Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Mocha Muffins

I often make these muffins for special occasion breakfasts. They are healthy enough to have for breakfast and yummy enough to seem like a treat. They are not the airy, greasy kinds of muffins you buy at the warehouse or grocery store bakeries. These have substance and are pretty filling without weighing you down.

Mocha Muffins
Preheat oven to 400.

2 cups rolled oats (not quick--use regular or thick cut)
1 1/2 cups leftover brewed coffee (use flavored coffee if you like that or regular--or use instant to make 1 1/2 cups if necessary)

1/4 to 1/3 cup baking cocoa powder, depending on your taste
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

6-8 ounces chocolate chips (I use regular semisweet, but there are many kinds out there, so use what you like)
3/4 cup broken walnut pieces
coconut, if desired

Place oats in container. Pour coffee over them and put in refrigerator overnight or at least for several hours. When ready to make the muffins, put this mixture into large bowl. Add cocoa powder, brown sugar, and eggs. Mix together. Add flour, baking soda, and salt and mix in until all is blended. Stir in chocolate chips, walnut pieces, and coconut, if using. batter will be thick, not runny, but should not be overly dry or stiff, so add more coffee if needed.
Spoon batter into greased or papered muffin tins and bake at 400 for about 20 minutes. These are great heated up but be prepared for melted chocolate on your fingers. I am also told that they are great chilled with ice cream on top!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011


Last night I cooked some fish and was trying to decide what to cook with it. I thought about mashed potatoes, but I decided to make colcannon instead. The first time I saw a recipe for colcannon I thought it sounded rather yucky. It called for a great puddle of butter. But one day I decided to try it my own way, so I adapted it (mostly to leave out all that butter), and it turned out to be something I like quite a lot! It can be adapted further with the addition of turkey bacon or turkey ham. Though I have not tried it, I think some turkey smoked sausage would be good, too. You could use different veggies, too. Some finely chopped broccoli might be a nice addition. This works as a side dish or a main dish, depending on what you put in it and what you serve it with. I will be having the leftovers today for lunch with some cheese melted in the potatoes.

Scrub potatoes (I used red, but you can use what you want--peel if desired, but I almost always scrub well and leave the skins on) and cut into pieces. Place in pot, cover with water, boil until tender. Drain and mash or whip with electric mixer. Add some olive oil to a pan, add chopped onion and cabbage. Sprinkle with black pepper and garlic powder. Saute until cooked to desired doneness--I like my cabbage to still be a little crisp, so I don't cook it to the mush stage. Pour the cabbage mixture into the potatoes and stir to blend.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jalapeno Cheese Puffs and Soup

The other day I threw some soup in the Crock Pot and made some jalapeno cheese puffs. The latter has become a Christmas Day tradition, but for some reason I got a craving for them and decided to make a batch. Here is how I make them:

4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
2 cups water
garlic powder
black pepper
1 cup flour
8 eggs
2 or 3 cups of cheese--extra sharp cheddar, pepper jack, or whatever you like (I am never very exact about the amount of cheese I use)
chopped pickled jalapenos (I have tried using fresh and these work better)

Put water into pot and add butter, garlic powder and black pepper; bring to boil while stirring. Turn off heat and add flour, stirring vigorously until mixture leaves the side of the pot. Add the egs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Batter gets stiff and a little hard to stir after the first few eggs. Add the cheese and chopped pickled jalapenos and blend in. Drop on greased cookie sheet by tablepsoonfuls and bake at 425 for about 15 minutes--maybe a little longer if your dollops are large. You can make them much larger--like cream puffs--and use them to hold chicken salad or something like that. In that case, I would turn the heat down to 375 and cook until they look done--perhaps 20-25 minutes or so.

You can vary these by changing the herbs and cheese that you use--swiss and chives, for example. Leave out the jalapenos if you want. I always take out some batter to bake without them anyway, as my daughter doeasn't like them.

To make the soup, I just threw a bunch of stuff in my Crock Pot--frozen turkey broth, thawed, carrots, onion, potato, frozen peas, and a bag of broccoli slaw. I cooked this on high for 4 hours, then added some chopped fresh green cabbage, dried basil, dried oregano and garlic powder. I turned the heat down to low for an hour and a half.

I always cook the grain or pasta for the soup separately and store the leftovers separately. This way it does not absorb too much liquid and get soggy, as it would if it was all in the same pot. Plus, this way it is easier to have one thing one day and a different addition the next (I always plan leftovers!). So one night I might throw in some of the brown rice I often have in the fridge and the next day it might be some cooked leftover pasta or some pierogies or ravioli.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Whole Grain Fruit and Nut Rolls in the Bread Machine

Yesterday I put my bread machine to good use making some rolls. I try to always have healthy, whole grain rolls or muffins in the house. They are handy to grab and go when you need something portable to take with you to work or elsewhere or when you just need a good snack. They make a quick breakfast with some fruit, peanut butter or a hard-boiled egg. I have good basic foundational recipes for these things that can be endlessly tweaked for variety. When I want to make rolls, I like to use my bread machine for the dough. I can remember years ago when I was making bread by hand and a friend said that if she had enough money, she would buy me a bread machine. This was back in the early 1990s. I told her then that I liked making bread by hand and I wouldn't want a bread machine. Things had changed by the late 1990s. By then we had moved to Alaska and I was still making our bread for the week every Sunday. Then we got our Norwegian exchange student. She loved bread. The bread that I was making on Sunday was gone by Tuesday and I did not have the time to make bread during the week. I reluctantly went looking at bread machines. I ended up with a big one that made loaves of up to 2 1/2 pounds. I used it and used it. At first, I diligently followed all of the suggestions about what flour to use and what proportions to use it in. I would be very careful to follow the recipes. We moved to southern Oregon and mailed stuff to ourselves from Alaska. It was cheaper to give away the bread machine and buy a used one, which we did once we got to Oregon. I experimented further. By the time we got to Maine, after almost a year on the road, I was ready to get another bread machine, but I discovered that the selection was pretty limited and they were expensive! Luck found me in the local Goodwill, though, where I found a great machine for $6. Yay! So I am back to my bread making. Here is what I have learned. You don't really need the special bread machine flour. I use a mix of whole wheat flour, all purpose flour, and oatmeal in practically everything I make. Having dairy products in there seems to help with the texture and the rising. I keep a box of nonfat dry milk on hand to mix up for bread, among other things. Cheese breads are excellent in the machine, too. You can really change the bread by simply changing the cheese. Parmesan is good, as is sharp or extra sharp cheddar. I made an excellent spicy bread once by using hot habanero cheese and pepper jack. Yum! And I expect that I will have to do a little playing around with the dough at the beginning. Depending on the flour and other factors, you may have to add more liquid or more dry ingredients. It's all just trial and error, really. Sometimes I add more milk or water and find I have added too much. So I throw in more oats. I have never had a disaster yet--these things are pretty forgiving, so don't be afraid to experiment. Once I was adding a dash of liquid and then some oats and I had to keep doing this because I wasn't getting the proportion right--the dough was either too sticky or too dry. Finally I got it where I wanted it, but the first knead was just about done. So I unplugged the machine and started it over again so it got an extra knead. The bread came out great. I also buy my yeast in bulk, because it is much cheaper and more convenient than the little packets. They sell it here in a natural food store in little bags, but I used to buy a 2 pound bag at the grocery store in Oregon. I simply put it in jars and store in the freezer. It still works fine, even if it's past the date.

So here is how I made the rolls yesterday.

Basic Ingredients:
3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 large bananas, mashed (I used this amount because the first banana I peeled was all bruised and not usable on the bottom half, so I mashed another one. Feel free to use 1 or 2--it really doesn't matter)
3 Tablespoons brown sugar (use white sugar, honey, or maple syrup if you prefer)
3 Tablespoons butter or oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup oatmeal
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons dry yeast (probably 2 packets if that is what you have)

Optional ingredients that I used--feel free to leave out or substitute as you wish!
dried cranberries

Put stuff in your bread machine and set on dough setting. Adjust dough as necessary, adding some warm water if dough is too dry and some oats or a little more flour if too wet. Just add little bits at a time until dough is the right consistency. When the machine is done, remove dough ball from machine and cut in half. Roll each half into a rope and slice into rolls. Place on ungreased cookie sheets (I used Air-Bake sheets--I really like these) and cover with towels. let rise for about an hour, then bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 10-12 minutes depending on how big your rolls are. You can tell they're done when they are golden brown on the outside and there is a kind of a hollow sound when you tap on them with a fingernail.

We had some of these hot from the oven and buttered with supper last night. This morning I had one warmed in the microwave with butter and strawberry jam. They would probably be good with peanut butter. Yum!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


This morning I just about polished off the rice I had in the fridge. I use brown rice and I like to cook extra so it's there and ready when I want it. It's very versatile. I originally cooked it for a Mexican style dish that I was making. A couple of days later I used it as a base for a stir-fry kind of thing. Sometimes I make it sweet and use as a breakfast dish. You could even use it for rice pudding! Cooking it in larger batches saves time and money. Rather than cooking it several times and having to turn on the stove each time, I can cook more all at once. It takes the same amount of time to cook a bigger batch as a smaller one! And it is convenient having it in the fridge. I see that they sell quick-cooking versions of brown rice, this costs significantly more. Having the rice prepared means that you don't have to pay extra--just make sure that you use the rice before it spoils. Here are some ways that I use rice.

Mexican style--use in various Mexican dishes, like enchiladas and burritos, or as a side dish with some garlic, chili powder, tomato, pepper, onion, and corn. I like to mix the following in a bowl and either eat with a spoon, use as a dip with tortilla chips, or as a burrito or taco filling. In a bowl, place some rice, refried beans, salsa, corn, cheese and some ground turkey or chicken browned with onions and seasoned with garlic and chili powders (this is optional--sometimes I use it and sometimes I don't).

Stir-fry-ish: Pour some olive oil into a pan. Add cut up chunks of boneless, skinless chicken breast and veggies of your choice. I made this the other day using onion, carrot, broccoli slaw, cabbage, and peas. I started with the chicken, onion, and carrot, cooked this until the chicken was almost done, added the rest of the veggies as well as some garlic powder, dried oregano, and dried basil. I served this over rice that I reheated in the microwave. You can use whatever veggies you want and if you have leftover chicken or other meat and want to use that, simply add it near the end so it just heats up.

Creamy Breakfast: Put some cooked rice in a pot. Cover with vanilla soymilk. Turn on stove to medium heat and stir frequently for a few minutes. Then stir until the rice is heated through and has absorbed much of the soymilk--this can take a little while, but the result is a delicious, creamy cereal. The grains get very plump. add dried fruit or fresh or frozen berries and nuts, if you want.

There are many more ways to use your rice, of course. You are limited only by your own imagination!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Food Stuff to Ponder

Definitions and meanings of food vary widely across cultures. In Inupiaq Eskimo cultures, there is a clear distinction between food and niqipiaq, which is their word for Native food and, tellingly, also for meat. Literally, it means “real food.” For middle aged and older people, regular eating of niqipiaq is important—people crave this food and say they have to have it. Since it is not available in stores, it is shipped from villages to the urban areas and when it is available, there is often a gathering of people who get together and eat the food. For younger people who live in villages, this is not the case. They often have relatives in more urban areas send them fast food via cargo plane. Their overall health illustrates the consequences of this.
In Norway, as in probably all cultures everywhere, food had a lot to do with sociality, and because we were guests, when we visited there, with hospitality. A food that we ate the first day we were there and said we liked was on the table at least once each day for the next three weeks. Processed food was not in abundance—they bought bread each day and they did buy fish balls that were already prepared, but that was it. When our friend came to visit us the following year, he was overwhelmed and eventually defeated by the size and scope of Fred Meyer (one-stop shopping—large supermarket/department store—sort of like an upscale Wal-Mart Super Center). Our exchange student was amazed when we took her to McDonalds and drove through—this was unheard of in the small, southern Norwegian town where she lived (where there were no fast food outlets) and in the larger town an hour or so away, where the fast food places were in old buildings, though I did see such a thing in Oslo.
In the US, food is a corporate thing. We have visions of the small family farmer, but increasingly, that is a nostalgic idea. Huge agribusiness controls what food we have access to and eat. Monocropping is the usual practice. Due to this, 80% of the calories we consume are from only four different foods—corn (by far the most common crop planted), soy, wheat and rice. This also means that food is heavily processed—we do not eat that much corn, but we do consume huge amounts of products derived from corn, especially high fructose corn syrup, which is in practically everything, it seems. It is also quite damaging to the liver and is not metabolized the same way sugar is, leading some researchers to suggest that it could be a factor in obesity. Because food corporations have a responsibility to make money, not to nourish people, we get a supermarket full of what I call pseudofood-this is laden with unpronounceable chemicals and very little actual food. And there is plenty of that—it has been shown that in the US there are twice as many calories available per person that needed (3900 calories per person per day). Supermarkets, too, want to make money, so the industry has done many studies to see how people shop. Think of your regular supermarket. Where’s the milk? Chances are it’s in the very back of the store. This is because studies have shown that people go to the store most often for milk and that the longer you can keep shoppers in the store, the more likely they are to buy more. So if you have to get to the back of the store for your milk, you might pick up some chips, or cookies, or some other high-profit-margin food as well. No one makes much money off of food in its basic form, so you will see produce, meat, eggs, and milk around the perimeter of the store and all of the processed foods front and center. Chain stores also impose shelving fees on companies who want to place their foods. These can be as high as $100,000 dollars, making it very difficult for small producers to get into the game. So in this country, the food culture is simply a large part of consumer culture with the corporations having most of the power and getting the same breaks other businesses do. And again, their goal is to make money and not to provide food that nourishes body or soul. Their mantra is that we all have personal choice and can exercise that in any way we want. So how will you choose? Here are some questions to think about from a food workshop I did a few years ago:

How do you usually shop? Do you buy foods primarily from the perimeter of the store and prepare them yourself, or do you buy foods that have already been prepared? Do you like to cook/prepare food or do you see this as a chore? If you do not cook, why is this? Do you feel pressed for time, unsure of what to do in the kitchen, just don’t find it enjoyable or some other reason?

What does your/your family’s food life look like? Are meals a time for relaxed social interaction, are they stressful, or are they something to be endured and gotten through as quickly as possible?

How do you view food on an everyday basis? Is it basic fuel to help you get through your day? Is it a part of your creative life? Is it an aspect of sociality? Are you happy with your relationship to food?

Are food and ethnicity connected in any way for you? What about food and identity?

Do you enjoy grocery shopping or find it to be a frustrating experience? Do you find the information you are seeking, if any, on food labels? Do you feel you have enough information about what is in the food you buy, how it’s processed, and where it came from? What would you like to see in grocery stores and from food manufacturers?

We live in a culture in which we are eating ourselves to death. Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, tells of health clinics in the San Francisco Bay area that treat children who are overweight, yet malnourished, suffering from dietary deficiency diseases like rickets. At the same time, many poor, inner city neighborhoods do not have access to supermarkets and the only nearby food outlets are convenience stores and fast food restaurants. This severely limits access to real, fresh food. This is to be expected in a corporate culture devoted to ever-increasing profits. Is there a societal responsibility here?

Food corporations market heavily to everyone, often exaggerating the health claims for their foods. But they are also aggressively targeting children. They strive to create brand loyalty in children very early in the child’s life. In 2001, $40 billion was spent on advertising aimed at children. In Europe, there are regulations about advertising to children. Studies have shown that children do not distinguish between the ads and the shows they are watching. And as there are more and more tie-ins between food and characters children like, the lines become even more blurred. What, if any, is the societal responsibility in terms of corporations trying to “brand” children at an early age or do we leave this to individuals to work out? How can parents counter these images for their children? What tools do they need and do you think they have enough information? What is the responsibility of marketers or food corporations in your view?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Craftivism in the Kitchen

Food. It is so many things to so many people--sustenance, comfort, security, consumer item, addiction, medicine--what food is depends on who you talk to and at what time to talk to them. Food has also become political. many people do not have access to simple actual food. There has been an explosion of what I call pseudo-food and that is available everywhere you turn. At the same time, basic cooking skills seem to have become obsolete. When I lived in southern Oregon, I volunteered with the extension program's food education program. We would talk to food pantry people to find out what they had in quantity and develop recipes for these items. Then we would bring recipes, samples, instructions, and food safety information to the food pantries. This came about because people who were receiving emergency food boxes were returning food because they had no idea what to do with it. We heard stories of people giving back such items as dry milk, raisins, even dried beans. These were people who needed healthy food. What they returned was always food in its unprocessed form. They knew what to do with cans, bags, and boxes, but not with actual food. These same food pantries would gather bread from the various grocery stores and bakeries in town and people could come in and just take what they wanted. At every food pantry I was in, I would watch people toss aside whole grain bread to get to the white sponge bread underneath. I watched them pass by perfectly good fresh fruit and vegetables that were also there for the taking. they could have taken as much as they wanted at any time--they did not have to wait for the once-a-month pick-up of the food box--but they passed this food by in favor of the french fries they got in their food box. I still think about what a disadvantage these people were at--even when they had access to healthy food, they passed it by because they were not used to it or did not know what to do with it. Of course, individually and societally, we can no longer afford to keep going down this path. People are too unhealthy. It is important for all of us to be able to prepare food that tastes good and will nourish us, physically, emotionally, and even spiritually, no matter what our food budget is at a given time. These skills are even more important when we have less money. With a creative approach, careful shopping, and a willingness to try new things, we can stretch our food budget and eat better. In my own life, I have found my cooking skills to be among the most important that I possess. We have opted for a simple lifestyle so we can pursue the things that are important to us. Being able to feed us well on next to nothing when that has been required has been very valuable. At some point, I realized that just as I have come to see my work with yarn as craftivism and not art, so is my work in the kitchen. You will find no arty presentations with leafy garnishes and swirls of sauce on the plate under a mouthful of food made to look like sculpture here. I make simple, tasty, healthy food. To me it is craft, not art. Because I think that spreading the word about the importance of cooking simple, healthy, good food and helping people become more comfortable with that, it becomes a form of activism. Thus, we have the craftivist in the kitchen.