Saturday, February 28, 2009

A changing of the seasons

I live in a state where if you don't like the weather, you just wait a few hours and it will change.

This past week we've had beautiful days with the sky painted a magnificent blue and the glorious sun is shining to remind us that God has not left us in the dead of winter forever. But alas, mid week the weather changed again and we had 4 inches of new snow thrust upon us. It was quickly followed by bone chilling cold and wind.

So, the day after I grilled outside on my deck, I grabbed a shovel and cleared off the walk way. After all that shoveling I was really cold. It was soup makin' time!

This soup is very simple, but very hearty. It is my take on a homemade chicken soup. Best served with the end piece from a loaf of crusty bread.

Cold Day Chicken Soup

1 cornish game hen, cut up
2 large carrots, diced
3-4 baby red potatoes, quarted
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 tsp minced garlic
1 large onion, chopped
1 heaping cup corn
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp Italian seasoning
Chicken or Ham soup base


Remove skin from larger pieces, like breast. Brown in a stock pot. Remove from pot once golden.

To the drippings add garlic, onion and celery. Sauté until slightly soft.

Return chicken to pot. Add water to cover. Add seasonings. Start with 2 tsp of soup base. Cook for about 1 hour.

Add chunked, peeled potatoes, carrots, and corn to pot. Taste the stock to see if more soup base is needed.

Simmer until chicken falls off the bones and potatoes are fork tender(about 1/2 hour). Remove chicken pieces and lightly shred. Return meat to soup and warm through.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Lazy Day Dinner

I work in a very stressful environment, and I work a lot. By the time supper rolls around, it takes all I have not to just pop a frozen disk of dough and sauce in the oven and call it a night.

I got the idea for this chicken dish from a cookbook that specializes in weeknight meals for busy cooks. It's quick and easy, but very satisfying.

Easy Skillet Chicken

10 oz boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 can sliced stewed tomatoes
1 can navy beans, drained and rinsed
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
Fresh ground black pepper
Shredded Parmesan cheese
Hot cooked angel hair pasta or jasmine rice

Dice the chicken into bite sized pieces. Brown in a skillet that has been sprayed with cooking spray. Once chicken has just a hint of pink left in the center, (about 3-4 minutes over medium high heat) add tomatoes, beans, garlic, and seasonings. Gently break apart the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Simmer, uncovered 7-10 minutes. Serve over pasta or rice. Garnish with a little Parmesan cheese.

* Note* If you like wine flavors, you may want to add a scant 1/4 cup of dry white wine to the pan when you add in the tomatoes. Be sure you like the wine you add in as the flavor becomes concentrated as it cooks down. No cooking wine please! It's just unnecessary salt and very little flavor.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Turkey and white bean chili

I love chili. Its very versatile and freezes well. I have several chili recipes that range from very basic (4 or less ingredients) and those which are more complex (10 or more ingredients). This is one that I go to quite often as it falls somewhere in the middle. This recipe doesn't feel as heavy becuase it doesn't have a tomato base. Quick and easy it makes a great weeknight meal.

White Bean Chili

2 cans mixed navy and pinto beans drained and rinsed
16 oz cooked ground turkey
1 small onion, chopped
2 oz canned green chilies
3-4 tsp chili powder
2 cups chicken stock
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp cumin
½ tsp Italian seasoning
1 med. tomato, chopped
Franks hot sauce to taste

Directions: Add all to a medium size pot. Simmer on medium-low for 45 minutes. Or put all ingredients into a crock pot. Simmer on high 4 hours. Serve with shredded pepper jack cheese and tortilla chips. Baked whole wheat pita chips are also a great dipper.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

But that's not all folks! There's MORE

I remember the day I opened what I perceived to be the best gift in entire universe. I was in the fifth grade. It was the winter of 1995.

Insert wavy lines and submerge yourself in a flashback, wait for it, wait for it... NOW.

It's 6:30 in the am. I have quietly (about as quietly as a claustrophobic bull in a china shop the size of an elevator) slunk down the stairs to the recreation room. The glow of the TV illuminates the room to reveal dark wood paneling, fire engine red shag style carpeting, and to complete the look- a pea green couch with a satin sheen. I am the awkward preteen girl in the over sized "DARE" shirt with my bare legs tucked under me Indian style. I try to make myself one with the couch as I wedge myself in for a morning of channel surfing before my older brother awakens from his slumber to take control of the much coveted remote control.

It all began innocently enough. I was surfing the channels with more freedom than I had ever known. Then I heard it. Those words that sealed my fate, "But that's not all folks! There's MORE" That's all it took. I was officially sucked into the the infomercial. I watched and like the little sponge I am, I soaked it all in.

When the commercial was over, I ran upstairs to share my newly acquired knowledge of all things culinary with my mom. I stood in front of the coffee pot where my mom groggily reached around me for the carafe and I proudly announced I knew what I wanted for Christmas this year. I wanted the Ronco Dehydrator. I am fairly certain she put the pot back, pulled her green bathrobe a little tighter, and tried to stifle the laughs that were swelling up inside her. She simply told me to put it on my list and perhaps Santa would bring me (add a small giggle here) a dehydrator.

Well, I waited. And waited some more. On Christmas morning after all the "torture" was over we would open gifts. The torture involved my mom and dad getting coffee, eating breakfast, reading the Christmas story from the Bible, and my dad doing the jumble in the newspaper. A chain of events that most likely took no longer than 25 minutes from start to finish.

There it was, tucked in the very back of the tree. A box that was just about the right size and shape. I tore into it as fast I could. (Cue the heavenly choir) There, in all its glory, was a Snackmaster Jr. Dehydrator. I was the happiest girl in the entire universe.

I think my mom to this day still giggles when she looks back on my choice for the "best Christmas gift ever!" Of course the year I got a sewing machine does rank up there pretty high... and the year I got my very own traditional lefsa making supplies.... or the year I got the "Cheese Bible"... OR the year.....

Well, let's just say it is one of the most memorable gifts I have ever received.

One of the first things I made was homemade steak jerky. This is my base marinade I use often when making a batch. I say base because I like to play with it and make variations depending on what type of meat I am using.

Becca's Jerky Marinade Base

1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/3 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup liquid smoke
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 TBS hickory salt
2 TBS dark brown sugar
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp onion powder
3 TBS ketchup
1/2 TBS franks hot sauce

Mix together in a large resealable bag. Allow your choice of sliced meat to marinade at least 4 hours, preferably over night.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Chocolate Seduction

"Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly"-- MFK Fisher

I take this quote to heart when it comes to my Double Chocolate Banana Bread. If you have not read my Dad's response to my blog "Sweet Indulgence," you haven't read about not melting butter. If you chose to soften your butter in the microwave, DO NOT MELT the butter. The texture and consistency of the bread won't be correct.

When I make this bread I use the orange Pyrex bowl and sturdy wooden spoon that were handed down to me from my Dad. And so the tradition of baking day continues on.

Double Chocolate Banana Bread

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 and 1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup baking cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup sour cream
4 oz white or chocolate almond bark, cut into small chunks

In a large glass bowl cream the butter, sugar and vanilla together.
Beat in eggs, salt, baking soda.
Add the bananas and sour cream.
Finally add your flour, cocoa, and chocolate chunks.

Spray a large loaf pan with cooking spray. Add batter.

In a preheated oven, bake at 350 for 1 hour, or until a toothpick that has been inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Holy Crepes, Batman!

My mom used to make the most delightful crepes. Unlike traditional crepes that are served with sweetened cream or fruit compote, they were brilliant green with a creamy, savory filling. When I need something a little different from the everyday meal I throw together these paper thin pancakes.

Spinach Crepes

2 large eggs
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1 cup flour
3 TBS melted butter
¼ tsp salt
1/3 cup spinach puree

For the filling:
8oz cottage cheese, drained
1/4 cup Parmesan
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup mozzarella
1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 tsp black pepper

Directions: In a blender, combine all of the batter ingredients and pulse for 10 seconds. Place the crepe batter in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Simmer together 1 can undrained diced tomatoes, 1 tsp Italian seasoning, ¼ tsp basil, 1-2 garlic cloves, 2 TBS finely chopped onion until slightly thickened.

Preheat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pour a small amount of batter the pan, rolling batter around the pan to make even and as thin as possible. After about a minute or two, carefully flip. Lay flat to cool.

Mix together filling ingredients. Spoon into cooled crepes. Place into a greased cake pan seam side down. Top with tomatoes. Bake in a preheated oven for 20 minutes at 375 degrees.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sweet Indulgence

I have a great appreciation for tradition. I still use my Dad's electric hand blender when baking birthday cakes. They just don't smell like "Birthday Cake Batter!" if I use my stand mixer. When I make lefsa, a tasty Norwegian treat that satisfies my very soul, I use the pea green colored potato ricer passed down to me from who knows what year. Yes, it's a pain to clean up, but its part of the tradition of making the foods of my family history.

The same holds true when I make cookies. I have a set of 3 Pyrex glass bowls from the 1970's. They were my Dad's. When I came home from school and saw the biggest of the set sitting on the counter I knew it was baking day. The burnt orange glaze on the bowl glistened in the sun as the butter inside warmed up to room temperature. And next to the bowl sat a sturdy wooden spoon. I knew the house would soon be filled with wonderful aromas that would linger for the rest of the night. These sights and smells are what keeps me coming back to the basics.

This recipe is one of my favorites. It's a classic cookie that reminds me, very lovingly of my Grandma. She shares my affinity for sweet, sticky molasses. In order to keep these cookies soft I like to toss a piece of bread in the container with them.

Molasses Cookies

¾ cup margarine
1 cup white sugar
¼ cup medium molasses
1 egg
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground ginger
2 cups flour

Cream together margarine and sugar. Add molasses, egg, soda, cinnamon, salt, cloves, and ginger. Mix until just blended. Add flour, stir until combined. Do not over work the dough. Chill, covered, for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375. Form dough into walnut size balls. Roll in sugar. Press with the bottom of a glass to flatten. Bake about 8 minutes. Cool on paper.

Me and my friend, Mr. Shaw

Every living thing needs sustenance. And so before I was even born, I began my love affair with food. My journey in the food world is an on going one. Different events in my life shape what I cook and eat, but what I have found over the years is cooking together with those you love is a great equalizer.

I am entrusted with the lives of four very fine young men. They are not the first of their kind by any means. Upon first glance they are typical teens of the twenty-first century. You know the look- flat billed ball caps that have been haphazardly tossed atop messy bedhead hair, over sized tee shirts with name brand labels screaming in a multitude of colors and shapes, baggy jeans whose tops are perched precariously at mid thigh, and of course the ever present "skater" shoes. And yet, as soon as they begin to talk it becomes abundantly clear that these gentlemen are anything but typical. Attention spans are short, lies flow from their mouths like water, and impulses cannot be controlled. These are everyday occurrences in lives of my "boys."

Why do I feel the need to go into far more detail about these boys than you could possibly care to know? Because they, like you or me, are human. And they have basic human needs. They need to eat, to be loved, and to be good at something.

I have been blessed with the ability to learn quickly and retain new information. The boys that I work with can't say the same. It occurred to me one day that even the youngest and underdeveloped minds can help in the kitchen. And so it began, on the most basic level. We came together to fill our tummy's and our souls.

I leave you with this-

"There is no love sincerer than the love of food."
-- George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)