Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

Cabbage with Sausage and Mashed Potatoes


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There is still a slight chill in the air, so a winter comfort food can feel good.

This is a strange time in the garden. I am harvesting winter vegetables while planting the crop for spring. I am thinking of a tomato salad with basil, since these went into the ground, but I pick kale for dinner. I am pleased to discover that Katya is quite fond of kale. She declares that it is her favorite. I think that this may be due to its appearance (I have a curly leafed kale). My children have been quite good about eating a variety of vegetables. I forget that they are a bit better than some others. My wife was happy when my daughter insisted on buying something at the grocery store, which turned out to be a book (she thought it might be junk food). I heard iron deficiency is a problem in the United States, and this is partly due to the lack of leafy greens in our diet. Leafy greens are found often in my dinners, but I admit my children are not overjoyed with them. BY having them cook with me, they do seem to go after the greens more, taking a sense of pride in the fact of their preparation of the meal.
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Flash Frying Herbs and Leafy Greens


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Does everything taste better deep fried? No, but quickly frying herbs and leafy greens gives you a delicious flavor punch.

Do you like fried foods? I have a love-hate relationship with them. Fat carries flavor; oil is fat; and fat does damage to my body. I have worked hard to reduce the amount of unhealthy oils in the family diet, yet there are those traditional dishes that taste better with fat. My wife has become more concerned with fats in the diet, so she chides me when she sees any fat in a dish. Yet I decided to quickly fry herbs for a garnish on a pasta. This flash fry added a punch of flavor that passed my wife’s inspection.
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Does the Color of Food Effect Taste?


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Rows of beautifully colored vegetables line the wall, and I can imagine a wonderful meal.

I do not eat the red, my daughter tells me. Since when did she give up on eating a tomato? The green, yellow, white, and brown go down well.Red will not do. Later, we are walking by the vegetable aisle in a grocery store, and she is excited to taste the fruits and vegetables offered as samples. I see these bright, fresh colors thinking of meals from chefs. I noticed that meals with a monotone scheme do not go down well in the family. The meal could taste great, but they do not eat as readily when there is a meal of many hues. This leaves me considering meals from the winter garden.
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Broccoli and Kohlrabi in Miso Broth


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Braised vegetables go well on winter days. Young broccoli is so tender and bright when braised.

The garden centers are setting up for spring. I have been receiving emails advising me to consider my coming garden, and I am still thinking of winter vegetables. That is wrong. I am making plans for the spring by preparing the beds, but the winter vegetables dominate my thoughts, since I have been harvesting them for the table. Mustard that is a bit too spicy when fresh has a milder flavor in the stir fry. The kale an collards have a better flavor with the colder temperatures, but they are not as abundant (or I have been harvesting them heavily?). The cabbages are beginning to form their heads. Then I noticed that I could have broccoli for dinner.
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Mustard Greens for Breakfast, Daikon for Lunch


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Simple warm dishes for a cool day make for a nice change. Why not warm vegetables?

My wife has attended a few lectures on health at the hospital where she works. I think she focuses on the food discussions, even though she does not cook often at home. Yams are her new favorite. This is her superfood of choice. To me, any vegetable is a superfood, so I do not get the point on concentrating on a few vegetables. One problem that I have though is incorporating more vegetables into the diet, when it is so easy not to. Recently, my morning meal and often my lunch is a simple vegetable dish.
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A Christmas Shrub?


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Did you really need a tree? A story of giving the children what they want.



   My son has left us to spend Christmas with his family in Mexico. My parents and my brother’s family had a Christmas dinner last week. That leaves my wife, my two daughters, and I to have a Christmas here. This has been a strange season. My wife and I have both been working, and we have had several family birthdays, which has left us with little time to decorate. My wife enjoys have the tree up early, while I see the tree as a gift for Christmas eve. We compromise by obtaining our tree on the third advent most years, but this year we did not. Yesterday, I took the girls to find a tree. My wife was thinking of something really small, but I was going to leave it up to the girls. I was surprised by their choice.
    We enter the garden center, heading towards the trees. Katya stops in front of a few smaller plants. She looks, and she becomes determined that there is one certain “tree” that she wanted. This was no tree; it is a golden oriental arborvitae, which stands about two feet tall. This shrub only reaches about two and half feet high, so this tree most certainly fits my wife’s desire for small. Although, I do not think that is what she meant. I look at the choices, to suggest a larger specimen, or something different. No was her reply; this is the one. I attempt to appeal to my younger daughter, Sakura. Is this what you want?  I am not sure if she understood, but she heartily agrees. I glance over at the trees saying but, but, but no. My Katya has made her decision.
    We bring the tree home. I set it down on a cabinet, wrapping the base in a sheet of plastic to catch the water. I then surround the base with the skirt for our Christmas trees. They want to begin decorating; however, I knew that my wife prefers to be the one decorating with the children. I let Katya place an angel on the tree though. This leads the girls to break out in songs of Christmas joy. Mostly of their own creations, so I am hailed with a Hanna Montana Christmas (we do not watch the show, so where did that come from?), the Shake It, Shake It Christmas, and others. Lines of other Christmas songs enter these endeavors, and I notice that they replace the word “snowy” with “foggy” (life in Houston, I guess, or maybe this substitution comes from Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer).  I proceed to prepare dinner after the performance (they did have me sing a few songs in German for them).
    During my preparation, I realized that I had a perfect vegetable dish for the holiday: swiss chard. I had harvested some chard, and I thought how perfect the bright red of the stems and deep green of the leaves were in the pan. Here is a good way to prepare chard: sautee onions in a little oil, until they brown. I then added caraway seeds, a little salt, and a little pepper. Caraway is not always popular with everyone, but I love this flavor. Cumin seeds may be a good substitute. I added a small pat of butter. Once the butter melted, I added the chopped chard and parsley to the pan. The leaves wilted when they had cooked through. I sprinkled the yellow flowers from the broccoli raab over this dish. 

   My wife prefers rice, but I think that I will make a potato dish with the chard for tonight. Roasted potatoes in a vinegarette. I have really thick lamb chops, but I am thinking of the chard as the star of the meal. I will brown the chops, and let them finish in the oven. I make a pesto with rosemary, parsley, garlic, and almonds (blended in olive oil), where a little pesto goes onto the chops as they finish cooking on the oven. Except for the almonds, I only have to go to the garden for the pesto ingredients. Maybe I should begin to grow a pecan tree, justified for the pesto. The pecan tree is the official tree of the state of Texas. I will try to convince the wife on that one.
   After the new year, I will plant this arborvitae near the girl’s teahouse. This shrub does not seem a great choice for Texas. It desires moist ground, which we do not have with this new drought. The shrub also wants only about four hours of sun each day (the tea house is in a shady spot). I think this will be a special plant for Katya. I wonder what will be the choice for next year’s Christmas.  Whatever the choice, the memories of joy as the tree, or shrub, go up will be what I cherish.

The Pleasures of Soup


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Cold days are perfect for a bowl of hot soup, and winter vegetables are great for simple soups.


I think that I have mentioned this before; I am a big fan of soups. My wife is of a different opinion. I think that she may be more willing to partake of my soups, since she has been attending classes on health. My wife works in a hospital, and she attends various lectures to improve her knowledge for patient care. Many of these lectures deal with becoming and staying healthy. She has taken particular interest in topics that touch upon our diets. What should one eat? Her concern has been snack foods. I am known for not buying sodas and snacks. I prefer cakes without frosting. My wife has traditionally indulged in these items. Seeing the effects of poor diets among her patients, she has become motivated to eat better. One of her discoveries was that eating more vegetables in a meal leads to a healthier life. I had been scaling back on the meat in a dish in favor of vegetables for some time with this thought in mind. During the winter, too many meals originating in the winter garden look similar, consequently becoming boring. Soup is a nice change for these vegetables.
    The other night at dinner, while I had my beloved soup and the rest of the family enjoyed a chicken dish, my wife took an interest in my meal. Upon trying it, she was impressed, so she wanted a bowl. I had stock for a hen that I had boiled. I have made stock from simply using vegetables taken from the garden. I always throw in a bay leaf from my tree, and maybe a few leaves from my kefir lime tree. For this soup, I melted a little pat of butter with a little dash of olive oil. A tablespoon of flour was added to make a rue. When the flour browned, I added the stock, whisking to prevent lumps. This causes the soup to be thicker, which is nice in the colder months. For warmer seasons, I use the stock alone. The next step is to make soup noodles. In a bowl, I mix about a cup of flour, a little milk, and one egg. I use my spaetzel press to create the noodles into the soup, but you do not need this piece of equipment. The mixture in the bowl should be like a batter that can drop off of a spoon. Take a little bit of the mixture, and drop it into the gently boiling soup. these glops will drop to the bottom, so gently stir the soup to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan. My favorite ingredient to add to this soup is mustard greens. I chop the large leaves into smaller pieces. They go into the soup. Once the noodles are floating on the top they are done. I then taste the soup for seasoning.
    When I am feeling creative, I toast the spices when making the rue. My standard combination is cumin, red chili powder, sweet paprika, and ground mustard. The spices change, depending upon my mood. When adding spices at the end of the soup preparation, I go for salt and pepper. My next addition to the soup would be either a little milk or a beaten egg. Milk is the more common choice. In the end, I might add another small pat of butter. I really do mean small. The final product is a hearty soup that is quick to prepare. he nice thing is using a lot of vegetables. Right now, I have more leafy greens coming form the garden. Fairly soon, I will have kohlrabi, and then root vegetables, so the soup will change. You can add pasta or other noodles, but this soup noodle is so easy to make. It is also more like a dumpling, and a dumpling could be a great addition. Maybe I can make small changes to entice my wife some more. 

Marinated Eggplant


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Will your children eat eggplant? Will you? Eggplant can become quite flavorful if marinated.



Work in the garden carries on towards a goal. Wish that I knew how that goal would evolve, but I am moving forward. I have been pruning, fertilizing, and transplanting. All in the hopes of being able to relax in the garden. I have been enjoying myself in that space, but maybe I need a bit more patience. The vegetables are coming along. The harvest looks quite good, if only I could stop my youngest from harvesting before the vegetables are ready. Baby eggplants appear to be on her agenda. I have never had a problem with the kids eating eggplants. Harvesting them just before cooking removes the bitterness problem. However, I know that eggplants are not always a favorite.
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How to Make a Simple Soda Bread


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Yeast bread is common. I make it a good deal. Soda bread is quick to make, and can be great to have.



I have been baking a lot of yeast bread lately.  With work and family, I do not always have the ability to devote to making a yeast bread. The process is not hard, but I do have to pay attention to the steps, such as the rising.  Having a mixer with a dough hook allows me to skip the lengthy step of kneading the dough by hand. If I plan out the steps, I can have the bread made over night (using the cold rising method in a refrigerator). My work days begin around four in the morning. About six in the morning, I begin to work on lunches while waking others up. Last Friday, I realized that my wife and daughters had snacked on the last of the bread the night before, so I had to either bake bread, or find another school lunch. I decided upon soda bread, where I simplified the recipe.
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Baked Fruits for Desserts


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Do you offer ice cream as a dessert in your house? I think that my wife and son alone could go through a gallon container in two days. I am a baked goods fan myself, so I wanted to have a quick dessert that I could make to have ready after dinner, which was baked with fruits.

Do not get me wrong, store bought baked goods and ice cream will be eaten quickly in my home. I wish that were not the case. My grandmother made Saturday her baking day. She had so many baked treats that neighbors looked forward to coming over for a kaffeklatsch. She was so prolific that she ended up in the newspaper. German baked goods are easier to find. In fact the pan mexicana is quite similar to many treats that I knew growing up. I do not have the time to bake as extensively as my grandmother did, but I do want to move away from the bakery.
    Have you tried preparing dinner with three children on the prowl? After school snacks are sought. Dinner should be ready now.  Do you have any treats, Papa? Then the two little ones want to help, so I have to find a way to include them in the meal preparation. This has left little time for preparing a dessert. I do not mind a cut piece of fruit, yet the children want more excitement. Whether my family is going to be eating ice cream again, or something from home is down to me, so I needed to find the time. That is when I hit upon a simple cake (if you will).
    I slice whichever firm fruit is in season, so apples, peaches, nectarines would be my fruit of choice. I saute these slices with a little sugar and butter. I mix up a batter for pancakes (one egg, one cup of flour, and enough milk to moisten). I add cinnamon or vanilla to the fruit, then pour in the batter. This goes into an oven (350F for fifteen minutes). I flip this out onto a plate. If it is cool by the end of dinner, I sprinkle powdered sugar on this cake. Usually, everyone has begun to eat it when it is warm. I use a small cast iron skillet for this cake.
    This cake has been good, and with changing fruits and flavors, the cake has surprises. There are more baked goods which I could prepare. I was thinking about quick items to make. I loved baked apples when I was younger. You core the apple to rid it of seeds. In the place of the core you can add raisins, butter, sugar, and spices. The apple was covered with a basic dough (2cups of flour, 1 stick of  softened butter, 1 egg, and some cold water).  Since an entire apple may be big of a portion, I have sliced the apple and folded the dough over it like an empanada. Baking this at 350F for 15 to 20 minutes works well. I imagine with other fruits this can be an interesting change to the apple.
    On the quick baked goods side, I have also baked fruits by themselves. I like the taste. There is a comfort in eating warm fruit which has been lightly sugared. The family may want more, so I do make a crumble to top this mixture. Sugar, flour, and butter mixed to a sandy consistency, and then crumble this over the fruit to bake. Again, this bakes for the same amount of time as the others. What is nice for me, is that these fruits can bake while we are eating. We talk at the dinner table, so meals last for a bit. Then after the dishes have been cleared, we can have the dessert a bit later. I think that this is a nice way to eat.
    Maybe I should plan on baking cakes again. I used to be known for it. Like my grandmother, I would pick one day to make a treats for those around me. I think that it made me more popular at work. The task is not so hard; I have to decide upon the time.

Greetings

This site came out of my desire to write about my love of gardening, but also to connect it to my knowledge derived from home inspections. That is why I tied it to the home inspection site.If you have questions, you can email them to me (frank at yourhoustonhomeinspector.com). For home inspections, call 713.781.6090.
Happy gardening, Frank

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