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Mushy Peas

The first time I tried mushy peas was in England at a Harry Ramsden restaurant in Bournemouth, something I wrote about in March 2015.  The flavor was very similar to green pea soup, except the concoction was much thicker than soup.  Mushy peas served with fish and chips, lamb or meat pie is a traditional favorite in the British Isles.  My last blog about mystery peas inspired me to try my hand at making this British staple.

There are various schools of thought surrounding the preparation of mushy peas.  Some cooks feel any peas will do and they use frozen garden peas, adding cream to thicken.  Others staunchly maintain that only marrow fat peas soaked in soda water will result in the authentic dish.  Marrow fat peas are not well known in the US.  These are merely regular garden peas that have been allowed to ripen on the plant until the pods dry.  The peas are large and starchy by that stage of maturity.

For my recipe, I tried to remain authentic by using dried whole organic peas that, when rehydrated, do taste a bit past the picking prime.  Mushy peas are not difficult to make, but they require at least two days to prepare.  Leftovers can be refrigerated for a day or two, or frozen.  They are the true inspiration for the Pease Porridge nursery rhyme.  This dish is also known as pease porridge in the UK.  Here is my recipe, adapted from various versions.

Mushy Peas

One pound dried green peas, preferably mature peas

1.5 quarts water

1 tablespoon baking soda

Place soda in a 2 qt glass container, add water and stir to dissolve.  Sort and rinse peas, add to water, assure the peas are well covered with water.  Let set overnight, or at least 12 hours, uncovered.  I let them set in the refrigerator.  Check after about 8 hours and add more water, if necessary to allow the peas enough fluid to properly rehydrate.  Some cooks recommend adding the water hot, I don’t find that necessary.

After the peas have absorbed enough water to be soft, drain, rinse and place in 3-4 qt cooking pot.  Add enough water to cover the peas.  Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer for approx. 30 minutes, periodically stirring gently to prevent sticking to the bottom.  The idea is to soften the peas, but still maintain at least some of the seed shape.  The peas should be partially turned to paste with plenty of whole pea lumps.  Toward the end of the cooking time, monitor closely to prevent burning.  During the simmering, add a small amount of water from time to time, if the porridge seems too thick.

Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and pepper.  Some also add a little sugar and/or fresh mint.  Make various additions as desired, including onion, chive, garlic, etc.  This dish is versatile.  Serve the mushy peas hot.  They can be enjoyed as a vegetable or as a starch serving.  Makes about 6 cups.

Just a quick personal note:  I’ve found it necessary to use Beano when eating a good serving of mushy peas.  Otherwise, my body has a rather unfortunate reaction to large quantities of legume.

 

 

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Ancient Grains

Farro with dried cranberries and sunflower seeds

Recently I decided to try some of the specialty ancient grains available in local stores.  The term ancient grains refers to cereals that were discovered and eaten millenia ago by our ancestors.  Many have fallen from use in modern times, replaced by more factory-farming friendly plants.  Judging from the variety available even in such an outpost of civilization as central Maine, the ancient grain business is good.  The grains I tried were all organic, meaning non-GMO, no pesticides or herbicides used for growing, storing or processing.  I decided to try kamut and spelt in addition to farro, a grain I’ve been eating for a year or so.  In the future I will try others.

The three grains are relatives of modern wheat.  They were first gathered from wild plants over 8000 years ago.  Man (as in most likely–women) learned to plant the wild seeds they gathered and cultivated the grain.  This provided a more secure food source for early communities.  Farro originated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East and was eaten in Egypt.  It has a softer texture than some wheats, especially when it is pearled.  A semi-pearled grain has had some of the tough outer membrane, the bran, removed.  I use semi-pearled Italian farro because it cooks faster than the whole grain, yet still retains an impressive nutritional value.  A 1/4 dry cup serving of semi-pearled farro has 170 calories, 0 fat, 0 sodium, 35 g of carbs with 5 g of dietary fiber, 0 sugar and 7 g of protein and also some iron.  It is not a complete protein since it does not contain a full supply of lysine and should be paired with another lysine source.

Farro is delicious.  It is a very nutritious alternative to rice, especially white rice which is a nutrition wasteland.  Farro has a smooth, creamy, rice-like texture with a slightly nutty flavor from the retained bran coat and a wonderful fruity, sweet fragrance.  I like to cook it with a handful of dried cranberries and some raw sunflower seeds, simmer in three times its volume of water, covered, for 15 mins until al dente, drain before serving.  A perfect breakfast or side dish for pork, turkey or chicken.  For a more authentic and jaw-exercising experience, try whole grain farro which should be soaked before cooking to soften the bran layer.

Kamut with a soup spoon for size comparison

The next culinary adventure is kamut.  Enjoyed by the ancient Egyptians and originating around the Nile, kamut grains or berries are huge.  They are 3/8″ to 7/16″ long when cooked.  Kamut reminds me of tiny beans.  It has the same combination of snappy hull with soft insides and enough size to make its presence known in your mouth.  The taste is more wheat-like for sweetness, but starchy and similar to beans.  The kamut I tried is whole grain, with the full bran coat retained.

Cooking whole grain cereals requires more time.  The berries are soaked overnight in at least twice their volume of water.  I place them in the fridge to soak.  In the old days before refrigeration, I suspect our forebears discovered alcohol through this soaking of the grain.  I imagine some slacking hut-wife left the grain to soak too long, (several days at hut temperature) and it fermented.  The woman probably drained off the water with the alcohol content into another container and, because she was so lazy, just left the liquid sitting around the fire.  Then the hut-husband arrived home from hunting rabbits and birds, an activity that apparently can lead to a powerful thirst, he grabbed the jug of fermentation water for a drink and became the first man to fall in love with home brew.

After soaking the grains overnight, drain the liquid and use it to water something, then add the grain to three times its volume of water and simmer, covered for 30-40 minutes until it is al dente.  Drain excess liquid before serving.  I tried kamut with a little salt and butter, yummy!  The whole bran definitely provides chewing exercise.  I would substitute this grain for any bean recipe or serve it as a side dish sweetened up by cooking with any dried fruit, including tomatoes.  A serving of kamut provided an excellent nutritional source for ancient Egyptians.  A dry 1/4 cup has 160 calories, 1 g fat (not saturated or trans fat,) 0 sodium, 32 g of carbs with 4 g being dietary fiber and 4 g sugars, and 7 g of protein.  Again, this grain is lacking in lysine and should be paired with an appropriate amino acid source to form a complete protein for vegetarians.  It is also a source of thiamine and niacin.

Piping hot spelt with a bit of salt and a pat of melted butter

Finally, I tried spelt.  This is a better known type of wheat, at least to me since I’d heard of it.  Spelt is related to durum wheat and came from the Middle East.  Its use spread to Europe and was especially popular in Germany where it fed the population during the Middle Ages and is still grown today.  The berries are smaller than either kamut or farro, very nutty and sweet and lead to plenty of chewing with the bran of the whole grain.

Spelt is prepared in the same fashion as kamut, soaked overnight in twice its volume of water for best results, drained then simmered, covered in three times the volume of water for 40-60 minutes to al dente.  Drain the excess liquid.  The grain is delicious served warm with some salt and melted butter.  The sweetness pairs well with fruits and light meats.  I even tried it with melted cheddar and loved it.  Mixed with cinnamon, a bowl of spelt did not last long when given to my two granddaughters aged 5 and 2.  They gobbled it up and wanted more!

This ancient grain, like the other two, is nutritionally superior to most modern starchy side dishes.  A 1/4 dry cup serving has 180 calories, 2 g fat ( not saturated or trans,) 0 sodium, 38 g of carbs with 5 g dietary fiber and 2 g sugars and 7 g protein.  Spelt is also low on lysine but is higher in many minerals than the other two grains I tried.  It is a good source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper and manganese, among others.

Since all three of these grains are related to wheat, they contain gluten and are not for gluten intolerant diets.  I pity the ancestors with celiac disease who had to try and survive on wheat grains.  I wonder if they figured out what made their guts hurt and tried alternate foods?  Luckily, I love gluten and can digest it, so will be adding these heirloom wheat varieties to my diet.

Surprise Pancakes

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What to do with those bananas that get over ripened if you don’t enjoy the flavor of banana bread?  Why, make Surprise Pancakes, of course!  The surprise is these light, fluffy cakes are made with banana and the taste is almost imperceptible.

We love them hot, slathered with butter and drowned in the thick maple syrup we produce here at the farm.  I also enjoy the pancakes reheated in the microwave and stacked, with a liberal coating of homemade apricot jam between the layers.  Because the recipe effortlessly incorporates a good dose of dietary fiber, it feels like eating these pancakes is actually good for you!

If you have more ripe bananas on hand than you can manage, bananas freeze very well whole in their skins.  The skin will turn brown, but the fruit inside will stay as it was when fresh.  Defrost the banana until it is pliable before peeling.

Surprise Pancakes

1 large ripe banana mashed

1  1/2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup white whole wheat flour

5 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups milk

2 eggs

1/3 cup oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

 

In a large mixing bowl mash the banana.  Sift in dry ingredients.  Make a large well in the middle of the dry ingredients and place the wet inside.  Whisk the wet ingredients until the eggs are beaten and combined, then continue whisking all together until the batter is smooth.  Any desired fruit may be folded into the recipe at this point, for instance 3/4 to 1 cup blueberries, chopped strawberries, crushed pineapple or diced apples.  Cook on medium high, 350F on an electric griddle, turning once to brown both sides.  Serve with butter, maple syrup, berry syrup, jam or preserves.  Makes 12 to 15 cakes.

 

Way to His Heart Meatloaf

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When I want to make my husband happy with one of his favorite meals, I cook up my special meatloaf.  It always warms his heart.  I have a secret to keep the meatloaf juicy and tender:  beef bouillon.

My Meatloaf

2 lbs lean ground beef, I use grass-fed ground round

1 egg

1/4 cup ketchup

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1 cup warm water

1 cube beef bouillon

2 drops liquid smoke, optional

Put the bouillon cube in the warm water to dissolve.

Place beef, egg, ketchup, spices and onion powder in a mixing bowl.  Add a couple drops of liquid smoke for a barbecued flavor, if desired.  Mix together with nice clean hands until all the ingredients are well blended.  Pat the meat into a greased loaf pan.  Pour the bouillon over the meat.m2m3

Bake for 1.25 hours at 350F.  Drain off the liquid and thicken with flour to make gravy.  Serves four.   Meatloaf also is great in leftover sandwiches.m4

Shortbread

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My husband truly loves butter cookies and shortbread.  Sometimes I find old shortbread and cookie molds at secondhand shops and have always wondered how to use them.  Finally, I decided to explore making shortbread and to treat my husband to a homemade crispy, buttery treat.a2  I found two shortbread pans for decent prices on eBay.  These are vintage ceramic pans made by Brown Bag Cookie Art.  The design on one is Fruits and Flowers and the other is Farm Animals.

Shortbread is a very old type of cookie or biscuit as it is called in the UK.  It originated in Scotland in the mid 1700s.  The basic recipe is very simple and rich in butter.  It is not possible to substitute or scrimp on the butter.  Shortbread requires butter.

My first attempt did not turn out the perfectly molded cookies I had hoped for.  I will have to work on my method to perfect it.  There are many variations on the shortbread recipe, but here are the basics.

Basic Shortbread

1 cup salted butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups all purpose flour

Cream the butter with the sugar until smooth.  Mix in the vanilla then slowly stir in the flour.  When the flour is all added, knead the dough gently until is is smooth and uniform in texture.  Split into two balls.a3

Lightly spray two 8″ square shortbread pans.  Place a ball of dough in the center of each pan and press the dough flat until it evenly fills the pans.  Lightly pierce the entire surface of the dough with a fork to prevent bubbles from forming during baking.

Bake in the bottom third of a pre-heated 325F oven for 30-35 mins, until the bread is lightly browned over the entire surface.  The center must be browned so the cookies will unmold properly.  Remove from the oven and cool for 10 mins.a4

Place a towel or large cutting board on the counter, turn the pans over and drop from a height of about 2″ onto the counter.  The shock will jar the shortbread loose from the pan.  Flip the bread over and cut with a sharp knife while still warm so it does not crumble.a5

These can be stored tightly sealed at room temperature for a week or so.  Delicious served with tea or coffee.

A variation I want to try:

Lemon Shortbread

1 cup salted butter

1/2 cup sugar

1/8 cup lemon juice

2 teaspoons lemon zest

2 1/4 cups flour

To make other flavors add 1/4 teaspoon of extracts such as mint, almond or coconut to the basic recipe.

My husband found he loves shortbread warm from the oven and ate several more than is good for his boyish figure!

Microwave Baked Custard

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When I have milk or eggs to use up, I sometimes make this quick, easy and very yummy custard.  It says baked in the title although the dish is made in the microwave.  It really is very similar to oven baked custard without the extra work of standing the dishes in water or the bother of heating a big appliance.  The texture is creamy and delicate, very nice as a quick dessert or breakfast.

The trickiest part is knowing how long to cook the custard.  Times vary with the size and strength of the microwave oven.  The dish should be cooked on a medium power so microwaves that have only one power setting are not the best for making custard, although it can be done with care and practice.1

This recipe was adapted by me from the Amana Radarange Cookbook

Microwave Baked Custard

1 3/4 cups milk

3 large eggs, slightly whisked to mix

1/4 cup sugar

1/8 tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

nutmeg and cinnamon to taste

Place the milk in a 2-cup glass measure.  Microwave on high for 1.5 to 2 minutes until hot.  While the milk is heating, break the eggs into a 4-cup measure.  Lightly whisk until the eggs are broken and mixed but not too foamy.  Gently whisk in the sugar and salt.

Slowly pour the hot milk into the eggs, whisking and using care not to pour too fast or the eggs can curdle.  Mix in the vanilla.2

Divide the custard between four 6 oz glass custard cups.  Sprinkle the tops with the spices to taste.  Space in the microwave so there is plenty of room around the cups.  Heat on medium power, Power Level 4 on my microwave oven, for 6-15 minutes.  It may be necessary to re-situate the cups half-way through cooking for best heat dispersal.

Begin checking the custard at 6 minutes so it does not over-cook and resume cooking at two minute intervals until done.  Do not stir!  The custard is finished when no liquid flows if the cup is carefully tipped.  If one cup seems more set than the others, remove it and finish cooking the rest.  The custard will still be wobbly in the center.  The heat retained will finish the cooking.  Cool the custards in the microwave with the door closed or on a counter at room temperature away from drafts.  When cooled, store in fridge.3

Over-cooked custard is hard and rubbery, not too appetizing, so use care with the cooking time.

I have also made this in a single large dish and microwaved for about 20-25 minutes.

Serve plain or with whipped cream or fruit.  Makes four 6 oz servings.

 

Apricot Jam

ab1.jpgOf all the flavors of jam I have tried (a lot!) my favorite has to be apricot.  I could eat it on warm toast all day.  If I did, my body shape would resemble an apricot, all that holds me back.

Buying apricot jam can get expensive, perhaps because apricots are a costly fruit.  I have not seen fresh apricots recently offered in season for less than $3 a pound here in central Maine.  The price may be due to our location.  In sunny, warm places where apricots grow they are probably cheap, although the price of the jam does not reflect that.

I finally decided to try my hand at making apricot jam.  Maybe I could save a little money.  To me, homemade jam always tastes better than commercial.  The ingredients are limited to fruit, sugar and pectin unlike what line many store shelves.  Small batches made at home seem more flavorful.  This suggested eating handmade apricot jam would be like tasting heaven.  I could hardly wait to get started!

Chilean apricots are in season now so I picked up three pounds at the supermarket.  Apricots must be thoroughly cleaned for jam since the fuzzy skin is also used.  This recipe has been adapted to my tastes from the one that comes with the pectin.

Apricot Jam

2.5 to 3 lbs fresh apricots to equal 6 cups chopped fruit

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1 cup water

1 box reduced sugar fruit pectin

4.5 cups sugar

Rinse well, pit and chop apricots with skins (do not peel.)  I coarsely chop to pieces 1/4″-1/2″.  Place in large (8 quart) heavy bottomed saucepan with the water.  Sprinkle the fruit with the lemon juice. Thoroughly mix the powdered pectin with 1/2 cup of the sugar.  Stir into the fruit.  Cover, bring to a simmer on low-medium heat and then cook for 10 minutes, stirring frequently so it does not burn.  ap1

Uncover and bring heat to high, stirring fruit constantly until the boil can not be stirred down.  Add the remaining sugar.  Return the mix to a boil, stirring, and boil for one minute.  Remove from heat and skim any foam with a metal spoon.

Have 7 cups worth of hot, sterilized glass canning jars ready. Ladle the jam into the jars, cover and process in a boiling hot water bath for 10 minutes.  Cool away from drafts and assure the jars have sealed before storing.

Makes about 7 cups.  Yum!ap3