Comfort Food

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Rice pudding, Armenian Style:

In a saucepan over medium to medium high heat, place one quart of whole or extra-rich milk, 1/2 cup long grain white rice, 1/2 cup sugar and (optional) a pinch of salt. Stir frequently as it comes to a boil.

When it is bubbling nicely but not boiling over, set a timer for 45 minutes, lower the heat gradually to maintain a slow simmer and continue to stir periodically while you are doing other things in the kitchen. Do not allow it to boil too energetically or to stop boiling altogether, admittedly a delicate balance to maintain, especially on certain ranges.

As you approach the 45 minute mark, the pudding will start to thicken and develop a skin, which you must repeatedly stir back in. After 45 minutes, evaluate the thickness of the pudding and if it needs to cook down more, keep adding time in 5 minute increments until you like the consistency. This varies according to the milk, the rice, the weather, your mood, your stove, etc.

When your personal private magic consistency has been achieved, spoon the pudding into dessert cups, small ramekins, small bowls, or whatever you have on hand. I like the Crate and Barrel footed glass dessert dishes and for one batch this size, I use 6 of them.

Sprinkle each serving generously and as evenly as you can with cinnamon and pop in the fridge to chill for a few hours.

Now you have a choice: when the pudding is completely chilled, you can cover it immediately with plastic wrap to keep it soft or you can leave it uncovered several more hours or overnight and it will develop a thickened, chewy crust. Then you must remember to cover it or it will dry out too much.

The crust is optional and is both traditional and deliberate in our family, but I do wonder if it was originally a happy accident when someone forgot to cover the pudding after it had cooled. It’s delicious with or without the crust but please, just don’t try to cover your pudding while it’s still warm. The pudding will sweat and the moisture will collect and rain down on the cinnamon and it will not be pretty.

This is my favorite kind of recipe, long on method but requiring just a few simple ingredients which are completely transformed by careful attention into something delightful. Enjoy!

Daily Bread

  • almond bread

 

Since embarking on La Vida Locarb, what most people know as bread has been off the table for me and it is one of the foods I miss the most.  Mind you, I’m not talking about the pillowy concoctions that pass for bread in the supermarket aisles, but my own homemade bread made from whole grains freshly ground minutes before being transformed into dough.  Sigh. That was my daily bread in every sense.  It wasn’t only the eating of the bread that satisfied, but the enjoyment of the process of engineering the transformation from wheat berries to sticky mess in the mixer bowl to springy dough to fragrant loaf.

Now I have Almond Bread.  It is tasty and satisfying and does make a good stand-in for the old yeasted wheat breads in my diet.  As for the transformation, it’s not so much the actual baking of the bread that satisfies since it’s easy and not much can go wrong there, but it’s the preparation of the ingredients that has taken the place of the complex process required to produce a good loaf of yeast-raised whole wheat bread.  Making this bread has lead me to the making of one of the primary and costliest ingredients: Fromage Blanc, and that transformation from milk to cheese is very similar to the one from flour to loaf.  However, you do not need to go so far.  The recipe for making the bread is really quite simple once you procure the ingredients:

  • 17 oz. finely ground almonds or purchased almond meal
  • 14 oz. Fromage Blanc or Dry-Curd Cottage cheese, or if you must, ricotta cheese.
  • 3.5 oz. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. Celtic Sea Salt
  • 2 Tablespoons Hulled Hemp Seed
  • 2 teaspoons ground flaxseed
  • 6 eggs

The method:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Grease 2 ceramic loaf pans WELL.  I use a release agent I make myself of canola oil and lecithin, but Pam will work if you are generous enough with it.
  • Combine all ingredients in mixer bowl and beat at medium speed for 2 minutes
  • Divide batter evenly between the 2 loaf pans
  • Bake in 350 degree oven for 50-60 minutes, all ovens are different and you don’t want to under (gooey) or over bake (too dry) this bread although it’s best to err on the side of doneness.  Some experimentation will be required until you settle on the optimum time.  For me, it’s 50 minutes.
  • Allow to cool for 10 minutes and then loosen loaf with a knife around the edges of the pan.
  • Remove the bread from the pans and allow to cool completely before wrapping in waxed paper and storing in plastic bags in either the refrigerator or freezer.  To thaw, place in refrigerator overnight.
  • To serve, slice thin and reheat in the microwave or conventional oven, or like me, devour in cold slices directly from the fridge.  Butter optional.

Be aware that while this bread is a low carb food (around 3-4 per slice, I think) it is NOT a low calorie food.  It is dense and nutritious, packed with protein and fiber and yes, calories, I have no idea how many.  Also be aware that since it contains no sweetener, it isn’t sweet in spite of its uncanny resemblance to the oh-so-sweet Banana Bread in texture and visual appearance.  That first bite is a surprise!

 

 

 

Comma love

Most people who misuse punctuation marks these days choose to abuse apostrophes. You may have noticed the alarming explosion of misplaced apostrophes currently plaguing all forms writing.

Personally, I prefer to err on the side of commas. I think it’s because commas help me to slow down, give pause, consider: not a full stop, not an exclamation, just a pause for breath. That’s what a comma can do. However I am going to make an effort to use them more judiciously in future and I just removed one from this sentence.

Well begun is half done. Now about those parentheticals…

Gifts

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As I was stirring the filling for Pumpkin Pie this morning, I noted how many of the things I was using had been gifts from loved ones. For instance, the spoon I always use for this task was a wedding gift some thirty-odd years ago from a dear friend, who is still a dear friend to us.

Each time I bake this kind of pie I think of our friend with fondness as I dig in my utensil drawer for this homely wooden utensil with the hole in the center and burn mark on the handle that still does the best job of combining the viscous filling ingredients of this pie filling.

The spoon is showing its age, as we are, but still gets the job done, as we try to do. Over the years of use, its edges have softened so it fits better and better into the curve of the bowl to quickly find each remnant of un-amalgamated pumpkin and gently incorporate it without whipping in bubbles, anathema to Pumpkin Pie filling.

There’s a marriage metaphor in there, somewhere, but mostly gratitude for the many beautiful and useful gifts we’ve been given over the years and the dear people who gave them.

Hammered!

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Many times I’ve seen references to the technique of hammering with a regular carpenter’s hammer on bulky seams that threaten to put your sewing machine in a bind if you try to sew over them, typically in pants/jeans hems. Since the only hammer in my possession was an ancient, rusty and not very trusty hammer (loose head), I had never tried it. Also, I was not convinced it would help much.

Well, count me among the hammer crowd now! Thanks to Angela Wolf’s Craftsy class on Alterations, and the recent acquisition of a clean bookbinding hammer that promises to remain clean, I tried hammering the bulky seam of these softball pants I was altering for a friend. After lots of very empowering whacking at the seams, the cover stitch machine cruised right over those seams! Thanks Angela!

Salsification

Here are the ingredients for homemade salsa:

  • 8 roma tomatoes, stem ends removed
  • 1 bell pepper, seeded and halved
  • 1/2 red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
  • 1 can Ortega mild green chiles
  • Celtic Sea Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Roast the tomatoes and peppers under the broiler until skins are nicely charred on both sides.  This takes about 10 minutes per side.  Then, toss all ingredients into the food processor:

Whirl away!

And there you have your salsa!  I like using the roma style tomatoes, but they do make a very thick salsa that thickens more when refrigerated until you think you have made tomato aspic instead of salsa.  Just stir and allow to warm to room temperature to return to salsa consistency or warm in the microwave.  Not hot enough for you?  I use small doses of cayenne pepper to remedy that but you can also substitute hot chile peppers for the mild ones or add hot peppers of any kind at any point.  If you are a hot pepper fan, you will know how best to add them and what kind you like.  This salsa has a nice amount of heat from the onions and I am not a fan of hot peppers so I don’t invite them to my salsa party.

Soupy day

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It’s very chilly and rainy here today so soup is absolutely necessary.  This is my famous Minestrone Soup, or as some like to call it, Vegetable Stew.  It’s one of those recipes that is like the Pirate Code, more like guidelines rather than a strict set of rules.  I’ve got more than a few recipes like that.

Here’s how this one goes:

In a large stockpot, warm a few tablespoons of olive oil and sweat some garlic, celery and onion for a few minutes in the oil until everything is nice and fragrant but not browning yet.  Then add an 8 oz. can each of tomato sauce, garbanzo beans and kidney beans plus a 15 oz. can of diced or ready-cut tomatoes and 8 cups of water.  Turn the stove to high and bring to a boil.  Add 2 teaspoons salt,  1-2 teaspoons basil, one teaspoon oregano, 2 bay leaves and 1/4 cup pearl barley.  Reduce to a strong simmer, cover loosely and simmer for at least a good hour, longer is better.   Add more water if it’s getting too thick because you haven’t even started adding the things that make it even thicker.

Add 1-2 diced carrots, 4-6 small diced red potatoes with the skins left on and some cut green beans.  Return to simmer and cook these added vegetables another 45 minutes or so and feel free at this point to add whatever vegetables you think belong in a good Minestrone and leave out the green beans if you hate them.  Just be aware that some vegetables absorb liquid from your soup and some release liquid into your soup and know which are which.  Make adjustments to the liquid ratio if you feel they are needed.  Adding water or increasing the heat and/or cooking time are your controls.

Add 1/2 – 3/4 cup pasta of your choice, I like orrechiette or broken fettucine or small egg noodles or small rotini.  You choose.  When the soup returns to a boil, add some greens like shredded cabbage or spinach or chopped chard.  I’ve settled on spinach because I can buy it in a bag already cleaned and throw it in without washing or chopping or anything.Watch the soup as it simmers now because it will stick and burn if it boils to hard.  Add water if you like it thinner.  Cook it longer with the lid ajar if you like it thicker.  Hope you made or bought some fresh bread to go with this soup.

Editorial comment on that bagged spinach:  I do not eat it raw at home or in restaurants, only well-cooked.  If I was dedicated to the consumption of raw spinach, I would learn how to grow it and only eat my own homegrown spinach raw.  E. Coli and Salmonella are getting everywhere, but that’s another post.