Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bean Soup Mix in a Jar--Food Pantry Demo

I did a holiday demo in the food pantry this morning. I made bean soup mix in a jar. I'd brought home herbs last week and over the weekend, I measured them out into snack sized zipper bags. This morning, Annette, the fabulous soup kitchen coordinator hunted down a variety of beans in festive colors. We had red, green, and whitish gold ones. I brought in a large bowl and a measuring cup and just dumped a bunch of beans into the bowl and mixed them up with my (gloved) hand. Then I filled quart canning jars, leaving enough room for the spice packet, which I placed on top before screwing on the lids. Sue, the food pantry coordinator mentioned that it would be nice if there was some decoration on the jars, and I told her that last year I'd improvised with some holiday napkins I'd found--I cut out the design section and placed that on top of the lids before screwing the rings on. This year I didn't see any napkins, so Sue went in search of some and found a package of Santas. They worked nicely. Everyone was stopping to look at the jars and to say how pretty they were with the mix of colorful beans and the festive Santas on the lids. People were excited to get a little gift and they were so appreciative. Many people commented that this weekend will be a great time for a big pot of bean soup, since it's supposed to get a bit colder and maybe even precipitate! I might just make some bean soup myself this weekend! I have chicken veggie soup in the Crock Pot for tonight and tomorrow night. Below is the handout I gave people. We didn't have the exact beans listed, but we used what was available in the food bank. You can improv with the spices, too--leave out the basil or Italian seasoning and add chili powder to make chili instead of soup.

As an aside, while I was standing there, one of the clients went up to Sue and thanked her for the turkey she'd gotten before Thanksgiving. She and her family shared it with another family who would otherwise not have been able to have Thanksgiving dinner.

Bean Soup Mix in a Jar
Into a quart jar, place the following (you can layer the beans or mix them all in a large bowl and pour them into the jar:
3/4 cup dried red beans
3/4 cup dried great northern beans
3/4 cup dried split peas
3/4 cup lentils
3/4 cup dried black beans

You can use whatever beans you have--you don’t have to have these exact amounts of these exact beans. Just make sure you have 3 1/2-4 cups of dried beans altogether for each jar.

Into a small ziploc bag, place herbs and spices:
2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano

OR you can use the parsley and a tablespoon of dried Italian seasoning.

Place the spice baggie on top of the beans in the jar.

Remove seasoning packet from the jar and set to the side. Rinse beans and place in a large pot. Cover with water and let soak for several hours or overnight. Drain, then put beans back in pot. Add 8 cups water, one 15 ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes and seasonings from packet. Cover, bring to boil. Lower heat, cover pan and simmer 1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender. Stir occasionally.

--add leftover cooked meat and/or veggies to the pot for the last half hour of cooking time
--use tomato paste instead of canned tomatoes--simply stir in paste during the last 15 minutes of cooking time until the broth is the consistency you like
--serve soup over rice if you like
--you can add chopped potatoes, carrots, onion, and/or bell or chili peppers to the pot at the start of cooking

Want to give this as a gift but don’t have quart jars? You can put the mix in a ziploc bag and plop it in a decorative gift bag with a copy of the directions for preparing the soup. If you are a knitter/crocheter or someone who sews, you can make festive gift bags using scraps of yarn or fabric. Just take two squares or rectangles (yarn people--swatches are great for this!), attach on three sides and add a drawstring at the top. If you don’t want to make gift bags, you can use brown paper bags--kids can have fun decorating the bags with stickers, drawings, etc. Or just reuse gift bags you’ve gotten in the past--stick in a bag of bean soup mix with a copy of the cooking instructions and you’re good to go!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What Does "Celebrate" Mean to You?

Today A Good Eater wrote about how she loves celebrating Christmas. It was a great post and it made me think about my own way of celebrating. Like Laurie, I love Christmastime and the personal traditions that go along with it. It is actually a very important time for me and if I do not nourish myself at this time of year, I feel the effects of that neglect in the year that follows. Unlike many people though, my traditions do not involve a lot of socializing and elaborate decorating, cooking, and shopping. I decorate, but simply. Several long moves and my own growing annoyance with having too much stuff led me to donate most of my Christmas decorations and to keep just a few, most of which have been handmade by me or friends or have been given as gifts. We do not like to have a lot of stuff, so we buy very little in the way of gifts and what we do buy is either consumables or purchased from artisans, either locally or online. Cooking is something I do all the time and I like to have a break from it. It's been almost 30 years since we did away with the big Christmas meal and I have been glad about that choice every year! We decided to stop because it all became too much. My birthday is December 23rd and we were having a large meal on that day. On Christmas Eve, we would have an enormous Italian feast. Then Christmas Day and the turkey would arrive. It was too much--too much food and too much work--so we changed things. I decide what I feel like having on my birthday and I make it in advance. It is always something simple and munchie-like. It also almost always involves cheese! This year I've decided to make a smoked salmon spread and a jalapeno cheese spread. I have some crackers already and put some bread in the freezer--we get this amazing little seeded baguette from Panera at MCHPP. I brought one home yesterday and stuck it in the freezer. Last year my fabulous friend and neighbor knocked on my door with a hot homemade pizza, warm gingerbread, and freshly whipped cream. Needless to say I was well-stuffed that day!!

On Christmas Eve we have lasagna. I never put meat in my lasagna and I never boil the noodles in advance I don't buy those "no-boil" noodles, either. You get less in the package and they are completely unnecessary--I haven't boiled a lasagna noodle (or a manicotti tube, either!) in 30 years--well before those showed up in stores! It takes me about 5 minutes to put together the lasagna and get it in the oven. Simple, yet delicious. We usually have pita bread garlic bread with this--spread some butter on a pita bread, sprinkle with garlic powder and Parmesan cheese and bake until the cheese is slightly browned. Bonus--there are plenty of leftovers!

On Christmas Day we always have jalapeno cheese puffs, but whatever else we have varies depending on what we feel like. I make the puffs on Christmas Day, but everything else is made ahead of time and is finger food--we just graze quietly through the day.

So for me, the Christmas season means quiet hibernation time. I love the music. I love the darkness. I love the stillness. I love being home with nowhere to go. In fact, I have a food demo tomorrow in the food pantry lobby and I am making taco casserole in the soup kitchen on Thursday. Then I am in hibernation mode until the 30th. I have scheduled time off from MCHPP, declined invitations, and have plans to be quiet, work on some Christmas gifts for my family, and just have some quiet contemplation time. I need it very badly. I am looking forward to it very much.

Whatever your celebrations look like, I hope they are exactly what you want them to be and that this season brings you much joy!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving, Simply: Dessert

Recently I saw a headline somewhere that said something like, "The Best Pies for Thanksgiving--And It MUST Be Pie." Apparently, people have strong feelings about what a proper Thanksgiving dessert looks like! We do have pie, but it's been banana cream for years--I have a sliver of it, but it's pretty much Heather's. She has never liked pumpkin pie, so when she was little, I asked her if there was a kind of pie she did want. Banana cream was her choice and it became a regular part of the meal. I used to make pumpkin pie, which I like well enough, but it started giving Bill heartburn, so I stopped making it. We bought pies for a few years--blueberry, I think. But starting last year, I made an apple cake and that it what I will do again this year.
This is how I made it last year:
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.

This year I will be using a dried fruit and almond mix that I have instead of the dried cranberries. I may or may not add the walnuts. The mix is mostly dried fruit and not a lot of almonds, so I will probably add a few walnuts.

Whether you have pie or not, I hope your Thanksgiving is wonderful!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thanksgiving, Simply: The Sides

We call all of the stuff besides the turkey or other "centerpiece" item, "the sides," but for us, they take up most of the plate. Our "centerpiece" has changed through the years, but the sides remain constant year after year. They may define the holiday meal more than the turkey does! They are simple dishes--no bells, whistles, or fancy additions here. 

The potatoes are whipped with a little bit of butter and a lot of milk. Bill peels and cubes them, then places them in a pot and covers with water. When it's time, I turn on the stove and whip the cooked and drained potatoes.

Bill and Heather love butternut squash mashed with a little butter. I now cook these whole in my larger Crock-Pot. I wash them, place them in the crock wet, cover, and cook on low until they pierce easily with the tip of a knife. It's extremely easy to remove the skin--and there is no waste, because none of the squash sticks to the skin.I cook them a day or two before Thanksgiving, so the mashed squash just has to be reheated.

Squash is OK, but I like mashed sweet potatoes better, so I cook a lot of them--also in my Crock Pot. I wash the outsides, stab a few times with a knife, pile in as many (still wet) as I can fit in my crock, cover, and cook on low until easily pierced with the tip of a knife. Again, the skin comes right off and I can mash them and have them all ready to be reheated on Thanksgiving. Sometimes I will cook sweet potatoes and add some almond milk and a bit of cinnamon--I like this for breakfast. But as a side dish on Thanksgiving, I prefer them plain.

Years ago I used to make a no-knead oatmeal bread. Heather started requesting it for every Thanksgiving, so that has become a part of the meal. Now I make the dough in the bread machine and shape it into rolls--leftovers are handy for little turkey sandwiches with cranberry jam.

Bill likes canned, jellied cranberry sauce, or as we affectionately refer to it here, slop in a can. I don't have cranberry sauce at all on Thanksgiving, but for the past few years I have made cranberry jam--I'll be making a big batch today. I really like it on turkey sandwiches.

Like everything else, the gravy is plain. I usually make it ahead of time using chicken or veggie broth and I season it with thyme and garlic. I am the one who eats most of the gravy--Heather doesn't like it and Bill only has a little.

I mentioned yesterday that the stuffing is my favorite part of the meal. When I was first married, I made it the way my mother always did, by browning ground beef and ground sweet Italian sausage with onions and celery and adding bread pieces. Obviously, I stopped making that when I was vegetarian and I never took it up again once I was no longer veg. I just make a plain bread stuffing with various kinds of bread pieces--I save bread ends and partial loaves that might be getting a little stale. I bring home a lot of bread from MCHPP, so I have various kinds of bits in the freezer. I'll grab some whole grain  bread of some kind when I am there Monday to make sure I have enough. Most of the bread I use in the stuffing is whole grain, which makes for a heartier stuffing that isn't all mushy. I sweat onions, celery and garlic in a little olive oil and pour over the bread pieces in a large bowl. I add poultry seasoning and enough chicken or vegetable broth to moisten. I stuff the centerpiece and put the rest in a baking dish. This goes into the oven when the turkey comes out.

I will begin cooking for Thanksgiving on Tuesday, either doing the squash or the sweet potatoes. I'll continue on Wednesday when I do whatever I didn't do on Tuesday, as well as the rolls and dessert. On Thursday, I'll make the stuffing, cook the turkey and we will make the potatoes. then we'll eat Thanksgiving dinner in some form over the weekend. By Monday, I will be ready for a break from stuffing!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Thanksgiving, Simply

I have seen a lot of stuff popping up this week about simplifying the Thanksgiving meal or making it healthier. In thinking about this, I realized that we already keep things pretty simple and healthy--this wasn't as much by design as because of our own tastes and circumstances from year to year.

I see people refer to the turkey or the place the turkey holds as the "centerpiece" of the meal. I like turkey, but I like stuffing better, so while we haven't always had turkey as our centerpiece, we have always had something that could be stuffed--and we've always had the large pan of stuffing on the side as well. When we cook for Thanksgiving, we plan enough for us to eat for the next several days. This was a wonderful break when I was in university as a student and then as an instructor--that nice 4 day break with no meals to plan or prepare was very welcome.  My life is simpler now, but I am still a fan of planned leftovers and this is the big weekend for that.  When we do buy a turkey, we buy the biggest one they have and cook that. Leftovers are either eaten or frozen for later use. The carcass is turned into broth. 

When we lived in Portland (Oregon), I was vegetarian, so one year we had stuffed squash as the centerpiece. Bill wasn't thrilled with this, so in subsequent years, he cooked the turkey. One year our oven wasn't working, so he cooked it outside on the grill.

When we moved to Fairbanks, we were befriended and "adopted" by our Inupiaq Eskimo language teacher who named me after her sister and then a few months later, named Bill after her brother. She gave us a shiifish (or sheefish), that first fall which was quite large, so I stuffed that and we had it for Thanksgiving. It's a white fish. The following year, she sent me home from her village of Kotzebue with a large salmon (I had to buy a box at the airport to check it in with my suitcase). That was our centerpiece that year.

The next year we had a Norwegian exchange student, so we did make a turkey and tried to keep things traditional so she would have the experience, but I think that we cooked salmon, too.

Whatever I make for the centerpiece, I keep it simple because I do that whenever I cook.  It is helpful that this is just the way we like things. I could spend hours doing various things to food and making complicated sauces and the result would be a cranky me and an indifferent (at best) family. It's just not what they look forward to and the simple fare we are used to is what makes us all happy.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Orange-Apple-Cranberry Relish

Last Tuesday, I went with a friend to a food demo at Parkview Hospital. One of the things they made was a cranberry relish. It was quite good, so I decided to make some at home, tweaking just a little to use what I had on hand and according to my own taste preferences.  Here is how they made it:

Peel an organic orange and place the peel in a food processor fitted with the steel blade, along with 3 pitted dates.  Whiz until very finely minced.  Place peel and dates in a bowl.

Add peeled orange to food processor and whiz until frothy. Add to bowl.

Core a couple of apples and place them in food processor with 1 1/2 cups of cranberries, either fresh or thawed frozen berries. Pulse until finely chopped. Add to bowl and mix everything together.

When I made it, I used some of a dried fruit mix that has a few almonds in it instead of the dates.  The dried fruit is mostly dates and the almonds are a good addition anyway. I have a few bags of this--I brought it home from MCHPP figuring it would work as a snack, but we both found it rather bland, so I will use it in baking--muffins, apple cake, etc--and in this cranberry relish. It worked well. I just threw some in without measuring. 

I also increased the amount of cranberries. Both my friend and I thought that the stuff we tasted at the demo was good, but the dominant flavor was definitely the orange. I had about half a bag of cranberries in the freezer and I thawed that and used those--it was probably at least 2 1/2 cups and it would not be a problem at all for either Bill or me if I added even more.  That's the great thing about something like this--you can add ingredients in the amounts you like. Add another apple and more cranberries. Sprinkle with nuts. Add coconut or pineapple.  Raisins would be good.

The person doing the demo said she likes to put this relish on toast with almond butter.  Bill has been having it in his oatmeal. Yesterday I was hungry and I put a few spoonfuls in a bowl and just ate it with a spoon.  It's really good.  This will become a regular thing in my kitchen--at least while the cranberries hold out!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Love My Crock Pot!

Made some soup last week in the Crock Pot, using a lot of the stuff we got in our last few weeks of the CSA season.  I cut up some boneless, skinless chicken breasts and added them to the crock along with celeriac, sweet potatoes, onion, and carrots, from the farm. I had some pak choy, a red pepper, broccoli stalks and half a bag of baby broccoli that I'd brought home from the food bank, so I chopped that up. It looked so pretty with all the different colors.
I cooked it on high for a few hours, then turned it to low after adding some chopped savoy cabbage and an herb blend. So yummy!
The carrots, sweet potatoes, and the herb blend, which had some orange in it, gave it a hint of sweetness.

The other night I piled in some chicken leg quarters and a few small squash we'd gotten at the farm into the crock and cooked on low for 10 hours overnight. Bill and Heather had chicken, squash, and potatoes for supper last night. I had some smashed potatoes with snipped scallion, garlic chives, black pepper and bacon bits. Instead of plain chicken, I mashed up some avocado and mixed in a little lemon juice (I'd used up all my limes making lime vinaigrette!), a minced shallot, diced jalapeno, and snipped parsley. I spread this on some whole grain bread and then topped with pieces of chicken.

I do love my Crock Pot.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

One Last Pick-Up

It was a little sad yesterday afternoon when we pulled into the parking lot at Crystal Spring Farm to do our last farm share pick-up of the season. As we were walking up the driveway, the Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program van was coming the other way.  Doreen, the food bank coordinator, stopped to show me what was in the back--boxes and boxes of lettuce and perhaps a few other things.  I know what the Wednesday crew in the food bank will be doing this morning!

The U-pick field was closed, so it was a short stop in the farm store to choose salad greens, heads of lettuce (thankfully smaller than last week), carrots, a few sweet potatoes, potatoes, parsnips, beets, turnips, onions, leeks, cabbage, delicata squash, peppers, shallots, chard, and stalks of Brussels sprouts.  I left my two kohlrabi there. We lugged our heavy bags to the truck and came home.

I started putting stuff away, keeping an eye out for the guy who was supposed to come and film for a documentary about the Mainers Feeding Mainers program run by Good Shepherd Food Bank. When he arrived, I had time to put away the rest of the stuff while he got his equipment ready. I had decided ahead of time that I would make a colcannon inspired dish of potatoes, cabbage, onion, and garlic, so I gathered the stuff and started working.  I had washed several of the purple potatoes we'd gotten a few minutes earlier and cut them up, putting them in a pot of water to boil.  Then I chopped a red onion and put it in the puddle of oil that was in my cast iron skillet.  I chopped up half a head of savoy cabbage and turned on the burner, stirring stuff around with some garlic while he filmed and asked some questions. He seemed surprised when it was done--faster than he thought it would be, I think. I mixed everything together and he asked me to plate it and then have Bill eat a forkful. We kept on talking and sometimes he would ask me to repeat something on camera. He was here for an hour or so, I think.

I hope the documentary will be useful in keeping the Mainers Feeding Mainers program going and expanding. As I understand it, Good Shepherd, the large regional food bank, gets donations and grants that enable them to work with local farmers.  They pay the farmers wholesale prices for an agreed upon quantity of food--sometimes farmers have fields that would not get planted, but if they know they've sold the food they can grow in the field, they'll plant.  The food goes to smaller food banks and pantries around the state.  This helps the farmers, the economies of the communities in which they live, and the people who get incredible local produce. I can't see a down side. Because the New England region is pretty small, this program could be expanded into neighboring states, which would benefit Maine farmers and economies even more. I like the concept, so I was glad I could help out.

We ate the cabbage and potato dish with some leftover chicken for supper last night.  I will cook something today--probably pasta and veggies with some hot sausage--and make enough for tomorrow, too since it's soup kitchen day. I'll be making ham and beans for lunch.

various kinds of cabbage and some turnips donated to MCHPP from a local farm

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Stuffed Jalapenos

Yesterday I brought home several large jalapenos, a poblano pepper, and a block of queso fresco from the pantry, so naturally, I decided to make some stuffed jalapenos (and a stuffed poblano) to go with lunch today.  I snipped some of my regrown scallions and some garlic chives into each pepper, then added the cheese.  I baked at 400 until the cheese was starting to get slightly brown on the edges.  I love these!  Of course you never know what you're going to get with the jalapenos--Bill doesn't like things really hot, so I scrape out the seeds and ribs.  Some were hot anyway and others were mild, as was the poblano.  I think Bill doesn't want anymore because he got a hot one.  That's OK, more for me :-)  I love 'em!

The queso fresco seems a lot like paneer, which I have been meaning to try making for ages.  I even have a paneer box to press it in.  When I was working at the "sustainable goods" store (most of the stuff for sale was not really "sustainable" at all--we will not shop our way out of environmental problems!) I was chatting with a customer about sprouts one evening. She was in town to visit her son, I guess, who was a Bowdoin student and she was going back to India the following day.  She said when he came back after the holiday break, she would send back a paneer box and ask him to bring it to me--and one day, he did!  It looks quite simple to make--I just never seem to get to it.  But I will!

I am falling behind on the salad eating and I have just remembered that I have to empty my cotton bag to get ready to go collect more greens when we go to the farm for our last farm share pick-up of the season. In the weekly blog entry that was posted a while ago, they mentioned--not for the first time--that this season has been unusual.  Of course, when you garden/farm you can plan all you want, but some unexpected things will happen anyway.  At the farm the greens have been coming on like gangbusters and they said they plant a lot in late summer, expecting to lose some from frost and rain, which did not happen this year!  So all the greens are growing like it's early summer and there are a lot of them.  Some people are finding it difficult to keep up and some leave things there, as I did last week.  There were massive, heavy heads of beautiful lettuce and we could have brought home two heads.  I took one and gave it to my friend/neighbor who (thankfully) eats a lot of salad.  I left the second one there because I knew I would not be able to eat it.  They also said that the onions didn't do as well as usual and that the butternut squash crop was a total loss because of rain and heat in July.  I found that particularly interesting because less than a mile away is the volunteer-run community garden spot where food is grown for MCHPP.  They harvested 1400 pounds of butternut squash and 700 pounds (I think) of onions.  It is amazing how things can be so different in different places--even places that are close to one another! Of course, the scale of each operation is very different, too!

I made some more cranberry jam yesterday afternoon and we had the last of the first batch on chicken sandwiches.  I have leftover chicken for tonight.  I am supposed to have some guy come and film me cooking with veggies as part of a documentary for Good Shepherd Food Bank.  If he shows up (we were supposed to do this yesterday, but he didn't show up in the food bank as we'd planned), I will cook some farm potatoes in one pot and some chopped onions and cabbage in my cast iron skillet and then mix them together into a colcannon inspired side dish. We'll reheat it with the chicken for supper.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Quick Supper

Had some of the cranberry jam I made the other day on some oatmeal bread with a chicken breast.  Yum.  I'd cooked the chicken breasts in the oven on Saturday at the same time I cooked a Tofurky roast a friend had given me.  And since I already had the oven on anyway, I added some squash we'd gotten in our farm share.  I cooked once and we ate for three days. 

On Saturday we had some Tofurky (it has stuffing in the center), squash, mashed potatoes and gravy.  On Sunday we had Tofurky and gravy open-faced sandwiches and carrots (Bill had his cooked and I just munched on mine raw).  Today we had the chicken sandwiches and Bill had the rest of the carrots, while I had the last of the leafy greens and tomatoes from last week's farm share pick-up as a base for my salad.  I made more lime vinaigrette yesterday--there were more limes than could be given away in the food bank and soup kitchen last week, so I grabbed a bunch. 

I think there may be two more farm share pick-ups this season.  I am not sure how much leafy green stuff we will be taking home tomorrow and next week, but I guess I'll find out!  Once the season for abundant salad stuff has passed, I have a couple of heads of cabbage ready to go.  One of them can become some coleslaw and I will use the lime vinaigrette to dress that, too.  I am not fond of mayonnaise or mayonnaise-based dressings!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Time for Cranberry Jam!

Every year around this time, I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of fresh cranberries in the grocery store.  This was the week.  They are on sale, so I bought 5 bags and stuck 3 in the freezer.  With the other 2 bags, I made cranberry jam.
That's some of it just out of the pot--I think that vibrant red color is so pretty!  It's very simple to make and although I know a lot of people like to make it with orange juice and/or cinnamon, I love it plain and simple.  I simply put the 2 12-ounce bags of cranberries in a pot with a cup of sugar and a small bit of water.  I like it tart, but some people put in more sugar.  I stirred it up while it came to a boil, turned the heat down and listened to the cranberries popping.  When it was the consistency of a chunky sauce, I removed from the heat, let it cool a little and put it in the jars.  It thickens as it cools.

I LOVE this stuff with walnuts in oatmeal, so I took a container of the cooked oats from Bowdoin out of the freezer to thaw in time for breakfast tomorrow morning.  I also love it on turkey sandwiches and while it's not quite turkey time yet, I do have some chicken that I will cook this weekend.  I'll use that for sandwiches.

It's also great on pancakes.  I never buy syrup, so when we have pancakes or the occasional waffle, we top them with some kind of cooked fruit sauce. 

I try to get a supply of cranberries in the freezer every fall, because they just don't seem to be readily available the rest of the time.  I use them straight from the freezer in muffins and to make the jam. 

Cranberry jam--just one more sign of fall!  Yay!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Cheese Muffins and Healthy Desserts

The other day we finished the pumpkin pudding pie with oatmeal crust that I'd made a few days earlier.  We both liked it a lot.  I had stopped making pumpkin pie over the last few years because it always gave Bill bad heartburn, but this version did not.  I am not sure why this should be so, except that there's a lot less sugar in the pumpkin pudding.  In any case, now he can eat pumpkin pie again. 

I was thinking about other ways to use the crust, which reminded me of an oatmeal cookie without all the fat and excess sugar.  Yesterday I made a double crust recipe and baked it.  After it was completely cooled, I broke it up and put the pieces and crumbles in a container.  Later I cut up some apples and put them in a pot with some blueberries and cooked them.  When Bill got home from work I heated up the apples and threw in some pieces and crust crumbles--instant apple crisp! Once again, this met with approval.  I can see using these crust pieces with fruit, in pudding parfaits, with yogurt and who knows what else!  I am sure more ideas will come to me.  I've been trying to come up with more healthy dessert ideas--things that satisfy the desire for something a little sweet, but that also offers so nutritional value.  So far, so good!

I brought home some Panera cheese bread last week from the soup kitchen and I remembered how much I like it.  This was white bread though and I prefer my bread to be whole grain, so today I was going to make some. I realized that I did not have enough white flour, though--it is something I rarely use.  I remembered a cheese muffin recipe that I dimly recalled making and liking, so I got out the recipe book where I'd written it down and was happy to see that it called for oatmeal mostly and a bit of whole wheat flour for the grains.   I made a double batch and they are as good as I remember.  We had some with lunch.  They would be good with breakfast or even as breakfast with a piece of fruit if you're pressed for time.  They also make a nice snack.

Whole Grain Cheese Muffins
2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cubed or shredded cheese (I used extra sharp cheddar, but Swiss, provolone, pepperjack or some other flavorful cheese will work as well)
snipped chives (I used my garlic chives that are growing in the window) or herbs of your choice (optional)

Mix all of the above ingredients in a large bowl. 
Mix the following in a separate bowl:
1 1/4 cups buttermilk or soured milk (place 1 tablespoon vinegar in measuring cup, add milk to 1 1/4 cup level and let sit for 5 minutes)
1 egg
2 tablespoons of oil

Add wet ingredients to dry and mix just until moistened.
Spoon batter into greased muffin tins and bake at 375 for about 15 minutes.  Tops will be a little pale and sides will be golden brown.  Cool on wire rack.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Fennel and Chicken

Last Monday in the food bank, we had a lot of fennel from a local farm.  It came to us with the stalks and fronds still attached to the bulb, but Sue, the food pantry coordinator, likes those parts cut off.  Rather than put all those stalks in the pig bucket, I filled a gallon bag with them and brought them home.  I have discovered that I love munching on the stalks--same texture and crunchiness as celery, but with a lot more flavor.  The fact that I like them so much surprises me because I don't even really like licorice, except for licorice Altoids. I hope we have more tomorrow! In addition to munching away on the stalks, I've been chopping them and adding to salads.  Yesterday I wanted a quick lunch and they came in handy again.

I cut up a couple of chicken breasts and plopped them in my cast iron pan that had a bit of oil in the bottom.  I chopped up some bell pepper, onion, and a bunch of the fennel stalks.  I stirred everything around until it was cooked and dumped it on some ripped up whole grain bread ends I'd taken from the freezer and thawed. 
I have been a bit out of my routine of cooking a lot one day and just reheating for the next few.  There have not been leftovers for a few days now.  Today we will have some soup that I cooked in the Crock-Pot overnight.  Someone gave me a jar of French Canadian split pea soup mix--whatever that means--so I threw it in the small Crock-Pot with a container of turkey broth I took from the freezer, some water, carrot, onion, and potato.  It smells pretty good and I am curious to see what is French Canadian about it.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Making Chili on a Hot Day

The weather remains summer-like around here and I remain annoyed, but resigned.  Summer has to go away sometime.  In spite of the fact that I walked home from the soup kitchen hot, tired, and grumbling to myself, when I could squint enough to actually avoid being blinded by the blazing sun, I could enjoy the sight of the yellow and red leaves on the trees and shrubs.

I made chili today.  It was much slower than last week and we served 110 meals today--73 fewer than last week. As always, the chili was made with a little of this and a little of that--whatever we had on hand.  We had a lot of canned beans this time, so we used those.  Annette thawed 45 pounds of steak, so I cut that up and put it in pans with a little water.  I put it in the convection oven at 400 and let it cook for about 45 or 50 minutes.  While that cooked, I sweated some onion, garlic, and diced bell peppers.  To one of the three pots, I added some vegetarian chili mix that Annette had found in the back, along with various kinds of canned beans and some corn--kernel and creamed corn both.  Then I added some diced tomatoes and let things simmer.  To the other two pots, I added the beans and tomatoes, some tomato sauce, some chili seasoning, and some seasoning I found on the shelf--it has dried carrot, tomato, onion, garlic, pepper and other stuff.  I used it on the chicken last week and it was good, so I added some to the chili.  Once everything had a chance to simmer, I got the vegetarian chili in the steam table pan and got the rest into pans, too.  The meat was done, so I removed it from the drippings and water with a slotted spoon and mixed everything together.  We served the chili with some oyster crackers and/or Panera bread on the side and some shredded cheese on top.  And Annette found a huge can of pickled jalapenos, so we had little cups of those available for people that wanted them.  There were a lot of jalapeno slices left, so I put them in small containers to bring home--I took a few and I gave a few to a woman who volunteers in the food bank.  They would not have gotten used if we'd left them there and once things have been opened and been put in smaller containers, we're not supposed to save them for reuse anyway.

I had the veggie chili with some extra jalapenos myself and it was quite good.  I had a lot of people tell me they liked the beef chili, too, so things went well!  It was a calm day, people liked the food, and there were hardly any leftovers. And Mike, one of the crew members, got a chance to bring home scraps for his dogs, too. We trim off the excess fat and bag it up for him.  I do that with the excess chicken skin as well and he took some of that home last week.  When I was doing something with steak almost every week, he took some home every week and put it in the freezer.  The dogs apparently got used to getting a little treat when he got home from the soup kitchen, and they kept expecting it during the long summer months when I was making fish chowder every week and he had no scraps to share.  His freezer stash came in handy then, but we need to make sure it does not run out!  Glad I could start replenishing it these last couple of weeks.  Next week, more chicken (or, as Mike calls it, "buzzard").  Gotta keep the puppies happy!!

At the end of lunch service, a lot of limes remained--they were available for people to take if they wanted--guess they didn't.  I took several so now have enough for another two or three jars of lime vinaigrette.  At the rate we keep getting lettuce and other leafy things, I'm gonna need it!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Oatmeal Pie Crust

When I worked at the library in Klamath Falls, Oregon several years ago someone left a little booklet of oatmeal recipes on the magazine exchange shelf.  It was put out by Quaker Oats and on the back it says it's the 4th printing 1979.  There are some interesting ideas in there, such as making something they call "add-a-crunch" and cooking oatmeal in such a way that the grains stay separate (they toss with a beaten egg) and serving as a side dish instead of rice or other grains.  I keep thinking I will try some of these things and never do, until today, when I made the Oatmeal Pie Crust.  Since I am unable to prepare things exactly as written, I did make one small change--I added less sugar than the recipe called for.  The crust is done in the same way you would make a crumb crust with graham crackers or cookies, except you use quick oats instead of crumbs.

Oatmeal Pie Crust
1 cup quick cooking oats, uncooked
1/3 cup finely chopped nuts (or you can skip the nuts and use the same amount of wheat germ or quick oats)
1/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter
Mix the oats, nuts, and brown sugar in a greased pie plate.  Stir in melted butter.  Press mixture into bottom and up sides of pie plate.  Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes until lightly browned.  Let crust cool completely and fill as desired.
I filled this with pumpkin pudding.

I'm glad I looked through the oatmeal booklet the other day and found this crust recipe because I can see myself making it quite a bit and filling with pudding, fruit, and whatever else I can think of!  Bill and I like to have some dessert on most nights, and this is pretty healthy.  I've eaten the pumpkin pudding for breakfast and love it--I think the crust will add some good flavor and a nice crunch.  I appreciate being able to have something healthy at home--at the food bank and soup kitchen, we end up getting to nibble on Panera pastries and some yummy stuff (tiramisu, cheesecake, lemon cream cake, and lots more) from the Hannaford bakery is served with lunch in the soup kitchen.  I allow myself the treats when I am there twice a week, and I sometimes get to bring stuff home.  But it's all too easy to have that be a habit.  This pumpkin pie tastes great, has nutritional value, and was quick and easy to make.  I can have my pie and eat it, too!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Leaves, Broccoli, Fennel and Healthy Banana Oat Nut Muffins

We picked up our farm share today.  The lettuce is quite abundant now.  I still have some of a large head we got last week and today we got 2 more as well as some loose greens.  I am eating salad as fast as I can, but it seems like no matter how many leaves I eat, there are still more!

Yesterday in the food bank we got a lot of fennel from a local farm.  Sue asked me to cut off the stalks and the few fronds so that just the bulb remained, and however Sue wants things is how they get done.  As food pantry coordinator, she knows how best to encourage people to take unfamiliar veggies and I guess whole fennel might be daunting.  I trimmed the stalks off, but I could not bear to throw them into the pig bucket, so I grabbed a bag and stuck them in there so I could take them home.  I figured I could slice them and throw them in salads.  This afternoon I grabbed a stalk and started munching and it was quite good just like that.  I had Bill taste it.  Since he likes licorice, I wasn't surprised that he liked it too, so I cut some into bite-sized pieces for him to take to work tomorrow.  They have a different flavor, but much the same texture as celery sticks--very crunchy.  They would be great dippers, too.  They would pair well with carrot sticks as a sandwich accompaniment.  And they are really good in salad, too.

We have a lot of broccoli, too, and some great bread that may also have come from the farmers' market--it was there when I got to the food bank yesterday, so I assume that's where it came from.  It is some kind of sourdough, I think, but has red pepper in it and has a bit of a kick.  I also have a nice, big red onion from the farm.  I will cook that with the broccoli, and a poblano pepper (both also from the farm) as well as some garlic.  I'll top some of the bread with the veggie mixture and top with a little cheese.  Bill switched shifts for tomorrow with one of his co-workers so she could be with her family during a medical procedure one of them will be undergoing, so we will eat our broccoli sandwiches for lunch and he will graze through supper at work with cherry tomatoes from the U-pick field, his fennel stalks, fruit, Greek yogurt, and a couple of whole grain banana-oat-walnut muffins I made yesterday.  They were a bit of an experiment.  I'd found the oat nut muffin recipe somewhere--in a cookbook or magazine Heather brought home from the library.  It looked like a good recipe with hardly any fat (2 tablespoons of oil is all you use) and no added sugar.  It used whole wheat flour and oatmeal.  And it used applesauce.  I had some bananas from the food pantry that really needed to be used, so I mashed them up and substituted those for the applesauce--yummy.  I also played around with measurements and added raisins.

Banana Nut Oat Muffins
Mix together in bowl:
1 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of sugar (I added this, but the original recipe did not call for it, so use your judgment)

In separate bowl, stir together:
1 cup mashed banana (I may have had more than this--I used 3 1/2 bananas because that is what I had and they all needed to be used)
2 tablespoons oil
1/3 cup milk

Mix wet ingredients with dry and stir just until moistened. If mixture is a little dry, add a splash more milk. Fold in raisins or other dried fruit and chopped nuts.  I think coconut would be really good in these, too.

Bake in greased muffin tins at 350 for about 20-25 minutes. Cool on rack.

These are healthy enough to eat as part of a meal (great with peanut butter!) or as a snack, yet sweet enough to be a good dessert.  Hmm, maybe next time I could make them for dessert and add a bit of unsweetened cocoa and some chocolate chips!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

I Thought Things Would Be Pretty Simple. Nope.

For 24 hours or so, I was living under the delusion that today would be a pretty low key and easy soup kitchen day.  I knew I would have to separate the chicken leg quarters into drumsticks and thighs, and Annette and I had spoken yesterday at the applesauce demo about doing some roasted apples as a side dish.  She also said there were a lot of 5 pound bags of frozen potatoes that needed to be used--the freezer is jammed.  I was feeling pretty serene as I walked in this morning.  It was cool out.  I brought a completed sock, a ball of yarn, and a crochet hook to show someone who works in the food bank how to do linked triple crochet stitches--we were chatting about this yesterday.  "I'll actually have plenty of time to do that today," I thought.  And I did have time.  The chicken was in the oven by 9:20 and done cooking an hour later.  We had to use green beans instead of the apples because there was a box of them that needed to be used up, but the crew got to work on those right away and they were in the pots cooking with plenty of time to spare.  The frozen potatoes went into the convection oven when the chicken came out--they only took 15 minutes.  Things were steady, but calm, in spite of the fact that there were garbage disposal repairmen removing the old and installing the new, so we couldn't move our dirty bowls, cutting boards, and knives to the sink as we usually do, thus cutting down on the amount of available work space.

Annette told me when I came in that while she'd pulled the usual amount by weight of chicken from the freezer, it looked like the pieces were larger and there would not be as many pieces.  This turned out to be the case--I ended up with 101 pieces of chicken rather than the 150 or so that I expected. Knowing that we might run short, she'd gotten some hot dog buns and the ketchup bottles ready on the counter and made sure there were plenty of hot dogs in the kitchen freezer.  I put a pot of water on the stove and turned on the burner so it would be boiling if I needed to drop in a few hot dogs.  I assumed I would have to during the last half an hour or so.  Before we opened the crew and I discussed the best way to proceed and we decided that it would be easier for everyone if we just served the chicken until it was gone and then switch to the hot dogs. 

None of us expected the kind of day we had--there was a rush when we opened, which is pretty typical.  There was a line in the hallway of people waiting for an open seat, which happens sometimes.  And people just kept on coming, which is unusual--most of the time there is a lull.  A seat would open up and it would immediately be filled again.  We were out of chicken by 11:30.  I cooked a bunch of hot dogs and they were soon gone.  The buns were used up and we had to go into the back for more.  I cooked more hot dogs.  We stopped serving seconds on green beans so there would be enough for everyone to have firsts.  I cooked more hot dogs.  People kept coming.  I cooked more hot dogs.  By the time we flicked the lights on and off to encourage the last few stragglers to leave the crew to clean up, we had served 183 meals with one container of potatoes and 4 hot dogs left.  Things were pretty steady over the hour and a half--it all seemed rushed and chaotic as we tried to keep up with everything.  But we did it!  The Thursday crew is GRRRRREAT! 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Applesauce Demo at the Food Pantry

This morning I woke up with a sinus headache that was threatening to turn into a migraine and a queasy stomach.  I took a pill, ate, and had some coffee.  I felt well enough to proceed to MCHPP with my container of applesauce, serving spoon, can opener, and small can of wild blueberries in my ChicoBag, and my 4-quart Crock-Pot in my backpack!  Today is applesauce demo day, so I was glad I could function well enough to go.  I found a bottle of fizzy water in the "stuff for volunteers" section, too, so I grabbed that and that helped.  I set up my stuff and collected more apples from the back.  We have a lot of them now. 

I stopped to talk to my friend, Nancy, who is my boss on Mondays in the food bank (she's crew chief--and a most excellent one, too!).  She asked me about the fish chowder recipe that I'd submitted to a contest the Portland Press Herald was running.  She said she hadn't seen the link here, so I told her I'd post it--don't want to let the boss down :-)  I called it Garden Fish Chowder.  I submitted it because they asked for the stories behind the recipes and I thought the chowder/soup kitchen story was a good one to share--I also wanted to get some publicity for MCHPP.  Anyway, thanks for reminding me to post that here, Nancy! 

After my talk with Nancy, I started another batch of applesauce in the Crock-Pot.  Sue, the food pantry coordinator, is raffling off a couple of Crock-Pots to clients this afternoon, so I made and served the applesauce from my Crock-Pot.  I filled the crock with peeled, cored, and quartered apples, set it to high and let it cook.  I needed to add a little water partway through.  I also added the small can of wild blueberries that I had drained.  I talked with a lot of people and we shared ideas and information.  That's the best part of doing these--we end up having some good conversations.  By the time the batch of applesauce I'd brought with me was gone, my headache was coming back and I felt a little foggy, but I smooshed up the apples in the Crock-Pot and dished out a little cup of chunky apple-blueberry sauce for myself.  It was really good--especially warm.  I can see myself having warm apple-blueberry sauce with some toasted oatmeal mixed in.  And maybe some coconut! People loved it and couldn't believe how easy it was.  I was glad because we have a lot of apples and a seemingly endless supply of those little cans of blueberries!  You don't even need sugar--just fruit and perhaps a bit of water.  I had some cinnamon on the side for people to sprinkle in as they wished.

I was so glad to get home!  It smells really good in here--before I left I filled my large Crock-Pot with chicken leg quarters, carrots, onions, cabbage, and potatoes.  I also put in some herbs.  The package said it was "poultry bouquet," which I think consisted of rosemary, sage, and oregano.  I had it in at 7ish and it'll cook on low until 5-ish.

When I got home, I ate something and am drinking the coffee I left in my stainless steel mug this morning.  I took another pill.  I am tired and a bit foggy, which is usual in these situations, but I am somewhat functional again.  Now I have to wash out my applesauce-encrusted Crock-Pot!  As always, I had a handout, which I will copy and paste below.

Applesauce is very easy to make and it’s a great way to use up apples that are bruised or blemished. 
--Peel, core, and chop apples. 
--Place in pot, add a small amount of water and bring to a boil, then turn heat down to medium.  --Apples will soften and begin to lose their shape.
--Stir once in a while and add more water if needed. 
--Add some sugar and/or cinnamon if you like.
--You can mash with a fork, potato masher or blend if you like your applesauce really smooth. 
--If you add a bit of lemon juice, you can freeze your applesauce for later use.  The vitamin C in lemon juice helps keep the applesauce from turning brown.

--You can easily add other fruits to your apples before cooking.  Pears and peaches work well.  Peel, chop and add to the pot to cook with the apples.  Cut up strawberries are another nice addition as are blueberries.

--To make your applesauce in a Crock Pot, peel, core, and quarter the apples.  Place in the crock, cover, and cook on high for 3-3 1/2 hours or low for 5-6 hours. If apples seem a little dry as they cook, add a little bit of water. Mash apples or process in blender or food processor.

--You can use your applesauce for eating, mixed into oatmeal or other hot cereal, or use it in baking.

Sauteed Apples
Instead of making applesauce, you can also make some chunky cooked apples that are great in oatmeal or as a side dish.
--Core and chop apples (I leave the skin on) and add to a pan that has a little olive or vegetable oil in it. 
--Cook, stirring constantly until apples just start to soften but have not lost their shape. 
--Sprinkle in a bit of sugar if the apples are tart and some cinnamon if you like/have it.  Ginger and nutmeg would also be nice additions if you have/like those spices. 
--Or you can make the apples less sweet and more savory and use them as a side dish with pork or chicken. To do this, sprinkle in some curry powder or chili powder and cumin.

Roasted Apples
(from The Full Plate blog:

apples, cut into chunks
olive oil
salt + pepper
onions, chopped (optional)
garlic, minced (optional)
cumin (optional)
chili powder (optional)
cinnamon (optional)
smoked paprika (optional)

Heat oven to 375*. Spread apples on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with garlic and spices. (I trust you to know how much of each spice to add, depending upon your family's tastes. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until apples are tender. (Be careful not to overcook or the apples will become mushy. Then again, if you prefer them more like a savory apple sauce, feel free to leave them in the oven for another 10 minutes, or so.)

*It will also work well at 400, if you have one oven and have something else that needs to be roasted at that higher temp. If you roast them at 400, you'll probably only need to do so for about 10-15 minutes.

--You can add apples to squash or potato soups and to potato pancakes.  Add crunchy apple chunks to salads. 

--I like to make a fall veggie medley that is great as breakfast or as a side dish:

--Peel and cut up sweet potato and winter squash (such as acorn or butternut). 
--Place in greased pan and cook at 325 for an hour or so. 
--Add chopped, unpeeled apple, cranberries, a splash of orange juice or water, and a sprinkle of brown sugar. 
--Place back in the oven and cook until all veggies are tender.  You can sprinkle cinnamon on this or leave it out.  I like to sprinkle the cinnamon and some walnuts over mine.

Sweet and Sour Cabbage and Apples
This is a great fall/winter dish that goes well with sausage, chicken, pork, or beef.

4 cups shredded cabbage
1 or 2 large apples, peeled (if you want--I leave the skin on), cored, and chopped
1/4 cup sugar--brown or white
1/4 cup vinegar--cider or white
sprinkle of caraway seeds if you have/like them

Place everything in a saucepan. Cover and cook for 10 minutes on medium.  Stir and reduce heat to medium-low. Put the cover back on and cook for 15-20 minutes more, until the cabbage is crisp-tender and the apple is soft.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Farm Potatoes

We had farm potatoes with lunch today--yum!  I look forward to these potatoes as much as I do the strawberries and the tomatoes.  They are so wonderful that I don't like to mess with them too much--I just cube them, boil them with the skins on, and add a little butter and black pepper.  These were mostly Adirondack reds with a few Kuerka golds.  Sooooo good!

I never realized how amazing freshly harvested potatoes could be until we went and helped harvest some several years ago.  A farmer who attended the same Quaker church we did in southern Oregon has a farm in northern California and one day asked for people to help harvest an experimental field of organic potatoes.  A few of us went.  As we stood there in what looked like a field of dirt, I figured there wouldn't be all that many potatoes to harvest.  I was so wrong!  I think we got about a ton of potatoes.  We each took some home and the rest went to the local food bank.  There were red potatoes and some others--can't remember now what kind the others were.  By the time we got home, I was starving and I wanted to eat, so I just washed a bunch of red potatoes, cubed them, boiled them, and added butter and black pepper.  They were the best potatoes I have ever eaten!  I have no idea what else we had--I'm sure there was something else, but the plain, simple potatoes were definitely the stars of that show!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Something Different for a Thursday

Today instead of fish chowder, I made taco casserole in the soup kitchen.  It's the first Thursday in a couple of months I didn't make chowder.  The guy who washes the pots had some taco casserole and said, "That was good.  But I still like your fish chowder."  Can't please everyone!  I am told that there is currently enough fish for two more fish chowder meals, so I would not be surprised to revisit it next Thursday!

I'd forgotten how much heavy lifting that taco casserole requires.  First I filled a couple of large pots with water and got them heating up on the stove.  Then I (and another person) spent about 45 minutes cutting steak into cubes.  Then I lugged a pot of water around so I could pour some in the pans so the steak wouldn't be too dry (I used some of the resulting broth, but most of it went down the drain).  Then the 5 steam table pans of meat went into the convection oven.  Veggies and some oregano went into a couple of large pans to sweat and cook.  By then the veggies were not the only things sweating!  When they were done they came off the stove and the pasta pots were moved to the front burners.  Five pounds of pasta went into one pot and 4 in the other.  They had to be brought to the back sink to be drained.  The pasta went into the steam table pans--a deep one, a medium one, and a regular-sized one (this last one was a vegetarian pan).  The veggies (today we had onion, garlic, bell pepper, zucchini, and carrots) were added, then the meat and some monterey jack cheese. The cheese was still frozen, so I took the 5 pound bag and slammed it onto the work table to get it separated. I had to repeat this a few times, taking the shreds out as they became available! Sour cream and seasoned (with taco and fajita seasoning) tomato sauce/puree/crushed tomatoes went into the pans.  I mixed everything together--and have a fresh blister on my pinkie as a result--that stuff is hard to stir!  I put the pans into the convection oven for 15 minutes or so just to make sure everything was hot and the cheese was melted.  Then I moved them from the oven to the steam table.  Whew!  We served about 140 today.  I kept taking out 5 more plates because after the initial rush, the dining room wasn't full, but traffic was steady and there were a lot of "+5s" on the whiteboard where we keep track of the number of servings. We have plates with a blue stripe around the rim for first servings and plain white plates for second helpings.  We count plates in order to keep count of how many meals we're serving. These numbers get marked on a sheet of paper on the fridge at the end of the day.  And we count how many elders we serve as well.

We were going to grill tonight, but Bill didn't feel like it and I don't either.  That's the second time we've postponed it this week, but we can try for either tomorrow or Saturday before he leaves for work.  He said he felt like having cereal for supper and that sounded good to me, so that's what we will have.  We have some fruit we can have with it and toast if we feel like it.  Simple.  And tonight, simple is really, really good! 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Season In Between

A couple of weeks ago, in the farm newsletter, the farmers mentioned that they liked this time of year because they were eating meals that had a mix of hot weather crops and cool weather crops.  I've noticed that we are in between seasons--last week we had a day in the mid 80s and it was warm and stuffy overnight.  Yesterday it was in the low 60s and got to the 30s overnight--and they had frost on the farm this morning.  Happily, except for the miserable summer-like interlude last week, the days have been getting shorter and cooler and the nights have been comfortable--and last night, even chilly (we still have all of our windows open).  The chilly night prompted me to get the stuff to make hot cocoa mix, so today on our way to the farm, we stopped at the store and got the stuff we needed for that:
Hot Cocoa Mix
4 cups instant dry milk
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
Mix everything together--I whiz it in my food processor with the steel blade and it gets more powdery, but that isn't necessary.  To use, place 3 tablespoons of mix in a mug and fill mug with boiling water.  Add a splash of milk or half and half if you like or top with whipped cream (yum).  To make it a mocha, add some instant coffee to the mug with the cocoa mix.

We had planned to grill tonight, but we got the farm newsletter and found out we'd be getting some tomatoes in our share, so I suggested that we have nachos instead.  We got some corn tortillas when we were at the store and when we got home, I cut them into triangles, laid them out in single layers on cookie sheets and crisped at 400 degrees.

I also made farm salsa by chopping up several of our tomatoes, one of the red onions we got from the farm, the poblano chili pepper we got in our share today, and some cilantro from the U-pick field.  I added some chopped pickled jalapeno, some dried oregano and garlic, a tablespoon of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of vinegar.  I mixed it all together.  It's so pretty.
You can really tell that there was a frost last night.  The U-pick field is starting to look a little ragged.  I cut some flowers, though, including a bunch of dill flowers.  I just love them.  When I put them in a jar and placed them on top of our heater, the light was shining right on them--they practically glowed.
So here we are in the season in-between.  It will be cold again tonight--back into the 30s--and then it will warm up again.  By the time I start dishing up the taco casserole in the soup kitchen on Thursday, it will be in the mid 70s outside and probably in the mid 80s in the kitchen.  Daylight gives way to the darkness a little but earlier every night and comes back a little bit later every morning.  We probably have 5 or 6 trips to the farm left this season.  Leaves on the trees are starting to turn.  I have put away my iced tea jars and my iced coffee bottles.  The hot cocoa mix is ready.  There's a lot to be said for paying attention to the places in between!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Monday Madness!

I cooked today in the soup kitchen instead of being in the food bank Monday and the soup kitchen Thursday.  It was crazy!  People just kept on coming.  I knew it would be busier than Thursdays because the food pantry is open on Monday (and Wednesday and Friday) but not Tuesday and Thursday.  People come in and eat lunch while they wait for their turn to go through the food pantry.  We served 188 meals today and there were 60 elders!  We have orange tickets for the elders, so we can keep track of the numbers.  I think they get some reimbursement for elder meals.  On Thursdays I usually have 30-something--I don't think I've ever had 60!

I made American chop suey.  This is something I'd never even heard of until I moved from Illinois to New Hampshire in high school.  It was not a happy move and I was not prepared to be pleased about much of anything anyway, but even so, I am not sure the American chop suey concept would have been appealing to me even then.  As I was first served it--back in the mid-1970s--it was elbow macaroni with browned ground beef and unadorned tomato sauce from a can.  As someone who grew up with my Nana's marinara sauce, made in her kitchen from tomatoes she grew in her garden, I was puzzled as to why anyone would even eat this American chop suey stuff.  It seemed really bland. 

I made it my way today.  We had onions, bell peppers, zucchini and garlic that I cooked with ground beef and sausage.  I mixed this with the elbows and added oregano and basil, along with tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, and vegetable juice (it was what we had available).  On Thursdays I usually cook 9-10 pounds of macaroni when I use it.  Today I cooked 13 pounds.  We had around 30 pounds of meat and all the veggies.

People said they liked it.  It was more like something I would make at home, although I would use ground chicken, turkey or a poultry sausage. 

Now I have a week off before heading back into my usual routine next Monday when I return to the food bank.  I think it's good for me to have some time off.  I have a few blisters on my fingers today, but the larger issue for me has been that I have had increasing hand pain.  Since I have rearranged things a little over the past few weeks, though, this has improved a lot.  I reluctantly asked Annette to give me a week off from the kitchen each month in order to give my hands a rest.  I have also stopped cutting hard veggies in the food bank.  I leave the cabbages and cauliflowers for other people to do.  Hopefully, those adjustments will be good enough to solve the problem!

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Ice Cream Truck

I saw a post on Facebook this morning from our local humane society saying that they were preparing for a large influx of cats that had been rescued from a hoarder.  This made me think of our cat, who died almost a year ago.  We got him from the same humane society when we first settled in Brunswick.  He was 11 then and had lived with one person his whole life.  Sadly, she became ill and could no longer care for him, so he ended up at the shelter.  For a cat that didn't care for children or other cats, it could not have been pleasant and he had been there for a few months when we went to see him.  I bent down to scratch between his ears and he hissed and whacked at me.  Since he'd been declawed, he did no damage, but I was not keen on adopting the old man.  Bill suggested we give him a chance, so I relented.  He was fine as soon as we were in the truck and on the way home.  He busted his way out of the flimsy cardboard carrier and meowed the whole way home.  He was still standoffish, and always looked like he was annoyed by something, but would hang out regularly with Heather.  A couple of months after adopting Huggie, we were leaving that apartment, but we decided he should stay with us, and he lived quite happily in the truck as we camped for a couple of months.  He could move between the cab and the back and Heather spent time with him each day.  After we moved into our current place, he became more friendly and would demand lap time from all of us.  This is also where we learned that he was terrified of the ice cream truck.  He could hear it coming before I could, usually and he would run around, crouching and wide-eyed before finding something to hide behind.  There was just something about the music being played that he did not like.  Poor little guy.

Fortunately for him, the ice cream truck didn't make a regular appearance.  It would come by once in a while, but not that often.  When I was a kid living in suburban Illinois, the ice cream truck would drive down the street every day in the summer.  I didn't get ice cream from the truck very much, but when I did, it was always those strawberry shortcake things on a stick.  Bill says he got Push-ups.

Did you have an ice cream truck in your neighborhood when you were a kid?  If you bought ice cream from the ice cream man, did you get something different every time or the same thing?  What was your favorite?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What Was Your Favorite School Lunch?

Back to school for many kids today!  I remember how excited I always was to get back when I was a kid.  I loved school. 

I always brought my lunches from home.  When I was in elementary school, I got a new lunchbox every year. Back then they were still made of metal.  When I got older, of course, it was the brown paper bag.  I'm not really sure when my mother stopped making my lunch, but in the lunchbox days, it would always be ready for me in the fridge.  I would have various kinds of sandwiches, wrapped in waxed paper, but my favorite was always egg salad.  I loved egg salad sandwich days.  My mother used to make it (as far as I know) by just chopping up the eggs and adding some mayo.  These days when I make it for myself, I add mustard as well.  There isn't anything else added though.

One day I settled down to lunch and unwrapped my sandwich.  I took a bite.  Yuck!  Something was definitely wrong.  I looked at the sandwich in my hand.  What were all those light and dark chunks of stuff in my egg salad?  What was going on?  I am ashamed to say that I threw that sandwich away.  Today I would have eaten it whether I liked it or not, simply so it would not be wasted.  But I was not thinking about food waste at the time;  I was simply thinking that my lunch was ruined.

I got home to find my mother's friend and neighbor at the kitchen table, visiting and drinking coffee.  "What did you do to the egg salad?" I asked.  "What was all that stuff in it?"  "Did you like it?" my mother asked.  My answer was swift, "No. It was gross."  My mother looked smugly at her friend and said, "See, I told you she wouldn't like it."  As I remember the story, the friend was there when my mother was making the egg salad and she was surprised that it was just egg and mayo.  She told my mother it needed to be jazzed up a bit with the addition of other things--onions, perhaps, and olives (I cannot stand olives!).  I don't remember now exactly what was in that wasted lunch, but I do remember how dismayed I was to find my beloved egg salad sandwich altered in such a terrible way.  From then on, no alterations were made. 

What was school lunch like for you?  Did you get school lunch or bring your own?  What was your favorite?

Feel free to comment here or on the Facebook page :-)  Enjoy your lunch today, wherever you're eating it!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Grilled Chicken Salad with Basil and Veggies

Today for lunch, I used some of the rest of the grilled chicken we had leftover from last week's barbecue.  I made a chicken salad using two of the breasts.  I still have a half in the fridge, which we will eat tomorrow somehow. I used the food processor because Bill likes his chicken to be in very small pieces or shredded.  I added some veggies for crunch, color, flavor, and a nutritional boost and I cut some basil from my window plant and added that, too.  This made enough for 2 lunches for 2 people, so vary the amounts depending on how much you want.

Grilled Chicken Salad
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, place basil leaves, garlic, chunks of bell pepper, celery, onion (or whatever veggies you like--carrot would be good, too, but I was serving carrots on the side, so I didn't add any of those this time), and a couple of grilled chicken breasts (or just use leftover baked chicken), cut in chunks.  Whiz until everything is diced and mixed up.  Transfer to a bowl, add some black pepper and mayo and mix well. 
Serve on your favorite bread, toasted if you want, or use in any way you'd use chicken salad.  This would be amazing stuffed in a lovely garden-fresh tomato!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Taking Time to Breathe

I am not sure where the last couple of days went.  It does not help that it has gotten hot again and the temperatures at night are just a little too high for comfortable sleeping.  I am grateful today to be able to stay inside with the fans on and to do some reading and stitching--I've been too tired and uncomfortable to do either for the past couple of days.  Yesterday was grilling day, so I will not have to cook today.  Tomorrow is supposed to be cooler, but of course, I will be roasting as I make fish chowder in the soup kitchen!

Bill commented yesterday afternoon that it seemed like the hottest day in the U-pick field this season.  I think he was right.  In the farm newsletter they commented that they could use some rain.  It wasn't that long ago that there was too much rain!  In any case, things are starting to be ready for harvest.  In addition to the flowers, herbs, and beans in the U-pick field, there were also a few kinds of tomatoes available, and they have been trickling in for the farm shares, too.  There was a melon bonanza this week.  They said they try to stagger the harvests of cantaloupes and watermelons so they're not all coming at the same time, but this year, it didn't work out that way and we got 4 cantaloupes and a watermelon!  And the salad greens are back!  Yay!  There was too much rain for them earlier in the season, but yesterday there was mizuna, mix-and-match tatsoi, arugula, and lettuce mix, as well as mix-and-match baby bok choi, little kale, and chard.  I took some of each of the lettuce mix, arugula and tatsoi, and mostly baby bok choy with a few kale leaves.  I just mixed it all in a big bowl and made my own salad mix.  I already had chard that I brought home from the food pantry on Monday and some lettuce mix--all donated from a couple of different local farms.

I have been rather enjoying the flowers this year.  I know nothing about flowers or arranging them or anything, but there seem to be more of them this year and in greater variety, so I've been varying color schemes each week.  I give a small arrangement to my friend and neighbor and keep a small bunch for us.  Yesterday I did yellow and white with a purple accent flower.  I also cut some dill flowers to include in the arrangements.  they are something that I've seen before, but never particularly noticed.  For some reason yesterday they just called out to me and I paid attention.  I love their firework-like appearance.

For now I will enjoy my daily salad--or salads.  There are a lot of greens that need to be eaten and I'm the only one who likes them.  Still, as is always the case at this time of year, my thoughts are starting to turn to Crock-Pot soups.  Maybe it will get cool enough for soup soon-ish. 

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Garlic in the Garbage Garden

I've written before about my "garbage garden" where I have plants that have been either grown from kitchen scraps or would have gone into the pig bucket at MCHPP.  I have a basil plant, a bunch of scallions, some baby bok choi, and a couple of celery plants.  The last week I added garlic. 
There was a head of garlic that was missing some cloves in the food pantry a few weeks ago and someone asked me if I wanted it, so I took it (of course).  I used several of the cloves and then separated the rest and stuck each clove, pointy side up, into a pot of dirt.  Here come the garlic shoots!  Yay!  These are great to snip over salads or soups just like you would do with chives.  Snip them and they will keep on growing. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Fresh Salsa

Today is our 33rd anniversary and Bill and I sat around this morning deciding what to do.  We thought about driving to Boothbay to see the aquarium, but when it came right down to it, it just didn’t seem that appealing. Neither one of us felt like a long drive.  We thought about going for lunch at a place just over the bridge in the next town within easy walking distance that has a deck over the Androscoggin River.  But we looked at the menu online and were both underwhelmed--it all seemed a little ho-hum.  We thought about a Mexican restaurant down the street from where we used to live and also within easy walking distance.  Everyone raves about it.  So we looked at their website and discovered that they aren’t open for lunch.  They are always packed at night--especially on the weekends, and dealing with a crowd in a small space seemed decidedly unappealing--and really good Mexican food is easy to make at home anyway. 

In the end, we walked to Big Top Deli on Maine St and had lunch there.  Bill really felt like an Italian sub and they have good ones.  It’s funny--on Maine St in Brunswick there are restaurants all over the place.  Brunswick is known for its restaurants.  We rarely go out to eat so have been to hardly any of them.  The one thing we would love to have here is good pizza and with all of these restaurants, there is no excellent place for pizza.  There’s a decent place on Pleasant St, but no really great pizza in Brunswick.  Every place we’ve tried has had really bland and boring sauce that had no herbs and tasted like it came directly out of a can and onto the pizza.  If there was excellent pizza, we might have gone and had that, but the sandwiches were quite good, so it turned out well.

As we were walking to Big Top, we passed the gelato place and I thought that I might like to stop in after lunch and get a gelato.  I got a small sandwich to save some room, but that didn’t work.  I was full when we left, so we skipped the gelato and instead walked down to the commons and walked around the downtown farmers’ market.  When I’d been looking at the menu for the Mexican place online, of course I saw the salsa and chips listed and I started thinking that some fresh salsa would be good.  We found some fresh tomatoes of various sorts at the market and I picked out 5 big ones in three different colors--orange, purple, and red.  Then we stopped at the grocery store on the way home for some blue tortilla chips.  I made the salsa and we can have it with grilled leftovers for supper.  I also picked up a package of double chocolate Klondike bars to satisfy my ice cream craving.  I figured that I’d be able to fit them in the freezer, even if I had to stick them into little spaces individually!

Fresh Salsa (make a lot--it disappears fast!)
--5 large tomatoes, chopped
--1 large onion, chopped
--pickled jalapenos to taste (I used about 3 tablespoons, chopped)
--garlic (minced fresh or garlic powder)
--chopped fresh jalapenos or other hot peppers, optional (if you remove some or all of the ribs and seeds, you will tone down or eliminate the heat)
--dried oregano to taste
--2 tablespoons sugar
--3 tablespoons vinegar
Place everything in a bowl and mix together.  Let sit for a few hours for flavors to blend.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Grilled Pita

It's Tuesday and no thunderstorms in sight, so we grilled a bunch of stuff again.  I made turkey burgers and we had some garlic and cheese sausage.  We also had a large package of boneless, skinless chicken breast, so we cooked all of that and I'll use it for several days to come in various ways.  I had a large summer squash that I sliced along with a small one that I cut in half and brushed with olive oil.  I then sprinkled with garlic powder and Italian seasoning.  I cut a few red bell peppers in half and had a pile of chilis.  When I was done brushing the oil on the zucchini, I had some left in my little bowl, which I didn't want to waste.  I decided to brush it on half a small loaf of Italian-bread-shaped oatmeal bread that I'd sliced.  I did that, sprinkled with garlic powder and wrapped in foil.  I figured I could put it on the grill to heat as the coals were winding down, along with all those chilis and whatever bell peppers and squash that didn't fit on the grill with all the other stuff.  I also decided to try making grilled pita crisps.  I separated half a large pita into single layers, brushed these with olive oil, and sprinkled with some smoky chili powder.  I placed these on the grill while the coals were still hot and while the chicken and sausage were cooking. 
When it was done, I tossed it on top of the still uncooked veggies to cool slightly before tasting--I was out of places to put things.  It's really good.  I plan to make more of these next week.

The heat has come back here and after having halfway decent and not extremely hot weather for the past little while, I am feeling it.  This reminds me why I hate summer.  I am tired and not sleeping well.  My joints ache.  I sometimes find it an effort to breathe and we have an air quality alert issued for tomorrow.  Sigh.  I am grateful that it is only supposed to last a couple more days and then go back to being halfway decent again.  I will be happy when it's cooler!  But until it is, I can be glad that I will not have any need to stand over a hot stove or to turn on the oven, because the food for the next several days is already cooked.  Yay!

For another great planned leftover idea, check out today's post on A Good Eater!  She's got some yummy stuff going on with chicken and veggies in her Crock-Pot!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Odd -n-Ends Pasta Sauce and Quick Veggie Chili

Spent about an hour in the kitchen today using up some of my planned grilled leftovers and creating new planned leftovers.  I also made lunch, which is our big meal on Saturdays, since Bill will be at work at suppertime. 

First I made lunch for today and Monday (I do not know what time I will get home from my shift at the food bank and it's best to have something to heat and eat).  I added some olive oil to a pot and tossed in a chopped onion, a chopped bell pepper, a large clove of minced garlic, and a round summer squash that I'd chopped.  I cooked this stuff in the oil, stirring it around, for a few minutes.  Then I added two small eggplants that we'd grilled the other day.  They were peeled while still hot from the grill and I just roughly cut them into chunks today before adding to the pot.  Then I roughly chopped the bit of chard that we had left from our farm share this week and set that aside.  Finally, I sliced the rest of the grilled extra hot sausage we had left.  I added that, then the chard and stirred until the chard was wilted.  Then I added about 6 ounces of tomato paste and I rinsed out the can (a 12 ounce can) and poured the water into the pot, along with some oregano and basil.  I stirred to incorporate the tomato paste and let it simmer while the elbows cooked.  A sprinkle of Parmesan cheese completed things nicely. 

After lunch, I decided to make myself a pot of chili (I'm the only one who likes it around here).  I added olive oil to my pot and diced some carrots.  I chopped an onion, a red bell pepper, and two grilled jalapenos and added all the veggies to the pot.  I stirred them around and let them sweat.  After a few minutes, I added a can of kidney beans that I'd rinsed, and a can of diced tomatoes with juice.  Then I added the rest of the tomato paste from the can I opened for the pasta sauce and a bit of water.  Finally, I put in a smoky chili powder that I have never used before.  It's salt-free and has a few different kinds of chilis in it, including chipotle.  I love chilis and smoky flavors both, so I'm interested to see how I like this.  I let everything simmer for a little while and poured it into a container.  I'll have a bowl for supper.  There will be enough left for a few more days after that, as well. 

In addition to the new leftovers, we still have a couple of burgers and some zucchini, onion, and bell pepper left from the grill and we will eat these for lunch tomorrow.  The grilled chilis that remain will be frozen for use later on. 

So an hour in the kitchen has served me well and frees up extra time in the days ahead.  Why just cook for one meal, when you can cook ahead for a few more with no extra time or effort spent?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Chicken and Avocado Sandwiches

Today I used some of the grilled food I had in the fridge to make lunch.  Since Bill changed his shift at work on Fridays, we now eat our bigger meal of the day at lunchtime on Fridays as well as on the weekends.  This afternoon, it was chicken sandwiches with avocado spread.

I used my food processor fitted with the steel blade to make the avocado spread.  I tossed in some of the veggies we'd grilled the other night--bell pepper, a red jalapeno, some onion--along with a couple of cloves of garlic and some cilantro.  I whizzed that all up, then added a couple of avocados and whizzed everything around until it was creamy.  I heated up a couple of boneless, skinless chicken thighs that were also grilled the other night.  I spread the avocado mixture onto some oatmeal bread from Panera that I'd brought home from the soup kitchen yesterday and topped with the chicken thigh and another slice of bread.  Delicious, healthy, fast, and easy. 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Chowder Broth?

Cooked in the soup kitchen today and made chowder again. It was pretty slow today--we served 80 firsts and 34 seconds.  I've had some questions and comments about the broth, so I thought that I would post how I make the chowder.  People are also surprised about the non-traditional veggies in the chowder--I get a lot of comments about that.  I am sure there's a particular way that Maine folks make their chowder.  I have no idea what that way is!  I just try to use what we have and today we had beautiful, local, farm fresh carrots, summer squash (yellow crookneck and pattypan), and kale, so those were added.  Someone came up and told me that she liked the veggies because they didn't "overpower the fish."  Since many of our diners are also food pantry clients, I have been encouraging them to take these kinds of veggies and to try making chowder at home.  It's pretty basic and you can use what you have.

My process is the same every week--as someone joked today, "Shari can probably make chowder in her sleep by now!  She probably has chowder nightmares!"  I don't have nightmares, but I do have a system :-)  The chowder is different every week because the available veggies vary, but the process is the same.

Put some oil in a pot.  Add chopped onion, carrot, bell pepper, summer squash, minced garlic and celery.  You can add some diced bacon if you want. Cook in the oil, stirring, until the onion is translucent and the other veggies are starting to soften.  Add some chopped kale (stems removed) or chard and stir just until wilted.  Add some cubed potatoes.  Cover with water just up to the level of the veggies.  Bring to a boil.  Cook until the potatoes are almost done and then add in chunks of white fish.  Keep cooking stirring occasionally.  The fish will flake as you stir.  When the potatoes are soft, remove pot from heat and add milk, cream, or half and half.  I do not use that much.  I add about half a gallon to each of the 3 large pots that has 12 pounds of fish and all the veggies in it, so to make this at home, you don't need much. If I had needed to stretch the chowder to feed more people, I could have added more milk.  I sprinkle in some black pepper and sometimes I have added snipped chives, scallions or fresh parsley at this point if those things were available.

People ask about the broth, but as you see, I just use water and it makes its own broth.  The potatoes thicken it a bit and the flavor from the veggies makes a nice rich, flavorful broth without having to use special stock or anything.  I gather some people add a lot of butter, but I don't use any.  Between the olive oil and the bacon, there is enough fat in there, in my opinion. 

Today with the chowder we had Panera bread, sliced melon, and a wonderful garden salad.

I am off next Thursday, so no chowder for me.  I probably won't be cooking it at home.  We did our weekly grilling yesterday instead of Tuesday, because there were thunderstorms in the forecast for Tuesday.  We didn't get any, but had we fired up the grill, they probably would have appeared.  Anyway, we have veggies, chicken, extra hot Italian sausage, and some turkey burgers--plenty of food to last at least through Saturday.  We got our first farm tomato Tuesday when we did our farm share pick-up--we had half yesterday and saved half for today--yummy sliced on the grilled burgers.  I got a nice loaf of bread today, too.  Panera does make some good bread.  So we're all set for a few days.  I am pleased because people enjoyed their healthy lunch and we helped to prevent food from being wasted. And we had a good time in the process!