Monday, October 31, 2011

Honey, tea's ready!

I have this thing for honey. Isn't it a funny word? We use it, at least in my house, constantly.
"Honey, I'm home!"
"Hi honey bun!"
"Honey, the tea's ready!"
"Would you like some honey in your tea?"

Since childhood, I've often preferred honey on things as opposed to conventional white sugar. When I moved to North Texas, this thing grew into immense appreciation, considering this particular area is one of, if not the worst, place for seasonal allergies.
I'd NEVER had allergies before then. I hadn't known what had hit me. My first spring in college was spent in a hazy fog of pollen and sinus headaches. While at the grocery store one day, I was looking for peanut butter and came across a trove of honey brands. I began reading and stumbled onto a a local honey bottle.

Suddenly, my father's and grandmother's voices sounded in my head like a drill sergeant's, "local honey is good for allergies." Being dutiful to the reminiscent voices, I obeyed and call it true or psychological placebo effect, it worked.

Which brings me to my semester abroad. The first three months was nothing but rain and clouds. Not the vicious thunderstorms of Texas, but a constant, Eeyore-like drizzle, to which there was no end. I took honey in my tea, out of habit, but was shocked at the flavor. It makes sense that it would taste differently, I was on the other side of the planet for goodness sake, but I hadn't anticipated such a drastic difference in something as simple as my beloved sweetener.

I slowly became accustomed to the taste and discovered a new trove of, not just brands, but flavors. Honey from the Alps, dark and strong from conifer pollen, Fleur d'oranger, sweet and calm, and a number of others from Spain, Germany, and Italy with vastly different flavors as well.

When I returned home, Texas's honey was so subtle and light, compared to the latter ones. Recently, I bought an organic brand of unfiltered honey (I always buy unfiltered, it's just better). I hadn't realized that it was from Brazil. Opening the lid, I was almost sent off my feet with the strong smell and flavor.

Delicious as it is, not much is needed. Thinking of all of the rain forest flowers and tropical fruits whose pollen made it into the honey, it's no wonder that it is strong.

Regardless of this wonderful flavor I found, that simple, subtle Texas honey must always be sitting in my pantry. In light of picking some up the other day, I decided to make cornbread. It seemed like the perfect thing to do right after a cold front blew its way into my neck of the woods.

Baked o perfection, cornbread, like honey, always makes me feel comfortable and at home. I usually bake a 9in pan and just lay a kitchen rag or cheese cloth over it to keep the bugs off. It's nice to come home from a long day and warm up a piece, put a bit of butter in the middle and drizzle some Texas honey over it.

Here's the recipe I used:

1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1 cup milk
1/3 cup olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Mix all of the dry ingredients together.
Stir in wet contents.
Butter or grease the pan.
Pour batter into 9 in pan
Bake 20-25 min.


Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Tale of Two Soups

May I just say that I love Autumn, or Fall, as we say in the South. I love it. I love the oncoming coolness, the fall harvest vegetables and fruits, fall fashions, breaking out the sweaters and boots, county fairs, beautiful, crisp sunsets, deer season, holidays, and hearty meals. I'm also a fall baby. Yay for October birthdays!

As a new wife, I'm still getting the hang of domestic life...things. Cooking is a good example. I've always been gifted in sugary concoctions and sweet treats, but meals were always made by my parents, and then when I moved out, I lived on eggs, macaroni, bread, and cheese (and tea of course).

During said post-parental-home-living, the husband and I have always lived together, except for a semester of dorm life in our early college years. We bought food separately, paid separate bills, and even slept in separate rooms for a good duration of the time. He lived on a likewise diet, but added several highly processed snack foods.

Recently, since we've been married, regardless of the egalitarian feminist I am, I have assumed the role of cooking most meals. Breakfasts are separate, since we rise at different times most mornings. Lunches are also usually not eaten together, but at the end of the day, we are both craving bigger meals to eat together.

My cooking confidence is slowly growing. I always observed my parents' cooking and done my own research on it, but most things I have made since the wedding have been a giant guessing game. I guess that I assumed an innate sense of how to cook would magically absorb into my brain once that marriage license was signed? No idea.

I'll start to follow a recipe and stray. I think of something that sounds good and just make it. I'll go to the store hungry and buy half the store. Seriously, I am the poster child of needing to avoid getting groceries while hungry!

All that said, last week I felt run-down. Flu and cold season is in full swing here in North Texas, as well as, constantly changing winds and weather. Mix this into a concoction of the husband and I working and going to school spells out a recipe for disaster.

I had been around some sick people at work and in class, and after not sleeping well last Thursday night, I was doubly exhausted after work Friday night. While driving home, the thought of making macaroni and cheese (organic, but still) made me feel worse.

I began pondering what would fill this void in my stomach, not to mention the void in my immune system. Chicken broth came to mind. Noodles. Vegetables. Garlic. Peppermint tea. I stopped at a grocer on my way home and purchased what I could. Organic, free range chicken broth, a yellow squash, celery, carrots, broccoli.

I came home and set to peeling and slicing at my loot and boiling them in the broth. I made the noodles separately and dumped them int the concoction. After seasoning with some thyme, salt, pepper, and a hint of rosemary. It was finished. I ate a giant bowl of this soup and went to bed.

When I woke up, my body felt rejuvenated. Granted, it wasn't delicious. Bland and wholesome it was, at best, but I was thankful for it. I had also caught up on some sleep, as I didn't have to be at work until early afternoon, so I let my body sleep in later than usual.

My husband woke up with me that morning and I told him the story of the night before and warned him that it wasn't great, and that I would finish it, but to not feel obligated to eat it. When I returned home from work, I discovered that he'd eaten all of it.

When questioned about it, he just shrugged his broad shoulders and laughed. "It tasted fine to me," he said with a smile.

He then proceeded to ask me to make him chili soon. Chili? Ugh, the thought of heavy beef, tomatoes, and pinto beans came to mind, as well as an array of canned varieties. Not appetizing.

"Really?" I asked, nearly offended.

"Yeah, you know, something heavy and meaty."

I admit, I've been cooking on the lighter side, because I'd grown comfortable with pastas and sauces, and breads. Meat? Not so much.

"What about stew?" I rebutled.

"What's stew?"

"You know, meat and broth base, with carrots, potatoes, onions, celery, hearty stuff."

"Yeah! Can you make that? I just want hearty!"

With the chili situation avoided, I began pondering how I'd make this. I went to our natural foods grocer and waded through locally grown veggies and picked out other needs, all in an attempted to avoid the meat section until last. I have this thing with buying meat. Maybe because we always killed our own meat? I just hate buying it at the store.

I'm also not a huge fan of beef. You can hand me the best cut of fillet minion in Texas and I'll choose a drumstick or venison back-strap over it. With this in mind, I browsed through the freezer, the expensive rump roast, sausage links, and the like, one of which I did choose (it was pork though).

Finally, I came upon a section of paper-wrapped meat, which INSTANTLY made me feel at home, and as I began to decipher the labels, I realized it was locally raised, grass-fed buffalo meat! I was so excited!

I love wild game. When I share with people that I'm a hunter, most look at me strangely because of my stature, and then ask if I eat it.

My response is always, "I only kill what I'll eat or what's attacking me."

They then share some terrible story of having eaten wild game once and hating the flavor. I don't understand this. I find gamy tang to be wonderful in many recipes. I became giddy at the sight and started digging through the wealth before me. I came across some buffalo neck soup bones. Perfect.

When I got home, organic beef broth, water and the bones went into my largest pot. I didn't really measure anything. I just kind of pour and hope it turns out when I make stuff like this (and don't forget to cut all of the fat possible off of gamy meat, because that can ruin it).

After letting it simmer and bubble and boil for about three hours, I cut up all of the veggies and set them aside. A few cloves of garlic and some slices of white onion went into the pot. Then I began adding the veggies, hardiest to lightest with some simmer time in between.

Some basil, salt, pepper, paprika, and oregano later, the soup was ready. I also added a little flour, but it didn't work as well as corn starch would have, as far as thickening goes.

The husband was doubly happy about this soup and has asked for more like it. I feel as though I've defeated another fear. Making something without a guide, and it turning out well is always satisfying.

Bring on the cold weather and long nights, this cowgirl's ready for new recipe experiments!