Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hash: A Limerick

No, not that kind of hash, silly. The kind with potatoes and meat and cheese and friedness.

There once was a food so cheap
Your grandma could make it in her sleep
She lived through the Depression
Potatoes her obsession
A food healthy, filling, and not sweet.

Okay, so maybe Peter Sagal won't be hiring me any time soon for their limerick game.

My brother made these for us both times we went to Utah for Mom. Hash is great for serving a crowd. It's great for serving a crowd and not breaking the bank. It's great for serving a crowd, not breaking the bank, and only spending 30 minutes making food.

It's also great when I get home to find 10 pounds of Russet potatoes are on sale for $1 and 12 eggs are on sale for $.29. I mean, wow. And for all the haters and/or extremely food-conscious people in the world who think potatoes, cheese, and friedness make people fat and unhealthy, I say to you, "Leave the skins on and add kale." Okay, I really do say this, but I also feel compelled to say that most homemade from-scratch dinner foods prepared lovingly at someone's hand are not--in my very extremely excessively humble opinion--what is making Americans fat.

Here's what you do:

1. Fry up some bacon or sausage or even hamburger or ham, or what-the-heck-ever (yes, you can skip this step if you want a vegetarian or even cheaper version of this). Sausage is my favorite, but all are good.
2. While the meat is cooking, dice some potatoes. Dice them small (a centimeter or less). Any old kind will do, though reds are always my favorite.
3. Take the meat out when it's done. Leave its fat in the pan. If it hasn't left much fat, add some oil.
4. Throw your diced potatoes in and fry them until easily pierced with a fork.
5. Crack several eggs, beat them, and toss them into the mix. Stir them around till they're cooked.
6. Add your meat back in.
7. Add salt and pepper.
8. Sprinkle some cheese on top if you wish.
9. Note: You can use any other veggies you have. If they're hard (carrots, onions, etc) add them in with the potatoes. If they're soft (spinach, cooked leftover veggies, peas, etc.) add them near the end--probably when you throw the meat back in).
10. Another note: Feel free to go wild with herbs. What do I think would be awesome: parsley, sage, thyme, rosemary.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Halloween Pizza--a Spider and a Cat

Okay, so I tried a couple ideas out last night for dinner. This one was definitely the winner.

I got the idea of olive spiders from Apron Strings deviled eggs.

This one, well, it started out trying to be a jack-o-lantern, but then I thought it looked like a cat so I made it one, except that I kind of thought it looked like maybe a cat with a mustache or even a little owl-ish. So, um, yeah, it's a shapeshifting pizza of some sort, but just for the record, jack-o-lantern, cat, and owl would all be fun pizzas to have on the big day.

These are super simple to make and the great thing is you can go all out with your dough from scratch yada yada or just cheat and get a pre-made crust and still turn out a winner of a super quick Halloween night dinner.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Baked Eggs in a Basket

Growing up, Kip ate these all the time. (I, on the other hand, had never had or heard of them until we were married.) His mom would cut a circle into a slice of bread, put it on a skillet, crack an egg in, and voila. It's a great quick, cheap, fun meal. However, until this week, I felt somewhat limited by the skillet method. It was perfect for a lunch for one, but you could only do a couple at a time and by the time you had enough for a family the first ones were cold and kind of rubbery.

And then I saw a recipe in Everyday Food where a kid was making these on a cookie sheet in the oven. And my brain said, "Aha" or "Well duh" or "Why the heck did I not think of this sooner?" 

You'll be happy to know (you are happy, aren't you?), that I did have an original creative moment of my own. As I set out to make the circles, I thought, "But why circles? I bet I could use cookie cutters and make all kinds of fun shapes." And I did. And it was fun. 

Though I must warn you that the shapes look a little clearer when these are raw than when they come out of the oven with the whites set. 

If you wish to have the shapes extra clear, take care not to spill whites outside of the edges. Which could be a little tricky. I was sloppy, so when I served them to my kids, I flipped them over the the side without the white eggy part on it and that way they could appreciate the fact that their mother had cut stars and hearts into their dinners. 

Add this to your list of perfect post-shopping meals for November/December. It takes 15-20 minutes and you can use whatever fun or holiday festive cookie cutter shapes you've got around. You can also top it with whatever sounds good to you: cheese, chives, parsley, tomatoes, salsa, avocado, etc

Baked Eggs in a Basket
adapted from Everyday Food
makes 6
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 9 minutes
Cost: $.90
bread: .15, eggs: .60, butter: .15

2 Tbsp butter
6 slices bread
6 eggs
salt and pepper
any other toppings you like (we did some with cheese--yum)

Preheat oven to 375. While it's heating, cut out your bread. You can use circles made from a glass or biscuit cutter, or you can go nuts and use cookie cutters. After that the sky's the limit. 

Butter your pan (seriously, do this or your eggs will stick like crazy and you will be sad). Butter your bread on both sides. Arrange slices (and the cut outs--they'll make a crunchy, almost crouton-like toast that my kids LOVED) on your pan. 

Crack one egg into each hole. 

Bake for 8-9 minutes or until the yolks are just barely runny or just barely set (whichever you prefer). Beware that they still look raw-ish when they are cooked, so you might want to stick a fork in to check for doneness. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pumpkin Crepes (with Whole Wheat)

I've mentioned before that we usually eat breakfast for dinner at least once a week. It saves money, time, sanity--that sort of thing. And it can be perfectly nutritious and well-rounded if you make, say, a breakfast casserole or an omelette with veggies. Unfortunately for us, we usually end up making something that can have a syrup of some sort drizzled upon it. Sometimes I worry about this and thus worry about my qualifications as a nice healthy mom in general. But then I go to the gym and see that half the parents have left cheeseballs and crackers in their kids' cubbies for a snack and I get back on my high horse. (Don't you just love your high horse. I know I do. Until it bucks me off.)

Anyway, so Mark noticed a jar of (generic) Nutella in the cupboard this week and was bugging me to make crepes for dinner. Crepes. Which really shouldn't even count as a breakfast, only a dessert. At least the way we eat them, which is with jam or syrup or Nutella and then topped with whipped cream. Yup.

But I made them anyway. However. I put in a cup of whole wheat and added some pumpkin. I wasn't sure how they would turn out. I consider crepes a little persnickety in that you can't just go messing with the recipe willy nilly and expect them to have that crepe-y texture and taste. But I figured that since they were going to be slathered in Nutella, now was as good a time as any to do a little experimentation.

I was richly rewarded. They were delicious. No one--even super tasting Mark--could tell they had had anything done to them. And I felt a little better about myself as a person. I was so proud of myself that I even sauteed some mushrooms for myself so I could have a savory crepe before moving on to the dessert course. Mushrooms and pumpkin. High horse--I do love you.

Oh, and when I found Emma on the floor after dinner, licking out the Nutella jar, well, that sound you heard was me falling off the high horse.

Pumpkin Crepes (with Whole Wheat)
Makes: 20-ish large crepes (truthfully I always lose count--all that crepe flipping)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes flipping crepes
Cost: $1.35
eggs: .10, milk: .60, pumpkin: .15, flour: .20, whole wheat flour: .20

Whip together:

4 eggs
3 C milk
1/4 C pumpkin

Add (and whisk in): 

2 Tbsp sugar
2 C flour
1 C whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

Whisk in:

1 C milk
1 tsp vanilla (optional, but I love it)

Heat skillet on medium heat.

Spread a large (I think a 12-inch) skillet with a generous amount of butter. Pour about 1/2 C batter into pan and tilt the pan around so that your batter spreads out in a thin circle (or circle-like shape). It should be quite thin, but not paper thin or anything--a couple millimeters tops.

Allow it to cook so that there is just a touch of not-quite-cooked batter at the center. Then flip it and let it cook another 30-60 seconds more.

Put it on a plate. For some law of cosmic whateverlyness, the first crepe always comes out a little funny. Don't worry; you're second one will be better.

Add more butter, pour more batter and keep going.

When you're done, top it however you like, roll it up, and eat it.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Two Great Halloween Ideas That Aren't Mine

Although I sure wish these were  my ideas. Oh well, I guess that's what Pinterest is for, right? You know what I like best about both of these ideas--you can use your own recipe and simply copy how their thing looks.

1. A cheeseball shaped like a pumpkin. Why didn't I think of this? All you need are some crushed Doritos and a stem added to your favorite cheese ball recipe.

2. A pizza that looks like a jack-o-lantern. I just might do this one. Then again, I just might buy it. Halloween night is that way for me.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Best Tomato Soup

I love tomato soup. Love love love it. Truth be told, it might--in all its simplicity--be my very favorite of all soups. It's the soup I tend to order at restaurants if I'm ordering soup and sadly, it's the soup I'm always a little more pleased about at restaurants than I am at home. Oh, sure, I love all the tomato soups I've posted. They're certainly 70,000 times better than anything that can come out of a can. But I just didn't have that one--that one that made me say, "Eh, I'm not dropping $5 for a small bowl of tomato soup today; I can just make it better at home." (This is what I find myself constantly saying at restaurants--not that I dine 5-star or anything.)

And then a couple of weeks ago, all that changed. I went to a sort of soup potluck at my church at the end of September. In the line-up was a dynamite tomato soup. But how, oh how (imagine some hand-wringing here) would I ever find the one who had made it. And then at the end of the evening, fate took me by the hand and, without even trying, she and I happened to pick up our soups at the same time. Not only that, but when I met her and started unabashedly grilling her about the contents of her soup, she said, "If you'd like, I have it in my email. I could just forward it to you." Yes, I'd like. She pulled out her phone and just like that the recipe was mine. I wanted to kiss her. Fortunately for my new friend (Hi, Kate--no, don't go; I swear I'm not a weirdo) and for all others present, I refrained.

This week I made it. It's perfect. It's simple. It can be pulled together in 30-ish minutes with only 10 of those being active minutes. So, sorry Panera (not really), but I guess it's time to move on (at least from your tomato soup; those croutons you put on top; I'm still seeking to master).

Best Tomato Soup
from Kate the Great (hi Kate--no, really, I'm not that weird and thanks for the recipe)
Makes: 6-10 servings
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30-35 minutes
Cost: $2.15 (this is about $.21/serving)
butter: .25, bacon: .15, carrot: .10, onion: .10, garlic: .05, flour: .02, broth: free if its homemade; from granules, I'm guessing about .25, crushed tomatoes: 1.20, herbs: .03

And now, several notes:
1. If you don't have bacon, I bet lard instead of butter would still give that bacony undertone. That said, who has lard but not bacon.
2. I actually liked this even better before adding the cream and sour cream. If you don't add cream/sour cream, or reduce it substantially, you will need less salt, as the creaminess demands more salt. This is also a bonus to skipping the creams if you wish. Originally, I used 4 1/2 C water with 3 tsp Better than Bullion. After I added the creams, I needed another 1/2 tsp Better than Bullion. In short, if you skip the creams or reduce them a lot, you can probably use reduced sodium broth, or less chicken granules/bullion (or whatever it is you use) or you could use a homemade stock and not need to add as much salt to the mix. That said, some people might love the creamy additions--also they'll keep you full longer if this is a dinner (And don't get me wrong; I certainly liked them; I just liked the soup a wee bit better without them.)
3. If you don't have fresh herbs, just throw in 1/4-1/2 tsp of each as dried herbs.
4. I just used crushed tomatoes from a can, but I'm itching to try some of my home roasted pureed tomatoes. I think it'll be awesome.

4 Tbsp butter (unsalted)
1 slice bacon (just for flavor; you're going to remove this at the end)
1 spanish onion (this is a large, sweet, mild onion; I didn't have one so used 1/2 of a regular yellow onion)
1 carrot
4 cloves garlic
5 Tbsp flour
4 1/2 C chicken broth
1 28-ox can crushed tomatoes (unseasoned)
3 fresh parsley spring
3 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
1/2 C heavy cream
1/2 C sour cream
salt and pepper to taste

Heat butter and fry the slice of bacon. Lower heat to medium or low. Add onion, carrot, and garlic and cover, stirring occasionally until they're softish (about 8 minutes).

Whisk in flour and stir it for 1-2 minutes.

Pour in broth and crushed tomatoes.

Bring to a boil, whisking constantly

Throw herbs in soup.

Lower heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove the herb springs and leaf. Let cool slightly and then puree or use an immersion blender.

If desired whisk in cream and sour cream. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Crock Pot Apple Cider

Today is our Secret Recipe reveal day. I'm pretty excited about it because this month I got to make a recipe I've always wanted to learn to make and that has always seemed too esoteric for normal people. Apple cider. I mean, traditionally it's made from a press. And then spiced. In fact, I have heard (possibly from a children's picture book, though I can't remember my source) that cider was spiced differently by different apple farmers, so each orchard had its own variety of apple cider. Some of the recipes were kept secret and carefully guarded so others couldn't replicate them and therefore there'd be a monopoly on the tastiest ciders. Come on, it's kind of interesting.

Lucky for you, this month--thanks to Jennifer at Peanut Butter and Peppers--I now have a cheater way to make a cider that is really delicious. No press required, thank you very much. I thought it tasted so much better than cider from a store. And just like cider makers of bygone eras, you can try different spices until you get it just how you like it.

You know what else I love about apple cider? It's a cheapskate thing at heart. Originally, it was a way to use the fallen, bruised apples--the ones the couldn't be sold for their beauty and grace. Those ones got made into sauces and ciders. That's right up my ally. Even for those of us without apple orchards, this is pretty cheap if you make it in season. My generous gallon ran me under $4.00. At the store, it's usually at least that much.

You know what else is right up my ally? Laziness. Is there any peeling or deseeding in this recipes? Nope nope and nope. You cut things into a couple big chunks and throw them into the pot. Love it. Then at the end you strain/press them out and you've got your cider.

You know what else is right up my ally. Drinking hot cider on cold, cozy nights. Even though it has some added sugar, I still feel better about it than a cup of hot chocolate or eggnog. I mean, it's not gazpacho or anything, but as far as hot festive drinks go, it's pretty virtuous.

Jennifer made this on the stove top. It takes about 3 hours (mostly in simmering time, not in active cooking time). I thought it'd be interesting to give it a try in the crock. It was delicious and super easy. I loved that I could put it in at night and have hot cider in the morning (who needs coffee--blech). And it sure smelled good.

Crock Pot Apple Cider
adapted from Peanut Butter and Peppers
makes approximately 1 gallon
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 8-12 hours in crock; 3 hours in pot
Squeeze/strain time: 10 minutes
Cost: $3.35-3.75
(apples: 2.00, orange: .50, sugar: .35, spices--these are much pricier since they're whole, but I'm guessing on cost here--.50)

Note: If you don't have all these spices whole, you can make a little packet of spices. Use some coffee filters or a bit of linen cloth and wrap your ground spices into it. Then tie it with a twist tie and put it in your pot. I did this with nutmeg and a bit of cinnamon (I only had 2 whole cinnamon sticks on hand). You might have to guess the measurements a bit (I did), but I used 1/4 tsp nutmeg and 1/2 tsp cinnamon and all was well with the world.

12 small or medium apples (Jennifer recommended assorted types, but I only had honey crisp since my kids ate all my golden delicious)
1 orange
1/2-1 C brown sugar (I actually used 1 1/4 C and did about 1/2 C of that granulated sugar)
4 cinnamon sticks
1 whole nutmeg
1 Tbsp whole cloves
1 tsp whole allspice
water to cover

Cut the apples and orange into quarters (or halves if you're extra lazy). Throw them in the crock pot (no peeling, no coring). Add the spices and 1/2 C sugar (you can add more later if you'd like). Cover it with water. (This filled to the brim my 4-6 quart crock pot--that's right; I'm not sure which size it is.) Put the lid on and set it to low. I left mine overnight (probably for about 14 hours total, though it would have been ready before then). If you wanted it quicker, you could set it to high.

When everything is mushy and fragrant, mash the fruit up. It'll look a little apple-saucy. Then pour it through a cheesecloth or tea towel into a large container. Squeeze out all the deliciousness (though you may have to let it cool a bit before you do this). Taste it for sugar and add more if you need to, and stir until dissolved.

Serve warm or cold. I love it warm (love love love), but most of my family prefers their cider cold (weidos).


Saturday, October 13, 2012

Pretzel Bark

Okay, so this is floating around Pinterest right now. And it totally deserves to be. I had first tried it over a month ago when my brother made it for us while we were visiting Mom. I came home and bought myself a bag of pretzels (I never buy pretzels). But I sat on them for a while (no, not literally) because there's this problem with pretzel bark--namely that I want to eat it all--all half a bag of pretzels, 2 sticks of butter, 1 C of sugar, a bag plus a little of chocolate chips. ALL. Eating it all is what I'd like to call a bad idea. So I needed to wait until we had an event to make this. Fortunately, last night we had a singing night with some of our friends. This was my chance, and a perfect chance it was because I was tired and really not interested in making anything that took much effort. Pretzel bark takes 10 minutes of effort (and also some chill time, which requires patience, but not effort). Of course the 10 minutes of effort is sort of a problem too because do you really need 5000 calories to be ready for you in 10 minutes. Well, maybe not. But this can come in very handy when you need to make a butt-kicking dessert for an event and you're short on time. If that's not wonderful enough, you can always dress it up for whatever holiday is upcoming by using some colored meltable chocolate drizzled on top or by adding seasonal sprinkles.

The only down side of this treat is that it needs to be stored in the refrigerator or freezer since it gets too soft at room temperature. But then, considering those 5000 calories sitting in your house, maybe it's a good thing after all to have to tuck it away in your freezer. Last night after our guests left, I put it away promptly. I knew that if I didn't, I would eat it all. ALL. I'm even nervous to get it out to take a picture right now for this blog because, well, you know--it will be there in my hands and all. And then I might lick a finger off. And then I might try just a nibble. And then, well, it's kind of like alcoholism. Only more caloric. We just don't need to go there.

Pretzel Bark
from Mama Say What
Makes 1 cookie sheet full
Prep time: 10 minutes
Chill time: at least an hour
Cost: $4.25
pretzels: .90, butter: 1.00, chocolate chips: 2.00, sugar: .35

Note: The original recipe said to sprinkle sea salt on top of the chocolate. I did this on part, wanting to see if it made a difference since this is already a play on sweet/saltiness. I did like it better, but I'm a real salt/chocolate/caramel kind of girl. Either way, it's delicious.

1/2 bag of pretzels (8 oz.)
1 C (2 sticks) butter
1 C brown sugar
1 bag chocolate chips
salt, colored sugar, or whatever for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 350.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil (do it; this stuff gets sticky). Arrange your pretzels thereon. My brother used those waffle pretzels, which lined up beautifully. However, they cost more than twice as much so I went traditional with mine.

In a saucepan, melt your butter, then add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Bring to a gentle boil and let it boil for just a minute (it should thicken just a bit and the bubbles should get a bit bigger).

Drizzle this over your pretzels and put it in the oven (be careful because your pan will already be a bit hot from the hot caramel). Bake at 350 for 5 minutes.

Take out and put the chocolate chips on top.

Let them melt (you can throw them back in the oven for a minute--only a minute--or you can just let them melt on the hot caramel). Gently spread the chocolate around.

Sprinkle on salt if using, or sprinkles or decorative colorful melting chocolate.

Let cool, then put in the freezer until hard--about an hour.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Crock Pot Pumpkin Chili

I have been meaning to try pumpkin chili for a very long time. What has kept me from it? The fact that pumpkin, tomatoes, beans, and nearly everything else in chili is a hard sell for most of the people in this family. So, seriously, why not combine them all together in one large pot? What have I got to lose anyway?

I finally got around to it. It was excellent. Mark liked the tomato-y broth. The girls liked the meat. Kip liked all of it, but the beans were not his favorite. Everyone had a little (though for some, this meant a very very little).

A few important notes:

1. For super cheapskates: Since this is done in the crock pot, it's easy to use dried beans and reconstitute them the night before. Just put them in the crock pot the night before, cover them with water, so that it's an inch or two above the beans, and set it to low. Cook all night. In the morning, drain the water off and rinse the beans. They're ready for this recipe. (Note: 1 C dried beans equals about 2 1/2-3 C reconstituted beans, so for this recipe, you'll want about 1 C dry black beans and 1/2 C dry kidney beans.)

2. For super picky eaters: Picky eaters don't often love beans. Kip actually really liked the flavor of this chili, but he disliked the texture of the beans. If you've got one (or five) like that, you could double the meat and omit or significantly reduce the beans. I bet it would work and there's still plenty of good stuff in here to make it worth your love.

3. Peppers. The original recipe called for hottish ones. I, um, pretty much left them all out. What can I say? I'm weak. If you're not, you can add diced Anaheim chile peppers (2-4 oz) and more chili pepper.

4. I halved this and cooked it for about 5 hours starting on high and then moving to low. I feel like it would be really hard to overcook--possible, but difficult.

5. Let's talk Spike seasoning. I didn't really know what it was and figured I could buy it or make a sort of copycat recipe. Nope and nope. Evansville does not seem to carry it (anybody know of a place here that does?). And when I looked online I found that it contained 39 ingredients (pretty much every spice and/or powder you've ever heard of whether or not they seem odd together plopped into a spice blend) and that no one was brave enough to really copy it. So I tried it without the Spike (which, incidentally, is supposed to be one of those amazing spices you can't do without). It was actually pretty good, although admittedly a bit bland. To remedy this, I added a bit of better than bullion (1/4-1/2 tsp) and then just a small dash of every random spice that I happened to have that happened to be included in Spike (dill, curry, celery salt, basil, oregano, mustard powder, tumeric, cumin, ginger) plus a generous sprinkling of salt. It worked and turned out really well. Would it be even better with the Spike? Maybe, though I can say with confidence that a little salt and some random seasonings go a long way if you don't have it.

6. Let's talk pumpkin. Just about a week before I tried this, a friend told me she'd tried a pumpkin chili and it hadn't been great. So I was a little nervous. Then I tasted this before it had cooked--right when I threw it into the crock pot. It was not good. It tasted very pumpkin-y and I was sad because I was sure that I now had a big pot of food my family would reject and that I wouldn't even want to eat for lunches. Have faith, people. After 4 hours of simmering, I could not in any way tell that there was pumpkin in this at all. It was delicious and just like chili. But you know what? I bet it'd be even better with butternut squash or sweet potato puree. I don't know this; I haven't tried it. But I'm betting that the bit of sweetness in either of those vegetables would play beautifully against the salty savoriness of this chili without screaming "There's a random orange vegetable in here." 

Crock Pot Pumpkin Chili
adapted from Kalyn's Kitchen
Serves 10-15
Prep time: 20-30 minutes
Cook time: 4-8 hours (in crock pot)
Cost: $8.50, but this makes a LOT. Also, dried beans will save you about 1.50
beef: 3.00, onion: .10, pepper: .50, beans: 2.00 (only about .50 if using dry), tomatoes: 1.50, pumpkin: 1.00, stock: .30, seasonings: .10

1 lb ground beef
salt and pepper
1 medium onion, diced
1 pepper (I used a few banana peppers, but think I really would have enjoyed a red bell pepper)
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
2 tsp dried cilantro or 2-3 Tbsp fresh (I used fresh)
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp Spike seasoning
2-4 oz diced green Anahiem chile peppers if that's your thing (It's not mine, so I skipped this)
3 C beef stock (I used homemade)
1 Can red kidney beans, rinsed
2 cans black beans, rinsed
1 15 oz pumpkin puree
2 cans diced tomatoes with juice
sour cream and cheese for garnishing if you wish

Brown the beef. Add onion and pepper and cook about 3 minutes. Add garlic, cumin, chili powder, oregano, cilantro and Spkie seasoning. Add hot chiles if using. Saute a few more minutes.

Put this into the crock pot. Use the beef broth to deglaze the pan if necessary and add that to the crock. Add the beans, tomatoes, and pumpkin puree.

Stir it all up and cook on high for 4-6 hours or on low for 8-10. (Crock pots are really different so know if yours cooks crazy hot or not, though as I said, I think this is a bit hard to overcook.)

Serve with cheese and sour cream if you want.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Dilly Beans

I thought I'd missed my chance for posting this since beans are generally considered a summer vegetable. But my good friend is growing a fall garden this year and one of the things she's got is beans. Not to mention the fact that if I hadn't neglected my poor bean plants a month ago, they might still be producing as they currently have some huge granddaddy pods just hanging there chastising me for my neglect.

So whether you've got beans this year or next, here's a simple, tasty way to preserve them that doesn't require a pressure cooker. The other thing I love about them is that they're pretty easy, even with canning. You just boil the vinegar/water mixture and then pour it over the beans and then process them with their sealy lids and rings for 10 minutes. I didn't have tons of beans and so I only did 2 pints, but it just wasn't a big deal to do so few. I liked that because the canning all day thing and I, we don't really get along.

Dilly beans, in case you don't know, are pretty much pickles. Except they're beans. Whoa. The great thing about this is that beans are firmer than cucumbers and so it's a lot easier to avoid having floppy dilly beans than it is to avoid having floppy pickles. These are delightful because they are firm with some crunch, but not quite as firm as a raw bean would be. In texture they're everything I wish an acidified little vegetable to be. Which brings me to the big note of this post: These are pretty vinegar-y. They have to be if you're going to avoid using the pressure cooker because they have to be acidic enough so that you will not die of botulism. Dying of botulism is not the way to go.  However, I realize that so much kick might turn some of you off. If this is you, you might try reducing the vinegar by half and just keeping them in the refrigerator (not for two years or anything, people, but you'll have several weeks to enjoy them).

Dilly Beans
adapted from the Ball Blue Book
makes about 4 pints
Cost: if the beans are from your garden, it's nearly free

2 pounds green beans
1/4 C salt
2 1/2 C water
2 1/2 C vinegar (I just used plain distilled, but you could get fancy and use white wine or cider vinegar)
1 tsp cayenne pepper (I took it easy on this and didn't use nearly that much)
4 cloves garlic
4 heads dill (if you don't have hoards of dill threatening to take over your garden like I do, you can sub 4 tspwhole dill seeds instead--something like this  DILL SEED WHOLE FRESHLY PACKED IN LARGE JARS, spices, herbs, seasonings )

Thoroughly wash beans and trim green beans and cut into inch-long pieces if you wish (I didn't unless I had to jam a few more in).

Combine vinegar, water, and salt in a saucepot and bring to boil.

While you're waiting for your stuff to boil, pack the beans lengthwise into a hot or warm jar, leaving 1/2 inch head space. To each jar, add 1/4 tsp cayenne (or less if you're weak like me), 1 clove garlic (peeled and crushed just a bit), and 1 head dill (or 1 tsp dill seeds).

Pour the hot liquid over beans and spices, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles if you have any. Put your sealing lid on and then the screw on lid.

Put jars in water (that covers the jars by at least 2 inches) and bring it to boiling. Boil (process) for 10 minutes. Remove from water and let cool.


Friday, October 5, 2012

Guacamole with Lime and Garlic

Time for another recipe, don't you think.

I like a lot of different types of guacamole--as long as they're simple and natural. My sister doesn't like a lot of types of guacamole. She likes hers, which is the most simple and natural that there is. Fair enough. And it's perfect for people who eat guac because they like avocado. (It's also perfect for people who don't like onion, or all those other things that sometimes get added to guacamole.)

She mashes up an avocado, squirts some lime juice on it and eats. I like mine with a wee bit of garlic (do you approve this message, Rebecca?)--either a small clove minced or a few sprinkles of powder. And of course some salt and pepper.

Guacamole with Lime and Garlic
Serves 2
Prep time: 2 minutes
Cost: $.84
Avocado: I got mine for .69 last week, lime: .15

1 avocado
a squirt or few of lime
2-3 shakes garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste

Mash avocado. Add lime, garlic powder and salt and pepper to taste.

Wow. That was complicated. Will you be insulted if I put the printable recipe below?


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My Plan for My Picky Eaters and Some Early Results

After reading and then gushing about French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon, I decided to give some of her ideas a try. However, before I tried specific ideas I needed to change a fundamental approach I have taken to feeding my kids. I needed to accept the idea that my kids don't have to (and don't necessarily deserve to) have a choice about what they eat. I'm a big choice giver, and as I implied in my last post, I generally think choices are very good things, but they haven't been helpful in teaching my kids to eat. At all. Changing the way I feed my children won't be easy for me or for them. I realize that changing my habits and helping my kids to change theirs won't be a week-long process. My plan is to try a French plan for 6 months, be firm but kind, and see how it goes. I expect a good bit of resistance and I hope for some small, but steady strides in the right direction.

That said, here are the specific changes I plan to incorporate (and in most cases have already begun incorporating) into the way I feed us.

1. Set the table. Believe it or not, I have never done this. What we usually do is call the kids in and tell them to get their plates, silverware, and cup and sit down. The purpose of this was to teach them to do for themselves. This is actually the perfect illustration of French food philosophy versus American food philosophy: Americans value autonomy while the French value, well, eating pleasurably. And sure enough when I started setting the table, things got more pleasurable almost immediately. Before, when we'd had our kids getting their own dishes, they would inevitably forget (or insist they didn't need something). Then right when we sat down for a meal, they would suddenly desperately need it. We would either have to get up to get it or they would be told to get up or get it. This wouldn't have mattered, except that it seemed to happen 10,000 times in a meal and the result was a constant buzz of bodies in the kitchen. We were never just sitting down and eating peacefully all together at the table; someone was ALWAYS up. It was irritating and stressful and somehow in trying to make the kids more independent they ended up seeming extremely needy.

Setting the table is the only thing I've tried that has brought immediate results. I set it with a tablecloth, plates, silverware, and cups. I also put serving dishes of food on the table. I'd always thought this was a ridiculous waste of later dishwasher space, and I know that a lot of people worried about their weight try not to do it. But when you have small children and don't like wasting food, you don't want to dish up a big serving. Yet if you dish up small servings, it means you--the maidservant--are getting up 70 times to get them more of whatever. Serving dishes, setting the table, even the table cloth (another thing I though was a little silly and labor intensive) were all so worth it. Everyone sat at the table and ate. When they needed more food, I dished it up to them. However, for me the big surprise was that not only were things more peaceful, I actually saved myself time and energy by setting the table and putting food on it. Ironically, taking 5 minutes to set the table saved me about 10-15 in getting up to get things. Even the derned table cloth proved helpful. It's my kids' job to clear the table. They always do a lousy job wiping it up, but they actually do a pretty good job taking off the table cloth and dumping any crumbs into the trash and then putting it away. Again, less time, effort, and sanity were lost in our clean up.

2. Serve an appetizer. Again this seemed like such a pain. But it isn't. I put a tiny bowl on their plates and give them a little something to get started. This has two purposes. First off, when I fed them something they liked (grapes, olives, apple sauce, etc.), it gave them a healthy start to their meal. That way, even if they ended up eating just a bit (or nothing), I knew they'd had a healthy something. Secondly, I could use this part of the meal to start with a very small portion of something unfamiliar--a soup, or a strange food, or even a salad. If it's really odd, I'm pretty lenient about how much they try (a bite, a lick, whatever--as long as there's some effort being made). This gives me a chance to have them try just a wee bit of something new. Afterwards, I try to have a fairly crowd-pleasing dinner. This has gotten mixed success. I've mostly done familiar, but healthy foods and that has gone well. When I've tried unusual things (even normal-kid-friendly foods, like pear sauce), it's not gone perfectly, but it hasn't been horrible either. Our big success was that one night, I gave them a "salad." This consisted of 2 bite-sized pieces of lettuce, one bite-sized piece of tomato, several olives (which they love) and a whole lot of Ranch dressing for dipping. Mark ate all of his without a fight. Small for some families; huge for me. Then he policed Elizabeth and made sure she ate all of hers. Then the next day he stole a tomato off of my salad at lunch. Just took it and ate it. After I awoke from my dead faint, I was very pleased. Then last night when we had a similar "salad" again for our appetizer, he ate his tomato and Elizabeth ate her tomato. And then she asked for me. That's a huge success for us, folks. Huge.

3. Dinner or nothing. You eat your dinner or you don't eat. I try to have a variety of foods on the table, including at least one thing that everybody likes. But I put a bit of everything on their plates, and everybody has to eat the small bits of the things I put on their plates or they don't get dessert or any other food for the evening. (Note: I do allow them to drink milk later on in the night, even if they didn't eat; this is a bit of fudging, but I think it's worth it.) This has been, naturally, the hardest thing to do and I've gotten the most resistance--a surprising amount actually (mostly from Mark). For example, last night, we had roast, roasted carrots, and mashed potatoes. Mark loves mashed potatoes, so he ate a heap of them, but he hates meat and carrots. I put a piece of both meat and carrot on his plate that were only a few millimeters big (no exaggeration) and I told him he could choose which to try (Did I mention the lowness of the bar?) if he wanted dessert (which that night was a trip to an ice cream parlor--huge treat).  He could have easily wrapped either into his mashed potatoes and never even known it was there (super taster or not). He did not. He refused to try either. To his credit, he accepted his consequence without (much) whining. He went to the ice cream store and watched everyone else pick a flavor and then he sat there and didn't eat any (although Savannah and Emma each gave him a little taste of theirs). I'm not gonna lie: this type of thing is tough for me. But I think it's just the essential discipline that our eating training has been missing. I hope that next time, when faced with the choice, Mark will choose the millimeter of carrot and just eat it, but I'll never know if I never have the guts to withhold a privilege from the boy. Anyway, Mark continues to resist most unusual or new foods, regardless of the consequences. This bothers me and is hard for me. But I do hope that with time (and when he realizes he's hurting himself more than me) that he'll eventually begin to try new foods. I should say, too, that I'm working on not begging or guilting about food (i.e 'pleeease just try it' or 'you won't have any energy if you don't eat'). If he doesn't want to eat it, he doesn't have to. But he won't be getting dessert or other food. In this way, I'm trying to keep it so that food isn't some sort of emotional weapon being used.

4. If you complain, your plate is removed. Supposedly, this is what the French do with their young children. This is a big change for us and we're working up to it. People, I'm such an embarrassing pushover. I gave them a couple weeks to get used to the idea. When they would complain, I'd say, "If you do that in 2 weeks, you'll have your plate removed and not get any food, even the foods you like." And then this week, Elizabeth complained and got her plate removed, but after a few minutes we returned it, saying (and meaning) that this was to show her how it would feel and the next time it would happen for real. So I have yet to really muscle down on this one, but there has been less complaining, so I think it's beginning to work anyway. I expect we'll have a really rough night the first time someone actually loses a plate, but I think people will quickly learn not to complain.

5. Dessert right after dinner, and then no more food for the night. Due to extra-curriculars that call us from the table quickly after dinner, this has been logistically the hardest for me. Some nights, there just hasn't been time. However, when we've done it, I've realized the gloriousness of the idea. Dessert is sitting there, waiting to be served. The kids can see it as they wonder whether they should take those three required bites of food. It's been helpful (though Mark, with his will of steel, has still been a tough one to crack). Also, from a practical standpoint, it means one less mess for us. Before, we'd eat and clean up dinner and then the kids got dessert. No matter how mess-proof the dessert was, however, there would inevitably be a big mess left on the table, which would require a second clean up. Now there's just one cleanup and when all is done, the kitchen is closed. I love that. I should note that the French do not always serve the super sweet desserts we favor--sometimes it's fruit and yogurt (although in my remedial house, where I'm trying to change habits, we have had only sweet desserts; we'll get to the fruit as dessert stage later). I should also note that per the book, the French don't approach food as a reward. Dessert isn't a reward for eating your food, per se. But it's the food that naturally follows the main course and you can't skip that course and just move to your dessert. This is a small but mighty difference in their eating philosophy and one I'm seeking to master. If they don't eat their meals, they don't get dessert, but it's not looked on as a punishment--just as the natural result of skipping an important course of your food.

A few things we still need to work on:

1. Slowing down. We generally eat at 5:00 and at least half the time, Kip needs to be out the door for work at 5:25. Eating together even for 25 minutes is better than most average American families do, but it still feels rushed. We're trying to slow down, especially on the nights he doesn't have work. But habits are tough to break and I notice that even when we have the whole night to eat, the kids are done in 10 minutes and ready to leave the table. We're working to keep them there, even when they're done with their food, and to enjoy being together. 

2. In the book Le Billon talked about how she needed to change her approach to how she talked about food. Before it had been slightly penal: 'eat this or else' (you won't get dessert; you'll be tired; you'll be hungry; you're hair will fall out; whatever). As she tried to change her children's eating she tried to change her own reactions to their reactions. Instead of saying, "You don't like it; why not, it's perfectly good food and I worked hard on it" she'd say, "You don't like it? That's because you haven't tried it enough times yet. Maybe next time." Or "That's okay, you'll like it when you get older." She called these "Smart Things to Say" as indeed they are. But I haven't mastered them yet. I'm still a little hurt when my kids don't eat/like my food and I'm still learning to step away from that. I need to come up with my own list of "Smart Things" and then work on saying them.

Monday, October 1, 2012

he Haggis and the Herring

Last month one of the participants in the Secret Recipe Club suddenly passed away. Many members of the SRC have made commemorative meals and are linking to his blog today. I didn't have time to make anything from Daniel's site, but wanted to send my condolences to his family and to encourage anyone who's interested to go have a look at his blog, The Haggis and the Herring.


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