As evidenced by my scarcity of posts in recent months and the preponderance of “foodie” topics over all others, it seems clear to me that it’s time to accept that my “self-indulgent ramblings” are on hiatus, although my mind remains questionable.

As WordPress so graciously allows us to have more than one blog, I’ll be starting a new food focused blog today, the name of which I’ll have to append here later as I have yet to determine what to call it, and the content of which, for the moment at least, is non-existent.

I’m sure I’ll be posting here from time to time as topics of interest cross my path, but for the moment, this part of my blogging life is benched.




I admit, I’m lazy …

so I’m always looking to shortcut my effort without sacrificing the end result. I was looking at recipes today for Valentine’s dinner, and one menu plan had a frozen mango yogurt as dessert. That appealed greatly … I like mango, I love frozen yogurt, and it gave me an excuse to shop for a new kitchen toy, namely, an ice cream/frozen yogurt/sorbet maker.  Found a couple of models that appealed, reasonably priced, seemed to fill the bill, but more on this another time.

While browsing for an ice cream maker, yogurt makers seemed to be prevalent everywhere I looked. I like plain yogurt a lot, too, with fruit, but also in more savoury applications like tzatziki, raitas, salad dressings, sauces, in place of sour cream, etc., so I looked at the yogurt makers as well. Then I got thinking, and looked on Google at some homemade yogurt recipes.Very straightforward to make, takes about the same amount of time, so who needs a machine? Then, I thought some more. Being lazy, I was unlikely to make it following the recipe. But, but … I now had the bug … I wanted to try homemade yogurt, so … I thought some more.

I concluded that I might have an “easier” way, so I conducted a little mad scientist experiment this afternoon, and sho’ ’nuff, looked very much like I might be right. Time to proceed with a “live fire” test of my concept.

Gathered my ingredients and equipment and went to “work”. First piece of equipment … a 4 cup (in this case) crockpot/slow cooker or however you call them. Second piece of equipment … a thermometer. First step … sterilize/sanitize (I used B-Brite, which I had lying around for wine/beer making purposes … boiling water will work) the crockpot insert, the lid and the probe end of the thermometer. Second step, pour 1 litre/quart milk into the crockpot and heat on high setting until the thermometer reaches 185°F (which dovetails nicely with the high cooking temperature of my little crockpot), then set a timer for 30 minutes and hold the milk at 185°F for that time. After 30 minutes, remove the insert from the crock, and cool to 110°F. Stir into the milk 2-3 tablespoons of plain, active culture yogurt, then return the insert to the crock on the keep warm setting, if you have one (I do). Walk away for 7+ hours. At the end of the warming phase, pop the insert into the refrigerator for another 7+ hours. If all went well … congratulations, it’s plain yogurt!

So, hardest part … sterilize 3 pieces of gear! Then, I poured the milk, flipped a switch, walked away until the crockpot heated the milk to 185°F, at which point my (digital) thermometer beeped to alert me. Set a countdown timer for 30 minutes, walked away, timer beeped to alert me it was time to move on. Removed the insert, reset the thermometer to alert me at 110°F and … walked away. Beep alerts me, “pitched” the active culture yogurt into the milk, returned the insert to the cooled down crock, now on keep warm, and walked away. Timing was such that keep warm coincided with bed, so … left it overnight, put the insert in the refrigerator when I got up in the morning, ignored it all day, had yogurt waiting for me at the end of the day.

This was a first brush at a concept, using ingredients on hand, and it worked well. There are some caveats to be avoided (homogenized milk doesn’t work well … pasteurized, okay, but not homogenized), there are variations of milk used, including dry powdered skim as well as soya, goat’s, sheep’s, quantities of this and that, additives, timing (very flexible), etc., but the basic recipe remains the same. Milk, heat (ironically, to kill bacteria and prepare the stage for introduction of new bacteria), sustain temperature (thicker consistency), cool (the active bacterial culture in the yogurt you introduce won’t die at/below 110°F), “pitch” yogurt culture into milk to introduce good bacteria (after your first batch, you can reserve some to use as your active culture), keep warm (to promote “good” bacterial growth), stir and chill (to stop bacterial growth and “set” the yogurt).

I’m going to test my bigger crockpot to see if it meets the temperature “requirements”, and, if it does, use it to make yogurt(s) in individual sterile Mason jars in a bain marie. This achieves two things … the yogurt’s already in a sterile storage container, and I can make larger batches, but “doctor” them individually according to my taste du jour.

Now, the fun begins!

The good, the bad and the ugly

One of my friends recently informed me that she’d been diagnosed as having recently had a “silent” heart attack. That’s the ugly. Needless to say, she survived; however, she’s been given some strict marching orders regarding her diet and activity level for the foreseeable future.

Her cholesterol, I gather, is way outta whack, so she’s on meds for that, and is supposed to eat foods with good cholesterol and avoid foods with bad cholesterol. Given the requests for recipes for certain foods/food groups, I can only guess the reason her cholesterol is so outta whack. Not a lot of experience, it would seem, with the good foods so she’s scrambling to figure out how to incorporate them into her diet with recipes that are economical of both money and time as well as tasty.

Personally, I think she’s taking it a little far in her division of good from bad foods, but then, it isn’t my heart so I’m trying to be sensitive to that when suggesting dishes she can prepare with her new-found cornucopia of health-bestowing foods, something that doesn’t come naturally to me as I eat pretty much whatever appeals and it’s more by coincidence than design that we tend toward more healthy food choices than do we eat less healthily. Thinking about it is foreign to me, but a learning experience and, hopefully, a process that will benefit my friend in her attempt to reform her habits into a more beneficial pattern of dining. Fortunately, I have some help from other foodie friends we have in common.

Heart health isn’t something to be taken lightly, so I’m happy to do my part to reduce the risk of another silent, or worse, not so silent heart attack for my friend.


A New Year’s tradition

The New Year is upon us. Out with the old year. While I fell short of my blogging objectives in 2011, especially in the last 2 months, I exceeded my expectations. I can live with that.
I leave 2011, and you, with a recipe, of sorts, for a traditional New Year’s dish. I hope you enjoy it, and the health, wealth and prosperity it’s sure to bring you and yours. Cheers,
Hoppin’ John
A traditional southern food (and I do mean southern, popular from Texas to Brazil and up and down the eastern US, south of the Mason-Dixon line, Hoppin’ John is also a New Year’s tradition, thought to bring luck, health and prosperity. The origins of the name are obscure. Among the popular theories is that Sherman ignored the pea fields while razing the rest of the south, unwittingly leaving behind a nutritious staple for the Confederates.

Like all southern cooking, there are as many variations of Hoppin’ John as there are cooks making it, but here’s a generic take on a recipe, with some notes on substitutions and additions. Adjust quantities to suit. Enjoy.


dried black eyed peas (frozen may be substituted, but avoid canned)
garlic, chopped
onion, chopped
celery, chopped (include leaves)
green pepper, chopped
salt pork (may substitute bacon), cubed
bay leaf
freshly cracked black pepper
cayenne (or a spicy Cajun seasoning blend like BAM! * or Chachere’s)
water (may use chicken stock)
green onion, finely sliced
long grain white or brown rice
chicken livers (for dirty rice, optional)
smoked ham hock (may substitute smoked bone-in ham, smoked pork chops or smoked picnic shoulder)
cider vinegar (optional)

Soak the dried peas overnight in cold water, changing for fresh at least once. Pick over and discard any rejects. Rinse thoroughly in cool water and set aside. Sear the ham hocks and set aside. Gently sauté the chicken livers (if using) and set aside.

In a large, preferably cast iron, Dutch oven, over medium-high heat, add the salt pork and render the fat; remove and discard. Add the “holy trinity” (onions, celery and green peppers) to the fat and sauté until translucent. Add the chopped garlic, ham hocks, herbs and spices and season with salt and lots of fresh pepper. Add the liquid, bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until peas are tender, about 3 hours. Add more liquid as necessary during cooking time.

When peas are tender and creamy, remove the pot from the heat, remove and discard bay leaf, remove and set aside ham hock to cool. With the back of a wooden spoon or a hand blender, mash some of the peas to thicken the mixture. Rinse the rice thoroughly to remove excess starch, add to pot with appropriate quantity of water or stock, plus a little extra (rice may be cooked separately and either added to the pot before serving, or spooned onto plates for serving).

Adjust seasonings to taste, adding vinegar (if used), cayenne or Cajun blend. Meanwhile, remove and dice meat from hock. Add to the pot before serving to warm through. Ladle over rice (if cooked separately), and garnish with green onions.

Traditionally served with greens (collard, mustard, turnip, chard or kale) and hot corn bread. Have Louisiana hot sauce on the table when serving.

Variations: add diced red pepper; add diced canned tomatoes (RoTel with jalapeños works well); add jalapeños or other peppers.

N.B. If using bone-in ham, using plain water is fine. Otherwise, use chicken stock. The choice to cook the rice in the pot or separately is a matter of taste. Cooked in the pot, rice may add too much starch to the finished dish. Any leftover salt pork can be used to make Boston baked beans.

* a recipe for homemade BAM! is readily available on the web. Chachere’s, so far as I can tell, you have to buy.

Going completely off the reservation for Christmas dinner this year. Too many “Jamie cooks …” episodes airing great ideas/alternatives to traditional fare.

It was pretty much decided for me that we’re doing a ham for Christmas dinner, but it was decided by me that I’m making Jamie’s Spicy Holiday jerk ham. Sides of roasted veg and ‘taters, again, done his way. I was thinking of a mango cranberry salsa to go with the ham, but am now thinking mango pomegranate salsa. Lots of other things I can make to press cranberries into service … maybe into a jerk gravy from the pan drippings for the potato and veg. Skillet cornbread to sop up the gravy (or just a ton of compound butter). Mulled wine, and “low fat” Eggnog alternative, aka Brandy Milk Punch from the good folks at Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide, will be on hand all day.

Holiday Bombe for dessert. This looks tedious but dead easy to make, no cooking, incorporates so many flavours and textures. I can’t wait to try it, and it’s definitely stress-free make ahead friendly.

I have a few other tricks up my sleeve for hors d’ouevres, brunch (which may be Boxing Day as #2 son is performing in a Christmas choir and the boys probably won’t be here until after noon). Also going English with brunch … scored some streaky bacon and some proper bangers, among other specialty products, so we’ll do a full English, I think.

Boxing Day dinner is going to be tourtière, doctored up Brussels sprouts. Maybe spiked trifle for afters.

Recipes available, pics might follow.



Back in the saddle again?

Perhaps more akin to a sugar cube or an apple to feed the horse. The horse may be saddled up and ready to ride, but the rider isn’t rushing to put boot to stirrup and swing up just yet.

My thanks to my faithful readers who’ve checked in during my absence. Hopefully, any future absences will be brief.

My lack of blog production (to extend the analogy), aka the usual horse crap, can be attributed to a few elements – a lack of fodder being one, the rapidly approaching silly season being another. I uncovered a potential wealth of fodder in reading another blog today, details of which you can read in my previous post. I have great hopes.

Meanwhile, almost a year has passed since WordPress crossed my event horizon with the blog a day challenge or the less demanding blog a week, to neither of which I’d committed, having no experience with blogging and no idea how this little adventure would play out. I fell far short of a blog a day, but rather handily surpassed a blog a week, so on balance, I surprised myself and have no cause for self-recrimination. Knowing now what I didn’t know then, perhaps I will commit to a blogging goal for 2012. We shall see.

More than usual this year, the silly season is imposing more on my time than is normal. I’ve put a self-imposed restriction on my driving for the moment (no, not on serious meds impeding my ability to operate heavy machinery, much to my chagrin).  This is awkward for a couple of reasons: we live in an area not well (if at all? like I’d know) serviced by public transportation; I don’t have time to waste on public transpo if it is available, nor on cabbing a myriad number of places to shop, specifically for LRHG. Rather defeats the purpose to have her chauffeur me hither and thither for her gifts. If our destinations aren’t a dead giveaway, the bags I load into the car might give her a clue. What to do?

I took a page from the old Yellow Pages ads and decided to let my fingers do some walking. Armed with the internet, some vague ideas and a credit card, I’ve begun to shop (and purchase) for LRHG’s Christmas online. Skeptical though I may be that I can use this method to get her everything I want for her, at least it’s a good, and so far, successful, start.  Inspiration arrived by FedEx today. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he delivered two of your gifts, with a third anticipated later. Perhaps this will prove more successful than I imagined. Meanwhile, I’m now (re)assured the tree won’t be barren of gifts. Peace reigns once more in my mind.