it hard to get all the sauce clinging to the sides of the jar and the inside of the lid loosened up to add to the pot of sauce.  Then I heat on medium until it starts to bubble, then turn it to low and simmer until all the water has simmered off and the sauce has thickened, stirring every five minutes or so to keep it from burning.  It takes about an hour, but it comes out perfectly.  It’s quick enough to make after work, but takes long enough that I can relax a little before dinner.

And all for this:

Like I said, it’s a deceptively simple dish.  Sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top, add some garlic toast on the side, and maybe a salad, and it’s a great meal on a chilly night.

So what’s your favorite way to make spaghetti?  Let us all know!  Feel free to share this post far and wide.


So Partner/Spouse and I did a bunch of errands yesterday morning and the final one was putting cardboard boxes in a recycle bin at our favorite diner so we could enjoy breakfast there.  It’s one I’ve blogged about before where I first enjoyed fiddlehead ferns, maple flavored soda (well maybe enjoyed isn’t the right word), and where they have a ham that is to die for.  When we walked in, this sign greeted us:

So I thought I’d share the horror.

As always,


Post #676 The Turn of the Seasons

October 13, 2019 at 1:11 PM | Posted in Basics, Crock Pot Slow Cooking | Leave a comment

I’ve always thought that between September and November there are two seasons.  The first season is End O’ Summer Beginning O’ Fall, and the second season is Dead Fall.  End O’ Begin O’ is when the warmth is declining but it’s not really super chilly, but it’s chilly enough to wear sweatshirts and sweaters easily.  Colors are changing, and the leaves turn spectacular colors.  Dead Fall is when the chill has definitely set in and we start looking for our winter clothes we put away last year cuz we need ’em.  Conversations turn to oil prices, and new boots, and snow tires.  The hill at the end of the street that was full green and gorgeous just a few weeks ago is now looking like this.

Imagine all those barren trees decked in blazing red and orange and you know what our view was.  Of course, I didn’t get pics of that before the rain took down the colors.  Even the drive to work is pretty spectacular.

Just one of the reasons we worked to get here.

Food takes on a different aspect this time of the year, too.  The drive for fresh fruits and veggies by necessity gives way to those that are preserved and canned and can’t be eaten straight from the ground.  Gourds and roots are the name of the game these days, and the months stretching in front of us are more of the same.

It’s not as dire as it sounds since the grocery stores still have all the fresh veggies we could ever hope for.  But if you want to buy local, it’s rough going.  In summer, when everyone is active and the farmer’s markets are thriving, I tend to think in terms of salads.  When it’s hot, you want to eat something cool and light.  This time of year, my mine shifts and I know it’s going to get cold and snowy, so I think in terms of hot and hearty.  You want things that are rib-sticking and heavy.  You burn more calories when it’s cold out than other times of the year so you want those calories to burn.  In my mind, I got to heavy soups and stews.  But, since work life gets in the way, it’s not always that easy.  This is when the crock pot comes into its own.

So today, even though we’re both home working on our computers and listening to music (and the door is open because it’s an unusually fine fall day and the house needs to get aired out) I did this.  See if you can guess:

If you guessed stew, you’d almost be right!

What I’m making is a pot roast.  My mom did this all the time.  It’s simple; it’s easy; it’s nutritious; it’s delicious.  You can use less expensive cuts of meat and they will come out tasting like they were made for kings.  So I’m going to break this down into its basic component parts and discuss those.

First, the meat.  You can easily see from the picture that this hunk of beef is way more than two people can eat in one meal.  Hell, it’s more than two people can finish off in four meals!  So what I’m going to do is cook the beef separately until it’s done and cut it into three equal-ish pieces.  By the time that’s done, there will be a phenomenal collection of meat juices in the crock pot that I’ll use to finish off the veggies.  The one “mistake” new cooks tend to make when cooking an all-in-one-pot meal is that components cook at different rates.  My mom always had perfectly done meat and veggies that were mush.  So, cook the meat alone until it’s nearly done, then add the veggies.

That’s not to say you don’t cook it with the aromatics.  Aromatics is just a fancy word for herbs and spices or anything else that adds flavor.  Since I know what else I’m going to make with the roast (enchiladas and potato boats) I can add the right aromatics so they enhance the flavor of the meat for everything.  I’m using celery, garlic, onion, and carrot.  Celery has a bright tangy flavor.  Garlic is the flavor of the earth, as far as I’m concerned.  Onion is bitter and sweet and sharp.  Carrot adds sweetness and hearty flavor.  You can add any flavors you like when you cook.  As you try new things, you’ll discover what works for you and what doesn’t.

So, right now, I’m cooking the meat along with roughly chopped garlic, carrot chunks, onion chunks, celery chunks, and a sprinkle of salt.  Salt makes everything taste good.  In a few hours, I’m going to take out the meat and cut it into the portions a I need.  By then, it will be time to put in more onion, the potatoes, and more celery.  The original celery will be too mushy to use, and the original onions will be gone, having given their life and essence to the broth created by the slow cooking method.  BUT, I’m going to add a couple of more flavor enhancers.

Ever heard of Umami?  It’s the part of the taste receptors that tastes savory and meaty flavors.  But the things that trigger it are kind of funny.  When added to meat, they make meats taste meatier and better.  MSG is one, as is tomato paste and red wine.  So there’s a reason why they always say drink red wine with a steak.  Mushrooms also have umami, and cheese, as well as some fish.  Through centuries of trial and error, cooks have found those things that bring out the meaty flavor that science now tells us we ought to use.  So, once I’ve removed the meat and the aromatics, I’m going to add a tablespoon of tomato paste to the broth (another umame ingredient) and I’d love to add whole mushrooms.  But Partner/Spouse hates the texture of mushrooms so they aren’t going in.  However, I am going to add mushrooms to get the umami factor.  A few years ago ATK gave me the idea.  Take dried mushrooms and put them through a spice or coffee grinder until they are powder.  Then add a spoonful of the mushroom powder.  (NOTE:  IF YOU USE A COFFEE GRINDER MAKE SURE IT HAS NEVER BEEN USED TO GRIND COFFEE.  THE COFFEE FLAVOR IS IMPOSSIBLE TO ELIMINATE AND WILL TAINT EVERYTHING ELSE BEING GROUND IN THAT GRINDER.)  So I’ve got some dried mushrooms and powdered them.  I don’t have any red wine or I’d add that too.  The thing to remember when adding these ingredients is they are heavy flavor enhancers so use small amounts of each until you get the flavor you like.  And the mushroom powder will also thicken the sauce quite a bit since it’s actually dried mushroom and will absorb a lot of liquid.

Once I’ve doctored the sauce, I’ll add the potatoes, onions, celery, and probably a little more garlic to freshen the flavor, and put the meat in on top.  I’ll cook that up until the veggies are done and the meat should be falling-apart tender at this point.

I’d love to tell you how long each stage takes, but it’s a crock pot.  Each one has its own personality and will take as long as it takes.  I don’t expect to be eating until around 6:30 or 7pm.  But, even though it sounds like a lot of work, it’s not really.

So, that’s the plan for today.  What are your plans for dinner today, or the near future?  Let us all know.  We’d like to hear from you.

So, in a few weeks, there’s another holiday – Samhain.  In the pagan calendar, this starts the new year, but we also like the modern twist of Halloween.  I’m a big Great Pumpkin fan.

See?  But Partner/Spouse is a bigger fan of the season.


As always,



Post #673 Staplers in the Kitchen

September 29, 2019 at 12:12 PM | Posted in Basics | Leave a comment

Today, we’re going back to basics and I’m going to talk about kitchen staples.

But first!  Last weekend, we were in a secondhand shop looking around for those hidden treasures.  We had a couple of things in mind that we wanted to add snap to the house décor.  We didn’t find them, but I did find Fannie Farmer’s Cookbook which was originally titled The Boston Cooking School Cook Book.  This is one of those iconic “must haves” the rival in popularity all the standards of our age.  I even have the 1896 edition on my Kindle.  But as busy as we both get, although I have the cookbook, today was the first time I’ve opened it up since we got it.  I found this on the first blank inside page.

It’s an inscription from Christmas in 1981.  It reads:

“Dear Kilty, I know you don’t really like to cook, but maybe this good “new” book will inspire you.  Merry Christmas to all of you – the whole family will benefit from this book.  Love, Laura.”

I found this endearing for so many reason.  First, I can’t imagine anyone not liking to cook.  You have to cook if you want to eat.  Even tossing a Lean Cuisine into the microwave and following the instructions is cooking, because that’s what cooking is all about.  But the gentle nudging of Laura to Kilty says so much about how roles were viewed even at that late date.  The woman was supposed to cook and provide meals for the family who were also going to benefit from the book, nudge nudge.  And the word “new” in quotes tells me that Laura knew exactly how old this cookbook is and knew its value.

So much fun.  I haven’t seen any hand written notes inside it, so I’m guessing it didn’t have the desired impact.  Poor family.

So, today’s basic topic is staples.  I’m not talking office supplies here.  Staples just refers to those items that you keep in your kitchen at all times.  Staples are different for each household.  If you’re a baker, like I am, the staples tend to focus more on flour, sugar, eggs, vanilla, etc.  If you’re a griller, your staples are going to focus more on things like meats, condiments, charcoal and the like.

I read a great description about staples one time from Shirley Jackson, the author of the short story “The Lottery” and the novel “The Haunting of Hill House” among others.  She wrote “The lowest common denominators in our house were bread and peanut butter.”  She also writes of buying culinary magazines for inspiration and found a recipe which looked enticing.  “However, it inevitably had ingredients unappealing to my little family.  After removing all the items we wouldn’t eat, I was left with a meatloaf studded with cashew nuts, undeniably a novelty.  When I served it that night, I watched as everyone picked out the nuts and my son complained why did we always have to have hamburger?”

Every cookbook I’ve ever read has one section on the important things every cook needs in the kitchen and the lists are extensive.  I prefer Alton Brown’s take on it:  If it has a single use, and you don’t use it once a week, get rid of it.  We once got into the extensive list and filling it out.  It was expensive, and we had a space issue for the things that were “required”.

I’ve always though of staples as the magic ingredients.  With the staples in the cupboards, you can always make dinner.  Here’s the things we keep in stock all the time:

  • eggs
  • butter (two types, one for me-one for him)
  • bacon
  • bread (various types)
  • pasta
  • rice
  • lemon juice
  • lime juice
  • tea
  • salad kits
  • seasonal vegetables and fruit
  • potatoes
  • onions
  • garlic
  • tortillas
  • cheese (various types)
  • beef, chicken, pork (whatever is on sale)
  • peanut butter
  • grape jam
  • raspberry jam
  • local honey
  • flour
  • yeast
  • sugar (caster, brown, powdered)
  • chocolate chips
  • cocoa
  • vanilla
  • salt
  • canned tomatoes
  • tomato sauce
  • tomato paste
  • pico de gallo
  • canned chiles and peppers
  • jarred salsa
  • stock (chicken, beef, and vegetable)
  • great norther white beans
  • lentils
  • spices and spice blends

And probably two dozen other things I’ve forgotten.  But you can see from this list that we can put together dozens of meals of various types.  If we’re thinking of something light but filling, it could be lemon pasta and chicken.  If it’s a cold day, it might be a hearty beef stew.  If the day is nice, if we want to barbecue, we got all the stuff for it.  If the day isn’t nice, but we still want to grill, we can do that because we have the cast iron grill pan.  And with fresh vegetables, a salad is usually ten minutes away to go with the grilled protein.

That’s what staples are all about.  It’s keeping the “lowest common denominators” in stock all the time.  For my mom, it was potatoes, meat, and canned veggies.  Plus onions.  For my sister, it’s tortillas, and whatever taco fillings they want.  For some people, it’s frozen dinners.  For some people, it’s a drawer full of menus from restaurants that deliver.  It doesn’t matter what the staples are.  What matters is that they are the things you use all the time.  But here’s another part of the magic of staples.  If it’s something you like and use, you’re going to keep them in stock and over time, they will become a part of your pantry.  And if something else wants to be included, it will be.

So the easiest way to figure out what your staples are is to look at your weekly menu and what it takes to make those things.  Write ’em down and take that list with you when you shop.  Keep them in the same place in your cupboard or pantry.  Over time you’ll be able to see at a glance what you have and what you need.  If you notice something is gathering dust because you haven’t used it in a while, donate it (if it’s not beyond it’s sell-by date) or toss it.  Or -gasp!- use it.

I’m going to close with a recipe for a Mexican soup I saw on television yesterday.  It sounded wonderful and I can’t wait to try it.

  • two onion chopped, hold back half a cup
  • four celery ribs chopped, hold back half a cup
  • two large carrots chopped, hold back half a cup
  • two medium or one large leek cleaned and chopped, hold back half a cup
  • 6 very ripe tomatoes, roasted in the oven and chopped
  • two chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, chopped
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1 pound of either: cleaned shrimp, lean chicken breast chopped, lean pork loin chopped
  • cilantro and lime juice for garnish

In a large heavy pot, heat two tablespoons vegetable oil until shimmering but not smoking.  Add onions, celery, carrots, and leeks.  Stir to coat, reduce heat to medium low, and allow to cook until onion is transparent, stirring occasionally.  Add tomatoes and juice along with any charred bits, and stir until combined.  Add the chilies and sauce and stir again.  Cook until bubbling, then add the chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer and allow to cook for fifteen minutes.  Remove from heat and cool for 30 minutes.  Puree the soup in a blender or with a handheld stick blender to a smooth consistency.  Sieve the soup into the pot getting as much of the liquid as possible using a rubber spatula to press the mixture into the sieve.  Alternatively, if you like a chunkier soup, do not sieve.  Bring the soup back to a good simmer.  Add the shrimp/chicken/pork and cook until protein is cooked through.  Serve in bowls with chopped cilantro and lime juice on top.  (You can use precooked, shredded beef if you like.)

So, what are your staples in the kitchen?  Dish and let us all know!  Feel free to share this far and wide.

As always,


Post #666 How to Boil Water

August 21, 2019 at 5:07 PM | Posted in Basics | Leave a comment

About six hundred years ago, when I was about five and we lived in upstate New York, winters were particularly cold, but because we were young and hyperactive, the cold didn’t penetrate too much.  At least, I don’t remember it being too chilly.  Capitalizing on the frigidly cold weather, Lipton’s started a new ad campaign.  Kids about our age or so playing outside in snow as deep as the stuff we were playing in kept looking at a house and yelling “Is it soup yet?”  And the mom inside working at the stove would holler back ,”Not yet!” as she stirred a pan.  Eventually she would holler “It’s soup!” and everyone would rush inside to eat “home made” soup and a baloney sandwich.  It was the start of the instant soup mixes which gave more of a home made flavor than the canned variety.  In our neighborhood, every kid wanted the “home made” soup mixes so we could yell “Is it soup yet?”

All it took to make soup was boil water for five minutes with the soup mix in it.  What could be easier?

Well, I gotta say, making soup is just as easy, and in some cases, just as fast.  And the flavors can be absolutely amazing.  There’s a richness and earthiness to a slow simmered soup that takes hours, but there’s a brightness and freshness to a soup that’s simmered for few minutes with new ingredients that stands in a category by itself.

My two favorite soups I’ve blogged about a few times before so I won’t go too far into detail.  On a cold cold night, Senate Bean Soup is hard to beat.  My brother and I loved that stuff.  Mom made it once in a while and we called it “beengs and cornbread.”  Senate Bean Soup is so called because one of the earlier Presidents (I think it might have Jefferson or Adams senior) had it in the Senate cafeteria and signed an executive order that it had to be on the menu every day.  It’s also known as Yankee Bean Soup, so it seems to be a New England inspired soup.  It’s ham in one form or another, onion, garlic, and beans that have been soaked overnight simmered in water or stock until the beans are tender, then chopped tomatoes are added to bump up the flavor.  Mom never added the tomatoes, but the first time I did it turned one of my favorite dish into my favorite dish.  I don’t always have it with cornbread, but usually it’s there.  Putting the tomatoes in last is important because the acid in the tomatoes will make the beans go tough and not cook if they’re added to early.  Any acid will do this so be careful.

My other favorite soup is Beef and Onion Soup.  Another slow-simmered soup, this one takes time and attention, but is so worth it.  A chuck roast of beef, cut into small pieces, seared in three cups of sautéed onions, then simmered in water and herbs until the beef is falling apart and the onions have disappeared.  Once it’s done, there are so many things that can be done with it.  Add more liquid to make a real soup.  Simmer it so the broth becomes a thick sauce and serve over mashed potatoes.  I’ve also used home made bread and toasted thick slices and put this over it.  So good.

But these are long cooking soups, and I want to talk about the quick soups.  I’ve read some articles where they’re also called Pantry Soups because you make them out of things in your pantry.

Garlic soup is one.  I’ve mentioned this one in passing before, but it’s basically a full head of garlic, peeled and crushed, then added to four cups of chicken broth and simmered for about ten or fifteen minutes.  While it’s simmering, you can boil some rice or some pasta or toast some bread.  The soup is ready when the garlic loses its bite and mellows to a “golden” flavor.  It’s hard to describe but you’ll know it when you taste it.  Spoon some rice or pasta into a bowl, and ladle the garlic broth over it.  This soup is pretty versatile, too.  You can add cooked chicken to it, or thinly sliced veggies.  One person I know added a half cup of cream to it, but I don’t do that since I don’t like most dairy based soups or sauces.  I have added a dollop of sour cream to the bowl as a garnish because, well, it’s sour cream.  What’s not to like?

We were watching Lidia Bastianich on television last week and she made a quick soup that looked delicious.  She cut up a large onion into small pieces, then added celery and carrots cut into similar pieces and added the whole mess, about three cups worth, to a large pot with shimmering olive oil in it.  She stir fried the veggies until the celery and onion were clear then added six cups of chicken stock.  She cooked everything for about twenty minutes until the celery was crisp by easy to chew, stirring every few minutes.  Then she added a large can of cannelloni beans with the liquid and stirred it all together.  Once the beans were heated through, she served it with crusty bread slathered with butter.  It looked so good.

It started a conversation with us.  Partner/Spouse said he didn’t think the celery would add anything to it.  I disagreed.  To me, celery is very highly flavored and adds to whatever it’s in, whether cooked or raw.  I use the leaves in bean soup all the time.  But it reminded me of a soup my mom used to make.

She’d take chicken stock, home made or store bought, and simmer it for a few minutes.  She’d add fresh garlic and some dried herbs and simmer for a few minutes more.  Then she’d add celery leaves and either fresh or frozen spinach.  Once everything was hot, we’d all sit down to eat sandwiches and soup.  It was so good.

This isn’t really a soup, but mom made it periodically.  She’d boil up a big pot of pasta, whatever was on hand.  Then she’d fry up a pound of bacon that was cut up.  While that was frying, she’d drain the pasta and put it back into the hot pot.  She’d add a medium sized can of tomato juice and a large size can of chopped tomatoes, either plain or seasoned, whatever she was in the mood for.  While it heated, she’d finished off the bacon, then pour the entire contents of the pan, grease and all, into the pasta.  It made a horrendous noise, but once it settled down, and cooked a little bit more, it tasted wonderful!!  I’ve made this a few times since and it always tastes just like my memories.  And it never took too long.

So the title of the post is how to boil water.  Put it in a pan and turn the heat on.  Don’t start with cold water; it’ll take a long time.  But don’t start with hot water; it’ll waste energy and not save any time on the stove.  Just turn the tap on and fill the pot.  Put it on the stove and turn the heat on.  It’ll eventually boil.  There are various stages to the boiling.  When the bubbles first start to form and the top is showing some steam, it’s called a simmering boil.  When the bubbles break the surface consistently, it’s called a regular boil.  When the whole pot of water is moving and the bubbles are large, it’s a rolling boil or a roiling boil.  That’s what you want when making pasta.  Water boils faster when the pot is covered, but once the cover is off the heat will dissipate and the boil will stop.  Water that has once boiled, will boil faster the second time around.  Boiling water is not good for tea, coffee, or hot chocolate; you want simmering water.  Using anything else will burn the leaves, grounds, or chocolate.  Took me a long time to learn that one.  Steam will give you burns as quickly as the water so be careful.  Metal pan handles will heat up to boiling stage too, so again, be careful.  BTB means bring to boil; RTS means reduce to simmer.  Adding salt to water helps it boil a little bit faster, just be aware that it will transfer salt to the food you’re cooking.  Back in days before stoves and metal cooking pans, people boiled water by heating stones and putting them into the container of water.  When the stone cooled, they were removed and other hot stones were put in.  Eventually the water heated and boiled.  Steam saunas use heated stones to create the steam being used.  So do sweat lodges.  This I know.

So, tell us all about your favorite soups, and anything you know about boiling water.  Feel free to share the post far and wide.

As always,

Post # 2 Flour Can Be A Little Scary

June 4, 2012 at 9:28 AM | Posted in Basics | Comments Off on Post # 2 Flour Can Be A Little Scary

When I look at a bag of flour, I mentally calculate how much stuff I can get out of it.  Can I get six loaves of bread?  How about four cakes and a few dozen biscuits and two batches of cookies?  Is there enough to get me through the week with all the baking I plan to do?  A very good friend of mine looks at a bag of flour and wonders, “How the hell did that get in my kitchen?”

Flour can be a little intimidating.  It can also be quite explosive.  It has the potential to make some of the best stuff on earth when handled correctly, and some of the worst stuff on earth when handled badly.  The things a cook can do with flour are as varied as the cooks themselves.

The first thing I ever did with flour was make a cake.  It was my first cooking lesson and Mom had handed me her cookbook and told me to find a recipe that I wanted to make.  I chose cake cuz I love cake!  After making certain I had all the ingredients, Mom showed me what to do and left me alone.  It turned out like pound cake.  I’d added too much flour.  But even though I’d goofed up, the cake still came out good and chocolate frosting on anything is great thing.

I once saw a lady put flour in a dry skillet over a medium heat.  She didn’t add any butter or oil or meat dripping.  Just a cup of flour in the skillet and a wooden spoon to move it around.  She left it there, stirring it up for several minutes and the white flour turned a dark toasty brown.  Then she added milk, constantly stirring until the whole thing was thick and glossy and bubbly.  She added a little salt and pepper, and served a wonderful brown gravy over mashed potatoes.  The thing that impressed me most was the phenomenal brown color of the gravy that had been created out of the two whitest substances on the planet!

It’s all in how you treat the ingredients.

I make gravy out of flour in many ways.  Sometimes I toss meat in a flour and spice mixture, brown the meat, then add water, wine, or stock and let the natural cooking process thicken the stock into a smooth gravy.  Another way, I create a slurry, a smooth mixture of flour and water (or some other liquid) and add to the pan juices which then cooks and becomes thick and tasty.  My favorite way is to create a roux (roo) from melted butter to which I add an equal amount of flour.  It becomes a paste which gets cooked for a few minutes to eliminate the raw flour flavor and add some color.  The hot liquid is added to smooth it out and allow it to cook into a flavorful sauce or gravy.  Add seasoning and spices to taste.  The key to all of this is stirring, incorporating the wet ingredients into the dry.  Keep it moving until it’s cooked and done, and no lumps will appear.


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