Wednesday, November 30

Thanksgiving 2011 - Vegan/Omnivore Style

How the time's have changed. With my daughter's family choosing a vegan lifestyle, Thanksgiving was a challenge, this year. When asked what I could bring to the table, the response was turkey, dressing, gravy, sweet potatoes (guess who's the omnivore!)... She would be providing the vegan portion of vegetables, truffled potatoes, salads, cru de te, and faux turkey. I was anxious to try it all.

See that beautiful salad? It's the Salad of Shaved Fennel, Oranges, and Candied Pecans over at Vegetarian Times, except the greens are not arugula but some grown from her very own step "garden!" She's surrounded by trees with just a bit of sun, allowing her to make a beautiful (and, tasty), entryway garden of decorative and edible plants. Very clever, my girl. It was absolutely delicious and well worth your trying. A great way to start a holiday meal. The Vegetarian Times site is chock full of wonderful recipes, so plan on taking your time, there.

I'm not going to post pictures of everything we had because I'm sure most of you have seen cooked turkeys, etc. I did taste the vegan faux turkey and, while it was tasty, I prefer more texture when eating meats. It seemed very close to the pressed turkey rolls but with less biting resistance. The truffled potatoes were lip-smacking delicious and her green bean casserole (made with homemade vegan mushroom creamed soup) was right on target. Couldn't tell the difference. Dessert was scrumptuous apple pie.

The solar sweet potatoes were delicious and something different from my usual side dish/dessert-type offering. Decided to use pomegranate seeds instead of cranberries for the acidity/sweet combo and rosemary, too, and they were fantastic!

Solar Sweet Potatoes with Pomegranate Seeds and Rosemary
2 cans 40oz sweet potatoes
2 large apples, peeled and chopped
1 cup pomegranate seeds
1 cup sweet potato liquor
1/2 cup blackberry merlot
4 tablespoons butter blended with 2 tsps of corn starch
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon Chinese orange sauce, (or, equal parts soy sauce, distilled vinegar, sugar, and juice from one large orange) [NOTE: you can substitute 1 tsp Tang, in a pinch]

Preheat solar oven to 225F. Use a 3-4 quart covered casserole dish or 3 eight-inch square foil pans.
In large bowl, mix all ingredients together, fill each dish to 1" below top. Place in solar oven and bake for approximately 60-90 minutes or until apples are soft but not mushy.

With changing traditions, I pre-sliced my turkey at home and, for the first time in my life, cut the breast restaurant-style across the breast rather than slicing really big pieces. Duh... (smacking head!). We had plenty of sun to cook the dressing, so I used foil pans and stacked them, for easy transporting and/or freezing the extra. Time became thisclose toward the end, so I didn't take any photos. But, for those of you who enjoy new recipes, here's my solar turkey dressing for 2011. I used fresh herbs still producing proudly on the sunny side of the fence and saw that rosemary...

Solar Turkey Dressing
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 large celery rib, finely chopped
2 medium apples, peeled and chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped
1 cup giblets, finely chopped
1 stick butter
2.5 cups turkey stock
1 14oz bag of herb-seasoned bread crumbs
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons fresh sweet basil, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh pineapple sage/sage, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 8" sprig rosemary, needles only, chopped
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat solar oven to 225F. Use a 3-4 quart casserole dish or 3 eight-inch foil pans.
In heavy saucepan over medium high heat, saute first five ingredients in melted butter until onions become translucent; add stock and let simmer three to five minutes.

In large mixing bowl, combine bread crumbs, pecans, giblets, salt, pepper, baking powder. Finely chop all herbs; add herbs and eggs to bread crumbs and mix thoroughly. Pour hot stock carefully over bread crumb mixture and lightly toss to moisten completely. You can add more stock for a softer texture to your dressing. 

Fill baking pans a little over half full; cover, then, bake in solar oven for approximately 1-1/2 to 2 hours, or until tester comes out clean from center. If you want a crustier top, remove cover after an hour of baking and then return to solar oven to bake for an additional 30 to 40 minutes.

Now, back to the Elf Shop for more holiday creations!

Monday, November 21

Tuna Casserole - Solar Comfort Food - Variation 89

When it's the busiest time of the year for holiday baking, gift buying, crafting, and craft fairs, nothing keeps the old motor going like fast and easy comfort foods. Tuna casseroles have done the job for centuries and solar cooking means you can focus on what has to be done, while the sun takes care of business.  I prefer the canned tuna in water, rather than the oil, but will still rinse it in a colander before adding to my casserole. (I'm not looking for a tuna taste so much as a fast meal!) The variation number comes from the many times we cook casseroles and do our best to make them distinguishable down through the years. (Maybe I should write a cookbook of just my tuna casseroles?!?! Hmm?)

Using egg noodles meant no pre-cooking and so I could play with my fresh herbs and spices to make it special. Even though we've been experiencing some very cold days with a lower sun trajectory, there has been little change in how long it takes to cook a dish. After just a little over an hour, I was able to add the cheesy topping, pop the casserole back into the solar oven, and dinner was ready in just another twenty minutes. I'm embarrassed to say that there was much uuummphin', rollin' eyes, and little table conversation with this variation.

Solar Tuna Casserole - Variation 89

2 tbspns olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, grated
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large stalk celery, cut in 3 lengthwise, then finely chopped
  (if there are some celery leaves, chop and add them, too)
2 reg. cans tuna in water
1 12oz can evaporated milk
1 12oz can chicken stock/water
1/2 tsp ground anise
1 tsp chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp chopped fresh chervil
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 package egg noodles
1 tsp chopped fresh stevia
Panko crumbs (or half a sleeve of crushed saltines)
8 oz of mixed grated cheeses

Preheat solar oven and use a four-quart covered casserole dish.

Over medium heat, in a heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil, then saute onions, pepper, garlic, carrot, and celery, until onions are translucent. Add rest of ingredients (except crumbs and cheeses) and stir to blend thoroughly. Pour into casserole dish and add additional liquid, if necessary, so that it looks like this:
Cover and bake in solar oven for approximately an hour or until liquid is absorbed and noodles are al dente. (You can steal one to taste, because it will all be covered with the cheeses!)

Remove from oven and distribute crumbs evenly over top, then evenly distribute the grated cheeses.

Return to solar oven and bake until cheeses are melted and lightly browned. Sprinkle paprika for an added touch or taste and color.

Plop you some of this on a plate, add a glass of your favorite beverage, thank the cook, and get back to your holiday preparations!

Saturday was our last vendor day at the North Hills Midtown Market and I just want to thank everyone for making it a great success. Even though we were dealing with cold weather, the sun gave us some warmth and business was good. We plan on re-opening full time around the 1st of April, 2012, but will be available for receiving and delivering orders on Saturdays from 10am until 11am during the winter. Y'all come back now, hear!

Monday, November 14

Peppers and Solar Herbal First Aid Salve

Peppers for Winter
Been busier than a one-armed paperhanger, finishing up the garden harvests and playing Christmas elf in my craft shop. You saw the pepper bounty in last week's post, right? Well, something had to be done with both the bell peppers and the banana peppers. As you can see, I've strung up the best banana peppers to dry naturally. They'll become bright red, as they dry, and will also make a colorful kitchen display through the winter.

The bell peppers were diced and placed in a single layer on cookie sheets and then frozen for a couple of hours. Then, it was time to separate any pieces that had stuck together and put portions of 1/2 cup each into small freezable bags. The whole process took less than two hours and, now, I'm ready for spicy winter meals.

Solar Herbal First Aid Salve
Remember, the lasagna herb gardens I put in last year? Well, they have done themselves proud, this year, and it was time to do more than dry the herbs for cooking. Time to make some healing salves.  My binders would be lard, because the skin absorbs animal fats so much faster than mineral (liquid petrolatum) and vegetable oils, and beeswax for its antibacteriant and emollient benefits. And, don't worry. By the time it's done, you can only smell the wonderful blend of herbs.

There's a bit of the alchemist in me, I think, because I so thoroughly enjoy creating my own organic salves and cough remedies (think hot toddy with homemade brandy!). So, into my old recipe files I went and found this all-round first aid mix that we loved and decided to try the magic in my solar oven, this time 'round.

The herbs are chosen specifically to blend their particular benefits together to handle most cuts and bruises, muscle aches and pains, and insect bites. Definitely an all-purpose non-toxic salve for most injuries. And, if your pet or small child should decide they want a taste, they'll discover soon enough that it tastes terrible and will leave it alone.

My herbs of choice: Pineapple sage, Rosemary, Spearmint, Lavender, and Thyme.  Since it's so easy to Google these herbs for their benefits, I'll just give a brief summary of why I chose them for my healing salve. If you do your own search, you'll discover multiple benefits, but mine were for their more specific elements. Pineapple sage as an antioxidant, antibacterial herb; rosemary for its pain relief; spearmint as an analgesic to reduce itching; lavender as an astringent to reduce inflammation and help the skin heal itself; and, thyme, as an antiseptic to destroy disease-causing bacteria. The lard binder to help my healing herbs be readily absorbed into the skin and beeswax that is naturally absorbed into the skin to help solidify the salve. The ratio is approximately 8oz. of lard to 2oz. of beeswax. You won't improve it by adding more beeswax, you'll just make it too hard to use.

Step One: Clean and dry all herbs, thoroughly, before preparing your salve. Using a dehydrator or your solar oven to dehydrate them won't take more than a day. By letting the door of the oven rest on top of the side latches and keeping the oven turned just enough away from the sun that it doesn't get above 175F, you can dehydrate most anything. In fact, Sun Oven International now offers a dehydrating kit specifically designed for their oven that makes the whole process very easy. My next post will tell you all about it. But, for a quick peek, go here!

Rinse all herbs to remove any protein (bugs) hiding midst the foliage. You can choose to remove all the leaves from the stems before dehydrating or just wait until they're done. You're going to be chopping this all up to add to the lard, so it doesn't matter. But, if you do remove the leaves, the drying time is less. Now, that you have thoroughly dried herbs, you can move to...

Step Two: You'll need to liquify the lard, first, by placing it in a pan/glass jar that will fit inside another pot. Then, add at least three or four inches of water and heat over very low heat until the lard is totally melted. I do this inside and prepare the herbs whilst the lard is melting.

Step Three: Finely chop all your herbs. I take a gallon-sized plastic bag and simply use a rolling pin to crush the herbs, then give it a serious shaking to combine them. Snip off a corner to create a funnel that will let you slowly pour the herbs into the melted lard. Stir it with a wooden spoon and keep adding herbs till you can barely move your spoon. You want the dried herbs totally submerged in the lard, so stop when there is about 1/4" of liquid above the herbs.

Step Four: Preheat your solar oven so that the temperature doesn't get above 100F. This means you'll have to NOT face it directly into the sun but at an angle that will maintain the low temperature. Help your oven by resting the door ON the latches. Now, comes the hard part -- the waiting.  Whether inside or outside, the best salve is allowed to do its thing for at least nine to ten hours. If it can't be done in one day, simply reliquify in the morning on your stovetop and then return to the solar oven to finish. For once, I don't suggest using your microwave to reliquify the herbal mix. I think it's too intense and can change the finished product. You want a slow, gentle, extraction that removes all the beneficial oils from your herbs.

Step Five: Assuming that you have all your containers ready, it's time to strain that wonderful salve over a bowl with a spout. Line your strainer with at least four layers of fine cheesecloth, an old t-shirt, or two layers of paper towels. You'll be able to really squeeze the cheesecloth/t-shirt for those last drops but not the paper towels. They'll just disintegrate. Let it slowly drain so that you don't force any debris into your liquid. Move the herbs around to help it along so that it doesn't thicken during the process. [NOTE: Just thought of this! Not too late for the next batch, though. If it does thicken up, you can always use your hair dryer to liquify the herb-lard mix. Tada!]  Isn't the green a beautiful shade for the salve!

Step Six: Discard the drained herbs. NOW, you can use your microwave! This is when you'll add the beeswax and give it short spurts of 20 seconds on med-high (6-7) in the microwave untill all the beeswax has melted. Don't think adding lots of beeswax is better. It will simply make your salve impossible to use. Keep with the ratio.  This will take some adjustments because you DON'T want to add any water to the mix. Ever! Get your containers ready and fill each to 1/4 inch of the top. I've used 1.5oz screw-top jars and a larger one for my medicine cabinet.

Step Seven: Cover when salve is totally cooled from top to bottom.

Finish: Now, you can make your labels and share with loved ones.

And, here's my Solar Granny Grumbles' Herbal First Aid Salve. The label gives ingredients and will include a mini description of each ingredient on a separate gift tag.

To prevent introducing any bacteria into the salve during use, I like to use either a craft stick or cosmetic spatula to remove what I need. Kept in a cool place, this salve will last up to two years. This is such a great thing to know that I've also linked to the following great blogs: It's a Keeper Thursday: Recipe & Project Linky and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways. Check out all the other great blogs, recipes, and crafts -- and, don't forget to leave some comment love.

It's a Keeper 

Friday, November 11

CCC Easy Cheesy Mashed Potatoes

Friends: I have reposted this item because I have been SPAMMED and it is now listed as my most viewed recipe -- which is pure hogwash! The same person hits it daily, leaving the most ridiculous comments and so I decided to clean it up.
November's Crazy Cooking Challenge is mashed potatoes. Yes, mashed potatoes. Is it possible to bring the mundane into the limelight? I'm here to tell you, yes. These potatoes are delicious and will hold their own against any entree. Since the Challenge requires using a recipe from another food blogger, I searched online, specifically, for ordinary blogging cooks with mashed potato recipes, not professional chefs or commercial recipe blogs. You can find this Easy Cheesy Mashed Potatoes recipe at Brooke McLay's Family Kitchen blog. While visiting, say hello from the Challenge and check out all her other recipes, as well.
What I did do differently, of course, was use the solar oven to roast my potatoes along with an onion, because I didn't have onion salt on hand. Just put them in a covered pan and let them do their thing for about an hour and a half. Remove from the solar oven and while still warm but you're still able to hold them in your hand, just a small knife cut and the skins will almost slide off.

I decided to use some Italian Parsley for the garnis, as well, and traipsed out to the garden, tra la la, with my wonderful garden hod. Imagine how delighted I was to find two very large puffball mushrooms along the way and some pepper plants that had no idea harvest time was over. Look at this November bounty!
Below the Banana Peppers is a full basket of Bell Peppers and those beautiful puffball mushrooms. Before cooking them, I did the test and they were at peak form -- a beautiful white center.
Since the focus was the mashed potatoes, I did a fast saute of the mushrooms and Polish Kielbasa and added some lima beans for a fast dinner.

A great big thumb's up from my sister (my live-in taster), too! She also loved the Easy Cheesy Mashed Potatoes and is looking forward to the leftovers.

Check out all the other bloggers who have joined in this linky, too. With a year's worth of mashed potato recipes, no one should complain that there's no variety at your table. Click on the 'like' below the picture and don't forget to vote for me! Have fun!
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