About mycookinglifebypatty

Been cooking all my life and loving the way I can create big effects by creating delicious and healthy food. Most of the things I would want to say "about me" will be in my blogs!

You Ate WHAT for Breakfast?

That is probably what you’ll say to me.

PASTA WITH MUSHROOM GRAVY

 

Empty!

Three days back from being out of town. Almost nothing in the refrigerator! Have you ever been in that predicament? No time to shop yet. Hungry.  Stomach says, “Empty! Need food!”

The game plan was make something from nothing.  I found a box of angel hair pasta made with Jerusalem artichoke, half a small can of tomato paste, a container of mushrooms, a mostly used bulb of garlic, some parsley and a single leek that looked like it should have been tossed two weeks ago. I also had a box of organic vegetable broth that I keep in my pantry for emergencies.

The Play by Play

Here we go:

  1. I boiled the pasta until it is just about tender (al dente).
  2. Stripped the rotten leek until I found the inner layers that still looked fresh and green. I washed this thoroughly, sliced it and tossed it into a cast iron frying pan with about a quarter cup of veggie broth. I skipped the oil–don’t want it. The veggie broth is organic and has NO SUGAR. Be careful if you use prepared broth. Most has sugar. One that doesn’t is Imagine Foods but it is very strong in squash flavor which you may want or not. I used Field Day Organic Vegetable Broth made with water, carrot, onion, celery, sea salt and celeriac juice plus onion powder and garlic powder. I like these flavors and it is close to what I make myself when I make homemade broth.
  3. Added crushed sliced garlic cloves (3 small) to the sautee and a pinch of sea salt.
  4. Added ten sliced mushrooms.
  5. Added 4 oz of tomato paste and more broth, some pepper, oregano and some onion powder.  I simmered this until it was a rich and thick sauce. Add a bit more sea salt if you need it.
  6. I turned off the heat and added some rough chopped parsley.

OMG!

This was sooo delicious! I cooked in the morning and ate it for breakfast! It is so good, I will likely make this again.  There are endless variations but the thing that made the sauce really nice was a load of mushrooms and the tomato paste. Otherwise, anything you can find in your refrigerator goes!

 

MUSHROOMS MADE THE GRAVY.jpg

 

 

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I made my decision and I’m confessing it to you.

Happy September everyone!

It’s still plenty hot here in New Mexico and even farther north in Denver, Colorado where we were last weekend. But there is something in the air that says autumn is almost here.

There’s something about the shade of green on the trees. They’ve lost that fresh green look and the green is slightly darker, the leaves slightly shrinking from the long hot and very dry summer. Change is in the air!

My Ever Evolving Food Philosophy and a Stunning Statistic

And I’ve changed up my cooking the past several weeks actually. I have been experimenting with a totally vegan menu bypassing all seafood which I had still been enjoying before on occasion. I have been reading up on the status of our ocean fish and the ocean itself and decided I cannot support the fishing industry any more.

What really got to me was learning that only about 10% of our big ocean fish are left. If true, that means 90% gone! That is a stunning statistic!  (Ref: Worm B. Barbier ED, Beaumont N, et al. Impacts of biodiversity loss on ocean ecosystem services. Science. 2006 Nov 3;314 (5800): 787-90.) Hat off to Dr. John MacDougall for pointing this out to me in his book, The Starch Solution.

I started paying attention to how much fish is on menus, how much fish people are eating as an alternative to other animal meat. I saw one cooking show on PBS where a single New York restaurant was purchasing 5 million pounds of fish a year. WOW!

I also have read–and I’m sure you’ve heard about this too–that radiation from Japan has made its effect on the Pacific all the way to our United States west coast. Tests show a level of radiation in fish and shellfish that was not previously there. That makes me very sad indeed.

In the Gulf, the 2010 oil spill was called the worst spill in U.S. history.  After initial clean up efforts, the effect of that spill on Gulf sea life and people working and living on the Gulf Coast has been disastrous and long-lasting. I have avoided seafood from the Gulf Coast ever since.

I also question the quality of fish and seafood from the Far East, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia and from fish farms.  According to World Wide Fund for Nature, more than 80% of marine pollution is caused by land-based activities that cause oil spills, fertilizers and toxic chemical runoff and the discharge of untreated sewage.

Too Many Fish in the Sea?

I used to consider that the oceans are so very vast (true).  I was taught the earth is 75% covered with water (true). I thought, there are (like the song says) TOO MANY FISH IN THE SEA. I thought that yes, some may not be safe to eat but surely there are others that are. After all, doesn’t my Whole Foods store watch out for quality for me? Don’t they rate the quality of their seafood for me? Doesn’t the fish sold in my local Co-Op look quite clean and fresh?

When I read about our beautiful oceans and the losses we have sustained there I cannot pretend it has nothing to do with me and that me and my family are not really putting much of a dent in the fish population. And me and my family will probably not get sick from eating the fish.  And it’s not me that eats the beef and chicken and pigs who come from  huge agribusiness that pollutes the environment and causes more greenhouse gases than automobiles. Not me. That’s good, but it’s not enough. Maybe there are still some spots where the fish are not polluted. That would be good news, but what about those fishing industries driven by all the demanding consumers who want to eat those fish up too?

Expanding My Viewpoint

I have a deep love of the ocean.  Always have. Always will. I made my decision and I’m confessing it to you.  I’m not the sappy “save the ____” type. (It’s totally fine with me if you are.) But I am a citizen of Earth just like you and I cannot justify to myself supporting this status quo. (And yes, I do feel emotional about the ocean.)

This change is not just some dietary adjustment. This change is an expansion of my own care about the living things on earth and in the ocean and my own care about our planet. I am liking this about myself.

Share Some Good News, Please

I’m sticking to my decision but I invite you to share some good news, if you have it, about our oceans and the life they sustain.

 

Beautiful Baby Bok Choy

We have had a lovely, hot summer here in New Mexico. The temperatures have soared beyond “toasty” with the bluest skies and the sweetest smelling air.

I have been seeking the quick and easy menu with minimal cooking and preparation.

One of my favorite veggies is baby bok choy because it is sweet and light and looks beautiful. But the stems are so much thicker than the delicate leaves. If you want them to cook evenly you would have to separate them and cook them for different times, right?

No, I have found a way to bypass all that work and come up with a super easy and fast way to prepare baby bok choy and present it in a pleasing way that showcases their natural beauty.

First wash the baby bok choy whole. You will need to let the water run down into the base of the plant to allow all the small particles of dirt wash away.

THOUROUGHLY WASH BABY BOK CHOY

Next, stand them up on end and loosely tie them so they stay put. You may have to trim the stem at the base so they stand up.

LOOSELY TIE THE BOK CHOY UPRIGHT.jpg

Steam the baby bok choy whole in an upright position. This takes a fairly tall steamer pot. The concentration of heat will go to the base and the leaves will steam with less intense heat. Perfect!

STEAM.jpg

I like to cut the baby bok choy vertically in half to show off their beautiful composition and add some drama to the serving plate!  We love to eat these and often just pick them up with our fingers and eat them. You will find they are super sweet cooked this way and don’t need a single thing added like salt or oil. However my husband found that a thin slice of watermelon eaten with the bok choy really sets off the flavors!

BEAUTIFUL BOK CHOY

Suddenly Cilantro

suddenly cilantro

 

Maybe spending eight years in New Mexico has caught up with me. Or maybe the influence of the 100+ degree weather days has overridden my usual sense of taste.

Suddenly, I’m craving cilantro!

Not that there’s anything wrong with cilantro. I wouldn’t say I dislike it. I just don’t choose it for my menus. Ever.

Until now!  I have been creating dish after dish with cilantro and absolutely loving the fresh, bright, green refreshing spark it adds as a garnish to pinto beans, in couscous salad, in pico de gallo and again today in tabbouleh salad.

The result?  Lovely tabbouleh salad with plenty of veggies, chlorophyll from the greens, and a delightful sweet and sour dressing.  And no cooking needed on this toasty hot New Mexican day.

Tabbouleh Salad (serves eight)

1 1/2 cups bulgur wheat and boiling water

Put the bulgur in a bowl and pour enough boiling water over it to cover 1/2 inch above the bulger. Let it sit until all the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Let the bulgur cool and fluff it with a fork.

Add diced veggies to the bulgur. Typically recipes have onions, cucumbers, tomatoes and parsley with a lemon and oil dressing. But don’t feel restricted! Choose whatever you want to use.

On this particular day I needed to use up what was in my refrigerator. I diced one large cucumber, half a red onion, one yellow squash, one bunch of parsely and yes, one bunch of cilantro.

Tip: Wash the parsley and cilantro and spin them in the salad spinner to get them dry. Remove the thicker stems and don’t worry about the small tender stems then gently chop them up.

Dress with a citrus dressing.  Instead of the standard lemon and oil, I used tahini, white wine vinegar, a teaspoon of tart cherry concentrate, juice of an orange, salt and one clove of crushed garlic.

 

 

Seeking Disambiguation

via Daily Prompt: Notorious

Disambiguation is a new word I learned while working out something to say about the prompt, “notorious.”

It goes like this: I check Google for the definition of notorious just to make sure I have it. I do but only according to Merriam-Webster and Dictionary.Com. In the Urban Dictionary is where I get further enlightened because that has a series of posts defining “notorious” in a completely different way. You revere notorious. You practically worship someone who’s notorious.  Like the rapper, Notorious B.I.G.? I Google him. He found success in his genre for five years. But in life, he only made it to 25. I suspect the Merriam-Webster definition applies to this name, but to his fans, he wears a heavy overcoat of the Urban Dictionary meaning.

Can’t go into some of the stuff I read there. Like what notorious “bmg” means to some people. And the plush toys sold on those Urban Dictionary entries. So I looked Chris Wallace (Notorious) up in Wikipedia. His nickname was Biggy Smalls. “Biggy” and “Biggie” are both called a disambiguation. What does that mean?

“Disambiguation refers to the removal of ambiguity by making something clear.Disambiguation narrows down the meaning of words and it’s a good thing. This word makes sense if you break it down. Dis means “not,” ambiguous means “unclear,” and the ending -tion makes it a noun.” [Dictionary.com]

In Wikipedia, Disambiguation is word-sense disambiguation, the process of identifying which meaning of a word is used in context. Disambiguation may also refer to: Sentence boundary disambiguation, the problem in natural language processing of deciding where sentences begin and end.

In the Computer Desktop Encyclopedia disambiguation has a technical meaning: “In language processing, deriving the true intention of a word that has multiple meanings. The word means “to remove ambiguities,” and it is used in text-to-speech, speech recognition and text mining applications. For example, the word “r-e-a-d” is pronounced “reed” in the present tense but “red” in the past tense. A text-to-speech program would have to determine the tense of the word by the rest of the sentence.”

This concept is really well-explained here.  I liked it because I was looking for an image and saw the title: “My brother is a trained S.E.A.L.”

I don’t think we really need the word “disambiguation” but this last technical one seems pretty useful and has turned into an entire technical subject that applies to many.

And, since the word “disambiguation” does exist, I’m adding a definition of my own:

(Philosophy) The clarification of meaning, intention, purpose and direction of life or some aspect of life through knowledge and understanding of oneself and others. Eg:  I am seeking disambiguation in my life.

Seeking disambiguation can take you almost anywhere.

 

My Kind of Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day and I wish all mothers a wonderful day! I know there will be special outings, dinners, flowers and gifts flowing today.  I’m a mother myself and like most mothers I’ve done my share of standing up for my children and protecting them when I see they may be in harm’s way.

So in celebration of Mother’s Day, this is what I’m writing about on behalf of all the mothers, the unborn, the newborn, the babies, the toddlers, the young sprouts, the teens, the grown children and the elderly.

DON’T LET PSYCHIATRISTS ELECTROSHOCK CHILDREN!

cchr protest photo

Most people I have talked to think electroshock therapy is totally barbaric and unacceptable.

Most people I know would never want to put themselves, their family or their friends through the agony of electroshock therapy. But they aren’t worried about it because . . .

Most people think electroshock therapy is something that was done in the past, circa “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

In fact, electroshock therapy is one of the most brutal “treatments” ever inflicted on people in the name of mental health care and is still being done today on at least a million people a year including about 100,000 elderly, pregnant mothers and children in the United States. (Yes, I said pregnant mothers.)

And the psychiatric industry would like to do much, much more of it. In the United States the American Psychiatric Association (APA) is lobbying the FDA to allow use of electroshock on children, stating in their letter to the FDA that having ECT available is “especially meaningful in children and adolescents….”

They are claiming that if allowed to give ECT to pregnant women, newborns and the very young, the children will not grow up with mental health problems. Yeah. 450 volts through the brain. That’ll quiet ’em down. Maybe forever.

To push their agenda further along, the APA is holding their annual conference next week in San Diego, California to discuss ETC for children. They will be severely challenged by some of the country’s most dedicated human rights activists–members of the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) and those who stand with them in solidarity against such brutal torture.

What Can You Do About This?

Join CCHR’s Protest March demanding that ECT is BANNED in the United States. The March will be on Saturday May 20th starting at 11 a.m. in Horton Plaza, 4th and Broadway in San Diego. Contact CCHRofLA@gmail.com.

Sign the CCHR petition to ban ECT here and share it with everyone you know.

Learn more about it here. 

 

 

 

The Cantaloupe Strawberry Pie Experiment

I was innocently thinking about an organic cantaloupe that was sitting in the refrigerator and wondering when I will get around to eating it.  I had some beautiful organic strawberries too.  And I have a husband who, in his quest to eat less sugar, enjoys a nice dessert without it.

My usual pattern when it comes to creating food dishes or meals is that I think about color. Cantaloupe and strawberries would look beautiful together!

And that was how I came up with the idea of strawberry cantaloupe pie which I’ve never made or heard of before. Time to experiment!

CANTALOUPE PIE

 

Make a single pie crust and pre-bake it.  Mine was 1 1/2 cups of organic whole wheat pastry flour and 2 pinches of sea salt. Combine that. Cut in some oil–about 1/3 cup and then some water until you’ve got a flaky dough consistency. Roll it out, arrange it in the pie plate and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Let that cool.

Cantaloupe and strawberry pie filling

1 organic cantaloupe

10-12 beautiful organic strawberries cut in half

pinch of sea salt

2 1/2 tablespoons agar flakes

2 tablespoons kuzu

1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk

1/2 lemon

  1. Peel and cut the cantaloupe in chunks and blend this without extra water until it is thick and smooth. My Vita-Mix did a great job for me, but you can use a regular blender.
  2. In a small sauce pan, slowly heat the almond milk and agar. It will need to simmer several minutes until the agar is completely dissolved, so don’t use high heat or the mixture will boil off too much.
  3. Add the blended cantaloupe. [This is where I had some trepidation. I wasn’t sure what would happen to the beautiful sherbet-orange color of the cantaloupe when I subjected it to heat. Would it turn an ugly brown? Would it lose its flavor?]
  4. Dissolve the kuzu powder in a little bit of water and add to the cantaloupe mixture. Stir continuously until the mixture, which up to now had a milky look, changes. When the kuzu is totally cooked into the mixture it will become less milky and thicken.
  5. Add a small squeeze of lemon juice to brighten up the filling.
  6. Arrange the half strawberries in the bottom of the cooled pie crust and pour in the cantaloupe filling. Chill until firm. Garnish with fresh sliced strawberries.

The verdict:  Nice texture. Naturally sweet. Sweetness will depend on how sweet the fruit is.  Almond milk flavor takes over a little too much, even though there was only a small amount of it. Note to self–next time try rice milk or coconut milk.

ONE SLICE

Umami for you, umami for me

We’ve been flirting with springtime for several weeks here in New Mexico. I’ve been lightening up the menu since early February, accented by the occasional heavier stew or soup when needed.

 

Now we are about to touch upon some much warmer days and I know that May will usher in a long and lovely hot summer. But no matter how hot is gets, I am a dedicated, all-season soup lover!

The secret to great soup is the broth.

 

A warm weather soup can be more challenging than autumn’s squash bisque or winter’s hearty bean and root veggie soup.  A summer soup calls for a broth that is both light and deeply flavorful. A successful soup broth will rend a delightful soup.

Umami for you, umami for me.

 

I have heard this word “umami” a lot in the past few years and decided to check out what it really is. Believe it or not, there is a website called “The Umami Information Center” which was enlightening. Seems the Japanese word “umami” has to do with the taste imparted by glutamate.

I react to that piece of information as if they said a bad word.  Glutamate?  As in Mono Sodium Glutamate?  No way I’m using that in my food!

Turns out glutamate is naturally occurring in many foods which can be used in cooking to create the coveted Umami flavor.  Some of the foods on the list I absolutely knew were umami-rich. Others, I hadn’t thought of before.

“Wow!” I thought, “This is enough to keep me souping in my kitchen all summer long!”

Without a doubt, the best umami, the best food, the best meal comes from your own kitchen. Even if you are a novice.

 

Okay I will get to the soup recipe. I promise! But I’ve gotta take a little side trip here.  I’m going to make a umami-rich broth made with real food ingredients and condiments. It is not difficult and it can even be considered economical because one way to get a highly-flavored soup broth is to save the cooking water from boiling or steaming other veggies and voila! you have umami.  Or, you can consciously decide to create umami from specific foods that you choose just for your soup recipe.

Either way, the point is–cooking for yourself with real food in your own kitchen wins flavor-wise and health-wise every single time over buying soup in the store (natural food store or not) or ordering it in a restaurant. Forty plus years of savoring my own cooking versus even the best dishes in the best restaurants has taught me that.

Lemon Fennel Soup

 

Making the umami-rich broth:

2 quarts spring water

4-6 inch piece of kombu seaweed

1 head of nappa cabbage (sometimes called Chinese cabbage)

Naturally brewed soy sauce (“Nama” brand is far and away the best flavor and the most umamiful.)

  1. Quickly clean the dried kombu by brushing it off with a clean, damp paper towel or vegetable brush. Place the kombu in the bottom of a large pot and add all the water. Bring this to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile wash a head of nappa cabbage, cut it in half and again in quarters. The core may be cut out and separately sliced fine. Cut the cabbage into 1-inch pieces. If you don’t want to use all the cabbage at once, just use the amount you will probably eat.  The cabbage itself will not wind up in the soup. It will be served separately as a lightly boiled salad.
  3. Put the cabbage in the boiling water and cook for just about a minute or until the green parts become bright green. This may take less than a minute!  Immediately remove the cabbage into a colander to cool.
  4. Continue allowing the broth to simmer with the kombu for about 15 minutes, then remove the kombu. (Save the kombu for another use or to slice up and add to another dish.
  5. Strain the soup broth so there are no solids in it.
  6. You now have a light, flavorful broth that delivers umami flavor.

 

Putting the soup together

1 large fennel bulb

1 shallot

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 lemon

chili flakes (optional)

  1. Wash the fennel and separate the bulb from the rest. Save the feathery fronds for garnish.  Thinly slice the fennel, about 1/4 inch slices.
  2. Slice the shallot
  3. Heat a pan of your choice (I use cast iron) and add the sesame oil.
  4. When the oil is hot add the shallots with a pinch of salt and saute until they soften.
  5. Add the fennel slices and another pinch of salt and continue sauteing until the fennel is well-cooked.
  6. Put the sautéed fennel and shallot into the soup  broth. Season lightly with soy sauce, add and let it all simmer a few minutes.
  7. Just before serving, zest your lemon and add to the soup.  I use a zester that produces thin little slices of zest. In that case I’m going to add about 2 Tablespoons of this.  If you are zesting your lemon with a microplane that produces grated zest, you may want to use less. Experiment with this!
  8. Serve the soup garnished with fennel fronds and a few drops of lemon juice.

 

Some more soup broth tips:

Keep in mind that some veggies, like carrots, have a very definite flavor and color.  Others, such as white daikon radish taste very different when cooked than when raw. Think  with the flavors to get the broth you want. Sometimes you just want lots of flavor and it doesn’t matter too much what you use. If you make a vegetable soup, you can add all kinds of things together. But if you are going for a more delicate taste like the fennel soup, then choose ingredients for the broth that will enhance but not interfere with your finished product.

Sauteing vegetables helps bring out their flavor and sweetness. Decide, however, what oil you will use based on the flavors of that oil. At first I was going to use toasted sesame oil to saute the fennel and shallots but that would definitely have brought in a flavor that might have taken over too much.

Dried vegetables, such as dried shiitake mushrooms have a concentrated flavor that provides a lot of umami, even though you will reconstitute them by soaking first. See more about shiitake and kombu in my 2013 post, “Rejuvenation and Dashi.”

Apparently tomatoes are considered to yield a very high level of umami.  Hmm, sun-dried tomatoes. Gotta play with that!

 

The Underside of Cooking

We ALL know the underside of cooking–gourmet or otherwise!

That’s right.  It’s the cleaning.

There’s nothing like a clean and sparkling kitchen to inspire more creativity, more willingness to go the extra mile and prepare something new and adventurous.  In the interest of honesty, I admit that my kitchen is not always what you would call “sparkling.” Okay. I admit that my kitchen is rarely sparkling.

It is decently clean, but on my schedule, the Battle Plan of household chores to be done is usually very long and the time to accomplish them is usually quite short. The jobs get rotated according to what is screamingly vital that day.

Today my kitchen stove was calling my name. One thing I really dislike is a dirty stove, and mine had collected some grunge that escaped the daily wipe down.

Another thing I dislike is the smell, expense and toxicity of cleaning solutions. For one thing, I don’t think most of them work very well. It is unrealistic to think that everything can simply be sprayed and wiped.  I like the idea of using WATER.  And SOAP or something. And a little ELBOW GREASE.

A few weeks ago, I discovered that a strong vinegar and water solution would take soap scum right off the walls and door of my shower.  I was impressed!  Maybe you all already know about this. But I didn’t.

So I went back on the Internet to look for natural stove top cleaning solutions and found a great website called, “So Not Betty.”  Have you heard of it?  I learned to make a simple paste from my kitchen staples to totally clean and shine my stove top!  It worked really great and some grunge near one particular burner that I thought was permanent is now nearly gone.  Another round of natural stove top paste will probably finish it.

Here is today’s recipe from Chandra at “So Not Betty.”  [ I had a hard time actually finding the home page of the website. There are a lot of blogs that play on the idea of not being Betty (Crocker?) so this is where the actual recipe came from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/26/clean-stove-top-naturally_n_3499261.html]

Stove Top Cleanser

1 Tablespoon Salt

1 Tablespoon Baking Soda

1 Tablespoon Water

Make a paste and dip a cloth or sponge into it and scrub.  I found this paste requires lots of rinsing with water and wiping to remove all the paste residue.  But it isn’t difficult. Besides, as you know, I like to use water to clean!

I hope you can benefit from my experiment with this. Now that the stove and kitchen really are clean and sparkling, onward to some creative cooking!

What do you find are the most effective natural cleaning solutions that can be made at home?

Here’s to the Great Freedom and Latitude of Blogging

First of all, thank you.

To all of you who have ventured over here to My Cooking Life and especially to any of you who are still willing to do so!

My own Cooking Life has taken quite a turn since I last posted something original for New Year’s 2015.  I think my story is like many others’ whose lives get so full and busy that producing decent meals for yourself and family becomes nearly impossible.

My Hat is off to all food bloggers!

I did get very busy lately, but actually that was true before when I was blogging.  What I ran into besides lack of time to cook food, was lack of time and desire to create something new and “photogenic” and then set the dish up in a good display and take the pictures. Then I needed to work out the recipe–something I myself NEVER use–because I thought other people needed and wanted a recipe. (You know, in the event there was anyone actually reading this.)

This is what food bloggers do, and more.  My hat is off to all food bloggers no matter how many readers they have or not!  Food blogging is challenging and the photography alone takes a high level of creativity and know-how.  Despite this, there are a gazillion food bloggers out there!

But competition with other food bloggers was never my focus. What really got me blogging in the first place is my desire to write.  Cooking was and still is a very apt subject for me to write about.

But not all the time.

My life is “cooking” in many ways!  And sometimes I want to write about it.  So here’s to the great freedom and latitude of blogging!

And we’ll see where we end up.  For those who actually like my recipes and healthy dishes, no worries!  Those will still show up every now and then.