Making Ricotta Cheese

This is another installment in my Fun with Dairy series, and it was sparked by my friend, Gretchen, who wanted to learn to make ricotta.  This past week, Gretchen came over to help Dennis and me prune our fruit trees, and we spent 20 minutes in the kitchen, making cheese out of some sour milk I had in the fridge, before going out to work on our poor little trees which have never had any real pruning done to them. They were in sorry shape. Gretchen just shook her head and said, “Oh, my,” each time we moved on to a different tree.


As we started on the cheese, Gretchen confessed to me that friends of hers were dismayed by the fact we were going to use sour milk. I used to throw sour milk away too, if I couldn’t use it all for pancakes or biscuits before it got chunky and nasty. Then I learned to make ricotta. I call this ricotta, but technically, it’s not, since true ricotta is made from whey leftover from hard cheese-making; thus, its name in Italian means “re-cooked.” The milk for this cheese is only cooked once, although I have been known to cook it twice if for some reason I thought not enough of the curds had separated from the whey first time around. This mainly happens when I use full fat milk and add heavy cream or half and half to it, which I do when they go sour on me!

You can use milk of any fat content, although I don’t recommend using fat-free milk. You don’t get much out of it. The higher the fat content, the more cheese you’re going to get. Since we usually use 1% milk in the house, that’s what my ricotta is usually made of, although sometimes I will buy milk with a higher fat percentage for various reasons and end up using it to make cheese. I always mark the fat content of the cheese on the container when I stash it in fridge or freezer, so I know which dishes I want to use it in. I like to use the lower fat cheese in my lasagna, because there is also mozzarella in it, another source of fat.

The milk/half & half/cream does not have to be sour. You can make the cheese with fresh milk. But surprisingly, after the cheese is made from sour milk, it doesn’t taste sour. I think Gretchen might have been a little skeptical about this, but I proved it to her when we tasted our final product. Perhaps it is the addition of the acid which changes the flavor, or perhaps it is the separation of fat and protein from the whey. I don’t know, but I know it works! Here’s how to do it.

First, you need a large, heavy-bottomed pot or pan, a colander or strainer that will sit up over a bowl large enough to hold two quarts of liquid, and some cheesecloth or other clean fabric that will allow liquids to pass through but will hold onto solids. (I use an old, fine-cotton pillowcase that I have dedicated only for straining cheese and yogurt.) You’ll also need a container to keep the cheese in, and a container for the whey, if you wish to save it for baking. The whey can be added to breads, quick breads, cakes, etc. in place of water, or added to smoothies. It still contains some protein.

Before you begin to cook the milk, rinse the cheesecloth in hot water and squeeze it out. Then line the colander or strainer with the cloth and place it over the large bowl. Squeeze 1 or 2 lemons, enough to make 3 tablespoons of juice, and strain out any seeds. (White wine vinegar or rice vinegar, unflavored, can be substituted for the lemon juice if lemons are not in season.) I recommend doing this prep work before you start heating the milk, so you don’t get distracted and let the milk scorch.

Place the milk (with any cream-type additions you want to make) in the pan or pot. To two quarts of milk, add 1 teaspoon kosher salt. (Cut down the amount of salt and lemon juice or vinegar proportionately if you have less milk). Turn the burner on medium to medium-high, and stir the milk with a wooden spoon. Stir frequently to prevent the milk from sticking and scorching on the bottom. It’s best to babysit the milk fairly closely. A bit of sticking isn’t a problem, but if the milk scorches (that is, if you start scraping black fragments up from the bottom of the pan), it will ruin the cheese. I am a champion multi-tasker in the kitchen, but this is one preparation that can go south on you pretty quickly if you step away while it’s cooking. Yes, I learned this the hard way!

Bring the milk to a full, rolling boil, stirring continuously once it really starts to heat up. Drizzle in the lemon juice or vinegar, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the white curds separate from the yellowish whey. The lower the fat content of your milk, the smaller the curds will be, and the higher the fat content, the larger the curds. It may not look like you have much cheese until you strain it, and then you’ll be surprised.

You only need to cook the mixture until you can clearly see the separation of curds and whey, and this usually only takes 3-5 minutes after the addition of the acid, whether lemon juice or vinegar, or a combination of the two. I combine lemon juice and vinegar frequently when I have not quite enough juice from one lemon and don’t want to cut another just for a teaspoon or so of juice. In this case, I’ll add a teaspoon of rice vinegar or white wine vinegar to make up the difference. I have even added a teaspoon of bottled lemon juice.

At this point, I will add a caution. You can use bottled, reconstituted lemon juice for this instead of fresh lemon juice, but you may find, as I have, that it takes more bottled juice to separate the curds from the whey. I think this is because when you squeeze a fresh lemon, you’re getting some of the oils from the peel into the juice, and this bumps up the acidity level. I have tried my homemade apple scrap vinegar as well, and it was not acidic enough. I had to add rice vinegar that time to get the curds to separate.

When the curds have separated from the whey (and the whey will look yellowish but still a little milky), carefully pour off the mixture into the cloth-lined colander or strainer. If your bowl isn’t big enough, you may have to pour off some of the whey that drains through right away. Be careful and watch out for tipping and spillage. (You can tell by my cautions what kinds of accidents I’ve had, right?)

It only takes a few minutes for the whey to drain away from the curds if you have the right cloth in your strainer. The longer you leave the cheese to drain, the harder and more solid it will become. I have gone on to other things and left my cheese to drain several hours, and it becomes a brick! 10-20 minutes is about right to get a nice, soft, spreadable cheese, if you wish to flavor it with herbs, lemon zest, and garlic and spread it on crackers or crostini. If you let the cheese drain too long and it gets too hard and dry, you can always mix a bit of whey back into it to get it to the consistency you want. Let it cool to room temperature, and then put it in an airtight container. It can then be stashed in the fridge for immediate eating (it’ll keep a week) or in the freezer for future use. The whey also can be refrigerated for a week or longer (throw it out if it gets moldy) or frozen. Some people also dehydrate whey for protein powders, but I have not tried this. Remember that this whey is acidic and contains some salt, so that take that into account if you decide to bake with it or use it in smoothies.

I mostly use my homemade ricotta for making my Roasted Eggplant Lasagna, which is my all-time favorite Italian comfort food. In this recipe, the ricotta is mixed with eggs and parmesan cheese to create that creamy, thick layer in the lasagna, so I often let my ricotta drain past the spreadable stage, so there is less moisture in the lasagna.  However you use your ricotta, I promise you, you’ll enjoy it. Just ask Gretchen. She’s the one holding the cheese in the picture below.

Thanks to Gretchen, our fruit trees look a whole lot better now too!  I am hopeful that those poor, neglected trees down in the back will take heart and begin to be more productive as they get healthier.  As for the little pie apple tree in the garden, while it might not bear quite as many apples this year, I’m betting the apples will be larger and the tree will maybe even start to straighten up now that it’s been pruned.  I’m looking forward once again to apple pies, applesauce, and apple butter in the fall.  And it hasn’t even bloomed yet!


Garden and Greenhouse

Back in the Garden

When I first started this blog at the urging of my good friend, Jordan Clary, and others, I thought I’d be primarily writing a garden blog.  But then I said, “What will I write about during the winter, when the garden goes to sleep?”  I got a lot of answers, but the one that worked itself out over the winter was cooking.  I’d write about cooking what I’d grown and harvested, what I’d managed to gather during the summer and fall, what I regularly make from scratch, and what the Mighty Hunter and our son had harvested during hunting season.  And that’s what I’ve done, with a few detours here and there, since the garden went to bed for the winter.  But now the garden is awake again, and for the past week or so, I’ve been out there preparing and planting and watching what’s happening in both the garden and the greenhouse.  In a sense, this post is a progress report.

This past fall, we had an acorn crop like nothing I’ve ever seen before in more than 27 years on this piece of land.


That was great, except that I forgot about the acorns when I asked Dennis to put the fall raking of pine needles and oak leaves on the garden, as usual.  My intention was to use the pine needles and leaves as mulch, which I have done before, for many years.  That is the reason my soil is so rich and soft for 6 inches down.  I’ve been building soil with leaves, pine needles, and straw, for more than 25 years.  For the last two years, I haven’t put any straw on my garden except what came from the old bales of straw Dennis was using for his bow target backstop out back.  I haven’t been able to find clean, organic oat straw here where I live.  It’s either sprayed or full of thistles and oats.  I don’t mind the oats; I just pull them up when they sprout and add them to the mulch, but I don’t want thistles, and I’m still coping with the fallout from the last batch two years ago.  But I do have an unending supply of oak leaves and pine needles.  I was stoked at having a big pile of them in the garden, until I remembered the acorns.

Sure enough, that pile of leaves and pine needles was riddled with acorns.  And after the spring rain we had, they were splitting and getting ready to root; some had already sent out radicles to pierce the ground.  These are black oaks, and believe me, they are lovely trees, and I love them, but you do not want to let them root where you don’t want a tree.  They’re very hard to get rid of.  The grandkids and I planted some acorns in pots to transplant later at their house, and the rest I dumped out beyond the fire pit, so that the deer and squirrels could help themselves, and so that maybe some of them would sprout in a place that wouldn’t endanger my garden.  That whole pile of leaves and needles had to be burned because there was no way I could sift all the acorns out of it, and the ashes were then spread.  After that was done, it was time to turn my attention to the greenhouse.

I have a small greenhouse that Dennis built for me so that I could start all my tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, and other tender garden plants that I used to have to buy or struggle to raise in the house.  I love it.  I can play in the dirt long before the garden is ready.  But there was a lot going on in the French household this spring, so I didn’t get out to the greenhouse as early as I wanted to this year.  I’d planned to start my peppers and eggplant by the first of March, but I didn’t start them germinating until the second week of March.

I germinate my early seeds before I put them in soil for a couple of reasons.  First, I can control the temperature a little better if I germinate first.  Second, I can tell how many plants I’ll have, and it helps me plan a little better.  Any seed that doesn’t germinate isn’t planted, so I don’t have to plant more seeds than I need plants to guarantee that I’ll have enough of the plants I want.  Once in a while, a seed that germinates and is then planted fails to emerge, but very seldom.

Hot pepper and bell pepper seeds, eggplant seeds, and tomato seeds are all germinated between damp paper towels rolled up in plastic wrap, stuffed in a plastic Ziploc bag, and stashed by the heating stove for a couple of days.

As soon as they send out a radicle, or embryonic root, I pick the seeds off the paper towel and put them into the soil-filled containers I’ve prepared.  (If I let them go a little too long, and the roots have grown into the paper towel, I just tear off that little piece of paper towel and stuff it in the planting medium, where it will rot down.)  For seeds that like a lot of warmth, like peppers and eggplant, I make sure I fill the containers (usually reused plastic 3-, 4-, 6- or 9-cell containers from the nursery) with wet starting medium and put them the day before in my heated sandbox.  This is just a plastic tub with a hole drilled for the plug of a string of rope lights.  The tub is half filled with clean builder’s sand, and the rope lights go on top of the sand.  When the rope lights are plugged in, they warm both the sand and the shallower tub I place on top.  The containers of soil and seeds go in the top tub, and the bottom tub keeps the temperature at around 80 degrees, even on a sub-freezing night.  A lid goes on top to trap both heat and moisture:  a perfect seed starting environment.


Last week, I put the germinated jalapeno, Serrano, habanero, and bell pepper seeds, and the eggplant, in the sand/heat box.  Two days later, one of the jalapeno seeds had already put out two seed leaves and was ready to go into the light box.  The light box is just a shallow, clear plastic tub that sits under the grow light I found at a thrift store for $3.


Last week, I also started cabbage and kale seeds.  Because they don’t need much heat, I put them under the light with the lid off to germinate, and most of those seeds have sent out seed leaves.  As soon as they have four true leaves, I’ll transplant them into the garden. They are hardy and can take some cold temperatures once they’ve sprouted.

Also last week, I planted some garlic seed/bulblets from plants I let flower and go to seed last summer.  I’ve done this before.  The smaller seeds take two years to get big enough to harvest, and I have some in the greenhouse and out in the garden I’ll harvest this summer.


Along with the garlic, I planted several different kinds of lettuce in one of my raised bed boxes made of old redwood fenceposts.  This is the box bed I usually plant cherry tomatoes in, which works well because by the time the tomatoes are needing more space, the lettuce is done.  The picture on the right, below, is the same bed early last June, just after planting the cherry tomatoes.  I got a lot of good lettuce out of that bed before the tomatoes needed more room to sprawl.


The same goes for spinach in the heirloom tomato box bed. I allow the spinach to go to seed in the summer and self-sow.  This way, I have spinach much earlier in the spring than I would have it if I waited to sow seed myself. My spinach seedlings are several weeks old now, so I’ll have spinach to pick that much sooner than if I’d sown it this past week.  Below is a picture of the heirloom tomato box bed last spring, after I’d planted the tomatoes but before I’d picked all the spinach.  You can also see that baby garlic that I planted from seed early last spring.  I love interplanting this way.


March is the optimum time to plant potatoes and carrots here, but we can seldom plant anything at this time of year because the garden is still usually at least a foot deep in snow.  This year, with the severe drought conditions California is experiencing, we have had no snow.  The garden soil is moist because we’ve had some spring rain, so this week, the grandkids and I planted both potatoes and carrots.

Even an experienced gardener sometimes makes mistakes.  We’ve had some family worries this winter and spring, and I’ll admit that my mind has often not been on my garden.  And yet, the garden is solace for me.  It’s the place where I find peace.  And so, when I can, I’m out there.  Where I made my mistake this year was in relying on my memory and not looking over all of my leftover seeds to see what I need to buy.  I seal up my leftover seed packets with masking tape and store them in the cool laundry room in large plastic containers.  I save silica packets from shoe boxes, medicine bottles, and other products, and I tuck them into the containers to absorb moisture and help keep the seeds fresh.  I have different storage containers for seeds that are planted at different times, and I didn’t check all of my containers.  I thought I had more carrot seed than I did.  As the grandkids made their furrows for planting the carrots (crooked, of course, but I don’t care because I don’t till after planting), I realized I only had a nearly-empty packet of carrot seed.  I remembered then that I’d given the rest of it to my son last spring, and I never bought any more.

Kaedynce and Bryce were only able to plant one row of carrots, and heaven knows if any of the seed will come up, because Bryce, the 7-year-old, covered it, but I can replant with fresh seed, and they will never know the difference.  Both Bryce and Kaedynce promised to come back and help me plant the rest of the rows when I get more seed.  Their favorite things about Nana’s house are the cookie jar that’s never empty, the roasted pumpkin and squash seeds on the coffee table all winter, and the carrots in the garden in the summer time.


Dennis dug two potato trenches for us (again crooked, but since I don’t till between them, it doesn’t matter a bit) and Bryce and Kaedynce and I planted the potatoes left from last fall’s harvest that had shriveled and sprouted in their box in the pump house.


We plant the potatoes six inches deep over a sprinkling of Dr. Earth Organic Garden Fertilizer, and then I mulch with 6-12 inches of leaves, pine needles, and straw, if I have any clean straw.  This mulch holds moisture in the soil, keeps down weeds, protects the potato plants from late frosts after they emerge, protects the potatoes from sunburn after they form, and makes it easier to dig them in the fall.


The next spring, the mulch can be raked back and reused after planting, or tilled into the soil.  I never plant potatoes in the same spot in the garden they grew in the year before, but we always miss a few when we dig, so there are usually volunteers in the previous year’s bed.  I don’t care.  I just plant around them.  The volunteers are usually ready earlier than the ones we plant, so we have new potatoes around the 4th of July.

Kaedynce and Bryce have helped me plant potatoes each spring, and harvest them each fall, since they could walk.  Kaedynce reminds Bryce, “Don’t pick them up by the sprouts,” and Bryce reminds Kaedynce, “Don’t put them too close together, and make sure the sprouts are pointing up.”  They are expert potato planters by now, and I regret not getting pictures of them doing it again this year.  By that time the photographer in the family, Grandpa, was getting out the hot dogs and marshmallows for our reward for a job well done, a wienie roast at the fire pit.


There’s lots more to do in the garden and greenhouse in the coming weeks.  I have volunteer spinach and romaine seedlings in the greenhouse that need to be thinned and tomato seedlings, winter squash, and cantaloupes to start.  There’s some more tilling for Dennis to do in the garden, and some transplanting of blueberries, and more potatoes to be planted, and of course, those carrots.  It’s something to look forward to, and I need that now.  I need the promise of spring that only a garden, and grandchildren, bring.

Main dishes, Side dishes

Oven-fried Chicken

Recently, a Facebook friend asked this question in a group I belong to:  Does anybody have a good oven-fried chicken recipe?  My hand went up immediately.  I do, I do!  I have been asked to share this recipe on the blog, so that it can be pinned to Pinterest.  How cool is that?

I have been oven-frying chicken for decades, and it is crispy and tender and delicious.  Not too long ago, I watched an old Good Eats with Alton Brown, and he fried chicken on the stovetop in a cast iron skillet filled with hot shortening.  Boy, that looked good, and I have a big cast iron skillet I can hardly lift, and a can of shortening I hardly ever use.  I thought I’d give it a try.  What a mess!  Grease splatters everywhere!  And frankly, while the chicken was okay, I didn’t really think it was as good as my oven-fried chicken.  Back to doing it my way.

The basic coating recipe came from the Betty Crocker cookbook my mom gave me when I got married in 1981, but the method is my own.  At some point, after oven-frying chicken in oil and butter as the original recipe called for, I realized there sure was an awful lot of fat in the pan after the chicken came out, way more than I’d put in to start with.  Oh, yeah, Jeanie, chicken skin is full of fat!  Well, I thought, if chicken skin is full of fat, and it renders out during the cooking process, why am I adding all this other fat?  I tried cooking the chicken without adding fat, and glory be, it works every time.  There’s only one trick:  the chicken must have skin.  Skinless breasts or thighs will not work in this recipe.  I could call this recipe No Mess, Lower-fat Oven-fried Chicken because the only fat in the dish (other than a spritz of cooking spray or a thin swipe of shortening or oil) comes from the skin on the chicken, which renders as it cooks.  But let’s just go with Oven-fried Chicken.  I’m all for simpler when it works.

Oven-fried Chicken

2-3 lbs. cut up chicken pieces

Basic coating mix:

1/2 cup flour (I have substituted brown rice flour since I went gluten-free, and it works well in this recipe)

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon pepper

You may also add any other herbs or spices you would normally add to your fried chicken breading. I sometimes use a blackened seasoning or Cajun seasoning mix instead of the salt above, and/or I’ll add poultry seasoning (ground sage, thyme, and parsley), or I’ll substitute hot smoked paprika for plain, or whatever takes my fancy at the moment.  You can also add a teaspoon of sugar to the coating mix.  I think this makes the coating brown a little darker as it oven-fries in its own fat (see last photo below).  You can also reduce the flour by two tablespoons and add two tablespoons of cornmeal for an even crunchier breading, although the flour produces a light, crispy coating.  Using plain flour cuts carbs as well; no need to use bread crumbs which add carbs.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Put coating mix in a paper or plastic bag, shake it well to mix, and add no more than 2 pieces of chicken at a time, shaking to bread the chicken.  If you want a thicker breading on your chicken, dip it in milk first, shaking off excess before putting it in the bag.  If you like to marinate your chicken in buttermilk before frying, that works too; just drain off the excess buttermilk before you coat the chicken pieces.  I never do either one.  I just put the chicken straight from the package into the breading mix.  If I have any leftover breading mix, I seal up the bag and stash it in the freezer for next time.

Lightly spritz a 13X9 inch pan with cooking spray (or swipe a tiny bit of oil or shortening over it with a napkin or paper towel), and place your coated chicken pieces into the pan, skin side down. This allows the fat to render out of the skin, making it crispy and delicious.


Bake for 30 minutes at 425 degrees; turn pieces over.  Don’t worry if the skin side of the chicken doesn’t look that brown or crisp at this point.  It will be after the next cooking period.


Bake for another 30 minutes, and prepare to be amazed.  The chicken will be browned with a light, crispy breading on the skin.  Take it out of the pan, and drain skin side up on paper towels.


This is how much fat rendered out of 3 chicken thighs.  It was about 2 tablespoons.


You can use the pan drippings and browned breading bits to make gravy, if you wish. In our family, (oven) fried chicken gravy has always been made like this:

Scrape the chicken pan to get off the browned bits.  Drain two tablespoons of fat and the browned bits into a skillet or medium-sized sauté pan.  Heat on medium-high heat until sizzling.  Add two tablespoons of flour (I have used brown rice flour) and cook and stir for a minute or two until flour browns slightly.  Stir or whisk in 1 ½ – 2 cups of milk (depending on how thick you want your gravy) and bring to low boil, stirring constantly to prevent lumping or sticking.  You can thin the gravy down after it cooks a couple of minutes by adding more milk, if it’s too thick.  You can also cook it down if it’s too thin for your tastes.  Add ½ teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of pepper, and taste for seasoning, adding more if needed.  Serve over mashed potatoes.

Oh yeah, baby—no-mess, oven-fried chicken and mashed potatoes and gravy.  That’s comfort food made easy.

condiment, Dairy, Fermenting, Main dishes

Fun with Dairy: Homemade Sour Cream

This is the first part of a series I’m calling “Fun with Dairy.”  Part I:  Sour Cream.  I’ve discovered how to make sour cream, and I’m so enchanted with it, I have to share it with you.  In addition, I’ve made yogurt and ricotta cheese at home for years, and while I’ve resisted blogging about it thus far because there are plenty of instructions for making these things already on the internet, I’ve come to realize that not all of them are good instructions.  Sometimes those recipes are poorly written, and sometimes, there’s just a better way to do it, and sometimes, a combination of methods works better.  So, in future posts, I’ll deal with making yogurt, the foolproof way I’ve been making it for years, and ricotta cheese, which I make for my roasted eggplant lasagna.  There will be other “Fun with Dairy” posts in the future, but first, sour cream.  And as a bonus, at the end of this post is a recipe you can make with your delicious homemade sour cream.

I love sour cream, smooth and tangy.  I like to make veggie dips with it, and chip dips, and you cannot make stroganoff (see recipe below) without it.  And surprisingly, sour cream is ridiculously easy to make.

You only need three things to make sour cream at home:  a clean jar with a lid, some heavy (whipping) cream or half and half, and some buttermilk (cultured).  Oh, and a place on the counter to let the cream culture for a day or so.  Here’s how you do it.

Measure 1 cup of heavy whipping cream (or for lighter sour cream, less fat, 1 cup of half & half) into your clean jar.  Add ¼ cup of cultured buttermilk.  Put on the lid and tighten it.  Shake vigorously to incorporate the buttermilk into the cream or half & half.  Set the jar on your kitchen counter in plain sight where you won’t forget about it.  Wait 18-24 hours.  Open lid on jar.  The cream should have thickened enough to sit up on a spoon.  Taste it.  If it isn’t sour enough, you can leave it a few more hours, no more than 36 hours altogether.  Store in fridge.

Leftover buttermilk, which typically comes in quarts, can be portioned into smaller containers and frozen You can also make buttermilk salad dressing, the original ranch, which will probably be the subject of another post.  And if you add some cultured buttermilk to regular milk, you’ll get more buttermilk.  You’ll never have to buy buttermilk again.  More about that in another post.

After cooling in the fridge, the sour cream will thicken enough to actually mound on a spoon.  The lighter version made with half & half is as thick, and actually tastes more like commercial sour cream, as that made with heavy cream, which is richer-tasting.  Either version is good to use for a dip or anything else you’d use sour cream for (as a topping on burritos, nachos, or enchiladas, for example, or cheesecake).  In the pictures below, the photo on the left is of sour cream made with heavy whipping cream (you can see that it is yellower in the jar) and the photos in middle and on right are of light sour cream made with half & half and previously frozen buttermilk.


Recently, I used my homemade sour cream in some stroganoff.  Stroganoff is typically made with beef, but I used . . . yeah, you guessed it, bear.  If you haven’t made stroganoff in a while, or if you’ve never made it, it’s time to give this old standard another look.  But don’t make the imitation stuff with canned mushroom soup, please.  I have no doubt homemade sour cream would improve the taste, but do use fresh mushrooms.  This homemade sour cream (the heavy cream version) gave the sauce a rich, tangy flavor that the Mighty Bear Hunter and I really enjoyed.

Here’s an easy recipe made with an economy cut of beef:  round steak.  You can also use stew meat, you just have to cook it a little longer to get it tender.  Can you use other red meats besides beef?  If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know the answer is yes!  You can use venison, antelope, lamb, bison, elk, and, I imagine, moose (although that’s one meat I have yet to try.)


Beef Stroganoff

1 ½ lbs. round steak or stew meat, cut against the grain into 1/8 inch slices

3 tablespoons olive oil or butter

1 ½ cups beef or roasted vegetable stock

2 tablespoons ketchup (or 2 tablespoons ground dried tomato skins)

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon salt

8 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced (any small variety will do)

3 tablespoons flour (if you’re gluten-free like me, you can use brown rice flour)

1 cup sour cream

Heat oil or butter (or combination thereof) in 10 skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute mushrooms and onions for about 5 minutes.  Remove from pan, reserve.  Add another tablespoon of oil or butter if needed, brown meat strips, add garlic, cook for about 30 seconds.  Don’t let the garlic burn!  Add 1 cup stock, stirring to get the browned bits off the bottom of the pan, add the mushrooms and onions and their liquid, and the ketchup or dried tomato skin powder,and  heat to boiling.  Reduce heat, cover with tight-fitting lid, and simmer until meat is tender, 1-1 ½ hours.

When meat is tender, shake reserved stock with flour in a lidded jar until well-mixed, stir gradually into simmering meat mixture.  Bring to boil, cook for one minute, then stir in sour cream, heat through but do not let it boil!  Take off heat, serve over cooked, hot egg noodles (3-4 cups).  Traditionally, hot egg noodles are tossed with a tablespoon of butter and sprinkled with 1 teaspoon poppy seeds (try chia seeds for more Omega-3 fatty acids) before serving.  Makes about 6 servings.