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Posts Tagged ‘food’

Thank you for the kind get-well wishes and emails. I appreciated them a lot.  Mercifully, the illness that swept in so quickly, leaving me flat on the couch for three days, left just as swiftly as it arrived. I suffered mostly a numbing fatigue and head congestion, lacking energy to do much of anything except stare out the window.

And read. I blame my current thought process on the book at hand, ‘ A Slice of Life- Contemporary Writers on Food’ that has followed me around lately. It was an ‘A-HA’ find at Half Price Books- oh, probably back in the Fall, before holiday stuff, before the chill of Winter set in, before the lethargy that inevitably follows Christmas and New Years. It got dropped into a magazine rack and forgotten. When I pulled it out it was covered in dust. So well I treat my belongings.

But then I opened it and got swept away. It all started to make sense to me with just a few pages, this nagging sense of why, and how. Why do we constantly search for the perfect meal, the best ingredient, the finest eating experience? How do we achieve it, and better yet, maintain and hold on to it? And what exactly are we looking for anyway?

Outside of the pages of that book, I began to find my answer in a slice of this tea bread and the comfort of a favored, but cracked tea cup.tea-bread-009

So it’s no secret to me that when I bake I feel like I am channeling my mother’s spirit, the one that would wake at dawn in the summer to bake cookies before the sun burned the air crisp and dry; this is simple for my mind to deduct, but there has always been something else that nags at me, and with the first bite of anything I make, I take from it several things. One- it’s comfort in the true sense of the word. Nothing touches us deeper than homebaked something, anything. We can eat a store-bought chocolate chip cookie, or nibble on a slice of bread from a plastic bag, but it really doesn’t touch us. It doesn’t soothe.  The second has always been far more elusive, and less attainable and finally I know what it is. It’s the taste of home, and I think for most of us, it’s the one missing element in everything we cook.

This is not to say that we can’t find comfort in the foods we eat, the meals we prepare for others, but what is it, with Christmas still within a memory’s grasp, that makes us want to recreate ‘the meals we used to know’? Why is it so important for people to sit down- let’s say at holiday time- to a meal of familiar foods, the same tastes and textures we grew up with? Isn’t anyone interested in something new? No. We’re interested in being home.

In each bite, each dish we make or cookie baked or cake decorated, aren’t we just a wee bit eager to find that one spot in us that tells us, without a doubt, that we’re home again? Isn’t it why we search high and low for the perfect cookie recipe, try a dozen methods of roasting chicken, bake loaf after loaf of banana bread in a futile search for a missing ingredient that we’re never going to find? This is why home-cooking has become such an explosive and highly demanded part of our lives, why we gather at the table with eager eyes; it isn’t so much the food, it’s what the food can bring to us that nothing else can.

Take that banana bread, the reason for this post. My mother made banana bread all the time. I can picture our kitchen- it was small and so very dated- dulled yellow walls and a deeply blue and green carpet- carpet! in the kitchen!- the dishwasher we had to attach to the faucet, the jar of bacon grease on the stove. I can recall leaning on the counter, the southern window at my back, nibbling away at a slice of her banana bread, a small pile of unwanted walnuts growing on the counter next to my elbow. I loved her banana bread; she purposefully would buy too many bananas so that she could make it. It was perfectly flecked with banana, it smelled wonderful and she beamed with every loaf. I even have her recipe, yellowed as those walls, frail and old, crinkling at the edges. But I make the loaves and it doesn’t taste the same. I’m at my own kitchen counter with the bright southern light, my dishwasher tucked under the counter, no bacon grease in sight. But the recipe is the same and shouldn’t it taste like I remember? It never does. Something is always missing. It’s not the essence of those despised walnuts, or the scene out the window of my youth. It isn’t a method of her own that I never learned. It’s her kitchen; it’s her warmth and love, the very scent of home. We can have our own places we call home, and they feel that way to us the moment we step in the door. We turn out the lights and know, by heart and finger touch, just how to walk through the rooms. But what we make in our own kitchens, even with a treasured recipe, never seems to taste exactly like we remember.  An old friend once extolled the merits of the Italian foods she ate while working on that continent, and her extreme disappointment, upon opening a small bottle of olive oil that she brought home, a favored flavor while “on the boot” to find that, in her words “It tasted just like any old olive oil. It wasn’t anything like I remembered.” Of course not. She wasn’t in Italy. The banana bread is the same thing; it’s the exact same recipe I ate when I was young, but I’m eating it on another continent, a figurative place that’s a whole lifetime away from what I remember. It’s the tea cup in our lives, with the crack that makes it imperfect, one we can’t throw out.

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Growing up, our meals weren’t stellar. My mom wasn’t that great of a cook; she could cook, but it wasn’t creative, nor with an eye towards health. I have no fondness for much from my childhood, except an occasional meat loaf, or my own grown up version of Tuna Pasta. I still recall vividly a recipe I made two years ago that reminded me so much of an over-served childhood meal that I simply couldn’t eat it. There is no love lost for my food memories as a kid, what I eat now is all my doing, my likes and for my health.  Griffin has many favorites that I make, one being his absolute beloved Curry Chicken. This was on the menu last night and I made sure that the quantity was large enough for him to load up on without depriving the rest of us. To see his eyes as he leapt down the stairs, and his eager dance around the stove, lifting the spoon, taking in the scent, I had to think to myself that somewhere in his future, he’s going to pull out what he needs for his favorite meal, in a kitchen of his own, maybe with an eager child waiting. He’ll have the same turmeric-stained spoon, the reliable straight side skillet to use, the same method and recipe, and with his first bite, will he lift his head, his mind wondering ‘Hey, what’s this missing?’

Applesauce Banana Bread

· 4 Bananas — ripe
· 1/2 c. Sugar
· 3/4 c. Applesauce
· 1 T. Vanilla Extract
· 2 Eggs
· 1 T. Baking Soda
· 1 T. Baking Powder
· 1 t. Salt
· 2 c. AP Flour


Preheat oven to
350 F. Place bananas in a large bowl and mash with fork. Stir in sugar and let stand for 15 minutes.
Add applesauce, vanilla and eggs, mix well. Stir dry ingredients together, add to banana mix and blend only until incorporated. Pour into standard loaf pan coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake for 45 minutes, or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Remove from oven and let stand 10 minutes before removing from pan. Cool on wire rack.

For the Chicken Curry recipe, the only one I use,  go HERE.




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Unbeknown to me, yesterday’s post about Men Making Dinner and Nacho Day was my 500th post on this blog.  That kind of blows my mind; I’ve been at this a long time- yes, 2 1/2 years to be exact- and I’m rather prolific with words so really, it shouldn’t come as any surprise.

Nor should it be any surprise that when you roast root vegetables that include beets, everything will be PINK!

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Pretty pink and richly colored, in fact; staining your couscous and your bowl, but filling your tummy and taking the edge off the raw wind that came up.

And the national food holiday today? It’s Bittersweet Chocolate with Almonds Day and I thought about seeking out this concoction and spending copiuos amounts of time bestowing praise on such a delicious combination but then I spotted this roasted vegetable dish and all thoughts of chocolate scampered out the window. I should be declared something- possibly certifiable?-  when veggies take precedence over chocolate.

But like I said, the wind turned raw and the rain was pouring down and after our early week flirtation with the 70’s in November– temperatures, not the decade mind you- the chill and damp that came over us was harsh and required not a candy to bring relief but something warming, deeply satisfying and a hot oven.

The original recipe, found here in our local paper’s award-winning Taste section, caught my eye and made me drool; an array of vegetables roasted to tender melting goodness and served over super-simple couscous. With my little carnivore heading out with his beloved Uncle Mike to the Gopher basketball game, it would be a welcome dinner for us- no meat yet tons of flavor.

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Beets, rutabaga, parsnips, eggplant, carrots and tomato were my combination, doused with olive oil, a sprinkle of thyme, salt and pepper and a long roast in a 400 degree oven. I knew the outcome even before I started, but the beets were small and tender and I didn’t care if they bloodied my dish. The chopped beet greens added a nice color and tons more nutrients-don’t ever throw those away!! They taste like spinach and are SO good for you. And the nicest part about the whole dish was, as we sat down with steaming bowls in front of us, Mike declared with a high amount of enthusiasm “I love beet greens!” which was the smallest little detail ever, but after six years of marriage, I never even knew this about him. Imagine that! This was, by and large for the blustery night, a much better option than chocolate.

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To roast your own:
Take one eggplant, one rutabaga, three parsnips, three carrots and one bunch of beets (mine had three in it) and cut them into uniform chunks. Place them in a roasting pan and pour about 1/3 cup of oil over them and add seasoning of choice. Stir to coat. Roast at 400 degrees, stirring after about a half hour. Roughly chop three tomatoes (minus the seedy pulp) and scatter over vegetables at the 30 min. mark. Continue roasting for 15-20 more minutes, then stir. Everything will be PINK. Saute the cleaned and chopped beet greens separately and stir into the veggies before serving, or serve on the side.

Prepare quick-cooking couscous, polenta or another base of choice and serve roasted veggies over this, sprinkled with some fresh grated parmesan cheese.

Delicious additions to the veggies could be: garbanzo beans, kalamata olives, celery root, turnips…..really the sky is the limit, or your personal taste. Leave out the beets if you don’t like PINK.

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Skordalia- (skor DAHL yah) A greek condiment made from pureed baked potato, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, parsley and sometimes breadcrumbs or ground nuts. Eaten as a dip with breads or vegetables, it can also be used on top of broiled meats.

Potato Cake- (po TAY to kayke) A hearty and delicious meal made from leftover skordalia (or other mashed potato type item) that is fried in a hot skillet until crispy and browned.

Mmmmm….I love mashed potato cakes. I originally found a procedure to make them in a Sara Moulton cookbook and now I often will hide the leftover mashed potatoes in an effort to save them for a crunchy potato cake breakfast.

Then along came Skordalia. I had a small plateful at a local greek restaurant and wanted to lick the thing clean, it tasted so good. But I was in public so I restrained myself. The next day I hit the internet search to find a recipe to make for myself. The result wasn’t too bad- it wasn’t like the restaurant version- but it was palatable after the ingredients were allowed to hang in the fridge to get cozy and acquainted after being rapidly introduced in the food processor. The longer the stuff sits, the better it seems to taste, but like all potato leftovers in my house, I dreamed of a hot and tasty cake.

The procedure is pretty simple; form leftover mashed potato into a uniform sized cake and dust each side with flour. Heat a combination of oil and butter in a skillet, and when hot, gently place the cake in the pan. Don’t move it or disturb it until the bottom has achieved a nice crunchy browned crust- it could take 10 minutes or more- then carefully turn it over and allow the other side to brown as well. Keep the heat around the medium mark. Once cooked, allow to cool before eating- if it’s like some of mine, the center of the cake becomes a creamy molten flow of cooked potato and can be painful if your patience is lacking. Try it with a slice of seared ham, some eggs and a cup of strong coffee. Breakfast just can’ t be beat when there’s a potato cake on the table.

(jump for recipe and notes)

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Arroz Con Pollo
(From the nameless Food Network personality)

1 (3-pound) whole chicken, cut into 10 serving pieces
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 t. ground cumin
1 1/2 T. dried oregano
2 t. sweet paprika
1/2 t. cayenne pepper
2 dried chorizo sausages (about 1 1/4 pounds), cut into 1-inch chunks
1 Spanish onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 red and 1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 bay leaves
2 cups long grain white rice
1 (15-ounce) can whole tomatoes with liquid
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, warm
1 cup pimento stuffed green olives

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Rinse the chicken pieces and pat dry. In a small bowl, blend 2 tablespoons oil, salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, paprika and cayenne. Rub each piece of chicken with the spice paste and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes for the flavor to develop.

In a heavy, ovenproof casserole with lid, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Fry the chorizo over medium heat until it is crispy and renders its fat. Remove the chorizo with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Place the chicken in the pan, skin side down, and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes Remove from pan and set aside. Make a sofrito by sauteing the onion, garlic, bell pepper and bay leaves; cooking until the vegetables are very soft and almost dissolved. Stir in the rice so the grains are well coated with the sofrito.

Crush the tomatoes lightly with a wooden spoon and add the tomatoes and broth, season with salt and pepper. Return the chorizo and chicken to the pan. Bring the mixture to a boil and let simmer for 5 minutes. Cover and transfer pot to oven. Bake for 20 minutes or until the chicken is done and the rice is tender and has absorbed the liquid. Scatter the olives on top of the chicken and rice before serving.

Colombian Arepas (thin corn cakes)
1 c. masa harina (no substitute)
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2 c. hot water

Stir together salt and masa harina. Pour in water and mix with spoon. Dough will be crumbly- DO NOT add more water. Resist! Get your hands in it and press it together- it should be dry. Break off small amounts and press them between your hands to flatten them. Fry them in oil in a hot skillet until both sides are browned. Serve hot. I add to the dough about a cup of frozen corn kernels that I put through a few pulses in the food processor.

NOTES FROM KATE’S KITCHEN:
I used lots extra pepper and onion in this dish, it adds a lot to the flavor. I also added more garlic because you just can’t get enough of the stinking rose. If you have fresh tomato, by all means use them (peeled first and roughly broken up) and add in a 14 oz can of tomato sauce to help with the ‘red’ factor of the dish. Use good quality green olives- not the jarred kind, the flavor is really enhanced with them, or if you can find tiny little spanish sweet pickled peppers known as Piparras, use them as a garnish. I used chicken thighs in this version with plenty of success, and used the mexican style of a looser chorizo as opposed to the spanish style dried. Both are good but remove the casings on the mexican if its all you can find. This dish is just as flavorful made as a simple spanish rice without the meats.

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Overnight Apple-Date Muesli
By Robin Asbell, The New Whole Grains Cookbook

1/2 c. slivered almonds
2 medium apples
1 1/2 c. nut milk, or other milk
2 T. maple syrup
1 1/2 c. thick rolled oats
1/4 c. soy protein powder (optional)
1/2 c. pitted dates

Preheat oven to 325 and spread almonds on a baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes or until golden. Let cool.

Get out a large storage tub or bowl with a lid. Quarter the apples and core, then shred right into the bowl, skin and all. Add remaining ingredients, including almonds, and stir well to combine. Cover tightly and place in refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, stir thoroughly. Spoon desired amount into individual bowls and serve cold, or warm in the microwave for up to 2 minutes per bowl.

KATE’S NOTES:
I tried this the first time with the protein powder and decided I didn’t care for it, but that’s just me. I always, always, always add in about 2-3 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to this, regardless. I double it and we enjoy it for several days. It will get softer and a bit less flavorful the longer it sits, but if you’re like us, it rarely lasts that long.

I am not a fan of dates but I. Love. Figs. so I chop those up into it instead. The variations on this, like I said, are infinite. Use raisins, currants, dried cherries, craisins, dried apricots or any type of dried fruit you like in any combination; vary the apple flavor by going tart or sweet; add in a multitude of nuts, use other cereal flakes, like barley. Skip the maple syrup or use an alternative, like raw or maple sugar sprinkled over the top before you eat it. Give it your own fingerprint and I’m sure it will also become a favorite for you.

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