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Christmas Dinner

lights_of_the_season_candle_tree_christmas_2560x1440_hd-wallpaper-1640370This year, family is coming to my home for Christmas.
We will spend Christmas Eve decorating, baking and having a bunch in for dinner that evening.
Then, on Christmas Day, it will just be my sisters, their spouses and me.
Our menu:
Roast duck –  Stuffed with fresh lemon, onion and garlic
Twice baked potatoes – filling:  sour cream and chives
Pear/walnut salad – A mix of greens with fresh pears, dried cranberries, walnuts, feta cheese and a vinaigrette
Peas – Fixed very simply
Rolls, olives…
For dessert, an old family recipe called snow pudding:
A light dessert made with gelatin, either lemon or lime, egg whites and sugar, topped with custard sauce and raspberries.

Our wine: Pinot Noir.  That is one of the reasons for having peas:  Somehow, these little green veggies increase the affinity between the duck and wine.

We get a white Christmas this year; in fact, we have to keep an eye on the weather and roads.  It is not at all uncommon for the freeway to be closed.

I have an idea for a sign I might post somewhere:
“Welcome!
Presents are lovely, but your presence is treasured”

DIFFERENT KINDS OF SLAW

Broccoli Slaw Salad cabbage-kohlrabi-19654887

It’s very cold here today, so my main meal was gravy made with ground elk over mashed potatoes.
To go with it, I made one of my different kinds of slaw.

Typically, it’s cole slaw, which is shredded cabbage with a mayonnaise dressing in its most basic form.  People add various things to that:  Carrot, green pepper, celery, pineapple, onion…  I add any of these, plus dried cranberries.

So here’s to messing with basic salad!

I grew plenty of kohlrabi this summer.  It has a wonderful flavor and texture.  When shredded, it makes fabulous slaw.
Then, there’s kale slaw or the one I made today:  Brussels sprout slaw – shred or finely chop the little dickens into tiny pieces.
Broccoli slaw has gained some popularity.  Most of the time, people shred it, stem and all…okay, after peeling it.
Or super slaw:  Kale, cabbage, kohlrabi, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.  Shred them, add the vegetables (and fruits) you prefer, make the dressing and enjoy.
One distinction of slaw is that it is made with cruciferous vegetables, meaning that lettuce, spinach and most other green leafies don’t qualify.

As for the dressing:
Typical cole slaw dressing is mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar.  There are some variations, such as lemon juice, Cajun seasonings, mustard  or plain yogurt in place of some of the mayonnaise.

I like to make mine by warming olive oil to the point that I can melt honey into it – not too hot – I can still put my finger into it.
Then, a sprinkle of salt and balsamic vinegar.
I don’t like to drown my salad because I want to taste all of the goodies, so tend to dress mine a bit lightly.
There it is, slaw however you prefer it!

A HOT BATH

In the part of the world where I live, winter has more than arrived:  It’s cold and windy.  Part of the time, we have snow and ice; other times, it’s barely above freezing and rainy.  Bottom line:  Tis the season for nice, hot baths.  I can’t think of a better way to get warm.

 

I have some favorite additives for the bathtub:
*Either coconut or olive oil.  You can find more than a few articles on the benefits of each one.  Some sources prefer coconut oil, saying that it detoxifies, moisturizes and works as an anti inflammatory; others will promote olive oil for many of the same reasons.  I like either one, mostly because they moisturize.
*A favorite recipe of mine is:   1 cup epsom salts, 1 cup wine, 2 tablespoons olive oil.  I find this very soothing.
*Oatmeal, usually prepared as an additive for baths.  I have read that you can take regular oatmeal, put it in a sock or infuser and put it in your bath water so that you don’t have a mushy mess.  I haven’t tried this approach.  Oatmeal does seem to soothe dry, itchy skin.
*A few drops of scented oil.  I really enjoy jasmin or bergamot.  One I am planning to try is cinnamon-cassia.
There is one I would like to try:
*Two cups of instant dry milk mixed in bath water.  This is supposed to be very good for skin.
I could see adding some oil and fragrance for a wonderful experience.

 

I have also heard of putting 1 cup of honey into a bath:  I’m not so sure I want to try this – Too sticky.

 

Other additives include lemon juice, baking soda or commercially prepared bath salts.

 

It does turn out that hot baths are good for more than just warming up on a cold day.

 

One of the first medicinal uses I ever learned was for help in relieving a migraine.  It works like this:
Get an ice pack for your neck.  If you have one of those really killer ones, get one for your forehead as well.
Draw a bath that is as hot as you can comfortably stand – no burning yourself, right?
Lean back in the tub so that your lower body, hands and forearms are submerged.  Rest there for up to 20 minutes.  I found that I could only tolerate about 10, so my suggestion is stay a tolerable length of time, up to 20 minutes.  Then, go directly to bed.  Because I always found that light, motion and noise seem to aggrivate a migraine, I kept the lights off and the house as quiet as possible.

 

Another benefit of a hot bath is some relief from emotional distress, including anxiety and depression.  I have heard some news reports on this one.  I do find that it helps.  A couple of sources that I have found suggest 2 cups of epsom salts to help with stress reduction – it’s the magnesium of course.  I have tried that, but am not convinced that doing so made much of a difference.

 

Pain reduction is a third therapeutic use for a hot bath.  I have known people who tried this when they had some inflammation going and were not happy with the results; however, if it’s muscle tensions or things like a pulled something or other, a bath can deliver tremendous relief.  I have found that a soak in hot water is wonderful when I am generally achy.

 

Some other benefits I have encountered include:
*Lowering blood pressure
*helping to prepare for sleep (this requires a warm bath instead of a hot one.)
*Part of curing a cold and other viruses

 

Two cautions:
Some information states that pregnant women and people with heart problems should not take hot baths.  If you fit one of these groups, talk to your health care provider first.

 

A strong suggestion is to drink a glass of water before and after a hot bath:  We perspire; therefore, we lose some fluids.

 

Obviously, some people will not like a bathtub because of size, physical ability or personal preference.  I say, find nice gels and such; then make a hot shower your treat.

 
Enjoy; stay warm and happy.

CHRISTMAS COOKIES

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What is your favorite Christmas cookie?
Maybe yours isn’t a cookie, but fudge or cheese ball…
Or some kind of bread.
For that matter, what is your favorite holiday food?
Why?
The thing that makes any of these delicacies special is the memory and feeling associated with them.
It’s so pleasant to remember when Mom used to make that pudding or mincemeat pie.

One of my favorite cookies that I only allow at Christmas is known by several names, including- Mexican Wedding Cakes or Nut Puffs.  I used to have a friend who called them, “death balls” because, “They’re death to any diet.”

They are on my list of things I like too well to make, because it’s so hard to leave them alone.  As cookies go, they’re simple:

1 cup butter
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups sifted flour
1/4 teaspoon salt (If you bake properly and use unsalted butter)
More powdered sugar

You know the drill right:  Cream the butter and sugar together, ad the vanilla and cream a bit more; sift the flour and salt; then mix them into the butter mixture.  Add a little more flour if the dough is too sticky; refrigerate for 1/2 hour if it’s too soft.  Drop in teaspoon-sized balls on a cookie sheet and bake at 375-400 for about 8-10 minutes.

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While warm, roll in powdered sugar; allow to cool.  (At least to the point that you can pick them up without burning your fingers!)

Then, get a large glass of milk or a cup of something hot.
Sit down and enjoy.

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Hmmm, pretty much butter, flour and sugar; yet soooo yummy!

Are you baking this holiday season???

HOW TO ROAST PUMPKIN SEEDS

As promised, here are instructions for roasting pumpkin seeds…or winter squash seeds; the same things apply.

I know of three ways to fix these healthy gems:

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Simply roasted, shell and all:
1.  Scoop them out of the pumpkin or squash, pulp and all.
2.  Separate the pulp and throw it away.
3.  Rinse the seeds; then spread them on a lightly oiled cookie sheet to dry (about 1-2 hours)  That means you have time to go do something else.
4.  Put them into the oven.  Now, this part is simple enough; yet tricky:  I usually roast seeds on a low heat, probably around 200F.  Recipes I have seen say to roast at 350F.  The reason I don’t do that is, it seems that seeds scorch easily.
5.  Stir them occasionally to keep them from burning.
6.  When they’re a nice, toasty brown, take them out and let them cool a bit.
7.  While they are warm, toss them with a little olive oil (or any other type that you like.)
8.  Now for the fun:
You can simply sprinkle a little salt on them OR…
you can toss them in taco seasoning, ranch dressing mix, seasoning packets of all sorts…you get the idea:  Choose a flavor that you enjoy.

9.  Once they have had a chance to finish cooling and absorbing all that yummy flavor, eat them.
WARNING:  This method does mean that you might be spitting out bits of shell.  It’s not all that bad.

Boiled in salt water:
1.  Follow all of the steps in the first method, up to rinsing the seeds.
2.  Put them in a pan, cover them with water and add enough salt for them to absorb.  I have seen some recipes that call for 2 cups of water and 1/2 cup of salt.  That’s too much for me, so I put about 1 Tbsp of salt to 2 cups of water.
3.  Boil them for 1/2 hour.
4.  Drain them and lay them out on a tray or cookie sheet to dry.

5.  You can stop right there if you want:  They’ll taste good.
OR
6.  You got it:  Toss them with a little oil and your favorite seasonings.  Let them sit a while; then enjoy.

sewingseeds

Just the kernels:
Okay, for this method, you will need a few things – a small pair of scissors, something to put the shells in, a loooooong, good movie to help with the tedium of this task;.
1.  Do the basics – scoop, separate, rinse.
2.  Start the movie.
3.  Cut the shells on the side, just enough that you can pull them apart and get the kernel.  Sometimes, boiling the seeds for about fifteen minutes; then letting them cool makes this easier.  Don’t cook them too long; the kernels will get soft.
4.  Save all those delicate little gems in a bowl.
5.  Toss them with a bit of oil; then roast them at 200 for about 5 minutes.  Careful:  They scorch very easily.
6.  Let them cool slightly; then flavor them.
The real benefit of this:  You don’t have to try eating those tough shells!

Have fun!!!

 

HOW TO PROCESS PUMPKIN

In my experience, most people know how to “process” a pumpkin by cutting a lid in the top, scooping out the insides, carving it and setting it on their  porches with some sort of light in it….but wait!

There is another, better way to process this wonderful cultivar of the squash plant:
First, there are many kinds of pumpkins.  I grow sugar babies, which are small in size with fine-grained, sweet fruit.

Baby-Pam-Sugar-Pie-Pumpkin

If you buy one at your local market or produce stand, look for one that isn’t too big.  In this case, smaller is better.

To tell if a pumpkin is ripe, check three things:
1.  The shell is hard.  Winter squashes, which includes pumpkin, harden on the outside as they ripen.
2.  Note the color.  A ripe pumpkin should be deep yellow or orange with no green on it.
3.  The stem should be dry and break off easily.  Okay, vendors might not like you breaking stems off, so save that one until you are sure you want to buy a particular pumpkin.

If you don’t like the looks of any of the pumpkins and you still want a really fresh pie or goody, go for the acorn squash:  It’s a fabulous substitute, which can be cooked in the same way.

Now that you are home with your acquisition, wash the outside thoroughly.
Then, cut the pumpkin in half.  Be careful:  They’re tough little buggers; don’t cut yourself.
Scoop out the seeds and the stringy stuff in the middle.  If you want, save the seeds.  They can be roasted for a healthy snack.

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Now you are ready to cook your pumpkin.  There are three good ways to do this.  My favorite is to turn them upside down in the crockpot.  Cook the halves on high for 2-3 hours, or until they are tender.
If you prefer, you can cut the pumpkin into fourths, put a little water in the bottom of a large stockpot and boil them until they’re tender.  This takes less time.
OR
You can put them upside down on a cookie sheet and bake them at 350 for about an hour.  I’ve done this and it works well.
Okay, there’s one more way, but I don’t like it:  Cook them in the microwave.
Regardless of how you cook your pumpkin, let it cool thoroughly.

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Next, peel it and put the pumpkin in a blender.  You might need to add about 1/2 cup water to get a nice consistency.
Blend until the pumpkin is completely pureed and smooth.

Now you can either make your favorite recipe or freeze the pumpkin.  I measure 2 cups into a freezer bag, flatten it as I seal, so that I can stack the bags; then into the freezer it goes.

When you thaw pumpkin, set it in the refrigerator.  I find that it separates and gets a real weird texture if thawed too quickly.

There you have it.

Next time, I’ll tell you how to roast the seeds.  Meanwhile, clean all the stringy stuff off, rinse them and lay them out on a paper towel or plastic lid to dry.  Once all of the moisture is off the outside, put them in a container or bag in the fridge.