Thursday, January 16, 2014

Urban Homesteading for One & a Delicious Soup from the Freezer

Over the past week, I have been chief caretaker for my Better Half who went down on the black ice walking the dogs and seriously fractured her wrist.  Her right/dominant wrist, of course.  The damage was so bad that surgery - and plates and wires and pins - were required.  If you've been through this type of injury you know it is a bear.  Lots of pain and immobility.  Lots of ice and pain medications. I have been doing my best to keep things happy, light, efficient, and I am cooking up a storm of course.  I am a firm believer that good food is a cure in itself - for anything.  It is right?

I have learned some valuable lessons,  so I thought I would share. We have an excellent division of labor here at our beloved Il Moya - our urban homestead.  And I realize now, how much it is a two person operation!  I mean, I personally feel that I am doing pretty well going it alone - but I wouldn't want it as a permament situation!  Oh No.  I haven't worked this hard in - well, maybe never!  Certainly not since we decided to take our home and our life together in certain directions.  And certainly not with six furries in the house!

First of all, there is of course, the paramount issues relating to taking care of Better Half's needs and requests - as it should be.  Then there are our two dogs and two cats and the dog and cat we are fostering because their family lost their home in a fire.  I mean they all need attention, exercise, meals, and the occasional intervention.  Well, Better Half doesn't usually require the latter!  

Then there is a laundry list of things that relate directly to our systems of maintaining an urban homestead.  We cook from scratch, for example.  Nothing prepared or processed.  We shop from purveyors who provide us with seasonal, fresh, and humanely raised products and ingredients - so, we don't do "one stop" shopping. During this period, I have never contemplated more how incredibly busy working Moms must view someone like me who makes three, four, sometimes five stops to feed the household.  And usually does it a couple of times a week!  I haven't caved and I won't but I have learned more about the "why" of total supermarket shopping.  I will also say that all of that canning and freezing work in the Fall - well, it was worth every minute!  

As I have explained in other postings, we endeavor to keep the big heater in our home from kicking in, so we employ space heaters, and only in the rooms we are using.  And, as we have a south facing side on the house, we are always attempting to capture passive solar.  So it's open up.  And, close up quickly when the sun is gone!  Get moving.  It seemed so much easier before.

The Cold Frame which we set up this year in our garden is packed with growing things that need tending on a daily basis.  Lettuces, brocolli, beets, collards, etc. are growing away and the temperature must be maintained.  Of course, the weather has been crazy during this period - one day went from 60 degrees to single digits in 10 hours!  And there's the "home" growth to tend to. These include our house plants and those plants we've brought into the house to over winter.  They are all over three floors and they need watering and occasional tending.

Of course, there are also the usual daily activities of living.  I mentioned cooking.  Believe me, that's a walk in the park compared to laundry, stripping beds, dealing with the trash and the recycling, the composter, cleaning rugs where somebody had an "accident", and general home upkeep.

I'm exhausted just looking back at this!  I am learning so much about our living systems, and how we may simplify them even further.  It is a true blessing that I work from home and have a good deal of control over my schedule; I don't know how I'd be holding up under different circumstances!

There is a lot of learning and thinking taking place in this urban homesteader's mind, I have to say.  I don't think I will forget about this and return to business as usual when there are two of us to manage life again.  I'll keep you in the loop and, by the way, thanks, this was very therapeutic!  Now a recipe that I made a few days ago from the freezer.

Recipe:  Cream of Asparagus Soup

I loved making this, because we bought and froze a good deal of local asparagus last Spring when it was in season, and I so enjoy going to the freezer and pulling out a couple of bags.  Frozen asparagus will lose its "snap" of course, but not its flavor and it is wonderful for soups, frittatas/omelets and sauces.  This is so delicious and perhaps will encourage you to freeze local asparagus when it appears this upcoming Spring.


Twelve ounces of frozen asparagus (the asparagus had been briefly blanched prior to freezing) defrosted and chopped
Two large Shallots, chopped 
One small garlic clove, chopped
Four tablespoons of unsalted butter
Four cups of a good low salt or no salt stock of your choice:  Vegetable or Chicken
One cup of heavy cream - or half and half for a bit lighter soup
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
Optional ingredients, see below


Melt two tablespoons of the butter in a medium sauce pan
Add the chopped shallots and cook over medium heat, stirring until they soften, about five minutes
Add the chopped garlic and stir for about one minute
Add the chopped asparagus and another tablespoon of butter and cook, stirring occasionally, for about five minutes
Add the stock, stir, and bring the mixture to a quick boil, turn it down to a simmer and let it simmer on low to medium low with a lid on the pot for about 15 minutes - keep an eye on it.

Puree:  When the asparagus is soft and the flavors have incorporated, puree the mixture.  You can do this by adding a cup at a time to a blender or food processor but be careful with hot liquid in either.   The other option is what I do - and I highly recommend this piece of equipment - if you have one, use an Immersion Blender (a hand held stick shaped tool) that allows you to puree the mixture in the pot with no pouring required.  However you make the puree, you want the mixture to be creamy with very little solids at all.  If you want you can also let the mixture cool and strain it to insure no "strings" or bits of solid will be in the soup at all.  I would do that for company but it's delicious without the strain.

For service, reheat it slowly, add the last tablespoon of butter and salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with toasted croutons 

Options Ingredients:  Add thinly sliced toasted almonds to each bowl at service.  Add your favorite herb sprinkled over the soup at the end of cooking time, and stir into the soup.  A dollop of sour cream at service is wonderful. Or top each bowl with crispy bacon bits.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Reader Requested Recipes - Part III

Probably - no, not probably, for sure - Baked Macaroni and Cheese would be on my Desert Island Food list.  Life without it would be impossible.  That's true reallly any time of the year, but in the colder months, nothing replaces it!  

This is a way of making Mac 'n Cheese that I love to employ when my cheese drawer is chock full of still good, but oft eaten, pieces of cheese - and always, always, I have some good Canadian Cheddar in the house.  A good cheddar is something that must be part of your "keep stocked" efforts.  I have been especially strict about this since we gave up "american cheese" - you know, the processed stuff. I have loved american cheese with a serious love all of my life, but for me, I decided it was time to part ways. I recovered from a long time love of Velveeta too, but that was some time ago and a story for another day.

I also employ a technique with this recipe that I have named a "reverse roux" to make mac 'n cheese.  Don't look it up. I made the name up!  I like it though.  What do you think? Over the years, I have spent a good deal of time learning to make good roux.  A roux is indispensible for a jambalaya, a bechamel, and a host of other things.  That said, sometimes when time is short and you just want to get the macaroni casserole into the oven - this technique works really well, is easy, and takes less time.

Recipe (But really just technique):  Bits and Pieces Baked Macaroni and Cheeses


A regular sized box of whatever pasta you like to make macaroni and cheese with - for this most recent batch I used leftover dry pasta from the pantry - half of a box of Farfalle and half of a box of Penne.  See - it really is, "bits and pieces"!

Next, get into the cheese drawer in your 'fridge - or wherever you store your cheese - and start to decide what is not going to make the cheese board again, but is still perfect or nearly perfect.  Last time around I used Comte', Smoked Gouda, some previously grated Parmesan, and of course, Cheddar.

After you select all of your cheese, grate everything on the wide grate on your hand grater - You don't want it too fine. The amount/volume of cheeses you use is really up to you.    I like mac 'n cheese to be ridiculously cheesy.  For the batch pictured here, I had about three cups of grated cheeses. If you have parmesan that you grated for last night's pasta, you don't have to grate that, of course!  Mix all of the cheeses together and set the bowl aside.

Next, cook your pasta.  Knock about 1 minute or two off of the box instructions so that your baked pasta has some al dente quality to it after almost an hour in the oven. Remember to add a good handful of salt to your water.

Drain the pasta into a big strainer and put your pot back on the stove.  One pot, one bowl, one casserole dish for this one - that's enough!

Now - put a stick of butter (yes, a stick, it's mac 'n cheese, after all) into your pot, turn it on medium and melt the butter completely but don't let it brown.  When it is completely melted, add two cups of whole milk.  If you want, and it's in the 'fridge, and you are feeling you need more richness, you can use one cup of milk and one cup of half and half.  If I have half and half, I almost always feel that I "need more richness".  Honesty - my policy.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Whisk the butter and the milk together and keep it on a low heat as it slowly gets hot.  Don't rush it.

While the mixture is warming, rub the inside of your casserole with softened butter.  If you want some extra kick you can also rub the casserole with a half of a garlic clove.  Depending on my mood, I either love a little garlic in my mac 'n cheese or I find it interferring with my experience. It's up to you.

Get your bowl of mixed, grated cheeses and stir in a good half cup or more of regular flour onto the grated cheeses. You want to see the flour.  Add a teaspoon of kosher salt and a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper.  I like my mac 'n cheese peppery always, so add less if you are not a fan. Stir.

Pour the cooked pasta into the buttered casserole dish and set it aside.

Pour the grated cheeses and flour mixture into the warm milk and butter.  Set the heat to medium, and stay right at the pot, whisking at least every minute or more.  You will see that the mixture will start thickening up relatively quickly.  It will be thick enough in five minutes if not sooner. Much faster than a roux.

Pour the thickened mixture over the pasta in the casserole and stir it a bit so that it is evenly distributed.

Put the casserole into the 375 degree oven, covered with foil, for 40 - 45 minutes.

You want to see the mixture bubbling when you take the foil off.  So, if you check it and it's not bubbling, place the foil back on and put it back in the over for another five minutes or so.

When the consistency is where you want it, take the casserole out, turn on your broiler, make sure that you have a rack about 6 inches from the broiler and put the casserole under the broiler.  Do not leave it.  You have to keep your eye on it.  When it is as browned on top as you want, remove it.

Let the casserole sit for about 15 minutes prior to service.  It needs to "set up" and it is going to be molten lava hot anyway.

I think that you will find that your "bits and pieces' mac 'n cheese has a wonderful and different flavor - It has to! It has a different cheese mixture almost every time.  I mean what could be better?  Consistency and novelty all wrapped up in gooey deliciousness.


Reader Requested Recipes - Part II

Happy New Year!  As many of you know, I have been doing a lot of cooking and trying out recipe variations over my winter break, and I am glad that so many of you have asked for the recipes.  As it is 10 degrees outside, I am going to post three of those recipes today - under separate Blog posts. I'm sure not going anywhere! It's too cold! This first one is a great appetizer/entertaining recipe that is wonderful with cocktails and contains Bourbon - one of my favorite ingredients!  The other two dishes are just perfect for the weather we are having now - rich, cheesy, spicy and comforting.

Recipe:  Bourbon Chicken Liver Pate'
(adapted from epicurious)


One stick of unsalted butter
One cup of finely chopped onion
One large garlic clove, minced
One quarter teaspoon dried thyme
One quarter teaspoon dried majoram
One quarter teaspoon dried sage
Three quarters teaspoon Kosher salt
One quarter teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
One eighth of a teaspoon of ground allspice
One pound of chicken livers, trimmed (make sure all of the sinewy bits are pulled off)
Two tablespoons of Bourbon
A one cup or two 1/2 cup ramekins or Welke Jars


Melt the butter in a large non-stick skillet over moderatly low heat, add the onion and garlic and stir it until they are softened.  This will take about five minutes.  Add all of the herbs, the salt and pepper, the allspice and the chicken livers.  

Cook the mixture until the livers are cooked outside but still pink on the inside.  This will take about eight minutes.  Be careful to keep the livers pink inside; you don't want them overcooked.

Stir the Bourbon into the mixture and remove the pan from the heat.  Let it cool a bit.

Puree the mixture in a food processor until it is smooth.

Transfer the mixture to one or two ramekins or jars -whatever you are using.  Smooth the top.

Chill the pate' for at least two hours or more before service.
Serve with toasted baquette slices or crackers.

Note:  You can keep the pate' up to two weeks if you top each ramekin with a "seal" of clarified butter.  Use Ghee or make your own and pour enough over the top of the pate' to cover the top.  Put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes until the clarified butter has solidified, then cover tightly with plastic wrap.  This process will definitely preserve the pate'.  I just never have to preserve it because it is gone pretty quickly!