Sunday, February 28, 2010

Stori - food challenge throwdown!

I went on a marvelous date today.

Monday is my nephew, Orin's, birthday. I needed to go to town to pick up a gift for him, my dad didn't want to go, my husband felt like staying at home. I left the 2 little kids with him and Paige and I went to town for a girl trip. Since it was just us two, I offered for us to go out to breakfast. Paige never turns down an opportunity to go out to eat.

There is a place in Fairbanks that is known for great breakfast called The Cookie Jar. I had only been there once before with Marc several years ago. I was not impressed either time. This place was recently featured on The Food Network show "Drivers, Drive-Ins, and Dives". The host went on and on about The Cookie Jar's famous cinnamon rolls. Shortly after being seated, the waitress even mentioned how wonderful they were and a what a perfect start to a Sunday morning. Paige didn't need any more encouragement than that.

I have changed my bread baking habits lately which in turn has produced several treats for my family. In the past, I always made my bread in 6 loaf batches. Leaving 1 or 2 thawed out and freezing the rest. It only takes us about 8 to 9 days to eat all 6 loaves, but the cold even permeates my outside freezer to the point where it will dry out the frozen bread pretty badly during the winter. To fix this, I have decided to cut down on my batch size and only make enough for 3 smaller loaves. I have been turning the batch into 2 loaves of bread and the remaining 1/3 gets put to good use as cinnamon rolls. These do not last long in this house.

After a horribly long wait, which included a full 40 minutes before even the 1st cup of coffee showed up, our breakfast arrived. I ordered biscuits and gravy, and Paige ordered a slice of french toast and a $4 cinnamon roll. Out came this monstrosity of a pastry, served on a big plate along with a steak knife. Paige knew there was no chance of her finishing off the entire thing, but was willing to give it her best shot. She cuts into this huge thing and takes a bite.......looks up at me....looks back down at her roll....back up at me....takes another bite...puts down her fork. I'm waiting to what my restaurant loving daughter's verdict would be. "This isn't very good Mom." she says. "Yours is way better!"

HA! Take that Guy Fieti!

Having to try the test myself, I try a bite. Paige was right. It wasn't very good. Was this what all the hoopla about? The bread was tough and chewy. The frosting more bland than sweet. A disappointing lack of cinnamon. What a let down. Paige took the remaining roll home to let her dad try. He only took one bite and stopped. He agreed. Mine is way better.

Now this is the point where I should dutifully jot down my recipe for home made cinnamon rolls. Nuh-uh, not gonna do it. The perfect cinnamon roll is so embarrassingly simple, I would be ashamed to put it down. Besides that, if I told how easy it was, I would lose my tricky baking reputation.

Instead, I'm including a different recipe. This is what I fixed tonight for supper. After our disappointing breakfast, we braved a trip to Walmart for a birthday gift. While there I seen they had a some half decent fresh asparagus and some nice little cremini mushrooms. These two ingredients sparked an idea for my potato chowder to be added to the menu. Although I claim the use of portebello mushrooms in this soup, creminins are nothing more than baby portebellos. Easier to prep and a lot cheaper than their grown up counter parts, they are one of my favorite shrooms to cook with.

Potato Chowder with asparagus and portebello mushrooms
(measurements are approximate since I don't measure anything)

6 good sized potatoes- peeled, washed, and cubed
1/2 onion- chopped
3 stalks celery- ribbed and chopped
3 cloves garlic- peeled and minced
1 bunch fresh asparagus- cut into 1 inch lengths
1 container cremini mushrooms- sliced
1/2 lb. bacon -cut into pieces and cooked crisp (optional! especially for Debi)
approx. 4 to 6 cups milk
1 tsp sage
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp basil
about 1/2 cup flour

In a large pot, barely cover cubed potatoes with salted water and put on to boil. Put in the already crisped bacon into the potato pot. In a skillet, saute in margarine (or butter) the onions and celery till transparent. Right before they are done, add the garlic and sautee only till you can smell it. Add into potato pot. Next sautee the asparagus and mushrooms in butter till asparagus is bright green and mushrooms are still a bit firm. Add to potato pot. Add the seasonings and stir. Keep potatoes on a slow slimmer for about 20 to 30 minutes. You will want the potatoes to stay firm. Pour in about half the milk, stirring constantly. Bring back to simmer. In separate bowl, whisk together the flour and remaining milk. Pour milk/flour mixture into potatoes very slowly stirring the entire time. Bring back to simmer. If soup is too thick, thin it down with a little more milk. If too thin, do another blend of flour and milk. Taste and season with more salt desired.
Serve with toasted garlic bread or croutons.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Debi: What do you take to a potluck?

Our synagogue is hosting a potluck dinner tonight for families of second graders. They requested vegetarian dishes with no nuts. As a vegetarian family, that's a slam-dunk for us -- most of our recipes would fit the bill -- but I asked our resident second-grader what she wanted to bring.

"Kugel!!!" she squealed. "The APRICOT kugel!"

Kugel is a traditional Eastern European casserole, and usually refers to the noodle-based variety, though at Passover time, people make potato or spinach kugels (yuck). I always thought all noodle kugels were sweet, but recently I was proven wrong. A few weeks ago, we went to another potluck for Ronni's elementary school (a regular old public school), and all parents were asked to bring a dish that represented their ethic heritage. I brought "the APRICOT kugel!," but it seemed all the Jewish families (5 or 6 of us) had the same idea, and it became The Night of the Many Kugels. I peeked at all of them, and one family had indeed made a savory kugel. I'd never heard of such a thing, but that was how their family always made them. Live and learn!

Our apricot kugel is a special thing, though. The recipe comes by way of my grandmother, my dad's mother, who died when my dad was only twelve. I never met her, obviously, and my grandfather remarried a year after she died, so by the time I came along, there wasn't anything of hers that my father could share with me aside from her name. I was named Deborah because she was named Dorothy -- sharing the first initial is a typical way of naming a child in honor of someone who has passed away.

So how, you might ask, do I have Grandma Dorothy's apricot kugel recipe?

Well, my dad's cousin was cleaning out some drawers one day, more than 50 years after my grandmother died, and found two index cards with recipes on them. Another cousin identified the handwriting as my grandmother's and immediately sent them to my father. My father scanned them and sent them to me. I made one adaptation to the apricot kugel recipe (used soy milk instead of whole milk), but otherwise have kept Grandma's recipe exactly as is. I haven't tried the other recipe yet, but I don't know if I even have to! This one is perfect. It is the comfort food to end all comfort foods. Just the smell of it in my house is enough to make all of us sigh happily, tuck our feet under our bottoms on the couch, and smile.

This spring, my mom declared me an accomplished enough cook to bequeath me one other beloved remnant of my grandmother's life as a housewife and mother: her tin measuring cup. I can't remember how my parents came to be in possession of it, but now it is mine. It seems wrong to use anything else for preparing this recipe.

Good sabbath, everyone.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Stori: under the weather

This past week hasn't been all that fun as far as health was concerned. My oldest came down with a cold late last week. After having visited an indoor play yard, the two little ones ended up with a nasty stomach bug that included fevers of over 103 degrees. My mom had already experienced the fun stomach virus but Marc and I are now fighting both ailments. With my babies being sick, my priority is to help them feel better. The one way to do that, with my kids anyway, is to hold them. and hold them. and hold them some more. Complete meals have been pushed to the back burner.

Now that my family is getting closer to being back on their feed, it's time to do a full meal. Something to recharge the body batteries. Since my kids were sick over Valentine's Day, I didn't get the chance to make Marc's lemon meringue pie as I do every year. I have some making up to do. Lemon Meringue Pie being his absolute favorite food in the world, a close second is fried pork chops. Seasoned then coated in flour, browned in a hot cast iron skillet, then finished off in the oven, pork chops can get me forgiven for most any sin. With these I serve the standard (in this family) mashed potatoes and milk gravy, along with green beans cooked with onions and bacon. Since we have carrots from last fall's garden still left in cold storage, I figure I would add another favorite of Marc's, Honeyed Carrots. I stumbled on this dish a few years ago, and rarely prepare carrots or parsnips any other way.

Honeyed Carrots

6 medium carrots (julienne cut)
4 medium green onions (optional)
1/3 cup honey
1 Tbsp butter or margarine
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp kosher salt
In large skillet, heat 1 inch water to boiling- add carrots, heat back to boiling, reduce heat, cover & simmer for 5 minutes or till barely tender. Drain & remove from skillet, set aside. In same skillet cook remaining ingredients over low heat, stirring frequently till bubbly. Add carrots back in and stir to coat. Cook uncovered 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally till carrots are glazed.
(note: I don't measure the lemon, butter, or honey. Just use your judgement and preference)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Debi: Trudge

For all our east coast readers: yes, you got more snow than Chicago. Conceded. But we did just get a nice hearty snowfall here in the midwest, over a foot in 24 hours here by the lake, and for folks like our family who use footpower as our main mode of transportation, this adds several layers of work to our day -- pun intended!

Because it wasn't very cold here, this winter storm was easier to handle for us. While we had to be protected from getting wet, the temperatures in the twenties made it possible to stay outside for a while at a time -- quite necessary for shoveling. And shoveling. And shoveling again. Living in an urban area as we do, it's very easy to stand on a street and declare "good neighbor" and "bad neighbor" just by looking around. The good neighbors are the ones who shovel their sidewalks, maybe even adding a few handfuls of road salt to keep the remaining snow from becoming ice in our standard cycles of snow-light thaw-freeze. The bad neighbors don't shovel, leaving the good neighbors to pluck the elderly and infirm out of their knee-deep piles on the sidewalks.

Yesterday, we woke up to a pretty notable snowstorm happening outside our windows. That meant the winter gear we wore on the way to school had to keep us warm and dry on top and bottom -- not just snowboots and snowpants for the snow we'd trudge through, but something waterproof on top to keep our heads protected from the snow falling on us from above. Ronni, my oldest, remembered seeing a friend of ours in a ski mask and asked if we had one she could wear under her hood. Sammi, ever-stubborn, insisted her hat was plenty. I wore a ski hat and hood, and (dumbly) decided to just layer long-johns under my jeans instead of putting on snowpants. My reward for that was damp pant cuffs all day.

After I walked the kids from school, I had to run right home and get my car to meet a client in Chicago. That's a 30 minute drive in good weather, so I had no time to shovel before I left. I felt really guilty, but promised myself it would be the first thing I did when I got home. I parked my car outside our meeting place, and when I came out a few hours later, I had several inches of snow to brush off of it. When I arrived home, those inches covered our sidewalk and the path from our house to garage. Shoveling it took at least forty minutes.

I worked in the afternoon, made time for a quick run, and then raced to pick Ronni up from her after-school dance class and Sammi up from her extended-day at preschool. By the time I got home and realized that we had to be back at Ronni's school for parent-teacher conferences in an hour, AND that I'd offered to bring dinner for the teacher too, AND that I needed to shovel (again), it was clear that dinner had to be easy and fast. And portable! We brought Ronni's teacher the beans & corn in a little plastic container, with a separate container of salsa, a plastic bag with two tostados, and a package of tic-tacs once I realized how garlicky the beans had turned out.

Snowy-Day Hearty Fast Dinner!
1 can refried black beans
1 can whole black beans
2 cloves garlic
1 package hard tostados
shredded cheese
1 batch Sweet-n-Salty Corn, recipe below

Empty can of whole black beans into a pot and just cover with water. Cook until the beans are soft, then drain water and partially mash beans, leaving some whole pieces. Add can of refried black beans, and squeeze garlic cloves in your garlic press into the pot. Mix thoroughly and heat until hot.

Spread bean mixture on tostados, sprinkle cheese on top, and add a dollop of salsa. Serve with a side of Sweet & Salty Corn

Sweet & Salty Corn
1/2 bag of frozen corn
2 tbsp margarine
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt

Cook corn in microwave, melting margarine on top. Add cumin and salt and mix well.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Debi: Shabbos

Friday nights are lovely, when I can get my act together to make them so!

Our family is Jewish, and while we're not very observant or religious, having a traditional sabbath meal on Friday nights is something that reminds the grownups of our own childhoods, our grandparents and parents, and the warm feeling of family at home for an evening together. We could eat anything for dinner, but it seems wrong somehow to make our Sabbath meal something exotic or experimental. What feels right is comfort food.

Last night, I decided to be a little ambitious, given the fact that the kids were underfoot and David wouldn't be home until dinner was ready. I made seitan cutlets (a faux-meat-like thing made from vital wheat gluten, broth, oil, tehini, and seasonings), which require several elaborate steps to develop the right consistency; homemade mushroom gravy (which, unlike Stori and her perfected pan-gravy methodology, I always struggle to keep lump-free); a nice big bowl of bright peas; homemade rice pudding; and challah.

Challah, a braided egg bread, is absolutely essential for a Shabbos table. After years of using my mother's recipe, several years ago I tried a recipe from my friend Hilary. Hers was far better, and so that is the one I use, with my own addition of eggs (how did she have a challah recipe with no eggs?!?). Here it is -- this recipe makes two loaves, so plan to give one to a friend:


2 cups warm (not hot) water
½-3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 envelop or 1 tbsp yeast
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, beaten
6 cups flour + 1-2 cups for flouring surface & hands during kneading.

Put water in a large bowl. Dump in sugar, but don’t mix. Add salt. Add yeast, then mix, using only a quick once or twice around with a large spoon.

Dump in oil and add the 6 cups of flour to the same bowl. Add the eggs. Mix with spoon.

Remove from bowl and place on floured surface. Knead 15 minutes, or to the right texture plus 10 minutes more.

Place in lightly oiled bowl (using the 1/3 cup vegetable oil). Roll it around so it’s coated. Cover the bowl with a dishtowel and let rise until doubled (about 75 minutes).

Punch down and knead 3 minutes.

Let rise again 45-60 minutes.

Divide into two lumps, and divide each lump into three strands. Braid the strands to make two braided loaves, and brush each loaf with beaten egg. Sprinkle with coarse salt and bake 40-45 minutes at 350.

The photo above is of a round challah that we made this fall for the Jewish high-holy days. Last night, our challah was still braided, but we left it long. It's easier to slice that way, anyway. Of all the delicious foods on our table last night, the kids (and secretly, the grownups) like the challah best. It's a soft, slightly sweet bread, chewy and moist and, since it takes so long to make, last night's challah was still warm when we gathered around our lit sabbath candles, put our arms around our children, and blessed it.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Stori ~ easy does it

My phone rang this morning at around 8 with my dad on the other end. Since I have the two little kids with me, my dad is nice enough to feed the horses their morning hay for me so I don't have to dress the kids in their winter gear and go outside. He's calling to tell me that my big draft mix mare has once again, found trouble. Heidi is 1,400 pounds of lap puppy. She has a sweet disposition, never ending calmness, a quick busy mind, and a pension for mischief. She's the type of horse who likes to be busy or entertained. When left to her own boredom, she often gets into messes that requires me to clean up.

We feed our horses in a big wooden rectangular shaped bin. About 3 feet high on the ends, a few inches shorter on one long side (to accommodate the tiny pony we used to have), and about 3 1/2 feet on the high long side. Marc attached two tires side by side on each long side to prevent Heidi from tipping the box. This feed bin is about 6 foot long, just big enough for two horses to feed along side each other without crowding.

My 1,400 lb baby was standing inside the box.

Like most bratty toddlers, she's very good at getting herself IN things, but pretty pathetic at getting herself OUT. My mom shows up to tag team the kids, and out the door I go. 45 minutes later in -25 below zero weather and we have one giant horse out of one small box, one frustrated infuriated me, and one dislocated right shoulder. Pretty average score in the game of "Heidi and Me". I had dislocated my shoulder for the first time last May bringing another horse home. I don't know if injuries like that every completely heal, but I know mine never did. Maybe it was the lack of immobilizing I didn't do, or the fact I never slowed down my activities, but now I have to coddle that joint like a newborn. When I felt the sickening slip ~ pop! this morning, I knew my day could only get better from there. Thankfully I was able to slip it back into socket pretty quickly and without too much icky pain. Since I am nursing a limp and traitorous right arm, my family's supper for tonight will be:

Frozen lasagna

store bought garlic bread

They should feel lucky to get that much. It could have been cold cereal and a lot of whining from Momma's chair.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Stori ~ comfort food arctic style

I have had an incredibly busy two weeks. My sister came up to visit from Colorado and it seemed as if everyday another activity would pop up. From birthday parties, to CMSA annual meetings, tattoo appointments, and road trips to Delta Junction to get grain. My little humdrum homebody lifestyle has been turned upside down! Although it's been very fun, I'm exhausted and ready to settle down and re-fluff my nest. Along with the activity comes eating poorly. Besides having some weight gain side effects from a medication my doctor prescribed, my diet has been lousy! These two things have combined to make me feel ....un-good, for lack of better terms. Not really poorly, just yucky.

Today has been set aside to put my life to order again. Cleaning house, finishing laundry, snuggling my babies, taking back my comfortable routine is a must. Part of my routine comes one of my families' favorite meals. Well most of my family anyway. Very balanced, zero preservatives, and all of the dishes coming from our hands and our land, once again we turn to moose steak. Prepared the way we make it, the meal is also surprisingly low in calories and very filling. Alaskan comfort food Thompson style. We start with the moose roast. Sliced into steaks, I put it through my tenderizer, then dredged in a seasoned flour and fried in a tiny bit of olive oil in a cast iron skillet. Several cast iron skillets actually. The second dish is mashed potatoes. Yukon Gold potatoes grown in our garden, dug by hand, cured in the dark at 50* for 7 days, then put in cold storage, our harvest lasts the entire year until the next year's potatoes are ready to dig. Peeled, cubed, washed, and then boiled in salted water. After draining water, adding milk then mashing, it's a happy belly dish. I usually always serve corn with this meal also. With the leftover dredging flour, and the remaining grease in my skillet, this will be the start to my pan gravy. I brown the flour in the grease, adding a little bit of salt and pepper, once flour is nice and toasted, I add the pitcher of milk (from our cow of course). Stirring constantly to break up the lumps, I bring the gravy to a boil and take it off the heat once it's thickened enough. Served with homemade bread and butter and a big glass of milk, it will be the final touch on the chore of returning my life to our version of normalcy.