Food Memory: Sparkling Apple Cider

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My family are not big partiers, and they don’t need a lot to keep them entertained. I have great memories of how we all often stayed up till midnight when growing up to watch music and fireworks and the Times Square ball drop on the television. Since my parents don’t drink, we would pour sparkling apple cider into fancy cups and cheers each other about each new year. These memories, simple and comfortable and without any need to impress anyone, created the level of love that I have for the holiday of new beginnings – there’s something undeniably hopeful about New Year’s Eve, when we are trying to be better than we were the past year, even if we hate resolutions. It’s worth a sparkly drink to mark the occasion.

47. Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler

A comforting repost from summer. 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been wanting to try a recipe for strawberry cobbler given to me in a comment by the author of Pigtails and Mudpies, and I also saw that someone on the GoSun page made fruit crisp in her GoSun, so yesterday I put together a pretty wonderful concoction. Pigtails and Mudpies says she likes picking her own strawberries to make this cobbler, so I am pretty happy with the combination of garden and farmer’s market that went into it:

All the strawberries I’ve been collecting and freezing from our plants (about 25 in total! Not bad for leftover plants from the former owners of our house.)

4 of the stalks of rhubarb that I bought at the farmer’s market yesterday morning.

A mixture of flour, milk, and sugar (1/2 cup of each) and lots of butter-flavored veggie oil spray to keep the cooking tray slick. Finish with cinnamon!

Unfortunately, a sunny day turned stormy by the time I was putting the GoSun out, so after an hour and a half, the hot but not cooked tube was removed in favor of cooking in a conventional oven. Note to self: aim for sunny day cooking.

It came out delicious! Both fruits are tart, so they were well supplemented by the sugary dough, but the juices from each fruit gave the whole thing a soft, pudding-ish texture; not the crisp I expected but still wonderfully flavorful. Thanks to Pigtails and Mudpies for the tip about cobbler and I will try it again in the GoSun on a sunny day!

Being the Backstage Cook

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I think too many of us envision cooking as the cooking-show version: a row of delicate ramekins full of pre-measured, pre-seasoned, pre-cut foods ready to be poured artfully into a mixer or a pan. A quick statement of what you needed to do (chop, dice, mince, filet) is all you need.

These days, there are even faster cooking shows, where you don’t even see the cook but instead see a fast-forward version of the person cooking and adding everything, one thing per second. The final product shows up after less than 60 seconds, perfect and picturesque.

I think one of the things that keeps us from cooking more is that we only think of these as the way that cooking looks; real cooking is mostly chopping. I know that I am more likely to cave on the Whole30 month if I don’t pre-cut and pre-wash a lot of my veggies, but I don’t kid myself: I’ve signed up for a month of Sunday afternoons where I’ll be preparing food, making it so that my weekday schedule can fit healthy choices in. It’s a bit of an experiment too – Whole30 is so restrictive that eating in restaurants is difficult, so we’re aiming to not eat any restaurant food the whole month. Instead, some of the money that normally goes toward restaurant eating (because we love it) will be channelled into better, purer ingredients. Not because I’m always going to go organic or go grass-fed or go free-range – I’m just interested to see if I see a difference.

The other day, I prepped potatoes and sweet potatoes to have for meals later on that day and week. It was nice, because I didn’t really notice it. Like food channel cooks, I was able to pull out the things I needed, heat oil in a pan, and make my meal without taking the time to cut up veggies. I’m usually hungry by the time I walk in from work, so it’s a nice thing that I’m able to prep ahead and do a little cooking-show magic, but it’s not without the background cook, the person who makes all those lovely cuts – that person is me, just me on the weekend.

46. Summer Squash with onions and tomatoes

(a repost from the delightful days of summer. sigh.)

 

So, the GoSun, that magical looking tube with the shiny sides, makes food. I have proof now.

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To ease into all the hubbub, I cut up a yellow squash, green onions, and cherry tomatoes, enough to fill the long tube but not over fill it. I spritzed it with veggie oil spray and put a generous shaking of italian seasoning on it, and in the tube it went!

I’m quite pleased with the result, which was more like steamed than roasted after a little over an hour in medium sunshine. Next time, I will angle the dish toward the sun better, as well as add a bit more on the salt-and-pepper side of spices, but overall, a rousing success.

In other news, my friend N is thinking of holding a meatball competition, to have us all make and try different kinds of meatballs (meatless and meat-ful)… any favorite meatball recipes? I have one from a previous commenter but more are always welcome, the weirder the better!

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45. G’s Sourdough Bread

I know, I’ve made seventy gajillion kinds of bread lately. Call it a brief infatuation with the ol’ stand mixer… and a long-standing love affair with bread.

Recently, a student where I work gave me some sourdough starter that he and his mother have had since they lived in California years ago. He told me how to use it, how to keep it happy or let it go dormant in the fridge, and I was incredibly excited to try it out. I had a recipe from a blogger (thanks, Roast Smoke and Malt!) and a container of back-up store-bought yeast just in case, and I had a looooooong summer day to let it all rise and get perfectly puffy.

For the most part, I’d say it worked! I put a little bit of butter on top that I expected would melt in and become indistinguishable but instead it made for that weird discoloration, so maybe don’t do that, but the bread itself was wonderful – I ended up using back up yeast and adding enough flour to get me back to the same consistency after I added the activated yeast-in-water, but I still gave it an insane few hours of rising, probably close to 6 all told, and the final product had that sour tang to it that makes sourdough distinctive. I want to give it a chance to rise overnight next time, but for a first attempt, this certainly isn’t bad.

Dough hooks are your friend with this bread, as with so many – I would love to hear if people have a great success with handmade, not mixer-made, doughs, but I feel like having the mixer is my game changer.

Sourdough is such a cool food because it’s a bit like also having a pet (a pet you kill in the oven… perhaps not the best analogy after all) because you have to keep the starter alive, feed it, put it in the fridge to go dormant, etc. I like that I met G, who I hadn’t run into at work until that day, and got to share his life story by taking some of this starter. I hope to someday figure out a preferred recipe and grow the starter enough to give it to others myself!

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The second loaf, which rose beautifully.

44. Potluck Tomato Zucchini Dip

This recipe didn’t come from anything, though it did go to a potluck, and it was part of my ongoing efforts to clean out my cupboards. Unfortunately, these sorts of things don’t always go perfectly… So a girl has to improvise.

I expected I was making something like these, a zucchini dish that would be more like a side or a hot veggie dish. I started with a big can of diced tomatoes with oregano, garlic, and basil in them, two large zucchini, and half a small log of garlic herb goat cheese. I imagined pinterest-worthy food. What I got was surely delicious but not fancy… which I guess is what to aim for!

I roasted the zucchini and didn’t count on how small it would be after that! Mixed with the cheese and the cooked tomato, it looked like a cheesy dip but not at all like a fresh, zesty hot side. I think I needed more veggie volume to make that work. Still! When I put it onto a cracked-pepper triscuit, I realized it still had great potential as a party dip.

At N’s house, I foregrounded that I might have made a disaster food, but people liked it! So… this might not be the thing to aim for when you are trying to make a fancy dish, but if you just want something delicious and veggie-ful, try it out!

Zucchini Tomato Surprise Dip

 

  1. Cook 1 can of herbed diced tomatoes in a pan on the stove top; add a little olive oil if you want.
  2. Slice and roast zucchini, at least two large ones. (If I did this again, I’d also cut them into quarters and make every slice at least 1/2 an inch thick. Grease that pan!)
  3. When tomatoes begin to thicken, add cream cheese or herbed goat cheese. When zucchini have roasted for 30 minutes, mix all ingredients together and serve on crackers or pita chips.

Food Memory: Queso for Breakfast in Texas

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I sometimes think about the composite parts of things we think are appropriate for breakfast – starches in toast, cheese in omelettes, sugar in muffins. For some reason, cupcakes aren’t breakfast and pizza isn’t breakfast, but their parts reconstituted make some timeless breakfast foods. Such was my thought process when, at a brunch place in Texas, I was told I could have tortilla chips and spicy queso for breakfast. I dove right in – queso is one of my favorite foods, if it counts as a food and not a condiment. The crunch of chips, creaminess of the cheese, and spicy kick of the melted-in peppers makes for my favorite combination. For something this delicious, I’ll buck tradition any day, and if the Texans say I can… more’s the better!

43. Childhood “Loaded”Mashed Potatoes

As a kid, I was fascinated by state-changed foods. I thought that pancake batter puffing into soft, thick cakes was magical; liquid to solid was pretty common. More strange still was solid to liquid, when my mother and I would make mashed potatoes. I couldn’t imagine how those hard, brown lumps turned into the fluffy cloud-like mashed potatoes I loved.

When I was 10 or 11, my parents instituted a rule when I had to cook a meal every week during the summer – it was both to teach me, keep me busy, and help my mom a little. One of my first variations on my mom’s normal recipes was my idea for “loaded” mashed potatoes: namely, normal mashed potatoes full of onions, bacon, and cheese. I clearly have been a girl who loves rich food for a long time.

So, Husband and I were making salmon with potatoes as a side the other evening, when I realized I wanted mashed potatoes – salmon with a little mashed potato on the side was just EVERYTHING for a moment there. So, I boiled a bunch of sliced fingerling potatoes, fried bacon with shallots, and poured it all into my newly-acquired stand mixer. At first I was worried that leaving skins on the potatoes was going to ruin the look, but when I threw a bit of cheddar and a pat of butter in with them, the potatoes whipped up wonderfully. They were thick and had chunks in them, which isn’t nearly like the bright white potato-flake mashed potatoes of my thanksgiving memories, but they felt hearty and flavorful anyway.

It’s this kind of memories that are coming back when I cook more – sure, I love me a pile of take-out chinese food (hello crab rangoons) but it doesn’t hold as many home memories as getting in the kitchen and putting something together. My family only ate out as a treat when I was growing up, probably for money reasons, and while my young adulthood has been filled with eating in restaurants, I am really reconnecting to the way time in the kitchen calms me, employs the problem-solving parts of my brain, and saves me money.

No formal recipe for loaded mashed potatoes; I just recommend boiling the cut potatoes at least 20 minutes, and add proportions of “baked potato ingredients” to your mixer as you feel led.

What recipe have you re-discovered lately? Do you remember specific kitchen moments when you encounter a familiar ingredient or craving? Feel free to comment and tell me about it. 🙂

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So important to boil them long enough… then you get to go wild.

Book Review: Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist

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Do you ever read something, and have it remind you of a good meal? I stumbled upon Shauna Niequist’s Bread and Wine, and it has me thinking of macaroni and cheese. Sure, there are two foods in the title, but macaroni is thick and creamy, worth lingering over. Her work is by turns sad and sweet, by turns rich and stark.

Niequist is a religious writer, but she makes it a part of her life, not the goal of the book. She seems more interested in showing how food and life have come together for her than in forwarding a particular experience of spirituality, which I find really refreshing and lovely. It also opens me up to all the lovely parts of her religious experience: she’s gotten to marry friends of hers, and share food while discussing the Bible, and pray over those she loves. I don’t know much about her specific beliefs, but I do love that I learn about the foods and the travels and the friends that matter so much to her.

She has some serious thoughts about hospitality, which seem relevant as I’m embarking on my badly-defined quest to know how hospitality fits into modern life. She sees her home as a place that hosts others: even when she and her husband disagree on how warm to keep the place, even when things are awkward or unplanned or not what anyone expected. There’s something so authentic about the way she discusses both her own need to make a lot of experiences good for her guests and her own longing to release some of her unnecessary worries.

I’d recommend it as a winter time read; it has made me feel comforted and warm while I sit in a cold house and nurse a frigid cup of old coffee. It makes me think about how it’s worth it to make a new pot of hot water, to enjoy each bite of a piece of toast, and to write about the way people have made my life so rich and lovely. It’s a good way to feel about a book.

42. Kristin’s Zucchini Bread

27This recipe, like the Avocado Bread from Khadija, was one I found while trying to clean out my cupboards. You know how after a while you have amassed the odds and ends of many different recipes and you have ingredients you didn’t even remember you bought? This summer I’m hoping to get rid of those odds and ends via recipes from blogs I respect, like this one: http://www.yellowblissroad.com/zucchini-bread-recipe/ Yellow Bliss Road is a great example of someone who has turned her passion into a full time job, but who also just produces a really great product.

I found grating zucchini (one of the two ingredients I was trying to finish up; also had a lonely almost-empty bag of flour) very soothing, but I ran into a problem: no eggs in the house! After a quick google search for egg substitutes, I thought I would throw in some applesauce… no go for that either. For a girl who claims to be clearing out the cupboards, I seem to be doing an awful lot of running out of things!

What I did have, however, were two sad neglected apples. I cut them into pieces and grated them straight into my pile of zucchini shavings, added all the other ingredients, and hoped for the best. The result? DELICIOUS. Like, maybe my new favorite sweet bread. It’s moist in the middle but has some integrity to it, and caramelized-crunchy on the exterior… I was totally pleased. Probably even better with eggs, like Kristin intended, but I’m quite pleased. When life gives you no eggs or applesauce, you can still turn old zucchini and apples into the perfect breakfast treat.