Asian Ginger Salad Dressing

A refreshing break from bottled dressings.

I realized recently that I use too many bottled salad dressings with their mystery ingredients. It was time to start making my own dressing.

Today, I felt like ginger salad dressing, so that’s what I made. Surprisingly, I had all of the ingredients in the mobile mansion’s tiny pantry.

Here’s my version of the recipe; it’s quick and easy to make and tastes great over mixed lettuce (think bagged) with grape tomatoes. It would probably be good over cabbage salads, too, or perhaps a marinade for chicken.

Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 cup warm water
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger root
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

  1. In a 1-pint jar or dressing cruet, combine the honey and warm water.
  2. Swirl stir, or shake to melt the honey and combine.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients.
  4. Shake well.
  5. Chill at least 30 minutes to cool and combine flavors.
  6. Shake well before using.

Store unused portions in refrigerator.

Honey Barbecue Sauce

Excellent on tiny meatballs, better on smoked ribs.

I’m a member — well, the vice president, actually — of the North Central Washington Beekeepers’ Association. We meet twice a month: once for a formal “business and education meeting” and once for a “bee chat” at a restaurant.

President Steve encourages members to bring honey-based snacks to the business meeting. He usually tries to assign the snack to someone and the person who is supposed to bring it usually doesn’t. So after missing two meetings due to my two-month trip to California, I decided to make up for my absence by bringing a snack. I’d whip up a batch of honey barbecue sauce and slather it over tiny meatballs. Quick and easy to make, especially since I cheated and used frozen “Swedish style” meatballs from Fred Meyer.

They were well-received at the beekeeper meeting. (Of course, someone else brought two kinds of cake and honey-sweetened tea, too!)

Here’s the ingredients and instructions for the sauce. I’ve also had it over smoked ribs and it’s delicious!

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 c. honey
  • 1/2 c. ketchup
  • 1/4 c. butter (1/2 stick)
  • 1 tbsp. vinegar
  • 2 tsp. Dijon style mustard
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed

Instructions:

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan.
  2. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 5 minutes.
  3. Remove from stove and cool.

Yields:

About 1-1/2 cups sauce.

Crock-Pot Beef Soup

Easy recipe for a winter day.

I love Crock-Pot® — or, more generically, slow-cooker — cooking. There’s nothing like throwing a bunch of ingredients in an appliance, covering it, turning it on, and coming back 6 to 10 hours later for a delicious meal. Best of all, the aroma of that slow-cooked meal permeates your home, greeting you quite pleasantly when you get back from a long day at work or play.

True story: a few weeks ago, I had to make a trip down to Goldendale for some business. it’s a 3-1/2 hour drive — each way. I set up a slow-cooker before I left at 7 AM and completely forgot about it. On my way home that afternoon, I thought about what I could cook for dinner without having to stop at the supermarket. When I turned the key in the door and pushed it open, I smelled the lovely aroma of the chicken soup that had been cooking all day and actually thought to myself, “What did I make yesterday that smells so good today?” I was actually stepping into the house when I remembered the slow cooker-meal waiting for me. What a reward at the end of a very long day!

Anyway, I was in the supermarket Sunday and found some very meaty “soup bones” in the meat department. Remembering the excellent beef soup I’d made last winter in Arizona from similar “soup bones” in my chest freezer from a half cow we’d bought the previous year, I decided to whip up a batch here. But rather than put it on the stove, I pulled out the slow-cooker. Here’s the recipe I used.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 pounds of very meaty beef soup bones
  • 3 carrots, cut into 2-3 inch lengths
  • 2 stalks celery, cut into 2-3 inch lengths
  • 1 medium onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1 teaspoon salt. You might want to put more; I’m trying to limit my salt intake. Remember; you can always add it later.
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper. Is there any other kind?
  • 1 tablespoon Herbs from Provence. The prepared blend I used includes chervil, basil, rosemary, tarragon, garlic, lavender, marjoram, savory, thyme, and parsley.
  • 3-4 cups water

Root vegetables also work well in this recipe, although I never use potatoes because I’m trying to avoid starches.

Instructions

  1. Place beef bones at the bottom of a slow-cooker.
  2. Spread vegetables on top of beef.
  3. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and herbs on vegetables.
  4. Beef SoupPour enough water over slow-cooker contents to barely cover them. In the slow-cooker I’m using, that was just over 3 cups.
  5. Cover the cooker and set to high.
  6. When the cooker contents start to boil or simmer, set to low. If it never starts to boil, that’s okay. It really depends on the slow-cooker. If you need to go out for the day, just set it to low before you leave.
  7. Cook all day. I’m thinking at least 6 hours to tenderize the beef and bring out the flavors of the meat and vegetables.
  8. Remove the beef bones from the soup and allow to cool enough to remove meat pieces from them.
  9. Cut the meat as necessary and return it to the soup.

Serve piping hot with crusty bread.

Again, I’m watching my carb intake so I’ll be skipping the bread. I’m also avoiding pasta. But noodles or orzo would be really good in this recipe. Cook it separately and add right before serving.

This should make enough soup for at least 4 people. I use plastic containers to freeze leftover soup in single-serving portions. I can then pull out a container and heat up a nice hearty meal any time.

One more note: If you expect to be pressed for time on the morning of the day that you’ll be making this, you can put all ingredients except the water into the slow-cooker insert the night before and store it, covered, in the fridge. Then put the insert into the slow-cooker first thing in the morning, add warm or hot water, and turn it on high. Be sure to set it down to low before you leave for the day.

Julia’s Thanksgiving Cranberry Recipe

The real recipe; not the lazy-cook knockoff circulating among her family and friends.

My mother-in-law Julia may not have been the best all-around cook, but there were a few things that she made extraordinarily well. One of them was her Thanksgiving cranberries. For a kid who grew up with cranberries served out of a can — still shaped like the can, mind you — this was an amazing revelation that cured me of canned cranberries for good.

Thanksgiving 1996I first made Julia’s cranberry recipe for Thanksgiving dinner in 1996. This was an amazing meal served in my New Jersey home. Our Salvation Army-acquired dining table, expanded to its full length with the help of a homemade leaf fully five feet wide, made it possible for all 15 of us to sit together. Amazing timing with the help of a standard sized oven and the microwave I still own made it possible to serve the entire meal at the same time, fresh and hot. If there is such a thing as miracles, this was one of them. I’ll never be able to top that feat again.

Anyway, Julia gave me her cranberry recipe for that meal and I prepared the cranberries a day or two in advance to her specifications. It came out perfectly.

Recently, I obtained a copy of the recipe that was distributed to family and friends on the back of a card handed out at her funeral. I was shocked to see that it included canned cranberries. The recipe Julia shared with me didn’t have cranberries out of a can. It had fresh cranberries prepared on the stove — the way a real cook would prepare them.

Here, then, is the recipe Julia shared with me back in 1996. I’ll be making this for my friends to enjoy at Thanksgiving this year.

Ingredients:

  • Cranberries
    Julia’s real cranberry recipe started with fresh whole cranberries.

    2 12-oz bags fresh, whole cranberries

  • 2 cups water
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 12-oz can crushed pineapple (packed in natural juice; do not drain)
  • 1 10-oz can Mandarin orange pieces (drained), crushed or chopped
  • 3 or 4 figs, fresh or dried, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, diced (optional for crunchiness; I usually omit it)
  • 1 small apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
  • 1/4 cup Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or orange juice

Instructions:

  1. Rinse the cranberries and place them in a pot.
  2. Add the water and one cup of the sugar and stir.
  3. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer, stirring occasionally.
  4. Listen for the cranberries to “pop.” When about two thirds of them have popped, remove them from the heat and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Drain away the cooking water and place the cranberries in a large bowl.
  6. Add the remaining half cup of sugar and still well. Sugar should dissolve.
  7. Cool thoroughly.
  8. Add remaining ingredients and stir well.
  9. Cover and store in the refrigerator at least overnight so the flavors will meld.

Finished Cranberries
Here’s what my cranberries look like this year.

Serve with turkey (for Thanksgiving!) or pork (any time of the year).

If you’re looking for something different with your turkey this year, try homemade mango chutney. That’s also good with pork.

By the way, the other thing Julia made so perfectly was a New York style cheesecake. I dreaded when she made it in my kitchen because she made an enormous mess. But it was worth it: creamy, delicious, and just sweet enough — if you could convince her not to top it off with something silly like cherry pie filling.

I miss you more than I thought I would, Julia. Rest in peace.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

Fresh, tasty pumpkin seedy goodness.

I bought a bunch of pumpkins in October — all kinds of pumpkins — from a local pumpkin farm. I bought them mostly because I could pick them myself and it was fun. I liked the seasonality of having pumpkins around. And I figured I might carve them and put candles in them and do the whole Jack ‘O Lantern thing, even though I knew damn well I wasn’t going to get any trick or treaters.

Penny with Pumpkins
Penny posed with the pumpkins the day we brought them home.

But then my godfather got sick and died and I went to New York. When I got back, right before Halloween, I didn’t really feel like carving pumpkins.

So they sat outside. Halloween came and went. We had a warm spell and then it turned cold. Very cold. “Frost on the pumpkin,” as my stepdad would say, cold.

I got the idea that I wanted to pull seeds from the pumpkins to plant them in my own garden next year. (Don’t tell Monsanto.) So one-by-one I bought them in, cut them open, and scooped out the seeds. I cleaned them and dried them and put them in labeled plastic bags.

Of course, I don’t need that many seeds to plant and the orange pumpkin had plenty of them. So I decided to roast them — just as I did most years that I carved pumpkins in Arizona and New Jersey.

Here’s how.

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Using oil or spray oil, lightly grease the bottom of a large pan. (I used olive oil because that’s the way I roll.)
  3. Cut open the pumpkin and remove the seeds and loose pulpy stuff around them from the inside.
  4. Separate the pulpy stuff from the seeds. This could take some time. Be patient. Drinking wine or chatting with a friend or loved one is a good multi-tasking activity.
  5. Put the seeds in a colander and rinse them. Don’t rinse them too well; they’re better with just a little bit of pumpkin on them.
  6. Put the pumpkin seeds in the prepared pan and spread them evenly.
  7. Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
    Roasted pumpkin seeds, straight from my oven.

    Sprinkle the seeds with a generous helping of salt. (I used Kosher salt because I had some. Regular salt works, too.)

  8. Put the pan in the oven and roast for at least 10 minutes. If necessary, stir the seeds to prevent uneven browning, spread them out again, and continue to roast. You might have to do this more than once, depending on how many seeds there are and how big the pan is. The seeds should be light brown and kind of crispy when they’re done.
  9. Remove from oven.
  10. Enjoy as soon as they’re cool enough to eat without burning your mouth.

And yes, you do eat the entire seed.

Enjoy!