Category Archives: food

blogging food

Dreams and other things

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I have heard that folks aren’t all that interested in hearing about other people’s dreams, but last night I had a weird one and I am posting it here as much for myself as for public consumption.

I usually don’t recall my dreams as a whole piece. I will remember bits and pieces–the sensation of flying, the fact that I’m being followed by a vampire and WHY AM I NOT SCARED?? But this was fairly intact from beginning to end, so, here goes.

I’m on a plane. Literally. The jet is at cruising altitude, above the clouds, and I am outside, wrapped in a blanket, tethered in place, and hanging on. I think I’m nestled where the wing and body meet, but I’m not sure. I just see the endless blue overhead, the clouds beneath. I don’t feel the wind in my face, or the cold or vibration. I don’t see any windows, and have no clue whether anyone can see me or not. Someone has to be flying the jet, but I can’t see them. I’m alone.

Except for King. My dog, that passed away over two years ago. He’s lying on a dog bed, either atop the plane or gliding beside it. He seems pretty laid back, considering that he’s 35K feet above the ground with nothing holding him in place. Given that he was never the calmest dog in the world, it’s worth noting.

Time passes. Then for some reason I can’t recall, I untie the rope that’s holding me in place. I’m still wrapped in the blanket, but damn, I’m gripping whatever I can grip and holding on tight. Then I hear barking, and I look to my left and see that King has lost contact with the jet. He’s not falling, but drifting farther and farther away on his bed. He’s barking–I’m not sure if he’s afraid, or trying to get my attention, or what. I don’t know if I can find him, because I don’t know where the jet is going or when we’re going to land. I’m not panicked, though. Something in the back of my head tells me that I will be able to find him.

And that how it ends. I’ve lost my dog and my rope, but I’m still hanging on. I’m sure this somehow relates to things going on in my life right now. I’m contemplating changes and anticipating others, all of which will lead to some degree of upset. Funny, the way the brain deals with things like that.


In other news, I found I had a few overripe bananas in the fruit bowl. That could mean only one thing. BANANA BREAD. I fell back on my basic recipe, which is like the easiest thing ever. But along with being basic, it’s also incredibly forgiving and flexible, which gives me a chance to play.

This time, I was going to add chocolate chips and stop there. But then I remembered Aarón Sánchez’s Mexican Brownie recipe, which I had made before and liked. The main addition there is a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper, which adds just a touch of heat to the brownies. I decided what the heck, and gave it a try.

I didn’t stop there. In addition to the cayenne, I added about a 1/3 teaspoon ancho chili powder for smokiness. A teaspoon cinnamon because that works with just about everything. A teaspoon of espresso powder to boost the chocolate. About 2/3 cup bittersweet chocolate chips.

As usual, I used whole wheat flour instead of all purpose. This time, I used 1 cup whole wheat + 1/2 cup white whole wheat, both King Arthur brand. I added an extra half-teaspoon baking soda to give the heavier dough a boost. And as always, more salt than was called for, about 1/3 teaspoon instead of a pinch. I’ve found that savory recipes often call for too much salt and sweet recipes for too little. You can cut back on sugar sometimes if you lean on the salt to boost flavors. Plus, you wind up with more varied flavors than simple sweetness. Plain ol’ sugar sweetness is boring at best and sickening at worst.

Anyway, I just had a piece, and it worked. A lighter crumb than you’d expect from a whole wheat quick bread. The heat is subtle–it takes a few bites to build, then hangs around until the end. The espresso boosts the chocolate, and overall there’s a nice, deep, full flavor. As usual, the banana flavor is pretty much buried, but I make this recipe so often that I need to mix it up every once in a while. Besides, I eat a banana most every morning with breakfast. I know what they taste like.


Accidents in Baking

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Sometimes they work out.

I was excavating the baking section of the cupboard–checking dates on flour and whatnot–when I came upon a box of corn muffin mix that was a little past its Best By date. By over two years. May 2013, to be exact.

I debated simply dumping it. But I had most of a can of cream corn leftover from dinner, and decided to experiment. I made the mix using the cream corn instead of milk, then added the required egg along with a tsp of dried dill and a tsp of “Southwest Seasoning,” which is a combo of various peppers and herbs. Spooned the mess into muffin cups, and baked for about 35 minutes (instead of the recommended 18-20 if I had followed the recipe).

I knew things weren’t quite working out as hoped when the muffins failed to rise. I had filled the cups about halfway, and halfway was pretty much where the muffins stayed. However, they smelled lovely–think ‘buttery tortilla chips.’ I took them out of the oven after the tops turned a bit more than golden brown, and tried one with butter after it had cooled.

Verdict? Still very moist inside thanks to the corn. Think corn hockey pucks. But they’re tasty–I just had one that I had stuck under the broiler and topped with smoked white cheddar, and it was great. Hint of dill. Hint of heat. They’d be great with chili or bean soup, anything spicy/tomato-based.

If I had it to do over, I would have added about half the specified amount of milk, some shredded cheddar, and some baking powder or baking soda. I know the stuff loses its punch over time, and that might have happened with this mix.

Corn pucks

Corn pucks

In other news, Alex Gordon is still getting the bulk of the attention these days. The release date for JERICHO has been pushed out to April 2016, which allowed me more time for revisions. Ain’t ever gonna turn down more time. That’s not in my DNA.

That said, there may be Kristine Smith news in the coming months, and that’s all I can say now.



Chicken stock

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I think this was my best batch yet. About 3.5 quarts of gelatinous, medium brown goodness.
I had been saving roasted chicken carcasses for over a year and sticking them in the deep freeze. Yesterday, I excavated them all, added the one from this past Sunday’s dinner, and split them up between the 8 qt stockpot and 5qt-I-think soup pot. Added a load of celery, carrots, onion, garlic, bay leaves. A bundle of dried rosemary, thyme, and sage. Salt and pepper. Covered with water and let everything simmer for about 5 hours. At that point, the stock looked and tasted a little thin, so I strained out the veggies and bones, combined the stocks in the 8-qt, and let it boil until the level dropped about an inch and the stock had turned from medium yellow to medium brown. After the pot cooled enough, I stuck it in the fridge.

This afternoon, I skimmed off the very thin layer of fat, which was minimal and mostly consisted of the olive oil I used to coat the skin pre-roasting. Portioned the stuff into 4 cup and 2 cup containers, and stuck them in the deep freeze. I’ll use some in a week or so when I mix up a batch of bean and sausage stew.

I picked a decent-size bowl of meat bits off the bones. The meat is dry, but it still has flavor–I’ll add mayo and mustard and herbs and spices and chopped celery for an okay chicken salad.

Earlier this week, I made a loaf of my old standby banana bread. It’s such a forgiving recipe that I monkey with it constantly. I now substitute whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose–this results in a pretty dense bread. This time, I used 1 cup w/w pastry flour and a half-cup wheat germ. Toasted unsweetened coconut and walnuts. Dug out candied orange peel that I found on some store’s post-holiday bargain bin, and added that. A tablespoon of chai spice and a teaspoon of cinnamon. Because of the sugar in the peel and chai spice, I cut back the sugar in the recipe from 1 cup to 3/4 cup.

This loaf came out a little lighter, and the orange flavor really comes through. Good bread.


Revision cookies

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It’s going to be a few weeks before my alter ego has to get to work on JERICHO revisions, but I went ahead and made a batch of revision cookies anyway. I like to have food squirreled away in preparation for the long march to –30–: soups, burgers of various types, maybe a meatloaf. Chicken breasts and portions of fish. And home-baked cookies. I’ve tried making do with packaged cookies, and they’re not the same–I don’t feel like I’m having an end-of-the-day treat when I have one of those. There are some bakery cookies that I love, especially the whole grain-dried cranberry and cowboy cookies from Whole Paycheck. But in that case, I need to make a choice between a month’s supply of cookies and paying the mortgage, and if I don’t keep up with the mortgage, I won’t have a place to write. So, I bake my own cookies.

Ina Garten has a couple of cookie recipes that have become standbys, namely her Oatmeal Raisin Pecan and her Ultimate Ginger. I had a boatload of old-fashioned oats, and I love oatmeal cookies, so I opted for the Oatmeal Raisin Pecan…with a few changes.

  1. I substituted dried Door County cherries for raisins. I love raisins, but I wanted to try something a little different.
  2. Instead of all-purpose flour, I used 1 cup Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour and 1/2 cup wheat germ. The w/w pastry flour worked well when I made a loaf of post-first draft banana bread a couple of weeks ago–apparently it’s made from the soft wheat berry, so it’s higher in carbs, with less gluten and protein. Because of those characteristics, I have found I am able to use it as a replacement for all-purpose, at least so far. I am guessing that if I tried to make pie crust or some types of bread, the story would be different. But I’ve found the cookie and banana bread recipes to be pretty forgiving, so I will stick with whole wheat flours when I make them.
  3. I added about a cup of unsweetened coconut to the pecans and toasted the whole mess together.
  4. Spices. In addition to the cinnamon, I added 2 tablespoons Spice House chai spice. It sounds like a lot. But the directions state to use 1 tablespoon in a 6 oz cup of tea, so I figured that 2 tablespoons wouldn’t overwhelm a recipe that can yield 3 dozen cookies.

Verdict? The flour and wheat germ worked great–the cookies are moist and have a little chew, which is how I like them. I don’t like really chewy, soft cookies. The cherries are good, but a little on the sweet side. Next time I will use raisins or good dried cranberries. As for the chai spice, it added nice depth. I might back off to a tablespoon or a tablespoon and a half next time, though, because it is strong. I will see if the flavor mellows over the next few days.

Oatmeal-dried cherry-coconut-pecan-chai cookies

Oatmeal-dried cherry-coconut-pecan-chai cookies


No-soak bean stew

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Yup, a food post. You’ve been warned.

Over on Facebook, Lynn Flewelling posted a link to an article about how pre-soaking beans prior to cooking was unnecessary. I perked up when I read it because I love bean soups and stews, but never made them because of the soaking step. Slow overnight soak or fast one-hour boil and soak? If you don’t do it right, you’ll wind up with bullets. It didn’t help that the one time I presoaked navy beans for baked beans, they came out hard and gritty. I just didn’t think I’d have success if I tried again.

But this article gave me hope, so. I found the recipe for black bean stew and set about chopping the onion because I knew I had a pound bag of black beans in the pantry. Except that when I looked, I found I didn’t. I did have a pound of navy beans. A year-old pound of navy beans–I remembered the day I bought them at Whole Paycheck, the good little organic shopper shoveling her beans into a bag…then sticking them on a shelf and forgetting about them. I knew beans aged and got tough over time, but I figured that all I risked was half an onion and some time. It was either try to cook the beans or use them as crust ballast for blind baking…except that I already had a couple of pounds of dried beans set aside for that purpose, yet more navy and pinto beans that I bought with every intention of cooking and never did.

Anyway, along with the onion, garlic, and chopped dried chile pepper, I added a teaspoon of ajwain (an Indian seed that flavors and also mitigates that issue with beans that we all sang about in second grade**), some herbs de provence, diced sun-dried tomatoes, celery seed. I didn’t add bay leaf because I didn’t have any, hence the other stuff.


just getting started

just getting started


Heated until it just started to simmer, then covered it and stuck it in a 325F oven. I figured that navy beans might take longer to cook than black beans, and I was right. I let them cook for close to two hours before adding the salt, checking them all the while–yes, they were absorbing liquid. Yes, they were getting softer:

getting there--about halfway through

getting there–about halfway through


After about three hours, I made tuna fish for dinner because I realized that the beans wouldn’t be done in time. Besides, anything stew benefits from sitting overnight, and I figured this would be the case with this stuff as well. I added salt and pepper–about 2 tsps salt instead of the single one called for in the recipe. Stirred and stuck it back in the oven.

At the three-three-and-a-half hour mark–the beans were still intact but creamy when chewed–I zapped the stew with the immersion blender and creamed maybe 1/3 of them.

almost finished

almost finished

I also added a large squirt of ketchup because I always add ketchup to navy bean soup, and a tablespoon of vegetable demiglace because frankly I still found things a little flat. Then I let it cool and stuck it in the fridge overnight.

Today, I added a can of Ro-Tel diced tomatoes and a little more salt. It is a very thick stew–if you wanted something more soupy, you could add stock or more diced tomatoes or water. I like it thick, so I heated some up in the microwave, stuck some cheddar cheese on top, and had it with a toasted roll.

the finished product

the finished product

It’s good. Yes, the beans have more flavor than canned or–from what I recall–presoaked. I was also struck by how well they remained intact even though they were very tender. Not mushy at all. Or gritty.

I bought black beans today, as well as lentils and white beans. Looking forward to making more no-soak bean dishes. They will need to cook longer, so I will have to be careful which recipes I try.


**also, Blazing Saddles