Halloween Supper Tips

Forget the hotdogs cut to look like squid or wrapped in crescent roll dough to look like mummys. Make dinner tonight with lots of nutritious bang for the buck and then you might not feel so bad when they fall into bed with a belly full of Snickers and without brushing their teeth.

What my kids need tonight is more nutrition than hotdogs can offer. Here are my trick-or-treat dinner solutions:

1. Have dinner ready earlier than usual. I plan to eat around 5:00 pm. Trick or treat starts at 6:00 in our world and there is always a little pre-trick or treat costume comparison with the neighborhood kids. Maybe I’ll feed them at 4:30.

2. Plan a good source of lean protein – chicken, fish, legumes, turkey breast – and make the kids eat a lot of it. We’re having leftover lentil soup from Tuesday night.

3. Hydrate the kids with about 8 – 10 ounces of low-fat milk or water. Make them use the bathroom before you head out. Don’t let them say, “I don’t have to go”, or else you might be saying “trick-or-treat and can Johnny use your bathroom”?

4. Offer some good sources of fiber, preferably vegetable oriented. I’m making some dip with fresh veggies – carrots, cucumber, and cauliflower pieces. Whole-wheat bread with butter would work well too.

5. Avoid a high-salt, overly processed meal. If you’re night is going to be anything like mine, there will be plently of salt and sugar over the next 24 hours. Candy, chips, and sodas are sure to appear at our neighborhood get together, especially since it’s Friday.…

Bones of Our Supper Menus

Creating a basic weekly outline for supper helps me with my grocery shopping, because my secret to being an active cook, and not a food assembler, is having ingredients in the house. When I think of our upcoming week in terms of these “bones”, I end up cooking meals with more variety. I particularly enjoy Sundays, making an extended amount of time in my kitchen to try or develop a new recipe and perhaps even bake a seasonal dessert. I love the word supper. It’s super! To me, dinner is that meal served on Sunday afternoon.

Monday – Pasta Feast

Tuesday – Legume Creation

Wednesday – Meat/Poultry Night

Thursday – Soup or Fish Extravaganza

Friday – Pizza (mostly homemade, sometimes delivery)

Saturday – Market and evening activities dictate (have I been to a farm market or our city fresh market? Is a babysitter coming? Can we grill out? )

Sunday – New Recipe and Dessert …

I'm Not At My Table

For the next several days, my kitchen table will be filled with food, laughter, spilled milk, and stories about the weekend and school – but not me. The table is short one person. This is all for good reason. I’m in Chicago, attending the FNCE (Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo) of the American Dietetic Association. This annual gathering of food and nutrition experts is quite impressive and I never leave feeling uninspired. Dietitians from every walk of life, keeping abreast of hot nutrition topics. It’s so fun. The biggest give aways at the trade show, from what I can tell, are reusable grocery bags. There’s a lot of “green” talk this weekend. Frito-Lay is causing quite a stir for their talk of sustainability, but some wonder if they really espouse the tenants of the organic movement in the potatoes they use in their chips. Much to chew on, so to speak.

I’m so excited for another reason.  I just attended a session about Healthy Kitchens, an initiative where cooking (YES, my beloved cooking), mindfulness, sharing food and good nutrition was presented as an all-encompassing way to prevent and treat chronic disease. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. More to come on this topic. I might just have to open a healthy kitchen of my own where I teach some real life cooking skills to those at the most risk (children and college students).

I just finished looking for some lunch. The $10.00 tuna sandwich at Au Bon Pain wasn’t doing it for me, so I think I’ll head into the trade show and down a cup of yogurt. Probiotics are all the rage.  Then I’ll look for a chair, relax a bit, and think about a time when more kitchens become the focus of treating and preventing chronic illness.

I’ll be honest. I miss my kitchen at home, but know all young eaters there are in the hands of the best male cook I know. I even heard that last night there was a marshmallow roast after dinner in that said kitchen. Now those are some good times. Making memories with food. I hope the stars were out.…

Why Do I Share "What We Ate This Week"?

For the past few years I’ve kept a log of all the food I cook. Yes, I write everything down in a little notebook. Not that high tech. When I create a new dish without a recipe I write it down. When I prepare a new dish with a new recipe I write it down, along with the source of the recipe. Whether I make Red Beans and Rice, Barbecue Chicken, or Blueberry Muffins, everything is documented in the book. Now my method of organization uses this blog as an electronic list. Maybe it might inspire you to try something new. Maybe it might make you mutter to yourself, “she doesn’t really cook all that”, or “wonder what the kids eat?”. Maybe I’ll reach a point where I can provide recipes, or shopping lists, to go along with the menus. I’m a long way from reaching that point, so for now I’ll just share the menus. Use as you wish, or not. Thank you for your support.…

Shameless Plug
Shameless Plug

 

I guess since this is my blog I can write about any darn thing I want to. It’s hard though. I grew up in a large, estrogen-dominated family where drawing attention to ourselves was not encouraged. Walk in line. Follow the pack.

I’ll break from my upbringing for a moment to shout out about a recent accomplishment of mine and of my friend Shirley Corriher (and her dear husband, Arch). We worked tirelessly this summer finishing BakeWise, a highly anticipated baking companion to Shirley’s first cookbook CookWise. Shirley as the author, Arch as her live-in editor and nitpicker, and lil’ ole me as their freelance editor (for Scribner – thanks Beth Wareham!) did everything humanly possible to whip the manuscript into shape before turning it over to our precise copy editor, Suzanna Fass. Next, we poured over every word in the designed pages making sure that what we wanted said was in fact, well, said.

My editing work (all via telephone) with the Corrihers was a pleasure. What a sweet honor to help Shirley release BakeWise the world. Now I need to get myself down to Atlanta to celebrate at their favorite eatin’ spot. “Great day in the morning, BakeWise is out!”

BakeWises official publication date is Tuesday, October 28th. I’ll be in Chicago but, despite the forecast for chilly rain and wind, I can hardly wait to make a mad dash into a bookstore to view a copy of BakeWise “on the shelf”. I have a bound copy right here on my desk. I’ve seen it already – cover to cover, inside, outside and upside down, and it’s a beautiful thing. But, until I see the fruits of our labor sitting among other cookbooks it’s still a little hard to believe.

Amazon is shipping copies of BakeWise. If nothing else, visit Amazon and read the reviews. Next time you’re in a bookstore pick up a copy. Look at the fabulous photographs. Flip through the pages. Read a recipe or two. Can you smell the brownies?

OK, enough of that. Time to get back in line. I’ll return again and talk about something other than myself, and my friend Shirley.…

Flat Iron Steak with Brown Sugar Rub

Serves 6

A simple rub, using a unique combination of readily available ingredients, enhances this beefy tender steak. Be sure not to overcook, and it’s best to let the steak rest before slicing. If it’s too cold to grill outdoors, cook the steam under the broiler (an upside down grill – who knew).


One 2-pound flat iron steak

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon freshly cracked black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

Lay the steak(s) in a shallow pan or baking dish. Mix the brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper and salt together in a small bowl. Evenly distribute half of the rub over the top of the steak and rub and press into the meat. Flip the meat over and repeat with the remaining rub. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Preheat a grill to medium-high. Place the steak on the grill and cook for 6 minutes. Flip and cook for about 4 more minutes for medium-rare, 6 more minutes for medium and 8 more minutes for medium-well or well done. Remove from the grill to a platter and cover with foil. Let rest for 10 minutes. Slice into thin or thick slices as desired.

Take A Gamble On A New Steak

It’s a sure bet that as we speak a few transformations are taking place in my kitchen: from eating outdoors to indoors; from less fresh tomatoes to more frozen and canned; from the kids eating less at home to more at school; from using the grill less and the oven more; and from flank or New York strips steaks to a flat iron steak. Yes, even the beef I cook is in flux.

Many of our family dinners could be labeled “vegetarian”; no meat appears on our plates. That being said, about once a month I like to cook a decent piece of steak. (I think that makes my family a bunch of “flexitarians”.) Nutritionally, beef provides a respectable quantity of zinc, iron, and B12, nutrients everyone in my family needs. (For more information about beef nutrition visit the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.) I’d argue that beef steaks when sautéed for fajitas, or flame-cooked for a simple entree, are one of the quickest and easiest cuts of beef to cook at home. According to my calculations, and the reviews of my customers, I can cook a steak dinner that rivals any restaurant for a lot less dollars.

For many years flank steak was my go-to cut. Although generally leaner (and somewhat tougher), flank steak was also typically less expensive than other high end cuts of steak. If I bought a nice flank steak all I had to do was marinate, cook, and slice; I was never disappointed no matter how dressed up, or unadorned, we ate it. If I wanted a steak bursting with beefy flavor, that was inherently tender (albeit less lean), I would splurge and buy a New York Strip making this special occasion steak a most appealing choice for its simplicity and flavor.

Last year I read an article in The New York Times about the effects of rising beef prices on restaurant menus. Many chefs discussed how they were incorporating new cuts of beef into their menus to achieve a significant savings in their food costs. The article described the success many chefs experienced by using a cut of beef called a flat iron steak.

A flat iron steak comes from a modified version of a top blade roast, a cut of beef from the shoulder of the cow. For years, butchers were faced with a problem – what to do with the blade roast – a relatively tender and flavorful cut of meat. The problem was it had a tough piece of connective tissue running down the center, something cooks did not want to deal with. Leave it to researchers from Nebraska to devise a method of cutting the blade roast to remove the connective tissue, leaving a large, flat piece of beef from the “top” of the roast. This top blade steak (or flat iron steak) weighs about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds, is evenly thick all the way across, and resembles a triangular-shaped iron (yes, like an iron used to

Beer Batter Bread

With the leaves turning yellow, and the air predicted to turn crisp, my thoughts turn to cool-weather food. I enjoy making “dump and stir” savory breads almost as much as taking the time to make focaccia or ciabatta. Made with dark, rich stout this bread pairs well with a hearty stew or soup. Use a lighter lager or ale to serve with salad. Delicious either way.

Makes one 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the loaf pan

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 (12-ounce) bottle lager, ale, or stout, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush one 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pan with some of the butter.

In a bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt. Add the beer and 2 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter, stirring just until combined. (The batter will be somewhat lumpy.)

Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly, then invert onto the rack to cool until warm. Serve warm or at room temperature.…

Quick White Clam Sauce

I like to serve this quick and easy sauce over a long, thin pasta such as linguine or spaghetti. Fresh parsley, either curly or flat-leaf Italian, introduces beautiful color and a shot of fresh herb flavor. The finely chopped, or grated, carrots cook quickly while adding a hint of sweetness and more fresh color.

Serves 4

Two 6-ounce cans chopped clams

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/4 cup chopped green onion or shallot

4 carrots, peeled, and shredded or chopped fine

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large skillet over medium-low heat, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the chopped onion and the grated carrot. Cook stirring until soft about 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped garlic and cook for 2 more minutes until the garlic is fragrant and softened. Stir in the white wine, increase the heat to medium high and cook until the wine is reduced and slightly thickened about 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in 1/4 cup olive oil, and the clam juice. Bring to a boil and cook for about 2 more minutes to thicken.Stir in the chopped parsley, red pepper flakes and reserved clams. Heat through about 1 minute and season to taste with salt and fresh black pepper. Serve immediately over fresh, hot pasta.

Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies
Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup white sugar

1 package (3.4 ounce) instant vanilla pudding mix

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Sift together the flour and baking soda, set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars. Beat in the pudding mix until blended. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. Blend in the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts. Drop cookies in rounded teaspoonfuls onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for about 8 minutes until the edges are just brown.

 

The Cookie Contest
The Cookie Contest

Every year Hixson hosts a cookie contest at their employee picnic. This year my oldest son and I judged the contest, along with a handful of other interested people who were willing to wade through tasting about a baker’s dozen homemade delights. Tuxedo Bites, Lemon Squares, Nutkins, Thumbprint, Old-fashioned Peanut Butter, Soft Chocolate Chip, Zebra Kisses, Salted Peanut Crisps, and Chocolate Peanut Chip lined the old wooden bar at the boat club. “Take a bite of each and vote on your top three favorites”, were our judging instructions.

Heading into the competition I was fully prepared to vote for something different, an unusual cookie that tickled my taste buds. I did what I was told (typical middle child) and tasted bite after bite. For some reason, despite the flavor contrast in the Salted-Peanut Crisps, or the nutty sweetness of the Nutkins, I kept returning to the Soft Chocolate Chip cookies. The distribution of chips tasted heavenly and the edges were slightly crisp, with a just-baked-soft center. I cast my vote, my son followed suit, and the winners were announced: Tuxedo Bites, Lemon Squares and….. Nutkins. My beloved softies sat scorned on their oblong, yellow platter.

A few days later a recipe book with all cookie contest recipes arrived in my kitchen. I furiously flipped through the pages dying to know what secret ingredient created the just-baked softness in my favorite of the cookie contest. The ingredient list seemed perfectly normal: flour, baking soda, butter, brown and white sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, chocolate chips, chopped walnuts, instant vanilla pudding mix. What, instant vanilla pudding mix in the cookies?.

You must know, if you’re not already aware, I tend to be somewhat of a purist when it comes to baking and even cooking. You know my type – real butter, pure vanilla extract, large fresh eggs. If I’m going to bake, I’m going to bake with simple, fresh ingredients. No “just add vanilla pudding mix” baking for me.

The next few times I shopped I neglected to buy pudding mix. Then my youngest son was prescribed to wear a retainer, glued into his mouth, for one week. In a search for soft food and convenience I picked up a few boxes of pudding mix. Then I remembered the cookies and the recipe. The deal was sealed.

The cookies turned out even better than I expected. The slightly-crisp edges and just-baked soft centers were just as I remembered.

In a recent New York Times article, “Perfection? Hint: It’s Warm and Has a Secret”, David Leite makes a quest to discover the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. On his journey he discusses cookie recipe nuances with pastry chefs, bakery owners, and food scientists (including my friend, Shirley Corriher), and makes a strong case for canonizing Ruth Wakefield of the Toll House Inn, creator of the iconic chocolate chip cookie. In the end he presents a recipe that uses bread flour and a 36-hour refrigeration for the dough. Deterred by leaving the dough in …

First Cup

I think at least one of my sisters, maybe all 6 of them, and perhaps my brother would agree – the first cup of coffee in the morning is the best.

Part of my evening ritual, while I’m soaking the pots from dinner in hot, soapy water, is to set up my automatic coffee maker for the morning. Dump old coffee grounds and  wet filter in the compost container. Rinse the insulated carafe. Situate a new, dry brown paper filter in the basket and fill with ground coffee. No I don’t measure, I just hope for the best. Pour cold water into the tank. Make sure it’s “set” to brew at 5:45 a.m. Brush teeth. Go to bed. Now I can’t wait to wake up.

The smell of coffee in the morning is rivaled only by the smell of bacon frying the a skillet, or the smell of a baby after a bath.

The first sip of coffee is rivaled by, well, nothing. It’s my signal that a new day has begun.…

Red Beans and Rice with Chili Vinaigrette

Serves 6 to 8

This recipe has been part of my repertoire for over 20 years and I’ve made it many, many times. It travels well to a potluck and tastes best served at room temperature – and that’s a bonus if the weather is warm.

 

3 cups cooked brown or basmati rice

1 1/2 cups cooked light red kidney beans, or one 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed

1 1/2 cups cooked dark red kidney beans, or one 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed

1 1/2 cups frozen or canned corn kernels

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped

1/2 cup chopped green onion, mostly green part

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon packed brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

 

In a large bowl combine the rice, beans, corn, red bell pepper and green onion. Toss to mix. In a small bowl combine the oil, vinegar, brown sugar, chili powder, cumin and salt. Whisk until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is well blended. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Let stand at room temperature, tossing occasionally for up to 4 hours before serving, or cover and refrigerate up to 3 days.

 

 

Where Does Your Food Come From?

September 30, 2008 – Associated Press- A retail labeling law for fresh meats, fruits and vegetables will be implemented over the next six months on an interim basis to give all parties time to adjust and comply with the regulations. Federal officials said Tuesday that consumers will be able to tell where those products come from by looking at labels, stickers, placards and stamps placed on them in grocery stores. Farm groups have long pushed for country-of-origin labels. Meat from animals that are born, raised and slaughtered in the United States must be designated as such. Another label will spell out multiple countries of origin, such as “Product of U.S., Mexico and Canada.”

Value Meals - Part II
Value Meals - Part II

So….. would the world come to an end if we had to start eating out at restaurants less and eating at home more, consuming less pre-packaged and processed food and more food we cook ourselves, buying less coffee at the local caffeine filling station and making our own coffee (or tea) at home, eating less drive through food that’s all the same and more of our own sandwich creations from our own cutting board.

In the end wouldn’t acts such as this help – our budgets, our waistlines and our families?  I can’t quit thinking about a world where we used our kitchens more for what they’re intended – cooking, sharing food, wiping up the counter tops and doing it all again at the next meal. Isn’t that value-added?…

Pinching Food Pennies

There’s no denying it – we’re all feeling the pinch at the supermarket, as well as at the gas pump. Our hard-earned dollars are buying less milk, less bread and much to my dismay, less ice cream. (I’m annoyed, by the way, about the reduction in size of many ice cream cartons from 1/2 gallon to 1 3/4 or 1 1/2 quarts. Very sneaky – keep the price the same but reduce the package size.)

This past May, The Food Marketing Institute at their annual meeting released a report about grocery shopping trends. This year, unlike past years, economic concerns are compelling more of us to cook at home. In general, the report shows that we’re eating out less in restaurants and eating more leftovers.

I have to admit, I’ve developed a pretty steady routine for my grocery shopping. So, in response to rising food prices, I’ll share a few tips on how I save money at the grocery.

1. At least one day before I shop I make time to create a very complete menu that includes all the food our family will eat during the upcoming week: breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, bakes sales and if necessary, party food, special occasion meals, or food for a potluck at work. I glance through the weekly ad for my supermarket, and if pork tenderloin or chicken breasts are on sale I work those into my menu. I also take advantage of 10/$10 specials, but only buy 1 or 2 at $1.00/each.

2. Using my own preprinted shopping list, customized for my most frequently visited market, (a hold over from my personal chef days), I mark every food item I need to buy. If I’m preparing a new recipe, I include all ingredients for the recipe. I ask the family if there’s anything we need because invariably someone has emptied the peanut butter jar and I haven’t noticed. I make the menu as complete as possible because my success depends on its thoroughness. In my opinion saving money at the grocery is just like painting. It’s 3/5 preparation.

3. Next I survey the refrigerator (especially the produce bin), pantry and freezer to see what I might already have on hand. The freezer, pantry and produce drawer can become like a large black hole. Unless I’m vigilant, mine have a tendency to suck up ingredients that are bought, but never cooked. Food in the freezer dehydrates (or becomes freezer burnt) when stored for an excessive amount of time. Freezer burn does not jeopardize the safety of the food, but does negatively affect the quality. Food and ingredients in the pantry can go stale and may be prone to attract pests. Produce in the drawer, out of sight, wilts and spoils.

4. One of the most effect ways to save money (and control impulse shopping) is to limit my trips to the store. I pick a day and time and try to shop at that same day/time every week. Typically, I shop early on …

Value Meals

Food marketers are talking about value today in response to the falling stock market. Instead of attempts to get people to buy fleur de sel caramels, or high-end frozen desserts, we’re being lured to the simple and less expensive – Kraft American Singles and Campbell’s Tomato Soup anyone?

I suspect we’re going to be hearing a lot about value over the next several months. You know what I think is the best value? Eating at home. I’ve always felt that way and probably always will. When I eat out it’s not because there’s no food in the house. When I eat out it’s because I want to take a small break from my kitchen and relax while eating someone elses cooking for a change. Then I see the bill and pay the tip.

Cooking at home is a good value. Tonight for dinner I made a batch of white clam sauce and served it over whole-wheat spaghetti. Chopped steamed broccoli with lemon zest on the side. Glass of local Pinot Grigio. Quite a delicious, inexpensive meal. And before I get off my soapbox, make your coffee at home – it’s SOOO much less expensive.…

Nina's Coca-Cola Cake

Makes One 13×9-inch cake

 

Cake ingredients:

2 cups all purpose flour

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup Coca-Cola

1/2 cup buttermilk

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Frosting Ingredients:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter

4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

6 tablespoons Coca-Cola

1 pound (1 box) confectioners’ sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

 

Grease and flour a 13 x 9 x 2-inch cake pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Stir together the flour, sugar and baking soda in a small bowl. In a large saucepan, melt and stir together, until well blended, the vegetable oil, 1 stick butter, 4 tablespoons cocoa powder, and 1 cup Coca-Cola. Stir in the flour and sugar, mixing well. Add the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla extract. Pour batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the cake is set in the middle, and springs back when lightly pressed with your index finger. Cool on a rack. The cake can be frosted while still warm, if desired.

Meanwhile, prepare frosting by mixing and bringing to a slight boil, 1 stick butter, 4 tablespoons cocoa powder, and 6 tablespoons Coca-Cola. Remove from heat and immediately stir in confectioners’ sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla until smooth. Stir in nuts. The frosting may look thin, but it will set up when cooled. Immediately pour frosting on cake, and quickly spread the frosting with a spatula or knife. Allow cake to cool for several hours before serving.

 

Coca-Cola Cake

Warren grew up in a very brand loyal family. The canned soda served at his boyhood home was always a Coca-Cola product. No Pepsi or RC need apply, Coke was it. So why was I surprised when I asked him if I should make a pan of brownies for a picnic, and he said, “No, how about a Coca-Cola Cake.” Coca-Cola Cake? I’ve made many sheet cakes, but not this one. Quickly, I dialed the phone, and Nina read over the phone her trusty recipe for Coca-Cola cake. The recipe went together easily, and resulted in a moist and chocolately cake with fudge-like frosting. Perfect for picnics, barbecues or a pot-luck, this cake travels well, and fills the bill for a summer-time cake, of the most brand loyal kind.…