Posted in Throwback Thursday

The Apolitical Cookie

Happy Fourth, everyone! Nowadays it seems there’s a lot to unpack when you think about our country and what it means to feel patriotic. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone wants to feel safe. Everyone wants what they think is best for themselves and their family. Everyone wants to be loved and feel needed. Everyone wants to belong. Everyone wants to be healthy and thrive.

See? We aren’t so different after all.

So I decided to make some cookies this afternoon. There’s a correlation here, so bear with me.

I’d wanted to try Laura Bush’s Texas Governor’s Mansion Cowboy Cookies, first published in Family Circle magazine in 2000, for a couple of weeks now. I was assured they’d be the best cowboy cookies I’d ever made. Never having made any at all, this promise was a likely guarantee. With the holiday off of work, today was a perfect excuse to whip these babies up. It wasn’t until I had the first cookie sheet ready to slip into the oven that I realized how appropriate the recipe was for the Fourth of July.

As expected, the cookies baked up Texas-sized. The edges are light and crispy with the coconut giving it texture and chew. It’s also entirely possible there may be a little magic involved. The recipe yields 24 cookies. I down-sized it by a third and, using the recommended 1/4-cup measurement per each, I still baked 24 cookies. Sorcery!

I got to thinking about baking the Laura Bush cookies. I wasn’t very political-thinking back when she was our FLOTUS. I can’t even tell you who I voted for. But I can tell you unequivocally, Laura knows her way around a cowboy cookie. It’s not political. It’s not partisan. It’s just a damned good cookie.

Happy birthday, ‘Merica!

Peace . . .

Posted in Room and Board

Minnesotans Grasp the Last of the Season

I love to watch the sun come up over houses across the way.  The neighbors’ trees stand high above their rooftops, and the sun lights them up like fire at this time of year.  How fast the summers fly these days.  Here in Minnesota, we grasp the end of the season like life itself is slipping through our fingers.

As I write, I see there is frost on the shingles.  It will be a good day to bring in the remaining tomatoes that might have ripened in the garden.  I made some notes for next year, entitled Garden 2016.  It says things like

No onions
More carrots
Lots of kale
Plant tomatoes in the side yard
Spread out herbs
Expand concrete block garden
Only two or three zucchini plants

Winter is as long as summer is short.  I tend to forget what it was I wanted to do unless I write it down.  Especially where zucchini is concerned.  Zucchini is one of those things that gives a gardener a boost of confidence.  If you’ve ever been offered an armload of zucchini, you know how prolific they are.  I don’t know how many seeds are in a packet, but there are several dozen too many for the average family.  Yet, planting two or three seeds from a handful of many seems somehow wasteful when it’s so easy to just pop a few more in the dirt.  And that’s where the zucchini takeover begins.

UntitledThe summer also brought me some really great luck with jalapeño peppers.  They started ripening at the same time as the zucchini.  One morning I began to harvest, stomach growling and mouth watering.  I thought to myself, “There has got to be something I can make for breakfast with zucchini and jalapeño peppers.”  And so I headed where all great cooks go . . . to Pinterest. I plugged “jalapeño” and “zucchini” into the search bar.  Lo and behold, my screen filled with tasty options.

The most delicious-sounding recipe was some type of zucchini-jalapeño pancake.  Unfortunately, I didn’t pin it, and I can’t seem to find it again to share with you here.  As I read the list of ingredients, I checked my mental pantry.  “Got that . . . yup . . . ooh, I have that . . .”  I knew I’d like it because all the ingredients were my favorites.  Then I read the directions.  It called for squeezing the hell out of the shredded zucchini no less than three times, separated by 15-minute intervals.  And I was hungry NOW!

Not being one to let the culinary arts get the best of me, I started to imagine something simpler.  Instead of grating the zucchini and squeezing the water out, I would noodle them with my Veggetti™ (which my kids maintain is a vulgar-sounding gadget), and sauté the water out.  Using all the same ingredients, minus the almond flour, I made the MOST delicious frittata.  It was such a mainstay of my summer breakfasts, that I want to share it with you here.

Ingredients:

 1 T olive oil
1 medium zucchini, noodled or shredded
1 finely diced jalapeño pepper
1 slice cooked bacon, diced
2 eggs 1 T cream (or milk)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/4 c shredded parmesan

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat oil in a medium oven-safe skillet over medium heat until a drop of water skitters on the surface.  Meanwhile, whisk eggs with cream, salt and pepper.  Add zucchini noodles and jalapeño.  Sauté until vegetables are beginning to brown and the water has cooked away.

Pour egg mixture over vegetables.  Sprinkle diced bacon over the top and place in hot oven.

When the eggs are nearly set, sprinkle parmesan over the top.  Return to oven until eggs set. Best enjoyed al fresco!

Experiment with your own herbs, vegetables, and cheese.  I made several variations of this frittata, and I couldn’t tell you which was my favorite.  Whatever is in the garden and fridge is fair game!

Peace . . .

Posted in Family

The Kitchen: Heart of the Home

IMG_20140719_200225_256It is called the heart of the home.  The kitchen is where, no matter how big or small, everyone gathers at the same time.  The dinner table of my childhood was in the kitchen, nestled tightly between the basement and back doors, and the pocket-door to the dining room.  The traffic pattern rivaled Grand Central Station, yet five of us sat comfortably, served from the white gas range which stood against the wall.

The floor that was there before it was upgraded to linoleum was speckled, as were the counters.  The incandescent light was small, and gave off a golden glow amplified by the cheery yellow walls.  Frilly curtains ruffled from the window over the sink.

The kitchen is where Dad got me to eat canned peas by telling me they taste better when squished with the back of my fork, and fresh tomatoes by sprinkling them with sugar.  He put a scoop of ice cream on cantaloupe, and he dolloped ketchup on his beef stew.  Most of his meals he ate with a slice of bread slathered with butter and strawberry jam.  I can still summon his spirit with a slice of that goodness.

IMG_20140719_200749_195The refrigerator has changed remarkably since I was a girl.  Not only has it gotten bigger with more compartments and easier to maintain, it contains a plethora of condiments, seasons, sauces and flavors that never existed in my childhood fridge.  We had ketchup, mustard, Miracle Whip, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, Hershey’s syrup, and possibly a leftover jar of pickles or olives from the last holiday dinner.  There was no salsa, chili paste, Szechwan sauce, hot peppers, tabouli, pesto, hummus or even minced garlic for that matter.  Back then there was meat and there were vegetables.  If you were lucky, there was Jell-O for dessert.

Cooking and eating were not the only reasons we spent time in the kitchen.  My mother and grandmother ironed things like sheets, handkerchiefs and underwear in there, discussing the best practice for dampening the wrinkles, or starching the work shirts.  A child-sized iron and board sat in the corner, for pretending.  It really plugged in and warmed a little to the touch.

Haircuts were given to my reluctant teen brothers, who would rather have donned long sweeping styles like that of the Beatles.  Draped in towels or old sheets, the boys argued, whined and complained while the buzzers and Dad’s special hair-cutting scissors removed lengths of hair to the kitchen floor.

IMG_20140719_200807_532We shared news in the kitchen.  My brother leaving for the Marines, another getting engaged and later having children were all disclosed at the dinner table.  Accounts from the day and headlines from the paper were discussed over cups of milk or plates of spaghetti.

The kitchen was a classroom.  This is where my mother learned to cook from my father, who learned what he knew from his mother.  The grandmother I never knew was one heck of a cook, whose lemon meringue pies cannot be matched to this day, I am told.

My mother, ever the student, one time subscribed to a cooking class encyclopedia.  She pledged to take it one class at a time until she was a master at the art of French cooking.   She cooked for hours upon hours, and did finally serve a delectable coq au vin in our formal dining room by candlelight, but not after scouring the city for chicken feet, or beaks or some such part.  We laughed all through dinner about how she had finally given up and used chicken wings.  It may have been the only recipe she ever used from that expensive volume of books.

IMG_20140719_200507_780Of course, I learned my love of food, both eating and preparing, in that kitchen.  There were early mornings watching Dad prepare the Thanksgiving turkey.  Late nights helping Mom with Christmas cookies.  Favorite casseroles cut from the newspaper, salads created from the side of a pasta box.  The heart of the home.  The home of my heart.

After my mother’s death, the things from my childhood kitchen were laid out, dollars and cents scribbled on tags hurriedly attached on the handles.  I will leave this full story for another time, but I was told, “These are just things.  They can’t bring her back.”  The words were meant to comfort me; to dry the tears rolling down my face.  At the end of the day, I did end up bringing home the things that meant the most to me.  And do you know what?  It does bring her back.  Just a little bit.

 

The photos in this post are some of the things I grew up with in my mother’s kitchen and are now a part of my daily life.

Peace . . .

 

From Shirley’s Kitchen:

Chicken Breasts with Wine

  • 4 boned chicken breast halves, skinned
  • 1/2 c. flour, seasoned with garlic powder and paprika
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1/4 c. dry white wine
  • 1 c. sliced fresh white mushrooms

Coat chicken with flour mixture. Brown in oil lightly. Remove chicken, melt butter, add wine and mushrooms; sauté over low heat until the mushrooms release their moisture.  Pour over chicken in baking dish.

This may be done the day before baking and stored in the refrigerator.

Bake uncovered 350˚ for 45 – 60 minutes.

 

Posted in Room and Board

Holier Than Chow

Diet and nutrition have been elevated to a passion equal to that of religion.  People don’t just share recipes for fun anymore.  They share recipes the way they pass out propaganda listing the benefits of a virtuous life.  The recipes include organic, locally grown ingredients, with instructions for storing it in an environmentally friendly method.  Cooking anything else for your family will guilt you down to a loathsome, uncaring, gluttonous scum of the earth.

lunch bagBack when Mom packed my lunch she bought white bread, spread on Miracle Whip, slapped a piece of bologna in it, then packed it up with Fritos and a pop.  (Read “soda” if you live outside Minnesota.)

That’s right.  My bread was not whole grain, my sandwich spread had lots of ingredients she couldn’t pronounce, and the lunchmeat — well, we don’t want to know.  The sandwich sat in a brown paper bag until it’s internal temperature was 87 degrees.  But boy, was it good with those Fritos tucked between the doughy-white slabs of Wonderbread!  To top it off, the packaging all got tossed in the trash because there was no such thing as recycling.

I’m not saying I want to go back to that, but eating food was fun.  You had to go to church if you wanted to feel guilty.  Not anymore.  There are food priests among us, folks.  These are people with deep-rooted beliefs who feel that if you are not eating what they are eating, you are doing yourself — NAY! The WORLD a grave disservice.

It is the food priest’s mission in life to save your nutritional soul, and lead you (kicking and screaming) to health.  But wait!  There is no eternal life, here.  We’re all dying in the end.  The goal is to die as healthily as possible — perhaps biking to Whole Foods.

saladThe rite of worship is the meal.  It is in the planning, buying, preparation and consumption.  Oblivious to other shoppers, meditation of labels takes place smack in the center of each isle.  Children are indoctrinated in front of the bananas, blocking all access from other food clergy and heathen alike.  Trips to organic farms are carried out like pilgrimages to the holy land.  The meal is consumed in solemn reverence of the plants that sacrificed their life.

Yummm . . . animal secretions . . .
Yummm . . . animal secretions . . .

The food priest also hears confession.  They use scary phrases such as “animal secretions” as euphemisms for wholesome sounding ingredients like eggs, milk, and honey.  “Refined sugar” equals cookies and muffins.

MMmmm . . . FLESH!
MMmmm . . . FLESH!

“Flesh” is the definition for roast beef or turkey breast.  The cuisine of our mothers is smugly called “Comfort Food” like a poisonous secret.  Sins are encouraged to be confessed using these terms, the worst of which is pink slime, and punishable by up to a full month of liquid detox diet.

Unsought counseling is very often the first indication that you have encountered a food priest.  You may experience unwelcome scrutiny over your cheeseburger with grilled onions and fries.  The evangelist may laughingly toss out the nickname of “foodie” as if adding an “e” to a word makes it harmless.  Druggy.  Achey breaky.  Owie.

In severe cases, you may be required to refrain from eating food prepared in certain establishments.  If it is suggested that you discard of kitchen utensils that have ever touched prohibited edibles, it is very possible you have encountered an actual nutritional cult.  This is dangerous, as you may never enjoy eating again, leading to any of a multitude of eating disorders.

Ellen

Look, I’m glad we all have our religion, democracy, and plenty of nutritional models to choose from.  I’m not picking on anyone.  Personally, I tend to be nutritionally non-denominational.  I love my congregation, as we welcome vegans, ovo-lacto vegetarians, omnivores, Aktins followers, and anything in between.  We “pin” recipes, listen to each other rave about menus, and share samples.  When faced with a meal, we EAT it, ENJOY it, and share in each other’s company.  No one is moping, or preaching, or judging.

I try to do what I think is right for the world, my family, and my body . . . most of the time.  Admittedly, I sometimes feed my disposition (which is often a pepperoni pizza with chocolate chip cookies for dessert).  pepperoni pizzaHow very lucky for me that I have that choice.  You may choose to indulge in pomegranate.  Some people can only choose from rice or beans.  Some can choose from thirst or unclean water.  I’m pretty sure some would choose GM corn over starvation.

Which brings me to corn, and anyone who knows me well has heard me say, “Don’t get me started on corn!”  So yes, I know the sermon.  You’re preaching to the choir.  And sometimes the choir is fed up (literally).  I’m just asking the food priests to please stop trying to shove their communion down my throat.  If I want it, I know where to find it.

Posted in Room and Board

Scandalous Black Bean Soup

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In my search to find the perfect black bean soup recipe, I ended up creating my own.  I have at least ten in my collection, but nothing was . . . quite right.  So it was a little less like this recipe, more like that one, OH! let’s add that . . and the next thing you know I had exactly what I was looking for.  Just in time for Autumn!  The weather channel is talking possible frost in St. Paul this week, but I’ll be warm and toasty, and yes — a little spicy with my black bean soup.

The next task, after creating a recipe, is coming up with a name.  Would you listen to me?  Suddenly I’m a how-to expert on creating recipes!  If you do a search on black bean soup you’re going to find a million options.  Try narrowing your search with spicy black bean soup.  You’re now down to half a million.  Ok, I didn’t really count.  The point is, I needed something to set it apart from the crowd.  Enter the thesaurus!  Synonyms for spicy came up as zesty, tasty, seasoned, blah, blah, blah . . . boring!  Working further down the list I found the word scandalous!  Perfect!

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For starters, I use the crock-pot to cook my beans, as touted in The Vegan Slow Cooker by Kathy Hester.  The beans are rinsed, covered with water by a few inches, and cooked on low until they are done.  Kathy also mentions that beans can be frozen in 1-1/2 cup portions to use later in recipes that call for a can of beans.  Am I the only one who didn’t know all this?  This book has changed my life!

Scandalous Black Bean Soupdscn0535

1 T. Olive Oil
2 Stalk Celery, diced
1 large Onion, chopped
2 Carrot, diced
2 Cloves Garlic, minced
2 Jalepeno Pepper, finely chopped
1/2 t. Chili Powder
1/4 t. Paprika
1/2 t. Cumin
1-1/2 t. Salt
3/4 t. Pepper
1 pound dry, cooked Black Beans
or 4 cans rinsed and drained Black Beans
1 can diced Tomatoes with Mild Green Chilies
2 c. Vegetable Broth
2 c. Whole Kernel Corn
2 Bay Leaves
2 T. Lime Juice
1/4 t. Cayenne
1 c. chopped Cilantro

dscn0558

Heat olive oil in a stock pot.  Saute celery, onion, and carrot in the oil for 1 minute.  Add garlic, jalapeno pepper, chili powder, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper.  Stir until well blended and heated through.

Add beans, tomatoes, vegetable broth, corn, and bay leaf.  Simmer for 20 minutes.  Remove soup from heat, discard bay leaves.  Stir in lime juice, cayenne and cilantro.

If desired, serve with tortilla chips, sour cream, or fresh cilantro.  Of course you can lower the intensity by decreasing the amount of spices you add, but then you are serving up Spirited Black Bean Soup, or Lively Black Bean Soup.

dscn0559Serves 8

Calories 222, Fat 3 g, Carbs 39 g, Fiber 13 g, Pro 13 g

Posted in Room and Board

Seitan. The Other Non-Meat.

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Seitan

This was bound to happen.  Hang around me long enough and eventually I talk about food.  I made seitan (pronounced SAY-tahn) last weekend.  Prepared primarily from wheat flour, it really has little in common with bread.  Traditionally, the wheat dough is rinsed repeatedly until only the gluten is remaining.  It is a good source of protein and low in fat.  Like everything else, if you make it at home you have more control over what goes into it.

bookThe recipe I used is from The Vegan Slow Cooker by Kathy Hester which calls for vital wheat gluten, and no rinsing is required.  The little dough patties are thrown into a broth and slow-cooked for a few hours.  Simple!  If you are looking for something similar, check out this post by Cathe’s Kitchen.

Because everyone seems to need a label these days, some call people like me flexitarians.  The seitan was made not out of a necessity for a meat alternative, but out of curiosity.  Generally speaking, I really don’t go for fake foods.  I never order chicken “nuggets.”  I don’t like “mock” crab.  I’m not keen on anything “I Can’t Believe It’s Not.”  When I go without meat for a meal it’s because I really prefer the taste of meatless menus.  In my opinion, stir fry doesn’t need meat.  Sandwiches or salads don’t need meat.  Chili doesn’t need meat.  Even burgers don’t need meat.  But if I want a real hamburger, I certainly will eat one.  And if I want crab, by golly I will eat crab and dunk it in real butter!

7888564968_ce51e7acdd1Last night I made nachos with my homemade “Chick’N Seitan.  I pulled out the little patty.  It looked eerily like a real cooked chicken breast.  I sliced it.  It sliced so much like a real chicken breast, that I almost forgot it wasn’t!

I sauteed the seitan with cayenne, cumin, chili powder and paprika and layered it with cheese on some really great tortilla chips.  All the other fixin’s were added, like peppers, onions, and jalapenos before melting the cheese in the microwave.  Lastly, I added shredded red lettuce leaves.7888563478_458a2372161

If I hadn’t been so hungry, I would have remembered to add black beans, corn and salsa.  It was all I could do to take these quick pictures before devouring it all!  I would have added tomatoes and avocados too, but I was fresh out.  I take my nachos seriously.

The verdict?  All in all, the nachos were tasty.  The seitan texture was curiously like chicken.  I still say nachos don’t need meat.  If I happen to want chicken nachos, I will probably make real chicken nachos in the future.

7888562498_f159b453e61Seitan might just be one of those things I have to get used to.  Like tofu.  I used to think of tofu as a meat substitute, and I’ve told you how I feel about substitute food.  But now I think of tofu as . . . TOFU!  I even crave it.  Maybe someday I will say, “You know I could really go for a nice big juicy piece of seitan right now!”