Saturday, March 31, 2012

And to finish up spring break...

We made these.

Cinnamon Rolls with Best Ever Cream Cheese Frosting

I realized that it is one of the very rare foods that every single person in my family loves unequivocally. That is really saying something. Even with the desserts I make, there's always someone who doesn't like the frosting or doesn't like strawberries or wants more whipped cream or whatever. These, these make them happy every time.

Merry March!

Friday, March 30, 2012

Food Essay Friday: How to Get Your Child to Eat the Foods You Make

So I thought about just leaving this post blank. You know--as a joke. Because I have no idea how to get my child to eat the foods I make.

Oh, sure, I've read all the articles and tried all the ideas that get re-played over and over. I've made food bright and colorful and fun. We've made faces and pictures with our food and I've let my kids pick out the food from the produce section and help me cook it. And for a while I even tried a Kid's Cook day each week where they got to plan a dinner of their choice and then help me prepare it. We ended up eating the same old things every week when it was their turn. I've hidden vegetables and juiced vegetables and made all kinds of smoothies. Some of my ideas work, but frankly, most of them do not.

These kids, they're besting me, especially numero uno. Yesterday we were out of cereal. So for breakfast I made these breakfast cookies, which are wickedly good. And then I made a strawberry smoothie. Only we had a bit of leftover lemonade, so I added that to the frozen strawberries and made a sort of strawberry lemon sorbet. For breakfast. My oldest child would not touch it. Any of it. He told me he didn't like those cookies. (Oh, yes, he did, I argued back. He ate them last time and liked them. But this was to no avail.) And he wouldn't touch the dessert smoothie. He just ended up skipping breakfast and essentially fasting until lunch. It blew my mind. If you had a choice between strawberry lemon sorbet and chocolate cookies for breakfast and fasting, which would you choose? My point, of course, is that I'm a huge failure in the getting kids to eat department (and that I have a very stubborn first child, who has issues with eating a wide (or any) variety of foods which is--yes--troubling to me, but I'm not really sure what to do about that either).

So I thought today that I'd ask you all for your suggestions in getting picky/stubborn children to eat. Especially children among the slightly older set (as in, not your 2-year-olds, although if you've got suggestions there, I'll take them too).

Fire away.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Crock Pot Refried Beans

You know I always thought that refried beans were one of those mysterious foods that just came in a can. Nobody really knew how to make refried beans, right. They were sort of like Spam. Or Skittles. Or margarine. I didn't actually even know exactly which type of bean was used for refried beans--that's how very much I'd thought about their origin. Which isn't to say I never ate them. Once upon a time when I was in college I ate them pretty much every other day and thanked them for keeping me alive. So, yeah, we go way back. It's just that I'd really never taken the time to get to know them for who they really were. A sad story really--those wild college days of using helpless beans for my own selfish purposes.

Anyway, turns out that who they really were/are is the humble pinto bean, and that refried beans are pretty much the easiest thing in the entire universe to make from scratch. Okay, probably lots of you knew that. If you're of hispanic descent maybe you're even weeping onto your keyboard right now. Just forgive me and know that I've changed.

Although I still like refried beans. Only now I like them even better. Oh and from scratch they cost half as much, which considering they're a bean is pretty much almost nothing. And now I can check them off on my little whole foods check list. I have Lisa at 100 Days of Real Food to thank for that.

Crock Pot Refried Beans
from 100 Days of Real Food
Makes several cups
Prep time: 3 minutes
Cook time: at least 8 hours
Cost: $.35
onion: .15, beans: .20

1 onion, peeled and halved
2 C dry pinto beans, rinsed
several shakes of chile powder or an actual hot pepper if you've got one (we didn't, so we went with the powder)
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
pinch cumin
6 C water

Put everything in your crock pot and cook on high for at least 8 hours.

When you're done, take out some or all of the onion and drain off the water (don't forget that--I sort of did and realized it halfway through mashing and then things were a lot messier, though all was redeemed in the end). Then mash the beans until they look like refried beans. Lisa recommends a potato masher, but (after I'd remembered to drain the water) I realized I was not patient enough for that and put mine in a blender. I blended till smooth, though you can leave some chunks in it if that's your thing.

When you're done, taste for seasonings (I thought the seasonings were perfect just as they were) and eat with nachos for a fun Spring Break lunch or on burritos or, heck, out of the pot.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Healthy Kiss Cookies: An Old Friend

This week I found some Hershey's kisses from Valentine's Day in my freezer. It seems serendipitous that it should happen the week of spring break when my kids are out playing and eating like monsters. These cookies are lower sugar, lower fat, and whole grain. Enjoy!

Healthy Kiss Cookies

Remember you can also make them with these instead of kisses:

(Psst--More on this idea next week because I'm really thinking that these look a lot like eggs in a nest. How about you? Dinosaur eggs, maybe, but definitely eggs.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Leftover Tuesday: Rice Pudding

In keeping with my unofficial theme of Spring Break Snacks this week, I decided to use leftover Tuesday to make a sweet breakfast.

I realize that this recipe may shock all of you foodies out there who cannot even imagine rice pudding made of anything but arborio rice, stirred lovingly in its pot until creamy and perfect. And I'll admit that rice pudding made this way is truly something special. But if you grew up in my house where your mom could turn the food budget on a dime, you may be familiar with this rice pudding stepbrother--a concoction made from leftover rice, milk, eggs, and sugar. It is not quite the superstar its arborio sibling is, but it is still delicious and, if you serve it for a lazy Tuesday morning breakfast, still something pretty special. (I craved it after every pregnancy/birth I ever experienced.) The other great thing about it is that you can use any varieties of rice, including brown rice (or probably even farro) to make it and in this way it can be a little more wholesome. And if that's not good enough for you, know this: it takes a mere 5 minutes to throw together. Take that foodie rice pudding.

Here's our cast of leftovers and staples (minus the milk, which I forgot; will there ever be a week when I don't forget something in the line up?):

Our final product was a little mushier than usual (though it still tasted great)--usually the rice grains maintain more of their shape/texture. I think there were 3 reasons for this. First, we were using basmati rice, which I think tends to fall apart easier. Second, it had been frozen, which breaks down the structure of foods a bit. Third, my daughter was stirring and she was fairly zealous about it.

Leftover Rice Pudding
Serves 4
Prep and cook time: 5-7 minutes
Cost: $.65
rice: .15, eggs: .30, milk: .10, sugar: .10

2 C cooked rice
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 C milk
1/2 C sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
splash vanilla
handful raisins, optional

Combine all ingredients (except vanilla and raisins) in a sauce pan. Heat on medium, stirring often. Eventually the mixture will come to a sort of gentle boil and begin to thicken (at this point, stir constantly). Once it is thick, you're done. Take it off the heat and add your splash of vanilla and raisins or other dried fruit if you wish.

You can serve this warm or cold. I like both, but cold is my favorite.

You can eat it for breakfast (though I must warn you it's not the most virtuous food choice in the world) or as dessert. If you're having it for breakfast, you can add raisins or other dried fruit. If you're having it for dessert, you can still add the dried fruit, but a dollop of whipped cream is a nice touch too.


Monday, March 26, 2012

Coconut Macaroons

These taste like the insides of a Mounds bar. Only better. 

Not only that, they are comprised of a cast of 4 characters: unsweetened coconut, applesauce, egg whites, and sugar. All but the last of these live in the good food camp and even the sugar is given in a fairly moderate amount. 

In fact, these seemed so extremely virtuous and unlike any other macaroons I had made that I was pretty confident they'd be a flop. At best, I thought they'd have a sort of I'm-a-junk-food-trying-to-be-healthier sort of quality to them. I ask you, do the insides of Mounds bars remind you of health food. I think not. Now, make no mistake, these are not, in fact, health food. They are a cookie. But they are definitely just as good for you as any granola or granola bar, just as good for you as most children's cereals, just as good for you as many things we consider to be healthy enough to consume for breakfast or lunch or the snacky places in between. But have I mentioned that these taste like a certain candy bar I tend to steal from my children's Halloween baskets (even though I am not, generally, a candy stealing parent)? Yes, well, I can't quite get over it. 

These lovelies come from Simply Recipes where it is tough to go wrong with a recipe. I haven't changed the recipe at all, though I have made the instructions (which are a wee bit on the fussy end for a cookie) a little simpler. 

For us, these will kick off the first day of spring break. I'm hoping to spend this week sending you recipes that will be fun to make and eat with the extra snackers you might have around during your spring break. 

And as one final note: I haven't done this yet, but I can picture these mounded into smallish egg shapes and coated with dark chocolate. Oh, yes, I can. And I will sometime within the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned. 

Coconut Macaroons
Makes about 18 small cookies
Prep time: 10 minutes
Wait time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 5-7 minutes
Cost: $1.65
coconut: 1.25, sugar: .15, eggs: .20, applesauce: .05

Note: You must make this with unsweetened coconut or it just won't turn out the same. Also, if you choose a finely grated kind, you can save yourself a step and the washing of a food processor. If you're local, I found mine for a right good price at the River City Food Co-op in downtown Evansville. 

2-2 1/4 C unsweetened coconut
2 large egg whites (about 1/3 C) 
3/4 C sugar
2 Tbsp SMOOTH unsweetened applesauce

If you could not find finely grated coconut, throw your coconut in the food processor or a blender for about a minute. If your coconut is finely grated, don't worry about it. Mine was grated small and I put it in the food processor and noticed barely a difference after I'd pulsed it for a while. 

Preheat oven to 425. 

Put all ingredients in a pot, mix, and heat on low, stirring constantly, until the mixture is warm when you stick your finger in (about 120 degrees). I'm betting you could do this in 20 second intervals in the microwave, but I haven't tried it, so I can promise nothing. 

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or Silpat. 

Elise at Simply Recipes piped hers onto the pan in neat little rounds. I plopped mine with a spoon. I'm a plopper. 

Let them sit until they dry out just a bit. I left mine for about 10 minutes. Maybe you could skip this, but I don't know.

Bake for 5-7 minutes or until they become just golden on the bumpy parts. Mine went about 30 seconds too long, but they still tasted completely awesome--in fact, I rather enjoyed the brownier bits. 

Let cool. Don't cover them with chocolate unless you want to be compelled to steal them from your children. 

Elise says these store for several days. I can add that they also freeze perfectly. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Vegetable Latkes (Pancakes, Patties, whatever you want to call them): A Template

Interestingly, many cultures around the world have a tradition of finely chopping or mushing up food and then throwing it into a bit of hot oil to cook. These can be bean based, meat based, vegetable based or grain based: falafals, salmon patties, latkes, pancakes. I admit that I like them all. Because of this I'd like to offer more of a template than a recipe. And you know, it occurs to me that this might be the perfect sort of thing for Leftover Tuesday. At any rate, it's the perfect sort of thing if you've got some leftover vegetables, meats, beans that you don't know what to do with.

Vegetable Latkes: A Template
Makes about 8 patties
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cost: $1.40
(potatoes: .50, other vegetables: .50-1.00, egg: .10, flour: .05)

1 lb potatoes
1 lb other vegetables (zucchini, squash, carrots, eggplant, sweet potato--just about any firm-ish vegetable will do)
1 egg
1/2 C flour (again you can use whatever type floats your boat. I used all-purpose, but you could use matzo or corn or other types as well)
a splash of lemon juice
salt and pepper (of course other seasonings can go nicely too. I'm thinking about dill and parsley right now, but--again--the sky's the limit)

Grate the vegetables. (I used a food processor.) Let them sit for a few minutes and then press or squeeze excess water out of them. Doing so makes for a crispier, tastier end product. To squeeze, you can press them into a colander or wrap them in a dish towel and ring them out to get the water out.

Once they've been squeezed, add the egg, flour, lemon, and seasonings and mix together.

Heat a thin layer of oil in a heavy duty (I used cast iron) skillet until the oil shimmers. Drop spoonfuls of veggie mixture into the pan and press down with your spoon. You want it to be fairly flat so that it cooks evenly and the vegetables in the middle of your patty don't come out underdone. Allow to cook for several minutes until the underside is deep golden and then flip and repeat. If the underside is cooking too quickly, turn down the heat. You don't want the middle all raw, unless raw potatoes are your thing. They're not mine.

You can serve however you wish. I like them with a plain yogurt or sour cream based dip. Last night I used sour cream and added a bit of lemon juice and dill. I've heard lime and curry is good too. Kip likes them with ketchup (wow, what a surprise) and I bet if I'd pulled out the Ranch he wouldn't have complained about that either. My point is that they're pretty darn good dipped in a variety of things so go ahead, be creative, and follow your gut.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Food Essay Friday: New Frugal versus Old Frugal

Anybody else see this article among the Yahoo headlines yesterday? It's called "How to Earn $100,000 and Still Feel Poor." I don't know what my problem is, but whenever I stumble upon an article like this, I am compelled by some self-destructive mental illness to read it even though I know it will make me mad.

The first bold statement says, "Is six figures the new minimum wage?" Um, I think not. Not only is it not the new minimum wage, but it must be downright offensive to anyone actually working hard to earn the real minimum wage and scrape on by.  So there I was, two paragraphs in and already mad. But if I stopped, I couldn't indulge my aforementioned mental illness so I kept on reading. And truly, it wasn't so bad as I had expected. In a kind of sideways of way, I sort of felt bad for this woman. She's getting older. She's saved and invested and her stocks have declined with the lousy market. She bought her house at the top of the bubble when it seemed buying a house couldn't possibly go wrong. And then, well, it turns out that it could. She's had the tenacity to stick with the house instead of just leaving and letting the banks pick up the tab. She's got two sons in college. She lives relatively debt-free (car and house debts, but no credit card).

After concluding the article, I determined that she was not the complete idiot I'd assumed her to be and that she has, in fact, been a bit of a victim to some lousy timing in a lousy market. That could have happened to most of us. However, after finishing the article I also realized that she's also a bit of a disciple for and victim of the "New Frugal." The New Frugal spends less than it believes everybody else to be spending. The New Frugal has tons more (in money, possessions, and even security) than their Old Frugal grandparents did, but still woefully less than the Joneses. In fact, in the world of the New Frugal, the gap between the New Frugals and the Joneses might even be widening. The Yahoo article seemed to tip its hat at this idea: for example, the writer (Laura Cone) pointed out that her kids were both in college, but that it was community college, not ivy league college and she was still feeling the pinch. Then of course, there's the possibility that the New Frugal just feels itself ever poorer because the Joneses are so constantly up in their faces thanks to advertising, the media, and reality TV stars.

In the following discussion of the New Frugal, I don't wish to be a condescending jerk. There are a lot of us who are part of this ideology and I admit to being sometimes among this group myself. Yet after reading the article, I couldn't help but feel a little bit haunted by all that we--the New Frugal--have while still considering ourselves not so very well off as we'd like to be. Below you'll find a little breakdown, inspired by yesterday's Yahoo article, of the New Frugal versus the Old Frugal.

1. The New Frugal lives in a much bigger house than the Old Frugal ever did.

1a. Also, the New Frugal tends to trade up its houses while the Old Frugal usually lived in a house for most if not all of their lives.

1b. Oh--and one more thing--the New Frugal likes to live in new or nearly new houses. They might even consider these a good investment since they believe they'll break down less quickly and need fewer repairs.

What's wrong with that? 

Well, nothing is inherently wrong with a bigger, nicer, newer house. Yet it makes us much more susceptible to bursting bubbles, the wooing of contractors building new stuff, and the idea--which I believe from personal experience is false--that new homes break down less quickly than old ones. (I believe older homes in good neighborhoods tend to have been built with better stuff than their price-comparable newer brothers. Or that the prior inhabitants have already made many of the necessary repairs and that they haven't skimped on something like the roof or the carpet because they knew they'd be living with it for a while. Builders have no such motivation.) I realize that it's not always possible or even prudent in today's world to stay in one house forever. Yet I can't deny that the constant trading up to this year's newest, bigger house is something our grandparents would never have even considered.

2. The New Frugal considers herself debt-free even with a car loan or a house loan or sometimes even lingering student loans. These, the New Frugal considers to be unavoidable parts of modern life. To the New Frugal, the only real "debt" is consumer or credit card debt. 

What's wrong with that? 

You're not debt-free until you're debt-free. Yes, I recognize that all debts are not created equal--some really do lead you on to places where you can earn more money. For example, I realize that one must sometimes have a car to get to work. But we--the New Frugal that is--have come to accept this idea a little too readily. A car our grandparents would have scraped up the money for and paid for up front becomes the car we need to buy to get to work becomes a nicer car we need to buy to get to work becomes 2 family cars we need to buy to get to work and to shuttle junior around to soccer and dance becomes 2 nicer cars we need to buy to shuttle junior around becomes a car for junior so you don't have to shuttle him to work becomes a car for junior so you don't have to shuttle him to soccer/dance becomes a car because all the other parents are buying their kids nice cars becomes.. yeah, you get my point, a big car debt. That you really didn't need. But that you can convince yourself you needed if your work at it a little bit. The same is true of a house. Or of student loans. It's starting to be true of the clothes we wear (people wouldn't respect us in last year's suit, right) or the phones we "need."

3. The New Frugal believes it's their moral, civic, and every other duty to put their kids through college.

3b. Not only that, but for reasons mysterious to me (and I'm a softy people, although I admit this is one of my mighty soapboxes), the New Frugal tends to believe that their kids shouldn't have to work through college or that they're incapable of doing so. Please. Please. Please. And did I say Puh-lease. The Old Frugal often didn't go to college themselves or they put themselves through later in life (as did my maternal grandparents). They may have wished to put their children through college. They may have been proud if they could do so. But they did not consider it their duty for exaltation in the hereafter to do so. Furthermore, the Old Frugal generally expected their children to help with the cause, and they certainly considered them capable of working a part-time job while maintaining passing (or better than passing) grades.

What's wrong with the New Frugal's idea?

If you're really hurting, then maybe your adult children could, like, manage a shift at McDonald's or something. And if you're not really hurting, then don't whine to me about it. Did I mention this is one of my soapboxes. It's a very tall soapbox. The part of the Yahoo article that bothered me the very very most was when Ms. Cone said that her oldest son has a job and is helping to pay for his education, but that her youngest son "hasn't been able to find employment." Huh? I mean, okay, I'm totally being judgmental here, and maybe there's some good reason for this, like that he's taking 40 credit hours or that he's missing some limbs or that he's married with a kid or whatever, but come on. I believe that he hasn't been able to find a job he really loves or that pays amazingly, but no job whatsoever for a young adult who's apparently smart enough to get into college. I'm not buying it. I see signs all over the place for crappy jobs that are the type of thing most of us worked when we were 18 or 19 and getting through school or life. They're not super fun. They don't pay super well. But they get us through and they teach us valuable life lessons and we learn to wake up when the alarm goes off. I did mention a soap box didn't I? My brother started off with a job in college where he worked as a janitor and had to start at 2:00am or something like that. And he probably got paid $7 or so an hour. And he was tired. And he got all or mostly A's and took plenty of credits too. It wasn't easy, but he did it.  And eventually he got a more enjoyable job, though still nothing to sing about. And then he graduated and began living a real life and I don't think he'll regret that crappy job. So if you can't pay for your kids' college or just don't want to, then don't. Old Frugal wouldn't have.

4. The New Frugal goes out to eat, buys processed food, and entertains itself more than the Old Frugal ever did. Even when I was growing up (and it wasn't that long ago), our family went out to eat (at McDonald's mind you) maybe once a year. As a kid, my mom made all of our meals from scratch or nearly so. Even when I was a teenager and my father was a doctor, we didn't go out much--still only a few times a year and once or twice on vacation, and only to such upper crust establishments such as Bob Evans and the Waffle House. I only remember going to a few movies at theaters with my family.

What's wrong with a little entertainment? 

Nothing if you can manage it. I just don't want to hear you whine about your very high cost of food. Also, there is--I believe--a cost in health when one eats out too much and buys too much processed food. Even we--in typical New Frugal fashion--go out to eat usually once and sometimes more a month and feel ourselves a little deprived. But just because everybody else is doing it more than you are doesn't mean you're living Old Frugal style.

There you have it, a brief and completely unscientific comparison of New Frugal versus Old Frugal. There are soapbox sections to be sure, but there are bits that humble me too.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pork Chop Rub

A few months ago I "tried" this recipe from Simply Recipes and I deemed it good. Only I didn't really try it. I didn't have whole cumin or coriander and I had whole peppercorns, but no way to grind them in any slightly efficient manner. Even if I had had a spice grinder of some sort, I'm not sure I would have had the high character to actually toast and grind the spices myself. Even if I had had the high character, I'm not really sure I would have had the time. (Have I mentioned that I often cook with children attached to my legs in the way barnacles attach to a boat? Either that, or they're, er, helping me, which is sometimes even more difficult than the barnacle effect. Though I must admit here--lest you think I'm one of those ever cheerful sure-let's-cook-and-learn-and-make-a-mess-together-while-creating-quality-memories moms--that in keeping with my apparently consistent low character, I often just throw a movie on for them while I'm making dinner.) At any rate, I pretty much used the seasonings she suggested, but in pre-ground lazy-style fashion. Despite my cheating ways, we still really enjoyed this rub and I thought that some of you might enjoy the simplified version as well.

We've eaten this only on pork chops, but I actually think it'd be great on pretty much any type of meat (cut or ground) or fish.

Pork Chop Rub
adapted from Simply Recipes
Makes enough for about 4 pork chops
Prep time: 2 minutes

Note: This makes enough for about 4 pork chops. You can double, triple, or whatever-le it if you want to have some to save.

1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 scant Tbsp ground black pepper
1 scant tsp ground coriander
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt

Mix together. When you're ready to cook your meat, smear the rub onto both sides and cook meat as you normally would.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

How to Cook and Eat an Artichoke

What does one do when in a cooking funk? One hopes that artichokes are on sale and then one eats one for lunch.

I'd never had an artichoke until I got married. Oh, sure, I'd had artichoke hearts before--the ones that come out of a can and, truth be told, are pretty awesome even so. But I'd never had a bonifide, spiny-tipped actual artichoke. And then Kip's sister--my mentor in all things vegetable--introduced me to them. When we all lived in CA, she'd buy them from Trader Joe's (and probably still does) and we'd have us an artichoke party. Of course by 'we' I mean she and I. Kip hates artichokes. Or so he says. Or so he thinks. I'm not entirely sure he's ever actually tasted a fresh one, although I know he's coming around to the canned variety (Kip tends to embrace canned goods first; I don't know; it's a sickness.)

Artichokes are wonderful for many reasons. I was going to write a sonnet, but then I didn't. Here are my reasons anyway.

1. They taste good. Really good.
2. When you're eating one you bought fresh, you've got to eat it slowly. It's like the lobster of the vegetable kingdom. You've got to get rid of, or ignore, the tough outer parts so that you can enjoy the rich interior, preferably with butter or mayonnaise.
3. They're low calorie (unless eaten with mayo like I like them best)
4. They have an almost sweet aftertaste. It is the type of flavor all foods will leave in our mouths when we eat in heaven. And now, a story: When I was pregnant (and, no, I'm not pregnant right now), but when I was I hated eating. Oh, I hated it. I had to do it or I'd get sick, but nothing ever sounded good to me and everything left this horrible aftertaste in my mouth that I loathed (chocolate--my beloved chocolate; it was the worst of all). Everything, that is, except artichokes. Artichokes would leave this sweet touch of something on my tongue that just made me want to go around sucking on my mouth for an hour afterwards. When I was pregnant artichokes were the one food I looked forward to and would have eaten constantly if budgetary restrictions had not existed. Truly, it's rather a miracle (and perhaps a bit of husbandly firmness) that one of my children didn't end up named artichoke.

So, yes, I love artichokes and will be loyal to them my whole life long. Unfortunately, they're not exactly cheap (especially for the measly 55 calories they provide). So you want to be able to get the most out of them and to know how to navigate this food of the gods.

To Choose:

Pick one that doesn't look like it's been sitting at your grocery store for 7 years. It should be firm and the tighter the leaves, the better.

To Prepare: 

1. Cut off the bottom of the stalk. Some people cut off the tips of all the leaves as well, but I am WAAAAY too lazy for that.

(Here I cut off a few leaf tips to demonstrate what I mean.)

2. Steam the artichoke. You can do this by using a steaming basket in your pan, or by cooking the artichoke in just a bit of water and leaving the lid on the pan. However, if you go with this second method, be sure that your water doesn't all boil out and burn your artichoke.
3. The artichoke will take a while to steam. It'll take 30-45 minutes depending on its size. Don't worry, it's worth it and you don't have to do anything for it while it steams.
4. It's ready when you can easily pierce the part of the stalk closest to the base with a fork. You can also check it by pulling out one or two of the top leaves. They should dislodge fairly easily.

To eat:

1. I like mine dipped in mayonnaise. I just do. It's the most awesome thing in the world and I'm not going to apologize for it. Some people like to dip them in butter and some people probably just use salt and pepper or something low-cal like that, but I'm really not in that camp.
2. Start at the base of the artichoke and pull off a leaf. You're not going to eat the whole leaf. You will regret it if you do. You're going to dip the base part (the part that was attached to the artichoke) in your mayo/butter if you wish, and then you're going to scrape off any tender artichoke flesh from the interior part of the leaf with your bottom teeth. Don't gnaw at it or try to eat more than your teeth easily remove. With the outer leaves you won't get much--just a bit of tender artichoke flesh on your teeth.

(Okay, so maybe this is too much, but if you click on this picture, you can see how little has been scraped off by my teeth. That's how you do it. )

As a note, some artichokes have a pointy tip for the leaf. Be sure not to put this tip in your mouth because ouch.
3. As you move up and into the center of the artichoke, your teeth will be able to scrape off more and more of the tender flesh. It's actually a really fun way to eat and, like I said earlier, it takes some time, which feels a little indulgent. As you get to the inner leaves, they'll get smaller and more tender. Eventually you'll be able to bite off the bottom bit of the leaf.
4. Eventually all the leaves will be removed and you'll get to a slightly intimidating part of the artichoke that I like to call the hair.

This is the part that Kip cannot handle about artichokes. But don't freak out. Just take a spoon and scoop out the hair, which is attached by follicle-like things. I realize I'm not really selling this to you (yeah, I'm kind of making a purse look like a sow's ear), but I swear it's not a big deal. Just scoop it out.

Get it all. I'm not sure if the hair is edible or not, but I'm pretty sure that to eat it would be about as pleasurable as a barefoot romp in stinging nettle.
5. Once the hair is removed, you've hit the lovely heart of the artichoke.

Maybe this doesn't look like much with my photography skills, but it's after you eat one, you'll always look at them fondly. 

You may compose a sonnet if you wish. And then dip the heart edge by edge in the butter/mayo and bite it off.

It's so good. I'm still sitting here sucking my sweet-after-tasted mouth.
6. Some people eat the stalk. I don't. Mostly because after the heart it seems so stringy and less good. But you could if you wanted to.

This is what you've got left when all is said and done. I told you it was a lot like lobster

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Call For Your Favorite Food Blogs

I know it's supposed to be Leftover Tuesday and all, but we're having guests tonight so it will have to wait.

In the meantime, I've got a wee case of the food blahdy-blahdies or, in other words, I'm in a cooking rut. I'm a little bored with our favorites and feeling generally uninspired, especially in the main course department. I know this seems like it shouldn't be possible with all the food blogs out there, but that's just the problem: it all seems so overwhelming sometimes. You could lose yourself for days in bloggy land. Which is why I'm asking for you to comment with links to your favorite food blogs. Please, help relieve me of my food funk before I drown in salads and PBJ's.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Creme Chocolate or Baked Chocolate Custard

This chocolate defies naming. It's like part mousse, part pudding, part pots de creme. I believe the blog from whence they were inspired called them Creme Chocolate, which sounds lovely and romatic. What they are is sort of a very chocolate-y baked chocolate custard. And they are GOOD. (And pretty easy too.) Though I must warn you that it is very dark.

I made tiny ones in four 4-oz. ramekins, thinking that would help me with portion control. And then they were so good I started in to a second one and then I kind of regretted it, because these are pretty darn filling. So control yourselves, but indulge yourselves too. Oxymoron? If you do like me perhaps, but if you can ignore my bad example and stick with that one ramekin, I think you can have yourself the best of both worlds.

Baked Chocolate Custard
adapted from Arctic Garden Studio
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15-30 minutes (depending on whether you make them large or small)
Cost: $1.05
milk: .08, cream: .25, chocolate: .50, eggs: .20, other stuff: .02

Note: If you don't have any bittersweet chocolate on hand, you can use 2 oz. chocolate chips and 1/2 oz. unsweetened chocolate. I'm sure you can just go with the (semi-sweet) chocolate chips as well, but I do love me some darker chocolate. Semi-sweet is usually about 45-50% cocao. If you do 2 oz semi-sweet + 1/2 oz unsweetened you get chocolate with about 60% cocao. If you do 1.5 oz. semi-sweet with 1 oz. unsweetened, you'll wind up with the equivalent of about 70% cocao.

Another Note: You can double up the vanilla if you don't have almond extract on hand. I'm guessing you can also use orange extract or raspberry extract, or anything that sounds like it might go well with chocolate.

1/2 C whole milk
1/4 C cream
2.5 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 Tbsp sugar
2 large egg yolks
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/4 tsp cocoa powder
dash salt
whipped cream for garnish if desired

Preheat oven to 300.

Warm milk and cream and add chocolate and sugar. I did this in the microwave, but you could do it on the stove top as well. If you do it in the microwave, microwave all ingredients at 20-30 second intervals, stirring in between. If you do it on the stove, bring cream and milk to a simmer and then add the chocolate and sugar and stir until melted. Set aside to let cool slightly.

In another bowl whisk together the rest of the ingredients (except the whipped cream for garnish of course).

Gradually add the chocolate mixture, whisking briskly as you add it to the egg mixture. (You don't want your eggs cooking, so just keep whisking. Get your spouse to help if you need to. If you don't have a spouse on hand, whisk just a bit of chocolate in and stop. Then add a bit more. This is called tempering and it will keep your eggs from cooking as you add the chocolate.)

Once you've got your chocolate and egg all mixed together, you can pour the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve if you want to be sure to remove any chocolate and/or egg bits that might have escaped your careful whisking. However, I skipped that part since I am lazy. Now, I have to tell you that at this point, my Creme Chocolate didn't look too promising. It seemed thin and like it would separate somehow upon cooking. I sallied forth anyway and I'm glad I did.

Pour your mixture into 2-4 ramekins.

Bake in a water bath for 20-30 minutes. (Note: A water bath means that you put your ramekins in a shallow roasting pan and then pour hot water in the roasting pan--not the ramekins--so that it goes about halfway up the ramekins. Then put the pan in the oven. This is supposed to make your custard smoother and silkier and I believe it does. However, I must confess that I missed this little step--whoops--and just put my ramekins in the oven on a pan without the water bath. They still came out great, although they cooked faster (they were small servings and took only about 15 minutes).

Take them out of the oven when they are almost set in the center (meaning when they have just the teeniest bit of jiggle left right there in the center). This will be between 12 and 30 minutes depending on whether you did bigger servings or smaller ones and on whether you carelessly missed steps or not. They'll firm up as they sit. I'm guessing they're between 160 and 180 degrees, although I didn't take the temperature of mine since they were definitely done when I checked them and I just got them out as fast as I could. (Remember--I forgot the water bath and made the smaller sized ones.)

I should tell you that when they came out they still didn't look like much. I was sure they'd be grainy and gross, but they were dream dream dreamy, and this despite all my efforts to mess them up. Make them. Share them. Love them.

Serve cool with whipped cream if desired, though they're really great without it too.


Linked to Sweets for a Saturday

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Looking for something green? You could always search this blog under spinach or kale or avocado, but here are a few things I've been wanting to try. Just be warned: they're on the unhealthy end.

1. Shamrock Shake. (Okay, so I actually tried this today and it was pretty good. It's been years since I've had a McDonalds shamrock shake, so I can't really remember how it tasted well enough to compare. This much I will say, I made some as the recipe stated and some with a handful of spinach thrown in. There was no taste difference whatsoever.)

2. BYU Mint Brownies. Not sure it can compete with my mint brownies above, but I might give it a try. If I do try them, though, I'm definitely going with butter instead of margarine.

3. Oreo Mint Brownies. Will these be too over the top?

Okay, fine, here are some healthy ones I've been wanting to try too.

4. Spicy Lemon Quinoa with Spinach.

5. Rice and Kale. (I'm making this for dinner tonight.)

6. Spinach Smoothie. My sister says this is good if you're not hoping for something super sweet.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Peanut Butter Banana Muffins

I might as well tell you right up front. These are one of those muffins that parents "hide" vegetables in. Yeah, I know, parents (and plenty of non-parents who like to add their two cents as well) have strong feelings about these sorts of things.

One camp says you should never ever hide a vegetable because children need to see the vegetables they're eating and learn to eat them by golly. The loudest in this camp also accuse parents who do so of lying to their children. Only a couple weeks ago, I read something a famous fitness guru said about how she would never do such a thing. I admit that I couldn't help but think that this famous fitness guru was probably famous (and rich and busy) enough that she wasn't always (or perhaps usually) the one who ends up feeding her kids.

The other camp loves the idea of hiding a vegetable. They're thrilled to have junior eating some cauliflower, even if he doesn't know it (and would not himself be thrilled). They claim they've got to get their picky kids nutrients in non-gummy-vitamin form somehow. The most ardent of this camp believe that if foods are hidden regularly enough, kids will eventually start to become accustomed to the taste. Well, maybe. Although in my experience, the best of the hidden vegetable recipes are the super sweet ones.

I kind of sit in between these camps. I admit that I went through a phase where I was desperate with my picky kids and picky husband (they wouldn't even eat much fruit at that point). I checked out a couple sneaky cookbooks from the library and went to town. The problem was that most of the non-sweet recipes my family was still too picky to eat (and some of them were super-grode) and the idea of pureeing everything every week seemed a little oppressive. Also, I knew that they weren't coming to an acceptance of carrots through this method. I also knew that they needed to see vegetables for what they were and to eat them that way. If for the sake of politeness at other people's houses if for nothing else (yeah, we're still working on that food politeness thing; it's a constant point of parental angst for me). On the other hand, however, when parents, or people who aren't parents but have plenty to say to parents, or people who are parents but who have nannies and cooks in their employ start criticizing this method, I seriously want to smear some slimy butternut banana puree in their smug little faces. Because, come on, it can be tough to get your kids to eat well, especially on a regular basis. Especially if you have a picky spouse or extended family members. Especially if broccoli has a hard time competing with the constant flow of candy that seems to be spewing forth at every holiday and from plenty of non-home venues such as their school, the library, did I mention their school (it's a little nuts), and most certainly, Grandpa.

So if I can add a little something simple and good to a recipe I would have made anyway, I will. And if it's in smooth hidden form, I generally have a little more success (as a note: you may remember my muffins from last week; they were delicious, but they had--gasp--texture within them and my oldest kids and husband wouldn't even try them). So, yes, pumpkin in pancakes, carrot in muffins, spinach in a smoothie, even a little squash in macaroni and cheese--that's not so bad. And it gives me hope that my oldest and most stubborn and picky child will, perhaps, consume enough vitamin A to one day bring forth grandchildren. Because, let's face it, this is all about me and my needs, right?

Peanut Butter Banana Muffins (with carrot puree)
adapted from Deceptively Delicious
Makes 12 muffins
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15-20 minutes
Cost: $1.55 or about $.13/muffin
(sugar: .15, peanut butter: .45, carrot puree: .50, banana: .15, egg: .10, flour: .20)

Note: You can make your own purees if you wish, but I admit that I am usually (um, okay, always) too lazy for this and tend to buy mine in baby food (or canned form in the case of pumpkin). In this recipe I use one 4-oz jar of pureed baby food carrots.

1/2 C packed brown sugar (divided)
1/2 C creamy peanut butter
1/2 C carrot puree (about one 4-oz jar baby food carrots)
1/2 C mashed banana (about 1 large ripe banana)
1 egg
1 C whole wheat flour
1 scant tsp baking powder
1 scant tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
a handful of chocolate chips if you're of weak character

Preheat oven 350 degrees.

In large bowl, mix 1/4 C brown sugar with peanut butter, carrot puree and mashed banana. Add egg and mix.

Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir to mix until just combined. Don't overmix it or your muffins will be tough. Add remaining 1/4 C brown sugar (and chocolate chips if using). Mix this just a turn or two. You don't even want it incorporated. You want to see some stripes of lovely brown sugar. This will give it a sugarier, crispier top.

Put batter in muffin tins and bake until toothpick comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sauteed Asparagus: A Story and a Tip

Asparagus, that vegetable sentinel of spring, is on. This means that it should start showing up in sales across the country. It means I went out to the garden today to find this:

And it means that if you'd like to enjoy it, you ought to learn how to cook it. Because even on sale, it isn't the cheapest thing in the universe. And even in your garden, it's a years long commitment, not a lettuce-y spring fling.

I personally had never ever had asparagus until my marriage. Kip married a woman who'd never once eaten asparagus, fresh artichokes, or avocados in non-guacamole form. This was fine with him because he'd grown up with a family who loved those things when he hated them. And then, in a brutal twist of marital fate, Kip's sister introduced me to each and every one of those foods and I came to love them all, almost to the point of obsession (as in I have an asparagus patch out back). Poor Kip. Let's shed a tear for the man. Okay, we're done. Now on to asparagal tips.

Asparagal Tip:

The bottom bit of the asparagus tends to taste woody and ought to be removed. You can guess where the woodiness begins and just chop it off. But the best way it to find the lowest spot where the asparagus easily breaks off and break it. If your asparagus isn't super fresh (as mine apparently wasn't), you'll end up taking off a good bit of the bottom.

I know that can be stressful, especially if you're cheap, but if you don't remove it, you'll end up chewing on this woody, fibrous part for approximately 27 minutes and that's no fun.

Once the woody part is gone, I like to break it into bite-sized pieces before I cook it (though you don't have to).

There are lots of great ways to eat asparagus. If you don't have a lot of experience with it, here are a few ideas:
-With pasta. It's especially good with alfredo or any cream, oil, or egg coated pasta dish.
-On pizza (oh, it's so good)
-In salad--blanch or steam it so it's still crispy and then chop it in.
-With rice
-In casserole
-In pretty much any recipe in which you'd use broccoli

But do you know how I like them best? The same way I first had them when Shelle taught me how to cook them. Sauteed in butter with a little salt and pepper.

1. Melt a pat of butter in a skillet.
2. Throw in your asparagus (after you've removed that woody part).
3. Let it cook so that it's bright green and still crisp, but has a bit of color (brown) on the edges or even on one side.
4. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
5. Become a zealot. Annoy your husband.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Seed Organization: A Tip

This is how I keep my seeds organized. It's not rocket science, but it works. I got a large index card holder with the little alphabet tabs and I put my seed packets in. 

If you want to be an overachiever, you can write the year you bought the seeds on the packet and you can keep a running list of seeds you're out of that you need to buy. But even if you don't want to be an overachiever, this is so much better than a drawer/counter/corner in your garage/basement/attic stuffed with packets of random seeds spilling out and reproducing with mouse poop to form mutant creatures that will eventually take over the world. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Leftover Tuesday: French Toast Done Right

Leftover night this week wasn't looking too stunning. The odds and ends we had lurking in the refrigerator were mostly ends, meaning they were prepared meals like spaghetti, bowtie salad, etc. Things like this are great for leftover nights in general--you just plop them on the table and let people eat buffet-style. But they're not perfect for a blog post in which I brilliantly throw things together to create something else--oh, look, I made sesame mandarin orange spaghetti marinara beef stroganoff casserole--yum. We did have, however, some a couple of types of bread--one of which had been fairly unpopular on its own, even with me (I messed up my soda bread somehow--it came out flat and weird). Both kind were homemade and free-formed, which meant that the end pieces were too small for sandwiches. But they'd be just right for French toast. I knew that with the proper cooking method, even the un-beloved could have its little day in the sun. And it did.

The proper cooking method is, to me, the one described by Molly Wizenberg. I like to think of it as the sort-of-like-donuts-without-calling-it-donuts method. Because, you see, you don't exactly cook these puppies in a pat of low-fat margarine.

Here's how it goes.

1. First of all, Wizenberg's milk/egg mixture is milkier than mine used to be. This works especially well with thick breads like mine or other artesian-style. Yet no matter what kind of bread you use, it's nice because it keeps our French toast from coming out of the pan with an egg-like casing cooked all around.

Wizenberg recommends 1 C milk to 4 eggs. This is just about perfect. She also adds a bit of vanilla and a Tbsp sugar to the mix. I also like to add a couple shakes of cinnamon. I like this because, as a grown up, it means I can eat these on their own if I want or with just a bit of jam or cream or powdered sugar. I didn't last night, but I could have. Of course your kids will still slather it with syrup, so if you need to feel like a good parent, go ahead and leave out the Tbsp sugar.

2. Get a cast iron skillet or something equally sturdy and awesome. Heat a good layer of oil (I use canola) in that pan. No no no, not a teaspoon. But not 4 cups either. You want it to cover the bottom of the skillet. The oil should not be smoking, but it should be hot enough to make the French toast sizzle a bit--just a bit. If it's too hot, your toast will burn. And that would be tragic.

3. Dunk your odd-ball sized slices into the milk/egg mixture and get them nice and saturated. If you're using sturdy homemade bread, this will take a minute or so. If you're using flimsy sandwich bread, it will take only a few seconds. The bread should not be falling apart when you take it from the milk/egg mixture. Put them in the oil. Cook a couple minutes on each side until they're golden.

4. You can keep these warm in an oven at 200 degrees.

Note: French toast made this way makes for surprisingly good leftovers. I had a couple slices (warmed up in the microwave) this morning with PB for breakfast and it was delicious and satisfying.

The result: This was a great way to use up odds and ends of different breads. It even made my messed up soda bread taste good. It's not necessarily the healthiest meal in the universe, but if you use whole wheat bread (we did) and go light on the sugary toppings (we didn't do as well there), there's really not a lot to feel guilty about. Serve it with a green drink, blueberry soup, or a bunch of sliced fruit.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Curried Deviled Eggs

These were incredible.

I have to confess that I often think about what I'm going to post before I actually complete the recipe. For this I thought about announcing how I always get a hankering for deviled eggs at this time of year (true) or that this seemed like a good pick because I've been wanting to try curried deviled eggs for a long time and the chives are just starting to come up in my herb garden (also true). Naturally, I was tempted to begin with some reference to the Incredible Edible Egg (thank you Saturday morning cartoons of the '80s). And then, of course, I could have just begun by telling you that this is my pick for the Secret Recipe Club and that I was assigned the amazing Savour the Senses as my blog (very true and lucky for me).

But after I made this simple side or party or (for me) lunch dish, I just couldn't get over the synergy a few simple ingredients could have with the humble egg. Truth be told, as soon as I tasted the yolk mixture, I was just about ready to scrap the whole photo shoot/blog thing and just eat the rest of it straight up out of the bowl. My four-year-old felt the same way and she did manage to steal a few scoops as I was being an adult and assembling the eggs.

Now that I know what curry and mayonnaise and egg yolk can do, I don't know that my life will ever be the same. Thank you, Jenny, for a wonderful recipe.

Curried Deviled Eggs
adapted from Savour the Senses
Serves 6
Cook time: 10 minutes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooling time: 10 minutes
Cost: $.80
(eggs: .60, mayo: .15, other stuff: .05)

6 eggs
1/4 C mayonnaise
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp milk
1/4 tsp salt
sprinkle pepper
chives and paprika for garnish

Hard boil your eggs. (Boil for 10 minutes and then cool in cold water for about the same amount of time--add new cold water if your cold water gets warm.)

Take the peels off (the less fresh the egg, the easier this is to do). Cut eggs in half and remove the yolk.

Mash up those yolks in a bowl. Add mayo, curry, salt, pepper, and milk. Please, try to exercise a little restraint and not just eat this stuff straight up out of the bowl, because it's surprisingly irresistible.

Put the yolk mixture into the whites (if you haven't lost all control and consumed it, that is--if you have just feed the whites to someone on a diet or, um, something like that).

Sprinkle with chives and/or paprika.



Saturday, March 10, 2012

Morning Glory Muffins

Yeah, I know I already posted a muffin recipe this week. I'm going to post another one next week too. What can I say, I'm on a jag. It's a good jag, though. And not even a crazy sweet one (although the recipe uses 1 C sugar, it's for 20 muffins so you're only getting about 2 tsp per muffin; it's not sainthood, no, but it's not dessert either). Also, there are fruits and vegetables involved. Come on, that's righteous, right?

These do contain foods that are "chunky," by which my children mean that they have more texture than 'blah.' I didn't care. I was willing to eat them all. For the record, they keep for about 3 days at room temperature and freeze quite well.

Morning Glory Muffins
Adapted from ezrapoundcake
Makes about 20 muffins
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cost: $3.60 with nuts. About $1.00 less without
(whole wheat flour: .20, flour: .10, sugar: .15, coconut: .25, raisins: .25, apple: .30, pineapple: 1.00, walnuts--I didn't use, but I'm guessing 1.00, eggs: .20, oil: .15)

1 1/4 C whole wheat flour
1 C all-purpose flour
1 C sugar
1 Tbsp cinnamon
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 C shredded, sweetened coconut
3/4 C raisins or cranberries (optional)
1 large apple, peeled and grated
1 C crushed pineapple, drained (about on 15 oz. can, drained)
2 C grated carrots
1/2 C chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
2 eggs
1 C vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 and line your muffin tins.

Whisk together flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt.

Add coconut, raisins, apple, pineapple, carrots, and nuts. Stir to combine. (I shredded my carrots and apple in the food processor, which was speedy. If you've got a food processor, you could probably use fresh pineapple too and just sort of puree it in the food processor before you change it to 'shred.')

Add eggs, oil and vanilla. Blend well.

Spoon batter into muffins tins. Bake about 17-25 minutes or until a knife comes out clean.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Food Essay Friday: Produce That Will Last a Month or Longer

Ever since the money suck known as December, I've been trying to shop less. I don't actually even enjoy shopping, but I'd gotten into a bit of a habit or going here or there to get the very best deal. Truly, I think it's generally a lousy way to save money (there's always something else there that you or your kids desperately need/want that is not on sale) and it's an enormous time commitment, which--unless you're a super couponer--is not worth it. Yet, somehow it is sort of addicting. I'm not entirely sure why this is. Perhaps it's the draw of those super deals. Perhaps it's some double empowerment you feel by both spending money and saving (or thinking you're saving) it. My personal theory is that by going to a different store several days of the week, you can avoid doing your laundry. I'll do almost anything to avoid my laundry. Unfortunately, going to several grocery stores is no longer on the list. It was costing me too much money; it was costing me too much time; it was costing me too much life energy.  

Lately I've been doing one major shopping day. It's kind of painful (3 hours at Aldi and Walmart with two small kids), but it seems to be paying off because I have a fully stocked house most of the month, which leads to less last-minute running around. I've had more free time and it's made it a lot easier to enjoy spring, my house, and my children. But not my laundry. 

My laundry woes aside, however, you're probably wondering how I shop for produce only once a month. Well, I don't. I usually get it a few times a month. And I do a milk run to a cheap nearby store once a week. However, I have noticed that there is quite a bit of produce that lasts for quite some time, especially if refrigerated, but sometimes even if it's not. We'll start with the most obvious and move down the list. 

Produce That Will Last a Month or Longer

1. Potatoes. These can be left out and they'll last even longer in the fridge. 
2. Sweet potatoes. These do best when NOT refrigerated, but kept cool and dry. I often buy lots when they're cheap at Thanksgiving time and keep them most of the winter long in our cool basement. 
3. Onions. The bulb onions are a classic storage produce item, but even the green onions will have a very good run if you refrigerate them. Even when they start to look a little sketchy, you can peel off the outer layer and usually have a very good green onion underneath.
4. Winter squash. Pumpkins, acorn, butternut--all the stuff with a thick skin will last a very long time. I buy butternut when it's on sale and keep it all winter in our basement too. 
5. Carrots. Refrigerate and they'll last longer than a month.
6. Cauliflower. Refrigerate.
7. Broccoli if it's fresh. If not, it'll only keep a week or two. 
8. Celery. Keep it well-wrapped in your fridge. Even if it starts to get a little wilty, it's perfectly good in soups and with roasts.
9. Apples. Buy them when they're in season. If you're already eating last year's cold storage apples, they won't keep too long, but if you buy seasonal apples, they'll keep a month or much longer, especially if refrigerated. Be sure there are no rotten ones spoiling the proverbial barrel. 
10. Oranges and other citrus fruit. Again, if these are seasonal (winter is their season), they'll keep for a while on the counter and they'll give you an easy month if they're kept refrigerated. Do make sure there are none already rotten or broken open. These will rot and ruin the good fruit around them too. 
11. Cabbage. Keep it wrapped in the original packaging or some tightly wound saran wrap of your own and they're good to go for a long time. 
12. Beets. Wrap or seal in a bag and refrigerate.
13. Lettuce. Okay, it might not make it quite a month, but you'd be surprised how long a wrapped head of lettuce will last you. Iceberg probably does the best, but I haven't bought it for year. I usually buy romaine and I've had lots of success with it. Generally speaking, the tighter the head, the longer it will last. Loose or cut leaves will go quickly (though putting them in a bag or tupperware with a paper towel will keep them going over a week too). 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cheesy Cauliflower Soup

Cauliflower soup doesn't sound very glamorous, does it? Let's call it Creamy Cheesy Soup instead. This is what I called it when Kip (who hates cauliflower) asked what it was last night at dinner time. I won't say that I quite looked him in the eye, but it wasn't a lie either. It is both creamy (as in texture; it contains no actual cream--gasp of shock or delight depending on which soup camp you belong to) and cheesy (as in containing lots of cheese; it does not contain annoyingly over-the-top personality characteristics). But, yes, it does also contain an entire head of cauliflower. Kip ate a bowl and didn't say anything or threaten divorce, but then perhaps he's given up the food battle and is having a clandestine affair with someone who cooks him BBQ chicken and mashed potatoes every night. Hmmm, I'll have to look into that.

My kids--you've met them; pickiest kids on earth except for those with weird eating disorders--were divided over the soup. Mark and Elizabeth wouldn't try it (though I think Elizabeth might have really liked it had it been allowed to cross her lips). Savannah and Emma gave it a go and Emma was even sort of a fan. My kids aside, however, I think this is a pretty kid-friendly soup. It can be made completely smooth and it really is quite cheesy and good.

The other thing that's great about this soup is that it's sort of a blank canvas. Well, better than a blank canvas because it's good as is. However, as a creamy, non-threatening soup, you could totally pump it up and rock your soupy world. Here are some ideas:

1. Add 1 C white beans.
2. Add some chunks of sausage (yes, please)
3. Chop and boil some kale and then add that (it's so in right now, though I have to say it really deserves its day in the sun)
4. Add some chunks of potatoes and maybe some leeks.
5. Add chunks of pretty much any vegetable. It would be lovely with broccoli, carrots, peas or even butternut squash.
6. Puree in a bit of an orange vegetable if the white is just too bland for you and yourn. More vitamin A, check.

Cauliflower Soup (aka Creamy Cheesy Soup)
adapted from Everyday Food
Serves 4-6
Prep and cook time: 45 minutes
Cost: $3.00
(cauliflower: 1.49, bullion cubes: .25, onion: .15, cheddar: 1.00, butter: .10)

Note: I recommend using homemade broth or a lower sodium broth. Not because I am Mrs. Healthy Pants, but because I found ours a little on the salty side and wish I'd toned it down a bit.

Another Note: I pureed this and made it perfectly smooth. However, if you're serving grown-ups or other individuals who might actually enjoy a bit of texture, you might want to set aside 1 C of the soup before pureeing and then add it back in at the end, so as to have a bit of texture in your soup.

3 Tbs butter (unsalted)
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1 medium head cauliflower cut into 1-2 inch pieces
4 C low-sodium chicken broth
1 C water
1 1/2 C shredded cheddar (about 5 1/2 oz)
garnish with pepper, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika (my newest love), or something perky and green

Melt butter in large pot and throw onions in. Let them soften up a bit and then add cauliflower. Cook until the cauliflower has a bit of color to it. (Alternately, you could probably roast your cauliflower as your onion softened on the stove). Add water and broth and cook for 20-30 minutes or until it's totally soft.

Let it cool for a few minutes and then puree. (If you'd like it a bit chunky, reserve some of the cauliflower and add it back at the end.) You can do this with an immersion blender or by putting it in a regular blender. (If using a regular blender, be sure it's not crazy hot and hold a hot pad over the top of the blender to keep it from exploding out of the darn thing.)

Put it back on the stove and add the shredded cheese. Stir gently until the cheese is all melted. Then garnish with pepper or something red or something green.

See post for ideas about how to rock your soupy world if you're the type of person to do so.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Emilee's Bran Muffins and/or Pancakes

That's a weird title for a food, right? After all, how can something be a recipe for both bran muffin and pancake. I wondered the same thing when Emilee gave me this recipe for bran muffins and then told me that you could make pancakes with the batter too. In fact, she said, she liked them even better as pancakes than as muffins.

Let me tell you this: These were perfectly delicious bran muffins. They were honestly very good. But they were some kind of butt kicking pancakes. They were so good, in fact, that we got nary a photograph before they were all consumed. They were so good, in fact, that I will tell you a story. I burned one batch of the pancakes on one side. When I finally sat down to eat there were no un-burned pancakes left and I was starving, so I carefully cut off the burned side of the pancakes and ate the rest. About this time Emma finished her pancakes and headed over to my lap for more. All that was left were the thin burned sides that I had sliced off--no syrup, no nothing--just a burned sliver of a pancake. Emma ate all three. I thought she'd take a bite, make a face, and leave the rest. This is, after all, what she often does with perfectly good, completely unburned foods that I make. Not only did she not turn her nose up at the burned pancake slivers, she cleaned my plate, leaving only a couple bites at the very end.

This revelation--that muffin batter could become pancakes--it might forever transform my world. Because it might work with other muffin recipes as well. Wow. The possibilities. Three minute cook times vs. 20 minute cook times. Hopefully my head doesn't explode.

There is one drawback to these muffins as pancakes, which is this:  In pancake incarnation, these are already quite sweet so you can forgo the syrup and eat them plain or with fruit or with a wee dusting of powdered sugar for looks' sake (not a problem).  However, I should warn you that your older children might expect syrup on a pancake no matter how sweet you tell your children it already is. This makes for a doubling up on the sugar, which is disturbing to me. But not, I guess disturbing enough to keep me from making these next time. I'll try to get a picture when I do, although there are no guarantees because I value my fingers too much to place them in the path of hungry, bran-pancake crazed children's mouths.

Emilee's Bran Muffins and/or Pancakes
Makes about 24
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cost: $1.45 (that's about $.05 per muffin)
(cereal: .25, sugar: .25, butter: .25, eggs: .20, buttermilk: .30, flour: .20)

1 1/2 C All Bran cereal
1 C hot water
1 1/2 C sugar
1/2 C butter
2 eggs
2 C buttermilk
1 Tbsp baking soda
2 C flour

Combine All Bran and hot water. Let it sit for a couple minutes and then mash it up until it's a paste.

Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs, buttermilk, and baking soda. Then add your bran mixture. Then add your flour. (Note: Should you forget to add the flour like I did the first time around and just put the other mixture into your pancake skillet, you will get something a lot like bran pudding, which sounds horrible and which seems so wrong on every level and yet which was pretty amazing and which I haven't quite stopped thinking about yet.)

If making muffins, fill your muffin tin and bake at 375 fo 15-20 minutes.

If making pancakes, just ladle the batter onto a hot skillet and make as your would any other pancake.

Note: I recently learned that you can keep this batter for up to 6 weeks in your fridge. Check out this post for more details if you wish.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Leftover Tuesday: Stuffed Mushrooms

The key, I'm discovering to Leftover Tuesday is finding a vehicle for a fair amount of random ingredients. Often it's a grain-based vehicle--a tortilla or bagel or piece of bread. Today it's the humble (yet amazing) mushroom. 

What we had: spaghetti sauce, crushed tomato sauce, a little bit of tuna mixed with Miracle Whip, some apple sauce, hearts of palm, marinated artichoke hearts, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, 3/4 avocado, 4 deviled egg halves, and some green onions that I forgot to take a picture of. 

When I discovered the mushrooms, I knew I had a win and I separated our food into... 

a) things I thought wouldn't work as well with mushrooms. These things went back in the fridge, except for the applesauce, which I fed to Emma. 

And b) things I thought would be lovely in a stuffed mushroom. (Okay, the eggs wouldn't go in it, but I thought they'd be a nice side for the mushrooms. Also, upon further thought I realized the avocados were a no go as well.

I also had a block of cream cheese and some spinach. I don't feel like I had to add either of those things, but I thought they'd make really nice additions so I did.

What I did:

1. I removed the stems of the mushrooms and chopped those babies up. In fact I chopped everything really tiny.
 2. I threw them into a skillet with a small pat of butter and sauteed them for a few minutes. To this I added the green onions (chopped small) and sauteed. Then I added the artichokes, the hearts of palm, the spinach (1 C--chopped very small), 1 ounce of the cream cheese, and a sprinkle of Parmesan. Oh, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. This was the perfect amount for about 7 mushrooms, which is what we had

3. I stuffed this mixture into the empty mushroom caps (you can see them below). I licked off the spoon. It was a good choice.

4. I placed them on a baking sheet and baked at 375 for 15-20 minutes. 

These were more of a side than a main course. Our main course today was hot dogs roasted over the fire pit. Let's hear a big cheer for spring and for cleaning up the sticks that are all over the yard. With our hot dogs, we had these and the deviled eggs. I also made a salad with the remaining hearts of palm and the avocado, but I was too full for it, so that will be lunch tomorrow.

Other leftovers that might have been good in stuffed mushrooms: a bit of sour cream, vegetables (especially something like broccoli or spinach), onions of many varieties, hash browns, different bits of cheeses, bacon or ham, bread or cracker crumbs, and probably many other things. You want a little bit of something cheesy and creamy and a little bit of something vegetable. And then you can go nuts with the other stuff.

The result:
They were very very good. Yeah, I know I keep saying that about the stuff I make for Leftover Tuesday, but I swear it's true. Don't worry; one of these days I'm going to blow it good.
-Besides the fact that they tasted just awesome, they were also not so over the top unhealthy as some stuffed mushrooms can be. The cream cheese and the Parmesan cheese were mostly there just to hold the veggies (about 2 C when raw and unchopped) together. That means that for each mushroom, you got the equivalent of  what would have been 1/4 C vegetables (if they were raw and not cooked/wilted) stuffed into that tiny one-mushroom space. And then you were eating the mushrooms too.
-The only problem with this leftover meal is that, while it used the leftovers we had, it didn't really use them up. I still had artichokes, hearts of palm, and the avocado (not to mention the leftovers that didn't make the mushroom cut). Also, I ended up opening a bag of spinach and using just a bit of cream cheese. I didn't have to, but I do think those two ingredients took these from being okay to being over the top delicious. I think I'll make spinach artichoke dip this week with the rest of the cream cheese, the spinach and our leftover artichoke hearts. And I just bought some lettuce and so can use the avocado and hearts of palm in very good ways. So it all works out. Still, the stuffed mushrooms weren't as completely efficient as, say, a burrito shell at using up all the stuff we've got. Nevertheless I count this as a total success and wish I had more mushrooms right now. They were delicious.


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