Socialist Kitchen Tips

These are just some things I've come up with, dishes I've invented and ways of doing things. Newest items will be at the top. I don't see a way to add comments for pages, unless you want to comment on the main page, but comments are welcome there. 

Sept 26, 2015
A Little Experiment

Lettuce can be problematic to store for more than a few days. You eventually get that slimy mold, and leaf wilt.

I happened to remember that you can clone plants by cutting off a branch and sticking it in some dirt or water. In a week or so roots will begin to grow from the place it's cut off. Until the roots begin to grow and take up water, however, you have to keep the leaves from drying out, either by constantly spraying them, or you can put a plastic bag over the plant. If you do that, you have to cut some slits in the bag so air circulates, otherwise that slimy mold will grow on the leaves.

I tried putting a head of leaf lettuce in some water and putting a bag over it and setting it on the counter. It's hard to see them but I cut slits in the bag here and there.

After a week this is what I have. I haven't had to add water. The lettuce looks good. The leaves are kind of dry to the touch. They almost don't feel dry because they are kind of cool and flexible, like a plant growing in the garden, I guess. There's no slime on them at all.

Sometimes things work out and I'm elated.

I just used an old bag that a loaf of bread came in. I'm too cheap to buy plastic bags when so many things come in plastic bags now and you see so many plastic shopping bags blowing in the wind.

Nov 29, 2014
 PB&J on a Roll

Damn it's been a long time since I've update this page: March 31, 2013, just about the time I bought a truck and got my operating authority, when the job I'd been doing by the hour was contracted out. I haven't done much Socialist cooking or Socialist anything since then except eat, sleep, drive or do paperwork or file this or that official online filing and work on the truck. I usually cook a steak in the frying pan on the weekend and now and then make Hamburger Helper and make bean soup or chicken soup now and then but forget to take pictures and put them on here.

I mentioned a few posts ago on the blog that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have always been a staple of my diet. I generally make them with regular bread. I've occasionally used rolls, but rolls can be problematic when it comes to dipping your sandwich in milk, which is how I eat a PB&J sandwich. I don't how widespread this practice is. I've had people shudder when I put a piece of pie in a bowl and poured milk over it, which I think is a German thing.

Anyway, this occurred to me this morning:

I can tell you that it works great! My life is changed forever. I can't understand why I didn't think of it before.

I'm looking forward  to trying this with Ciabatta bread, which was recommended to me for PB&J making by Jim Baca, who writes the influential Only In New Mexico blog. I haven't gotten around to getting Ciabatta bread or even looking for it but I think it will be excellent. Meanwhile I have some Bolillo rolls that were marked down at Smith's.

March 31, 2013
Lamb and Eggs

Lamb has a pleasant, distinctive flavor I'd describe as less strident than beef or pork. In the stridency hierarchy I'd put pork in the middle with beef on one side and lamb on the other. My dad once bought a spit kit for our outdoor grill and would spit a leg of lamb for our Sunday dinner once in awhile, and it was a big deal. I don't ever think of lamb unless I happen to see it in the supermarket, and then I always think about those dinners and pause. I usually move on but the other day there were some lamb chops in the discount bin.

I always check the discount bin, where they put meat whose "freshness date" is imminent. Usually it's meat that will expire the following day. I have no qualms about buying this meat. In fancy restaurants, as you may know, they "age" cuts of meat like expensive steaks so they'll be more tender. I've heard tell of chefs scraping mold off steaks before they toss them on the grill.

When I see a cut of meat in the discount bin that looks good I'll look around and see if anyone is watching and then poke a little hole in the plastic wrapping and smell it. If it's doesn't smell spoiled I take it home and put it in the freezer, which will kill almost all of any bacteria on it. After being deep frozen it probably has the same amount of bacteria as a fresh cut of meat would, is my thinking about it. If I decide to cook it the same day I go ahead and cook it, but I don't like to let it go into the second day without having frozen it.

The other day, I passed those lamb chops by, too, but a few minutes later the phrase "Lamb and Eggs" popped into my head. I was so delighted with myself for thinking of it I had to go back and get the lamb chops. I fried these in my cast iron skillet which I first smeared with olive oil. Simply salt and pepper both sides before cooking. I remove the wrapper, salt and pepper the top side, put that side down in the skillet and then salt and pepper the up side.

After cooking ten minutes on both sides (I'm in the habit of cooking meat, and ordering it cooked, well done, which habit I got into from eating in low to mid level restaurants during my years on the road as a truck driver. You can imagine why) I put the lamb chop on a plate, added a little more olive oil to the skillet and fried three organic eggs and topped it all off with a warmed in the microwave bolillo roll with organic butter.

I like to put a little horseradish on fried eggs now and then. It's a little hard to find sometimes in New Mexico but it's there somewhere in most big supermarkets. Also, and I may have mentioned this before, but the cooking oil you use imparts its own flavor and it's fun to experiment with using different oils. In my limited circumstances -- I live in an apartment and don't have much spare time with what I do for a living -- I keep on hand olive oil, for the health aspects, and peanut oil. Peanut oil is what they use most in Chinese cooking and I have a couple of wok dishes. Also, peanut oil is a high heat oil so it's handy to have for when you need a high heat oil.

One more thing. If you like fair food, and who doesn't, a lot of what gives it that distinctive fair food flavor is the fact that those fair food vendors use peanut oil. I never knew this until I bought some peanut oil, during a period of experimenting with different oils. I can only speculate but my guess is that they use peanut oil because they don't have to worry if their cooker gets a little too hot -- the oil won't burn and put them out of business for the day, not to mention the costs -- but the flavor it imparts might be part, or all, of the reason, too.

November 25, 2012
Post Industrial Poultry

When I was in college in Mount Pleasant, MI, I would sometimes visit a writer friend in Flint, MI, who would sometimes cook Cornish Game Hens stuffed with fruit. Some time later I tried it myself and have been making it for quite a few years now and it always turns out nicely. 

I have no hard and fast recipe. I usually use whatever kind of fruit I have on hand. A game hen doesn't have a large cavity and I usually end up cutting up more fruit than it can hold so I tend to stuff it tight. I read once not to overstuff poultry or the bird or stuffing might not all get cooked, but I've never had that problem. Maybe they were talking about a more dense bird and more dense stuffing. A game hen is light and has a lot of surface area for its weight so it's easier to cook it thoroughly than a large bird. 

Cooking time is an hour at 375, and 170 degrees on the meat thermometer. I have never used one of those but I cook things a little more slowly and cook them longer, like 1 hour and 20 or 25 minutes at 350, and I've never died once. Like chicken or turkey you can test the doneness by grabbing a drum stick and seeing if it moves around easily, as if it is about to pull off, and you can stick a fork into the breast meat and see if it goes in easily. You can also squeeze the meat on the drum stick and see if it's soft but be careful about burning your fingers on that one. 

Game hens usually are sold frozen, but they thaw out in an hour or so, faster if you unwrap them and put them in a pot and let water run over them. Wash the bird or birds well in running water with your hands to wash off any trimmings and to reduce bacteria. Any living thing has bacteria living on it, the question is how much. Is it out of control. Will enough survive cooking to kill you. Cooking kills most bacteria and your body easily takes care of any trace amounts, which are on all the food you eat. Many recipes don't go into this.

If you prefer you can put some salt into the cavity. I sprinkle it on my hand and spread it around in there.

To stuff them with I usually use an apple, some raisins maybe, an orange or a pear.  In these pictures I'm doing a little controlled study. One with just oranges and one with just apples. I sprinkled some basil on the oranges and on the apples a little sage and caraway seed. Once you get the hang of cooking, of what's actually going on while something is cooking, and get a taste memory for different flavors you'll want to experiment like this.

Then stuff the little guys and put them in a pan oiled with a little olive oil to keep the meat from sticking to it. If you want, you can salt and pepper the outside and even spread a little olive oil on the skin. Olive oil makes it brown nicely and has a pleasant flavor. 

I usually don't baste these like I would a chicken or turkey, which I baste with the juices if they are pretty clear or with melted butter, basting two or three times in the last, say, third of cooking time. Here, the fruit keeps the meat plenty moist and there's not much cooking time anyway.

I find that if I play some Tiny Tim music while the game hens are cooking they end up with a slight tulipy flavor, but that might just be in my head. Likewise, if I've committed a crime recently, stuffing the game hens takes on spiritual qualities.

Gravy Tutorial

If you're into gravy these drippings will make nice gravy. These gravy making instructions can be applied to chicken or turkey, too.

After cooking, remove the birds and set them aside. The drippings in the bottom of the pan contain a certain amount of fat and some pieces of meat and skin. You can remove the meat and skin pieces or leave them in. I leave them in. You can also put in any giblets at this point. I boil these separately while the bird is cooking and when they are cool I dice them up. These boil in a couple of minutes.

You'll see the liquid fat, a layer of clear liquid at the top of the drippings. That's fat from the bird and possibly some of the oil you oiled your pan with or spread on the bird, and too much of it can give the gravy a heavy flavor. You probably want to remove some of it, leaving just a little for flavor of course. You can skim it off with a tablespoon, or lay a few sheets of paper towel down on top of the liquid and let it soak up the fat. If there's just a little fat, it will get soaked up by the flour you use to thicken the gravy with, but if there's too much it will separate in the gravy as it cools.

Tap your finger on the handle to sprinkle the flour in

Put your pan on a burner and turn it on halfway. Get some flour ready, either in a sifter or like I do in one of those little strainers on a handle. While it's warming up sprinkle some sage into the drippings. Compared to turkey, chicken drippings don't seem to have a lot of flavor. A trick I discovered is to put a tablespoon or two of butter in there and stir that in. The sage helps there, too.

Tap a little flour into the drippings and stir that in, and keep repeating that until the gravy is as thick as you want it. If it ever gets too thick you can thin it back down right away with some water. As the gravy begins to get thick you'll want to stir it pretty much continually so it's always all of the same consistency, so you can gauge whether you need to add more flour.

If you add too much flour at once it can form lumps. This is mainly a problem if you use white flour. If you use whole wheat flour it's actually hard to get it to form lumps. Rice flour doesn't lump easily either. Any of those make lovely gravy. Sometimes I add some milk to poultry gravy for that creamy gravy.  

The gravy may start to boil. That's OK but watch it as it starts to get brown and turn it down before it burns. Some people like to "brown" their gravy, and in fact call the gravy making process "browning the gravy." Experiment with this, as it gives gravy a different flavor, but be careful because it's easy to go too far and have what seems to me to be a kind of burnt taste in the gravy. I usually avoid even bringing the gravy to a boil but if I'm getting to the end point where it's getting thick and it's almost thick enough to stop putting in flour and take it off the heat I let boil a little bit.


August 26, 2012
Chicken Lizard Soup

Whatever you call it, chicken soup is good. I usually buy what they are calling "free range" chickens at the local food co-op, by which they mean the chicken isn't imprisoned its entire life like other enemies of the government in a small cage and kept alive by pumping it full of antibiotics, soothing drugs and digital images of Bette Midler, but is allowed to run around in some kind of chicken yard, where, it is suggested, it eats good things tossed to it by a loving, caring chicken owner who wears nicely cut jeans and a clean flannel shirt and has clean hair, a clear complexion and a perpetual smile -- things like fresh greens and high quality chicken scratch, we imagine as we reach for our "free range" chicken.

In New Mexico, there's not too much green stuff growing out of the ground, but there are lizards and also ants running around. A chicken won't bother with ants, barely acknowledging their existence in their chicken centered world, but provided the opportunity, a chicken enjoys catching a lizard and eating it, so deferring to the probability that my free range chicken is part lizard, I named this soup Chicken Lizard Soup.

I didn't think to take pictures of the process but it's very simple. Put the chicken in a big pot and cover it with water and simmer it for a couple of hours. You know it's done when you can peel off chunks of meat with a fork. Then put the whole pot in the refrigerator.

Upon cooling, the grease and fat of the chicken will congeal at the top of the water. Skim all that out and toss it. I use a one of those little strainers on a handle. If you leave a little fat behind, it's OK. It has a nice flavor.

Much of chicken you buy and make is heavily flavored with that fat, so that the flavor of the meat is covered up. Chicken itself doesn't have a strong flavor, but it's a nice flavor. It requires some adjustment of the sense of taste to get used to eating meats that aren't heavily seasoned, but once your taste buds get used to more subtle tastes it's kind of nice. Eating spicy foods is fun, but this is the other half of taste. It's kind of cool, and in this case it's more healthy.

So now take the whole chicken out of the liquid and put it on a big plate to get the meat off the bones. This part kind of sucks for me because I don't like getting my hands cold, let alone greasy, and they get both. First pull as much skin off as you can and toss it. Then start pulling off pieces of meat.

It's easiest if you have two big plates or platters at hand, one for the whole chicken and bones you're already stripped, and one for the meat. The chicken comes apart, and the meat comes off the bones, easily. Tear the chicken into the size pieces you'd like to have in your soup.

Then put the chicken meat back into the liquid, which contains lots of chicken flavor minus a lot of the fat flavor. Heat this up without boiling. During  this time you can season it. I use only salt, pepper and sage. Put in a little of each, stir it around and let it dissolve and soak into the meat, then taste test it using a big spoon. Make sure you blow on it to cool it off. I don't know how many times I've burned my tongue because I forgot this, because by now I'm getting pretty hungry. Remember, you can always add salt, even at the table. It's hard to detract salt.

Now, the question is, rice or noodles. Or dumplings, for that matter. I usually use rice because I usually have rice and usually don't have noodles and can't remember how to make dumplings. Dumplings aren't difficult, and you can pretty easily make noodles by mixing flour, water and an egg -- mix it up to a thick batter, roll it out to the desired noodle thickness, then slice it up to your desired noodle width right on your cutting board into individual noodles, then drop them into the soup and let them cook until they are noodle-like all the way through and not batter-like. I should write about making noodles later, or you can look it up on the internet. Thick, homemade noodles are very tasty, in my opinion, and easy to make.

I cook the rice right in the soup, too. It's very easy and it tastes fine. You don't have to get the soup boiling or anything, just toss some rice in there and let it simmer. To get the right amount of rice in there, just estimate how much liquid there is and throw in the corresponding amount of rice. You don't have to be exact. Close is sufficient. If you like more broth, use a little bit of rice and wait to see how much liquid the rice soaks up. You can always add more rice and let that cook.

If you put too much rice in you'll end up with little or no broth -- the rice absorbs it all -- and you'll have something very much like the Chinese style fried rice dish where all the liquid is absorbed. That's a very tasty dish because the rice, in absorbing the broth, has absorbed all that flavor, too, and it has moist chunks of chicken in it besides.

(Note: One chicken makes a lot of soup. I usually eat chicken soup for a couple days, refrigerating the whole pot and warming it up by the bowl in the microwave. Then I freeze the rest in several small containers that hold about a bowl each. This way you only have to thaw out what you'll be needing. It's tastes fine after it's frozen. I don't notice any difference.

This method of freezing things in smaller containers can be used for other things you might freeze like spaghetti sauce or ham and bean soup)


Bonus Tip

Jars that are designed for pouring out liquids, like salad dressing
jars, are handy for keeping granular solids like sugar and brown sugar and some spices, in, making them, too, easy to pour out.

July 9, 2012
Eggs Indianapolis

I've been enjoying this dish since college, when I first made it with baloney lunch meat.

 Today I'm using 2 slices of ham and 1 of salami, diced and fried in olive oil. Six eggs were beat lightly with a little milk, salt and pepper and some powdered red pepper, but you can flavor it any way you want to.

 I also added some shredded cheese and chopped up green onions as it was cooking.

For a sandwich, serve on a nice roll with coffee, juice, and, if you have a headache, three aspirin. I sometimes like to put some horseradish on my eggs. In this case, I had some frozen strawberries thawing out, so I put them in the picture too.

Eggs Indianapolis can also be seen as scrambled eggs, which it is. Eggs Indianapolis is just a name I thought rolled off the tongue nicely.

Maybe instead of doing things like this I should have been studying my Journalism texts and doing the outside reading. I'm driving trucks, but can lay claim to being the inventor of Eggs Indianapolis.

June 4, 2012
Old Times There Are Not Forgotten 

That's a line from Dixie, the national anthem of the US South. The first line is: I wish I was in the land of cotton. Having lived there, I think the first line should be I wish I was in the land of cockroaches. They are many and grow huge there, the size of small cars. They call the big ones water bugs because they don't want to think there are cockroaches that big.

But it's a warm, humid climate and everything grows well there, especially in the 50-75 mile wide coastal plain, which they call the Lowcountry. I read an excerpt from a letter one of the original colonists wrote back to England, and he said that you don't have to root cuttings there. You just cut off a branch and stick it in the ground and it grows roots.

South Carolina is where I got in the habit of putting certain foods in the freezer, because that was the first time I had something "go buggy," which freezing prevents. If you've been on a farm you realize that insects are everywhere, including in our food supply. At harvest time, when they harvest grain and dump it into a big wagon, it's got insects crawling around in it. Some of those insects have laid eggs, and those eggs remain in the grain. Some of those eggs can eventually hatch out in the grain after you've already bought it and taken it home. This can happen in flour or in whole grains like bulghur or oats or whatever. It doesn't happen often, but it happened to me in South Carolina. It really had nothing to do with cockroaches, except in my mind.

(note: a freezer dries out air, so an extra layer of plastic around wrapped foods keep them from drying out as fast.

May 5, 2012
The Tin Roof Sundae and Marx

There is no hard and fast definition for Tin Roof Sundae, and Marx never addresses the topic, but in my family, on my Mother's side, which descends from a Badenese farmer who fled Germany during the Revolution of 1848 and lived in Indiana until he fell off a barn and died, the Tin Roof Sundae consists of ice cream, chocolate syrup and salted peanuts. To suggest otherwise would draw long, blank stares from my aunts while they make a mental note to send me a generic greeting card in the coming weeks. Generic greeting cards, accompanied by handwritten notes filling me in on the details of the recent weather where the particular aunts lives, are how emotions such as fondness, deep concern or worry are expressed in my family.

 If you need a Tin Roof Sundae and are out of salted peanuts, dabs of peanut butter serve as a suitable substitute.

A Tin Roof Sundae will cure the blues, such as in the case of being left by your woman or your man, or when Oprah comes down on the opposite side of an issue from the side you are on.

However, unfortunately, if your dog dies or your cat gets run over, you're on your own. A Tin Roof Sundae won't help. 

April 8, 2012
Roll Your Own

You can in effect lengthen your lunch hour, save quite a bit of money, and eat well, if you pack your lunch. Of course. Here's one idea.

 Meat from the supermarket deli is better. I think it's less well preserved, too.

Fresh green onions. Crispy and delicious. Put mayo or other dressings between two slices of meat, or between the meat and lettuce, so it doesn't soak into the bread. I actually slice my tomato and put those in a little plastic container and put them on at lunch time. (KFC, when you order an individual meal, puts your side dishes in little round containers that work nicely for tomatoes, pickle slices, potato chips, etc.) On the lower right that's head cheese with Picante sauce.

Good bread is the most important part to some folks. Rolls are good bread. Even a plain old hot dog or hamburger bun is better bread than sliced bread*. There are lots of different kinds of good rolls available. Your food co-op or natural foods supermarkets will even have strange ones from foreign countries sometimes, well, not from foreign countries but the kind they eat there. Part of the fun of opening up your lunch is remembering what kind you used that morning. I use the soft sided lunch cooler with the little plastic things you freeze overnight. That keeps the lettuce crisp. Splurge on good lettuce. It has space for one or two bottles of Jarritos on top. Jarritos is Mexican soda pop, usually found in the Mexican food section. It;s sweetened with sugar, not high-fructose corn syrup, and most of the flavors use real fruit for flavoring. There's Lime, Tamarind, Cola, Strawberry, etc. It's more fizzy than US soda pop.

*My bread and roll theory. When you walk into a kitchen or a bakery where bread is baking you immediately smell that wonderful smell. What you are smelling are the gasses and vaporized ingredients of the dough. Those get trapped in the little air pockets -- or yeast pockets -- in the bread and make up a lot of the flavor. When you slice bread, some of that escapes. Because the slices are thin, some of what is still trapped even evaporates out.

With a roll or bun, more of that stays trapped inside because you haven't cut it. Also, the crusty surface of the roll or bun helps prevent further evaporation. And even when you do cut it, there is more thickness there containing air pockets. Yum. That's my theory.

PS: Sometimes I get tired of it all and don't pack my lunch, or I get tired of the rude people at the supermarket (some of them, a lot of them) or I get up too late, so I eat out. This way I don' get too sick of doing it either way.

I you think about it beforehand, stop by your local Chinese buffet place on the way home and say you want a buffet to go. Fill up your "to go" container with meat, then use that for sandwiches the next morning. The other day I got two kinds of chicken, Japanese (spicy) and Chinese (sultry.) At my local Chinese buffet place, if I get there before 3:30 p.m., lunch pricing is still in effect and it's about $2 cheaper.

April 8, 2012
Thaw A Steak Out Quickly

 A microwave will work, too, but if you]re not a skilled microwave operator you can partially cook something or alter its texture. A fan will do it in a half hour or so. Place it so air can get under it, too. It you forget about it, it starts to dry the meat out, but that's just water evaporating. You can put it in a plate of water for a few minutes to let the water soak back it.

February 11, 2012
Make That Sink Drain Seal

Sometimes you run a sink full of dish water and leave it to let the dishes soak, and come back and the soapy water has all drained out. This is very annoying, to me. Not only does it waste water and soap, but you have to start doing the dishes over, and starting doing the dishes once is terrible enough. Furthermore, if you've been gone long enough, there might be dried soap film on the dishes. If you consume soap film it can cause gastronomical unease, including explosions that can land you on the roof.

To easily get your drain to seal without spending any money, first wipe off the rubber seal on the drain. It might be one of those things you don't remember to clean, and a slime can build up on it of the type found growing at the bottom of ocean trenches or beneath the crust of Mars.

Now run cold water over the drain plug, and over the drain itself. This causes them to contract. Put the plug in, get your faucet water hot, and run water into the sink to cover the drain and plug. At this point you can stop and push the drain in a little. The hot water not only causes both to expand, but softens the rubber seal. You'll feel it go in a little further.

Now just fill the sink with warm water and suds as usual. The drain and sink opening have both expanded because of being hot, and so they push up against each other, making a good seal. When you're done, you might even have to tug at the stopper a little to get it out.

February 11, 2012
Bonus Tip for February 11: If Someone Comes To Your Door Selling Tamales, Buy Some.

At my apartment complex people often come to the door collecting money for things. It's always a worthy cause; the school band, a church trip, the person wants some money. Often it's children. Sometimes they have things to sell -- little flashlights, tools, or other things of the kind that parents typically have around the house and that also fit into a child sized pocket.

This evening I intended to have a pizza delivered. I was going to write a web log entry first, and then I was working on a photograph I wanted to add to the web log entry. These things always take longer than I anticipate -- in fact it consumes most of my spare time.

I was working on the picture when there was a tapping at the door. A nice looking gentleman of about 35 asked if I wanted to buy some tamales, and nodded to a cooler he was holding that contained tin foil wrapped packages. He was holing one package in his hand. He listed the kinds of tamales he had. I caught "chicken" and "pork." There were several others, but there was a language barrier. I was pretty hungry by now, having thought of my pizza off and on while I'd worked, and asked how much. He understood that. "Six tamales for $7," he said.

As a kid I always loved tamales. We never had real tamales, just the canned kind, but I loved them.

"Hot tamales! Hot tamales!" I'd shout, when my Mother put them on the table.

Having grown up in the United States, I, of course, by a tender young age had been exposed to much anti Mexican racism, on TV, in the movies, in my little town. There were the "spicy Latina" portrayals. There were things like The Cisco Kid, star of a TV series who had a sidekick, Pancho, played by American actor Leo Carrillo, whose family had come to California long before most Anglos arrived on these shores, but who was required to act like an idiot on TV. There were movies like Treasure of the Sierra Madre, starring Humphrey Bogart, which took place in Mexico, in which every Mexican who appeared was an either a whore, an idiot, or some kind of ruthless idiotic savage.

Anti Mexican racism in the US is rooted deep in our history and has to do with things like the thirst for land and the need for cheap labor, but was greatly inflamed in the 1920s, when, fueled by the media, including movies, radio and later TV, it swept across the United States. The year 1920, by the way, was when a Socialist revolution ended that swept away the old oligarchy in Mexico, and if you are any student at all of American history, you know that the power elite in the US won't tolerate Socialism setting an example, right at its doorstep, that a country's wealth can be shared equally among all its citizens, including those whose labor creates that wealth. See Nicaragua, see Cuba, see Venezuela, see Honduras, see Chile, see etc.

I went and got $7 and gave it to the man at the door.

"What kind," he asked.

"Oh. Pork."

"Thank you," he said. "Gracias."

I'm eating my tamales now and they are the most god awful wonderful tasting thing I've tasted in a long time, much better than a pizzaria pizza would have been. They're a little hot, too. I've been living in New Mexico for ten years, and have been driving trucks to the border longer than that, and am kind of used to hot food now, and even intentionally order it that way sometimes. I was lamenting not having some kind of hot sauce to try my tamales with, but it wasn't necessary. These are hot tamales, and very good ones, too.

January 25, 2012
Yogurt, contd. (Part 1 is below)

When I wrote the remarks below I forgot about fruit and yogurt, which is almost as easy. Again use plain yogurt, or vanilla flavored, which is all one of the Smith's stores I go to has in organic in the large tub. You can use fresh fruit, but I use frozen fruit and cook it a little, not really cook it but just until there is some juice, which you can do with fresh fruit, too. I sweeten it with honey to take the tartness out. If you want you can thicken the juice to a syrup with corn starch, at the end of cooking. Just sprinkle a little at a time into the juice and keep stirring. You can just push the fruit to one side and sprinkle into the juice that flows to the open area. Cornstarch doesn't lump up nearly as easily as flour so you can put quite a bit into a little bit of juice. Mix that up and stir the fruit back into, then do it all again until you are as thick as you like. I find that one of those little strainers on a handle is handier than a sifter. Just tap it gently on the side of the pan, or tap it with your free finger, to sprinkle. You can put the fruit into the yogurt while it's still warm or let it cool first if you like.

By the way, some supermarkets are union, some aren't, even within the same corporation sometimes, like Smith's. Here is a listing of which are which in New Mexico. If you live in a non New Mexico state, Google "list of union grocery stores (your state)."

January 23, 2012
Crunchy Yogurty Parfait

Some fast food joints will sell you a little bit of yogurt in a little clear plastic cup that comes with a little bit of granola to mix in with it for $1 or $1.89 or something. Get yourself some bulk plain yogurt and some bulk granola and you can have it for less, and use a big spoon when you eat it. Theirs is sweetened and after tasting yours you may want to drip a little honey into it. It doesn't take much. The granola slowly soaks up the yogurt, so it won't be crunchy after awhile, so it's like having two different kinds in one sitting! If you're thinking, this guy doesn't have much of a life, you would be right.

January 14, 2012
A time saver for coffee drinkers

    (1/4 cup measuring cup in spare coffee cup. Candle, tomato and
    Bradley Manning sticker are optional.)

Instead of spooning out all those little teaspoonfuls of coffee into your coffee filter every time, figure out how much coffee you need using a larger measure. You can do this by spooning your measuring spoonfuls into a one-third or one-quarter cup measuring cup. For me it comes out to two quarter cups of coffee to a full carafe of water. If the coffee I'm using is stronger or weaker, I just use a fuller or less full quarter cup. It doesn't have to be that exact with that kind of volume.

I've added up how much time this has saved over my lifetime, and it's enough to write a web log entry about it. Mainly, it's just less annoying, especially when I'm half asleep and in a hurry.

I grind my coffee in the market and grind it very fine, the setting just before expresso, or, if you will, mud. I don't notice any difference in taste from coarser ground coffee. That just wastes coffee, I feel. Coffee you buy already ground is ground fairly coarse, of course.

January 7, 2012
Local Honey

It is believed by many that eating honey made by bees in your own locality is good for you because the bees, as they make the honey, immunize it and therefore themselves and their young from the viruses and bacteria that are present in that specific locality.

It may exist but I haven't seen scientific proof of this. It sounds good. But locally produced and gathered honey helps the local economy,  and tastes better because most honey you buy now, no matter its origin, comes from processing plants where the honey is heated and put through fine filters that remove pollen and other things that might be beneficial and are part of honey's natural taste.

Maybe do this to keep honey from crystallizing. I don't know. Maybe it's proof that Sharia Law is being implemented like those Republican wing nuts warned us about.

The honey I buy from my local anti union food co-op seems to crystallize within a few weeks, but it can be returned to its original state by simply putting your jar of honey is a saucepan full of water and leaving it on low heat for while.

I leave the lid on for to keep the heat in, but loosely, so that if I turn the heat off and forget about the honey it doesn't contract and seal the lid and make it hard as hell to get off. The honey, upon being warmed up, will liquefy again. There may still be crystallized honey coating the sides of the jar but that can be dissolved by simply tightening the lid and swirling the warm, liquefied honey around.

Note on the anti union La Montanita Food Co-op. It's front page states: "We believe in fair and just dealings at every level of our cooperative, from the soil and the farmer to the consumer. We support a living wage, just benefits and working conditions for our staff, local farm-workers and producers."

And on their web site you'll find a favorable review of the book Fast Food Nation in which the reviewer praises how the book exposes union busting in the food industry and the industry's continual efforts to keep wages low, things that "are the story of a brutality to the whole fabric of society."

But ask an employee, or a former one since turnover is so high, and you might hear that the fabric of the society the co-op's employees inhabit doesn't matter to the co-op board, and that the co-op board's concern for a living wage came only after it destroyed the co-op employees' attempts to join a union by hiring a notorious union busting law firm and propagandizing employees against joining a union during meetings and with flyers attached to their paychecks. Unions are fine for everyone else, it seems, but when it comes to its own employees having the power to negotiate what they, not just the board, consider to be fair wages and benefits, the co-op board is against it.

If you are a co-op member, you may have noticed that when the board sends out the ballots by which members decide who will be on the board, you are asked to vote for "board approved' candidates. No worse, or blatant corruption of democracy have I, personally, witnessed, and disgusting is not too strong a word for the co-op board, which pays its director $100,000 a year to make sure the employees remain non union.

The co-op movement was started by hippies, peace loving people who dreamed of a better world, whose ideals were sharing and caring for each other. Imagine if they knew the selfish, self interested sons of bitches on the Montanita co-op board have corrupted those ideals by hiring union busting law firms and trying to rig the board elections to keep anyone off who might want the co-op employees to live somewhere near the kind of life they do.

January 7, 2012
Cooking from memory.

We have a taste memory. We remember how things taste. We can even combine different tastes in our imagination. People who cook a lot do this without thinking about it, while planning a meal, for instance. You do it when, in the act of cooking, you taste what you are cooking and think, 'It could use a little this or a little that.' Even at the table, someone will take a bite of something and reach for the salt or lemon or hot sauce.

 I like to stand in the middle of the kitchen and imagine what I have on hand, then try to imagine how different things might taste together. What kind of meat do I have? What kind of spices? I have come up with some new dishes this way. My quick and easy sloppy joes. My basic stir fry sauce started out this way.

It's not that I don't use recipes, or refer to them. Presently I don't have any cook books, but if I need a recipe a quick Google search turns up dozens for any given thing. Often they are vastly different. Instead of taking a chance on one I read through them and select ingredients my taste memory thinks will taste good. I made mayonnaise once by looking at the ingredient list on the back of a mayonnaise jar. I just had to figure out the proportions. They are listed in descending order of volume anyway, so you have a head start, but by using your taste memory you can guess that there should be more or less of this or that.

It's fun to cook this way. I haven't had much free time lately, what with work, but when I do it a lot I get better at it. I get my taste memory back.

January 7, 2012
The Wok

The handiest kitchen implement I know of is the wok. It can be used for more than Chinese cooking. Corn on the cob, for example. Instead of boiling a big pot of water, just boil a half cup or so in the bottom of the wok. It boils very quickly, too, because the wok disperses heat so efficiently. As soon as the water boils, place three or four ears of corn across it and put the lid on. The wok quickly fills with steam and cooks the corn in two or three minutes. The corn doesn't burn where it touches the wok, again because the wok disperses heat so well, and besides there just isn't time for anything to burn. That's another advantage of the wok. Things you cook quickly retain more flavor.

Wok - Traditional Chinese
Keep your wok "seasoned" or coated with a vegetable oil. The Chinese use peanut oil for cooking and it's good for seasoning your wok. It's a high heat oil. It doesn't burn easily. It also has a distinctive taste that helps make Chinese dishes taste Chinese.  (Peanut oil is also what gives "fair food" its distinctive flavor.) A seasoned wok cleans easily, like a seasoned frying pan. You can use soap if you want to, but rinse well. (If I use soap to clean my wok or any good pan, I heat some water in it to remove any soap that might be in the pores.)
Wok - Simplified Chinese

To season a new or newly cleaned wok, smear oil over the inside and put it on the heat with the lid on. You can find all kinds of complicated instructions for seasoning woks or other pans, but you don't need a lot of heat, just enough to expand the pores in the metal. (As the oil thins it may collect at the bottom.) Let the wok cool enough to wipe off the excess oil with a paper towel and store it with the lid on so it doesn't collect dust.

You don't need to have a flame to cook with a wok. I have an electric stove in my apartment and that works fine. I just turn the wok holder, that metal ring it rests on, upside down so the wok is closer to the electric stove element.