Chop, chop, toss, pop

Sep 04

Another busy afternoon in the kitchen.  After a morning of cleaning up computer files and sorting things for the upcoming garage sale, cooking seemed like a good break.  John wanted something light for dinner – soup and salads.  At first thought that seems like it wouldn’t take too much time to put together.  Not so, not so.  One of John’s favorite things is gazpacho.  I decided to surprise him with a batch.  This requires a great deal of chopping.  Chopped tomatoes, chopped peppers, chopped onions, chopped parsley, chopped cucumbers – toss in some worcestershire sauce, tomato juice, broth (I used veggie), hot sauce, salt, pepper and this recipe had a hard boiled egg thrown in.  Interesting but not my favorite.  I need another recipe.  John liked it though.

On the salad front more chop – thus the chop, chop.  On the menu – potato salad, spicy bean salad, Jamie Oliver’s wild rice salad, fruit salad and tomato salad – all of which required chopping.

Potato salad – boil a small bag of new potatoes, drain and cut in to smaller pieces. While they are still hot toss them with a mix of 6T olive oil and 2T lemon juice, then add dill, capers, a small amount of diced onion or shallot, chives if you have them and 1/4 c. of plain yogurt (I life Fage 2%) – salt and pepper to taste.

Spicy bean salad – I make this all the time but it is never the same since I don’t use a recipe – toss in two cans of beans (any will do).  Today I used black beans and cannellini beans.  Add diced peppers – red, yellow, orange or green, diced red onion, herbs (basil and parsley if you have them), corn (frozen or fresh cut off the cob and roasted in the oven).  Today I roasted the fresh cut corn with some cumin, cayenne and salt.     Add sriracha or other hot sauce to taste and either oil and vinegar dressing or buttermilk ranch.  Today I used ranch.  I also tossed in some sun-dried tomatoes.  Today’s batch was a bit spicier than usual but it didn’t stop John and Mary Mac from devouring it.  Jack is not a fan.

Rice salad – cook long grain and wild rice according to package and then cool.  Add fresh herbs – basil, parsley and mint, about one sprig of each, chopped.  Add 8oz of diced roasted red peppers.  Toss with lemon dressing – 3T olive oil, 1 T lemon juice shaken in a jar with salt and pepper.  Sometimes I add feta or goat cheese and black olives but not today.

Tomato salad – I vary this one all the time too – using different vinegars, adding cheese or leaving it out, adding olives or leaving them out, adding beans or leaving them out.  Today’s mix – diced beefsteak tomatoe tossed with red wine vinegar and oil dressing (3T oil and 1 T vinegar shaken in a jar with salt and pepper), added tiny balls of fresh mozzarella, fresh basil leaves and half a cup of cannellini beans.

Fruit salad – cut up 1 peach, 1 pluot, 1 plum, 1 apple, 5 strawberries, 1/4 cantelope and toss together.

By the time I finished all the chopping and got this on the table it had been about two and half hours.  The time flew though because I love being in the kitchen.  Chopping is a form of meditation for me.  The rhythmic motion of the knife on the cutting board can really absorb me and clean my mind.  Its like a dance moving from one ingredient to another – chop, chop, toss, stir, taste.

We have enough of the salads to have a nice lunch tomorrow with fresh peaches I am hoping to get at the Parker Farmer’s Market.  It is nearing the end of the season so its anybody’s guess as to whether there will be peaches tomorrow.  My taste buds hope so.

After the dinner clean up, I decided to make a dessert mess.  This happens with me a lot.  Poor John is usually the clean up guy.  He gets everything in the dishwasher and the counters clean and I turn right around and start making a mess again.  Isn’t it that way with life though.  Just when you think you’ve got everything straightened out something new comes along to stir things up.  Well my new mess involved stirring – lots of it.  I decided to make the base custard from Ciao Bella so I could cool it over night and make Key Lime and graham cracker gelato tomorrow.  Besides, I need to use up my Longmont Dairy Milk.  They have the best milk going – no hormones, fresh, local, grass fed cows…. But I am required to buy a minimum of 3 half gallons a week.  We don’t always drink this much so it leaves me coming up with ideas of what to do with it.  Sometimes I make yogurt.  Today it is gelato.  The base recipe calls for 4 cups of whole milk, 1 cup of whipping cream, 1 cup of sugar and 4 egg yolks.  The milk and cream are mixed and warmed in a sauce pan to 170 degrees.  While this is going on the sugar and egg yolks are beaten to pale yellow.  When the milk reaches 170 you temper the eggs – that means to put a little bit of the warm milk in the eggs while you whisk them briskly, adding milk a little at time until the eggs are mixed with the milk.  Then you cook it further on low to 185 degrees stirring constantly until it coats the back of a wooden spoon.  This takes a little while and gets kind of hot standing over the stove.  When you are finished you have to strain the custard mixture through a fine strainer to get out any egg that has solidified.  This takes quite a while. Lucky for me Jack found it interesting and came to the rescue.  Now it is cooling on the counter awaiting a night in the freezer.  More tomorrow on how delicious the gelato is – along with the recipe if you want to make it.

Finally, we finished off the evening with a favorite movie – Lord of the Rings and some pop corn, the old fashioned way. I popped it in a pan with oil – none of that microwave stuff with artificial flavors.  This is an art in itself.  It can be hard to get it right without burning the pan.  Cover the bottom of the pan with oil and heat it up with one kernel in the pan.  When that kernel pops you know your pan is ready.  Add about half a cup of popcorn.  Put the lid on and keep shaking the pan to make sure the popped corn rises to the top and the unpopped kernels stay at the bottom to continue popping.  That’s the real trick to not burning it – constant movement.   Once the sound of popping slows you know its time to take it off the heat.  If you wait for every last kernel to pop you are probably going to have a burnt pan.  Resist the urge. Then toss with season – we add cajun and salt along with a little real butter.

Finally after 4 long hours, I retire to the couch with my bowl to revisit “Lord of the Rings”.   We all love this movie though Jack was afraid of Gollum when he was little.  I love Galadriel’s monologue at the beginning.

“The world is changed.  I feel it in the water.  I feel it in the earth.  I smell it in the air.  Must that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it.”

I am not sure what year Tolkein wrote the book but it was a number of years ago.  I think her monologue is timeless.  With each generation comes change and something is lost of the past.  Today for example, few know how to grow their own food and children don’t know where most of their food comes from other than the grocery store.   We are losing our knowledge of how things are made because nothing is made here in the US anymore.  In another generation all those skills will be lost.  There are hundreds of varieties of seeds that are no longer grown and will eventually pass away from memory.    Youth want their electronic devices more than their sense of smell (see previous blog entry).  Change is inevitable.  It will happen no matter how we try to stop it.  So how do we embrace the change while still trying to steer it in a good direction.

“Even the smallest person can change the course of the future” – Galadriel to Frodo.  So true.  So true.  Never think that you don’t matter.  You do and you can make a difference.

Well enough wandering through my mind for the day.  Like I said, you never know what you mind find here.


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