Monday, December 27, 2010

A Better Breakfast

Let's talk about breakfast! They say it's the most important meal of the day. We're terrible about eating breakfast over here - either we don't eat it, we don't eat it very early, or we eat crappy processed sweetened cereals. This is something I'd like to work on changing. I'd like to eat it more often, eat it earlier, and eat a better quality breakfast. I'm not sure how to do that.

We grab cereals 95% of the time because none of us are morning people. That means we don't get up early enough to have breakfast before we have to run out the door, and frankly I'm just not that interested in changing that part of our lives. Mostly because I know from past experience that it doesn't actually work. Whenever we say we're going to get up earlier for something as arbitrary as 'eat breakfast' or 'exercise', the snooze button ALWAYS wins. Hell, I don't always manage to get the kids to school on time WITHOUT adding breakfast to the mix, and to be honest, I don't even care all that much about that, as long as they're not too late.

This is not to say that I send them off with no food at all. Most school mornings, they ride to school with a sandwich baggie of portable cereal - something like Apple Jacks, or Corn Pops, or Cap'n Crunch - with no milk, and I cajole them to 'eat! eat! keep eating! just have at least a couple bites!!' the entire way. Then I go home, and half the time I don't eat breakfast, or I find myself cramming something in my face three hours later as I'm running out the door to pick my daughter up from preschool. I have NO idea what my husband does for breakfast on work mornings.

On days off, we tend to sleep in, wander around groggily for several hours after waking, eventually get the kids some bowls of cereal, sometimes manage to feed ourselves. I think for my husband it's usually coffee. For me it's either nothing, or a bowl of cereal, or maybe some toast. Every now and then my husband will make pancakes. If we eat them before 1pm, it's a good day.

Did I mention I'm a diabetic?

None of that really paints the picture of health or good habits, does it? It simultaneously seems like a really easy and really difficult habit to change. I'm a little unsure of the direction to take our breakfasts moving forward, so I've written out a several step plan to help me figure it out. That plan starts with talking about breakfasts, our habits, what works for us, and collecting breakfast ideas and stories from other people.

I'm not sure, nutritionally speaking, exactly what sort of breakdown I'm looking for yet. Being diabetic, my blood sugar tends to run naturally higher in the mornings, and while I'm not totally carb-restricted, I know my doctor would prefer if I went lighter on the carbs and heavier on the protein in the mornings. That automatically makes me think of eggs, which a) I don't want to eat every day and b) I don't always have TIME for because they require cooking. The majority of our mornings require us to be able to just 'grab and go'. So, portable, healthy, higher in proteins, tasty, liked by the whole family. These are my breakfast challenges.

What do you do for breakfast? Are you happy with your breakfast habits? Would you like to see some changes to it in the coming year? What changes would you make, and what would you keep the same?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Kids' Lunches For School

I'm putting out the call for a brown bag lunch discussion! Specifically for kids, though you're welcome to talk about your own brown-bag experiences if you have them.

I haven't spent much brainpower on a cost-benefit analysis yet, and I don't have a good repertoire of easy, healthy things to send with my kids for lunch yet either; suggestions in both of those realms are highly encouraged.

I spent $1.35 a day on my daughter's lunch and $2.00 a day on my son's. Can I do a better job, cost-wise, than that if I send them lunches from home? Will I do a better job, health-wise, than the schools will?

What have your experiences been? What do you do for your kids' lunches?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: Cranberry-Orange-Nut Cookie Bars

I used the cranberry-orange-nut-cookies recipe found at that link (recipe copied below in case it ever disappears from their site) to make our dessert tonight.

Changes I made to the recipe:

I didn't feel like dealing with cookies tonight, so I made them into bars in a 9X13 pan instead. I just sprinkled the 3T of sugar over the top of the bars before cooking. I also used nonstick cooking spray on the pan instead of parchment paper.

The dough is very sticky and I did have to use a small piece of parchment paper to spread and press it into the pan; it was sticking to the spatula and would have been a MESS if I'd used my fingers.

Cooking time for the bars was increased; I cooked mine for 22 minutes and upon cutting them, they were still somewhat gooey. Could definitely use a little more time. I left them in the pan to cool rather than removing them after a minute.


The batter was VERY tasty! Sweet and citrusy, with a nice nuttiness. And there are no raw eggs to worry about either! (Not that we wouldn't eat it anyway if it DID have them, but we like to flirt with death around these parts.) As mentioned though, it is very sticky, even after being refrigerated for half an hour.

Family feedback:

K-Pidge: The bars rose quite a bit more than I expected them to; that was nice. The 3T of sugar on top was a bit too much (not in flavor; I have quite the sweet tooth, much to my diabetic regret!); there was plenty still rolling around when I shook it gently after baking. I will try cutting back to 2T of sugar next time. These bars, even slightly undercooked, were DELICIOUS! OH MY GOODNESS. I wouldn't change a thing, except maybe the aforementioned cutting back of the sprinkled sugar, and cooking them a tad longer. SO GOOD. The doubled bar-portion is really generous too; I was very happy with just one.

Mr. K-Pidge: Reserves his final say for the next time when we allow them to cook a little more fully, but otherwise they receive high marks. Flavor is great. "I wouldn't mind if you made these more often," he says. He wouldn't change anything per se, but noted "chocolate chips... chocolate chips would KICK ASS."

Boy K-Pidge (6): These are great! Make them again, don't change anything.

Girl K-Pidge (4): Has thus far refused to try them out of sheer orneriness.

Frugality Rating:

By turning it into bars, I cut the number of servings in half, from 30 to 15. That changes the cost differential a little; but also, let's be realistic. The cookie serving was ONE cookie. Who eats just one cookie?! That's right, NO ONE. So a doubled-up bar is probably more realistic anyway. Outside of that... this is a pretty simple home-baked good. It relied largely on ingredients I already had on hand, and it didn't use all of any of these items, meaning it would take a whole lot of math for me to figure out the exact cost of each bar, BUT, I'm guessing it's 50 cents or less a piece. Pretty frugal dessert, if you can keep yourself from eating the whole pan! But even if you DID eat the whole pan, it was probably only about $7 or so. Not too shabby.

Health rating:

The site says the nutritionals for one cookie are as follows: Per cookie: 102 calories; 5 g fat (0 g sat, 1 g mono); 0 mg cholesterol; 15 g carbohydrates; 1 g protein; 1 g fiber; 94 mg sodium; 24 mg potassium.

(I haven't figured out how to examine our diet for proper levels of fat, protein and carbs yet, exactly. I mostly count calories to try and lose weight, but since I'd like to change the QUALITY of the food we're eating, I'll need to figure that part out eventually.)

Now, since I halved the serving amount, you'd need to double that per bar. So 204 calories per bar, which isn't too bad for a snack (again, if you only eat one!). Diabetes-wise, that jumps it 30g carbs, which is about double where I want to be for a snack. All things in moderation.

Reheat rating:

It's a cookie-bar. It should freeze pretty well, I'd think. I threw one in the freezer to test at a later date. As far as making ahead and how long they'll last, says this: Make Ahead Tip: Prepare the dough through Step 2, cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Store the cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days. So, this should be a pretty good holiday treat recipe, since it can be prepared ahead of time. I will report back on how well the frozen cooked version held up!

I did not reserve any batter to freeze, but I bet this would hold up quite well in the freezer too. It doesn't have any ingredients that really don't freeze well (such as eggs). I will explore this theory at a later date, perhaps closer to the holidays.

Is it a keeper?

OH MY YES. It was delicious. Five out of five spoons. A definite win!

Recipe in case it ever disappears from the site:

1 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 cup smooth, unsweetened applesauce
1/4 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
3 tablespoons orange juice

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Stir in walnuts and dried cranberries.
Whisk 1 cup sugar, applesauce, oil, orange zest and juice in a medium bowl until smooth. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Mix until well blended. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.
Put the remaining 3 tablespoons sugar into a small flat-bottomed dish or pan. Roll the dough with floured hands (it will be very moist) into 1 1/2-inch balls, then roll in sugar to coat. Place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.
Bake the cookies until barely golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on the pan for 1 minute; transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

This is part of K-Pidge's efforts to feed her family healthier, more nutritious foods. For all posts in the K-Pidge Healthy Family Project, click here.

Review: Spicy Shrimp and Bok-Choy Stir-Fry

Tonight I decided to try the Spicy Shrimp and Bok Choy Stir-Fry recipe found at that link (also pasted at the bottom in case the link ever goes away). I also made a variation of asian-inspired noodles to go along with it. (Spaghetti noodles cooked and drained, then tossed with 1 cup vegetable stock, 6 T soy sauce, 1 T sugar, and 1 tsp sambal oelek.)

Changes I made to the recipe:
Instead of using chili-garlic sauce, I used sambal oelek (chili paste) and added extra garlic to it. I already had sambal oelek on hand from a past recipe, and in comparing the two bottles at the store, they seemed identical except for the addition of garlic, so I decided to be a little frugal and use items I had on hand already.

I also forgot to garnish with the green parts of the scallions. To be honest, none of us care for them very much, and I always add less than a recipe calls for (just enough for flavor). By the time I finished putting this recipe together, I had honestly quite forgotten about them.

Family Feedback:
K-Pidge: thought it was so-so. The noodles were a variation on a previous recipe we'd tried and really liked, but I modified them to have less sugar, which really cut out the sweet quality I liked previously and made it a little tangier than I wanted. The shrimp was really good, but I thought the spiciness was a LITTLE too overpowering. I might go easier on the sambal oelek next time. Overall I wasn't a fan of the bok choy; too earthy. (I am really picky about greens, but I'm trying to find ones I like!)

Mr. K-Pidge: liked it a lot. He wouldn't make any changes. MAYBE if I used the 'right' Chinese noodles, lo mein noodles or something. Otherwise it is tasty and spicy and even visually pleasing.

Boy K-Pidge (6): doesn't like it. It's too spicy. He would make it less spicy. Otherwise he likes shrimp and bok choy and noodles.

Girl K-Pidge (4): liked it ok. Didn't like the spiciness of the noodles, but she liked the spicy on the shrimp OK. However, she keeps insisting she doesn't like shrimp, even though she eats them every time we have them.

Frugality rating:
This recipe is not very frugal simply because shrimp, at least here in the Midwest, is not cheap. I think the bag of shrimp I bought was $13. All total this dinner probably cost about $22, give or take. It gave us   6 servings, since the kids didn't eat very much. So it was roughly $3.70 each for us to eat dinner tonight, plus two leftover lunches.

Health rating:
The shrimp and bok choy, per serving:
225 calories
6 g fat (1 g sat)
9 g carbohydrate
35 g protein
3 g fiber
525 mg sodium

I haven't figured out how to examine our diet for proper levels of fat, protein and carbs yet, exactly. I mostly count calories to try and lose weight, but since I'd like to change the QUALITY of the food we're eating, I'll need to figure that part out too. Calorie-wise, this part was great, and as a diabetic, it was low-carb too. Fresh seafood and fresh greens, not too much sauce, sounds like an overall healthy dish to me.

The noodles, I used whole-wheat pasta (score, I think), but I know that part added calories and carbs. I haven't figured out the nutritionals on that part, and I'm not going to bother until I've perfected the way I want them to taste. I don't think it's bad as a side carb, but it should definitely not be the main focus of the dish.

Reheat rating:
I took one of the extra servings and split it in half; put one in the fridge and the other in the freezer. I will come back and rate the recipe's 'leftover' rating, as well as the 'make ahead and freeze' rating, at a later date!

Is it a keeper?
Flavor-wise, it needs some modifications to be a whole-family pleaser. Cost-wise, it's a little high but not TOO bad; this would rank it as an 'occasional' dish and not a staple. Health-wise, it seems to be fairly decent. The reheat rating, of course, remains to be seen. Overall, three spoons out of five; would make again, but with some modifications.

The recipe, in case it disappears from the South Beach site:
1 1/2 pounds large shrimp, peeled and deveined
4 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced and kept separate
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 pounds boy choy, sliced crosswise
2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce
In a large bowl, combine shrimp, scallion whites, and garlic. In a wok or a large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add shrimp mixture and cook, stirring occasionally, until shrimp turn pink and are cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a large clean bowl.
Return the pan to medium-high heat. Add bok choy, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain any liquid from the skillet and add bok choy to bowl with shrimp.
Return the pan to medium-high heat. Add soy sauce and chili-garlic sauce; stir to combine and bring to a boil. Add shrimp mixture and toss until coated. Cook briefly, just to reheat. Stir in scallion greens and serve warm.
This is part of K-Pidge's efforts to feed her family healthier, more nutritious foods. For all posts in the K-Pidge Healthy Family Project, click here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Better Diet, Day 0

Let's talk about what my family ate today, shall we?

Breakfast? I didn't have breakfast. I'm pretty sure no one else did either.

So when did we first eat? I believe it was around 1:30. We stopped at McDonald's on our way to my dad's (he was going to watch the kids while my husband and I visited my mom in the hospital). Kids had Happy Meals with chicken mcnuggets, apple dippers, and chocolate milk. My husband and I both had southern-style chicken sandwich meals with fries. He added bacon to his sandwich. I had a coke, he had iced tea - half sweet, half unsweet.

On the way home from the hospital we stopped at Wendy's; I didn't really pay attention to what he ordered. I think he got a Jr. Bacon Cheeseburger and something else. I wasn't really hungry but I decided to get an orange float anyway. After I ordered mine, he got one too.

I have no idea if the kids ate anything at my dad's.

When we got home, the kids played outside for a while. Then they came in and watched some TV. I'm pretty sure they snuck some candy from the pantry, and that their friends brought in some candy too.

After bathtime, they each had a snack - trail mix from Aldi (the kind with nuts, raisins, and chocolate and PB chips) and an Aldi juice pouch.

Now I'm about to have my dinner; leftover wings from B-Dub's and leftover shrimp with Jack Daniels' sauce from TGI Friday's.

I will admit that I am a little more stressed and rushed than usual due to my mom being in the hospital (she just had open heart surgery on Friday), but this is not completely atypical for us. No regular eating schedule, lots of food-on-the-go, indiscriminate snacking, not the healthiest choices, and god knows what's actually IN any of that food.

What did you feed YOUR family today?

A Better Diet

My husband and I have been talking a lot lately about how we'd really like to change our overall family diet. Basically, we want to eat healthier, eat out less, and cut out most of the processed food in our diet. Go primarily with homemade, natural foods. That sounds fairly simple, doesn't it?

And yet, it feels totally overwhelming. It's funny; from years of dieting and trying to lose weight, I am probably an expert on healthy foods. I can walk through the grocery store and pretty much tell you good, bad, good, bad, good, bad. What I struggle with is the overall picture. Putting it all together every day, for every meal and every snack. I could bring home a cartful of healthy groceries and then find that I didn't get anything that will work for a fast breakfast for me and the kids when we're running late (which is pretty much every morning). I will go to find a snack to send with my son to school and see that I have nothing portable or easy. I will go to make lunch or dinner and be totally overwhelmed at how to put what I have together into a meal.

A large part of this is making the change itself, I believe, and purging the toxins from my body. It's HARD. Even the idea of it is hard. You're talking to a person who has made a lifetime of eating convenience boxed foods, sugary cereals, candy, more sugary goodies, fast foods, and so on. Which is not to say I don't appreciate delicious healthy meals, but when I'm at home it's so easy to turn to what I KNOW.
My daughter took this picture of me with my iPhone. That's my giant gut. It pretty much sums up everything I'm doing wrong, and everything I'm afraid of.
I struggle with cravings too. I struggle with cravings for bad foods, and resistance to good foods. I can look in my freezer and see that we have chicken breasts, and broccoli in the fridge, and a whole pantry of spices and rices and potatoes and pastas, PLENTY to throw together even a moderately healthy meal, and I will experience a sudden and extreme aversion to having that for dinner. And I will avoid it and avoid it until I can convince myself that it's now late enough to just order out. Wasting money AND not nourishing myself or my family.

And yet, I get more and more scared every day, every time I think about what I'm probably doing to my body, to my family. All the things we put into ourselves every day that are not nourishing us; all the things that might be making us sick over time. All the things making us obese. I am about 80 pounds overweight. I am an insulin-dependent diabetic. My husband is a bit overweight himself. My kids are healthy so far, but I worry about making them sick, or making them fat, teaching them a lifetime of unhealthy habits. I read articles about the things in our food that aren't good for us and I begin to sweat nervously. High fructose corn syrup. Dangers in soy. Trans fats. Ingredients I can't pronounce. Added sugars in everything, from bread to milk to yogurt. High sodium levels in packaged foods. The list goes on and on. What are we eating, and where is it coming from?

I want to do a better job of nourishing my family. I want my husband and I to lose weight. I want us all to be healthier. I want our food to be delicious, I want our food to be easy (most of the time; we're very busy over here!), and I want to save money on our overall food budget.

That feels like a tall order. But it's important. It's important to me, and it's important to my husband. So I'm going to try. I don't really even know where to start. But start I will, and I will chronicle it here.

I'm totally looking for help. Feel free to suggest things we might like to eat, or easy changes we can make!

posted with love from K-Pidge

Friday, October 8, 2010

Scooby-Doo Cake Pops

Has anyone ever tried their hand at Bakerella's cake pops? I have always wanted to, ever since learning about them, and I finally gave it a try last night.

As Tina Turner sings at the beginning of Proud Mary, I never, ever do anything nice and easy. I always do it nice, and ROUGH. In other words, I always see a project I'd like to do and think 'hey, that looks awesome! I bet I could do it AND make these improvements / modifications!' And then I set out to do just that, without ever bothering to try it the easy way first and LEARN what I'm doing.

So not only did I attempt to make cake pops for the first time, I attempted to make them in the shape of Scooby-Doo heads, AND I did this while planning on serving them as the treats for my daughter's preschool class today. No practice runs for me!

I definitely ran into some snags along the way. For one thing, I think I used too much frosting; my cake balls were pretty gooey, even after being in the fridge / freezer. Very hard to work with. For another, I'm wondering if my choice of buttercream frosting contributed to some loss of integrity; Bakerella SEEMS to primarily use cream cheese frosting. My cake pops were very sweaty. I don't know if it's because they were too moist, or if it was the frosting, or what. I also had trouble with the candy melts. They melted but they were VERY thick. I had to add a TON of vegetable shortening, MUCH more than the package recommended, to make it liquidy / pourable / drippable. (Oh yeah, I'd never ever used candy melts before in my life either.) I bought edible decorating pens to draw details on Mr. Doo, but the pops were so sweaty that wasn't really working out, and so I used gel frosting and then I was afraid to wrap them in the little plastic bags I'd bought for them because I didn't want it to smear.

All in all, sort of a disaster. But they looked OK when they were done. I certainly learned a lot along the way. They were recognizable, the kids loved them, and adults that have seen them have seemed impressed (or they're just trying to make me feel better!). And most importantly, they TASTE DELICIOUS. Which is really what's important when it comes to treats.

"Scooby Doo and the Mystery of the Messy Cake Pops"

You start by baking a cake, and then letting it cool completely.

Make up a batch of frosting, or buy a can of premade frosting (also something Bakerella does a lot, and maybe that frosting has a better consistency too; I shall have to experiment. Oh, darn.) I used Wilton's buttercream icing recipe. It may have been too moist. Or too wet. I don't know. I might have just used too much. So many variables!

Crumble up your completely cooled cake, then add some frosting and mix it together. You need just enough frosting to make it sticky, I think; this was WAY too moist. I did not follow the cardinal rule of "you can always add more but you can't take away".

Make some balls out of that stuff. I rolled mine by hand. They were REALLY sticky at first (another sign that I'd made them too moist), so I did my best, froze them for 15 minutes, re-rolled them, and stuck them back in the freezer for ten minutes, then put them in the fridge.

I forgot to buy candies that would make good ears and noses (because I also have a tendency to go off half-cocked and not make a complete plan when I start experimenting), so I had to make do with what I had in the house. Candy corn. I chopped the yellow bottoms off for noses, and split the remaining triangle for ears.

Then I started making Scooby-like shapes. This was REALLY hard. At first it was hard because I wasn't sure WHAT a Scooby-like shape would be, even though I had printed a picture of his head as a guide. Eventually I got into a rhythm and got that part down (mostly). THEN it was hard because the balls were so damn sticky, I had to keep them in the freezer. I had two pans of them rotating in and out of the freezer; I'd do a couple of shapes from one pan, stick it back in the freezer, do a couple shapes from the other pan, and keep going back and forth. I'm pretty sure Bakerella has never had to do that.
Another thing I would do differently is I would use some of the candy melts as 'glue' for the candy pieces. Most of them stayed in place OK, but several of them slipped during the dipping process. Also, the noses were virtually unnecessary at the end. What I would have LIKED to do is use a chocolate chip on the outside of the nose, but as I mentioned, I forgot to buy candy supplies, and I happened to be out of chocolate chips. Woe.
On the plus side, placing the candies when I did helped me get a better idea of what he was going to look like and how to shape the heads properly.

Dipping. What can I say about dipping? It was fun. It was tasty. It was a pain in the ass. The melts were VERY thick, I really had to thin out the chocolate with a lot of Crisco to make it work. It was a little hard to get the hang of the dipping, tapping off the excess, and making it smooth at first. The ears didn't always stay in place. Sometimes I moved the cake pops too much in the melts and they fell off their sticks. I tested a few plain old cake balls and they were MUCH easier. Irregular shapes = harder to dip. Also, the smoother the shapes stayed, the better the finished products looked, which meant more transferring to and from the freezer so they didn't get too mushy.

Collars. I didn't thin the melts for the collars because I decided to just sort of paint them on. My original plan was to take the pops off the sticks, dip the bottoms for the collars, and then put them back on the sticks (as Bakerella did for her Winnie The Pooh pops), but after going through this whole process, I'm pretty sure my mushy cake balls would NEVER have stayed on the sticks if I'd done that, so I went with the "paint on the collars" process. It looked ok.

As I mentioned earlier, my pops were sweating quite a bit, and so the edible ink pens I bought for drawing on his details just weren't really working. So I turned to gel icing.

soulless creepy Scooby faces!

aaaaand, that's about as good as it gets.

So, I learned a lot from my first cake pop adventure, and I look forward to my next trial run! If anyone out there had made their own cake pops, I'd like to hear how your attempts turned out. What worked and what didn't? Any tips you can share to help me alleviate some of the problems I had this time around?

- baked with love by K-Pidge

Friday, August 6, 2010

Nicely Spiced Mess O' Beans

I love made-up dinner. Made-up dinner doesn't mean we were so poor and/or lazy today that we had imaginary food; it means I felt inspired to grab things I already had in my kitchen and create something random. Sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn't. Tonight it worked, and was full of awesome. AND it was cheap! Oh so tasty. A little too spicy for my kids but OJ and I loved it, and it made enough to feed us for at least two meals.

I like to call it Nicely Spiced Mess O' Beans.

Things I grabbed:
olive oil
2 small white onions
6 cloves of garlic
1 beef bouillon cube
1 small can green chilies
1 medium can pinto beans
1 medium can kidney beans
1 large can diced tomatoes
1 large can white hominy
Tastefully Simply Bacon Bacon mix
chili powder
adobo seasoning
Pampered Chef Southwestern Seasoning Mix
Tastefully Simple Fiesta Party Dip Mix
ground white pepper
light brown sugar

In a medium pot, I put about 2 T of olive oil and warmed it on medium heat. While the oil was warming, I diced the two onions and added them to the pot. I pressed 6 cloves of garlic in and sauteed for a few minutes, until translucent. Sprinkled in about a tablespoon of the Bacon Bacon - would have friend up some regular bacon but my bacon was all frozen, which does not lend itself to 'instant bacon for dinner'. Then I added in the beef bouillon cube (I would have added ground beef if I had it, alas! But this gave it a nice, hearty flavor) and the can of diced green chilies. Cooked those for another minute or so, then added the cans of pinto beans, kidney beans, and diced tomatoes - all undrained. I drained the hominy, rinsed it, and added it to the mix.

Next, it's time for seasoning! I did about 2 T each of the chili powder and brown sugar, and the rest of the spices I just did about a teaspoon of each, just enough for some flavor. I figured I'd let it simmer and then adjust as needed, but I have to tell you, no adjusting was necessary. It was just perfect, a really great blend of flavors. Hearty, warming, with a nice little kick to it. A great chili-stew-southern style bean type mix. YUM.

This is hominy. It's processed corn. Don't worry, I didn't know what it was either, until I did a Native American meal a few weeks back. I thought I had heard it was a corn thing, and I was vaguely afraid the recipe I'd found was calling for that weird diseased corn that's a delicacy somewhere, and I was like OH HELL NO, but thank god, hominy is not diseased corn. That's cuitlacoche, and for the love of god, if you didn't know that people eat diseased corn ON PURPOSE, you probably don't want to click that link. Anyway, that's NOT hominy. Hominy is delicious and undiseased. It's very mild and provided good body to the dish without the over-sweetness of full-on corn kernels. I recommend trying it, it seems quite versatile.

I also cooked up some of this Moist Sweet Cornbread I found over at The Daily Dish. I'm a huge fan of sweet corn bread and this was EXACTLY what I was looking for when I went searching for corn bread recipes. Perfect. I think I have to rename it for my purposes though, because my husband hates the word 'moist', and he loved the corn bread until he saw the name. So when I make it, it will henceforth be known as Tasty Fuckin' Corn Bread. It made a ton, too. Enough for me to stuff myself silly at dinner, still have some for an evening snack, and have plenty left over for dinner number two.

Can I get a what-what? Let's hear some of your favorite made-up dinners!

- with love from K-Pidge

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

K-Pidge's Local Farmer's Market

I live in a suburb of Chicago that is really starting to get into the swing of offering a lot of great local events (don't get me wrong, they've always had SOME fun events, but they're really starting to beef up a lot of their offerings and it's been quite lovely taking advantage of some of the fun things the Park District is putting on the schedule throughout the year). This is the second year they've offered a Farmer's Market. Last year the couple times I went it was early in the season AND it was the beginning of the year, so it was very small. This year, well, it's still small, but they had some lovely things and I'm really glad I finally took the kids over to see what they had to offer. It's every week, Wednesday evenings, from June through September, AND it's walking distance from my house. There's even an ATM on the way so I can grab cash. I really don't have much excuse NOT to go. Moving forward, I will endeavor to go on a weekly basis, I will post about the offerings and how they change throughout the season, AND I will challenge myself to buy at least one unplanned item each week and cook with it. I am open to recipe suggestions, as always!

Our Farmer's Market is held in downtown Lansing IL, in the new clock tower / park plaza area.

mmmmm... hello, Mr. Cheese Man. I did not sample any of your wares today, but OH, don't worry, I WILL.

Hello, Pretty Bakers. I'm terribly sorry, I'm trying to lose weight, and your breads and cookies were WAY too enticing. Your cookies were as big as my head! (And I have a large head folks, trust me.) I narrowly avoided your temptations today. Other weeks I may not be so lucky, especially when I am toting two eager children.

Hello Mr. Gourmet Coffee. Sadly, I only like the smell of coffee, not the taste. You might get some business from my husband if he accompanies me at some future time though.

Oh, pretty flowers! Someday when my house is cleaner, you might look nice upon my table.

So many different sauces and spices! Overwhelmingly delicious!

Oh... HELLO... what have we here?

Blueberries! Sweet, beautiful blueberries! You will be perfect for my pie tomorrow.

Now THIS is what I came to see... produce! lots of produce! With clearly marked prices! So I can compare it to my store lists and determine what to come back for! Because even though I support homegrown and local businesses, people, I'm BROKE to the max, and have to consider my budget too. Having never shopped at Farmer's Markets before, I don't know how the prices compare.

I'm thinking maybe stuffed mushrooms will be in my future...

"Check out my melons!"
"That's what SHE said."

My son is eager to show off his strength by hoisting the cantaloupe we just bought.

You have Garlic Dill, Tastefully Simple lady? I will have to pick some up one of these trips. I wish you had Si Si Cilantro; I know they discontinued it several years back but it's my favorite. It makes great burgers in addition to being a mighty tasty dip. Do you hear that, Tastefully Simple?? BRING SI SI CILANTRO BACK!!

Something for the canine companions in your life! I will happily walk our dogs up here one of these days, but only if my husband is home to accompany us. I am not eager to wrangle dogs AND kids AND shopping bags alone!

I'm a sucker for jams and jellies. I'll admit it. I buy them all the time and never end up eating them. HELP ME CHANGE, folks. I need to find uses for these things!

I bought these three. What should I do with them?

Here's our haul for the day. (Stained little fingers kept sneaking into my shots and stealing my blueberries.) We also got canine-friendly blueberry frozen yogurt for the dogs, the three aforementioned jellies, and the cantaloupe. I already know I'll be making a blueberry pie, but does anyone have recipe suggestions for the jams / jellies or the cantaloupe? My husband and the kids love melons so it may not last long enough to do anything with it, but I'm really eager to experiment with the jams, especially the hot pepper jelly. When we were in Florida last week, we had chicken flautas with hot pepper jelly on the side and it was DELICIOUS. The lady at the booth suggested putting it on shrimp, which sounds scrumptious, but I want something that will really WOW me. If you have suggestions, now's the time!

-lovingly posted by K-Pidge

Friday, April 9, 2010

Turkish Feast: Baba Ganoush

Can I be honest here? I really wanted to make Baba Ganoush for Turkish feast, for one reason and ONLY one reason: I fricking love the name of this dish. I've had it in Mediterranean restaurants before and, though I can't exactly recall what it tastes like, I know I've never been impressed by it. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't delicious either. But it's SO FUN to SAY! Try it: Baba Ganoush. BABA GANOUSH! You can't not love it.

Also, eggplants are really pretty, and I've never had the opportunity to try cooking with them before either. But I'd love to have them all over my kitchen. Or maybe just have a big pool full of eggplants, like those ball pits when you were a kid, but eggplants instead of balls, smooth, dark, purple eggplants, rolling in them, swimming naked in a sea of... well, you get the idea. I think eggplants are one of the cooler-looking berries (yeah, that's right, I said BERRIES) I've ever encountered.

So I was really excited to try my hand at some Baba Ganoush.

Most of the reading I did on cooking the eggplant suggested that it should be roasted on the grill, to bring out the smoky flavor that is a part of the dish. Unfortunately it was pouring rain all day, so grilling was a bit out of the question. (I'm not THAT dedicated to my craft.) I roasted mine in the oven at 500 degrees for about half an hour, then turned on the broiler and stuck them under for 10 minutes. Theoretically the skin was supposed to char and turn black, and maybe that would have happened if I'd had the guts to leave them under long enough, but I didn't want to overcook them so I took them out. Next time I'll be braver and stick it out for at least five more minutes before I lose my nerve!

Not charred, kind of... squishy.

Once they were roasted, I needed to let them cool. I got a bit nervous at this point, thinking I didn't really have any experience with eggplant innards, and by golly they seemed pretty squishy, and how did I know if I was doing this right? So I posted my uncertainty to facebook, calling for help, and my friend Chip came through with the best help of all: a Good Eats video clip! Yes, my Food Boyfriend Alton Brown to the rescue once again. It hadn't even occurred to me to see if Alton had ever done an episode on eggplant. Well, not only HAD he; he even made Baba Ganoush! Here's the clip if you want to watch it; it really helped me out.

If it weren't for Alton, I would never have known that the inner liquid would make my Baba Ganoush bitter, and that I had to drain the eggplant for about half an hour before mashing it up. I also would never have learned to wrap the eggplants in plastic wrap before squooshing out the innards; this was EXTREMELY helpful because those suckers were really squishy and MESSY. I was able to squoosh out as many innards as I needed, leaving the (not so) charred flesh behind, and getting nothing on my hands. AWESOME. There are so many reasons that I love you, Alton.

wrapped in plastic, ends chopped off, ready to squeeeze them like big tubes of toothpaste!

(For the record? Eggplants? Not nearly as pretty on the inside.)

eggplant innards

One thing my kitchen is lacking is a food processor. I am finding that the more we embark on these Global Feasts, the more I notice the lack of this machine. I'd love to get one, one of these days. But for now, it's me and my trusty blender. Prior to making the Baba Ganoush, I had made some homemade Hummus (which I will detail in a future post!), and that really gave my poor blender a run for its money. So I was worried about the BG, but as it turned out, this went really well in the blender. Cooked eggplant is apparently really mushy; I didn't even have to mash it up. I just tossed it into the blender along with the other ingredients, pulsed a few times, and it was done. Poured out easily and everything. (I happened to have Greek yogurt left over from the previous week; if you don't have any, check out my previous post on how to make your own Greek yogurt!)

The finished product.

I did not use smoked paprika for garnish; I poured a little bit of olive oil on top, and sprinkled it with salt and pepper, and a few bits of parsley. The only reason I left out the paprika is because... I forgot it. By the time I get around to the part where we can EAT the food, I often forget all about garnishing it in my haste to Get It In My Bellah, to be quite honest. But I did garnish it, in this case; I just didn't remember that they recommended a specific spice for the top.

Garnished Baba Ganoush

This turned out REALLY lemony. I would cut down the amount of lemon by half. It wasn't bad, but it did overpower the dish, and I'm pretty sure more of the smoky-eggplant flavor is supposed to come through. Alternately, one could increase the amount of eggplant. Also, instead of honey, I used a bit of Agave Nectar, but I imagine the results are quite similar.

Baba Ganoush

2 medium eggplants (about 1 1/2 pounds)
3 tablespoons tahini
Juice of 2 lemons
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3/4 cup to 4/5 cup Greek-style yogurt
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Honey, to taste
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt, Pepper, and Smoked paprika, for garnish

Prick the eggplants in a few places with a fork to prevent them from exploding. Cook the eggplant over the flame of a charcoal barbecue or under the broiler until the skin is charred all over and they feel very soft when you press them. Alternatively, you can place them on a foil-lined baking sheet and roast them in your oven set on its highest heat setting for about 45-55 until soft.

When cool enough to handle, peel and drop them into a strainer or colander with small holes. Press out as much of the water and juices as possible. (My Food Boyfriend, Alton Brown, says to let them drain for half an hour or you'll end up with bitter Baba Ganoush!)

In your food processor or blender, pulse the tahini with the lemon juice, then incorporate the yogurt if you are including it. Add the mashed eggplant, garlic to taste, and a good pinch of salt, pepper, and honey. Pulse until the mixture is smooth and taste to adjust flavoring. At the end, add a couple of tablespoons of parsley and pulse a few times to chop / incorporate (do not pulse too much or add too early; it can make the herb bitter).

Spread the puree onto a flat serving dish or bowl and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of salt, pepper, a pinch of smoked paprika, and a sprig of parsley. For best flavor, serve at room temperature.

Serve with pita chips and crudites.

I am participating in the Global Cook Along project, where we try recipes from around the world. We focus on one region's cuisine each week. We try to do ours as one big potluck-style meal each week, but other people are doing one meal a night, a week, whatever works for them! To learn more, see additional recipes, or to participate yourself, check out our livejournal community and / or our facebook group!

with love from K-Pidge :)

Turkish Feast: Muhallebi

Eat dessert first; that's my motto. Actually, as a diabetic, that can't exactly be my motto, but I'm going to talk about a Turkish dessert to start off our discussions of Turkish feast!

The suggested dessert recipe was Muhallebi, or Turkish milk pudding... who doesn't love pudding? I'd never made pudding on my own, but it sounded easy enough.  Melt butter in a pot, add flour, stir for a few minutes; add milk and sugar, stir until thick. Here is where I faltered a bit. Stir until thick? Thick as a fat girl's thigh? How would I know when to stop? The recipe didn't say. I ended up stirring for about 15 minutes, until it looked like it was about as thick as Jell-O instant pudding looks when you first mix the powder into the milk. (Yes, that is my ONLY experience with making pudding. What a sad reference point. I know. I KNOW.) I hoped it would firm up as it cooled.

desperately trying to figure out if it looks THICK yet.

Once it looked 'thick' enough to me, I lowered the heat and cooked for 4 more minutes, then added the vanilla and cooked for one more minute. I poured it all into one big glass bowl, rather than several small ones, because it was easier, and I'm all about easier. I let it cool on the counter for a little while, then put plastic wrap on the top and chilled it in the fridge for about four hours.

finished Muhallebi. I hoped, anyway.

It did thicken up a bit more, but it was still fairly watery. The flavor was good; light and sweet and creamy and definitely reminiscent of pudding (I consider that a success!). The cinnamon on top of each serving really complemented the dish; I highly recommend NOT skipping that step.

I will try cooking it a little longer next time, because I think it could use to thicken up a bit more. I was worried about overcooking the pudding, which is why I stopped, but it definitely could have used a little more time on the heat. Maybe five more minutes. So aim for 15-20 minutes as your thickening time, then lower the heat and cook for 4 more minutes before adding the vanilla. If anyone tries it, let me know how that turns out for you!

That's Mr. K-Pidge dishing up some pudding.

Muhallebi (Turkish Milk Pudding)

5 cups milk
1½ cup sugar
5 tbsp flour
1 stick butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

In a pot, sautee butter and flour over medium heat for about 2-3 minutes. Then stir in milk and sugar and stir continuously. Then stir till the pudding becomes thick (about 15 minutes), turn heat low and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the vanilla, stir for about 1 minute to incorporate, then turn the heat off.
Transfer the Milk Pudding into glass or porcelain cups and let it cool. Garnish with cinnamon.

(PLEASE NOTE THAT THE ORIGINAL RECIPE GIVES THIS WARNING: Do not sprinkle the cinnamon right after you pour the pudding into bowls. This would let the microorganisms grow fast contacting the cinnamon with the hot surface of the pudding and this may lead to food borne diseases. Make sure you sprinkle the cinnamon just before serving the cooled pudding.)

I am participating in the Global Cook Along project, where we try recipes from around the world. We focus on one region's cuisine each week. We try to do ours as one big potluck-style meal each week, but other people are doing one meal a night, a week, whatever works for them! To learn more, see additional recipes, or to participate yourself, check out our livejournal community and / or our facebook group!

with love from K-Pidge :)
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