Monday, April 30, 2012

Granola Balls (Raw, gluten-free, potentially vegan)

You know what the problem is with high-energy snacks? Those for whom they were designed--those with metabolisms approximately equivalent of 150 pound hummingbirds--forget about the snacks you've made and wander about the house wondering what they can possibly eat and then decide to just go to Rural King instead so they can get to work on the yard. You, on the other hand, you who have every bit the metabolism of a very nearly 35-year-old woman, do not forget. You know what's sitting there in your cupboard or refrigerator or freezer. You brush against them as you clean the kitchen. They catch your eye as you gather ingredients for leftover night. They call to you. And then you call to your husband at Rural King and ask why he hasn't eaten the snack you made for him and question whether he really loves you and also whether he thinks your butt looks big in the jeans you're wearing today. And then he says you're butt is just fine and that he forgot about the snacks and that he'll eat them when he gets home and that he has to go because he's carrying 20 pounds of grass seed and the checker is waiting for him. And then you hang up and eat some granola bites and feed some to the kids and by the time he gets home, starving of course because he skipped breakfast and/or lunch, they're all gone.

Note: Although the above story is actually a piece of fiction, there is much truth at its heart. Truth that gets repeated at least once a week in this house. Oh the efforts those of us with lean (albeit strong, tough, and perfectly handsome) husbands go to in order to keep said husbands weighing in a few dozen pounds (or even a good baker's dozen) heavier than us. Tragic, don't you think. The great thing about these being in smallish balls is that you can practically throw them into your husband/teenager/woke-up-too-late-for-breakfast child's mouth as they rush out the door.

So don't give up. Make some healthy, high-energy snacks. Remind your man to take them to work. Eventually it will sink in. Unless the dog/kids/grandmas/neighbor's kids get to them first. Sigh.

Granola Balls
Adapted from Smashed Peas and Carrots
Makes 12-18 1-inch balls(a little sketch on the numbers here; I made a bunch of this stuff last week and it's all smearing together for me)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cost: $1.90
oatmeal: .10, peanut butter: .50, honey: .70, coconut: .60

1 C oatmeal (choose a type that hasn't been processed with gluten-y foods if you're going gluten-free)
1/2 C peanut butter
1/4 C honey (use agave nectar if going vegan)
1 C coconut flakes (I used unsweetened; if using sweetened you may want to cut back the honey by a Tablespoon or two)
1/2 C ground flaxseed (optional; I skipped because we didn't have and threw in some more coconut)
1/2 C chocolate chips (optional)
1 tsp vanilla

Mix everything until fully incorporated. You can let this chill for easier ball-rolling, but I just go for it and roll them into balls.

These keep very well refrigerated or frozen.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lemon Doodles

I hadn't had snickerdoodles for--oh, 15 years or so. and then someone in my church gave us a few. And all the sudden... I. Had. To. Make. Snickerdoodles. I don't know what it is about them. They're a fairly simple cookie, and there isn't a chocolatey chip to speak of within. Still there's something so satisfying about biting through that crispy sugar edge into a nice chewy cookie.

I decided to do a little recipe testing and planned to take advantage of the innocent participants of our Friday night singing group to use as tasters. I made 2 different (surprisingly different) recipes--one from Smitten Kitchen and one from Simply Recipes. I had planned to force everyone to try the different kinds and tell me which they liked best, but when the cookies came out of the oven, they were startlingly similar. Not identical, no, but much more like each other than I thought they would be. And then, as I was finishing up the dough for the last batch, I saw a lemon in my fridge.

In a rush of (purely humble, I assure you) creative genius, I created the best cookie of them all. No offense, cinnamon, but--wow--those lemon ones were good. The lemon sugar gets all crystally and perfect on the outside and...maybe it's my own humility tainting my memory of Friday night, but I'm pretty sure the singing group liked the lemon ones best too.

Lemon Doodles
cookie recipe from Smitten Kitchen (which, by the way, was my favorite of the 2 I tried, but only by a smidgeon. However, if you don't have cream of tartar on hand, the Simply Recipes recipe doesn't use it, so it's a nice one to have in your box as well.)
Makes 30 cookies
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes (and not a minute more, people)
Cost: $2.20 or about $.14/cookie
flour: .30, butter: 1.00, sugar: .35, lemon: .35, eggs: .20

2 3/4 C all-purpose flour
2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 C (2 sticks) butter, very soft
1 1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
1-2 tsp lemon juice

For rolling:
zest from 1 large lemon or 2 small ones
2/3 C sugar

Beat butter until creamy. Add sugar and beat until creamy. Add eggs and beat until smooth. Add lemon juice, beat. Add salt and beat.

Combine remaining dry ingredients. Add dry to wet about 1 C at a time, stirring in between until incorporated mixed.

Roll dough (refrigerate if necessary, but I didn't need to; of course I'm not afraid of a messy hand, nope, not even a little) into 1-inch balls.

Combine lemon zest and sugar. Rub together until fragrant.

Roll balls into lemon/sugar mixture. If necessary, pat the sugar/zest onto the ball so it adheres.

Put balls onto lightly greased cookie sheet. (You don't need to press them flat; they'll flatten on their own.)

Bake at 400 for 10 minutes. I did one minute more and regretted it just a tinge.


Thursday, April 26, 2012

Raisin Peanut Butter Breakfast Cookies (aka Cheapskate Larabars)--Vegan, Raw, Gluten Free, Divine

Told you we were snacky around here lately. I saw these on Pinterest and pinned them only because my son was sitting next to me and insisted (from the picture) that I must. Even though the Katie of Chocolate-Covered Katie was positively gushing about these, I didn't really believe that peanut butter and raisins could come together into something that amazing. Which is why we of little faith must sometimes learn to exercise what bits we have. Because now it's time for me to do a little gushing of my own.

These are way better than good. They are breakfast worthy, but I have to tell you that when I craved them, I craved them as I would a regular cookie--they might as well have been full of granulated sugar and white flour and M & M's for the way I felt about them. In fact, for that reason--because they seemed so tasty and indulgent, I found myself feeling a little guilty eating them at any old hay-hum time of day I wished. And along that line, I should say this: these are very filling and they do have plenty of natural sugars and natural fats, so if you're Atkins/Weight Watchers dieting it up or something, these might not be for you. However, if you're into raw food or gluten free food or vegan food or just really tasty food, then you should definitely give these a whirl.

As for cheaperliness, these share the spirit of a Larabar, but they use the cheapest possible dried fruit and nut source, which I really appreciate about them. These are also the perfect way to salvage that box of raisins you opened five months ago and then lost in your, er, completely orderly pantry, and which has, all those months later,dried out a bit. Not that that ever happens to me.

Raisin Peanut Butter Breakfast Cookies (aka Cheapskate Larabars)
adapted from Chocolate-Covered Katie
Makes about 12 (um, a little foggy here on the amount; I must have been snitching too much dough)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cost: $1.70
peanut butter: .70, raisins: .70, peanuts: .30

Note: These are oily when you form them into balls--at least mine were. I just set them on a paper towel and all was well.

Another note: If you'd like, you can add any variety of dried fruits or nut butters. I did a batch with raisins, coconut, peanut butter, and almonds. It was also delicious, although this original recipe was still may favorite. Nevertheless, feel free to play around with the recipe a bit.

1 1/4-1 1/2 C raisins
3/4 C peanut butter
6 Tbsp peanuts (I used raw, but plain roasted will work too)
3/4 tsp vanilla
dash of salt if that's your thing (I skipped it)
chocolate chips, optional (I added them sometimes and didn't other times--both were awesome)

Combine raisins, peanut butter, and peanuts in a food processor. (Note: In an attempt to save on dishes I tried this in my cheap blender. It didn't work; the raisins were just too sticky.) Process until smooth (you'll have a few bits of peanuts, but not big chunks) and coming together like a dough. Add vanilla and salt (if using) and process. (If using chocolate chips, you can add these at the very end and give them a whirl or two, but I like mine chunky so I didn't pulverize them.)

Take out, form into balls. Place balls on waxed paper or paper towels and press into cookie shapes using a fork or spoon.

Then, if necessary, hide some of them from yourself. They freeze well. I could keep mine a couple days at room temperature, but preferred storing them in the fridge or freezer.


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Work-a-Day Wednesday: 7-Minute Cream of Tomato Soup (Pantry Recipe)

Until last summer, I'd never attempted a homemade tomato soup. It seemed very frightening when you've been eating it from a little tin can all your life. But last summer I grew several tomato plants that actually produced--shockingly--more than 2 tomatoes per plant. So I made this and this. I even stuck some of it in Tupperware containers (fine, I actually stuck them in old 32-oz. yogurt containers; I'm cheap) and froze a few batches. It was really delicious. But it always required roasting tomatoes. This is great when you've got them coming out your ears and when you've got an hour to go before dinner time. But what about those dreary April days when you've got nothing fresh in the fridge and 10 minutes before dinner. I just figured we'd revert to the tin cans. It's not the end of the world, even if the ingredient list contains high fructose corn syrup and the ever mysterious "natural" flavoring and even if each 1/2 C serving contains a stunning 3 tsp sugar.

And then one afternoon I was at my friend's house and my eyes were opened. She made a super quick, completely pantry-friendly tomato soup from scratch. It's much more of a whole food soup (you're still opening a can, but this one is diced tomatoes with only salt added). Also, I don't even think I need to say this, but it tasted so much better than Campbell's ever did.

7-Minute Cream of Tomato Soup (Pantry Friendly)
Makes 2-4 servings
Prep and cook time: 7 minutes
Cost: $.97
(milk: .25, butter: .10, diced tomatoes: .60, other stuff: .02)

Note: In this recipe you can get away with reconstituted powdered milk if you're really scraping the bottom of the barrel. The soup will still taste great. I had regular milk and used that (most of the time these days it's just as cheap or cheaper than dry milk, so use it if you've got it).

Another note: This soup is soundly on the creamy end. Next time I might try reducing the milk by half (1 Tbsp butter, 1 Tbsp flour, 1 C milk for the roux) or doubling up on the canned tomatoes or using tomato puree instead to see what happens. For now, know that this soup is super good, but definitely cream of tomato soup.

One final note: If you've got Italian diced tomatoes, you can skip all the other seasonings and really cheat.

1 1/2 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
2 C milk
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice
Italian seasonings to taste
salt and pepper to taste
dash onion powder
dash garlic powder

Melt butter in saucepan. Whisk in flour. Add milk and stir until it thickens slightly. Add diced tomatoes and seasonings.

Puree. I did mine in a blender, but an immersion blender would be nice.

Reheat if necessary. Garnish it with some basil if you don't want it to look as boring as the above picture. But don't garnish it with anything if you want your kids to eat it. The only kid-friendly garnish I've ever known is chocolate shavings. And somehow I just don't think that will work with this.


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Little Balls of Nutty Energy (Raw, Potentially Vegan, Gluten Free)

My life is currently full of little balls of nutty energy. In more ways than one. I have to confess that I'd choose that any day over Large Gangly Balls of Moody Angst. We'll get to those snacks in a few years (um, chocolate anyone). For the time being, it's been all about high energy foods around here. In fact, I even considered doing a week of snacks. But before I do I should say this: People have different opinions on snacks. Some people (we'll call them Americans) seem to think that snacks are a necessary part of every two hour interval in the day. To the tune of goldfish, fruit snacks and granola bars. Some people (we'll call them French) consider snacks a necessity for the under-two crowd only and consider them a danger for everyone else. To the tune of providing a warning along with their snack commercials. I admit that I, though not really so French in most ways (cute shoes; huh?), stand decidedly a little more on the French side of the line in this instance. Which means I should be issuing a warning with this post. So I will. These little balls contain a lot of energy. Another word for energy when we speak of food is calories. Oh sure, they're natural, good-for-you calories, but they're still calories. If you happen to be a 30-something adult woman, you might want to be a little careful around these things. If it's an hour before dinner, you might want to hide them from your kids. Know this: You can pop them into your mouth quicker than you can register that you're full. And that can be a little dangerous.

So, why, why you are asking, am I posting such evil to this blog? I have my reasons. The biggest one is named Kip. Let me tell you something about Kip. If a meal is not easy, he'll skip it. This is pretty foreign to me. I have to be pretty much unconscious to skip a meal. But not Kip. If he gets busy or focused or whatever, he just won't eat. Lately he has been very busy and very focused. And he hasn't been eating. There are days when he'll skip breakfast and lunch and come home exhausted and starving at dinner, only to head off to his real job at night and be hungry and snacky all night long. Kip never asks that I make him anything. He takes his meal skipping in stride. But it worries me. However, I'm not always around either to fuss over him and make him a sandwich. Truth be told, he wouldn't want me to even if I was. Which is where little balls of nutty energy come in. He can grab one or two or four and be gone about his crazy day (or night) and have plenty of healthy energy to keep him going. See, it's like one of those old Snickers commercials where they showed people dancing or whatever and then they had a handful of nuts in their hand. They closed their hand around it and blam there was a Snickers bar. Boy, I loved those commercials. They didn't come with warnings either. And I'm pretty sure I considered Snickers a health food for many years. But that's not the point. The point is that these are much much (and did I say much) healthier than Snickers bars. They're raw, whole food, high in fiber and non-meat iron. They're gluten free and could be vegan if you sub agave nectar for the honey. But they do pack a similar caloric punch that can be good for any crazy busy meal skippers you happen to know.

They can also be good for mornings when you're running late and you or your kids need something quick for breakfast. Or lunches where you're stuck out doing errands and your kids are about to melt down. They're good for school lunch "desserts" and I expect that they're really good for those human vacuums known as teenagers.

So go ahead and make a few. Just know that if you have the metabolic curse of being a 30-something-year-old woman, you should take yours in dainty French nibbles.

Little Balls of Nutty Energy
Makes about 16-18
adapted from Raw Cookie Dough Bites
Prep time: 7 minutes
Cost: $1.62
(Okay--I'm guessing here: I'll fix if I figure it and it's way off: almonds: .50, walnuts: .75, oats: .07, chocolate chips: .20, honey: .05, coconut oil: 05)

Note: Naturally your nuts and oats must be raw if you want this to be a raw food. Also, be sure that your oats haven't been exposed to foods with gluten if you're observing a strictly gluten-free diet.

Note on coconut oil: Originally this recipe had double the honey (4 Tbsp). I didn't think it needed the sweetness, but it did need something that would help hold the balls together. I add the coconut oil for this purpose (as I prefer fat to sugar in my recipes). You could probably use a splash of milk or more honey if you'd rather.

2/3 C almonds
2/3 C walnuts
2/3 C oats
1/4 tsp cinnamon
dash salt
2 Tbsp honey (or agave nectar if vegan)
1-2 Tbsp coconut oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
3-4 Tbsp dark chocolate chips (optional)

In food processor (I used a small blender, which also worked), combine almonds, walnuts, oats, cinnamon, and salt. Process until it's about the consistency of cream of wheat.

Add honey, coconut oil, and vanilla and process.

Add chocolate if using. You can process it a bit or leave it in chip form.

You can probably store at room temperature for a couple days, but I just kept them in the refrigerator.

Roll into 1-inch balls and place on a cookie sheet or plate.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Super Quick Pizza Crust

I'm not really loyal to one pizza crust, but I have a few favorites. The one from my bread maker probably wins since all I have to do is throw things in (should I have the foresight to do this 90 minutes before assembly time). I also really like this one and we always love a good sourdough crust.

However, on days like today when I walk into my house at 4:00 knowing my husband is going to walk out at 5:25 and we want something substantial, crowd-pleasing and yet cheap for dinner, there's nothing that can beat this 15-minute from scratch pizza dough. Nothing. Time-wise it even gives a dough from a box some competition. And taste-wise it'll blow that boxed stuff out of the water.

Are you ready? Cause it's kind of like rocket science around here. Ha ha. Just a little joke there. I can't even figure out blogger's new format, so you can rest assured that no threat of rocket science exists in this household. Whew.

Super Quick Pizza Crust
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook
Makes 2 medium sized crusts or one extra large (we fill a jelly roll pan with a nice rectangular pizza)
Prep time: 7 minutes
Sit time: 10 minutes (or less if you're really in a pinch)
Cost: $.50
flour: .10, whole wheat flour: .30, yeast: .10

Note: I use a combination of whole wheat and all-purpose flour: about 1 1/2 C whole wheat and 1 C all-purpose. I know it can be made entirely with all-purpose flour if you wish. I haven't tried it with 100% whole wheat, but I bet it would work just fine.

2 1/4- 3 1/2 C flour
1 Tbsp yeast
1/4 tsp salt
1 C water
2 Tbsp oil

Mix 1 1/2 C flour, yeast, and salt together in a bowl. Add water and oil and mix. Add flour in 1/4 C increments until it becomes too stiff to mix. At that point, turn it on to the counter and knead it for a few minutes, adding flour as necessary.

Let it sit for 10 minutes, which is usually just the right amount of time for me to get a sauce ready and some vegetables chopped.

Spread it out on a greased pan and have at it with whatever toppings you wish.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Smoked Paprika Fry Sauce

(it's not quite this pink; I don't know how people take pictures of things in the red family)

In The Netherlands, they serve their fries with mayonnaise. Don't ask me why--maybe the mayonnaise there is different--but it's so so amazing on fries. I still like some good home fries with mayo. 

In Utah, they serve their fries with "fry sauce," which is basically ketchup and mayonnaise mixed together into an admittedly amazing condimental concoction. 

Here in this house, we serve our fries with--well, we serve them with ketchup most of the time because some of the inhabitants of this house would snort ketchup straight into their blood streams if they could figure out how. But--please prepare for a gasp-worthy confession--ketchup gets kind of boring to me. I can't even feel all self-righteous and diss on it for its high fructose corn syrup levels or sodium or any other of its less than virtuous health qualities. It's not even that I don't like it. I do, really. It allowed me to eat eggs for years as a child when I otherwise would have just gagged them onto the floor. It's just that I, well I just...I just sometimes need a little change. Please don't tell Kip. He might leave me for the ketchup lady at McDonald's or something.  

Lately this has been my own little addiction. I don't even know why. It's just got a little undertone of tang with a little undertone of garlic and smokiness. The flavors are all subtle and just fit really nicely together. And, what can I say, I've fallen for it. The first time I tried it, I was like, "Hmmm, good." But I didn't think it would keep calling to me like it did. But then the next day I found myself wanting to make something potato just to be able to use it again and then the day after that I was scooping fry fulls of it into my mouth and slathering it on my meat as well. Right now as I write this I'm dreaming of these home fries all drizzled in this sauce and salivating as I type. And--could someone please tell me that's normal, because there's only so much you can do before you have to accept that you have a problem. 

Paprika Fry Sauce
adapted from Everyday Food
Makes a little over 1/4 C
Prep time: 2 minutes
Cost: $.15
mayo: .10, other stuff: .05

Note: Smoked paprika is my new BFF. It is nothing like it's ho-hum cousin. Well, it is that gorgeous color of red still, but it's got the personality to match its looks. I've been hearing about it forever and finally tried it. If you feel a little intimidated and don't know where to find it, don't worry--McCormick makes a version and theirs is pretty good. 

1/4 C mayonnaise
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 tsp smoked paprika

Combine all ingredients. 

Note: This is good the first day, but better after the flavors have melded for a day (or probably even just a few hours). 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Reese's Bars in Two Movements

Today I present to you Reese's Bars.

And their whole grain cousin.

Reese's Bars are all over the web right now. And with good reason. They taste like Reese's cups and take at most 5 minutes to whip up, and they're so much cheaper than Reese's Cups (this is a very rough estimate, but at $.75 for 2 Reese's Cups, this batch of Reese's Bars is worth about $12 and it only costs $4.50 to make). Plus, you can have a whole pan-ful of them yourself if you make them. Wait. Maybe that's a bad reason.

At any rate, we had a bunch of friends over last week and I decided to make them. And then, for reasons I don't even really understand myself, but which probably had to do with a rash of breakfast cookie experimentation last week, it came into my mind to use oat flour in place of the graham cracker crumbs for one pan. We'll just call it inspiration.

As indeed it was. The fun thing about serving two different versions of the same food and forcing your guests to taste one of each is that you get a pretty good idea of which is the most popular.

I have to tell you they were both pretty popular. And that people liked both versions, even when they had a favorite. But at the end of the night more of the oat version was gone. There were only 4 pieces left as opposed to nearly half of the other pan. The oat version is also cheaper by nearly a dollar. However, I should tell you this: my favorite was the graham cracker one. Yeah, I know, clearly I wasn't thinking skinny thoughts. Or, well, whole grain thoughts, since neither version could really be considered, um, skinny.

Which brings me to one final thought. These may look like cookies, but they're really--as one of my friends pointed out--more of a candy. It's just something to keep in mind when you're cutting yourself (or watching your kids cut) an enormous bar. Not that I'm telling you how to live your life (although I'd be happy to tell your kids how to live their lives if you think it would help {pssst--it won't}); you can eat the whole darn pan if you want to. I just wanted to warn you that you can get sugared up on them pretty easily, so just beware; and please drive responsibly.

Reese's Bars (with optional oat flour adaptation)
adapted from Baker Lady
Makes 9x13 inch pan
Prep time: 5 minutes
Wait time: 30 minutes
Cost: $4.45 for graham cracker version; $3.55 for oat version
butter: .50, graham cracker crumbs: 1.30, oats: .35, sugar: .40, peanut butter: 1.25, chocolate chips: 1.00

1 C butter, melted
2 C graham cracker crumbs, finely ground (or 2 C oat flour)
2 C confectioner's sugar
1 1/4 C peanut butter
1 1/2 C semi-sweet chocolate chips

If you don't have pre-prepared graham cracker crumbs or oat flour, throw graham crackers (about 2 sleeves) or oats (probably about 4 cups, but I'm guessing here) into a blender and go to town until you have a flour-like substance.

Mix butter, crumbs, sugar, and peanut butter until it's a nice paste. Press this into a 9x13 inch pan and chill until set (about 30 minutes).

When your peanut stuff is set, melt your chocolate chips in the microwave by microwaving in 30 second intervals, mixing in between, until the chocolate is all melted. Pour this on top of your peanut layer and spread quickly (because your peanut layer is cold and your chocolate is going to start to set up quickly). Let the chocolate set up (it won't take too long since your peanut layer is cold).

Cut and eat. I refrigerated these and preferred them brought to room temperature for purposes of both cutting and eating. They were softer and just tastier to eat when not cold and they were much easier to cut; when at room temperature, the chocolate didn't break into pieces during cutting and it adhered to the peanut butter layer better.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sweet Potato Chips: A Few Crucial Notes for Success

Only a short while ago, I posted about sweet potato chips. I have lately been thoroughly enamored by them and have been making a batch nearly every day in order to feed my obsession. So I was surprised when my dear friend, who is also a great cook and a sweet potato aficionado told me that she'd tried them several times (once with her mother-in-law who is also a great cook) and that they hadn't worked out yet. Oh dear. I was at her house at the time. There was a sweet potato. There was a knife. There was an oven. We gave it a go and I realized how a few variables (such as a darker pan) could change things up.

Below you'll find a couple more tips to make your sweet potato chips a little more sure fire. And you really must give them a go. They're just so good.

1. You can make these without oil, but it is a much trickier thing to do and you must have very thin slices of sweet potato to do it. I have been making mine with oil. You can use olive oil or canola or probably coconut (oh, now, there's an idea--coconut and sweet potato are soul sisters) or any other vegetable oil you wish. I do mine by greasing my pan (drizzle a Tbsp or so on and just spread it around with your hand). 

Then I put my slices of sweet potato on and use a pastry brush to brush oil onto each chip. It sounds neurotic, but it takes less than 1 minute.

Alternately you could probably throw the sweet potato discs in a bag with oil and shake them.

2. You can slice these very thin and bake them at 350 for about 10-15 minutes. But if they are not super super thin (1/16 of an inch or thinner), they will take longer. My food processor got them very thin, but it also (because it is junky) left a bunch of scraps--mauled sweet potato bits that I couldn't use. So I've taken to cutting the slices very thinly with a knife.

They take a little longer to bake, but I can totally forgive this as my clean up does not involve a pesky appliance and there's no wasted food. Also, you really need to get them 1/8 inch or thinner. If not, they will cook up into yummy sweet potato discs, but it will be hard to get them into crispy chips without burning them or drying them out. 

3. Unless you are the world's most perfect slicer in the world (and I'm pretty good if I do say so myself, but still not good enough), you will have some slices thinner and some thicker. Thus you will want to check your sweet potatoes at 15 minutes. Remove any thin ones that are looking done and leave the others on. After that, check every 5 minutes or so until they're all done. It's a little pesky, but if you're in the kitchen anyway, it's not too big of a deal. Here's how mine look at various stages:

20 minutes (you'll notice some are kind of brown--they're not burned, they still taste sweet. Another minute, however, and they would have been). 

25 minutes

30-35 minutes

4. If you're using a dark pan, you will need to flip these halfway through their cooking time. I know that's obnoxious, but it's true. I use a silver pan and do not ever have to flip mine, but my friend's pan was darker (not super dark, but not silver) and hers started getting too brown on the bottom before the chips were crispy. To avoid this, just give them a flip halfway through. It's also helpful to flip them if your slices are a bit on the thicker end of the spectrum. Flip them at about 20 minutes.

5. Let them sit for a few minutes to cool a bit and crisp up. This is the hardest part, and not just because you want to eat them immediately. Sometimes they are not perfectly crispy when you take them out. You don't want them to feel soft and squishy like a sweet potato fry would--those aren't done yet. But if you wait until they're perfectly perfectly crisp, they may end up over-cooked. Take them off the pan when they're crispy or darkened at the edges even if the middle is a little floppy. (Click on the pictures above to enlarge them if you need a better idea of how they should look.) Let them sit for a minute or few on a paper towel to cool just a bit. They'll crisp right up as they cool.

6. They won't be as perfectly crispy as a store-bought potato chip, but they should have a definite crispy edge to them. When you bite into them, they'll crunch and it's a very satisfying snack in that way.

7. Oven rack should be in the middle.

8. Preheat your oven (350 degrees).

9. These can be made with the skins on or off. I like to leave them on. Occasionally this makes for a bit of skin chewy in your teeth, but not often enough for me to care.

10. These are good the next day too. Not quite as perfect, but very very good.

In closing: Maybe it will take a batch or two of experimenting, but it really is worth it to get them right. I crave them every day.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Leftover Tuesday: Beef, Potato, Cheddar Hash

What exactly is a "hash?" It is some kind of potato--usually cubed and fried. Mixed with some kind of meat. And maybe some vegetables. It is, in short, a mishmash of foods thrown into a hot oiled skillet and cooked together. Sounds like a leftover night gold mine to me.

This week we had a small portion of roast beef--not even enough for one man serving, a few leftover potatoes and carrots from the roast. We also had 2 raw potatoes, some mustard dip, some paprika lemon dip, spaghetti sauce, and ricotta cheese. I decided it could not all be combined, but that many of the meaty, potato-y things could. (If I'd wished, I'm sure I could have gone the Italian route and made something like baked spaghetti with the ricotta and sauce. We'll have to do that another day.)

This is what I did.

1. Peeled and cut the potatoes into small cubes
2. Heated some oil in a skillet.
3. Cooked the potatoes until done and crispy. I actually had to put a lid on the pan for a few minutes to get them done all the way through. I'm pretty sure this is bad potato frying technique and I apologize. Maybe my potatoes should have been smaller or my stove not so hot.
4. When they were done and browned, I threw in my leftover roast (chopped small) and my leftover vegetables. I warmed it through and tasted. I was unimpressed.
5. I added salt and the paprika lemon dip, which I'll get to soon on this blog and which is beyond amazing with potatoes. Even with the most delicious potato dip ever, I was not impressed.
6. I added some sour cream, mixed it all up and topped it with cheddar cheese and let that melt. I figured this couldn't go wrong.

The verdict: I still didn't really like it. I don't know why. I don't know how you can go wrong with potatoes, meat, sour cream, and cheese. Maybe it was my lousy potato frying method. Maybe it was the pineapple I'd eaten just before dinner had thrown my taste buds off (pineapple does that to me sometimes; does this happen to anybody else:). Maybe I should have added some bacon from the freezer. At any rate, this meal was not floating my boat. I had a small portion, a salad, and then some ricotta to fill up. Kip, however, LOVED this. He had a huge serving and then finished off what was left in the pan. The point (which is different sometimes from the verdict): Whether my version was perfect or not, a mash can be a great way to combine meat, potatoes, and vegetables. I'll be trying it again.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Crock Pot Spinach Lasagna

It's time for another Secret Recipe Club posting. This month I got Mostly Food and Crafts, which I was pretty happy about because I've actually pinned several things from this blog already. Also, I've wanted to try lasagna in the crock pot for a long time now, but have been afraid of serving it several hours later only to find that my lasagna has been replaced with red gloppy glop from Glop. If you know what I mean. It helped to have Danielle to mentor me through.

The lasagna was excellent and super easy. The other thing I really loved about it is that with normal lasagna you're supposed to take it out of the oven (and it still takes an hour in there) and then let it set for 15 minutes or so so that it doesn't ooze out all over the place. This wasn't necessary with this lasagna. It was a little oozy, but not much. And the noodles were perfect--not mushy at all.

A few notes:

1. One thing I always forget about lasagna is that the putting together takes longer than I expect. This is a very fast meal to put in the crock, but not a five minute one. Plan for at least 10 minutes and 15-20 if you're making your own quick sauce.
2. This is very very spinachy. Which is as a spinach lasagna should be. However, if you only sort of like spinach or you're worried that people in your posse will object to so much, reduce the spinach by half. It will still taste great and you'll please a bigger crowd. In fact, if  you're a little shy about the spinach, you could also use 10 oz of baby spinach, chopped and steamed in place of the frozen spinach. Frozen spinach comes with all the stems and everything. Again, no big deal if you're a spinach lover or veteran, but if you're not, or you're worried about people liking it, then chopped, steamed baby spinach is the way to go. You'll barely notice you're eating green leafy things.
3. Danielle recommends 3-4 hours on low. I did mine for 2 hours on high. Totally worked! Hurray. So if you don't get to this until you're kids are walking in the door from school, don't fret. It can still totally work and it is nice to be doing dinner while they do their after school chores/homework and then to relax during the normally rushed pre-dinner thing.

Crock Pot Spinach Lasagna
adapted from Mostly Food and Crafts
makes 6-8 servings
Prep time: 10-20 minutes
Cook time: 2-4 hours
Cost: $7.25
noodles: .40, ricotta: 1.00. mozzarella: 1.00, Parm: .75, spinach: 2.50, marinara: 1.60

6-7 regular lasagna noodles (not no-boil)
20 oz. spinach, thawed (if you think this will be too much for your family, see note above)
1 C ricotta cheese
3/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
3 C marinara sauce (we added some cooked ground beef to ours)
1/2 C water
1 1/2 C mozzarella cheese

If using ground beef, brown with salt and pepper or a bit of pesto (yum). Add this to your marinara sauce. Add 1/2 C water to it all.

While beef is browning, combine spinach ricotta cheese, and 1/2 C Parmesan cheese.

Ladle about 3/4 C marinara sauce into bottom of crock pot. Add 2 lasagna noodles, breaking if necessary to make them fit. Top with 3/4 C marinara sauce, 1/2 spinach mixture and 1/2 C mozzarella.

Repeat (noodles, sauce, spinach, mozzarella).

Top with final 2 noodles. Add remaining sauce and remaining Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses.

Cook in crock pot for 3-4 hours on low or 2 hours on high.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Food Essay Friday: Take It Easy On Me Pinterest

I'm sure some of you have already seen this article. It's a good one. I share it with you today because I've been thinking a lot about this sort of thing in terms of food. (Crafts, home decor and I gave up on each other a long long time ago. Just ask the wallpaper in my bedroom. It's textured and yellowed and has these '70s streaks of color; it intends to be standing long after world war III or Christ's second coming; it laughs to think that global warming could affect it at all; in fact, it fully intends to survive and form it's own planet after the rest of this one has imploded and returned to dust; at least that's what it whispers in my ear when I'm sleeping. But, uh, that's another post for another day.)

So, yes, back to food. Because we're certainly all putting our best face forward. Otherwise, the pictures at the top of my blog would look like this:

Yeah, pretty much every day.

And then you'd see my baby with food in her hair and her face and that bit of food on the side of her chin that is actually from the last meal I served her (or the one before that) that I someone missed when I wiped off her face. And then you'd see her stained shirt. And you'd probably also see that I'd forget to oxyclean it and that it would be thus stained forevermore.

And then you'd scroll down to an audio of my kids whining and complaining about dinner. And me threatening them with all kinds of things. And telling everybody to sit down and stop roller skating around the kitchen before I scream (except that sometimes I'm already screaming) and then everybody whining some more. And then at least one plate pushed aside and someone asking if they can put peanut butter on their tortilla and then somebody asking if they can put peanut butter and sugar on their tortilla and, yes, well, on and on.

Now I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with putting one's best face forward. It's just that we ought to remember that it is someone else's best face. Not only that, but on blogs it tends to be their best face at something they're actually good at. Not only that, it tends to be their best face posed. These things can provide inspiration and yadayadawhatnot. And they do. But when they stop providing that, then maybe it's time to turn off the dang computer and read a good book or take a hot bath or go give somebody you love a kiss.

So read the article. And remember that even in that she's putting a nice face forward (and that she has daughters and that your son might not seem to care less if you sing to him at night, but that he really loves you any way, only he shows it in male ways, like farting on you; because if you know anything, you know that this impresses all the girls.) Also, try not to be consumed with crazy envy for the magnetic alphabetized spices. Not that I am or anything. No really. I'm totally cool with my super disorganized spices of all different shapes and sizes on a shelf that makes it impossible to ever find quite the one I'm looking for. And when I do find it, it is quite possibly out of its spice or its spice is spilled all over said cabinet. But, no, really, I'm fine. I don't need any fancy alphabetized stainless steel magnetic spice organizers.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lemon Cake

I confess that I don't want to be here today. It's a bright sunny day and I just bought a couple small flats of flowers. My nails are itching to get nice and dirt-filled. Okay, so maybe they're not quite itching for it, but the rest of me is.

Nevertheless my duty to lemon cupcake calls. And also, is it wrong to associate cupcakes with duty? I think it must be.

I found this cake on Pinterest. It looked pretty incredible. When I went to make it, however, I realized that it was from Cooking Light. Hmmm. Maybe some people would be happy about that, but I was suspicious. 'Light' and cake are not two words I associate with each other. First of all, I'm always left wondering, "Did they do such and such because it tasted better or because it reduced the calorie/fat/whatever count?" Furthermore, when people say 'light' they always mean 'low-fat.' And that usually only works in angel food type cakes, which isn't really my cake thing. Nevertheless, I didn't really have another lemon cake recipe to turn to and the picture sure was tempting.

And then, as a second strike, I read the reviews. Many were positive and many were scathing (the cake fell; the cake was a hockey puck; the cake looked nothing like the picture; worst cake ever made--that sort o thing). I'm not even sure why I did make the cake. I think it had something to do with curiosity (was it really a bust; were the folks at Cooking Light using pictures of cake box cakes and pretending they had baked them?)   and because I wanted to see how it measured up in my pursuit of lemon cake nirvana. I love love love a good lemon cake: dense, moist, lemony, not too fluffy or bouncy, but not a rock either--something like perfect lemon bars only in cake-y form. I know it's out there; I've eaten it before, but I've never made it.

I was pleasantly surprised by the cake I turned out. It was lemony and pretty. It was delicate and light with a nice crumb. It was even better on days 2 and 3. I made mine into cupcakes not a layer cake, so I can't be sure it would have looked like the cake in the picture, but I suspect it would have. Also, I'm pretty sure I know what went wrong with the reviewers who didn't have success. I don't think they beat their first five ingredients long enough. Unfortunately, my chemistry is a little dusty (was it ever not dusty) and therefore I can't tell you why this is necessary, but it is. So follow the directions or risk a large lemon-y hockey puck.

Now I must confess that, even though I enjoyed the lemon cake, it was not my soul mate. Oh sure, we had a nice time together and we'll still be friends, but it didn't have the dense richness of my true lemon cake. However, just because it wasn't the one for me doesn't mean it won't be for you. If you're the type who likes cake light and delicate kind of sort of like cake box cakes, this just might be your true love. Or if you're trying to cut back on butter. Or if you love all good lemon cakes for their various contributions to the palate.

One final note: The original recipe told you to zest a lemon, but then instead of using the juice from the lemon, it asked you to buy concentrated lemonade and thaw a few tablespoons of this to use. Please please and puh-lease. This will result in a waste of perfectly good lemons and possibly the waste of the rest of your concentrated lemonade. That's just silly and, frankly, a recipe pet peeve of mine. If you're lazy (nothing to be ashamed of), just use the lemon juice from your lemons in place of the lemonade concentrate. If you want to do things exactly right, then combine equal parts lemon juice (from the lemon) and sugar and let it sit for a few minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is a syrup (a syrup, which is just what you're buying when you buy the lemonade concentrate).

Lemon Cake
adapted from Cooking Light
Makes one 2-layer cake or 24 cupcakes
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cost: $1.70 without frosting;
sugar: .20, butter: .25, lemon: .50, eggs: .40, flour: .20, milk: .15

1 1/3 C sugar
6 Tbsp butter, quite soft
1 Tbsp grated lemon rind (about 1 lemon's worth)
3 Tbsp lemon juice concentrate (or 1 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice concentrate and 1 1/2 Tbsp sugar, mixed)
2 tsp vanilla
2 large eggs
2 large egg whites
2 C all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/4 C buttermilk (or 1 1/4 C regular milk with 1 Tbsp vinegar mixed in)


I made the Best Cream Cheese Frosting Ever and combined zest and juice from another lemon

Preheat to 350 and prepare your pans (cake pans with wax paper and butter or cupcake tins with cupcake liners).

Put first 5 ingredients in a large bowl and beat at medium speed for 5 minutes. Just do it. Add eggs and egg whites one at a time (I usually ignore the one at a time thing, but for this cake I did it because I didn't want to risk a hockey puck.)

Combine remaining dry ingredients in a small bowl.

Add part of flour mixture to sugar mixture and mix. Add buttermilk and mix. Them more flour mixture; mix. Then remaining buttermilk; mix. Then flour mixture to finish it off.

Bake about 20 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out with a few crumbs. Cool in pans 10 minutes (p.s. that's important too--leave them there forever and they'll be tough to get out). Then turn out on cooling racks (or wherever) to cool completely.

Frost as you wish. Top with jelly beans if you wish. Or with berries, which I think would have been intensely beautiful. Or drizzle it with this raspberry sauce that I just discovered and which will change my world.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Classic Egg Salad (Only Better)

(Yeah, you can see a little of that blue/green dye leaked on to the eggs. Don't you just love Easter traditions?)

When I was growing up, we took our extra eggs and rolled them down a hill to see whose shell would come off first. I recall it being a race of some sort, although I don't remember if the winner was the first egg down the hill or the first egg to lose its shell or the last egg to lose its shell. At any rate, it was loads of fun. In fact, cheapskate or not, I count it as a great way to use up those Easter eggs because it was such a squeal-with-delight Easter activity.

However, I recognize that there are those among you who would rather not roll their eggs down the hill or perhaps have so very many eggs that you can roll your egg and eat it too. In this case, let me recommend these egg salad sandwiches.

Which isn't a recommendation I give lightly. You see, I don't really care for egg salad sandwiches. Every year on Easter or the day after we whip up a batch. Every year they look pretty good. And every year I take a bite or two and call it good.

This year, I decided to do something radical. I decided to consult a cookbook. And sure enough, there on page 122 of my Best Recipes (Cook's Illustrated) Cookbook was a recipe for egg salad. It didn't look too earth shattering, but then I had nothing to lose so I made it.

They recommended cutting (as opposed to mashing with a fork) the eggs. I actually didn't think I'd like it since I'm a greater lover of mayonnaise than of hard boiled eggs, but I decided to exercise a bit of faith. It called for mayo, onion, a little bit of lemon juice, celery and parsley. I subbed onion powder for the onion and left out the celery, knowing that those ingredients would deter the only reliable egg salad eater in the family.

And when it was done? Oh me, oh my. It was GREAT. I still don't know quite why it was so great. I think I have the larger bits of egg to thank (apparently, egg paste and I just aren't on good terms; who knew) and the lemon, which adds a something something I never would have thought to add on my own (even though recently I read that egg and lemon were really good bedfellows; I wasn't quite a believer, but now...).

So even if you aren't an egg salad aficionado, you might want to give this just one more try. If you're not planning to hurtle some defenseless eggs down a hill, you've got nothing left to lose.

Classic Egg Salad
adapted from The Best Recipe Cookbook
Prep time: 5 minutes if eggs already cooked
Cost: $.90
eggs: .60 (more like .30 around here lately), mayo: .20, other stuff: .10

6 hard-boiled eggs
1/4 C mayonnaise
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp Dijon mustard (regular will do too)
small dash onion powder (probably 1/8 tsp)
1/4 tsp salt
1-2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped small
1 Tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped small

Hard boil eggs if you haven't. (Bring to hard boil, cover, turn off heat, and let sit for 10 minutes.)

Remove shell from eggs. I recommend giving the top and bottom a good bonk on the counter and then rolling the middles back and forth. Then peel starting at the end with the air pocket. This usually makes it easier for me to get those eggs out.

Dice eggs into 1/2-inch bits. Add remaining ingredients and mix to combine.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Leftover Tuesday: Butternut-Carrot-Coconut Soup

Today's an itchy-to-be-outside kind of a day. Bright, sunny, chilly. That's how this soup sort of strikes me: bright, warm, but not too heavy.

Our players this week were 2 carrots whose ends were getting a little sketchy, some leftover cooked butternut squash (and it wasn't a great squash--a little bland and old tasting), 1/4 of an onion, and about 1/2 can coconut milk (which I forgot to photograph because I'm like that). 

To that I added a bit of butter, curry, cumin, pepper, and a bit of chicken broth. 

Here's what I did:

1. Melt butter in a pot. Add diced onion and diced carrots and cook for about 5 minutes. 
2. Add spices and cook 30 seconds or so until fragrant. 
3. Add butternut, coconut milk. Cook until nice and thick. 
4. Add 1 C chicken broth. If you need more, add it. Cook until all vegetables are tender. 
5. Puree until smooth (If putting in a blender, use a hot pad on top so it doesn't spray out.)

That's it. It was done. It was easy. I did find myself upping the spices at the end and wishing I'd had a bigger chunk of onion. Also, it didn't taste as coconut-y as I thought/hoped it would. Nevertheless, a perfectly decent meal made from things that hadn't been too stunning on their own. One of the many things I love about leftover Tuesday. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Composting: A Quick and Easy Idea

There are things to do in by-the-book conscientious sorts of ways (income taxes, children's medications, truffles) and there are things that are still worth doing, but, you know--not so neurotically (housework for example or your daughter's hair). For me, composting fits into this category. You see, things have been decomposing for millions of years. And I'm willing to bet that all those things did not read glossy paged books about how it ought to be done. I'm guessing they didn't much care if the piles of leaf and muck was comprised of 50% brown matter and 50% green matter and layered correctly. I'm guessing they didn't consider the process of composition ruined if their pile of matter didn't steam. I'm guessing that earthworms weren't so much more brilliant then than they are now, but then I never did meet a prehistoric invertebrate. At any rate, my compost pile goes on my "do, but don't stress about" list.

I have two large Tupperware boxes (as long as they're not a recycling number 3 or 7, they shouldn't leach stuff). I cut out a square in the bottom of each and put them on the dirt in the garden. I add a bunch of kitchen scraps, grass, leaves, etc. to one. And then I let it sit and decompose for a season while I work on filling the other one. If I have time, I use a shovel to mix them up. If not, I don't. When I'm ready to plant in the spring, I break into the decomposed box and use the compost. When I've used it, I then begin filling it with new stuff and let the other one sit.

Here's the one I'm filling.

Here's the one I'll be using in the garden.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Couple Easter Ideas

Did I mention yesterday that I was a hypocrite? Oh good, I did. Because I am. Tonight I am so very very tired. I feel a little like it's Christmas Eve and I've been on my feet most of the day. Much of the reason for this involves goodies. I am going to try to rectify my evil ways and get off my feet shortly and do things that do not involve sweets and are more important than sweets. But first...

For breakfast we're having these:

Aren't they cute? See they're like little eggs in a nest. The cookie part is pretty healthy. You can find the recipe here, but you'll need to roll them into bigger (2-inch) balls and cook for 8 minutes. I used Cadbury milk chocolate eggs, but Robin's eggs would do nicely too.

I know, I know--we ought to be eating meat and vegetables for breakfast with all the candy that will be consumed throughout the day. But a big ol' quiche would go over just about as well as a bushel of broccoli so I just gave up and went with this.

And then I made these to give away.

Of course you could make these with any vanilla or lemon cupcake (or muffin) recipe you've got. I used this one (although I did make a few changes, which I'll be posting about next week because I'm really ready to get my feet up tonight). It was good, though I must warn you of two things.

1. The reviews are very conflicted. Some say it winds up flat and dense. Others had no problem. I was in the no problem camp and I will tell you why: You have to beat the 1st five ingredients for 5 minutes just like the recipe says. Capiche? Good.
2. The jelly beans bleed. This can turn out really pretty and rainbow-y and look like you intended for all those colorful swirls dripping around your muffin top. Or it can turn out sort of creepy--like a crying clown. It's a risk you might not want to take since it's Easter and all. So put the jelly beans on right before you plan to serve these. (P.S. If I bring you some of these Sunday, you have my apologies. I didn't realize the jelly beans would bleed until tonight when they did. I sincerely hope yours are of the rainbow swirl variety and not the crying clown variety.)

Also, I think they'd be really charming with a whole raspberry, strawberry, or blueberry up on top (or with a dab of syrup made from one of those fruits).

Happy Easter!!!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Food Essay Friday: The Junkifying of Our Holidays

This article may be a little schizo (i.e hypocritical) because for today's post I was torn between posting sugary Easter ideas and this. So if you ignore it entirely I won't be offended. Though, truly, I'm not quite as much of a hypocrite as I may seem and even if I was, I think the ideas in this essay are still sound, even if yours truly has issues.

When we were young kids this is what we got in our baskets: 
1. Hard-boiled eggs, sometimes elaborately colored by my mother
2. The occasional raw egg, sometimes elaborately colored by my mother. How they always got mixed in with the boiled ones is still a mystery. Also, it was usually the youngest child who ended up with the raw eggs; this is also a mystery.
3. Jelly beans
4. Peeps (seriously...gross)
5. 1 big Cadbury egg (it was the only one we would see all year and I looked forward to it all year)
6. Homemade peanut butter egg.
7. Homemade Easter chocolates (made from molds).
8. Maybe some other stuff, like Robin's eggs, although I don't remember these as a yearly fixture.
9. There was one year we got (or at least I got) one of those big hollow chocolate bunnies, though I'm pretty sure I begged for them every year.

My mother also made (as in sewed as in with a sewing machine) me and my two sisters matching Easter dresses and sometimes we got a bonnet to go with. These were pretty cherished (I have a quilt with squares of some of the fabric she used and I love it) and they cost my mom a certain amount of time and sanity.

What we did not get when we were kids:
1. Cadbury eggs (the little milk chocolate ones; I didn't even know these existed until I got married to an addict)
2. Big Reese's eggs
3. Any regular candy (Butterfinger, Snickers, etc) shaped like an egg and wrapped in foil
4. Stuffed animals
5. Toys of any kind

What we got at school: 
1. Nothing
(although we did have the week before Easter off instead of having spring break at some random time in March)

What we got from our grandparents and extended family (who weren't local, but who certainly loved us very much):
1. Nothing

Today I went to Walmart to get a gift for my daughter's friend's birthday. I also picked up a bag of jelly beans in order to make a treat I had in mind. And when I got home I realized I actually picked up 2 bags of jelly beans because I shopped with my 4 children (the littlest was blamed for the extra bag getting into the cart), which is about as economically wise as taking all your retirement money to Vegas. But that's not the point. The point is that I felt a little guilty about the jelly beans and about making a treat at all because I'd already bought big Cadbury eggs, mini Cadbury eggs, big Reese's eggs, and Robin's eggs (and this was scaling back from last year). My seven-year-old had already received an entire basket's worth of candy from her school party. And I was planning to shop candy sales come Monday. To our credit, I've done a good job keeping this stuff under wraps--we have not been eating candy for the last two weeks. But still. It's like Halloween all over again. Or at least like Old school Halloween. New school Halloween is much much bigger (the candy itself as well as the amount given).

And not only is it like Halloween, it costs more. As we walked through the front of the store to the car and I saw what everyone else was buying: candy, eggs, stuffed animals, toys, pre-packaged baskets, cookies, cupcakes, the works. I am not judging; I am among these people. They aren't rich people, just as we aren't rich people. I don't wish to tally up my candy bill. Suffice it to say that I'd estimate it roughly at $15 so far. And for what? So much candy that it's going to totally stress me out when I see my kids (and husband) eating that much of it. And for why? Because these are the types of candy we get every year. It's a tradition by gum and, thus, a ?need?.

Of course the junk doesn't end with the sweet things. There's plenty of other junk in all our holidays. There are the toys that will break and the baskets that will go in the trash and the stuffed animals that everyone loves for a little while, but that end up in the Goodwill bin by June. There are tokens, I think, of a ghost we're grasping at--a nostalgia created by childhood and advertising, by movie scenes of pink-dressed girls hunting for eggs.

I'm advocating, I think, not for stoicism or thoughtlessness, but for simpler, more thoughtful holidays, for gifts you give knowing your children will love them, for candy bought not out of some twisted sense of obligation or fairness (and twisted sense of obligation is totally my specialty), but to give a little something sweet, for meaningful tokens for those we love, and for meaningful symbols of the holiday that celebrates the re-birth of Christ.

I'm not saying I'm good at it, only that I wish to be.

Now stay-tuned for a healthy-ish idea tomorrow and one that isn't so much. Told you I was schizo.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Jewish Bread for our Christian Tradition: A Post on Matzah

When I was growing up, we would sometimes have a sort of "Jesus meal" on the Thursday before Easter. This was the night that Jesus and his disciples were celebrating Passover and the night Jesus broke and blessed the bread (and wine) instituting the Christian sacrament for the first time. Our simple homemade affairs involved flat bread or crackers, grape juice, maybe greens (um, bitter herbs), and some other stuff I can't remember. I think there were olives.

Anyway, that's not the point. The point is that it helped me think about what Jesus and his disciples were doing on that pivotal night before the crucifixion. It wasn't a sad day for us, though. It was kind of fun to eat different foods and learn about something in the sneaky sort of way my mom had fashioned. And the emphasis wasn't on the gloom of the crucifixion, but on the sacrament and the events that led up to the joyful resurrection. It was something that stuck with me.

So I've done it with my kids. We've had crackers, olives, nuts, fish (lamb being woefully too expensive). But this year, this year, I decided to do it right. I would make matzah or Jewish unleavened bread.

Except that then I found out what you had to do it right--sterilized everything (er, maybe some houses, but not this one), special flour that has never been exposed to moisture, spring water, and an 18 minute start to finish time to prevent any kind of possible fermentation. If they make more batches than one, they re-sterilize everything and even clean the rolling pin with sandpaper to ensure that none of the previous (and possibly fermenting dough) is stuck to it. Whoa. Next time someone tells me Mormons have a lot of rules, I'm going to tell them how to make matzah.

As a result, I may have (cough) cut a few corners. After all I wasn't really serving food for Passover. I was really serving food to remind us of a distinctly Christian tradition--the Passover where Jesus broke bread for his disciples. So I fudged a few things. Like those sterile utensils. Still, I did try to keep my bread within the 18 minute limit. I actually thought I'd be way ahead since the actual making of matzah is fairly easy (flour, water, a bit of salt), but I just barely made the time limit and the center of mine is still not crispy (is it required to be crispy?). This is because I used a pan instead of tiles, my oven only goes to 500 degrees, and I took one food blogger's suggestion and brushed on some olive oil and salt. The olive oil seemed to keep the cracker from crisping up as quickly.

Oh, and the fire alarm only went off twice. (A tip for the uninitiated: Make sure none of your parchment paper is hanging over the edge of your pan  or it will blacken and make your fire alarm go off.)

Nevertheless, I was pretty pleased with the final product. It looked interesting if nothing else (it also looked a bit like Illinois).

And while I'm pretty sure my kids will insist on putting peanut butter on their matzah (because it turns out that flour and water don't exactly make a baked good bursting with flavor), I'm guessing they'll probably eat it.

You can find plenty of recipes and videos for real matzah online, but if you're looking for a nice cheater version that's quick and easy and can provide a sort of Christian object lesson, I'll give you the skinny.

1. Sterilize everything. I wiped off my counters and that was pretty much the extent of it.

2. Make the dough by using 3 parts flour to one part water. Add a dash of salt if you want. I did 1 C white whole wheat and 1/3 C water. Stir this together, kneading it into a ball. (If you have to add a bit more water, that's okay, but don't go overboard--you don't want it sticking to your counter, and technically you're not supposed to flour your surface. This is a rule I would have broken if necessary, but I didn't need to).

3. Heat your oven as hot as it will got.

4. Roll out the dough super thin. Some tutorials rolled it into one-serving balls and then rolled those out, but I went with a method that used a long strip instead.

5. Put it on a pan lined with parchment paper. (This was a sort of cheater method. Normally, it would be cooked on hot tiles or even the bottom of the oven.)

6. Prick it with the tines of a fork (did you know you can buy a special rolling pin with pricky things on it?)

(See how that parchment paper is hanging over the side? Don't do that.)

7. I cut mine with a sharp knife so that it would be easier to break into "crackers."

8. Brush on some olive oil and give it a shake of salt. I don't know if this is usual or accepted or not, but it sounded more appetizing to me. However, as I said above, I do think it slowed the cooking.

9. Put this in your hot hot oven. Cook for 3-6 minutes or until it's cripsy and cracker-like.

10. Take it out, cool, and eat.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Fennel and Garlic Pork Roast

You know I didn't make this meal thinking, "This would be the perfect thing to blog about the week of Easter." But this would be the perfect thing to blog about the week of Easter.

It comes with a confession (don't half these posts come with a confession). I made it in the oven as a "real" roast, but next time I do it, it will be in the crock pot as an, um, "fake?" roast. It's not that it was that fussy or anything to do it in the oven. It's just that it had to be started 3 (plus a little) hours before dinner was to be served, and 2:00 in the afternoon is a really lousy time for me to be starting dinner (that last piece of quiet time before my school kids get home). And then you have to stay home in the hours in between. A crock pot meal could be done in the morning (when I have more time and energy), left to its own devices, and then ta-da there it is when 5:00 rolls around and everyone's starving and the kids are beginning to scour the cupboards (and/or floor) for junky foods because they are huuun-gry. Also, I think that crock pot and old school methods would yield a roast comparable (with this particular roast anyway) in taste and awesome-ly moist-ness.

And this was awesome-ly moist. Kip said so a couple of times and he is a not a super huge fan of pork roasts (though he won't turn one down). He also asked a couple of times what those weird seed things were on the outside. Fennel. They are fennel seeds. And while I like fennel and I really like the way fennel smells while things are cooking, I think you could skip the fennel seeds if you don't have them or don't like them.

You can serve this with gravy or with this really tasty mustard sauce.

Fennel and Garlic Pork Roast
adapted from Everyday Food
Serves 6-8
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 3 hours
Rest time: 15 minutes
For crock pot, cook time: 6-8 hours
Cost: $9-10
Roast: 9.00, seasonings: .10

1 boneless pork shoulder, 3-4 lb (ours had the bone, which did make cutting it tricky, but also left me with a bone for soup later)
2 Tbsp olive oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled
3 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves (or half that dry)
2 Tbsp fennel seed (you can skip if you'd like)
salt and pepper

For gravy:
1 Tbsp flour
1-2 C chicken stock

Preheat oven to 450. Lightly oil a heavy-bottomed roasting pan (I used a Dutch oven).

Combine olive oil fennel, rosemary, garlic, salt, and pepper. The original recipe said to put it in a food processor, but it's so very little that I couldn't get this to work.

I had mine in a small blender and the blades would just pass right over everything. So, instead I took out my most fearsome chopping knife (and I do have some fearsome knives), and chopped it into a fairly pulpy little pile of seasonings.

Score the pork with 1/2 inch cuts and then rub your pulpy seasonings all over that baby.

Put it in the pan and put the pan in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes at 450.

Then, without opening the oven, reduce heat to 300 and roast until it reaches about 170 degrees in the deepest point. (We got ours near 180 and it was still super moist.) This will take 2-2 1/2 hours.

Transfer to a plate, cover it with foil, and let it rest for 15 minutes.

To make gravy, drain off some of the fat (usually I don't insist on this, but our roast left a LOT of fat). Add the flour to your drippings and mix until pasty-ish. Then add 1 C of the chicken stock and whisk. Allow to thicken. Use more chicken stock to thin the gravy if it's not thin enough for your tastes.

Or make this mustard sauce. Yum. We did both (gravy the first night and mustard sauce for leftovers). Both were very very good.

Crock Pot Instructions: Follow seasoning directions above. Instead of the oven, put roast in crock pot on high. Cook for 6-8 hours or until internal temp is 170 degrees.


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Leftover Tuesday: Taco Pie

This one wasn't quite a beauty queen. Kip confessed while dishing up his second large helping that he had not been, shall we say, very excited about eating it. But eat it he did. And eat more he did. And Kip is not one to eat 2 large helpings unless he darn well wants to eat 2 large helpings. 

I confess that even I had my doubts about it. But first let's meet the players. 

We had 1 1/2 normal tortilla shells, 1 spinach tortilla shell, 1/4 avocado that was looking a little sketchy, some homemade refried beans, about 4 small sweet peppers, and 8 oz or so of sour cream that I'd frozen. When I took the sour cream out of the freezer and dethawed it, it separated (thin skim-milk looking stuff vs chunky ricotta looking stuff) and was just a little, um, odd. These were our leftovers.

We also had some taco seasoning and cheese on hand. I could have stopped there and made a perfectly decent taco pie. But I knew I was up against a tough crowd and we also had a roll of refrigerated crescent roll dough (yeah, not a whole food, but a little weakness I sometimes indulge in), some canned olives and some canned chicken. 

This is what I did:

1. Spread the crescent rolls out on the bottom of a pie pan. Just squeeze and press till they stick together and look crust-ish. I could have used the burrito shells as the crust of my pie and I almost did, but I knew Kip would like the crescent rolls better and I had an experiment in mind for the shells that I wanted to try out. 

2. Combine 2-3 Tbsp taco seasoning with enough beans to spread generously on the crust (I'm guessing 1-1/2 C, but I forgot to measure). Spread this generously on the crust. 

3. Top with meat if you've got any. Again with Kip in mind, I used some canned chicken--only about 1/2 can of it, so it was just a little something there for texture and a bit more flavor. 

4. Put sour cream on top of this. As I said above, my sour cream was wonky from being frozen, but it tasted normal and I figured cooking would help it be normal. It did, though it was still runnier than usual. And I learned that you can freeze sour cream if you plan to cook with it or something like that, but not if you wish to use it to spread or dip things in. 

5. Top with olives or vegetables if you've got them. If they're a firm vegetable like peppers, you may want to saute them in a bit of butter or oil first to soften them.

6. Top with a generous layer of cheese. I used cheddar. 

7. At this point, I could have put my pie in the oven and all would have been well, but I wanted to fry up those tortilla shells in order to make a sort of "homemade" nacho. I'd never actually done this before, though I'd seen it done. Oh my. I'm so glad I tried because those little boogers were super tasty. It took a little willpower to preserve a few for the top of my taco pie. To do it, add a thin layer of oil (like canola) to a pan (like cast iron), but up the tortillas into the size you want and let them cook in the oil until golden on each side. Then let them sit on a paper-towel lined plate. 

8. Throw this in the oven and bake at 350 or 375 for 20-30 minutes or until the cheese is starting to brown and things are starting to bubble.

9. Ideally after you take it out of the oven, you should let it sit for 15 minutes or so to set. But we were starving. We cut right into it and it came out of the pan not like pie, but rather like glop. Big brown spoonfulls of it. I can assure that my kids were absolutely cheering with joy at the prospect of eating such a culinary delight. And at this point, I confess that even I was having some doubts. But then I diced some avocado on top of it and I ate it. And my doubts fled. It was really good. Kip and I ate a bunch and then we ate leftovers the next day. They were really good too. If there's one thing I love, it's getting leftovers from my leftovers. Oh yeah. 


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