Friday, November 30, 2012

Sweet Potato Corn Chowder

Last year I went a little overboard during the holiday season. And not just with food. There were too many activities; there were too many presents; and, yes, there was too much food. It got to the point by the end of December where I'd see a dessert tray and think "Ug." But then I'd eat the desserts off the dessert tray, or at least sample them. Sampling usually works for me, but not when there are 10,000 things to sample, not when you're making cookies at home every other night, not when your kids are bringing candy home by the pocketful.

I gained 10 pounds from October to December. I rarely weigh myself and when I got on that scale after a couple months, I swear I thought it was broken. Nope; the one at the YMCA told me the same thing. I had never gained holiday weight before in my life and I wasn't so happy to be on the bandwagon. I believe there were many factors to that weight gain. I was blessed last year not to get sick, so there was never any kind of forced pause in my sugar plum eating. Foods that weren't normally around and don't normally tempt me were all over the place. I'm not a big candy eater, but if there's a bunch of candy around (think Halloween), I'll eat a piece or two each night--a piece or two I wouldn't have even thought about if it hadn't been there. I was attending too many food-laden activities. And I was making a bunch of sweet, wonderful food for this blog. I didn't think it would matter that much, yet it seemed to. Several months later, after I'd cut my sweets way back and lost my 10 pounds (or at least 9-ish of it), I made a treat. I noticed that before the treat was even in the oven, I'd already probably eaten a couple of servings in licking. That's not a big deal when treats are, well, a treat. But when you're making them constantly, it can kind of add up.

So--forgive me; I didn't mean for this to end up as a Holiday eating confessional--this year I wanted things to be different. I didn't want to look at my calendar or the presents under my tree or desserts on a tray and think "Ug" and then attend/unwrap/scarf them down anyway. I wanted to enjoy the season. I wanted to indulge infrequently enough that it actually felt like indulging.

So far this year, we've gotten sick 4 days after Halloween and I didn't host Thanksgiving, so we're on the right foot:). Tomorrow begins December and I hope to keep things on that right foot (minus the sickness if that's okay with you, universe).

To celebrate that, I give to you this super duper delicious and wonderfully healthy chowder. It's got a lot of good stuff going on. It's homey and warm and comfort-food-like. But without the two cups of cream (not that there's anything wrong with a little cream). It's veggie filled, yet inexpensive. It can be made with roasted summer vegetables in late summer, but here in the fall, it can be made well with canned foods. I got the recipe in the summer and was worried it wouldn't translate well to using canned foods, but it was delicious. In fact, it can be made almost entirely with canned foods if that's what you've got. Which means that it can also be a great pantry meal or the perfect thing to come home and whip up after a long day of shopping/sledding/serving/working.

Merry December.

Sweet Potato Corn Chowder
adapted from Gluten-free Goddess
Serves 10-12
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 25-30 minutes
Cost: $6.90 or about .70/serving
garlic: .05, onion: .10, corn: 1.00, sweet potato: .25, tomatoes: 2.00, coconut milk: 1.50, broth: 1.00, chicken breast: 1.00,

Note: I didn't have a sweet potato. I swear my kids must have thrown my bag of them out of the cart because I distinctly remember standing in front of them at the store and planning to put them in my cart. Consequently, I used an acorn squash. (I bet a butternut squash would work too.) It was good, but sweet potato would be better. However, my point is that any chunks of winter squash will do.

Another note: I used home-canned tomatoes. They are ridiculously good and their juices did a lot for the flavor of this soup. If using store bought, I recommend an extra big squirt of lemon juice and possibly a few extra shakes of salt (but taste it first) to bring out the best in your tomatoes.

1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp curry
1/4-1/2 tsp chili powder
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped (or if you're onion-texture averse like my husband, grated in the small holes of your grater, so it's a pulp)
2 cans corn, drained
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
2 15-oz cans diced tomatoes with juices (plain or Italian. I used home canned tomatoes and I have to say they were completely more awesome than store bought, but store bought will do)
1 quart vegetable broth
1 14-oz can coconut milk
1 breast of chicken (optional; you can make this vegetarian if you wish)
salt and pepper to taste
a squeeze of lemon or lime if you wish

Chop your onion and garlic. Cube your sweet potato and chicken (you can used leftover cooked chicken to good effect, or you can cook your chicken here. It's up to you).

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add cumin, curry, and chili powder. Stir until fragrant (30-60 seconds. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes or so. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add chicken if it's raw and cook until it's browned on the sides.

Add corn (without juices), sweet potato, tomatoes (with juices). Stir it up. Add broth.

Cover and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat and simmer gently until the sweet potatoes are tender and chicken is cooked through (about 20 minutes).

Add coconut milk and heat through. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add a squirt of lemon or lime if you wish.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Week on Foodstamps

It's happened again. There's a mayor in the news doing a food stamp challenge. At this link, you'll find the "rules" he'll be using for said challenge (it's $35/person of food and beverage for the challenge week, or about $140 for a family of 4).

Let me start by saying this: I am not opposed to food stamps. I think the program could be improved (oh, yes, I do), but the concept of feeding our hungry and needy is one I am completely 100% comfortable with.

However. (There's always a however isn't there.) However, these food stamp challenges always (always) irritate me. They irritate me on both sides of the coin. They irritate me because on the one end people are doing this little challenge for one week and considering themselves in tune with what The Poor have to go through. This can make us either over pity them (you've heard it a billion times: "no one can eat healthfully on food stamps") or disdain them (you've heard this too: "my family and I spend less than a food stamp budget every month"). I'm not sure either of those attitudes is very helpful to anyone.

And then these challenges irritate me on the other end because, well, of course it can be done. Yes, it takes a little effort, cooking, planning, and time, but of course if people are careful they can eat well on a food stamp budget. I think that generally speaking those who flat out say it can't be done are those who have generally lived most of all of their lives with plenty of money in their pockets. The rest of us are used to a bit of budgeting, planning, and sometimes doing without. The idea that this shouldn't be part of life (for The Poor or otherwise) is a little ridiculous to me. Come on, budgeting, planning, and doing without are often part of our lives in general--not just the food part of it. There are--and will always be--things that we want that we can't have, things that we wish were easier that aren't, and things that must be cut out because they will not--in the long run--contribute to that which will make us the most happy or benefit us the most. You don't have to be on food stamps to know what I'm talking about. It has just as much to do with marital fidelity as it does to screen time as it does to going to the grocery store. We give up some things so we can make other things work. It's called life. Welcome to it.  

With that attitude which will surely irritate everyone on the political spectrum, let me offer my best advice and a little menu for how to eat on $5/person/day.


1. Cut out soda, bottled water, crackers, chips, processed snacks/cookies/candy.

2. Plan a menu that uses things from meals prior to build the coming meals.

3. Get to know your Quaker Oats man.

4. Take your lunch.

5. Eat soup, homemade or otherwise.

6. Try having breakfast for dinner at least once a week.

7. Eat your leftovers (even if they're too small for a full meal--you can always add a piece of bread, fruit, or something else to even it out)

8. You're probably not going to buy all organic (though if you're a savvy shopper or have even a mildly green thumb, you might be able to get a fair amount of your food organic anyway). This "how can they buy organic" is one of the arguments against the current food stamp budget. It's a silly one to me because I don't think that the majority of non food stamp consumers eat organic either. You may send me hate mail if you like, but I don't consider eating organic food an inalienable right. If it is, perhaps the government should regulate our food industry differently. Ahem.

A Few Thoughts on a Basic Menu for a Family of 4:

3 days a week: Oatmeal with brown sugar, a piece fruit, plus a cup of milk to drink.
2 days a week: Eggs and toast with an orange (or other seasonal fruit).
2 days a week: Generic cereal

2 days a week: PBJ's baby. With an apple or small Caesar salad.
2 days a week: Quesidillas or bean burritoes.
2 days a week: Large Ceasar salad with a bit of leftover chicken (from that roast down below).
1 day a week: Tomato soup

Dinner (most can be prepared in less than 30 minutes):
1. Roast chicken with potatoes and carrots. 90 minute cook time, unless you stick it in the crock pot before work. Then it's 10 minutes of prep and it's ready when you get home.
2. Spaghetti maybe with meatballs and a salad or broccoli on the side. 30 minutes or less
3. Fried rice (with some leftover bits from that chicken). 30 minutes or less
4. Soup soup soup with bread bread bread. You can make it with the stock from the roast chicken, but you don't even have to and soup is still kind to the budget. Butternut squash, tomato, potato, lentil, and noodle soups are all extremely cheap and easy to prepare. 30-45 minutes
5. Breakfast for dinner with applesauce or fruit. (We're talking eggs and fried potatoes or pancakes--that sort of thing.) 20 minutes
6. Fish with rice and broccoli. 20 minutes (40 if you're doing brown rice)
7. Leftover night if you've got leftovers. Otherwise, try a dal or bean soup with bread or tortillas. 30-60 minutes

Snacks (I am not an enormous snack advocate so you're not going to get a lot of boohoo from me here if this is skimpy):
Bread and PB
A few nuts
maybe even bean dip or salsa with toasted tortillas

Homemade chocolate chip cookies


Shopping List (Walmart-ish prices in the midwest):

Oatmeal: 2.00
2 dozen eggs: .58 (they're wicked cheap here right now; I realize this is not realistic, so we'll say 3.00 to be fair).
2 boxes generic cereal: 4.00
4 loaves whole wheat bread 4.00-8.00 (depending on whether you've got a bread outlet nearby)
jar PB: 5.00
jar jam: 2.00
tortilla shells: 1.00
8 oz cheese: 2.00
romaine lettuce: 2.00
caesar dressing: 3.00
4 cans tomato soup: 2.00
whole 4-lb chicken: 7.00
5 lb potatoes: 3.50 (right now, they're cheaper; we can get a 10# bag of russets for $1.00)
2 lb bag carrots: 2.00
1 lb spaghetti: 1.00
1 lb hamburger: 3.00
1 can generic spaghetti sauce: 1.50
2 lb bag rice (go brown if you want it healthier): 1.00-2.00 dollars
2 lb broccoli: 4.00
can corn: .50
3 gallon milk: 6.00-9.00 (cheaper here right now)
chicken stock: 1.00
bag of whole wheat flour or small bag pancake mix: 2.50
butternut squash (for soup or side veggie): 2.00
syrup or brown sugar: 2.00
1 lb fish such as tilapia or salmon: 6.00
bag lentils: 1.00
can tomatoes: 1.00
butter: 2.00
bag apples: 3.00
bag oranges: 3.00
bunch bananas: 2.00
seasonal fruit: 2.00
small jar peanuts: 2.00
bag chocolate chips: 2.00
pudding mix: 1.00
can refried beans: 1.00
salt and/or season all: 1.00

Total: 100.00. Divide this by 4 and you've got 25.00/person/week

No, you're not eating like a king (and I don't even know what damage teenagers can do, so this doesn't take them into account), but you're eating whole grains and fruits and vegetables and you've still got another 40 dollars to wiggle with. No, that's not a lot. I don't mean to say it's easy or you can eat whatever you want or anything like that. It would be a big adjustment if you were used to buying whatever, eating whatever, and doing it whenever. But it can be done. Most nights it can be done in 30 minutes or less.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Christmas Pizza Ideas

Okay, guys, so you know all those glam shots you're always seeing on Pinterest that make you feel like you're failing as a mother, cook, and overall human being. Well, these aren't quite those. Aren't you happy? But hopefully they'll give you some fun ideas for December pizza nights. A pre-made crust and this is a 30 minute meal. A bread-maker crust and it's just as easy, though you have to think ahead. A quick pizza crust and it's still done in an hour.

I don't know what my obsession is with themed pizzas lately, but I'm just going to go with it.

This one is a Christmas tree.

I shaped it into a basic triangle, then cut the branches, so they were branchier, although once decorated, they were harder to see anyway, so you could probably go with just a triangle if you wanted to. This one was a ranch pizza, and the broccoli in the sauce gave it a bit of a green undertone (which was nice, but could have been done with a regular tomato sauce). Then it was decorated with pepperoni and olive "ornaments" and given a spinach garland. I cut the spinach into strips. A similar thing could have been done with basil leaves for a more grown-up taste.

And this here is a Christmas ornament.

Basic round pizza with an, um, hook at the top. Basic tomato sauce topped with cheese, then decorated with olives, pepperoni, and spinach.

The kids were in love.

They actually looked really great. And tasted great. Very crowd pleasing. And even though each of my kids picked his or her spinach off, they did not fuss about it being there as they normally would have.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

A Few Thanksgiving Reminders

Before I sign off for the week, here are a few links to recipes and tips you might find useful. And a little reminder to enjoy the day. And a big reminder to write down how you do certain things so that next year, you won't be like, "I know I did this one amazing/disastrous thing. Now what was it..."

Tips and Links

Monday, November 19, 2012

Fast and Perfect Pie Crust

Pies have a bad reputation for being hard. It kind of makes sense. There's a long baking time and a longer cooling time. There's a filling that can puddle and a crust that--to talk to any foodie--seems as ripe for disaster as global warming itself. We are told that crust must be flavorful and flaky, but it can't fall apart upon eating. It should be golden. It should be tasty. It shouldn't shrink. It shouldn't shatter.  Blah blah blah. And because of all this fuss, there's a whole slew of internet suggestions for making your pie crust just so. Your hands can't touch it. You've got to chill it. You need shortening. You need ice. You need cold butter. You need alcohol (because it supposedly evaporates and leaves spaces for flakiness in case you were wondering). You need to take frozen butter and grate it in a cheese grater. You need a marble slab for kneading. You need to not add too much flour when rolling or it will be tough. You need to not roll it too long or it will be tough. You need pie weights. You need milk and sugar to be brushed on to it. You need a bloomin' anti-depressent, that's what you need.

But you see, the thing about making a pie--at least for me--is that it can be kind of therapeutic. The counter dusted with flour, the rolling of the dough, the peeling and slicing of the fruit, the methodology, the seasonality, the ritual as old as your great-grandmother herself. It's like yoga to me, um, minus the calorie burn. But it's not like yoga if you make it miserable. So in keeping with my lazy-but-good cook desires, here are some guidelines for making it as painless as possible.

You will need:
A food processor (although you might be able to get away with a blender)
Frozen butter
Cold water
salt or sugar (depending on whether you're making a savory or sweet pie)

It doesn't hurt to have:
a pie crust shield (one of those thingies you put on the pie crust to keep it from burning while the rest of the pie finishes baking--like this:

Here's how you do it.

1. Add 2 1/2 C flour to your food processor. Add 1 Tbsp sugar for a sweet pie (or 1 tsp salt for a savory one).
2. Pulse.
3. Cut your frozen butter(1 C) into squares with a nice sharp knife. (I find that cutting it leaves bigger chunks that are more likely to withstand imperfect crust-making skills.)
Toss those squares into the food processor and pulse several times. You want to get your butter into pea-sized bits (or so they say). If they get smaller than this, don't stress; you're fine. the fact that it's frozen will keep it from melting and completely incorporating into your dough. Ideally, you want little butter chunks, so that as the pie cooks you'll have a nice flaky crust with all the buttery flavor. Frozen butter chunks are the easiest and best way I know to accomplish this.
4. Add 1/4-1/2 C cold water in a stream as the processor runs until the dough starts to come together (not until it's a mushy mess). I usually use about 1/3 C water, sometimes with a couple extra tablespoons thrown in. It doesn't have to come together completely; it can look a little crumbly, but it shouldn't look like just a flour mixture anymore. It should look kind of like this:

5. Dump it out and form it into two balls.
6. Generously (as in GENEROUSLY) flour your surface. Ignore your too-much-flour fears because if you don't use enough here, your dough will stick and you'll have to re-roll and that means more flour and can't you just feel your blood pressure rising from the stress. It's still okay (see #8), but it'll stress you out and you don't need that.
(If you look closely, you can see the bits of butter still in this.)
7. Roll out one of your balls. It won't be perfectly round. That's okay. Patch as you need to. Reflour your rolling pin as necessary.

8. Fold it up and put it in your pan. Do some more patching if you have to. No biggie. If it happens to stick to your counter, don't cry. That butter's still cold and all is not lost. Just re-flour everything (GENEROUSLY) and roll it out again.
9. Fill your pan with fillings. P.S. While you do all this, you probably want to put your other ball in the fridge.
10. Then when your pie is filled, take out your ball of dough. Roll it out and flop it on top.
11. Cut off the overhanging pieces of pie crust and crimp the dough together somehow. It doesn't have to be perfect. If you like perfection, go online and find a few tutorials, but don't blame me if you get a headache. I just sort of pinch it together. When I was a kid, I used the tines of a fork to smash it and make a lined pattern for the crust.
12. Cut vents into your pie.
13. Line the bottom of your oven with aluminum foil. Your pie is going to bubble sugary stuff up and there is a decent chance some of this will bubble onto your oven. So give yourself a break and line it with foil first. [Note: This step should be somewhere above--it should be done BEFORE your oven is hot, okay.]
14. Cook your pie. Cover the edges with one of those pie shield things if you have one. If not, you can use aluminum foil. Or you don't have to do anything; life won't end; your edge crust will just get a little dark.

Now let's say you're doing an open-faced pie, such as a pumpkin pie. You can still make the full recipe of dough and save half. You can just freeze the ball (this is what I usually do), but if you've got a little extra energy you can roll it out and freeze it and have a ready-to-go pie crust for yourself. Here's how:
1. Roll it out.
2. Put wax paper on half of it and fold it in half over the wax paper.
(Here, there's wax paper on all because I wasn't quite thinking; it works too)
3. Put wax paper on half again and fold again. 

4. Wrap it in plastic wrap.

5. Put it in a Ziploc bag and put it in the freezer.

6. Before using, you'll need to de-thaw it a bit so you can unfold it easily. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Cranberry Orange Relish

So simple. So good. So punchy.

I keep eating it and pretending it's health food. Which it kinnnnda is. I mean it's got a ton of cranberries and an orange. And maybe, well, a little bit of sugar too. But I bet it's better for you than cranberry juice, and I'm sticking to that assertion.

Even Kip, who hates cranberries, liked the flavor. Although he wasn't too into the texture which has--gasp--chunkies. Chunkies, the bane of my married life, they are.

I read an idea about how you could even hollow out oranges and serve it in them. It seemed pretty cute and it was, but honestly, I liked the look better in a simple white dish.

Cranberry Orange Relish
adapted from Epicurious
Serves 6
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cost: $1.40
cranberries: 1.00 (if you're lucky), orange: .30, sugar: .10

1 12-oz bag of cranberries
1 orange, with zest
1/2-1 C sugar
1/8-1/4 tsp almond extract (optional, but awesome)

Zest the orange. Now cut it in half and cut out the flesh. You can cut it like a grapefruit and avoid all the pithy stuff, or you can just cut it out in a lump like lazy people (me) do.

Toss cranberries, orange, zest (start with just 1 Tbsp zest if you're a little zest shy, but I just zested the whole orange and added it), and sugar (start with 1/2 C and add more if you need it) into a food processor.


Taste. Add almond extract if using (I also tried vanilla extract, but didn't notice a big difference in flavor; the almond was like vavoom). Add more sugar if you need it. I like it tart, but added more sugar when I gave it to my kids to try. Because apparently I'm that Mom.

Eat it out of a bowl or add it to sandwiches or--I'm thinking this would be incredible--add it to a plain muffin mix for an awesome and beautiful cranberry orange muffin. (Hello Thanksgiving breakfast) (You know I just might try this this weekend).


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Self Frosting Nutella and Pumpkin Muffins

Guess what? I'm not hosting Thanksgiving this year. And while I always enjoy hosting it, I'm kind of enjoying the break too. But it's made me a little lazy. I've barely been shopping at all the last couple of weeks, I haven't been obsessively perusing the blogosphere looking for fun new recipes or tips for perfect turkeys, I haven't even reviewed my notes from last year's big day, and I haven't sent my sister's their annual packet of fresh herbs because we'll all be together (come to think of it, I ought to get a packet of herbs to my sister-in-law). One thing I have been doing here in lazy mode is thinking of easy dessert recipes--things that can be made well in advance, please a crowd, and contain pumpkin.

I should tell you that in addition to pumpkin, these contain Nutella. I love Nutella, but I've been slow to hop on the Nutella bandwagon--you know, the one where you make everything with Nutella and everyone goes blissfully insane. 

Why so slow to join that party? you're probably asking. Well, logical or not, I do have my reasons. One is that at about $3.50 for a small jar, Nutella isn't exactly a cheap condiment. Two is that I was kind of afraid that if I ate it on everything, I wouldn't really appreciate it as much as I do when it comes once a year to us in Kip's stocking. Three is that I sometimes feel like people take a mediocre recipe, add Nutella to it, and badaboom, everyone loves them. Maybe I'm just jealous, but that kind of bothers me.

In a way, I guess it almost seems like the Nutella takes all the glory from the recipe. Like you could combine Nutella with dirt or you could combine Nutella with the best chocolate cake ever and you'd still get the same gaga response from the masses. Does that make sense? No. Okay, well we'll chalk it up to my own personal insanity.

 But when I saw this recipe, I just couldn't hold out any longer, especially when knock-off Nutella went on sale at Aldi for $1.19 (yes, especially then).

I love chocolate and pumpkin together. And I just had to see if these really did "self frost." (THEY DO.)

Although I actually found that I prefer the Nutella stuck into the middle of the muffin providing a sort of Nutella-filled doughnut effect (sorry, forgot the pictures for those)--also having it in the middle means my kids can't quite as easily just eat the Nutella part off the muffin, not that they would ever do such a thing. At any rate, I'll give instructions for both the self-frosting and the cream-filled varieties of muffin. 

Make them for Thanksgiving. Even if you don't want to depart from the pumpkin pie these can feed all those voracious nieces and nephews for breakfast when you all get together crazy style in the same house.

Self Frosting Nutella and Pumpkin Muffins
idea adapted from A Feast for the Eyes, muffin recipe adapted from Food
makes 24 muffins
Prep time: 10-15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cost: $2.40 without the Nutella; it will cost you another .50-1.00, depending on whether you can find a good knock off brand or not.
flour: .30, eggs: .40, sugar: .35, pumpkin: 1.00, oil: .20, spices. 15

Note: You can use all white flour if you want; it's delish, but the white whole wheat doesn't hurt either.

2 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C white whole wheat flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves
4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 pinch cardamom (you can skip if you don't have)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
4 eggs
2 C sugar
2 C pumpkin (about a 15 oz can--it's not quite exact, but if you don't have 2 C, the can works fine)
1 1/4 C vegetable oil (I use canola)

To frost or fill:
1--1 1/2 C Nutella

Preheat oven to 350.

Mix all ingredients (except Nutella) together. Don't you just love instructions like that? I mentioned my lazy style Thanksgiving attitude, right?

To do self-frosting muffins:

Put batter in muffin tins--you're going to fill them nearly to the top. Then plop on 1 (generous if you will) Tbsp Nutella onto each muffin. Use your finger (or a spoon if you were not raised in a barn) to sort of swirl it so that it's just combining on the edges with the pumpkin batter. You just kind of want to connect the pumpkin to the Nutella--you don't want to swirl batter into the Nutella in a way that would mix them.

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into muffin part comes out clean.

Allow to cool before eating (I really prefer these cool to warm). You'll bite on and voila, you'll have a Nutella frosting on top. Yeah, it's pretty awesome. (See, there goes the Nutella stealing all the glory; these muffins rock on their own just for the record).

To do Nutella-filled muffins:

Put batter halfway up the muffin cup. Add 1 (generous if you will) Tbsp Nutella. Cover with batter so that muffin cup is filled. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. It's a little trickier to test these for doneness--just do your best to make sure the batter isn't gooey. For me, this is almost always at 20 minutes.

Allow to cool and eat. (Again I must reiterate that I really prefer these cool to warm. Both are good, but I love love love them once cooled.)


Monday, November 12, 2012

Basil Balsamic Vinaigrette

This month for Secret Recipe Club, I was given Join Us, Pull Up a Chair. Heather began her blog as a way to keep track of her recipes, and then it grew. She's got some great food up. In fact, when I went there just now to link up, I wanted to make all three of the first recipes that came up (Spinach artichoke chicken casserole--yum).

The one I did make was a simple, yet slightly unusual salad dressing. My basil and tomatoes are at their scrawny end and it seemed a nice way to bid the season adieu. In this dressing, Heather uses fresh basil and white balsamic vinegar. I'd never heard of white balsamic vinegar and didn't have it (and I'm guessing it'd be tough to find in my town). A quick internet search said that regular balsamic or white wine vinegar could be substituted. I used regular balsamic and was pleased. The flavor of the vinegar was stronger than usual in a salad dressing; and the sweet, warm-toned balsamic seemed the perfect flavor for a fall salad. If you used the white wine vinegar, I'm guessing you'd have a milder dressing, but the basil would shine through more. Both are win win. And if you can find the white balsamic, then it's probably a triple win for you.

Basil Balsamic Vinaigrette
adapted from Join Us, Pull Up a Chair
Prep time: 3 minutes
Cost: $2.00
basil (free for me, but probably .50-1.00), oil: 1.00, vinegar: .05

1/3 C balsamic vinegar (or white balsamic or white wine)
1 C olive oil
1 C basil leaves, packed
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp sugar

Note: I made a very small amount of this--I quartered the recipe (did I mention my basil was on its way out). Consequently, I skipped the food processor and just chopped my basil very small and then shook my dressing most vigorously. Worked great if you just want to make a bit.

Combine all ingredients in food processor and give it a whirl.

Serve over salad (do I even need to tell you how great this is with tomatoes?). I bet it'd kick butt on chicken or fish too.


Friday, November 9, 2012

My Favorite Thanksgiving Desserts

These are my two Thanksgiving favorites:

1. Chocolate Latticed Pie

2. Creamy Pumpkin Pie

But these are terribly tempting. They also take a whopping 15 minutes (if that) to pull together and require no baking time. 

3. No Cook Chocolate Mousse Pie

4. Chocolate Mascarpone Pie (with orange should you wish it)

And just a few other Thanksgiving options if none of those is singing your song (also, these will serve a crowd):

5. Pumpkin Cake with Caramel Frosting

6. Pumpkin Chocolate Cake

And one more simple lovely because I just couldn't resist:

7. Creme Chocolate

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Green Tomato Cake

I promised you a green tomato cake.

And then our family got sick. Sick. Sick. Sick. Sick is ick. It wasn't very fun. We haven't all gotten sick like that at the same time before (admittedly, I prefer all at the same time to one person dropping every 4 days so that the sickness extends the whole month--that is THE WORST). The only one not sick was the 2-year-old (who started it all several days ago), and she was bored. Bored bored bored. Bored is underscored (and abhorred). 5 sick people and 1 bored 2-year old equals 1 bad time (don't you love how I mix poetry and math like this--it's what they pay me the big bucks for). Then throw in a minor surgery for the husband. That was us at the beginning of this week. We're better now, although--I think--a little tired. At least I am.

Nevertheless I come here today to deliver green tomato cake. Because green tomatoes do not last forever. They freeze. Or turn orange-ish red. Or rot. And you can not make green tomato cake with any of the above.

As I said in my green tomato muffin post, I kind of liked the muffins better--they were more complex and interesting to me and I didn't miss the extra sugar/frosting. That said, this cake was still awesome and would make the perfect baby shower, tea party, or whatever sort of dessert (whereas a greenish sort of muffin might not get quite the same applause), especially served warm with the topping (oddly, it's a lot like apple cake in that way). Also, my kids preferred the green tomato cake and I felt better giving that to them for a treat than 12 pounds of Halloween candy. So there you go.

Green Tomato Cake
adapted from Cooks (speaking of: I have gotten a couple of awesome recipes from this site with the absolute worst instructions ever. What gives?)
Makes a 9x13 cake
Prep time: 15-20 minutes
Cook time: 35-45 minutes
Cost: $1.30
butter: .50, sugar: .35, eggs: .20, tomatoes: free, flour: .20, other stuff: .05

1/2 C butter, softened significantly
2 C sugar
2 eggs
2 C green tomatoes, pureed
2 C flour (go on, make 1/2 C white whole wheat if you want; know one will ever know)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1 C brown sugar
1 C water
1/2 stick butter
2 Tbsp flour
1/2 tsp vanilla (don't forget like I did; it adds a nice something)
Note: I bet you could add some chopped pecans to this and add some more amazingness

Puree your tomatoes in a food processor or blender.

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs. Add green tomato puree.

Add dry ingredients.

Mix it all up. Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes.When a knife comes out clean, it's done.

When it comes out, go ahead and make your topping:

Whisk together all ingredients except the vanilla. Heat them, stirring fairly constantly until they thicken (it'll boil for a minute or few and then start to thicken). Remove from heat and add the vanilla (and maybe a shake or two of salt if you're feeling feisty).

Prick the top of your cake with a fork and pour the hot topping onto the warm cake.

Serve warm or cool.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Green Tomato Muffins

We trust each other, right? We might need to a little here. Because I realize that when I say "Green Tomato Muffins" you're not like "Move over, chocolate chips; I need to get me some of that action." I mean, well, maybe you are, but if you are you're just a little, well, probably not average. Anyway, I'm not going to compare these to chocolate chip cookies because that's kind of like comparing my post-baby body to Beyonce's or something like that. And we all know who's going to win in that contest (duh, me of course; I mean, that is what you were thinking, right?). Okay, we're just not going to compare them because. But do trust me when I say that these are excellent. As in very very good. As in could be eaten for breakfast, but could also be eaten for dessert. Also, they use up a lot of those tomatoes you brought in on that night of the first frost. For us, this was Wednesday. So at 9:00PM on Halloween night, I could be seen in all my weird neighborly creepiness out among my garden plants with a light on picking away. I'm glad I did. Because did I mention that these were excellent.

I adapted them from a Green Tomato Cake, which I will post soon hereafter. It was also good, but I gotta tell you that, between you and me, these were kind of my favorite. They didn't have all that glamorous extra sugar and frosting and all-purpose flour like the cake did, but I thought that they were more complex and flavorful and interesting--kind of like eye wrinkles (told you I had the best post-baby body).

Green Tomato Muffins
adapted from Cooks
makes 11-12 muffins
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15-20 minutes
Cost: $.90
tomatoes: free, butter: .50, sugar: .10, egg: .10, flour: .05, whole wheat flour: .10, other stuff: .05

Note: My only complaint about these was that they were a little delicate and the bottoms stuck to my muffin pan. Use muffin papers (or whatever the heck they're called) and you won't have to worry about this.

1/2 C (1 stick) butter, softened
3/4 C sugar
1 egg
1 C pureed green tomatoes
1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp allspice
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350. Line your muffin pan with muffins liners (or whatever the heck they're called).

Puree tomatoes. I put mine in a food processor to do this, although a blender would work too. I confess that I have no idea how many pounds of tomatoes equals 1 C as it was late and I didn't keep track. I say just puree what you've got and if you don't use all your puree, you can freeze in Ziploc baggies for later muffin cravings.

Beat butter and sugar until well combined. Add eggs. Add green tomatoes. Add dry ingredients. If you want you could add raisins or nuts, but I didn't.

Pour into muffin tin paper liner things and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean.



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