Better than the Jars, Versatile if Spring ever comes:
(c) 2014, Davd
As i began to write this “technique description”, on the first day of spring, there was a Heavy Snowfall Warning in effect, and indeed, more snow falling on top of the metre or more that covers the ground, including the ground where—if Spring comes before Hell freezes over—herb plants might again send up green leaves. More than four months, more nearly five, have gone by since i last cut fresh chives, never mind oregano, tarragon, or such tender herbs as basil. So this post will be about the basic technique; i won’t harass you with stories of summer delights that are still months away…
(If spring ever comes. The radio has told me thirteen times or more, if it has told me once, that this is the worst winter in decades; and in Canada, it is easy to keep in mind that every so many thousand years there has been an Ice Age. Maybe that’s what comes next. To a Canadian, “climate change” doesn’t necessarily imply warming.)
To make mayonnaise this way, you’ll need a blender, eggs [“large” is the default size], at least a litre of vegetable oil, powdered dry mustard and paprika, salt, and vinegar. I prefer canola oil and white vinegar for the basic mayonnaise; and expect that for US readers, sunflower or corn oil would also serve well. If and when spring is well along, and the chives bloom, I’ll write about making herb-flavoured vinegars, and then about making herbed mayonnaise with them. Because cleaning a blender after making mayonnaise is somewhat tedious, i make at least four eggs worth at a time.
If you have recently bought a new blender, there should be directions with it; if you have one you are used to, you should know by now how to put it together. Take notice of the “pulse” feature, however that is implemented on the brand you have. “Pulse” blending stops when you lift your finger off the button. “Normal” blending keeps on until you press a “STOP” button (or imaginably, flip a switch somewhere.) This technique works better with “pulse”.
The hardest part of the procedure, is getting the finished mayonnaise from the blender container into a holding container for storage in the fridge. If you have somebody around to help you just with the 2-5 second “three handed part” of that, the rest of the job is straightforward and in my experience, reliably successful.
Crack an egg into the blender. Add one tablespoon1 of vinegar, and half a teaspoon [or slightly less] each of mustard powder, paprika powder, and salt. Fill a one-cup measuring container with oil2.
Put the cover on the blender, run it for 10 seconds or so; then lift up the inner cap (which leaves a hole in the middle of the cover) and pour about half the oil with the motor running. The first few times you do this, you may choose to stop the blender while removing the inner cap. I’ve been making mayonnaise this way for about 40 years; and i usually lift the inner cap once the egg, vinegar, and seasonings are mixed, then pick up the oil with my right hand and pour it through the opening. This first half pour you can do fairly fast, but i recommend the stream be thinner than a pencil3.
When the first half of your cup of oil is mixed in, stop the blender—that is, take your left finger off the pulse button. Add a second tablespoon of vinegar, and leave the inner cap lightly over the hole in the cover as you re-start—it may splash.
As soon as the second tablespoon of vinegar is mixed in, lift off the inner cap and pour the rest of the oil through the hole slowly. A stream half the thickness of a pencil is about right. As the last of the oil is poured, the sound will probably change… indicating that the mayonnaise is becoming semi-solid.
For the last of the process, things may get a little tedious. As the mayonnaise becomes semi-solid, air tends to form a pocket around the whirling blades, which may completely stop the mixing process and will reduce the resistance to the blades, allowing them to spin too fast. So, you have to stop the machine and using a rubber spatula [metal can cause damage if the blades hit it] work the air pocket up and out, and the mixture back around the blades.
Blender directions sometimes tell you to push the nearly-ready mayonnaise in from the edges and over-top the blades. This may work to keep the mixing happening, by putting enough mass of mayonnaise above the air pocket, that it bubbles up and out of the mass. It also risks having the blades hit the spatula—which is why only a rubber spatula should be tried. If you have a very steady hand and the blender container seems shaped so that the spatula trick will work with the blades spinning, try it if you choose. The cautious way is to stop the machine when the sound indicates the blades are spinning too fast; then poke the air pocket with the spatula, which will let the air bubble up and out .. then start the machine again. The PULSE button is much easier to use for this.
When the mixture is uniform—the same colour and consistency throughout, with no pockets of oil—you’ve made mayonnaise.
Now—how to get that mayonnaise somewhere for storage? I recommend plastic or glass containers, and i usually make 4-6 eggs worth of mayonnaise at a time. The task isn’t easy: You have a blender container with semi-solid mayonnaise in it, and if you try to pour that mayonnaise a lot of it will cling to the blending container. The best way to proceed is to take off the base of the blending container [by unscrewing it] and then push the mayonnaise down through the open bottom into the holding container.
This would be easier if you had three hands. You need one hand to hold the blender container and two to unscrew and remove the base—which will have a large blob of mayonnaise on it surrounding the blades. If the base has a wide, “cute skirt” rather than resembling an upside down jar lid, things will be more difficult—but you do need one hand on the handle of the blending container. I can usually manage to hold the sealing ring and blades against the bottom of the blender container with one finger, while taking off the screw-cap and swinging it out of the way.
That tricky part done, you remove the sealing ring and blades, set them down nearby, and push the mayonnaise down and out of the blender container, into the holding container. Then using the rubber spatula, take the mayonnaise from around the blades and put it also, into the holding container.
You could stop with one egg’s worth of mayonnaise, but it’s just about as much work to clean up after making one egg’s worth, as after making six—so i usually make 4-6 eggs worth once i start. In winter, the procedure above is all there is to it…
… or you can finish up with 1-2 batches to which you add a one-inch cube of blue cheese before you start the blades turning. (If you make the blue cheese batches first, the little bit you can’t easily get out of the blending container, will give a taste to the plain batches, so do the plain batches first!) Obviously, you store plain and blue cheese mayonnaise in different containers. Blue cheese mayonnaise isn’t only a salad dressing, but it does serve very well indeed, in that use. It doesn’t get as thick as plain mayonnaise, and will pour or spoon onto salads “quite nicely.”
In summer, you can add fresh herbs (also before starting to ‘blend’): I usually make chive-tarragon, basil-oregano, and if i have lots of dill, dill mayonnaise. Chive-tarragon goes especially well with fish and chicken; basil-oregano, with tomatoes, and dill with cucumbers and red meat (most herbed mayonnaise goes pretty well with cold red meat for a simple sandwich.) Methinks i should re-post about herbed mayonnaise and making herb vinegars, when the winter ends…4
1. The spoon I use is at least two teaspoonfuls in size, but may be short of the three teaspoonfuls that cookbooks define as “one tablespoon”. It works with this recipe, using “large” size eggs. If the tablespoon in your kitchen is quite large and the first batch of mayonnaise you make tastes too acid, fill the tablespoon less than cram full for the second batch.
2. You can put one cup of oil in a larger container, but i never have. “Measuring cups” usually pour well (having handles helps with that,) they are usually easy to clean, and why leave that much more oil on the inside of a larger container? I usually set the measuring cup on a cutting board (I have four: One for fish, one for meat, one for vegetables, and one for bread. The two largest are red oak, the others are larch; which woods are antiseptic. I pick whatever board is clean and could use oiling.
3. Why do i refer so often to the thickness of a pencil? Because nearly every household has pencils, and they’re all of a standard thickness, which for most men is easier to visualize than a measure in inches or centimetres. It also avoids the hassle of stating both measurements, since Canadian and most European readers think in metric while US and many UK readers think in feet and inches.
4 … as of April 9th, that’s barely begun. There was more snow last weekend… but maybe that much has melted since …
Boys and Men Now Need Special Help to Catch Up
Richard Cox, reporting
The Feminist International, a body whose membership is a secret as closely guarded as the memberships of the KGB, Mossad, Bohemian Grove, and the 1965 Nielsen ratings panel; has produced a draft report confirming what many men have contended for years: Legal and bureaucratic changes responding to Feminist lobbying, Affirmative Action programmes, and vestiges of former chivalry, have placed women in Europe and North America in a position of advantage comparable to that of white South Africans in the mid-20th Century.
Girls, the report reports, now dominate university student populations. Women under 40 in large cities average higher earnings per hour or in monthly salary, than men of the same age. Entrants to the professions are mostly young women. Recent psychological research has shown that boys are naturally ill-adapted to current school culture; and that systemic misandry has lowered boys’ and young men’s self-esteem to levels approximating those reported by Clark and Clark among Negro American children in 1947.
Special help for girls, the report concludes, is no longer required in most fields of study. Major changes in school culture and instructional practices are now needed to seve boys as well as girls are served. Boys and men abused by women number somewhere between 70% and 150% as many as girls and women abused by men; and need Houses of Refuge in at least half the amount of Women’s Shelters, while some Women’s Shelter spaces are used by “clients” not in need of protection; so overall Shelter funding, like special tutoring and self-esteem funding, “might need an increase less than it needs a sex-change.”
The report will be published some time in the next fifty years. “We have not set an early publication date,” explained committee chair Carol Anne van Dyke, “because frankly, having 87% daughters among the children of the authors and the supervisory committee, we want our girls to benefit from our legal and policy achievements before we level the playing field.”
..Fast to Cook, Long Keeping Ingredients—a Classic One-Man Meal:
(c) 2014, Davd
“The salmon,” goes a mid-20th Century joke, “is a fish which grows to maturity in the oceans and appears as if by magic from a can, when unexpected guests arrive for dinner.” I lived over half my lifespan along the west coast of Canada and the US in the watersheds where Pacific salmon appeared as if by magic at the mouths of rivers in the autumn, to swim upstream, spawn, and die.*
When i was a student in Seattle, canned salmon was still a fairly economical, long-keeping foodstuff. Today, there are fewer salmon and more grocery-shoppers; and you are lucky to buy canned salmon** for less than $15 per kilo; while a one dollar can of tuna, which contains 120 g of meat and 50 g of broth, works out to $8.33 per kilo. Sadly, that’s a fairly good price for any decent tasting kind of fish these days; and so, it might be wise to have a few cans of tuna, bought on those dollar sales, in the cupboard for occasions when there’s no meat in the fridge that appeals to you, and you’d like a quick, fairly good tasting meal.
Tuna and noodles is very much a bachelor food: One can of tuna has just enough meat in it to feed one man one meal, and far too little for two, even for two six year old boys. Pasta keeps several days in the ‘fridge, cooked; and is quick to cook from its dry form. The seasonings can all be kept for months. I’m going to describe it the way i cooked it this winter, in a small (7-inch top diameter, 5½-inch bottom diameter) stainless steel frying pan, to use some canned tuna that was approaching its “best before” date. (I bought it for 70-90 cents per can “in the old days” before 2012.) The pan nicely held the tuna, cooking liquid, seasonings, and pasta—one pan is both cooking utensil and “soup plate” with handle—a classic bachelor cooking-for-one situation. A man living alone can make very efficient use of such a pan, very often; in a household of two or more, it’s mainly useful for making small amounts of sauces or when only one man is at home.
I would not use a cast-iron frying pan for this job: Cast-iron frying pans are best for frying but poor for wet cooking. (Well, best for frying unless you cook over a gas flame in the French manner, which almost no one does at home in North America. If you go camping and plan to cook over a fire or a gas stove, leave the cast iron at home; stainless cooks better over flame and is also easier to clean.) The pan i used was discarded by a neighbour who has a typical Canadian electric stove; i salvaged it because i have a woodstove on which i do most of my winter cooking. If i bought one, i’d have insisted on a 6-inch bottom diameter (to fit the smaller elements of normal electric stoves), but for free—this was a good deal.
If you don’t have cooked pasta waiting in the ‘fridge, half-fill a pot of water for cooking it and start that heating, with the dry pasta standing by. Spaghetti works fine, fusilli, rotini, and linguine should also. Penne and elbows, i’d use for something else; and vermicelli is too thin, really. A wee bit of oil in the pasta cooking water helps prevent sticking. Cook enough pasta, if you haven’t any waiting in the fridge, that the next time you want pasta, you will have. (It can always become pasta and cheese, or pasta salad with mayonnaise, and before long i’ll write about an easy way to cook chicken cacciatore.)
Into the pan (or cooking pot if you’re making this up for more than just one man) goes a little stock. If you don’t keep stock in your fridge you’ll probably use the water from the canned tuna, perhaps from a jar or tin of olives, maybe even a little plain water. With the pan on the stove and a little stock in the pan, add the Seasonings: Celery [leaf or seed, or "lovage"], Sage, Oregano, Hot Paprika, Pepper, and Onion or Chive, cut fairly small. (If you don’t have hot paprika you can skip it, or add regular paprika and a wee pinch of hot red pepper or 1-2 drops of Tabasco type hot-pepper sauce.) Now turn on the heat, fairly low if it’s electric. Let the stock and seasonings simmer for 2-5 minutes, and keep the heat low so the stock doesn’t boil away (add water or more stock if it threatens to. A glass lid really helps here.)
I use “vegetable stock” made from vegetable trimmings, herb stems, and old herbs that have lost some but not all of their flavour. A packet of fish or shrimp broth powder from one of those 85g [3 oz] bags of ramen noodles will also do, if you have one you didn’t put in with the ramen; or half the brine left over from a jar or can of olives. The water from the can of tuna won’t be enough by itself (or it can be used when adding the cornstarch). Don’t use beef or chicken stock.
Now add the tuna and if you have some handy, you might want to add some pimento, a few olives [black or green], or a few capers; (don’t add more than one of them, unless you’re very familiar with using them and are confident you’ll like the combination. If you fried the onions to where they just started to brown, that will provide the oil to get the starch to thicken; if not, add a half teaspoonful of cooking oil or bacon fat.)
While the tuna is heating up to boiling, mix a forkful of cornstarch into some liquid, preferably stock (and-or the ‘water’ from the tuna can if you didn’t use it already.) When the tuna has boiled in its seasoned liquid for even a minute, add the cornstarch and stock (stir it again, with the fork rather than a spoon for best effect, before and after adding to the pan.) If using electricity, you can raise the heat setting, but not to highest.
Soon, the liquid will thicken and begin to bubble. Cut the heat back to low [or move the pan to a cooler part of the woodstove] and mix in the pasta. If it’s cold cooked pasta from the ‘fridge, then it will need a few minutes to heat, and if you use high rather than low heat the thickened sauce may stick.) If the noodles were cooked at the same time and added boiling hot, mix them in, shut off the heat, and allow to cool back to eating temperature. When the noodles are eating temperature, it’s ready.
If you don’t yet have a seasonings collection, you can make a quite decent meal of tuna and noodles using a “seafood seasoning” such as Johnny’s or Tony Chachere’s as seasonings, and the liquid from a small jar or can of olives or pimentos [maybe from bread and butter pickles] as stock. (Do not throw away such flavoured liquid unless you already have an abundance of it in the fridge or the cold cellar. I make pickled eggs using the liquid from dill pickles, a trick i learned from an old Ukrainian welder; and the leftover liquid from bread and butter pickles or green olives will also work, with a different tasting result, obviously. I doubt that dill pickle ‘broth’ would make a good stock for tuna, because it is so acid; but if you like acid sauces you could even try that.)
For a vegetable to accompany tuna and noodles, in winter, i tend to heat some frozen spinach, cook cabbage with caraway, or have cabbage heart or cole slaw. Carrot-raisin salad is also OK but i prefer a green vegetable, or maybe beets, with this ‘dish’. I’ve eaten it for breakfast with an apple, banana, orange, or even rhubarb, especially if i wanted a quick breakfast.
One pan, easily cleaned, cooks and serves the ‘main dish’; and there are several ways to accompany that main dish without having to cook anything else but the pasta. Efficient one-man meal, and tastes good enough you could eat it often if tuna were still cheap.
* Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) can spawn, return to sea, and return from sea a year or two later to spawn again. Pacific salmon (Oncorhynchys spp.) die after spawning (unless the fishermen catch them before they enter the rivers.)
** Chum or keta salmon (Oncorhynchys keta) can sometimes be bought in cans for $9 or so per kilo, but it is the least tasty of the Pacific species and was known as “dog salmon” during my youth. When other salmon species were abundant it was fed to dogs while the other species were eaten by the
humans; i count it as edible fish but would not call it “salmon” among serious cooks. Pink salmon (Oncorhynchys gorbuscha) can be had in cans for between $8 and $10 per kilo in years when the spawning runs are largest, and should be treated as similar to brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis) by Easterners. I recommend canned pink salmon for cooking, though sockeye is the best canned salmon and coho and chinook, better than pink. Fresh pink salmon is good steamed, which the oilier salmon species, in my opinion, are not. Pinks were sold in Atlantic Canada in 2013 for $5 per kilo and less, whole frozen [drawn].
… and it’s not about the Reproductive System, either:
(c) 2014, Davd
One early March morning, as i was sitting in my bed doing an important chore, it occurred to me that an average-sized woman could do it better than i was, for good anatomical reasons.
(Yes, the bed is a clue. The fact that i was sitting up in bed [with my back propped against three pillows] is a better clue.)
I was mending a felt boot-liner, with a needle and thread. Some seams had come open, probably due to the original thread wearing through; and while the felt is fairly easy to sew, the places needing mending would be impossible to fit into the business end of a typical household sewing machine *
So there i sat, mending seams in a felt boot-liner; and the work went just fine except when i had knots to tie. I was using polyester thread, because it “takes wear better”, and a small-eye needle so as to disturb the integrity of the felt as little as possible. Threading the needle went almost well, given good light; though the diameter of the thread was something like 80% of the diameter of the needle’s eye. The problems came when i had to tie knots in that very fine thread, and couldn’t do it by manoeuvring the needle. Tying two short [2-4 cm] lengths of fine sewing hread—well, guys, as most of you know, our fingertips are just too [ahem.. NetNanny won't allow that word] stubby to do it even half easily. I got the job done, but not nearly as easily …
… as a woman whose three middle fingers are about the same thickness as my “pinkie” [aka “little finger”—NetNanny seems to be OK with baby talk, and that's one BabyTalk word that fairly many “grownups” actually speak.]
With three fingers a few mm thicker than a pencil, and a pinkie about the same thickness as a pencil, on each hand; a woman in the smaller half of the hand size distribution would have found that knot tying much easier than i did.** So while hand mending isn’t necessarily “women’s work”, some of it is work that should be women’s when the men have work to which our anatomies are more suited, enough to keep us busy—work like heavy gardening, for instance.
It made more sense that cold March morning, for me to spend an extra 5-10 minutes tying knots that a woman’s hands were more suited to tie, than to take the job somewhere else for smaller fingers to do. Taking the job elsewhere and fetching it back would have taken much longer. It makes more sense for me to do fine detail work involved in growing tomato plants indoors to be planted out when the frost is gone, for the same basic reason. But if i were living with a woman whose hands were less stubby than mine are, i’d dig the transplanting holes (over a cubic foot in size, anyway) and split the firewood, and she could transplant new tomato sprouts. We’d each be doing sex-appropriate work.
* Perhaps a shoemaker would have a machine that could do such jobs, and i can remember when there was a good working Scandinavian shoemaker in Thunder Bay, to whom i took not felt liners but leather boots for work. That was 25 years or longer, ago; and i wonder if there are any shops like his, today.
** (Assuming, if anyone had thought to quibble, that her hand-eye coordination be about as good as mine and her intelligence anywhere above the bottom quarter of the range.) There may be times when small boys can do fine-fingertip work better than their stubby fingered fathers and elder brothers.
I do some 50 hours of mending, give or take a dozen or two, each year. That’s partly because i don’t care a [ahem.. NetNanny might not allow that word either] of a lot about Looking Nice when working in the forest and the gardens, and partly because it costs me an hour or more, and $10 or more [sometimes much more] in fuel, to “go shopping.”
..Something Juicy from Last Summer’s Garden:
(c) 2014, Davd
The snow is two feet deep at least, and if you dug down through it to the garden, you’d get nothing worth bringing into the kitchen. The nearest to fresh food you can get from a summer garden in winter, will be roots, apples, and cabbages. So .. how to make roots fresh and juicy? and give them some of that sweet taste that really good vegetables can have in the green season?
In the case of carrots—shred them—and add raisins. Shredded down to spaghetti thickness, carrots turn out to be quite pleasantly juicy; raisins add a complementary flavour, extra sweetness, and have a texture that goes well with the shredded carrots.
You can use a “grater” to shred carrots, or an electric “food processor”. My favorite tool is a hand-cranked, three-legged arrangement that uses tapered cylinders to cut the vegetables.* The cylinder i use for carrot-raisin salad shreds the carrots into strings just slightly thinner than uncooked spaghetti; and if you use a “grater” to shred them, or an electric “food processor”, that’s still the thickness i recommend.
When the carrots are shredded, all you do is add raisins—and as usual, i advise adding fewer rather than more to start. You can always add more later; they are near enough to impossible to separate out once added, that i’ve never seen anyone try. (If you do have too many raisins, you can leave some in the bowl, shred in another carrot or two, and put it in the ‘fridge for another day. I haven’t tested how long carrot-raisin salad will keep, but covered in a fridge, it ought to keep say, 2-4 days.)
What kind of raisins to add? My preference, again “as usual” is for robust flavours, so i add darker rather than lighter ones—and smaller rather than larger. If Corinthian raisins, which are often called “currants” in stores, are the same price as larger and paler ones, they are what i’d recommend. I suppose i usually use Thompson seedless raisins when i use store-bought because Corinthians have lately cost a good deal more.
I also have a Beta grape vine, which produces dark blue grapes with a fairly strong flavour and soft seeds; and they have made me good salads many times. I believe i prefer Beta grapes as raisins in the winter, when the garden isn’t producing, rather than as fresh grapes when there are all those other tasty things coming from the garden.
Beta grapes are reported to be hardy to -40; they should grow where most Canadians live. Of the very hardy grapes, they are my favorite so far.
Whatever grapes you dry or buy as raisins, and whatever variety of carrots you shred, this salad belongs in your winter repertoire. The ingredients can be grown in most Canadian gardens, their cost in the stores is moderate compared to most vegetables and sweets today, they keep well until you’re ready to use them, and the taste is quite different from those of beets, cabbage, peas, spinach, and other vegetables that you can freeze well or store in a cold-room or ‘fridge.
- – -
* The tool might have the name “salad-master”, but i’m not certain of that—nor do i know for sure if there might be more than one such tool with different specific designs—i bought mine at a yard sale. I find it easier to use, cooking for one man or maybe two or three, than an electric “food processor”; there is less fuss to setting it up and to cleaning up after. It’s much faster and a little safer for my fingertips, than a flat “grater.” I can set a bowl under and a little outside the cutting cylinder, to catch the shreds, and then eat the salad out of that bowl if i’m eating alone.
… this time, Black and Pinto …
(c) 2014, Davd
Home made pea soup can be a welcome part of your regular diet; but if that’s the only pea-family protein food you cook, it’s likely to get monotonous, eating pea soup at noon every day. i like to alternate my leguminous protein meals among peas, chickpeas, lentils, and especially, at least two kinds of beans. The beans are the ones i like best: Black beans, pintos*, and chili-sin-carne [meatless chili] to be exact. In this “post”, i’ll describe cooking black and pinto beans; chili-sin-carne is a little more elaborate and merits a “post” of its own*.
Pea soup cooks almost quickly to a thick purée; black and pinto beans cook more slowly to a tender but still distinct consistency in which you can see, and feel [in your mouth] the individual beans. Each of the three legumes has a distinctive flavour, as different from the others, say, as beef is from pork is from chicken. They should each have a distinctive seasoning as well. Black and pinto beans can be soaked and cooked in the same basic way—but i advise you not to try switching the seasonings from one to the other, any more than you’d season beef with sage.
Beans follow the same basic cooking pattern as peas and lentils; but their soaking times are longer. They benefit from savory, onion, and celery or liveche, but the other seasonings are different—and quite different for black vs. pinto beans.
The basic pattern, to repeat, is:  Soak with savory, but at least overnight this time;
 add a little soda for quicker cooking,
 season with herbs (no smoked fat),
 bring to boiling [stirring down foam is more a problem with black beans than pintos] and
 simmer until the texture is “done”, which with these beans will require one to three hours.
As with pea soup, then, measure a volume of beans one-eighth or less as large as the volume of the pot you’ll use, into that pot or some container that can take some heat. Then measure 3-4 times that volume of water (or vegetable stock) into another pot, add some savory if you have savory, and bring it to the boil. If you have added savory, lower the heat to a gentle bubbling, and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Then turn off the electricity if you used an electric stove, and pour the boiling water onto the beans. (You can also put the peas in a bowl or other holding container, heat the water in the pot you’ll use to cook the soup, and pour in the beans when it’s ready.)
Next, let the dry beans soak up water for 8-12 hours. (They shouldn’t need longer, but they can soak for a full 24-hour day without harm.) When they’re ready, they will have visibly swelled and there will be much less water on top of them.
Since acid legumes take much longer to cook, add some baking soda to the beans when you put them in the pot to cook (or if they soaked in that same pot, when they’re about to go on the heat.) Stir the soda in well, and you might see some bubbles—perhaps less likely than with peas or lentils.
While heating the beans in their soaking stock, fry some onion in vegetable oil (or collect some chive if you’ve chive growing in your garden.) If you have celery leaves and trimmings, or liveche, add that. Add chives whenever you like—it can be good to add some when the beans are coming to the boil and some more when cooking is done. Fried onions should be added as soon as they are lightly browned.
To black beans, add also one or two bay leaves. Bay leaf, savory, celery-liveche, and onion [or chive] are my favourite seasoning for black beans, developed from the recommendation of a chef who trained at a fairly famous Toronto restaurant.
To pintos, add chili powder and oregano—plus celery-liveche and onion, and the savory in the soaking water.. My cooking spoons are more nearly two than three teaspoonfuls in size, and i add one rounded spoonful of chili powder to 2/3 litre of dry beans [soaked up overnight to well over a litre]. However, chili powder varies in “heat” and you may have to do a bit of trial and error to find how much of the kind you have fits with your personal tastes. (As usual, err on the “light” side to start—put in less chili powder rather than more. You can add more later; you can’t subtract it once it dissolves.) I use home grown “Greek” oregano, which is stored as loosely crumbled rather than a fine powder, and add a bit more in loose volume, than of chili powder.
As the beans come to a boil, black beans tend to foam a good deal “worse” than pintos. Stirring the pot will help to work down the foam. This is something to watch and be ready for, when cooking any legumes from scratch.
For black beans, choose a pot that the soup fills about half way, two-thirds at the most, so there is some room for the foam as they approach boiling. When they start to boil, and you’ve reduced the heat to what keeps them simmering (boiling slowly and gently), the foam should disappear or reduce to a very thin layer at the top of the soup. Pintos can be cooked in a relatively smaller pot; but if in doubt, use the same size as for black beans and pea soup.
If you add salt to the pot before tasting, err on the “light” side, as with chili powder—put in less salt rather than more. You can add more later; you can’t subtract it once it dissolves into the soup.
As an estimate, these beans will take one to three hours to cook to a pleasant softness. As the beans begin to soften, take out a half spoonful, set it on the stove top to cool, and then taste. (I keep a jar lid or a tiny saucer near the back of the stove top as a “spoon rest”.) If it seems to you there should be more chili, celery-liveche, chive, or oregano, add more now; but if in doubt, don’t. Some seasonings seem to gain strength with time.
Beans, like pea soup, are economical protein balancers for bread or boiled grain, hearty enough to satisfy, warming and comforting in cold weather. They should be regulars in a frugal and especially in a semi-vegetarian diet. Black and pinto beans can even be mixed with plain boiled rice or barley, and will give the grain enough flavour to make a decent tasting dish. (I don’t recommend mixing pea soup or white beans with plain boiled grain, though.)
I tend to enjoy both black and pinto beans more, eaten cold, than i do pea soup.
* Romano beans are fairly similar to pintos. Until recently, pintos were the least expensive of the retail beans in this area, and i cooked them quite often because they taste so good with chili and oregano. Then Wal-Mart raised their price by well over 50%, and i haven’t cooked them as often; i like black beans at least as well and they now cost slightly less in this area, where before they cost 50% more. If pintos are the low-cost beans where you are, i do recommend them.
I don’t cook white beans often; because as i’ve written a few times before, i prefer robust flavours. If they’re inexpensive where you are, or you especially like them, i recommend some kind of meat to flavour them: Bacon, ham or a light-tasting sausage like “hot dogs”. (If you abstain from red meat or from pork, you can get “chicken wieners/frankfurters” to flavour your white beans…or you can use those smoked soybeans.) Frying the onions in bacon fat might be enough; and as with all dry legumes, i recommend savory in the soaking broth and celery or liveche.
There is also the molasses [and i don't know what else] technique which has made Boston famous: White beans baked with molasses and [??] eaten Saturday night and Sunday morning … and then they went to church [ahem].
Beans, .. Beans, .. Beans, .. Beans…
Chickpeas, .. Lentils, .. SplitPeas, …
Frugal, Staple, Healthy Food…
(c) 2014, Davd
Perhaps you know that marching song:
“They’re good for your heart
The more you eat, the more you [ahem .. this site is restricted to PG-13 language*]
And when you [ahem] you feel so fine!
So eat those beans up every time…
Well, all you kiddies chanting as you hike, or riding the bus to ski or hockey camp, i’m hoping along with you, that those beans, chickpeas, lentils, and green and yellow peas are indeed good for all our hearts. For the past few years, i’ve eaten meatless mid-day meals most days—over 90% of the days of 3-5 years. There are several good reasons for eating [beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas] most days, and [ahem]ing isn’t among those good reasons.
Appreciating meat more by having meals without it—is. By eating lunches of black beans with bay and onion, chili-sin-carne, pintos with chili powder and oregano, chickpeas gurdwara-style, split pea soup with bacon or ham, and curried lentils, i include several flavour combinations in my diet beyond those of beef, chicken, [white] fish, pork, and salmon. That makes my meat meals more enjoyable because they are less “routine”.
It also saves me a serious bit of money, and no small amount of time.
When i cook up a breakfast of pork chop or ham slice and porridge, the meat cooking effort serves me for one meal and the porridge effort serves me for three. When i cook chicken cacciatore for dinner, the meat cooking effort serves me for two meals and the pasta effort serves me for three. When i cook up a pot of beans, chickpeas, lentils, or pea soup, it usually provides the high protein part of 3-7 meals**. Legumes [in the botanical rather than the French usage***of the word] are especially valuable as food because they are high in protein, and their protein complements grain protein well: Pea soup and bread or popcorn, beans and rice or barley, curried lentils and whole-wheat bread, any of them with rice or barley heated in salsa, and you’ve a meatless meal that gives you a decent, adequate amount of protein toward your day’s needs.
Cooking all these dry legumes follws the same basic pattern; but soaking times and seasonings vary with the size, texture, and taste of the different crops. I’ll use pea soup as the example this time, and soon, i’ll post some variations for lentils and a few major kinds of beans.
The basic pattern is:  Soak with savory,  add a little soda for quicker cooking,  season with herbs (and perhaps smoked fat),  bring to boiling [stirring down foam in some cases] and  simmer until the texture is “done”. It can be completed in a half day with peas and lentils and needs almost a full day (i usually work by soaking overnight and cooking in the morning) in the case of black, “chili”, and pinto beans. Don’t expect to cook dry legumes from scratch in an hour or two.
German cooking has some important wisdom for us about beans, peas and lentils: Savory [Satureja hortensis and S. montana] improves the flavour of all the dry legumes and should be added to the soaking water. German cooks call the Saturejas, Bohnenkraut [bean herb]. Some cookbook i read over the years, said they also reduce beans’ tendency to cause [ahem]ing. Whether or not they do that, i’m satisfied with their good effect on the taste. S. montana [“Winter savory”] is perennial and i’ve found it easier to grow than S. hortensis—which most cooks believe has the finer flavour for elegant dishes. For soaking legumes, i use S. montana.
To start a pot of pea soup, then, measure a volume of “split peas” one-eighth or less as large as the volume of the pot you’ll use, into that pot or some container that can take some heat. Then measure 3-4 times that volume of water (or vegetable stock) into another pot, add some savory if you have savory, and bring it to the boil. If you have added savory, lower the heat as when making coffee or sausage soup, and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Then turn off the electricity if you used an electric stove, and pour the boiling water onto the peas. (You can also put the peas in a bowl or other holding container, heat the water in the pot you’ll use to cook the soup, and pour in the peas when it’s ready.)
Next, let the dry peas soak up water for 2-3 hours. (Black, chili/kidney, and pinto beans should soak 8-12 hours—“overnight”, usually—and can soak for a full 24-hour day without harm. Peas and lentils should soak no longer than overnight, though in a cool room they may tolerate up to 24 hours.) When they’re ready, they will have visibly swelled and there will be much less water on top of them.
While soaking, legumes have some tendency to become acid, and acid legumes take much longer to cook. Therefore—for cooking speed and not because you want more sodium in your diet—add some baking soda to the peas when you put them in the pot to cook (or if they soaked in that same pot, when they’re about to go on the heat.) Stir the soda in well, and you might see some bubbles—you almost certainly will see some foam when they near the boiling point.
While heating the peas in their soaking stock, fry some onion in ham or bacon fat [or vegetable oil if you abstain from meat or from pork]. If you do abstain from meat or from pork, i suggest getting some smoked-soy-protein [imitation bacon] to add instead, at least for one try; but it is not necessary. Onion is pretty well necessary; and seems to me to go best if lightly browned, preferably in smoked fat. In summer, you might prefer chives—which should not be fried [duuuuuuuhhh].
If you don’t use ham or bacon fat, nor imitation bacon, then adding a bit of thyme might give the pea soup a little extra vigor.
As the peas come to a boil, they are likely to “foam up”, and stirring the pot will help to work down the foam. This is not a food to put on the stove at high heat and then leave for a half hour—you’re likely to come back to burnt foam around the bottom of the pot, and a somewhat unpleasant smell in the kitchen. If you keep watch on the pot of peas as they heat, you can probably do some other chores near by, but choose chores that you can put down to stir the pot and adjust the heat.
Also, choose a pot that the soup fills about half way, two-thirds at the most, so there is some room for the foam as the peas approach boiling. When they start to boil, and you’ve reduced the heat to what keeps them simmering (boiling slowly and gently), the foam should disappear or reduce to a very thin layer at the top of the soup.
If you add salt to the pot before tasting, err on the “light” side—put in less salt rather than more. You can add more later; you can’t subtract it once it dissolves into the soup.
You might also want to add a bit of liveche or celery leaves and trimmings, if you have either; and perhaps some pepper. Myself, i suggest you try some of the celery-liveche flavour while the soup is cooking; but hold the pepper until you eat your first bowlful (because it doesn’t need to cook into the peas and broth the way celery does, for full value.) If adding pepper after cooking pleases you, you can add some during cooking next time. As with salt, err on the “light” side in adding celery or pepper—put in less rather than more. You can add more later; you can’t subtract it once it dissolves into the soup.
As an estimate, pea soup will take half an hour to an hour to “cook down”. Cook it until the peas “mush” to a smooth consistency. As the peas become obviously soft, but have a while to cook yet, take out a half spoonful, set it on the stove top to cool, and then taste. (I keep an upside-down jar lid or a tiny saucer near the back of the stove top as a “spoon rest”.) Then, if you want to add celery, salt, or pepper, they will have some time to merge with the soup.
When they are “mushing”, peas may start to stick to the bottom of the pot. You can feel them starting to stick with a spoon … stir often enough that the soup, as it cooks, doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot .. which means, the hotter the element, flame, or woodstove top, the more stirring. If the sticking gets really difficult .. they’re probably done
Pea soup is an economical protein balancer for bread or boiled grain, hearty enough to satisfy, warming and comforting in cold weather. It, and beans and lentils cooked as i’ll describe soon, should be regulars in a frugal and especially in a semi-vegetarian diet. I normally have grain and legumes, with no meat, for my mid-day meal, which is the meal i most often “don’t want to take much time cooking.” In the summer especially, i can take out cooked beans, lentils, or pea soup, cut some bread, heat rice or barley in salsa, or perhaps fry chapatis [whole-wheat-flour tortillas] and be fed and back to work in jig time.
I’m planning to make the next ‘post’ a description of the different timing that cooking beans requires, and seasonings for black and pinto beans. Later i’ll describe curried lentils (which for timing and consistency, cook like peas rather than like beans), a hot South Asian style of cooking chickpeas, and how to make good chili without meat.
The pea-family of large edible seeds, like the grains which are large edible seeds of the grass family, provides good staple food at relatively low cost. Once you’ve cooked any of these seasoned legume foods a few times and can reliably make it taste the way you want, you can take it to potlucks and—in this age of commercially seasoned “pre-cooked foods”—you are likely to get as much appreciation as if you’d brought something much more expensive. Commercial seasoning tends to be bland and timid. The herbs i use with these legumes, are not—only the chickpeas in South Asian style are “hot”, but good herbs used with a fairly generous hand, give a strong savoury flavour that really improves peas, lentils, and beans…
.. whether or not you [ahem]… and on the modest amounts potluck guests usually take of any one thing, they pretty likely won’t.
* .. and millions of boys and girls younger than 13 have sung “f..t” on hikes and even tour buses, but perhaps the Net Nanny is prissier than they are…..
** To re-heat pea soup, i use a small stainless-steel bowl with a wide bottom, which i sit on a less-hot part of the woodstove top. Those of you who use electric stoves only could use a small stainless steel frying pan on very low heat, a “double boiler”, or the microwave if you have one.
*** en-Français, legumes refers to what Anglophones call vegetables. Botanically, legumes refers to the pea-family of plants, whose roots host bacteria that can fix nitrogen from the air in the soil, into forms that plants can take in and utilize. Beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas are high in protein that complements grain protein well, because of those bacteria hosted by the roots of the plants that produced them.
… “on the cheap” but still good.
(c) 2014, Davd
New Year’s Day reminds me of coffee. I don’t think i drink more of it than on other days; methinks it’s because i’ve noticed many other people taking coffee that morning, who don’t on most mornings.
If you’re going to have coffee—however often or seldom—it might as well be good coffee, and it might as well be made right at home, even in your slippers and pajamas if you don’t feel like getting dressed before breakfast.
I never understood why people would drive to Robin’s or Tim Horton’s [Starbucks, etc, in the US] to buy a cup of coffee! Good coffee is easy to make at home; and if you’re not wealthy, you can make it quite economically. In the past two years, i’ve bought dark-roast coffee for seven to ten dollars per kilo and made good, re-heatable coffee from it. (I’m not going to push dark roast at people who prefer lighter coffee; but i’m making the point that dark-roast, which usually costs a bit more, can be had that cheaply. Me, i definitely prefer dark.)
Coffee should never be boiled. An old professor, decades ago when i was a young professor, told me that “coffee can be made with water that’s not boiling, but for tea, the water must be boiling!!” (Yes, he was English.) I did remember his insistence about tea, but i also remembered what he said about coffee, especially after i read that boiled coffee is less healthy (even carcinogenic? Let me know, via replies*, if you know.)
The answer, as Germans especially and most Finns know, is to put the boiling water on the coffee-grounds, and filter the liquid from the solids. Because the coffee-grounds are cooler than boiling, the mixture is at least slightly cooler also—but hot enough to brew the coffee.
The standard ways to do that today are a drip-machine and the Melitta filter cone. The cone is simpler, less expensive, and works at the barbecue, in camp, anywhere. If the electric power fails, the coffee doesn’t. And i get to tell you “how to boil water.”
I doubt any man who can read this, can’t boil water somehow. As we proceed to learn more and more ways to cook, we’ll also learn that there are better and worse ways to go about boiling water—and the way that’s best for sausage soup may not be best for pea soup or rye porridge. Sausage soup is pretty easy to cook; some kinds of porridge are a little more difficult; and if you want a challenge, try cooking pea soup or black beans with bay and onion, in a pot that’s full almost to the very top.
Boiling water for coffee amounts to getting it to a lively boil and then easing back to just-bubbling (very much like cooking sausage soup.) If you’re making coffee and not doing much else at the same time, then you want the water to take just long enough to boil, that you can have the pot, filter, and coffee-grounds ready for it.
I make a full pot three or four times per week, and then heat leftover coffee for breakfast and at mid-afternoon on the other days. My stainless steel pot can hold a litre and a half of liquid, and i usually make about a litre and a quarter of coffee. I find that five rounded but not heaping scoops, of the kind that come in cans of Melitta and some other brands, makes a 1¼ litre pot whose flavour pleases me. (That might mean that one level measure per six ounces [which for some strange reason is the volume coffee can instructions define as one cup, rather than eight] is close to my tastes.) There’s some work to making coffee, and good filter-cone coffee keeps its flavour well and reheats well, so i make a full pot most times and only empty a pot at one sitting when there are two or more others drinking it with me.
First part of the job, then, is to decide how much water to heat and how much coffee to put in the filter cone. For me, that’s a long-established routine. You may need some trial-and-error to get the ratio of coffee to water where you like it best; the can of coffee will probably have some advice from which to start. (Remember, the sellers are in business to make profits, so they may suggest using more coffee than most people need.)
Use fine-ground coffee. I do not believe the claims on some coffee cans, that “all purpose grind” is good [even "ideal"] for all coffee makers—my experience has taught me it is not ideal for filter cones or drip machines. (I do buy some dark roast coffee in that “all purpose grind”—and then re-grind it in a Braun coffee grinder i was lucky enough to buy at a yard sale. No grinder?—no “all purpose grind”, then, is my advice.)
When water approaches its boiling point, on an electric stove or a hot woodstove, the bottom of the pot begins to “roar” softly. That’s your clue: Get the ladle [a clean mug will do if you don't have a ladle yet, and if you're heating water in a kettle you don't need either] and as you see very small bubbles** forming at the bottom, take a small amount of hot water and just dampen and heat those grounds. Leave the heat under the water [port or kettle] fairly high until the larger bubbles start coming to the surface, and then ease it back to whatever setting [or position on the woodstove] will just keep a lively boil going.
With luck, the time it takes the small amount of water you added, to dampen and heat those grounds, will be the same as the time it takes the main pot of water to boil. When both have happened—when the grounds are dampened and the main pot of water is boiling—ladle water onto the grounds until the filter cone is full. You’ll smell a fine, fresh coffee aroma as the not-quite boiling water extracts the flavour from the grounds. Keep ladling until the filter is full of water and grounds.
Next, let the filter drain, which will probably happen pretty quickly. The sides of the cone will be covered with coffee grounds and no water will show at the bottom.
Next, ladle boiling water [it will actually be just below boiling temperature when it reaches the filter cone] onto the grounds, all around the cone, washing them into the middle of the filter. When you’ve done this, the filter probably won’t be full of water; if it’s not, ladle some on top of the mixture of water and grounds, to fill the filter again; and then let it brew. The filter will probably take longer to empty this time.
It’s OK to pour yourself a cup after the second drain-down, even if there’s a little water left to “brew with”.
If you’ve put on to boil, a little more water than you expect to produce in coffee (because some water will be left in the grounds, which start out dry and end up soaking wet, and a wee bit will boil away); then whatever hasn’t been used up in the first two filter-fillings should be added when the second filling has drained into the coffee-pot. Pour it so as to ‘wash’ all the grounds into the bottom of the cone, and then, i suggest, stir them briefly [the handle of a spoon or fork will do; a big spoon may be too big]. They will drain slowly, perhaps even more slowly than the second filling. When the water has drained away, the surface of the grounds is likely to be shiny.
That’s it—good home-made coffee, never boiled, and (perhaps for that reason) good when reheated*** as well.
* at everyman dot ca
** Those very small bubbles are dissolved air being driven out of the water, i’ve heard, not the water itself boiling: The hotter water is, the less dissolved gas it will hold; and as the water comes close to boiling, dissolved air will be driven out so fast you can see it. The larger bubbles are water-vapor (steam); boiling is the transformation of liquid water to gas.
To transform any given amount of water from liquid to steam takes more than twice as much energy, as to raise itstemperature from freezing cold to boiling hot. Once water reaches its boiling temperature (100C [212F] at sea level and normal atmospheric pressure) it won’t get any hotter before turning to steam. Boiling water hard doesn’t make it hotter, it makes it vaporize more quickly.
*** It might be worth adding that i usually cook breakfast on a woodstove; and i set a mug’s worth of leftover coffee in a small stainless steel cooking pot, off at one of the cooler parts of the stove top. I don’t reheat the whole pot of coffee, only what i’ll drink next; and i don’t use a microwave or high heat.
I also use a cloth filter, sewn up from bedsheet or pillowcase type fabric, which has a tight weave and is designed to take hot water. I rinse it between brews of coffee and occasionally throw it in the washing machine—but not with white fabric, unless you’re trying to dye it light tan.
…and a few suggestions for turkey if you are going to get together with some other men:
(c) 2013, Davd
This winter, i am without “wheels”. The day before a 45 cm snowfall, my vehicle wouldn’t start. Last winter i drove 11 times between late December and mid-April. A friend i won’t name without his blessing to do so, said he could drive me a few times per month—as many as i’d driven the first months of this year—and suggested i take the vehicle off the road until Spring. (He even drove me to the city to suspend the insurance, return a library book, and do some food shopping, after the storm.)
This won’t be my first Christmas alone. I do plan to feast. I don’t plan to get exotic—no pineapple, no sweet potatoes; my vegetables will all be kinds that grow near here and the whole meal is likely to be from Canada.
I’m still deciding between salmon, steak, and a shoulder-ham for this Christmas’s feast. A turkey is ‘way too large to cook for one man, and those three alternatives are waiting in the freezer. The shoulder ham is less likely than the other two, because it’s difficult to time the thawing.
I don’t want to go outdoors and stand in two feet of snow to “grill” either steak or salmon. The steak would be ‘fried’ using the technique i’ve posted for frying meat, with mushroom gravy and pasta or boiled potatoes, and spinach frozen from my summer garden. (The mushrooms are optional; i happen to have some salted forest mushrooms in the fridge. There’s also some Siberian kale from the fall garden, and some tomatoes that were picked green and have ripened to pink but aren’t likely to get red, so i might have a second-class but still good kale-tomato salad. There will definitely be cranberry jam or sauce, because cranberries grow all around here.) The wine will be home made Merlot or Pinot Noir.
The salmon would be steamed with carrots and probably rice. The steamed cabbage blog describes steaming technique; with Pacific pink salmon i’d use vegetable stock for the steaming liquid, put the rice in the pan with the stock—a little more than twice as much stock as rice—cut the carrots to half an inch thick or less, lay them in the steaming basket with gaps about that same width, put the salmon filet on top, and sprinkle it with frozen chive and dried tarragon. One pot cooks the fish, the carrots, and the grain; and the carrots and salmon flavour the rice. When the carrots are done, the fish should be; i’ll check the rice and if it is also done, add some more frozen chive . The other vegetable will be either spinach or salad—steamed cabbage is not quite feast enough for Christmas, in my opinion anyway—and the wine will be Riesling or Chardonnay, also home made from a kit. (I like robust flavours, as you might have noticed.)
Some of you reading this know enough cooking techniques to mimic one of those solo feasts, or plan one you personally will like even better. If so, enjoy … If not, think what you can readily do with the skills you have so far: For instance, you might have a favorite kind of sausage—one that’s too high in saturated fat to eat often, too good to make soup from, but easy to cook. (I thought of salami, but it’s normally eaten cold, and a cold Christmas dinner is something to have if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere or the tropics… so it won’t appeal to most readers.)
If you like the idea of steak—or a pork chop, chicken filet, fried rather than steamed fish—but aren’t confident about making gravy or sauce for the pasta, rice or potatoes, you could choose pasta and buy a bottle of commercial sauce. (I buy commercial sauce myself, when it’s on special for a dollar a bottle [650-700 ml], and keep some handy for when i am in a hurry.) When you take the meat out of the pan, pour the commercial sauce in to heat; and it will pick up some meat drippings and taste better.
With my experience, i buy more crushed and diced tomatoes—and grow tomatoes also—and make most of my own sauces; but commercial sauce which has captured some pan flavour is good enough to go with a steak, a pork chop, or a chicken filet. Fish doesn’t seem to improve commercial pasta sauce, though. A better trick with fried fish is to boil some potatoes and mash them in the pan after the fish comes out.. then add some butter, oil, or margarine, and pepper. If you happen to have chive or green onion, add some of that too.
If you have a favorite commercially prepared food—some favorite brand of pizza, corned beef and cabbage, fish and chips—maybe that’s your best Christmas dinner this year. The main point is, it should be a treat—and to your taste, not mine (unless our tastes agree, in which case it’s both.)
If you know another man who will be ‘alone’ at Christmas, think about getting together for a feast you both appreciate. I won’t suggest turkey, though—a whole turkey is awfully big for two.
If you are organizing to join three or more other men who will be ‘alone’ at Christmas, and have bought a turkey, looking up the roasting procedure in a good cookbook, and “doing the usual Christmas dinner” together, isn’t really that difficult. Give yourselves plenty of time if you aren’t experienced at cooking turkeys. Share out the tasks other than the big bird: One man makes dessert, maybe; one makes cranberry sauce and gets one vegetable, one does the mashed potatoes, maybe one makes the stuffing, and so forth. Get together ahead of time to agree on who does what.
My favorite seasoning for stuffing, for turkey, other poultry, or baked fish; is Sage, Celery, Onion, and Pepper*. Some blog early in the New Year, i intend to give more attention to herb and spice combinations; for instance, i make chicken cacciatore with Sage, Oregano, Celery, Onion, Pepper, and often add basil or garlic in season. The oregano goes especially well with mushrooms and tomatoes, and is the signature herb for Italian cooking that’s not sweetened.
When boiling potatoes, adding bay leaf or rosemary will give them a special extra flavour that most people really appreciate.
As i was writing this blog, CBC Radio’s “Maritime Noon” show began with the announcement that a professional butler would tell listeners how to behave properly at holiday dinner, so they might be invited back. (I turned off the radio, so i didn’t hear the butler’s advice.) If being a guest is really so difficult—which i guess it is for some and not for others—dinner alone might be more comfortable. So depending on where you live, how well you get along with your nearby kinfolk if there are any, what other single men you know near by, and what faith you follow, go to church if that suits you, have some kind of a special meal without worrying whether it’s fancy enough, share it with men you like if kin you like aren’t near by and single buddies are—and maybe, remember that on that first Christmas, all Jesus ate was milk.
Many scholars believe that Jesus was actually born in the springtime, and that the church’s choice to celebrate His birth at the start of winter has two main reasons behind it. First, Easter—Resurrection Day—definitely was in the spring, and the two great feasts with their weeks of thought and preparation shouldn’t overlap. That gave a reason to celebrate Jesus’ birth in a different season. Second, there were pagan Winter Solstice festivals that the churches didn’t want their membership taking part in, and remembering His birth gave Christians something else to hold their attention. It does seem reasonable, that a Caesar ordering hundreds of thousands of subjects to travel to their ancestral home towns, wouldn’t order them to travel in the winter.
* I grow liveche (Lovage, Levisticum officinale) and use it instead of celery in soups, sauces and stuffings. Its taste is stronger and richer than celery, but definitely celery-like. Most readers probably won’t have it available. Celery leaves, outer stems, and trimmings are at least as good for seasoning stuffing as are the succulent, mild inner stalks: Cut them fine, same as the onion. Chive is (in my opinion) better than bulb onion for most cooking; but for stuffing, i’d cut the onion fine and fry it in canola oil or bacon fat until it just begins to brown, then add to the stuffing. Put it in raw if the frying is a bother—but do cut it fine.
.. building on experience for a “presentation quality meal”
(c 2013, Davd
“Fish” is about as diverse a class of foods as “meat” or “vegetables”. Filet of sole is light and delicate in taste and texture; sockeye salmon is robust and delightfully oily (and the oil is rich in the Omega-3 polyunsaturated fat that most people’s diets lack.) Mackerel has a strong odor that is also oily but very different from sockeye salmon, and can easily become “rank”; and its taste in the mouth is much lighter than sockeye or even Atlantic and coho salmon. Even among the fishes whose meat is called “white”, there is a great difference ranging from sole through pollock [goberge] and haddock to cod and on to some strong-flavoured kinds of sea bass.
The kinds of fish that cook well “poached in salsa” tend to be white or pink fleshed and relatively light in taste—though sole may be “too light” and tends also to be sold in filets that are thinner than ideal for the technique. This autumn, Pacific pink salmon [Oncorrhynchys gorbuscha] from Alaska and B.C. has been available, frozen whole [gutted, don't worry], at lower prices than any other kind of fish; and i’ve confirmed that it is delicious poached in salsa—as i knew of “pollock” (in English, or goberge in French) from earlier. I’m confident that other species of fish, especially haddock, perch when available in large enough pieces, and probably greenling, will also be good poached in salsa, but perhaps not cod, mackerel, or the higher-fat, stronger-flavoured species of salmon.
(Fish has become much more expensive during my adult life: As a graduate student on a tight budget i often bought rockfish, a very similar fish in taste and texture, for 25-30 cents per pound [55-66 cents per kilo, but in the 1960s, things were done in pounds]. Sirloin steak cost $1-$2 per pound, a good comparison because it, like fish filets, has almost no waste. Today i can get sirloin steak for $4-$5 per pound, or four times the price then; while the least expensive regularly available white fish costs at least ten times its price then.)
Poaching is simmering applied to meat or eggs “by themselves”, often in a flavoured broth: The broth (in this case, salsa picante) is kept just barely boiling, usually for a short time. Poached eggs, for instance, cook for 3-5 minutes. I poached pink salmon in about ten, and if you have doubts whether the fish is cooked, it shouldn’t hurt to cook it for fifteen.
You can make a batch of salsa, pour off two-thirds if you’re cooking just for yourself, and then add 150-200 grams [5-7 ounces] of fish. Or you can put a third of a batch of salsa into a pot (or a small stainless steel frying pan), heat it close to boiling, add the fish, and cook. Either way, a quarter to a third of a batch of salsa and 150-200 g of fish, should feed one man one meal.* For more people, multiply the amounts… and increase the size of the pot or pan.
Let the fish simmer [boil very gently], don’t boil it hard; and 10 minutes should be cooking time enough but if in doubt, 15 won’t hurt. Simmering gently, the salsa shouldn’t stick to the pot; if in doubt, test the bottom with a spoon. When the fish is done, it will be firm in texture. I haven’t made good notes about the time pink salmon takes to cook, vs pollock/goberge, but my educated guess is that salmon takes longer… so fairly thin pollock filets might be done in 5-6 minutes.
When the fish is cooked, add some grain—i almost always use boiled barley or rice—and you have a meal. Salsa in that amount counts as 1-2 ‘servings’ of vegetable in the terms of the Canada Food Guide, the fish is high-quality protein, and the grain gives a little extra balance to that protein. Salsa with a bit of fish taste from the cooking goes well with fish and grain.
My favourite among white fish readily available in the markets, for poaching in salsa, is usually called “Alaska pollock”. (I’m unaware of any way that “Alaska pollock” differs from other pollock, so “pollock” and occasionally goberge is what you’ll read here.) I can usually buy it for $9/kg at the CoOp and sometimes on special for $7.50 at another store, as frozen filets. If you’re near the West Coast and can get “greenling” or “rock cod”, those might be well worth a try. On the East Coast, they’re seldom if ever seen.
If you’re cooking for yourself or for “the guys”, the fish, salsa, and some cooked rice or barley, can be eaten from a bowl (shallow, wide bowls are sometimes called “soup plates.”) If you’re doing “a little nicer presentation”, you can separate the fish from the salsa, put it on a plate, and then add cooked grain to the salsa to serve separately. (I wouldn’t use salsa in which fish was cooked, for dipping corn chips…. or put it on the grain to go with chicken or red meat—but “it’s moot”, because that fish-poaching salsa gets used up in the same meal.)
The commonest white fish species in Atlantic Canadian stores are cod, haddock, pollock, and sole. For poaching, i prefer the pollock, which is the mildest-flavoured of the first three, and often the least expensive of the four. Haddock would be my second choice for poaching in salsa. Cod seems too strong-flavoured for best performance with salsa, while sole seems to me to be “too light” .. but you might think differently, so go ahead and try them if you like: De gustibus, non disputandum est.
I now know pink salmon is delicious poached in salsa. It’s well worth while cooking pink salmon this way; the difference versus pollock, is that pink salmon also comes out very good steamed with carrots, or grilled, or salted raw. (Other salmon species, and Western cutthroat and rainbow trout, are even better salted raw, or smoked, than is pink salmon… if you can manage a trout pond, that’s a great way to grow yourself some fine food!) I might try poaching brook trout sometime—but not the stronger-flavoured Atlantic, coho, spring, or sockeye salmon, nor mackerel and herring. Mackerel and herring are good ‘pickled’ and (mackerel especially) poached in a vinegar based broth; as well as smoked. The oilier, richer-flavoured salmon species are good fried, grilled, salted raw with herbs, as well as smoked, and the thicker cuts can be baked with or without stuffing.
Cod has a more distinct, stronger flavour than haddock or pollock, so i suggest steaming it with chive and a little tarragon or perhaps sage… a technique that also works well with pink salmon, and will be the subject of a future blog for those who don’t know the steaming technique. Your tastes might be different than mine, so go ahead and try those species of fish too, if you’re so inclined. What i can say is that pollock, which is mild flavoured even among white fishes, is mighty good, as is pink salmon, which is mild flavoured even among ‘red’ fishes
The first four “posts” on cooking started with an easy variation on a Finnish soup that not many non-Finns seemed to know about, then described how to sort out a cabbage and make the cooked part tastier, then described two techniques, for healthy fried meat and slightly fancy porridge, which add together for a good hearty breakfast. The last post, on salsa, described something a bit fancier; and now, combining salsa with poached fish and boiled grain (which cooks almost the same as making porridge, but takes noticeably longer than quick oats and is less likely to stick), you have a “presentation meal”, something you can serve that tastes special and many other folks won’t know how to do. (I strongly suggest you cook any meal for yourself and your housemates, at least twice, before doing it “for presentation”.)
Don’t get proud, though: There’s lots more to learn, and this week i’ll be thinking about what might come next. Maybe fileting those whole fish, and-or a review of boiling grain?
* Those “hungry-man” brand frozen dinners brag about being “a whole pound of food”. That’s 454 grams if they are being precise. 150 grams of fish, plus 250 grams or maybe 300 of rice or barley, and salsa, plus a vegetable, add up to at least one pound. 200 grams of fish, plus 300 grams or maybe 400 of rice or barley, and salsa, plus a vegetable, and an apple (banana, orange, etc.) should add up to more than half-again the size of that “big meal”, and without a calorie count that will make any active man get fat. (By the way, i did notice that sausage soup is “too high in saturated fats”, and i don’t recommend you eat it more often than once, maybe twice a week. I wrote my first cooking post about sausage soup, because it is relatively easy for a beginner to cook, and gives beginners a good first experience—plus many people haven’t known about it before.)