Sunday, March 30, 2014

True Confessions (and Baked Ravioli)

During this season of Lent, our family has been practicing confession of our sins, our shortcomings and frailties at the dinner table.  We have this wreath in the center of our table with a little dish of toothpicks.  We stick a "thorn in the crown" representing our sin.  We have done this during this pre-Easter season for the past few years.  It is so convicting and powerful.  [If you don’t know of this ritual and want to know more (and the beautiful conclusion)- read about it HERE].

My kids have really engaged with this practice.  They quickly grab for the toothpicks, ready to confess.  They are aware of their struggles and the ways they have lived out of a selfish place.  This humility and self awareness seems so important.  (We have had a lot to confess lately- as we've had some rough days). It has been a beautiful and convicting experience to have my children model conviction for me.

One of the most humbling parts of it this year has been the repetition of sin in my days.  As I ponder the day's words, thoughts and deeds, I find that I repeat the same sins over and over.  The other day, I followed my kids’ lead by grabbing a toothpick.  And then I just held onto it.  My daughter asked, “Are you going to share your sin?” I said, “I’m thinking.” She replied with some suggestions of sins from my previous week, (thank you very much) “What about self pity, judging, impatience?”  Yep. Those are the ones.  The ones that keep surfacing.

The silver lining of this disappointment is that it has made me sick of myself! I have thought, “NO MORE SELF PITY!! THIS IS GETTING OLD!” And it has prompted me to resist when the urge to “compare and despair” rises up in me.   I have been fighting the temptation to let my comparison lead me to judging myself or others. (My comparison typically tends to lead to one or the other.)

While I’m confessing, here’s another. (Not nearly as ugly.)  I am tired of dinner.  I am tired of dinner planning, of preparation, of dinner itself.  I wish that we could just make a peanut butter and banana sandwich, or have a salad, or open a can of tuna, or take some "dinner pill" and call it a night.  But I have people in my house that like a real meal for dinner.  Sigh.

I am grateful for the longer days of sunshine, as it helps with my motivation.  My friend Lindsey was telling me this week that last month she planned out the entire month of dinners for her household.  I'm so impressed.  She said she went ahead and bought all of the non-perishables for the month and then bought perishables each week.  I think this is brilliant (and ambitious) and I'm hoping that maybe she will just give me her month-of-menus and I won't even have to think! We like the same kinds of meals, so I would be happy to adopt her plans. 

If my daughters had it their way they would choose pasta every meal.  I really try to limit it to one dinner a week.  I felt like I needed to add another pasta dish to my repertoire.  I was trying to think of something easy but different and delicious to make.  I didn’t want to do a meaty lasagna- for the sake of cost and trouble and my meat-adverse people.  My family loves ravioli.  I found a recipe from Martha Stewart's EVERYDAY FOOD for Baked Ravioli.  It is so simple and is lasagna-like in that it has the pasta, cheesy and savory filled, with red sauce in between, but much less work. 

I followed her recipe, and even made the sauce she instructed to make.  It was so delicious.  I think next time, I confess, I might just make it with jars of good quality pasta sauce. The homemade sauce didn’t make that much of an impact.   Then the recipe would be even simpler!!  I also think I'll attempt to sauté some vegetables to layer into the dish- maybe zucchini and squash to incorporate some healthiness.

(adapted from Martha Stewart’s EVERYDAY FOOD)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
coarse salt and ground pepper
1 ½ tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. basil
1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
2 (1 lb. bags) store-bought frozen cheese ravioli
2 cups shredded mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

 [OR if you are making it with bought sauce- omit first 8 ingredients and replace with 2 jars of pasta sauce. ]
And, if you are making for a smaller crowd, you could make it with one bag of ravioli and one jar of sauce and make it in a square baking dish.

Preheat oven to 425˚ degrees.  Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and season with salt and pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add spices.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, breaking up tomatoes with a spoon, until sauce is thickened and reduced (about 20-25 minutes).  OR heat up 2 jars of quality pasta sauce.

Meanwhile, cook ravioli in a large pot of boiling water, salted.  Cook for just a few minutes- until pasta rises to the top of the pot.  Drain pasta.

Toss sauce with pasta.  Pour into a large baking dish (13 X 9).  Sprinkle with mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.  Bake for 20 minutes or until golden on top and bubbly.  Cool slightly before serving.


boil for 3 minutes

pile in a dish

stir in sauce

top with cheeses and bake


I hope you are having a lovely beginning of spring, a meaningful season of Lent (if this is something you practice), and inspired dinners!

Monday, March 17, 2014

Irish Soda Bread: Top O' the Morning to You!

March is a full month- it holds Lent (the liturgical season leading up to Easter);  it’s National Reading Month (which I love); it’s National Social Work Month (of which I am a part); and St. Patrick’s Day.

I have been thinking “Irish”, in anticipation of St. Patrick’s day.  Our family tradition is eating Lucky Charms and wearing green.  Last year we ate Lucky Charms for dinner- and that was a hit, so we plan to repeat that tradition this year.  I’ve been learning about Irish Soda Bread and have attempted a few loaves of different varieties, made with different recipes, and have found one that I think is delicious and a great go-to loaf of quick bread! 

If you don’t know about Irish Soda Bread, here’s the story. It is called "soda bread" because it is made with buttermilk and baking soda- causing the reaction which allows it to rise (rather than yeast which requires rising and resting time).   It's sometimes made with currants or raisins and other times a more nuttier brown bread version. The Irish oftentimes make this as a dinner loaf of bread.

The first loaf I made was from the Back in The Day Bakery cookbook which contained currants.  It was so tasty with butter and jam and great for breakfast.  It was just a touch of sweet because of the currants but perhaps a little deceiving, as it is not a sweet bread, as one might think by the looks of things.

When I brought it to my office to share, my colleague Jenny mentioned having recently seen the America’s Test Kitchen episode where they made beef stew and Irish Soda Bread, and it made her want to make it especially since they had melted butter brushed on the baked loaf!

So I came home and looked up the episode and watched it and it looked so good (as did the Beef Stew, which I wouldn’t typically crave, but looked exceptional).   America’s Test Kitchen is the source of Cook’s Illustrated magazine and the BEST RECIPE cookbooks, which I have mentioned HERE.  I had never watched the Cook’s Country Show, and I’m so glad Jenny mentioned it, because I loved it!

Since watching the episode, I have made the bread 3 times- each time learning more about it.  It is more of a nutty “brown bread” recipe.    I think for a meal bread, it’s more universal to make this version without the currants, though I like the sweetness and texture of the currants.  Instead of the whole wheat/ white flour combination for which the recipe calls, a couple of times, I simply used white-wheat flour.  It worked well. 

With the first loaf of this version,  I sliced it and served it with butter and jam at church.  A couple of days later, I made a loaf to go with the Chicken and Wild Rice Soup we had for dinner.  It was a treat to have a fresh loaf of bread with dinner.  It is that quick and easy. You really should try making it!

This recipe produces a dense and wheaty loaf with a buttery, and craggy crust.  

From America’s Test Kitchen

2cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup toasted wheat germ
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 1/2 
tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 3/4cups buttermilk
3 Tbsp. butter, melted (divided)

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees.
Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Whisk all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, wheat germ, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together in large bowl. Combine buttermilk and 2 tablespoons melted butter in 2-cup liquid measuring cup.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula until dough just comes together.
Turn out dough onto lightly floured counter and knead until cohesive mass forms, about 8 turns. Pat dough into 7-inch round and transfer to prepared sheet. Using sharp serrated knife, make ¼-inch-deep cross about 5 inches long on top of loaf.
Bake until skewer inserted in center comes out clean and loaf registers 195 degrees, 40 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through baking. (I had never used a thermometer to determine the doneness of bread, but it was such a help).

Remove bread from oven. Brush with remaining 1 Tbsp. melted butter. Transfer loaf to wire rack and let cool for at least 1 hour. Serve.

It's important to keep in mind that you have to eat it (or freeze it) in about 24 hours, as it hardens more quickly than some bread.  It is good toasted on day #2.
Happy March, and all that it holds, and happy bread-baking!

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Cilantro Sour Cream Dip and Tostadas

We have been having a lot of conversations lately in our house about whether foods are finger foods or fork foods.  My 12 year old is the chief offender of eating with his hands.  In his defense, he is a great eater and his messy eating struggles really have to do with the passion with which he eats his food! (He comes by this passion honestly.)  He wants to get more in a bite than the fork sometimes can capture.  We occasionally joke about sending our family to manners classes or Cotillion… but we are not really serious about this.   We just remind them, when necessary, that "this is a fork food", or "put your other hand in your lap while you are eating to keep it out of the food".  I tell my son that, perhaps he just lives in the wrong country. "In India they eat with their hands as a normal custom.  They scoop the food with Naan and use their hands as their main utensils.  It is culturally appropriate." He nods. "In India."

A favorite meal lately in our house has been Tostadas.  People define them differently, but basically- in our home - they are a flat, open faced taco pile.  I don't know if you make them, but I like that they are a change of pace from soft tacos and burritos and yet a lot easier to fill and eat than hard shell tacos. AND they can be eaten with your hands (forks are optional).

They are so delicious, quick and made-to-order!  We made them with leftover rotisserie chicken and refried beans last week.
We make them by putting the meat or beans on a flat taco shell and top with shredded cheese

and warm on a baking sheet in the oven for a few minutes until it's warm and the cheese is melted.  

Guacamole- [My favorite way to whip up some guac is: 2 ripe avocados, smashed; 2 cloves of minced garlic; the juice of one lime; a sprinkle of coarse salt; and a large spoonful of salsa (whatever is nearby). Stir and eat. YUMMY!]
Then we remove it from the oven, place on plates, and top with lettuce, tomato, sour cream and guacamole.  

We typically use tostada shells that you buy in a bag (or a box) at the grocery, though sometimes we bake tortillas for a few minutes to crisp them up and use them when we don't have hard shells.  I have never fried tortillas to make my own tostada shells (because a large motivation for me to make this meal is the EASE of it), but you could.
And to add some excitement to the meal you need to try this dip!

A few weeks ago, at the Social Work department Chili supper that I wrote about, my student Bryan brought this delicious dip to share! He had asked me at class earlier in the week if the students were to bring anything.  I told him that he was free to bring anything if he wanted to, but nothing was required, or expected.  He brought a bowl of this dip and we were glad he did!

It's tangy, creamy and so flavorful.  You can alter the amount of kick it has to your liking.

It's similar to Chuy's Creamy Jalapeño dip, if you have ever had it (just a little thicker).

Cilantro Sour Cream Dip

16 oz. sour cream
1 jalapeno
1 bunch of cilantro
1 clove garlic
1/2 package of dry Hidden Valley Ranch dressing mix
1/4 cup light mayonnaise
juice of 1 lime

Seed and chop the jalapeños (You can leave in just a bit of the seeds and membrane if you like the dip to be spicier.)
Wash and trim the cilantro of thick or long sections of stem.
Chop garlic cloves
Juice lime
In a food processor or blender, add all of the ingredients.  Pulse till it is a soft and creamy constancy.
Serve with chips, on tacos, as a mexican taco salad dressing.  


P.S. I asked my son's permission to write about this "eating fork food with hands situation" on my blog. He said,  "well, it's true, so yes, you have my permission". 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

S'Mores Treats

Every day has highs and lows.  We usually process these at the dinner table each evening.  And at times the highs are the top stories of the night and other times the lows are more dominant themes, but both seem to always co-exist.  This week was that – a mixed bag– some good moments, some terrible ones.  And that’s okay. 

I want to move through the rough patches and learn what there is to learn from them, but then embrace the joys!  There is a quote in a piece we read for my Spirituality in Social Work class that says, “Don’t obsess about the past, or worry about the future, all you need is right here now.”   I think of this quote often.  It has become somewhat of a mantra for me.  

This week, my friend Emily, who continually inspires me, put this Emerson quote on her blog and it stirred me up.  My heart quickened as I read and it made me crave this! I don’t live like this on most days, but I earnestly desire to. 

“Write it on your heart
that every day is the best day in the year.
He is rich who owns the day, and no one owns the day
who allows it to be invaded with fret and anxiety.
Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.
Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in.
Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day;
begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit
to be cumbered with your old nonsense.
This new day is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on the yesterdays.”

This weekend, full of activities, ranged from chaos to sweet, and fun to maddening- with weather that matched-  rainy, cold days and a gorgeous sunny day on Saturday.  One of the highlights was these S'Mores Treats that I made – twice, actually.  I made them, along with Banana Pudding and Stop Light Chili for the social work chili supper on Friday night, which is always a fun time.   And then we were going to a neighbor’s house for a Super Bowl gathering and I thought I would take the leftover S'Mores Treats, when I realized there were only a couple left in the container.  Dave confessed to being the culprit and graciously offered to go pick up the ingredients to make another batch.  Which I did.  

They are ridiculously easy... I'm talking 6 minutes. Asher was going to help me make them.  I asked him to wash his hands.  He left the room to wash his hands, must have gotten distracted, came back about 5 minutes later and said, "Where are the ingredients?" And I said, "They are done! I already made them."

They are that fast. Melt, stir, pour, stir, add, stir, dump, press, sprinkle, done!

These bars are like Rice Krispie Treat S'Mores.  My family adores them, which I think is mostly because they love Golden Grahams cereal- which we don’t buy very often.

S'Mores Treats
adapted from Country Clever

6 Tbsp. butter
1 bag (10 oz.) mini marshmallows
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips and 1/4 cup for topping
1 box (12 oz.) Golden Graham Cereal
1/2 tsp. Vanilla extract
non-stick cooking spray

You can make this in a pan on the stove top or in a glass bowl in the microwave- it's up to you! Melt butter in pan (or bowl) add marshmallows, stir and continue to heat until melted. (Keep your eye on it, as it can quickly get overdone). Add vanilla. Stir.  Add Golden Grahams and 1 cup chocolate chips.  Stir until well combined and marshmallow goo is fully incorporated into the cereal.  Coat 13 X 9 inch pan lightly with cooking spray.  Dump cereal mixture into the pan and press well.   Place in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or until firm enough to slice.  Slice into bars and serve. 

In the midst of this winter week (cold, dreary, and rainy here in Nashville) will you join me in fighting for joy- joining Emerson's hopeful outlook- that "this new day is too dear,
with its hopes and invitations,
to waste a moment on the yesterdays"?!