Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Kicking it into LOOOOOW gear.

I have times where I can really kick it into high gear and get an massive amount of stuff done in an amazing amount of time on surprisingly little sleep. It hasn't been that kind of a month. I won't go into the details of all the ailments and hitches-in-get-alongs, but it has been a weird month. We did manage to eat food. Fortunately and unfortunately, my kids food allergies don't allow many easy pre-packaged things or take-out, but I did buy bread and a box load of "bunny" cereal to get us through.

We managed a 7-year-old birthday party in there somehow, too. Now I have been known to get a bit...um...excited about birthday parties in the past. I love them. I love themes. The more I do, the more inspired I get and the more ideas I try to implement. I enjoy it, really I do, but by the end I am really tired. So, with that in mind and all the other things going on, we decided to keep it simple. The middle one turned 7 and wanted a jungle party. Our family made the decorations together. We used a total of 9 brown paper bags, 5 pieces of green tag board for these vines and leaves and 7 sheets of tissue paper for these leaf garlands and in an hour, the place looked great. We put up a 4x6 sheet of paper on the wall with the beginnings of a jungle background and cut out jungle animals for the kids to color and add to make a mural.

Then they went outside to blow bubbles and play freeze tag before coming in for lion sandwiches and cake. The other fun thing about this party was the gift that the big one and I made for her. We made her and her doll matching skirts out of 3 old T-shirts. We were all pleased with the results!

I am probably too late for the Menu Plan Monday but, nevertheless, here is the menu for the week:

  • Sunday: Rick Bayless' Savory Golden Country Ribs, salad, guacamole, mexican rice, beans
  • Monday: Chili, polenta and roasted cauliflower
  • Tuesday: Black bean soup, fried leftover polenta
  • Wednesday: Baked sweet ribs, rice and asian slaw
  • Thursday: Baked potato with toppings (strained goat yogurt, bacon bits, chili, etc...)
  • Friday: Pizza with steak, grilled onions and feta, sauteed chard, carrots and pepper strips
  • Saturday: Tuna melts, potato dumplings, salad
I made these vegan brownies for treats to have on hand. I substituted spelt flour and rice milk and omitted the nuts. They fast and easy to put together but taste more like a rich chocolate cake. I am not hearing any complaints. I, also, found this new cookbook at the library. I thought it seemed really similar to the Home Baking book I mentioned here and then was pleasantly surprised when I saw they were from the same author. I made the Blueberry Bannock recipe from it already and it was fatastic!! It mixes flour, salt, baking powder then adds water and frozen blueberries, puts it in a greased cast iron skillet and bake for 25 mn. The total prep time is under 5mn and it tastes like a cross between biscuits and blueberry muffins. We had it for breakfast with yogurt. Now it is time to tackle some laundry and ease back into normal for a bit before the big one turns 9. She wants an "arts and crafts" party.

Monday, March 15, 2010

When in doubt, put it in a pie crust

After the little one was sick for a week followed by the bigger ones sick for a week followed by the little one and me sick for a week, we have not been eating so well. All I can say is thank goodness for ground beef and potatoes! It is so easy, even a dad can do good things with it! Yesterday, even though I still had no voice, I had energy and man did I cook! We have granola, we have individual apple pies, we have knishes, we have empanadas, we have a huge pot of beans, we have oatmeal raisin freezer scones, and we have chicken and stock. I cooked so much that I quite successfully avoided doing any laundry! Anyway, here is how we will use it this week:

  • Sunday - Empanadas (potato, tomato and beef for the kids, greens and olive for the adults) feta yogurt sauce, salad
  • Monday - bean tacos, mexi-rice, coleslaw
  • Tuesday - mashed potatoes with chicken gravy, steamed broccoli
  • Wednesday - taco salad, beans, corn muffins
  • Thursday - potato gratin with whatever bits of chicken might be left over
  • Friday - steaks, potato dumplings, salad
  • Saturday - pizza and apple pie

So, I found another great book at the library: The Frugal Foodie by Lara Starr. That is where the freezer scone recipe came from. Make the scones and freeze them. In the morning, pop as many as you need into the oven for about 10-15mn and they are ready to eat. Pure genius, I say! Now, one could do this with any scone or even muffin recipe, I guess, but hers is particularly easy and the kids LOVE them. She has a lot of great ideas for meals and saving money and one day, I imagine, I will return it to the library.

Now, about that pie crust. I am totally digging the hand held pie! It is perfect for lunches for the kids. I use spelt flour and Spectrum organic shortening (with a bit of bacon fat for flavor) for the butter and I am hard pressed for anything that doesn't taste good in THAT! We have had ground beef with olives and raisins, samosa potato and pea filling, apple pie filling, goat cheese and cherry jam fillings, chicken gravy with broccoli bits filling, bacon and potato filling and sheep's feta and spinach filling. Seriously, the possibilities are limitless! And now that I have a food processor, the crust is so easy to make. I made several batches of it yesterday. I used two last night and still have one batch chilling in the fridge, ready to go. Since I have a lot of squash to use, I am thinking about pureed squash, caramelized onion and goat cheese filling or steak, onions and feta. Now to be able to eat this much pie crust on a regular basis and still feel good about it, I only use about half of the recommended amount of fat. Most recipes seem to call for about a cup and a half of butter, shortening or lard and I am using 2/3 to 1 cup. I don't notice the loss in flavor or texture. The other thing I do is make a knish crust, which uses olive oil instead of the other fats. It is a bit labor intensive at the start, although, each step can be done in advance and tackled when one has time. I like meals that can either a) go from the freezer to the table in about 30mn or b) have the bulk of the work done well before meal time. Chopping and concentrating on pots or following recipes at 4:45pm generally does not jive well in our house. My next step is to experiment with freezing these individual pies and how long to bake them and at what temperature. Well, I guess it is time to tackle that laundry...

This link is posted to I'm an Organizing Junkie.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happy Pi Day

French Almond and Apricot Pie, with apricots grown and canned by my sister!  I don't know what happened to the crust (which has rum in it and is usually foolproof).  Maybe it's that it really should have been baked in a tart pan.  Oh well.  We're going to go cut into it now - I'll report back...

...Oh my, it is absolutely delicious!  It may be the best pie I've ever had - I'm serious.  Here's how I made it:

I always use the Cook's Illustrated Foolproof Pie Crust recipe, except I use rum.  It started one day when I didn't have any vodka, so I subbed rum and hoped for the best.  The results were so yummy.  The rum added an elusive and delicious flavor to the crust, but not so overtly that anyone could identify it.

I found the pie recipe here.  I didn't use coconut, and added extra ground almonds.  180 C is about 350 F.  I think that might be why the crust slumped - usually pie recipes are cooked at a higher temperature, at least for a while, to set the crust.  I did end up cooking it longer than specified - I think it was closer to 55 minutes.

I entered this pie in the Pi Day Bake-Off sponsored by Serious Eats and ScienceBlogs.  You can see all the pies here.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

I am obsessed with peasant food

I used to not cook. Then I started just winging it. That didn't ever end well. So, I started following the recipes. Once I learned how to cook, what the rules were and why, then I could break them and still have some measure of success. My ingredients became more and more diverse and complex. If I came across a recipe with only a few ingredients, I passed it over. I really thought the longer the ingredient list, the better the dish. Then came creativity within confines. I loved it. I started cooking vegetarian, then vegan, then raw and living foods. I learned a lot from making very many mistakes but it was fun (although my husband would argue otherwise.) Once we had children, the confines became time, energy and food allergies. And now, with all the new information we have about eating organic, locally, and seasonally, those become my new restrictions. So now I have come full circle. I am obsessed with peasant food: cooking something delicious, nutritious, and with only a few well-chosen ingredients.
It really started with this book and then I found this a couple years ago. I couldn't stop looking at what all these people eat, especially the families with only a few ingredients and usually a large group of people. I saw who was eating what and how much it cost to feed how many people. I decided that I wanted to cook and eat closer to the peasant extreme than what the folks of the more developed countries were eating. It looked healthier, simpler and more delicious-er! Well...those were pretty big assumptions.
I started with beans and rice. I moved on to meats and their broths, and then potatoes and corn. I found some of these assumptions to be accurate: healthful, delicious food--with proper technique and practice, for certain. But is it simple--only by ingredient count. Cooking this way takes a lot of time. A lot. I can't just whip out some dried beans and a chuck roast and have it ready in 30mn. or even an hour. Although, once the components are made, very simple meals can be put together thereafter.
There is an expert on American peasant food, too. It is Clara. She has a YouTube series on depression cooking. I, of course, have watched them all many times...obsessively. She talks the whole time, too. There are two things that has said that I think of often: 1) We didn't have the conveniences you have now. (She was talking about a cutting board. Wow.) and 2) my mother was always in the kitchen. One episode is posted below, but there are many.

My other favorite "peasant" food cookbooks are:
  • Safari Kitchen by Harva Hachten
  • More with Less by Doris Janzen Longacre
  • Home Baking by Naomi Duguid
The last one, I recently borrowed from Erica. It made me realize something. I not only like the lifestyle and food of this kind of cooking, but the aesthetic. I love the aprons, the head scarfs, the mismatched floral print skirts and shirts. I LOVE it. I want to do it. Oh, and the village fire burning stoves they use. I found this and am hoping I can talk R into it this summer!!!