Sunday, November 30, 2008

Scenes From Sunday

Fun's best female friend invited us to a lovely Christmas choral presentation by the University of Windsor's School of Music.
This is beautiful Assumption Church, Windsor, Ontario, Canada. It is the oldest Canadian parish west of Montreal, Quebec.
The program was split between the mesmerizing University Women's Chamber Choir, which I neglected to photograph,
and the University Singers. Some little children dressed in white joined the finale piece. I couldn't find who they were in the program. Very sweet to hear the delicate children's voices.
Then director Jeffrey Walker turned to the congregation and the pipe organ and I was delighted to find myself in a cluster of very, very, good sopranos, one of whom magnificently soared on "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."
We exited to a rainy night alongside the Ambassador Bridge. Isn't it pretty?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Lasagna - The Decadent Housewife Way

My first encounter with real Italian food was a Spinach Lasagna in Quebec City during Winter Carnival back in 1970 something. At the sight of green noodles my astonished friend and I nearly sent it back. What did we know about noodles. We'd grown up on nasty canned spaghetti. But the teacher in charge of this school trip assured us it was safe to eat. And eat we did. Aside from the cold, all I remember from that outing was that lasagna, a Boeuf Bourguignon, some crispy potato wedges and a cute French Canadian boy who didn't seem to notice the cold at all.

My second encounter was the remarkable cooking of a post-college roommate. She did Gnocchi and Tiramisu long before anyone made it trendy. With a few simple ingredients, Rosanna produced winner after winner every single time. On occasion she would make lasagna. I remember thinking, "What an awful lot of work fussing with that pasta and making that scratch sauce and assembling it all."

Until one day, it occurred to me that the only thing pasta needed to prepare it for eating was water and heat. So what's keeping me from skipping boiling the pasta, go directly to the casserole dish and add some water? Nothing. I tried it and it works. Many years later "oven-ready lasagna noodles" appeared on grocery shelves. I tried them. THEY WERE AWFUL. I went back to the way I'd been doing it all along.
Purchase regular lasagna noodles. Even Rosanna did this, but said her mother would frown on it. Do not pre-cook them, but just place them directly into the casserole dish and add water when the dish is completely assembled. A few times I've run out of lasagna noodles and substituted handfuls of spaghetti noodles laid down to about the same thickness as the lasagna. That works too, hungry men don't notice and candlelight works wonders.

The second thing I do is divide the process into two days work and simplify the sauce-making. When we have spaghetti, I make a large batch of sauce, earmarking the excess for lasagna. Later that week I extend the sauce for making lasagna by adding another two cans or bottles of commercial spaghetti sauce or diced tomatoes. I usually have enough for two 9 x 13 to eat right away and one to freeze. Sometimes when there's nothing else to do, I'll make a huge amount of sauce producing six or more lasagnas and freeze all but one for supper. This comes in handy over the holiday season when wolves and their accomplices are prowling my kitchen more than usual.

Purists, no doubt, would gasp. But let it be known that the leftovers of this particular lasagna brown bagged it off to work with GG. He called me from work to say his boss, (I can't remember his name, but it sounded as beautiful as Luciano Pavarotti), walked into the office and announced, "There's lasagna in here. Somebody has lasagna." GG shrugged, opened his tote, pulled out the little plastic lunch bag tucked inside another plastic bag, peeked into the heavy lunch container and replied, "You're right. I have lasagna." Now I don't think GG shared his lunch with his boss, but at least Decadent's Lasagna smells authentic.

Sauce: Enough for two 9 x 13 pans.
I started with this:
  • 2 pounds of lean ground beef
  • 4 -680 ml. (24 oz.) cans or bottles of commercial spaghetti sauce
  • 2 large onions chopped
  • several crushed and minced garlic cloves
Saute the onions and garlic with a bit of oil. Add the beef and brown. Add the commercial spaghetti sauce.
From this, six people had a fine spaghetti supper. I had about 2-3 liters of leftover sauce.
The next day I did this:
Add another:
  • 2 -680 ml. (24 oz.) cans or bottles of commercial spaghetti sauce
The Rest of the Ingredients for Lasagna
  • 1 - 500 gram container cottage cheese
  • 2 - 520 gram bars of mozzarella (it won't necessarily get all used up)
  • parmesan, as much as you like :)
  • 1- 1 1/2 cups chopped frozen spinach
  • 2 eggs
  • lasagna noodles, the casseroles pictured here used 3 layers, can use 4
  • 1 cup water
Ladle 2 - 3 ladles of sauce into the bottom of two 9 x 13 casserole pans.
This is how I assembled the casserole.
  1. Meat sauce.
  2. Noodles.
  3. Meat Sauce. Mozzarella. Cottage Cheese and Egg with Spinach.
  4. Noodles.
  5. Meat Sauce. Mozzarella, Cottage Cheese and Egg with Spinach
  6. Noodles
  7. Meat Sauce, Mozzarella, Parmesan.
Sometimes, I use a deeper casserole dish and will use a 4th layer of noodles. I freeze in foil 9 x 13's, pop the frozen unbaked lasagna out of the foil pan into a glass casserole, let it defrost somewhat and bake as usual.

Break up the spinach.
Beat the two eggs.
Mix the cottage cheese into the beaten eggs.
Mix in the spinach. This made 3 1/2 cups.
Evenly divide and spread the spinach mix over the first and second layers of noodles.
More sauce.
Shred mozzarella directly onto the lasagna.
More noodles. See. These noodles are not green. They're not made with spinach.
More sauce.
Here Decadent is crumbling previously frozen mozzarella directly onto the lasagna. Cheese when frozen crumbles. Freeze cheese when it goes on sale. No one will ever know the difference when it's cooked.
Here I am shaking parmesan onto the lasagna.
All assembled, now pour 1/2 cup of water into each of the casseroles. If adding an extra layer of noodles, add just a tad more water...but not much.
Ready to go...cover it tightly with foil.
Bake in preheated oven 350 F x 1 hour. Remove the foil covering for the final 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the casserole rest about 10 minutes before cutting into it.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Giant Fireball Lights up Canadian Sky

The other night, in pitch darkness, while Decadent Housewife was stranded on the side of the road, with Buff busily flicking a Bic lighter to shed light on the situation; the whole of Western Canada at that very moment had their sky lit up by no puny fireball streaking toward earth.

Andy Bartlett, using a Canon Powershot digital camera, captured the spectacle from a tenth floor Edmonton, Alberta apartment. While watching this, I thought how Buff and I sure could have used a giant fireball flying through the Eastern Canada sky. After viewing their offering of the fireball, I also thought how the University of Calgary could probably think about picking up a few Canon Powershot cameras.

Not too very long after the fireball allegedly dropped into the ubiquitous farmer's field somewhere in Saskatchewan, theories began to emerge as to what it actually was. Someone offered that he had found it...a nastily charred Nasa tool bag. Someone else offered that it was aliens. I would go with the tool bag thesis. I have the aliens my kitchen.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Scenes From Sunday

Friday, November 21, 2008

Decadent Housewife Has Kitchen Accident

Unless you can come up with a better explanation.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Only Thing Missing was Driving Rain - A Near Miss Tow Tale

Last night in the pitch dark, in the cold, alongside the road, Buff, crouched down on his knees, repeatedly flicking a Bic lighter and fiddled with a disconnected parking brake release. I was glad he likes drinking vile Algae Smoothies. They seem to be aiding his eyesight.
Buff wanted to go work out in Town and I wanted to buy some Stanfields, so off we went. We traveled just a few miles when I noticed the van seemed somewhat draggy. It has been some time since I have driven this particular vehicle and I couldn't remember just what is and what is not normal for it. I noticed the brake light on and me being a complete technological ditz and unsure, pulled over, pushed the emergency brake hoping it would re-release and the light would go off and said, "I think there is something wrong with the brakes." Buff being a technologically savvy teenager replied, "I told you, you should have let me drive...I know about these things."

But lo and behold, the emergency brake would not release even after we both tried our feet at kicking it. Observing the lower half of the dashboard still hanging since the summer, with colourful wires, the sort little girls like to twist into bracelets and other gee-gaw stuff, I wondered aloud, "Isn't there supposed to be some sort of brake release on here?" I began to hum when Buff, to my amazement, spoke some bad words in a foreign language, about the...i-dee-O...who disconnected the brake release and left it that way. All this was much to my surprise...the part about the foreign language...since I never much included any foreign language other than biblical Greek in our home school curriculum. He must have picked it up at wicked public High School.
While Buff fiddled, grunting under his breathe, flicking the Bic, I thought, "too bad it isn't daylight since I could wave traffic by" and heeded something my mother told me a very, very long time ago, "Never bother a man under a car on the side of the road." I would talk to Buff later about the foreign language.

About this time, I became a very bad Mother abandoning Buff and the van to begin the two mile walk back home thinking about the Stanfields awaaaay down the road in Town, wishing I was wearing some at that very moment, and about what GG would say when he came home from work to another Tow Tales episode. And just as I was beginning to think of ways to squirm out of this one, I heard Buff hollering he had gotten the parking brake release connected. Buff met me walking, halfway up the road and offered me his gloves. And off we went again. We both apologized and started giggling how life can get so stupid when all we want is a warm pair of long johns and an evening pumping iron.

I thought how if this had happened with Speedy, I would be in the passenger seat and we would be speeding toward Town at break neck speed, "Just LEAVE STUFF ALONE LIKE CARS AND COMPUTERS, OKAY MOM, MOM?!?" And if it were Violinist, I would still be in the passenger seat but Violinist would be giggling over some stupid thing somebody else he knows had done, and laughing "Holy Moly! old are you?" He would then become distracted, "Turn the radio up, turn the radio...that's Beethoven's..." something or other, and would buy us each a hot chocolate when finally in Town. And if it were Fun, I would be in the driver's seat and it would be fun because Fun does that. Fun would shrug, make some very, very good dirt-bike sounds, ask if I'd heard the one about a woman and her teenage son stranded on the side of the road, laugh, offer a Hershey Kiss and fire up his Hell-pod. Hell-pod? Another time.
Brake light still on, van still draggy, we got to Town. Buff worked out. Decadent Housewife bought some illustrious long johns, responsible for keeping Canada warm since 1856...a new pair. And it just occurred to me, what the heck does Buff have a Bic lighter in his pocket for? So I asked him when he arrived home from school today, reporting he found a bomb threat in the washroom this afternoon and on that account, might have tomorrow off. "Oh, the lighter?...for stupid stuff like what happened last night. I should probably carry a jack-knife too. By the way, I'm going to Town to work out...with Derek. You need anything?"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Sourdough Potato Starter - Sourdough Bread - A Primer in Breadmaking

Allll little pretties! This stuff is sourdough starter. And it is what I use to make the bread you see in the photos here and in the following Sourdough Potato Bread recipe.
It's just leftover water from cooking peeled potatoes, plus sugar, plus flour and a bit of salt. The photo above shows a large batch but to get enough to make 4 loaves start with:

  • 2 cups of potato water
  • 2 tsp of brown sugar
  • 1/2 -1 tsp salt (nobody says you have to put this in either)
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
See that liquid sitting on top? That's hooch. Get up off the floor all you delicate types. Hooch is the alcoholic stuff that forms when you let the mixture sit around fermenting a few days in a warm place. Some old "Sourdoughs" (those gold rush miner guys from back in 1848) used to drink the stuff, but you gentle reader are going to stir it back in every time you notice the hooch has risen to the top.

Now I regret to say, this starter isn't the same one started by any ancestor of mine. It isn't even one I started back in 1970 something. This isn't 1848, so I don't have to act like it is. Okay? Of course if I want, I could keep it going for posterity by tossing it in the fridge and adding another cup of flour and cup of warm potato or plain water and a teaspoon of sugar every time I take from it.
But that always grossed me out...right up there with the 1,000 year old Chinese egg thing. I use up what I start and then start another.
  • 2 1/2 cups of starter from the above or your own recipe
  • 1 tsp. brown sugar, 1st amount
  • 1 Tbsp. yeast granules
  • 2 1/2 cups potato water or plain water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2nd amount
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 4 scoopers all-purpose flour
This is the scooper and how much flour I take out in a scoopful. No scooper? Keep reading. The total flour is probably around 12 cups. But you are not going to worry about that. A teacup will do fine. The point is this; add enough flour to start to make a nice soft doughy mass in which we can begin to knead.
Measure out 2 1/2 cups of the starter. Submerge this in some warm water in the sink to warm it up. The bread will come along much better if this is warm. Not HOT! Hot will kill the yeast.
After it's warmed, pour into a big mixing bowl and add a teaspoon of brown sugarand a tablespoon of yeast granules and set this aside. In a few minutes you'll see the yeast begin to bubble up.In a separate container, measure out the potato water, warm this up too.
Add the brown sugar and salt, mix
and pour this into the starter mix.
Whisk that together.
Begin to add the scoops of flour.
Stir in each scoop and mix. The mixture should form a soft doughy mass. This below is still far too wet.
Be careful to not add too much flour. If there is too much flour the mixture will form folds and you will have to add a bit of water. In all my years of bread making, twice, I've had to add more liquid because I added too much flour right off. It was nasty, very, very nasty trying to get that water mixed in. This below is about right.
Scrape the mixture onto a lightly floured work surface.
Place your hands around and under the edges of the dough keeping flour between your hands and the dough as much as possible and bring the edges up and over toward the center of the dough mass. Actually, at this point, it looks more like a dough mess. Gently draw the edges of the doughy mass inward and then start to knead by placing the palms of your hands at the top of the dough mass.
Fold the dough down over itself and then using your palms, push the dough away from you. A rhythm will begin. Pull down, knead, knead. Now the dough mass will have become somewhat horizontally rectangular. Turn the dough mass so that it is vertically rectangular and repeat the process of pulling the top toward you, knead, knead, turn. Pull down, knead, knead, turn. Repeat. Observe that the underpart of the dough mass will begin to smooth out and the part facing you will be sticky and rough looking. Keep the dough like this. Keep the wettish part always facing up toward you. And keep the dryer smoother side away from you next to the work surface. You'll get it.
It won't be very long and the dough will begin to firm up. Pay attention to the feel of the dough. If the outer surface feels sandy, there is likely enough flour. Stop and scrape the work surface throughout the kneading. Sieve the fine flour back into your flour bag and work the small bits left behind in the sieve back into the dough.
Add a little more flour if the dough feels quite sticky and readily sticks to the work surface and your hands. Pick up some more flour from the flour bag with your hand and sprinkle it on the work surface, rub your hands of the sticky bits back into the dough ball and keep kneading.
Feel it. The dough should feel soft, yet firm like your earlobe or the behind of a baby. This photo below shows the dough isn't quite ready...almost, but not quite. The texture isn't right. It looks too moon surface. It should be fairly smooth with very few tacky spots. Add a bit of flour to the work surface and keep kneading.
This photo below shows the dough is ready. The surface is smooth and it feels satiny. Oil the mixing bowl and place the dough ball into it first letting it slide around inside the bowl to coat itself with oil. Place the ball into the bowl, stickier side down, smooth side up. Place in the oven with the light on and door shut.
The dough below is ready to be formed into whatever shape loaves or buns you want. It has fully doubled it's size and I poked it to show how it has risen. The daylight was disappearing when I took this picture and I had other things to do than tinker with a light meter. Bad Decadent.

Don't PUNCH your dough. I've never understood that. It creates a messy surface bringing the tackier parts of the dough outward, is annoying to work with and looks bad when baked. Punch the person who says punch the dough.
With both hands slide your hands down and lift the dough up, it will begin to deflate.
Lift the dough, like a cat, out of the bowl. This dough pictured here happens to be oatmeal bread. That's why you see little speckles in it.
Set it down the same way. Turn it over horizontally rolling into a loggish shape. It should be deflated now. ALWAYS KEEP THE STICKIER SIDE WHICH WAS NEXT TO THE BOWL SIDES, TO THE INSIDE OF THE DOUGH. Remember this and life will be sweet. If you don't, you'll have the same and worse problems PUNCHING creates.
For this recipe divide into four equal pieces, each weighing somewhere between 1 1/2 - 1 3/4's pounds apiece. I weighed them and then evened them up to all weigh the same. You don't have to weigh them. Just try to get them about the same. Since these will all be on their own pan and baked one at a time it won't matter if the sizes vary a bit. Remember, keep all cut sticky sides to the inside of the loaves or rolls.

In the photo below I'm using both hands to shape a ball into a rectangular loaf. Nobody says you can't just leave the loaves round. Go ahead. And YEAH, I should have done something about the lighting here too. BuZZ off! GG!
Shape each into a log, continue to keep cut edges and moister part of the dough to the inside. Here I've flipped a log over and pinch the edges together on the bottom.
And here I am tucking the side to help make a longer shape.
Here is the little loaf ready on it's own pan to begin rising. Lightly grease the pan first with a bit of lard...EWW! Evil, wicked FAT. Use it. Shortening will burn. Use lard. Once the pans get seasoned, (that means you have baked with them several times and wiped them off with only a paper towel, never to wash them ever again...double EWWWW!) you really don't need to grease them much again. Actually, with this batch, I used no grease at all.
Put the loaves to rise in a warm place. These are in the oven with the light on. See my evil wicked seasoned pans. (Just don't send food to anyone on a pan that looks like this. As much as I prize it as a working tool in my kitchen, normal people will pitch it in the garbage. I know. It's happened to me.)
Below, the little loaf has risen and I sprinkled a bit of flour over it using a sieve. The flour wasn't necessary. I was having a senior moment and forgot that I was planning to brush the loaves with water. Here, I'm slashing the top of the loaf with a very sharp serrated knife which GG keeps razor sharp for me using some machine he has sequestered out in the Shop From Hell. Slash just, just, JUST
before brushing it with cold water and putting in the oven. Large, free-form loaves like this I bake one at a time. So like, what the heck is it with the brush? Life.Bake at 400 F x 20 minutes. Using the pastry brush or a squirt gun throw or squirt some more cold water into the oven as you shut the door. Just throw the water in, anywhere. We want to create steam. Some people put a pan of water on the oven floor. I don't. While this bread was being baked, GG had a pan of bacon on the oven floor. Anyway, it was a little dicey with the throwing in of cold water until he got the bacon out of there. Oh my, my life.
Repeat with the water thing in the oven and quickly brushing the loaf at the five and ten minute baking time. This is supposed to create a hard crust. These crusts get chewy. Turn your bread pan at the ten minute mark for even baking.
Bread is done when golden brown and makes a hollow sound when you tap it. Remove after 20 minutes, slide off pan and let cool on racks. This recipe does not have fat. Fat helps keep bread fresh. Therefore, eat it straight out of the oven and freeze the extra loaves.