Derek Johnson Muses

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Squash Soup.

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The Crookneck Squash I grew last year tends to be a lot of work. I have to clean off its thick skin, and beneath that skin is minimal edible substance. Suffice to say I’ll be planting another variety this coming spring, but I still have a ton of squash I froze to deal with.

So I went though a couple rounds of soup making with said squash. First, I decided to use the blender to cut the squash into little pieces. I had tried using the blender a few times before and it worked so well. So I cooked made broth seasoned with ground mustard, sage, and ginger and just dumped the squash in the blender.

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The results were-adequate. The soup was good for eating turkey, but then I realized that I could just try cooking the soup on the stove (like 95% of all soups) and it just might be less grainy.

I did that, and the next batch was smaller but smoother. Squash soup maybe bland but it fits the bill.

French Toast for the Lone Man

As a single person, I was frustrated when I awoke last Sunday morning with a hankering for French toast. As I turned over in my first waking moments, I felt that desire rumble inside me, but I couldn’t bear the scorn of going out into the world, sit at a table by myself, and finding someplace to indulge my cravings all by myself.

It’s the dilemma of single life: do I have the willingness to go someplace alone, and feel the heat of all the people around me, or should I just buy the mediocre product that I can buy through the drive through, go to the park, and hide from the rest of the world?

Since I went to church on Saturday night, I decided, hey, wouldn’t it be fun to go get French toast in Lincoln and then go to church at Redeemer? I set out down the highway, but three miles out of town, I realized I was so tired, there was no way I was going to enjoy going out for French toast. I remember Wal-Mart had French bread on sale for $1. I could make my own French toast at home, where I had eggs I needed to use.

I got the bread, went home, and cracked the eggs and whipped in the milk. In a way, I had to cook this French toast for myself, to prove that I cared for my own needs. Whatever. At least I got to use that cinnamon I love.

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Breakfast

 

Challenge of Choirs

Lot on My Mind

Lot on My Mind

It usually starts when I’m on the couch at 4:53, and PTI is winding down. I’ll be playing Call of Duty: World at War Zombies on my phone, and I start thinking about dinner. If it’s the first time I’ve thought about dinner that afternoon , the tasks of chopping, stirring, and frying an entire meal will feel as daunting as scaling a mountain.  If I’m already feeling hungry, I’ll be rationalizing a trip to Runza or Amigos, wherever I happen to have coupons. Such choirs can’t possibly get in the way.

Then I get up, fix my meal, and while I’m eating, I wonder why I would ever discard the peace of mind of having my next meal already cooked.

I could repeat this routine of electronics stealing attention from any number of choirs. There’s a wad of unfolded clothes in one of the baskets, and I’ll have four more articles I want to read. My favorite episode of The Big Bang Theory is about to come on, and I’ll be thinking about making cookies. I’m sitting next to a mess on the couch it would take five minutes to clean (which I literally am doing right now), but I’m watching a baseball game while I’m scanning my Twitter feed, looking for something to tweet about. Because after all, I haven’t tweeted in four hours, even if these newspapers have been on my couch for over six weeks.

Adult Life Paradox: you do have a lot of free time, and your mom isn’t around to nag you. But there is a lot of stuff you have to do, particularly when you own a house. There is no schedule, except for the one you make for yourself. (And I don’t have children.)

When I have a game or information in my hands, getting up and doing something would feel overwhelming. But the second I cut that first piece of meat or start the water, it feels simple. Certain choirs come more easily: cooking yields more of a reward than filing organizing, which I can only do for an hour max. But it’s better than a life full of fat.

 

Limiting Grocery Store Trips

Stocked Shelves...

Stocked Shelves…

Monday two weeks ago, I had an epiphany: I should try not to go to the grocery store this week instead of my usual three trips a week. I always end up going to the grocery store the second I need something, and then I get a lot of stuff I hadn’t planned on getting, some of which I don’t even need. It was time for me to adopt the practice of making list. Plus, there was plenty of meat in my freezer that I needed to use.

It was a challenging few days, during which I made a special chili for dinner: hamburger, tomato soup, and kidney beans with Holen One Farms’ spice. After a day or two, the fact that I didn’t have any chips started to wear on me. Chips are a huge part of my diet, as I end up eating them with pretty much every meal.  So I bargained with myself a bit: I’ll go when I get a list that has more than ten items. And when one of them becomes bathroom cleaner, the trip becomes all the more urgent.

In the end, I spent $66 on groceries, and the only meat I bought was a four pack of polish sausage that was on sale. A lot of my purchases were baking stuff that happened to be on sale for the holidays. It is now a week later, and I have absolutely no need to go to the grocery store. I’ve only ate out once, at the midweek advent dinner at church. The following week, I also managed to only make one trip to the grocery. In addition, I also have a better idea of how much I’ve spent on food, so I can budget better. Sweet smell of life improvement.

Coffee Bread, Microwave French Toast, and Corn Flakes Treats: New Adventures in the New Kitchen

Early evening light coming through the window...

Early evening light coming through the window…

Everyone tells me that my new kitchen is spectacular, and truth be told, it does dazzle. Its subtle orange color scheme is more out there than most kitchens (certainly brighter than my last two kitchens), and it has an old-fashioned, swing into the room window which looks into my utility room widow. But as a frequent cook, I love spending my evenings tweaking old recipes and trying new things.

As a coffee junkie, I have been considering ways that I could integrate leftover coffee into my cooking. I decided to substitute the coffee as water in making basic bread in the machine. Since I envisioned the bread as ideal for toast with eggs, I added brown sugar and cinnamon. It turn out to be the perfect volume of sweet, like a warm muffin, and the conversion of water to coffee was exact. It did go well as toast, but I still had brautwurst on it too.

Mix up the same

Mixes up the same…

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Same Delicious

And after cutting some makeshift hotdog buns out of a few slices of bread, I experimented in making a single serving of French toast in the microwave. (Side note: if you live alone, making pancakes and/or French toast for just yourself is always such a dilemma.) I simply broke up the ends into smaller pieces and mixed up about a cup and a half of milk with an egg, cinnamon, and peppermint syrup instead of vanilla. (Really have to remember to move that here too.) Two minutes in the microwave, and I have French toast for one.

French toast out of the microwave...

French toast out of the microwave…

I also took a new approach to making granola, using marshmallows instead of honey as the sticky substance to hold the dry ingredients together like Rice Krispie treats. My friend Marian had given me some Corn Flakes when I moved in, so I used them with the Cheerios instead of oats. On the second batch, I found out it took half the bag of marshmallows to get the treats to stick together. But totally worth it, although I really should just break down and buy the specialty honey I like.

The base

The Base…

The Sticky Stuff...

The Sticky Stuff…

The Delicious..

The Delicious..

Yeah, my new kitchen rocks.

Making and Using Pork Marinade-With Apple Wine!

I frequently use my crockpot, because I like doing large roasts. But rarely am I industrious enough to create a marinade to soak my meat in. Marinade’s take time, and I usually don’t think far enough ahead, until a few week, when I googled “how to make marinade.” Per usual, I took the base ideas and played with them a little bit. I put in 3/4 cup oil and 1 cup barbeque (Holen-in-One Farms, a local Nebraska sauce), and mixed it with a few seasonings.

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Oil and barbeque

Then to play with it some more, I added about 1/4 cup apple wine I’d bought in Michigan. It’s not the world’s greatest wine, but for this purpose, it makes for a great complement.

Wine from the Round Barn

Wine from the Round Barn

I took the pork roast out of the freezer, and let it thaw out for about an hour, enough time to poke holes in it with a fork. Then I poured the marinade on it, gradually soaking each side, and then putting it in the refrigerator. I let it soak for four hours, taking out each hour to turn it over and bathe it in the marinade, which helped the pork absorb most of it.

Roast Pre-Crock Pot

Roast Pre-Crock Pot

I cooked the pork roast in the crock pot for four hours, rotating it over. The result was a well-flavored meat, hinted just right by the apple wine. For once, thinking ahead paid off for me.

Finished product

Finished product

Coffee (without a maker), Cookies (barely), and Omelets

Makeshift filter

Makeshift filter

During the time that I was snowed in, I faced the dilemma of how to make coffee without my coffee maker. I racked my brain and remembered how certain coffee shops like Blue Bottle in San Francisco and Intelligentsia in Chicago would brew a single cup by drip. So I found a video on YouTube and figured it out. I had to get an ordinary funnel and filter and set them over a cup. I wet the filter with 400 ml of water first, then discarded that water. Then I put the beans in the filter, heat the water in the microwave. I had to pour the water slowly, but it worked as well as I could have hoped for.

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Sloppy gingersnap dough

I also made some gingersnaps while I was snowed in, but somehow they turned out sloppy. I wasn’t able to roll the balls in sugar and had to drizzle the sugar on instead. They eat just as well.

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Cutting the slog

If there is one habit of cooking that I love, it’s making a lot of one thing and eating for several meals. Thursday, I cooked a third of a pound of pork sausage (for those of you who live in Seward, Pac-N-Save makes great pork sausage). One of my meals with the sausage was a pasta dish, the other two were egg dishes, one of which included relish cooked right into the omelet. And this is how I get through my snowed in time, by taking care of myself with wooden cooking spoons.

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Putting together lunch

Pizza Night

A couple of Friday nights ago, I decided that I would make a homemade pizza. I had bought the sauce a couple of months ago when it was on sale, and it was finally time. First, I set up the dough in the bread machine

1 1/2 C. water

1 TBSP oil

1/2 TSP salt

3 C. bread flour

2 TSP yeast

This is a basic batch that works well for kolaches or rolls too.

The Primitive Crust

For the topping, I unearthed the sausage leftover from a time I made sausage gravy. I’m lucky our local grocery store (Pac ‘N’ Save) sells such good natural sausage.

Grilling the Sausage

Having worked for Valentino’s in high school, I have had a lot of experience making pizzas. I kneed the dough a typical twenty times, and go through the familiar motion of spreading the sauce with the back of a spoon.

The Saucing

I add the sausage and cheese, and I bake at 400 degrees for thirty minutes. I rotate the pizza at twenty minutes.

The cheese needs to be just a little bit browner

And at the end, I have a great pizza for dinner!

Finished Product

A Little Cornstarch…Goes a Long Way

Making gravy is a struggle for me. I can never get the corn starch to to completely dissolve in the juice, so I spend eight minutes standing over the stove stewing over the little clumps that remain in the first serving. But somehow, the lumps resolve themselves when I put the leftover gravy in the fridge, and aren’t there when I eat the rest of it. There must be some little thing that I’m doing wrong.

But recently, I had some leftover pot roast, and I decided to take a new approach to making gravy. First, I mixed the bouillon with water and got it boiling.

The Boiling Sauce Pan

Then I tried something new: mixing up the cornstarch with the spices, namely oregano, garlic powder,  and thyme leaves, with seasoned salt. Probably an odd pallet, but it gives a plethora of sensation with balance.

The Bowl

Then I mix it together with a fork to break up the clumps, then I drizzle some of the juice in an attempt to mix a small amount of juice with it to wet all of the corn starch. But the juice on the stove is boiling away, so I add in the cornstarch mix, little by little, whipping it around and attacking the clumps with my wire whisk. I still get lumps in the finished product.

Sigh. I know that there must a better way. Perhaps if I turned the temperature down on the stove a little more toward the end, it would just naturally thicken. Or I’m just resigned to years corn starch lumps in my gravy. Maybe I could get used to the taste of corn starch.

My Recipe Book and Apple Bars

Once again challenged for a post-Bible study dessert, I did what all great cooks do: opened my recipe book.

Yes, all my important recipes are taped to inside of the kitchen cupboards. It’s the only way for me to keep track of the recipes I find on the internet that I really like, and besides, I wouldn’t have anything else on those cupboards otherwise. From there I retrieved my recipe for fruit bars:

The Base:

1/2 C. Butter

1 C. Brown Sugar (This time, I misread the recipe and used white sugar. Still turned out fine.)

1 1/2 C. Flour

1/2 TSP Baking Soda

1 1/2 C. Oats

To spice it up, I added some hazelnut syrup and cinnamon.

Base

The Middle:

2 C. Fruit (Apples in this case)

1/2 C. Sugar

In the Cut

I use half of the base on the bottom, then layer the apples. Because I used apples, I busted out caramel topping to layer on the apples. It works on muffins! Then I use the rest of the base on top and bake for about thirty minutes The results:

Delicious; it was like a sweet bread with apples.

Polish Sausage Stir Fry: Typical Midweek Dinner

I love to stir fry vegetables, and chicken is usually my meat of choice to mix in with them. But I also have another favorite meat compound for my stir fry: polish sausage.

Base Ingredients

I cut the sausage up in order to heat and cook them quicker.

The cooking sausages

And any great stir fry requires rice.

Boiling Pot

Then I always have reservation on how long you’re supposed to cook polish sausage, given that it’s supposedly pre-cooked. But it’s pork, and my feeling is that pork can never be to well-done. When it’s burned a little, I add the vegetables to the polish sausage.

The Mix

The vegetables are frozen, so I let it steam together for a while. Then I add some stir fry sauce before it gets fully hot. Pretty soon, it’s all done and I put some on the rice.

The Finished Product

 

My Recycled Omelets Adventure

I have to make a confession: I love to eat eggs for lunch, often with bacon. Odd, probably, but when you can cook your own lunch at home most days, you develop certain tastes, and bacon and eggs cook really easy and give you great energy for the rest of the day. I also love to cook omelets, and recently, I decided that I would take use some odd leftovers to try something new.

The day before I had tried a new recipe for a pork sirloin roast in the crocke pot (apple cider vinegar and brown sugar base) and roasted potatoes in the oven using a combination of olive and Roast Rub spice from Holen One Farms. It was delicious, and I decided to use the leftovers for an omelet.

My ingredients: the pork loin, potatoes, and brown eggs (natural, of course.)

I just break the eggs, shred the pork, and dump it all together, mixing with a spatula. After a few minutes, I shovel out the results and break out the ketchup.

My omelet, with accompanying toast.

And that’s how I get through my day. (More Cooking Posts).

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