Recipes Made Better

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A swirl of truffle oil or walnut oil on green beans is really quite nice.  Some toasted slivered almonds or walnuts dressed with truffle salt is delicious.  And a bit of blue cheese and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar  elevates the green bean casserole from cream of something to fresh amazing.

Recipes are developed to appeal to the average palate but if you want to take your dishes from average to extraordinary, it really only takes a few changes to make your guests take pause as they eat.

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Pumpkin bread calls for cinnamon, but what about adding other spices from pumpkin pie spice?  Instead of vegetable oil sub out vanilla olive oil…or orange olive oil.  Add a handful of chopped candied ginger or chocolate chips.  It doesn’t change the basic recipe at all.  Vanilla salt replaces ordinary salt.  This makes pretty amazing pumpkin bread.

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Combine sesame oil with orange oil to dress salad.  Use smoked salt on mashed potatoes.  Add a little New Mexican red chili to sweet potatoes.  The sweet marshmallows and the smoky chili is bliss.  Cream chives into the butter.  Or cinnamon.  Have fun!  Cooking is an exploration of the human palate, a sensual dance of sweet, sour, spice, umami, and savory, far from average.  And eating with loved ones is food for the soul.

Here’s to family, friends, gratitude, and dreams come true.  Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

 

 

 

Four Star Farmgirl (meal planning and movie stars)

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We celebrated our anniversary this weekend with a stay at a four star hotel in downtown Denver.  It is a very old building with excellent service and two four star restaurants and lush surroundings.  We were standing in the foyer the other night looking at one of the menus.  A gentleman sat to our right.  He had passed us walking down the street earlier and now sat near us.  Doug whispers (probably a bit too loud), “Don’t you think that guy looks like a mix of Clay Aiken and Martin Short?”  He looked right at us.  I said, “No…maybe a little like Martin Short.”  Of course it turned out that it was Martin Short!  The weekend was accentuated by fancy restaurants with dime sized danishes for seven dollars, two ravioli for fifteen (a steal, I am sure), and very loud traffic, screaming homeless people, giggling drunk girls, and ongoing construction through paper-thin windows.  We did enjoy all the mouth-watering food, never having to open a door, delicious twelve foot windows to look out while sipping coffee and three days of doing nothing or whatever we pleased.  A fabulous weekend all together.  I type this in our beautiful hotel room as we prepare to go back to the country.  Back to peace and quiet.  I will have to start opening my own doors though once I get back.  I could be waiting on the porch for a long time.

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After weeks of celebrations and eating out and spending near fortunes (all worth it for fabulous food and company) it is time to get back to being a proper farmgirl.  And proper farmgirls meal plan.  Not meal plan like when I was first out on my own when it was imperative to do so because I was so broke.  Monday- Mac and Cheese, Tuesday- Hamburger Helper, Wednesday- Ramen Noodles.  Lord, how did we ever survive our twenties on meals like that?!  Now we meal plan because of health, finances, and because we desire good food!  No matter how good the food was at Cru or Kevin Taylor, it was probably genetically modified, not organic, and who knows where it came from.  I like to know what I am putting on the table!  Fresh, organic, grew it myself maybe (in the years to come, that will increase dramatically), homemade.  I love to eat like I am in a four star restaurant and I think for a hundred and twenty dollars I could have put on a better feast!  Infused oils, fine salts, fresh herbs, brightly colored produce, and homestyle cooking make life very nice indeed.  Add to that a glass of great wine (for less than twenty-five dollars a glass) and you are in business!

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However, after a long day of cleaning house, tending to business, taking care of animals, running errands, and a short attention span, if I don’t have a menu planned out, forget it…we’ll be eating Chinese food.   And I don’t really like Chinese food. I would much rather have my own cooking, I just need a bit of preparation.  I tried meal planning a week of meals in advance.  Beautiful, but by day eight if we didn’t get to the store we were out to eat.  I tried meal planning for three weeks.  Lost interest after two weeks.  So, two weeks of meals seems to be the magic number.  I have to drive to town to the health food store to obtain ingredients so every two weeks works for me.

I have begun checking out two library cookbooks each week and making my meals from there.  Mind you, I never follow recipes.  I can’t.  Too many variations and ways to make it better!  But I get fabulous ideas and general guidelines and each week is a new theme or book.  Cowboy cooking and slow cookers this week.  One pot meals and fresh Tex-Mex next plus plenty of personal inspiration.  Little House on the Prairie cookbook and Farmer’s Market Cooking the next.  I am determined for the next several weeks (okay, except the night we go to Evergreen for Doug’s birthday with our dear friends, Monte and Erik, for a ‘could die of happiness, the food is so freakin’ good’ meal) to make and stick to meal plans, eating at home every single night of the week, plus lunches and breakfasts at the table as well!  We will feel better, will not be overly full, will have lots of extra money to put into the homestead fund, dinner will always be available to children passing through or drop-in friends, and evenings at home are marvelous and fine.

Remember when you are meal planning to take some things into consideration: If you need to pack a lunch or dinner, make it picnic food.  If you know you will have a terribly busy day, plan for the slow cooker.  Have a nice mix of leisurely dinners like homemade pasta, and quick dinners like potato soup so that you are prepared.  Have plenty of ideas and ingredients to make impromptu dinners if you couldn’t get to the store after two weeks.  Eat plenty of colors even in the winter.  Kale, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, salads, squash, beets…beans of all sorts and lots of garlic.  Soup is fast and easy!  Leftovers are your friends for lunches.  Above all, enjoy the sensory and tactile experience of foods.  Enjoy the process of making it, serving it, eating it whether with others or alone.  Perfect the art of making sauce.  Sauce makes everything special.  Candlelight and good music a must!

Bored, Boards, and Gourmet Popcorn (with wine!)

This weekend we fell off the homesteading wagon.  It was fun, I won’t lie, but not very sustainable or good for the bank account!  I know we need to live a little but it got ridiculous.  We were getting bored around here, being winter and all, and no wood stove to curl up in front of, and kids and friends running through the house, so we went out.  I guess the problem for us is we go out and stay out!  Friday night we went to a four star restaurant and ended up at a cigar bar.  It was fabulous.  Saturday night a surprise birthday party and dinner across the state.  Sunday started at a coffee shop then we started reminiscing about our old Chinese restaurant we hadn’t been to in years and next thing we know, we’re out eating egg rolls.  We made a weak attempt at leftovers yesterday and ended up at Subway.  I don’t even like Subway!

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So, now about two bills short in the bank account and a new week ahead, I need to get back to the homesteading mentality!  I am desperately trying to save up for a homestead.  I want one that I can buy outright.  My entire being wants a homestead.  I start to lose hope but then keep dreaming again.  When we get to said imaginary homestead, we won’t have a full blown business like we do here and will have to pinch pennies in every way which I have been training myself to do.  I am learning to make everything we need.  So perhaps my winter evenings and weekends will be filled with a spinning wheel by the fire, the gentle hum of creating yarn.  Or sewing some clothing articles.  Or preparing a pot of soup.  Or making candles and soap.  Taking care of farm animals.  Right now it only takes two minutes to check on the chickens and I am done with my “farm” chores.

Game nights are a great way to keep your bootie on the homestead and it doesn’t cost a thing to have hours of raucous laughter and competitiveness.  Scrabble, Rummie, Chess, Balderdash, and Scattergories all wait in hopes of being played.  I need to do this more.  Doug and I alone can play a few games.  Friends can be invited over for a mad game of something or other.  Even the kids might want to play.  All alone?  Solitaire.

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What to serve?  Popcorn of course.  I do not mean microwave popcorn or crappy popcorn from Walmart.  I am meaning real kernels that came off of a real ear of corn.  A bag of organic popcorn kernels are less than three dollars at the health food store and provide lots of nights of popcorn. (Organic is important so that we don’t consume genetically modified corn.)  Now, here is where the culinary diva comes out of me.  Jazzing up popcorn so it becomes a meal.  It can be a meal, you know, corn is considered a grain and a vegetable and is high in lutein and many vitamins and minerals.  And our other food group, wine, is amazing with great popcorn.

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In order to achieve gourmet popcorn we need infused olive oils. I get mine from the Olive Tap ( http://theolivetap.com )because of the all the intense, yummy flavors that are ready at my fingertips in the cupboard.  I love the Porcini oil, or the Tuscan Herb, or who doesn’t love Truffle oil?  There is Orange oil, Sesame, Chipotle…and the list goes on.

You can also make your own.  Simply put 1 part herbs to 3 parts olive oil in a sauce pan and heat over medium-low heat for 20 minutes or until fragrant.  Swirl the pan often to keep the oil from burning.

Add a clove of minced garlic, 1 ts of basil, 1 ts of oregano, and a pinch of cayenne.  Or 2 Tb of rosemary, a pinch of thyme, and sesame seeds.  The combinations are endless and the result is spectacular.  Infused oils take the ordinary homestead meal to a five start restaurant while not breaking the bank!

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Now for the popcorn combinations:

Truffle oil and parmesan with a touch of salt and a glass of Chardonnay

Garlic and Herb oil with sea salt and Pinot Noir

Sprinkle garlic powder, onion powder, nutritional yeast (health food stores, tastes like cheese, high in B12), a pinch of chipotle and drizzle with plain olive oil and salt.  Cabernet Sauvignon can stand up to this one!

Sprinkle basil, parmesan, smoked sea salt, and garlic powder onto popcorn then drizzle olive oil over it.  Try a Pinot Grigio with this one or even a great red blend.

The combinations are endless, the results delicious!  The price….saving up for a homestead cheap.