Friday, April 30, 2010

Dog in the pea patch!

I bought a house 2 years ago, after finding I was lacking two things that a condo couldn’t offer me: a garden and a dog. I am happy to say that I now have both. I can no longer remember life without Dollie, my sweet, floppy-eared, 9 year old basset hound. She has an amazing talent for commanding a room, well developed from her previous life in a rescue home with 10 other dogs vying for the treat when the house mother came home every night. Now, Dollie can put on a major show when I get home, full of glitz and fanfare (aka howling and much jumping around). There would probably be rockets, too, if she had the resources (and the opposable thumbs). Needless to say, she’s a great joy in my life.

As for my other reason for buying a house, I had always wanted a garden but felt that I had less than a green thumb. However, during the start of my first spring a friend suggested that I try to grow peas, which were an easy plant to start out with. To be honest, I was quite surprised when I opened my first pack of pea seeds only to find, well, peas! With pack in hand, I sat down and seriously studied the directions, and then set to work planting my first seeds. I waited several weeks (you plant seeds in February, when the ground is still cold), but finally little sprouts came up, and I had several weeks of the sweetest bounty of peas I ever tasted! That was last year, and now I’m well into this year’s pea season. I might even grow another vegetable when it gets warmer, like tomatoes or onions. I’ve also become a believer that absolutely ANYONE can grow a vegetable. The only pest I have had to worry about so far has big floppy ears and thinks my garden is her own personal sandbox. Thank goodness, the peas seem relatively hardy, and also that she hasn't tried to eat them yet, which is surprising since she'll eat anything from raw sweet potatoes to tea bags.

So, what are you planning for your garden this year? Have you planted anything yet?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Eggs: poached with crackers

Eggs are one food that is particularly comforting and nourishing to me. For years I’ve eaten 2 each morning for breakfast. Yes, that is a dozen eggs a week and my cholesterol is no worse for it. An egg is a completely whole food, in and unto itself. Eggs are also an excellent, sticks-with-you-for-awhile source of protein, but they are also one of my primary comfort foods. My grandmother made poached eggs served over crushed crackers for my mom and her sisters. She used the crushed saltines to make the breakfast go further in her big household, but my mother loved the dish and fixed it for me growing up. Since then, I still sometimes let (truth: beg) my mom to make it for me and she will kindly break out the saltines (now the whole grain variety).

My mom makes the perfect poached eggs! It is possible that I am biased, but, so what? I’m a bit of a perfectionist about them now because of it and am afraid to order them at a restaurant because they’ve always turned under or overcooked. Here is my mother’s recipe for poached eggs. The secret is the timing and the vinegar, which makes the whites firm and keeps them from spreading all over the pan.

Bring to a boil 2 inches lightly salted water in a small skillet or sauce pan. Add a splash of vinegar. Once boiling, carefully crack each egg and drop it into the water, setting them apart in the pan so they don’t touch. Set the timer for 2 minutes 20 seconds. If water is going to boil over, slightly turn down the heat. When buzzer goes off, carefully remove each with a slotted spoon. Option: service with a small amount of butter and 6 saltines.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

That's good sauce!

Even though Richland, the Southeastern Washington town where I grew up, was first established in the early 40’s, it wasn’t all that small by the time I came in to the picture, about 30 years later. We had two high schools and a few restaurants designated as “hang outs”, such as the Spud Nut Shop (amazing donuts made from potato flour), Zips (burger joint) and Tastee Freeze (ice cream stand).

The restaurants in Richland didn’t have a lot of diversity. That was one thing I found very exciting when I moved to Seattle, as an adult, and got to experience the tastes of India, Thailand, Vietnam, Puerto Rico and Russia. Richland had one “Oriental” restaurant and a ton of Mexican restaurants. That region of the state has a huge Latino population, for various reasons, but mostly because their parents and grandparents moved here as migrant farm workers and then settled in to raise their families. Most of the established Mexican restaurants originally opened to serve that section of the community, but we lucked out that a place so far north of the border had such good, authentic Mexican restaurants and food.

My family loved Mexican food so much that my mother often made it for us at home. She had a great recipe for salsa. I can remember the three of us sitting in the living room, each with our own bowl, sitting around a bag of chips, and calling it dinner. The simple flavors of salt, chiles, tomatoes and onions would awaken the taste buds served on a crispy bite of tortilla chip. It was so good, my mom will now admit to occasionally adding just a little too much Tabasco, just so my dad and I wouldn’t eat it!

When I asked her for the recipe, I surprised to see that not all the ingredients were fresh, including a big can of diced tomatoes and a can of green chile salsa. So, I searched for fresh equivalent of the ingredients in the can, which was Ortega brand green chili salsa. Sadly, Ortega no longer makes that food anymore. So, I went to the grocery store and perused the Mexican foods aisle and found a small can of Herdez (made in Mexico) brand salsa verde. It only had 5 ingredients and no preservatives. When I used that in her salsa recipe, it tasted a lot like the original.

I found a recipe online that most closely resembles the ingredients in the canned salsa, at Big Oven. I changed it slightly, cutting out the garlic and halving the recipe to end up with just about the right amount needed for Mom’s salsa recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Mom’s salsa - revised

• 1.5 c Water
• 1 ¼ tsp Salt
• 2 Fresh serrano chile peppers
• ½ lb Tomatillos; husks removed
• 1/4 c Fresh cilantro; (fresh
• 2 tbsp Onion; finely chopped
• 1 lb. and 12 oz Diced tomatoes, drained
• 7 oz. can Green chiles (mild to med.)
• 6 Green onions, sliced thin (include greens)
• 1 Lime, sliced into wedges (optional)

In a saucepan over high heat, combine the water and half the salt and bring to a boil. Add the garlic, chiles and tomatillos and cook, uncovered, until soft, 8-10 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the liquid. When cool enough to handle, stem the chiles and tomatillos. In a blender or in a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the chiles, tomatillos, reserved liquid, cilantro and remaining salt. Process to form a smooth puree. Transfer to a bowl. Stir in the chopped onion. Let the salsa cool to room temperature (End Big Oven recipe). Then add diced tomatoes, green chiles and green onions. Mix and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Serve chilled with optional lime wedges (my additions).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sweet memories

I’m going to start with a quick story to explain the title of this blog. The phrase “five pound candy,” when said among my maternal family members will instantly produce squeals and smiles everywhere you look. This phrase evokes such strong memories about the person and personality of my grandmother. Her recipe for this delectable dish is so intensely sweet it will make your teeth rot right out of your head.

As I mentioned above, this recipe was created by my sweet, dearly departed grandmother Lillian (who we all called Grandma Garrison). By the time I came into the picture, my grandmother was well into her years and well known for her sweets. Some of my all time favorites were raisin fills (cookies with a little pocket in the center containing raisins and spices), popcorn balls, and butterscotch bars.

My grandparents raised their family in the high desert of Southeast Washington. When their family was grown, my grandparents moved back to their home state, which was West Virginia. Three out of four daughters, including my mother, remained in Washington and raised their families. So, over the years, Christmas packages were often exchanged via the postal service. One year, my grandmother sent us her usual Christmas package. And as was her signature, the presents were packed tightly into the box by a special packing material. Instead of using Styrofoam peanuts or wadded newspaper, Grandma packed our presents with popcorn balls! We were thrilled! Also in the box, that year, was another present. Grandma had crocheted a slip that looked like a Christmas candle and had slipped it around a Pringles can. Mom appreciated the creativity of the Pringles candle and then set it on our fireplace mantle. We quickly forgot about it while the rest of the presents were opened. Much later in the day, my mother was on the phone with one of her sisters and was relaying the highlights of our Christmas morning, when she was asked how we liked the way grandma had “wrapped” our five pound candy. What? Where was it? Hidden in the Pringles can! I could just imagine my Grandma Garrison smiling her flawless false-toothed grin through the phone line as we told her we had almost missed our special treat.

Five pound candy is a cross between penuche fudge and caramel. It is a very simple recipe that can be very tricky and often doesn’t turn out as it should. Don’t worry too much about messing this one up. The recipe is tricky. But even when it failed for Grandma, she formed it into a log and rolled it in salted pecans or walnuts for a different treat. Before you try to make this recipe, I will give the warning that this may be dangerous to your healthful eating resolve. If you DO try this recipe, please let me know how it turns out.

Five Pound Candy
Written as Grandma wrote it.

6 cups white sugar
½ pound creamery butter (no oleo)
1 large can evaporated milk (12 oz)
1 small can evaporated milk (5 oz)
1 bottle red label Karo syrup (2 cups)
1 pound chopped nuts (optional)

Cook the first 5 ingredients together until it forms a firm ball in cold water (approximately 230 degrees with a cooking thermometer), stirring every 10 minutes or so. When it starts to boil, don’t stir. Remove from heat and beat until thick. Add nuts. Pour into greased pans. When cool, cut and serve.