Saturday, April 25, 2015

Great Grub Camp Food

I can't say the thought of packaged camp food (you know, the kind in a pouch) has ever been appealing to me. I've seen it at outdoor and sporting goods shops when I lived in California. It made me think of astronaut food or military rations and didn't seem all that appetizing. My opinion has now changed thanks to Great Grub Camp Food, a Bay Area company that focuses on using many ingredients produced by local purveyors.

Back in October 2013 The Glampette (my tiny 4'x6' travel trailer) and I were fortunate enough to participate in an overnight camping excursion on Treasure Island in San Francisco, CA. You can read the blog post here: Nine teardrops and a tiny travel trailer on Treasure Island.

It was a teardrop rally with mine being the only canned ham shaped profile. During the day we hung out, gave grand tours (that took about 30 seconds) and answered the many questions visitors to the Treasure Island Flea Market had about our pint-sized RVs.

One of those visitors was Laura Ramirez-Gonzalez, the founder of Great Grub Camp Food. She introduced herself, told me about her concept to create a line of delicious, convenient, and natural camp foods for vehicle based camping. She asked if I'd be willing to try out and taste test her products once they were developed. Being a traveling-sometimes-camper-foodie and someone who loves to promote small businesses how could I say no?

When my Great Grub care package arrived this winter it was so cold I started out by sampling the deliciously cozy Cheese Tortellini soup with Spinach.

Upon opening the package I took a peek inside. The broth is a dry powder mixed with dried cheese tortellini from Italy. The spinach was packaged separately. The first thing I noticed was the incredible green color of the spinach. It made me excited that the ingredients looked so appetizing. The tiny dried bits of tomato were barely noticeable, until they hit the soup pot.

Just boil water and add the tortellini and broth. The instructions are to cook for 14 minutes. . .

. . . Then add the dried spinach at the end. The packaging also suggested adding sausage which I reasoned made for a more filling meal. For two people one package with nothing added would be a good meal. For three or four campers I'd add meat or extra veggies like corn or maybe a chopped up fresh tomato to extend the serving sizes beyond the packages recommendation of 2 people. I used Aidell's Chicken Apple sausage that has been seared in a cast iron pan then sliced. You could also add more veggies as well.

The soup definitely exceeded my expectations of camp food. The broth was creamy, lightly cheesy, and well seasoned. I didn't need to add any additional salt or pepper before serving. Not only did it taste good, it was aesthetically pleasing as well. The small bits of orangey-red tomato complemented the verdant green spinach.

Fred liked it too. My one question to him was: Would you want more of this to take camping? To which he replied: "Sure!" Fred is often a man of few words. LOL. We had enough for two plus a serving leftover that I froze. When reheated it was just as good as fresh.

Though marketed as a product that's convenient for travel and camping I do see another great opportunity where it can fill a void. I have a few friends who don't really know how to cook. For them soup would either be crack open a can of Campbell's or Progresso or have to learn how to cook from scratch. Great Grub is a great in-between product if they'd like to put together a tasty home cooked meal for themselves or a guest.

Next I'll be reviewing the Lemon Blueberry Pancakes. Yum!

To check out the entire line visit www.GreatGrubCampFood.com

Disclosure: Though I occasionally receive complimentary products the fact that they were given to me never sways my review of any product. I sample, photograph, and write the blog post based on my own experience. In cases where the review is partially or fully negative I do give the company the option to decline the post be published meaning they have to accept the review as is or not at all. Since 2006 this has happened three times. In two cases the companies acknowledged the reviews, even though partially negative, were fair and asked me to publish the posts as written. The third time it happened the company declined having the post published at all.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Homemade Pozole

When I lived in California I was posting food pictures constantly. It was easy to do with so many restaurants to enjoy. It's been ages since I've done a food post partly because there aren't that many restaurants here in Greenville and partly because I've been too busy learning to cook new dishes (I used to order out) to take the time to photograph what I'm doing to use in a blog post.

For instance just a week ago I learned to make Pozole using a recipe from the cookbook "Cantina" from the Casual Cuisines of the World series. It's one of my favorite series of cookbooks because everything I've made from them has been outstanding. I love a well tested recipe book.

Though it's no longer in print you can find this book used (for pennies) on Amazon like I did.

Coming out of a long, cold, Michigan winter I had been craving this classic Mexican soup traditionally made with hominy and pork , and decided to have a go at making my own. The recipe in "Cantina" was for a red chile broth.

Hominy, sautéed onions, and meat are added to the soup base. You also offer a wide assortment of condiments. Cabbage, salsa, sliced radish, and limes or lemons are traditional condiments to add to the finished soup right before eating. I also added brown rice, diced avocado, minced fresh jalapeno, fresh tomato instead of salsa, and finely cut green onions.

It's hearty and tasty with rich depth of flavor to the broth. I can see using it as a base for many other soups, particularly bean and vegetable soups. Fred said he liked it and it was better than Campbell's Soup. LOL

Next I'm going to try this Food Network recipe for Green Pozole, using green chilis like my favorite I used to have at Consuelo Mexican Bistro in the Sanata Row shopping mall. That's a picture of it above.

Here's a vegetarian recipe for a Red Pozole broth I created by modifying the recipe I used from the book, after the second time I made it. The portion size is for two people:

Vegetarian Pozole Broth

2 cups Water
1 cup Vegetable Broth
1 dried Ancho Chile
3/4 tsp dried Oregano
2 cloves of Garlic (I omitted the fresh garlic and added just a dash of garlic salt because Fred doesn't care for garlic)
1/4  of a medium yellow onion (chopped)
  1. Bring water to a boil then turn off and allow to cool for several minutes. While still warm add 1 dried ancho chili and allow to soak for 20 minutes. Reserve the soaking water.
  2. After the chili has softened, place in a blender or small food processor and remove the stem. Add the oregano and garlic with a small amount of water and puree. Set aside.
  3. Saute the chopped onion in oil or butter until lightly golden
  4. Add in reserved water, cup of broth, chile puree, and hominy. Bring to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  5. Add salt to taste. The soup may be slightly bitter, I read online this is normal. Adding fresh lime juice neutralizes the bitterness so from now on if the soup is bitter I'll squeeze some in before serving add still set out lime wedges for those who want more.
  6. Serve in soup bowls with all of your condiments set out in many tiny bowls or on plates. A divided serving plate would be ideal to keep flavors from blending too soon. Invite your dining companions to add any or all condiments to their bowl.
  7. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Blood Moon in Western Michigan

This morning I woke up at 5:00 AM, not to see the Blood Moon, simply because I'm still not a good sleeper and seem to wake up at 5:00 whether there's a reason to or not.

I went out into the living room and attempted to watch the lunar eclipse from the comfort of a heated house. Alas, the trees were too thick and the moon too low in the sky to have an unobstructed view so I watched the moon disappear through a veil of trees.

Blood Moon

When it was completely shadowed over I decided it's now or never, threw on some clothes, grabbed my camera and car keys and drove down the road at 60 mph to get a clear shot before the eclipse was over. I thought I had more time. I didn't realize the moon would "set" before the eclipse concluded so this was as good as it got but I'm happy I went.

It reminded me a lot of the time my dear friend Tracy met me at 4:00 AM to photograph the sunrise on Baker Ridge at Thomas George Estates Winery in Sonoma County's famed Russian River Valley. Only this time it wasn't as much fun because I was alone and it was much colder since I forget to put on my long johns and it was only 24º out. LOL

Friday, April 3, 2015

A pesticide-free, organic gardening idea

Living out in the countryside I would like to have chickens to eat bugs in the yard but don't want the responsibility of caring for them as I plan to travel around a bit this summer with The Glampette. I also don't want to ever use any pesticides that can harm the beneficial insects or tiny toads, frogs, and snakes that live in the yard. That got me to thinking the next best pest-control option is to attract more wild birds to protect the organic vegetable garden I'll soon be planting. Last year it suffered damage by caterpillars and grasshoppers in late summer. And soon the mosquitos will be back in full force. Hmmm. What to do? A birdhouse? A feeder? A birdbath?

Have I mentioned lately that Fred is pretty amazing? After discussing my pest-control ideas with him he went down to his workshop, took three cedar boards, and made 5 custom birdhouses. . . In one afternoon. Not only that, he also hung them around the yard. All in the same day! One side releases using a pin at the top and a single hinge on the underside (which has small holes drilled for ventilation) which will allow them to be cleaned between seasons by popping the wall open. We added some custom made pine shavings to entice our feathered friends into staying.

The weather has been gloomy and raining but that hasn't stopped the birds from coming out.

After inspecting the house on the post the same Bluebird took a peek at one of the other houses in a tree. I hope he comes back with a mate because Bluebirds eat lots of bugs!

While Fred researched building birdhouses (designs, dimensions, and materials) I Googled "birds that eat bugs" and "birdhouse entrance size" to learn the importance of the entrance hole sizes (different birds like different sizes and as little as an 1/8" can make them move in or move on), how high up the holes should be on the face of the house, to perch or not perch, and where and how to hang the houses.

No house in this picture but I happened to get a shot of a beautiful male Cardinal to share. They don't use houses for nesting preferring to build their own in shrubs and trees.

You can't see much of him but a Blue Jay also stopped to take a peek at a house this morning. They also build their own nests but I read you can build an 8"x8" platform and they'll build their own nest on top of it.

After the Eastern Bluebird stopped by a Black-capped Chickadee came to take a peek and try out the perch. I read some birds won't nest in a box with a perch because Blue Jays will come stand on the perch, reach inside the hole, and eat their babies!

My neighbor also warned that yellow jackets may move in so keep an eye out for them.

Spring is definitely in the air. Today I learned something about the birds, not the bees.

"Look!" I exclaimed to Fred, "Those Robins are fighting" as I took pictures of a pair that seemed to be battling in the yard. He took one look out the window and informed me they were mating. LOL.

So, we've had a few lookers but so far no takers. I'll keep you posted if any tenants move in. If not we'll try moving the boxes around a bit, as in space them further apart around the property, and most likely move some a bit higher.

Thanks for stopping by and feel free to leave any birdhouse tips you may want to share!