Friday, November 26, 2010

Molds make butter better on holiday table



One way to put a special touch on a holiday table is to mold the butter. I used my collectible Pampered Chef stoneware cookie molds that were just taking up room in my cupboard to make molded butter for Thanksgiving dinner. We set six tables at the community feast and each table got it's own heart-shaped butter.

The technique is simple.
1. Place your stoneware mold in the freezer for 20-30 minutes.
2. At the same time, set out a stick of butter to soften for 20-30 minutes.
3. Remove the mold from the freezer and unwrap the butter.
4. Using the heel of your hand or the back of a metal spoon, smoosh the butter into the mold evenly.
5. Refrigerate the mold with the butter until the butter is firm.
6. Run a knife's thin blade around the outside of the butter, then use the tip of the knife to carefully pry up the butter in corner. Turn it out onto a plate.

I wrapped my butter hearts individually to protect them from odors. I packed them in a plastic lidded container to store and transport them. Make sure you put them on the butter plates while they are still cold and firm.

If you think you don't have the time or the equipment to pull that off, you can still make the butter special by flavoring it. This recipe tastes like the sweet, spiced butter served at steakhouses. In addition to hot rolls, it's also good on baked sweet potatoes.

CHRISTMAS SPICE BUTTER

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 tablespoon sugar

Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until fluffy and well-combined. Transfer to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until needed. Makes 1 cup.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

My part of the feast

This year we are sharing Thanksgiving dinner with at least two others families at our church, as I mentioned in an earlier post. I'm roasting two donated turkeys and bringing the dressing, four blueberry pies and many gallons of iced tea, plus a special touch I'll dedicate the next post to. Another church member gave me the blueberries that he had picked and frozen this summer. Here are the recipes and photos.


Traditional Bread Stuffing With Herbs (forefront of photo) on last year's Thanksgiving buffet

TRADITIONAL BREAD STUFFING WITH HERBS

1/2 cup margarine or butter (1 stick)
5 large celery stalks, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1 14 1/2-ounce can chicken broth
2 16-ounce loaves sliced firm white bread, lightly toasted and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves, chopped


Preheat oven to 325. In 12-inch skillet, melt margarine or butter over medium heat. Add celery and onion, and cook 15 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in thyme, salt, pepper, sage, chicken broth and 1/2 cup water; remove skillet from heat.

Place bread cubes in very large bowl. Add celery mixture and parsley; toss to mix well.

Spoon stuffing into 13-inch-by-9-inch glass baking dish; cover with foil and bake 40 minutes or until heated through. Makes about 12 cups.

Originally published in Good Housekeeping magazine in 1999.




I made many Blueberry Dream Pies this summer. One time I even replaced the sugar with a sweetener to make a version for diabetics and people thought it was just as good. One of my pies won a blue ribbon for best presentation at the school fall festival. I changed the method for the garnish to get it to brown so read the recipe through.

BLUEBERRY DREAM PIE

Pastry for double-crust pie (9 inches)

CHEESE FILLING:
4 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 egg yolk

BLUEBERRY FILLING:
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water
6 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, divided
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint or 1 teaspoon dried mint
1 egg white, beaten


Line a 9-in. deep-dish pie plate with bottom crust. Trim pastry to 1/2 in. beyond edge of plate; flute edges. Line unpricked pastry shell with a double thickness of heavy-duty foil. Bake at 450° for 8 minutes. Remove foil; bake 5 minutes longer. Cool on a wire rack. Reduce heat to 375°.

Cut decorative cutouts in remaining pastry. Place on a cookie sheet, brush with egg white, sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake at 375° for 9 minutes or until lightly browned.

In a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, confectioners' sugar and lemon juice until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolk until blended. Spread into crust.

In a large saucepan, combine 1/2 cup sugar, flour and cornstarch; stir in water until smooth. Stir in 2 cups berries. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until thickened. Cool slightly. Gently stir in the lemon juice, mint and remaining berries. Pour over cheese filling.

Bake at 375° for 35-40 minutes or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cover edges with foil during the last 15 minutes to prevent overbrowning. Place pre-baked leaves on top of pie at this time. Cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate leftovers. Yield: 8 servings.

Nutrition Facts: 1 piece equals 442 calories, 18 g fat (8 g saturated fat), 46 mg cholesterol, 269 mg sodium, 67 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber, 5 g protein.

Blueberry Dream Pie published in Taste of Home August/September 2010, p64

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Friendsgiving

by guest blogger Tracy Strother

The fridge is mostly empty right now, in anticipation of the turkey and the ham and the other festive foodstuffs that will soon be taking up residence inside it. I'm still trying to figure out where all the sides will go to warm up! Last year I tried to fit casserole dishes full of sweet potatoes, scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes, brussels sprouts, green beans, and two different kinds of stuffing all together in my little oven with a turkey that was STILL COOKING well after it was supposed to be finished. This year, the turkey and the ham will be done early! I hope.

I'm making my Dad's Jack Daniels Ham recipe, because he was always in the kitchen when I was a kid, cooking all kinds of special things for us while the Macy's Parade flickered on the TV in the background. Now that he's laid up and can't cook, I plan to make enough so I can take him some leftovers.

Dad's Jack Daniels Ham

Ingredients :
  • one ham, whatever kind you like - canned, bone in, water added, spiral sliced, it doesn't matter. Bonus points if you won it by climbing up a greased pole. It should come with cooking directions, how hot the oven should be, how long it needs to bake, etc. If it doesn't, look up how to bake a ham in a cookbook or on the internet, that's what I do.
  • one bottle of Jack Daniels
  • one bottle of Apricot Brandy
  • one jar of Apricot Preserves

  1. Pour about half a cup of JD into a glass. Pour about one quarter cup of the JD into a bowl with about one quarter cup of Apricot Brandy and the whole jar of Apricot Preserves, and stir it well.
  2. Take a sip of the whiskey in the glass.
  3. Score your ham in a pretty diamond pattern.
  4. Take another sip of whiskey.
  5. Brush the ham with the Apricot Glaze.
  6. Take another sip of whiskey.
  7. Bake your ham according to the package directions, brushing occasionally with Apricot Glaze, taking sips of whiskey whenever you do.
  8. By the time the ham's heated through, you will be too!

Katie, one of by best girls, is bringing two different kinds of stuffing, again, and at least two other dishes besides. She was one of the organizers of our first Friendsgiving, last year. When my Grandmother passed away early last November, my Mom pretty much canceled Thanksgiving. The traveling over the river and through the woods, the cooking and eating and drinking, all of that happened two weeks before Turkey Day, and nobody really wanted to sit around that dining table again so soon without Grandma. It would have been a huge bummer. Instead of mourning the loss of one holiday tradition though, my girlfriends helped me decide to throw a Friendsgiving, the dinner for everyone who couldn't (or didn't really want to) go out of town for the holiday.

The first Friendsgiving was a fantastic experiment! We basically said to everyone we liked, "Hey, if you're not going out of town for the holiday, please join us!" Everyone brought something. Katie made no less than 4 side dishes, including the delicious beet and arugula salad that I am so happy she's bringing again this year. Lindsay brought hot cider, in a crock pot, which was incredibly difficult to transport and sloshed around comically on the way to my house - it also had a LOT of whiskey in it, which helped me get through the nerves of having what felt like a million people (it hovered at about 20 most of the night, but it felt like more) in my tiny house. Jesse and Eric came over at the end of the feast, bearing a lovely bottle of wine, which I couldn't open because I couldn't find a corkscrew. Well, I have one this year, I am ready!

There was so much food I am sure I could not list who brought what, but I do know that we all ate heartily and there was plenty left over. One thing I did last year was lay in a store of plastic containers so we could send some leftovers home with guests. Those containers helped a lot when we cleared the table, the food all got packed away and the dishes washed and dried (thank you Lisa!) and I had some peace to enjoy another cup of hot cider on the porch with my friends. While I am not a huge advocate of using plastics indiscriminately, I feel like those containers are my one ecologically unfriendly indulgence.

We like to eat on real plates (Fiestaware, just like at Grandma's house), with real silverware (although it is mix and match!) and use a real tablecloth with cloth napkins (which I found at the Goodwill in a lucky moment last week). We don't really decorate; there is no room on our table for a centerpiece after all the majestic food is laid out. Guests to my house know what to expect, we don't have a lot of pomp and ceremony here. I've been saving pickle jars from the recycling bin for a few weeks so there will be enough glasses for everyone!

This group of people who will show up at Edgehill House on November 25 bearing food and spirits, they may not be any blood relation to us, but they are in many ways our family. Friendsgiving is a celebration of that, the family we have built here in Morgantown. Keith, Delia and I have so much to be thankful for this holiday season, and the people joining us for Turkey and Two Kinds of Stuffing are right at the top of the list.



Tracy Strother lives and blogs at Edgehill House. When she isn't making bread in exchange for health insurance coverage at the New Day Bakery, you can find her by listening for a rhythmic clicking noise - it's either knitting needles or Mac keys. She is somebody's mother.

Monday, November 22, 2010

New ways to celebrate Thanksgiving

The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. -- Psalm 126:3

This year, we are doing Thanksgiving a whole new way. At least it's new to us. We've been talking about doing something like this for a couple of years.

Our first Thanksgivings we prepared our share of the big meal and schlepped it 20 miles across the county to my mother's house, where my home-bound uncle also resided. When he died in 2009, we decided she could come to us. Besides, no one really wanted to spend Thanksgiving there without him.

On Thursday, we will hold another first: We'll join with two other families and host a free community dinner at our church. We have wanted for a couple of years to serve food at a soup kitchen. This will not be a soup kitchen, nor will it feel like a handout. Organizers have worked hard to make the church multipurpose sanctuary/fellowship hall feel like a home. The tables have centerpieces. Crayons are on the tables for children to color the place mats. Servers will carry plates of food to the guests -- they won't line up to get them filled. We'll show "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" and "Facing the Giants" on a big screen. We have board games for after the feast. We won't talk about "need". All you "need" to attend is a desire to spend Thanksgiving with us.

Dinner will be served beginning at 1 p.m. Thanksgiving Day 2010 at Life Gate Church, a ministry of the Wesleyan Church in Terra Alta. (It's beside the Shop 'n Save.) Please join us if you desire.

Please check back Nov. 23 to read about another extraordinary Thanksgiving celebration. Guest blogger Tracy Strother will tell us about Friendsgiving.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

By request: Buffalo Chicken Dip

This appetizer is one of my most requested recipes:

BUFFALO CHICKEN DIP
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
1 cup blue cheese or ranch salad dressing
1/2 cup hot sauce
1/2 to 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 chicken breast halves, cooked, shredded

Heat oven to 350°F. Mix cream cheese, dressing, hot sauce and cheddar cheese in a saucepan. Heat and stir to combine. Stir in the chicken.
Pour into a baking dish. Bake 20 minutes or until bubbly.
Serve with tortilla chips, slices of toasted baguette or crackers.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Family cooking contest reinvents hot dogs

I'm fortunate to be virtual friends with today's guest blogger, Kara Glenn, because we share a love of food. I ogled her photos of Thanksgiving dinner one year and sent her a Facebook friend request for that reason (though I had met her in person when we worked for the same company years ago.) And I'm excited to share with you the cooking contests her family holds.

Without further delay, meet Kara.



Kara Glenn lives in Morgantown with her husband Trevor and Golden Retriever Kelsey. She currently works for the Department of Energy doing design work, and enjoys cooking, reading (mostly Harry Potter), blogging, gaming with her husband and spending time with her family.

Here's her story of a recent family get-together over Columbus Day.

One of my family's favorite activities is eating. OK, actually it's our favorite. My mom went to culinary school in New Orleans, and good food has always been the centerpiece of our gatherings. With the growing popularity of the Food Network and competition-based cooking shows, we thought it would be fun to implement a friendly competition amongst ourselves.

Our first competition was a slider cook-off for the Fourth of July in which yours truly took home first-place honors. For Columbus Day weekend, we tapped a similar vein and chose a hot dog cook-off.

The competition takes place at my parents’ cabin in Canaan Valley, which provides amazing scenery for the festivities. We have few rules, if any. You are able to find the recipe for your entry wherever you choose, or make it up yourself. You can be quite creative in regards to how you view the competition food. We would never turn away a more modern interpretation of a hot dog, or whatever the food may be. Help is allowed, if needed. Often times we help each other when it gets to crunch time.
Judging is done by the whole family, including those competing (my mom, sister and I). Everyone gets a ballot and writes the name of their favorite entry. The entry with the most votes wins! Voting for yourself is allowed, but be prepared to be ridiculed for it.

The entrants were:



The Welsh Dog - Beef hot dog on a potato bun, smothered in beer cheese sauce (made with Irish Cheddar and Pumpkin Beer) and topped with caramelized onions.



The Monte Cristo Dog - Egg-battered fried bun topped with thinly sliced pork hot dog, hot turkey and melted Swiss and smothered in homemade Russian dressing.



The Poblano Dog - A roasted Poblano pepper stuffed with a beef hot dog, then battered and fried and topped with a red pepper jelly jalapeno sauce.

They were all amazing! I made the Welsh Dog, and as much as everyone loved it, I did not receive any votes. My vote went to the Monte Cristo Dog, which was amazingly delicious! This was my sister's creation, and she came up with the idea on her own (she's a chef and incredibly creative!). I've actually made these for dinner one night last week because I loved it so much!

As good as the creations my sister and I came up with were, my mom's Poblano Dog took home first place! It was sweet and spicy, and tasted very much like a Chinese chicken dish. It was slightly too spicy for my liking, which is why it did not receive my vote.



Overall the competition was as success, and the judges (aka my brother, father, husband and my sister's girlfriend) really enjoy our cook-offs (I wonder why...). It's a great family activity, and we talk about it often. For my birthday in August, my husband presented me with a giant trophy with lots of blank plaques for our winners. This has turned in to a wonderful family tradition, and a great way for my sister, mom and I to spend some quality time together doing what we do best—cooking.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Eat your heart out?

The cover of the Betty Crocker Christmas cookies supermarket aisle cookbook is disturbing.



Why is he winking? And am I the only one who reads it as "bite me" instead of "bake me" on first glance?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

School cafeterias to try psychology in lunch line

By MARILYNN MARCHIONE (AP)

Hide the chocolate milk behind the plain milk. Get those apples and oranges out of stainless steel bins and into pretty baskets. Cash only for desserts.

These subtle moves can entice kids to make healthier choices in school lunch lines, studies show. Food and restaurant marketers have long used similar tricks. Now the government wants in on the act.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced what it called a major new initiative Tuesday, giving $2 million to food behavior scientists to find ways to use psychology to improve kids' use of the federal school lunch program and fight childhood obesity.

A fresh approach is clearly needed, those behind the effort say.

About one-third of children and teens are obese or overweight. Bans on soda and junk food have backfired in some places. Some students have abandoned school meal programs that tried to force-feed healthy choices. When one school district put fruit on every lunch tray, most of it ended up in the garbage.

So instead of pursuing a carrot or a stick approach, schools want to entice kids to choose the carrot sticks, figuring children are more likely to eat something they select themselves.

"It's not nutrition till it's eaten," said Joanne Guthrie, a USDA researcher who announced the new grants. The initiative will include creation of a child nutrition center at Cornell University, which has long led this type of research.

Some tricks already judged a success by Cornell researchers: Keep ice cream in freezers without glass display tops so the treats are out of sight. Move salad bars next to the checkout registers, where students linger to pay, giving them more time to ponder a salad. And start a quick line for make-your-own subs and wraps, as Corning East High School in upstate New York did.

"I eat that every day now," instead of the chicken patty sandwiches that used to be a staple, said Shea Beecher, a 17-year-old senior.

"It's like our own little Subway," said Sterling Smith, a 15-year-old sophomore. (Hint to the school: Freshen up the fruit bowl; the choices are pretty narrow by the time Smith gets to his third-shift lunch period.)

Last year, the USDA asked the Institute of Medicine for advice on its school lunch and breakfast programs, which provide free or subsidized meals to more than 31 million schoolchildren each day. The institute recommended more fruit, vegetables and whole grains with limits on fat, salt and calories. But it was clear this wouldn't help unless kids accepted healthier foods, Guthrie said.

"We can't just say we're going to change the menu and all of our problems will be solved," she said.

The agency requested proposals from researchers on how to get kids to actually eat the good stuff. Cornell scientists Brian Wansink and David Just will get $1 million to establish the child nutrition center. Fourteen research sites around the country will share the other $1 million.

"Findings from this emerging field of research — behavioral economics — could lead to significant improvements in the diets of millions of children across America," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

Cornell's focus will be developing "smart lunchrooms" that guide kids to make good choices even when more tempting ones are around.

"We're not taking things away from kids," Wansink said. "It's making the better choice the easier, more convenient choice."

Wansink is a prominent food science researcher, known for studies on the depiction of food in paintings of the Last Supper and how the placement of a candy jar can affect how much people eat from it.

Christine Wallace, food service director for Corning City School District near Cornell University, met him a few years ago and invited him to use her 14 schools as a lab.

"We tend to look at what we're offering and to make sure it's well prepared and in the correct portion size, and not the psychology of it. We're just not trained that way," Wallace said.

For example, some Corning schools had express lines for a la carte items — mostly chips, cookies and ice cream. The idea was to reduce bottlenecks caused by full tray lunches that took longer to ring up. But the result was a public health nightmare.

"We were making it very convenient for them to quickly go through the line and get a bunch of less nutritious items," Wallace said.

After studies by Wansink, they renamed some foods in the elementary schools — "X-ray vision carrots" and "lean, mean green beans" — and watched consumption rise. Cafeteria workers also got more involved, asking, "Would you rather have green beans or carrots today?" instead of waiting for a kid to request them.

And just asking, "Do you want a salad with that?" on pizza day at one high school raised salad consumption 30 percent, Wansink said.

___

Online:

Cornell project: http://SmarterLunchrooms.org

USDA: http://tinyurl.com/32u6jrz

Institute of Medicine: http://tinyurl.com/yak3x5d

Childhood obesity: http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/childhood/index.html
Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Breakfast for dinner: Sausage-egg burritos

We ate these so quickly, I didn't take a photo.
I lifted this one from Taste of Home, where I found the recipe in the October/November issue. The recipe was part of a feature suggesting quick breakfast burritos, fruity granola bars and sweet potato muffins for grab-and-go pre-dawn nourishment on Black Friday. They made a perfect Monday brinner (breakfast for dinner).



Sammie's Breakfast Burritos for Two
4 eggs
1/4 cup salsa
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon pepper
3 breakfast turkey sausage links, casings removed
1/4 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
4 fat-free flour tortillas (6 inches), warmed


In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, salsa, chili powder, cumin and pepper; set aside.

Crumble sausage into a large skillet; cook over medium heat until no longer pink. Drain. Push sausage to the sides of pan. Pour egg mixture into center of pan. Cook and stir until set. Sprinkle cheese over the top. Remove from the heat; cover and let stand until cheese is melted.

Place 1/2 cup mixture on each tortilla; roll up. Yield: 2 servings.


Nutrition Facts: 1 burrito equals 422 calories, 21 g fat (7 g saturated fat), 467 mg cholesterol, 1,019 mg sodium, 31 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 27 g protein.

Taste of Home magazine, Oct/Nov 2010, p63

Monday, October 11, 2010

What's for dinner: Easy Greek Pizza



We had this for lunch Saturday, actually. Everyone -- even the 7-year-old and her 11-year-old cousin -- liked it. I picked up the ingredients for it partly in celebration that Walmart in Oakland, Md., has Boboli now and that my daughter discovered she liked feta and black olives. I didn't have lemon-pepper seasoning and I saw no need to buy it for one recipe so I used Cavender's Greek Seasoning. We still had some chicken, onion, spinach, sauce and cheese left over so on Sunday I made mini versions using tortillas. They needed to bake for only 5 minutes.

Easy Greek Pizza
1 prebaked 12-inch pizza crust
1/2 cup pizza sauce
1 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning, divided
2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
1 1/2 cups chopped fresh spinach
1 small red onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings
1/4 cup sliced ripe olives
3/4 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese


Place crust on an ungreased baking sheet; spread with pizza sauce and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning. Top with chicken, spinach, onion, olives, cheeses and remaining lemon-pepper seasoning.
Bake at 450° for 12-15 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and cheese is melted. Yield: 6 servings.

From Healthy Cooking magazine October/November 2010, p60

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Pancakes in a can good for camping, rushed mornings

Meet Good Press's first guest blogger, Mali Gank.



Mali Gank lives in West Virginia with her husband, two bonus children, and 9 pets that may or may not be trying to stage a coup at any given moment. She is currently finishing her degree in education, and in her spare time she reads, writes, and tries to create something from nothing whenever she can.

She shares with us her review of Organic Batter Blaster: Original Pancake & Waffle Batter. The store locator on the product Web site says it is sold at Walmarts around north-central West Virginia and western Maryland and Kroger in Morgantown.

While vacationing with family in Michigan this summer, I was skeptical when my sister in law pulled the pancake mix out of the grocery bag. I’m not a pancake purist by any means…I have been known to turn to Aunt Jemima or Hungry Jack for a quick dinner fix. However, even my time-saving mentality had ever imagined what I was looking at.

It looked like a can of squeeze cheese, the sort my youth group loves to put on Ritz crackers and then lick off. The script along the can read “Organic Batter Blaster: Original Pancake & Waffle Batter”. A picture of a stack of flapjacks with a pat of butter and smear of syrup graced the can, and I’m sure that Katrina got a laugh from my wrinkled brow and skeptical eyebrows. We decided to save the pancakes for another night, and I pushed them to the back of my mind.

The next day, the peculiar yellow can stared back at me every time I opened the fridge. I finally picked it up and checked out the ingredients. Filtered water. Organic wheat flour. Organic cane sugar. I read along to find that I could pronounce and already knew of all of the ingredients, which I always consider a bonus. Again, I tucked it back into the fridge and tried not to think about it. I was still a little skeptical as I went about my day, but at least the knowledge that nothing in it would kill me made me a little more willing to try the product.

When Katrina came home and decided to make our “breakfast for dinner”, I had decided to grin and bear it. I watched as she used the nozzle to aim batter into the pan, and was mildly impressed with the simplicity of the process. She managed to make all of the pancakes in the time it took for the sausage to brown in the next pan, so it was a very fast meal all around.

I carefully spread a bit of butter spread on the first pancake…or is that a cancake?... and drizzled some syrup across it. With a bit of trepidation I cut off a bite of soft flapjack and brought it to my mouth.

Color me astonished when the mouthful revealed a slightly sweet, fluffy pancake that tasted like any number of pancakes I’ve had while out and about at breakfast time. I cut off a piece of the edge to sample it sans fixings, and was surprised again to taste the same sweet, moist pancake.

I watched as Katrina sampled hers, expressing my astonishment that it was not only palatable, but actually rather tasty! I began considering the possibilities- pancakes on school mornings without having to wake up at 4:30 a.m., simple Saturday breakfast for the children to learn to cook without leaving my kitchen looking like a shelled bunker, excellent food to cook at the camper when we’re “roughing it”, and a last-minute meal when my husband is making something he knows I’m not going to eat and I have to fend for myself. All good things!

When I finished my stack and returned my plate to the kitchen I looked at the can sitting alone and empty on the counter, and smiled. Sometimes, there’s a lot to be said for trying something new.

This product has no CFCs, is USDA Certified Organic, and while the taste isn’t “homemade” by any stretch (I ate my last one without syrup and it was both moist and sweet- possibly too sweet for some), it is a great alternative if you’re not cooking for an army, or need something in a hurry. I wouldn’t mind having some in the fridge just for a quick alternative when I get the “There’s no milk left!” or “Who ate the last of the Cheerios?”.

Somewhere, an empty yellow can is mocking me with a hissy, aerosol voice whispering “Toldja so”.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Dinner "disaster"

I'm not flawless in the kitchen, but we rarely waste food or have to eat my mistakes. I can usually save whatever I've flubbed. One recent weeknight dinner is a good example. I was making Chicken Balsamico with hot orzo, a recipe I learned at this fall's Taste of Home Cooking School.

I'm sure I heard the culinary expert say to cook 1 cup of orzo in 1 can of chicken broth. Maybe she said a half cup of the rice-shaped pasta? Maybe I was supposed to put a lid on it? Reduce the heat? Remove it from the heat? Stir frequently? Maybe I was supposed to add a can of water to the chicken broth before boiling?

Whatever I did wrong left me with undercooked orzo that stuck to the bottom of the pan. Hating to waste food, I stirred in water -- about a cup -- hoping to deglaze the pan and get the orzo al dente. It worked and the water either cooked off or was completely absorbed. Disaster averted. Dinner was served.

Dinner was all right. It wasn't bad, but I wasn't left craving it either. The husband liked it and the 7-year-old not only cleaned her plate but tried olives and feta cheese for the first time and declared she likes both. Can't beat that, right?

Maybe I should've checked the cooking instructions on the orzo bag. After all, I heard 1 cup-1 can from the same woman who said it's perfectly fine to use jarred minced garlic. (No. No, it's not.)

Here's the recipe with better instructions for cooking the orzo:

CHICKEN BALSAMICO
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
1 clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup water
1 can Campbell's Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup
1 cup diced plum tomatoes or 1/2 cup thinkly sliced sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup sliced pitted kalamata olives
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves, crushed
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
Hot cooked orzo pasta


Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook for 10 minutes or until well browned on both sides. Remove the chicken from the skillet.
Stir the garlic and vinegar into the water in a measuring cup and slowly add it to the skillet. Cook and stir for 1 minute.
Stir in the soup, tomatoes, olives and oregano and heat to a boil.
Return the chicken to the skillet. Reduce the heat to low. Cook for 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
Sprinkle with the cheese. Serve the chicken and sauce with hot cooked orzo.

Hot cooked orzo
I would start with 1 can of chicken broth and add half a can of water. Bring it to a boil and stir in 1 cup of orzo. Maybe reduce the heat. I would watch it closely and stir occasionally. If you have better ideas, leave them in the comments.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Amy's Kitchen has come to Oakland, Md., Walmart

I live 30 miles from good Indian food. (OK, I live 30 miles from ANY Indian food.)

So I am excited to see Amy's frozen meals for sale at the Walmart in Oakland, Md.

I picked the Palak Paneer with a side of Rajmah dal for $3.77. I ate the kidney beans in ginger-garlic sauce first so I could savor my favorite part: the creamed spinach with cheese (the paneer) and basmati rice uninterrupted.

Was it as good as Ram's at Mother India in Morgantown, WV? No. But it was a reasonably priced and accessible substitute.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Easy Fall Breakfast: Baked Apple Oatmeal

Monday started off better this week thanks to pre-planning and this recipe for a nourishing baked apple oatmeal. I didn't have wheat germ so I reduced the milk to 3 cups. I also mixed it on Sunday night and refrigerated the dish. When I woke up, I put it in a cold oven and turned it to 350. It baked in the 45 minutes it took us to get ready for work. There was no school and our daughter had a friend stay over. We all had a good, hot breakfast -- on a MONDAY! We will be making this recipe often this winter.



BAKED APPLE OATMEAL

4 cups milk
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups old-fashioned oats
2 cups chopped peeled apples
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins
1 cup toasted wheat germ

In a large saucepan, heat milk, brown sugar, butter, salt and cinnamon. Add remaining ingredients; mix gently.
Spoon into a greased 2-quart casserole. Cover and bake at 350° for 45 minutes. Yield: 6-8 servings.


Nutrition Facts: 1 serving (1 cup) equals 422 calories, 17 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 19 mg cholesterol, 226 mg sodium, 59 g carbohydrate, 6 g fiber, 16 g protein.

Friday, October 1, 2010

How do you eat your buckwheat cakes?

If you need to know what buckwheat cakes are, go here.

My family eats buckwheat cakes with butter and maple syrup and a side of sausage.

But I've seen people heap on sausage gravy or applesauce or apple butter to complement -- or maybe cover up -- the taste. I have heard of people smearing them with peanut butter or elderberry jam.

I gotta ask:

How do YOU eat your buckwheat cakes?

Tell me in the comments.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Banana Split Cake

This was a popular dish I took to potlucks last summer. It's best in situations where you can keep it cold -- even on ice in a cooler. If you need something for a Memorial Day get-together, I recommend this.

BANANA SPLIT CAKE

1 1/2 sticks margarine or butter, divided, softened
2 cups crushed vanilla wafers
2 cups confectioners sugar
1 8-ounce package light cream cheese
1 large can crushed pineapple, drained, reserving 1/4 cup pineapple juice
1 tub Cool Whip
3 medium bananas, sliced
chopped walnuts
maraschino cherries


Melt 1 stick butter and mix with vanilla wafers. Press into a 9-by-13 pan and bake 8 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool.

Beat 1/2 stick margarine and sugar together. Whip in cream cheese and pineapple juice. Fold in 1 cup Cool Whip. Spread over cooled crust.

Layer with sliced bananas.

Top with crushed pineapple.

Spread with remaining Cool Whip.

Sprinkle with nuts. Evenly space cherries on top.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fun with the Food Pyramid

This is the second full week in a row that our county's schools have been closed because of bad weather. My daughter's teacher sent home work to be completed on snow days. To supplement that, she reads and has Play-Doh and crafts and she loves to write stories and letters. She gets a little bit of screen-time to go on PBSkids.org/go and to watch the occasional PBS cartoon.

One morning this week she watched a "Sid the Science Kid" episode about nutrition. That, and the Olympics, spurred a full day of discussion about eating right and exercising to be strong and healthy. She worked out to her Denise Austin "Fit Kids" DVD and afterward said, "My heart is happy." Our "unit" included printables from the USDA and a story book about sneaky rabbits published right here in Terra Alta by Headline Books -- for which I am the new publicist.



Every children's book Headline Books publishes has an educational component. "Grandfather's Garden" by West Virginia author Mary Jane Romig includes a simple representation of the Food Pyramid to help very young children begin to understand it. It also has recipes. With every turn of the page, readers search for the adorable bunnies among Karen Riley's vibrant illustrations of veggies.

Several of Headline's titles are about gardening, farming and/or farm life. Headline Books will have a booth at the Winter Blues Farmers Market from 4-7 p.m. March 1 at Lakeview Resort in Morgantown.

Here are links to the USDA printables:
Kids Food Pyramid
A Pyramid to color
A worksheet to track what you eat in a day and where the servings fit in the pyramid

Friday, February 5, 2010

Celebrating World Nutella Day

Today marks the 4th annual celebration of World Nutella Day.

These scrumptious rolls are easy and inexpensive to make for any occasion -- especially if you make one up. I sometimes celebrate a Friday morning alone in my house with these. The simple pleasures of working from home.

CHOCOLATE HAZELNUT BRUNCH ROLLS
3 tubes of crescent rolls dough (If it's the traditional triangle cut, you'll have to push the perforations together. For this recipe, try to get the new variation where the dough is in strips or one big sheet.)
Jar of Nutella chocolate-hazelnut spread (look for it near the peanut butter and jams)
chopped toasted hazelnuts or walnuts if you wish

Preheat oven to 375. Spray muffin tins with cooking spray.
Place one tube of the crescent roll dough out flat. Spread evenly with Nutella. Sprinkle with nuts. Cover with the other whole piece of crescent roll dough from the second can. Cut it into eight long strips. Pick up one and gently twist it a few times before twirling it into a roll. Place one roll in each muffin tin.
Place the dough from the third can flat on the work surface. Spread one half (lengthwise) with Nutella and sprinkle with nuts. Fold the other half over. Cut into four pieces and repeat the twisting and twirling procedure from above. Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes or
Makes 12.
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