Thursday, February 18, 2021

soup making

When I make soup, I start with what are called the aromatics, which are the vegetables and herbs that give the dish its flavor base. I usually start with celery, onion, carrot, garlic with thyme and bay leaves for poultry or pork soups.  If I'm making a cream soup like potato or broccoli, I usually leave out the carrots. 

The garlic is pressed right into the soup pot with a garlic press and I rub the dried thyme in my hands before sprinkling it onto the vegetables. I add the bay leaves later with the broth.
Once I have all my vegetables sliced and diced, I put some tablespoons of fat into the bottom of my soup pot (often called a Dutch oven).
(I'll explain a little bit more about starting with fat. Anytime I cook a meat like a ham, bacon or chicken, I save the fat unless I need it to make gravy which I explain in this post
Using a rubber spatula, I scrape my roasting pan or dish to remove the fat drippings into a container that I store in the refrigerator or freezer. In the picture below, you can see a piece of chicken thigh leftover from a previous meal. Next to that is a small amount of fat that I had saved.  It's only about two tablespoons likely, but it will be enough to help the aromatics begin to cook and release some of their good flavors.)
If I have no fat leftover, I add two tablespoons of olive oil to my soup pot and then add the aromatics to a medium heat soup pot.  Or I cook the meat in the soup pot (like bacon or sausage) and then remove the meat, but leave the fat.
In the next photo, you can see some gelatinous ham broth and white ham fat I had saved from roasting a large ham. I added water to the roasting pan and then saved the ham juices and fat for a later meal of ham and bean soup or sausage soup.

Once, my fat is warmed and starting to sizzle in the pot, I add all the vegetable aromatics and stir well to keep them from sticking to the pot. I use my garlic press to add the minced garlic and make sure it is mixed in well.

Let the aromatics soften and stir occasionally.  If you're making broth from bullion, fill your kettle with water and when it's done boiling, the vegetables will have cooked long enough on their own. The onions and celery will begin to look shiny which means you're ready to add your broth.

So after about five minutes of cooking, you can add 2-4 cups of broth made from bullion or leftover roasting juices. (When I scrape a dish or pan, some of the drippings are just flavorful juice which separates from the fat. If you refrigerate this, the juices will be come a jelly like the ham broth I showed you and the fat will become white or buttery when it solidifies as you saw with the ham. The strange jelly on the plate are the leftover juices or drippings. I didn't strain the drippings so they have some roasting bits which will blend into the soup. This OXO brand by Knorr is the type of bullion I use for making broth for soup and gravy.

Then add the bullion broth and any leftover broth or chicken gravy you may have leftover. Toss in your bay leaves, stir and let is simmer on low.

While that is simmering, I prep any cooked meat by chopping or shredding it into small pieces. If you're adding any frozen vegetables, you can add them now. I added corn and frozen yellow beans. Then I added some salt and pepper, stirred again and put the lid on and turned the soup to low. Because I'm serving this soup in a bowl over hot rice, I will cook the rice separately in my rice cooker. Rice is very absorbent so I will only combine it with my soup once we are ready to plate the food and sit down at the table.

If you want the soup to be creamy or thick, you can use an immersion stick blender right in the pot(it will scratch the bottom if it touches, but I don't care about my pot) to blend the soup together. Start by using it in one or two spots and see what you think of the consistency. Blend more if you like. If you're adding milk or cream, you can do that after all the vegetables are cooked. Keep the soup on a low heat and just heat until it's steaming, stirring frequently.

Soup leftovers can be kept for other meals in the refrigerator for a week or more and longer in the freezer. It is a good one pot dish for entertaining or to take for a potluck meal or give to someone else who needs meals.  It can also be made a head of time and often tastes better the next day or later.

Here's the basic formula for any soup, stew, or chowder:

fat + aromatics + broth + seasonings + additional vegetables + meat (optional) + milk/cream (optional) = meal

Here are some other soups that I have made this past fall and winter: sausage and potato, ham and potato.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

on the teaching of history

We use this history book, The Story of Canada by George W. Brown, in our Morning Time as we read aloud to learn Canadian history together. (You can purchase it from Living Book Press and even see a great sample from the website.)
While looking for an image of this book, I stumbled onto the archived Teacher's Manual available for download. As I started looking through the table of contents, I noticed this lengthy preface for teachers on the teaching of history and I thought it was very good. 
So good, that I decided to copy and paste it into a Google drive document for our Charlotte Mason Study Group to read and print if they liked.  I will put a link to it below.
This is the type of document that would be worth reading again on Canada Day or the August Provincial holiday before another year of lessons begin. (Or for non-Canadians, on your civic holidays.)
I may take issue with some of his ideas as to how the teachers should impress morals of Canadian history and a few other stray comments, but I think overall, he has given much to stir up parents and teachers with love and devotion to Canada and beyond.
For the first time as a dual citizen, I felt protective of what my children truly love of Canada and we are learning so much from his book.  We have learned a lot of history from the Maritimes where my husband is from and we are eager to travel again to see the sites with a new understanding of Canadian history.
If you interested in reading it, I hope you feel even more proud to be Canadian in a very authentic and rooted way and that you can see how much we owe our children to love this country well and want to see her thrive under God's care. 
Below is the link to the Google document called: History in the Schools or download the Teacher's Manual (linked above) and read it for yourself.

Through the school, the family, the church, and other agencies and daily contacts, each generation must enter into the experience of the present and grasp the heritage of the past from which the present springs and without which it has no root. The child robbed of all understanding of a family background in which he can have some confidence and pride is robbed indeed, as we know from tragic examples. The democratic nation that fails to give its children a knowledge and understanding of its ideals and institutions and their background is robbing them and undermining itself. 

~George W. Brown

P.S. This is also an interesting article by Susan Wise Bauer on how history is written and taught to children. On History, Children and the Inevitablity of Compromise: All of History is an Argument

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Blueberry Almond Muffins

Moving to Ontario years ago brought me into contact with many Dutch women who bake delicious treats often featuring the flavor of almond. My favorite recipe so far is Dutch Butter Cake rich with almond flavoring and a crunchy buttery almond crust. 
This is not a recipe for that cake. (But you can find that one here.)

Instead I am sharing my adapted version of a blueberry muffin recipe I requested years ago from a friend of my mother-in-law. Every time I bring home fresh blueberries, I tell myself to save some for making muffins. But freshly washed blueberries are so good to eat right out of your hand, that my muffin-making plans usually get shelved until next time.

This week I made it happen, but to feed my new craving of almond, I decided to get crazy and combine these two flavors in my borrowed muffin recipe. 
If you prefer to make the blueberry muffins in the original recipe, just swap out the almond flavoring for vanilla and skip the crunchy almonds in the crumb mixture. 

Blueberry Almond Muffins

2 1/2 c. flour (I use whole wheat, but all-purpose is fine.)
1 1/4 c. sugar ( I use raw cane sugar in all my baking, but feel free to use regular granulated sugar)
1 Tbsp (heaping) baking powder
1 c. soft butter
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 c. mashed almond pieces (mortar and pestle works great for this)
3/4 c. milk
2 eggs
1 1/2 tsp. almond flavoring (add 2 full tsp for stronger almond flavor)
2 c. blueberries

Mix the first three dry ingredients together.
Cut in soft butter to the dry mixture until crumbly.
Remove 3/4 cup of this mixture to a small bowl and add cinnamon.
Add mashed almond pieces and stir until well combined.
Set this crumb topping aside.

Add the milk, eggs and almond flavoring to the dry ingredients and stir until just moistened.
Fold in the fresh blueberries.
Put in well-greased muffin pans; fill 3/4 full.
Top with almond crumb mixture about 1 tsp. per muffin 
Bake at 350F 30-35 minutes.
Yield: 18 muffins


Dutch Butter Cake

This is not my recipe for Dutch Butter Cake; this came from my friend Vanessa. But I'm posting it here so I can find it easier than hunting for it every time in our mom's chat group. 

This butter cake is delicious warm or cooled and can easily be made ahead and frozen if needed. It also does not go stale quickly and is perfect with an afternoon cup of tea or breakfast coffee or midnight snack. I add a ton of extra almond flavoring and extra almonds on the top for lots of crunch to complement the softer inside of the cake.

Dutch Butter Cake

1 cup butter 1 cup sugar 1 egg 1 tsp (or more, I do more!) almond extract 2 cups flour 1 tsp baking powder silvered almonds (optional) Cream butter, add sugar and beat well. Add slightly beaten egg (save a little for the top), then almond extract and continue beating until smooth. Combine flour and baking powder, add to butter mixture. Knead together. Press into 8-inch round baking pan. Brush top with reserved beaten egg. Sprinkle with almonds if you wish. Bake 30 minutes or until golden at 350 degrees F.

(I added some candy snowflake sprinkles since it was a wintry Sunday afternoon the last time I baked this to share with friends.)

Books Read in 2020

I've been working on this post for a couple of months off and on and while I see how my 2020 reading list is quite paltry, I do have some memorable and sweet books I enjoyed. Here is the list I've gathered to record my efforts beginning with some children's books.

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes

This is another collaboration of a children's picture book between these two talented women. Joyce Sidman has written several wonderful children's poetry books on natural history topics in addition to a biography of butterfly artist, Maria Merian which I have enjoyed borrowing from a friend. Beth Krommes has illustrated many wonderful titles and is a Caldecott award winner. I shared a book she illustrated in an older post from 2015 that we enjoyed, entitled Blue on Blue.
In this title, the artwork carries the reader and provides the clues and details that the text hints at in poetic form. Sidman refers to her text as an invocation, which is like a prayer or for some, a wish. If you look carefully at the pictures, you will see the thread of the story convey what the words do not say.
A wonderful book like this, teaches you to be attentive and not rush through the pages. This is a perfect winter's read, but also for those who must travel and for those who must say goodbye. 
Also, the urban setting depicted in Krommes' beautiful art interested me as I continue to read and learn about the patterns that good towns and cities share. The walking through city parks and past bakeries and shops and services in pleasing and traditional architecture to homes mixed in is captured honestly and imaginatively. The more you look at this book, the more you will notice, even on the varying endpapers.

Kamishibai Man by Allen Say

Allen Say writes and illustrates children's books that adults need to read. In this title, he brings us his childhood memories from Japan of eating candy and listening to stories told by the kamishibai man. What I noticed is how the man reenters the city on his bicycle after years of being away. The changes to the city are not portrayed as beautiful. Say uses grays and shadows as the old man bicycles around. In contrast, the younger years are full of greens and yellows and trees as the flashback scenes tell the story. Something my husband has repeated often to me from his media class in high school is that directors do not include specific details 'just because'. Everything you see is intentional and meant to tell the story and carry meaning. Kamishibai Man is full of details and artwork that conveys thoughtfulness but without moralizing. 

The Skippack School by Marguerite de Angeli

While Eli would prefer to play and be outside, his German-born parents have moved he and his younger sisters to the new world of Pennsylvania where he must attend school and learn to read. He has much encouragement from his school master and even the promise of a special reward if he can diligently study and learn to read. But for a young boy, life holds much fun and adventure and sometimes difficult consequences that challenge Eli to grow up.

A short story filled with  black and white illustrations that take the reader back to the colonial days of Eastern Pennsylvania. This story took place about an hour from where I was raised and the town names were familiar although I haven't been to the exact locations mentioned. 

The Death of Socrates, by Jean Paul Mongin, illustrated by Yann Le Bras, translated by Anna Street

I found this copy at my local thrift shop and brought it home out of a strong curiosity for who it was published for. The author, Jean Paul Mongin  is a French writer who has written a series for children introducing them to philosophers, their ideas and their life. I found the book written for children brought Socrates and his life into my understanding in a whole new and remarkable way. I have several sections that I am copying to my notebook and even though it has been translated for English readers, the phrasing feels fresh and memorable. Only a handful of the series so far has been translated into English, but I would love to add more of these titles to our home library.

Shakespeare's Theatre by Walter Hodges

We read this aloud together  as part of our Morning Time in Term 1 a few pages each week. Hodges provides a history of theater in a simple form as playacting in tribal group to Bible scenes acted out in cathedrals to amauter actors taking plays on the road to the building of theater halls in Shakespeare's London. We enjoyed reading this and looking carefully at the illustrations he provided and explained in his text. Hodges recounts how the villains and devil characters were often the favorite scenes in a church play and that informed play-actors as to hoe better entertain their audiences. Moving from inside the cathedral, to outside in the street, to portable and movable stage sets and then finally to relatively permanent wooden theater buildings, Hodges shows the reader the evolution  and culture of theater up to the time of Shakespeare.

Anne Frank: Life in Hiding by Joanna Hurwitz

This children's biography is only 64 pages but it was a good way to introduce my children to the short life of Anne Frank who captures for the modern person, the tragedy of many children and their families living in Europe during WW1 and WW2. We all read it and found it sobering yet full of living and being even under the most direst of circumstances.

Marjorie Daw by Thomas Bailey Aldrich, illustrated by John Cecil Clay

I first read this short story in a collection we own, but when I found this illustrated edition, I had to have it even as it is falling apart at the binding. You can only read this story once to get the full effect, but once you know, rereading it makes you in on the fun. This story is told in letters written between an infirmed and cantankerous young man and his friend living out in the country. He begs his friend to write to him and distract him from his confinement and his friend obliges. The illustrations are amazing in this edition, but the story can easily be enjoyed with any version.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

This detective story like many in the genre remind its readers to remember Proverbs 18:17 in which the wise person is counseled to see that the first person who presents a case sounds right until another comes and examines them. It's been many months since I read this story and I remember not really caring who turned out to be the rightful owner of the fabled 'Maltese Falcon' statue because none of the characters were particularly endearing. At least then, you want to see right triumph over wrong but even here it seems unlikely to sort out that puzzle. Like many books, this story makes you think: can you really say you've read it, if you've only read it once?

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

My friend Vanessa first read this book and recommended it to me. So I requested it from the library and when it came in, I had a stack of other books I was working on, so I started the Introduction and wondered where the memoir was and gave up when the library due date came up. Then I found a used copy and added it back into my innumerable to-be-read stack. A chapter or two in, it became the book I read at the beach and the splash pad and on Saturdays. It was horrifying but also intriguing and enlightening. I learned a lot about areas of the states that I did not know anything about and it connected some dots for me about other topics. Overall, I'm glad I read it, although I'm not sure I want to see the movie version that recently was released. Some scenes are hard to imagine watching acted out but maybe I will get curious one day and give the movie a chance.

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

In 2019, I read Susan Hill's Howard's End is on the Landing and she spoke of author Barbara Pym so highly that I made a mental note to look out for her books. So far, I've only found one in my book thrifting efforts and I've now read it twice. 
This is written as a first-person narrative by a British unmarried woman, Mildred, set in post-war London suburbs who finds herself with new neighbors, new gossip and new entanglements. She has her own interests and friends most of which revolve around her Church of England parish and is not unhappy about her single life but finds meaning in a part-time job helping the less unfortunate. She has several male bachelor friends but none of them strike her as husband material for herself. Then the next-door flat is rented by a married couple whose life becomes closely intertwined with hers as marital woes afflict them. The title 'Excellent Women' is referred to several times in the story as Mildred assesses herself and others and it is likely that this is a possible reference to Proverbs 31 where the wife of noble character is described. 
This is a thoughtful book with insightful ideas of the home life and marriage and Pym's addition of wit and humor makes it a worthwhile read for me.

Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery

What a delightful introduction to the Emily series! Many people know Anne of Green Gables, but Emily Starr is her own girl written with care, humor and purpose. This story highlights what we know in real life, some adults understand the mystery of childhood and others do not. Emily meets with both while she herself wonders at the world of adults. I look forward to reading the other two books in the series this year.
One of my favorite quotes in the story is this witty observation made by Emily:
Aunt Elizabeth wore her black satin dress with a pointed lace collar and cap. She looked quite handsome and I was proud of her. You like your relatives to look well even if you don't like them.

Friday, February 12, 2021

making roasted chicken, gravy and mashed potatoes

This is a recipe post written down for my children and grandchildren. I no longer can find the cooking post that first showed me how to use reserved fat and flour to make a roux. I wish I could, so I could give the cook credit. This is a quick post and assumes that you will look up anything you don't understand or call me. 

But there are many others out there who have perfected the technique. This is my clumsy version for our family. Sometimes, I have to strain the gravy because of flour lumps, it doesn't happen that often, mostly because I think that if I keep my broth hot or at least warm, the roux blends in properly. But I'm not a perfect cook, sometimes I have to strain my gravy and keep going. This time, I added all my fresh herbs to the chicken in large pieces, sticks and all. You don't have to do that, just any dried herbs and salt and pepper will be enough.  Or no herbs and whatever spices you want.

Put your pieces of chicken in a baking dish, add any spices or salt, then put into a hot oven around 375F and bake for a few minutes to get the chicken juices to run.
Here the chicken (thighs with skin) juices are starting to run. Add a spoonful of butter and let it melt into the juices. Then use this mixture to baste the chicken with until skin is crispy and brown at the end of the cooking time. I baste with a soup spoon and just scoop up the buttery juice by the spoonful and let it run over each piece of chicken. I do this every 15-20 minutes if I remember.


Here is the chicken fully cooked with crispy skin. I picked off most of the big pieces of herbs, but if you used regular dried herbs, you can skip that step. I probably baked this for 45 minutes, but you can use a meat thermometer if you're nervous.
So that's how you roast chicken in the drippings. Now to turn those drippings into gravy!

Here is my baking dish after I took out all the pieces of chicken.  In the background, is my chicken bullion made from boiling water and adding powered bullion.  I buy OXO brand for both chicken and beef. I like that flavor the best. I usually make about 4 cups of bullion and then decide if I need another cup after the gravy is boiling and thickening.

This is the process I use to strain my drippings into my gravy separator. I use my mesh strainer balanced over the opening of the separator usually sitting in my sink in case I spill. If you don't feel confident doing this, just strain your drippings into a large glass measuring cup and then pour that into your gravy separator. I used a rubber spatula to scrape the sides of my baking dish to get all the good flavor bits into the juice. Then I carefully scraped it into my mesh strainer to keep it as pure as I can. But if bits of herb get through, that's okay. It will just add some color to your gravy.

Already you can see how the juicy broth settles to the bottom and the fat sits on top. The gravy separator will allow you to pour off the broth and keep the fat from pouring out. 

Here it is quite clear that the darker liquid on the bottom is the tasty broth you baked with and you will pour that off into the glass cup with your other broth made from chicken bullion.

So now I've poured off the broth from the gravy separator into the glass cup and left my fat behind. If you pour the broth carefully you should be able to get rid of most of your broth easily and stop when the color changes to fat. No worries if the broth takes some of the fat with it when you start pouring or as you finish. 

So into the large skillet goes the fat from the gravy separator. You can scrape the inside with your rubber scraper to get most of the liquid into the skillet. Turn on the heat and bring your fat to medium heat so that it starts to bubble. Once, it's bubbling, add the flour as seen next.

This is where I abandon all the cooking guides for fat to flour ratio.  If you're good at following those ratios, then great. I guess-timate and generally add one tablespoon of flour to every tablespoon of fat I think is in my pan. For me, that's generally 3-4 tablespoons. No cooking guide will tell you to guess.  I do but until you get comfortable doing this, perhaps looking in your cookbook about the fat to flour ratio will help you.

Here's what my skillet looks like with bubbling fat and measure flour before I start to whisk it together.

Here, it looks like I could have added one more tablespoon of flour, but I'd rather be a little runny than too stiff so I think it's good. The flour is almost mixed in.

So now I have whisked the flour into the medium heated fat and everything is bubbling and ready to add my broth. 

The next few pictures look bland and boring as I add the broth and bring the gravy to boil.
But this is where the roux should be doing it's magic and thickening the gravy while bringing good flavor. 

So while that simmers and thickens, let's look at our cooked potatoes. I've boiled them until the fork slides in gently and then drained the water off the pot using the lid to keep the potatoes in the pot. Then after I've turned the heat off the burner, I put the potatoes back on the burner and let the excess water in the potatoes evaporate and dry out a little. Don't let them sit too long and start to stick, but you can shake the pot a little and let them get bashed a up bit as they dry up nicely.

Then I take them off the heat, put a pad under them on my counter and start to mash them with my mixer beaters without turning the mixer on. You could use a potato masher, I just don't need to dirty that up when the beaters will do the same work.

Then I warm up in a small pan some milk and butter. I don't measure so these are approximate amounts: 1/2 cup of milk and two big spoonfuls of butter. I let that simmer on low heat for a minute or two until the butter is melting into the milk.

Then I pour this heated mixture into my bashed potatoes and then I use my electric mixture inside the pot to whip the potatoes until smooth and creamy. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. I leave the mashed potatoes in this pot to keep warm. If I was putting them into a serving bowl, I would warm the serving bowl and then add the potatoes. 

Check in on your simmering gravy and if it tastes good, you're ready to serve. If you need to add salt or bullion powder to the gravy, you can do that and let it simmer longer. Then serve.
This is not my darkest gravy, but it does the trick.

So that's a quick explanation of how I make gravy after roasting meat. You can do this same process for anything that you want to have gravy for. If you're not making a gravy, save all the drippings into a container in the refrigerator or freezer for another day. The fat will be solid and easy to remove into your skillet. Or you can save the fat for making soup. Another post for that one.