Pages

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Here's pie in your eye!

My freezer is still filled with cookies. For every box, bag and plate I handed out they returned two fold accompanied by baklava, caramel layer cake and Maui Caramacs. Ah... if only my muse would be so forthcoming.

But the cookies are a relatively new addition to my holiday Huzzah. Until now I have slid softly through the Wisconsin winter in a warm pan of sweet potato pie.

(It's how I got my in-laws to love me. I am not above bribery.)
 
Just after Thanksgiving of this year, I caught a morning show on public radio that was discussing holiday baking. I'm going to cut to the best part: Vodka in the pie crust.

According to the guest and several online sources that could not be wrong, ice cold vodka in place of water adds a necessary ease to the pie crust rolling process. Once the pie is baking, the vodka evaporates away leaving a flaky, tasty crust.

It had to be tested.

Julie Jeff's Oil Pie Crust

One crust pie:

1 C + 2 t. Flour
1/2 t. Salt
1/3 C Oil
2 t. Ice Water (Don't forget to substitute some chilly vodka)

Mix flour and salt, blend in oil with a fork (it ends up looking like a bowl full of pea sized crumbles). Sprinkle water (vodka) over mixture and mix well (till it holds together). Roll between pieces of wax paper.

For a pre-baked shell, prick thouroughly with fork and bake for 12-15 minutes at 400 degrees.

It rolled out beautifully

Now I have to tell you something important. I first tried this nifty vodka trick on Christmas Eve about three and a half hours before an engagement. Just as I was ready to roll out the dough I realized the damn cookies used up all the wax paper. I tore my kids and husband away from the new microscope where they were concentrating on candy cane shards and cat whiskers and sent him off to the store. In the time that it took it seems all the precious vodka had done evaporated away and I was left with a crumbly heap of oily flour.

So if you try this at home, remember to roll the crust out right away, or you may just end up drinking the vodka.

Have you tried vodka in your crust, and if so, how did it turn out? When have you been surprised by an unlikely ingredient and how did you feel about it?  

















Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Far beyond the moon and stars

by Lisa

“Hello, Beautiful,” whispers Max, as he gazes at a cupcake with pink frosting. Anyone already familiar with the bunny named Max and his older sister, Ruby, the lovable creations of children’s book author and illustrator Rosemary Wells, knows that Max has a sweet tooth. In Max and Ruby’s Midas, Ruby tries to teach Max some lessons about good nutrition, in the guise of a somewhat revised but famous Greek myth:
Once upon a time in Ancient Greece there was a little prince named Midas who hated his fruits and vegetables.
The prince Midas scorns such foods as his mother’s olive loaves, prune whip, spinach soup, and carrot muffins, even though his mother warns him, “You must eat a good breakfast, my little pomegranate.” Soon he finds that by focusing “laser-beam eyes” on the detested dish and muttering some magic words, such as “hot fudge sundae,” he can turn the food into sweets. Unfortunately he also turns his mom into a cherry float, his dad into lime Jell-O surprise, and his sister Athena into a slice of birthday cake.

Midas learns his lesson, but does Max? You’ll have to look carefully at the last page of the book to find out.

I still remember the day when our children’s librarian introduced our family to Rosemary Wells, nearly twenty years ago. Throughout our son's childhood, both he and I enjoyed the emotional depth of her characters, the warmth of her illustrations, and the beautiful simplicity of her stories. Of her extensive list of works, which includes several Max and Ruby stories, our favorites were her Voyage to the Bunny Planet Trilogy (First TomatoThe Island Light, and Moss Pillows), all of which feature in some way food as a source of comfort and emotional healing.

In First Tomato, Claire begins her morning by spilling her cornflakes and having her shoes fill with snow on the way to school. At school, she endures two hours of math, and lunch is her “least favorite—baloney sandwiches.” In gym class, she is the only girl unable to do a cartwheel. As Claire sits on a bench in the snow, waiting for a late school bus, we are told that Claire needs a visit to the Bunny Planet:
Far beyond the moon and stars,
Twenty light-years south of Mars,
Spins the gentle Bunny Planet
And the bunny queen is Janet.
Janet says to Claire, “Come in.
Here’s the day that should have been.”
The second half of the book is written in delightful verse, as Claire spends a slow and peaceful summer day picking fresh garden vegetables for her mother, who uses them to make First Tomato Soup.

Each of the other two Voyage to the Bunny Planet titles follows the same pattern. In The Island Light, Felix suffers through being “sick in front of the whole art class,” getting a shot from the doctor, and having his parents forget to kiss him goodnight. On the Bunny Planet, he and his father spend the day together on their lighthouse island, his mother prepares apple pancakes and gingerbread, and Felix falls asleep holding his father’s hand.

Introverted Robert is the featured bunny in Moss Pillows. He is forced to visit his Uncle Ed, Aunt Margo, and their four boys, who all pile on top of Robert at once. He is served cold liver chili for dinner and is forced to hide in the bathroom to be alone. On the Bunny Planet, he is by himself in his
house in a sweet-gum tree,
Where I sing to myself in the whispering woods,
And nobody’s there but me.
He makes a secret recipe for toasted tangerines and lies on a pillow of “emerald moss.”

What foods help you or your children to have the "day that should have been"?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Novels and Cookbooks, We Love Them the Same

On the shelves or in the kitchen, favorite books are easy to spot, with their tattered covers, marked pages, and hand-written notes stuffed between pages.

On our shelves, certain books take up permanent residence because the stories inside grabbed us and lingered, or because their words burned their way into our psyches at pivotal times in our lives. A cracked binding proves the books have been read again and again, and still, we never tire of them. Pages are earmarked, passages are underlined, notes are scribbled in the margins.

Cookbooks in our kitchens often hold the same affections. At least, they do for me. The recipes themselves may not hook me the way a good novel will, but the stories that revolve around each book or each favorite dish listed within are enough to keep those books front and center in my cabinet.


written and illustrated by Linda Allard

The Story: Me, living on the East Side with my good friend living in the apartment building next door. She lived alone, and my boyfriend (to-be-husband) worked second shift. We decided dinners alone were ridiculous, so we shuffled our pantry items together and met up a few times a week to make, and eat, a meal. Communal cooking, except she did most of the cooking. After a while, our meet-ups grew less frequent, but she knew I needed more direction. She gave me this book, with the inscription, "I'm counting on some good meals." I wanted to cook and bake well, if only for her.
 
My favorite recipes: Basic Tomato Sauce (so easy, I should be cooking some tonight), Marianne's Brownies (I've never found another brownie recipe even close to this good), and Jill's Favorite Pancakes (now our signature dish on breakfast-for-dinner nights).


The Story: Me, twenty-five years old, newly married, working in a small office, still struggling in the kitchen. A Sales Associate, who was new to the office and older than me, wanted to talk one day. She asked me questions about cooking and favorite dishes and such. She must have recognized the look in my eye, must have known that I fumbled in the kitchen most nights. Maybe she remembered her own self and what it was like to want to cook a meal from scratch but not know where to begin. I barely knew her when she gave me the book at that year's Christmas exchange, but she knew me all too well.

My favorite recipes: Honey Mustard Vinaigrette (I feel fancy with my homemade dressing in a glass carafe), Curried Chick Peas and Tofu (a recipe good for sharing), Lemon Date Bars (it's just about time to whip a batch of those babies up again).

presented by the Utility Club in Griffin, Georgia

The Story: Let's just say this book is near and dear to my heart. In the early years of our marriage, my husband and I played dinner hosts to a couple of bachelors from time to time. Our friend Greg brought this book over one night and said his mother gave it to him. "I don't cook, but you're pretty good. I'll loan this book to you if you invite me over for dinner." Pretty good was good enough for me, flattery at its best. I took him up on his offer, promising to give the book back to him when he got married. Years later, after his "announcement," I panicked. I had loved this book dearly, spilled batter on the pages and accidentally torn a few from the binding. I searched online for a replacement, willing to pay $100 if I could only hold on to the book I had. Lucky for me, those ladies in Georgia still kept the book in print.

My favorite recipes: Pumpkin Bread (three whole loaves made from one can of pumpkin, best tasting bread ever), Banana Bread (now affectionately named "Bottom Bread", after the year I added chocolate chips to the mix for my husband's hunting trip and all the chips landed in the bottom of the pan for some strange reason. I've only been able to duplicate that baking feat on purpose), Snickerdoodles (full of butter, so easy, substituting for eggs in this recipe only makes them taste all the more de-lish).

Now, tell us about your favorite cookbooks.
What's your story? 
"Cooking is more than preparing food. Cooking to sustain those you care for, cooking a favorite dish for a favored person, cooking special foods for special occasions -- all involve thoughtfulness and love." ~ Linda Allard, in Absolutely Delicious!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bonus to the Giveaway: A Guest Post by Sandra Beasley


On Tuesday, I gave you a sneak peek at Sandra Beasley's memoir, Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life. Today, I have something even better: a guest post by Sandra herself, in which she gives us a taste of her poetry, more of her memoir, and a glimpse into her life on the road.


THE VAGABOND DIET


photo credit: Matthew Wordman
I love to eat. And I love to cook. Please trust me on those two things before I tell you the rest: I have severe and lifelong allergies to to milk, goat's milk, egg, soy, beef, shrimp, mango, cucumber, some tree nuts, mustard, some melons, and swordfish. So while yes, I love to eat--and yes, I love to cook--my palate and my recipe book might be a little different from yours.

Since spring 2010, I have been on an endless if exhilarating book tour. Anyone who travels will tell you how merciless it can be on the belly. But when you're traveling with food allergies, the risk goes beyond the realm of gaining five pounds. Whether in New York City (this week), or Madison, Wisconsin (last week), or Miami, Florida (the week before that), I am constantly talking business over lunch or joining hosts for a dinner before a bookstore reading. There is often pressure to try a local specialty or share a plate. In these moments I live in fear of being reduced to a hivey, wheezing, anaphylactic mass. Where will the nearest hospital be? Will my health insurance cover me there?

In "Allergy Girl," a sequence that appeared in my first poetry collection, Theories of Falling, I describe the helplessness my parents felt in trying to feed a newborn while on the road:
My parents agree on one rule: Don't break the baby.
They pour quarters into the arcade game of adulthood,
working the mechanical claw right, left, right, back,
aiming for the stuffed bear, missing. A clutch

of cheesecake. A buttermilk biscuit. Each time
my lips swelling, breath skipping. They pace the E.R.
Did we break the baby? My mother dissects labels:
casein, protein, lactylate. Easier to cook from scratch.
Later, revisiting the incident in Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life, I filled in the narrative details:
Take the Biscuit Incident: On a trip through Nashville, after hours of
driving with a squalling, hungry three-year-old, they checked into Opryland
and tried to figure out how to quell my growling stomach. My
father’s plate came with a plain-looking biscuit on the side.

“You barely had a crumb,” my mom said, still defensive after all these
years. “We didn’t know it was buttermilk.” I began wheezing and hiving,
spluttering at the liquid Benadryl they tried to ease down my throat. They
waited, watching closely, unsure what to do. After an hour, I calmed
down—probably as much from exhaustion as recovery—and fell asleep.

The next day my father was tied up in a conference, and my mother
would not drive in an unfamiliar city. “The worst part was going back to
that same hotel restaurant the next morning,” she admitted, “and having to
try again. We didn’t know where else to take you.”
Over the years I've developed my collection of short cuts for eating meal after meal after meal on the road. Make sure the server knows "tree nuts" includes pine nuts and pestos. When in doubt, order the french fries. Don't even step into a pizza joint. I've accepted that my cravings might have to yield to my common sense, and I've gotten used to paying full price for an entree stripped of the chi-chi garnishes that justified the $5 upcharge in the first place.

I've spent the last four days in New York. On one level, my index of the trip's adventures reads...

-Food Allergy Initiative's ball at the Waldorf Astoria;
-Meeting with my editor at Crown;
-Date on Cornelia Street;
-Meeting with my assistant editor at W. W. Norton;
-Meeting with my literary agent;
-Interview for TRIP CITY, an online Brooklyn-curated arts salon.

On another level, my mind indexes...

-safe halibut, fancy dessert fruit plate (picked around the cantaloupe);
-hijiki and salmon maki (success!);
-pasta with mussels (convinced the kitchen to switch out an egg-y pasta for linguine);
-quinoa salad (sent back for de-cucumber-ing);
-fried plantains (the Cuban equivalent of my standby, french fries);
-hummus & carrot sticks (good but for $11, I wish I'd been able to eat the pita).

Soon I'll be home, this time for a month. That is an eternity in the vagabond's world. I can't wait to fill my refrigerator with arugula, peppers, avocados, roasted chicken, wild rice. Breakfast? Almonds, bananas, orange juice. Every day: the simple and the Sandra-friendly.

My favorite meal of the last month on the road was not in New York at all. It was actually a bowl of potato-leek soup at Mother Fool's Coffeehouse in Madison, Wisconsin. Not because it was exotic or rich; it was rustic and, if anything, it could have used a little salt. But before ordering I got to look at the hand-lettered index card where the vegan chef had written down the handful of ingredients. I felt taken care of with each hearty, safe spoonful.

Sometimes, your appetite is not for what's exotic or rich. Sometimes, it's the comfort food you need--the comfort that, wherever else the day takes you, it won't be to the emergency room.

~

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl was a finalist in the 2011 Goodreads Choice Awards: Best Food & Cooking, and Publisher's Weekly calls it an "intelligent and witty memoir." Sandra Beasley is an award-winning poet and the 2011 Writer-In-Residence Howard County's Poetry and Literature Society. Check out her website here, follow her on Twitter, or like her page on Facebook

And, for you Readers...We're still giving away a copy of this excellent book, but you don't have to go clicking around town to enter. To make it easy, leave a comment here if you haven't already dropped your name in the comment section on Tuesday's post. We'll draw for the winner on Monday, December 12th.

How's that for hospitality?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

On Food Allergies: A sneak peek at a memoir, a chance to win the book.

"...[Food] allergies can be a mere footnote to life -- not the title of the story."

Me and Sandra Beasley at Mother Fool's cool Coffeehouse.
That's what Sandra Beasley wrote in her message to me when she signed my copy of her memoir, Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life. We'd only just met last Saturday night, but she must have recognized something familiar in my eyes: the angst expression of a mother who's child suffers from food allergies.

Mention birthday party, pot luck, or small-town diner, and my heart skips a beat, in a panic sort of way. Parties, tables of mixed dishes, and a one-griddle restaurant mean one-on-one time with the hostess or the cook. On occasion, I've been known to interrogate a waiter or two, shooting off question after question about menu items and ingredients. I'm still learning the art of being a proactive mother with an air of collaboration. I can learn a lot from Sandra Beasley's calm, "let's work together on this" kind of attitude. I already have.

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl mixes memoir with science and the history of food allergies. I saw myself in passages where she describes her mother ("My mother, the lab scientist. . . . My mother, the detective."), and I so appreciated seeing life with food allergies from the perspective of the person dealing with them directly. When I heard that Sandra would be in Madison, Wisconsin to read at Mother Fool's Coffeehouse, I knew I'd go. It didn't matter the distance, the babysitter fees, nor that nasty rain storm.

My husband and mother-in-law came along, and we met up with (fellow blog author) Victoria. Before Sandra took to reading, she sat down with us, and we shared experiences. Sandra said that she's beginning to meet with camps to help them find ways to meet the needs for kids with food allergies in a way that moves beyond just playing it safe and focuses more on those kids feeling completely a part of...well, everything. I love that. I want my son to go to camp, and he doesn't want me to tag along.

Later, on stage, Sandra read from her memoir and even gave us a sneak peek into her poetry. I was reminded that 1) I will be reading her book again and again, and 2) writing about life experiences helps us see them in a new light, understand them better, and move through the discomfort that sometimes surrounds those experiences.

Here's an excerpt from the introduction in her book:

Don't kill the birthday girl. Leftover omelet clings to the edge of a breakfast plate. Butter greases the stir-fry. Walnuts go commando in an otherwise tame brownie. There's a reason they're call allergy "attacks"; you never know where a food can be lurking.

But those with food allergies aren't victims. We're people who - for better or for worse - experience the world in a slightly different way. This is not a story of how we die. These are the stories of how we live.

I love this book, so much that I'm giving away a signed copy (not my copy, mind you. I barely let my husband hold my copy long enough to read it...). Just drop your name in the comments below and I'll choose a winner on Monday, December 12th. So easy. This book is one you'll want to have on your shelf -- if you're a writer, a person with food allergies, that person's parent or partner, or if you're a cook.

And, we're all cooks, right?

Monday, November 28, 2011

NaFoCooMo

I had fully intended to participate in (and win) NaNoWriMo for the second year in a row. But I didn't. Or won't.

Instead, I cooked:

I baked bread
Soup and corn bread. Curry. More soup. Snobby Joes on Honey Wheat breadSpiced Sweet Potato and Rutabaga Gratin with Chile Cornmeal Crusted Tofu and Green Pumpkin Seed Mole... 

But since I have such a sweet tooth I had to make Hot buns hot buns. Peanut Butter Cookies. Pumpkin Spice Cookies with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting. And Apple Galette with Fresh Cinnamon Whipped Cream.

Tomorrow I tussle with yogurt.

It is November, after all. The comforts of home and the warmth of the oven are infectious. And as much of a thrill as I get out of spattering empty white space with the frantic black stain of words, there is just something wonderful about feeding my family a plate full of healthy, good tasting food.

What have you been cooking up this month?

***

As a special (nondeadly) treat this Saturday evening, some or all of us here at Writing Up an Appetite will be in attendance at Mother Fool's Coffeehouse where Author Sandra Beasley will be reading from her book Don't Kill the Birthday Girl

The following is taken from the book's website:

When butter is deadly and eggs can make your throat swell shut, cupcakes and other joys of childhood are out of the question–and so Sandra’s mother used to warn guests against a toxic, frosting-tinged kiss with “Don’t kill the birthday girl!” Tackling a long-marginalized subject, this book intertwines a cultural history and sociological study of food allergies with humorous and sometimes heartbreaking real-life experience. From a short-lived gig as a restaurant reviewer to the dates that ended with trips to the emergency room, step inside the story of a modern young woman coming to terms with a potentially deadly disorder.
We hope some of you will be able to join us for this Free event. 

Ms. Beasley has an upcoming guest post featured on our blog in December.


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Time for a Little Something

by Lisa
Christopher Robin said:
"What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?"
"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best?" and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called. And then he thought that being with Christopher Robin was a very good thing to do, and having Piglet near was a very friendly thing to have: and so, when he had thought it all out, he said, "What I like best in the whole world is Me and Piglet going to see You, and You saying 'What about a little something?' and Me saying,' Well, I shouldn't mind a little something, should you, Piglet,' and it being a hummy sort of day outside, and birds singing." ~ A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner
Our fondest memories of food are often inextricably bound with our memories of people, of having “a little something” in the company of friends and family. On of my fondest food memories is of my mother’s breakfasts, made at a time before microwave ovens and drive-through restaurants. Those bygone mornings somehow never felt rushed, although we had school and work and a full slate of tasks ahead of us. The farm was very quiet early in the morning, and in our small house I easily heard my mother opening the refrigerator, turning on the stove, cracking eggs, whisking batter. Before I opened my eyes, my nose was tickled with scents of pancakes and eggs, or waffles and bacon, or French toast and sausage. We always ate breakfast together, at least before my brothers and I started high school. Breakfast and supper were the bookends to our days, gathering us in together between times of being apart.

When I was very young, on Sundays I walked to my grandfather’s house for a late breakfast of cold, lumpy oatmeal sprinkled with sugar and laced with fresh-from-the-cow milk, a delicacy only the two of us appreciated and no one else in my family seems to remember. Afterward we played canasta or took a drive to the east pastures or we sat together and sang songs.

Almost none of my memories have to do with eating alone or of particular food apart from the person who made it. My grandmother’s “leftovers with the gravy on top,” as a cousin called it, would win no culinary awards, but the fact that she made it and served it in her tiny kitchen with her loving hands gave it four stars in our reviews.

Like the philosopher Pooh, we are wise to realize that our anticipation of food—and all good things—as well as our memories of it, are often even better than the thing itself. Just for a moment, imagine preparing a special dish for someone very special in your life. Think about choosing the recipe, buying the ingredients, making preparations, setting the table, sitting down together, sharing the food. The joy has already begun and will last much longer than the actual meal.

Our memories work in the same way. They last as long as we choose to hold on to them, and they are as sweet now as—maybe even sweeter than—when they occurred. All of this is to say that we needn’t worry too much about preparing fancy meals to show our love. Expensive groceries and gourmet techniques do not guarantee lasting memories. The secret ingredients are time, care, and togetherness.

This month I want to share a recipe that makes it easy to share your time and care with those you love. Package this yummy granola in big glass jars and tie with a pretty ribbon, perhaps with the recipe included.

It's time for a little something, don't you think?


Holiday Granola

Dried cranberries and chocolate chips dress up otherwise ordinary granola.

  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup honey or pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 5 cups rolled oats (not the quick kind)
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
2. In a small bowl, combine orange juice, honey or maple syrup, and vegetable oil. [addendum 11/23: warm the mixture if necessary to soften the honey.] Stir and set aside.
3. In a large baking pan, combine oats, sunflower seeds, chopped nuts, and cinnamon. Stir to combine. Pour in liquid mixture, and stir to coat ingredients evenly.
4. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring every ten minutes or so to prevent sticking. When finished, the granola is lightly browned.
5. Remove from oven. Cool completely before stirring in dried cranberries and chocolate chips.
Makes about 8 cups.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Lentil Soup, Writing and Commiserating

I am very pleased to welcome Tricia and Siana of 2GirlsOnaBench to our humble kitchen this morning. Get out your Dutch oven and a well rounded bottle of wine--we're making soup!



TRICIA
I’m on day three of not washing my hair and it’s not looking good.

SIANA
Cut these potatoes.

TRICIA
You can do that, you can not wash your hair for three days, but I can’t. But I don’t care I’m just hanging out with you.

SIANA
Stir this wine in.  And drink some too.

We’re making lentil soup.  We haven’t seen each other in weeks because we’ve been quarantined from colds and then busy, and then family weekend events and then whatever.

We should be writing but, well, we’re making soup instead. This soup recipe has been handed down from Spain to us, which we have modified from college dorm room to apartment to house.  In that order.

TRICIA
Remember in our first apartment when you made this and then left the chopped bell pepper in the fridge for like three weeks. It smelled and then everything tasted like bell pepper.  Even the butter, the butter tasted like bell pepper. And it was all your fault.

SIANA
Yeah, well, remember when we made it in our dorm room and you put it in the crockpot and it boiled over and was a mess on the floor because we didn’t have a kitchen. It smelled and you left it there for three weeks.

We love lentil soup, Siana got the original recipe from her host mother when she studied abroad in Spain and we’ve been modifying it for the last many years. We always make it together because our spouses don’t really like it so we just make a lot and share it.

Here’s the recipe:

1 bag of dried lentils
1 carton of chicken stock (vegetable stock works too)
2 cups of water (add more if needed)
2 potatoes diced (Yukon golds or red potatoes work best)
2 ribs of celery diced
½ onion chopped
2 carrots diced
1 green bell pepper diced
3 cloves of garlic chopped
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
½ cup red wine
2 Tablespoons olive oil



 Saute onions, celery, carrots and garlic in olive oil in a dutch oven or big soup pot.

  Add potatoes, bell pepper, lentils, chicken stock, water and salt and bring to a boil.



Simmer for at least 1 hour, maybe more.  You may need to add more water if it starts to look like it’s getting dry or thick.  Towards the end, add the wine and then drink the rest. It may also take more than one hour, monitor the simmering process, it seems to have taken us a long time to make this, but we’ve also been talking and drinking wine while we’re simmering.

Serve soup with crusty bread and enjoy.  You can add a drizzle of olive oil on top if you feel dangerous. Just do it, we’ve been inspired by Barefoot Contessa, she always does that with soup. Go crazy.

TRICIA
Mmmmm

SIANA
Yum

So we didn’t write anything except this recipe. But we decided that’s better than nothing.  We’ll tackle our script next week. Or maybe after Thanksgiving. Or after Christmas.  Oh hell, after New Years, who are we kidding?



2girlsonabench.com - Two women, trying to write, make films, maintain full time jobs, hilarity ensues! 
Follow us on Twitter: @2girlsonabench
Join us on Facebook: 2 Girls on a Bench and our snacking and recipe page The Bench Snackbook





Tuesday, November 8, 2011

From Marie Callender to homemade, there was always Chicken Pot Pie.

My love for cooking waxes and wanes.

In the beginning, when I first moved to Wisconsin and shared living space with three bachelors (one of whom I had dibs on), any time spent in the kitchen was more cumbersome than fun. None of us really wanted to cook, but we all wanted to eat. So, our meals came frozen from Marie Callender or vacuum-sealed by Ramen or boxed up and tossed into a paper bag marked with the name of the restaurant on the corner. We cycled through the pizza oven, microwave, and one saucepan but rarely paid attention to the dishes in the sink, which would explain why the kitchen was low on the list of places to hang out.

Later, my husband and I married and moved into a one bedroom apartment, and I marveled at the sight and size of the oven: fit for a kid but with a real working gas range and oven space just big enough to tease you into thinking you were really cooking. I tried my hand at formal dinners, removing all but one oven rack to squeeze in a turkey for our first Thanksgiving, and later sweating over the miniature range to cook chicken and carrots. It took a long time to learn the art of getting every dish onto the table at the same time, warm and well...done.

After a few years, a bit of confidence, and a subscription to Martha Stewart Magazine and Cooking Light, I delighted in a little cooking glory. I baked brownies to die for, cooked a Mexican Casserole made with green chiles and chicken that had to be doubled when family ate over, pureed Creamy Asparagus Soup that looked just like the photo and was worthy of a repeat. I discovered an easy Chicken Potpie recipe that could be prepared the night before and thrown in the oven for dinner the next day, giving the appearance that I spent hours on the meal. My Pecan Pie didn’t rival my grandmother’s but elicited oohs and ahhs just the same.

Life in the kitchen was full.

Then, tiny hands graced our breakfast island, and finicky taste buds resulted in too many leftovers. Wanting my kids to "just eat something," I fell victim to the boxed food aisle at the grocery store again. We cycled through fish sticks and tacos and breakfast for dinner (I write that in past tense, though often our weekly menu still rotates through these dishes). We survived on quick, easy, and bland. Making dinner, and eating it, was a chore.

But as my kids grow older and become a little more willing to try new things, I feel the pull towards bigger, brighter, and more exciting menu choices. Maybe not Creamy Asparagus Soup (yet), but I might bring back some old standards like Chicken Potpie -- dishes that say "easy" and "gourmet" at the same time.

I mean, who can resist the pie?

OLD-FASHIONED CHICKEN POTPIE 
(ripped from the pages of an old Cooking Light issue over ten years ago) 

Crust (in a pinch, which is often, I use a store-bought crust, and that works just as well).
1 cup all-purpose flour, divided
3 tablespoons ice water
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable shortening

Filling
3 cups Chicken Stock, divided
2 1/3 cups cubed red potato (about 1 pound)
1 cup (1/4 inch thick) sliced carrot
2 teaspoons butter
1/2 cup chopped shallots or onions
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups diced cooked chicken
1 cup frozen petite green peas
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Dash of black pepper
Cooking spray

  1. To prepare crust, lightly spoon 1 cup flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 1/4 cup flour, ice water, and vinegar in a small bowl. Combine 3/4 cup flour and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl; cut in shortening with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add vinegar mixture; stir, just until moist. Press mixture gently into a 5-inch circle on heavy-duty plastic wrap; cover with additional plastic wrap. Chill for 15 minutes. Roll dough, still covered, into a 13x10-inch oval. Place dough in freezer 5 minutes or until plastic wrap can be easily removed.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  3. To prepare filling, bring 2 1/2 cups Chicken Stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add potato and carrot, cook 2 minutes. Drain mixture in a colander over a bowl, reserving cooking liquid.
  4. Melt butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add shallots; cook 3 minutes. Lightly spoon 1/2 cup flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup Chicken Stock; stir with a whisk. Add to skillet. Stir in potato mixture, reserved cooking liquid, chicken, peas, 3/4 teaspoon salt, thyme, and pepper. Cook 10 minutes. Remove from heat; cool slightly. spoon chicken mixture into a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish coated with cooking spray. Removed 1 sheet of plastic wrap from dough. Place dough on top of chicken mixture pressing to edge of dish. Remove top of plastic wrap. Cut 5 slits in top of crust to allow steam to escape. Gently brush crust with milk. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes or until golden. Let stand 10 minutes.
What’s your favorite throw-together, toss-in-the-oven, feel-fancy and gobble-it-up kind of dish?

(Below, the Hillbilly Gypsies perform "Crow Black Chicken")



“Easiest work that ever I done was eatin' chicken pie.”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

American Stew Pot


Home is where one starts from. T.S. Eliot

Growing up there wasn't anything I wanted more than to move to New York or LA and live a ferocious life. After High School I read "On the Road", dreamed technicolor dreams of what it meant to be free and writing out the poetry of unhindered travel--a wild-eyed bard in a VW bus heading away. I went to Colorado for a time, got smacked out of my reverie, and came back to Wisconsin six months later.

There's something to be said about having a home base, a thing that gets overlooked in the wide eyes of America's road hungry dreams.  Since capsizing in Colorado I've traveled back and forth across the country's bumps and bridges--thrilled at the outset, exhausted at the end. Every time I've come back home I've felt lucky for my walls and bed, and thirsty for the familiar.

My husband and I have settled our nest in a small town south of Madison, a place from where we stretch and return with a yard and side walks and trees and snow. We revel in our Main Street holidays, and our stew pot nights. We eat soup by the ladle full paired with a very fine beer.


Winter Squash Corn Curry Soup

1 Butternut and 1 Acorn Squash (Winter squash of your choice or squash and sweet potato!)
1 Cup fresh or frozen corn kernels                                                                                                                1/2 Medium onion, finally chopped
2 Cups chicken or vegetable stock                                                                                                            
1 T Curry Powder                                                                                                                                       Garam Masala, Salt, and White Pepper to taste
1 1/2 Cups Heavy Cream, Evaporated Milk, Milk or Milk substitute 

Preheat oven to 400. Halve and seed squash. Lightly grease baking pans (have some kind of edge to hold juice in) and place squash cut-side down for roasting. Bake 25-35 minutes, until squash is tender to poke with fork.

Meanwhile, prepare onion and sweat on low in soup pan with butter and corn. When squash is tender, cool and scrape into onion mixture.

If you have an immersion blender, add milk and curry at this time and blend until smooth. If you do not have an immersion blender, add milk and squash mixture in batches to blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Return to soup pot.

Add stock and warm on stove, but don't bring to a boil. Season to taste.      

Remember to become a follower of Writing Up an Appetite for a chance to win one of these three books

One title will be given away when we reach 50, 100, 150 followers
                               





Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Five Little Pumpkin Recipes

by Lisa

It is pumpkin season! As we learned last week, October's favorite orange fruit (yes, it is a fruit!) is good for more than just carving. Here are some other facts about Jack you might not have known (from the University of Illinois Extension):
  • Around 90 to 95% of the processed pumpkins in the United States are grown in Illinois.
  • Pumpkin flowers are edible.
  • The largest pumpkin pie ever made was over five feet in diameter and weighed over 350 pounds. It used 80 pounds of cooked pumpkin, 36 pounds of sugar, 12 dozen eggs and took six hours to bake.
  • In early colonial times, pumpkins were used as an ingredient for the crust of pies, not the filling.
  • Pumpkins were once recommended for removing freckles and curing snake bites.
  • The largest pumpkin ever grown weighed 1,140 pounds.
  • The name pumpkin originated from "pepon" – the Greek word for "large melon."
  • Pumpkins are 90 percent water.
  • Eighty percent of the pumpkin supply in the United States is available in October.
And then there is the singing:


Of course, if you insist on cutting into these fat little darlings, do it in Death Star style (thanks to my friend Jane for the tip!).

Finally, I want to share some of my favorite pumpkin recipes, all egg-free and most sweetened with the season's maple syrup, to take you from breakfast to dessert, adapted from an article I first published in Vegetarian Gourmet. Enjoy!


Mini Pumpkin Johnnycakes

Top with extra maple syrup or warm cinnamon applesauce. Makes 20 small pancakes.

Dry Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1 Tablespoon powdered egg replacer (or omit, and replace 1/4 cup of the milk, below, with one medium egg, beaten and added with the pumpkin)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, optional
Wet Ingredients:
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 cups milk or soymilk
  • 2/3 cup cooked, pureed pumpkin or canned pumpkin
  • 2 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 Tablespoon canola or other oil
1. Whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
2. Whisk lemon juice and milk together in a small bowl. Let sit for 5 minutes.
3. Stir remaining wet ingredients into milk mixture, then pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients, and whisk lightly until just combined.
4. Heat a lightly oiled large skillet. Drop batter 2 Tablespoons at a time onto skillet. Gently flip pancakes when the underside is browned. Serve.


Not-Overly-Sweet Pumpkin Banana Walnut Bread

Makes one loaf.
Dry Ingredients:
  • 2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
Wet Ingredients:
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 1 cup cooked, pureed pumpkin or canned pumpkin
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup canola or other oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (or chocolate chips)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly oil a medium loaf pan. Set aside.
2. Sift or whisk dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
3. Whisk remaining ingredients (except walnuts) in a bowl until smooth. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients until just combined. Fold in walnuts or chocolate chips.
4. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before slicing.

Pumpkin Miso Soup

Makes four servings.
  • 2 Tablespoons mellow white miso
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon minced gingerroot
  • 2 teaspoons peanut or sesame oil
  • 2 cups cooked, pureed pumpkin or canned pumpkin
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water (or, for a creamy version, milk or unsweetened soymilk)
1. Mix together miso and 2 Tablespoons water in small bowl. Set aside.
2. Sauté scallions and ginger in peanut or sesame oil in a large saucepan for 3-5 minutes.
3. In a blender or food process, blend pumpkin with sautéed scallions and ginger until smooth. Transfer back to pan.
4. Add broth and water (or milk). Whisk until smooth, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Stir in miso mixture. Serve immediately.

Easy Halloween Pudding

Black and orange stripes make this pudding a treat for kids of all ages. Makes four servings.

Pumpkin Pudding:
  • 1 10.5-ounce package firm silken tofu
  • 1/2 cup cooked, pureed pumpkin or canned pumpkin
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
Spiced Cocoa Pudding:
  • 1 10.5-ounce package firm silken tofu
  • 1/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa (or carob) powder
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • pinch of cardamom
1. To make the pumpkin pudding, blend ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Transfer to another bowl, and rinse the blending container.
2. To make the cocoa pudding, blend ingredients in a food processor until smooth.
3. To assemble, spoon about 1/8 of pumpkin pudding, followed by 1/8 of cocoa pudding into each of 4 parfait glasses. Continue alternating until each has four stripes. Chill for at least 4 hours of overnight.

No-Bake Pumpkin Peanut Cheesecake

Makes 10 servings.
  • 2 Tablespoons peanut (or almond) butter
  • 2 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 6 ounces graham crackers
  • 2 cups cooked, pureed pumpkin or canned pumpkin
  • 1 10.5-ounce firm silken tofu
  • 2/3 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup peanut (or almond) butter
  • 1 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons agar powder (or gelatin)
1. Lightly oil a 12" springform pan. Set aside.
2. Mix together 2 Tablespoons peanut (or almond) butter and 2 Tablespoons melted butter in a small bowl. Set aside.
3. Grind graham crackers in a food processor or blender until they form very small crumbs. Transfer crumbs to a mixing bowl and mix in peanut butter mixture until coarse crumbs form. Press firmly into bottom of prepared pan. Set aside.
4. Puree pumpkin, tofu, maple syrup, peanut or almond butter, pie spice, and salt in a food process or blender. Do not transfer mixture. Set aside.
5. Simmer one cup water and agar or gelatin in a small saucepan for 3 to 5 minutes, whisking constantly. Immediately add to pumpkin mixture, and blend until smooth.
6. Pour filling over crust and smooth the top. Chill overnight.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Day trips and pumpkins lead straight to the kitchen.

This blog is the perfect venue to introduce you to a dear friend and a food confidante: Sarah, author of the blog Celiac in the City. Sarah and I work our day jobs together, but during our off times - or during a spontaneous coffee run - we talk food. Food allergies. Food substitutions. Food frustrations. I'm the mom of a child with egg and nut allergies, and Sarah faces her own personal food challenges. She doesn't let it get to her, though. In fact, she's embraced the challenge by starting up a blog of her own and converting recipes like a pro.

Who am I kidding, she is a pro. She's my go-to person. And, if you're looking for gluten-free recipes, or restaurants with gluten-free menus, or some gluten-free fun (she organizes a get-together every month in our area), then Sarah should be your go-to person, as well.

Today, Sarah dresses up her guest post with some lovely photos and teases our tastebuds with a dee-lish recipe.

*****

Hello, Writing Up an Appetite friends!

Happy to be hanging out over here today – honored that Christi asked me to stop by and do a guest post. My home territory is over at Celiac in the City – A girl. Gluten free. Loves food. Will travel. That pretty much sums up who I am. Feel free to stop by sometime and check in on my latest adventures.

Two weekends ago, we were out on the Harley, in short sleeves. Warm rays on our faces. Camera strapped securely around my neck. Snapping pictures of the changing season.


As I edited the photos, I found this one, at the very end of them all.


Not only did it make me smile – watching the kiddos run around at the pumpkin farm, on a mission to find THE best pumpkin, but it also gave me an idea for today’s post.

It was nearly 80 degrees that day. And although I loved every minute of that weather, as the heat kicked in this week, I was reminded that fall has arrived (with high heat bills to follow).

One way I ease my summer-lovin’ self into fall is baking.

And lots of it.


These pumpkin spice cookies will heat up your place and make it smell heavenly. You will be tempted to eat one right out of the oven. As an experienced baker the girl who burned her tongue eating one straight from the oven, I will tell you this is not the best idea.


They are moist cookies. Very moist. So you don’t want to put them in a sealed container to store them. Just leave them out or drape a towel over the tray.

You’ll notice the recipe uses gluten-free flours. It’s how I roll. Because I have Celiac Disease, my baking world has seen some changes over the last three years. If you are able to eat regular, all-purpose flour, then by all means you sure can. Just use 2 ½ cups of all-purpose flour instead of the GF flour blend and xanthan gum.

Let’s warm up your kitchen.

Pumpkin Spice Cookies with Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
Makes approx. 36 cookies

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Unless you bake using a Silpat, (or other baking mat) you will need to grease your baking sheets.

12 oz gluten-free flour blend: 4oz each of sorghum flour, sweet rice flour & tapioca starch (or 2 ½ cups of all-purpose flour)
*you can use a mixture of any gluten-free flours/starches: white/brown rice flour, millet flour, potato starch, cornstarch, etc.

1 teaspoon xanthan gum (omit if using all-purpose flour)
1teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼  teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼  teaspoon ground ginger
*you can play with the spices, use nutmeg, allspice, etc. instead of the pumpkin pie spice, or use a mixture of both, as I did here)

½  cup sugar
½  cup brown sugar
1 egg (see egg substitutes here)
½  cup butter softened
1 ½  cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine flour mix and xanthan gum with baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices. Set aside. Cream sugars and butter. Add in pumpkin, egg,  and vanilla. Beat until nice and smooth. Slowly add in flour mix, until well blended. Drop by tablespoons onto baking sheets.

 Bake 15-18 minutes, or until bottoms are lightly browned and cookies are firm enough to hold their shape. (I used a 1 ½ tablespoon scoop for mine, so they took around 18 minutes) You might like yours baked a tad longer. Go for it. Let them rest a few minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer to cooling racks. When cooled completely, frost.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting
The thing about frosting is that you can make it any way you’d like. So take these measurements as a guide. Throw it all in a bowl and beat ingredients to your desired texture.

2 cups powdered sugar
1 package cream cheese
1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons real maple syrup
1 teaspoon cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice, or skip it if you’d like)

Maybe frosting isn’t your thing (it shocks me when people say this). That’s okay too, you can serve them up with just a sprinkle of powdered sugar.

Now grab a cup of coffee or a chai. I recommend eating at least two.

Read more from Sarah, “Celiac in the City,” on her website, www.celiaccity.com, like her page on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter @celiacinthecity.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

When Cooking Takes You to the Dark Side

Some days, nothing about cooking is fun. Maybe you've been there, when the day runs long and complaints pile high and you shift from refrigerator to pantry, and back again, and repeat the "tired momma" mantra: I got nothin'.

Oh, I've got refried beans, I think. And a box of noodles. And a big bag of rice.

Blah. Boring. Boo.

Not even that open package of Oreo Cookies induces excitement.

It's that same feeling I get when I stare, long and hard, at the opening paragraphs of a story I'm sweating over: there's promise in the skeleton ingredients on the page, but the energy is missing. I need a shake-up. Some spice. A little action.

Or, action figures.

I could learn a lot from cookbooks like this one:

"...and other Galactic Recipes"...I love that.
The official book, as seen on Amazon.
Who knew Jawas liked milkshakes?

This gem of a book was discovered by my son in his school library, and it's filled with spice and action.  Recipes range from Greedo's Burritos to Jawa Jive Milkshakes to Chewbacca's weakness -- Wookie Cookies. I'd love to tell you that we started cooking with Greedo's Burritos or Boba Fett-uccine, but I cook for kids. Certain days, we cut right to the sugar. Right to Chewbacca.

WOOKIE COOKIES

(The official recipe from The Star Wars Cookbook, by Robin Davis)


Ingredients
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs (or the right mix of Ener-G if you need an egg substitute like we do)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Put the flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a mixing bowl. Stir with the wooden spoon until well mixed. Set aside.
  3. Put the butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in another mixing bowl. Using the electric mixer set on high speed, beat together until well blended and creamy, about 3 minutes. (You can do this with a wooden spoon, but it will take longer) Beat in the eggs and vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and stir with the wooden spoon until blended. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  4. Scoop up a rounded tablespoonful of the dough and drop onto a baking sheet. Repeat until you have used up all the dough. Be sure to leave about 1 inch between the cookies because they spread as they bake.
  5. Using pot holders, put the baking sheets in the oven. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes.
  6. Again, using pot holders, remove the baking sheets from the oven. Lift the cookies from the baking sheets with a spatula, and place on cooling racks. Cool completely.

Eat heartily.

And remember, don't get too serious, whether you're standing at the pantry door or staring at a story's first draft.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Keep the pilot light burning



I spent the summer of 2001 watching two little boys during the day and waiting tables in a 50's era diner in the evening. It was the completion of my first year of college, though I was already in my mid twenties, and I had reached a point of utter confusion--the English Composition class I was required to take made me start writing again. My pilot light was lit. My journals were uncovered. My passion was stoked.

That was the first time I considered writing a memoir about my family. While the boys played King of the Suburban Backyard I scribbled questions and anecdotes across pages of flimsy spiral notebooks. I had no starting point, no frame of reference and no story, but I wrote and wrote.

For the entire I summer I questioned my motives. I had started out studying interior design and I loved it completely. I relished architecture and art history. I fell in love with space and light. But still, writing was what made me burn.

Before the fall semester commenced I had changed my area of focus.

I've never been a practical girl, I believe all too much in the finite nature of life and the frailty of dreams. Forget fortune. Forget fame. It's the ticking that keeps me going, the beat and hum of one word following another.

***


In the summer of 2001 the boys had a visit from their Florida grandfather. He was taken with notion of my vegetarianism and raved about a black bean taco recipe his wife liked to make. A week after he returned home he sent the following recipe. I've used it many, many times.

Black Bean & Veggie Tacos

Taco Shells (Sprouted Wheat if available)
2 T  Olive Oil
2 T  Fresh Lime Juice
1 t   Ground Cumin
1 t   Minced Garlic
1 t   Ground Red Pepper


1 Can (16 oz) Black Beans
1 Can (7oz) Whole Kernel Corn, Drained
1/2 C Coursely Chopped Carrots
1/2 C Diced Celery
1/3 C Diced Red Onion

Part 2

2 C Shredded Lettuce
1/4 C Sour Cream
4 oz Shredded Cheddar

Prepare taco shells. Whisk together first five ingredients. Add next 5 ingredients. Stir to mix & coat. Layer lettuce, cheese, Viggie mix & sour cream on hot taco shells.



Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Back of the Kitchen Cupboard Door Recipes

by Lisa

Our book giveaway continues! We will be giving away one of three terrific titles once we reach 50, 100, and 150 followers. Check out the right sidebar for the giveaway titles, and sign up as a follower to qualify.


My mother used to tape copies of her most-used recipes, usually clipped from newspapers and magazines or handwritten on index cards, on the inside of a kitchen cupboard door. The recipe I remember most clearly was for pancakes, probably because it was one of the first dishes I prepared all by myself. I remember standing on a chair, opening the door, and reading through the list of ingredients. I measured and mixed the flour, broke the eggs, heated the skillet. Everything went smoothly until we took the first bites. I had used a full tablespoon of baking soda instead of baking powder.

Most of us have a handful of recipes we can rely upon and make again and again, ones we can eventually make without much thought or measure, with ingredients we have on hand. This summer, I had the pleasure of teaching some of those recipes--scaled down to single portions--to our son, who just began a study abroad term in London and is, for the first time in his life, responsible for cooking for himself.



As my husband and I left him in his apartment last week, I couldn't help worrying about all the recipes and techniques and tips we didn't get to. But it is no small comfort, as I imagine him walking each day to class over Waterloo Bridge with a spectacular view of Big Ben and the London Eye, as he looks to a future he is just beginning to create, to know that he feels enough at home in the kitchen that he won't have to rely entirely on sandwiches from Pret a Manger or Sainsbury's. I had originally planned to send with him a fistful (or Kindleful) of detailed recipes, but as the summer days wound down, it was clear he did not need them. While we didn't get around to all of the dishes I wanted to show him, we did enough.

How do I know? When we were shopping for apartment necessities and I suggested measuring cups and spoons, he said he didn't need them, that he could guestimate using drinking cups and regular spoons.

He'll be fine.

Below are two of the dishes-for-one now taped to his mental kitchen cupboard door, each requiring only one saucepan. Pasta, Peas, and Peanut Butter Sauce is a family favorite he has enjoyed since toddlerhood, filling, tasty, and easy to make. The second, which I'll call Ramen Rivero, is his own creation, after several experimentations with easy, low-cost vegetarian ramen dishes (sans salty and usually non-vegetarian seasoning packet).

What are your back-of-the-kitchen-door recipes?


Pasta, Peas (or Broccoli), and Peanut Butter Sauce

2 - 3 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter (or half peanut butter and half tahini)
1 -2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
several drops of toasted sesame oil
water as needed
1/2 cup dry elbow macaroni or other pasta
1/3 cup frozen peas or 1/2 cup chopped fresh broccoli

1. To make the sauce, combine in a medium bowl the peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil. Stir or whisk until smooth. The sauce should be the consistency of tomato sauce; if necessary, add a little water a teaspoon at a time. Set aside.

2. Heat 3 cups water to boiling in a medium sauce pan. Add pasta, and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Add peas or broccoli, and cook until pasta is soft enough to eat but not mushy.

3. Drain pasta and vegetables and add to the sauce. Stir to combine. Add more soy sauce or vinegar to taste and a little more water if necessary, and eat straight from the bowl.



Ramen Rivero

1 Tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 single-serving package ramen noodles (seasoning packet discarded)
1/2 cup packaged broccoli slaw or cole slaw mix (shredded cabbage, carrots, etc.)
1/4 pound homemade or packaged baked and seasoned tofu, such as White Wave baked Thai-flavored tofu, cubed
1/4 cup fresh bean sprouts
a sprinkling of chopped peanuts and scallions, optional

1. To make the sauce, combine in a bowl the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and vinegar. Stir or whisk until smooth. The sauce should be consistency of tomato sauce; if necessary add a little water a teaspoon at a time. Set aside.
2. Heat 3 cups water to boiling in a medium sauce pan. Add ramen noodles and slaw vegetables, stir, and cook for 2 minutes. Add bean sprouts, and cook an additional minute.
3. Drain pasta and vegetables and add to the sauce. Add cubed tofu, and stir to combine. Add more soy sauce or vinegar to taste, and sprinkle with peanuts and scallions, if desired.

Pad Thai-style Version: Add a chopped, scrambled egg when you add the tofu.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It's the eggs that bring me down.

Egg 02When I answered the phone, the doctor sounded grim.

"Well...hello," he said. Then, he let out a deep sigh. At that point, I knew.

A week before he called, I had taken my son in for another blood test to see if maybe - hopefully - my son's allergy to eggs was beginning to wane. This was his third blood test, and my son (then seven years old) bragged to the phlebotomist about how he had cried the first time but hardly at all the second time and this was his third time and it might pinch a little but he probably wouldn't cry at all. Then he watched her every move.

He was very brave.

And, it was all for naught.

His numbers were still high, the doctor told me -- those mysterious numbers that to me as a parent mean little but to our doctor meant his growing out of this allergy was not likely.

I told my son about the news, and he fell quiet for a moment. Then he went back to his business of riding his big wheel up and down the block. He moved on, as kids are known to do, but I didn't.

I wanted to keep talking, shed some tears together, curse the egg.

Now, at almost ten years old, he's still highly allergic, to eggs and nuts. While the nuts prove to be more life-threatening, the egg allergy is just as hazardous, because it's more difficult to circumvent and more frustrating to explain. Especially during a call to RSVP for a birthday party or a playdate.

"So...he can't have butter?" the party host asks.

"No, no. I mean, yes. Butter is fine. That's dairy. He can't have eggs," I say.

"So...no eggs. But cake is good, right?"

"No. I mean, sure, it's good. But not for him. There are eggs in the cake. Unless it's a cake baked without eggs."

"...Right. Is there such a thing? A cake without eggs?"

"Well, sure," I say, and I go off into a diatribe about egg substitutes and my own failed experiments and Depression Cake, which is - by design - absent of eggs but barely big enough to feed a horde of sugar-hungry boys, and I might mention Vegan cakes, which are again really small, but by this time the other end of the line has gone quiet and all I hear is my own manic voice, so I go back to, "Generally, cake is out."

I fall back to the old standard. "You know what. I'll pack some cupcakes for him. It's no problem. I'll pack two, in fact, so that he's sure to get his sugar fix even without the birthday cake." We laugh, both of us relieved. Then, I hang up the phone, and I curse the egg.

Most days, I'd like to forget about the eggs.

So, that is exactly what I propose right now.

Forget the eggs.

Instead of offering you a recipe with some fancy concoction of a substitute (and know what I typically use is a concoction, all white and chalky -- mmm, yes?), I give you a recipe absent of egg, completely "friendly" for all those who must do without.

It's also kid approved, which pleases this mama even more.

Lasagna

1 jar spaghetti sauce (if you make your own sauce, you're my hero)
1 box lasagna noodles
1 medium container of plain Greek yogurt
1 medium container ricotta cheese
Shredded mozzerella cheese
(other cheese depending on your taste - parmesan, provolone)
1 cup of water

Mix yogurt and ricotta. Add a teaspoon of oregano or other herbs.

Starting with uncooked noodles, layer each section - noodles, sauce, yogurt mix, cheese.  You can do two or three layers, depending on the size of your baking pan. End with cheese.

Add water to corners of lasagna, about 1/4 cup in each corner. You'll think it's not enough liquid to bake the noodles, but it works.

Bake covered for 1 hour at 350 F. Remove cover and bake for another 15-20 minutes until cheese is browned.  Take out of the oven and let stand for 20 minutes. Without going into the chemistry of baking (because, what do I know about chemistry anyway?), this dish holds together well. Even without the you-know-what.

(Thanks to my sister-in-law for passing on such a yummy recipe.)

Your turn. What ingredient would you like to forget?