Foodies…and not

English: The logo of Food Network.My major TV indulgence is Food Network. Most of my TV time comes when we’re in Metlakatla. When Rob covers a weekend of call there, I use the time to catch up with online tasks, and usually have Food Network running in the background. I’ve learned a lot from programs over the years. But some are just painful to watch. The current episodes of the Worst Cooks in America are right up there. I mean, how can anyone be that bad in the kitchen? Really?

With all the websites, blogs, cookbooks, cooking shows etc., offering recipes and cooking how-to advice…to say nothing of friends and family who could mentor…is it really possible to be as clueless as these people are? I mean, get in the kitchen and try something…start banging around, learn by doing. There are YouTube videos that show how to cut veggies, how to bake, how to cook almost anything you can imagine. There’s literally an embarrassment of riches when it comes to resources for home cooks.

You could make that argument for a lot of things. But while I don’t have to know how to repair my plumbing or rebuild my car engine, I like to eat pretty regularly. That’s such a mystery to me…how could something as basic as food be unexplored?  I understand some people just aren’t fascinated with all things food (unlike me and most of the rest of the world). But even if it isn’t a consuming interest, everyone has to eat something. Wouldn’t it be better it the something was delicious?

Food games and adventures  for family and friends:

~Get to know a little more about your group’s food loves. Here are some questions to share around the table. Works best if you’re eating something delicious while you share! Work your way through the whole list, or pick just a couple of questions. I definitely recommend including the last one…always good to associate memory with food. You may be surprised by the responses.

  1. What is your favorite food?
  2. Favorite food/dish in a specific category (main dish, finger foods, comfort food, dessert, breakfast…whatever you want to choose)
  3. Favorite restaurant…fast food, local restaurants, chains, diners, etc…
  4. Favorite chef (well-known from TV or author, or someone you know in person)
  5. Who is your favorite home cook? In your family? Among your friends?
  6. What’s your favorite holiday food dish?
  7. Favorite grocery store food item (ice cream, cookies, chips, etc.)
  8. Favorite international cuisine?
  9. Worst thing you ever ate?
  10. Best thing you ever ate?
  11. Bonus question…best memory associated with food

~Family members cook!  Give each one in the family a night each week, or once a month (whatever works) to be the head chef.  Everyone else helps prep or clean up. Each person can showcase their favorite foods, type of cuisine, etc. Have breakfast for dinner, let a child experiment with flavors (that’s how my son invented cinnamon toast grilled ham and cheese…not a flavor combination I would repeat, but it was a learning experience for him); or choose dishes new to everyone to make and taste.

~Mystery food! Let everyone in your family choose a dish or ingredient or cooking method no one has tried. Try it! Have a mystery food dinner night once a month, or as often as you choose. Rotate through everyone’s choices, then start over. Have a prize for the food that is most unusual.

~Experiment with planting vegetables. If you have kids, lots of fun ahead with this! But even if you don’t, it’s great to learn a bit about gardening, and see what you can do, with or without a yard. No yard, no problem! Check out container gardening. Again, there’s a wealth of information and resources online.

~Check out CSAs…Community Supported Agriculture is another way to access fresh fruit, vegetables, and other items from local farmers and producers. Visit http://www.localharvest.org/csa/ to learn more.

~Visit your local Farmers’ Market. I love shopping at farmers’ markets and buying from local vendors showcasing their products. In addition to fresh produce, you can often find vendors selling breads, honey, cut flowers, herbal preparations, essential oils, simple breakfast or lunch fare, and a wide variety of crafts, jewelry. This is another wonderful way to support local agriculture and eat clean.

~Share the shopping! If you have kids at home, (and they’re old enough) have each one plan the shopping for the week, and participate in the actual marketing. Doing this will give them experience in budgeting, planning menus, checking food inventory, layout of markets, and familiarity with foods they may not know. There’s a lot of education waiting at the grocery!

~Have a cook-off event. I’ve seen this done with local restaurant chefs here in Ketchikan. Just copy your favorite food contest show…choose a set theme or have mystery ingredients; make it a one event evening or a multi-night contest. Have prizes, or do the whole thing just for the fun and glory of choosing a victor.

~Form a dinner / supper club. Make up the rules that work for the group. Meet once a month or once a quarter. Have the dinners revolve around seasons, or events: birthdays, sports, anything you choose. Each host can choose a menu, or put menus or types of cuisine in a dish and draw to see what each host will cook for the group. Or each dinner can be a joint effort, with everyone who attends bringing a portion of the planned menu; rotate the house for the event, and share the cooking duties.

~Plan a progressive dinner. These are retro, but so fun. Great for larger groups, but take some planning. If you’ve never done this, here’s how it works. You have a host for appetizers, a host for the main course, and a host for dessert. Or if you want to come up with more courses, add more hosts, but you need at least three. Guests move from house to house, (or venue to venue…doesn’t have to be hosted in a home setting). The host from each location moves with the group to the next stop, so everyone gets to enjoy the party. You can have an overall theme, or each course can stand alone. I think it’s best to have a theme, but do whatever works for the group. Decide on a budget for the event and have everyone chip in to cover expenses. Just another way to make food fun, and enjoy a night with family or friends. Go a step further and combine the food event with a fundraiser for your favorite charity, school program, youth activity, etc., Everyone wins!

Enjoy! And if you have variations…what food adventures do you share with family and friends?… I’d love to hear about them.

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Colorado Maple Bran Muffins

So, Saturday morning needs something more than cold cereal or a yogurt. Some weekends that means pancakes or the Southern treat of grits and sausage. But today I’m falling back on an old reliable that combines comfort and just a wee nod to the healthy side of baking. I made bran muffins, a slightly adjusted variation of the classic recipe that can live in your fridge for several days, allowing you to produce a warm breakfast treat in a matter of minutes.

I used to make this one regularly for my kids. These muffins are one of my son’s favorites, always on the menu for those rare occasions when he has a chance to visit us in Alaska. Brings back good memories of chilly Colorado mornings and the aromas of coffee and maple in the kitchen. Delicious!

Colorado Maple Bran Muffins
 
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder + 1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups Kellogg’s All Bran Cereal
1 1/4 cup milk OR buttermilk (use whatever you have on hand)
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil OR melted butter
1 tablespoon maple flavoring
1 cup raisins
 
OR

You can use Kellogg’s Raisin Bran cereal in this recipe instead of the All Bran Cereal and raisins…just add 3 cups of the Raisin Bran cereal in place of the 2 cups of All Bran and 1 cup of raisins.
 
 
Stir together flour, sugars, baking powder, soda, and salt.
 
In large mixing bowl, combine cereal and milk. Let stand about 5 minutes.
Add egg, oil OR butter, and mix well. 
Add flour mixture, stirring until ingredients are combined. Add raisins if using the All Bran/raisin combination. 

Ooey gooey batter

Ooey gooey batter

 
Spray muffin tin with cooking spray, or use cupcake papers. Spoon batter into pan and bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Serve warm with butter. YUM!
 
The batter will keep well in the fridge for several days. If muffin batter has been in fridge for a few days, add a little more baking powder and soda (about 1 teaspoon each) to help muffins rise when baked.

If you want to make this recipe more healthy, replace 1/4 cup up to 1/2 cup of the AP flour with wheat germ, flax seed or flax meal. You can also replace the butter or oil with applesauce or a ripe banana, and add nuts for some crunch factor. It’s a pretty forgiving recipe and can take almost any substitution you throw at it. But the basic version is tasty too. Just keep in mind if you mix it up, you’ll need to watch baking times closely and adjust if necessary.

Mmmmmm....

Mmmmmm….I see raisins peeking!

 

Enjoy!

Playing with my food

Pumpkin love

I’ve been playing, enjoying a stretch of nesting. I can’t really get into cooking if I’m only passing through my kitchen. I need a little time to dig in and be inspired. Usually that involves a craving that needs satisfying or curiosity about a new recipe. I have to have enough time at home to justify the effort of shopping and cooking. Because, let’s face it, if we’re only passing through, leftovers are going to be a problem. You can’t fully engage in the kitchen and be on the run at the same time. The weeks we’re living in out-of-town clinic apartments do not inspire experiments; those weeks demand convenience. But home plus time equals satisfaction. And this week satisfaction is stirring a sauce and baking goodness.

I just made a delicious butternut squash lasagna. Yes, I’m continuing my affair with the butternut. It’s versatile and tasty. Who knew this would be my new favorite base for soups and hearty casseroles? The more I work with squash (should that be squashes? not sure about the plural form) the more I find to do with them. You can cook them almost any way…roast in the oven, simmer in water, steam, microwave.

And here’s my latest trick: you don’t have to de-seed before cooking. (If you’re simmering squash on the stove top for a soup, it’s probably best to de-seed and cube the squash first.) The minimalist method works well for oven roasting or microwaving. You can literally put a whole squash in the oven, crank the temp to 400 degrees, and bake away. Baking time will vary depending on size of squash. Check for tenderness after about 45 minutes. Cook longer if the squash does NOT pierce easily with a sharp knife. When the squash is tender, remove from heat, cool, then peel and remove seeds, reserving the cooked squash for your recipe.

I haven’t tried microwaving a butternut or acorn squash, but it works like a charm for the spaghetti variety. Just pierce the spaghetti squash a few times with a sharp knife to release steam during cooking. I microwave in increments of 3 to 4 minutes so I don’t over-cook. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the squash and the power of the microwave. The intricacies of prepping spaghetti squash are for another post, but I thought I’d throw in this cooking method as a freebie since I’m on the general subject.

Let me just add that if you’re looking to entertain yourself on a slow night, cook up one of these babies and then cut it open and begin to shred the squash with a fork. I’m probably going to regret admitting this, but I am fascinated with the process of turning spaghetti squash into something that looks just like pasta. Now you’re either going to feel sorry for me and wonder how spaghetti squash can be so exciting…or you’re going to check it out and be equally enthralled by the pasta-look-alike squash. Whichever it is, it can be your little secret.

Roasted lasagna beauty

Roasted lasagna beauty

Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna

Ingredients:

1 3-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1-inch chunks.
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
4 tablespoons butter
4 cloves garlic
1 small onion, diced
1 small yellow or orange bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 cup chicken broth
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh snipped rosemary
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup shredded Parmesan Cheese
8 oz Ricotta
Shredded Mozzarella, about 2 cups
Fresh lasagna noodles or no-boil lasagna noodles
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to 400.
Lightly grease a baking sheet and set aside.
Combine chopped squash, olive oil, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl and toss to coat.
Spread the squash in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.
Roast the squash in the oven for 40 minutes, stirring once or twice, until soft.

(OR…just cook the squash whole in the oven as described above, and then peel and cube for the sauce after squash is baked.)

While the squash bakes, make the sauce.

Heat butter over in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add garlic, onion and bell pepper and cook until veggies are tender.
Whisk in flour.
Slowly add broth and milk and season with salt and pepper.
Cook and stir frequently until thickened and bubbly, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove squash from oven and reduce oven temperature to 375.

Add chopped butternut squash, rosemary and nutmeg into sauce. You can blend with an immersion blender if you want a smoother texture for the filling.

Butter a 3-quart casserole dish.
Spoon sauce over the bottom of prepared baking dish.
Layer three or four noodles on top of sauce.
Top noodles with a layer of Ricotta and shredded Mozzarella. Top with 1/3 of the Parmesan.
Ladle sauce on top of the noodles.
Repeat layering of noodles, sauce, Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Parmesan cheeses two more times.
Pour whipping cream over entire dish.
Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese.
Cover dish with foil.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until bubbly.
Uncover and continue to bake for 10 more minutes, or until top is lightly browned.
Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
Cut and serve.

Ah, my new favorite comfort. So beautiful, so filling, so satisfying. This is a dish to look forward to all Monday long!

My dinner

October dinner

What’s a yummy dinner without a little sweet treat to finish? This recipe for brownies is tried and true. I just adapted a favorite dessert to make individual bites. I made 1/2 recipe of Hershey’s Fudge Pie, then scooped spoonfuls of batter into a silicone pan. Little tastes of heaven! I have ideas for this little jewel. I can think of lots of recipes that would be perfect to make with this shape. I’m not always a fan of silicone baking, but this is a winner.

I’ve shared this recipe before, but in case you missed it, here it is, in all its glorious chocolatey-ness.

Hershey’s Fudge Brownie Pie, or “Brownies Bites”

Reward for a Monday

Reward for a Monday

Ingredients:

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Hershey’s Cocoa
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)

Instructions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch pie pan.
Beat eggs; blend in sugar and melted butter. Stir in flour, cocoa and salt. Stir in vanilla and nuts.
Pour into prepared pie pan.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until almost set. (Pie will not test done in center). Cool; cut into wedges.
Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Pumpkin Soup and other goodness

Rain and cold greet me as I start the day. Fresh coffee, and the scent of the pellet stove burning, sending out warmth and wood smell, lure me down the stairs to begin. I make breakfast, hot, hearty and healthy, to push us through to lunch. Lunch, salad, light and crunchy bites, fuel until dinner. And then, on this chilly fall Friday, a big bowl of soup and crusty bread for end of day. The soup simmers on the stove already, not because it has to, but because I want it to. Seeing the pot on the burner, giving an occasional stir as I wander through the kitchen, taking a break from my work-at-home office, I feel the comfort of tradition, the ritual of minding, tasting; and the anticipation of home cooked goodness to tuck us in to the dark of early evening. We’ll light candles, play soft music, and get cozy with bread baked this afternoon and soup for the season.

If you’re looking for homemade easy, this is a good place to begin.

                                          November gold

Pumpkin Soup

1/4 cup (4T) butter
1 large onion, finely diced
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
1 can (1 lb) of pumpkin (NOT get pumpkin pie filling)
3 cans (14.5 oz) chicken broth
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp ginger
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
1 cup light cream or half-and-half
Melt butter in saucepan.
Add onion & celery.  Saute’ until tender.
Stir in pumpkin, broth & seasonings (adjust seasonings to taste if you like more spice).
Bring to a boil stirring constantly.
Reduce heat and simmer uncovered 15 minutes.
Remove bay leaf.
Add cream or half-and-half.
Stir just until thoroughly heated, but not boiling.
Add chives (fresh) for garnish.
Serves four generously.

                                 Sweet Wheat bread dough

Sweet Wheat Bread

3 packets dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm water, divided
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup dark molasses
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp of caramel coloring, optional

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water then stir in sugar. Let stand until bubbly.
Combine dissolved yeast, remaining water, molasses, salt, oil, whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour and caramel coloring in a large mixing bowl. Beat, using a dough hook until smooth. 
Knead dough for 5 minutes. Place in a large bowl then cover with a damp cloth. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. 
Punch dough down and divide in 2 large round loaves and place on a greased and cornmeal dusted cookie sheet. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
Remove cloth and bake in a 375 degree F. oven for 30 minutes or until crust makes a hollow sound when tapped.
(The caramel coloring will not affect taste, just the color of the bread. You can order this ingredient from King Arthur Flour.)

                                                Ready for dinner!

Easy doughnuts: thanks Mom!

Here’s a quick happy breakfast treat to serve if you want something warm and yummy with your coffee without a lot of prep. For the cutest little doughnut holes you can pop in your mouth, use canned biscuits. My mom used to make these when I was a kid. They were universally popular at sleepovers, and would make a fun holiday morning tradition, just in case you’re looking for a new thing to add to your list of “must-do” in the next week or two.

Grab a can or two of refrigerated biscuits from the dairy case. Be sure you choose the non-layer style. I chose large buttermilk biscuits when I made these recently.

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Remove the biscuits from the can and separate dough. Use a very small cutter, or even a bottle cap, to cut the dough into bite size pieces.

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Heat canola oil in a medium sized sauce pan (fill pan about half full with oil). I don’t have an exact temperature to suggest…you want the oil hot enough to fry the doughnuts quickly…about a medium to medium high heat level should work. The dough will brown quickly in the oil and puff out to a larger bite size. Since I don’t fry often, I usually check my heat level and cooking time with one or two test pieces. Of course, you have to taste your test bites to be sure you’re on target.

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Fry doughnuts in small batches. Turn them once in the oil to brown on all sides. I didn’t time my batches, but the process will be fast, cooking time should be no more than a minute or two for each batch. As the doughnuts turn a light brown, remove to a rack to cool slightly.

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When the doughnuts have cooled slightly, dip in powdered sugar, or a mix of cinnamon and sugar. Or you can coat the doughnuts with a powdered sugar glaze (mix powdered sugar, a little milk, and a teaspoon of vanilla).

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Nothing fancy here…just kid food / fun food from a simple shortcut. Enjoy the yumminess!