Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Puddings

I have been on a pudding kick lately. This past weekend, I made chocolate, vanilla, and butterscotch puddings.  I had decided on brownies and pudding for my birthday, so I made a pan of brownies and the puddings.  Then my friend brought me a pan of warm gingerbread and freshly whipped cream, so I was pretty much in heaven.  I had gingerbread and whipped cream for dessert after lunch and brownie with chocolate and butterscotch pudding and more whipped cream after supper.  The next day, I tried a piece of gingerbread with a little of the vanilla pudding spooned on top and it was really good.  Last night we finished the last of the puddings, so this morning I threw together some lemon pudding to go with the rest of the gingerbread.
Lemon Pudding
Place in pot:
--3/4 cup sugar
--4 Tablespoons flour (you can use 2T cornstarch if you want, but in my experience, this produced a runnier pudding)
--2 cups milk

Cook over medium heat, stirring until mixture is thickened and starting to bubble.  Keep stirring and cooking for another minute or two.  Remove from the heat and add a teaspoon of lemon extract and a bit of butter (I use a blob that is slightly less than a tablespoon) and stir until butter is melted.  Put in a container or in individual dessert cups.

Vanilla Pudding
Make as for lemon pudding above, but use vanilla extract instead of the lemon.

Butterscotch Pudding
Make as for lemon pudding above, but use brown sugar instead of regular sugar and vanilla extract instead of lemon.

Chocolate Pudding
Place in pot:
--EITHER 1 cup of sugar and 6 Tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder OR 3/4 cup of sugar and 2 1 ounce squares of semi-sweet chocolate
--4 Tablespoons of flour
--2 cups milk

Proceed as above, using vanilla extract.  If using the chocolate squares, they will melt as you heat and stir.



Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Birthday Chili

After doing the demo the other day in the food pantry the other day with chili mix in a jar I decided to have chili for my birthday dinner tonight.  So the other night, I let my Crock Pot make my chili. 
I soaked the beans all day, changing the water a few times, then I drained them one last time and rinsed them off before placing in the crock.  I added chopped onions, bell pepper, jalapenos, carrots, and potatoes, filled the crock with water to about an inch and a half from the top, put the lid on, set it to low and left it cooking.  Every time I woke up in the night I noticed how good it smelled in here.  In the morning--about 8 hours later--I added garlic and chili powders, a 12 ounce can of tomato paste and a can of water.  I stirred everything around to incorporate the paste and left it to cook for another hour or so.  I will be the only one eating this, since neither Bill nor Heather like chili.  I will be eating it for several days and will have some for the freezer as well. 

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Chocolate Banana Rolls in the Bread Machine

Yesterday I made these chocolate banana rolls in my bread machine
They were an experiment, and I was happy with the end result!
Chocolate Banana Rolls
3/4 cup milk
1 egg
2 bananas, mashed
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup brown sugar (you could use white sugar if that's what you've got)
1 1/4 cup each whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, and rolled oats
chopped walnuts, if desired--you could also use almonds or some other nuts or leave them out entirely
2 1/2 teaspoons yeast

Put everything in the bread machine pan and set to dough setting.  If dough is too wet, add a little more oats, flour, or cocoa.  If it's too dry, add a bit of water.  When the dough is finished, roll into a snake shape and cut into pieces.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet and cover with a towel.  Let rise for about an hour, then bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, or until rolls sound hollow when you tap on them with your fingernail.  I got 24 rolls out of this batch of dough. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Chowder and Chili

This morning, I headed down to the food pantry to put beans in jars.  A couple of weeks ago, Sue, the coordinator, had asked if I would be interested in doing a "mixes in jars" demo and chili mix was our choice.  On Monday, I brought home jars of oregano and chili powder along with a box of snack-sized zipper bags.  Yesterday I measured the spices into the bags--I ended up with 28 of them.  There are lots of beans in the food bank--I guess a huge new shipment came in the other day.  So this is good timing--the chili is a simple thing to put together using food clients get from the pantry.  By doing it as a mix in a jar, people could opt to give it as a gift--and some planned to do that.  In addition to the new stock of kidney beans, there were also white beans, black beans, and pinto beans. I thought about layering colors, but decided I might not have enough time, so I got a big bowl from the soup kitchen and dumped all the different kinds in together.  Wearing my food handling gloves, I used my hand to mix them all together and then I measured 3 cups of the mixed beans into wide mouth, quart sized mason jars.  It looked really nice! I also had the following handout available:
Chili Mix in a Jar
To make the mix, place the following in a jar or large bag:
3 cups dried beans (pink, red, or kidney -- sorted).

Combine spices and put into a small bag.
3 Tbsp. mild chili powder
1 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. salt



Place jar or bag of beans into a gift bag/basket/box and include in your gift bag:
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
2 14 oz. cans diced tomatoes in juice
OR
a 12 ounce can of tomato paste that can be diluted with a couple of cans of water

Add instructions to jar:

Wash beans. Put into pot with spices. Cook until done, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, brown 1 lb. ground beef/turkey, cubed chicken breast or thighs (if desired), along with some onion and garlic (or use 1 tablespoon of garlic powder in the spice mix and omit the fresh garlic here), and drain.  Add meat to the beans with the tomatoes and sauce, or can of tomato paste and 2 cans of water. Simmer to blend flavors.

Optional veggies to add, if desired:
bell pepper
hot pepper
diced carrot
diced zucchini
corn (canned [drained], frozen, or cut off the cob)

The original recipe comes from a website that is full of recipes for mixes in jars--but many of them are pretty high in sodium and would need to be tweaked. In fact, I left the salt out of the spice packets that went into the jars today.  I also added options to the handout so that people could use what they have on hand.  This was very well received.  The food pantry was a little slower than I have seen it in the past, but the people that were in the first crowd swarmed the table and probably half of the jars went right away.  The doors opened at 10.  By 10:45, I had 3 jars left and by 11:15 they were gone. Some people decorated their jars with the tags and ribbons we had there and some did not, but many people were very pleased about the whole thing--and as someone pointed out, it was a good day for a steaming hot bowl of chili.  It was misty and rainy and in the high 30s here, so it was nice chili weather.  After the new year, we will probably do another demo along these lines since it was so popular--and we have lots more beans!

Tonight for supper we had leftover cod chowder.  I made it last night.  It just looks so pretty with all of those brightly colored veggies!
To make it, I put some olive oil in the pot and then tossed in a chopped onion, 1 1/2 bell peppers that had been chopped, diced carrots, and chopped broccoli stalks.  I cooked this in the oil, stirring everything around.  then I added some cod fillets. They were still partially frozen, so I kind of tore them into smaller pieces and just put them in the pot.  As they thawed I was able to flake them with the wooden spoon.  After the fish was flaked, I added some garlic powder and some cut up baby purple potatoes.  I added enough water that it came up to just underneath the level of the veggies and I brought it to a boil.  I turned the heat down and it continued to boil until the potatoes were barely cooked.  I added the broccoli florets and let it cook further for about a minute before turning the heat down a little more and adding milk.  I let this heat through, ladled it into bowls, and ground some black pepper over.  It was quite yummy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Freshly Snipped Herbs!

I have been craving salad for the last few days and today I made myself one for lunch.  I had some romaine lettuce, savoy cabbage, and red bell pepper.  I somehow overlooked the carrots and peas I was going to add, so they will await the next salad!  I had some crumbled feta cheese and some tuna in chili oil.  I went to my little window garden and snipped some scallion, garlic shoots, and picked some basil leaves to add to the bowl.  I topped it with a little sun dried tomato dressing.  That salad hit the spot and it was great to have the fresh herbs to brighten up the bowl.  This is an inexpensive way to add some green to your meals and to have more houseplants!  The only thing I bought for my little garden was dirt, so it's a really cheap project.  The mint and basil plants I have came from the soup kitchen dining room because no one else wanted them.  They came packaged in their little pots. I planted the basil right away, but with the mint, I trimmed it and dried the cut parts for tea, and then stuck the little pot in some water.  It was already sending out runners and it perked right up in the water.  After about a week, I repotted into a larger container.  The leeks and scallions are the ends that were left after I used the originals.  They just keep on growing. It is the same with the celery.  I place the scallion ends directly into dirt, but the leeks and celery I usually keep in water for a while.  They start growing new stalks almost immediately, but it can take a little while for the celery to grow roots. The garlic is simply cloves that I planted in dirt.  These send up green shoots that can be snipped and used like scallions.  For pots I used yogurt containers, larger food service containers, and an old glass mixing bowl that got a crack in it.  I stuck this in a wool hat I didn't want anymore--makes a nice plant pot cozy! 

It occurs to me that you could make some nice gifts out of food plants.  Plant some scallion ends and garlic cloves in a pot, give them a little time to send up their shoots, put a ribbon around the pot and give someone their own little garden that will keep on giving--and these grow back really fast when snipped.  A pot with a basil plant, some garlic, and maybe a scallion or two make a nice combination--future pesto!  Or some basil, oregano, and garlic--all ready for some spaghetti sauce.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Chowdah in the Soup Kitchen

A few weeks ago, Annette, the soup kitchen coordinator asked me of I could cook on Monday this week instead of my usual Thursday.  I figured that since she knows I am usually in the food bank on Mondays, she must've really needed someone or she wouldn't have asked, so I said I would do it.  Then last week, she asked me if I would make fish chowder (or "chowdah" as the locals say it).  I said OK even as my heart sank.  I have made chowder at home for the two of us (Heather does not eat it), but making it for 100+ people was a different story altogether.  I worried about burning the milk.  I worried about how to serve it.  I worried about lifting those huge heavy pots full of hot soup.  Happily, I had a great crew and they got busy scrubbing and chopping potatoes, peeling and chopping carrots, chopping onions, and making salad.  I cut up 35 pounds of fish, some of which were fillets, some of which were steaks, some of which had the skin on, and some of which had breading "made with real Ritz crackers."  Thank goodness for that--I would not have wanted to use fake-cracker-coated fish!!  I poured some oil in a couple of big, heavy pots, added onions and carrots and started sauteeing.  I looked at the potatoes and realized I was going to have to do three pots, so I got another one and moved some carrot/onion to that.  I added the fish and mixed it in and let it cook a little.  I added potatoes and canned corn.  I added more water and let it cook.  I lifted the lid off of one pot after 15 minutes or so and it was not boiling yet, but I smelled burnt food.  Sure enough, the bottom was scorching.  The other two pots were fine.  We got another pot and I moved the soup over to that and put it on a new burner at a lower flame, but the damage was done.  We tasted it and even with the addition of cream and crackers in the bowl, it tasted burnt.  Thankfully, I had no problem with the other two pots, so I added light cream (there had been a donation of a couple of cases of this, which is why we were having chowder!), butter, salt and pepper.  I managed to lift the pot off of the stove and onto the work table without spilling any. Turns out soup can be quite heavy. Then I used another smaller pot to scoop soup into the deep steam table pans.  We added more cream, both because there had not been room for much in the pots and because we wanted to make sure we had enough soup.  I served from one pan and when that was halfway done, I added still more cream and moved to the next pan while the cream heated up.  We served 101 first servings, 64 seconds helpings and 7 kid meals.  And even though we lost that one pot, we had enough.  People loved it.  I was relieved.  Now I am tired, but it's a good kind of tired.  This was the first time I worked a Monday in the soup kitchen, so now I have cooked every day of the week in there.  I do enjoy it.  And, after I was done in the kitchen, I chatted with Sue, the food pantry coordinator about doing a food gift activity on the 12th.  We're going to have jars, ribbons, labels, and stuff to put in the jars, like cranberry rice pilaf mix or bean soup mix or something like that, so people can layer the ingredients in the jars, add a ribbon and a label with what it is and how to cook it.  It can be a gift for someone else or they can keep it.  Should be fun!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Simple Dip and the Last of the Turkey

Tonight I will use up the last of the turkey, although there is a little soup left, which I expect to be gone by this time tomorrow.  I brought home a bag of habanero peppers from the food bank today--we had lots of food to process (and astonishing amounts of iceberg lettuce!) and there were too many hot peppers in general and way too many habaneros.  Most food pantry clients don't take them, so if there are extra on Mondays, I get them.  I am the only one here who eats the habaneros, although I will use other, less-hot peppers in cooking.  A nicely diced habanero is a really great addition to turkey-vegetable soup!  I will use some of the peppers and dice the rest, freezing them in little packets.  I used the last of the turkey broth I made on Saturday morning to cook some brown rice for supper tonight.  To go with the rice, I will cook some of the shredded turkey, a chopped bell pepper, a chopped jalapeno, and a chopped banana pepper, and a chopped onion.  I'll add some of my garlic shoots, snipped into small pieces, and some oregano and maybe some chili powder.  Oh yeah, I have a tomato, too, so I will add that.  Bill will probably top his off with salsa, but I will use some of my simple salsa dip (and a diced habanero).  I had a container of fat-free Greek yogurt that I thought was vanilla when I got it, but it was plain.  I was going to make a kind of chunky fruit sauce to add to it when I remembered the salsa-yogurt dip I used to make.  I had not thought about it in years, and I do not know why, because I always loved it.  It's simple--just mix plain yogurt with salsa.  Now that the Greek yogurt is everywhere, it is much easier than it used to be--I remember lining a colander with a coffee filter and letting the yogurt sit in that for hours to drain some of the liquid off so it would be thicker and not get too runny when the salsa was added.  This yogurt was beautifully thick right out of the container.  Now it can be a last-minute kind of thing.  Now that I've remembered this, I am sure I will have it more often.  I'm glad the yogurt wasn't vanilla after all!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Apple Cake

I started my Thanksgiving prep this morning by making one of our desserts and cooking some squash in the Crock-Pot.  I got two butternut squash--one large and one small--in the crock and I added a little water.  I cooked it on high for a couple of hours and then on low for several hours more--until they pierced easily with a knife.  Then I scooped out the seeds and strings, scopped out the squash and that is that!  Except that Bill had some with supper, so I will cook another one tomorrow!  I prefer sweet potatoes to squash, and they take longer to cook, so tonight I will fill both Crock-Pots, set them to low, and let them cook overnight.  Tomorrow I will make oatmeal rolls and let my bread machine make the dough.

Heather does not like pumpkin pie, so she always has banana cream pie instead.  I will put that together Thanksgiving morning.  The pumpkin pie also gives Bill heartburn, so we gave it up, too.  I think we had blueberry pie last year, but this year I decided to make an apple cake.  It is an adaptation of a recipe that is in the New Laurel's Kitchen Cookbook.  I made it in the tube pan I found in like-new condition for 50 cents or so at the thrift store a few months ago.  I'd been keeping an eye out for one as I hardly ever use it, but like to have it around for the few times I want one.  You can see my "garbage garden" moved indoors in the background--basil plants, garlic shoots, and scallion ends that I replanted after using them all happy in the sunshine.  It is handy to snip some off as I did at lunch when I was making my salmon salad. 
Apple Cake
3 cups cored and peeled apples, chopped sort of small
1 1/2 cups dried cranberries (the original recipe calls for raisins and I have used them, but I like these better--you can use any dried fruit of combination that you like)
3 tablespoons oil
1 1/2 cups boiling water

Place apples and dried fruit in bowl, pour boiling water over and add oil.  Let sit for 10 or 15 minutes.  Add

1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt

Stir everything together.  Add

1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Stir everything together until well-blended.  Pour into greased tube pan (or square cake pan or loaf pans) and bake for about an hour at 350.  Let sit for a few minutes before removing from pans. 

I was thinking today that I could probably make these in muffin tins, too, and they would make nice mini-cakes to give as gifts.  They would require less baking time, though.  I might try this!


Friday, November 16, 2012

Oven Stew and Carrot Sculpture in the Soup Kitchen

I cooked in the soup kitchen this morning.  I had decided at the end of last week that I would take advantage of the 1200 pound carrot donation that had come in and would make an oven stew today.  Since no unexpected donations came in that changed the plans, the crew and I set to work cutting stuff up.  Some did carrots, some potatoes, and I worked with someone else cutting up steak into chunks.  He pointed out one package that had a price sticker of $18.99 a pound.  Good thing I do not like or eat beef!  While we were cutting the meat, someone came up front to show us her two funky carrots that, when placed stem ends together, make a little carrot guy.  These got put aside and later on, when the stew was in the oven and the crew had wrapped silverware in napkins, gotten the salad ready and cleaned up the back prep area, I turned around and saw Arnie with his little tool, creating carrot guy. He even gave him a fig leaf! We're a creative bunch in the soup kitchen on Thursdays!
We looked in vain for some whole cloves to use for eyes, and in the end, Annette, the soup kitchen coordinator, got a marker and I drew on his little face. He was standing on the counter in a little cup until he got knocked over and alas, ended up with a broken arm.  I do not know where he ended up.  Don't know whether the pigs got him!

The oven stew was well-liked--lots of people asked for seconds and we even had some ask for thirds.  The carrots ended up being crisp-tender instead of mushy.  I was not sure how well that would go over in the dining room, since a lot of people seem to like their veggies well cooked.  But it did not seem to be a problem, and one person even asked for seconds, carrots only.  I fished out a small pile of carrots for her.

To make today's lunch, I greased a bunch of pans and in them I placed various kinds of steak, cut into cubes, cubed carrots and potatoes, and some onions. I sprinkled garlic powder, black pepper, and thyme over everything and mixed it all together.  Then I mixed up this au jus stuff--comes in a foil packet and is a powder that you mix with water.  I poured some of that into each pan and then into the convection oven they went.  I had about 70 minutes of cooking time, so I had the oven at 425 to start and then after about 40 minutes, I turned it up to 450, to make sure we reached the safe temperature of 160 degrees before serving.  We served this with bananas (the local target seems to overbuy bananas all the time and then we get boxes and boxes of them!), salad, and rolls.



Monday, October 15, 2012

Use It or Lose It!

Lots of stuff that needed using right away came home from the food bank today.  Happily, the Monday crew is as diligent at avoiding food waste as I am, so we all keep that in mind as we are processing stuff.  Anything that is good but that has a small cut or something (like a squash, a melon, peppers, etc) gets set aside and volunteers can take it home.  If there is stuff that is still good, but will not last for a few days longer in the food pantry or if it is really wilted or something, we either take it home or set it in the dining room.  And at the end of our shift we are welcome to take a loaf or two of bread from the shelf.  In the soup kitchen, once something has been placed in the individual serving bowls, ready to be handed out, it can't go back if there are leftovers.  So, for example, if the salad is still in the big stainless steel bowl and is undressed, it can go into the fridge for the next day (unless it's Friday).  If it's been dressed and placed in serving bowls, though, and doesn't get served, it either comes home with us or goes into the pig buckets.  Last Thursday I had several containers of dressed salad and only a couple of takers, so 4 of them came home with me.  I ate lots of salad for a couple of days, but it was good, so I didn't mind!  Oddly enough, I did not have any problem at all finding homes for the opened package of donuts or the pound cake!

Today I ended up with a a few bunches of basil, a bunch of mint, strawberries, blackberries, and several jalapenos, which are not popular in the food pantry.  And I got a nice loaf of artisan bread that came from a local bakery via the farmers' market.  The mint is drying--Heather really likes mint tea and I send some to work with Bill for one of his co-workers.  I made a big batch of pesto with the basil--half went into the freezer and half in the fridge.  Tonight for supper we will have eggs and strawberries and I made some broccoli and potatoes with pesto, too, which is good hot or cold.  I scrubbed and cubed a bunch of potatoes and boiled them.  Then I cooked some broccoli, a few of the jalapenos (with the seeds and ribs removed so they won't be hot), and a sweet onion in a little olive oil.  Then I tossed this mixture with the potatoes and some pesto.  There is pesto left in the fridge and I am thinking it would be great on some of that beautiful bread topped with a thin slice of extra sharp cheddar.  Sounds like lunch tomorrow!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

A Little of This and a Bit of That

The weekend is upon us.  For us that usually means we eat our "supper" for lunch, since Bill will be at work and has food there--peanut butter, almond butter, jelly, cereal, almond milk, yogurt, fruit, and bread in the freezer--he has some options!  I have discovered that I really like having something extremely simple and fast for myself on these weekend evenings.  I had decided to make some Mexican-style chicken this afternoon, so I cut up some boneless skinless chicken breasts and put them into my cast iron frying pan along with a chopped sweet onion, orange bell pepper, corn kernels scraped from 4 ears of corn (we had a big donation at MCHPP last week and they were giving some away), the last red tomato from the farm (it was green when we brought it home and I let it turn red in a paper bag) and a zucchini.  I put the burner on high and let it cook, stirring everything around frequently, as the pan was very full.  When stuff was cooked, I added garlic and chili powders, stirred this in and added some water.  I just let everything bubble away until some of the water was evaporated--an easy way to make a nice sauce. 

While that was bubbling, I started another pot with an onion, a bell pepper, a couple of hot peppers, some carrots, the last green tomato from the farm that refused to turn red, and some broccoli stalks (I set the florets aside to add later).  I stirred all this around in a bit of olive oil and when it was at the crisp-tender stage, I added some tofu, the florets, and some curry powder.  At MCHPP, we get leftovers from the Bowdoin College dining room and often there is tofu--it's crumbled and cooked with veggies and stuff, but it's always pretty bland--they don't seem to spice it up much.  Anyway, these Bowdoin leftovers are sometimes offered in the food pantry and sometimes in the soup kitchen available for people to take home--and there usually seems to be stuff there on Thursdays when I cook.  If diners don't take it, it goes into the pig bucket, so home it came!  I have one container in the freezer already, so I decided to doctor up the new stuff and have it for supper tonight and tomorrow and probably lunch for the next couple of days after that. 

So that's done.  Tomorrow's lunch is taken care of and so are my weekend suppers. Yay!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Using Bread

I did a demo in the food pantry lobby today on using bread.  I stayed in the soup kitchen yesterday after cooking lunch and made a strata, which I then left in the walk-in cooler.  Unfortunately, there was no real way to heat it up, since the ovens were all in use today.  I had to serve it cold, which was still good, but not as good as it is hot--can't beat the gooey cheese!  Anyway, people liked it and several took a handout.  I put together a smaller pan to show people how to do it and I waited before pouring the egg and milk over it, since I had to wait for oven space.  I baked it and there was a guy who waited there for half an hour after going through the pantry so he could have some hot.  He liked his cold piece and wanted to try it hot. He asked if he could take some home to his wife and said he'd take the whole pan if he could.  By this time I'd been standing there for over 2 hours and there was hardly anyone left in the lobby.  One little girl wanted to try some, so I gave a piece to her, put the rest in containers and sent them home with the guy who wanted them--I figured he might as well have it, since he waited so patiently for the pan to be done!

I usually do these demos on Wednesdays, and I am not usually there at all on Fridays, so I met a bunch of new people--clients and volunteers.  One woman was working in the soup kitchen and she asked what I was doing, so I told her.  She said she had no idea that there were demos at MCHPP and that she does demos for her job.  I suggested she talk to Sue, the food pantry coordinator, which she did.  I told Sue that if this person wanted to take over for a while and do the next few demos, that would work out really well for me, since we are entering the time of year when I like to be hibernating at home with my tea, yarn, and music as much as I can.  I would not give up my Mondays at the food bank or my Thursdays in the soup kitchen--I love doing those things and I would miss them terribly if I was to stop.  And while I also have enjoyed doing the demos, I felt that it was something I could give up without missing it too much.  So as far as I know, there will be a new demo person.  I am glad they will continue because I think they are useful and I would not have stopped if there was not someone there to take over, but I am glad someone else will take over for a while.  Besides, the more ideas that get tossed around, the better for everyone!

I will copy and paste the handout I made for today's bread demo below and then go make a cup of tea!

Using Bread
Strata:
Grease a baking pan or dish. Tear up some bread and place in single layer in bottom of greased pan. Top with finely chopped veggies, such as onion, pepper, broccoli, chard or spinach, zucchini or other summer squash. You can saute these in a little oil before adding, if you wish. Sprinkle with cheese. Beat eggs and add some milk (how many eggs and how much milk depends on how large your pan is—you will want to have everything almost covered with the egg/milk mixture and you want that to be a kind of pale yellow). Bake at 375 degrees until the sides are set and lightly browned. The center will still look a little loose. Top with a bit more cheese if you want and put back in oven just long enough for this to melt. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes or so until the center is set. Cut into squares and serve. Great hot, cold, or at room temperature. Makes great leftovers, too!

Sweet Bread Pudding (from http://allrecipes.com/recipe/bread-pudding-ii/)
6 slices day-old bread
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup raisins (optional) or use dried fruit of your choice
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk
3/4 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Break bread into small pieces into an 8 inch square baking pan. Drizzle melted butter or margarine over bread. If desired, sprinkle with raisins. In a medium mixing bowl, combine eggs, milk, sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. Beat until well mixed. Pour over bread, and lightly push down with a fork until bread is covered and soaking up the egg mixture. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly tapped. Recipe can be doubled and baked in a 13x9 inch pan. Add berries or other fruit if desired. Use sweeter bread for this if you like—raisin or other fruit breads would be great in this. Try using bagels or raisin English muffins if that's what you've got lying around.
Stuffing
Cut bread into cubes or just tear into bite-sized pieces. Place in large bowl. Saute some onion and celery in a bit of oil or a combination of butter and oil. Pour vegetables over bread, add some chicken broth (or water in a pinch) and poultry seasoning to taste. You want the bread to be moist, but not really soaked to the point of being mush. Mix everything together well and dump into greased pan. Bake at 375 for 45-60 minutes. Serve with chicken, turkey, pork chops, or fish. I have used this to stuff large whitefish and salmon, as well as chicken and turkey. You could place a layer of stuffing on the bottom of a baking dish and top with pieces of chicken or pork chops and bake everything together. To make the stuffing more hearty, omit the oil/butter, and brown the onion and celery along with ground Italian sausage (sweet or hot) or links with casings removed, and some ground beef (or use ground turkey and chicken or turkey Italian sausage, if you prefer). Add this mixture to the bread pieces in the bowl and proceed as above. With some vegetables on the side, this would be a meal by itself.
Other Ways of Using Bread:
I never buy bread crumbs. It is easy to simply grate bread and store the resulting crumbs in a bag in the freezer. Add some herbs if desired for seasoned bread crumbs. You may also be able to simply crumble sliced bread between your fingers and make bread crumbs that way—a great way to have the kinds help in the kitchen! Set out a cookie sheet, give them some bread slices, and ask them to crumble the bread over the cookie sheet. Add dried herbs if you want, transfer to a bag and freeze.
Croutonscube bread and place cubes in a bowl. Drizzle with oil, garlic powder, and dried herbs of your choice if the bread is plain. Toss the cubes around with your clean hands. Bake at 400 until the cubes are crisp. Let cool completely before transferring to an airtight container or zipper bag. Use in soups and salads or as a snack on their own (when my niece and nephews were small, we would buy lots of salad stuff when we visited and we had to buy extra croutons because they ate them like they were chips or something)
French toast is always an option for bread that needs using—you can make it and freeze it, too, so it can be ready to microwave on busy mornings. If you top with a fruit sauce instead of just syrup, it's a good meal. To make an easy fruit sauce, simply chop up some fresh (peeled or not, as you wish), frozen or canned fruit—or a combination of all three. Place into a pot and cook over medium-high heat—when it starts to bubble, turn it down to medium. Let it cook, stirring frequently until the fruit is thickened. You can add dried fruit and/or coconut as well, if you like. If you like things really sweet, add a little sugar, or add the juice from canned fruit (never throw this juice away—you can use it to cook oatmeal, use it in muffins—it can be frozen for later uses, too). Sprinkle a little cinnamon in the mixture and stir in if you want, or add a dash of vanilla or almond extract. All kinds of berries are great for this, as are apples, peaches, and pears. A very easy way to make a cranberry sauce/jam is to dump cranberries into a pot and use a cup (or less if you like things tart) of sugar per pound of cranberries (this would be ¾ cup sugar for the 12 ounce bag you get in the store) and add a little water—just about halfway up the level of cranberries. Mix everything together and let it come to a boil, then turn down the heat and let it bubble away for 15 or 20 minutes. Spoon into a jar and let cool—it will thicken as it cools. This is great on toast, french toast, pancakes, waffles, and stirred into plain oatmeal.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Soup! Yay!

This morning I woke up feeling like I really wanted to have a nice bowl of soup today.  It was cool overnight and we still have all our windows open, so in the 40 degree morning, soup seemed like just the thing.  In the late morning, I started filling my trusty 7-quart Crock Pot.  I threw in some green beans, carrots, potatoes, onion, a large bell pepper, an Asian eggplant, and some sliced hot turkey Italian sausage.  I got some chopped broccoli stalks out of the freezer and threw those in, too.  I added water and let it cook on high for a few hours.  Then I added chopped baby bok choy, chopped cabbage, chopped parsley, some crumbled dried oregano, crumbled dried thyme, garlic, the rest of the kidney beans I'd cooked the other day, and several chopped tomatoes.  By this time the crock was quite full, so I kept an eye on it for the last hour and a half of cooking time.  I cooked some brown rice and we had the soup ladled over that and topped with some shredded asiago cheese.  It was so good!  And because I made so much, we have leftovers for tomorrow--much appreciated, since Bill will be doing a 10-hour shift at work because one of his colleagues is starting her vacation, and I will be doing a crochet class in the evening.  I also have enough to put some in the freezer--I expect this to come in very handy for those times I have a soup craving.  I almost never have canned soup in the house, so if I have soup in the freezer, I can just take it out and heat it up when I want it.  And Bill can take a container to work to keep in the freezer there--handy for those weekend dinners. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Farm Nachos and Stuff

We went to the farm a while ago--we should have two or three pick-ups left depending on what the weather does.  There were some flowers and herbs still in the U-pick field.  I got some some flowers and herbs-- parsley, dill, basil (it had been touched by frost but I managed to get enough for another batch of pesto for the freezer), rosemary, mint, and cilantro.  Yesterday I brought home oregano from the food bank.  I have bunches of herbs hanging upside down to dry on my kitchen window blind.  It sure smells good!  as I was putting stuff away, I discovered that I still had baby bok choy from last pick-up in the fridge, along with some kind of mystery green leafy stuff that I brought home from the food pantry last week.  No one knew what it was, but we tasted it and it was good, so I figured I could cook it or freeze it.  Instead, I forgot about it!  Sigh.  I will be gone for most of tomorrow, so Thursday I will have to get stuff into the freezer.  I have some green beans, too. Tonight we are having nachos.  The other night I had both Crock-Pots going--chicken in the smaller one and beans in the bigger one.  Today I made myself a pot of chili with veggies in it (I'm the only one who eats it, so it wasn't a huge pot, but enough for several days).  I shredded the chicken and added it to some onion, chili pepper and red pepper that I had cooked in olive oil, and then added chili powder and garlic.  I made chips by crisping extra thin corn tortillas, so we will have those topped with the chicken, some chopped heirloom tomato, cilantro, and jalapeno from the farm, and some chopped onion, along with salsa, guacamole, and shredded cheese.  Yum!

I also brought home a salad mix--there was arugula, hot mustard, lettuce mix, and tatsoi to mix and match, so I just put some of each in the bag.  I have more baby bok choy, a head of cabbage, hot peppers, a green bell pepper, some potatoes, and several tomatoes.  The other day I made some sweet and spicy cucumber slices from some cucumbers that Bill's co-worker gave him and I still have a couple of cukes left.  So with all the greens and stuff, I see a few salads in my near future.  That's good.  I shall enjoy the tail end of salad season--we saw branches full of red leaves on our way to the farm.  Lots of green, too, but more and more red.  I think summer might be just about over.  Yay!  My little freezer is packed with veggies and is ready for soup season!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Advance Cooking

I cooked in the soup kitchen yesterday and at the end of the lunch service, there were still some veggies left in the dining room.  There is a bench along one wall of the dining room where food is placed for people to take--anyone who comes can take the food and there is no income requirement.  The food might consist of fruit and vegetables from a local farm or store, pre-made items from Bowdoin College or a local restaurant, sandwiches and other packaged food from the local store, or whatever else either needs using or is available in abundance.  If there is food left at the end of the lunch service, we are free to take what we want.  Yesterday there were a lot of tomatoes, so most of us kitchen volunteers took some, myself included.  I used a couple last night with supper, but still had four left.  I also had a small bunch of chard in the fridge that I decided to use instead of freezing.  So I made a cream sauce with onions, an orange bell pepper, some peas I had in the freezer from a local farm, the tomatoes, and the torn chard leaves.  We will have this tonight with rice and salmon.
Tomorrow I will be teaching a crochet class up the street from where Bill works, so after my class I will go down there and hang out with him until he's done.  We will either bring salmon salad made with leftover fish or leftover rice and cream sauce for supper.  What we don't bring for supper, we will have for lunch :-)  I have a big batch of brown rice cooking as I type, so later on all I will have to do is throw the salmon into the oven.  Yay!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Mittens in September!

Today I got to get out my wool/mohair mittens and wear them!  Yay! 
Bill and I went to hand out food at the monthly food mobile at MidCoast Hunger Prevention and once again we worked the meat station.  The truck's contents are different every month--this time there were lots of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and ears of corn on the other side of the truck, and some bagged salad.  Another table had cereal and milk and some other non-perishables, and still others had breads and desserts. I figured we'd be doing the meat this time, so I came prepared with my mittens, since it all shows up frozen.  The past couple of months have been much warmer than today, so I thought I might need them.  Turned out to be a good decision because this month was very different than any I had seen--we got almost all deli stuff.  Bill opened box after box with these huge slabs of ham, chicken, turkey, roast beef, corned beef, hard salami, and bologna--it was all the stuff you see in the deli case that they grab to slice for you.  We even had several 13 pound boiled hams--was great for the family of 9 that came through!  We had a few smaller items--lots of bacon--so we gave people a choice between one large slab or two smaller things.  The bacon went fast, even though we probably had a couple dozen packages.  Moving around large frozen hunks of deli meat made my fingertips a bit cold, so I was glad to have my mittens--and glad that I got to preview the most wonderful time of the year, when I will be swathed in wool, mohair, and alpaca from head to feet!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

BBQ and Femwiches

I cooked in the soup kitchen this morning.  I had 40 pounds of ground beef to work with and I had decided last week to make sloppy joes.  The last time I made sloppy joes in the soup kitchen was the first day I cooked.  The soup kitchen coordinator told me it was good and I shrugged and said, "It was manwich.  I didn't do much."  She replied that "manwich" wasn't really accurate since I was the one cooking, so I said maybe we could call them "shewiches."  But she thought that had a kind of evil ring to it, so we left it at that.  When I was leaving that day, she told me that one of the other women in the office had come up with the term "femwich" and we all liked that.  So today I made femwiches for 157 people.  There was very little sloppy joe sauce, so instead of using that, I used plain tomato sauce and added herbs that were harvested and dried last week from the Common Good Garden--a volunteer effort to grow food for Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program.  I browned the ground beef with onions and bell peppers, added garlic and the herbs, drained it, and added the sauce.  Then the pans went into the oven.  People raved about the sauce.  We had some beautiful carrots, too, that were either from the garden or a local farm.  I just boiled those, since they were so fresh and people loved them, too.  We rounded the plates off with cantaloupe slices.  It was hot in that kitchen but I still enjoyed myself immensely.
   That was quite enough cooking for one day and happily, supper tonight was already done.  We barbecued last night and so had leftovers. 


I heated up some potato/cauliflower packets (cauliflower, thinly sliced potatoes, onion, a clove of garlic for each packet, and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese bundled in foil and cooked as the coals were winding down) and some grilled chicken breast, which we had on bread with sliced tomato, onion, and grilled cubanelle pepper. 
More burgers, chicken, and cauliflower/potato packets for tomorrow!  Yay!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Food Pantry Demo: Zucchini and Tomatoes

Did another cooking demonstration at the food pantry today, this time using some of the wonderful and abundant zucchini and tomatoes we've been getting into the food bank.  I cooked some rice at home this morning before I left.  At the pantry, I used an electric frying pan to which I'd added a little oil.  Then I added sliced onions and zucchini and sauteed it for several minutes, stirring every now and then.  I used fresh tomatoes because we have lots of them, but if we hadn't had so many, I would have used canned tomatoes or tomato sauce.  Anyway, I chopped the tomatoes and added them to the pan along with some garlic powder and some herbs that had been picked from the Common Good Garden--another volunteer effort on the part of some of the many fabulous people that work to get food to people that need it.  A volunteer gardener took the herbs home and dried them and they were brought in for use in the soup kitchen.  I checked before nabbing the jars for my own use, and the cooks in the kitchen today did not need them!  I let the tomatoes cook down a little and served this over rice in little bowls.  I let people sprinkle on their own Parmesan cheese to taste.  People really liked it--and it seemed that some were surprised that they liked it.  That is always a good thing!  As always, I had a hand-out prepared, a copy of which appears below!

Zucchini and Summer Squash
Easy Zucchini and/or Summer Squash
Pour a little oil in a pan. Add onion slices cut in half moons. Add sliced zucchini or other summer squash, such as crookneck or patty pan (cut slices in half if the squash is thick). Cook the onion and squash in the oil, stirring the veggies around constantly until they are slightly browned. Sprinkle with garlic powder and oregano or Italian seasoning.
To serve:
You can serve this right out of the pan—sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, if desired. Good as a side dish or to top cooked rice, pasta, or other grain. Or use inside an omelette or mixed into scrambled eggs.

Variations:
Pour in some canned diced, crushed, or chopped fresh tomatoes or add tomato or spaghetti sauce. You can also use tomato paste that you thin to the desired consistency with water. Use this sauce to top cooked pasta, polenta, or rice. Add leftover cooked chicken, beef, fish, or pork, if desired. You can also bake this with some mozzarella or other cheese of your choice. Or scoop out a bit of the inside of an Italian roll or some Italian bread, put mixture on bread and top with cheese for a sub.

To make with ground beef, turkey or chicken, simply cook the meat at the same time as the veggies. You won't need the oil if you do this. Drain excess grease before serving or adding tomatoes.

Mexican Style:
Add chili powder along with the garlic and oregano, place on a tortilla and sprinkle with pepper jack or cheddar cheese for a different taste. Add salsa and/or hot peppers if you like.

Add corn, tomatoes, potatoes, canned beans or cooked dry beans and some tomato sauce to make a Mexican-style stew.

Strata:
Grease a baking pan or dish. Tear up some bread and place in single layer in bottom of greased pan. Top with finely chopped veggies, such as onion, pepper, broccoli, chard or spinach, zucchini or other summer squash. Sprinkle with cheese. Beat eggs and add some milk (how many eggs and how much milk depends on how large your pan is—you will want to have everything almost covered with the egg/milk mixture and you want that to be a kind of pale yellow). Bake at 375 degrees until the sides are set and lightly browned. The center will still look a little loose. Top with a bit more cheese if you want and put back in oven just long enough for this to melt. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes or so until the center is set. Cut into squares and serve.

Other Uses:
--Add chopped summer squash to soup—homemade or dress up canned soups.
--Shave slices lengthwise and eat as is or spread with hummus or ricotta, roll up, and eat
--Use raw in salads
--Grate summer squash and add to meatloaf, meatballs, or burgers
--Grate a few squash and squeeze our excess water. Add some grated potatoes, onion, or garlic if you like. Beat a couple of eggs and add some flour (¼ cup or so). Mix everything together. Heat a small puddle of oil in a pan, place a couple of tablespoons of veggie mixture in a mound in the pan, flatten and smooth out a little with a spoon and cook a couple of minutes on each side. Top your veggie pancakes with salsa, applesauce, or whatever you'd like.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Tabbouli Riff

This morning I took some haddock and a container of cooked white beans out of the freezer.  Good thing, because I ended up needing the space.  I froze two large bunches of kale and chard (and chard stems) and a container of pesto.  I cooked the haddock for supper, sprinkled with some Italian seasoning and baked.  I made tabbouli to go with it.
I prepared the bulgur wheat by placing one cup in a pot, pouring one cup of boiling water over this, covering and letting it sit for 30 minutes before putting it in the fridge to chill a little.  A while later I snipped a bunch of chives into the bowl and mixed them in.  Then I cooked some diced veggies in a little olive oil until they were just crisp-tender.  I used a yellow summer squash, a clove of garlic, and three of the smallest Asian eggplants I have ever seen--they were 3 and 4 inches long.  I mixed the veggies into the bulgur and chilled.  A couple of hours later (as I was making lunch) I chopped up a couple of tomatoes and mixed those in, along with the white beans, then squeezed the juice out of a lemon--it came to about 1/8 cup or so, and added about 1/4 cup of olive oil.  I poured the dressing over the salad and then sprinkled in some mint that I had gotten from the farm and dried.  It is quite tasty and of course, there are leftovers!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Garbage Garden

I call this my garbage garden.
It's on the back porch, just outside the kitchen.  All of the containers are repurposed--even the aquarium, which someone was going to get rid of.  The chives were in a box behind the food bank, ready to be discarded, I guess.  Someone who works there asked me if I wanted them.  There are garlic shoots, scallions, leeks, and celery growing.  I just cut off the garlic shoots, scallions, chives, and leeks when I want to use them and they grow back.  I planted the ends of the leeks and scallions to get them started and planted some garlic cloves.  The celery came from the food bank--we cut off the ends and they would normally go into the pig bucket, so I took them home, put them in water and waited for roots to grow, which they did.  All of these plants (except the chives) came from kitchen scraps that would otherwise have been thrown away. 

I had a different celery plant, but I lost that, some garlic, and some scallions a few weeks ago.  I overwatered and then it rained off and on--hard--for days.  I did manage to pull up most of the scallions and I just put the ends in water until I could plant them in different containers.  All of this will come inside if it ever actually gets too cold for them outside (I am at the point in this summer where it feels like it will never, ever be over and it feels like I will have to live in this heat forever--it is starting to wear on me!).  We get lots of sun in here in the winter once the angle of the sun gets lower and the leaves fall from the tree outside our window, so I am hopeful that we will be able to over-winter this stuff.  I think the one drawback could be the low temperature at which we set the heat--stays around 60 in here with it set at 56.  We shall see how it goes. I have some more scallions and some more garlic to plant--this time I will go easier with the water!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Saucy Zukes!

Yesterday I used up the rest of the chicken I had left from the day before when I cooked a small whole chicken in my Crock-Pot.  I chopped up a Japanese eggplant and some zucchini from the farm and placed this in a puddle of olive oil in a pot.  I added a large sweet onion that I had roughly chopped.  Cooked this while stirring the veggies around and when they were crisp-tender, I added the chicken.  It was already shredded, so I didn't even have to cut it up.  Then I added some Italian seasoning and spooned in a 12 ounce can of tomato paste and two cans of water and stirred for a few minutes until I had a nice consistency for the sauce.  I spooned this over brown rice and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Using Stuff Up and Making More Room

In order to make room in my rapidly filling freezer, I took out a whole chicken to thaw yesterday.  This morning I removed it from the fridge, placed it in my larger (7-quart) Crock-Pot, turned it on low and left it for about 10 hours.  I took it out of the crock, let it cool enough so I could handle it, removed the meat from the bones, put half into a container for use tomorrow and chopped up half for use in supper tonight.  I had a big head of broccoli that I got in our farm share Tuesday, so I peeled the thick stems, chopped everything up and placed the stems in a puddle of olive oil, cooking them for a few minutes while stirring.  I added the chopped chicken and stirred everything around for a couple more minutes before adding the chopped florets.  When these were bright green, I took the pot off the heat and added some chopped chives.  I had some leftover spaghetti and some rice in the fridge, so I heated up the former for Heather and the latter for me and Bill and topped this with the chicken and broccoli.  Heather dumped some leftover spaghetti sauce on hers and I used up the pesto I'd made on Wednesday on ours.  I had just enough pesto left--we'd used it for pesto pizza last night.

I spent some time Wednesday getting veggies into the freezer.  I had a couple of bunches of chard--one had bigger stems and some was loose leaves with smaller stems from our farm share.  I chopped up the larger stems and blanched them separately.  I have a bag of these in the freezer--they will be great in soups or stir-fry.  I had a bunch of bok choy, which I blanched and froze--stems and leaves together.  There was a mix of baby bok choy and tatsoi leaves from the farm and I decided to just go ahead and freeze that, too.  Finally, I got a bag of green beans into the freezer.  I am getting a good collection of veggies for winter soups.  I really did not feel like standing there dealing with the stove and boiling water--would've rather stayed by the fan with a book or some yarn--but I know that when I am grabbing stuff from the freezer and dumping it into my Crock-Pot this winter, I will appreciate being able to get the soup on in a few short minutes!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Pizza Burgers and Veggie Salad with Herbs

We were going to fire up the grill last night, but didn't.  Bill walked to and from work, stopping at the library and to pick up cat food on the way home and he was hot.  It was pretty comfortable inside and neither one of us really felt like hauling everything downstairs and hanging around outside in the heat, so I cooked inside.  I sprinkled some boneless, skinless chicken thighs with Italian seasoning and put them in the oven.  I made pizza burgers, too and I had made a veggie salad earlier in the morning.  We've been eating leftovers today and there will still be some left for tomorrow.  It's nice to just heat stuff up when I feel like it--more time to read, knit, and tat!

To make the pizza burgers, I put a pound of ground chicken in a bowl and added a bit of olive oil, a small onion, chopped, some Italian seasoning, some oatmeal, and some tomato paste.  I am not sure how much tomato paste I put in--we had some left from a previous supper in a jar and I scooped out some of that.  I always use oatmeal instead of bread crumbs in burgers and meatballs and stuff like that because I like the end result better.  I use enough so that everything sticks together well.  I also added some Parmesan cheese at the last minute!  I got 6 burgers out of this.  When they were cooked, I turned off the oven, sprinkled some cheese on top, and put the pan back in the oven for a minute or two to melt the cheese.  These are nice and juicy and they taste quite good!

The salad has Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced cucumbers, green beans, an orange bell pepper, snipped dill, snipped chives, snipped garlic shoots, and scallions all tossed with a lemon vinaigrette dressing.  It's very light and refreshing.
Had some chicken for lunch with peas and brown rice and I will have a burger, some salad, and some baked beans for supper.  Quick and easy!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Chicken, Potatoes, Mixed Veggies

I walked to the soup kitchen this morning in the rain.  It was around 70 degrees and the rain was falling steadily at a good clip, but was not a downpour.  I decided to walk around the long way instead of cutting through the back (which made it about a 10-minute walk instead of 5) because I was enjoying the rain and the lack of sunshine.  I was thinking that if it were only 30 degrees cooler, it would be perfect!
Once I got there all that was forgotten as I set to work, grateful that I had a lot of help.  Two of us cut apart chicken leg quarters into drumsticks and thighs.  Then my co-worker went to cut up vegetables while I sprinkled garlic powder, black pepper, basil, and oregano over the chicken.  We had 150 peices altogether, which we had squeezed onto 4 pans.  I had to consolidate as much as possible because all ovens were busy today and rack space was at a premium!  Once the chicken was ready, I tossed potato cubes with some oil, garlic, black pepper, and dried rosemary.  I had five pans of potatoes.  I put two in the convection oven with the chicken and three in one of the conventional ovens, set at 400 (I think). Finally I got to work on the veggies.  We had lots of Japanese eggplant that needed using up and a little summer squash, so a couple of people sliced those, chopped some onions, and a few bell peppers.  All of these veggies went into puddles of oil in the pans.  I cooked the veggies on the burners until they were al dente, sprinkled with garlic, black pepper, basil, and oregano, then took them off the heat and mixed in some Parmesan cheese.  All four pans of veggies went into one of the conventional ovens, which was set at 200, just to keep things warm.  At about 10:40, I began the careful process of getting the four pans of chicken out of the convection oven without dropping them (they were quite heavy, large, and awkward) and/or spilling the grease everywhere.  This was a slow process--or so it seemed--because I could not tip the pans at all without sloshing the grease over the sides.  One of the pans was on the top shelf of the oven and that required me to reach up and get it out of the oven and onto the work table while holding it straight.  I was quite surprised when I was able to do this without mishap!  I moved the chicken to the steam table pans, moved the pans of potatoes out of the conventional oven and into the convection oven, and put the chicken in the conventional oven to keep warm.  Then it was time to get out and count plates, get out the serving utensils, and get the pans into the steam table.  The first rush came in and then things got more quiet.  I guess things have been slow all week.  Today we served 121 meals.  More than one person came up and said they did not like eggplant, but they were surprised that they liked the vegetables a lot.  And like last week, people were asking how I made them.  This makes me happy.  Of course the point of us being there is to feed people good meals that are nutritious and that taste good.  I also hope to show some people (some will never be interested and that's just fine) that good food that tastes good can be simple.  Or to put it another way, food that is simple does not have to come out of a box, a can, a plastic container, or a jar.  When I left it was spitting outside and I was tired and roasting.  The breeze felt good.  It was nice to come home and sit down in front of the fan.  We had leftovers and salad for supper tonight and tomorrow we will barbecue, which will give us enough food to last into the beginning of next week.  Sometime this weekend I have to get some veggies into the freezer, but for tonight I can just sit here with my tea and my novel and feel like I accomplished something useful with my day!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

First, Break 17 Dozen Eggs...

I made strata in the soup kitchen this morning.  I walked in and was met with 17 dozen eggs, a pile of bread, cheese, bins of veggies, and cooking spray.  I got cracking!  I broke the eggs into a big pot and then used a big whisk to beat them up as well as I could.  I had asked my co-workers to start chopping veggies, so they did.  After I was done with the eggs I chopped up 9 bell peppers--3 each yellow, red, and orange.  I removed 6 steam table pans from the shelf, set them up on the work table, sprayed them with non-stick spray, and tore loaves of bread into chunks.  These went into the bottom of the pan.  I sprinkled mozzarella cheese, onion, peppers, zucchini, broccoli, and spinach over all of it and then some garlic powder and black pepper on top of the whole thing.  Then it was back to the eggs.  I added milk--one half gallon at a time--until it seemed like the right amount of liquid.  I had started ladling the egg/milk mixture into the pans after a gallon and a half, but after 3 pans, it seemed clear that I could need more egg mixture, so I added another half gallon.  Turned out to be just right.  Those pans looked so pretty sitting there with all those colorful vegetables!  I put the pans in the ovens at 375 and then turned them up to 400 after 20 or 30 minutes.  After an hour I was concerned that perhaps the centers might not be done enough, so I put three pans into the convection oven to finish off--I had 15 minutes until we opened and I needed to have some ready.  The other three pans I left in the conventional oven, because I knew they would have enough time to finish cooking.  Just before removing the first three pans, I topped all the pans with sliced American cheese.  I turned the conventional oven down to 200, left the three pans in there and put the other three in the steam table.  I had a moment of panic when I took out the pans and the middle was all jiggly and it looked like there was far too much liquid in them.  I wanted to make sure they would be safe to serve, so I got the soup kitchen coordinator so she could look at them and she assured me that it would set up just fine.  She was right. After a few minutes in the steam table, everything was firming up and in the meantime, I just served from the sides.  And we checked temperatures in the pans and they were within the safe range--it was just all the water from the cheese and the veggies pooling in the center.


It was a hit.  People loved it.  For a time I was worried about having enough, but it turned out that out of the six pans, each with about 25 servings, I only had a few pieces left.  I felt so bad for the guy who came in to wash the pots--the pans had to be soaked and scrubbed in spite of the non-stick spray.  A couple of people asked for the recipe, so I was telling the server how I made it so she could tell the diners.  She asked if I had proportions or something, but I really didn't.  As I said to someone else who asked me how I made it, I am a very improvisational cook.  I played it by ear as I saw what was needed at various stages in the process.  In hindsight, I know what I did to come up with 150 servings of strata, but I was not working from a recipe, nor did I calculate down to see what kinds of amounts would be required to make a pan at home.  I was pretty sure the diner did not want to hear, "First, break 17 dozen eggs..."

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Balsamic Slaw

Yesterday when we got home from the farm, I figured I had better use up the kohlrabi we got last time, so I made some slaw.  I cut into ribbons some cabbage Heather brought home from the food mobile and put them in a bowl.  I chopped some parsley picked earlier at the farm and shredded 2 peeled kohlrabi and 4 carrots in the food processor and added that along with half of a sweet onion we got in our farm share.  I added some oil and balsamic vinegar dressing and tossed everything together.  I put it in the fridge and had some for lunch today with some cheese and smoked salmon added.  It was quite good! There is plenty left.  This is one of those things that only I eat, so when I make it I do so understanding that I will eat it for a while. That is actually a good thing, since it can be used as a side dish or a main dish.  I like crunchy veggies, too, so I like slaws more than lettuce based salads for the most part--no matter what kind of salad I am making though, one thing I like about it is that it can be different every time!  Last time I made slaw, I used an orange vinaigrette and some dried cranberries.  The base ingredients were almost the same, but the taste was very different.
The leftovers are fine with me.  I like having stuff in the fridge that I can have ready-to-eat.  It beats processed convenience food in taste and nutrition and it's just as easy, if not more so.  Eliminates excess packaging, too!  Sometimes I will eat something for a few days and then freeze the rest.  Over the weekend I made polenta one day and at the same time had an intense craving for black bean soup--very odd, because I usually do not eat soup in the heat of summer.  But I soaked some black beans all day Saturday and that night I put them in the Crock-Pot with various odds and ends--sweet potato, garlic, onion, cubano pepper, carrot--and turned it to low so the soup would cook overnight. In the morning I added oregano and chili powder.  I have eaten the polenta in various ways for breakfast--with chopped chilis and cheese, with just cheese, and this morning, with black bean soup.  I have had the soup for supper, lunch and breakfast, with various additions each time, such as cheese, rice or polenta.  I will probably have one more bowl for breakfast in the morning before going off to cook in the soup kitchen and then I will freeze the rest.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Food Mobile and Farm Share

I started out my day--after an adequate supply of coffee had been ingested--by heading down to MCHPP to help with food distribution at the food mobile.  Anyone who needs food can come and go through the line to choose food--no qualifying necessary.  The food mobile comes every month and there is always a selection of fresh produce, meat, bakery items, and non-perishable food.  We have a good turn-out each month.  I was at one of the meat stations this time.  We had various kinds of beef, chicken, pork--even some duck!  I am continually reminded how lucky I am to live in such a great, supportive, aware community!

A few hours later, we headed off to the farm where we picked up our farm share.
We cut flowers and herbs in the U-pick field--basil, Thai basil, parsley, dill, and rosemary.  There was sage and thyme, too, but thyme seems to give Bill heartburn and I never quite know what to do with sage--and I still have some that I dried a while ago.  In our farm share was an eggplant (I love that color), carrots, sweet onions, 2 bunches of basil (pesto, pesto, pesto!), leeks, cucumbers, chard, and a choice between kohlrabi and fennel (I still had kohlrabi from last time, which I did use tonight, so I picked the fennel) carrots and/or beets, and a green bell pepper. 
For supper I made salads and some cauliflower and carrots to go along with egg pesto sandwiches. 

Bill took some great photos today--the pigs were cute and the flowers were so bright and beautiful!
Here's the gallery!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Diligence!

I am making a concerted effort to be more diligent about using up all of my veggies--especially lettuces and lettuce-like leaves of various kinds!  Since neither Bill nor Heather eat these raw leafy things, it is up to me-- there is a lot of it and I fell behind a couple of weeks ago and did not get it all eaten in time.  This bugs me a lot because I HATE to see food wasted--especially really wonderful food like these beautiful lettuces and other veggies.  I am determined to not waste any more of it, no matter how much salad I have to eat!

We got lots of lettuce greens and arugula at our farm share pick-up last week and today I brought home a giant head of lettuce and a big bag of lettuce leaves that came to the food bank from a local farm.  Lots of leafy stuff coming through the food bank most days and no shortage of summer squash, either!  Anyway, we did our farm share pick-up on Friday and I have been eating salad each day since then.  I made some oil and balsamic vinegar dressing so I have a big jar in the fridge.  I fill my bowl with leaves and then throw in whatever else is there--carrots, radishes, scallions, cucumbers, Parmesan cheese--then I drizzle with the dressing.  I often marvel at how simple it is and yet how delicious.

Today Bill met me at the food bank when my shift was over.  They were cooking chicken in the soup kitchen.  Anyone can eat there, but volunteers are welcome to get a tray and get their lunch and sit back at the table in the food bank, so we did that. The pieces of chicken we had were huge and by the time we ate our corn on the cob and salad neither of us could finish our chicken, so I grabbed a bag and we brought the rest home.  It will go into salad for lunch tomorrow!

I made some pesto this afternoon and I had some cooked brown rice in the fridge.  I decided to make the rest of our supper early this afternoon since I was in the kitchen anyway.  I had a couple of zucchini and a Japanese eggplant from the farm, so I chopped those up and added a yellow summer squash, an onion, and a red bell pepper. I also browned some extra lean ground turkey breast and tossed all of that together.  It was nice to just throw together salad (no lettuce in Bill's!) and heat up the rest of it before tossing with pesto.  There are leftovers, of course.  I will need to cook more rice, which I will do Wednesday and then we can eat what is left from tonight's supper on Thursday.  I will be cooking in the soup kitchen that morning, so it will be good to have an easy supper ready to heat up! 

Tomorrow I will be freezing some chard and some spinach.  I will get some green beans into the freezer within the next couple of days as well--we picked them in the U-pick field at the farm.  Brought home a few broccoli stalks, too, so I will probably just add them to the bag I have in the freezer.  They'll be great in soups this winter.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

148 Meals Today

Cooked in the soup kitchen today.  I made a Spanish rice kind of dish by sauteeing onions and peppers in a little oil, adding garlic and chili powders and then mixing in some cooked white rice and tomato sauce.  My co-worker grilled strips of steak and onions.  We had lots of food--even though we served 148 meals (105 firsts and 43 seconds, I think) today, we still had a lot left.  This turned out to be good news because one of my other co-workers was bringing a meal to the local homeless shelter, so she brought the leftover meat and a big pan of rice.  The rest of the rice went into the food pantry cooler for distribution to clients tomorrow.  It is always an interesting experience when I cook in the soup kitchen.  I am not used to cooking for so many people and am always afraid of running out of food.  There are cans of chili, hot dogs, and peanut butter and jelly ready for emergencies, though, and I have not run out of food yet, so that's good.  I also end up cooking stuff I do not eat or cook at home.  I can't eat beef, because it causes me all kinds of health problems.  It would probably be OK if I had a taste once a week or so in the soup kitchen, but the truth is, I haven't eaten it in so long that the taste turns my stomach.  When I first started I was worried about the smell, too, but that has not bothered me at all.  The other thing I worry about is getting everything ready on time.  I start preparing at 8:30 and the doors open at 11.  So far I have been able to manage to get people fed as soon as they come in the door!  Then there is portion size--I am getting better at this.  At home I will hand Bill a plate of food and he will remind me that he is "not an army."  Yes.  I am my grandmother's granddaughter after all.  This is a woman who would look at a platter heaped with food and exhort people to "just finish it up" because "there's just a little left."  My natural inclination to give people lots of food won't work in the soup kitchen.  I would run out of food and probably too much would be wasted.  I remind myself that people can ask for seconds if they want more.  I like the fact that this work provides me with some creative challenges as I decide what to cook based on what is available and what can be prepared in the time allotted.  I have met some great people.  And I am constantly amazed, whether in the food bank or the soup kitchen, how there seems to be a kind of organized chaos when we begin the food preparation, which gives way to methodically attending to the task at hand, and then there is that moment when I look up and take a breath as I realize that we've done it again.  The food is in the pantry waiting for clients or it is in the ovens and steam tables waiting to be plated.  I come home from the soup kitchen feeling that good tired feeling that comes from knowing I spent my time doing something useful.

Tonight's supper was pretty quick.  I sliced some onion, zucchini, and a couple of jalapenos, sauteed them in a little olive oil, and added garlic, black pepper, and oregano.  I sprinkled Parmesan cheese on top.  We had this with frozen salmon burgers, which we stocked up on when they were on sale last week.  Wild Pacific salmon is fairly expensive here, so these are pretty cost-effective when they're on sale.

We were going to pick up our farm share on Tuesday, but there was a thunderstorm at the time we usually go and later on neither of us felt like going out, so we will go tomorrow instead.  Could be more storms, but hopefully they will either hold off or take a break long enough for us to head into the U-pick field!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Soup Kitchen Improv

This morning I went to the soup kitchen a little before 8:30 prepared to start cooking ground beef.  I was actually scheduled to go in yesterday and help the cook, but the coordinator asked me if I could switch to today, since her substitute cook had to cancel, so today it was.  It was just as well because I spent most of the day yesterday trying to get my hypoglycemia under control, which did not happen until last night.  I still felt a little weird this morning, but knew that I'd be fine after a while.  Still, I was not really looking forward to that ground beef--I do not eat beef, nor do I care for the smell of it cooking very much.  So it was with some relief that I heard the news that the plan was changed due to an unexpected donation of 135 sandwiches yesterday afternoon.  There were also some potato chunks left from the preparation of the chowder that was served yesterday--about enough to fill a big pan.  So we quickly agreed on roasted potatoes as an accompaniment to the sandwiches.  Then Annette asked me if I wanted to cook some zucchini--there were totes full of it in the cooler.  I said I might as well use some of them, so my helpers got to work cutting up more potatoes and slicing zucchini.  I sliced some onions.  I sauteed zucchini and onion slices in a little oil and then added garlic, oregano, and basil.  I left them a little undercooked because they had to sit in the oven to keep warm.  I knew this would make them soggier than I really like--I like my veggies to be al dente.  About 20 minutes before I took the first pan out of the oven and put it in the steam table, I added Parmesan cheese to all the pans and stirred it in.  The potatoes got drizzled with oil and had garlic, black pepper, and oregano added (I had a big jar of oregano and part of a little jar of basil, so I skipped the basil on the potatoes).  We served 110 meals today and people were raving about that zucchini--I served several second helpings of just potatoes and zucchini and some of just zucchini.  I only had a quart of zucchini and 3 quarts of potatoes left, but we had a lot of sandwiches left--the leftovers went to the food pantry for distribution to clients.  Go figure!  I thought the sandwiches would be gobbled up and the zucchini would be disliked because of the sog factor.  I was wrong.  I was glad to be wrong, too!  People came up to the serving counter to tell me how much they liked it or to ask how I made it.  It made me happy to know that they had eaten a lunch that they enjoyed so much.  Once again we have the local farmers who donated the totes of beautiful zucchini to thank.  Their donations combined with the work of the soup kitchen coordinator and all of the people who worked with me in the kitchen today meant that almost 100 people got to eat a nice healthy meal.  How great is that?