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How exactly did 2013 end so quickly?

The annual “year in review” by WordPress was inspiration enough to reflect back over the past year and all of the blog posts I didn’t do. Kind of an easy reflection when you consider all the times I thought of posting, but something else was always more important. So goes life.

Image2013 was a year like many, filled with both good and bad. The highlight of the good was most certainly my wedding – tying the knot (twice) – both legally in Washington State – and locally here at home for family and friends. After 15 happy years of cooking together, making a lifetime of it seemed like a safe conclusion to make. The bad (which no one ever wants to highlight) would be cancer diagnosis of a dear friend, a number of injuries to this aging body, and far too many meals of frozen dinners and packaged mixes.

While shopping for groceries just the other day I went to my blog to look up one of my favorite recipes for chicken chili. You see the local wedding of 70, catered by one of our favorite restaurants Smoke Shack, produced enough smoked chicken leftovers (now portioned out in our freezer) that we either needed to have another big party or I needed to do some serious cooking. Alas, said recipe was no where to be found. This is a quick recipe when it comes to chicken leftovers, and perfect for a very cold Wisconsin winter’s NY eve.

So here it is, my one blog posting to bid farewell to 2013 and usher in a year that I hope will mean more meals together at home with my spouse, a lot of great friends, and our most loved families. Happy New Year!

Kickin’ (smoked) Chicken Chili

2# cooked chicken (leftovers) or 2 grilled chicken breasts

5 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade stock)

16 oz. Tomatillo salsa (again, homemade if seasonal)

1 or 2 cans great northern or any white beans (for me – not from scratch)

1 cup chopped onion

6 cloves garlic, minced

3 peppers of your choice (jalapeño, poblano, dried chili, etc.)

1 green or red pepper (again, your preference)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon white pepper

Remove meat from chicken carcass and shred into small pieces.

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot and add all chopped peppers and onion. Cook for 10 minutes until soft. Add chopped garlic and cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the chicken broth, chopped chicken, tomatillo salsa, spices and sugar. Bring to a boil and then turn town to a medium simmer without a cover. Simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

Add one can of beans. If the chili seems to thin, add two. If too thick after two, add a bit more water. Simmer another 10 minutes or so until beans heat up.

Add cilantro to the entire pot, and serve. Image

What A Difference A Year Makes

For anyone keeping score, I started a Year of Inconvenience on April 18, 2010 and finished that experiment in 2011, almost one year ago. And while I continue to get asked whether I’m still doing that “cook it all yourself thing,” I’m absolutely amazed that one year has gone by since I completed that challenge.  Believe it or not, on a pretty regular basis either my partner or I are proclaiming at some stressful point in the week, “Thank God we don’t have to cook this all from scratch.” Yeah, what a difference a year makes.

Last time I checked in – well the time before the Amish bread episode – I was proudly recalling my mid-year success of sticking to at least some of the routines I had learned. Well, that was September 2011. Truth is, the only 2 things I consistently make and have not purchased at all from a store since 2010 are granola and granola bars. I guess I proved at least to myself, that some habits are quite easy to break.

But, out of all the things I can either feel proud of or embarrassed by, the one thing I know that has changed in my life since I started that experiment is my constant need to now know just where my food comes from. You see, I’ve built up quite a big distrust for large agribusiness (and corporate greed) and the almighty dollar that constantly feeds that relentless machine of cheap food most Americans demand. I’m not talking about cheap processed food or fast food, but basic food items like fruit, vegetables, meat, yogurt, bread, or cheese, – items that most people want to purchase at the lowest possible price point. The most valuable lesson learned in my year of from-scratch cooking was identifying and valuing the time and effort good people spend getting really good food to market.

When I was in high school I remember reading with horror, Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle and becoming totally skeeved out by the practices of the meat packing industry. And then I stopped eating chicken when I was 16 or 17 because I couldn’t handle seeing the pin feathers left in the wings of the chicken my parents purchased from a farmer friend of theirs. To me it was too similar to what grossed me out in Sinclair’s book. Of course they were two totally different things – one being the greed ridden industry I previously described – the second demonstrating my point,  the value in knowing where your food comes from.

And now some XX years later (I’m really not going to reveal my age here) I’ve come full circle, abhorred not just by things like pink slime and too many salmonella outbreaks, but abhorred that people continue to demand the cheapest possible food. Do you know what it takes for food to be cheap? Well, from my experience either the farmer/worker is paid less than market value, or the product is made with less than quality ingredients (ie: ingredients that will either extend the products shelf life or products that are purchased from secondary markets where cheap additives help stretch the dollar for the producer). I now know the difference between factory produced crackers, and crackers that were hand made, hand and not machine rolled and baked 70 miles from where I live. And if that means I’m paying more per ounce for them, I understand the value in that price. I know the time and experience it takes to make good crackers. And there are people who want to make a living carrying on that craft.

I will pay more, in fact I will gladly pay more and cut back elsewhere when a local baker makes my bread, or an artisan at the farmer’s market has hand crafted my cheese selection. I’ve learned what it takes to make quality products on my own, and I have formed a deep appreciation of those people who try to make a living doing the same and I think them by purchasing their products whenever I’m not making them myself. And as I just described, that happens much more frequently nowadays.

52 Things I Learned In One Year – Part 3 of 3

Cinnamon Dunkers - the most evil of all temptations.

Repeat after me – I am not a quitter – I am not a quitter. Well I guess “life” happened since my last blog post, as I have blissfully ignored the fact I haven’t yet completed my list of lessons. It’s not because I’m hard pressed to produce some cleaver or pithy responses. I’ve just been busy living through a summer with more time for work, projects and leisure, constantly tempted by the convenience foods that surround me. And I mean constantly.

And so, without any more excuses, I bring you my final list of conclusions.

26 – While you can save a bit of money by baking your own bread from scratch, the true cost-savings can be found when making your own corn tortillas. Packaged corn tortillas can cost up to ten times as much as the ones made from scratch. And they are the easiest thing in the world to make – just watch!

25 – I’ve made my own ranch dressing now quite a number of times. In fact I’ve yet to purchase any bottled dressing since I ended my challenge. What I love about this recipe is that if you really strain the yogurt until it’s super thick, you can use this recipe as a ranch dip, not just a salad dressing.

24 – Making your own tortilla chips – totally not worth it. Unless of course you’re going to deep fry the little suckers, maybe then you can get a nice thin chip that is full of flavor.

23 – Modern day small appliance manufacturers will try to convince you that you need their products in order to successfully produce something like yogurt (aka yogurt maker). But you don’t. Use a slow cooker and some bath towels to keep it warm. What about a $69 pasta roller? I made it through the year without one by purchasing a good $10 wooden roller.

22 – On the other hand, there are some kitchen products I couldn’t live without. If you’re baking any kind of hearth bread, pita bread, bagels – you need a baking stone. I bought mine at a restaurant supply store for about $50. It gives the best crust on all of those breads, as well as a crispy pizza.

21 – While I’m still on the topic of small kitchen appliances, I would have never survived the year with any amount of sanity if I didn’t have a food processor. I’ve had some people tell me they use their blender for everything and that a food processor is unnecessary. From my experience they just don’t give you the same results.

20 – Leftover food is priceless. When every eaten has to come from scratch you eventually learn to make enough to have extra food that can be frozen, or eaten again for lunch the following day. Duh!

19 – Okay I’m finally in the teens on the countdown. Keep a list of frozen meals on your refrigerator, lest you leave them frozen for too long and you lose either all that great flavor or texture to freezer burn.

18 – While I know I reduced the amount of packaging I would have produced in a typical year of buying convenient foods, I did use a lot of plastic bags, and I purchased a number of additional plastic storage containers for the freezer. Some of the bags I could wash out and reuse, while others didn’t hold up so well. Overall, my carbon footprint was probably smaller than what is typical.

17 – Blogging takes a bit of time. If you’re a blog reader versus a blog writer – maybe you spend as much time reading as those that are writing. But it’s not just the writing – it’s the editing, the photography, the tagging, and the subject matter. I was going to buy a better camera during the year and never quite got around to that.

16 – Okay I need a new camera. Food photography when you’re the one both cooking and taking photographs, means your camera ends up getting caked in egg, flour, grease, honey, etc. And you need a tripod, which I didn’t use, which means many of my photos were way too blurry.

15 – Freeze chicken stock in 8-oz bags or containers, then simply thaw for one minute in the microwave. Talk about economical!

14 – Ancho chili powder – where have you been all of my life? It has a smokier mild flavor that can be used in Mexican cooking, as well as in something like a dry rub for ribs. Oh, I have to post that recipe someday too.

13 – I spent a good part of the year watching cooking shows on the Food Network. One might think I’d want to escape all of the cooking, but I was really inspired by the amount of creativity you can put into food, and it gave me the confidence to try some new things along the way.

12 – Lisa, my partner, was a really great sport this past year. Thank you Lisa!

11 – In the year of inconvenience, I inconveniently gained weight. Damn.

10 – If at first you don’t like a recipe, try adding your own twist. I like making a recipe for the first time as it’s written, then changing it up to how I like it the second time. If a recipe has good structure don’t give up on it just because the flavor wasn’t right.

9 – Oh boy, single digits. This is hard work people! And that was lesson number nine…next.

8 – People have stopped me, mostly strangers when out in public, asking me if I’m still growing or canning all of my own food. Point made.

7 – Have I mentioned I really missed cold breakfast cereal?

6 – While I started the year cooking from a pantry full of cookbooks, by the end of the year I was getting most of my ideas and inspiration from other blogs or websites. Times have changed – and the iphone isn’t just for making phone calls.

5 – I regret not learning how to can this past year. Freezing yes, canning no.

4 – Blog stats can be addicting. I’ve been amazed at the number of followers of the blog, where they are coming from (I believe they represent four continents), what posts draw the most interest, and the incredible power of social media.

3 – Never would I have imagined at the beginning of this journey, that I would have written more than 60 posts, which have produced more than 38,000 views of my blog. Never.

2 – I spent a lot of time cooking last year. I mean a serious amount of time. While most of those chores became routine after some time, I didn’t realize how much time I spent in the kitchen until the past three months this summer when I wasn’t spending that time in the kitchen. I’ve spent more time with friends, with my gardens, with a good book, and… well working as well.

1 – At the beginning of this challenge what I wanted to learn most from it all was a true appreciation of food. Whether I grew it myself, made it from scratch, or tried to only buy it locally, I really wanted to connect to the energy it took to get that food on the table. And I did. I feel good about seeing it all the way through and not giving up when things got really stressful. And I still love to cook, in spite of my recent foray back to a frozen pizza and cheesy puffs. When all is said and done, this was truly and adventure of a lifetime. Thanks so much my fellow readers, for your inspiration and support!

52+ Weeks of Recipes

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Breads, Pastry, Pasta

Bagels

Cinnamon Raisin English Muffin Bread

Cornmeal Crackers

Corn Tortillas

Croutons

Egg Noodles

Eggless Pasta

Flax Crackers

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

Pie Crust (Curried Chicken Pot Pie)

Pizza Crust

Multi-Grain Sandwich Bread

Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas

Sweets & Breakfast Treats

Christmas Stollen

Chocolate Graham Crackers

Cinnamon Rolls Quick & Easy

Granola Number Five

Granola Bars

Whole Grain Pancakes

Beef

Bison Chili

Bison Stroganoff

chipotle meatloaf

Corned Beef & Cabbage

Lasagna

Pork

Frijoles Borrachos

Pork Carnitas

Posole

Tomatillo Pork Stew

Chicken or Turkey

Curried Chicken Pot Pie

Curried Turkey (or lamb) With Autumn Vegetables

Mediterranean Chicken with Potatoes

Tomatillo Chicken Dia de los Muertos

Vegetarian & Vegetables

Anasazi Bean Burgers

Corn Salsa

Rainbow Chard With White Beans

Refrigerator Kimchi

Roasted Tomatoes (oven dried)

Spring Asparagus Salad

Sushi

Super Lentil Dal

Sauces, Dressings & Condiments

Bechamel Sauce

Balsamic Salad Dressing

Buttermilk Ranch Salad Dressing

Coffee Bourbon BBQ Sauce

Marinara Sauce

Mustard

Pizza Sauce

Tomato Sauce

Tomatillo Salsa

Vita’s Pasta Sauce

Make It With Milk

Crock Pot Yogurt

Meyer Lemon Cheese

Week 51 – Relief or Regret?

I’ve been feeling a little guilty about my second to last week of this challenge. Not because I was cheating per se, but because I was away from home on business for almost the entire week and couldn’t do any cooking. Really Pam… guilty because you can’t cook? What has this year done to me?

I guess I wasn’t thinking too carefully about the return trip home, as my guilt turned into panic looking at the empty refrigerator and pantry. No bread, no granola, no leftovers for lunch. You see most of the time I’m away from home Lisa lives like a bachelorette and eats fish from a can, or just cooks a head of cauliflower for dinner – all the foods I don’t really like to smell in the house. Speaking of smells, when I returned home my kimchi from the week prior was fermenting away in the refrigerator but putting off what I thought was a rather unpleasant odor. In fact, as the week went by the kitchen kept getting smellier and smellier each time we opened the refrigerator door. “Good lord, we’re going to eat that stuff?” I couldn’t believe how bad it smelled. Lisa got out two plastic storage bags and double-bagged it. Well that didn’t help, in fact it was really starting to smell more and more like dead fish. Fast forward to Tuesday night and as I’m digging through the vegetable drawer I stumble upon the tiny little bowl of chopped garlic I put in the refrigerator about two weeks ago. Yes it was covered with a small piece of plastic wrap, but that didn’t stop the wretched stench from escaping it. Thank goodness it wasn’t the kimchi (that I almost threw out) because I finally had the courage to taste it and my, it is soooooo delicious.

I returned home late Friday night, thankful to sleep in my own bed again but even more thankful to leave all the conference buffet food behind. When you mainly cook everything from scratch you really begin to notice the amount of salt and fat in other foods. I came home to a weekend of get-togethers with friends and family, so my cooking from scratch jump started on Saturday preparing some rock shrimp tacos (with homemade tortillas) , pork carnitas, and guacamole for the evening food fest at my DPW gathering. The DPW’s (my four girlfriends and I are an unexpected group that stumbled upon each other from the professional world), we gather quarterly to laugh hard and often, cry mostly from laughing so hard, and to eat some really great food. For anyone who cares the DPW stands for Dirty Polish Whores and really has nothing to do with who we are (trust me), but has stuck with us over the years. Each time we get together I believe we unintentionally try to outdo each other in the food category, much to the surprise and pleasure of all of us. While my homemade corn tortillas entered into the “wow” category, Margaret’s Whoreo cookies (yes you read that right), were da bomb.

After a long and laugh-filled Saturday night, Sunday came a bit earlier than expected and a Sunday brunch invitation meant getting up earlier than my body wanted to in order to make the asparagus salad. Ah yes, it is spring and the best part of spring in my opinion are the sweet delicious stalks of asparagus. While April is a bit early here for any local crops, it is coming into our store from domestic sources which are much more delicious than from Mexico or Chile. I used a recipe from my co-op that was a great accompaniment to hot ham sandwiches at brunch, but went even better with the BBQ chicken I made for dinner. We had a rare day in spring here in Wisconsin where the temperature got way above the 60 degrees we would all settle for, so when the temperature peaks at 80 everyone in my neighborhood dusts off their grill and throws on some kind of meat. Since barbeque sauce was on my list of things to make that I had never before tried, I pulled together what was more of a marinade but it did however give the chicken both a sweet and savory flavor. As the recipe says, “deep flavor, rich tasting… fabulous with steak, chicken or pork.” The recipe said to “mop” this on at the end of the grilling process so the skin wouldn’t char, but I decided to brave it and marinade the chicken pieces in the sauce for about an hour before cooking. I made sure to keep the chicken away from the direct heat of the coals so I could continue to mop on the sauce as they cooked. While I do prefer the tomato-based barbeque sauces, this one was really rather good and since I have some left over I will be using it again.

I’m almost at the end of week 52 as I’m writing this post, and feeling a little sad that this adventure is almost over. Or is it? I mean once you start something like this does the adventure really ever end? It is food we’re talking about, and while I learned a lot about cooking from scratch over the past 52 weeks, there is still so much more to learn. So my question is, should I keep blogging? What do you think?

Coffee Bourbon BBQ Sauce (from The Gourmet Cookbook)

1 cup strong brewed coffee

½ cup bourbon

½ cup packed light brown sugar

½ cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan and cook over medium heat (a simmer) for about 30-45 minutes. Stir occasionally. You want the sauce to cook down to about 1 cup so the flavors can develop nicely. The sauce will be thin.

If you are cooking the meat over direct heat, the recipe says to brush on the sauce at the end of the cooking so that the sugars don’t char.

Spring Asparagus Salad (from Outpost Natural Foods Co-op)

1 ½ pounds fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon tamari (soy sauce)

1 teaspoon white sugar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon sesame seeds

Salt to taste

Whisk together the vinegars, tamari, sugar, Dijon, and oils. Make sure you whisk them vigorously in order to emulsify. Set aside.

Bring a pot of lightly-salted water to a boil and add the asparagus. Cook for 1-4 minutes, until just tender but still mostly firm. Remove from the water and rinse under cold water immediately to stop the cooking.

Place the asparagus in a large bowl and drizzle the dressing over the asparagus, tossing it until it is evenly coated. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and toss again.

Chill or serve immediately.

Week 50 – Inspiration Comes In Many Forms

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My inspiration in week 50 came in the form of two pretty amazing experiences. The first was the launch of my co-op’s new magazine, appropriately titled GRAZE. The second was a culinary trip to one of the newer Asian supermarkets in town called Pacific Coast. When I put the two amazing experiences together, it resulted in a batch of homemade kimchi, something I’ve never considered making before this.

GRAZE is the inspiration of our fabulous marketing team at Outpost Natural Foods, and the very essence of what my co-op is all about. Subtitled, “around the kitchen table” GRAZE promises to tempt novice and experienced foodies alike with the products, flavors, and recipes of our amazing local artisans. The magazine, only available in our stores, is not supported by any outside advertising so that we could be sure and have the space to talk about the foods and vendors we love. The inspiration I drew upon this week was a recipe we published from local chef Jan Kelly from the restaurant Meritage. We gave Jan a challenge of one ingredient that she needed to design a meal around, and that was kimchi. Jan of course even made the kimchi from scratch, so I figured, why don’t I try?

Making kimchi from scratch meant picking up some traditional flavors to stock up my pantry, which meant a trip to Pacific Coast. Now growing up as a child of the 60’s and 70’s, an Asian-inspired dinner at home usually meant chicken chow mein, often but not always from a can. I’m sure we had an Asian grocery store in town back then, small as it might have been, but my family would have never ventured to see it. I do however remember going to San Francisco for the first time, must have been around 1972, and my parent’s friends took us to Chinatown for dinner. My world of Asian flavors was expanded that night, not only on the streets and in the marketplace, but also at the dinner table. When I first heard about Kimchi a number of years ago what I heard was that it was some kind of pickled concoction of rotting food that was buried in a jar (yes, in the ground) for a year or so until it was ready to… um, eat. But if you search for it online you’ll see that it can be interpreted a number of different ways, everything from pasta sauce to pickles. Everyone has a different take on it and claims theirs is the best. At least that means it can be customized to include whatever your favorite vegetable or flavor. There were at least three very different looking varieties of kimchi offered fresh at Pacific Coast.

My first impression of Pacific Coast was that I had just stepped into the Mecca of Asian convenience foods. During the past 50 weeks of inconvenience I really haven’t been spending much time at all in the center aisles of any store, so it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise to me that foreign convenience foods would be so enticing. Freezer upon freezer was filled with noodles, pot stickers, buns, shumai dumplings, purple yams, mochi ice cream, and an inordinate amount of fish balls. Lisa began filling her shopping basket almost immediately in what appeared to be a convenience inspired food frenzy. Meanwhile I was having fun looking at all of the graphics and marketing ploys used to sell products to people of differentcultures, knowing how easily it is to buy into the kitsch of it all. Yes, we came home with the giant tin of cream crackers (perfectly toasted and flaky like a pie crust), rice crackers, udon noodles, as well as the ingredients needed for my kimchi. Heck, I could easily be eating those convenience foods in just two short weeks from now, if there is any left that is.

So I started the kimchi that afternoon, before leaving town for a week on business. That meant Lisa would finish making the kimchi as the first step was to let the cabbage tossed with salt and sugar, sit overnight in the refrigerator. She said that she modified the recipe somewhat, using two carrots and grating them instead of julienne, and using a little less chili powder not knowing how potent it was going to be. The size of the cabbage will definitely determine the yield, our batch made about a quart.

I’m really looking forward to getting home from this business trip I’m on, so I can try it on a grilled pork or chicken taco, or with fish as chef Jan had prepared. Do share your kimchi experiences with me, I’d really love to learn more about it.

 

Refrigerator Kimchi (from Jan Kelly, chef and owner of Meritage Restaurant)

1 head Napa cabbage

2 tablespoons Kosher salt

½ cup sugar plus two tablespoons

3 tablespoons chopped garlic

3 to 4 tablespoons chopped ginger

¼ cup soy sauce

¼ cup fish sauce

½ cup Asian chili powder

2 teaspoons salted shrimp (in a jar)

½ cup julienned carrots (optional)

½ cup sliced green onions (optional)

Water if needed

  1. Cut the cabbage in half then cut crosswise into one-inch pieces.
  2. Toss cabbage with salt and two tablespoons sugar and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator.
  3. Make the bring: combine the garlic, ginger, Asian chili powder, fish sauce, soy sauce, shrimp, and ½ cup sugar. The consistency will be like creamy dressing. If it’s too thick, add a little water.
  4. Add the carrots and green onions to the brine if using.
  5. Drain any water off the cabbage and add it to the brine. Make sure and coat it really well.
  6. Cover and/or store in jars in your refrigerator. Let it sit for at least 24 hours before using. The longer it sits, the stronger the flavor, so keep trying it until you find the flavor that you like.

We used less hot pepper and it was still plenty zesty. We also cut back on the soy sauce and fish sauce because both are quite salty. That’s the beauty of kimchi, it’s infinitely customizable to your taste!

 

Week 47 – St. Patty’s Is Simple, So Do It

I struggled again with what to write this week. No whining, no complaining, no sniveling as the Irish say. It was a tough week for me, as tough as week six was last May. So many hours spent working, so little time spent preparing for meals. So when faced with those pressures this past week I learned a few more cooking shortcuts. Too little too late you ask? Perhaps, but it gave me some peace of mind in terms of finishing up what I’ve started.

Short cut number one, bake off the easy things while enjoying your morning cup of coffee. I made a one-pound batch of granola on Saturday morning, which took me 10 minutes to combine the ingredients and 20 minutes to bake (stirring two times at each 10 minute baking interval). How easy was that? It didn’t need to be time away from a fun or productive day (okay, it was another day of work) but we were out of granola and believe me, it almost got ugly the day before when I ate the last bit of it. I did the same thing on Sunday morning, making up a batch of my favorite granola bars. Again it took about 20 minutes toasting the grains and combining them with the sweeteners, and another 20 minutes of baking. The second delicious accomplishment that didn’t dig into my Sunday hours one bit.

Short cut number two, and you still have two days to accomplish this yourself, is to make yourself a nice Saint Patrick’s Day Corned Beef and Cabbage dinner in the slow cooker. Seriously, this was one of the easiest meals I’ve made this entire year, and was right up there on the list of deliciousness. What could be better than a one-pot meal that cooks while you are away at work, filling your kitchen with that savory aroma of someone slaving over the stove all day? Just make sure you don’t over-cook it, so if you have a timer or a crock pot with a timing function, set it for 6-7 hours just to be safe.

Here is my St. Patrick’s offering, the quick, easy, and delicious recipe. I don’t think I spent any more than 25 minutes all together in gathering the ingredients from my refrigerator, peeling, chopping and putting them into the Crockpot. Enjoy with a tall glass of Guinness after that long day of work.

St. Patrick’s Day Corned Beef And Cabbage

One 3-4 pound piece of uncooked corned beef

2 cups water

One 12-ounce beer (Guinness or any kind of lager will do)

1 small head of green cabbage, cored and quartered

1 large onion, quartered

2-3 large carrots, sliced diagonally into bite-size pieces

6-8 red potatoes, peeled slightly (not thoroughly) and quartered

2-3 generous sprigs of fresh thyme

1-2 bay leaves

 

Lay the corned beef on the bottom of the slow cooker and top with all of the vegetables, thyme, and bay leaves. Pour in the beer and water. Cover and cook for 6-8 hours until the beef is tender.

Transfer the beef to a cutting board and cut into thin slices. Serve in shallow bowls surrounded by the vegetables, and make sure you serve some of the cooking liquid over the top because that is the truly delicious part!

 

Week 46 – An Einstein I’m Not!

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What does a middle-aged German girl like me know about bagels? Well I know they were a childhood favorite of mine growing up in the 1960’s in a community with one of the first bagel shops in the area. Bagels and lox were a treat in our house and I learned to appreciate both the appropriate texture and flavor at a very young age. We didn’t have the Brugger’s or Einstein’s shops known today – no these shops were small local bakeries that perhaps learned the craft of bagel baking in New York or Chicago – and opened up in my neighborhood I’m guessing on the demand from the Jewish community.

What do I know about bagels today? Well first of all I haven’t eaten a bagel in more than 46 weeks. Prior to my voyage into the from scratch food routine, I had avoided bagels for a couple of years because of the calorie content – a whopping 72 calories per ounce – or about 364 calories for an average size bagel. Spread on the cream cheese and we’re talking 1/3 of the calories I might consume in an entire day. But I got a craving for bagels this week and naturally if I wanted them, I would have to make them myself.

Research led me to the particular recipe I’ve included in this post – not too technical for my abilities – but descriptive of what I remembered about the texture and flavor of a really authentic bagel. A bagel by definition is known as dense, chewy and rather doughy with a nicely browned and crispy crust. That’s the bagel I was in search of!

Naturally I wanted some kind of cheese spread to go along with my bagel. Since I didn’t have the necessary mesophilic starter for cream cheese, and since I was hoping to do something low-fat, I decided to use this recipe that I’ve had my eye on since getting my cheese making book for Christmas. It’s super simple to make, and since you add your own salt and/or herbs, it can take on whatever flavor profile you love. I was happy to see Meyer lemons were in season, as they tend to be a bit sweeter than regular lemons (they are a cross between a lemon and either a mandarin or common orange).

While these two recipes took up a big part of my Sunday time (ie: I prepared no other food for the week), they were really worth the effort. I brought the majority of them into work today at the delight of my co-workers, or at least that’s what they tell me. Enjoy!

 

Meyer Lemon Cheese

½ gallon milk (I used 2%, you need a little milk fat)

¼ cup lemon juice (I used Meyer Lemons)

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or other herbs

 

Heat the milk on the stove in a large pot, stirring frequently until it reaches 185-195°. Remove from the head, add the lemon juice to the milk, and stir. Cover the pot immediately and let rest for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes check you curds and whey. The whey should be clear and not milky. If it’s milky, add a little bit more lemon juice to the pot and wait a few minutes more.

Pour the curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth. I save the whey from both the curds dripping through the cheesecloth as well as from the rest of the cheese-making process. (see week 41)

Tie the corners of the cheesecloth and hang the curds over a bowl to drain for about an hour. Remove the curds from the bag and add the salt and herbs. My cheese was a bit dry, so I just added back some of the whey I had saved to make it creamier.

Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks, if it lasts that long.

 

Bagels (from the book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, by Hertzberg and Francois)

For The Dough

3 cups lukewarm water (100°F)

1 ½ tablespoons active dry yeast (2 packages)

1 ½ tablespoons Kosher salt

1 ½ tablespoons sugar

6 ¼ cups bread flour

Extra flour for dusting

Sesame seeds and/or poppy seeds

For The Boiling Pot

8 quarts water

¼ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

This dough mixes best using a 14-cup capacity food processor with dough attachment, or a heavy-duty stand mixer with a dough hook. Mix the yeast, salt, and sugar with the water in the bowl of your mixer or food processor. Add the flour to form what will become a very sticky dough. If you don’t have a machine to use, keep your hands wet to incorporate all of the flour.

Cover the dough and allow it to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on the top), approximately 2 hours. You can use the dough immediately, but it may work better refrigerated for a few hours. I also read in Mark Bittman’s book, that refrigerating or resting the dough for several hours will also contribute to a more developed flavor.

Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat your oven to 450°F, with a baking stone (preferably) in the middle rack and an empty broiler tray or cast iron pan below. You will use the second pan to create steam. If you don’t have a baking stone, a lightly oiled baking sheet should work.

Generously dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 3-ounce piece of dough about the size of a small peach. Dust the piece with more flour (on your counter top as well) and shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go. (Tuck and spin, tuck and spin. You’re creating elasticity in the dough.) Set the dough ball on a floured surface and keep working the rest of the dough. Cover the balls loosely with a towel that has been lightly floured (you’ll use this towel again in a bit). Let the balls rest for 20 minutes.

Start you water boiling (don’t forget to add the sugar and baking soda once it begins to boil).

Next, punch your thumb through the dough ball to form the hole. Hold the dough in your hands and ease the hole open with your fingers as you rotate the dough in a circle. Your dough should look like a fat bicycle tire. The hole will get smaller as the dough rests, so don’t worry that it’s too big.

Drop the bagels into the simmering water one at a time, making sure they are not crowding one another (3-4 at a time). Let them simmer for 2 minutes, then turn them over to cook for one more minute. (I was so busy dropping bagels into the water and shaping the others that I forgot to take pictures. Whoops!)

Remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and place them on a clean kitchen towel (the one you used to cover them) that is lightly floured. This will help absorb some of the excess water and keep them from sticking.

Place the bagels on a well-floured peel if you’re using a baking stone, or on a lightly greased baking sheet if you’re not using the stone. Sprinkle with poppy seeds and/or sesame seeds. Yes they looked funny, I was worried.

Slide the bagels directly onto the hot stone or baking sheet onto the middle oven rack. Throw 2 ice cubes into the broiler pan or cast iron pan and quickly close the door to keep the steam inside. Bake for about 20 minutes until brown and firm. Repeat process with the rest of the batches.

Oh and if you find my description or process to not be helpful, take a look at a post by the authors of the recipe.

 

Week 45 – Hamburger Help Her (Recipe)

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Looking for an easy meal to make? Time to reach for your Hamburger Helper. Wrong answer – that’s a convenience food, and quite honestly I have never in my entire adult life used that product. So what’s a girl to do?

When you’re cooking everything from scratch the only “easy” meal to make when you get home late from work usually consists of a protein, vegetable and starch. I’ve been getting pretty tired of that kind of “easy” meal now 45 weeks into my challenge, as well as reverting to the same old frozen leftovers. So this week I was determined to look my arch nemesis straight in the… uhm… I was determined to overcome my fear of failure for the third time, making pasta from scratch. I decided on an easier topping for my pasta, one that could be made in about 20-30 minutes or so from start to finish. I don’t think I’ve had beef stroganoff for a couple of years now, ever since I began working on shedding a few pounds, so I wanted to make something that was lower in fat and calories.

Intimidating, me?

Bison, for those of you really afraid of the notion of using this meat, is very, very, need I say VERY similar to ground beef. The flavor is almost indistinguishable so get over that fear right now. The American Heart Association (and Outpost’s nutritionist Judy Mayer) recommends bison as a healthy alternative to beef, as it’s lower in fat and cholesterol. A three-ounce serving of bison is only 143 calories, compared with ground beef at 211, and has only 2.42 grams of fat, compared to 9.3 grams in ground beef. There, have I convinced you yet?

The other product I substituted in the original recipe (from Cooking Light) was non-fat strained yogurt in place of the sour cream. Straining it through cheesecloth for about 45 minutes (or overnight if you plan this meal ahead) gives you the thick consistency of sour cream without the calories (120 calories in a cup of nonfat yogurt compared to 280 calories in a cup of low-fat sour cream).

Now if you’re committed to make everything from scratch in this recipe, you’ll need to have some beef broth made ahead of time (frozen) and you really need to mix your pasta dough first before you do anything else. I finally found a dough recipe that works (thank you Gourmet) and the key I believe is to let the dough rest after kneading – which this recipe calls for resting for one hour. So that doesn’t make this a really quick meal now does it? Well it does if you make the pasta ahead of time since you can refrigerate it fresh for a few days or freeze it for later. Or if you’re like me, you plan on 1 ½ hours total, starting with the pasta dough, and while it’s resting you make the stroganoff. I let my dough rest for 45 minutes and it worked just fine.

Look at me, all proud of my pasta. This from the girl who has been resenting it since the last failed batch a few meals ago. In fact just this past week I made a “pasta salad” from some frozen rigatoni I had made a month or so ago using my pasta play dough maker. The pasta was rather gummy so the salad did not look at all appetizing, so I was embarrassed to eat it in front of my co-workers at the lunch table. How I got the courage to try again, I don’t know. But I’m really glad I did try again. In fact I was so proud of myself I had to take a small bowl of cooked pasta into work to show my co-workers that I wasn’t as lame as I looked last week eating my sad, sad pasta salad.

Okay, now it’s time for you to try. This is really delicious, so get out there and make yourself a truly rewarding dinner. Believe me, you’ll impress the heck out of your dinner companion (do make sure you have one for this meal as they will think you are a culinary celebrity).

Fresh Egg Noodles

Do not even think you can deviate from this recipe. The eggs give it the silky noodle texture you need.

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used 00 pasta flour)

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons water

½ teaspoon salt

Place the flour on the surface of your table, preferably a wooden surface. Make a well in the center of the flour.

In the center of the well, add the salt and the eggs along with 1 tablespoon of the water. If you’re lucky, the eggs won’t break the wall of the well and start running towards the edge of the table like mine did. You’re lucky? Great, now gradually stir in enough flour into the eggs to begin to form a paste, pulling in flour closest to the egg mixture and being ever so careful not to make an opening in the outer wall of the well.

Knead the remaining flour into the mixture with your hands until it forms a ball, adding a few more drops of the remaining tablespoon of water at a time, until the dough softens. The dough should be firm but not sticky.

Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. Cover it with an inverted bowl and let it stand for about one hour. This is an important step because it will allow the dough to relax and be easier to work with.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces, and keep whatever dough you are not rolling out covered by the bowl. Roll the dough with a wooden rolling pin, or through a pasta roller until very thin. The dough will tend to stretch and then spring back a little, so I held onto one end of the dough with the palm of my hand while using the rolling pin to stretch it. Flip the dough over as you roll. I didn’t need any flour during this process but if your dough is a little sticky you will need a small amount of flour. Use as little flour on the counter as possible.

Cut thin egg noodle size strips and set them to the side while you finish rolling out all of your dough. Cook in boiling water for about 5 minutes. They cook very quickly so keep your eye on them.

Bison Stroganoff (My Hamburger Help Her)

1 pound ground bison (or extra-lean ground beef)

1 cup chopped onion

8 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms

4 small cloves garlic (2 teaspoons), minced

1 cup beef broth, fat-free and low sodium

¾ cup strained non-fat yogurt

OR ¾ cup low-fat sour cream

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt or less if you’re using canned stock

¼ teaspoon fresh thyme

2 tablespoons dry sherry

Pepper to taste

Chopped parsley to garnish

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the bison or ground beef, breaking up the meat into smaller pieces while it browns.

When the meat is brown, add the onions, garlic, and mushrooms and continue to cook for about 4 minutes, until most of the liquid evaporates. Stir this mixture frequently. Add the salt.

Next, sprinkle the flour over the meat and cook for about one minute, stirring constantly. Your mixture should thicken up nicely with the flour.

Stir in the beef broth and sherry and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it boils, reduce the heat and let it simmer for a few more minutes. The broth will thicken up nicely at this point. Add pepper to taste.

Remove from the heat and stir in the yogurt or sour cream until combined.

Serve over homemade pasta, which you are incredible pleased that you made yourself and it turned out so perfectly!

Enjoy with your stroganoff because you made everything from scratch!

I had our nutritionist provide the nutritional breakdown on the stroganoff (per serving, recipe serves 6): 165 calories, 4 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 9 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams protein, 607 mg. sodium, 1 gram fiber, 83 mg calcium. (Without noodles)

Week 44 – T-minus 8 Weeks And Counting

My year of inconvenience is slowly but steadily coming to an end. I mention slowly because this past week was particularly slow going. Work was packed with more meetings than usual, and my free time was spent either shoveling snow or working on a painting/remodel project at home. So meals this week were rather haphazard at best. Fortunately I had my reserve of frozen meals to get us through most of the week. Here’s a sample of what I’m talking about.

Lisa – “What’s for dinner?

Me – “I dunno, how about this container marked ‘chicken verde’ does that sound good?”

Lisa – “Sure I’d love to have Mexican food tonight.”

Me – “uhm… this looks like chicken in here but I don’t see any ‘verde’ to speak of. I think it is Indian flavored chicken something that we made awhile ago.”

Lisa – “I don’t care as long as I don’t have to cook it.”

And so it went. We didn’t starve nor did we eat particularly well. I’d say I actually had two high points in the week, which to me are kind of like the yin and yang of food cravings.

The Yin: Sitting in meetings all week in our office conference room, I happened to chose the side of the table directly across from a group of photos we had up to assist with ideas for a store remodel. One picture in particular, demonstrating “unique and abundant” was a display case of large, beautifully crafted pretzels from my trip to Switzerland in 2009. Wow, did I crave pretzels all week long! So, high point number one which met my salty food craving, was to visit the Old German Beer Hall after work on Friday with friends…where they have delicious Hofbrau beer AND delicious GIANT soft pretzels. While I know I can make these myself and in fact making pretzels is great fun, I admit it was even more fun to have someone else make it for me.

The Yang: This can best be described as an unreasonable but growing desire for cinnamon rolls. For those who know me know that I really don’t eat cinnamon rolls as I generally prefer the salty to the sweet. But I just couldn’t shake this craving no matter how hard I tried. And for the sake of trying something new each week for the rest of my year, I’ve never before tried making cinnamon rolls. The problem I have with the idea of making them from scratch is the time vs. eating factor. Using yeast (as one should) it takes at least 3 hours from start to finish, which means if I want one fresh in the morning with my coffee I’m getting up at 5am on a weekend. Forget that! Then I stumbled across this recipe that PROMISED to be just as good as the yeast version without the yeast and without the wait. I’m sorry I don’t remember where the recipe is from but trust me, it satisfied the craving particularly well.

No Yeast, No Kidding Cinnamon Rolls

For the dough:

2 ¾ cup white flour (plus extra for dusting the counter)

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 ¼ teaspoon baking power

½ teaspoon baking soda

¾ teaspoon salt

1 ¼ cup buttermilk

6 tablespoons melted butter

 

For the filling:

2 tablespoons melted butter

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon

 

For the glaze:

2 tablespoons water

¾ to 1 cup powdered sugar

 

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Don’t wait like I did, because this recipe comes together very quickly.

Mix together the dry ingredients of the filling (the sugar and cinnamon) in a small bowl so you have it ready when you need it.

In a large mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients for the dough (the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt). Add the butter and buttermilk and mix gently. At this point the dough will come together very sticky, but don’t worry. Spoon it on top of a heavily floured counter and sprinkle a bit more flour on top so you can mix it.

Flour your hands as well and gently knead the dough, adding more flour if necessary, kneading until the dough is both manageable and fairly smooth.

With a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a rectangle approximately ½ inch thick. The rectangle I rolled was about 14 inches in length.

Spread the melted butter over the dough and sprinkle with the cinnamon and sugar mixture. There may seem like a lot but use it all.

Roll the dough lengthwise, somewhat tightly, and cut the dough into rolls that are about 2 inches thick.

Place the rolls into a lightly greased pan (I used an 8”x8” pan). I started with one roll in the center and built the others around it. They will puff up when they bake and fill in the empty space in the pan.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the edges have turned a golden brown.

While the buns are baking, mix together your glaze and pour onto the rolls while they are still warm.

Yum – yes yum. While these are a bit more like biscuits than true cinnamon rolls, I was not at all disappointed and hope you aren’t either.