Daily Thanks #19: Chocolate

Chocolate is pretty amazing.

But not as amazing as the fact that my husband, on a day when he had about 100,057 details to deal with, stopped on the way home from picking up the car at the mechanic to buy me dark chocolate truffles.

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Daily Thanks #13: Tomatoes

Despite all the complaints you could make about our current food system in this country, and believe me I’m not a fan of the abundance of chemicals in my food or the depletion of nutrients in the soil, I am a fan of the fact that I can walk into any local grocery store and buy fresh tomatoes at any time of the year. Fresh salsa and tomato sandwiches may be a bit less flavorful in the dead of winter, but I’m thankful for the ability to make them at all year round.

Pork Dumplings

Last night I made pork dumplings that Colton said were better than most of the pork dumplings he’s had in his life. I figured that meant I should write down the recipe before I forgot what I did. ūüôā

I made my own dumpling wrappers based on this recipe, and made filling based on this recipe. The dipping sauce was more of a general impression of several dipping sauces. 

Dumpling wrappers

2 cup white flour

1 cup boiling water

Put flour in food processor. While the food processor is running, pour in boiling water in a thin stream. Let it mix until the dough forms a cohesive lump, then for another minute or so. Take it out and knead it until it’s smooth and springy, then let it rest while mixing up the filling.

 

Dumpling filling

1 pound ground pork, raw

1 TBSP minced garlic

1 egg

2 TBSP  fresh parsley

2 TBSP ‘soy sauce

1 1/2 TBSP peanut oil

1 TBSP minced fresh ginger

Mix.

 

¬†Divide the dough into 4 pieces and roll each out as thin as possible. I would have divided it into 2 pieces to do this, but my counters aren’t that big… Also, the dough didn’t get quite as thin as I thought it should, but it was still bordering on ‘translucent’ about a 1/16”, and the effect was quite good even though it was a little thicker than the wrapper on restaurant dumplings. I cut them into roughly 3 inch squares (some oddly shaped edges) and got almost 40 dumplings out of the dough instead of the predicted 50.

¬†I put a tsp to a tsp and a half of meat mixture in the middle of each square, folded the dough into a triangle, sealed the edges, and then pinched the two triangle points together at the top of the dumpling. I didn’t find applying water to make any difference in whether the dumpling edges sealed or not.¬†

¬†I boiled a big pot of salted water and boiled the dumplings in two batches. I didn’t time how long they took to cook, but I cooked them for a minutes or two after they started floating, for good measure.¬†

¬†I served them with a dipping sauce made mostly of ‘soy sauce’ with a sprinkle of garlic powder and ginger powder and a TBSP or so of peanut oil.

¬†Originally I was going to use this as base recipe to experiment with whole wheat dumpling wrappers, but this turned out so well that Colton said he would be very disappointed if I changed it, so I guess this will remain an unhealthy splurge meal. ūüôā

 

An Ode to Gluten

¬†Technically, this is not an ode, which would be a lyrical stanza. Technically, as a writing in praise of a thing, it’s more of a eulogy, which is kind of funny if you think about it.

I’ve always been fascinated by bread dough. It starts off as a conglomeration of basic ingredients, but the more you push and poke and prod it, the springier and more resilient it gets. It goes from soft and goopy to more fun than playdough in the course of (several, very long) minutes.

I used to disdain bread makers and even stand mixers as getting in way of my ability to play with the bread dough. Now that I have a mixer I greatly appreciate the time and energy it saves me, but I have to be careful not to spend all the time I save on just watching it work. It starts by just swirling a twisted hook in a bowl of goop, but quickly the strands of gluten develop, stretching and bending as the dough thickens and swirls with the hook.

Then suddenly, like waiting for a plane to take off from the ground, knowing it will happen any second, but still being surprised when it tilts drastically toward the sky, the dough ceases to be a formless mass and becomes a cohesive ball contained by the bowl but no longer shaped by it.

After the dough has been twisted and thrown around for a while, it’s time to test it by stretching out a small piece as thin as it will go. If it’s not ready, it quickly tears into separate lumps, or even pulls fairly thin before developing large holes. But if it’s ready to rise, if the gluten has reached it’s peak of strength and resilience, it stretches to translucency ¬†before it breaks . The heavy mass of dough, shortly to be a chewy loaf of bread, stretches to the gossamer delicacy of a dragonfly wing.

At this point, the gluten is strong and elastic enough to trap air bubbles, which, yes, means that it makes good, fluffy bread, but also means that when left alone for a while… it poofs up! The dough starts out sitting densely in the bottom of the bowl and grows until it’s nearly spilling out the sides in its expanding exuberance.

Then comes one of my favorite parts. I punch the dough. The air leaves again with a woosh and all the tiny bubble structures collapse down to density once again.

With some recipes, I get to do this twice.

Shaping the dough once again brings into stark contrast the springy dough and the formless goop it was not so long ago. In the oven, the gluten hardens, but not into a solid, dense mass, but into that exuberant expansion of poofing it displayed while rising earlier. Sometimes when it comes out of the oven, small strands of gluten are still distinct and visible on the surface, the thread that holds the loaf together.

I don’t really know how gluten does what it does, but I have to say, it’s pretty cool to watch it work.

Watermelon Relish

The other day I made some watermelon juice. Watermelon juices pretty thoroughly, but I did have some pulp left from running the rind through the juicer along with the flesh. (I peeled off the green part pre-juicing, but left on the white part.)

Sometimes juice pulp baffles me, as you can end up with odd mixtures, and even I rarely think, “Hey, I’ve been wanting a blend of mango, carrot and celery for this recipe I wanted to try!” But juicing a single kind of produce for once? No brainer.

I based this recipe on Paula Dean’s pickled watermelon rind, and it turned out to be some pretty good sweet relish. (If you don’t happen to have juiced any watermelon recently, you could save and peel the rind after you eat your watermelon and run it through a food processor to achieve the needed watermelon rind pulp.)

 

Watermelon Relish

1 ¬ĺ cups watermelon rind pulp

1 tsp salt

Pinch ground mustard

Dash black pepper

¬ľ cup apple cider vinegar

¬ĺ cup sugar

¬ĺ cup water

Simmer until all ingredients are blended and watermelon pulp has softened to your preferred relish consistency.

Alternatively, you should be able to ferment this, as both apple cider vinegar and salt are used as fermentation kickstarters, but I can’t vouch for the definitive success of this option.

Freezer cooking with meat!

It was good shopping week last week–I found meat on clearance. I’d gone to a store not on my usual route, because they had chuck roast and pork steaks on sale for less than $2 a pound.

Less than $2 a pound is a good deal for meat, but not as good as less than $1 a pound. ¬†When I found ground pork and ground beef on manager’s special for 99 cents a pound I changed my meat buying plans, cut back on on the roast and skipped the pork steaks entirely. Instead I bought 27 pounds of ground meat.

Yes, 27 pounds.

We like our protein around here, can you tell?

Plus, I have this chest freezer sitting our living room, and really, what’s the point of even having a chest freezer if you can’t buy 27 pounds of meat when you find an amazing deal?

Now, I could have just divided all the meat up into one pound portions and frozen them in sandwich bags like I normally do when I buy a three pound roll of ground beef… but that is entirely prosaic way to react to the meat explosion that is 27 pounds of meat.

(Okay, I’m breaking into my raptures for a moment to admit that to those of you who buy half a cow at a time, 27 pounds doesn’t sound like that much. But there are only two of us, and while I like the idea of buying entire sections of dead animal to eat, our grocery budget tends more toward the three pound roll of ground beef at Aldi. ¬†Just imagine how much more I’d rhapsodize over half a cow worth of meat, and be glad it was only 27 pounds.)

I planned a freezer cooking afternoon. As  freezer cooking sessions go, it was low key, but I believe I did justice to my meat deal.

First, I put six pounds of ground beef in my large saucepot to brown. (In my head it will forever be the ‘oatmeal sized pot’ despite the fact that currently one batch of oatmeal in that pot would last us about two weeks, even if Colton liked oatmeal.) I’m glad I started with that, because it takes a long time to brown six pounds of ground beef. I stirred it every so often between other tasks, and by the time it cooked and then cooled, it was one of the last things I put away in the freezer.

Then, in my largest metal mixing bowl, I mixed six pounds of ground beef with four pounds of ground pork, plus eggs, oatmeal, onions and other meatloaf ingredients, and discovered that my very largest metal mixing bowl is not really (or is just barely, depending on how you look at it) big enough for making ten pounds of meatloaf mixture.

I only had two foil loaf pans, so I made five more small meatloaves on sheets of parchment paper, meant for cooking on baking sheets after thawing. Somehow I managed to pour ketchup topping over them, wrap them in slightly too small sheets of parchment paper, and stuff them two or three at a time in gallon freezer bags without making a huge mess.

With the rest of the meatloaf mixture I made over three dozen meatballs. I discovered that making meatballs and oven cooking them isn’t nearly as time consuming as I’d always somehow assumed making meatballs would be. But then, that might have just been in comparison to a full afternoon of freezer cooking…

I ran out of time that afternoon, so it wasn’t until the next day that I put five pounds of ground pork in the freezer for future testing of recipes such as this wonton soup with homemade wonton wrappers. I would say that will happen someday when I’m feeling ambitious, but really it will just happen someday after I borrow a pasta machine.

My last five pounds of ground pork (because you were counting and knew how many pounds were left, right?) I turned into sausage. Not sausages, though that would be really cool too, but just pork seasoned up without having to wonder what weird stuff was added for flavor. It turned out having a very mild italian sausage type flavor, and since I liked it, I’ll document the spice blend here for future reference.

2 TBSP sea salt

2 TBSP garlic powder

2TBSP onion powder

2 tsp black pepper

1 TBSP dried parsely

1 TBSP paprika

2 tsp turmeric

1 tsp cayenne

1 tsp cumin

2 tsp basil

1 tsp oregano

2 tsp thyme

My Kitchen Aid is Not Yet Dead

This morning I was contemplating how pleased I am with my KitchenAid mixer. ¬†It’s a Professional 600 model, heavy duty and very handy. I was pleased with myself for thinking ahead enough to purchase this particular mixer for my hope chest instead of dinky two person sized mixer. Having in my possession a mixer capable of kneading four loaves worth of whole wheat bread dough at once, I thought, makes me a more efficient person.

That was about when I discovered that an overheating KitchenAid mixer smells like flowers. Seriously, I was standing right in front of my mixer trying to figure out where that sweet jasminey lavenderish smell was coming from. I began to take the hint when the mixer stopped dead.

I was in the middle of making this super awesome 100% whole wheat bread. The first time I made it, I only made half a batch, being skeptical that it would truly be that amazing. (I did make a few small adjustments of my own, mostly adding the ginger to my yeast proofing mixture ala Rose Lane Farms bread cookbook.)

Colton liked it.

Yep, 100% whole wheat bread that was soft and breadlike enough that Colton *liked* it. I was sold. This time I went for it whole hog, making a full batch and trying a couple of the add ins. I suspect that was where things began to go wrong.

As per usual, I made a small, really hardly worth mentioning change to the recipe. I substituted chia seeds for flax seeds.

As you may be aware, chia seeds are the darling of weird healthy people. They have Omega 3s or maybe 6s (I can never keep those two straight in my head) and they absorb toxins from your system which then pass harmlessly through your gut encased  with lots of lovely fiber. They also absorb a lot of water. More than flax seed does. FYI.

I didn’t realize this error until after several attempts to get my Kitchen Aid to work again by such methods as letting it cool off and splitting the dough in half to make it easier to knead. By the time I tried adding water I was concerned that my Kitchen Aid was never going to permanently recover.

It’s amazing what 1/4 cup of water does for the health of a Kitchen Aid. Um, not on the Kitchen Aid though. That wouldn’t help. It’s much better if you put it in the bowl to thin down the dough.

After rescue efforts had been made, the dough eventually turned into bread that’s just as soft and breadlike as last time. (I think I’d leave out the millet next time though. I really don’t feel the need to add tiny crunchy grains to my bread.) And my Kitchen Aid isn’t dead.

I’m still very pleased with my Kitchen Aid. It’s a good machine and handy to have around. But next time I try to knead four loaves worth of whole wheat bread dough at one time I’m going to watch it carefully for any signs of distress.

And I think if I want to keep that title of thinking ahead I should apply it to my life more consistently.