Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sweet Potatoes from Outer Space...Random thoughts

The second week of April we planted some sweet potato starts in our garden.
They started out like this.

I'm amazed by the sweet potatoes. I'm easily entertained most days anyway, but especially with our newest adventure. It's a new experience for me. My Master Gardener Father told me I needed to sprout them out of the ground first in a cup with a little water. We used to poke avocado seeds with toothpicks and precariously dangle their lower extremities in the water to help them sprout when I was a kid. We'd do the same thing with the lobbed off sprouting ends of carrots. I always loved having those carrot heads all lined up in the window with sticks impaling them. It's morbid if you think of it. However, I never actually realized that I would be doing alien torture experiments with the sweet potatoes. They sprouted really well in about a week. We cut them in chunks around the sprouts and put them in the ground...right where we had just harvested our first potatoes. I have to say...they have set up base camp and are now doing some really crazy stuff. They are making tendrils and sprouting out like an alien invasion. On the plus side...they are making sweet potatoes. I'm totally cooking up the alien spawn as long as it's edible. Yup...spawn away little E.T. nuggets.

When you are finished...I'm totally ripping you out of the ground and using your egg-like seed for my own Evil Think Tank experimentation. Yes...graphic sweet potato mutilation to follow.

That's all I have to say about that.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Baby Pine Cones in your dinner?

We went up to the sweet beautiful mountain breezes of Northern Arizona last week to get away from the crazy world and visit hometown USA. I saw (and smelled) my first small town rodeo. Up at our cabin, my sons where all about the edible plants. "Mom can eat this? What is that? Can it be eaten? How do you know you can eat it?" My favorite was this Little Man with some local foliage...
His exact words, " Would you like a spot of tea?" Then they started bringing me flowers. It was heavenly to be showered with blooms from little hands trying to show their adoration. It's what every mother lives for...well that.. and slobbery oatmeal garnished kissed and stepping on Hot Wheels in the bathtub. I'm convinced I will miss those moments most of all when they grow up and leave me. Sniff, sniff.

We do have about four hundred juniper trees on our land. It was fun to explain the culinary use of a berry on a tree.
Wikipedia says: " Juniper berries, here still attached to a branch, are actually modified conifer cones.A juniper berry is the female seed cone produced by the various species of junipers. It is not a true berry but a cone with unusually fleshy and merged scales, which give it a berry-like appearance. The cones from a handful of species, especially Juniperus communis, are used as a spice, particularly in European cuisine, and also give gin its distinguishing flavour. According to one FAO document, juniper berries are the only spice derived from conifers, though tar and inner bark (used as a sweetener by Apache cuisines) from pine trees is sometimes considered a spice as well. "

This is what the berries look like now, but in a few months they will be more purple.

Which brings me to a very interesting email I got from Stan Potts in the cold country of Canada. He is the winner of two jars of my spice blends for sending me this amazing information about the local pine cones he has growing.

The young cones he actually uses in the kitchen!

Stan says, "These pea sized, tender,immature pine cones are packed full of flavor. They are definately the right garnish for a dandelion or purslane salad, and I wouldn't think of stewing lambs'quarter greens without them!! Probably like Juniper...only more like sap! When I googled pine needles, I was surprised to find alot about them being edible...I don't think I'll make a habit of it. I like Rosemary, and its alot like pine needles, but somehow better! Where I grew up we had alot of bush pasture. Occasionally there would be a cow that would take a liking to the new growth on the spruce trees, especially if the grazing wasn't good. We considered the needles toxic and believed the cow would abort if she ate enough...I can't find any information on that, but I still believe in moderation! These trees are a sort of white pine.
I used to take my nephews camping, and a highlight for them was when I'd make pine needle tea! They are all in their 30's now and it still comes up when I see them. The tea was good, but what they didn't know is that I'd slip in a bag of Earl Grey when they weren't looking!The tender pea size berries only last a few days...they mature and become woody fast! Still, everyone ought to try pine at least once! ---Stan."
Well, we looked up on our trees, but it's summer here and it seems the young cones are past the picking stage. However, I had such a wonderful time looking for baby pine cones with my kids that I had to publically thank Stan for his outstanding letter. Thank you! God bless you Stan. We made great memories.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Meatless Wonders Hamburger Replacement

For those just joining us, I wanted to do a little review and also update some new skills in Meatless Wonders 101 (Wheat Meat or Seitan) . We've done the Veggie Dogs (Seitan) and sausage. We've done the meatless chick'n nuggets aka Homemade Quake and Bake with "Chick-un" nuggets .

This Tutorial Tuesday we're going to go one step further and make the hamburger substitute we use around here. Just to review, let me ask, have you ever wondered how meatless meat substitutes are made? You know, the ones that come in a package priced per ounce like gold? Veggie dogs, chick'n nuggets, chick'n patties, veggie sausage, veggie pepperoni...all made from one handy ingredient: Vital Wheat Gluten. In the old days my mom would take fresh ground whole wheat flour, add water and knead it for 15 minutes, and then rinse the starch out of the dough under running water. That would leave this gummy mass of protein that she would use to stretch our food budget by making fake gluten meat. "Seitan" being the technical vegetarian name for it. Seitan...not Satan. If you are on a gluten free diet, this stuff is not for you. I'm good with it. My vegetarian husband's only complaint about Seitan is that it tastes too much like meat! So...let's begin shall we?

I know how to make it that old fashioned way in a pinch, but have found great joy in just buying the gluten protein flour in a can. My favorite local Emergency Food Storage store has it for around 11$ for a #10 can. This makes the equivalent of 10 lbs of meat. So, it's cost effective for me to have vegetarian food stuff. If I bought 10 lbs worth of pre-packaged meatless products, it would cost me right around 50$.

One thing, if you aren't vegetarian and want to use flavoring, I highly recommend using a low sodium broth. If you cook it on the stove until half of the liquid evaporates, it makes wonderfully flavored meat-less meat. Vegetarians can use vegetable stock with great success in this way. If you have a good quality MSG free, low sodium stock powder, you will not need the liquid stock. I make my own stock or purchase already made stock. This box was at our local "dollar" store. So, still very inexpensive. If you don't want to buy the big can of gluten, there are boxes on the baking aisle at most grocery stores (see picture) that sell for a dollar and a half and make 1lb of meatless meat.
Here's my secret recipe. Don't freak out.
1 package (6 1/2 ounces) or 1 1/2 cup vital wheat gluten
1 cup highly seasoned stock (or 1T MSG free, low sodium bullion plus 1 cup stock)

You will also need:
1-2 feet heavy aluminum foil (don't use the cheap won't work as well)
oil or pan spray to keep Seitan from sticking to the foil (easy release foil works wonders!)
4 quart crock pot ( or solar oven) and a quart of water

Combine the stock with the gluten powder.
Mix about 2 minutes until a gummy mass is made and there isn't any dryness left.
Take one cup of the mixture and place on 1 1/2 feet of aluminum foil that has been sprayed with a non-stick coating or oil. I use oil.

Roll into a tight log...
Twist the ends of the foil tightly.
It will look like a hamburger chub. This is called a force meat. It is wonderfully effective in producing a very firm texture similar to meat. I've seen gluten cooked other ways, but have never had a great love for the textures in other cooking methods.
You can bake the chubs in the oven on a sheet pan 250 degrees for 3 hours. I prefer to immerse in a 4 quart crock pot full of water or take out to Solar Oven in a water filled 4 quart dark pot. Turn crock pot to high setting and cook 2-3 hours. Solar oven 3-4 hours. The lower cooking time I use for thin sausages and hot dogs.
What do I do with the chub once it is cooked? Well, it's like a roll of cooked meat. I cube it up and use it anywhere a recipe calls for chicken pieces (casseroles, stews, over rice etc.) Sliced it can be eaten like meat medallions with any sauce or gravy or breaded and turned into chicken nuggets. If you make smaller chubs you can add sausage seasonings and make anything you would use sausage with like pizza, Italian dinners, breakfast burritos. For a more ground burger texture, I would go with TVP or run the gluten through a meat grinder after making and cooking it into the chub. This would give you a meatier texture. There is no cholesterol at all in this "meat" so it's heart healthy. Very little fat (half a gram in 1/3 cup)and it adds that texture of meat at a fraction of the cost. Plus, it's easier to store a can of gluten than 10lbs of meat in your food storage. It isn't meat, so the texture won't be exactly like meat, but it's very very close.
There you go.

Seitan Nutritional information
1/3 cup (30g)
Calories: 160
Protein: 23g
Carbohydrate: 11g
Total Fat: 0.5g
Fiber: 2g

For the Hamburger replacement I have found a great love for highly seasoned broth with the addition of 1/4 cup dry onion to the liquid ingredients and 1T of Pero powder for a natural caramel color. It just goes without saying that grey meat was never very appetizing...even fake meat. This is how you grind it:

I have a hand powered meat grinder...that ironically has never been used for meat. I cut the pieces of cooked seitan and feed them through the top of the grinder. By weight I figure 14 oz of the ground product to equal a pound of hamburger. If I'm making the Hamburger "helper" Stroganoff Skillet Meal Mix (and there will be several to follow), I cook the noodles with the mix and milk, then fold in the hamburger replacement at the end of cooking time.

It freezes beautifully in quart size baggies too. So, there you have it. Burger a fraction of the cost of meat.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Peach Mango Jalapeno Jam

It's time for me to bring to light one of my favorite jams. It's sweet and slightly hot with a good well rounded finish. I use it a lot of places...but most often on meats and slathered on a cracker. I've had friends tell me it's good on breakfast burritos. I've had it on savory cornbread waffles and cried tears of proverbial joy. I might add...I am a little over the top. I remember as a kid asking my mom why she would eat a food like a jalapeno that made her nose sweat. I couldn't wrap my head around the idea of putting myself through that kind of pain for food. I promise, that without the seeds, this jam is actually quite mild. You taste the flavor of the pepper, but not much heat. I think,however, you may agree once you've tasted the jam yourself, that it is one in a million for amazing flavor.
Tess' Peach Mango Jalapeno Jam
1 lb peaches
1lb mangoes (after peeling and pitting weight)
4 jalapenos, seeded and minced
3/4 cup lemon juice
7 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp salt
2 pouches liquid pectin

Mash mangoes and peaches over low heat in a large one gallon heavy bottom pot. A note on jalapenos will now follow.
I use gloves when I seed and cut jalapeno...because I tried it without them once and made the mistake of rubbing my eye. I looked like I'd been in a brawl, my eye was so swollen. Then it started tearing and got all bloodshot. No, I'm not just being dramatic. It front of a cooking class I might add. I will never make that mistake again. gives a blue glove a chance to be part of a real happy life. I think it's really nice to keep them around. Thanks gloves.
Add all remaining ingredients except the pectin. Boil 5 minutes in a large one gallon pot. Add pectin, boil 1 minute more.Put in sterile canning jars (makes 8 1 cup jars). Seal lids. Boiling water process 10 minutes sea level.

You know...if there's any left in the jam pan after I fill the jars I shamelessly dunk my head in there and lick it off the bottom. Okay...maybe I don't. That would get mango jam junk in my hair and then I would look crazy. Yes. Only then would I look crazy.
Wonderful on a bagel with cream cheese. Amazing on ribs and grilled chicken. I've used it to replace the jam and pepper in the Jalapeno pepper pecan baked brie I adore. Alas, it is by far my favorite topping for a cracker.

There you go.

Always My Very Best,
Chef Tess

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ornate Crown Loaf Tutorial

Welcome to tutorial Tuesday here on Chef Tessbakeresse. I do a lot of basic tutorials for beginning cooks, but today we are going a little more advanced for those bakers out there who want to learn a new loaf. This is called an Ornate Crown Loaf. It has twirls and flowers and fancy additions. We will start with a one pound piece of dough made from my bare bones recipe for whole wheat bread. This will make two of these crown loaves.

My Bare Bones Recipe for whole wheat bread

2 tsp active dry yeast

1/2 cup cool water (not cold, but cool to the touch)

6 cups whole wheat bread flour (spankin' fresh! with no hint of bitterness)

2 tsp salt

2 1/4 cup lukewarm water

2 T honey

1/4 cup oil

Directions:Dissolve the yeast in the 1/2 cup warm water. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl make a well in the mixture. Dissolve the honey in the 2 1/4 cup water and add the oil of your choice. Pour the liquid and the yeast mixture into the well of flour. Stirring from the center, first combine the ingredients to make a smooth batter, then fold in the remaining flour from the sides of the bowl, mixing them together into a soft dough. Soft dough is the key!! Since the whole grain flour takes a while to absorb water, wait 10 minutes--then evaluate the dough. Add water or flour if more is required, but do this slowly as it will probably take less flour than you think. If you want really good bread--best keeping quality, flavor, and rise--knead the dough about 600 strokes without adding any more flour. The dough should remain soft and should become elastic and smooth. Rest whenever you want, but aim for 600 strokes. This is about 6 minutes on medium speed in a Kitchen-Aid mixer. This may seem like an amazing and outrageous requirement, but after many hundreds of loaves, I'm convinced that thorough kneading makes the critical difference. As you continue to work the dough, toward the end of the kneading, it will become lustrous, utterly supple and elastic. It should actually be white if you look closely, with brown bran flecks clearly visible against pale gluten. Form the dough into a ball and put in an un-greased crock. Spray LIGHTLY with oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap or a lid and allow to ferment. At about 80 degrees, this will take 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours. Wet your finger and poke it into the dough (called the ripe test). If your finger goes in without very much resistance and the hole remains when your finger is removed, the dough is ready to be punched down. For best results, do not wait until it sighs and collapses when poked. Gently press out the accumulated gas. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured table and keeping the smooth surface, carefully unbroken, deflate the dough by pressing it with wet or floury hand from one side to another. Cut it in half and form each part gently into a round ball, still preserving the smooth surface on the outside.

Pat out the circle until it is about one 12 inches and a circle, on a lightly floured surface.

Break a hole right in the middle of the dough.

Gather the dough and pinch to form a continuous wreath. This will give your crown a good structure.

Flip over so the pinched seam is on the bottom of the loaf.

Cut eight wedges into the dough from the outside in, but not cutting through the center of the crown. Like this...

Cut a second section of dough directly next to the wedge. This strip will be pulled out form the loaf, and formed into a crown "jewel".
Stretch out the think piece.

Roll it slightly until it's about six inches long.

Twist onto the top of the loaf like this:

Repeat with each of the sections until the loaf is finished.

For the detailed flowers and leaves I used the Edible Decorative Bread dough (inert dough for flowers on bread) .

There is a new flower on this loaf I haven't shown here before. It starts with a small amount of the dough, rolled out like this and cut on each side like a feather.
The "feather" is rolled tightly.

Pinch dough in the center of the flower. This makes two flowers rather quickly.

It can be left like a paint brush. I prefer to fan out the petals (see last picture).

Place leaves and flowers on the loaf as desired for decoration. Spray heavily with water and allow loaf to raise about 30 minutes on a parchment lined bake sheet. Bake at 350 degrees 45-50 minutes.
For added detail to the loaf you can use my technique for painted breads.

Whatever you do...have fun. Make it a piece of art.
There you go.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Stroganoff Skillet Meal Mix

Those who follow my comments on my face book page will remember me mentioning my adventures making hamburger skillet meal mix. I want to post several of these mixes, as I know that there are a lot of folks who rely pretty heavy on the boxes. I also know that the list of ingredients is pretty full of preservatives, additives, and down-right extra junk our bodies don't need. That being said, I've been goofing around with the stroganoff version and finally have a combination I think is blog worthy. You will not find any MSG in here. I use fresh ground herbs and spices for a really bright flavor. The kicker...the price! You'll see. It's pennies compared to dollars. If you are a vegetarian, feel free to use the vegetarian hamburger replacements...or make your own veggie dogs or sausages with my Meatless Wonders. 12 ounces of seitan put through a meat grinder will work wonderfully for this meal in place of hamburger.

Chef Tess' Stroganoff Skillet Meal Gravy Mix

yield 7 mixes (with 1/3 cup gravy/seasoning mix)

1 cup powdered milk

1 cup flour

1/2 cup dry minced onions

1T onion powder

1 T granulated garlic (or garlic powder)

1T dry parsley

1 tsp dry thyme

2 tsp black pepper

2T salt

1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

Combine all dry ingredients well. Measure 2 cups elbow pasta or egg noodles and place in a jar or Ziploc bag along with 1/3 cup of the gravy mix. You can also add 1/4 cup of dehydrated mushroom to each jar for a more authentic stroganoff.

I also add a bay leaf to the jar and an "oxygen eater packet" if I plan on putting it in my longer food storage. These jars will last well over a year if sealed in jars instead of baggies. The flavor stays better too, because there isn't any exposure to air. Pretty cool right?

To prepare:

You will need 1 lb hamburger (or 12 ounces of seitan run through a meat grinder for vegetarian)

1 cup water

2 cups milk (powdered is okay if you reconstitute it)

1/4 cup cream cheese (I make Homemade cream cheese )

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (optional, but they add a lot of flavor)

salt and pepper to taste


Brown hamburger and mushrooms in a large 12 inch skillet that has a lid. When meat is browned, add the gravy mix, noodles, water and milk. Simmer 8-10 minutes, stirring once or twice, but covering each time. When noodles are tender, add the cream cheese. Stir until smooth. Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.

How can you add more flavor? If you find it to be bland, you can add 2 cloves fresh pressed garlic and 1/2 a medium fresh onion, chopped to the hamburger as it cooks. I also like to add 1 cup shredded carrot and 1 stock of diced celery to the hamburger mixture. I find the canned mushrooms at a lot of flavor as well if you use them and their juice in the mixture. I also use 1/4 cup sour cream sometimes instead of the cream cheese. It gives it a little more zing. Hopefully that helps. If you want an additional amount of beef flavor, feel free to use 2 tsp bullion base with the hamburger too (I love the "Better Than Bullion" brand soup base).
Yields 6 cups of prepared skillet meal.

There you go. I promise there will be more flavors the next few weeks.