Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Week of 40% Success

Whywhywhy, when I check my traffic stats, is there a referral site called "www.gaygalls.net"?  Who's coming here from a weird place like that?  Go to the Google, freaks, where you all belong!

And now, we breathe.  Ommmm...

My class reunion was this weekend, and while there isn't much to say about it in relation to food, there certainly are things to say about it.  I mean to tackle that in a soonerratherthanlater post.

But today, let's recap the challenge I set for myself roughly one week ago.  I decided to make a conscious effort to use those oft-looked over foodstuff items in my inventory, namely quinoa, arborio rice, pinto beans, rice paper, and barley.

And here, at the week's end, things stand as thus:

First up was the barley.  That bag should be gone after today, when I make up a batch of Beef Barley soup for the testers at the Winery (indeed, what wine goes with a Beef Barley?  I'm putting my money on a Pinot).

Then, in what could be called the big success of the week, one package of the rice paper is now MIA.  Brent made a slapdash version of spring rolls on Wednesday, using whatever provisions were available in the refrigerator...

Which is the great, great thing about these rolls.  We used shrimp, but any other kind of protein would work too (alas, though, I cannot support the use of peanut butter as a spring roll filling...maybe as a sauce).  We used julienned carrots for the veg, but I'd like to try it with shredded napa cabbage.  Fresh herbs would also be amazing here.

We whipped up a quick dipping sauce, and in the future, I would NOT use chili sauce, as it reminded me strongly of a seasoned ketchup - not what I was going for.

Although I liked the chewy, starchy rice paper-y texture, the kids thought it a bit weird...so I think I'd like to try frying them in the Fry Daddy next time.  Just for something different.
The husband was quite proud of these, and he should be.  It was a good and efficient use of resources, i.e. leftover cold spaghetti noodles, bell peppers from the garden, etc.

Tossed with some salt and pepper, dried herbs, and then rolled into the excellent little funhouse you see here.

Those are the successes.  Failures include: not using the remaining arborio, quinoa, and pinto beans.  But, it's a new week...

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Day 2-3: Erm.

Mondays, in our house, are the worstworstworst days of the week.  The two older kids go from school to cross country practice to home...and then the middle and youngest kids go to soccer.  Brent has bowling league on Monday nights, which culminates in total chaos at Chez Nelson.

Meals are quick and easy for Brent to make because I do not get home from school until around 5...with soccer practice starting at 5:30.  Yeaaaaaaaaah.

So, a quick recap:

Last night - spaghetti and salad.

Tonight was even worse, if that's possible.  Usually, Tuesdays are carefree, but I had a meeting at school and didn't get home until 6:00...and the two older kids were at an away cross country meet.

Brent let Elliot choose dinner, and Monkey Boy chose Asian Buffet.  I know, I know.  As for myself, I admit - I had a McDonalds Hamburger Happy Meal.  May I burn in hell forever.

Tomorrow, though, we are back on track.  Vietnamese Spring Rolls!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Day 1: Barley Breathing

In between costing out the two events I did for the Winery, reading my Economics homework, watching soccer games...all of it today, mind...I tackled my Inventory Clean-out Challenge.

On the chopping block today - that half-bag of pearl barley that had been hanging out since I used a bit for a Beef-Barley soup awhile back.  My plan: a Mushroom Barley Risotto, idea courtesy of Epicurious, tweaks therein courtesy of the Test Kitchen Staff here at Be Food.

Imagine my dismay, then, when I find not a half-bag of barley in my pantry...but a full bag!  Merlin's beard!  Barley like rabbits?  Wildly reproducing barley? 

No.  I had just miscalculated the amount of barley the first time around.

At any rate, after that shock and a half, I proceeded on with the recipe.  Strangely, the Epicurious recipe DOES NOT call for any wine in the risotto.  Um.  No.  Not cool.  So, that was just one change I made.  I left out the bay leaf and parsley, although I did go with fresh thyme near the end, because I happened to have it on hand.  I did add Parmesan cheese as well, there at the end, but for the future, I think I would leave it out - too darn rich and umami.  Also, I'd like to try it again with vegetable stock, just to gauge taste difference.

And what do you know?  I happened to have enough barley left to try the risotto again!

Second, I've had two cans of pumpkin puree in the corner pantry since..well, probably since it was last pumpkin season...or at least, pumpkin bar/pie/cake season.

So, next up was a pumpkin cake, along with a store-bought whipped cream cheese frosting to which I added some pumpkin pie spice.  Not too terribly original and/or crazy, I know, but I never promised y'all a rose garden.  I mean, there's going to be a little rain sometimes. 

Know what I mean?

Or did I just make some obscure kd lang song reference that you don't get?

Alas! 

Have a nice week!

The Week In Which I Try to Get Rid of Stuff

Raise your hand if you've seen the movie The Princess Bride.

For those of you who didn't raise your hand, you have two options:

a.) Stop reading and go rent/stream it right now.  Don't ask why - just do it.
b.) Beat yourself senseless with your iPod/cell phone/Kindle charging cord.

Back to you cool kids who've seen it.   Remember the creepy Count Rugen who was fascinated by torture, etc. etc?  And how calmly he tells Westley "I've just sucked one year of your life away"?  And his heebie-jeebie goatee and velvet doublet and skirt ensemble?  And his magnificently poetic death at the hands of Inigo Montoya?

Yeah, I feel like I've been hanging out with him lately...except he's sucked one week of my life away.  It has been a week since I last posted!  A week!  And I just don't know where it went.

Anyway, I came up with a challenge idea tonight for myself.  Since, I don't know, a long time now, I've kept an excel spreadsheet of inventories of my freezer, pantry, and refrigerator.  The idea was to not duplicate purchases (still happens) and use older items first (yeah, right).  In general, to always know what foodstuffs I had, etc.

Well, I gotta say.  Nothing would give me greater satisfaction this week than to rid my inventory of the following...because frankly, they've been on the spreadsheet for several months now and I'm sick of looking at them.  They include:

1. A half-bag of each: quinoa, barley, and arborio rice.

I know what you're thinking - Arborio rice?  Risotto, moron!  I know, I know...it's on my list for the week.  That's what this challenge is about.

2. Two pounds of dried pinto beans that I purchased an a Mennonite grocery store many moons ago when I was going through my "dried beans are so easy and fun to cook and so good for you" phase.

3. Two packages of rice paper. 

Spring rolls.  I know.

4. Coconut flour and almond meal.  One of my dear readers would probably suggest macarons...and I would tell him/her that I will ship the almond flour to him/her so that s/he can make them him/her damn self.  They are delicious, yes...but a hella lot of work.

There it is.  Looks like I've got my menu for the week.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A Boy and His Granola

Usually, when the kiddos ask for something, food-wise, I jump to oblige.  I dunno, I guess I feel like they're making a connection...and it's food.

I've made granola before, but not in a long while.  It's not terribly healthy (or as much as the word likes to conjure up) nor cost-effective.  But Elliot in particular has been asking/suggesting...so what's a mom to do?

I've had great luck with this Megan's Granola recipe at allrecipes.com...but necessity is the mother of invention...and Walmart is mother of my grocery shopping headache.

I could not find the oat bran nor wheat germ.  So I substituted this:

I threw a cup and a half into my food processor, pulsed it a few times until I had a coarse grind.

I left out the half-cup of sunflower seeds.

In addition to the 1/2 tablespoon of cinnamon, I also added 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg.  Because I kind of like to add nutmeg to everything.

I also added a half-cup of peanut butter into the pan to be boiled.  Like many kids, Elliot really likes peanut butter, so I thought I'd honor him with the addition.  Plus, it's some extra sticky protein...and don't we all want/need that?

But...he didn't want the dried cranberries.  Which, you know, made me cry a little, but I'm not the one eating it.

This guy is...


...and it's highly likely he'll have his shirt off, too, when he's eating it.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The 15-Minute Gazpacho Challenge

First of all, pats on the back.  I visited my local farmer's market this morning, and took advantage of pie pumpkins at $1.50 each.  I figured I'd get a jumpstart on my fall food preparations.

Today, I baked all of those pumpkins, pureed them, and froze 21 cups' worth...which will become sundry baked items sometime between now and Christmas (starting with a batch of pumpkin pancakes tomorrow, methinks).

So, yeah, kudos to me.  And kudos to you!  For whatever amazing things you might have done today as well.

I had every intention of making gazpacho this morning, and before I knew, it was nearly time to take Monkey Boy to his soccer game.  No time for gazpacho...or was there?

Enter the 15-minute Gazpacho Challenge!  All photographs taken by Kirby Nelson, 12.


Me, my hands, my knives, my Ninja.


We need to leave the house by 10:15 to be at the soccer fields by 10:30.  I have 15 minutes.


The Culinary Arts Program Director would refer to this as my "grandma cuts", but time is of the essence, and I revert back to my childhood habits.


Snafu #1: You'll no doubt notice the significant problem with the tomatoes, taken just a couple hours earlier from my freezer.  They're still frozen.  But like I'm going to let that stop me...after all, I have a freakin' Ninja.


Yeah, the knife is a blur because I'm just moving that fast!  Again, the cut is sloppy...but precision is a challenge for another time.


I'm throwing stuff into the Ninja.  Like a ninja.  All that shoddy rough chopping is moot as all the gaz vegetables come one.


What kind of pepper is this?  A really hot one, that I can't remember the name of.  It was given to me by a loyal customer.  It is being de-seeded, and I hope it won't feel emasculated and less of a pepper because of it.


Salt, natch.  Taste as you go and correct salt as needed.  Since this is a cold soup, the salt perception-taste won't change much (as opposed from a warm dish that has cooled).


A closer look at the Ninja's contents show a massive chunk of frozen tomatoes.  Should have known that would come back to haunt me.  However, I suspected it was no match for the Ninja...


Fourteen minutes later...


I have this chunky vegetably goodness.  I will say....more salt, garlic, and one less cucumber (I'd done two)...maybe even more onion.  The spiciness was spot on (two neutered jalapeƱos and one desexed red-hot pepper).

Challenge Wrap-Up: 15-Minute Gazpacho is totally possible.  Mise en place is key.  Have your tomatoes thawed (if you're using frozen, ignore if otherwise).  I think next time I'll add a bit of crusty bread for some structure and body...which might add another five minutes to the process.

But it's probably worth it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Grill Troubleshooting

Tonight's Winery Burger was one that, personally, I was very excited about.  Because A.) it was a departure from the normal beef and cheese and b.) I'd taken the original recipe and tweaked and tested it enough...it was actually MINE.

Ground chicken, grated Granny Smith, diced celery, poultry seasoning, salt and pepper and breadcrumbs...all yummed up into 1/2 lb patties.  Then, the awesomesauce relish - a cup of whole cranberries, a whole, cored Granny Smith apple, and a whole navel orange (keep the peel on).

Now, I've learned with these Wine & Burger nights I do at the Winery...always grill a tester.  For time's sake, for taste's sake, etc.  So I did that.  I oiled my grill and preheated it before I threw the burger on.

About 8 to 9 minutes per side, and voila! a nicely dressed chicken-apple burger AKA Thanksgiving on a Bun.  With the cranberry relish, and the recommended Tassel Ridge wine (2012 Brianna), I thought I'd knocked one out of the Burger Ballpark.

Until, like, the guests got there and I had to cook for real.  The oil had burnt off the grill, and the chicken meat stuck to the grate.  On top of that, my grill was a tad hot.  So, I'm trying to flip these burgers and I wind up with some sad, burnt, half-torn chicken burgers.  Fortunately, I was able to cover some of the damage with the relish.  But still.  It was a bummer night.

When I got home, I turned to the Google for some answers.  And maybe I'll conquer the grill for the next Burger weekend.

1. Use an oil with a high smoke point.  I used extra-virgin olive oil...which I thought had a high SP, but maybe that fact that it burnt off easily is an indicator of its quality.  One site I came across recommended safflower or grapeseed or peanut or soybean oil.  A different oil is definitely worth a try.

2.  Turn the grill on high a couple of hours before use....and scrub the heck out of it before I even grill anything.  Let the heat burn the food off.  I usually scrape it down after I've finished grilling, but I'm willing to try doing it before.

3. Lay aluminum foil across the grill grate, and cook the burgers on that.  This is not a bad idea....I could spray the foil with PAM or similar and not worry about the food sticking and/or falling through the grates.  This seems like the Last Resort option, and it would have been easy for me to do once I started having stickin' chicken issues.

I'm pretty sure it wasn't the chicken, it wasn't the grill...it was definitely the user.  I hope to remedy that.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sweet! Potato Leaves!

See how important punctuation is?  Suppose I'd done the blog entry title the way I should have...

Sweet Potato Leaves!

Quite a difference.  Though, of course, not as much as "Let's eat Grandma" versus "Let's eat, Grandma."

Or my favorite.

"Woman, without her, man is nothing." versus "Woman without her man, is nothing."

Anyway.  Focus.

A few weeks ago, while I was on a break from school, the fam and I traveled to Kansas City for a little two-day getaway.  While there, Brent took us to the City Market in downtown KC, and there were numerous stalls that sold all kinds of crazy things...but one item I kept seeing over and over again were sweet potato leaves.  For sale.  For eating.  Weird, right?

As it turns out, no.  Not to African and Asian people, anyway.  And after checking out sweet potato leaf nutritional data at nutritiondata.self.com, it shouldn't be weird to us either.  We should be getting in on that action, but unfortunately, sweet potato leaves aren't exactly speeding off the shelves at the local grocery store (probably because they aren't even available).

Until today, when Brent decided to "harvest" some of our sweet potato crop....

Naturally, you'll see here (as Brent did during the harvest...that these sweet potatoes are nowhere near a desirable size for consumption.

And while these poor tubers sat in their plastic containers, all naked and such, I remembered that I'd seen them at the market in Kansas City.  Which led me to the Google and a food blog at Epicurious, which included methods of cooking, including braising and steaming or any other method in which you'd cook similar greens like kale or spinach.

Indeed.

And that's how I turned the top picture into the bottom picture.

The potatoes were crisper drawer hangouts as was the red onion.  The zucchini was a produce gift from a loyal customer.  I added the spice and olive oil to steep in a skillet while I parboiled the potatoes (about 15ish minutes).

Then, getting the skillet hot, I added the onions and let them cook for about five minutes before adding the cooked potatoes and zucchini.  I threw in the sweet potato leaves in at the very end. 
 
And yep, as shown in the hodge-podge photo here, the leaves cooked down like spinach or kale or chard.  But...without the slight bitterness or strong flavors that accompany those vegetables.

I mean, honestly, can you even see the leaves?  Look closely, down near the bottom of the bowl and maybe even around the spoon in the bottom right corner.  It doesn't matter...the nutritional, leafy goodness is still right there.  And I feel pretty damn good at knowing I'm not wasting any of the plant.  Makes me feel a little like I'm on the Oregon Trail.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Winds of Change

A short post tonight before I sleep, dear readers.

So you know the way the wind is blowing these days, here are the two books I'm reading at present:

Found here at amazon.com.

And this one's found here.

Yep.  This is what I want to know more about these days.  Winds of change.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

That Lonely Can of Crushed Pineapple

According to the stat-check here at Blogger, I had more Canadian readers in the last 24 hours than American ones.

So, to my northerly neighbors, thanks and good day, eh?!

(I admit to being terribly ignorant in the ways of Canadian culture.  I've been shaped by Bob & Doug McKenzie and a guy I went to college who would tell us he was "going to get his salad cut," i.e. the barber.)

And now, onto the real content of today's blog post.  This past weekend was Labor Day here in America....a holiday that celebrates people working.  And many Americans usually celebrate this holiday by...not working.  This usually just applies to government workers (schools, banks, courthouses, post offices, etc.) and some benevolent corporations and small businesses; however, most employees of service-related industries (foodservice, retail, etc.) ARE working (ironically) to serve those workers who have the day off.

Then, there are people like me.  I happened to have the day (most of the weekend, actually) off, but I still chose to work.  Work for me, when not serving and feeding other people, is testing recipes for my real place of employment.

This weekend, I was looking to get rid of a dusty 8 oz. can of crushed pineapple that had been idle in my lazy-Susan for (probably) the last six months. 

Well, idle no more!


This is what I call my Sweet & Spicy Pineapple Chicken.  And it went very well with a half-drank bottle of Tassel Ridge Iowa Edelweiss I happened to have come into possession of (Edelweiss: a popular, versatile Midwestern white grape, used to produce mostly Riesling-esque wines).

Follow me as I take you through its evolution:

Photos by Kirby Nelson, age 12

After trimming up six chicken breasts, I sliced a 2" deep pocket in each one (at about a 25 degree angle, maybe?...I'm no mathematician).  Then, I drained the pineapple, tossed it together with some cilantro before spooning it into each pocket.  Mind the overstuff - you want to be able to press the seam closed.

The next time I do this I will leave the cilantro out, because a.) the herb cooks down to an unappealing brownish color and b.) the flavor of the herb dominates the fruit, and I want the pineapple to shine.  I would not be adverse, though, to adding another fruit to the stuffing...say, papaya, mango, mandarin oranges, or even apple, would be super-yummy.


This is the spice mix that I crafted into a wet rub.  I'll include the recipe for it below.


I'm wearing gloves here because the rub's got some cayenne in it, and if I've got any kind of minor cuts or abrasions on my hands, it's gonna hurt.  I pressed the seams back together, and baked the breasts in my 350° oven for 30 minutes.  And they were good and spicy...but like I said, though, the cilantro dominated the sweet (which is why I'll eighty-six it next time).

I like to use ingredients in different ways (different to me, anyway), and instead of using this pineapple in a cake or dessert topping, I paired it with something savory and kicky.  

Now from my pantry, a dusty half-full box of Zante currants cries out for the same treatment.

Sweet & Spicy Pineapple Chicken
6 boneless, skinless, trimmed chicken breasts
16 oz. can of crushed pineapple, drained
2 Tbsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. allspice
1 ½ cayenne pepper
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 350°F.  With a sharp knife (boning works best), slice, at an angle, a 1 ½” pocket in each breast.  Be careful not to slice through the meat entirely.

Spoon a tablespoon or two of the crushed pineapple into each pocket and press the seam closed.

Mix the last six ingredients into a paste and rub it over the stuffed breasts.  Bake for 25-30 minutes.  Internal temperature should reach 165° F.

Monday, September 2, 2013

September = Apples

Remember those picture-calendars from our elementary school days?  Above the name of the month would be some kind of icon that represented that month, i.e. a Christmas tree for December (although now it might be referred to as a holiday tree), a heart for February, a shamrock for March, etc.

For September, there was always a big apple, right?  To symbolize the beginning of the new school year.

That's the context of today's post.  To me, September will forever be associated with apples. 

Yesterday, for breakfast, I took a perfectly good box of dry, premade pancake mix and added:

2 packets of long-neglected apple cider mix
1 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
Number of eggs called for on the box
Amount of milk called for on the box

In this house, one does not make just a batch of pancake batter...one doubles it and freezes any leftover flapjacks for later in the week.  Thus, the amounts listed above reflect a doubling.

Served hot off the griddle with some yummy, GMO-free, organic apple butter gifted to us by friends.

The entire breakfast made me happy.  But, like with most recipes, the final product is three seconds off the grill/griddle/oven/stovetop/etc. when I start thinking about modifications.

So...for next time (hopefully not next September), I will add some grated fresh apple and substitute some apple cider for the milk.