A Love Story

On the day of my dad’s funeral, as the photos flashed on the screen in the little country church, I was in awe. It was clear that the life in review was not about one person, but about two and the love they shared. I wasn’t there to witness the beginning of my parent’s love story, but I was privileged to observe it for decades.

Dad didn’t die from any particular disease, but rather a series
of unfortunate events. While gardening one day, he stumbled on the sidewalk, fell, and cut his face. That led to a staph infection and there was some sort of stroke, probably, along the way. Mixed in with shingles and an inability to swallow and it was a spiral from which he would never fully recover.

Mom and Dad at the State Fair in 1950

Everyone who knows my parents knows of their long love affair. Sixty-six years of marriage is a lifetime. Mom was just 17 when they wed and Dad was 23. They grew up in the same rural community in far north Texas. They married in 1950.

What I was privileged to watch in 2017 was an exchange of love rites that would make anyone envious. When Dad was in the hospital going through days so tough that he at times would insist he was dying, he still managed to see his bride. At times he couldn’t really see, in fact. She asked him if he could see her as she leaned in close.

“Do you know who this is? Can you see me?”

“I don’t know who you are,” he joked, “but I see an angel.”

In the last weeks of his life, mom sat with him every day, and continued to tell him she loved him and she was there. He couldn’t see or speak by that time. Once, as she hovered over him, she seemed to know what he was thinking. “Do you want to kiss me?” He did. She did. What a romance. What a love affair. What a gift to witness as two great friends and lovers shared their final days on earth together.

Dad is enjoying heaven now and mom is left with only us. “He loved us so much”, she whispered in my ear on the day of his funeral. He really did. If you were one of the ‘us’ he loved, you know how special that love was. I will miss it forever.

I know he loved her the best.

image of bowl of red pepper bisque

Red Pepper Bisque

Roasted Red Pepper Bisque

This is a favorite of mine.

I love things that are tasty and nutritionally perfect. (I get to define perfect.)

If you make it all completely from scratch, it’s a little time intensive. But fear not! There are short cuts!

<<edited 2/3/18: Last week I made this and substituted tomato juice for the Roma tomatoes. It worked great. Simply add 2-3 cups juice right before you purée the soup. More tomato juice=more tomato flavor. Adjust to suit your taste. So simple. BONUS: Plain tomato juice with no weird additives is pretty easy to find, in case you’ve been too busy to can your own.>>

I like to keep broth in the freezer so I can make soup when the weather says, “make soup!” And I love pureed vegetable soups because they are a great way to get veggies in your diet. You can also get delicious results by using jarred red peppers and canned tomatoes, and it will cut your prep time in half. If you use ready made broth, choose a low salt version.

This soup is great served with crusty no knead bread, topped with melted mozzarella.

Here’s a little video on how to roast your own tomatoes and peppers, as well as blending the soup in a blender.


Red Pepper Bisque
Author: 
Recipe type: soup
Cuisine: healthy
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 cups
 
Red peppers and tomatoes combined in a flavor-filled and healthy soup. Enhanced with not one, but two or three types of dried pepper spice.
Ingredients
  • 3 roasted red peppers
  • 3 roma tomatoes, roasted
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 1 rib celery, diced
  • ½ onion, diced
  • 2-3 pints broth, chicken or vegetable
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ½ tsp. Aleppo pepper
  • ¼ tsp. smoked paprika
  • ⅛ tsp. white pepper
  • ½ pint heavy cream
Instructions
  1. Saute the diced carrot, celery and onion in a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium to low heat just until softened. You don't want any color on the veg.
  2. Add 1 cup of broth and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot and simmer about 15 mins until the veg are completely soft. The carrots will take the longest so test them with a fork.
  3. Add in the tomatoes, peppers and 2 cups of broth. Remove from heat.
  4. Puree the mixture. An immersion blender is the easiest way to do this, but you can do it in a regular blender if you remove the stopper from the lid and cover that with a towel, being very careful to do it in small batches so you do not burn yourself. See my YouTube video (link above) for tips on this.
  5. At this point I recommend you strain the mixture so that you have a nice, smooth soup. You don't have to, but I like it better this way.
  6. If the soup is too thick, add more broth.
  7. Return the mixture to the pan and heat, then add the spices and taste. Season as desired.
  8. Finish by adding ½ to 1 cup of heavy cream. Your choice! Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.

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Instant Pot “Roast” Chicken

Hippos and Hashbrowns. “Where the food is real and the stories are true.” The recipes I share with you use whole food ingredients and are things I cook for myself, my friends, and my family. The. Very. Things. Not pretty things for a photo. I think that’s easy to see.

Today’s chicken is a great example. The before photo of the raw chicken backside is hardly more appetizing than the after photo of the cooked whole chicken, or the pieces of white meat I put on my white plate with a white potato. In my mind, I was going to have a sweet potato and some broccoli or a salad with this chicken.

In reality, by the time I needed to eat it, I was tired, trying to rest a little and then heading out the door to bible study, leaving my family with an ugly white chicken on the cutting board along with a few steamed (white) potatoes. White. White. White. So ugly; not a rainbow of nutritious colors. The prettiest thing I used were the vegetables I threw in the bottom of the pot to flavor the bird.

However. It was what I had. It was homemade. It had no weird preservatives or artificial things in it and it wasn’t greasy, take-out, fast food, which is what could be the default setting on a tired and busy day. So even though I didn’t get all the side dishes together, and even though my chicken doesn’t look like the recipe I was trying to duplicate, the Instant Pot still wins.

I wasn’t patient enough to brown my chicken and it definitely tastes more like poached than roasted, but that’s fine. It was easy, quick, and I will do it again when I want cooked chicken for a casserole or something like pot pie. Which is what I did with the leftovers the next day after I had cooked the carcass all night with some veg and water to make stock.

I rubbed the chicken with salt and pepper only, no oil. I tried the brown it, flip it deal, but I won’t do that again. Chickens are slipper birds, and not easy to flip in a pot. What an ordeal. Next time, I’ll just season the chicken, place the veg in the bottom of the pot, top with chicken, add the broth and set to manual for 25 minutes. Delicious, not-roast-but-more-like-poached, chicken. A keeper. Worth trying especially if you want to make chicken enchiladas, pot pie or your other favorite chicken casserole.

 

Instant Pot Chorizo and Black Bean Chili

Today I’m doing a riff on a recipe from Rants From My Crazy Kitchen. Number 3 bought some chorizo so he could make breakfast burritos and wanted to know what else we could do with it. I had to search around till I found a recipe for which I (mostly) had all the ingredients at hand. I didn’t have canned beans, only dried, so it was a good time to put the old Instant Pot to work.

Here’s a good tutorial from Camellia Brand Beans on cooking black beans in an Instant Pot.

If you want a written recipe, skip this post. If you want to know how to adjust a recipe to make it your own, keep going.

Once the beans were cooked, I dumped them in a colander to drain. I then hit the sauté button and browned the chorizo. Once that was cooked I added bell pepper and onion. You can adjust the sauté setting on your pot. After you press sauté, hit adjust to set temp higher or lower. Sauté a little garlic toward the end and switch off the pot. If you add garlic in at high heat or cook it longer than a minute or so, it will burn and taste awful. Don’t do that.

Lastly I dumped the beans in with a can of Spanish style tomato sauce, 3 or 4 cups of water, and a stock cube. I know! Homemade stock is better, but I didn’t have any. I put the lid on, made sure I turned it to seal and pressure cooked for 5 minutes. Remember, at this point, all the ingredients have been cooked. Why did I pressure it? To intensify and meld the flavors together.

I like the spice level using the chorizo and Spanish style tomato sauce. It was a lot of liquid/solid ratio like this and I would add more beans or even lentils next time, but the flavor is nice. It’s freezing today. I’m going to get another bowl!

Do you always cook from a recipe or do you like to experiment?

Instant Pot Potato Salad

Everyone’s talking about it, but no one’s actually doing anything. I hope this doesn’t describe your Instant Pot experience. It seems it is still a popular gift item, but plenty of folks aren’t sure what to do.

I purchased mine last year because I needed a new slow cooker, and was planning to invest some $ in a nice one. Once I learned I could get an Instant Pot for the same price, it was a no-brainer. I didn’t really think I needed one for pressure cooking since I already owned a stove top pressure cooker and was comfortable using it, so I hadn’t been in a hurry to add a new appliance. I’m very picky about what I let in my kitchen.

There are other multi-purpose cookers. I’m talking about IP, because that’s the one I have and know about.

Let’s get to the recipe. I based my cooking time/method on this recipe from Pressure Cooking Today.  I chose it because it allows for cooking the potatoes and boiled eggs at the same time. Here are my cooking notes:

I did not cube my potatoes into small pieces. I cut them in half for the smaller ones or quartered the larger ones. They were cooked perfectly at the end of the time. I was afraid the smaller pieces would turn to mush. I also do not have a steaming basket; only a rack, but I did put it in the bottom although I don’t think it helped in any way.

After the pressure subsided, I simply lifted the pot out and poured everything into a colander to drain. The eggs were done, the potatoes were done. Very quickly, very nice, very easy. I will say the eggs might have been a little over cooked, so it could do to cut the potatoes smaller and reduce the time a minute or 2. But I’m lazy, so I probably won’t bother.

Everyone has their preferred potato salad. Our family enjoys it dressed with  mayo, plenty of mustard, pickles, onions, salt and pepper. Very basic. Make yours like you like it!

You could also pressure cook your spuds this way for mashed potatoes. So fast!

How are you using your Instant Pot? Are you still hesitant to buy one?

Angel Biscuits

There is nothing like a hot, homemade biscuit slathered with butter and honey. I’ve made a lot of biscuits, but recently The Teenager said he liked a canned variety because it had a different texture than my usual baking powder biscuits or even the sourdough butter biscuit I make. I had to pull out my secret weapon to prove there is a homemade biscuit that is soft, flaky, easy, and just what he was looking for.

Enter Angel Biscuits.

This is a hybrid recipe from your grandmother’s time that contains yeast, baking soda, and baking powder. If you own a refrigerator, you can make a big batch and keep it on hand for fresh baked homemade biscuits anytime. No more pop-up biscuits.

This recipe comes from my beloved copy of The Newcomer’s Guide to Cooking in Africa. It contains a treasure of recipes and has sustained hundreds of expat families with familiar food on the foreign mission field. Thanks go to Edith Jenkins for permission to reprint here.

Angel Biscuits
Author: 
Recipe type: Breads
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2 dz
 
A soft and flaky homemade biscuit from a dough that comes together quickly and can be stored in the fridge for last minute meal prep.
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon yeast
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • ¾ cup shortening
  • 2 cups buttermilk
Instructions
  1. Dissolve yeast in warm water.
  2. Stir dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  3. Cut shortening into dry ingredients using a pastry cutter or even the paddle attachment on your stand mixer.
  4. Add buttermilk and yeast mixture and stir just until moistened.
  5. Refrigerate and use as needed.
  6. To use:
  7. Preheat oven to 400F
  8. Roll (or pat) out desired amount of dough to ½ or ¾" thickness.
  9. Cut with knife or biscuit cutter.
  10. Bake on parchment lined tray for 12 to 15 minutes.

Here’s a yummy and alternative baking method. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a cast iron skillet. Dip and flip biscuits to coat both sides with butter before baking. The result is a lovely, browned crust on the bottom and a buttery top. The original recipe suggest you brush them with honey butter. Why not?

1 cup honey mixed with 1/2 cup butter and 1/2 cup powdered sugar.

DIY Cornbread Mix

When you make your own mixes you control what goes imagein, and more importantly, what doesn't go in. No artificial colors, preservatives, or other yuckies. It's a time saving way to cook from scratch, which is always tastier and usually more economical.
DIY Cornbread Mix
Recipe type: DIY Mix
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 to 6 serving
 
Keep a batch of this in your pantry and you can bake your own from scratch cornbread whenever you want. Having a prepared mix ready to go saves you time; making it yourself saves you money. Do try this with the whole wheat flour. Whole grains add a health benefit, and the nutty flavor of whole wheat complements the cornbread.
Ingredients
  • 4 cups whole wheat or all purpose flour
  • 4 cups cornmeal
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon salt
Instructions
  1. Place all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well with a whisk.
  2. Store in a plastic container with well-fitting lid.
  3. To use:
  4. Preheat oven to 425F.
  5. Place ¼ vegetable oil in 8-9 inch baking pan or iron skillet.
  6. Place skillet in oven and allow to heat until very hot, about 10 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, place 2 cups dry mix in a medium bowl.
  8. Add 2 eggs, 1 cup milk, and stir till all ingredients are moistened.
  9. Remove pan from oven and pour batter into pan. The batter should sizzle when it hits the oil.
  10. Return pan to hot oven and bake until brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool and serve with butter.

 

Tomato Time

Because tomatoes are abundant in the garden and at the market right now, I wanted to share a quick tip as you process and possibly can all those scrumptious, ruby orbs.

If you like to make your own sauce, you’ll find recipes that tell you how to peel, core, etc. Personally, I like to skip that step and use a device to do that. I have an attachment for my stand mixer that strains out all the skins and seeds and leaves me with the pure juiced, tomatoes.

The first thing I do is wash them and take off the stem. Then, in a big pot on the stove, place a few halves in a bottom layer and cook on low until the juices come out. After that, you can add more tomatoes, a layer at a time until the pot is full. Put the lid on the pot and cook just until the tomatoes are softened. At this point, you can run them through the strainer, manual or electric.

Before: 1 liter tomato juice

After: 600 ml juice and 400 ml tomato water

I collect the juice in large pitchers and catch the seeds and stems in a bowl. Then I place the pitchers in the refrigerator overnight and let the solids settle to the bottom. In the morning, I ladle off the top layer of liquid. This tomato water is an intensely flavored and refreshing drink that will revive you on the hottest day of summer. Test me and see if I’m wrong.

The remaining ‘juice’ can be canned as is, or cooked down for tomato sauce and frozen or canned. If you are canning, just make sure you use  a safe tested recipe. This website is a guaranteed safe source.

If you are very thrifty or adventurous, spread the skins and seeds that would normally be thrown out onto a sheet tray lined with parchment and dehydrate in your oven on the lowest setting you have. My oven has a dehydrate feature, but if yours doesn’t you have a couple of options. For a gas oven, the pilot light is often enough to dehydrate most things overnight or all day. In an electric oven, you may be able to do the same thing with just the oven light on. You’re looking for a temperature of about 150F.

Once the skins and seeds are dry, they look really gross. Like scabs. That’s how you know they’re done. Sorry. You can grind this up with your spice grinder, that is, a cheap coffee grinder that you use only for spices. It is great for thickening soups and stews and for making dips.

Be thrifty, be healthy, eat well!

 

Pickle brine

Quick and Easy Refrigerator Pickles

Pickle brine

Have it your way. Make your own refrigerator pickles and you can add whatever you like. Peppers, hot or mild, onions, carrots, even cucumbers. Ha. I’m writing this up rather quickly because things are hopping in the hippo kitchen as I bake for two markets every week and still people WANT TO EAT DINNER. The nerve. That is to say, if you have questions or the recipe isn’t clear, please leave me a comment or message me on Facebook.

Anywho, because it’s summer and all, I dug this recipe out of the little wooden Ketepa Tea box that has a billion hand written recipes on various colored index cards and has traveled so much over the last morethanadecade that it should have its own passport.

Feel free to vary the spices or veg in this recipe to make it your own. This is how I am doing it today with some oddly large, crisp and mild flavored cucumber that my firstborn son grew in my father’s garden.

Quick and Easy Refrigerator Pickles
Author: 
Recipe type: Easy
Cuisine: Pickles
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1 jar
 
Vary the spices to suit your taste. You can eat this after a few days, but they are better after about a week.
Ingredients
  • 1-1/2 c water
  • 1-1/4 c vinegar, white or apple cider
  • 1 c sugar
  • ¼ c salt, I use kosher
  • 1 tsp each turmeric, dill seed, mustard seed
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • Large sprig of fresh dill
Instructions
  1. Place the water, vinegar,sugar and salt in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Let cool.
  2. While it's cooling, wash and slice your cucumbers. They work best if you leave the peel on but if the peel is blistered or whatever, just remove it.
  3. Place the cucumbers in a large jar and add the spices, dill, and garlic.
  4. Once the vinegar mixture has cooled, pour it over the cucumbers in the jar, and refrigerate for several days. Taste develops best after 5-7 days.

 

Salmon Pasta Salad with Fresh Dill


This is an easy recipe and good for summer lunch. Originally, I used tarragon and dill, and I used red wine vinegar in the dressing. Lately, however, I like the addition of dill pickles and some of the pickle brine to amp up the dill flavor. Your choice. Also, I use whole wheat pasta for the nutritional value, but you can substitue white flour pasta at your own peril, if you wish. Kidding. But if you are trying to eat more whole grains, I’ve found switching to whole grain pasta a painless and barely noticeable difference.

Salmon Pasta Salad with Fresh Dill
Author: 
Recipe type: Salad
Cuisine: American
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6 servings
 
Easy to make and you can add in any fresh veggies that are in season. Diced zucchini is a good one; cucumbers, celery, bell pepper also work well.
Ingredients
  • 8 oz whole wheat pasta shells, spiral, elbow - your choice
  • 7-8 oz cooked salmon (canned, poached, or baked)
  • 1-2 tsp fresh dill,chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh tarragon, chopped (optional)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp black pepper
  • ¼ tsp onion powder
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or pickle juice
  • 1 rib finely chopped celery
  • 1-2 tablespoons finely chopped dill pickle (optional)
Instructions
  1. Cook pasta per package directions in a large pot of salted, boiling water until tender and drain.
  2. While pasta is cooking, mix all other ingredients except salmon together in a medium sized bowl.
  3. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
  4. Once pasta is done and well drained, add it to the mixture in your bowl.
  5. Add the salmon and serve at room temperature or chill in fridge for an hour or more.