Wednesday, October 18, 2017

And Now a Word from Our Lawyers

Every now and then, I share a recipe on this or my other blog. For the most part, these are not entirely my own original recipes. I don't have a test kitchen and time to experiment with different combinations and approaches to particular dishes. However, except in very rare cases, I have tweaked and adapted the recipes to my own (and my family's) tastes. In most cases I've changed them quite a bit, but I started with someone else's basics. Many of my recipes started out over fifty years ago as Betty Crocker recipes. I also learned a lot from my mother and from a copy of The Joy of Cooking I received as a gift over forty years ago.

If I do no more than change a proportion here and there, I try to credit the original source. I don't want to take credit for someone else's work, but I don't want to blame them for my mistakes, either.

But here's what's bothering me: all of the recipes I see online at various blogs and web sites include nutritional information like what is printed of food packaging and many restaurant menus. Am I breaking some law by failing to list the fat, sodium, calories, etc. when I share a recipe? I have no way of producing this information. Certainly it would be prohibitively expensive to have a lab do testing. I could possibly fake it, by lifting from other web sites' nutritional information, but that would be inaccurate and misleading.

After giving all this a little bit of thought, I've decided not to worry about it until they slap on the handcuffs. I enjoy cooking and I enjoy experimenting with a recipe until it works for me, even if sharing my results is a federal offense.

Maybe I can get a job in the prison kitchen.

Stephen P.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Jacket Season

It's that time of year when I start wearing my jean jacket. I put it on first thing in the morning and take it off at bedtime.

Jacket weather is my favorite season of the year. Denim is comfortable. It's heavy enough to keep me warm in the fifty degrees outdoors and light enough I'm not uncomfortable wearing it in the house. A denim jacket is as much a sign of Fall as the leaves turning color, pumpkin spice everything and chrysanthemums blooming in the flower bed.

Soon it will be time to trade my sneakers for my Cat boots.They're pull on, high-top leather boots with thick treads on the soles. And I'll start wearing boot socks--thick warm, comfy boot socks.

I wore jeans all summer. Out here in the woods there are scratching hazards everywhere. Even with the long pants, I still get plenty of cuts and scrapes.

I'll start wearing my cowboy hat all the time, too. I wear it in the summer when I'm working outdoors, but after only a short while, it gets too hot and sweaty and I take it off. I have what I call my old farmer hat that has a flat brim and provides better protection from the sun and it's better ventilated. I wear that when I out for long periods. In this jacket weather I can wear my cowboy hat all day long.

In a month or so it will be time to put on my Carhartt coat. It's also extremely comfortable, and it's warm. It's made of a sort of tan canvas and has a thick lining. It also has a hood. I've never worn the hoods on my coats because they're clumsy and block my peripheral vision. I don't have that problem with the Carhartt hood and it keeps my ears warm.

It's also that time of year when we start spending evenings out around the fire ring, just watching the flames dance and enjoying the beauty of the night.

Stephen P.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Ranch Dressing Made Easy

Ranch dressing is one of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind--and most addictive, too! Growing up I had my choice of Thousand Island, French, Russian, Catalina and Italian. And at school we got Miracle Whip. Occasionally I used Blue Cheese, but that was rare. When I was in high school, somebody invented Creamy Italian and I didn't use anything else for years. A creamy dressing that wasn't sweet was a whole new concept. I'm not sure exactly when Ranch Dressing came into being, but I've used it ever since. I do love a good Caesar salad, but I'm not fond of bottled Caesar dressing.

Over the years I've enjoyed a few variations on Ranch, such as Peppercorn Ranch, but I always come back to original. Oh, and I'm talking about Hidden Valley Ranch. Other brands just don't get the job done.

Then I discovered Ranch dressing recipes online and I've been tweaking the recipes and developing (okay, that sounds like I've worked at it, but not so much) for my own taste ever since. Most recipes I've found are basically the same except for exchanging vinegar for lemon juice or dried herbs for fresh. The main thing is, they're all easy and I don't buy bottled Ranch anymore.


Simply Ranch

1/2 Cup mayonnaise
1/2 Cup sour cream
1/4 Cup milk (or buttermilk)
1 Tbsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. dried dill weed
1 tsp. apple cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. diced onion
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper

Place all ingredients except milk into blender. Pulse to mix and break up garlic and onion. Add milk as needed to thin. Blend to even consistency, pour into a jar or bottle and refrigerate for at least one hour.

This dressing will last several weeks in the refrigerator, but never seems to last that long--and it's so easy to make.


Variations

For variety:

Cucumber Ranch

Add 1/2 average cucumber, peeled, seeds removed and coarsely chopped, to the blender with the other ingredients.

Honey Mustard Ranch

Stir 1 Tbsp. honey mustard into finished dressing until thoroughly mixed.

Stephen P.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Summer Days and Autumn Nights

We've been having mixed weather the past week or so: rain, sun, hot, cool, windy. Typical Oklahoma weather.

Hurricane Nate made landfall, twice, and is moving north After killing more than twenty people in Central America, things looked bad, but Nate wasn't as bad as the previous four hurricanes when it reached the US.

The rain has kept me from doing much work in the garden. I've gotten quite a bit done in the greenhouse, but the wet grass and soil make any work outdoors impractical.

I'm still not really over all the complications of my cold and I get winded and worn out easily, plus, I feel my brain is a bit cloudy. Perhaps in a few days I'll be my same old hardworking, creative and witty self--or am I thinking of someone else?

Stephen P.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

So Much Grief

While I try my best not to succumb to gloom and doom, I can't ignore how tragedy has followed upon tragedy without a break.

We've lost hundreds of thousands of acres of timber to wildfires in at least six states. The Gulf Coast was hit by hurricane Harvey, leaving Port Aransas and Rockport, Texas destroyed and Houston devastated by flooding. In just days, Hurricane Irma struck Florida, leaving most of the state damaged or destroyed by wind and water and without electricity. That same storm wiped out the island of Barbuda, leaving it uninhabitable. Shortly thereafter hurricane Maria swept through causing untold destruction to Puerto Rico, the island territory that should be our fifty-first state.

Last week, a large slab broke free from the rock face of El Capitan in California's Yosemite National Park, killing at least one person and driving hundreds from the park.

Then a madman opened fire on a crowd at a concert in a parking lot in Las Vegas, killing at least 59 and injuring hundreds.

All of this was taking place while Bali and other island nations were evacuating because of pending volcanic eruptions. Mexico had its own flooding from a hurricane, followed by a massive earthquake. There have been bombings, workplace shootings, subway stabbings and nuclear tensions with North Korea.

Our grief is short. Proper grieving is a luxury we are not afforded, before another tragedy strikes. Many people in Puerto Rico don't yet have water and basic supplies, we've already lost track of where things stand in Houston and Key West, not to mention Mexico and now this terrible act of mass murder has taken place in Nevada and changed our focus again.

The dead outside Mandalay Bay have barely been identified and I'm already bracing for the next devastating act by humans or nature. Will we get a chance to breath, to grieve properly and take stock of what needs to be done? So many infrastructures, cities, buildings, homes and lives to be repaired and rebuilt. All while we wait for another shoe to drop.

Stephen P.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Down With The Sickness

The autumn crud came early. Just about the time the weather cooled down and the rain moved in, I got hit with the rhinovirus from hell. There is so much to do around here, but picking the ripe tomatoes wears me out and I have a hard time catching my breath. I've had a collapsed lung before and this is almost that bad. And the initial phase, where I have a throbbing sinus headache, runny nose and constant sneezing lasted five days. It was like the damn thing just wouldn't settle in. I still have to water the greenhouse, but thankfully, most end of season tasks can be put off for a few more days.

Details of illness are boring at best, so let's change the subject.

The new television season is finally here. I only have broadcast television, so there isn't a lot to watch, but cable was always a whole lotta nuthin' when I had it. I might be missing a few shows, like Better Call Saul and Fargo, but mostly it's a vast wasteland.

The Orville continues to be worth watching. The critics seem to want it destroyed, but they are awful people who want us to watch old Norwegian films and wear berets. The Orville is funny, but it also has a decent story line, tackles some hard social issues and generally just satisfies my craving for spaceships and spiffy uniforms. Plus, it has strong female characters, which makes it more believable, since I've always had strong females in my life.

The new Star Trek: Discovery is pretty good so far. It has a certain amount of humor, strong female characters, spiffy uniforms and plenty of spaceships. It's sort of a noir version of The Orville. I watched the first half of the first episode before my cold forced me to crawl off to bed, but I'm sold on this latest edition of the Star Trek saga and I will be watching it.

Criminal Minds is back. I will avoid spoilers because some people DVR shows to watch later, but Hotch is not back and probably isn't coming back. Kirsten Vangsness as Penelope Garcia continues to be the glue that holds the show together as other characters are killed off. I look forward to Criminal Minds every week so I can get my serial killer fix, but enough of the mega-criminal-masterminds! Just stop. Super criminals belong on James Bond movies, not a "ripped from the headlines" FBI show.

Chicago Fire is also back. Lots of spoilers I could let drop, but I won't. I like the strong characters, the team/family relationship among the characters and the problem solving involved in their not-so-routine fires and rescues. The Chief, played by Eamonn Walker, is a great character and the real backbone of the show. I can't imagine anyone else playing the role, or him playing anything else, even though I've seen him in other things. I don't like soap opera in my dramas, but Chicago Fire manages to walk a fine line, so I'll be watching.

That's about it so far. The various medical dramas, like Chicago Med, all run together for me. It's hard to keep track of who's who, but they give me something to watch when nothing else is on.

Stephen P.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Pepper Surprise

Last winter I bought a selection of pepper seeds from an online source. One pepper variety I bought on a lark was the Aji Dulce #2. The product description said "Looks just like the fiery red habanero, but without the heat!" I thought it would be fun to pop one in my mouth when I'm at a party at the home of one of my pepper growing friends. Mister Macho eats habaneros without even blinking.

The seeds germinated fairly quickly. Peppers are notorious for taking their own sweet time in sprouting. In fact, some hot peppers take weeks and require very specific temperature and moisture levels. This is why I haven't grown any Aji Amarillo peppers yet, though I've tried--Lord how I've tried.

The Aji Dulce plants were robust, growing quickly and transplanting easily into the garden. It didn't take long for the plants to reach their full height, about 18 inches. It also didn't take long for the plants to blossom and in what seemed like no time there were little peppers hanging down like Christmas bulbs. Green Christmas bulbs.

For at least two months I watched those peppers. They taunted me. They seemed to get lighter green over time, but that was probably an illusion brought on by wishful thinking. Finally one day, today actually, I noticed a red pepper on the plant. It had that nice warm red color of the habanero, as well as the classic shape.

I plucked that little beauty from the plant, excited that I finally had a ripe dulce. It was about the size of a strawberry--not the big strawberry, more like one of the smaller strawberries in the box. I just couldn't resist. I popped that baby in my mouth and chewed, ready to experience the smoky, sweet flavor that Aji Dulce are famous for. And it was hot. Really hot. Not run screaming for a glass of milk hot, but Louisiana Hot Sauce hot. Jalapeno hot. What the hell were you thinking? hot.

I was too distracted by the heat to notice the flavor. I like spicy foods. I enjoy eating peppers. There is no question that I enjoyed the dulce, once I got used to the burn, but what a shock. I'd say it was just about right for a raw pepper. It was sweeter than a jalapeno. My mouth burned for about half an hour. I don't usually like pepper heat that lasts that long, but this wasn't bad. In fact, it was good. I liked it.

Yet, I felt a little betrayed. This pepper was supposed to be mild and sweet. I've heard of surprise peppers. That's when a pepper variety is a little unpredictable and one in ten might be a little spicy. I've also heard of unstable cultivars. That's when a pepper variety is new and still hasn't become consistent in what results are obtained from the seeds.

Being the obsessive researcher that I am, I went right to Google. Wikipedia is such a great resource that I send them a donation every year.

Wikipedia informed me that Aji Dulce has been around a long time and has become a part of traditional cuisine in Venezuela and many other Latin countries. They are commonly used as a seasoning pepper.

I never depend on a single source, so I went to worldcrops.org and did a search. They confirmed that the Aji Dulce peppers have been around a long time. They may have originated in Brazil and spread to Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and other countries. The peppers are prized for their flavor without heat. They're famous for it.

Unfortunately, there may have been a little cross-pollination with habaneros going on and now the Aji Dulce has lost the trust of many buyers, particularly at markets in the United States. Too often someone with a sensitivity to the heat has gotten a nasty surprise. Bummer. I can relate. I used to be really sensitive, but I've built up a tolerance. 

I have gotten more interested in medium hot peppers since I ordered my seeds and this one definitely falls into that category. It might make a really good sauce. I'm pretty sure I've got left-over seeds in my seed vault.

Woohoo!

Stephen P.