Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Leftover Tuesday: Fried Rice

Fried rice is a perfect leftover meal. You need rice, vegetables, soy sauce, and oil. A bit of ginger doesn't hurt (the powdered kind works great). After that you can stop. Or you can add more stuff if you have it. A little meat is nice. Eggs make it good too.

If you have leftover everything, this is a 10-minute meal. If you've got to make your rice or meat, it'll take you 30 minutes, which still isn't bad.

We had a little bit of pork (only about 1/3 C), some eggs, and some random vegetables--some spinach, some broccoli, and a couple carrots.

(Sorry, forgot to take a picture with the pork.)

Here's how you do it. I'm giving these instructions as a leftover meal. If you want an actual recipe, go here. And of course, if you need to cook your rice, do so. 

1. Chop your vegetables (I chop mine really small, but you don't have to).

2. Heat 1 Tbsp oil on medium heat in wok or large skillet. Add ginger powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and pepper. (Of course, you can use actual ginger, garlic, and onions if you wish. And you don't have to use that combo of spices; you can use whatever spices you have, though I really do encourage the ginger.) Let them cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds). 

3. Add chopped vegetables to the oil. Add soy sauce. Be generous, but not crazy (let's say to start with 1/2 tablespoon). Cook until tender, but not soggy. (Note: You can use cooked vegetables if you've got those leftover too. Just heat through.) Add cooked meat if you've got it. Remove veggies and meat to a plate.  

4. If using eggs, add another tablespoon oil. Crack an egg or three into it. Add 1-2 teaspoons soy sauce and then scramble the eggs. Add them to your vegetables on the plate. 

5. Heat more oil (this is fried rice remember)--about 2-3 tablespoons--it should coat the bottom of your wok generously, but it doesn't need to be thick or deep. Add your cooked rice. Add soy sauce and plenty of it--start with a few good shakes and taste. You can add more ginger if you wish. You can add oyster sauce or plum sauce (my favorite) if you've got one or the other. If you don't, you might want to sprinkle a bit of sugar in to balance out the salty acidity of the soy sauce. Taste the rice and adjust seasoning. 

6. Add the reserved vegetables, meat, and eggs to the rice and stir it in. Make sure everything's hot and adjust the seasonings if needed. Serve hot. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Pumpkin Pancakes

Usually when I make "pumpkin pancakes" I throw a few spoonfuls of pumpkin puree into my normal 100% whole wheat pancakes. It adds a little vitamin A to our lives, which is sometimes woefully needed, but it doesn't otherwise add anything really special to our lives, like amazing taste. Fortunately for you, this recipe does.

This recipe came from my friend Pilar. It's one of those recipes that you make and love, but that is a little more than the absolute minimum you usually do for breakfast so you kind of forget about it. And then one day you stumble upon it and wonder why it's been so long since you made it. And then you make it and you really wonder what your darn problem was all those months because these are really good. Yes, that type of recipe.

P.S. Aren't those pictures up top nice. I assure you that that's how my table always looks--with, um, breezes blowing in from the seaside and stuff. The following pictures of a table a family actually ate at are not at all representative of what my table/house look like on pancake morning (or any other morning for that matter).

This isn't my floor on pancake morning either. I swear it. My floor is always clean. In fact, I'm perfectly confident that there isn't popcorn left from lunch all over it right now as I type this. Definitely not.

Pumpkin Pancakes
Makes 15-20 4-inch pancakes
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes for the whole lot, but only about 4 minutes per pan of pancakes
Cost: $1.69
(whole wheat flour: .20, flour: .10, brown sugar: .05, eggs: .20, evaporated milk: .79, pumpkin puree: .30, other stuff: .05)

1 C all-purpose flour
1 C whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
2 eggs
1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk (you can sub in regular milk, but the evaporated milk do give the pancakes a little more richness so if you've got some or it's in your budget you might want to splurge a bit)
1/2 C pumpkin puree
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp pumpkin pie spice (optional)

In large bowl, combine eggs, milk, pumpkin, oil, and vanilla.

Stir in dry ingredients. Mix well, but don't get your batter completely smooth (a few lumps in your pancake batter are a good thing, especially if you like fluffy pancakes). Note: These make thick pancakes. If you want them less thick, add more milk or forego the canned milk and use regular or do both.

Pour onto lightly greased griddle (at medium heat). Turn when bubbles form or when the bottom of your pancake is golden brown.

We served it with homemade maple syrup, though apple syrup and walnut syrup are supposed to be really awesome with it as well. Oh, and I threw about 4 dark chocolate chips into each pancake, just for some extra Sunday morning specialness.

These are best on the first day, but they do keep for a day or two and warm up into a pretty good leftover pancake.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Fad Dieting: In Couplets

Ever since turkey and Christmas came,
Diets have been on the brain.
January's almost through,
Have a look at a weird diet or two.

1. Grapefruit Juice Diet

Drinking grapefruit and water is lots of fun.
Just keep thinking about that slimmer bum. 
And maybe all that food you'll miss 
When you spend all day needing to, um, pee (sorry, family blog).

2. Lemonade Diet/Cleanse

Lemonade is something we know
As sweet and tart or sweet and slow
Not when it's full of hot cayenne
And supplemented with laxatives. What a plan!

3. Cabbage Soup Diet

Cabbage is a leafy green
That will leave us lean and mean.
Specially when it's all we eat
For the better part of several weeks.

4. The Atkins Diet

The only thing better than losing fat through osmosis
Is losing it through a thing called ketosis.
Sure you might miss a little bread
But you'll barely notice it once your veins clog and you're dead.

5. The Raw Food Diet

On the flip side of this is a thing called raw food
Which is what we eat when we've pounds to lose
There are plenty of enzymes which is a good thing
Though you can't expect to eat at Granny's Thanskgiving.

And here's a quick summary called quite fittingly I'm sure you'll agree, "The Five Days of January" because could you really make it through 12? (Note: This is not, for the record, one of those autobiographical poems.)

On the first day of January my untrue love gave to me
Some cabbage and a gym membership fee.
On the second day of January my untrue love gave to me
Raw tubers for my caveman ancestry.
On the third day of January my untrue love gave to me
Crackers and a bag of tea.
On the fourth day of January my untrue love gave to me
A tapeworm and an STD.
On the fifth day of January my untrue love gave to me
Four small strawberries,
Three cups veg broth,
Two skim milk tablets,
And a glassful of acai.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How to Make Oat Flour

Ready for some rocket science? Hmm, well, you might have to look elsewhere then because this is way easy.

I use oat flour in several of my recipes and thought that it deserved its own little page. Homemade oat flour doesn't come out quite as fine as store bought, but it certainly comes close. It takes 3-5 minutes and it costs only about $.90/lb. I didn't find anything even close to that cheap online, even without shipping costs.

How to Make Oat Flour

1. Dump oats in a blender. They can be old-fashioned or quick (or probably whole and unrolled if you've got a decent blender, though I've never tried the unrolled variety). If you blend 3 C quick oats, you'll wind up with about 2 1/2 C flour.

2. Blend until smooth and flour-y. You may have to scrape down the sides here and there. And you may want to stop the blender once or twice and dig around in the bottom with your spatula to be sure there aren't any oaty pockets down there that you're blender is missing.

3. Use. If you have a lot, you can put the rest in a freezer bag and freeze it. Note: It's fine stored at room temperature for about 3 months. For longer storage, freeze it. Also, if you're looking for a nifty site about the storage of different flours, have a look here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Not Too Sexy But Still Good All-Bran Muffins

Everyone needs a friend who makes their grandma look chic and hip and trendy. They need this friend because on so many levels a friend like this can make you feel better about yourself. First off, you feel cool next to this person because even if you are not that cool, you appear cool beside this person. Secondly, on the days when you are really not cool--like maybe wearing your fat pants with a non-matching top around the house as you scrub the goober puddle that has built up under the refrigerator--that friend will somehow one up you. Say, by wearing fat pants that she accidentally shrunk so they are now high waters and tight in the wrong places as she putters about wiping pee off the countertops in the bathroom (because as we all know, that is a perfectly logical place to find pee in a bathroom) and then goes (after washing her hands quite thoroughly) shopping in just that same outfit without once thinking to change into a pair of jeans. Such a person uses weird cliches, does not understand technology, and probably eats bran of some variety. It's just the type of person your kids do not go to bed praying to have as their mother. What more could you ask for in a friend? I, dear followers, am that friend. You're welcome.

Now, let's eat some bran muffins. Why, you ask? Well, duh. Because it's January and you, like every other self-respecting American, made a goal to lose 10 pounds. But it's the end of January and the box of All-Bran in your pantry is really starting to languish. But also because it actually makes some pretty good muffins. My favorite are the Original All-Bran Muffins. I buy All-Bran when I see it on sale just to make those. Though this month I was wooed (remember, I make your grandma look cool) by the new recipe on the side of the box, which pulled out all the hip, sexy, foodie stops and used the words 'almond butter' and 'dark chocolate' in its name. I have to tell you this recipe didn't come out hip, sexy, or foodie (though admittedly I just used peanut butter instead of its cooler almond brother), but it was good and pretty healthy too--using not too much sugar, a variety of grains, and some banana. Plus, it'll give your stale All-Bran a boost. 

Not Too Sexy But Still Good All-Bran Muffins
adapted from All-Bran
Makes 12-14
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15-20 minutes
Cost: $1.60
(flour: .15, sugar: .08, milk: .20, oats: .10, banana: .12, peanut butter: .40, egg: .10, chocolate chips: .45-.90)

1 1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/3 C milk
1 C All Bran cereal (I expect that other varieties of twiggy looking bran cereals would work as well, but can't promise that)
1 C rolled oats (I used quick)
1/3 C peanut butter
1 medium banana, mashed (about 1/3-1/2 C)
1 egg
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 C dark chocolate (or, heck, regular chocolate) chips--I only used about 1/2 C (it is still prime resolution month, my friends)

Preheat oven to 375. 

In a large bowl, combine milk, All-Bran, and oats. Let this stand 2 minutes so it's nice and soggy. Mix in peanut butter, mashed banana, egg, cinnamon, an d nutmeg. 

Add flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add chocolate chips. Stir until just combined (You never want to over-mix muffins as it makes the cooked muffin tougher.)

Spoon batter into muffin tin. 

Bake 15-18 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool a bit and eat. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Leftover Tuesday: Baked Spaghetti

If you were with us last Friday, you may have noticed that, in a sad bid for attention, I have taken to criticizing shows I've never actually seen, and proposing what I consider better ideas on this blog. Next thing you know, I'll be showing up on reality TV. Or worse--vicious ads for potential Republican nominees. But for now, we'll just stick to this blog. And we'll begin doing Leftover Tuesdays because, frankly, I think they're a fabulous idea. Leftovers are cheap, easy, practical, environmentally friendly. Oh yeah, and potentially quite tasty too.

For Leftover Tuesday we'll be showcasing some of the less-than-perfectly appetizing leftovers hanging out in my fridge and making something (hopefully) lovely and respectable and delicious out of them. See, it really is like reality TV (minus the backstabbing). Only it's like reality TV meets the food channel and then gets a nip and a tuck. Wow, what more could you ask for? Except some vicious political advertisements of course.

Meet the stars of our show today.

Leftover spaghetti sauce:

Leftover spaghetti:

Which actually came out in a gelatinous mound when removed from its container.

It's spaghetti...It's modern art...It's Leftover Tuesday.

An assortment of cheeses--some from the freezer and one from the fridge (on Sunday when I made this, I used mozzarella and Parmesan, but I forgot to take a picture, so you're seeing what I'd use if I made this tonight, which I might):


A few slices of frozen bacon:

I also used a can of olives that I had in the pantry, though you wouldn't have to.

How'd I Make It?

I cooked the bacon good and crispy. Then I drained it and chopped it small. While it was cooking, I mixed the spaghetti sauce with about 1/2 C cream. I added the bacon and some chopped olives to this sauce. Then I mixed the sauce with the spaghetti and spread it out in a 9x13 inch pan (you could easily use a smaller pan if you had less leftovers than we did). I topped it with mozzarella and Parmesan cheese (I had about 1 or 1 1/2 C of mozzarella and a few Tbsp of Parmesan). I baked it until it was good and bubbly at the sides and the cheeses were melted and just beginning to brown.

We served it with a salad made from the rest of the olives, 1 carrot, 1 1/2 head of Romaine lettuce and some spinach. And a friend brought over some bread, which we sliced and spread with butter and garlic for a quick garlic bread. Done and done.

How'd it turn out?

Very well. Which is a good thing. Because--oh boy, here's a confession for you--we fed it to friends. Good friends. Friends I invited to dinner on a whim on Sunday. Friends who have 5 kids. Dinner was set for 1 hour after church ended. I needed speed. I needed volume. And kid-friendly-ness. And good-tasting-ness. This delivered all of that.

What could have been better? 

The spaghetti was a bit overcooked the first time around. Had we kept it al dente as good spaghetti ought to be, it would have been better in our leftovers. As it was, it was a little mushy for my tastes, though Kip said he prefers it that way (proving once and for all that, when it comes to food, he is actually a four-year-old stuck in a man's handsome body).

What else could have been used to good effect in this dish?

A lot of stuff.

You NEED some kind of pasta and some kind of sauce and some kind of cheese.

You could have used a variety of cheeses: ricotta, feta, mozzarella, cheddar, jack, whatever you had really.

You could have used a variety of meats or none at all. I used bacon because it was ALL I had. It worked nicely, but chicken, hamburger, sausage, even pepperoni would have worked well too.

We used olives from the pantry to jazz it up a bit. Other vegetables that would have been good include peppers, onions, carrots, spinach, even capers.

A creamy something is nice in baked spaghetti. We had some open cream and thus used that in the sauce. But you could have used cream cheese mixed into the sauce (I often find myself with a couple random ounces leftover from making something else). You also could have topped the spaghetti (before adding the cheese) with can-of-something-or-other soup or a basic white sauce seasoned with pepper or whatever for added creaminess. Or you could have done without added creaminess all together.

You also could have sprinkled the top with bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, or potato chip crumbs.

It's versatile. It's fun. It's incredibly sexy (maybe) while still being kid-friendly (maybe). It's Leftover Tuesday.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Chocolate Cookies with Orange Sugar Edges

This post should rightly be titled "Somebody Else's Really Good Recipe That I Tweeked Just a Little." But I thought "Chocolate Cookies with Orange Sugar Edges" would get more page views.

This recipe was just barely posted on Orangette. I believe Molly Wizenberg to be a friend to chocolate. A friend to chocolate is a friend to me. I've tried several chocolate cookie recipes where your roll the chocolate into a log, and then chill, slice and bake. And they've been good. They certainly haven't languished around our house or anything. But they haven't been, to me, worth adding to my list of regulars. In fact, I tend to take issue with log cookies in general. I find that they sometimes come out a bit dry or boring (where are the chocolate chips) or just too grown up for me in general. But usually, usually the nail in the coffin is that they require foresight (the horror). Who's got that? For me, there aren't a whole lot of fancy dinner parties going on. Cookies tend to fall into the Sunday evening afterthought category. And I like them that way: quick, easy, delicious, family-friendly, and ready for some lunch boxes the next day.

This cookie, however, is totally worth a little foresight and extra effort (it's really not that much extra effort I promise). They were just phenomenal. And busting out with chocolate. Yes, I still wish I'd tried making a few as drop cookies (aka at-home mom cookies) instead of the log ones to see if there was any difference in flavor or texture from refrigerating them. I'm guessing not much. But I can make no promises.

However, as a sliced cookie I can promise you that they were worth it: pretty and sugar-crispy edged and incredibly delicious with an intense chocolate you should find, but often don't find in a chocolate cookie.

Wizenberg's instructions are, as always, careful and precise. I can't much improve on them either. Except to say that you probably don't have to be that careful and precise (skip the whole paragraph of double boiler instruction in the first paragraph and just throw the chocolate in the microwave at 20 second intervals, mixing in between). And don't sweat it if you don't have a fancy dark chocolate hanging around. I used an Aldi brand 60% and it was good. I know it would have been better with something higher quality, but the regular-guy/girl chocolate worked well too. Also, she gets a little wordy (how's that for the tea kettle calling the pot black) and sometimes says things like "Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high speed until creamy. Slowly add the sugar, and continue to beat until the mixture is completely smooth and soft, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed." Instead of just saying, "Cream butter and sugar." Which is what lazy and slightly less popular cooks would say.

But I do have a contribution to make to these cookies. Because as I was making them, I was also eating an orange (in an only moderately successful attempt to stop myself from eating all the dough as I cooked--that dough is seriously a dream from step one and with each added ingredient thereafter--oh my).

And then I got an idea. I zested me an orange peel and mixed it with sugar and tried it on half of one of my logs. [Note: My logs look slightly obscene; or crude; or at best like large, ugly cigars. This was not intentional and hopefully will not prevent me from running from public office should I ever find myself deficient in negative media attention and thus wishing to do so.]

The funny thing about the orange sugar edged cookies was that on first bite they weren't my favorite ones. I loved the sugary, slightly salty originals. Yet the orange sugar rimmed ones were the ones that hung in my memory. They were the ones that kept me coming back for more. And maybe more (though I am not stating that for the record, mind you). They ended the night as my hands-down favorites. And at the end of the night they were the ones I was pining for when they were gone...gone...  Which was surely for the best, but still.

If you like orange, or maybe even if you're not sure you do, give these cookies a try and then roll each log (we did Wizenberg's big logs) in 1 part orange zest per about 3 parts sugar (so if you're using 6 Tbsp sugar, you'll be wanting 2 Tbsp orange zest). The measurements will be somewhat imprecise as you're throwing sugar on the counter and rubbing orange zest in. But your orange sugar should be a pretty shade of orange and it should smell nice and orange-y if you've got enough zest in there.

Here is Wizenberg's recipe. Now go forth and roll your ugly chocolate logs in something pretty and sweet and memorable. Which again, comes off sounding potentially crude, though it was not meant to be so. I see that my political life is doomed.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Molasses Crinkles

I got this recipe several Christmases ago from one of the best bakers/cooks I know (Hi Sally). They're sugar-crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. They're also beautiful. We made two other ginger cookies at the same time to see which we liked best. Truly, we loved all of the cookies we made, but these still won in the blind taste test I subjected my family to (my sister and brother-in-law were here as well). 

Unfortunately, I often find that at Christmas, I'm just a little sugar-crispied out and these have to wait till January. 

For the record, they make a wonderfully charming January cookie as well--soft and sweet with kick of warm spice. The perfect thing for your mug of hot chocolate on a snowy night. They also freeze extremely well (as do most cookies for the record) in case January is--for you--not a time to be hanging out with cookies and hot chocolate, but rather a time to be hanging out with all those other lunatics at the gym who are totally in your space. (Um, not that I'm complaining or anything. But seriously, don't you just hate gyms in January--they just seem so busy and wait-in-liney and so...so tragic with all that wishing and good intention when we all know what that gym will look like mid-February; it's like watching Romeo and Juliet for the 2nd time--intriguing still, but without any of the hopeful innocence.) 

Jaded tangents aside, they do freeze well, so you can have one and save the rest for guests or mid-February or a time when you give them away because, heck, you've decided to go Paleo after all. It's up to you. Though seriously, do your inner-epicurean a favor and eat them before you go Paleo, okay? Okay. There now, I feel better. 

Molasses Crinkles
Makes 4 dozen (You can always embrace your inner, er, stoic and halve this)
Prep time: 5 minutes
Bake time: 10 minutes
Cost: $2.60
(butter: .60, sugar: .65, eggs: .20, molasses: .70, flour: .45)

1 C (2 sticks) butter
2 C brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 C Molasses
1/2 tsp salt
4 1/2 C flour
4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cloves
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
extra sugar for rolling

Cream butter and sugar. Beat in eggs and molasses. Add dry ingredients. Shape into balls. Roll if sugar if you wish. 

Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes. 

Let them sit on the pan for a few minutes before removing. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Food Essay Friday: Big Changes vs. Little Changes

Recently I discovered that the Food Network (we don't get cable so I have to learn these things through the grape vine) did a show called The Big Waste. I was kind of excited to hear about this show--chefs would be making a meal from foods that would otherwise be wasted. But then as I read more about the premise, I, well, I started to get bugged. The chefs job was to make a multi-course meal for 100 guests. So the food they'd be using wasn't going to be coming from the backs of their refrigerators. Instead they wandered about NYC, scrounging up food that otherwise would have been thrown out.

This is not a bad thing to think about or to watch. I mean, it's still kind of a cool idea. And yet. And yet. To me it still didn't really get to the heart of one of our main problems with food waste. The heart being the bit that starts at the home, the bit that starts in your own kitchen. If we as individuals can't possibly keep our refrigerators and pantries organized enough to not waste food (and if we ourselves aren't motivated enough to use some of that food), then how can we expect the huge monster of food industry to do much better.

And then I had a look at this article, which also expressed a bit of disappointment in the show. I always love a good dissenting opinion. Yet the solutions offered in this article were still so very very large scale.

Yeah, yeah, I get that the food industry wastes a lot more food than we do (grocery stores figure in something crazy like 12% of their money loss from food thrown out--and much of that tossed food is perfectly edible, but not perfectly perfect in appearance or past its sell by or whatever). I get that if we could change that, we could make this huge enormous country-wide change. It's just that sometimes the food industry seems so very very far out of our hands. And, frankly, sometimes the food industry is still so very very far out of our hands. I'm not saying we shouldn't work to change that through legislation and through our own food choices (using more local foods, etc. etc.) What I'm saying is that all those things are going to take time before they happen (if they happen). They're going to take a lot of effort and possibly a chunk of change. And then they'll still possibly happen with some red tape tied on, and then what... I don't know.

But I do know how to make a good soup from leftovers. And you can too. And it will only take your 15 minutes. And your reward will be a fabulous dinner tonight. (A little near-immediate gratification doesn't hurt, right?) I also know that if we don't care enough to make small, cheap changes in our own lives, it's going to be hard for us to care enough to shop at the farmer's market or write folks at congress about changing legislation on seed patenting or zoning laws.

So what do I want to see on the food network? I want to see a show where the chefs hop on over to their refrigerators and pull out 1/2 a chicken breast, 1/4 C peas, a stalk of broccoli, some chicken stock, and maybe a few other things hiding out in the back; a show where they hack that bruised bit off the apple and use the zest of a lime that's past its prime, but still good for something, and then they really make something amazing with it. In fact, I think it's such a dang good idea that I might even start doing it myself on this blog.

What do you think? Would you guys like to see a "Leftover Tuesday" where I scrounge through our refrigerator and freezer (and maybe throw in a few pantry staples) to make something really good and really cheap? 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Spicy Butternut Soup

This is the best butternut soup I've ever had. It's savory and punchy and perfect. I'm not a burn-your-mouth kind of spice girl and this is not that kind of a soup. But it's got the perfect amount of kick to play off of the sweet of the butternut. I like it without any dairy softening the blow as a matter of fact, though if you did find it a little too edgy you could add sour cream, yogurt, or cream.

The only sad thing about this soup is that it's not of my own creation. But I'm a humble enough woman to post it for you anyway because it's stinking awesome, though I must mention that if certain members of your family are averse to anything remotely spicy (hello, ginger, curry, cumin,and mustard), you might have to go with something more like this, which was our old standby and which will still make appearances on our dinner table since Kip and spices like to keep things simple, as in salt, pepper, and ketchup (ketchup being, as we all know, at the very foundation of both the American spice rack and a healthy food pyramid).

As a final note on the soup, I made it two ways. I made it the fussy peel-your-squash way, which was yummy. And I made it the lazy use-leftover-cooked-squash, which was also super yummy (in fact, I couldn't tell the difference). So although the recipe might not be mine, I'd like to take credit for this LABOR SAVING TIP: Buy a 3 lb squash, chop it into slices, take seeds out, and steam it one night as a side for dinner. Eat about 1/3 of the simple steamed squash (with salt, pepper, and a pat of butter if you please--it's wonderful). And then scoop out the remaining flesh and make this soup the next night. This will save you a good 25 minutes on soup night (and possibly a finger or two--seriously) and give you a healthy side dish the night before--for only 5 minutes of hands-on effort. Win and win.

I'd also like to point out that this very butternut squash was from my garden. I'v even got one more.

I'd also like to point out that it is January. Of course my point in all this pointing out is that I'm completely awesome and that--should there come to be some type of Armageddon-style disaster that destroys all our food sources--our family will survive for approximately 1 meal longer than we otherwise would have survived. Check that, I will survive for approximately 2 meals longer than I otherwise would have survived while my family will perish while watching me and moaning, 'gross' as they faint in their kitchen chairs.

Spicy Butternut Soup
adapted from Simply Recipes
Prep time: 5 minutes with above labor-saving tip; 15-20 minutes otherwise
Cook time: 15-20 minutes with above labor-saving tip; 40 minutes otherwise
Cost: about $2.10
(squash: 1.29--Alid-style, onion: .20, chicken stock: .50-ish if made with granules; more if made with canned stuff, other stuff: .10)

Note: You could substitute an equal amount of acorn squash for the butternut.

1 two-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, diced, and cut into cubes.
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 tsp yellow curry powder
1 tsp whole mustard seeds or 1/4 tsp dried mustard (I made with both and both were good; also I worried the whole seeds wouldn't puree well and would be yucky chunks, but they weren't so don't fear them if you've got them)
dash ground cumin
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced (or 1 tsp ground ginger)
4 C chicken stock
1/2 C sour cream, cream, or yogurt (optional)
garnish with cilantro (optional)

1. Peel your squash. I do this by first slicing (and seeding) my butternut and then using a GOOD paring knife to peel the slices. Be sure you've got a good knife. If you don't, your fingers are at serious risk (seriously, I'm not kidding here). They're at a bit of a risk anyway, so be careful. If you don't have a good knife or don't want to take a risk, steam or boil your slices for 20 minutes and then scoop out the flesh.

2. Heat 1/2 Tbsp olive oil and a pat of butter and toss your peeled, cubed, seeded squash in. Add a few dashes salt and stir around. Cook until browned. (If using pre-cooked squash, you can skip this step altogether.)

3. Remove squash (it won't be soft, just browned) and set aside.

4. Add 1/2 Tbsp olive oil and add onion. Cook until lightly browned and fairly soft. Add curry, ginger, cumin, and mustard seeds. Stir until fragrant (about 1 minute). Add squash back to pan. Add chicken stock. Bring to boil. Then reduce to simmer, cover the pot, and simmer for 40 minutes. (If using pre-cooked squash, you'll only need to simmer about 10 minutes.)

5. When done, use an immersion blender and blend until smooth. You can also blend it in a blender. You'll likely need to do this in batches and put a hot pad or dish towel over the top of the blender just in case some hot soup tries to come squirting out at you. (Who knew cooking could be so fraught with peril?).

6. Add dairy if using. And garnish with cilantro if you wish.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Chocolate Chip Breakfast Cookies

I've toyed with the idea of a chocolate chip breakfast cookie for a long time, but I haven't done it. Around here you don't mess with a good chocolate chip cookie. I knew that any kind of healthier version just wouldn't compare to a good old fashioned fully figured buttery sugary chocolatey chipetty cookie. I knew they wouldn't even look as pretty--that they wouldn't be as golden with less butter/sugar and that they wouldn't spread as well and might even have to be flattened with a spatula. So I left our breakfast cookies to oatmeal and peanut butter and even cocoa--things that stand on their own so well, they can stand to have their butter cut way back.

And then one day when I was making whole wheat pancakes I noticed a recipe on the bag of the bag of the wheat for whole wheat chocolate chip cookies and I thought, "Ah, what the heck."

The next morning I whipped up a batch of my low-sugar, low-butter adaptation of those whole wheat cookies, and I waited for my children--eternally grateful and gracious children of high manners and exquisite adaptableness--to cheer. Mark took a bite and pushed his away. Then he went to get the box of corn squares (really? corn squares? over a chocolate chip--however imperfect--cookie?). Elizabeth took three little bites. And by 'little' I do mean little. So little, in fact, that I could not see them. She had to point them out to me one by one: "See, Mommy, I tried here and here and here." Oh, well, now I do see that a crumb or two has been removed. Glad you gave them the old college try, dear. But Mark had already led the way and it was corn squares for Elizabeth too. Seeing her older brother and sister, Savannah declared that she also did not like them. But she wouldn't let me take hers away and ate it. Emma also approved of cookies above corn squares. Thank goodness. If the 2-year-old had voted for corn squares above cookies, I really might have had to throw in the towel.

Spoiled children aside, however, I did have to admit that my first try (not this recipe, which is re-done and much improved if I do say so myself) weren't my best. Don't get me wrong. They were better, to my mind at least, than corn squares. But they were a little bland. And a wee bit dry. And too...too wheat-y and earnest and boring.

Though truth be told, I sometimes even feel that normal chocolate chip cookies err on that side. Which is why I sometimes like to throw in a bit of oat flour. Which I thought would be just the thing for these.

And they were. These still aren't a perfect cookie. They're a bit too pale and lack buttery crispiness for obvious reasons. They're still a bit earnest, though not so much you wouldn't consider a second date. In fact their earnestness is what kind of makes them interesting. The wheat and oats allow them a lot of flavor without all the glamour of a buttery chocolatey chippety caramelized-sugar-at-the-edges-y cookie. It's a solid recipe with a bit of sweet. Sometimes we can really use that in our lives.

And how do my older kids feel about all that sturdy character and what not? Well, I haven't had a chance to ask them. After their corn squares experience yesterday, I didn't bother myself to get up ten minutes early today to whip up some gooey-chipped cookies before they had to catch the bus. They got more corn squares and then I made these cookies. The little girls and I thought they were grand.

Chocolate Chip Breakfast Cookies--Whole grain, low sugar, low fat
Makes 12
Prep time: 5 minutes
Bake time: 10 minutes
Cost: $1.22
(butter: .30, sugars: .12, egg: .10, whole wheat flour: .10, oats: .10, chocolate chips: .50)

1/4 C butter, melted
3 Tbsp white sugar
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 C white whole wheat flour (brown would probably work too)
1/2 C oat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
dash salt if using unsalted butter
1/4-1/2 C chocolate chips

Note: If you don't have oat flour (I never do), then you can blend oats in a blender to make it; it's got a bit more texture than a store-bought flour, but I kind of like it that way.

Melt butter. Add sugars and stir. Add egg and vanilla and stir until thoroughly combined. Add whole wheat flour, oat flour, baking soda, and dash of salt. Add chocolate chips.

Drop by spoonfuls onto lightly greased pan.

Bake at 375 for 10 minutes or until just turning a bit golden.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Bok Choy in Soy Glaze

Bok choy and I had never met until a couple years ago. It's still definitely one of the new kids in American veggie land. When I went through the Walmart checkout recently (and, yes, they do carry it at Walmart so it's not the newest kid in town), the checker had no idea what it was. When I told him, he said this was his first time checking bok choy. Which just goes to prove what a trendy metropolis Evansville is. If, of course, by trendy metropolis you're referring to the city with the most McDonald's per square foot (note: I just made that fact up; it may or may not be true).

At any rate, if you haven't made bok choy's acquaintance, you really should. It's a lovely green Chinese cabbage (not to be confused with Napa cabbage, which is also a Chinese variety, but different). It does quite well in cool weather and for that reason, often makes an appearance in fall CSA boxes. Which is where--I believe--I first met it.

Of course I had no idea what to do with it. Which is when allrecipes.com came to the rescue. You know, in a lot of ways, allrecipes is sort of the amazon.com of recipe land. It's not necessarily the most chic of all internet venues, but it comes sporting tons of reviews, comments, suggestions, and--thus--a pretty good idea of what you'll get.

The recipe I found was good enough to inspire me to grow bok choy in my own garden that year. As I plan to do in the years to come. But this month I just bought it. From the now-enlightened checker at Walmart. I hope you will too.

You'll be surprised at how amazing it is. It has a fresh, crisp, slightly exotic flavor, which is accentuated when prepared with some sesame oil and a soy sauce based glaze. It's great with fish or mixed in with rice, but I really enjoyed it just in a big bowl as well.

(By the way, you'll see a few different spellings for bok choy, so know that pak choy, bak choi, etc. are all really the same thing.)

Bok Choy in Soy Glaze
adapted just a bit from allrecipes
Serves 2-4
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Cost: $1.70-ish. The main cost comes from your bok choy, so it depends on how much you pay for it.

1 lb bok choy (about 1 large head)
1 Tbsp canola oil (I used a bit less--all is well as long as your pan stays well greased)
1 Tbsp sesame oil (I used a bit less)
1/4 C water
1 tsp grated, peeled fresh ginger (or 1/2 tsp ground ginger)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
a pinch or 2 of crushed red pepper flakes

1. Trim off the ends and wash your bok choy.

2. Here's the most important part: You must separate your stalks and leaves. Just chop the green leaf parts off of the white stem parts. Then chop the stems and chop the leaves. The stems take longer to cook and if you just throw them all in together, you'll have mushy gross leaves by the time your stems are tender. Raw-ish stems are actually usually pretty tasty, but can be difficult to digest, so, well, there you go.

3. Heat oils in a large skillet over medium high heat.

4. Throw in your chopped white stalks. Give them a toss in the oils and give them a stir occasionally.

5. While they cook, mix the water, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, brown sugar and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

6. When stems are almost cooked (they'll turn a pale green and be tender), add the leaves. Cook them until they've wilted (1-2 minutes). Remove this from heat.

7. Pour your water/soy sauce/sugar mixture into your skillet and boil until reduced by half and slightly syrupy (this won't take long). When it's done, throw the leaves back in the skillet and give them a toss in the glaze. Serve hot.


Monday, January 16, 2012

A Few Changes and a Question

So the big news today is that I've joined Pinterest. You'll find the little red button below on the right if you'd like to "follow me" on it (or whatever the right term is). I'm still figuring it out, so it will take me approximately 97 years to know quite what I'm doing. I'm probably a lot like your great-grandma when it comes to computer stuff. If I ruled the world, I'd just have hundreds of recipes stuck to the walls all around the kitchen (probably with masking tape), but that would raise Kip's blood pressure to approximately 3000/6228, so we're going to give Pinterest a go. It's kind of exciting, really--you see a page you like and just click, "Pin it" and there it is on your little internet bulletin board. Wow. Now if I can just remember my password long enough to... Well, we'll get there.

I'm also rearranging the blog just a bit. I'm considering eliminating the "labels," the "blog archive," and possibly the "Most Popular Posts" from view to clean up the site. Does anybody love or hate those features? If you do, let me know before one or all get the ax.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Curried Chickpeas With Greens

I'm not sure what I've done to offend my metabolism, but lately it seems we may have permanently parted ways. If I've had even a moderate sized breakfast (and no exercise), I don't really get hungry again until 1:00 or sometimes later. And yet I don't want to blow my dinner by eating a too-filling lunch since we eat dinner pretty early 'round here. It's times like these we can be thankful for vegetarian cooking. It tends often towards the lighter side and is generally heavy on nutritious stuff like vegetables and beans.

I made this Everyday Food-inspired recipe today. Only I was out of spinach and didn't have cauliflower or fresh tomatoes (who does) and the stewed tomatoes that I thought would be a lovely substitution were not in my pantry--stacks of sauce, puree, juice, and paste sat there staring at me without one single little can or jar of diced or stewed tomatoes blinking at me from anywhere. Besides wanting to kick my already down metabolism, I also wanted to poke my eyes out. Fortunately for me, some wilty bok choy and a bit of frozen tomato puree came to the rescue and turned out a healthy, tasty, almost stew-like meal. If you and your metabolism are still on speaking terms, you can serve it over farro, barley, rice, or a grain of your choice, but I just ate mine plain and, for me, that was just right.

I do have one small confession to make: It was good with chick peas, but I thought it would have been even better with chicken.

Curried Chickpeas with Greens
Serves 4-6
Prep and cook time: 30 minutes
Cost: $4.10
(chick peas: 1.32, onion: .20, tomato sauce: 1.50, bok choy: 1.00, other stuff: .08)

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, mince
1 Tbsp minced peeled fresh ginger (or 1 tsp ground ginger)
4 tsp curry powder
2 cans (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 C water
2 C tomato sauce--I used homemade (or two cans (15 oz) stewed or diced tomatoes--could be added with or without sauce, depending on how soupy you want it to be)
3 C bok choy (or other green)
1 tsp salt (and maybe a dab of Better Than Bullion if you are not a strict vegetarian)
1 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro, optional

A few notes before we begin. You can substitute any green for the bok choy (spinach, kale, chard), though you should know that something soft like spinach will need to be thrown in at the very end of cooking while something like kale, you'll want to put in earlier--probably halfway through the onion cooking time or at least with the chick peas. I'll add tips for adaptations in the instructions below.

Heat in a sauce pan while you dice your onion. Throw them in and stir them around to coat. Let them cook over medium, stirring occasionally until they're nice and golden. This will take about 10 minutes.

In the meantime, cut your bok choy. You're going to cut the thick stems off the leaves and then dice up the stems. Throw these stems in with the onions after the onions have cooked for about 5 minutes. Reserve the leaves and give them a chop. Then mince your garlic and your ginger.

When the onions are ready, add the garlic, ginger, and curry powder. Stir around until fragrant. [At this point if you're using a sturdy green like kale, you can toss it in too.] Add chickpeas, tomato sauce, and water. Bring to a gentle simmer and simmer until everything is warmed through and tender.

Stir in leaves from bok choy and cilantro if using. [At this point if using a soft green like spinach, you can toss it in.] Cook until wilted--about 2 minutes.

Add salt and/or dab of Better Than Bullion to taste. I also added a good sprinkle of black pepper and a dash of cumin just because.

Serve over grain of choice or eat it as is.


Friday, January 13, 2012

How Much Have My Grocery Costs Risen In a Year?

Is that the dullest title or what? Nevertheless I've been looking forward to writing this article for the better part of 6 months. And by 'looking forward,' let me clarify that I do not mean with eagerness, but rather with great interest.

I realized in the middle of the year last year that one of the advantages of obsessively tracking the costs of my food was that I noticed how much things were jumping. Some things, of course, have merely fluctuated, so I thought it would be the most fair to compare January to January (truth be told, it might even be fairer to compare March to March because I do feel there's the occasional leftover bit of something in January that hasn't cleared out from the year before whose price will jump as soon as it does).

Here are some staples we commonly eat with the 2011 price versus 2012 price as well as the store where I regularly purchase it. Most are pantry items or items that don't quickly perish, though I did include some seasonal produce (which has remained surprisingly stable, though perhaps that's just an Aldi thing) to keep it real. I do wish I could have done a graph for you, but my computer skills push my brain to the limit as is.

Here is how it will look:

Product: 2011 price/2012 price (store).

Eggs: 1.29/.79 (Aldi--much cheaper this year and has been for over a month now--not sure why)
Cocoa: 1.99/2.29 (Aldi)
Whole Wheat Flour: 2.76/3.38 (Walmart)
White flour: 1.19/1.19 (Aldi. It was actually 1.09 today, but that was a sale price. It should be noted that it went up more in the middle of the year as well.)
Milk: 1.99/1.99 (Aldi)
Peter Pan Peanut Butter, 80 oz.: 8.74/13.68 (Walmart and, yes, ouch)
GV applesauce: 1.50/1.64 (Walmart)
GV 1 lb pasta 1.00/1.08 (Walmart)
butter, 1 lb 1.99/1.99 (Aldi. Price is higher in middle of year.)
Tuna: .49/.59 (Aldi)
Tomato Sauce, the tiniest one: .25/.29 (Aldi)
Honey Nut Cereal: 1.59/1.59
Yogurt, 32 oz.: 1.59/1.99
Generic Saltine Crackers: .79/.89 (Aldi)
Sugar, 5 lb: 2.49/2.19 (Aldi. I expect the price to go up soon; it was about 2.69 before December, but hasn't gone back done yet--in fact this one might get thrown out of the lineup because I fear we're comparing a "seasonal" price to a non-seasonal one.)
GV tomato puree: 1.36/1.48 (Walmart)
Cream: 1.59/1.89 (Aldi)
Cabot Sharp cheddar, 2 lb: 7.86/9.38 Walmart

And some seasonal produce, just to give a sampling of some fresh stuff:

Oranges, 4 lb: 1.49/1.49
Spinach: 1.69/1.69
Grapefruit: .29/.39
apples, 3 lb: 2.99/2.99 (Aldi. They are on sale this week, but I'm counting what's been normal for the last little while)

$44.43 for 2011 versus $52.69 for 2012 for a difference of $8.26, which is a difference of 18 %.

Wow. (To be accurate and thorough, I tried these costs without the peanut butter jump as it has jumped so very much that it was labeled by my accountant sister an "outlier." Without the PB, there was only a 6.6% increase. This is still a notable increase, though not as shocking. However, outlier or not, I feel it's somewhat fair to include it because I don't anticipate the cost going down soon and some of these outliers--am I even spelling this right--are what our kicking our food budget butts. In fact, it's these outliers that we need to watch out for so that we can make appropriate adjustments in our budgets (buy them at bulk stores or really stock up when there is a sale).

Further Conclusions:

-All of our Walmart staples have gone up, while only some of our Aldi staples have.
-Peanut butter--good gracious. I plan to have a look at Sam's when I go with my January "visitor" coupon.
-Wheat--good gracious also, but not nearly so much good gracious

What to Do?

18% is not a number to laugh at. However, as noted above, part of the reason for that is that an outlier (a food item that has increased significantly more than the norm) is what has caused much of that jump. In our case, this is peanut butter. Maybe for you it's pine nuts. Whatever the culprit may be, it's our job as consumers to pinpoint some of those outliers (big jumpers) and try to find them for lower costs--perhaps at a different store or on sale or or in a decent generic version or on amazon.com or by hunting down some coupons and stocking up. It's frustrating to see our grocery bill steadily climb, but grabbing at chances to decrease those big ticket items is going to get us a lot further than stressing over the $.10 increase in tuna fish.

If you really can't find them cheaper, you'll have to eat the cost or adjust what you eat in general. In our case that might mean less peanut butter sandwiches, breakfast cookies and straight up scoops out of the jar (say it isn't so) and more of something else. We're just going to hope it doesn't have to come to that, but if it does, my new year's food goal is to get my oldest to eat oatmeal (is anyone else hearing the Mission Impossible theme music rolling right now).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Whole Wheat Orange Muffins with Zesty Glaze

Pretty enough for a brunch. Healthy enough for a January breakfast. Amen and amen. Of course we don't do brunch around here unless breakfast is running so late that it sort of turns into, um, brunch (does it count as brunch if people are sitting naked except for diapers/underwear around the table or is that against the strict standards of brunching etiquette?). 

A few notes on this recipe:

-It calls for corn syrup. I went with that, but I'm not sure why it's there and why it can't just be a couple tablespoons of white sugar. 
-I'm sure you could use fresh or frozen juice, but you're zesting the orange, so you might as well juice it too.
-When I made the zesty glaze, my original plan was to roll in onto a warm muffin and coat the muffin that way. That didn't work--the sugar and zest wouldn't adhere to the muffin or stay put on anything. I was going to just leave the muffins as they were (because they taste great plain as well), but after an hour or so, I noticed that the juices from the zest had sort of melted the sugar and now I had more of a glazy thing to work with. I stuck the tops of the muffins in and just enough sugary water/zest stuck to look pretty and give the muffins a nice orange-y kick. (This is how it looked after sitting:

-You could leave the zest off.
-You could increase the sugar in the zesty glaze (as it is it's for orange flavor and punch only; there's not a lot of extra sweetness added)
-You could frost or glaze the muffins (for extra sweetness) and then add the zest to the top of that for prettiness. I'd recommend a cream cheese frosting, but use what you will. 

Whole Wheat Orange Muffins with Zesty Glaze
adapted from tasty kitchen
Makes 9-10
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10-15 minutes
Cost: $.75 (That's about $.07/muffin; take that coffee shops)
milk: .05, oil: .03, egg: .10, 1 large orange: .25, whole wheat flour: .20, sugars: .12)

1/3 C milk
3 Tbsp canola oil
1 egg
2 Tbsp corn syrup
1/3 C orange juice (1 large orange)
1 pinch grated orange zest
1 C whole wheat pastry flour (I used white whole wheat)
1/3 C brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

For the zesty glaze:
1-2 Tbsp orange zest
2 Tbsp sugar

To prepare muffins:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk milk, oil, egg, corn syrup, orange juice, and pinch of zest.

Mix in flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt until batter just combined. 

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean or with some moist crumbs. 

To add glaze:

(You'll want to start this before you do the muffins so it can sit long enough to have the sugars melt.)

Combine zest and sugar. It will be granular at first (and smell awesome). Let it just sit there until the sugars have sort of melted and you have some watery stuff in the bowl. Then it's ready. Dip tops of muffins into this. 

Serve warm or cool. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Work-a-Day Wednesday: Braised Brussels Sprouts

Lately brussels sprouts and I have really been feeling the love. I discovered I actually liked brussels sprouts last year after overcoming a life of lies, deception, and a couple unfortunate run-ins with buffet style brussels sprouts.

I've come even further since then. This summer I gave them a try in my garden--just on one of those gardeny whims. Only one of my plants actually ended up producing and I'll be danged if I didn't have the slightest idea of how these babies looked on a stalk. I'd expected the sprouts part to cluster up in a little bunch at the top, a la broccoli. Instead they grow in the nooks of the leaves and get larger as the season goes on. They take a long time to mature (I actually harvested mine--and they were teeny--in an unseasonably warm December since I hadn't put them in till May). I got a whopping 1/2 C of tiny sprouts, but I was proud anyway, and I'll be darned if they didn't sautee into the sweetest little things.

And then brussels sprouts recipes started popping up all over the internet. And then I learned that they're called brussels sprouts, not brussel sprouts. (Who knew?)

And then I made a bunch of sprout recipes in a row. They were all different and all delicious.

The thing about brussels sprouts is that you can't boil or steam them or they get a bitter taste. Sometimes, if you leave them whole they'll boil or steam within their own little tightly-leafed heads even if you're roasting or sauteeing them, so it's best to chop or thinly slice them.

If you're going to be cooking them in water or stock as I do with this recipe, the cooking must be done quickly and without a lid. I cannot stress enough that you don't want these steaming. Set them to high heat and let them absorb the yummy liquids, but don't let them stew in the liquids. This makes for fast cooking. Which is why they're so nice for Work-a-Day Wednesday. They're done in 5 minutes. 

Just be sure to make them last because they really are best served hot

A newcomer to the the brussels sprouts revolution? Have a look at my original post, How Not to Hate Brussels Sprouts

Today's recipe is originally from Laura at This Is How We Eat. Laura and I were high school friends (she's also got a butt-kicky voice and the best hair ever) and have now been reunited through facebook and food. Isn't growing up nice? 

Braised Brussels Sprouts
adapted from This Is How We Eat
Prep and cook time: 10 minutes
Cost: $2.75

1 pound brussels sprouts
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 C chicken stock

Chop of the ends of your brussels sprouts and get rid of any sad leaves. Thinly slice the heads of the sprouts (alternately I'm sure you could just chop them, but they're prettier sliced). 

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add brussels sprouts and garlic and raise heat to medium high. Stir them very consistently--as in not quite constantly, but don't run off and do something else. Stir them every 30 seconds or so. When the leaves/slices get a bit wilty, soft, and perhaps a wee bit brown at the edges. Now add half your chicken stock. It'll soak up/boil off pretty quickly and that's a good thing. Add the rest of the stock and let it soak up/boil off quickly as well. When the liquid is nearly gone, but not quite, take the brussels sprouts off the heat.

Eat them soon thereafter. If you wish to add a sprinkle of Parmesan, I won't stop you, though they definitely don't need it. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Chocolate Mint Frosting

Emma's turning two. Do you know what that means? It means, well it means a lot of things, like that she can climb onto the sink and turn the water on and get a "drink" ("shower"). It means she can open the fridge and that she can flush (but not use) the toilet. It means your toothbrush is not safe from her and that the knives and medicines must be kept way way way up high. It means she insists on kissing everyone in the family before going to bed and that even when she's being naughty she'll come to me and say, "Huggies," which really does make so many things right in the world. It means she can dance, and sing, and try to shoplift candy from the store and pitch a pretty good tantrum. It means she can imitate nearly everything her brother and sisters do or say (for better or for worse). And it means she looks wicked sweet in a couple of pigtails. 

But today, today what it means is that for another year or two I don't have to worry about her insisting on getting a 4-layer rainbow cake (not that I would mind if she did) or having pink everything (not that I would mind if she did) and that I can just whip up a simple wacky cake in a simple 9x13 inch pan and add whatever kind of icing sounds good to me today. For an after-bustle-of-Christmas birthday, that's kind of nice. I intend to enjoy it while I can.  

You'll find my wacky cake recipe here. You mix it in the pan. It contains no eggs, milk, or butter, and is therefore extremely cheap while also being allergy/vegan friendly if you're interested in that sort of thing. It is incredibly moist and simple and perfect in every way. Today I decided to take a walk on the wild side by frosting it with a chocolate mint frosting. Emma seemed to think that was a great idea. She was covered in chocolate before lunch and is now onto her 2nd shirt. How many do you think we'll go through before birthday number 2 is over? 

Chocolate Mint Frosting
Makes enough for one 9x13 or two 8 or 9-inch round cakes
Prep time: 5-10 minutes
Cost: $1.30
(butter: .25, cocoa: .25, milk: .07, sugar: .70., other: .03)

1/2 C (1 stick) butter
1/2 C cocoa
3/8 C (6 Tbsp) milk
4 C powdered sugar
1/2 tsp mint extract

Heat butter, cocoa, and milk. If you want to feel sweet and old-fashioned-y, you can do this in a saucepan. It smells lovely and invokes images of early 20th century grandmothers. If you're onto the 2nd birthday of your 4th child and it's 16 days after Christmas, you can do this in a big microwave safe bowl in the microwave. You need to heat it until your butter is nearly melted and everything is warm. 

Now beat it all together until it looks like chocolate awesomeness. But don't taste it because unless you like things 100% dark, it won't taste good. Now try telling your kids that. Okay, add the powdered sugar and beat it until there are no lumps and it's creamy and beautiful. Now try keeping your kids and their spoons and their clean shirts out of it. 

Add the mint extract. Beat it in and you're done. Frost the cake when it's fairly cool. If it's in a 9x13 inch pan, it needn't be entirely cool, but it can't be hot either. 

Now go change your shirt. I think someone grabbed your arm. 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Button Mushrooms Simmered in Juice (aka White Wine Mushrooms Sans the Wine--sure, why not)

Recently, I made Pioneer Woman's Turkey Tetrazzini. And I realized a few important things about myself. 

1. I don't like turkey leftovers that are cooked into a casserole or soup. I like turkey leftovers, oh yes I do. I like them as themselves, with leftover potatoes and stuffing. Or used cold in salads and sandwiches (yummmm....). But for whatever reason other forms of leftover turkey don't work for me. 

2. I love mushrooms and should buy them more often and make more stuff with them and tell them all my secrets and otherwise be best friends. The first part of the (somewhat fussy) tetrazzini recipe involved sauteeing mushrooms in butter and then simmering them in white wine (I used white grape juice). Truly I should have stopped there because I fell in looooove and kept picking mushrooms out throughout the cooking process. 

Why did I use juice instead of wine? Well, I did it because this is a non-drinking family and thus we never have wine on hand. However, I have to say that using juice instead of wine is also an excellent cheapskate thing to do. You still get a sweetly simmered mushroom, but it costs a lot less. 

White Wine Mushrooms Sans the Wine--sure why not
Serves 2-4
Prep time: 2 minutes
Cook time: 10-15 minutes
Cost: $1.75
mushrooms: 1.49, butter: .12, white grape juice: .14

1 lb mushrooms, all the dirt scrubbed off and mushrooms cut into quarters
2 Tbsp butter
1/3-1/2 C white grape juice 

Melt butter in a saucepan. Add quartered mushrooms and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add grape juice and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce a bit and boil until the juice is almost gone and you have just a bit of syrupy buttery yum left in the bottom of your pan. 

Serve hot. Try not to burn your mouth or to eat the whole lot. Because that's a lot of 'shrooms. Not that I know from experience or anything. Also, try not to lick off your buttery juicy plate. Although I won't judge you if you do. No, I definitely will not be casting the first stone there. 

And here's a picture of the finished product. My excuse for its ugliness is that we have a new camera and, although eventually this should make my pictures better, there's a bit of a learning curve, especially for someone as technically impaired as I. 


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