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Archive for September, 2008

My favorite snack that I used to buy pre-made that I now make myself has to be hummus. Hummus is so yummy and flexible yet EASY to make that I can’t figure out why I ever bought it in the first place. I make regular garlic hummus, black bean hummus and tonight I made roasted red pepper hummus for the first time.

I never measure when I make hummus. It usually goes like this:

Toss a rinsed can of chickpeas into the food processor. (Ok, not the can. Just the beans.)

Add roughly 1/3 cup of tahini (more on this later) and a drizzle of toasted sesame oil.

Throw in as many garlic cloves as I’m in the mood for. (Usually four. Five or six if I’m really feeling frisky.)

Squeeze in some fresh lemon juice (jarred in a pinch), about one lemon’s worth.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Turn on the processor and let it rip. Taste. Add lemon juice/salt/water/etc until I get the taste and consistency I want. I kind of like mine light and fluffy.

Tonight when I made it with roasted red pepper, I did everything the same except add about half a cup of roasted red peppers (from a jar, I didn’t do it myself but I will soon) and probably used a little less tahini. It turned out orange, which I think would make it cool at a Halloween party or something. When I made black bean hummus….and this is huge….I used black beans instead of chickpeas. It was purple and kind of cool looking. Tasty, too. (Hey, a side by side dish with orange hummus on one side and deep purple on the other…totally sounds like Halloween party snack to me…)

Since hummus takes all of fifteen minutes to make I always make my own and think that everyone else should too! It might take a few tries to get it right but it’s well worth the effort. You can put it on crackers, bread or serve with vegetable sticks (carrot, celery, red pepper, use your imagination). You can use it as a spread on sandwiches. Take it to a club meeting and impress your friends and neighbors. Don’t be afraid to explore!

Now, I said I would go back to tahini. You can buy it pre-made and it’s pretty good. It’s also very handy. But if you can’t find tahini at your grocery store you can make it yourself:

Get yourself a jar of sesame seeds. Toast the seeds lightly in a frying pan. Dump the whole thing into the food processor and let it rip until you’ve got a paste. Ta-dah! Tahini. I’ve done it and it’s a breeze.

I’m gearing up for my next big project but I don’t know what it’s going to be. I’m looking at a lot of different things like canning my own jam, making sushi, pizza and pasta. Decisions, decisions.

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For labor day, I decided to…uh…labor…over an old-fashioned fish fry. On the menu: fried catfish, tater tots and coleslaw. And beer. I didn’t make the beer. Or the tots. Sue me.

First, the slaw. I used to hate cole slaw, but I recently decided I’d give it another shot and have come to appreciate its crunchy goodness. For my slaw, I made “Mom’s Cole Slaw” which I found on Allrecipes.com. I love allrecipes. I used Napa cabbage for the base. It was a bit of a pain to grate, and quite messy. But that’s all part of the fun, right? Next time I will shred it rather than grate it. It turned out a bit on the soggy side (even though I did let it drain for a few hours after grating) and I think shredding it will help prevent that. It was, however, extremely tasty and I recommend it.

For the tots, I opened a bag of frozen 365 brand tater bites and deep fat fried them according to the package directions. I’ll endeavor to make my own french fries another day.

Finally, the catfish. I used the fish portion of Alton Brown’s recipe for Chips n’ Fish (he’s my hero, after all). This is where Kung Faux Pas #1 comes in. This recipe is a batter fry. Do not lay batter-laden fish strips in the fry basket and lower them into the oil. I ended up retrieving a basket with fish completely adhered to the bottom and sides of the basket like that’s the way God wanted it to be.

Fish Fry Station

Being the crafty girl I am, I decided to ditch the basket and just fry it straight in the fryer. Kung Faux Pas #2. This probably voided my factory warranty (it does specifically say not to do what I did). It ended up working, however every now and then a fish would get stuck on heating element at the bottom of the vat (probably why they say not do it) and I’d have to knock it off with my tongs. This is likely not good for the fryer and is something I don’t recommend.

That said, the fish ultimately turned out golden brown and delicious. We enjoyed our fish fry with a nice cool one (as evidenced in the fry station photo) and basked in the fruits of our labor.

Fish Fry Plate

Fish Fry Plate

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My first forray into the old ways went waaay back to the beginning. Bread. It’s basic, it’s humble and it’s tasty. People have been making bread forever. But making bread is pretty intimidating, especially to those of us who can’t spend all day in the kitchen watching dough rise. But there are some good reasons why you should make your own.

1: Wonder Bread. The name says it all. What the heck IS it? Have you ever read the ingredients on a package? It’s scary. And if you’ve ever seen it mold you’re probably the same person who leaves a twinkie out to see if it will ever go bad.

2. “Fresh” Bakery Bread: Who made it? Did they wash their hands after they went to the bathroom? Did they use eight different preservatives? Did they use organic ingredients?

3. Restaurant bread: Ever notice how much better bread tastes when you get it at a nice restaurant? If the bakery’s bread is fresh how come it never tastes like THAT? Wouldn’t you rather have the restaurant-yummy bread?

4. It’s fun to make your own, and it really impresses people!

So my first stop was an email to my mom begging for her bread recipe. I remember eating tons of the stuff when I was kid – there was nothing better than mom’s fresh hot bread with butter. Mmmmm. She sent me the recipe, and here’s how it went:

This is a basic white bread that uses a starter. What the heck is a starter? Well, it’s a mass of yeast, bread and flour that grows on its own and you use a bit of it each time you make bread. You don’t throw it out (unless it goes bad, of course) and you feed it whenever you use it (or once a week if you make bread less than once a week).

Starter recipe:

3 cups of bread flour

1 pkg yeast or 1 tablespoon yeast

2 cups warm water

Mix all ingredients in a glass or plastic bowl, blend well and let it sit at room temperature for at least 24 hours. Now, don’t do what I did and put it in a bowl about the size of the sum of ingredients. No, this puppy is going to grow. Before I knew it my starter had doubled in size and was coming out over the sides of bowl, growing and expanding like frankenstarter. I was afraid I was going to have to move it into the bathtub if it got any bigger. (Ok, it wasn’t that big but you get the picture.) All that to say, put it in a big bowl and cover it with a piece of plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray. (Not a towel, unless you’re looking to have to throw it away – this is sticky stuff.) Also, don’t worry about that sour smell coming from the starter – it’s supposed to smell that way. Horray for yeast!

A note on yeast: I went to the store and panicked because they had two kinds – active dry yeast and quick-rising yeast. Mom didn’t specify. I used the quick-rising and it worked just fine. I now have some regular active dry and will post a note if it made any difference.

So once you’ve got your starter going and it’s all huge and happy, you can make your bread. (Don’t forget – the starter must be left alone for at least 24 hours, so plan in advance.)

To make the bread:

1 1/2 cups of your starter

2 cups bread flour

2 tablespoons (2 packets) yeast

1 tablespoon salt

1 big tablespoon honey

1 cup warm water

Combine all ingredients in your mixer (gotta love Kitchen Aide) and use the dough hook attachment. Beat until mixed well and then slowly add another cup flour. Don’t add it too fast or you’ll be making paste in your hair trying to rinse it out. Mix everything until the dough holds together and climbs up the hook. Now put it out on a floured board and slowly add more flour – Mom’s recipe called for another cup of flour but I could only get mine to take about a half cup and it turned out just fine. Knead your dough for 6 to 8 minutes until it feels spongy and not sticky. Cover it with plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray and let it rise for one hour.

After the dough has risen, punch it down like you mean it and divide in half. Roll each half into loaf shape (I did one traditional style loaf and one round loaf in a pie pan). Put both dough balls into sprayed glass bread pans, brush tops with melted butter and let rise about an hour. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

When it’s done cooking it will be brown on top and will feel hard. Don’t worry, it will soften up. Take the bread out of the pans so the sides don’t get soggy and let them cool. Cut a piece of the warm bread and enjoy right away, then wrap up the bread in plastic wrap. I plan on getting some bags to use for this because the plastic wrap can be a pain to open and close when you want to cut some of the bread.

I think this stuff is fantastic toasted with a little butter and honey.

My first bread!

My first bread!

 

 

 

Now, don’t forget about your starter. You used some of it so to the rest of the starter add 2 cups bred flour and 1 cup warm water – mix and refergerate. Whenever you use it, replace what you use. If you aren’t using it, you must feed it two cups of flour and one cup of warm water each week, otherwise the yeast will starve and you’ll have dead starter, you murderer.

I’ve done this twice now and the bread turned out well both times. The thing I discovered is that it really doesn’t take all that much time. The only labor intensive part is combining and kneading, which didn’t take me much more than half an hour including clean up time. Plus I found that I really enjoyed the kneading process. It gives you time to think, if you’re frustrated you can take it out on the dough. If you’re tired it can invigorate you. It’s got to burn some calories, too, as a little bonus.

When it’s all said and done, you have your own delicious homemade bread and quite a sense of accomplishment. Try buying that at the supermarket.

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For a long time I’ve been dissatisfied with the frantic pace of American life. We have more technology than ever and less time than ever. The more gadgets we have to save time the less time we have. We make ourselves as busy as possible, then wonder why we never have time for the things that make us truly happy. I was right there with everyone else, working and schooling and doing everything I could squeeze out five minutes for.

I was raised on a farm and my mom did a lot of things the old-fashioned way. She also did it while raising nine kids. While much of it was out of necessity (saving money) there’s also a sense of satisfaction that my parents seemed to have by doing things themselves. Of course, I grew up and forgot about all that stuff, launched myself into the world and got caught up in everything that was there.

And that’s ok. Many people thrive on the ever-working life on the anthill. And I say do what makes you happy.

But I was dissatisfied. I had most everything I really wanted, but I was tired all the time. I needed to step back and take a breather from the pace of life. So I decided to go back to my roots – the old ways – and see if I could get a piece of that satisfaction that was felt on the farm. For me, these roots are in the kitchen. Making real food, good food, and doing it from scratch. This blog will be my personal record of this journey. If people read it and like it and it helps them, then that makes me happy. If no one reads it or gives a hoot, I don’t care!

So why kung fu? Well, part of it is the whole “old ways” thing, and kung fu is about the most ancient practice I can think of. Plus I do kung fu and tai chi and love it so whenever I tackle something it’s all about having kung fu in whatever that is – hard work and dedication, discipline, making yourself a better person – so therefore, this blog is about my kitchen kung fu.

I work full time and go to school two nights a week. I have a wonderful husband and three puffy cats and a great house, all of which makes me very happy and extremely grateful. But happiness is a lot like love – some is good, more is better! So come with me into the kitchen and let’s see if we can stir up some happiness, peace and satisfaction the old fashioned way.

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