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Showing posts from April, 2020

On Adapting Herbs in Recipes

Herbs are such a personal preference.  If you ask someone with a sensitive palate many things will be "too spicy," and if you ask someone like me, many things will be "too bland" or as I often say flat.  We often equate "spicey" with hot, but some equate it with too much going on in a dish. In Tuesday's article, On Ingredient Adaptations , I touched briefly on the easy part of herb adaptation, exchanging fresh for dried and vice versa - 1 tablespoon fresh = 1 teaspoon dried.  But what if you don't like a certain herb and the flavor it lends to a dish?  The easiest option is to leave it out.  The trouble with leaving it out could be that your dish will fall flat or taste like it's missing something.  Now for those with a sensitive palate, that might be ok, but for someone who likes bold flavors, disappointment will be on the horizon. Thyme: I dislike the flavor of this herb intensely.  To me, it tastes like dirt, and not in the earthy go

Gardening is Always an Experiment Here

Gardening is always an experiment here, and by here I mean where ever we're living.  We did two years of gardening in Missouri, and have done something nearly every year we've lived in the Interior of Alaska. We're not serious gardeners.  We're the kind of gardeners that try things because we can or because they sound interesting.  We spout seeds that are nearing 10 more years in age.  We plant all of our seedings at once. We grow tobacco, in Alaska, because we can.  We've grown green corn.  We've even experimented with potato towers.  We don't weed.  We eat what we grow and no two years are ever the same. This year the list of things we're experimenting with includes five types of tomatoes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, pie pumpkins, sunflowers, cucumbers, winter squash, anaheim peppers, jalapenos, bell peppers, microgreens, kale, huckleberries, basil, dill, cilantro, oregano, and tobacco. We spent one-day last week prepping the greenhouse for

On Ingredient Adaptations

Oh the great ingredient swap, so many of them done wrong, so many of them just bad.  Very often when we swap an ingredient we don't think about how it will play with the others in the pot.  We just know that we don't like X and would prefer Y, but Y doesn't always work in a dish for any number of reasons.  Sometimes we're better off just leaving X out than we are looking for an ingredient to use in its place.  Today I'm gonna talk about things that will work and why. Tomatoes: I use tomatoes in a number of dishes.  Canned tomatoes are a staple in my pantry.  If a recipe calls for fresh tomatoes and the tomatoes will be cooked in the dish; they can very often be swapped with canned.  My canned tomatoes of choice are petite diced.  Easy to stir into dishes, easy to pure for soups, stews, and sauces.  I even used canned tomatoes in my homemade salsa.  What if you don't like tomatoes or can't tolerate them?  Consider adapting the recipe by using a jar of r

Homemade vs The Box - Stroganoff Edition

Last week's article On Cooking from Scratch , I talked about the long and winding list of excuses.  I think the first step is setting yourself up for success by selecting things that are easy to make, budget-friendly, and have familiar easy to find ingredients.  Rushing into making something that was pretty in a magazine doesn't always, in fact rarely, ends up that pretty in your home kitchen.  Start with old standbys and favorites, learn to make those from scratch.  Here's my first round of homemade vs the box.  If you like it, we'll keep going.  Read on... I went for easy and selected the well known Hamburger Helper as today's example.  Their stroganoff mix includes dry noodles and some packets of powdered seasoning/thickening agents.  To the box mix, you add water, milk, and ground beef.  Nothing fancy and it comes in at Alaska prices as follows: 5 (1cup) servings = $10 That's $2 per serving If we make a more homemade version, you'll need pasta, c

Alaskan Life - It’s Called Breakup

The rest of the world calls it spring because the snow melts, the sun shines, and things turn green. In Alaska it’s called breakup because the snow and ice breakup everywhere, things melt, mud happens, ice jams happen, flooding happens. There is nothing pretty about any of it, and while I don’t know the history behind the term it does liken itself to an ugly breakup. It’s messy, no one likes it, and it’ll all be fine once it’s over. This year our driveway has a bit of a creek running through down it, the picnic table is currently sitting in a pond and there’s a lake in the backyard. Yet, in spite of it all, we get views like this on our evening walks.  The light is nearing the 24-hour mark rapidly. The geese and swans are coming back as well.  Life in Alaska is hard, don’t let anyone else tell you differently. When I say it's hard I don't mean in the ridiculously portrayed reality tv way.  I mean in the it snows and you have winter for 7 months, you have 4 hours of

On Adapting Recipes

I chose the word adapting for two reasons, one I dislike the concept of ingredient substitution, and two this is about adapting to what you have available.  Just because a fancy magazine or tv chef made the recipe in the big city, does not mean you can't make it where you live.  If you live in the big city and have access to all the fancy ingredients that's fantastic, but then again you probably aren't reading my blog.  For the rest of us, recipe adaptation could be key to using the recipes you keep collecting.  I think Alton Brown said it best in episode three of Quarantine Kitchen .  Of his wife Elizabeth, when he said she is an intuitive cook who just makes up things.  That is quite possibly the most accurate way to describe my cooking style as well.  There's a running joke in our house when I make something from intuition, hubby always asks if I wrote it down so we can make it again.  There are a few things to keep in mind with recipe adaptation.  First

Adapting Food Wishes Ultimate Triple Berry Crumble

There's a bit of a story that goes with why I chose this recipe.  I'll start by saying I've been cooking a lot of Chef John's recipes because they are easy to follow, made with attainable ingredients and turn out delicious every time.  Now for the story... Last week I decided to inventory the freezer.  Quarantine gives you time to do all sorts of fun things.  In all honesty, this is something I like to do a couple times of year to keep from sacrificing too many things to the freezer gods.  This time it was just two pieces of forgotten lasagna. In cataloging our assets, I found the leftover Thanksgiving cranberry sauce, also known as Tory's Cranberry Sauce .  This is my sister-in-law's recipe, I've been making it for years and it's the only cranberry sauce I make.  The downside to the recipe is that with just two of us, or maybe four of us if we have friends over, I end up with a lot of leftover sauce.  This year I opted to just toss it in the freez

On Overcoming Grocery Shopping Challenges

So what do you do when things are expensive and produce has an even shorter shelf life than normal?  You adapt, improvise and overcome it to the best of your abilities. I talked last week, in my post  On Challenges - Grocery Shopping in Interior Alaska , about not always getting what you have on your list and the challenges of finding the ingredients for recipes.  This week we're gonna talk about how I've overcome some of those things.  Today we're gonna talk about grocery shopping.  How I shop, when I shop, and where I shop.  Anyone who lives in Small Town America knows that it's rare to be able to get everything you need in one place.  This could mean shopping in multiple stores, or it might even mean shopping in multiple towns.  If your town is small enough you may have to travel to get groceries.  There's just some stuff your little town does not, will not, and cannot carry. Alright with all that said, let's start with the grocery list.  I keep a work

Life in Quarantine aka Normal

Who knew the life we live on the weekends was called quarantine? No, seriously I'm an introvert who's lucky enough to be married to an introvert.  For us, this "shelter in place" business really is our regular life, mostly.  There are fewer trips to grocery stores and the post office, but mostly this is our normal life. I know there's any number of people from my professional life that might be reading this, questioning the introvert part.  They've only ever seen the "on" part of my personality, commonly referred to as extroverted.  My day job requires a lot of talking and being with the public.  I've been in customer service my entire life and seem to have developed and polished the "on" setting, to the point where it can deceiving to the public.  Left to my own devices I prefer to be introverted, also known as the "off" setting.  I prefer a more intentional social life.  Where I only have to be witty, or funny, or know

On Cooking from Scratch

I've talked about the bad time my friends give me about how I cook, most of the time in just, but sometimes I think it's out of self-defense.  Honestly, it's hard to work, come home exhausted and still cook a great meal for your family.  I get it and I also get that I might make it look easy, but there are plenty of times we do open a box or just have breakfast for dinner. What is so intimidating about cooking from scratch?  Why is the first thought that eating homemade is more work?  Is it easier to open a box and some cans and call it diner?  Is there just a fatal attraction to pretty boxes?   Or is it too hard to figure out what to make and no one wants to put any effort into it? There is life beyond the pretty boxes and shinny cans!  Get out of the freezer section and thaw your brain while we debunk the myth that homemade and from scratch is to much work. I learned to cook by gilding many a boxed meal with handmade touches, thanks to the encouragement of some g

On Challenges - Grocery Shopping in Interior Alaska

We live in small-town America. No, really we do.  We’re just a bit more remote than other American small towns.  Shopping is challenging in all small towns but there’s a bit more adversity that comes with shopping here. Before we moved to Alaska I was a meal planner. I planned two weeks of meals and went to the store, list in hand. Rarely did I come without what I went for.  Alaska, that’s a different story. You can make a list, but I guarantee you’ll return home with at least four things that weren't in stock or the store doesn't carry. The world I live in now, I keep two grocery lists, one for shopping local and one for the “trip to town”, translation 100-mile drive to Fairbanks. We don't fit the norm when it comes to going to "town". We’re some sort of oddity as we only go every six to eight weeks, sometimes less. I’m pretty skilled at adapting to what I can get locally. This brings me back to meal planning. It just doesn’t happen the way you think i

On Writing About Food

Let's get in the DeLorean and travel back about a dozen years.  Once upon a time, I wrote a food blog.  No, don't go looking for it.  You won't find it.  I took it down a few years ago.  I still have a few mixed emotions about that, but it's done and there's no undo button for it. I started that blog, on a whim, when we live in Missouri, and I didn't yet have a job.  I wrote a post nearly every day for just over seven years.  It started as a food blog and then morphed into a handmade blog when I started sewing and crocheting things to sell on Etsy.  In hindsight, I wish I'd just left it as a food blog, but as they say, hindsight is 20/20. I haven't done much work on food writing, since those couple of years in  Missouri, but my food writing didn't start there.  It started a few years earlier when I was bored at my day job as a receptionist and needed something to keep me busy when things were slow. I  was also in a new relationship with a ma

On Freezing Food

The other way that I preserve food is in the freezer.  I often cook large batches of things and freeze them for later use.  Most commonly I think we think in terms of meals when we talk about cooking in large batches, but I also do the same with ingredients for future meals. One of the easiest "frozen assets" is stale bread.  I freeze the odds and ends of the bread we don't quite finish, usually, the heals and small hunks of french bread.  Once I have a large zip-top bag of bits and pieces I pull out the food processor and turn it all into breadcrumbs.  These breadcrumbs go back into the freezer and are later added to meatloaf, meatballs, top mac'n'cheese.  The same crumbs can be toasted to use for breading on meats, cheeses, or vegetables.  Another easily frozen asset is to take veggie scraps like carrot ends, onion peals, cilantro stems, etc and drop them in a freezer back.  When the bag gets full make vegetable stock.  Once you have a great veggie make,

On Dehydrating Food

Why do I dehydrate?  Because it's kind of the fix it and forget it of the food preservation world.  If you're old enough you now have a Ronco infomercial playing in your head.  You're welcome.  I do love that part of the dehydrator process.  There's a bit of prep, some chopping or slicing, maybe a marinade if you're making jerky; but mostly it's a wash, slice, lay on try, and leave for like five or more hours. Excalibur 3500B 5-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator We have an Excalibur 3500  dehydrator that we've been using for over 10 years.  I did quite a bit of research before we purchased an Excalibur. In the research, I learned that having the heat element and fan at the back made tray rotation less necessary, and in some cases eliminates the need completely.  This also helps extend the life of your dehydrator, with less overheating issues. I knew I wanted square trays, to provide us with more surface area in comparison to round trays.  Round dehydrat