Garlic Confit

My latest exploits with food involve low-carb choices, a la Atkins.  Shortly before I started that I was introduced to this very easy condiment.

Simply put, it is peeled garlic that has been slowly simmered in olive oil for 45-60 minutes.  In the process, the garlic is preserved for future use.

  1. Put peeled garlic in a small saucepan, or use a larger one depending on the size of your batch.
  2. Cover with Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
  3. Put on stove at lowest heat you can manage.  You should get very small bubbles, but you don’t want the oil to boil, otherwise the garlic will scorch.  I have an induction cooktop, and it is extremely easy to boil oil, even on the lowest setting.  I would suggest either move the pot so it is not completely on the burner, or use a water bath to keep the oil from getting too hot; monitor it carefully to make sure you have it right (i.e. don’t walk away too soon).
  4. Leave on this low heat for 45 minutes or longer.  The idea is that when you stick a fork in a clove, it goes in easily and is not hard.
  5. Take the pot off the heat when the cloves are soft enough to spread on bread.
  6. Ladle the garlic into a clean (and preferably sterilized) canning jar or bowl with a lid. Pour as much more of the oil in the jar as will fit.

That’s it.  The oil is wonderfully fragrant with garlic, and I use on just about everything for extra flavor.  If you find that you use more of the oil than the garlic, just add more as it gets low, and it will pick up the garlic flavor, also.

Some ideas for use:

  • Use the oil anywhere you would use butter — I made some bowtie pasta, put a tablespoon of the oil on it and tossed, smashed a couple of cloves in it, and put salt and pepper to taste.  Yummy!
  • Spread the garlic cloves on anything you like garlic — I smear them on bread, roasts, sandwiches.
  • Chop up in salad and dressing.

Spam Casserole

Enter a troupe of viking singing “Lovely Spam! Wonderful Spam!” When people think of Spam they laugh and either think of Monty Python’s sketch, or perhaps “Weird Al” Yankovic singing “Spam in the place where I live (ham and pork)”….

Lately, I haven’t wanted to do much thinking about food.  I’m one of the guilt-ridden Americans battling with the spectre of obesity.  I’ve been working on this one a while… with two significant successes, yet sliding back into unhealthiness.  My latest quest is how to diet and craft a maintainable diet and lifestyle…. if you stick to a “diet” generally you can lose, but I’ve never been able to make it stick by finding a good plan to maintain the weight loss when you get to your goal.

I’ve been doing reading about “healthy eating”, mostly in trying to detoxify my diet of prepared foods.  The thought being, that most of the chemicals and additives in modern prepared foods is making your liver work overtime, which hinders your ability to maintain a natural weight.  Wow!  Well, I’m going to give it a try, however in discussing it with my Mother, she let it slip that she had some leftovers in the refrigerator….. spam casserole.  OK, I had to have a half cup of it, chunk of spam and all. Don’t laugh…. I really love this dish.

This got me to thinking about two things, the history of casseroles and that of Spam.

Casseroles as a main dish is a relatively new thing. Early “casseroles” meant something entirely different. According to The Penguin Companion to Food, by Alan Davidson, it was “‘a covered heat proof vessel in which food is cooked and served’ (NSOED) or, by extension, the food cooked in such a vessel. The word has a complicated history, starting with a classical Greek term for a cup (kuáthos), progressing to a Latin word (cattia), which could mean both ladle and pan, then becoming an Old French word (casse, via the Provençal casa), which then became cassole (diminutive cassolette) and casserole. Beside explaining this Ayto (1993) draws attention to the remarkable fact that there has been a complete and sudden change in the meaning of a casserole in English in the last 100 years: When English took it over from French at the beginning of the eighteenth century, it meant a dish of cooked rice moulded into the shape of a casserole cooking pot and then filled with a savoury mixture, say of chicken or sweetbreads. It was also applied by extension to a border of rice, or even of mashed potato, round some such dish as fricasse or curry: Mrs Beeton’s recipe for a ‘savoury casserole of rice’ describes such a rice border. Then some time around the 1870s this sens of casserole seems to have slipped imperceptibly by swiftly into a ‘dish of meat, vegetable, and stock or other liquid, cooked slowly in the oven in a closed pot’, its current use.”

In America, I would be hard pressed to think of a potluck that didn’t have Green Bean Casserole, and some people are very familiar with the ubiquitous tuna casserole. The whole idea of a casserole as a one-pot dish seems to have come about in America in the early- to mid-20th century, as modern materials were used to make cooking containers which drove a revolution in easy at-home cooking.  A lot of women’s magazines were full of these types of recipes in the 1960’s, with the promise to reduce time and effort in the kitchen.

Now, the history of Spam is more straight forward. It was a canned meat product developed by the Hormel Company in 1937, which was during WWII. According the the company, the name “Spam” is a shortening of “Spiced Ham”. Funny enough, it is very popular in Hawaii, which makes the recipe make perfect sense in that context.

This casserole is one of the comfort foods I can uniquely identify in my childhood.  It was a cost-effective way to feed the family, and when I was growing up we didn’t have much, all the same my parents made sure we were fed!  As an adult, I’ve found some ways to modify it, and it is still yummy! It flies in the face of my detoxification, but darn it…. I got her to fish the recipe card out, and saw that it was a clipping from Better Homes & Gardens, January, 1966. It was attributed to Mrs. R. E. Day, Honolulu, Hawaii. Well, Mrs. Day… thanks for the recipe. This is not exactly that recipe, but it inspired the way my family makes it. Mom says it is the thyme that is really key to it, but I like the Spam.

1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted
1 can condensed cream of celery soup
1 7.5- or 8-ounce can of stewed tomatoes, drained and cut up
1/4 teaspoon thyme
dash of pepper
1 box of mac-n-cheese, prepared according to box
1 can of Spam, cut in strips
1/4 cup green pepper (optional — I hate green pepper, but Mom likes it)
1/4 cup shredded cheddar or american cheese

In a skillet, sauté onion in butter or margarine until transparent but not brown.

Stir in soup, tomatoes, thyme, and pepper…. I sometimes like to substitute a can of Ro-tel tomatoes to kick it up a little.

Add mac-n-cheese, Spam, and green peppers if you want them, if you use Ro-tel, you probably don’t.

Put into 1 1/2-quart casserole, and top with shredded cheese.

Bake at 350°F for 35 to 40 minutes or until heated through.

Easy Salmon

Easy salmon
Easy Salmon

I found myself at the seafood counter this past weekend and they had the most beautiful wild salmon on display; you may know the one I’m thinking of, that slab of fish that is orange-red rather than that anemic dark pink color.  I got a whole filet, but split it with my mother.  I’m the only one in my house that eats fish, so I offered to share.  She cut it up into single portions, which is what I made tonight.  Believe it or not, I belong to the tribe who doesn’t really love salmon.  I know it is supposed to be good for you, but there is just something between the taste and texture that generally doesn’t appeal to me.  I tend to like fish more like grouper and seabass, on the other hand I also like anchovy and herring which are somewhat opposite to that.  Salmon is usually dry and maybe a bit gritty to me.  That was, however, before I tried it this way!  If you don’t have a lot of time, this extremely quick to make.  The fish comes out moist, and I really like the horseradish bite that the sauce provides.


8 oz  salmon with skin on it
1 tbsp horseradish sauce (I  like Heinz)
1 tbsp ketchup
dill and garlic powder as desired
1 tbsp panko or breadcrumbs

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.

2.  Put foil on a baking sheet and place salmon skin side down on it.  Do not use pan spray.

3.  Rub top of salmon with dill and garlic to taste.

4.  In a small cup, mix horseradish sauce and ketchup, you can use more or less ketchup to taste.  If you feel adventurous, use your favorite barbeque sauce instead of ketchup. Take this mixture and spread to cover the top of the salmon.

5.  Sprinkle panko or breadcrumbs over the top to cover.  I find the panko makes an especially nice crunchy topping.  Feel free to use a bit more if you like it extra crunchy.

6.  Bake in oven for 15 minutes or until done.  In my oven, that is just about perfect without overcooking it.

7. Lift fish off of skin with a spatula and serve.  It should separate easily, leaving the skin stuck to the foil for easy disposal and cleanup.  Neat trick!

Makes enough for one person or two light meals.  Easy enough to double if you are cooking for more than yourself.

Faux Buttermilk

I never seem to have buttermilk on hand when I need it.  Case in point, the soda bread needed it.  You can’t just substitute milk, as the texture is all wrong.  There are lots of recipes out there, but in general they suggest to curdle your own milk with vinegar or lemon juice.  The only problem with that (for me) is that I only have skim milk in the house, which means it is still lacking in texture.  Many people complain that it just isn’t thick enough, but I came up with an ideal solution that seems good enough for my standards concerning taste and texture. I do keep Fage in my refrigerator all the time, which makes this handy in my house.

I started with yogurt and milk, but decided it was not acidic enough.  I used cider vinegar, but I think that cream of tartar might also work (just not add as much). The Greek yogurt is so creamy and thick, I think it is an terrific base to form this substitute.

1 7oz container of Fage Greek yogurt
9 oz of milk
3 tablespoons cider vinegar

Mix yogurt and milk together in a bowl until blended smooth, add vinegar and allow to sit for 5-10 minutes.  It doesn’t hurt if it comes up to room temperature, in fact at least one sources suggests warming the milk gently in the microwave to encourage thickening.  Makes 2 cups.  Whatever you don’t use may be refrigerated and used later.

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Authentic Irish Soda Bread

By grace of God, I married into a family of Irish descent.  I have many brilliant Irish cousins now, and have been blessed enough to have visited the Emerald Isle three times.  Ireland has such a beautiful countryside, with green pastures, stone field fences, farm houses, sheep, and plentiful castle ruins to explore.  One thing that I can attest to, is that the Irish love good food, a pint of Guiness, and telling a good yarn over it.  They are such lovely people.

For St. Paddy’s Day, I’ve made soda bread.  I have seen my mother make it as a child, but I had never tried it.  It is actually quite easy, as soda bread does not require fermenting yeast to make it rise.  Interestingly enough, rising with soda is due to a chemical reaction with the lactic acid in buttermilk to create carbon dioxide gas, and also steam from cooking.  Due to the climate and soil, wheat grown in Ireland is a low-protein (soft) variety that is lower in gluten, which is why the use of soda is necessary as opposed to yeast as a leavening agent.  Gluten is key to producing the stucture in yeast breads, as it’s elasticity in the dough is what allows carbon dioxide to be trapped in the loaf while rising; without it, you get a very hard flat loaf unless you use something else like soda.  I have made this recipe with all-purpose flour, but cake or pasta flour is lower in protein and likely will make an even softer loaf more in keeping with the original flour.


4 cups of all-purpose flour
¼ cup of sugar
3 teaspoons of baking powder
½ teaspoon of baking soda
¼ teaspoon of salt
¼ lb stick of butter
2 cups of buttermilk
1 egg
approxmately 1 cup of raisins – either regular or golden


1.  Preheat your oven to 350ºF.

2.  Grease the inside of a dutch oven with butter and flour it lightly.

3.  In a large mixing bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

4.  With a pastry cutter, cut softened butter into the flour mix.  I use Kerry Gold Irish butter, but that is a personal preference.

5.  Add raisins to flour mix.  I favor sultanas (golden raisins).

6.  In another bowl, beat egg lightly into the buttermilk.

7.  Add buttermilk mixture into the flour by hand a little at a time.  Try to avoid over mixing; if you overmix, too much of the carbon dioxide escapes causing the bread to get hard.

8.  Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly to smooth it.

9.  Shape the dough into a round ball and put in a dutch oven.  You could also make it on a baking sheet if you prefer, but I think putting it a dutch oven helps with the crust a little.

10.  With a knife, cut a cross into the top of the dough to allow it to expand while cooking and cover.

11.  Bake at 350ºF for 30 minutes.

12.  Remove cover and increase temperature to 400ºF to bake until browned, approximately another 30-40 minutes. If you check with a thermometer, the internal temperature will be about 190ºF and the probe will come out clean. Tap the outside of the bread, and it should sound hollow… if it does, it is likely done.

13.  With a fork, lift up one side of the bread to get it out of the pot. Allow to cool on a wire rack for 40 minutes before serving.

Irish Soda Bread
Irish Soda Bread still in pot.

This would go great with Raglan Road Guinness Dipping Sauce from!

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Kosher-Style Swedish Meatballs

Swedish meatballs (köttbullar) are a Jul tradition in my family. Where everyone is either having ham or turkey, we have meatballs and brown beans on our julbord. On the occasion of my best friend converting to Judaism, as well as her first official Hanukkah as a Jew, I modified my grandmother’s recipe to omit both pork and milk. This worked pretty well, but then anything tastes good cooked with lots of butter!  In retrospect, I should also have not used butter (dairy), so I would recommend using some margarine (kosher of course); it would make it more kosher-style, although as my kitchen is not kosher, nothing I could make in it would ever be actually be kosher.

Thoughts behind modifications – I think the pork is there to add a bit of fat to the meatballs. I usually process pork and beef together about three times through a grinder to get it fine enough, but turkey always is a bit sloppy to work with and I figured the extra fat in it would help the texture; I was able to skip having to hand grind it, and still get a similar texture to the original. As for the rice milk, I suppose almond milk would also work and I would like to try it on another occasion. Historically, during medieval Lent, you were not allowed to have dairy, so they would substitute almond milk in those recipes; I figured this would probably work the same.

1.5 lb ground sirloin
1.5 lb ground turkey (25% fat or so… I don’t think the lean would be a good)
1 cup plain bread crumbs
1.5 cup rice milk (unsweetened if possible)
¼ cup chopped onion
½ tsp ground white pepper
3 tsp salt
2 eggs

1. Take bread crumbs and put in bowl large enough for all ingredients. Add rice milk and allow to soak for 10 minutes or so.

2. Take onion and saute with about 1 tbsp of butter in a medium pan until slightly brown and translucent.

3. Add salt, pepper, egg, and onion to bread crumb mixture and mix thoroughly.

4. Add meat to bread crumb mixture and mix with hands. This will be a bit soft, but you don’t want very firm meatballs. The meatballs will not stand on their own if you roll one in your hand – it should sag a little like it’s melting if you set it down. If it is too soupy, add some more bread crumbs.

5. Heat some butter in a medium pan on medium heat. Use a mechanical scoop to make meatballs into the pan, approximately a 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of meatball mixture per scoop. Originally, this was done with two spoons and cold water, but if you do more than a pound of meat it takes forever. You can make these meatballs larger or smaller as you like, but if you make them too big they do not cook evenly and they tend to fall apart when you roll them over and around.

6. Allow to brown a bit on once side and start rolling the meatballs over with a spoon to cook all sides. Don’t rush this, you want to make sure the meatball sets up and does not fall apart. They will almost never be round; mine are usually pyrimidal or oblong. I usually undercook these if I have to reheat them, since I generally cook them ahead of time.

7. Put meatballs into a container after you cook them, and scrape drippings into it. Deglaze the pan with a little water and wipe out with a paper towel. Repeat steps 5-7 until all the meat mixture is cooked.

If you’d like to learn a little about Swedish feasting, Wikipedia has a pretty good summary:

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