Recipes Stories

The Legacy of Baking

Baking has always been a passion of mine.  There’s something magical about combining wet and dry ingredients, all of which react with each other to create a beautiful structure of proteins and starches.  My first experiences with this reaction of molecules and heat was helping my mother bake pies.  Filling a pie with fruit or custards was amazing enough, but her natural and unstructured skills with flour, lard and water was, in retrospect, was almost miraculous!  For me as a four or five-year-old on a stool in the kitchen, was Thursday.  But as a now trained Culinarian, it was nothing short of amazing.  She measured out the flour with a melamine coffee cup.  The lard was cut with a knife, but she estimated how much she needed by how many pies were being made.  Then the hot water, apple cider vinegar, and pinch of salt were added, again only by sight and instinct.  Then she would mix with a wooden spoon to break up the lard, then dive in with her hands until she was happy with the consistency.  It felt like play dough.

Aunt Mary’s Toffee Squares

She poured the dough onto the counter, dusted with flour.  First, she mashed the dough with her hands, forming a disk, then more flour and the very ancient rolling pin would finish the job and the disk would become a flat piece of unbaked crust, the perfect size for a pie pan.  Then it was my turn to pinch the edges, because I had tiny fingers and she loved the way my edges looked.  For her apple pies she would then fill with her secret blend of apples, spices, sugar, dabbed with soft butter.  Then topped with another disk of perfect crust, cut vent holes, and back to me for that perfect edge.  Then into the oven to bake.  Other pies were filled with lemon custard and topped with meringue, or filled with pumpkin custard, again her secret blend.  Someday I might share her pumpkin filling.  I still use it!

I learned how to make a pie crust from her, and could replicate it every time.  And I did it for many years.

Now, far into the future, I could not have predicted how my methods have had to change.  The elusive pie crust of this time is difficult to create with the ingredients I now have learned to use.  Even touching all-purpose flour causes hives, swelling and itching on my hands.  It gives me an idea of what happens inside of my body when I eat wheat.

I’ve been undaunted by this challenge.  When it became evident that I could no longer tolerate wheat, I started researching flours and blends to replace the wheat flour.  It started with mixes, Schaar bread mix, Pamela’s Gluten free pancake mix, and Better Crocker cake mixes.  This was a good starting point.  Around this time, I was a home tester for America’s test kitchen, and I landed on the gluten free cooking panel.  This happened at exactly the right time.  God has a way, always.  I got a few recipes, but the basis was a gluten free flour blend.  And it’s a good blend.  However, it’s tedious to make and expensive.  I’m not a lazy cook, but I realized for my recipes to work for others, this blend may not work.  I tired a few blends available at my super market, and Whole Foods in Austin.  They were just okay, and the results were adequate.

Not My Dad’s White Bread

I was doing my once a month shopping at Costco, and saw the light.  Sitting on a pallet in the flour aisle was the best flour blend I have been able to find – Namaste.   The price was good, it was in a five-pound bag and I liked the blend of grains and roots.  I took it home and made a loaf of bread.  The results were amazing!  It was a delicious sandwich bread, and better than the ATK bread in texture and flavor.  I was converted to this beautiful blend from Idaho!  

The recipe testing began in a serious way.  I started with cookies.  Most were perfect, and a couple of recipes needed some tiny adjustments with the wet to dry ratios.  It was good enough, that when we opened the farmers market, I felt comfortable with the baked goodies to sell them to potential customers.

Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter and Molassas Cookies

I’ve had to step back a bit from baking, but some recent changes at work (thank-you 2020!) the baking has begun again.  So far, I’ve updated my Banana Nut Muffin recipe, worked on a loaf of crusty bread, and started the process of taking the little in-home bakery to the next level and back to the markets, now that virtual sales for cottage food businesses are legal in Texas.  New videos are up or are in editing, plus more to record in the near future.

My sweet granddaughter is now four, the age I started really taking on the little tasks of creating pies. She does not have a wheat allergy, and I know her Mama is teaching so many of the things I learned as little kid on a stool watching and helping my Mom bake her famous pies. Although I can’t teach her the crust, I can pass on the secret fillings that were as important as the crust. But maybe, with a little coaching, I can also teach her the secrets of the crust. Flaky and golden brown. filled with sweet joy. And I am blessed to be part of the legacy.

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Can Me Some Salmon

A brief search on the interwebs yielded a mix of recipes for salmon patties, cakes and croquet. About half include canned salmon and the other half fresh. And all of the fresh salmon recipes add the extra step of cooking the salmon, then flaking and breaking it down. I think canned salmon might ultimately win the battle.

There are a few reasons to use canned salmon

  • Canned salmon saves time
  • Everything in the can can be used
  • Canned salmon is significantly less expensive than fresh salmon
  • Canned salmon is wild caught, not farm raised
  • Canned salmon adds nutrition

I’m a little busy

Fried Salmon Patty with Lemon Caper Dill Sauce

Although it doesn’t take long to cook salmon, it’s just one more thing to deal with when cooking a simple meal. So, the main dish which only takes about 15 minutes to prep, now takes even longer. First, it’s prepping a pan, then baking or roasting. Then there is the time it takes to let it cool enough so the fish can be flaked. Just the basics of prepping, cooking cooling and flaking the salmon adds about an hour to a 30 minute recipe. I’m a little busy. I have a job and sometimes I get home a little later than expected. I have stuff to do after work and on my days off, like write recipes and take pretty food pictures. I’d rather let the cannery do all of that work.

All canned salmon is caught in the wild, which means no antibiotics or funky fish food. The wild salmon eat whatever wild salmon eat, plankton, small shrimp, and small fish, among other things. The most current count for Pacific salmon are above recommended populations, so this makes them a cheap food source. The fish are caught in nets and canned at canneries almost immediately, locking on nutrient values. The last can I used were packed with very little water, and I ended up using the drained liquid in my recipe. Win for the omegas!

You’ll become a convert

Fresh wild salmon are caught during the summer and fall months during spawning. The fish are then quick frozen, although some gets to the fish markets in a fresh state. But a fish can sit in refrigeration for a longer period, and all the while the flesh is breaking down and losing nutritional value and flavor. Farm raised salmon are the most likely to arrive fresh in your local fish market. The fish can be harvested at any time of the year, keeping our desire for the lovely pink fish in constant supply. This article will give you the low-down on the differences of farm versus wild. I’ll continue to buy fresh wild caught salmon seasonally. Try some wild caught Copper River salmon – you’ll become a convert.

Don’t like the smell of cooked fish in the house?

My original ‘outdoor’ kitchen

A few good recipes will change any purist’s mind about the use of canned salmon in recipes. Of course, if you want a light salmon mousse, canned won’t work. But for salads, patties, and burgers, canned salmon is an inexpensive and fast ingredient. And just add a tasty sauce and toppings and the quick meal is done. If you don’t like the odor of cooked fish in your house, put a heavy skillet on your grill and with lots of fat, you’ll have a beautiful pan fried salmon cake in a few minutes. Or you could use my method – a hot plate on a table on the patio!

When I decided to revisit this classic family recipe, it had been at least a year since I had last made the patties. And while making it, I couldn’t believe that I dropped this off of my monthly list of recipes. It’s too easy and too quick and very tasty. Kids love the crunch and the sauce, making a happier meal for everyone.

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The Evolution of Beef Stroganoff

Family and our food history are important to me

Beef stroganoff is a recipe that has been around since the mid-19th century, and is classically a beef dish served with a sour cream sauce.  And the evolution of beef stroganoff is well documented around the world.  For my family, it may very well have originated in Russia, and been brought over by my family in 1922.  My grandmother and her siblings were orphans of the revolution, and came to America, poor and alone.  I can imagine that beef may have been substituted for another ingredient, either mushrooms or additional vegetables, or it was a very special meal reserved for special occasions.  In either case, it’s a recipe that has stuck with my family for close to 100 years!

It was one of my favorite meals when I was a kid

My mother’s version of the recipe was a quick, cheap meal to feed her brood of five children.  And it wasn’t called stroganoff.  It was hamburger gravy.  In Iowa during the mid-sixties, ground beef was the go to meat.  It was cheap, easy to work with, and good protein for large families like ours.  My mother’s version didn’t include sour cream.  Mom’s hamburger gravy was very simple, very quick, and very hearty.  And  it was one of my favorite meals when I was a kid.  It  was, ground beef, in a milk gravy sauce, with onions, lots of black pepper and served over mashed potatoes.  Sort of like SOS, but with fresh beef instead of dried beef.

In 1968 Better Homes and Gardens released the Casserole Cookbook.  We got a copy of the ninth printing in 1973 and we started to use it frequently.  I still have that copy, and pages are stained, and the Hamburger Stroganoff recipe still has a torn piece of paper marking the page.  It was a very simple recipe with canned condensed soup, ground beef and sour cream.  Other Stroganoff recipes include canned mushrooms.  Let’s just say that the rubbery mushrooms were usually left out.  I didn’t like mushrooms and didn’t even bother to substitute them with anything else.

Beef Strognoff With Zucchini Noodle

Over many years, this tasty recipe morphed from the originals from the Casserole book to my personal version.  I put the mushrooms back in, added extra sour cream, and made a simple creamy sauce that’s gluten free.  Instead of noodles, I use sauteed zucchini or summer squash.  It’s still one of my favorite meals, and using the squash instead of noodles gives me the veggies lacking in the original recipes.  It’s a win-win for me and the family.

Family and our food history are important to me.  It was rare that we had any fancy meals, but everything was cooked with care and our health and happiness in mind.  I admit to having been a very picky eater, and I’m still picky about the food I cook.  We always do the best we can with our food and our time together.  I’ve been blessed to teach some things to the next generation, and hopefully, they will pass this amazing food legacy on to their kids.  My granddaughter is already enjoying helping in the kitchen and cooking her play food on imaginary stoves.  This apple has not fallen far from the family tree!  Someday, she can make her mark on this classic family recipe.

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More about Evolutionary Eats

Something came across my line of sight today.  A company with a very similar name is now providing a service that was never in my list of tasks; however I think the concept is interesting.  It prompted me and really gave a kick in the backside to better define the goals.

Evolutionary Eats is for people who want to learn how to be personally responsible for what they eat. My goal is to teach you how to shop for your food, or how to hire someone to do it for you. It’s to teach you how to plan meals, teach your kids to eat better food, and make good choices when they are out of sight. It is not about judgement, accountability or anything else. We are personally responsible for what we consume, in all aspects of our lives, and how we choose to view ourselves, in every situation.

On Facebook, many of my friends post photos and links to recipes.   That is part of the beauty of social media.  As a food person, I am constantly working on recipes, concepts for recipes, photo shoots, and then putting it all together in a consumable form. To be honest, most of the time I glance at the recipes and photos, and then move on. And to be very honest, I do all of it myself.  On occasion, a friend will check out something I am doing, but really it’s all me.  One person with some basic technical knowledge, slapping together something that is almost cohesive and coherent.

I listen to podcasts by  Srinivas Rao, instigator of Unmistakable Creative.  Recently, I got a big nudge.  I realized my readers need some drama, a great back story of how this came about, and why I feel so compelled to continue. The interview was with Donald Miller, author and business man.  There is a long back story, and why I know  that I am on the path God intended.  There are probably only a few people who know the whole story.   For a long time, I was a victim, and I played the role, even after I had the power to be free of it.

All of this ties to food.  Food has made me evolve, transform, so much of myself. It was always the background for what was going on in my life and in my small, limited view of the world.  Food is healing, not only for our bodies but for our souls as well.  God showed us this early on in Judeo-Christian history.  This morning for my daily reading was Leviticus 6:1-6, regarding the daily burnt offering.  It reminded me to “to keep the fires burning”; never let it go out. And to make that daily communion with God.

When I tell snippets of my story to people, they are amazed.  I believe it’s the rea-20150219_115404son it has taken so long for me to get to this point.  At one point I resovled to not tell this, because it didn’t seem to have any bearing on the goals, and I didn’t want to hurt those involved.  But now, it seems the story is important to tell.

More to come; it is about the food.