Cooking Level Up!

Before we get down to the business of all the delicious experiments I’ve been conducting in the kitchen, I would like to first of all, invite you to follow me on instagram; @breezyink1989 and twitter @BohemianWonder. These are my personal accounts and after giving it much thought I realize it’s much much easier for me to just simply be me that way, and not necessarily worry about having a separate accounts for the Bear Wife goings on. I’ll be honest, it’s too much of a hassle to log in and log out of this nonsense from my phone…which is what I’m usually on when instagramming and haphazardly tweeting. (I still don’t fully understand the twitter…so I just do what I want!) So if you’d like to peek inside the “charmed” life I lead, follow me!

If you’ve been keeping up with me over this past year, I know I’ve alluded to the fact that I acquired some pretty gnarly carpal tunnel in my hands. It’s really put  quite the damper on my creative process. My initial research on treatments for carpal tunnel were pretty dismal. Basically, don’t over do it, take anti-inflammatory meds, support your wrists, or get surgery. I’m not particularly interested in having doctors cut into my wrists…not yet. So I’ve been wearing braces, taking it easy and having painkillers every now and then. Well, the last two weeks I worked in the Forts gift shop. (for Post – Post season…) and sold in the store are these little tins of magic, and by magic I mean salve. Ever since my encounter with Comfrey (which is a story for another day) and my good friend Amy’s embarkment on herbal healing, I am a very firm believer in the power of plants used properly to heal many human ailments. Again…another story/rant for another day. I picked up this salve called Minagin. (Click to learn more about the salve and purchase some to try, opens in new window) it’s a topical pain relief salve that is anti-inflammatory among other things. You apply it as needed throughout the day. I’ve been using it for over a week now, and let me tell you what, my wrists have not felt this good in a year! While they do still hurt sometimes, it’s not a severe as it once was, I do not have to wear my braces unless I’m doing something (like typing or chopping food) I haven’t taken painkillers nearly as much if at all. This stuff…is incredible. It’s not even funny. (and just for the record, Herbal Lodge has no idea I bought or love their product)

CookingLvlUp

Over the past two months or so I have embarked on the next phase of my kitchen journey. “Leveled Up” if you will. This all started when at the start of Post Season my job changed a bit and I was moved to the Colonial Fort on the mainland to cook/interpret the kitchen of a 1770’s french merchants wife. With little reference material and a very different open hearth set-up than I am accustomed to, long often quiet (visitor-wise) days and access to the bounty of the fall harvest in the gardens I had to get creative. I looked over historic cookbooks, I started listening to podcasts…and one thing has led to another and now I find myself filling my brain with all things food! One of my favorite podcasts to listen to is “The Splendid Table” with Lynne Rossetto Kasper. They are always talking about interesting things, and not just that but Lynne and her guests will often go into detail about how and why you cook a dish a particular way.

I have always been a why person, I always want to know the story behind things. When I first started learning about the natural world, trees, plants, animals. It’s not enough to simply know their names, habitats, size etc. I want to know what they eat, I want to know why they grow or live in a certain spot, I want to know what sort of relationship they have with their environment, with humans, I want to know what their families are like, the folklore surrounding them, etc etc etc. So as far as food is concerned, yes recipes are wonderful and very very helpful, but I am very interested in the roots of food (HA no pun intended….) I want to know where the dishes come from, the way food has evolved (or hasn’t), what food means to people. I found just today a very interesting website (that I’ve yet to dig into) The History Kitchen it’s a very promising food history blog that appears to be easy to navigate and full of beautiful pictures and recipes.

So what has all this led to in my kitchen? A few things, first I am slowly phasing out my non-stick skillets in favor of the all-mighty cast iron. Using my cast iron dutch oven, baking stones. (This is also a part of my kitchen exercise plan, all these things make tasty tasty food…but they do weigh a ton!) I’ve already done away with margarine, best decision ever!) and use butter or olive oil or animal fat. I have also thoroughly stocked the pantry for the winter which will hopefully cut down on long expensive trips to the grocery store. And so with all these things in place, I cook!

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This is possibly some of the best pasta sauce I’ve ever made. I had a reasonably successful container garden this summer; and grew two tomato plants, yellow pear tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. I sliced these in half, addd some fresh thyme from the garden and cooked the lot of it with a dash of salt and pepper in a lemon butter sauce. Tossed this with a box of noodles, added some parmesan on top… it was like heaven in my mouth.

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A few weeks ago I had the brilliant idea to make “grown-up” buffalo wings. I happened to have a whole chicken in the freezer. (For the record it’s really much easier if you think of these things ahead of time and let the chicken defrost on it’s own in the fridge for a day or two.) after an epic battle trying to carefully thaw (but not cook) the chicken and remove the frozen giblets from the inside, I triumphed. And proceeded to baste the chicken with a sauce of garlic, butter and copious amounts of hot sauce. (I like Franks Red Hot) Now when I baste a chicken, or a turkey, I don’t do just the outside, i like to lift up the skin of the breast and get all that sauce inside too. This also goes for herb rubs. Rub the outside, then rub the inside. Then I roasted the bird, basting regularly until it was done. I made a gravy with the pan drippings (which I added a dash more hot sauce too) and served it with a chopped salad of celery and carrots that had been tossed in a ranch dressing and some brown rice.  The outcome of this dish was surprisingly delicious. I was expecting it to be much hotter than it was. But as the bird cooked the sauce mellowed out and so what was left was this incredibly juicy chicken that had that mild buffalo sauce flavor but without the burn. I thoroughly enjoyed it (as did Rob). I don’t know about you all, but anytime that I cook a bird or any kind of meat on substantial bones, once we’ve eaten most of the meat I make it into soup! tasty..tasty soup. Buffalo chicken noodle, Boil the crap out of the leftover chicken, add a bit of salt, (I added a little bit more hot sauce) rinsed off the leftover carrot and celery salad, added those in for the veggies, and cooked up some brown rice noodles (Separately so they don’t soak up all the broth). It was a great chicken on it’s own, and a great soup!

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This particular dish is not any kind of creative genius, but it’s a little bit of my heritage, and so very very tasty. Fried Plantains. This I learned with my sister from my dad/grandmother. My dad is Cuban, he and his parents immigrated from Cuba when he was about 2 years old. (Castro was causing some trouble…….) Several years ago my sister and I took over the annual Christmas Eve dinner (which was traditionally cuban pot roast, mashed potatoes and cooked carrots…if I remember correctly…) and fried plantains entered the picture. You get some plantains from the store, and you want ripe ones for this dish. So get some green ones and wait until they ripen at home, or get the yellow ones that are starting to have brown spots on them if you want to cook them right away. Peel the plantain and slice it in 1/4″=1/2″ slices. Drop them in some hot frying substance, I used butter and coconut oil. You can use anything really. and fry them until they are golden brown, flip and fry until golden brown. Remove them from the oil and set them on a plate covered in paper towel to help soak up the cooking oils. Sprinkle with salt promptly, let cool down a bit…then enjoy! Hopefully what you’ve come out with is a plantain that’s a little crispy and salty on the outside, and sweet and soft on the inside. Every now and then I’ll buy a few plantains from the store, cook them up this way and just eat that for a snack…and Rob for whatever reason doesn’t care for them…so I don’t have to share!

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Shepherds Pie…variations of this go back centuries. Basically you have meat, maybe some vegetables and top it all with mashed potatoes and bake! For this particular shepherds pie; I had some leftover cooked steaks in the freezer that had been left behind by a boy scout troop. (I never say no to free food) I thawed these and soaked them in a bit of salt water as they were a bit on the tough side. In my dutch oven, I put it on the stove and cooked some diced onion and garlic in butter…added some red wine and pepper and then the shredded meat. Into this went a can of diced tomatoes with juices. A can of carrots, green beans and corn all drained and it was all tossed in the red wine sauce.

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Topped with potatoes, I used instant, because in situations like this it works just as well, doesn’t dirty so many dishes etc etc etc. Now…I didn’t just take these out of the box and leave it at that…oh no. Into the mashed potatoes went some rosemary, thyme, pepper and a wee bit of butter. Cover it all with cheese…normally I put the cheese on top of the meat and veggies and under the potatoes…but sometimes I forget what it is I’m doing and just make do. IMG_9634

Toss the whole thing in the oven and bake until golden and bubbly! You can see all that gravy seeping up around the edges of the potatoes. This was a very successful first dish in a dutch oven in a modern kitchen.

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Are you hungry yet? I am…. (note to self…don’t write food posts without having first eaten breakfast!) Here we have some sweet potato waffles, that have a brown sugar/butter, apple cider topping. and some fried eggs cooked perfectly in the cast iron skillet…mostly to prove to Rob that it is very possible to fry an egg in a cast iron skillet without breaking the yoke… This was breakfast on the first official day of winter retirement for me, after working the two extra weeks this month, the only thing that would have made this better is some bacon.

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And last, but not least. A turkey was given to us, and so we had a lovely turkey dinner to celebrate the start of winter. The turkey was roasted with garlic, the stuffing is a mix of brown rice and bread stuffing, there is garlic green beans and corn, acorn squash roasted with brown sugar and butter and a can of cranberry sauce. As I type this now the leftover turkey is boiling merrily away on the stove and making my stomach rumble…. it is destined to become a creamy turkey stew…

There you have a bit of a taste of what I’ve been doing in the kitchen this month. I have also been experimenting with Brandy, and making Jams and preserves, more on that to come.

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