25 May 2008

A Surfeit of Snackage

One of the library staff was talking about how she likes to carry little bags goldfish crackers when she goes out, because she doesn't usually like bar snacks that much. She said it made her feel quite juvenile, but they were delicious and went well with beer (experimentation on my part supports this). Then, Healthy Recipe Doctor did a Frugal Friday post on making your own snack bags and, well, I may be taking this cost-saving snackage-making enterprise a bit too far ...

Here's hoping this pile of deliciousness will keep me sufficiently in snackage that I ought not resort to the Evil Vending Machine which is stocked with deadly delicious unfoods such as Cheddar & Bacon Potato Skins and Pizza Combos.

  • Sugar-free black cherry Jell-o made with water and Knudsen Simply Nutritious Morning Blend and chunked tinned peaches.
  • Homemade low fat tapioca pudding with cinnamon.
  • Strawberries, blueberries, pineapple, and cantaloupe.
  • Generic animal crackers bought in bulk at the warehouse club.

Picnic Pasta Salad, Pronto

We had our regular Memorial Day picnic (three years running) today with my parents at Gillette's Castle. We arrived early enough to secure a very nice table under some trees by the pond. As always, we grilled on the public barbecue, walked in the woods, played cards, made snide remarks about other picnickers, and generally had a nice time.

I brought pasta and fruit salads. My attitude (and my father's -- The Husband does not care where the food comes from as long as it is delicious) is that we are picnicking and, by god, deli salads are good enough. Last year, I tried to stage a coup and brought three small containers of deli potato salad (sweet, German, and "normal") rather than the one I was supposed to make. My mother was not very pleased. Not at all.

So, like a good daughter, this year I made my salads from scratch. I couldn't be bothered with cookbooks, so I made my instant pasta salad -- it's dead easy to slap together and is so forgiving about what goes into it.
Fast & Dirty Pasta Salad

Run cold water over frozen peas and corn until thawed. Drain and toss in a large bowl with a generous amount of dried parsley (fresh will do if you have it), minced red onions (spring onions scallions will also do), shredded carrot, and a generous shake of McCormick Salt-Free Garlic & Herb Seasoning (or generous amounts of powdered garlic, salt, and pepper). Set aside. In another bowl, mix together light mayonnaise and light Italian dressing. Add a splash of milk to loosen. Set aside. Cook desired amount of pasta until desired level of doneness is reached. Drain the pasta and give the pasta a quick rinse with cold water, but do not allow the pasta to go cold. Toss the warm pasta with the vegetables and seasonings. Pour in dressing/mayo mix and stir. Refrigerate overnight. If it looks too dry the next day, make up a little more sauce and stir it in just before serving.

Amounts for all ingredients vary depending on preference and availability.

In the summer, I frequently stir in flaked tuna or chopped hard cooked eggs and serve it on lettuce leaves with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes on the side as a nice light supper.
I also made fruit salad from McCormick Cooking With Flavor using cantaloupe, strawberries, blueberries, and pineapple chunks tossed with confectionery sugar and a little vanilla extract. I halved the amount of sugar called for, but I don't think anyone noticed. It was a nice light dessert and I expect to be making it a lot this summer as different fruits come into season.

24 May 2008

My Bonny Banana Bundt

Our Friends group held a bake sale and all the staff were asked to contribute something toward the sale. While I'd been dying to have a go at one of the banana bundt recipes in Susanna Short's Bundt Cake Bliss (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2007), I wasn't sure cake (banana or no) would be ideal bake sale merchandise because I didn't know if the Friends would be selling baked goods in their entirety or portioned out. I presumed I ought to make something safe like a cookie or brownie. Thankfully, I remembered hadn't used the Coconut Macaroon Brownies mix from King Arthur Flour's April Mix 'n' Magic Baking Club box ...

The mix came together quite easily and only took about an hour start to finish (not counting cooling time, here). I baked the batter in a disposable aluminum pan which came with its own clear plastic lid so they would be perfectly grab-and-go at seven in the morning and I would be that much less likely to forget to take them to work. I have no idea what the brownies tasted like, but they smelled like a Mounds bar and I had to fight the urge to pick at the macaroon topping.

So, that was a few weeks ago, and now I have two dark brown bananas going all gooey in my fridge and a three day weekend. It is time, my dears, to bake a banana bundt cake. While I will eventually make one as a birthday present for my dad, I want to make one to test out on my co-worker's. If I bring it in Tuesday afternoon and it's all gone by the following afternoon then I'll know I have met with success.

I am using the "In A Snap Banana Bundt" recipe from Bundt Cake Bliss. Basically, you start with a yellow cake mix and doctor it with instant banana pudding, mashed banana, and walnuts:

18 May 2008

Beer Makes it Better

For Sunday supper, I made pork chops in beer with garlic mashed potatoes and some nearly-but-not-quite freezer burnt peas. The chops were quite easy to make and rather delicious. I'd worried they might be too beery for The Husband's taste, but no. He liked them. And with another packet of chops still in the freezer and a seemingly unending supply of beer on hand, he will be eating this again.
Beery Chops

4 thick boneless pork chops
1 Tbs Mccormick Salt Free Garlic & Herb Seasoning
12 oz Samuel Adams Boston Lager (drink the rest)
10.5 oz can reduced fat low sodium cream of mushroom

Liberally season chops. Brown in hot pan. Remove and snuggle into a 8-inch baker. Add beer and soup to pan. Stir to get browned bits off pan bottom. Bring to boil. Simmer for about five minutes (until slightly reduced) and pour over chops. Bake, uncovered, in a 350° F oven for about forty minutes. Serve with mashed potatoes.
These chops would also be good served with broad egg noodles or even those weird sauerkraut and mushroom pierogi from last week.

16 May 2008

What's a Little Freezer Burn Between Friends?

When I made tapioca pudding last week, I made it following the recipe on the back of the box. Now, apparently, Kraft has redone the box design since I bought my box several years ago and the current box design features a different recipe on the back. Different and, I think, better. The old recipe went like this:
Beat one egg in a saucepan. Mix 1/3 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons minute tapioca, and 2 3/4 cups milk in with the beaten egg. Let set 5 minutes. Cook on medium, whisking constantly, until mixture comes to a full boil. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 teaspoon vanilla. Let set 20 minutes. Stir and serve or refrigerate.
The results? Reminiscent of vanilla pudding. The tapioca pearls provided no texture at all. That said, I do not know what the shelf life is for minute tapioca. I am pretty sure that the box I used was at least three years old.

The "new" recipe seems more promising (much like this recipe from Kraft). You seperate the egg and whip it until foamy -- which, I'm guessing, should give you a lighter, less pudding-ish tapioca. I don't know if the texture of tapioca pearls will more apparent in this recipe or not. I will have to try it one day. After1 we have moved as the pressure is on to jettison or consume as much as possible before the great migration.

The basement freezer is almost empty -- if we can eat some stuff in the upstairs freezer then I can condense it all down to one and we can finally freecycle the freezer.

In a bid to make room in the upstairs freezer, I finally got around to cooking the frozen pierogi we had bought from Salem Prime Cuts many months ago. The pierogi, which we bought in two flavors ("potato and cheese" & "sauerkraut and mushroom") where made by European Delight Delicatessen in Colchester and looked a lot more like my grandmother's pierogi than anything I'd seen at the mega mart.

I cooked them, frozen, in boiling water for about 5 minutes (when they bob to the top, they are ready to go). While they were cooking, I sauted some onion in butter and olive oil until the onion was translucent. Then I drained the pierogi and tossed them into the onion pan. Cooked them until they were golden brown on both sides and the onion had gone crispy (3-5 minutes per side). We ate them with fat free greek yoghurt.

The potato-cheese pierogi were definitely our favorites. The texture of the dough was exactly right and the potato-cheese filling was extremely reminiscent of my grandmother's pierogi. We would buy the potato-cheese ones again.

The sauerkraut-mushroom pierogi were, alas, a bit of a let down. We found no mushroom particles in the filling -- only sauerkraut mixed with mashed potato. The sauerkraut was also much tarter than anticipated. Whenever I've cooked with sauerkraut before, heating the kraut seems to reduce its tartness, but this sauerkraut was almost mouth puckeringly tart. I usually enjoy tart flavors, but this was extreme.

Tomorrow, I will make a stir fry using the pork loin, baby corn, and asparagus out of the upstairs freezer with some fresh carrots, mushrooms, onion, and red bell pepper. That should free up enough space to move what's downstairs up and then we can drag the basement freezer out the hatch and let it defrost all over the lawn.

1 There are many things I've promised to do after we move ... buy a yoghurt machine and PS3, finish a million and one different quilting projects, learn to make my own bread, &etc.

13 May 2008

Don't Buy the Guilt Cookies

Last night we had a teleconference with our buying agent and committed to offer on a house in Burlington. After we hung-up, I felt we needed something to mark the occasion so we had chocolate chip cookies and tea. One of my coworkers had been selling frozen cookie dough as a fund raiser for her kid's school and I'd bought a packet out of guilt.

The frozen dough is called Classic Breaks and is manufactured by Country Maid, Inc. Basically, it's a frozen rectangle of cookie dough squares. While they are convenient -- while the oven preheats, you leave the dough on the counter, and when the oven is ready you break off the number of squares you want and bake them for 13-17 minutes -- they are not amazing. Indeed, I found them almost achingly sweet. I would have done better to have made up a bag of KAF's "Triple Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix" and lived with forty really good cookies than fifteen mediocre ones.

That said, I still ate four cookies while I freaked out over our decision to purchase a less-than-perfect house in the middle of the woods, when we could easily purchase a much-more-perfect home in the middle of a sterile development.

There's the logical perfect-on-paper choice and there's what will make us happy. 'Tis better to go with happy and work at making it perfect, than settle for logical and end up unhappy in the burbs schilling mediocre frozen chocolate chip cookie dough so my kid doesn't lose face at his "good" school.

10 May 2008

Chutney-Salmon Salad Wraps

A few weeks ago, I brought home a library copy of Betty Crocker's Quick & Easy Cookbook (Wiley, 2002) and then did absolutely nothing with it. Oh, it looked cute displayed on my cookbook stand during house showings, but it inspired no real cooking. In the end, I decided I either needed to make something or return the cookbook to the library -- it was becoming awfully close to due, anyway.

(Yes, even librarians are expected to honor due dates).

So, I made something. I made "Chutney-Salmon Salad" (p. 67) and served it wrapped in whole wheat tortillas as a perfectly portable and pretty delicious lunch. The "salad" was dead easy to make -- so much so that I don't think I really need to write down the recipe. Flake two 6 oz pouches of salmon, and mix with 3 cups of broccoli slaw (about half a package), stir in a third of a cup of chutney (Cross & Blackwell "Apricot Chardonnay Chutney with Roasted Garlic"), two thirds of a cup of light mayonnaise, and a handful of roasted peanuts. Portion onto tortillas, fold, and wrap.

You know what makes rolling wraps really easy? A bamboo sushi mat. Everything rolls nice and tight -- no fear of losing an errant bit of broccoli slaw.

Next time, I might try a hot chutney or substitute crab for the salmon or throw a handful of fresh chopped cilantro in with the broccoli. If you have a peanut allergy, I imagine you could use any other kind of nut or seed with good result. Peanuts were just what I had on hand.

Since this recipe, I have not made anything else from the cookbook and have sworn, multiple times, to return it to the library. Somehow, it still manages not to leave my kitchen.

Tricksy cookbook.

Now, of course, I have a terrible desire to go watch Chutney Popcorn.

05 May 2008

Clearing the Cupboards

I am finished with overtime, thank heavens. The money was welcome, but the hours got to be a bit much. It got to be that I didn't know what day it was or what shift I was on -- I just knew that I was at work. Rather mind-numbing, really. And so unhealthy. I ate so much unfood these last few weeks -- fast food breakfasts were well on their way to becoming the norm.

Happily, that's all over and, to celebrate this return to normalcy, I cooked! Of course, I did. Stressed? Cook. Sad? Cook. Angry? Cook. Happy? Cook. There's no mood that cookery is not appropriate for.

Anyway, I made lasagna and cake. The lasagna was inspired by one of my co-workers. I had complained to her that I did not know how I was going to use up all the tomato sauce I had put up last autumn before we had to move and she suggested I make manicotti. A real d'oh moment, there. Make pasta = get rid of sauce.

As I am too lazy to stuff shells or roll pasta sheets, I settled for lasagna. I had a box of the Barilla No-Boil Lasagna noodles in the cupboard and I made the recipe on the back of the box (near identical recipe here on Recipezaar) with a few tweaks. Obviously, I substituted equal amounts of my freezer tomato sauce for the jarred sauce and my freezer sauce was quite a bit thicker than the jarred stuff. I also stirred some minced basil in with the cheese mixture. When I've made lasagna in the past, I always used ground beef or soy crumbles, but followed the recipe's suggestion and used a pound of sweet Italian sausage. The Husband thought the sausage substitution a bit risky when I told him of it, but this did not stop him from nomming up two servings the first night.

Indeed, I wanted to do a faceplant in the lasagna pan. It was very good lasagna -- one of the best I've ever made. It was a rich garlicky meaty melding of pasta, tomato, and cheese which managed to be very hearty without being heavy. I don't doubt a lot of its flavorliciousness came from the tomato sauce.

Alas, this means I shall have to make more sauce this autumn as I don't think I can ever again be totally happy with the jarred stuff. Yeah, verily, I have become a tomato sauce snob.

Enough lasagna! What about the cake? The Husband's cake requirements have been sorely neglected of late, so I whipped up a lemon bundt cake using King Arthur Flour's "Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Lemon Cake" mix. It came out really well -- I was a bit worried, because the raw cake batter did not taste especially lemony (insert caveat about the dangers of raw eggs, etc) but the baked cake certainly smelled lemony. And when I brushed the cake with the lemon glaze ... well, my taste buds went zzzzing.

I have one more KAF "Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Lemon Cake" mix left and I can't decide whether to hoard it against the day we neeeeed cake or bake it up so that there's one less thing to move.

Yes. Because a box of cake mix takes up so much room.