Saturday, August 18, 2012

Playing With Real Food!

Tonight there were just the two of us for supper.  It is really not unusual for a Saturday night with a teenage son.  All young people feel the need to be doing something on the weekends that does not involve parents, and I completely understand that, but this Saturday night is different.  It is the last Saturday night he will live with us because Son 3 leaves for college next Saturday morning.  I know he will be back on occasion, but he is going to a distant school and will not be here until Thanksgiving. When he arrives we will feel like he has come home but it will feel like a visit to him.  It's the normal progression of life and I accept it and am thrilled for the opportunities that he will have.  At the same time our nest will be empty and it will take a little while to get used to.

So tonight while planning our last Saturday night meal, knowing he would not be here I realized___Hey! We can have whatever we want and don't have to consider another palette.  I am seeing glimmers of an upside to this change in life.

We were going to cook a hamburger patty on the grill and have a side salad.  It sounded fine to both of us, but before I began to cook I made the mistake of browsing a few websites I have been following recently concerning "real food".  I was under the impression that " the real food movement" and " the slow food movement" were one in the same.  As usual, I was incorrect.  Slow food simply is preparing dishes from scratch, no cream of anything  soup or packs of frozen birds eye mixed veggies in an asian sauce.  It's simply using your ingredients and creating fabulous foods.  Chocolate truffles?  No big deal just whip them up and enjoy.  Flans, crepes, steaks, rolls, souffles, soups, or cream brulee?  You want it, just make it.  There are no restrictions as long as you make it yourself and buy local as often as possible.

The real food movement is much more restrictive.  You may use purchased products providing they have no more than 5 ingredients, no additives, no preservatives, no sugar, corn syrup, white flours, butter, soy, oils that are not cold pressed, non organic products.... It seems that whole grain flours are fine, but they prefer that you grind and use yours within 20 minutes of grinding.  Don't know abut any of you but I have no wheat fields in my backyard and I have never seen bushels of wheat at Publix.  While I really do agree with most of what THEY say, it is just not something I feel we could do totally. I am willing to try it in a modified way though.  I guess it is the "Slow mostly real food movement",  but right now it is a movement of two and The Hub only joined because I do all the cooking so he has no options.

 I remembered some Bing cherries we had which needed to be used tonight.  I had a small handful and they were either going to be eaten today or trashed.  I also had some cilantro with a tiny bit of life in it.  Add to that a husband who wanted a little pre dinner cocktail and we have tonights starter.

Cherry Cilantro Mojito

8-10 fresh cherries, pitted and halved
8-10 cilantro sprigs
3 limes
3 - 4 ounces rum
2 tablespoons agave (Some sweetener that is supposed to be much better for you than sugar)

In a large thick glass muddle the cherries and cilantro,  Squeeze the limes into the glass and toss in the skins.  Muddle again to get the oils out of the skins.  Strain and pour  into 2 cocktail glasses.  Add 1/2 of the agave to each glass and give it a quick stir.  Fill with ice and add the rum.  Pour in the seltzer and garnish with a whole cherry and sprig of cilantro.  If you stir prior to serving it becomes this beautiful pink.  If you serve it without stirring there is a deep pink syrup in the bottom fading to clear seltzer on the top. It still needs to be stirred before drinking but it is a lovely presentation.  This was fantastic and we have no picture because it was gone before I even thought about writing of it tonight.  If you want something a little different try it.  It was a great ending to a muggy summer day.  This fit in the real food movement completely. (except for the rum?)  I am not sure what their stance on spirits might be.

We both love fried green tomatoes, which fail miserably in the real food movement but I found  method  that gives the flavors without frying or the dreaded white flour batter.

Green Tomato Casserole

4 green tomatoes sliced very thin
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
freshly ground pepper
sea salt
1/2 cup panko (  Japanese bread crumbs. Should be organic and whole grain...Good luck finding that)
olive oil in an olive oil mister
2 tablespoons butter in pieces (  Uh oh!  This is obviously slow cooking and not real food)

Using the olive oil mister spray the bottom and sides of a small casserole dish.  Put a layer of tomatoes in the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Add a very thin layer of parmesan cheese and sprinkle about a tablespoon of the bread crumbs over the cheese.  Repeat as many times as you need to, ending with the tomatoes and cheese. Reserve the remaining panko  for later.  Cover the casserole with a lid ( no aluminum foil in the real food cooking movement)  and cook at 350 for about 40 minutes.  Take the lid off and sprinkle the remaining crumbs over the top.  Dot with butter and bake, uncovered until the topping is light brown and crispy.

In reality I do own an olive oil mister but didn't use it.  I sprayed the dish with butter flavored Pam, and when it was time to dot the butter over the top I sprayed it with the Pam again. ( real food super fail!)  I cut the recipe in half because I only had 2 green tomatoes.  If /when I make it again, I will do the same. We both ate a serving and there were no leftovers which makes it a nearly perfect dish.  It was extremely tasty and gone before I thought to take a picture of it.

I found this recipe on a site that was not as strict about what is allowed.  I guess they are the Methodists of the movement because they allow raw sugar as long as it is pure cane sugar instead of raw beet sugar.  Also as mentioned above, I have no fresh wheat so I used King Arthur milled whole wheat flour.   I am sure all the nutrients evaporated into thin air 20 minutes after it was milled but it is what I have.  I did have locally grown peaches and organic fat free milk.  Does that count?  I also have Amish butter ( This particular woman lets you use butter provided it is made from raw milk and has nothing  added.  I have no idea where the cows the Amish get milk from live or if they only eat organic grains and organic grasses, but I am relatively sure it was not churned electrically)  I know she would prefer I churn it  myself right after milking Bessie.

Peach Cobbler

2 cups peeled chopped peaches
2 tablespoons agave
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup raw sugar
1 cup organic skimmed milk
1 teaspoon baking powder ( must have no aluminum in it)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup butter

Peel and chop the peaches and let them sit in the agave for about 10 minutes.  Stir a couple of times while sitting.

Melt the butter in an 8x8 glass baking pan (  It seems we should only cook in glass or stainless steel)

In a small bowl mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.  Stir with a fork to combine.  Slowly add the milk in and stir until the batter is thoroughly moistened and free from big lumps, but you don't want to mix to much because you don't want the batter to become glutenous.

Pour the batter over the melted butter and spoon the fruit on top of the batter.  Pop it in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for 25-30 minutes.  This is a much darker cobbler but tasted very good.  Again we have no picture because The Hub served his own bowl and scooped the entire middle of the cobbler into his bowl.  He left four ragged corners and I tried to get a picture but...well, you can imagine.  Serve it with a little ice cream.  You probably should make your own,  I bought mine at The Pig.  For a healthier version of a traditional dessert it was quite good.    I can see making it this way every time we have it.  But I must confess, I only tasted the cake part.  It's an excellent dessert for me to make since I loathe cooked fruit and will not eat it.

So with the imminent departure of Son3, time on our hands, and a willing partner who has only refused to eat what I cooked once in 38 years, we begin a different chapter in life and the way we live.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pinterest Fail!

About a week ago I wrote about taking supper to a friend recovering from surgery, but I did not include everything I took her.  I made a cake that is going around Pinterest right now and just in case you see it and think ," Oh my what a simple way to make coconut cake.  Sounds delicious, I must try it now", DON'T!

Easy Coconut Cake

Bake a yellow cake mix according to the package directions.  While the cake is still warm, poke holes in it with a wooden spoon handle.  Combine 1 cup of cream of coconut with 1 cup of sweetened condensed milk.  Pour it into the holes of the warm cake.  Let the cake cool then put it in the refrigerator until it is cold.  Spread Cool Whip* over the top and cut into squares to serve.

This tasted slightly of coconut, but flavor of the milk overpowered it..  It was mushy and not at all appetizing and was not visually attractive.

There are countless variations of this cake on Pinterest right now, coconut, banana pudding, chocolate overload and german chocolate just to name a few.  I have tried 3 of them and 2 out of 3 are really not good.  You might wonder why any sane person would try it after having a bad experience  with it before. Let me explain the reasoning  behind my madness.

I tried the chocolate overload first, because I am a chocolate freak.  The process is the same as for the coconut cake with the following substitutions.  Use a swiss chocolate cake mix and mix chocolate fudge ice cream topping  with the sweetened condensed milk and pour it over the cake. Top with whipped topping. The result was a gooey messy cake with no real substance to it.  The sweetened condensed milk diluted the chocolate flavor and all you really taste is sweetness.  Not what I was looking for.

The second cake was the german chocolate  version.  Again the method is the same, but use a german chocolate cake mix and mix 1/2 cup caramel topping, 1/2 cup butterscotch topping and the sweetened condensed milk. Toast 1 cup of pecan halves and arrange on top of the cake after pouring the sweet goodness over it.  Again spread whipped stuff on the top.  This one was delicious.  The caramel, butterscotch and the milk flavors were complimentary.  None fought with the other for the pronounced flavor.  The toasted nuts added to the texture and gave another flavor component.  It was kind of like eating a cake "Turtle".  I made it for 2 different events and  it got rave reviews both times.

I suppose that is why I was hopeful for the coconut cake.  If you really want to make it, toast some coconut and spread it on the cake prior to using the Cool Whip*.   

The only upside I can think of for this dessert is the plates I used to serve the cake.  Several years ago I was looking through Tuesday Morning.  I like to go and rummage through their home items because once in a while you stumble on something you have never seen before that screams for you to purchase it.  Such was the case with these  plates.  I can't stress my disdain for things that are Melamie other than the practicality of using them outside.  I don't like the way they feel or sound or anything about them, unless they are rectangular  maroon plates with Elvis on them.  That changes everything disagreeable  about the dishes into a "must have".  There were 2 of them siting together and after about a half hour of searching I found 2 more stragglers.  I NEED at least 8 more but think it probably will not happen.  I did take another shot so you can see The King's head poking out from the top of the cake.

Such a waste when dessert comes and the only thing exciting is  young Elvis!

* Cool Whip rant: Why would anyone want to use it when whipped cream takes just a couple of minutes to make. You can use about half as much because it is such a richer taste.  Rant over.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tipsy Chicken?

Monday I had the privilege of taking food to a friend who had recently had some surgery.  She was doing great  thanks to new robotic procedures.  I was happy to be able to help out and also glad that it gave me an excuse to try a couple of new dishes.

I took them a very simple crock pot main dish.  I wanted something that I could put on in the morning and pretty much forget about until shortly before time to take it, plus I wanted it to be something everyone here would eat also.  ( The old cook once for everyone thing).  I knew it would be chicken, but wanted it to be just a bit different than what we usually eat.  The result is Beer Crock Pot Chicken.

Beer Crock Pot Chicken

1 can or bottle of beer ( I used Sam Adams Cranberry Ale)
8 small chicken breasts ( I used boneless, bone it will require a little more cooking time )
1 teaspoon garlic powder (thought I had fresh garlic but didn't so had to punt)
1 teaspoon Italian spices*
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

Put everything in the crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours, on high for 4-6 hours. ( Every crock cooks differently so you will have to make the call on the exact time.  On low, mine took 7 hours)

When the chicken is all nice and done remove about 1/2 cup of the stewing liquid.  Let it cool  and whisk in 1 1/2 tablespoons of flour. ( Use cornstarch if you prefer)  Pour all the liquid from the crock pot into a boiler and put on a medium heat on the stove top.   Stir in the broth/flour slurry and whisk until the mixture thickens.  Continue cooking on low a couple of minutes stirring constantly.  Add 1 tablespoon of butter and stir to incorporate.  Pour it over the chicken breasts to serve.  I made couscous and served the breasts on top of it.  I did leave a couple of pieces sauceless.  For anyone who needs/wants to know the points value with no sauce is 3 per serving.  The sauce as made would increase the value to 4 points.

The picture is not from Monday night.  I actually doubled everything so I would have leftovers and made 2 crock pots full.  (An aside:  If you are thinking of getting one of those 3 crock pot in one units, I would recommend it strongly  I can't tell you how much it has simplified my life on several occasions. Since it has both a cook and warming feature, I have used it to both cook and/or as a buffet warming server.  Well worth the price and if you wait till it is on sale and use a Bed Bath &Beyond coupon you can snag one for about 30 bucks)
This is a lunch rerun today.  I actually think it tasted better the second time around.

This is just one breast cut in half with some pickled okra and tomato slices.  Delicious!

*  The Italian seasoning was a mistake.  I thought I was adding dried parsley but picked up and dumped the Italian seasonings  before I realized my mistake.  ( If I ever took the time to actually measure instead of dumping I probably would have noticed.  My Bad!)  Instead of using the traditional French seasonings  ( bay, parsley, tarragon and thyme)  originally planned I had to punt.   Hence the added oregano.  If the French thing had worked out I would have finished the sauce with a couple of tablespoons of cream rather than the butter.  Oh well, that's least my life!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cake and Coffee for Breakfast???

This morning I was wondering what to have for a quick breakfast before I went to meet 2 of my new favorite little girls.  I had gotten all my morning stuff done but still had not eaten and it was getting late. I needed something quick and on the low point side of life.  Eureka!  I had some leftover Angel Food cake.  OK!  I'll admit it is not a particularly good  breakfast, but I really needed to eat something and it had to be available right then. ( Truth be known I have eaten much worse, like a Reese's Cup or some Oreo's)  Plus this is not just any Angel Food cake.  This is the cake that is making the Pinterest rounds.  Almost daily I see it pop up on a board of someone I am following.

Pineapple Angel Food Cake

1 box of angel food cake mix
1 large can of crushed  pineapple in its own juice

Ignore the directions on the back of the cake mix.   Put the cake mix in a regulation mixing bowl. Pour the entire contents of the crushed pineapple into the mix.  Stir with a wooden spoon until it is well blended. Spray a 9x13 non-stick pan with Pam ( I really messed up here and used a regular pan). Bake at 350 degrees until it springs back when touched.  In my oven that is about 25 minutes. ( I know because I cooked it the recommended 30 minutes and burned the bottom a bit)  You know your own oven so start checking at 25 minutes and adjust the time as needed.  DO NOT eat this cake warm.  The first time I tried it the cake was still warm from the oven.  It was chewy and tasteless. I told everyone at our dinner how bad it was. ( For the record I was eating this while they had peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream.)  I put a piece of foil over the baking pan thinking I would  probably have to toss it out the next day.  The next afternoon I cut a small bite of it to see if it was a "keepit or coaster".  It is the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde of cakedom. Turns out that cooling completely changed both the flavor and consistency.  The aroma had fully developed and the pineapple flavor permeated the entire cake.  The texture was like a traditional Angel Food cake but has a bit more moisture.  If you like pineapple I can't imagine not liking this cake.  Each bite is filled with flavor.  Another upside of this particular cake is the WW point value.  This is another 4 point dessert that is company worthy. ( Serving=1/12 of the cake)  To serve it to guests I would add a dollop of  lightly sweetened whipped cream.  If you use that fake stuff fine, just don't let me know it.

I think the only thing I will do differently when I make this again will be to measure the cake mix and just use half of it.  An 8x8 pan should work perfectly.  A 9x13 cake is just too much Angel Food cake ( Now if it were chocolate cake my family would be fighting over who got the last piece.)  Even after deciding it was worth saving I still had to toss about 1/4 of it.  Like all Angel Food cake, in a super humid deep south environment, it wept and who likes wet cake?  I am also going to try it using mandarin oranges packed in juice.  I will need  to measure the fruit vs juice in the pineapple and adjust accordingly, but I think it should be a pleasing taste.  I might try strawberries also.  I think any soft fruit with the same amount of liquid would probably work.

So I guess I follow the  breakfast advice of Marie Antoinette!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Life Is Just A Bowl Of Cherries

The Hub and I are getting a little preview of the next phase of life.  It is going to be different and take a little time to get used to being just 'us' since we have had at least one of our kids living with us for the past 37 years.  Thanks to Son3's surprise entrance into our family, our empty nest was delayed by 16 years.  The past 18 years have crept by and rushed by all at the same time.  Moments of colic seemed to last an eternity, elementary school seemed to pass at a normal pace, while the years between the first day of middle school and high school graduation were a blur that we remember mostly as going to and from one event to the next.

I am very proud of the young man he has become and am thrilled he gets to follow his dream of going to Juilliard . I am happy he is closer to realizing a career  he is passionate about, and sad because I know he cannot live here and be the professional he want to be. I guess life is filled with double edged swords.

Meantime, in these precious few days before he goes, he is spending less and less time around the house.  It is normal and we remember it from our older two sons but it is an adjustment.  One of the biggest changes for me is the art of cooking for 2.   I knew I would have to take something out of the freezer to defrost for supper.  All these years I have been packing frozen foods for 3 and one of the three was a teenaged male.  This summer I have been freezing in packages for a couple.  When I went to the freezer and pulled out a pack with 2 chicken breasts, I realized this is our life now...a ziplock bag with 2  pieces of chicken.  The upside of it being the two of us is that everything I cook can contain mushrooms, onions and squash.  I can have huge chunks of tomatoes and asparagus and Son3 unapproved desserts.  In fact, we can have anything we want!

Today I was looking through the fridge and noticed an entire clamshell of cherries that had gotten pushed far back.  They had maybe one day of life left in the so they needed to be eaten right now!  I had a serving of cherries with my lunch, but there was still a boatload of cherries remaining.  You know how sometimes things just seem to happen as if they were meant to, even though you are doing nothing to facilitate it.  Today had one of those serendipitous moments.  I was on the computer following link after link looking for a different way to cook the chicken breasts when I literally clicked on a site and the first recipe on it was Cherry Custard. ( Thank you Gina at  The minute I saw it I knew I was going to try it.

When I was reading Gina's description of the custard she mentioned that it was much like a clafoutis.
Last year I had made the traditional French version of one and though it tasted really good we were not fans of taking a bite of it, chewing and then having to spit out the seeds.  This version is pitted and contains no added fats. ( Though the butter in the original  recipe made the batter very rich, and brown, and crispy, and delicious.)

Cherry Custard

1 1/3 cups pitted cherries cut in half
2 large eggs, beaten
1/4 cup raw sugar
1/4 cup unbleached flour
pinch of salt
1/2 cup fat free milk ( Who was it that thought they had to rename skimmed milk?)
1 teaspoon vanilla
confectioners sugar for dusting

Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 4 ramekins with Pam and dust with a small amount of flour.  Put 1/3 cup cherries in each ramekin.  Set aside

Whisk the eggs, flour, sugar and salt until smooth.  Add the milk and the extract and whisk until smooth.  This made 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of batter.  I put 1/4 cup in each ramekin and just eyeballed the remaining 2 tablespoons between the 4 cups.  Put them in an 8x8 square pan and put enough water in the bottom of the baking pan to come a little under halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Bake for about 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Let them cool to a nice warm before serving, because the fruit will be hot and will burn you.

Before serving dust with a tiny bit of the powdered sugar.  I used maybe 1/8 teaspoon.  I had mine plain and it was very good.  The Hub had his with ice cream and I think it was much better than mine.  I am pretty sure I drooled a tad when I saw the ice cream begin to melt a little.

This was very good.  There are a couple of things I will do differently when I make this again.  When I made the original one the cherry pits filled the batter with this delicious cherry almond flavor.  Next time I will use half vanilla and half almond extract.  The second difference will be the type of cherries I use.  I only had Rainier cherries, which are my favorite for eating, and they were delicious.  I think for the aesthetics of the dish bing cherries would have been a better choice,  After all, we eat with our eyes first.  Just in case anyone wants/needs to know this dish was a mere 4 WW points.  I had to cover the leftover custards and put them in the fridge quickly before I could justify eating another one.

Since cherries are still in season I will  buy and freeze them in 1 1/3 cup packages.  I ordered a handheld cherry pitter from Crate and Barrel last year  and today is the first time I have used it.  Wow!  It made pitting the cherries a snap.  It might be my new favorite under $10 kitchen gadget, even if it has only 1 real use.  If you see me tomorrow, it will probably be at Publix buying cherries by the dozen.  Maybe Aldi's has them on sale this week!

Using the Bill Cosby logic there is fruit from the cherries, dairy from the milk and protein from the egg.  It is virtually a complete meal. Wonder how this would be rewarmed with some steaming coffee for breakfast?!?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Walk Like An Egyptian

When I first wrote that title I summoned my inner Bangles and started singing the song, but then I spied something shiny and the next thing you know I was singing Steve Martin's "King Tut".  If I were in the first grade again I am pretty sure Mrs. Green would send a note home to my folks to have me tested for ADD.  Since I am old enough to have never been impacted by a diagnosis, I pretend I have no issues. ( but I am always fearful of being mid sentence and seeing a flash or shadow or glint, then having no idea  what I was saying)

Wednesday nights have evolved into a dinner with the parents night.  The Hub, Son3 and my dad play a par 3 golf course after The Hub get home from work.  When they finish playing we eat together at my house.  To be honest, I am a much better cook than my mom ever was, so everyone enjoys it a little better here.   Plus Son3 can eat and be sociable for a little while and then disappear to do whatever he wants.  It works for all of us and mostly for my folks who are dreading Son3's upcoming college move to NYC.  I will miss him when he leaves, but my mother doing advanced mourning and is already counting the days until Thanksgiving when he will come home.  ( It would probably be better to wait until he actually leaves to begin the "get back" countdown, but ... oh well!) 

 Tonight I made what is called an Egyptian Greek Meatloaf.  I happen to love meatloaf so when I saw this I decided I had to try it.  (well, a modified version)  I am not claiming it is Egyptian or Greek or has origins in any other country, just relaying basic information with personal opinions.

Egyptian  Greek Meat Loaf  

2 lb ground beef
3 or 4 cloves minced garlic
3/4 cup dried bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 egg
1 3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon pepper

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons dried mint
dash of salt
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest ( optional but really good!)

 For the meatloaf: Mix together in a bowl until all the ingredients are well combined.  Put the mixture in a loaf pan or shape in an oval and place it in a baking pan with sides at least 1 inch high.  Bake at 325 degrees, uncovered, for about 1 hour.  

For the topping:  Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl and set aside

After 1 hour remove the meatloaf from the oven and pour the topping over it.  Cover with foil and return to the oven for about 20 minutes.  Take it out and let it rest for about 10 minutes but baste it with the baking juices a couple of times.  Slice and serve.

I served this with brown rice, steamed carrots and broccoli with sliced tomatoes instead of a salad.   The verdict was an overwhelming thumbs up.   Looking at the picture you can tell we ate all evidence of the carrots and broccoli.  I know to take the picture before we eat, but we had company so it didn't happen.

 Unless your garlic cloves are jumbo sized I would opt for 4 cloves.   I used just 3 and would have liked  a more intense garlic flavor.  It is up to your personal preference though.  Although the salt seems like a lot you might want to use the recommended amount.  I cut it in half and everyone had to salt it at the table.  It was kind of surprising because we never use a salt shaker.  I had only about 1/3 cup of breadcrumbs and had no bread in the house to make more, so I substituted some quick oatmeal.  I probably should have put it in the blender to make it a tad finer.  Make sure you have bread crumbs so you don't have to punt.  I can't think of anything else I would do to improve it, but for serving it might be prettier to put several paper thin lemon slices on the top of the meat loaf during the last 20 minutes . This is good enough to serve to company even if you are not related to them.

It makes 6 large portions, 8 regular portions  or if you are doing WW it serves 16.  Now I know it is a small portion, but honestly, hadn't you rather have a small portion of deliciousness than a large serving of bland?  For those on WW I calculated the points at about 8 per serving.  Yes I know it is a lot of points but it was so worth it.  For reference, the picture was taken on a breakfast plate and the portion I based it on was just 1 of the pieces.  If you make it while counting points take smallish bites and savor it. When I make it again, I will leave off the rice and have a gigantic salad so I can have a little larger piece.  What am I talking about?  I have leftovers in the fridge!