Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pulpy, slushy, oozy, all its delicious embonpoint

Writing Up an Appetite is going on a summer hiatus, but not before we thank all of our wonderful readers, everyone who took the time to leave comments or to share our posts, and especially our guest bloggers from the past eleven months. Below is a list of all 46 Writing Up an Appetite posts so far, listed by author. In them you will find not only yummy recipes but creative inspiration for your writing, ideas for cooking for and with children, and more than a little memoir and nostalgia.

May your summer ooze with pleasure.

"Talking of Pleasure, this moment I was writing with one hand, and with the other holding to my Mouth a Nectarine – good God, how fine. It went down soft, pulpy, slushy, oozy – all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large beatified Strawberry."  ~ John Keats




Our Fantastic Guest Bloggers

Tuesday, May 15, 2012



From our strawberry patch.
We should have fruit soon, if the rabbits don't nibble them clean first.



Vegetable-ready. This summer will be the first time in a long while that we try for a garden.



Simple and basic.

It doesn't take much to whip up some chocolate goodness.*

And there's plenty to share.

Potential. It's everywhere. In the first signs of the season, in the rich soil overturned, in an uncomplicated recipe that yields the best dessert. A pinch of willing, a scoop of desire, a cupful of determination; that's my strategy for tackling summer projects.

The berries.
The garden.
(That novel.)

What are you cultivating over the next few months?

* My version of Lisa's Poor Man's Cake. Click here for her post and the recipe, then pass it on.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Eating Then and Now

This is one of my favorite recipes. Look here:

Mediterranean Potato Pitas

A good bunch of cut up potatoes
Olive or Canola Oil in a large pan
Onion and garlic to fry 'em up
Some fresh ground pepper, some salt

Give it all a good and tender cooking, stirring to keep the potatoes even and fine, but before they're too soft, toss in sliced black olives and button mushrooms. Let it simmer for a minute or two, then add a lot of fresh spinach. Fill the pan with fresh spinach and let it cook down. Covering the pan helps steam it a bit. Sir it up and add more spinach until you run out. Give it another good stir and drop in two eggs if you made a lot. If you were feeling nervous, only add one. Check your taste buds and toss in some basil and oregano to boot.

When the eggs are blended and cooked, and the potatoes are nice and tender, take the pan off the heat and throw in gobs of crumbled feta cheese.  Stir it up. Stir it up.

Now you need pita pocket bread, cooking spray, shredded Parmesan cheese and a baking sheet. Stuff the pita pockets with the potato filling and let them make merry, laying each out on the baking sheet with a fine dusting of cooking spray and Parmesan cheese. Place them under the broiler just long enough to turn the pitas a warm, golden brown.

Serve with a generous helping of tzatziki sauce.

This was my first recipe, seventeen years gone and I still cook it up to warm my husband's belly. The first time I made it for him was at two-thirty, early, on a Sunday morning, after dancing and drinking at our best goth-industrial club on the far east side of Madison. We smelled of clove cigarettes and the cool, unnamed scent that radiates from fog machines. I was tired, keyed up and hungry. So early in the morning, I cooked as if on a dare.

The last time I went to that club I felt my age surrounding me like a helpless aura I couldn't shake. I was married with two kids and years past thirty. I could still dance the hours through, but the morning comes faster now with eager faces pulling at the sheets. Meals like this are done with more respect to time and energy. They're planned ahead, thought out, and served with a cold glass of 1% milk.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

What Do April Showers Bring?

by Lisa

Was April the cruelest month for you?

Mine wasn't cruel, but it was definitely a stormy whirlwind of missed deadlines and too many balls in the air, too many irons in the fire, too many cooks in the kitchen, or whatever other cliché that comes to mind. I'm guessing your April wasn't much different. And now it's May (!), and rather than feeling caught up and ready for a new month, I'm looking at an overdue list that is nearly as long as my to-do list (and my want-to-do list must wait a while longer).

It's time for some kitchen therapy.

"Never had there been such...making of car-cakes and sweet scones." Sir Walter Scott, The Bride of Lammermoor 
Nothing helps me to focus on the moment, appreciate what I have, and get my hands back into life's pleasures better than taking the time to cook or bake slowly, with intention. No phones. No email. No music, even. Just me and ingredients and the promise of creating from scratch with nearly immediate gratification.

The yellow tint to the milk is from an early version of the scone recipe, below, where I tried to use part olive oil, part butter. Edible but not publishable. Don't try it at home.
Take scones, for example, a food of humble origins that has risen to posh status, the ingredients for which almost everyone already has on hand. As I was trying to think of clever groan-inspiring titles for this post, I learned that "scone" is a favorite word of punsters (see Scones and Sensibility , by Lindsay Eland, or Alexander McCall Smith's The Unbearable Lightness of Scones), and that the title "A scone by any other name" is far from original (like me, are you curious as to the difference between scones and biscuits?)
Scone: A large round cake made of wheat or barley-meal baked on a griddle; one of the four quadrant-shaped pieces into which such a cake is often cut; more generally, a soft cake of barley- or oatmeal, or wheat-flour, baked in single portions on a griddle or in an oven. Also with defining words, denoting varieties of this cake, as butter scone, potato scone, soda scone, treacle scone; brown scone n. one made of whole meal. drop-scone n. (dropped scone) one made of a small portion of batter dropped on the griddle or on a tin and baked. fried scone n. one in which the ingredients are made into a batter and fried. (Oxford English Dictionary)

The history of scones goes back at least six hundred years (see the fascinating Food Timeline site for origins and recipes), so when I use my fingers to "pebbalize" butter into soft, sifted flour, I imagine myself connected to cooks from centuries past, putting their hands in barley meal and shaping rounds or squares or triangles to be baked on hot "girdles."
"We lay on the bare top of a rock, like scones upon a girdle." Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped

The following recipe is adapted from instructions for "How to Make the Perfect Scone," with some help to convert grams to cups and Celsius to Fahrenheit. This version combines simple ingredients with fresh berries and uses no added sugar, unless you choose to sprinkle some on top.


Here's wishing that April showers bring May flours for us all.

Simple Strawberry Scones
  • 2 2/3 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 7 tablespoons cold butter, cut in small pieces
  • 2/3 cup milk (or cream or half and half)
  • 1 cup diced fresh, firm strawberries (or half diced strawberries and 1/2 small blueberries)
  • milk and sugar for topping (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt.
  3. Add the cold butter pieces to the flour mixture, and use your clean, dry fingers to rub the butter into the flour until the butter pieces are no bigger than tiny peas. Trust me: this feels good.
  4. Add milk or cream, and stir mixture very lightly until almost combined. You don't want it at all to reach the stage of batter, and there will still be some unmixed flour. Add the evenly berries, and use floured hands to fold them in and gather the entire mixture together into a big, soft lump.
  5. Transfer mixture to a floured surface, and gentle pat or roll to a thickness of about 3/4 inch. Cut into ten to twelve rounds or squares. If you wish, brush the top of each scone with milk and sprinkle with sugar.
  6. Bake scones on a baking pan or stone for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned.
Step 7:

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Learning How To Be Fearless: Lessons from a Lousy Cook

Having the privilege of knowing today's guest blogger in person, I can easily sum her up in one word: Adorable. A second comes from her post today: Fearless. Keep in touch with Jessica through her blog, Learning Out Loud, and be sure to try the recipe she shares from Milwaukee's own famous Bartolotta Restaurants. Take it away, Jessica! ~ Lisa

Jessica in the kitchen
Photo credit: Ernie Mastroianni
by Jessica Zappia

"I am so sorry to hear about your wife; I never knew!"  That's the kind of repsonse my husband heard after my dirty little secret came out. I guess it was a tragedy to some.

I didn't know how to cook.

I have no one to blame except myself really, not for the cooking part, but for the secret getting out part.

You see, I busted myself, and big time.

Two years ago, our newspaper had a "want ad" so to speak. "Do you burn water? Are you clueless in the kitchen?" The ad was talking directly to me! Our paper wanted to do a 'lousy cook' story, to show that even the worst of the worst could learn.

I sat down and e-mailed a letter to the food editor. That's how it all started. Well, I "won". The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel named me "Lousiest Cook in Southeastern Wisconsin"! Luckily, I shared the title with a gentleman so the title was not all mine. (Whew! I don't know if I could handle that kind of pressure!)

Our grand prizes were cooking lessons with local chefs, and let me tell you, I had the time of my life!

I got to learn how to make so many yummy things with Chef Peggy Magister of Crazy Water. The biggest lesson Peggy taught me was how to cook with passion and joy. She combined so many amazing things and had so much FUN! I saw how cooking could be a creative experience. I learned how to make killer Spinach Lasagna from Chef Juan Urbieta of Ristorante Bartolotta. I actually have people ask for a recipe for something that I made! Making desserts with Kurt Fogle of The Pfister Hotel was an absolute delight. I made a soft-centered chocolate cake that had a soft center on purpose!

Finally, the amazing staff at Milwaukee Area Technical College taught me the basics. All of the professionals that worked with me were so kind and reassuring. This cooking thing really wasn't so scary at all. I just had to have fun and give it all a try.

I really learned to be fearless.

Photo credit: Ernie Mastroianni
Overall, that is the lesson I want my kids to remember from this experience as well. Their mom didn't know how to do something, so she learned how. It's never too late to learn. I don't know if I would recommend airing all of one's failings so publicly, though, unless you want to be reminded of it from time to time.

It's now two years later, and at least once a week someone will still ask me, "How's the cooking going?" Most recently, I was asked by all five of the voting ladies. "She won a contest you know."

Cooking is a learning process, that's for sure, but I am having a lot of fun. Right after all of this silliness first happened, my 8-year-old daughter said, "Maybe you could get cleaning the house lessons, too!"

Okay, I think I am done sharing my dirty little secrets!

Here is Juan Urbieta's recipe for Ristorante Bartolotta's Sausage and Spinach Lasagna:

Makes 6 to 8 servings
  • Fresh tomato sauce
  • 1 box no-boil lasagna (9 ounces/16 sheets)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil plus more for layering and serving
  • 1 pound (2 cups) raw Italian mild fennel sausage
  • 8 cups pre-washed fresh spinach (9-ounce package), de-stemmed
  • 1 pound (2 cups) fresh ricotta
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (1/4 pound), preferably imported Parmigiano 1 1/2 cups (3/4 pound) fresh mozzarella cheese, drained (see note)
1. Make fresh tomato sauce.

2. To assemble lasagna: Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

3. In a nonstick skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Crumble and quickly brown the sausage for about 1 minute, stirring with a wooden spoon. Add spinach to skillet (it will seem like a lot at first) and season with salt and pepper to taste. As soon as spinach begins to wilt, turn off heat.

4. Lightly drizzle a 13-by-9-inch pan with olive oil. Evenly spread 1 cup of the fresh tomato sauce over bottom of pan, then lay down four sheets of lasagna pasta to cover bottom of pan. Over the pasta layer, once again evenly spread 1 cup of tomato sauce, then sprinkle on half the browned sausage-spinach mixture, distribute a third of the ricotta in small spoonfuls and sprinkle on a third of the Parmesan cheese. Repeat this process, starting with a new layer of pasta but this time using six sheets and slightly overlapping the pasta.

5. To finish assembling the lasagna, lay down and overlap the last six sheets of pasta, spread on the last 2 cups of sauce and the remaining third of the ricotta and Parmesan cheeses. Finally, cover the lasagna with the mozzarella; break off small pieces from the balls of cheese and distribute evenly over the top.

6. Cover pan tightly with aluminum foil (oil the bottom side first, or use nonstick foil) and bake in center rack of preheated oven one hour. After one hour, carefully remove the foil and return pan to oven to brown top of lasagna five to 10 minutes. (If you wish, increase the heat to 500 degrees or so - but watch carefully.)

7. Remove from oven and let lasagna set 10 minutes before cutting. Serve immediately with a drizzle of good olive oil.

Note: Urbieta used the small mozzarella balls sold in tubs.

If we could see the miracle of a single flower clearly, our whole life would change.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cooking with Iron

A few weeks ago, I stopped in at the doctor's office for a prick of my finger and a surprising revelation. "You're a little anemic," the doctor told me. This might explain, as I understood him, why I would get out of breath so easily walking a flight of stairs, why I would arrive home at two in the afternoon and think only of sleep, sleep, sleep. I had hoped he'd mention something about how a low iron count would also explain my inability to jump-start a simple exercise plan. However, I suspect that issue has more to do with "lazy" and "stubborn". At any rate, I left the doctor's office and headed straight to the store for supplements.

Here's the thing, though. Vitamins are my nemesis.

Vitamins!A strong gag reflex ensures that any time I have to swallow a pill of substantial girth (or of any girth), I take a series of steps that hint I might also suffer from OCD:
  1. Place pill on tongue.
  2. Fill mouth with water.
  3. Toss back head, one...two times.
  4. Feign to swallow.
  5. Toss head again, one...two...three.
  6. THIS time, swallow.
  7. Wait. Gag.
  8. One more toss.
  9. Choke it down, dammit.
  10. Follow with a tight fist, a foot stomp, and the hard crust from a piece of toast.
It's the same every time, so dramatic that my kids join in the fun, imitating me in the middle of a head toss. Since I manage to take only half the recommended amount, I boost my iron in other ways, including one that fires up my Texas roots and honors my grandmother: cooking with iron.

When I got married, one of my friends gave my husband and me a big cast-iron skillet. There's something primal about a cast-iron skillet. You're not messing around when you've got one sizzling on the stove. Mine has seen years of cooking, off and on, but it hits the gas flame much more often these days. This post on Kitchen Daily lists three healthy reasons to cook with iron, one of them being that meals made in skillets really does increase your intake of a necessary mineral.

"While cast iron doesn't leach chemicals, it can leach some iron into your food ... and that's a good thing. Iron deficiency is fairly common worldwide, especially among women. . . . Cooking food, especially something acidic like tomato sauce in a cast-iron skillet can increase iron content, by as much as 20 times."

I cook plenty in my skillet, including tomato sauce. But, this week, I fried up some Catfish.

Catfish is (surprisingly) one of the dishes my son will eat, willingly, so I cook it up knowing I'm killing two birds with one stone: fortifying my diet and tempting his taste buds. Catfish is easy to make, as long as you pay attention, and frying it in the skillet makes me feel old school and Texan all over again.

Pan-Fried Catfish, from

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 (4 ounce) fillets catfish
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
In a mixing bowl, stir together cornmeal, cayenne pepper, paprika and onion powder. Mix well. Pour mixture onto a large sheet of waxed paper.
  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Pour milk into a medium bowl. Dip catfish filets into milk and hold up and let the milk drip off. Roll the milk-soaked filet in the cornmeal mixture until completely covered. Set aside.
  3. Fry the garlic in the hot skillet, but do not burn. Add the coated catfish filets and cook for 5 to 7 minutes on each side, sprinkling salt on the fish after each turn. Cook until golden brown and fish flakes easily with a fork. Drain on paper towels.

One note, if you make this dish, get everything set and ready to go before you start frying. When the recipe says "do not burn" the garlic, that means watch it close. Really, you only want to let it cook for a minute or two before dropping in your catfish.

For some real Texas fun, cook up a batch of hush puppies for the side.

How do you measure up with your iron? And, what do you do to make sure you get enough?

*Vitamin photo credit: bradley j on The catfish is all mine.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Between the Vending Machine and the Take-out Counter

Balsamic Garbanzo Salad

At one point I practically lived off feta cheese, spinach and Kalamata olives. Those were the days I worked in a cube farm with charcoal walls and windows about a half mile away. I was so healthy people said while I constructed enormous salads in the breakroom and pinned sarcastic notes to the freezer about food nabbing and socialism. That's were I watched the I.T. guy burn down the microwave with a take-out pizza box lined in foil. I think he still owes me for not ratting him out.

It's not that I was so healthy, it's just that I got sick of vending machines and restaurants and the money, money, money of eating at work, and I realized that lunch on the cheap also meant carrying it in. The thing is, I didn't bring a proper sack lunch. I've been vegetarian for I don't know how long and sandwiches were more of a hassle than I wanted to deal with. So I decided on salads--huge salads decked out in grape tomatoes, sunflower seeds, olives, feta, hard-boiled eggs and vinaigrette dressing on a bed of baby spinach. If I piled enough stuff in the bowl I wouldn't have to look at the egg salad sandwiches and plain white bagels riding around and around in their electric carriage; I could sit at my desk with headphones on and listen to something sinister by Clive Barker while obsessing over wedding cakes and Pacific Northwest treehouses.

There's something wonderful about working in a mindless job gnashing out minute by minute in pointless abandon. I had my first NaNoWriMo behind those charcoal walls. Later, when I managed my own team of misfits and Death Eaters, I wrote a few short essays and started up the Team Evil zine. Fifty hours of structure can kick out a good lot of creative energy if you have a mind for it, and I'm pretty sure my mind was starving for a formative kihap.

I'm still a huge fan of the spinach and feta fandango, but with two kids at home and a constant need to keep the food lively and inventive, it doesn't get as much play. These days we're into anything that can be made into the shape of a face, a rocket ship, or an animal. Also anything made from fruit, blended or frozen, or whipped into a muffin and toasted in the oven will do. Still I keep feta on my shopping list and spinach in the crisper for nights like this, when I get a hankering for an old recipe misplaced at the bottom of the box.

Balsamic Garbanzo Salad

(All measurements are approximate. Use your discretion)

1 Can of low sodium garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 Cup of roasted, unsalted, sunflower seeds
A Handfull of Kalamata Olives
1 Ounce of Feta Cheese
Some Grape tomatoes or one tomato finely chopped
1/4 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
1/4 Cup olive oil
Crushed black pepper and salt to taste

Mix ingredients in a bowl and serve over a bed of baby spinach. Be sure to wear headphones and listen to a compelling audio book of your choice. Create something beautiful. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Get in a Rut! Why Kitchen Routines Are Good for Creativity

by Lisa

For the past several weeks, I’ve enjoyed nearly the same breakfast, at the same time, every single morning: a bagel with veggie cream cheese, orange juice in the same glass Batman mug our son got at a rare visit to McDonald's oh so many years ago, and a handful of raw almonds. They aren’t necessarily my favorite morning foods. I love nothing more than a diner-style plate of scrambled eggs and hash browns and whole-wheat toast with butter and strawberry jelly. But my current daily menu is what I’ve come to think of as my working breakfast, my writing breakfast. I don’t need to think about it as I focus on taking full advantage of what, for me, are the most productive hours of the day.

One of the myths of creativity is that every moment of a creative person’s life is filled with excitement and novelty. We tend to imagine the most creative among us as never living the same way twice, including what they wear and how they spend their leisure time and even what they eat.

The truth is more boring. In his study of over 90 eminent creators, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found that a certain level of routine is conducive to creativity:
“Most creative individuals find out early what their best rhythms are for sleeping, eating, and working, and abide by them even when it is tempting to do otherwise. They wear clothes that are comfortable, they interact only with people they find congenial, they do only things they think are important. Of course, such idiosyncrasies are not endearing to those they have to deal with…. But personalizing patterns of action helps to free the mind from the expectations that make demands on attention and allows intense concentration on matters that count.” ~ Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, p. 145
Dinner time is when I like to be more creative in the kitchen, after my writing and teaching are finished for the day, when I can scan the contents of the vegetable bins and imagine what combinations are possible without wishing I were doing something else. For other people, however, dinner might be the perfect meal to make more routine, so that the time leading up to it isn’t filled with thoughts of “what to make for dinner.” Our mothers’ and grandmothers’ generations were perhaps on to something when they designated specific meals to days of the week: Meatloaf Monday or Leftovers Thursday. Doing so gave them one less thing to think about in a very busy schedule.

Don’t misunderstand me. I love adding variety and spice to my meals. Just not all of them. Sometimes I need to save me creative juice for the page.

What kitchen routines allow you more creative freedom?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Guest Post: My Sibling Rivalry with Food

Please welcome our guest, Hallie Sawyer, freelance writer and blogger (Write For Me).

family came for dinner again- utter joy!

* photo credit: kate hiscock on

I grew up with food as another member of my family. He was a self-centered bastard, too. Our days seemed to revolve around him, especially Sundays. After church, we either went to brunch with him or we had a special crockpot meal prepared. I spent my days after school concocting funky snacks with him, one of my favorites was saltine crackers topped with butter and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.

Yes, I just wrote that.

My family was obsessed with food. We went out to dinner a LOT; there wasn't a new restaurant we didn't try. Chinese, Mexican, Italian, you name it, we ate it. And no dinner was complete without at least a couple of appetizers. If you asked my father...actually, you didn't have to ask him. He loudly proclaimed this after every restaurant meal, "That was THE best [fill in the blank] I have ever had." It became the running joke in the family which was one he never seemed to get. He still says it to this day.

Food was our connector. It was an easy conversation at the table, a way to keep things on the surface. Because we sure as hell didn't want to look at what was lurking below. A obnoxiously-stocked fridge, a packed cooler for the boat, a brand new restaurant to try, they were all just part of the family. A very dysfunctional one.

The lightbulb started to illuminate when I was a junior in high school and I was no longer hipless. Well, I still didn't really have hips as much as I had thighs. I was flabby and I still had my baby face. When my cheeks started rivaling my hair in size, I knew I was in trouble. I started to take my tennis seriously that year when my high school team started training with a tennis pro at a local athletic club. Our trainer had played tennis in college and his passed along his athletic training on to us. The club had a weight room and my mom allowed me to join. It changed my life.

I researched and purchased weight-lifting books and became a vegetarian. Visible fat completely grossed me out, therefore I boycotted eating meat altogether.Grizzle was the enemy. This drove my father absolutely crazy. My stubborn streak is wide and long and he eventually stopped harassing me about it. I got in better shape but something was still off.

In college, I continued my vegetarian diet but I didn't figure out that my biggest culprit to my continuing battle with my body was my love affair with carbs. As a vegetarian, carbs had become my new best friend. My thighs were stubborn,too. I started taking the first unofficial weight loss pill: aspirin, caffeine, and ephedrine. (A guy friend obsessed with his body image passed that little heart attack laden piece of advice onto me.) I lost weight but then I also lost muscle; I looked sick. Again, self-sabotage. Along with my stubborn streak, I also have a thick skull.

Now, at almost forty years old, my light bulb is burning bright. I have finally figured out what food is supposed to be. Fuel. That's it. Nothing more. Don't get me wrong. I still love food but I'm not obsessed with it. It has to be exactlywhat it was meant to be. Sustenance. My German genetics and a fourth of my life spent eating horrible are stacked against me but did I mention I was stubborn?

If I want to have a healthy body, inside and out, I need to have protein with every meal and every snack. Carbs are a bare necessity and veggies are my new bestfriends. If I had known then what I know now, I might have had a whole different view on life. I might have been a much more confident person growing up.

Food wouldn't have been my evil twin as much as it would have been my biggest fan.

Hallie Sawyer is a freelance and historical fiction writer, with publishing credits in KC Parent magazine. She grew up in northeast Nebraska but now lives in Kansas City with her husband and three children. As a health and fitness enthusiast, she now looks at her relationship with food as a partnership and no longer as a high school crush.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What to do with the chicken bones?

I'm a nay-sayer. A cynic. Suspicious by nature. When someone suggests I try a new dish - like mushroom soup or spaghetti with squid ink (such a thing exists, it's true) - my gut reaction is to pause, dramatic, and scrunch up my face. That's my inner editor butting in, you know. She isn't partial to my writing life alone. More often than not, she sticks her nose into my business at the table and in the kitchen, as well. Even with familiar dishes, if I haven't tried it before, well, there's no guarantee.

A few years ago, I visited my closest and dearest friend in Texas. As our conversation rose and fell over kids, dinners, and grocery budgets, she told me she'd figured out how to make one grocery item stretch over several meals: buy a whole chicken instead of chicken breasts.

"Bake the chicken and serve it for dinner. Use the leftover meat for chicken salad later, or toss it into a pasta dish. Then," she continued, "boil the bones with veggies and make your own broth. One batch of chicken broth can last for weeks." She shrugged, as if to say there's nothing to it, and I dreamed, for a second, of walking out of the grocery store with money left over.

Still, I thought, it couldn't be so easy. I've known her for years and she's never lied to me, but she's good at lots of things I'm not. Baking a whole chicken was one of those things; turning that chicken into broth from scratch was even further out of my league. I imagined a long and arduous process.

But the next time I stepped into the grocery store, I re-considered her idea, tired of paying so much for a few small chicken breasts and using broth from a box or a grainy mixture processed by a company that's boasts theirs is the best. I stood in front of the meat freezer, tapped my fingers on the handle of the cart, picked up a chicken, put it down. Walked away. Walked back. Finally, I reached over and took hold, of the whole chicken and the dream of broth from scratch. Then, I pushed my cart and stomped away, ignoring the voice in my head that insisted I was about to embark on a huge waste of time and a doomed-to-fail project, too much for a busy mom and writer.

That nosy little nuisance in my head was wrong. My friend was right: the chicken was easy to work with and good for much more than one meal.

One whole chicken, rubbed with herbs and cooked in a crockpot for five hours, yields a tender dish for dinner. So tender, that gathering the leftover meat is simple. Use the meat for another dish later that week, or store it in the freezer for when you need a quick addition to a meal further down the road. Then, place the chicken bones into a pot, that same night or even the next day, with an onion or two, a few carrots, some sticks of celery. Add fresh garlic cloves if you like, but don't worry about additional seasoning; the chicken you just cooked has all those yummy flavors built right in.

Bring it all to a boil and let it simmer for an hour and a half. Write about it while the fixings simmer. Better yet, write a draft to a short story.

Once cooked, drain the whole mixture into a separate bowl, using a colander, and let the broth cool. Discard the bones and vegetables, then separate the broth into several jars. Pre-measure some of the broth and store it in smaller jars. Keep them in the freezer until needed. Even more fun, give some away. There's plenty to share. 

Do you make your own broth? And, if you're vegetarian, how do you dress up the veggies for that added boost of flavor?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Art of Feeding Kiddos: A plate of three

Put a face on it

I've learned to feed my kids with the rule of three--put at least three choices on their plate and they're bound to fill their bellies. It doesn't matter how main course the main course is, if there isn't a fruit and veggie option to go with the pizza, it isn't lunch. That said, I've been pretty lucky with the foods my kids have tried, and often to my surprise, like to chomp.

Some of the best child feeding advice I've ever gotten I gleaned from random essays around the internet. "My nanny puts out a plate of fresh vegetables twenty minutes before it's time to eat," read one article. This seemed reasonable to me. I'm not too worried about my girls loosing their appetites on carrot sticks and cauliflower florets, though I'm not often so forward thinking as to pile up a veggie plate before every meal. Instead, when the kids come skulking about the kitchen looking for bites, I hand them whatever veggies I have prepped on the cutting board--broccoli trees and black olive finger puppets. Red pepper ribbons. Cucumber O's. 

There are things I never thought the girls would eat that have become, instead, hunger fail-safes: chick peas in a monkey dish, cashews on the side, radishes a la carte.

The hardest thing I had to learn about feeding the minis was to go against my own upbringing and not push the food Clean Your Plate style or to demand they eat something they just don't like. The rule of the house is to try one bite of everything, and decide from there. In time, they've opened their food noshing mouths to the likes of spinach crepes, and palak paneer, grilled asparagus, and potato leek soup. That to me is a pretty good start.

Do you have any favorite tricks for feeding kids or quick and easy recipes? What are your culinary fail-safes?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cooking to Feed Your Creativity

by Lisa

Writers know to consider all the senses when describing a scene. What are the colors? Sounds? Smells? Textures?

When it comes to food, though, we often focus on taste (or haste) to the exclusion of other sensual delights. I am aware of this most keenly when I visit a good restaurant, as I did last week in Chicago: Bombay Spice on Clark Street. My husband and I ordered appetizers of lentil cakes and seared eggplant, and a couple of "Create Your Entree" dishes. When the plates were set on our table, I remembered why I originally fell in love with vegetarian cooking. The lentil cakes were garnished with a colorful tomato mixture and tangy sauce, the eggplant was seared to dark perfection on the outside and impossibly creamy in the middle, and the entrees offered a colorful feast of tofu, vegetables, rice, and noodles. The experience was as aesthetically pleasing as it was delicious.

One of the more intriguing options on the menu is the Bombay Sampler, where diners pick a couple of favorite ingredients and the chef prepares a personalized meal. Giving ourselves these kinds of artificial constraints, whether in writing (what would happen if I combined this character with that setting?) or cooking (what can I make with black beans and oranges?), is good divergent, creative practice, forcing us to make new connections. For me, the lure of meatless meals is not so much health or ethics as it is the potential for creativity. And the more creative I am in the non-writing parts of my life, the more I seem to be able to engage creativity on the page.

Of course, nutrition and efficiency matter, too, which is why the following recipes are healthy, fast, and festive, with tastes, textures, colors, and aromas to fuel your creative appetite from plate to pen and back again.

What kind of cooking makes you more creative in your writing life?

Black Bean and Orange Salad

  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 3 stalks celery, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal
  • 1 green bell pepper, trimmed and diced
  • 2 Tablespoons light sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons dark (toasted) sesame oil
  • 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar, white balsamic vinegar, or lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 4 fresh oranges, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1. In a medium bowl, combine beans, sliced scallions, celery, and diced pepper. Set aside.
2. In a smaller bowl, whisk together oils, vinegar or lemon juice, honey, cumin and salt. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
3. Pour dressing over bean mixture and toss to combine.
4. Add orange pieces and cilantro. Toss gently to combine.
Makes 4 servings.

* * * * * *

Spinach and White Bean Farfalle

  • 1 pound farfalle (bow tie) pasta
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large carrot, trimmed, peeled, and diced
  • 1 large bunch fresh spinach, rinsed well and large stems removed, coarsely chopped
  • 1 15-ounce can firm white beans, such as great northern or cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1. Boil pasta until al dente
2. While pasta boils, saute garlic and diced carrots in olive oil in a large sauté pan for about 5 minutes. Add spinach and beans, cover, and cook until spinach is wilted and beans are heated through. Add salt to taste.
3. Drain pasta. Toss cooked pasta with spinach and bean mixture. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Makes about 6 main dish servings.

* * * * * *

Lentils, Rice and Broccoli with Peanut Butter Sauce

  • 1/2 cup dry brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 1 cup white or brown rice
  • 4 cups fresh broccoli florets
  • 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 2/3 cup hot vegetable broth, or more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce

1. Bring 3 cups water to a boil. Add lentils, stir, and simmer until lentils are cooked through but still firm, about 20-25 minutes. Drain.
2. While the lentils simmer, cook rice according to package directions.
3. Steam broccoli for 5 to 10 minutes, until desired tenderness.
4. To prepare sauce, whisk together peanut butter, vegetable broth, ginger, red pepper and soy sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings. If needed, add more vegetable broth or peanut butter for desired consistency.
5. To serve, arrange cooked rice, cooked lentils, and broccoli in any way you'd like on a large, shallow serving plate. Drizzle with peanut butter sauce.
Makes 4 servings.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My love affair with coffee.

We met later in life, coffee and me, at a bakery shop, and what attracted me to him was a hint of cinnamon in his mix. Some would say that cinnamon masks the flavor of a bold, straight-up cup of coffee and that our first date didn't count as a proper introduction. Coffee knew me, though. From the very beginning. Knew that my tastes were a little more refined. That the only way I might be tempted to sit with him a while was if he dressed himself in the sharp smell of a comfort spice.

Come on over, he seemed to say. Take a sip.

As we got to know each other, we mixed it up a bit: hazelnut, colombian, a bold, french roast. Once or twice, a cafe mocha. He spoiled me. And, soon enough, I let him move in. I bought my own coffee maker, then a french press. I couldn't wake up in the morning, unless I knew he would be there. I needed him.

Like any relationship, we had our ups and downs. Taking a break here and there. It was usually me trying to call things off, citing health reasons. He always balked at that, and I always went back. Always had my sights on the what we had in the beginning: cinnamon sweet.

The illusions of a first date can never be repeated, though. Besides, I had changed. Some days I needed more than he could give. Other days, he gave too much. I was distracted, irritable, on edge. Finally, the unpredictability of it all took a toll. My body ached, my moods sunk low enough that I knew. It was time. And, like all bad break-ups, it happened quick. Overnight. No explanations. Just a tossing of remaining grinds into the trash can, and a knife-to-the-heart visit to a tea store.

"Loose tea." he said. "You'll be back. You'll see."

That was over a month ago.

I think about him sometimes, sure. Once I passed by him in the grocery store, and I saw him out of the corner of my eye, watching, pushing his cinnamon blend to the front of the shelf. Cinnamon in loose tea just isn't the same. He knows it.

What he doesn't know is that loose tea can grow on a person. Add a little honey, mix in a dash of cream, steep it for five minutes. That five minutes of quiet is all we need sometimes, just to settle into each other. And the best part is, there's no drama. No caffeine, no drama.

It's over, Coffee. I've got a new man...Earl. He's rich and smooth and, when we're together, he makes me feel like a real lady.

Coffee. Could you quit?



Monday, February 20, 2012

Pass the baklava, it's time for tea

by Rose Deniz

A Muted Palate

I left behind the comforting, familiar Midwestern foodstuffs - slowly simmering pot roasts, Friday Night Fish Fry’s, hearty casseroles, pre-baked pie crusts - for the tangy and rich cuisine of the Turkish sofra in late spring of 2005. The Turkish table may be thought of as stuffed grape leaves, fragrant rice pilavs, and baklava, but to me, the flavors are as varied as the regions of my adopted country. Stepping into Turkish culture and cuisine transformed my taste buds, as well as my creativity as a writer.  

Turkish food, if you are from the Black Sea region like my husband’s family, relies heavily on olive oil dishes, hamsi - or anchovies, and fresh baked bread. As much as I loved the soupy bean dishes, the pan-cooked spinach and rice, and the crunchy rolled dough baked to a crisp, the first few years I lived in Turkey, I craved steak, hamburgers, peanut sauce, curries, and things much less simple in flavor. In my first apartment as a newlywed in the city of Izmit, on the Gulf of Izmit that leads to the Aegean Sea, I experimented as best as I could. I started a notebook of renegade recipes for perfect pancakes, fudgy brownies, and egg drop soup. Whenever a much-longed-for ingredient showed up on some supermarket shelf, I noted the discovery with glee, but my taste buds were left wanting. 

My Orient Express

As any Madisonian knows first hand, the spicy Taiwanese noodles, soft squash curry, and veggie smoothies of the food carts in Library Mall can catapult your taste buds to parts of the world you may have never seen. It was there, in Madison as an undergrad, that I discovered I had a taste for Indian food. It was also there, after a 10-credit Hindi intensive, that I bemoaned the fact that I was terrible at learning languages. At that time, I could have never imagined that not only would I be living in Turkey and raising two bilingual kids, I would be writing my first book, a futuristic young adult novel.

Fast forward to today and the amassed binders full of short stories, the two tentative attempts at a memoir, a painting and design practice, and a vocabulary of Turkish words in my stash. Now, working full time on my book, I often turn to my kitchen to unwind, use my hands, and think through story problems. Somehow, as the food becomes alive, so does the part of my brain that wrangles with words.

At the end of seven years of living in Turkey, turning the corner on my eighth, I am not a Turkish national like my duo-citizen children are, nor am I a Turkish food connoisseur, but I can talk börek and döner like the best. Hours of sitting in my mother-in-law’s kitchen before I could say more than a few sentences in Turkish taught me what kind of olive oil to use for salads, which vegetables are best bought from the local bazaar in which season, and how to serve impromptu guests that knock on your door at all hours. Her delight at hosting taught me that true comfort comes from good company, and endless cups of tea. 

Turco-American Fusion

Born to a Jewish-American mother and a German father, and raised in a mostly Norwegian corner of Wisconsin, my culinary tastes were not inspired by my upbringing. My father, for years after my mother died when I was a child, did the best he could with hunger-filling roasts, split pea soup, and the occasional La Choy Chow Mein. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I discovered Mediterranean food and Middle Eastern food, and later in college, sushi. The only Turkish food I knew I adored with certainty before I moved here was chewy, bitter Turkish coffee.

When Turkish people ask if I can cook Turkish food, I say yes without hesitation. If they are to press further and ask me what I make, they are often surprised to hear that I like Turkish food more than my husband. I’ve grown to love the tomato-based bulgur dishes, the simple salads of cucumber and tomato, the uncomplicated Aegean and Black Sea flavors that highlight one or two ingredients rather than many. Of course, there is adventure to be found in the spicy Adana region, and I see a growing awareness of international food that was missing a mere seven years ago, but my insatiable craving for foods I missed has passed now that I feel more confident as a cook.

I hope to impart the sense of pleasure and delight in good food to my children. In our hybrid household, on most Saturdays, you can find us whipping up good old fashioned chocolate chip cookies, testing out pizza dough, or eating cake batter out of the pan. I tie on the apron my third-generation Belarusian mother made, with a nod to her domesticity and that pinch of history that shows up even in my kitchen in Turkey. I entertain the idea of opening a gourmet pizza place, of offering a lunch only daily special at a corner cafe, or inviting friends over for impromptu Thai food. I pour myself a glass of Turkish tea into a little fluted cup, and hands coated in flour, watch as my children sprinkle the kitchen with that something special that makes food, wherever you are in the world, taste so good. 

Perfect Pancakes, For Real

After trying nearly every pancake recipe under the sun, I swear by this recipe. The yogurt I use is full fat, Greek-style, preferably homemade. Nonfat would probably work, but the fat in the yogurt makes it possible to go light on the oil or butter.

1 banana, mashed
2 tablespoons plain, full fat yogurt
1 tsp baking soda
¼ cup wheat flakes
2 tbsp flour (I like whole wheat)
1 tsp cinnamon
2 lg eggs
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp oil or butter
1 tbsp real carob molasses, or pine honey

In bowl, mash banana, add eggs, milk and yogurt. Mix or blend by hand. Add dry ingredients and oil or butter. I like to puree this so it is not lumpy, but mixing works just fine. In a non-stick, ungreased pan at medium heat, ladle pancake batter, and flip when it bubbles up nice and right. Drizzle with molasses, pine honey, or real maple syrup. If you’re feeling adventurous, add a drop of tahini to the molasses for a real Turko-American treat.

Serves four hungry people, two big, two small, for Sunday morning brunch. 


Rose Deniz is a Wisconsin-born writer nesting abroad in Izmit, Turkey, where she is finishing up the first draft of her futuristic young adult novel. Happy to say she grew up on a farm in the middle of nowhere, she always seems to venture back to Wisconsin when there is a blizzard. Rose has a BA in Art from The University of Wisconsin, and an MFA in Painting from Cranbrook Academy of Art. You can find her on her website, on Twitter, and on Facebook