Monday, August 23, 2010

How fun, Chow Fun

Let me confess here and now, I enjoy international food. My family and I lived in Singapore when I was young, and I believe that had a big influence on my tastes. So many cultures and cuisines co-exist in Singapore and I was fortunate enough to be exposed to them early. Our friends and acquaintances were from all points on the globe and from many cultures: Australia, India, China, England, Malaysia, just to name a few. A beautiful city-state, Singapore is an amazing country that I'd be happy to visit anytime.

That said, this next dish was not something I recall from my time there, but rather, was one from a visit to PF Chang's. I love Asian food and really enjoy PF Chang's, even if it is a chain restaurant. I tried their Vegetable Chow Fun a while back and have been craving it since. After looking around online to discover that the same "Chicken Chow Fun" recipe got posted to all the copycat recipe sites, I decided to experiment a little for myself. This is what I came up with.

Chow Fun uses wide, flat rice noodles instead of egg or wheat flour based noodles. These are white, somewhat transparent, noodles. In other dishes, these noodles are sometimes fried, and become puffy and crunchy. This is what I found at a local international grocery. Inexpensive at $1.69 for 14 ounces. The recipes I found call for using all 14 ounces, but let me warn you it'll feed an army. These are apparently the Vietnamese version. They are called something different in Chinese. Just look for white, wide, flat rice noodles.

Now on to the recipe:

Vegetable Chow Fun
2 tablespoons Soy Sauce
2 tablespoons Vinegar
2 tablespoons Sugar
2 teaspoons Oyster Mushroom Sauce *(see note)
2 tablespoons water (or mushroom broth)

Dish: (The veggies are your call. This is what I had on hand.)
14 ounces Rice Noodles
2 cloves garlic, minced (approx. 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon chili paste (I used Sriracha chili sauce)
1/2 small onion, sliced thin
3/4 of a green pepper, sliced thin
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 cups fresh green beans after being trimmed and cut
7.5 ounces. baby corn (about 1/2 can)
4 ounces canned water chestnuts, sliced
4 ounces canned bamboo shoots
2 teaspoons Canola oil
1 teaspoon Sesame oil
Broth (I used mushroom, because I had a package open)

1. Mix all sauce ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. Lightly steam carrots and green beans.Just enough to tenderize them. Set aside.

3. Remove noodles from package and rinse under running water. Place into pot of boiling water. These will cook for about 6-8 minutes. (Check your package for directions.) You'll want these to be done just before you need to add them to your dish. After cooking drain and rinse again. I've seen instructions that instruct you to separate into smaller portions and cover with plastic wrap while you start cooking everything else. Just remember that they get super sticky after sitting for a few minutes.

4. Meanwhile, using just a little canola oil or broth, saute' garlic, and chili paste in a wok or large skillet (I didn't have either, so I used a large Dutch oven) for a dew seconds. Add onions and peppers and saute' until soft. Add sauce and remaining veggies and saute' for a couple of minutes until veggies are tender. Add rice noodles a little at a time, until total desired amount is added. Stir and cook for a couple of minutes to allow the noodles to absorb the sauce and are hot, about 2-4 minutes. Toss with sesame oil and serve. This was how it looked:

I used the whole 14 ounces, but I also doubled the sauce. The other recipes I saw only used ground chicken (so not vegan) and I used a lot of veggies. It was tasty, even 3 days later when we finally finished up the leftovers. Definite repeater.

*Note: Oyster sauce is obviously not vegan, but there are vegan options made with mushrooms, called Oyster Mushroom Sauce. Be careful, because some of the brands add lots of MSG to enahnce the flavor. If wanting to stay vegan and avoid added MSG, be sure to read the list of ingredients.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Red greens

At the market today, I dallied a bit. You know how it is. I was there for an old friend, collard greens, but then was allured by something new and exciting, the brilliant colors of Swiss chard. The bright green leaves with the scarlet red ribbing. It's like the collards and rhubarb got a little too close in the produce aisle and *poof* Swiss chard happened. I have no idea it's history, but that what it makes me think of.

I've thought Swiss chard beautiful for a long time but had never tried it. Even though I've really developed a taste for collards, I still don't care for mustard or turnip greens much, so I was a bit hesitant to give it a whirl. But then I thought what the heck. I could always go back to the collards, right?

When deciding preparation, I knew I didn't want it to be a minor ingredient in a busy dish. I wanted to taste the chard itself. So, I found a simple process and tweaked it a bit.

Swiss Chard

1 bunch Swiss chard, washed, with the tougher 1/3 of the stalk removed (apparently you can save this part for another dish)
1 garlic clove, sliced (I used minced, from a jar - I didn't realize my fresh garlic had gone bad)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil (or as little as possible; I probably only used about 1)
1 Tbsp Water
1 Tbsp Cider Vinegar
Pinch of Crushed red pepper
Salt/Pepper, to taste

Slice the chard into approximately 1-inch slices. Heat oil in sauce pan over medium heat. Saute' garlic and red pepper for about 1 minute. Add chard. Cover pan with lid. Cook approximately 5 minutes. Check chard. If it's too dry, add the water and vinegar. Stir so that the bottom chard is on top and vice versa. Cover and cook about 5 more minutes. Taste test and add salt pepper to taste.

This is darker than the actual finished dish. But since I was cooking at night, I didn't have any natural light to help with the photo. The green is a little brighter and the red is not as orange.

Yum. It was tasty. Not as strong as the other greens, but definitely still a green. The cider vinegar helps cut that a bit. I did try one batch with water and no vinegar, and it was still good. We just preferred the batch that with the vinegar. No leftovers. Next time I am thinking I may try using using broth instead of oil. Just to see. Always trying to improve.

Going back to the market tomorrow. Will have to have a talk with the collards to explain it's not them, it's me. My appetite for greens is expanding. And while I will continue to enjoy the flashy chard in all its Swiss-ness, the collards will always be my go-to green. Probably. Unless you count spinach... Oh well, there's no such thing as too much greens, right?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tortilla, tortilla

I am a Texas girl. I am a sucker for a good tortilla. I can tell you where to buy them, but I have never tried to make them. It's just always seemed like this mysterious magical process that would be difficult to try at home, and even more difficult to make them taste right. So, after lots of research over many years, I finally sucked up the courage and tried it. At home. And, as a bonus, I'm guaranteed that they're vegan because I made them.

My recipe is the White Flour Tortilla one from Jane Butel's Southwestern Kitchen. I used the Whole-Wheat Flour variation in which I subbed 1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour for that amount of the unbleached AP flour.

In a large bowl (I just went straight to the food processor), combine 4 cups unbleached flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar.

Cut in 1/4 cup margarine or butter (I used Earth Balance margarine). You could also use a pastry blender or your fingers for this step. The processor is just quicker. Then remove to a mixing bowl.

Add and mix in a little warm water at a time, up to 1-1/2 cups, until a soft dough is formed, working the dough with your hands until it is manageable. Knead 15-20 times, then let it rest for 10 minutes, covered with a clean towel.

I deviated a bit from her instructions on this next part. She instructs to form 2 inch balls by pulling a bit off at a time, while keeping the remainder under plastic wrap. I am a little OCD. I weighed the dough, halved it, then cut it into approximately even pieces. The yield is listed as 8-12 (6-inch) tortillas. I would love to say I experimented with measurements on purpose, but alas, I calculated oddly in my head. The first half I divided into 4 pieces (pictured above). The second half I divided into 6 pieces. In the end it is a happy mistake because it allowed me to compare outcomes. The larger ones were larger than I prefer. In the future I will divide by into 12-14 pieces for smaller final product.

Another experiment (intentional this time) was rolling pin versus tortilla press. In our town, there is a restaurant that has a tortilla production line that you can watch while you await a table. They have the neat-o commercial hot press that presses and cooks simultaneously, and the tortillas are delish. I bought a nifty looking hand press (above) a couple years ago thinking it looked interesting and would be authentic. I compared the two methods and noted the results below.

I rolled the first half of the dough with the wooden pin on a silicone mat that has diameter calibrations. (I just happened to have the mat.) Didn't stick. No problems. Easy peasy. Didn't really need the mat for it's measuring ability, although, it was a handy reference. (Ms. Butal instructs you to roll them into 6-inch circles at 1/8-inch thick.)

I intended to press the second half of the dough, but about 3 tortillas in, I changed my mind. It caused the dough to be uneven, and it squooshed out the sides. I still had to turn and press each piece a few times. Not a time saver. Didn't seem particularly authentic, but then, I've not had the opportunity to witness an authentic homemade tortilla process.

From the same size dough balls, here is the result, rolled on the left, pressed on the right. Just a note, I do like tortillas to be a little thick, I don't want crackers after all, but I don't like them too thick either. The rolled one shrank a tad prior to hitting the pan.

Andrew helped with the project. This was his design. :)

The recipe instructs to heat cast iron comal or griddle over medium heat, lightly oiled and wiped with a clean paper towel. Since glass-topped stove (sadly) does not accommodate cast-iron, I used a stainless skillet wiped with oil. Heat first side of tortilla for 45 seconds until brown spots appear, flip, and heat second side for just a few seconds.

The final product: A stack of warm, homemade tortillas. This picture actually doesn't represent ALL of them because about 4 disappeared *poof* before I could make the picture.
After they cool, place uneaten tortillas - if there are any because it's amazing the riff-raff these attract to the kitchen for a snack - in an air-tight container. I keep mine in the fridge to extend their life. No preservatives, remember. To reheat, place on hot skillet for a few seconds each side. I don't nuke them because they tend to get chewy and tough. If heating several, you can stack them, wrap in foil and pop in the oven to reheat for several minutes. Just be sure to check to ensure they don't get too crispy.

A couple of notes:
  1. I diligently rolled the dough balls and stacked them to be cooked. BAD IDEA. They didn't seem sticky when I rolled them, but they stuck together while awaiting the pan. Had to re-roll several. I tried putting wax paper between, and they stuck to that too. So, now having done it all, I can attest that the recipe instructions to roll and cook at the same time works. It takes a bit for the first side to cook, allowing plenty of time to roll the next one.
  2. Overcooking the thin ones results in crispy tortillas. However, not all is lost (assuming that is not your intended result). I placed the cooked tortillas in a stack on a plate under a clean tea towel. Several of the tortillas were crispy going in. A bit later when I took them out, the crispy ones were now soft and tasty. Steam. Who knew.
  3. The whole wheat was OK. I usually like whole wheat. But I think next time - and there will be a next - I will only use one cup instead of 1-1/2 cups.
  4. Be sure to keep the unused dough under plastic while rolling and cooking. Don't want it to dry out.

Andrew and David loved them. Andrew even declared, "Mommy, we don't have to go buy tortillas anymore because yours taste really yummy!" *sigh* Now that's an endorsement I cherish.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Quick lunch

Summer has been a busy time for us. David has been able to work from home a bit, I've got some projects going, Andrew and I love going to the water park whenever we can, and our schedules have just imploded. Fortunately, we've been able to eat in (mostly) so our eating routine has been pretty stable. But because I'm needing quick meals, I'm not doing many "grand" meal prep.

Lately I've taken to steaming and/or prepping lots of veggies to stash in the fridge, ready to be used in the next meal concoction or to be nibbled between meals. It's amazing what a kiddo will eat if they think they're "sneaking" it. Andrew will eat all kinds of food that he appropriates from the cutting board while I'm prepping veggies, even the very same ones that would cause him to recoil in disgust when beautifully presented on a plate for dinner.

A couple of nights ago, using veggie broth, I "sauteed" steamed cauliflower, steamed broccoli, onions (shh, don't tell Andrew!), yellow squash, green peppers, mushrooms, fresh spinach, and capers, seasoned it all with Bragg's Amino and a little ginger. Served it with spaghetti tossed with a little pesto from a jar. Yes, I know that pesto's not vegan, but I had it on hand and the boys like it. Andrew would eat it every day if I let him.

Today for lunch, I still had several prepped veggies so I did a quick version of the same without the pasta, and it was delicious all over again! Easy.

Yesterday, I had a grilled vegan-cheese sandwich. I used Daiya Cheddar Style Shreds and Earth Balance "butter". It was good. I'm a little leery of veganized foods. The problem for me is, if I liked a non-vegan food enough to seek it out it's vegan substitute, then I likely have a strong taste memory for it, thus anything that doesn't taste the same and or have the same mouth feel is probably not going to do it for me. However, I read a review about this cheese, and it noted that there is a California pizza restaurant that uses it in a popular vegan pizza with great success. This was totally worth the try. It tasted liked cheddar. Melted like cheddar. Made a great sandwich. Since it is still fattening like cheese, I'll use it only occasionally, but it is good to know that I have an option.

I used to love cheese, and it's hard to move on from it for several reasons. 1) Tex-Mex uses LOTS of cheese. For those who know me, that's self-explanatory. 2) There's still cheese in the house regularly because of David and Andrew so I'm reminded of it. 3) Sometimes, there's nothing tastier (or quicker) than grilled cheese sammie and tomato soup or red beans. 4) Pizza.

OK. Now I'm off to do a load of laundry, pick up the living room, and figure out what's for dinner.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Holy frijole!

Growing up (mostly) in Texas and being raised by Texan parents, I've eaten heaps of pinto beans in my life. They are a staple here. You just can't have good Tex-Mex without them. I also grew up with the idea that you must have salt pork, ham hock or bacon to make them taste good, because that's the way it's always done. And you just can't add other "stuff" to them. "Cowboy beans" were a Yankee invention. (By the way, the only things we use the word "Cowboy" in the name are boots and hats.) So, when changing to a veg diet, the idea of cooking them was daunting, but I've found a secret.

The key flavoring that the meat adds, for my taste anyway, is the saltiness and/or the smokiness. So, I've tried a couple of things. Obviously, making sure they're salted well is important. And I've tried adding a little Liquid Smoke. That helped. I've added whole tomatoes, sauteed onions, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, and peppers in various combinations. And it's all tasted good, but I struck upon a favorite by chance.

I started cooking the beans in vegetable broth and realized that I didn't have any onions or tomatoes. I opened the fridge to see what I could find and came across a jar of smoky garlic salsa and thought, "Why not? " So, in went the salsa and then I salted to taste. Wow. It was wonderful. Didn't miss the pork flavoring at all!

How do I cook pinto beans?

1. Prep: Sort beans, discarding any debris and bad beans that may be present. Rinse well and drain.

2. Pre-Soak: There are a couple of way to do this, the long way and the quick way.

  • Long soak: Place beans in large pot. Cover beans with water by 4 inches. Cover pot with lid. Allow to sit at room temperature overnight or 8 hours.

  • Quick soak: Place beans in pot and cover with water by about 4 inches. Heat to strong simmer for approximately 5 minutes. Cover and turn off heat. Allow to sit for 1 hour.
3. Cooking: Drain soak water and rinse beans and pot. Return beans to pot. Add fresh water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring pot to low boil over high heat and then reduce heat to medium and gently simmer for a couple of hours until beans are tender. I love them when they're creamy, but some folks prefer them a little firmer. One last tip. These beans are tasty right after cooking, but let them sit in the fridge overnight, and they're even better. Not often a leftover is better than it was at the first serving.

4. Seasonings: Oh so many options.
  • Add salt to taste toward the end of cooking, when the beans are ready to be taste tested for doneness. It is especially important that you wait to salt if you are using other seasonings that include salt.

  • If you wish to add sauteed onion, garlic or peppers, saute them in the pot after soaking the beans and before returning the beans and fresh water to the pot for cooking.

  • If you wish to add tomatoes or salsa, add those about half-way through cooking. If you're feeling a-spicy, add a little jalapeno.

  • Add a little cider vinegar to the pot while cooking, a tablespoon or so. It gives a little kick to the beans, and it supposedly it helps to reduce the gas emissions later.

  • Another secret, add vegetable bouillon to the fresh cooking water or sub vegetable broth for part or all of the cooking water. I happen to like Rapunzel Vegan Vegetable Bouillon with Sea Salt. It has such great flavor. I add it to lots of dishes.

  • Shhh. My secret favorite combo is using the bouillon in the cooking water and adding Mrs Renfro's Roasted Garlic Salsa toward the end. Then salt to taste at the last.

Beans are a great staple to have on hand, but even the short method takes a while to cook. Luckily, they freeze beautifully! You can pack them in any amount that suits your needs. If you make ahead for a big gathering, then you can pack them into large plastic sealed bowls. If you use the 15-ounce cans for recipes, then you can pack them into freezer bags or reusable freezer bowls (you can find them BPA free!). I like to freeze them in an unseasoned state so that I can use them in any way that I need. Once thawed, I can add my favorite combo seasonings if I choose.

Approximately 1 1/2 pounds of dried beans made 7 cups of beans to freeze and 2 cups of beans for dinner.

Be sure to label your freezer items with contents and date. It seems like you wouldn't forget what's inside, or that you would be able to tell through the jar/bag, but freezing changes the look and makes it difficult to determine contents sometimes. Also, be sure to include the year on the date. I have a tendency to freeze things, thinking that I'll use them up quickly. However, I've been known to clean out the freezer and find dates from past years (I shan't reveal how many lest I embarrass myself!). My rule of thumb is, if no year is indicated, and I can't positively remember when I did it, out it goes!

Speaking of labels, these containers have spaces to write the info, but I love blue painter's tape. Inexpensive. Easy to remove. And pretty color. I think painter's or masking tape comes in other colors, but this is what I had left from a project. Easy.

What to do with my beans?

1. Beans are one-half of that great partnership, Beans and Cornbread. Serve with hot sauce on the side. I prefer Cholula, and David prefers Louisiana Hot Sauce. Other options might be Sriracha or Tabasco. This is an especially nice meal during cooler months, which is difficult to remember when it's 105 degrees outside, but trust me, it'll happen again before we know it.

2. Don't forget the Tex-Mex classic, Beans and Tortillas. Shoot. Fast food empires have been built on this concept!

3. Drain them and toss into a Tex-Mex salad with lettuce, corn, cilantro, purple onion, and red peppers. Drizzle with a little Catalina, vinaigrette or top with a little salsa.

4. Make Texas Hummus: Use pinto beans in place of chickpeas and add southwestern spices like cumin, oregano, garlic, chili powder, and/or hot sauce. Serve with corn chips or toasted pita crisps.

5. Serve as a side dish with enchiladas. (I have a forth coming recipe for enchiladas! Stay tuned!)

6. One word: Burritos! Drain, mash beans. Fill warm tortilla shell with beans and toppings like lettuce, onion, tomato, cilantro, chopped peppers, etc. As an aside, we have a local cafe called Sevi's Burritos that makes the most divine tortillas, burritos, etc. It is such a Saturday morning ritual for us that my son refers to "Saturday" as "Sevisday". Our standard is the bean and potato burrito. Divine tortilla filled with refried pinto beans and cottage fried potato. Add in their homemade hot sauce or pico de gallo and hmmm. My mouth waters just writing about it.

7. Add chopped veggies part way through cooking, or add thawed frozen veggies and heat thoroughly, to make veggie bean soup.

This is certainly not a definitive list, just a starter. This is a very versatile legume.

Want another reason to make these beans? Cost. The pinto bean is very inexpensive. Even the organic ones are relatively inexpensive. So, cooking your own allows you to control the salt, fat, and preservatives, and is still less expensive and much tastier than using canned ones from the grocery market. I can't think of a down side.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Friends Bearing Gifts

My friend Amy posted this quote on Facebook recently: ‎

"There is nothing better than a friend, unless it is a friend with chocolate." -Charles Dickens.

If that is true, what about a friend with dark chocolate and cherries, a classic flavor combo? If you agree that would be even better, then I might be your best friend right now. Mom found this recipe and encouraged me to make it. She is my best girl friend and not the least bit concerned about my waistline. She probably thinks I look a little too thin now. (See? My very best girl friend!)


Start to finish: 1 hour (30 minutes active), plus 2 hours cooling time
Servings: 1

Ingredients :
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2/ 3 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Wonderslim Wondercocoa)
1 ½ tablespoons canola oil
6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet mini chocolate chips, divided (I used non-dairy)
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup, blended with 3 tablespoons lukewarm water
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 Pinch of salt
1 large egg (I used Ener-G egg replacer)
3/4 cup dried sour cherries


1 Position a rack in center of oven. Heat the oven to 350 F. Coat an 8-inch-square baking pan with cooking spray (this is important!)

2 In a small bowl, sift together the flour, powdered sugar and cocoa powder.

3 In a heavy, medium saucepan, combine the oil and half of the chocolate chips. Place the pan over the lowest heat and cook, stirring constantly, until just melted and smooth (be careful that the chocolate does not overheat).

4 Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the granulated sugar, corn syrup mixture, almond extract and salt until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the egg until smoothly incorporated. Gently stir in the dry ingredients. Fold in the cherries and the remaining 3 ounces chocolate chips just until well blended. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, spreading evenly.

5 Bake until almost firm at the center and a toothpick comes out with some moist batter clinging to it, 25 to 30 minutes. Let Cool completely on a wire rack, about 2 hours.

6 Using a sharp knife, cut into 12 brownies, wiping the blade with a damp cloth between cuts.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 192 calories, 58 calories from fat, 6 g fat (3 g saturated, 0 g trans fats), 15 mg cholesterol, 34 g carbohydrate, 2 g protein, 3 g fiber, 33 mg sodium.

I had a helper, Chef Andrew to be exact, and thus, fewer hands to take pix along the way. I seriously considered it, but he was already feeling a little grumpy, and we were well past nap time. So there you go. You only get a beauty shot and no play-by-plays complete with him testing the cocoa powder because he didn't believe me that it would taste bad. And I'm sorry about that, because the batter (more a dough) was worth seeing, all thick and rich. If I make it again, maybe I'll post pix. But here it is:

This picture really doesn't do it justice. These are chewy and rich and chocolate-y and hmmm-hmmm-hmmm scrumptulescent (according to Andrew using Lin's word).

A few notes:
+Don't overcook them. I did overcook slightly causing the edges and a couple of the cherries to be a bit too crunchy.
+Do have the patience to let them set up for the 2 hours after. It's hard, but so worth it.
+Don't let them sit in the pan much past the 2 hours. I did, and it was like scraping old glue out of the pan.

Now, on to the next thing, finding a trainer who will help me work this off. Any recommendations?

7/30 edit:

You'll want to eat these fairly quickly, like the first couple of days. They seem to dry out a little fast. They're certainly still edible, but not as fabulous after day 2.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Elvis would've approved

This story reminds me of an old Reese's Peanut Butter Cup ad from my youth in which there's a collision and an argument ensues between two parties about who got their peanut butter into whose chocolate and vise versa. This is not quite like that, but it does involve peanut butter.

Let me set the scene: Andrew had eaten a peanut butter and banana sandwich (a favorite of ours) and I had half a banana left. David was snacking on some pretzel sticks nearby. Andrew loves corn dogs. Can you see where I'm heading with this?

I sliced the banana into thick chunks, used pretzels for the sticks, and smeared on a bit of peanut butter. The pretzels keep little hands from getting too messy and are a welcomed salty flavor. Andrew and David declared them yummy and requested more, but alas, that was the last banana, and so, yes, we have no more bananas today.

Pardon me, but you got your pretzel in my banana...

As for corn dogs, I'm working on a vegan version. I'll let you know how that goes.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

One of those days

OK, so eating at home does not preclude me from using convenience foods at times. Tonight, it's salad for all and Amy's frozen spinach pizza for the boys. I'll let you know if I get creative.

Pots and Pans

We have new cookware. To say I'm excited about it is an understatement. When my husband and I got married, we both had some decent cookware, so we didn't register or buy any new stuff. It was all non-stick, and there were times we wished it were oven safe, could produce a good fond (tasty bits on the bottom of the pan before deglazing) for sauces and gravies, and didn't have to be protected from metal utensils. But, overall, it worked fine, and it got a lot of use.

Then, a couple of months ago I accidentally ruined my large sauce pot when I burned a batch of beans in it. And by burning, I mean reducing them to carbon. It was bad, and I was thankful I didn't catch the kitchen on fire - heart thumping, dodged a bullet, praise the Lord Almighty thankful. A pot is more easily replaced than a room or half a house or a whole house.

One pan disappeared. I know it sounds like I might have helped it along, but seriously, I went to get out my large deep skillet with lid one day to make something, and it was gone. Now, I may have done something with it, but for the life of me I couldn't say what. Maybe put it some place for safe-keeping?

Then, another skillet just died of natural causes. Kaput. So I was down to a couple of skillets a small sauce pan and a dutch oven.

When cleaning out my linen closet, I came across a beautiful, but massive, steamer set up that included a dutch oven-type pot, two stacking layers of steamer trays, and a lid with a hole in the middle that a great cook friend of ours gave us as a wedding gift. I had a steamer basket from another pan along with its glass lid that fit this pot nicely, so I ditched the other pot and kept this set up, as sort of a two-fer.

OK, I'll stop with the back story details. You get the idea that my pan collection at this point was hobbled together and included a Frankenstein steamer combo. And the non-stick surfaces were well-worn.

Now, David and I have both salivated over the shiny All-Clad numbers in the Williams Sonoma catalogue, which by the way is like porn for cooks, but we've hesitated to invest that amount of money in a set of pans because ours worked fine. So, when I started looking around to see what's out there, I thought I'd save up for a bit or just replace one pan at a time.

Not long ago, when I was walking through closeout retailer Tuesday Morning, a shiny stainless pot caught my eye. The price wasn't bad, but I didn't recognize the brand Tramontina and didn't know what exactly to look for in a good stainless pan. I came home and started researching. Low and behold, Cook's Illustrated, a great resource for food and equipment info, recommended the brand's 8-piece gourmet set as a best buy, and that it was available through Wal-Mart for about $150. All-Clad is about $600 for a 7-piece set.

I read user reviews on various websites. I looked all over the Internet to compare prices. I mulled it over. I discussed it with David, and he said, "Buy it". Finally, I agreed and bought it. Stainless is hard to photograph, so this is the promotional picture.

There's been a little adjusting after cooking on anodized non-stick for so long. This doesn't require as hot a burner. The manufacturer recommends no more than medium heat to prevent scorching your food. And you have to heat the pan before putting the food into it. I was a little anxious about using it the first, no, the second time. The first time I just heated Campbell's soup for Andrew. The second time, I scrambled an egg. (The boys still eat eggs too.) I was nervous that it would stick. Pfffttt. No sticking. Clean up was a snap. Pan even looked shiny like new.

The only con thus far is that the set, which varies a bit from website to store and store to store, came with 1.5- and 2-quart sauce pans. Some have 1- and 2-quart, and some have 2- and 3-quart, which would have been my preference, but I couldn't find one in-store. They're a bit small, but I've discovered that I don't need anything bigger many times. I will likely add a 3- or 4-quart pan before the next holiday cooking starts, but for now, it's all good. And shiny. I'm a happy camper.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Philly Mushroom Subs

Tonight's dinner was simple. I popped frozen sweet potato fries into the oven, threw some salad in a bowl, and made Philly Mushroom Subs.

For the subs, I started by "sauteing" some onions in a little veggie broth and sprayed a few pumps of Bragg's Liquid Amino for flavor. I set those aside because Andrew doesn't like onions. Had I been making this just from the grown-ups, I'd have left them in the pan and continued. Then I added sliced red and green peppers and cooked those for a couple of minutes then added sliced mushrooms and a little celery. I added a few more pumps of Amino and a little more broth to prevent the mix from drying out and scorching. Also tossed in a few sliced sun-dried tomatoes. I sliced a couple of bollilo rolls from the market, hollowed a little of the extra bread from the middle and filled the bread with the mixture, topping the grown-ups' sandwiches with the onion. David and Andrew still eat cheese, so they wanted a little shredded Italian cheese on theirs. I popped them into the oven on a baking sheet after removing the fries. Baked them for a few minutes to crisp the bread and melt the boys' cheese. Turned out great. David said he loved it and that he'd eat them every night if I choose to make them. Andrew ate quite a bit of his sandwich, most of his salad and all of the fries. He also "sneaked" salad veggies as I chopped them, so he ate a lot of salad. Can't complain 'bout that.

As for the Bragg's Liquid Aminos. I've seen it recommended in several vegetarian/vegan resources as a good additional source of nutrients and flavoring. I've used it a couple of times now. So far so good. I didn't add any other seasonings tot he sub filling. It was yummy.

I did need to chop a few veggies for this dinner, but usually I keep most of them chopped in the fridge, or at least cleaned, trimmed and ready to go. Makes cooking go much quicker.

Let's talk salad for a minute. Many people, especially at home, think lettuce, tomato and onion as the standard salad. I have a thing about adding everything but the kitchen sink. Tonight, for example, I added mushrooms, radishes, peppers, tomatoes, and celery. I meant to add onion but forgot, and I was out of carrot and cucumber. Frequently I'll add a few nuts, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, or dried fruit. For croutons, which I rarely just have on hand, I'll break up some pretzels, toss in a few mini crackers, or toast up some bread cubes. I keep trying to make it as interesting as possible without adding a lot of fat to mine. As a no-fat dressing option, I'll sprinkle on sherry, raspberry or balsamic vinegar. Salsa also makes a tasty dressing. Just trying to keep it interesting.

Now, what to have tomorrow? Maybe something with leftover bollilo rolls...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Let's Chow Chow

When I was growing up, I remember my family members making Chow Chow, a kind of spicy green tomato relish, sometimes too spicy for me. As an adult, I love spicy food, but I haven't had Chow Chow in a long time. After seeing a recipe for it in our local paper recently, I now have a taste for it. There are a couple of pre-made offerings at my grocer's, but my farmer's market has lots of beautiful green tomatoes and onions, and Andrew and Mimi have a garden with peppers starting to make, so what's a girl to do? Chow Chow at home, I say.

The recipe below is the one I used. It's very similiar to the one from the newspaper, but it's also very similar to Emeril Lagasse's Green Tomato Chow Chow.

Makes about 16 half-pints

12 green tomatoes, cored and quartered
3 medium green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
3 medium red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
3 medium yellow bell peppers, seeded and chopped
3 medium onions, peeled and quartered
1 cup fresh jalapeƱos, stemmed and chopped
2 cups water
2 cups cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt

1. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, pulse the tomatoes 10 times (Do this in batches if necessary). Pour the tomatoes into a large nonreactive saucepan (stainless or enameled steel).

2. Add the peppers, onions and jalapeƱos to the processor and pulse the vegetables about 10 times. Add the mixture to the tomatoes. Stir in the vinegar, water, sugar and salt.

3. Over high heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 20 minutes.

4. Remove from the heat and spoon into ½-pint preserving jars, filling the mixture to within ½-inch of the top. With a clean damp towel, wipe the rim and fit with a hot lid. Tightly screw on the metal ring. Process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.

5. Using tongs, remove the jars and place on a towel to cool. Test the seals. Tighten the rings. Store in a cool dark place. Age for two weeks before using.

12 (mostly) green tomatoes. I bought them intending to make it right away, but had to wait few days. Oops!

Red, yellow, and green peppers, some from the grocer's, some from the farmer's market, and some from Andrew and Mimi's garden. The last ones, of course, were the tastiest.

3 medium onions.

2 jalapenos. The recipe called for 1 cup chopped, but I went with just 2 peppers. Once chopped, they equalled about 1/2 to 3/4 cup.

2 cups cider vinegar, 2 cups water, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 teaspoons salt.
The chopping took a bit, but once I got started, I fell into a rhythm and it went smoothly. I forgot to photograph everything post chop, but it was a lot.
I used a 6-quart stock pot and it was rather full, as you can see.

I don't have a canning set up, so I used another stock pot I have on hand. The bubbling of the water under the jars is loud and a annoying at first, but after the first batch I didn't notice it as much. When David and Andrew returned from errands, they definitely notcied amd it bugged them enormously. I think I'll pick up a rack for the next canning go round.

Awww. Last step. Removed from the pot, set on a towel to cool and seal. Nothing sweeter than the sound of the little "pop" you hear as the seals take after all the tie and energy spent trying to do each step just right. And yes, there are a lot more jars. This is the first batch.

As an aside, since I do not have a lot of canning equipment I needed a way to remove the jars safely out of the boiling water. The cheapest, neatest and least painful way I've found is picutred above. Note the purple ruber bands on the tongs. They came from some asapargus bunches from past dinners. I tend to rinse those and toss them in a drawer for later purposes. This is one of those purposes! Just wrap one around the end of each tong, and voila, grips. I also used my oven mitt that has silicone grips on the fingers to grab the jar after I pulled it out with the tongs.

The toughest part of this whole thing is waiting two whole weeks to test it out! If all goes well, I may have a few special Christmas gifts to give this this year.

My herb garden is in full tilt, so now I'm pondering possibilities for the mint and the basil. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Change in Perspective

During this last break from blogging, I have encountered some perspectives and encouragement on my ideas of food. I may be repeating myself, but please bear with me.

I've read several books about vegetarianism and veganism in the past, and I own several cookbooks on the subject. I tried a vegan diet, in the pop culture meaning of eating to lose weight, about a year and a half ago, but it didn't last long. I approached it with an attitude of disgust with commercial farming and a want to lose extra weight. But I wasn't equipped with the tools to make it work past the first couple of days.

Growing up, I learned to cook in a way that almost every dish starts with some animal product. For example, most of the vegetables recipes start with "Fry some bacon" or end with "Top with butter." Even salad needed bacon bits, ranch dressing, and cheese. So, to go from that mindset to eating without any animal product was a shock to say the least.

Then a few a few months ago, a friend of mine introduced me to Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman. Since I'm always interested in reading about nutrition and food from reputable sources, I checked it out. In an unscientific nutshell, Dr. Fuhrman uses nutritive value of calories to control weight. For example, 100 calories of olive oil, chicken breast, and salad are very different amounts of food. The oil is about 1 tablespoon, the chicken is about a half cup, and salad is many cups. Thus, if watching your calories, you can eat a more salad than olive oil and stay under your limit. This is a very simplistic explanation and he goes into nutrition needs. Then, he includes some cooking info and recipes to help get you started, too.

After reading it, I was re-energized to give it another go. I discussed it with my husband because he has a say in how our family eats and, also, because he is my best friend and closest advisor. He agreed that we could be eating healthier and that he would support the effort. We also agreed that our toddler did not need to lose any weight and that we would ensure he ate plenty of calories to help him grow properly and healthfully. We also agreed, that while I choose adhere to this eating regimen, when we ate out, I would not give him a hard time for eating as he wished. It helps enormously to have his buy-in. And he's remained very supportive.

As noted, I have some veg cook books that I've used in the past, and I've used them with some success. However, whilst rambling in the bookstore one day, probably seeking something totally unrelated, I found myself in the cookbook section. I picked up a copy of Vegan on the Cheap by Robin Robertson and took it home. This was my next step forward. Her approach is very everyday eating instead of dinner party gourmet. She provides recipes, alternatives and cost breakdowns for sometimes costly store-bought veg staples, like vegetable stock, seitan, hummus, beans, sun-dried tomatoes, and others and then the recipes for how to use them, along with tips on efficient use of your food budget.

Then, I found by SusanV. Another step forward. She uses a sensible everyday approach as well. Her writing is lovely, recipes are clear, easy to follow and yummy, and the pictures are appetizing.

So, as I've taken these steps forward, we've eaten many more veg meals at home. My husband and I focus more on salad as entree for the weight loss benefit. But I've tried several recipes (alas, I've not taken pix or blogged about them, but I'll try to be better going forward) that we've enjoyed and deemed repeaters. There were even a couple of recipes that my husband was a little surprised when he remembered there was no meat involved. And, I've adjusted to eating in this way. I love it. Because my palate has adjusted, I am better able to remind myself that I am unhappy with the state of commercial food production in this country. I am better able to think about the healthy goals I have. I don't have the same frustration of wanting to eat vegan and feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of providing the meal to do so.

In our area, there are not a lot of dining out options while keeping a vegan or even vegetarian diet. Our favorite little diner for Sunday brunch is a slightly reformed greasy spoon kind of place. I usually have a dinner salad with salsa for dressing and a baked potato, no butter please. When feeling giddy, I steal a few fries from one of the boys' plates. Although, the other day they had a tomato Florentine soup that appeared to be at least vegetarian. And was tasty. The waitress was unsure of its ingredients and not so helpful as to find out. I'm to the point now that I would rather go into my kitchen at 5:15 PM and put together something dinner than go out to have a plate of iceberg and a potato. It helps that it's summer and our farmers' market is in full swing.

One "recipe" of note, I'll call it Magic Tomato Sauce. The other evening I needed a quick supper and hadn't planned ahead. I found a package of whole wheat gnocchi (a fave of the family!), a bottle of tomato basil pasta sauce, fresh broccoli and Brussels sprouts that needed to be cooked right away, a can of navy beans and a small can of chopped black olives. I almost always have salad ingredients on hand. I steamed the veggies, rinsed and drained the beans, chopped part of the broccoli, and cooked the gnocchi. I added the chopped broccoli, part of the beans, and some of the olives to about half the pasta sauce then served it with the gnocchi. Served salad and Brussels sprouts on the side. My son loves broccoli but normally will not try Brussels Sprouts. That night, out of the blue, he announced he would try the sprouts, which he did, and then proclaimed that he liked them and wanted more. (Victory!) Overall, the dinner was great. Had some left over sauce, which went into the fridge. Next day it was filler for a veg Not-Quesadilla (no cheese) along with some chopped onion and peppers. Delish. The following day my mom, son and I had it on a great wheat roll as part of a sub sandwich along with sliced mushrooms, chopped peppers, and onions. It reminded me of a Parmesan-style sandwich. In hindsight, should have sprinkled on some nutritional yeast for a little cheesy flavor. Anyhoo, another yummy incarnation. Three from one, just like magic.

I have a few recipes and projects in the pipeline. I'll be sure to take the pix and blog. I promise to be back soon.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter already?

It's Easter. Well, Easter Eve actually.

It's been so hectic in our house that Easter kind of sneaked up on me. We are having work done on the master bathroom (floors and walls), displacing us and our grooming equipment and spilling its misplaced contents into the rest of the house causing everything to feel off kilter. There is a 6.5 x 3.5-foot mirror leaning against our bedroom dresser. Light fixtures and shower doors lie next to it. We are sharing a bathroom with our 3 year-old. He told me he doesn't want to share with us. Apparently, we're too messy for him. Not to mention that our clothes closets are in the master bathroom, which makes it difficult to get folded laundry put away (I say that like it's not a problem I battle normally). We've had to get clothing out in advance of some floor work to be able to change, thus it is sitting in the bedroom.

Then, I have been ruthless in my Spring Clean Out. I have cleared out, organized, and rearranged most of the pantries, closets, and rooms until my husband is scared to sit still for long lest I might put him in the "go away" pile also. The rest of these items are roosting in the guest room until I get them boxed up and ready to donate or sell. My guest room runneth over.

My office is still in its normal disarray with the added bonus of having extra stuff hanging out temporarily. Oh, and I've been cleaning out old files in there too.

We recently downsized to one vehicle, as well, by getting rid of my car. I think we'll adapt our schedules easily, but it means that there is a little more room in the garage for stuff to collect as well. Life abhors a vacuum, and clutter abhors an empty space.

So our casa is a mess. And while I see the light at the end of the tunnel, this dark part is feeling a little claustrophobic. When I have projects adding up, what do I want to do? Cook, of course. During all of this overhaul and upheaval, my kitchen was the first to get finished and has remained somewhat out of the fray. It is a nice place to keep from pulling my hair out over the other stuff. (Did I mention these projects were all my doing? I either lobbied for them or initiated them.) And while I am in the kitchen, cooking, my back is to the cluttered mess and my mind is occupied on the food. But it also means, some tasks are languishing.

So, here I am on the eve of the most important day on the Christian calendar, and I confess, it has not been at the top of my priorities. But, it has found its way into my kitchen.

Many years ago, I became friends with a woman named Linda, who was a wonderful Christian person, fantastic wife and mother, great cook and baker, terrific teacher, and lovely friend. She taught me a lot about cooking. By the time I met her, I was in college and was starting to gain interest in cooking. I would sit on a bar stool in her kitchen visiting with her while she would whip up dinner or lunch or cake or bread or snacks, and she made it seem almost magical.

I was fortunate to share in the Easter holiday at her house a couple of times. One of her traditions was Easter Sunrise Cinnamon Rolls, which would be baked before sunrise church service and eaten upon returning home from said service. She passed away several years ago but has been on my mind a lot lately. I miss her. This year, I made a batch of her rolls. I'll bake them up in the morning before church. Here is her recipe, mostly in her words. I have noted a couple of modifications I made:

Easter Sunrise Cinnamon Rolls

2 pkgs. (4 ½ tsp) dry yeast*
½ C. warm water (110-115 degrees)
2 C. lukewarm milk
1/3 C. sugar
1/3 C. shortening (I used a non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening)
3 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt
1 egg **
6 C. flour, divided (+ some for kneading)

½ C. oleo (I used butter and only used a ¼ cup – worked great)
½ C. sugar
¼ C. brown sugar
1 Tbs. cinnamon

1 C. water
3 Tbs. Oleo (I used butter)
1 C. sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. vinegar

In large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add milk, sugar, shortening, baking powder, salt, egg and about 3 cups flour. Beat well. Mix in remaining 3 cups flour. Knead about 5 minutes on well-floured board. (I used my stand mixer and added a little flour at a time, taking care not to exceed my mixer's 7 cup capacity.) Place in greased bowl; turn greased side up. Cover; let rise in warm place until double. Punch down dough; divide into halves. Keep half covered and roll other half into 12x14-inch rectangle. Spread with ½ the softened oleo; sprinkle with half of the mixture of sugars and cinnamon (chopped nuts or raisins may be added at this point). Roll up, beginning at the wide side; pinch edge of dough into roll to seal. Stretch roll to make even. Cut roll into 15 slices; place cut side down into greased 13x9x2-inch pan; cover tightly with heavy foil. Place in refrigerator. Repeat with remaining dough.

Early Sunday morning:
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Remove foil from pans. Bake until golden, about 30-35 minutes. While rolls are baking, in a saucepan combine glaze ingredients and simmer until rolls are done. Drizzle glaze over hot rolls. (The glaze makes these rolls!)

Attend Easter Sunrise Service; then enjoy these rolls with the folks you love!

*Yeast- I read an article by someone who tested pre-measured packages of yeast and determined that they can vary widely in their content. One package is supposed to equal 2 ¼ teaspoons. Some packages had more some significantly less. For the most consistent results, use the yeast from a jar and measure for yourself.

**Egg- I accidentally left this out, and I fretted about it for a bit. It reminded my friend Darla of the scene in Julie & Julia in which Julie ponders what difference one egg makes. Since I had already gotten the rolls put together by the time I realized it, I just went with it, figuring, if they came out badly, I'd just remake them. I did a test bake on a few of the rolls, and I must report that they tasted divine. So, egg is optional. Maybe.
That was actually Friday night. Andrew helped. He can hardly wait until tomorrow morning to see how good they are. He's never had a cinnamon roll. Call me "Mommy Frankenstein", because I may be creating a monster considering his taste for sweets. (He told me recently, "Mommy, I love candy and cookie and cake and pie and all sweet things! I'm a sweet little man!" Why yes, yes he is.)

Tonight, Andrew and I made Annie's Resurrection Cookies. We'll see how they turn out tomorrow morning. Walking through the story part was a little difficult since I was talking to a 3 year-old, but he did great helping put the cookies together. I hope it works.

As for now, I am off to bed. I need some sleep for a little renewal. That, and when my eyes are closed, I can't see all the stuff closing in around us.

Happy Easter, friend. May you know the joy of the holiday.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bowties optional

So I tried my hand, so to speak, at making pasta yesterday. After reading some recipes, tips, and discussions online, I decided that while it looks so cool when Mario Batale makes the pasta using his fingers, I am not a trained chef who makes pasta by hand for a living. I'm not even someone who's been in a room where someone else made pasta by hand. Thus, I used my trusty KitchenAid stand mixer with dough hook. Besides, it needs to earn its rent for the valuable counter space it takes up.

Basic Pasta Dough
2 1/3 cup AP Flour divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon olive oil

Mix 2 cups flour with salt in mixing bowl. In separate bowl, combine wet ingredients. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix well.

Slowly add remaining 1/3 cup flour while kneading dough. Knead till dough is smooth and elastic (if by hand approx 8-10 minutes; if by machine, eyeball it.)

Cover and let rest 10 minutes. (This is enough time to clean up!)

Divide dough into fourths. On lightly floured surface, roll each fourth into a 12"x12" square, keeping remaining portions covered until rolled. (I used a rolling pin. If using a pasta roller, then follow the machine instructions.)

Cut into desired shape. (I made farfalle, or bowtie, by cutting the squares into 1"x2" pieces and pinching the middles. Andrew helped pinch.)

Cook for a few minutes in lightly salted water, if eating right away. Homemade pasta does not take as long to cook as packaged pasta, so 2-3 minutes should do it. (More on this later)

If choosing to store the pasta for later use, dry on a cooling rack (I used cookies sheets but will use racks next time as the pasta didn't dry evenly) or hung over clothes hanger overnight, till completely dry. Store in airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Or dry at least 1 hour and store in airtight freezer container in freezer up to 8 months.

Okay. I dried itovernight. This morning I made myself a small test serving of pasta and added pesto. I cooked it for aout 5-6 minutes, testing along the way for doneness. I think maybe it took so long because they were a little thicker and had dried overnight. But it looked pretty.

And it tasted good. But it was a little thick. Reminded me of Cracker Barrel Chicken and Dumplings. I need to roll it thinner next time, or until I break down and get a pasta roller. I did enjoy the rolling part though, so we'll see.

I may try using wheat flour next time (healthier). Or maybe using egg replacer (vegan). Or tomato paste(yummy). The possibilities are endless.

David gave me a sort of compliment the other, or just a nice observation. He pointed out that we don't need much pantry space anymore because I make so much from scratch these days; we just need enough space to store flour. He notices. :-)

Andrew made up a snack last night and wanted to photograph it. He thought it was yummy.

Andrew's Snack
2 saltine crackers (we like Wheatines)
Peanut Butter

Spread one side of each cracker with PB. Add raisins and craisins. Lay one cracker on top of the other, PB side down, forming a sandwich. Eat it all up!

He said it was delicious. I didn't get a bite.
I'm now wondering if he thinks that everyone takes pictures of their food...

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Waffles - It's what's for dinner

OK, I know I totally stole that tag line from the Beef Council, but it just stuck in my head.

Last week, Andrew & I made Belgian waffles. From scratch. Whipped egg whites and all. They were so good. It made a large batch, so we ate a couple then froze the rest to have for breakfast throughout the week. Then, David discovered them, and decided they would be great for dinner. And late night snack. (They were a tasty snack, I confess.) Thus, alas, our frozen waffles did not last 24 hours. Andrew polished them off the next morning for breakfast.

Yesterday afternoon, we decided to do it again, and add some cinnamon. They were delicious. Just so happens I had fresh strawberries and a carton of whipping cream in the fridge. You see where I'm going with this, right? So, we had cinnamon waffles with strawberries & cream. For dinner. Andrew didn't notice that I did not add sugar to the fruit or the cream. He called it dessert for dinner. Hey, I'm not going to argue. It even looked like dessert:

He had waffles for breakfast this morning too. We still have some in the freezer. Maybe it's because David isn't here to help eat them.

I just used the recipe in the KitchenAid stand mixer booklet. Yesterday we added 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon.

Now, I'm thinking of making pasta for dinner tonight. From scratch. I love my stand mixer.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Starbucks for dinner?

This was one of those days that I didn't think much about food. Was too busy running around. I'm on autopilot with Andrew's eating. I can make his meals or snacks in my sleep, and have probably done so at one time or another. He had yogurt and I had fruit for breakfast, then headed out the door. Andrew went to Mimi's for the day, and I went to my unpaid job. I treated myself to lunch to Atlanta Bread. Their Basil Pesto Pasta is a current fave of mine. So, afer that and a couple rows of knitting, I was back to busy-ness.

On my way to the second shift of the unpaid job, I had a chill, so I drove through Starbucks for a Chai Latte to warm up. Non-fat, half-sweet, of course. Yum. It wasn't until I arrived at Mimi's a few hours later and smelled fresh cornbread that I realized I had not eaten. I really wasn't hungy, but she had also cooked a pot of Great Northern beans and roasted some potatoes too. Delish. A small bowl of beans, slice of cornbread and little serving of potatoes later, I was more than full. Good meal on a chilly day. I enjoyed the latte, but the beans were perfect.

Yesterday Mimi & Granddad joined Andrew and me for supper of pork pot pie. I diced the leftover pork chop from Sunday's dinner, diced some onion, and diced and parboiled a little carrot & potato. I sauted the onion and pork with a little olive oil, added the potatoes and carrots, a handful of frozen peas (Mimi would claim I added the whole bag - but that's another story) and frozen corn and mixed it all till warmed through. Removed that to a bowl and used the skillet to make a pale roux, then added some milk and made cream sauce. Mixed it all back together, dumped it into a pie shell, topped it with a pie crust and baked @ 350 F  for approximately a half hour. Could've been a little creamier, but I thought it was tasty. Mimi & Granddad each ate a small piece. Andrew wouldn't touch it. I ate pot pies all the time when I was grwoing up. Who knew my parents and three year-old don't care for pot pie? The other half goes into the freezer for David's return. He likes it. Maybe I'll just serve Starbucks next time...

Monday, February 15, 2010


Where has the time gone? Oh well, if I updated in detail, I'd never get caught up. Let's just say the cookies didn’t make it to the oven, we went to Chicago, we had Christmas, there's been snow, meals out/ meals in, snow, new granddaughter, knitting, lots more snow, cancelled flights, more meals in/ meals out, and a little more snow. There. Caught up.

Recently we spent a week and a half in the D.C. area with my stepdaughter Lin and her family after the birth of their second child Bella. Lin was an inspiration. She is always very organized and tidy, a great homemaker who can stretch a dollar and feed her family very nicely at home, thank you. Being there refreshed my domestic batteries. While we were there, we had a snow storm and lost power one day, but thanks to the gas stove top, we had a hearty pot of beans and cornbread for supper. The oven was an electric pilot, which meant no baking, so we cooked the cornbread in a skillet. I had seen my mother and grandmother do it a hundred times, but had never tried it before. From what we could see by candlelight, it looked pretty good, and it tasted great.

Before they moved away to D.C., I shared my Easy Biscuit recipe with Lin. David calls these “my” biscuits.

Easy Biscuits
2 C flour
3 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/4 C veg oil (I like canola)
3/4 C milk

Preheat to 450 F. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Combine the wet ingredients in a measuring cup. Pour the wet into the dry and stir just to combine. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Knead ten times. Roll and cut. Place onto cookie sheet or into biscuit pan with edges of biscuits touching each other lightly. Bake for 10-12 min or golden. Makes approx 1 dozen.

Easy peasy. I use this because I hate cutting butter into flour. Ugh. Lin’s husband B is a Texas guy through and through, thus, he loves good biscuits and gravy. Lin uses the Quick Biscuits during the week, but has started making biscuits with butter on Sundays when she has more time. She also hates cutting the butter and flour. Then one day she used her stand mixer to do the heavy lifting. The one exactly like the one sitting on my kitchen counter. (Her philosophy is that it was a pricey piece of equipment, so she wants to use it as often as possible, and she uses it a lot.) It made the process so easy. I had made the Easy Biscuits for so long, I had forgotten how good regular homemade biscuits tasted. Wow.

This morning, for Valentines, I made my two favorite fellas butter biscuits before church. I didn't use heart cutters, but they got the idea.

Butter Biscuits
2 C flour
1 t sugar
1 T baking powder
1 t salt
1 stick (8 T) butter, cubed
3/4 C milk

Preheat to 450 F. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. (In a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment on the lowest "stir" setting.)

Add milk and stir by hand just to combine. Turn out onto lightly floured surface. Gently knead a few times, adding a little flour when needed, just until dough is no longer sticky, but is smooth and soft. Roll and cut. Place onto cookie sheet or into biscuit pan with edges of biscuits touching each other lightly. Bake for 10 min or until golden. Makes approx 1 dozen.

These are now “my” biscuits. I would've had pictures to post, but they didn't last long enough. Andrew ate two, even after he'd just finished a bowl of oatmeal. Maybe I'll try them again tomorrow.

Remember, cold butter is better for cutting. Also, you can freeze the biscuits after cutting and before baking. Freeze on a cookie sheet without the biscuit sides touching. Store in freezer zip top bag. Thaw. Then bake as normal. (Just think: Make double batch on Saturday, have fresh biscuits on Tuesday for breakfast!)

Tonight we had smashed Yukon Gold (my favorite) potatoes, collard greens, and pork chops. I could boil Yukons and eat them plain because they are naturally so creamy. But tonight I added a dash of salt and about a teaspoon of unsalted butter and smashed them up. David pan fried the chops with S&P and a bit of garlic powder in a hint of olive oil. The collards are from a recipe that Lin developed and I have adjusted to our taste.

Couple strips of bacon
1/4 C Onion, chopped
1 clove Garlic, chopped
Red Pepper flakes, to taste
1 bunch Collard Greens, washed, stems removed and leaves chopped
3-4 C Chicken stock/broth
1 T cider vinegar (to taste)
Salt & Pepper (to taste)

In bottom of Dutch oven, cook bacon over medium heat till browned and rendered. Add onion, garlic, and red pepper (if desired) and cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring to prevent garlic from burning. Add collards (in batches if necessary) and stir, allowing the greens to cook down slightly, usually a couple of minutes. Add stock to cover greens and add vinegar. Bring to boil. Cover pan. Reduce heat to simmer for approx an hour. Remove lid. Allow broth to reduce and concentrate a bit. Check greens for doneness along the way. This will vary. Some people like them a bit firm still (cooked less) and some like them cooked to death (cooked longer). S&P to taste.

Last Thursday we were supposed to attend a Valentine dinner hosted by our church's youth department. We had a big snow that day which caused the dinner to be postponed. Thus, I was left to come up with dinner on short notice. I browned a pound of ground beef, used a bag of frozen mixed veggies, peeled and chopped a baking potato and part of an onion, finished off the beef bouillon granules, and threw in a handful of alphabet pasta for good measure. I made my favorite cornbread recipe (in the oven this time) to go with. The cornbread came out beautifully and, all in all, it resulted in a pretty good Alpha Veggie Beef Soup meal. It's great to have those times when throwing dinner together looks like you'd planned it all along. As PeeWee Herman would say after falling of his bike, "I meant to do that."

Do you believe me when I say I meant to wait 2 months between posts?