commodorified: And now all road are uncommonly flat, and all hair stands on end. (roads uncommonly flat)
Our beloved calico, Sovay, is dead. Details on [personal profile] fairestcat's journal, here and several entries before and after.

I miss her desperately and can't seem to stop crying. Meanwhile the world we knew is ending, brutally and finally, and practically everyone is posting ... cat pictures ... as distraction from the outrage and horror. (Please don't stop doing this. Please don't link me to other distractions. Experience suggests that when I'm ready to stop feeling terrible I'll stop on my own. I don't especially want to stop crying for her just yet.)

I want to write about her and I don't know if I ever will. It's just too hard, and I couldn't stand to have done it badly.

So I'll write about one of the moments of comfort, instead. I woke up at 4 today, because the bed was too empty and still. She liked to sleep on me, you see, and whenever I woke up and rolled over she'd take a tour over to the food dish, eat a few kibbles, and then come back to see what part of me was available for lying on now. I woke up cold, and sad, and hungry, and Cat came in to sit with me, and after a bit we made tea and porridge.

Combine

2/3 C Red River cereal (or other multigrain hot cereal mix)
2/3 C steel-cut oats
1/3 C quinoa
1/3 C dried cherries, preferably unsweetened
3C water

And bring to a boil, stirring slowly.
When it boils, reduce the heat to the minimum, cover the pot, and let it simmer for 15-20 minutes
Then add

1/2 C milk
2T honey
1 t cinnamon

Stir through and give the milk a minute to get hot,

And serve with hot, strong orange pekoe tea.

Consoles two, briefly but very well.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
Like a lot of people who grew up in, well, straightened and difficult circumstances, not to mention having had a fair amount of experience of institutional food, I've spent years roundly despising the entire notion of "mixed vegetables", especially frozen mixed vegetables.

Which is a bit odd, when you consider that I'll cheerfully buy and cook with unmixed frozen vegetables: frozen peas, frozen corn, frozen spinach, frozen brussel sprouts, you name it. I live in Ottawa and I have health issues that reduce my energy a lot and I try to shop local and feed my family a lot of green (and red, and yellow) stuff, and that means we eat a fair number of frozen and canned vegetables in winter.

But until recently the very sight of one of these:

was enough to inspire a faint but definite desire to never eat anything, ever, again, except possibly buttered toast. "Sans Nom", indeed.

Friends, I was wrong. So wrong. Despite having learned decades ago not to boil things to death in heavily-salted water and wonder why they don't taste good, I had never until recently applied this knowledge to mixed frozen vegetables. I just assumed they tasted of nothing in particular, yet at the same time unpleasant, no matter what.

Last fall, with soup season closing in on me, I tentatively bought a small bag of mixed frozen carrots and green beans. I never seem to have cooking carrots handy exactly when I want them, and anyway if they're fresh I'd rather roast them, and using the baby-cut ones for cooking is, though handy as heck, kind of extravagant (or at least it makes me feel faintly guilty). And apparently frozen sliced carrots, alone, is no longer a thing you can buy, so I thought "well, we do like green beans," and went with the mixed. At worst, I figured, I could separate the two and use them in different things.

And it was awesome, and I started making vegetable soup oftener. And it was good.

So yesterday I was in The Store Formerly Known As Hartmans (btw, everyone local, they're having a VAST sale on boxed and canned staples. I brought home so many cans we had to reorganize the pantry. Beans! Baked beans! Beets! Seasoned green beans! Soup! Average outlay= $1 CDN/can.)

And I bought a huge bag of the aforementioned mixed vegetables (the exact bag pictured above) and today I spent ten minutes putting supper together and this is what we're having:

1 litre carton of beef broth (vegetable broth would obviously work as well, but we accidentally bought six-packs of beef broth twice running at Costco and with the price of beef I'm not making a lot of beef dishes, so it needs using.)
1 litre water
1 C pearl barley
1 C dry beans (Rancho Gordo Vallarta because I really need to use up my Rancho Gordos, but Great Northern or Navy would be good too. Beans are good, I tend to feel. Canned would also be good, and had I less time for the soup to simmer I'd've gone with a can of black beans or chick peas or six bean mixture —they sell it for bean salad, but I use it to liven up soups and stews— or whatever)
1/4 C dried onion flakes
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 C mixed frozen veg

About 1 Tablespoon each:
Thyme
Marjoram
Dill
Penzeys's Northwood seasoning
2 bay leaves

I bunged it all into the pot and turned the heat to halfway between low and medium. It's simmering away cheerfully now and should be perfect by suppertime, which will be about four hours from now.

ETA: a-heh-heh-heh I now recommend using a HALF cup of beans and the same of barley, unless you, like me, want to end up a) hastily adding a second carton of broth and b) racking your brains for people to invite to supper so you're not eating this all week.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
Of Somewhat Southwestern Soup

(Quantities are kind of a judgement call, but for 3-5 people:)

Chicken broth, one box.
Chicken thighs, diced, roughly one per person, or one breast for two people or the chicken leftover from last night.
Can of black or navy beans, undrained, or a couple of cups of cooked black beans with their liquor.
Can of tomatoes, diced
Frozen corn, maybe a handful. Maybe two.
Fairly tough greens (spinach disintegrates), chopped fine, as many as you want.
Onions and garlic, dried or diced, a ridiculous amount.
Ground ancho pepper, about a tablespoon.
Cayenne pepper, about a half teaspoon.
Black pepper, about a half teaspoon.
Oregano, about a teaspoon.
Cumin, at least a tablespoon.
Salt, maybe, carefully.
Tortilla chips, or corn tortillas, or flour tortillas.

Combine everything but the tortillas/chips, simmer for an hour. Longer if you want.

Pour over tortillas/chips.
You can also add:
Grated cheese, on top of the tortilla chips.
Cilantro, diced, on the chips.
Green onions, on the chips.
Toasted cumin seeds, on the chips.
Ground chipotle pepper, if you want hotter smokier soup.
Cooked rice, instead of tortillas/chips.
Veggie broth instead of chicken and skip the meat.

There are lots of ways to make this fancier, but I tend to end up making it quickly, on impulse, usually because someone's sick or in pain or just out of cope.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
I've been experimenting with various basic brownie recipes to work out a recipe for a half-batch at a time (because my family has requested that I make smaller amounts of a wider variety of treats).

While I was at it, I reduced the sugar, upped the cocoa and vanilla, of which no recipe ever has enough, (so if you're one of those cooks who, like me, habitually ups the cocoa in brownie recipes: um, don't. I already did that and this really does appear to be the upper edible limit) and added fruit, nuts, and chocolate chips for maximum decadence.

Very rich, not very sweet, very dense.

Preheat oven to 350F/180C

1/4 cup melted salted butter OR unsalted butter + 1/8 t salt.
1/3 C sugar, white or brown. For a sweeter brownie, 1/2 C.
1 T vanilla
1 egg
1/4 T baking powder
1/3 C cocoa powder
1/4 C flour

In a fairly large bowl, using first a whisk and then a wooden spoon, mix the ingredients together in the order they're listed.

When no dry or white patches remain in the mixture, add (if you like)

1/4 C semi-sweet chocolate chips and
1/4 C dried cherries and
1/4 C pecans or walnuts

Spoon mixture into a well-greased small pan. Bake for 25 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
Our microwave is still at the vet, which is a vast pain but has led to some interestingly creative approaches to leftovers. Tonight's supper was inspired by leftover rice from the cottage.

Combine in a largeish saucepan:

2 -3 fillets of cod, thawed
1/2 brick of medium-firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch chunks.
1 can coconut milk
A solid dollop of Trinidadian green seasoning
Ginger, to taste. I use the stuff that comes in a squeeze bottle, but powdered would work fine or you could grate fresh. I used about 2T and the results are noticeably gingery.
Creole-style hot sauce, to taste. I used about 1T and there's a definite bite, there.
Pinch of salt
Let simmer covered on low for about an hour, then add

3 cups leftover white rice (you could obviously make fresh rice and pour the fish and tofu in sauce over it, but I just dumped it in and broke up the chunks)

Leave covered on lowest possible heat until the rice is heated through.

It looks like chunky rice pudding, but it's flavourful and pleasantly spicy.

As we also have leftover salad from the cottage, there's supper sorted out nicely.
commodorified: a cartoon of a woman holding a duster and saying in a sad and tired way "clean *all* the things?" (clean all the things?)
One of the relatively few exceptions we make to Operation Ethical Meat is large hams after major holidays, when they're massively discounted.

We bring them home, dice them, and put them in freezer bags of roughly 1lb each - the next one will go in 1/2 lb bags, as we're trying to reduce our meat consumption - for use as wanted. They mostly end up in pots of beans, or else cooked with greens, though they're also good for omlettes and hashes and savoury bread puddings and macaroni and cheese.

When we can dice no more, we freeze the bone with a good coating of meat on it, for soup.

Last night I put the bone in a pot along with:
1C diced celery
1C diced carrot
2 diced onions
1 box of chicken broth
1 box of water
3 T herbs du provence
2T chopped garlic
Quite a lot of black pepper
3 C dried white beans - half navy beans and half canellini in this case, as we were low on both.

It's been in the oven on 200F ever since, and will make a good supper. I will probably tweak the flavour a bit at the end - I think it could use a bit of salt, which is not always the case with ham so I leave it until the end, and maybe some dried dill to brighten things up.

ETA: added salt, dill, marjoram and half a cabbage two hours before supper and had it over boiled potatoes. It was really good.

We would have had it last night but the schedule was disrupted by the co-op run to Arnprior (if you're between Arnprior and Ottawa and want to get amazingly tasty ethical meat and fancy veggies and other stuff from the co-op, ping me for details. There is no minimum order, and if you know me well enough to read my journal you're welcome to have us hold your order in our freezer until you can come by, since we do the Ottawa delivery.

And also by Dreadful having an ... adverse reaction ... to the antibiotic he was on. All over one of the heirloom (1940s?) Hudson's Bay blankets we got for Christmas from [personal profile] random's parents.

He's been to the vet and he's fine, eating like a horse (or trying to, poor beast is on a diet) and with excellent blood sugar numbers and all. But my afternoon and early evening were hijacked by the need to deal with the devastation wreaked on the central, cream-coloured(!), section of said blanket.

"And the only reason I'm singin' you this song today is because you may know someone in a similar situation. Or you may be in a similar situation, and if you're in a situation like that ..." then here is how to clean a wool blanket that has picked up some odd stains over the years and is presently covered in, oh, let's call it mud, shall we?

You will need:

A bathtub or laundry tub
Laundry detergent
Oxygen bleach - we use oxiclean for babes, as it's unscented.
A toothbrush you can discard or a nailbrush you can clean thoroughly, after.
A spin-dryer, or access to a washing machine.
A small plastic bowl or similar.
A fairly strong light you can shine on your work.

Optional but beneficial:
Lanolin
Blueing

Step one:

Have a restorative cup of tea and refer to the cat as "mittens" in an ominous tone, repeatedly. Consider whether there's enough of him for a hat.

Step two:

Relent because he's
so cute
and doesn't feel well. Establish him on an old, comfy towel and give him enough catnip to keep him mostly there while his guts settle.

Step three:

Lay the blanket in the tub and cover it with cold, soapy water. Let it soak for 15 minutes, and then go over it, gently dislodging with your brush anything solid that hasn't floated off already.

Drain the tub, making sure to hold the blanket up as much as possible (wet wool blankets are heavy!) so the solids go down the drain.

Step four:

Lay the blanket back in the tub, folded like ribbon candy.

Pour some oxygen bleach into the bowl. Go over each section of the blanket with the brush, treating everything that looks stained or discoloured, dipping your brush frequently into the oxygen bleach, refolding the blanket as you finish each section so you expose the next strip. (This sounds more complicated than it is: all you really need is enough of a system that you don't miss a chunk). Do both sides. I did all of the cream sections plus anywhere on the stripes I saw staining. Don't scrub hard - rub just enough to get a foam going.

Step five:

Let the blanket sit while you have a cup of tea and a stretch. You deserve it, and it gives the oxygen bleach time to work.

Step six:

Cover the blanket with as much cold water as the tub will hold and swish the blanket around as much as your hands will stand. If you're working in a laundry tub, change the water once.

Step seven:

Drain the tub and put the blanket in the spin dryer/in the washer set to "spin only". Spinning removes terrifying amounts of soap and dirt along with the water, it's amazing.

Step seven-a:

(Optional step is optional:
In a small cup, combine:
2-3 T lanolin
6 drops of bluing (if your blanket is mostly cream/white)
About 1t of detergent or your nice scented bodywash or shampoo - something to act as a binding agent for the lanolin so it won't just solidify and float when you add it to the rinsewater.
You can add a few drops of rosemary oil or clary sage or pine oil, if you like your blankets to smell woodsy.
Fill the cup with boiling water to melt the lanolin and stir vigorously.
Add this to your rinsewater.

My theory was that I had the lanolin and bluing handy, and I only wash wool blankets once every few years, so I might as well give this one the full spa treatment while I was at it.)

Step eight: Cover the blanket with, again, as much cold water as the tub will hold, add the lanolin mix from seven-a when the tub is full and you can insure it gets mixed throughout the tub - avoid pouring it directly onto the blanket. The bluing is actually super-handy this way, as I could see the mixture spread out - and swish the blanket around for as long as your hands will tolerate the cold water. If you did the lanolin thing, let it soak for fifteen minutes or so once it's been well swished, to let more lanolin settle into the fabric.

Step nine: Drain the tub, spin the blanket again, and hang it over the shower rail (spinning gets out so much water it's even safe to hang wool without worrying about it getting dragged out of shape, it's amazing) or lay it flat to dry.

Step ten: assuming you can still lift your arms, give yourself a serious pat on the back, and then wash your tools.

It was seriously hard on my hands and shoulders, but I swear, this blanket hasn't looked this good since Diefenbaker was in office.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
I have cramps, ugh.

So around noon, I hauled myself to the kitchen and loaded one of the enamelled iron pots with:

Two frozen lambshanks
A box of chicken stock
A generous slosh (1/8 C?) dried onion
1 C chopped frozen celery (We've taken to chopping all the celery when we buy it and freezing what we don't immediately use. I love raw veggies in warm weather, but can't get excited about them in January, so right now celery=cooking celery.
I would have added 1C chopped frozen carrots, but we're out.

Then I added
1T Penzeys's Lamb Seasoning and
1/2 T Maharajah curry powder,

(I could have gone with 1/2 T lamb seasoning and 2-3 T Maharajah, but I wanted richness rather than spice, this time.)

Put the lid on, turned the oven to 300F, and wandered back to my book.

At 5 I started rice with a bit of lemongrass and cilantro, and added two large handsful of wax beans to the broth around the lamb shanks. I may add a big bunch of baby spinach right at the end; it's basically cooked as soon as it hits the hot liquid, so. And I've been trying to get our vegetable consumption up.

Meanwhile, supper smells promising.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
This was actually sort of an impulse, created while doing other things, so the quantities and times are a bit imprecise, sorry. It was sort of inspired by a jam Mel made a few years back with a piece of venison and a lot of onions that made me think that sweet and savoury was a taste thing I could get behind after all, but I wanted to do one with more fruit and no meat plus, you guys, I have a lot of dried fruit in my pantry and wanted to do something other than put it on oatmeal.

A handful of prunes, chopped smallish.
A scant handful of dried currants.
About 8 green peppercorns, cracked up in a mortar with two pieces of dried garlic (they were selling dried garlic at the Ukaranian festival this summer and you guys, it is amazeballs. Sharp and rich and just generally fun to play with.)
An enthusiastic glug of dry sherry
A slightly less enthusiastic glug of balsamic fruit vinegar.
A small glug of fruit juice to bring the liquid level up (I used cherry/cranberry, because it was sitting on the table when I was flailing about looking for ideas)

Cook it for several hours covered on very low heat (I have a tiny crockpot, which is what I used) wandering past and tasting it occasionally and when the vinegar starts to taste a bit sharp turn it off and add

One onion, carmelised.

Let it sit for a couple of hours while you do other things. Put it on stuff.

Cough Drop

Feb. 22nd, 2015 03:12 am
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
In a cup, combine

2 T honey and
1 T lemon juice

Microwave for 45 seconds and add

1.5 oz vodka.

Apply to raw throat and shredded lungs.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
Because apparently instead of having curry and potatoes today, we're having Norwalk Virus.

Therefore:

1 large box of chicken broth
1 box of water
1 very large spoonful of miso

Bring to a boil, stirring steadily and breaking up the miso with two spoons as you go.
When the miso is broken up and the broth is boiling add:

1 package soba noodles. Reduce heat to maintain a rolling boil, follow timing on package.

Serves three people who effectively haven't eaten a damn' thing all day and aren't sure they want to.

You could add tofu, if you had any. Green onions, ditto. Or sesame oil and some siracha, if your stomach didn't object to the mere thought. But you don't have to.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
My father-in-law (who took a year-long chef's course when he retired) and I were talking food recently and I mentioned spice mixes. "Oh, I don't use those," he said. "I mix everything fresh myself."

I ... changed the subject. I love him, but my God, he gets so bloody ... cheffy. And he cooks for fun, basically, which I'm not going to hold against him because I eat his food and it's awesome (if you were at our wedding you've eaten his food too) but most of us cook because people are hungry and living on takeout is ruinous to the wallet and one's health, both, and so we have to cook and would like the results to be tasty as well as vaguely nourishing.

I mention this here not to give FiL a hard time - I can do that in person - but because I hear it fairly often from what Peg Bracken refers to as Good Cooks Who Like To, and I think it is entirely wrong-headed and that it makes beginning and casual cooks feel like they're just not making the cut, and that's crap.

My cooking has improved tremendously since I a) discovered Penzeys (because we have to ship or carry the stuff we buy there back to Canada what we buy is pretty much mixes. For herbs and single spices, I have excellent local sources) and b) through using - and running out of - their stuff, developed the confidence to make and store my own mixes, and just generally relaxed and quit trying to season everything from scratch everytime like a real cook, whatever THAT means.

Just for starters, I have bad allergies and my sense of smell comes and goes and my cooking duties ... don't. I haven't pepper-bombed anyone in months thanks to seasoning mixes.

So here are some reasons why I love, love, love spice and seasoning mixes:

1) Convenience

Sometimes (ok, often) I'm not making an Incredibly Detailed Special Meal. I'm trying to get everyone fed and stave off the anguished cries of Oh God Is It Canned Beets Again? So I put Tsardust (Ian spent a year in the USSR just as it was ceasing to be the USSR. He ate a lot of borsht, and this is basically borsht or Russian sausage seasoning, which now reminds him of the trip and makes him feel warm and fuzzy, so I bought some to surprise him and now consider it a staple and I use it in just so many things, you guys it's amazing on lamb) in the beets, or Old World (goulash seasoning) on the spinach (reviews of that one were mixed. If you like smoky greens you'll probably like it) or Krakow Nights (Polish sausage seasoning, actually) on the potatoes. I put Fox Point in my scrambled eggs and Ozark and bouquet garni in the breading for fried pork chops and I use steak seasonings (two kinds) and Adobo seasoning and various rubs and cajun seasonings and chili powders and there is just no end to it and I have a pretty good idea which seasonings go with what for main and side dishes and my day to day cooking is so much faster and simpler and better and I swear less. A bit less. I do swear a lot.

2) Consistency.

I have an excellent book on Cajun cooking by Paul Prudhomme, and he mentions in a few places that in his restaurant they use spice mixes for almost everything, because restaurant cooking must be consistent.

They make them onsite and make them in batches big enough for no more than a week or two, to keep the quality high, but they make them and use them in damned near everything and he recommends that home cooks using his book do the same. (You can buy his mixes, he sells them on his site, but in the book he also tells you how to make your own).

I know damn-all about celebrity chefs, so maybe there's something terrible about Prudhomme's cooking I don't know, but let me tell you what, based on his writings and recipes I like the cut of his jib and wish to eat his food if I ever get a chance.

Home cooking doesn't have to be consistent in the same way, you can always tweak the seasoning of a dish just because you want to try something new, or are craving salt or spice, but if you've made something and you like it, you want at least the option where it comes out more-or-less the same the next twelve times.

The more daring and complex your dish is, the more of a problem this becomes. I can spice, say, gingerbread (powdered ginger, allspice, vanilla) or lamb burgers, (cumin, dried onion, rosemary) from individual seasonings and get beautifully reliable results, because a) the number of things I need to add to each is small, and b) the amount I need to add is correspondingly large (2T ginger, 1t allspice, 1t vanila).

If I put together bouquet garni or rogan josh curry together, from scratch, for family-sized dishes, every time, I'd be operating in 1/8 teaspoons, and I would screw up, a lot. I'd forget things. I'd be estimating by sight, because I have no actual idea where my 1/8t spoon is I never use it what is that even for my God.

3) Expense and storage

Spices and seasonings are comparatively expensive for things with no food value, ranging from about $5 per jar to Oh My God Was It Watered By The Tears Of A Unicorn?

As I said before, bouquet garni and herbs de provence and similar herb blends call for 4-7 ingredients, depending on your method, and Indian and Chinese and Portugese (etc etc) spicings can get into the low teens. Plus you can't always get the makings in small sizes, and many blends call for tiny bits of many things, so you end up with a huge pile of variously perishable stuff. And I don't see any particular freshness or quality boost to keeping the exact same spices and herbs, in the exact same drawers, only, you know, in separate jars, the way the Victorians (never actually, it's a myth) kept books by unmarried persons of the opposite sex apart.

If I made my own curry powder I'd have one large container of one kind of curry. Currently I instead have maharajah, sweet, vindaloo, rogan josh, three garam marsalas, and madras. Sometimes I mix them. Often I add more cumin, or coriander, or something.

Also, when I was on a severely limited budget and trying to rebuild my kitchen from scratch, I budgeted, once the absolute basics were in, for one spice jar per shopping trip. I bought a LOT of seasoning mixes, because I wanted a reasonable range of options and I wanted them fast.

4) Education and adventurousness.

If you like Mexican food and think you'd probably enjoy making it, you could go find a specialty store and stock up on the required herbs and seasonings and peppers and buy a recipe book and teach yourself how to spice everything ... Or you could pick up a decent chili powder and some adobo and some chile verde in a jar and start playing around. It's cheaper. It's simpler and less intimidating, and assuming your spicemonger stocks decent quality stuff, the proportions will be right. If and when you want to start doing your own blending, you'll have a base to start from of knowing roughly how things are meant to smell and taste. It's handy, and it's terribly reassuring.

I have a chili seasoning (okay, three), a taco seasoning, adobo seasoning, a chipotle-based seasoning, currently two salsas and five hot sauces. With those plus some basic all-round stuff like cumin and cinnamon and oregano, I can do a ridiculous number of really tasty things. Now, they do all contain mostly the same stuff, but only mostly, and in different proportions.

We do enough stuff with Mexican-style flavouring that I also have epazote and mexican oregano, but you can get by without those for a very long time. I bought them when I'd gotten good enough at the basic style to realize I wanted them.

The Tsardust was a total shot in the dark, as were the Adobo, the Old World, the Ozark seasoning, Mitchell Street steak seasoning, Krakow nights ... I smelled them and went "hey, I want to play with that" and bought a small jar. Some of the small jars I've bought have languished, but most have gotten used up and many of them have gotten refilled. A few of them have been refilled with my own version. Lots of them get used (Tsardust, Ozark, Krakow) for things they weren't originally intended for, and that's just fine too.

Seasoning mixes, in short, helped me learn to cook and continue to make me a better cook.

And then there's the one downside

Quality can be a huge concern, especially if you're largely limited to grocery-store mixes. A lot of the inexpensive ones are mostly salt and sugar, or at least contain far too much of both. Some of them have MSG. (I use MSG, but lots of people loathe/react to it).

I love Penzeys, obviously, but they're only in the US and while they will ship internationally, it's a faff.

There is no perfect solution to this. Mostly, it's a matter of reading the labels, looking for better groceries or actual spice stores and going there or ordering online if you can, buying the best you can find and afford, taking your time eking the money out and buying one or two things at a time, and remembering that if your seasoning tastes good to you, it's good, even if it's generic storebrand (in Canada, President's Choice is actually very good in general). If you and the people you feed are happy, you have done well. (Unless there's a specific reason why you have to avoid an ingredient to feel or be well).

Some non-US online (I can't begin to hunt for local options for everywhere, but this is a start, at least) options I've found:

Canada:
Spice Blends at Silk Road

Also Herbies (mentioned below) has a Canadian site.

I need to try these, when the current glut - you guys we have two drawers, a breadbox, and a little spice storage unit on the table and they're all FULL, I may have a small problem - runs out.

UK:
Spice Blends at Seasoned Pioneers (Ships to EU)

Australia:
Spice Blends at Herbies

ETA: more awesome suggestions in the comments.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
So, Thanksgiving this year was sort of insane: [personal profile] fairestcat was off at the OTW retreat until the day before, Dreadful developed a urinary blockage while she was away (don't feed your male cats entirely on dry kibble, folks), and we lost a lot of sleep coping with that - he was in a lot of pain, and then on a lot of drugs, and also getting meds and subcutaneous fluids put into him on a frequent and 24-hr schedule, and then in a lot of pain again because he reblocked, and also the floor was covered in blue sheets because he was having trouble making it to the box, and his Momma was away and he needed me to wake UP, DAMMIT, and snuggle and console him ... and we had people coming, people I love and love feeding, who were expecting food and frivolity and a hostess who didn't look like grim death and smell faintly of cat pee and all manner of things.

Reader, I used boughten pastry for the pear and blackberry tarts this year. No regrets. I redeemed my tattered pride at Christmas.

And I had this ham, which was enormous, and frozen solid, because we get our meat from a local farmer's co-op which delivers monthly, and (having done nearly all the vegetable prep the day before, because Ian and I rode to the farmers' market on the Saturday as a relaxing family expedition and being stressed and surrounded by good things went approximately mad and bought carrots, beets, squash, kale, sprouts, leeks, mushrooms and two or three other things and then realised how much chopping we'd let ourselves in for) I couldn't face the prospect of getting up at 6 o'clock in the clear bright to wrangle a vast and surly brick of meat through spicing and into the oven.

(ACTUAL COOKING DISCUSSION STARTS HERE)

So I started the ham the night before, from frozen, at 200F. Just popped it into an enamelled cast iron pot skin-side-up, piled some dark honey and some seedy mustard on the frozen surface, slapped the lid on, put it in the oven on a rack set one slot up from the bottom, said a quick prayer to the patron saint of Cat Mothers With Guests Arriving and went to bed, hoping it wouldn't be awful.

Friends, it was spectacular. Seriously. The one downside was, it fell apart, so it wasn't as festive-looking as a whole ham for carving would have been. Nobody cared. It was goddamn amazing, is what I'm saying.

I have since done this with pork shoulder, beef ribs, lamb shanks, and stewing mutton, and they have all - well, the mutton is in the oven right now but all the signs are good - been ridiculously good.

I like this method better than slow-cookers, which I have trouble with because the super-slow setting I find leaves meat bland and naked-looking and the "combination" setting frequently overcooks things in that way where they're not burnt they just taste like old shoes. For lentil and bean things I still love my slowcooker, but for meat it's been replaced.

(I feel compelled to say that my Hydro bill does not prefer this approach. On the other hand, it's winter, and we probably save some of it back on the furnace.)

So, here is the (ludicrously simple) method.

Before going to bed, assemble in a heavy pot with a tightly-fitting lid (we haunt the sales at Canadian Tire and the houseware department at Value Village and have now got a nice selection of completely mismatched heavy enamelled cast-iron in different sizes. If you can score one somehow, do so. If not, it is worth buying the heaviest pot-and-lid you can afford/manage to locate, not just for this but for many, many things):

Your meat: roast, ribs, stew meat, whatever. From frozen is fine, fresh is fine.

Your spicing and flavourings: pork shoulder (the farm we get the hams from has these amazing roasts so we do one a month) with

A) a lot of chopped apples (Macs or other tart ones) and cooking onions plus Penzey's Tsardust

B) pepper and salt and garlic and dried onions and Tsardust and a vast heap of cabbage,

C) A good bbq sauce, and a lot of chopped onions. This is fairly classic pulled pork, as opposed to the weird variations we've devised.

Also: beef ribs with beef broth, bouquet garni (I make my own and have made my own Tsardust and you can too: that's just to get you started), salt, pepper, onions, carrots and potatos, or you can skip the potatos and make dumplings at the end. Mushrooms optional but VERY adviseable. (I am a hobbit.)

Lamb shanks, same as the beef ribs but vegetable or chicken broth and a bit of curry powder or paste. I use Pataks and Penzeys, but you needn't.

Ham, with whatever you put in hams. We tend towards poncey mustard and honey around here, but maple syrup is good, or just the mustard, or really, the ones we get are awesome and smoked with actual smoke and plain would be fine.

Stewing lamb or mutton with vegetable broth, lots of curry, frozen spinach, dried or fresh onion.

Basically any slow-cook recipe in the world.

What you don't want to do:

You want to be very stingy with liquid, if you're used to slow-cooking on top of the stove, which I still sometimes forget - this is why there will be potatoes in the curry, as I absent-mindedly used a full box of broth when I ought to have used a quarter-box. Sealing all your ingredients into a heavy pot and then baking them slowly produces a LOT of liquid.

Don't add thickeners (cornstarch, flour, potato flakes) when you start the meal. Add them right before supper, and then turn the oven up to 350 for half an hour. If you add them at the beginning things will get very lumpy, claggy, and sad.

If you are using a fatty meat, sometime the next day do take it out and skim the fat. If you can put it in the fridge or out in the cold until the fat hardens that's handy, but you can also just use a spoon. Ugh this is the boringest job. On the other hand you can then fry potato slices in the lamb or beef or pork fat. Nom.

Vegetables you want to be crunchy, and "fragile" vegetables like peas, green leaves that are not collards, etc, should go in an hour or so before supper. The frozen spinach in with the mutton is meant to cook down a lot, I'm going for a vaguely Sag Lamb effect.

Things I clearly should write about next: spice mixes, weird ingredients I use and love, kitchen gadgets and general equipment that I use and love, my grandmother's pastry recipe.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
It's cold and raw and windy and my allergies are still horrible, so I am making

Outaouais Onion Soup

(Not strictly canonically French Onion, but close and pretty damn' good.)

This can be easily doubled; I'm actually making twice what I'm giving directions for, so as to have soup for four and soup to freeze.

1800ml/2 quarts/2 boxes of beef broth. If you don't eat meat there are some fairly good 'beef flavour' broths you can use, or you can sub veggie broth, in which case it won't taste the same, but it will taste good.

4 large onions, sliced

1-2 T cooking oil.

1/8 C dried mushrooms, any vaguely European sort, powdered in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. If you lack either, chop them as finely as possible and you're good. This is pretty much what I do for mushroom broth these days, having given up on finding an affordable commercial version that isn't full of sugar and salt.

1/8 C or I head garlic, minced.

1 Tablespoon bouquet garni (which you can buy or make or fake: savory, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, dill weed, marjoram, sage and tarragon, in that order, or as many of them as you have. As long as you wind up with about a tablespoon total, you're good.)

1/2 teaspoon of black pepper.

I don't generally salt this: even no-salt-added beef broth has a salty taste. Use your excellent judgement, carefully.

If you have 1/2 C red wine around, you can add it. I usually don't, so I usually don't.

Put the sliced onions and the oil in a frying pan or chef's pan and cook them at just under medium until they go clear, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile combine everything else in a large pot or slow-cooker and set it to medium (pot) or auto (slow-cooker). Add the onions when they're clear, bring it to a boil, turn it to simmer and leave it all to cook for 1-3 hours (pot) or put the lid on and walk away for 4-6 hours (slow-cooker).

Meanwhile slice 1/2 loaf of slightly stale bread (I like whole wheat, white's fine, sourdough's great, use whatever you have) into largeish cubes and put them into a 250F oven to dry out and toast very slightly. If you're using sandwich loaf, dry it out really well and then toast it golden-brown: sandwich loaf tends to sog easily.

Grate about a cup of cheese, too: whatever you have that's firm, not *too* sharp, and melts well. You can combine types. I can't really suggest a vegan alternative: if you want vegan you should probably google "vegan french onion soup" and do what they tell you.

When the soup is cooked turn the oven to 400 degrees. Put the bread on the soup and the cheese on the bread, and put it in the oven for roughly 30 minutes, keeping an eye on it. The cheese should be bubbly and a little brown.

Eat it on its own or with a salad.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
Boring Chicken Soup

This recipe has two major virtues: it's tastier and somewhat healthier (because fewer odd additives) -though probably not cheaper - than canned and the prep time is roughly 1 cup of tea, so the cook can leave it to simmer and go back to bed before they fall over.

A certain amount of advance hoarding is desireable, because cold and flu season, and if you're making this you don't feel like shopping, but you can skip pretty much any ingredient you don't have, including, oddly, the chicken (in which case add the beans if possible). Veggie broth and canned beans is a completely valid approach, if you want vegetarian soup, too. Turkey works fine and then you'll get a dose of tryptophan, which can only help. Chicken boullion is ok but salty: watch how many salted things you add or it's going to taste like ass and you'd have been happier with canned.

Depending on head-count, you need:

1-3 litres of chicken broth, which you made or bought a club pack of and squirreled away when cold season started.

1-3 lb frozen skinless boneless chicken pieces, which ditto. Thaw them and chop them into cubes. Chicken sausage works, if it's not too heavily spiced with something you don't feel like eating right now. I am not responsible for what happens if you use chicken or turkey dogs, though it will probaby be edible...

Celery, fresh, frozen or dried (you can buy three heads, chop it, bag it and freeze it, some day when you're feeling healthy and it's on sale, if you like. The dried is pretty useful though, and cheap and easy to store.)

Carrots, fresh or frozen. Babycut are pricey for soup but *very* handy.

Garlic, the prechopped stuff.

Dried or frozen onion

Fresh and/or frozen vegetables , as many as you can fit in. Pretty much anything you like enough that you have some around.

A can of beans, if you feel like it. Six-bean mix is good, but whatever you keep handy. If they're packed in anything but unsalted water, rinse them. Otherwise toss the liquid in, it's tasty.

Spices: figure out what you like when you're sick and keep it on hand. I use Penzey's Adobo and pump it up with extra ancho pepper and cumin, which is pleasantly decongesting without being super-hot, but anything works: curry, italian, french ...

Herbs, dried: herbs de provence, bouquet garni, fines herbes, italian herbs, cilantro, dill, parsley, whatever you like and keep around and think will go with the spices.

Noodles. Or pasta, or rice, or quinoa, or diced-up plain oven fries or, oddly enough, tortilla chips or ripped-up corn tortillas, which will go very noodly in the soup but don't disintegrate. Mind your total salt if you use tortilla chips, especially if you're also using canned beans and commercial broth. Should be okay, just don't add more til it hits your bowl. It's going to condense some.

Salt, pepper, dried parsley to taste.

Bring it all to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, simmer at least 60 minutes, go back to bed. Serve with ... actually, people can serve themselves, you did your bit.

Freezes well, keeps 3-5 days in the fridge.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
Lemon-Rose Shortbread Cookies


(Note: I am working on my Cooking For People Who Don't technique. This recipe is (hopefully) written so that a person who has never cooked could use it, even though it is primarily for [personal profile] skud, who actually cooks better than I do. People of all skill levels are entreated to let me know how the style works for them.)

Time:

About 90 -120 minutes of work, depending on cookie size, spread over three - four hours of time.

Yield:

Makes about 3 dozen large or 7 dozen tiny cookies, depending on thickness. Thinner cookies are crisper, but tend to have a higher icing:cookie ratio; I advise thinning the icing to suit (dip one or two cookies and see what you think).

Difficulty:

Requires no exotic equipment or ingredients except the rosewater, which can be found at most Indian groceries; everything else can be gotten at a Western grocery store. Can be successfully made by a careful absolute beginner. Does require some arm strength for mixing and rolling a fairly stiff dough. Can be made sitting down. Does not require significant lifting or great physical precision. Rarely if ever fails: is not sensitive to drafts, humidity, room temperature, things getting dropped near the oven, etc. Can be doubled or halved easily.

Equipment:

1 large mixing bowl,
two cereal bowls,
wooden spoon,
cookie sheet,
paper towel,
cookie cutters or a water glass (large cookies) or shot glass (tiny cookies),
rolling pin,
2'x2' clear surface you can spread flour on,
thin metal lifter, such as you might flip an egg with.
oven, with a rack set 4" from the bottom element.
oven mitts or hotpads.
A working timer, or a visible timepiece, preferably with an alarm (because you'll be working while the batches bake).
two dinner plates lined with paper towel or a baking rack, to cool cookies on.
Waxed paper, to set cookies on while icing hardens.

Preheat oven to 375 F. With a paper towel, grease the cookie sheet with a thin layer of butter.

Cookies:

2 C table or caster (granulated) sugar
1 lb unsalted butter, let stand outside of fridge until it is at cool room temperature, so that it is workable but not completely soft or - god forbid - runny, which will make greasy cookies.
5 C all-purpose or cake flour
1/4 C vodka (this will evaporate during baking and the final product will be alcohol-free non-alcoholic.)
1 T vanilla

1/2 C flour for rolling, in a small bowl or coffee mug.
3 T butter for greasing cookie sheet, on a piece of paper towel.

Icing:
2 C icing (powdered) sugar
2 -3 T rosewater
2-3 T lemon juice
Optional: a few drops of yellow and red food colouring.

Cream the sugar and vanilla into butter (put the butter in the bowl, mash it up until it's a paste rather than a block, add the sugar 1/2 C at a time, mix it in thoroughly) with a pastry cutter or two knives or a wooden spoon, as you like.

Work in flour until mixture has the texture of cornmeal.

Add vodka slowly, mixing with a wooden spoon and with hard strokes, until you can make a soft ball of a teaspoonful of the dough. You may not need all of the vodka, or you may need a little more.

Let the dough stand while you clear, wash, and arrange a space to work in.

Wipe your surface clean and make sure it is completely dry.

Take a small handful of flour and spread it evenly over the surface. Flour both of your hands, as well, and the surface of the rolling pin.

Take a small handful of dough (1/8 - 1/5 of the total) and form it into a soft ball. * Place the ball in the centre of the work space and flatten it gently with your hands until it is a large, thick circle of dough.

Flatten it further with the rolling pin, being sure to a) roll gently, away from you, b) give the dough a quarter-turn every few strokes so it doesn't stick to the surface c) add flour to the top of the dough if the rolling pin begins to stick d) toss some flour under the dough as you turn it if the dough is beginning to stick. Don't flip the dough over: because we have carefully avoided activating the gluten (this is why vodka instead of water) it is much more fragile than bread or pizza dough and will break.

When your dough is about 1/4 inch thick, dip your cutter or glass rim into the flour and start cutting cookies. Cut each cookie as close to the others as possible to get the maximum number from each rolling. Place the cut cookies on the cookie sheet with your lifter, being careful that they have at least 1/4 ' of space between them so they won't expand into each other and stick together while baking.

When you can cut no more cookies, gather up the scraps, take another small handful of dough from the bowl, mix them together in your hands to make a ball of dough, and go back to the *.

Keep doing this until you can cut no more cookies.

When the sheet gets full, put it on the bottom rack for between 8 minutes (tiny cookies, baked but not browned) and 15 minutes (larger cookies, baked crisp and slightly brown).

These bake FAST. Set a timer for 3 minutes less than you plan to bake the cookies and check them, just to be safe. When they are crisp and golden and move easily when you shake the cookies sheet, they're done. Take them out and set them to cool, being careful not to pile them on top of each other. Regrease the cookie sheet lightly and start arranging the next batch.

When the final batch comes out of the oven, you can start making icing.

In a small bowl combine 1 C of your icing sugar with the lemon juice. Stir until it is completely dissolved. You should have a thin, rather watery icing, more of a glaze. Add more juice if necessary. If you like, add 2-3 drops of yellow food colouring to turn the glaze a pale yellow.

Dip each cooled cookie halfway into the lemon icing and lay it on the waxed paper to dry.

When all cookies have been dipped in the lemon icing, make the rose icing in the same way you made the lemon icing: icing sugar, rosewater, food colouring to make the icing a soft pink if you want.

Dip the bare side of each cookie into the rose icing, starting with the first ones you dipped in the lemon icing. Lay each cookie on new, clean waxed paper to harden again.

Allow 30 minutes for the icing to set from the time you dip the last one for the second time, then pack them in layers, seperated by paper towel, waxed paper, or tissue.

They will keep about a week, if they're well protected from humidity.

Options:

Instead of icing each cookie with lemon and rose, divide cookies into two batches and ice one batch with lemon, the other with rose, leaving half of each cookie un-iced.

Use orange blossom water, or another food-quality floral water, instead of rosewater.

Use lime or orange juice - or another fruit juice - instead of lemon.

Add 3T powdered basil or dill or powdered rosemary to the cookie dough at the butter-and-sugar stage, use citrus icing only.

Or 1T cinnamon, 1T cardamon, 1T black pepper, citrus icing only.

Ice only two corners of each cookie, not both halves.

Try whole-wheat flour or demerara sugar or both in the cookies.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
Which [personal profile] lasergirl has named "Berry Vesuvius". Or Berry Besubius. Or Bear is Dubious. It's sort of half-dumpling, half crumble. Or something. Looks like Ye AntiChrist, is very quick and easy, tastes excellent.

4 C frozen berries
1/2 C maple syrup (or 1/8 C sugar) (optional)
1 capful vanilla

Combine in a large, oven-safe pot and simmer on low until completely thawed and bubbling. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375F and combine in a bowl:

2 C all-purpose flour
1 T Magic baking powder *
1 t cinnamon
1/4 C brown sugar (optional)

When the dry ingredients are mixed, add 1/2 C milk and 1/2 C water (or a full cup of water for vegan) and mix. You may need up to another 1/2 cup of liquid to get all of the dry ingredients wet. When you have a thick, lumpy dough:

(This is the only tricky bit: work fast and don't let the dough get hit by any amount of cool air or it will be really heavy)

Make sure that the oven is up to heat and the berry mix is bubbling briskly,
Pour the dough into the berries
Get it into the oven immediately
Leave it to cook uncovered for 45 minutes (which should give you time to eat supper)

Serve alone or with ice cream, or with a dollop of maple butter on the crust.
If you omit the sugar and syrup the texture will be different, but it's still good.

*Baking powders seem to vary; if you use a different one and this comes out heavy or full of airholes, experiment: a bit more, a little less... increments of 1 teaspoon seems to work best.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
Preheat oven to 350F and move bottom rack to second-from-the-bottom position.

Cookies:

1 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C salted butter (if using unsalted butter, add 1/8 t salt)
1/4 C white sugar
4 T lemon juice

Cut butter into flour and sugar with a pastry cutter or two knives until you have a sort of pile of crumbs effect; add lemon juice and mix gently until you have a ball of dough.

Turn the dough out on a floured surface and roll it thin (about 1/4 inch). Cut it into interesting shapes with cookie cutters, or just slice it into rectangles if you prefer. Arrange the cookies on a very lightly greased cookie sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes, checking them at 8 minutes in case your oven is a bit too efficient. They are done when they are puffed up and crisp; they should not brown much, maybe a bit goldenish at most.

Turn them out to cool and combine

1 C icing sugar
2 T lemon juice
1 drop yellow food colouring (optional)

Beat until you have a thickish, smooth liquid, cautiously adding more lemon juice as you need to - icing sugar needs what always seems like astonishingly little fluid added to it. When all cookies are baked and cool, apply a thin coat of icing to each with a spoon and leave to harden on waxed paper.

This would double or even triple fairly well. Also, this would probably be good, if less homespun, as well: substitute for 1-2 T of lemon juice in the icing with rosewater. Next time, perhaps.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
4 lambshanks
1 large can diced or crushed tomatoes
1 litre box beef broth
1 t rogan josh curry powder
1 t maharajah curry powder. (Substitute sweet or balti curry for milder, vindaloo for hotter, etc.)
1 generous handful onion flakes

Preheat oven to 350F
Brown shanks in a large ovenproof pan with a lid.

Add broth, tomatoes, onion, curry. Cover, bake for four or five hours, until very tender. Serve over rice, possibly with Inauthentic Saag, q.v.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
1 pkt Knorr Vegetable soup mix.
4 C water
1 large can beans, 6-bean mix or great northern or whatever sounds good.
2 large potatoes, cut into 1" pieces.
Dash of cumin, handful of tarragon, handful of onion flakes.

Combine, bring to a boil, let simmer until potatoes are soft. Could certainly add some veggies, frozen or not. Is improved by sitting on low, if you happen to do it early.
commodorified: A cartoon of a worried looking woman in a chef's hat (cooking for people who don't)
Spinach, chopped fine. Fresh, frozen, canned...
1-2 onions, sauteed until clear in a large pan.
Vegetable broth.
Garam Masala paste or powder.
Sweet or Maharajah or Rogan Josh paste or powder.
Vindaloo paste or powder, if you like super hot.

3 T oil or ghee if using curry powder
1 T ground cumin.

Paneer or sauteed mushrooms or diced lamb stewed in broth or diced chicken, sauteed in lemon juice.

Add curry, cumin, and oil if needed to the onions. Add equal parts of each curry paste or powder.

Add the spinach, and broth to cover. Let it all simmer until the spinach is soft. Puree with a stick blender, or mash, or do neither, as you prefer.

Add paneer/mushrooms/meat.

Serve over rice.

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