Cookbooks I Love….

This past week has been way too busy at work.  And I’ve come home feeling tired and uninspired.  But I’m taking vacation this week, and hope to recharge my batteries. Or just decide that they no longer hold any charge and it’s time to get new ones.

With worries about Memorial Day crowds, we decided to hold off leaving town until Monday, the end of the weekend.   But after spending Saturday taking care of yard and housework, the itch to hit the road hit and we started packing to leave a day early.  Sunday morning we finished our packing and loading up the bikes, and headed off for a week exploring Washington state’s North Cascades and San Juan Islands.

Our destination the first night was Darrington, Washington.  Dave had a temporary job with the forest service here long ago, before he met me, and he’s longed to return and see what it looks like now.  I’d checked the maps, and saw that a hike Erin had highly recommended was on the way, so we stopped at Lake 22. While the weather was drizzly, the scenery was still spectacular and we enjoyed exploring the area. After a climb that included some talus slopes that I found challenging, we reached the lake. Ah, beauty! I loved all the waterfalls spilling down the rock cliffs into the snow remaining on the sides of the mountain.

We got up this morning to more rain but decided not to let it “dampen our spirits”. We chose an easy hike for our day’s destination and headed to nearby Big Four Ice Caves. It’s too early to see the ice caves, but what we did find was amazing. It was raining pretty steadily, which probably only intensified all the waterfalls on the rock face.

While we returned to the car pretty drenched, I was in high spirits. Such beautiful surroundings! When it came time for dinner, we searched for local restaurants. Last night we’d succombed to frozen dinners from the mini-mart cooked in the motel microwave as the only restaurant in town was already closed when we pulled into town at 6:30 pm. Wow, they roll up the sidewalks early in this place! But we did check out the “bakery cafe pizza place” for dinner tonight, and I enjoyed the simple meal. The pizza crust was like I would like to make – if only I had a really hot oven.

But it got me to thinking about where the recipes I use come from. TOG (Thanks, Uncle Dick for continued inspiration that you probably never realized you provided) passed along once something along the line that if there was even one good recipe that you liked and made from a cookbook, it was worth having that cookbook. That thought has helped me over the years, as I have gotten multiple cookbooks. I always love initially having a new cookbook, and sitting with it reading through recipes, thinking about which ones I’d like to try. And realizing that I usually never get around to trying most of them. But I always reach to certain cookbooks when it’s time to make certain recipes. For example, a Williams-Sonoma cookbook inspired me to try adding brocolli to macaroni and cheese, something that had never occurred to me, and now that’s how I always make it. I have a Quilter’s Cookbook that I draw my chocolate chip cookies from. It goes on and on. I think that’s good fodder for future blogs – feature a favorite cookbook and what it has led me to cook. But since I’m on vacation, that will have to wait until I return home.

But it reminds me of an article I read recently wondering about the future of cookbooks now that you can go on the internet and find whatever recipe you want. Here’s what the author said:

“I hardly miss the recipes in my books. Strangely enough, I miss more peripheral things. Books are almost pitifully ill equipped for combat duty in the kitchen. Their dust jackets rip, their pages stain and their bindings break. Now that they might be going away forever, all these little frailties make me love them.

You bounce around in these books, browsing the index for, let’s say, roasted asparagus. Along the way the author says you should always, always peel asparagus. (Or maybe she says this is the one thing you must never do to asparagus.) Commandments are delivered from the mountaintop. Sisterly advice is dispensed. Outrageous suggestions are casually dropped. And before you know it, you’ve absorbed a whole sensibility, an approach to cooking that comes from a particular cook in a particular time and place.

There’s never been anything like the Internet for helping us find what we want. But when it comes to finding what we didn’t know we wanted, print is magic.”

I think I agree.


Baking Becky’s Bread

Well, really this should be called “Sue is baking Becky’s favorite bread”, but I liked all the B’s together.  So it’s Baking Becky’s Bread.  The Three B’s.

OK.  The refrigerator smells better, although there is still some lingering weird smell.  Thanks, Brad, for suggesting I check to see if there is a dead mouse under it.  Good idea, but I think that the whole kitchen and house would have smelled bad if that were the case.  In years past, with cats who loved bringing in wounded but still live mice to play with, that would have been a pretty real possibility.  But I haven’t seen many mice around lately.

Back to bread.  My sister Becky has shared that her current favorite bread to bake is King Arthur Flour’s ciabatta.  I made it last weekend, and tried it again this weekend. I think it turned out well, even if I didn’t exactly time our time home and away from home the way I should have. I ended up sticking the dough in the refrigerator half way through it’s first rise as we headed out for a hike, and removed it to continue it’s rise when we got back home. Here’s how the bread looked when it was all done baking. Looked good; tasted even better!

So, it turned out well, but I did have one part that gave me trouble. This is the part of the recipe that I thought I read carefully:

4) Lightly grease your work surface, and a half-sheet baking pan (18″ x 13″) or similar large baking sheet. Grease your hands, as well.

5) Very gently turn the dough out of the bowl onto your work surface; you don’t want to deflate it. It’ll lose a bit of volume, but don’t actively punch it down.

6) Using a bowl scraper, bench knife, or your fingers, divide the dough in half. You should have two fat logs, each about 10″ long x 4″ wide.

I read this and heavily greased the work surface, baking sheet and my hands. Then I grabbed my sharp knife, not noticing the part about a “bench knife.” Isn’t a knife a knife? I mostly was thinking you needed a sharp knife. Well, as my heavily greased hands grabbed the sharp knife, perhaps you can see the problem. Greased hands just can’t hold a knife. So it slipped. At least I didn’t cut any skin or clothing or even the countertop. But it did get my attention.

Next time I’ll use my hands to divide the dough in half!   More mishaps in the kitchen.  Join me at your own risk!

Ewww! What’s that smell?

The last week or so I’ve been met by a very unpleasant smell when I opened the refrigerator. And it’s not just my imagination, as Dave has made the same comment.  Question: “What smells so bad?”  Answer: “not really sure….”

The usual culprit is some food that is in a state of liquifying.  So I went through the refrigerator looking for a prime suspect.  I found a few mildly suspicious items that I discarded, but nothing really smelly.  Then I thought maybe something (like fish) had dripped some and the liquid was pooling under the produce bins.  A quick look didn’t show anything either.  But the refrigerator still didn’t smell good every time it was opened.

So I completely emptied out everything.  Even all the condiments on the door shelves!  And washed all shelves and drawers in a detergent/ bleach solution.  Also used the same kind of solution to wash all the interior walls.  And even dipped food containers into a weak bleach solution.   Maybe it’s the darned extra smelly fish sauce?  There!  That should take care of things.

Feeling very virtuous, I put everything back together.  And some hours later opened the refrigerator door to meet the same smell.  Still “eww”.  So I then did the same steps for the freezer.  Still smells funny.

I took out the manual for the refrigerator to see what it recommended.  It said to remove everything and stuff the refrigerator with crumpled up black and white newspapers and put charcoal briquets on top of the papers and close it up and let it sit like that for awhile.  But it didn’t suggest what I should be doing with all the chilled food that would be left sitting out on the countertop, so I haven’t tried that yet.

Any incantations you can suggest to help?   Put a clothespin on my nose?  Give up?

Breakfast with the Sons of Norway

I’ve noticed announcements in past years for a Norsk Breakfast and Cultural Fair sponsored by the Yakima Sons of Norway group. I’ve thought about going, but never attended…. until this year. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, although from our trip to Norway (almost 6 years ago now) I had some sense of what kind of food might be served.

We drove to the address given in the announcement, and were greeted outside by a friendly man wearing a red t-shirt that said “UFF DA”. As we entered the building, I signed the guest register and looked around at some of the many displays that were set out. There was a table with bunads (which are Norwegian folk costumes specific to the area of the country a person comes from) both the actual clothing and books. I took some time to look up Hemsedal in the book, at which point a woman, who was wearing a bunad, came over to pull out her new, three volume set of bunad books to look things up for me in more detail.

We noticed a line going into the next room, which had many tables spread with lots of food. So we took our place in line and headed to get breakfast. The first table had lots of trays filled with open faced sandwiches – thin slices of bread, thin slices of meat or salmon, thin slices of cucumbers, tomatoes, eggs, garnished with dill. There was also pickled herring and some other kind of preserved fish.

This next photo is a little out of focus (I sure wish Sue would learn to take better pictures!) but still shows what kind of food was being served.

The next table had little heart shaped waffle type items being served with sour cream and choice of lingonberry, cloudberry or gooseberry preserves. I know what they were because I asked a woman and she brought out the jars of preserves (from Ikea) for me to see. There were also fresh strawberries and some kind of cracker that had lots of holes punched in it. And even the brown cheese that I recognized as what my relatives made while we were in Norway visiting.

The table where we sat was festive looking with the Viking ship ready to set sail.

Along with coffee, orange and cranberry juice, it was a very good meal (although at 10 am in the morning more like a brunch). The only thing I didn’t like was some kind of fish that Dave didn’t like either. I thought at first it was smoked, but the taste was really disagreeable and I got to thinking about how in Iceland they bury shark meat and let it rot for months before eating it, considering it a delicacy. Perhaps this was the Norwegian equivalent?

After we ate we browsed some more in the main room, looking at photos from the trip to Norway some members took last year, talking to a woman who was very involved in geneology, and looking at craft work, including Hardanger needlewook.

The woman showing the Hardanger pieces had made them, and some were for sale. I’d brought cash with me, expecting to pay for the breakfast or at least be asked to make a donation. No payment was ever requested, so I spent my money instead buying this piece of needlework.

When we came in we had been given a small handout:

Sons of Norway
Answering the age-old question
Why are Norwegians so much fun?
For over 60 years, the Sons of Norway Odin Lodge has been celebrating Scandinavian culture in Yakima. Getting involved with the Lodge is as easy as showing up to eat. Which always means something uniquely Scandinavian foods, like lefse and sometimes lutefisk. Viking helmets are always optional.

Takk, Yakima Sons of Norway, for the enjoyable morning!

What works?…. what doesn’t?

So, how do you know ahead of time what recipes are really going to turn out like you want? Isn’t that one of the biggest dilemmas for cooks like us who love trying out new recipes, but would like to minimize the flops?

I had some recent experiences that turned out absolutely opposite of what I would have predicted.

First, the flop. I recently bought a new a cookbook from Cook’s Illustrated. It’s called Cover and Bake.

The recipe for Baked Risotto with Butternut Squash and Almonds sounded good. I like risotto. But I usually don’t have time to fuss with adding the liquid a little at a time so I don’t make it as often as I’d like. We had just had butternut squash the week before and it had been so delicious. I had cooked it in the microwave with the skin on, cooled it a little, scooped out the squash and added some brown sugar and butter. Yum. So I was ready for more butternut squash.

I tried the recipe, and mine looked like the illustration in the cookbook,

but when we started eating it both Dave and I looked at each other wondering “what’s missing?” Flavor, that’s what. The texture was OK, but there just was hardly any flavor. Hmm. Won’t be making this one again.

Now the success (of sorts). A few weeks ago I was in the doldrums as far as inspiration went. Nothing really sounded that good from the usual meals I make. I asked Dave for a suggestion and was rather surprised to hear “how about Mongolian beef?” pop out of his mouth. Huh? I’ve never made this, although I think I’ve had it in restaurants. OK, I’ll rise to the challenge. So I looked up recipes on the internet, finally settling on one that claimed to be a copycat recipe for P F Chang’s Mongolian Beef.

Wow. Lots of brown sugar. Is this dessert or dinner? And all that oil? Well, I’ll give it a try. Meal boredom leads to flexible attitudes sometimes. So I made it, following the recipe, sort of. I used a tri-tip steak rather than flank steak. And I halved the recipe, as that amount seemed enough for the two of us. While I used the amount of oil called for, the actual beef dish contained far less oil, as most was left behind in the pan. I served it up with rice (dribbling some extra sauce over the rice) and steamed broccoli. Hey – this is good!

So, recently or not so recently, what have been your recipes surprises? What works… what doesn’t?

A Birthday Bash

Turning 50…. quite the reason to celebrate for a company that has stuck around for 50 years of ups and downs.

The party Tree Top held today for it’s Selah based employees was fun. They put up a very large tent and catered a good brunch – lots of nut breads, pasta salads, apple based salads, quiche, ham, scalloped potatoes, sparkling apple cider, desserts. Even an expresso place making whatever coffee beverages you wanted. Hey – make mine a skinny latte, double. Sure, why not have the whipped cream on top also? After all, it is a party!

We had guest speakers, including the company president, the local mayor and a college professor who authored a book on Tree Top’s history, to be released in the next month.

And everyone received commemorative gifts – a 50th anniversary shirt and bottle of sparkling apple cider.

But the part I really liked the best? The party included everyone from the President and VPs, corporate employees and plant employees, along with growers and board members. Fork lift operators and warehouse employees sitting next to marketing directors and finance people. All enjoying live music (hit tunes from 50 years ago) performed by a juice plant employee and good food.

Happy Birthday, Tree Top!

May 10th marks the 50th Anniversary since the incorporation of Tree Top. That’s where I work. And where I’ve worked for over 25 years. I was there for the 25th Anniversary celebration. And am still there for the 50th. This is a big deal for a small company. There is a big enclosed tent set up in the parking lot across from the corporate headquarters, ready for a catered luncheon for all Selah area employees and talks from various dignitaries on Monday. Good thing the weather has calmed down. Last Monday this tent would have blown down within minutes of being set up.

Surprisingly, I’m excited. I am expecting better than our Red Carpet celebration last year with hot dogs. We’ve been promised good food and a gift for every employee. And a celebratory mood.

Really, it is worth celebrating. 50 years…. apple juice, apple sauce, dried apples, frozen apples, fresh slices apples. Our celebration starts in Selah, where Tree Top started, and will end in New York City, the Big Apple, with a food network recipe contest shin dig. Contests along the way for consumers to win money ($50, 000 total – $1,000 a day over 50 days – visit the website this summer to play). And hopefully an upbeat spirit around the corporate building to combat what has been some difficult years recently.

So, I’ll put on my party hat, or at least my party spirit, tomorrow when I head to work. Oh, 50 years today also for FDA approval for birth control pills. Don’t think it’s related to Tree Top, but I’m up for celebrations!

Doing good, a little at a time

Yesterday was the annual Yakima YWCA Annual Leadership Luncheon. With other women from Tree Top, we filled a table. I went, thinking this is a good way to support local programs and get out for a fund raising lunch with other women. This year I was impressed by speaker, and surprised at just how inspiring she was. We listened to Sheryl Wu Dunn. I realized that I am familiar with her husband, Nicholas Kristoff, a New York Times columnist and two time Pulitzer prize winner. I didn’t realize that one of those Pulitzer prizes was shared with his wife.

They have spent years documenting the challenge’s facing the world’s women. This article on the Women’s Crusade gives a good idea of what this couple is passionately interested in writing about. Here’s the first few paragraphs:

“IN THE 19TH CENTURY, the paramount moral challenge was slavery. In the 20th century, it was totalitarianism. In this century, it is the brutality inflicted on so many women and girls around the globe: sex trafficking, acid attacks, bride burnings and mass rape.

Yet if the injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater. “Women hold up half the sky,” in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.”

Powerful talk. Powerful subject. Also depressing. And seemingly too large to do anything about. But the message I came home with is that you can make a difference – in a small way. Don’t give up because you know you can’t change the world. If you can help one woman, one family, one neighborhood – you are helping change the world. We heard about micro-loans. These are very small loans to those in poverty designed to spur entrepreneurship. What’s a few hundred dollars to you? A nice weekend trip? A splurge on some new outfits? What’s a few hundred dollars to a poor woman in a third world country? Enough to start a business that can change her life!

YES, this is still a column about food! As I listened, I realized how many of these successful micro-loans financed agricultural related businesses. Raise chickens or goats for eggs or milk to sell to the community. And raise yourself out of poverty – and send your children to school. Yes. Change the world. One person, one animal, at a time.

Now, the challenge continues for me to put words into action. I really plan on trying to “do good, a little at time” and let you know how it’s going.

The scientist meets the egg

It was “egg delivery day” at work today. One of my co-workers picks up eggs for a few interested people every week or so. I have a standing order for her to pick up a dozen eggs for me whenever she visits her Selah acquaintance, if they’re available. I guess the chickens haven’t been any happier with our weather than I’ve been, and the cold, wet weather dampened not only the chicken’s spirits but also their egg laying. Still, Pat returned after lunch with eggs for all who put in an order. Aren’t they pretty?

I remain impressed by the size of these eggs and since I like to weigh and measure things and record data, I decided to weigh them and determine where they fall in egg sizing.

I found this information on a USDA website

Sizing of Eggs
Size tells you the minimum required net weight per dozen eggs. It does not refer to the dimensions of an egg or how big it looks. While some eggs in the carton may look slightly larger or smaller than the rest, it is the total weight of the dozen eggs that puts them in one of the following classes:

Size or Weight Class Minimum net weight per dozen
Jumbo 30 ounces
Extra Large 27 ounces
Large 24 ounces
Medium 21 ounces
Small 18 ounces
Peewee 15 ounces

So, my dozen eggs weigh 1 pound, 12 ounces ( if you look closely you can see the numbers on my home scale). That comes out to 28 ounces, or in between extra large and jumbo. Since the eggs vary so much in size, some must be extra jumbo sized while others are “just” large eggs.

Well, whatever size they are, they taste good. I do need to be careful when baking with them to take into account their size and adjust downward as needed.

My sister Kristin insists that eggs and Irish oatmeal go together. Never having tried it, I remain somewhat dubious, but am willing to give it a try. I also happen to love oatmeal. (do my reader’s notice any trends here? I seem to really like lots of different foods? Hmm. Not a fussy eater anymore!) So, eggs and oatmeal – I’ll let you know what I think. Only problem is would be that I don’t have Irish oatmeal. Kristin will have to fill us in on where she buys that!

Oh, I think I remember Kristin also likes an egg on her pizza. Perhaps that’s another combination I’ll finally try. Or perhaps not…. What do you like with your eggs?

“Egg”zactly so….

Eggs. I love them. Scrambled, fried, poached, hard boiled. For breakfast. In egg salad sanwiches for lunch. Quiches for dinner. So I am always more than happy to get my newsletter from the Egg Nutrition Council assuring me that eggs have a good role in a healthy diet. This newsletter keeps me up to date of recent scientific studies and also reviews old studies to see how well they hold up. My master’s degree is in nutritional sciences, and it’s an area I continue to enjoy studying. And in this case, my own personal bias of personally liking the way eggs taste also helps predispose me towards accepting their viewpoint.

Recently I’ve started regularly buying local eggs. A woman at work knows someone nearby who keep a lot of chickens in a very large chicken coop. Pat says it’s a very clean, well kept place. She takes orders at work from a few of us, and I am always in line to get my dozen or two dozen eggs. And I love these eggs even more than usual. They are pretty. Lots of different shades of pale green, blue and brown. But they are odd sized. No box of a dozen I’ve bought have contained eggs at all similarly sized. The recycled cardboard box always holds a weird assortment of different sizes, most very large. When I buy graded eggs at the grocery store, I usually buy large eggs. So I compared a locally produced egg (on the left) with a store bought egg (on the right).

These are big eggs! They taste good, and I also noticed how much deeper yellow colored the yolks are.

I took the same eggs from the above photo in the carton and cracked them into a small dish. The yolk on the left is from the store bought egg; on the right from the local egg. Not only a larger yolk, but much deeper colored!

I consulted my favorite book that blends food science and cooking, Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking” (thanks to Carrie, over and over, for an enduring gift).

It’s easy for me to get distracted when I take out this book. I started looking up what makes an egg yolk yellow colored and had some interesting side trips into reading about everything else you ever wanted or didn’t want to know about eggs. But eventually I got around to this description: “It’s yellow coloration – yolk comes from the “Old English” for yellow- is caused mainly by pigments called xanthophylls. These are the chemical relatives of carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A, but are not themselves capable of being transformed into that vitamin. So you can’t judge the nutritional value of a yolk by it’s color.” Well, darn. I was all ready to proclaim that these local eggs, with deep colored yolks, must be better nutritionally. Harold McGee’s comments to the contrary, I still think they have an edge.