Friday, December 11, 2020

Friday Food: Hot Dogs To End a Streak



Short version: Cracklin' skillet, green peas, pureed squash

Long version: While I was digging in the non-meat chest freezer for something else, I uncovered one of the packages of beef fat that's been languishing in the bottom of the freezer since we bought the whole cow two years ago.

I thought maybe it was time to pull that out and render it. Two years should be long enough for aging. Ahem.

Pork fat makes cracklin's when it's rendered, which are a lot different than what I ended up with after rendering the beef fat. This fat had been ground for me by the processing place, and what remained after rendering was essentially ground beef with a LOT of fat. 

So I served it for dinner. I mean, I couldn't just THROW IT AWAY, could I? Perish the thought.

All I did was add in some cooked onions I had in the refrigerator, salsa, garlic powder, chili powder, rice, and cheese.

I did not tell the children exactly what they were eating. Charlie took a few bites and said, "For some reason, this tastes like cracklin's."

"Yeah," said Cubby. "I didn't want to mention it, but it does."

Jack said, "Why does it smell like fat?"

Possibly because it's approximately 40% beef tallow?


They all ate it, and both Charlie and Poppy had seconds. Okay.


Short version: Bunless cheeseburgers, roasted potatoes, fried onions, green salad with ranch dressing

Long version: Nah. I have a picture, though!

Burgers and taters.


Short version: Shepherd's pie, pots de creme

Long version: It's been awhile since I've made shepherd's pie, but I really like it. So when I pondered what to do with the rest of the ground beef I had taken out the day before, I decided to go for it.

The meat mixture usually had green peas and corn in it. I had neither, so I used green beans and diced carrots instead. Plus tomato juice, onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, a bit of brandy, and thyme. Top with mashed potatoes, dot with butter, bake, and definitely enjoy.

I made the pots de creme for the second Sunday in a row because I wanted to try it with the evaporated milk. The children agreed that they would like to have pots de creme for every Sunday dessert from now on. Probably not, but duly noted.


Short version: Leftover shepherd's pie, fried leftover pork and potatoes, calabaza

Long version: There wasn't quite enough shepherd's pie for everyone, so A. and I had the leftover pork fried in butter with paprika and garlic powder, plus potatoes.

A. chopped up the gigantic calabaza on Sunday morning before church. It was . . . alarming.

That's a lot of vegetal sustenance right there.

I asked him to do it Sunday morning so we could bring several chunks to church for some of the older people. Every person over the age of 70 here remembers this squash from their youth. No one really grows it anymore, though, so they were all thrilled to get some. We gave away about half of that behemoth. 

I cooked the other half, which yielded approximately two gallons of calabaza, mostly for the freezer. We ate some of it this night, though. About a cup. Just a drop in the squash bucket, you might say.


Short version: Green chili pork casserole, frozen green beans

Long version: I wanted to make a casserole of some kind so I could bring one to our priest when we went to Mass this night. He drives hundreds of miles every week, ministering to a very large parish, and he doesn't have any help doing it, either. He lives alone, and it's a bummer to cook for one person all the time. So whenever we go to church in the other village, where his house is, I try to bring him food.

I hadn't taken any meat out to thaw, though, so in the morning I pulled out a big package of those boneless country ribs and put them in my 9x13 Pyrex pan completely frozen. And then I put about a cup of roasted green chilis on top, also completely frozen. I baked that for about 3 hours at 350 degrees, along with some vinegar, a clove of garlic, and the onions left over from the night I made hamburgers.

When the meat was tender, I chopped it up and mixed it with cooked diced potatoes. The sauce was just the juices and the chilis and everything blended with some cream cheese in the food processor. I had to add some extra water, too, because it was a bit too dry. And then I topped it with grated cheddar.

It still needed more sauce, but it was very tasty. I'll probably make it again, but I need to figure out a way to make more sauce without using any more green chili, lest it get too spicy. Maybe bell peppers.


Short version: Ground beef tacos

Long version: I knew that extra-large pot of taco meat I made and froze last week would come in handy on work nights.


Short version: Hot dogs

Long version: There was a school thing at which hot dogs were provided. The children were pleased, and I realized that this meal marked the first time in almost exactly 11 months that I ate a dinner not prepared by me. The last time I ate anything I didn't cook was on January 9, 2020, when we used a gift certificate to the local restaurant.

That restaurant is now closed, and I cooked dinner for 336 days straight. 

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Tuesday Tips: Pandemic Pots de Creme

Another recipe! What is happening here? Am I turning into a recipe person?

No. But it's sort of hard to spread the gospel of the easiest, most delicious dessert in the world without giving you a recipe. That would just be cruel. And really, if you like chocolate, you need to try this.

"This" is pots de creme. It is, apparently, a very traditional French dessert. Not always chocolate in France, but always chocolate in my kitchen, which is definitely not French. And this is definitely not a traditional pots de creme recipe. I suspect a traditional French cook would not even recognize this, but it's absurdly simple and delicious, so we're running with it.

There are dozens upon dozens of recipes for chocolate pots de creme, which is sort of like a cross between a chocolate mousse and chocolate pudding. It's what I imagine the chocolate river in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory would taste like.

I had never had it nor heard of it, however, until the MiL made it many years ago, using a recipe she got from her MiL.

Her MiL--A.'s grandmother, known as Bae--had a definite dramatic flair and loved a good story. When she and her husband were in their sixties, they left Blackrock to the care of their adult children and spent a couple of winters running a hotel on the Carribean island of Bequia.

I mean, why not, right?

I have no idea where they came up with this plan, but there is no doubt that Bae got many, many stories out of the experience. Some were about eating whale meat. Some were about the sailboat--pleasantly named The Friendship Rose--that brought supplies to Bequia and was the only way to get to the "big town" on the bigger island. And one was about the pots de creme.

Bae claimed she got the recipe from the cook at the hotel. The MiL, however, tells me that the recipe actually came from Bae's copy of Joy of Cooking. It's still in the newer editions, too, although the version Bae made is now listed as a variant of the main recipe.

Apocryphal origin story aside, she did indeed make this recipe a lot on the island for the guests at the hotel. The recipe as written has exactly five ingredients: chocolate chips, milk, eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract. In a traditional pots de creme recipe*, the ingredients are combined on the stove top and then baked in a water bath, like a custard.

This recipe, however, is made in a blender (or food processor). The milk is heated very hot, them dumped in a blender with all the rest of the ingredients to be whizzed around until smooth. The hot milk melts the chocolate chips and cooks the egg. The resulting liquid is refrigerated until it's chilled and is solidified a bit. This method is much more to my taste than messing around with a pot on the stove and a water bath in the oven.

Given the problem of supplies on Bequia, I asked A. how his grandmother got milk. He said they used evaporated milk, powdered milk, and shelf-stable milk in cartons. 

I've always made this recipe with whole milk, but I was intrigued by this. What if I could make it with evaporated milk? If I could, then it could be made with almost all pantry ingredients. (The exception being the eggs.)

So I tried it with one of the cans of evaporated milk I keep in the pantry. I always double the original recipe for our larger family, so I was delighted to find that a regular can of evaporated milk is exactly 1.5 cups. Which is exactly the amount needed for a double recipe. 


We had the evaporated-milk pots de creme Sunday night, and I could not tell a difference in taste or texture from the whole milk version. If anything, it was a little thicker, since, of course, evaporated milk is thicker than whole milk. 

A. thought he could detect a slight difference in mouth feel and taste, but he enthusiastically endorses both versions. As do the children.

So I think you can pretty much use any sort of milk you have on hand. Most recipes online call for cream, too, which I have never tried in this. The versions with cream might be better, but I assure you that you can make this with any kind of milk, and it will be delicious.

Well, maybe not skim milk. That might be too thin. But you can definitely make it with evaporated milk, which pleases me greatly.

So if you bought evaporated milk this spring when the world went crazy and we all went along with it, but now you don't know what to do with that can? Now you know. Make this. You won't be sorry.

Pandemic Pots de Creme (makes enough for six generous servings)


1.5 cups milk or evaporated milk

2 cups chocolate chips (semi-sweet, dark, or milk, depending on how sweet you like things)

2 eggs

3-4 tablespoons sugar (adjust depending on your preferences and the sweetness of your chocolate)

a pinch of salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Heat the milk until bubbly on the edges, either in the microwave or a pan on the stove. It will probably get a skin on the top. That's okay.

Put all the rest of the ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend for about ten seconds, just to break the chocolate chips up a bit. This makes it easier for them to get totally melted in the next step. 

Pour the hot milk in all at once and blend until smooth, leaving the round stopper piece off the top of your blender or food processor and covering the top opening with a dish towel. This is an important safety step whenever you're blending any hot liquid. 

Pour the mixture into small bowls or ramekins, then refrigerate at least two hours, until thoroughly chilled.

Serve with cream on top. You can use one of those cans of whipped cream, I guess, if you're sticking to pantry items here. Or you can really go for broke and do like us: Just pour some cream directly on top to make a lake of cream over the chocolate. You get more cream this way, without all that air from whipping to get in the way. 

This must be the least-fancy recipe ever when it comes to ingredients and method, but it yields a very fancy-looking dessert. Even if you don't have cute little ramekins to serve it in. Or even matching bowls.

I, obviously, have neither. And it doesn't matter, because this magic recipe is delicious no matter what it's served in.

I think we could all use a little more liquified chocolate in our lives, right? Well, here you go. Chocolate comfort for a very strange time.

Update #1: I no longer use any of the added sugar in this recipe. It's sweet enough for us without it.

Update #2: I was having trouble for awhile with this not thickening when it was refrigerated, and I finally determined that doubling the recipe was causing the problem. So now, if want to make the quantity as written in this recipe, I do half at a time in the blender. No more problems with thickening.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Sunday Snapshots: Yes, Yet Another Alliterative Assigned Day

Way back in the day when I started writing here (waaaaay back--almost 13 years now), I used to post every day. I could do that because I didn't have a full-time job or any children yet. Then things happened and I gave up on that.

But I sort of miss it. When I was writing every day, there was more variety in what I was writing about. Right now, it's pretty much food and kids, all the time. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I mean, that really is the majority of my life.

But there are other things around! Things like dogs.

Jasper in his accustomed guard position by the front door.

And one-eyed Odin, making sure he isn't overlooked.

Sheep, and chickens, and a horse.

All living communally in the small pasture by the house during the winter.

This random house A. took a picture of, I assume because he wants to incorporate some part of its design when he's working on the casita.

Also, the fantastically blue New Mexican sky, which looks NOTHING like a New York sky in November. And thank the heavens for that.

The point is, I'm going to try to be better about documenting some different things--for myself, for family that read this, and for anyone else who wants to come to the party. 

The easiest way to do that is to take pictures. I'm a terrible photographer, and finding my cell phone and using it to photograph things is always an effort for me, so I'm giving myself another self-imposed scheduled deadline. I know the best way to motivate myself is to set up an external expectation. 

Sundays it is, because then I can call it Sunday Snapshots. Wheee!

Are you tired of the alliteration yet? Because I'm not.

Anyway. That's the plan. Sunday vibes now include snapshots. Amen.