Friday, December 31, 2010

Banana Bread!

I've bragged before about my banana bread recipe. I'd like to expound on that a little.

The recipe comes from my mom's mom (yes, in Minnesota where they actually like lutefisk, this one takes you by surprise. Someday I'll ask Grandma where she got it). This is one of the things that I remember growing up on, although if I think about it I realize that we didn't have it very often. This is also probably within the top five of my favorite foods of all time.

I worked in a wonderful restarunt in a sleepy little town in West Virginia. It was my dream job; I worked the lunch shift, Monday through Friday, from 9am to 5pm. And I was paid to come in an hour early and clean the dining rooms. We had a grill, two ovens, five gas ranges and a wood burning oven in which I baked bread every morning. I could handle upwards of 60-70 lunch customers by myself, and still help prepare for the dinner rush. But I digress.

Being one of my favorites it hardly comes as a surprise that I brought this recipe in for my boss to try. I'd brought in some bananas the week before, or so, and made some banana bread for the staff. I was hoping that the chef would like it enough to put it on the menu. He then asked a few of the cooks for family banana bread recipes to feature on the Sunday Brunch menu. I don't know if anyone else brought a recipe in, but the chef picked mine. I mailed a menu to my grandmother to show her how it looked with her name on it. The chef served it warm with cream cheese and strawberries.

Banana Bread

1/2 C oil/butter
1 1/2 C sugar
2 eggs
1 tps vanilla
2 C flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 egg whites--whipped stiff

Mix oil and sugar; add eggs, bananas and vanilla. Sift in flour, baking powder and baking soda. Fold in egg whites. Bake @ 350 for 35 minutes in greased bread pans.

I always get 2 loaves.


-- Zizi

Monday, December 27, 2010

Poor Man's Stew

I semi-promised at the very beginning of this blog to write something about my Poor Man's Stew, the recipe I introduced us with. Okay, so I didn't really promise anything at all, but it sounds better when I say it that way. I never gave the exact measurements of ingredients and all that good jazz, so I suppose now is as good a time as any.

This meal is truly a scraping together of random ingredients that most people tend to stock: some kind of pasta, and lots of canned vegetables and proteins. It was a move of semi-desperation on my part the day I concocted it, in that I couldn't figure out what to make and I was hungry. Bad combination! Anyway, it has everything nutrition-wise that one needs, with vegetables and protein and carbohydrates.

Poor Man's Stew

1 box of pasta (spaghetti, rotini, angel hair, pasta twirls, whatever)
1 can of great northern beans
1 can of lima beans
1 sliced carrot
1 sliced onion
handful of sliced broccoli
oil (olive or canola)

Fry carrots and onion in oil on medium heat in a large wok or saucepan. Add beans and broccoli last to prevent over-cooking.

Boil pasta, drain, and add to the vegetables. Add more oil, stir until pasta is well mixed and slightly browned. Serve and enjoy!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Ahhh, Christmas!

I will never, ever make the same mistake again that I made today: I made my stuffing recipe today with whole wheat bread. Horror of horrors, it actually looked healthy!

Now, I have to say that with a qualifier of course. I have nothing against healthy food (who would?), but when you are making the carb fest that is stuffing with ground pork and LOTS of butter, it should at least look like it might be something you shouldn't eat everyday. Wheat bread in stuffing is a bit like false advertising, I would imagine: "Hey, look, the bread is dark! It must have been made with the whole wheat berry and not with that bleached stuff!" No, just look like what you are. :-)

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Blessings and Cookies

Nick had to tell me the other day to stop obsessing about getting things "right" for Christmas. That's what the Thanksgiving Event was about--having fun, not stress. I completely forgot about that in the last few days trying to get everything done before Christmas comes.

videoChristmas is not about celebrating with family, and having the ham cooked to golden and all your cookies delivered. It's about the birth of Christ. Put aside for the moment even what He came to do--it's the day He came! The day that the Son of God became Man and entered the world. That is reason enough to drop everything else and just be.

I have found myself alternating between trying to mail christmas cards and feverishly decorating cookies, and stopping in the middle of a wild, screaming frenzy and just sitting down to enjoy the blessings I have been given. I'd like to take a moment and share them with you.

I'm married to my best friend and the most wonderful man in the world. He struggles with self confidence, and is managing to support a family of four on less than $11.00 per hour. I think that in itself is worth a year of praise. He also loves me; he makes me feel like I'm more beautiful than the sun, moon and stars.

Together we have the two cutest boys in the world. I could be biased because I'm their mother. They are also very intelligent. The younger, at only six months old, has figured out how to roar. The older one is not yet two and he insists on praying before he eats--every time. They also look startlingly like their father--stunningly gorgeous!

We are now in an apartment with real walls and a brick exterior. The heat pump was replaced this year. There are no holes in the floor and the whole building does not lean to one side. You never really think about how big something like proper heating and straight walls are until you have to go without. We went without a lot last year. We do not have to this year.

And so many other little things; like the fact that Nick now has insurance and vacation time, and that we have so many good friends, and family.

Christmas Cookies

1 C butter
2 C sugar
3 eggs
4 C flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

Cream butter, sugar and eggs till fluffy. Combine flour, salt and baking soda; add to eggs.
Divide dough and wrap. Chill at least 6 hours. Roll out and cut.
Bake @ 350 for 5-7 minutes--till light golden. Baking time will vary depending on the shape and size of the cookie.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Picture Made Me Hungry...

Just the pictures from this made me hungry... This is a dish that I just had to feature here, created by a woman named Deb for her website Smitten Kitchen. Mainly I'm just a sucker for mushrooms, garlic, and butter. So when you put all three of those ingredients together, you get a whole load of fantastic that will make your tongue wish it was bigger. (Not really, but you get the point.)
Me being hungry. Rarr.


-- Nick

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chinese Success!

I must apologize in advance to Lorna Yee, author of the blog Cooking Through China, for the potential un-Chineseness of the Chinese dish I am about to lay before you. I cook from what happens to be lying about and and what I can scrape together from the local grocer, so I must do my best. And I am not Chinese.

Several years ago, I had my first real taste of a dark Asian sauce that made my taste buds go "ahhhh." I was intrigued. Not many things in this world make my taste buds truly go "ahhh." I love Chinese, Japanese, and Thai food, and I especially love the dark sauces those cultures produce. I set out to create my own.

Needless to say, I did not get the sauce perfect the first time. I didn't even get it right. As a matter of fact, I didn't even get it edible. It was so bad (and so salty) that my taste buds went "Garrrarrr! Throw it away! Throw it away! Make it stop!" I threw it away. The second time I made it was almost as bad. I was getting frustrated.

My lovely wife, with her lovely power of understatement, suggested that my mixture might need a bit of cornstarch. I agreed to try it and we bought a box of cornstarch. And that was when the solution fell into my lap in the form of a recipe for Chinese sauce printed on the back of the box. Irony.

The next time I tried the sauce it finally worked. I was almost afraid of how much sugar and soy sauce I was required to put in, but I gritted my teeth and put the proper amounts in and it worked beautifully. I tried the sauce out on everything that might remotely go with it, with varying amounts of success and tastiness. I found one particular mixture, however, that seems to work consistently well. It involves a modified version of the sauce and some other choice ingredients:

Chinese Mushroom Stir-Fry

What you will need:
6 large mushrooms, cut into eighths
1 large chopped onion
butter (lots of it!)
2 packs of ramen noodles
3 tablespoons of corn starch
4 1/2 tablespoons of either white or brown sugar
a sprinkling of cayenne pepper
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup of soy sauce
1/3 cup of water
dash of white vinegar
dash of ginger
minced garlic (however much you desire)
pinch of salt

Combine mushrooms, onions, butter, salt, and pepper in a large frying pan. Fry until still slightly crunchy and set aside.
 Combine the rest of the ingredients in a medium saucepan and turn on to medium heat for 2 1/2 minutes, stirring every couple of seconds. (This is a very precise step, stick to the times listed here.) Now turn up to high heat and stir constantly. The mixture will very quickly turn into a thick, gooey, dark brown mass of awesomeness. Now add a glass or two of water until it thins out again and add the ramen. Turn the stove to medium heat and keep stirring until the ramen is cooked and soaked thoroughly.
Now add the sauce/ramen mixture to the mushrooms and onions and stir until the whole thing is completely covered with the sauce.

You can add a favorite protein (like chicken or shrimp) to this particular dish, but this is hopefully just a launching platform for many great ideas!


-- Nick

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Cup of Peace

Over the past week or so The Amazing Omnivorous Child has had trouble going to sleep. On a night that was particularly bad (he was awake when Nick got home and we all stayed up till 1am) I discovered what the problem was. He wasn't getting enough attention and when I put him to bed he was lonely and scared. So I started reading to him and making sure that I did something with him just before bedtime. Last night we re-worked a sweater into a pair of boots. Tonight we made hot cocoa, with a candy cane and whipped cream; then we made a ramp out of books and drove his truck all over the counter.

I remember something my mom said once. My sister and I were about six and seven, and were attending a private school. We were the first to be picked up and the last to be dropped off; school started around 8:00am and we lived outside of town. We had to be awake at 6:00am to make the bus and generally got home around 4:00 or 4:30. My mom said that we'd almost knock her over like ninepins when we got home. She'd be trying to cook dinner, and she was pregnant. Sore, tired and stressed with worry about whether Dad would be shipped out to Iraq, the last thing she needed was two squirrelly girls climbing on her. But she noticed that if she would stop whatever she was doing and give us about half an hour to just talk to her then we'd leave her alone till dinner time. All we wanted was to be noticed. To be reassured of her love.

The Incredible Flying Child has been teething for the past two months, and for every complaint I nurse him. His mouth hurts, his ears hurt, his bottom hurts, he's tired and can't sleep; sometimes he nurses every half hour. As it's kind of hard to do anything when nursing an infant, The Amazing Omnivorous Child very often gets told to "hang on a minute." I can understand why he won't go to sleep. I don't consider myself a bad mother, but I do have to remind myself to stop for him because certain things just aren't evident to two-year-old.

And having written that, I'm struck by how cliched my next thought sounds. Take time out of your day to tell someone you love them. Especially those to whom it should be the most obvious. I know that I don't say "I love you" enough to my husband and children because it is so apparent to me that I do. I'm also realizing that this is a message I hear a lot around this time of year. It's the time Jesus came, because he loves us, so love one another.

However sappy the message can sound, it is true. Stop and love someone. Take time out to show them you care.

One of my favorite things to do (and I dream of doing this when we have money) is to treat my friends to a cup of coffee, or tea. A properly brewed hot drink is a work of art; it takes time and attention, much like a child. As we head into winter, and the Christmas Season, hot cocoa becomes a popular hot drink. And there is nothing so special as standing at the stove and stirring cocoa mix into the milk with your loved one. The Amazing Omnivorous Child can tell you that.



I almost forgot:

Hot Cocoa
1tsp baking cocoa
1tsp sugar
pinch of salt
8oz scalded milk
favorite mug

The milk is the hard part. If you let it boil it will develop a skin on the top. The key is to heat it up slowly and stir it constantly; when you can feel it sticking to the bottom of the pan it's ready. I like to mix the cocoa, sugar and salt in at the beginning. I also make the cocoa mix ahead of time and keep it in a small tin.

Candy canes, cinnamon, whipped cream, etc. can all be added at any point.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Rags to Riches; or There and Back Again

Last week we found ourselves in possession of a pound of hamburger. It was such an odd occurance and I didn't know what to make of it. I also forgot about it. So I was a little surprised when Nick asked me if we still had it. That was during the shopping trip where he asked me if I could use up a whole bag of potatoes before they went bad. I smile because (as my mom can attest) I've always been able to eat a lot of potatoes.

On Thursday I put a bunch of potatoes in the oven to bake (I like to just have them around for various things) and decided that I'd make some chili, since I had the hamburger. I then realized that I'd been making chili a lot lately and I wanted something a little less heartburn inducing. I cast around for ideas of where to use the meat. The first thing that came to my mind was what my mom calls "Hamburger Pie." (I'm going to make that the next time we have hamburger, so I won't tell you how it's made yet.)

My mom grew up in Minnesota, and I was also born there. (I spent my first five years there and some part of me considers that to be home, so when I joke about Minnesota in any way it's with fondness.) The folk in the Frozen North just cannot cook the same way that the Southerners can. There is something about spices and taste--even a proper amount of salt--that northern people just can't quite match.

Minnesota and the surrounding areas were settled by the Swedes and Germans because it has the same climate and agricultural conditions as their home. Not that Swedish and German food is bad--ok, Lutefisk is, but otherwise--I really like some of their foods. But there are certain foods and spices that cannot grow in that climate. So of course the food up there traditionally just has little flavor.

One of Minnesota's culinary accomplishments has been perfecting the casserole. They've developed so many variations that those who are dirt poor can eat it while the millionaire neighbors also have it. It starts with the ever popular can of cream of mushroom soup. You just mix that with whatever else you happen to have that day and bake at 350 for an hour. Generally the large part is startch, potatoes or rice if you have it. I've grown up on this, which they affectionately call "Minnesota Hot-Dish."

The funny thing is that about three months or so before I stopped working at the restarunt we started serving it there. It had meat and vegetables mixed in some sort of creamed base, topped with potatoes and cheese, and baked. We served it in individual dishes, and we called it "Shepherd's Pie." Of course, at out restarunt we used, I forget--ground lamb? We took one of the simplest and poorest dishes and turned it into a high class dinner.

That can be done with almost anything, if you have the means. All of the recipes we post here have that kind of potential (and when we're rich and famous we'll probably still be making all the same stuff, just a better quality.) This Thursday was not a day to try those possiblities. And I made a Shepherd's Pie using only five ingredients (if you don't count the spices).

Happy Cooking!


Shepherd's Pie
1lb hamburger
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 onion chopped
1 frozen or canned vegetables
7-8 potatoes mashed
shredded or sliced cheese
spices (if you have them [I used paprika, garlic and sage])

Fry the hamburger and drain the grease off. Add the vegetables (drained) and the cream of mushroom soup (I also added half a can of milk). Mix well and season with the salt&pepper and spices. Pour into a casserole dish. Spoon the mashed potatoes on top. Top with cheese and bake until the cheese is your desired shade of brown and bubbly.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Health & Beauty

I had a thought the other day. . . food products used for health and beauty. I started thinking how weird I was for using vinegar in my hair (it removes the build-up, but don't use it everyday becasue it promotes the natural oils and you'll end up with really oily hair). Then I thought about all of the other things that we use: oatmeal soaps, coconut butter lotion and even cucumber slices on our eyes (although no one can tell me what that's for). All of that is rather common and we're used to seeing those on grocery shelves.

My thoughts extended to the more obscure things I've used. Green tea with lemon in my hair, for instance, to give it blond streaks in the summer (lemon juice will lighten hair when exposed to sun). I did try it with raspberry tea to see if it would come out with red highlights; it didn't work too well and the effects come out with the next wash.

That led me to wonder: What do you, our dear readers, do? What are the secret food related things that you do for health and beauty? I'm interested to hear your tips and advice. Please leave a comment and let us know!


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Why Food?

Why food?

Why is food so special anyways? What is its mystique that more people will gather around the housewife cooking in the kitchen than around the TV in the living room? What about it makes us spend so much money on it, take so long to enjoy it properly, and rave about it in places like this blog? What makes people go to school to devote their entire lives to creating with food?

What is it?

I would be a fool if I thought I was wise enough to try answering even half of those questions properly. However, I have a couple thoughts to share.

I think a great place to start is our very own humble apartment kitchen where all of the creations posted here have come to life. It is the tiniest room in the house (besides the bathroom!) and feels so cramped sometimes with two people trying to work in the same space that you have to surface for air before plunging back in. It gets hot with the stove and oven running, and the Amazing Omnivorous Child has a penchant for helpfully unloading the contents of the lower cupboards onto the floor and stacking them in neat little towers of canned goods. There is very little counter space and everything seems to butt into everything else's spot.

Two hopeless romantics. And goofballs.

And yet, there is something indescribable in the twinkle in my wife's eye when she finally gets her favorite pie recipe right. In the same vein, albeit much less dignified, there is something in me that begs me to do my happy dance when I finally get my asian stir fry sauce right. And the way that the smell of food begs you to reach out and taste, and to dance with your spouse in the kitchen.

So, my first conclusion is that food brings joy. Somehow, in some special way, our act of creating and fashioning with food mirrors God's creative action in our lives and in the world. We are made in His image, after all. So when we create, we are joyful because we are imitating our Maker.

Food also fills us, satisfies us, changes our outlook on the world. There is nothing like coming home from a bad day at work to the smell of freshly-cooked pizza, or the sizzling sound of bacon frying on a morning where you would rather have stayed asleep all day. Food reminds us that we are human and limited, that we must eat to survive, and yet also shows us how good life's gifts are while we have them.

My second conclusion, then, is that food reminds us of all the goodness involved with our mortality. Our strengths and our frailties sometimes lie so close together it is truly scary.

And lastly, food has the oddest power of drawing people together. Eating is an action that is strangely only really properly carried out when one is sitting down at a table using both hands to do the work. And nobody wants to sit alone. Meals, especially this most recent Thanksgiving meal and the upcoming Christmas feasts, pull together people that many times would never find the time to sit down and talk to one another. People open up around food; it relaxes them and invites conversation. People laugh and cry over food, propose marriage over a meal, toast momentous occasions over dinner. People love food.

So, finally, food is communal. It is grown in community (ideally so, anyways), prepared in community, and consumed in community. It is one of the many mediums of communication we have available to us as human beings. Who isn't delighted when someone bakes them a delicious chocolate cake for a surprise birthday party? Food can make peace, can say "I love you," can make someone feel special.

Food and its preparation is an act of true love. Food is good.


-- Nick

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thanksgiving: Desserts

The week before Thanksgiving, Nick's work had hosted an employee dessert contest. I'm not sure what the whole thing entailed because it was for employees. Nick had briefly entertained the idea of making marzipan and entering it, but he became too busy with a few of his pipe dreams taking off. However, the desserts were up for all of the employees to sample after the winners were announced. Nick came home that night raving about the variety and amount of sugars he'd had!

One of the desserts that really struck him was a pumpkin cheesecake. Neither of us had ever seen that before and he was very excited as he told me about it. He wanted me to try and see if I could make it.

The concept is simple--it's a layer of cheesecake topped with a layer of pumpkin pie. On first thought is sounds simple to make (and I still think it would be.) I should have put more thought and a little research into it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Thanksgiving: Roast Chicken

Neither Nick nor I are particularly fond of turkey. Besides not being able to afford a full turkey, there was not really much point in getting one since it was going to be just us cooking food we liked. So it worked out. We bought a small chicken instead. I had no idea what to do with it. (It's occuring to me, Nick rather sprung the idea of this Event on me and I didn't really think about what I was going to do for it. I was just happy I wasn't going to have to do a turkey or feed ten people. So I thought of everything I did almost last minute.)

On Wednesday I was out shopping for some last minute items (and didn't get all of them as we had to go out Thursday afternoon also) when Nick called and asked me to pick up a snack for him. He asked for trail mix "or something." I found a small bag of trail mix on sale and picked it up. Then I found a bag of almonds for the same price! How often is it that you find a bag of almonds--skinless!--for $1.99? Even if they were flavored with cracked pepper, onion and garlic? I figured it was too much of a deal to pass up so I threw it in the cart with the trail mix. I was thinking that I could only afford one of the bags and trying to decide which one Nick would like better when he texted and said I could get something for myself as well. I bought both thinking that we'd split them.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Thanksgiving Appetizers

It was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and the house was full of food. I couldn't eat any of it because it was for the Thanksgiving Event, and I was hungry. Well, okay, it wasn't that I couldn't eat any of the food that we had, I just had to stretch my imagination and work with the limited stuff that wasn't for the Event. Despite the fact that I'm a good cook and can sometimes appear to make a feast out of thin air, I do struggle with the whole "working with the limited stuff [that we have]" thing.

Anyway. . . I had planned on having stuffed mushrooms for the Event, but I wasn't sure what I was going to stuff them with. Portabellas, and they had come with three in the pack. I only needed two. So I took one and then found a can of salmon. Or maybe I found the salmon first and then decided to take the extra mushroom. Either way, I made salmon cakes.

Then I figured that I could use the salmon cake batter to stuff the other mushrooms with. I added some cream cheese and sour cream in with the mushrooms and spooned some of it into the remaining portabella caps. I even ended up with a lot of cakes!

We baked the stuffed mushrooms on Thursday and topped them with shredded mozarella cheese. ( One thing I've figured out with my attempts at stuffed mushrooms is to put a small pat of butter in the cap before you put the filling in. It makes the mushroom come out with a light butter flavor that should compliment any filling. ) I ended up with a delicious, juicy and slightly filling stuffed mushroom. My best yet!



Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Ultimate Teeth Uglifier: Spinach Soup!

Soup demands to be tasted at all steps of the process.
There's no doubt about it: besides blue lollipops, spinach will give you about the most hideous-looking mouth of any food out there. Lots of stringy green pieces of awesomeness stuck between teeth that look like green hair. Yeah, well, you get the idea. So, in a moment of sheer brilliance (probably mixed with a good dose of idiocy), I said to myself:
"A soup is a food with lots of other kinds of food floating around in it. Floaty swirly food gets stuck in your teeth easier than other less floaty and swirly kinds of food. Spinach is really tasty. And it gets stuck in your teeth really easily anyways. Let's put spinach into a soup!"

Okay, that wasn't my exact thought pattern, but you get the general idea. Mainly I thought about doing it because we needed an appetizer before our Thanksgiving Ish-Meal, and I happen to love spinach. I also married a spinach-lover, so that made it even better that I wasn't cooking an entire pot of soup just for myself!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Thanksgiving: Breakfast

Nick works second shift; he usually gets home around midnight and I'm generally up so I can see him for a bit. He spends a few hours unwinding and working on the computer. I try to make sure I'm in bed before 1:30am becuase the boys wake up around 9am. I had no reason to expect Thanksgiving to be any different just because Nick had the day off from work.

It was and it wasn't. "Thing 2" woke up at 9:00 and I nursed him, but "Thing 1" stayed asleep for a while. By then I was too awake to go back to sleep so I decided to get up and make breakfast. I'd already planned on making the Quiche (the recipe that I posted last month) and we had splurged a bit on food for the holiday, so we had bacon!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving Day in Replay

Well, Thanksgiving Day's Great Event was a tremendous success!

We started the day off relatively late. It was my first day off from work in weeks and we all felt like sleeping in. (Except for both little ones, especially the Amazing Omnivorous Child, who is always up at the crack of dawn.) Zizi had made it a point to make quiche again for breakfast (the same recipe as mentioned earlier this month, except this time I had the money to spend on bacon! Hee hee...)