New Discovery: The Sad Bachelor Aisle

gummy bearsMy lil’ brother Sammy and I went grocery shopping a few weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon to purchase food for a football Sunday smorgasbord feast. We do this a few times a year when we are hungry but don’t know exactly what for. We put an assortment of things into the shopping cart such as (but not limited to) hummus, tzaziki sauce, various cold cuts, salmon spread, weird snack crackers, frozen pizza, curious Indian foods, strange deli salads, donuts, fruit, cucumbers, veggie trays, soft pretzels, ice cream with marshmallows, and always some new, strange kind of cookie. We spend a lot of time in the ethnic foods section. I discovered a great falafel mix this way. There is almost always some new and delicious item discovered as well as something totally disgusting and revolting. It’s so much fun.

So I was following Sam around and he showed me an entire section of Cub Foods which I had never noticed before. It’s tucked back near the meat section, a place I rarely shop at Cub because I find their meats to be sub-par. There is a magical bulk candy section hidden in plain sight behind the bacon and next to the loose spices. Gummy bears, Jordan almonds, off-brand knock-offs of peppermint patties, bit-o-honey’s, sesame sticks all by themselves, you name it!

Sam began selecting his candy easily, I suspect because he’s visited this section numerous times before. He knew just how much to measure into a bag to equal about a pound without even weighing it. I imagine this is a talent gleaned from years of bulk candy buying. I can’t even buy  grapes without the scale, so this talent is impressive to me. I selected the little raspberry gummies. I wanted to try other things but I was too daunted by the unexpected choices that I had to step away. Then I noticed the case of freezers beside the bulk candy. They are filled with what I call ‘sad bachelor food’. Things like single serving chicken cordon bleu or just 6 frozen fish sticks. Single wrapped burgers, steaks, mini pizzas, breakfast sandwiches that are already put together and frozen alongside chicken nuggets and breaded popcorn shrimp. I look around me after spotting these items and noticed that only men were in this aisle. Men with baskets, not shopping carts, and no wedding rings -not even tan lines where a wedding ring used to be were keeping to themselves while shoving a variety of pre-cooked frozen burritos into their baskets which already contained Hungry Man frozen meals and Little Debbie snack cakes. Foods that only men with no wife to look after them would eat. Not even their mothers would allow them to eat like this! Then it hit me – the sad bachelor aisle is where the single, available men who don’t live with their mothers shop. No need for match.com when you can hang out near the bulk candy and meet the man of your dreams, ladies! The real bonus here is that the men found in this aisle are obviously not into cooking for themselves so the old adage that states ‘the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach’ will definitely apply here. I should set up a little kiosk at Cub and help people meet and exchange telephone numbers.

Maybe a few happy couples would even chose to get married at the grocery store where they first met…It could be the new Paris of the Minneapolis suburbs.

Sourdough Starter

IMG_0314 I have been reading about sourdough and it’s various health benefits lately, so I decided to go ahead and procure a starter. I ordered a crock and starter set from King Arthur Flour. I LOVE the crock, but what I didn’t know at the time of my order is that it isn’t necessary to order the starter – you can make it yourself! It’s super easy and it’s very exciting to watch and smell your own homemade starter as it does what it’s supposed to do.

Sourdough is different from other breads in that it uses wild yeast from the air rather than store bought yeast which is ready to go in an instant. The fermentation process that we use now is very much like the process that has been used for thousands of years. Some articles I’ve read speculate that ancient Egyptians used this method to make their bread, which I think is pretty fabulous. Different flours will effect the flavor of the finished product. I have only experimented with standard all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour. I prefer the all-purpose, but try a few different flours for yourself and let me know what you like.

I ALWAYS use King Arthur brand flours because they are non-GMO and never bleached or bromated. I am a member of theirflour-ap baking club, so any order I place over $25 dollars I receive free shipping. I am not paid to promote their products, by the way.

Ok, to get started here’s what you need:

  • Crock or ceramic or glass container with loose fitting lid (I’ve used a kitchen towel as a lid; it works just great)
  • Kitchen scale (this is ideal but if you don’t have one, we can still make it work)
  • Several days in a row during which you can take 5 mins and care for your starter
  • Flour
  • Non-chlorinated water – This is important because chlorine will kill the yeast.

Day 1: Place a small bowl on the scale, then tare.  Use a scoop to measure 4 oz of flour into bowl. Pour flour into crock. Now weigh 4 oz of water and pour into crock. Mix together, loosely cover and set aside.

Day 2: Scoop out 4 oz of your mix and discard. Repeat process from day 1 – measure out 4 oz of flour and water and combine with day old mix in crock.

Day 3: Repeat process

Day 4: Repeat process

By day 5 your starter should smell somewhat sour and fermented and be bubbly like my picture above. You may now use the starter to make a loaf of delicious, yummy bread. You can refrigerate starter, covered for up to a week between feedings. To feed, simply repeat the process as on day 2, but instead of throwing out 4 oz of your starter use it to bake or give that 4 oz portion to a friend with instructions on how to maintain the starter.

*If you don’t own a kitchen scale, loosely scoop flour into a 1/4 c measuring cup. Do the same with water. I use a kitchen scale for so many things that I wonder how I ever got by without one! Check out amazon.com – I found a great scale for about $15.

If your starter has a little water standing on top, this is okay. If the water is red or there is a red mold like covering, discard immediately and sanitize the container. This has never happened to me, and from what I understand it is quite rare but it can happen if the wrong kind of bacteria is attracted to your mix.

I use my starter in all sorts of things including muffins, cakes, breads, english muffins…the list goes on and on. Don’t be afraid to experiment a little yourself. Creativity in the kitchen is fun! If you are too busy to bake often or keep the starter going, don’t feel bad. Give it a try, make a loaf or two of bread and just enjoy the satisfaction of trying something new. It’s really kind of gratifying to me to think I’m feeding my family in a way similar to what my ancestors probably did centuries ago. What a great way to connect the past to the present.

Bake on!

Chicken Noodle Oops

My daughter and I came down with colds yesterday which was no fun.  We decided on homemade chicken noodle soup for dinner because not only would it help fight our sickness, it would help lift our spirits as only chicken noodle soup can do. I geared myself up to get off the sofa and chopped the carrots, celery and onion. I added 1 carton of prepared chicken stock to a small pan and began to cook the veggies. ‘What about the chicken?’ you ask.

Oops. I had roasted an entire chicken on Sunday and planned to use the rest of that in my soup but the chicken was nowhere to be found. I think it was used to make a delicious sandwich for my darling husband. I was dismayed at first, but the rich chicken stock paired with the veggies and Klusky noodles was exactly what Lena and I needed to boost our immune systems and our spirits.

The lesson here is that chicken noodle soup can be made without the main ingredient and still be satisfying. I would NOT try the leaving-out-main-ingredient method with a roast beef, however. You may be less satisfied with the end results.

Soup on!

A Kitchen Quandary – Murder by Mixer

IMG_0225

Mr. Spatula

A terrible crime was committed in my kitchen today.  This afternoon started out just like any afternoon.  The kitchen was clean, clothes were spinning in the washing machine and I decided to try a new recipe.  I whipped up some cookie bars (here’s the link to the recipe, they are beyond yummy http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/chewy-chocolate-chip-cookie-bars-recipe) and everything seemed to be going just fine. I had no idea that I was about to lose one of my favorite kitchen companions.

I hand wash all of my best kitchen utensils because I want them to have long, happy lives.  That is when I realized my cooking life was about to change forever.  My favorite green spatula seemed to be missing a sizable chunk.  Upon further inspection, I was convinced that this was the case.  This is bad, but not the worst part. I couldn’t find the missing piece. I retraced my steps, looked under the toe-kicks, even patted down the granite island in case it was lost in the speckled pattern.

A cold, icy feeling crept up the back of my neck as I began to wash the beaters of my hand mixer.  I had a flashback that brought to mind how, as I was scraping the beater during the mixing process, my spatula caught on the edge of the beater. At the moment of the incident I remember thinking ‘How strange! These beaters aren’t sharp’. But they are sharp. Oh yes, they are sharp enough to cut down a lovely boutique spatula in his prime.  By now I’m certain that you have guessed where the missing piece is to be found; in the cookie bars.

I’m sure that Monica from ‘Friends’ had similar feelings or dread when Rachel lost her engagement ring in the lasagna. Unlike Monica, however, I’m still going to serve the bars. Thank heaven my dinner guest is an old friend and an adventurous eater. Dodging tiny bits of plastic escalates dessert eating from a leisure activity to a sport. I imagine it will feel a lot like white water rafting.

Punishing the hand-mixer would be the next logical course of action, but I would really be punishing myself. I will give the beaters a strong talking-to. They won’t pull a stunt like this again.

Cookie Bar

Cookie Bar

 

Sauteed Cabbage and Red Peppers

I discovered my love for all things cabbage related just a few years ago.  My father-in-law, Papa Chuck, made the most marvelous cabbage soup the world has ever tasted and I couldn’t stop eating it. My poor husband became ‘cabbaged out’ during my last cabbage phase. I am hoping this versatile recipe will keep him interested in cabbage because cabbage is a-mazing. I have been researching the health benefits of this leafy member of the cruciferous family and was surprised to find that it has more vitamin c than an orange. Wow! Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage activate certain enzymes in your body that detoxify carcinogens before they can harm you. That fact alone should be reason enough to try a little cabbage.

  • IMG_0218 1/2 head of cabbage, chopped thin
  • 1 small red bell pepper
  • 1/2 large sweet onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • dash of paprika (must be smoky, NOT sweet)

As you can see in the photo, I use my favorite cast iron pan to saute the veggies. I will create another post soon about why I love cast iron. Anyway, saute the onion and red pepper in butter until slightly softened. Add the cabbage and stir, turning heat to low or medium-low. Mix the water and sugar together, then add to pan. Cover with lid and let cook for approx 15 minutes. Do not over cook because mushy cabbage is disgusting. I took the liberty of tasting the cabbage several times during the cooking process.

IMG_0221I served gluten-free mild Italian style chicken sausage on top of the cabbage for a gluten-free and guilt-free Sunday night meal. Not only is this incredibly easy to make, it’s also incredibly healthy. I suppose you could substitute olive oil for the butter, but why would you? The butter and paprika are the secrets to making a ‘pretty good cabbage’ turn into an ‘a-mazing cabbage’. Trust me. I never lie about butter.

Blender Blunder

What a mess! I was simmering a pot of tomato-vegetable sauce on the stove, enjoying the pleasant aroma when I decided it was time to ladle the sauce into my blender to achieve the desired texture.  Things were going well at first. I hit ‘blend’, then worked my way up to ‘puree’ on the blender scale. Next I turned it off, checked the texture, popped the lid back on and accidentally hit ‘liquify’ which is the highest setting available on my beautiful red blender.

YIKES!

This is the sign hanging above my kitchen sink. Appropriate.

This is the sign hanging above my kitchen sink. Appropriate.

The lid shot off, sauce was spewed everywhere! It was like a tiny volcano exploding, coating my kitchen in a layer of tangy tomato sauce. The sauce soaked the sleeve of my sweater and very effectively burned my right arm and hand.  I was in a total state of panic and yanked the cord out of the wall, just wanting to make it stop!

After the demon blender had been subdued I pulled my cardigan off in a most unladylike fashion. I liken it to the scene on ‘Friends’ where Ross is pretending to wear the Jurassic parka. (You know, from the one where he makes fun of Rachel’s job because it’s boring but he goes to the fashion seminar anyway because he thinks Mark is after Rachel? Yeah, you remember).

I cleaned everything within a 12′ radius before returning to the offending appliance. I lifted the darn thing out of the base and, wouldn’t you know it, the part with the blade had somehow become unscrewed and dumped the rest of the liquid onto the freshly cleaned counter and floor. I may or may not have said a few choice words at this point. If I had, however, who could judge me for that?

A Break-Up Letter to Winter

Here in Minnesota we are in the middle of ANOTHER winter storm warning. It has been snowing since yesterday. The road conditions are atrocious and I’m sure the garbage man won’t be by to pick up our trash, nor should they – it’s dangerous out there! Thanks to the rain that fell before the snow we have a nasty, thick coating of ice everywhere. These are just a few things which prompted the letter below.

 

Dear Winter,

We have shared some truly great times. As a child I loved going sledding down your snow covered hills. What can compare to walking through a forest so silent that I could hear clumps of snow falling from the tree? You made me love you more and more every time you painted the trees with the ice that looked like fine crystal. I fell asleep on Earth and woke up in Fairyland! It was truly and utterly enchanting. I love my gorgeous new winter boots, wool coats and hats. Hot chocolate never tastes as good as it does on a snowy winter day. The fact that you kill all sorts of weird poisonous bugs and snakes that thrive in warmer places is quite endearing as well.

A gently falling snow on Christmas Eve, perfect snow globe moments with family and friends all wrapped in your chilly embrace will always be happy memories I will hold onto.

Thank you for all of those things. I am grateful for the love that we shared.

Today, however, I hate you. The disgust that is welling up in my heart is inappropriate and against my nature. You are cruel. It is unhealthy for me to continue our association.  I’m breaking up with you.

So there.

It’s time for you to just move on and let spring take it’s natural course. Let the snow melt! Let the ground thaw! Let the trees start budding! If you have ever loved me you need to let me go. I have seen several robins hopping around in the snow and I fear for them. How can they eat worms when you hold the ground in your stupid, icy grasp? Go away. I’ll talk to you in November.

Sincerely,

Melanie

P.S. STOP IT! STOP  SNOWING! GO AWAY!

Pita Bread

I love pita chips. I don’t mean ‘like’,  I actually mean L-O-V-E love. So I decided to make them myself. The first step is, of course, to find some pita bread! This would usually be a fairly easy task, but I live in Minnesota and this winter was the worst. Between dangerous sub-zero wind chills and blizzard like conditions I stopped counting the number of days that we were trapped inside. Anyway, like I was saying, a quick fix of pre-packaged pitas was out of the question.

Instead, I spent a long winter day experimenting and perfecting a home-made pita bread recipe. It was worth it! Thank you MN for providing, nay, forcing inspiration for a pita baking day! I am so grateful for yet another chance to play the Glad Game! (Yes, I did watch and read ‘Pollyanna’ many, many times as a child).Pita 1

Ingredients:

  • 3-1/3 cups flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt (regular, not kosher this time)
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons honey
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm water
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm milk
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons yeast

Step 1 – combine  warm water & honey, stir. Add yeast. Set aside for approx 5 minutes. While waiting, combine flour and salt in mixer.

Step 2 – slowly add water/honey mixture to flour and combine. Add milk.

*Note – this dough has a different texture from the honey flax bread. Pita dough tends to be a little more dry, but must still be elastic.

Step 3 – if using a standing mixer, dust a clean surface with flour and knead by hand for a few minutes. If not using a standing mixer, you’ve already been stirring and kneading by hand, which is fabulous because this means you have awesome arms. Yay! Coat a large bowl with olive oil and place dough in bowl, coat lightly with oil. Cover with damp white towel and set aside for 1 hour.

Pita 2Step 4 – pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Punch down dough and cut into 8 equal sized balls. Dust with flour and roll into 8″ circles. Be sure to roll them out evenly and very thin. Place them on baking sheets. Brush with water and cook for 9 minutes.

Step 5 – let cool or eat while still warm.

You can enjoy these delightful pita treats as sandwiches, as a side for dinner, or a tasty treat. My favorite way to savor a homemade pita is fresh out of the oven with butter and honey. It’s heavenly. I prefer Manuka honey.

So that is how I make pita bread. My favorite quick, easy, and super yummy pita chip recipe will follow. Enjoy!Mankua

Pita!

Pita!

A Great Big ‘Oops’!

I begin this post with a heavy heart. I did something yesterday that every Bridget has done and almost NO Martha ever has. I forgot to plug in the crock pot. Yep. And it was, of course, a nice $20.00 roast with lots of good onions and beef broth.

Let me take you back through the day’s events.

6:00 am – Alarm goes off, I hit snooze button.

6:30 am – Decide to stop hitting snooze button.

7:00 am – Actually stop hitting snooze button.

7:05 am – My personal make-up artist applies my make-up before personal stylist does my hair. (Both me).

7:45 am – Sear roast, chop onion which makes me cry, have personal assistant fix my eye make-up, finish searing roast. Throw everything in crock pot, turn heat setting to ‘low’.

8:03 am – I feel suuuuper happy and proud of what I’ve accomplished already. A little smug too as I think about all the money I’ll save by using this roast for 3 different meals. Wow! I am such a great wife.

8:20 am – Feeling of smugness has faded as I try everything to coax Lena away from ‘Princess Sophia’ television show (did I mention we gave up TV for lent? Bridget).

8:50 am – Pull into McDonald’s drive-thru for coffee because I cannot find my blue covered coffee cup which I bought so I’d stop wasting money on icky McDonald’s coffee just because it’s convenient. I did find my blue coffee cup today sitting on a metal shelf in the garage. Why? It must have been a good choice at the moment I placed it there.

9:03 am – Drop Lena off at preschool. Sigh because I’m supposed to be to work by 9:00 am.

9:40 am – Working industriously at this point, but all feeling of smugness have left. I keep getting packing tape stuck to the hair on my arm.

5:30 pm – Husband calls to tell me he just checked on the roast and it is stone cold. I say ‘that’s impossible!’. He assures me it is entirely possible. I try to blame him for the whole thing. I lose blame game.

This is what uncooked beef looks like after floating in cool beef broth and spices for 8-10 hours.

Oops

Oops

Everything turned out just fine though. My husband saved the day with homemade egg mcmuffins! Eggs, sausage, cheese (non-moldy, I’m not like Bridget there. Can’t scrape mold off cheese and eat it. Unless it is blue cheese, in which case mold is welcome), and Sriracha sauce. Yummy!Oops 2 The wine may have paired better with French dips, but I didn’t have any problems with mcmuffins and Cabernet.  In fact, I recommend it. It’s a great way to let your inner Bridget have a little fun. Another great way to embrace the Bridget within is to eat questionable mints from the bottom of your purse. I did that today too. Did you know mints can taste like peppermint, hand sanitizer, and pennies? They can.

Honey Flax Bread

Honey flax bread is a favorite of mine. I make it from scratch, it’s easy, and it’s full of only good ingredients! No unpronounceable chemical additives.  If you do not have a bread form, don’t worry. I’ll tell you at the end of this post how to make this using a standard bread pan.

Honey Flax 2Here’s what you need:

  • 4-1/2 cups flour (I prefer King Arthur)
  • 1/2 c golden flax, ground (preferably cold milled)
  • 3-1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt (do NOT sub table salt)
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 3-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 egg white

Combine 4 cups flour and 3 teaspoons salt in large mixing bowl. Hopefully you have a standing mixer with a dough hook. If not, you’ll be doing the hard work by hand, which is fabulous because you’ll be getting an amazing arm workout!

Combine the 2 cups water and honey, stir well. Add the yeast and set aside to let it activate, approx 5 minutes. Slowly add the water mixture to mixing bowl. Mix on low until combined. Add the ground flax 1/4 cup at a time. Pour in the olive oil. Add remaining flour if needed. Honey Flax 4

*Depending on the humidity levels you may need more or less flour to get the dough to just the right consistency. It shouldn’t be too sticky, but more importantly it can’t be too dry.

Next, sprinkle some flour on the cutting board, roll up your sleeves, splash a little olive oil on your hands and pull the dough out of the mixer. The olive oil is a-mazing at conditioning the dough and making it easy – and fun – to knead.  At this stage the bread dough shouldn’t tear easily, nor should it be terribly sticky. If it’s still sticky knead in more flour slowly by hand. It should feel elastic yet firm.

Then pour the remaining olive oil into a large glass or ceramic mixing bowl. Add dough and turn to coat it with the oil as well. This keeps it from sticking to the sides of the bowl as it rises. It’s one of my favorite tricks.

Dampen the center of a white flour sack towel with hot water and tuck it snugly around the bowl containing the precious bread dough. Set it in a warm place for 1 hour. Honey Flax 8 I like to hit the ‘warm’ button on my oven and let it warm up for about 2 minutes, then turn it off. That way the bread dough can rise in a safe warm place and it doesn’t get too hot. Just don’t forget to turn the oven off before you put your bread in there – it makes a horrible mess! Don’t ask me how I know.

Okay, after an hour you should have beautifully risen dough that looks like this.Honey Flax 9 It’s so gorgeous!

It’s always miraculous to me that flour, sugar, water, and yeast can turn into this. After admiring this creation, it’s time to punch it down.

Don’t be discouraged, this is an important part of the process. I know it seems silly to deflate the very thing you’ve been hoping would raise for the last hour. Also, don’t keep checking to see if it’s rising because you just might kill it if you upset the dough. Seriously, don’t keep checking.

After punching it down, knead the dough once more.   If you choose to use an Italian bread form pan, like me, separate the dough into two even portions. Shape them into round balls, then slowly stretch them out to fit the form of the pan. Use a very sharp knife and score the bread 5 or 6 times. Cover with a towel and set aside for 20 minutes.

Pre-heat the oven to 375 F. Mix egg white with 1 tablespoon of water and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Spread egg mix on top of bread with a basting brush. If you don’t have one use a spoon, then go buy a basting brush – it is so important and you will love it. Trust me.

Now comes the good part – your home is about to smell like fresh bread. Yummy! Place the dough in the oven and cook for 30 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when you knock on it. Remove from pan and let cool on a rack.

Honey Flax 17

It smells even better than it looks!

Okay, now if you want to make a standard loaf of bread for sandwich style slices here are the differences:

  • forget the egg, you won’t need it
  • don’t separate the dough into 2 sections, just shape it and place it in your bread pan
  • cook at 400 F for 30 minutes, more for a darker crust
  • immediately spread 2 tablespoons of butter on the crust, then let cool on rack

I came up with the recipe myself after years of trial and error. This bread is an amazing addition to just about any dinner. One of my favorite ways to eat this is by topping it with my olive tapenade. It’s just hearty enough to dip in olive oil and cracked pepper and delicate enough to spread with butter or some fabulous cheese, like Rembrandt Gouda.

If you’re worried about a picky eater turning his/her nose up at the flax, don’t! They won’t even know it’s there.

See?

See?