Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pickled Beets

This year my garden blessed me with a hefty crop of beets. Unfortunately, my family is not too crazy about beets. I tried adding them to a grilled mixture of vegetables (potatoes, rutabaga, carrots and onions). Not a winner. I cooked a small amount and served it as a side dish. Another loser. I briefly toyed with cooking up a big pot of borscht but knew my family wouldn't go for that either.

What is it about beets that is so troublesome for the kids? I wonder if the bright red-purple color leads them to think that it will have a sweet candy flavor. Possibly the disappointment is too great.

My solution? Pickled beets! My grandmother, Olina Tamina Thompson Olson, used to can quart after quart of these sweet, red pickles and I loved them. (My sister reminds me that she definitely didn't.) That sweet/sour/spicy flavor always makes me think of Grandma's house. Going down into her cellar-like basement to retrieve a quart for our "light supper" was always a bit of an adventure.

I haven't made pickles since helping my mother almost 30 years ago. What did I have to lose? It's not like my family was carefully guarding my harvest of beets, making sure I didn't make any mistakes. (they probably were hoping that this would turn out badly and end up in the compost heap and not on the dinner table.)

Here's the recipe that I found on-line. I added shelled, hard-boiled eggs as per the recipe. I thought they looked kind of cool arranged on the plate. My husband's comment: "Now this is weird."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Book Report: Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots by Antonia Fraser

In a captivating story of this enigmatic woman we see a princess, a widowed queen, a reigning queen and an imprisoned queen. Written by Lady Antonia Fraser (and this link) of Scotland, this biography, infused with passion and compassion, reads more like a novel of love and intrigue. Although this book is considered "popular history," as opposed to an academic resource, Ms. Fraser draws her facts and details from primary sources. In her forward she writes that she "wished to test for [herself] the truth or falsehood of the many legends" that surround Mary Queen of Scots. As one reviewer of the book said, "It needs to be read carefully as it contains multitudinous views and insights into this remarkable woman."

Mary, the only child of James V, King of Scotland, was sent at the young age of 6 to her mother's family in France to be raised and groomed to marry the next king of France, Francis. Widowed at age 17, she returns to Scotland where her courtly refinement clashes with her brusque, crude kinsman.

Beautiful, brilliant, charming, and courageous, she would have had a long and successful reign except for 2 issues: 1) she didn't understand her Scotsmen; and 2) her impulsive heart led her to unwisely choose a husband. Caught in a web of feuding and fickle noblemen made worse by a philandering and ambitious husband, Mary seeks the aid of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. Though the women never meet, their tense relationship exhibits sisterly devotion, scheming intrigues, fear and jealousy.

Lady Fraser is obviously sympathetic to the nature and circumstances of Mary, Queen of Scots. Setting Mary "in the context of the age in which she lived," she has written "with the single objective of showing with as much accuracy as is possible in the light of what modern research what Mary Queen of Scots must have been like as a person." Her copious research and affection are evident in every page.

As a high school student, I didn't really care for history. It was taught in the traditional manner as a succession of dates, people and miscellaneous facts. As a homeschooling mom, I fell in love the people, places and events that have become "history." As a family, we have read aloud biographies, historical fiction and books by writers who were passionate about their topics. Their enthusiasm was contagious. As a result, I often find myself diving into a period of history or a geopolitical topic. Currently, the reign of the Tudor family has my attention. Who knows what will come after that .....

A Few of My Favorite Things

Now that I've shared what a marvel I am at soups, I thought I'd pass on three of my favorites.

Baked Potato Soup
5 # potatoes, scrubbed and baked
Bake at 350 for 1 - 1 1/2 hours
2 leeks
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 # carrots
12 - 16 oz. frozen corn
1 - 2 T. olive oil
2 cans broth (vegetable for vegetarians and chicken for non-vegetarians)
2 cans evaporated milk
1 pt. sour cream
1 T. parsley
1 T. chives
1 t. dill
2 t. salt
8 oz. cream cheese, softened

Scrub potatoes and prick them 2 - 3 times. Place them on center rack of the oven. Bake the potatoes at 350 for 1 - 2 hours.

While the potatoes are cooling, elevate the oven temperature to 400. Quarter and thinly slice leeks; mince the garlic; thinly slice the carrots. Toss with the olive oil, place in a shallow pan and place in the oven. Stir every 15 minutes for 1 hours.

Cut the slightly cooled potatoes into large pieces. Add potatoes, roasted leek mixture, broth, and canned milk to a large pot.

Mix herbs with the sour cream and add to the pot. (If the herbs are fresh, blend them with the sour cream in a food processor.) Slowly heat the soup to almost boiling. Allow it to cool. (As it sets, the seasonings develop with the potatoes.)

After the soup has cooled, add 1 - 2 cups broth to the softened cream cheese. Mix well. Add this mixture to the pot of soup and reheat.

Italian Tortellini Soup
3 # hamburger
2 small onions
3 cloves of garlic
1 can spaghetti sauce
1 large can tomato puree
2 cans beef broth
1 T. beef bouillon
2 cups dice carrots
2 cups cut up green beans
3 packages of frozen tortellini
2 t. Italian seasoning
(or a mixture of oregano, basil & parsley)

Brown the hamburger. Drain the fat. Add the chopped onion and minced garlic to the meat and saute. In a very large pot, add the spaghetti sauce, broth, tomato puree, chopped tomatoes and seasonings.
Add the meat mixture to the pot. Bring to a boil; add bouillon and vegetables. Cook until the vegetables are done.
In another pot, cook the tortellini according to directions. After drained, add to the soup pot.

Fresh Tomato / Basil Soup

(with fresh tomatoes)
about 2 dozen fresh tomatoes
1 T. oil
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/ 2 cup fresh basil
2 T. fresh oregano
1/4 cup fresh basil
1 t. salt
1 1/2 t. sugar

A note about cooking the tomatoes:
Some people don't like the seeds in tomatoes. If this is the case, cook down the tomatoes and then put them through a sieve.
Your result will be a tomato puree.

If you want a chunky soup, peel and dice the tomatoes and cook them down for about 30 - 45 minutes at a medium to low temperature.
Don't put it through a sieve.

After the tomatoes are cooked to your preferences, set aside. In another pan, saute the onions and garlic in 1 T. olive oil.

Add all but 1 cup of cooked tomatoes to the sauteed vegetables. In a blender or food processor add the remaining tomatoes and the herbs. Blend well. Heat to almost boiling and add the salt and sugar.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Soup Goddess

I love making soups.

Soups are an excellent venue for various ingredients: meats, spices, liquids, herbs and vegetables. I've never made the same soup twice. In other words, each pot of soup is a fresh creation. Every time it's a different combination for that never-before-tasted bowl of soup. Experimenting with seasonings and fresh ingredients takes time; time makes the best soup!

When I serve soup at the dinner table, I'm usually the first one to comment on how good it tastes. My children like soup and almost always ask for a second helping, but I'm my biggest fan. The more time and experimentation involved in a particular pot of soup, the more I enjoy the product. We had guests one day and the wife commented, "You really love making soups, don't you?" When I asked "Why?" she responded that she could tell how my much my family was enjoying the meal.

One of our family's favorite soups is what I call "Magic Soup." Much like Stone Soup, I feel as if I produce a great soup from water alone. OK, I add turkey bones and fat, a few onions and carrots and simmer it almost forever. The result is a rich turkey broth begging homemade noodles.

As much as I love soup, I rarely order it when we eat out. Most restaurant soups are from mixes or come completely pre-made. (If I wanted to open a can and add water, I'd do that at home.) I did however, have an excellent bowl of Tomato/Basil/Feta Soup at St. Peter's Food Coop.

My track record as a soup maker is pretty good. I've learned a thing or two over the years. If you add pasta to your soup don't let it sit for too long. Pasta continues to absorb liquid, especially just cooked pasta in hot soup. Rutabaga adds a sweet-like flavor that doesn't mesh with well in soups. (Believe me, I've tried.)

As far as I can remember, I've only had one disaster with a soup. I bought a mix at a gift shop at the North Shore for a beer cheese soup. I added the right amounts of milk and beer and IT WAS TERRIBLE! Most unfortunately, it was an evening when my son had invited 2 friends from school for dinner. My family and guests sat politely stiffing their hot soup and taking only the smallest sips of the stuff. I finally took my first spoonful, I almost spit it out. Our guests, though very polite, looked relieved when I whisked the bowls off the table and brought out the bread and peanut butter.

Even the popcorn meant to jauntily float on top of the soup couldn't redeem it.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Family Weekend, Part 2

We have a lot of fun at our Family Weekend. We laugh a lot and enjoy being with one another. We swim as much as possible, eat a great breakfast provided by the hotel, and order pizza. Playing a game of family Bingo with a bed-load of prizes is the highlight of our Saturday night together. The past couple of years we've had free tickets to the Adventureland Park (you can see my post about my awesome ride experience at my other blog) . This year we decided to add sharing "gag gifts" with our siblings.