Adventures in Making Mincemeat

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“As many mince pies as you have at Christmas, so many happy months will you have.”–Old English Saying

Were you ever threatened by your parents as a child to be turned into mincemeat? I was. Not very often, but the threat has stuck with me. That was a threat reserved for when either my sisters or I were being particularly obnoxious. It was either get ground into mincemeat or be sold to the gypsies. Given the option, I would rather be sold to the gypsies.

Mincemeat pie is, in fact, as old as the Crusades, and it dates to when soldiers were returning from the Middle East to Europe with new foods and cooking methods. It became a way of preserving meat without smoke or salt. Salt was a commodity that only the wealthy could afford, and smoking meat used fuel—firewood—that could otherwise be used to heat your home.

The three spices added to the pie—cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg—were considered symbolic of the three gifts of the Magi—the three kings—think of the song We Three Kings (not the one about the cigars exploding). The pie was oblong shaped originally instead of round, to symbolize a manger. It was considered lucky to eat mincemeat pie for all 12 days of Christmas.

Then came Oliver Cromwell a few hundred years later. Man, what a party-pooper that guy was! No singing, no dancing, no laughing, no drinking, and he outlawed Christmas! What a jerk! If anyone needed to lighten up, it was that guy. I think he was the original Grinch.

Because of outlawing Christmas, mincemeat pies were outlawed as well. Even in what was then the American Colonies, where the Puritans had settled, Christmas was not celebrated; mincemeat pies were prohibited from being eaten as part of the Christmas tradition. In Boston during the late 1600s, you could be fined if you were caught celebrating Christmas. And you think your neighbor complaining about your twinkle lights is bad!

I never considered eating mincemeat pie growing up. It was never part of our Christmas tradition, nor was it ever offered to me by anyone else. It was the foodstuff of old nursery rhymes and Shakespearean tales. To be perfectly honest, it sounded gross. Who wants to eat a pie with meat in it when it’s sweet? Ick!

Well, I finally plucked up the courage to try it, and I was pleasantly surprised by the result. I am extremely glad that I never stooped to buying the canned mince mixture they sell at supermarkets. Promise me that if you do decide to have mincemeat pie on your Christmas dessert table, go the distance and make it yourself.

I had gotten a recipe book from a gift store at Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts many years back, but I was intimidated by the types of ingredients (beef heart, anyone?) and lack of measurable temperatures for the oven. For example, the mincemeat pie recipe says to bake the pie in a brisk hot oven. What does that mean?? That is when my baking and culinary skills came in to play. To be a decent baker or cook, you need to be able to improvise and roll with what you’re given. Also, Internet searches help. I used ground beef instead of heart or tongue (doesn’t that sound delicious!), and honey crisp apples instead of pippins. I took a recommendation for the baking temperature from another recipe.

The recipe I took from the book I used calls for suet, which is beef or lamb fat. Most grocery stores don’t carry suet, and the only suet I could find was for feeding birds. So, I got lard instead. And I will tell you now, no regrets on that decision! I believe it may have been a life-changing choice. It worked almost like butter, but with a slightly lower melting point, and made the pie crust the flakiest, butteriest (yes, I am inventing a word there), most melt-in-your-mouth pie crust I have ever made. I can’t come back from that. I am changed. I now know what I have been missing all my baking life!

Another substitute I made in this recipe was Madeira wine. The recipe itself claimed white wine was used. Madeira is technically neither white nor red, but it can be made with either red or white grapes. But upon doing some research into other more modern twists on old mincemeat recipes, I noticed that rum, brandy, and white wine were used, depending on what was available. Cider is an acceptable alternative to alcohol, but who wants to bother with that?

So here is what I did in very basic steps:

  1. Make the pie dough. Put in the freezer to chill.
  2. Make the mincemeat filling; combine the ground meat, salt, and fat (lard) first and mix it well together. Cut up the apples, add those. Add the currants and raisins, add the booze, add the orange zest and juice from one orange. Add the one cup of powdered sugar (next time, I won’t use even that much—maybe ½ a cup). Add the candied citron. Give everything a good stir.
  3. Roll out the cold pie dough. Work quickly so it doesn’t stick to either the rolling pin or the counter. The butter warms up quickly out of the freezer and then being whacked and rolled and pushed by a rolling pin.
  4. Place the first piece of pie pastry in the bottom of a well-greased pie tin. Fill this with the filling.
  5. Roll out the second piece of pie dough to fit over the top of the pie. Seal the pie together by pinching the top and bottom together with your fingers or a fork. Cut a slit in the top of the pie to allow it to vent while baking. You can also decide on either a lattice design if you’re feeling ambitious, or go crazy and don’t even bother with the top part. If you really want to be fancy, take a cookie cutter and cut out a hole in the top in the shape of a heart, a star, a leaf, anything at all!
  6. Place in the oven on the bottom rack at 450 degrees F for 10 minutes.
  7. Take the pie out of the oven. Egg wash the top of the pie, and then replace it on a middle rack for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown.

You can also cook the filling separate from the pie, store it in jars, and then bring it back out for making pies when you’re ready. I still have plenty of filling left over from this batch.

I recommend waiting for the pie to cool for about 10-15 minutes before eating it. All the flavors need a minute to blend after they’ve bubbled together in the oven. The first thing to hit my palate was sweet. I ate a piece a little too soon after baking, and none of the flavors had settled down. But once they did and I could taste all of them together, wow! If you are a fan of anything with a lot of spices in it, namely cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc. and fruit of the fresh and dried kind, this is a really good pie. And those of you who stick your noses in the air at the mere mention of raisins have no idea what you’re missing!

 

Sites I used:

https://whatscookingamerica.net/History/PieHistory/MincemeatPie.htm

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17610820

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/food/pennsylvania-dutch-cuisine-the-real-deal/2014/05/12/7f961844-c975-11e3-93eb-6c0037dde2ad_story.html?utm_term=.cb6fd10ea4fb

http://quotes.yourdictionary.com/mince

 

 

 

 

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Making Grandma Proud and Making Things Fizz

Hello! It’s me again! Fall is on the horizon. I hope everyone has their apple cider or pumpkin spice latte at the ready. I prefer cider myself. Pumpkin spice was a novelty when it first became a fad. Now it’s too hyped up. Try chai tea and hot cider. The chai tastes like mulled spices (essentially, that’s what it actually is), and it’s delicious! A splash of whiskey wouldn’t hurt, either.

I decided to make homemade gnocchi last night! No, sorry, I don’t have any pictures. But click the Pinterest link below to find the method I used. I’m a visual person, so videos and such are super helpful for me. I was a little concerned about making this pasta–last time I tried making gnocchi a few years ago, the pasta turned out more like potato mush, and I ended up turning the clumps into pancakes instead. It turned out to be an ok compromise, but it made me shy to try again. But I did! And what a success!

I sauteed my gnocchi in butter with garlic, sage, fresh thyme, and threw in a diced tomato for color. Very tasty! My Italian grandmother would be extremely proud! Both of my grandmothers would be proud, truth be known, but since this pasta is Italian in origin, I thought it a tribute to mia famiglia.

If one were so inclined, gnocchi could probably be used as the dumpling part in chicken and dumplings, depending on the recipe. They’re about the same size. It is that time of year when all of the heartier foods like stews come out. Guiness stew will most certainly be gracing my stove sometime in the not-too-distant future. I will definitely be sharing that recipe.

In other news, I have decided to give home brewing a try! I got a mead brewing kit from a vendor on Etsy. So far, so good! But now I’ve got the bug! I want to try cider next! Yes, you heard me. Hard cider is wonderful this time of year. It will be a couple more weeks until the mead is finished, and I cannot wait to try it!

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Etsy kit I used.

Also, Christmas is coming. Giving people homemade gifts is always great, especially if it makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

My herbs are beginning to turn themselves in for hibernation. It may also be because the weather has been so damp lately, but the mint especially is becoming limp and brown. So sad. I did take clippings of most of my plants to propagate in water so I can grow them indoors during the winter. There are some plants that will regrow roots after being cut if they are placed in water for 2-3 weeks: thyme, mint, lavender, rosemary, and sage are a few. So, fingers crossed. It’s only day two, but I really hope this works. If not, I will simply have to start over from seeds next year.

That is all that I have for you at the moment! Stay tuned for further adventures! Until next time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Little Miss Muffett” Makes Curds and Whey!

How’s it going out there? I hope no one has a case of the Mondays. My Monday is tomorrow. Yaaayyy. One thing that gets weird about working retail or in a non-typical 9-5 job is that days off tend to change from week to week, and are not always consecutive. Actually, if you do get two days off in a row, celebrate!

Anyway, today I decided to make cheese! No whey! That was a pun by the way. I decided to do this with milk that had just expired in my fridge, and I didn’t want to just pour it down the drain. I don’t like wasting things, and I always feel especially bad about spoiled milk. I always buy milk for a recipe and try to make an effort to use the rest of it somehow–and end up keeping it for far too long. I don’t put milk in my coffee…bleh. I like my coffee hot, strong, and straight up. No sugar either. Just pure brain juice.

The two by-products of cheesemaking are curds and whey. The curds are the milk solids that will be turned into cheese. This is where the lactose resides.

Whey protein is very healthy. It is considered a complete protein, as it contains all nine amino acids–don’t make me recite them all. Whey protein is used in exercise drinks and smoothies. Some people use it as an alternative to milk if they are lactose intolerant, and it can also be used as a dietary supplement.

A quick Google search for whey protein will bring up sites that sell huge jars of this dehydrated, synthesized powder for $30 or more (plus shipping and handling)! What?! Why buy it when you can make it at home for whey cheaper! (See what I did there? Puns are fun!) The organic whole milk I had bought was $3.99. A large jug of white vinegar is $2.99. It takes nothing to store the liquid form in your fridge. It will last for months!

So here is what you need:

1 Gallon Milk–any milk, but whole milk will give you more flavor

1/2 Cup White Vinegar, Apple Cider Vinegar, or Lemon Juice

1 T Salt

1 T Chopped Herbs of your choice–optional

Cheesecloth

Something Heavy to weigh the cheese down

  1. If you are going to be saving the whey protein, place a large bowl in the sink. Set a strainer or colander over the bowl, and drape the cheesecloth over the strainer.
  2. In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat the milk over medium heat. Stir the milk often to keep it from burning or scalding, until it starts to boil.
  3. Take the pot off of the heat. Add the vinegar or lemon juice. The curds and whey will separate almost immediately.
  4. Pour the curds and whey into the strainer with the cheesecloth.
  5. The curds will be hot, so be careful. Carefully, squeeze out most of the remaining liquid from the cheese. Add in your salt and chopped herbs and stir around using a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon.
  6. Gather the ends of the cheesecloth, twist them together, and knot them. Place your “something heavy” on top of the ball of cheese to weigh it down as it cools. Leave the cheese like this for about an hour to an hour and a half.
  7. Unwrap the cheese from the cheesecloth. The cheese will still have a crumbly texture, but it’s yummy! Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

So that is a basic cheese recipe. There are other more elaborate recipes and methods out there, but this is great for beginners, or for those looking to save money rather than throwing old food out. And as I said before, it’s so much more economical to make whey protein yourself rather than buying a pricey commercialized product.

Also, a shout out to Colleen, writer of the blog Lean Cuisine! I used her recipe Spanish Chicken and Potato Roast today, and it came out amazing! I added rosemary to the potatoes, but other than that, it was entirely hers. Great job! Here is the link to her post:  https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/48447071/posts/1506553659

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Inspiration comes from everywhere! Enjoy, everyone! Until next time!

 

 

Stuffed Pepper Adventures and Shampoo Trials

Hi, everyone! Hope everything is going well with you all!

I decided to make stuffed peppers the other day. They’re super easy to make, and yes, they are healthy. Most importantly though, they’re delicious! What is the point of eating healthy if it doesn’t taste good, right? And excuse my lack of images of the finished product. I got too carried away with eating them that I forgot to take a picture first.

There are hundreds of variations of the recipe for stuffed peppers; I decided to go slightly TexMex on this one. I used ground turkey meat instead of ground beef, but either one works just fine.

You need:

6 Bell Peppers (color doesn’t matter, I just like red ones because they’re sweeter)      Note: make sure that the bottom of each pepper is level so it can stand on its own.

Note: make sure that the bottom of each pepper is level so it can stand on its own.

1-2 Pounds ground turkey or beef

2 Cups Brown Rice

1 8 oz Can Black Beans

1 6 oz Can Tomato Paste

Spices: Cumin, Paprika, Cayenne Pepper, Onion Powder, Garlic Powder, Chili Powder and Salt, all to taste

Cheddar, Pepperjack, or Monterey Jack Cheese for the topping

  1. Set the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Slice the tops of the peppers off and scoop out the seeds. Place the cleaned peppers upright in an oven-safe pan.
  3. Cook the rice according to the package directions.
  4. In a separate pot, cook the meat with the spices for about 5-8 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste. Stir in the black beans. Add rice to the meat and mix together well.
  5. Portion out the meat and rice mixture into each hollowed-out pepper using a spoon. Fill each pepper to the top. Don’t put the cheese on yet.
  6. Place the pan of peppers in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Add cheese to the top of the peppers and place back in the oven for  more minutes, or until the cheese bubbles and turns slightly brown. Serve hot.

You probably won’t use all the meat and rice filling, so keep it as leftovers–or get more peppers and fill them.

I am not a huge fan of beans, I must confess. I’ve never really liked them–any of them. They have a gritty texture that I just don’t find appealing. But I have learned to tolerate them, because they are wonderfully good at assisting good health, as they help prevent against inflammation, diabetes, and certain cancers–colorectal cancer among them.

I do love sweet bell peppers! They are sweet and crunchy and refreshing! They are high in vitamin C and fiber, and like carrots, are very good for eye health.

In the news of DIY, I attempted to make my own shampoo. I used a little of the soap that I made the other day along with a few teaspoons of olive oil and some castile soap. I used it the other day and although my hair felt clean afterward, there was very little lather.  20170704_203734

It is an experiment in progress. I will be attempting to make my own conditioner next–my hair feels like it needs it. You would think that with all the humidity in the air lately, my hair would be soaking that moisture right up! Oh well.

Stay tuned for further adventures! Until next time!

 

Between the Orange and the Green

Hi, guys! Hope you all are enjoying your Fourth of July plans, whatever they may be. I’m working tomorrow (waaaaaahhhh!!!), but some of us must keep the store open, am I right?

I am off today, however, and I took the opportunity to make a big pot of Colcannon! What is colcannon, you ask? Colcannon is a happy, magical combination of two foods that have become stereotypically Irish–potatoes and cabbage. I love potatoes in general. Is there nothing more comforting than mashed potatoes? That is my go-to comfort food.

It’s healthy, too! It does have butter and milk (and bacon, if so desired) in it, but let’s not get carried away here. Potatoes are excellent sources of vitamin C, potassium (more so than bananas), and iron. Cabbage is jam-packed with antioxidants and fiber. What’s not to love?

Colcannon is so terrifically simple! I became inspired after reading Mimi Sheraton’s 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die, and even more so after taking a trip to Ireland last October. It’s such a beautiful country, and the people are lovely! I’m dying to go back!

There must be a wee drop of green in me genes! I am 30% Irish, and 48% British (no one is perfect). My Irish Catholic grandmother married my White Anglo-Saxon Protestant grandfather. My grandmother’s father was not too happy about it at first, but he warmed up to the prospect–or just realized he couldn’t do much about it. So you see, I’m caught between the orange and the green (but the green wins out more often).

I know I probably should be celebrating with burgers and fries and beer–I am drinking Yeungling–but what is more American than celebrating your roots? And today, Ireland be the theme.

A fun fact: potatoes are NOT native to Ireland! They originated in Peru and were introduced to Ireland and England by none other than Sir Walter Raleigh, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, founder of the Lost Colony of North Carolina. Literally, it’s lost. No one knows what happened to the colonists after Sir Walter Raleigh returned to England for supplies. There is a multitude of theories out there–disease, hurricane, ransacked by the indigenous neighbors–but no real proof has been found as to what really happened to them.

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Here is what it is:

6 Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed

2 Quarts Chicken stock, or bouillon

1 Head green cabbage, sliced thinly

1/2 Package bacon

2 Tablespoons butter, unsalted

2-3 Tablespoons milk

Garlic powder, to taste

Onion powder, to taste

Black pepper, to taste

  1. Boil the potatoes in chicken stock or water with bouillon for 8 to 10 minutes, or until soft. Pour out the boiling liquid.
  2.  Add butter, milk, garlic and onion powders, and pepper to the potatoes. Mash the mixture with a masher or whip with an electric mixer. Set aside.
  3. Place a heavy-bottomed pot on medium-high heat. Cook the bacon until crispy. Set the bacon aside, and reserve most of the fat from cooking, keeping it in the same pot you cooked in. If you prefer not having bacon, use olive or vegetable oil.
  4.  Place cabbage in the same pot as the bacon fat. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the cabbage is limp but still crunchy.
  5. Take the cabbage off of the heat. Add the mashed potatoes to the cabbage. Mix thoroughly. Serve hot.

Note: The bacon fat adds salt to the dish. If you use oil instead, add salt to taste.

What I made today looks nowhere near what it would have looked like if this were the mid-1800s in a tiny stone cottage in County Cork. Hardly any of the poorer people of Ireland could afford to grow cabbage during that time, let alone having butter or milk, or for heaven’s sake, bacon. It was potatoes and potatoes alone that these people lived on. You’d be lucky if you had salt, which was also a sought-after commodity in those days.

When the potato blight hit in 1845, these people lost their only source of food–at least the only source of food that they were allowed to have. Any other vegetables or animals were used as payment to the landlords. They were too poor to afford such luxuries as pork or chicken.

What makes the Potato Famine so devastating was that there was plenty of food for rations–all packed up on ships bound for Liverpool, England. And nary a one in England blinked an eye at the widespread starvation occurring across the narrow channel from them (a good reason to kick them out–eventually–mostly). Which is also why people decided to abandon their homes and head across the Atlantic–to a land of opportunity, a land of hope. By the time it was over, Ireland’s population had fallen to nearly half of what it had been in 1845.

 

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Mass Grave for all those that starved to death during the Potato Famine of 1845-1849

Food is another medium through which one can honor the past, and celebrate the present. Like many immigrants past and present, the Irish immigrants sought refuge and freedom from the hardships and devastation of what used to be home. It’s easy to take our way of life for granted if we don’t take the time to reflect on what got us here in the first place.

So on that sentimental note, I am going to go watch a movie–Independence Day is calling my name! Enjoy, everyone, and stay safe! Until next time!

With a Grain of Salt

Disclaimer: I am NOT a doctor or a health food specialist. This is strictly opinion.

Yesterday, I was talking to a friend of mine at work before I began my shift. She mentioned seeing a rerun of a Frontline documentary on PBS about dietary supplements, and how some are coming under scrutiny by the FDA and other parties due to having customer complaints about deteriorating health after taking these supplements.

I told my friend that there is a lot to be cautious about before taking any kind of capsule, whether it’s purely for health enhancement, or requested by a medical specialist. I am not a doctor, nor a food health specialist, but I like to be well informed about what I put into my body, and whether it truly helps versus hinders my personal well-being.

Here is what I know:

Before the vitamins and supplements are put on the market, the FDA does NO testing of the product to make sure it’s safe. It’s only after the fact if a problem arises, that testing may happen, and that depends upon how many consumers complain and seek medical and legal action. Manufacturers of these vitamins have to stick to good manufacturing practices, but as far as the content of the capsules goes, that is all up to the integrity of the people producing them. So those fish oil vitamins or those B12 capsules do contain those ingredients–but what else?

I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. As part of the curriculum, we have a Nutrition 101 class, along with Food Safety. It’s what any aspiring chef ought to know–what you’re cooking, good cooking and ordering practices, and what benefits these foods provide for your body’s function. For at least a week after that class, everyone was eating more fiber and vegetables–until beer and pizza reclaimed their rightful places in the dorms.

My other wealth of knowledge comes from somewhere a little closer to home–my mother. My mother had ambitions as a younger woman to be a medical professional. While her intentions changed and altered after becoming a mom (hello, world), the information I grew up learning and understanding about food has become an intrinsic part of my life. My mom is one of the healthiest people I know–mind, body, and spirit–and life has thrown her quite a few curveballs.

Because of my upbringing, and other influences that have come through my life, I made a promise to myself once I moved away from home–I make most of my meals from scratch from ingredients whose names I can pronounce–chicken, beef, pork, fish, rice, beans, olive oil, pasta, spinach, garlic, potatoes, asparagus, yogurt, eggs, flour, sugar. It’s not always easy cooking with the schedule I have, but I make time every week to make food–preferably something that can last a few days in the fridge. It’s good for the budget, too. Eating out can get expensive.

I don’t take any prescriptions or supplements. I drink teas, coffee, wine and beer (both, in moderation, have excellent health benefits). The closest I get to taking drugs is cold medicine if I have a cold, Ibuprofen if I have an ache, and allergy medicine if my nose decides to get itchy from pollen falling from trees. To date, I enjoy perfect health with some minor colds or allergy issues once in a while. My immune system is healthy and my body is in good shape.

Back to the conversation with my friend at work. My co-worker is from Japan, where soy is widely used for quite a lot of things. Soy has become all the rage here in the States in the last ten years or so for its ever-growing list of health benefits. I have family that uses soy products as an alternative milk and other foods. Sadly though, there is research emerging about some not-so-great health problems that may arise with a high consumption of soy products. It has been linked to a higher risk of breast cancer and may increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

I don’t believe that soy is inherently bad for you. I believe that eating in moderation and having a balanced diet is really the endgame. Soy can be consumed in smaller proportions which will help you reap all the good benefits. It seems to me (after reading some of the research) that it’s the people who eat tofu and other soy products with a high regularity that may have a problem. Eating some edamame at a sushi restaurant is not going to cause an issue.

I like growing my pharmaceuticals in the pots on my deck and fueling my body with the vitamins, protein, calories (yes, we do need some of those to function), and antioxidants through the food I cook and eat. Mediterranean style foods that are rich in plant-based items (salad, leafy greens, vegetables, etc) and paired with a protein are best. And don’t forget the “E” word–exercise.

So yes, I say pasta to all you gluten nay-sayers (except for those suffering from Celiac, or a true wheat allergy)! Pasta, rice, beans (beans are excellent for cleaning out your digestion), olives, olive oil, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, fish. Throw some parsley on top of your pasta! Parsley has antioxidants, is a diuretic, and antirheumatic. Basil is another antioxidant, an antidepressant, and a carminative–relieves gas and bloating. If you want the benefits of fish oil, cook some fish. Fish also have iodine, which is necessary for a healthy thyroid. Olive oil promotes healthy cardiovascular function and can help to reduce inflammation. And these all taste WAY better than those capsules!

Going natural seems to be a much better alternative to man-made. After all, why try to duplicate something that had already been perfected over thousands, millions, billions of years?

So that’s my shtick for this post. I hope this is helpful to anyone seeking a healthy lifestyle. My intention for all of you is to live the lives you truly desire, unencumbered by health issues. Here are some sites that I found helpful, and I hope they will be helpful for you too!

Until next time!