Beka To Basics

Real Food Cooking

You are my pumpkin

Sometimes, you get home after 8. It’s dark and has been for the past few hours. Work was stressful, traffic sucked, it’s cold and all those things on your to do list have taken a back seat to the fact that it’s after 8 and you are hungry.  Really hungry. Anything in fridge to reheat? No, of course not, because you didn’t think that far ahead this morning.

Pumpkin to the rescue.

I made this in less than 10 minutes.

Pumpkin Soup

  • 1 can or 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 2 or 3 cups of chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup milk, cream, or coconut milk (optional, but oh, so delicious)
  • 1 or 2 tsp salt, depending on how salty the broth is
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp thyme

Add it all to a pot and let simmer. Pair with grilled cheese and avocado sandwiches and you have a 10 minute, very comforting meal. IMG_0194


Fall is here

And you know what that means… SOUP’S ON!!!

I’m sure you know by now, I’ve been eating soup all summer.  I love it too much to give it up for any amount of time, BUT the cooler weather means I can start feeding it to everyone.  I had to share my excitement about soup, even though the recipe I’m sharing tonight is not, in fact, soup.

A few months ago, I purchased a cook book all with only slow cooker recipes, Crock On.  I’ve been really happy with the recipes I’ve tried so far.  It definitely has my recommendation.

I made the Pineapple Pork Loin.  I liked this one because it doesn’t require anything to be cooked or seared before putting it in the slow cooker.  A lot of recipes do, and it really does add to the flavor of a lot of dishes, but sometimes, you just want to put everything together and let it do it’s thing.

Like this one – Just take a pork tenderloin, pineapples, salt, pepper, garlic and thyme and add it all together and let it cook.  This is the second time I made it and this time, I added onions ’cause I like ’em!  When it’s cooked, shred the meat and eat.
IMG_0217The greatest things about this is how much it makes and how many different things it goes with.  I cook (but not really, because the slow cooker does all the work) once and have meat for lunch sandwiches, a pork and veggie dinner AND these egg rolls filled with pineapple pork and Havarti cheese.  SOOOO GOOD!  If you’re wondering if I made the egg roll wrappers, I did not.  I haven’t graduated to that level of awesome (yet).  But maybe someday.

The egg rolls with a cabbage (from my back yard garden yay!!!), carrot and onion slaw and creamy vinaigrette made for a nice dinner.

Creamy Vinaigrette

  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup yogurt
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp raw honey
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 crushed small garlic clove
  • 1/8 teaspoon ginger

Mix it all together and use as a salad dressing.


Growing Things…

So, I kept seeing these pictures online saying you could grow things from kitchen scraps.  Being the person I am, I had to try it.  For the sake of saving everyone I know some trouble if it didn’t work, of course.  I tried romaine hearts, celery and onion.  Here’s the update:

IMG_0082It works!  The two tall plants in the back of the planter are romaine and the smaller ones in the middle are celery.  The celery seems to be much, much slower than the romaine, but they’re growing!  The front of the planter is bare because that’s where I tried onions.  Yeah…. they didn’t work so well.  I’m not sure if a planter is the best place for onions anyways, so maybe I’ll try that one again somewhere else.

In other news, I have a few tomato plants and some strawberry hanging baskets.  I read about strawberries doing well in hanging baskets, but I don’t think I’ll do it again next year.  They get so dry!  At least in the ground they could look for water if I’m not around to water them.  And of course, a little rose bush.

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An apology, an explaination, and two experiments

So… It’s been a long while and I feel like I need to apologize.  I disappeared with no warning or explanation.  I disappeared for a good reason though.  See below 😀


The lease at our apartment ended in January and we moved in with my grandma.  I cooked plenty while I was there, but I wasn’t very creative.  But, I’m back in my own house and this year, I might even be able to garden along with my cooking.  I’m going to give it a go.  We’ll see how green my thumb is.

On to the experiments.

I’ve been making my own cleaner with vinegar and water for a while.  It  super cheap and really does a good job of cleaning, but it IMG_0050smells like vinegar (of course).  The smell dissipates pretty quickly, but it’s extremely noticeable while actually cleaning.  I looked around the internet for some suggestions.  I found one and I’m hoping it works.  You soak orange peels in vinegar for a few weeks and use that instead of the regular vinegar.  I’m a little skeptical about the vinegar getting sticky from the oranges, but we’ll see.

The second one is vanilla extract.  I love using it, but I hate buying it.  It’s like $10 out of the weekly grocery budget and even though I know a little bottle takes a long time to use IMG_0051up, I still hate when I have to get more.  Instead, I found this recipe using vodka and decided to give it a shot (get it?).  I’m pretty sure it will work because it already looks darker and smells like vanilla and it’s only been a couple weeks.  Unfortunately, I won’t know for sure for another month and a half.  I’m really glad she mentions most store bought extracts have simple syrup in them, so when I can use this batch, I’ll need to figure that into my recipe.  Theoretically, you can just keep adding more vodka as you use it.  That is the part I really like – having a never ending supply of vanilla extract.  I’m sure at some point the beans will loose their kick, but hopefully it will be years from now.

Barbeque Sauce

So, I know I already talked about BBQ and Brie pizza, but it was really good, so I had to make it again.  This time, my barbeque sauce was amazing!  To top it off, I made sourdough pizza crust that was so good and only slightly sour.  Next, I need to work on the New York style crust I love so much.

IMG_0828I’ve been attempting to recreate lots of sauces instead of buying them at the store.  I like knowing what I’m eating and a lot of sauces have ingredients that I don’t know how to pronounce or why they’re there.  Plus, it’s actually a lot cheaper to make my own.  I’ve gotten catsup/ketchup down, so I decided to use that for the base.  I also spent some time looking at other people’s recipes and the list of seasonings from various companies’ barbeque sauces.  I pulled out everything I thought I would need and got started.  The recipe is for a small amount, about 1/2 cup, but I didn’t want to risk wasting too much if it didn’t work out.

Barbeque Sauce

  • 1/2 cup catsup
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (make your own with this recipe from Food Renegade)
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • hot sauce
  • 1-2 tbsp honey to taste
  • 1-2 tbsp blackstrap molassas
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp mustard powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika

Mix it all together and simmer over low heat until it has thickened slightly.  This sauce is sticky, tangy and sweet and can easily be changed to make is spicier.  Maybe use more honey to have a sweeter sauce or add some yellow mustard for a tangy sauce.  Add some garlic powder, or if you are going to eat it quickly, use fresh garlic and chopped onions.  I’m pretty sure it would all be good.  I can’t wait to try this sauce on a barbeque sandwich or for dipping chicken nuggets!


Have I talked about pasta yet?  Probably.  But leave it to me to not check first.IMG_0215

Christmas 2011, Mom gave me a pasta maker and it’s still probably my most favorite kitchen tool.  Least practical favorite kitchen tool? Yes. But that’s ok, we all have our faults. 😉

I enjoy making pasta with it.  I didn’t get the kind that has a motor, so I hand crank sheets of pasta.  It came with a cutter that would make fettuccine and (kind of) spaghetti noodles.  Well, I broke the cutter, so I cut the sheets with a pizza cutter instead.  It did take a while to figure out the best consistency for the pasta dough, but it has gotten easier for me to correct mistakes.  I broke the cutter when I tried to take it apart to clean it after forcing a too wet pasta dough through.  Bad idea.  It is impossible to put back together.  Now that I’m better with the consistency, I haven’t had many problems like that.

You don’t have to have a pasta maker to make pasta.  I mean you will be doing all of the work yourself anyways, the pasta maker just presses the pasta.  It’s a lot easier with the pasta maker, but it’s not required.

IMG_0823Patience is key with pasta.  There’s a bit of mixing, then kneading, then rolling, then cutting, then cooking.  All before you can eat one bite.  Ok, that’s not completely true.  I’ve eaten “raw” pasta before.  It chewy and tasty, but not something I want to sit down to a bowl of.

I use the recipe from Bob’s Red Mill Semolina Flour, except that I typically half it unless I want to have a lasagna or a lot of leftovers.  It’s a good place to start before playing with flavored pasta.  I’ve done spinach pasta and basil pasta.  I would like to try red pepper and maybe a spicy noodle soon.

What I haven’t really mastered is the Tomato Sauce.  I can do Alfredo, sometimes herbs, butter and pepper is good too.  I use the pasta as noodles in soup, but I just haven’t been able to get a sauce that I really liked.  Until now.  And I’m sharing.

Tomato Sauce

  • 1 quart jar of crushed tomatoes or a big can (28 oz?)
  • an olive oil and butter mixture totaling about 2 tbsp
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • rosemary
  • basil
  • parsley
  • sage
  • thyme
  • oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • any other green herb you like, marjoram and tarragon are both good
  • sour cream

Ok, my recommendation for cooking pasta sauce is to use the BIGGEST pot you have.  Yes, even though you are only cooking a jar IMG_0824of sauce, it will boil and splatter and your largest pot will help to catch some of the splatters.

Melt the butter and olive oil and add the herbs.  I don’t include measurments beause its really a matter of taste, but I had a total of about 1 1/2, maybe 2 tbsp, heavy on the basil and oregano. Do what you like, but saute them first.  Then add the garlic and saute a few more minutes.  Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer.  Simmer for 20 minutes or longer.  If you want to simmer for hours like some recipes call for, I would start with more tomatoes since they will cook down.

IMG_0825If you are making your own pasta, now is the time to roll it out and cut it.  You can cook fresh pasta right in the sauce, which is really nice.  Add the noodles in and cook 5 – 10 minutes until they are done.  If you are using dried pasta, then cook as normal then add to the sauce.  Once everything is together, turn off the heat and let it cool for a few minutes, then add some sour cream.  A tsp or a few tbsps.  Taste as you go to decide if you want more.  Top with a little feta or Parmesan (perhaps both?).

Sour Beginnings

So, I think I’ve neglected to introduce you all to Wally.

Wally is a friend that I neglect. A lot. Well, maybe he’s more of a pet. In any case, I get the worst friend/pet owner award. Ever.

The last time I saw Wally was when I attempted this. And before that, was this. That was in March. It’s December.

I think I remembered to feed him in April, but like I said before. It’s December.

He has been sitting in the back corner of my fridge, alone, cold, unused. For Months.

I really thought I had killed him. I mean nothing can live without eating for eight months. I decided it was time to find out and…

Wally - the sourdough starter

Wally – the sourdough starter

Bam! HE’S ALIVE!!!!

Wally, the sourdough starter made it. That’s him a few hours after being fed, all happy and bubbly.

And yes, I named him.  He IS like a pet – you feed him, change his water, take him out, put him in a crate (jar) and in return you get to make sourdough bread, or muffins, or pancakes, or cinnamon rolls. Why Wally?  It just felt right. 😉

If you’re not sure about sourdough, it works something like this.  You “catch” yeast from the air by leaving out a flour and water mixture until it starts to bubble.  When it starts bubbling, add more water and flour to feed the yeast.  When you’re ready to make bread, or whatever you’re making with it, use the starter instead of store bought yeast. There are a lot of recipes to make a sourdough starter, but you can also buy one from plenty of online stores. Or just ask me, I can give you a Wally Jr.

IMG_0796Some people use enough of their starter to leave it out and feed it twice a day.  Well, when I started mine, I knew that wasn’t going to be for me.  Luckily, you can store the starter in the fridge and pull it out once a week or so to feed and/or use some.  That sounds more like me. And I was really good about it for a while. Until I wasn’t.  So he sat, and sat for a long time. Probably plotting his revenge.

I pulled him out of the fridge late last week because I was inspired by a Sourdough PancakeIMG_0797 recipe that was posted to my facebook news feed. I read it thinking, this is so easy.  There’s no waiting.  Usually sourdough takes overnight or at least a few hours. I know, I know, all bread takes time, but sourdough is different.  And by different, I mean much slower.  Wally has taught me a lot of patience.

Well, when I saw this recipe for sourdough pancakes, I really had to make them.  Saturday Morning, I mixed all the ingredients, fried some pancakes and sat down to eat.  They. Were. Sour.  I think the amount of sour in the starter is directly related to how angry he is for all the neglect you’ve put him through.

It’s ok though.  Wally and I? We made up and I made the same sourdough pancake recipe on Sunday.  He was MUCH happier on Sunday and the pancakes had the perfect touch of sourdough taste to complement the cinnamon and syrup topping.

Since then, I’ve made Sourdough Crepes and Pan Cubano.  The latter isn’t fully sourdough, because the second rise uses added yeast.  The recipe doesn’t even call for true sourdough starter, but I used mine instead of making a mini starter like the recipe instruct.  What to do with Pan Cubano?  Well, Cuban Sandwiches of course!


Linked to Freaky Friday.

Thanksgiving Leftovers

So… Thanksgiving was last week, so I’m a bit late to this party.  I’m sure most everyone has already dealt with and eaten their leftovers.  Maybe, the last few days were full of groaning about having to eat the same thing… again.  Maybe not.  I don’t know how many leftovers you get.  With two or more Thanksgiving dinners, I get a lot.  I’ve come up with a few recipes to change the food just a bit, in case you’re sick of plain old heated up Thanksgiving or turkey and ham sandwiches. Not that those options are bad.

First, I highly recommend you secure the turkey carcass from whoever cooked it.  Most people are ok with giving it up since they won’t use it anyways.  My family?  Grandma and I both want the carcass, so it’s good we have two turkeys. 🙂
When I get home, I put the carcass in the crock pot and make stock.  I actually use it three times before I throw away the bones.  I got  two gallons of stock and enough turkey for soup.  And I still had turkey slices for all the sandwiches I could want.

Split Pea Soup

This recipe is based on the Better Homes and Gardens Red Plaid cookbook (which I love)

  • 1lb split peas
  • butter or olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 large or 2 small carrots, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • salt, pepper, marjoram, thyme, to taste
  • ham bone with meat attached
  • 1/2 gallon water

Saute the veggies in butter or olive oil until they are tender.  Add the peas, bone, water and seasons.  Simmer until the peas get soft and it sort of looks like baby food.  Seriously, I know I’m not making it sound very good, but it is.  When it’s ready, take the bone out, pull the meat off and put it back in the soup.  The meat will literally fall off the bone – just give it a rough chop and you’re all set.

Stuffing Dumpling and Turkey Soup

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup or so of turkey (whatever you got off the carcass)
  • 2 quarts of stock
  • leftover stuffing
  • 1 egg
  • flour
  • butter or olive oil
  • sage, salt, pepper, bay leaf

Saute the veggies until they are tender.  While they are cooking, mix the stuffing and egg together.  Add flour, a little at a time until the mixture looks like a wet biscuit mix.  Add the stock, turkey and seasonings to the pot with the veggies and bring it to a simmer.  Form little balls out of the stuffing mix and drop them into the soup.  Let them cook for about ten minutes and enjoy your soup.

I also made Slightly Spicy Ham and Dumplings, lots of sandwiches and stuck some extra ham, a ham bone and the rest of my stock in the freezer.  These ideas might be a little late for this Thanksgiving’s leftovers, but lucky for you, the Christmas menu is extremely similar.  Let me know if you try them and what you think!

Happy Birthday Bread!

So, it’s official.  I haven’t purchased bread for a whole year!

I suppose it’s technically not really bread’s birthday, since people have been making bread long before I started, but it is a milestone for me. 🙂
When I first started, it felt like I would never get the hang of it.  I started to think that I would have to just cough up the extra money to buy bread that doesn’t have any weird ingredients in it.  There were a lot of flat breads because they just didn’t rise.  I had quite a few ‘flying crusts.’  That’s when there’s a huge gap between the loaf and the crust.  I also had some over risen bread that fell while it was baking. Others had huge gaps throughout the loaf.  Some were really crumbly, some were really dense.  Some tasted bad.  Most at least tasted good, but depending on the consistency, many became croutons or breadcrumbs instead of sandwich bread.  However, it got a lot easier as I made more bread.  Once I got a feel for what dough should look like for sandwich bread and what it should look like for buns or for pizza, I had a lot more success.  It also helps to understand what a recipe is saying when it describes the dough as loose or elastic.

It also felt like it was taking a lot of my time when I first started baking.  Now, I just work it into whatever else I’m doing.  Start dinner, mix bread, let it rise while I eat and then bake it.  I really only spend a lot of time baking it if I’m trying something new.  And for the weeks I really don’t feel like baking?  Well, there’s an easy answer for that… We don’t eat bread for a week.

It does take time to learn and get comfortable with baking bread.  It also takes time out of my day, even though I’m more used to dedicating time to it now and fitting it in to where ever it will fit.  It is totally worth it.  I don’t even want store bought bread anymore, the taste cannot compare to fresh bread and never will.
Next on the list is really learning how to cook a real sourdough loaf…

Cat Pic!


So, I love mole, but I don’t know how to make it.  I know that it is similar/related to adobo sauce, but, if my understanding is correct, it’s more time consuming and has more ingredients.  I have found some recipes online that look promising – I’m just not ready for the complications yet 🙂  I don’t really make a lot of complicated sauces.

This one turned out to be a whole lot easier than I thought it would.  It’s an Emril recipe for Adobo Pork Tenderloin.

I used chicken, instead of pork and didn’t marinate it since I planned on putting it in the slow cooker.  I made the sauce while cooking dinner last night and put the sauce, some chicken stock and tomato sauce in the slow cooker with the chicken.  Tell me why I always forget to turn on the slow cooker BEFORE leaving for work.  It’s just a good thing someone work close enough to home to come turn it on for me when I have a spacey moment in the morning. 😉

It looks like a lot of steps for a sauce, but really it boils down to this:

1) Heat the dried peppers to make them pliable.

2) Cut them and pour out the seeds.

3) Simmer them for a few minutes.

4) While the peppers are simmering, put all the other ingredients in a food processor and pulse until everything is a paste.

5) Add the peppers to the food processor and pulse.  Add some of the simmering liquid to get the consistency you need.
This made about a pint of Adobo Sauce.

In between these steps, I made spinach sausage casserole. Also easy.

Usually, casseroles require cream of something soup.  I can make my own, but sometimes, I just don’t feel like it.  I should really make a bunch and freeze them so they’re ready to go.  Anyways, I’ve come up with a replacement for casseroles for a quick fix.

  • 1/2 lb cooked sausage or chicken
  • 2 cups spinach
  • 1 or 1/2 diced onion
  • 1 crushed clove of garlic
  • 1 cup cheese – I used fresh mozzarella, but cheddar is good too
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup yogurt
  • salt and pepper

Mix it all together and bake it at 350 until it’s bubbly.

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