Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Lemon Freeze On A Blazing Hot Day

It’s been hot in Tennessee this week. Sticky. Miserably hot. 95 degrees and high humidity.

I don’t love heat.  I prefer mild temperatures.  And while I’m a fan of the summer schedule and the sunny skies and the growing garden out my window, I am a firm believer that it is easier to get warmed up when you’re cold than to get cooled off when you’re  hot.  When I was a teenager, we talked about being hot and I expressed my misery when it was “hot sticky and wallery”.  I worked at a camp as a junior counselor and my handle on the walkey talkey was ADHESIVE, lovingly given by our friend Tim.  He knew how much I loved being hot, sticky and wallery.

All that to say, I don’t love being sticky with sweat from the heat.  I'd prefer being wrapped in a quilt, drinking a cup of coffee.
This week has been so hot that I have felt the need to say out loud, “It’s hot!” Do you do this? And say it again and again to everyone you encounter on your walk, or in a parking lot, or to a neighbor you see.  I don’t know why we do this… is it because somehow it feels like it lessens the agony if “named”?  I usually find that to be true in my life.  At our church, which meets at an elementary school, there are frequently odd celebratory decorations left in the auditorium where we meet and it feels like we need to publicly acknowledge that this is distracting and not our doing.  We need to say out loud, “Interesting decorations this week”, or “Chinese New Year is approaching – as you can see by the hanging paper lanterns and large dragon displayed”.  And when the drum corps began drumming during the sermon each week for a couple of months, it was such a distraction, that we were relieved that our pastor acknowledged what we were all thinking.  Somehow putting it out there sets things more at ease.  It confirms that people know what the situation is and are better able to embrace it. 

I think this is true about angst too.  When someone can say, “It’s awkward, I know, for us to be in this room together, since the last time we talked, it was not a good conversation.” It just makes it better.  The elephant in the room is acknowledged.  Or, “I know my child is needing my attention and it is making it hard for me to converse with you and that is frustrating.”  
Naming it – an important life skill.

I was talking to my friends Amy and Catherine about this need I feel to express my hotness often on these fuming days.  They both wholeheartedly agreed.  In fact, Catherine, my world-traveling friend, said she has observed this as universal.  All over the globe, she hears people acknowledge verbally the heat (or cold).  Regardless of region that she has visited– Spain, Japan, Australia, etc. – on miserably hot days, people talk about the heat.  So, maybe it’s human nature.

So, what are we to do?
Other than saying “it’s hot”, what can you do on these hot days?
As far as I can tell, you have only a few options:

our lemonades [country time and "real"(from frozen concentrate)] –
the remedy for the heat
Sit inside air-conditioned rooms.

Drink Lemonade (and lots of water).

Get your body in a pool.

Make Lemon Freeze for dessert.

So this is what we have done this week.
It’s the only way to beat the heat.

Some recent reactions to Lemon Freeze (this lemonade ice cream pie) have been: “yum, this is SOOO good” 
“this is really refreshing” 
and “this hit the spot”,
“what’s in this pie? It’s creamy and zippy”.

This simple dessert was one from my childhood.  My mom made it frequently when we grew up and it’s still a favorite of mine.  It’s super easy and a tasty hot-weather treat.

Graham cracker crust:
1 1/2 cups crushed graham crackers
1/4 cup sugar
4 Tbsp. butter, melted

1/2 gallon vanilla ice cream
6 oz. frozen lemonade concentrate (if you can't find the small container, just use 1/2 of the regular size and make a 1/2 batch of lemonade with the other 1/2)

Set ice cream and lemonade on counter to thaw.
(You want the ice cream softened and the lemonade liquid.)

Crush graham crackers. (I put them in a large ziplock bag and crush with a rolling pin).
Mix with sugar and melted butter until fully incorporated.
Press into a deep pie plate or a casserole dish.
Bake at 300 degrees for 10 minutes

When ice cream and lemonade are softened, dump into a large bowl.
Blend together.
(You can add a few drops of yellow food coloring to the lemonade before mixing to add a little color and to help indicate how well it's blended).

Spoon into the pie crust.
Sprinkle with the crumbs of 1 graham cracker.
Freeze for several hours until firm.
Slice and Enjoy!

The only challenge with this recipe is that it calls for a ½ gallon of vanilla ice cream and unfortunately, it’s hard to find ½ gallon cartons of ice cream these days!  You just have to make it work and adjust to what you can find.  

[This week I made a double batch with a gallon of ice cream and a large lemonade, which made two pies. That's a bonus! We had one for us and one to share.  It's a great dessert to take to friends, because they can keep it in the freezer and it stays good for weeks.]

Monday, May 21, 2012

That Yummy Vegetable Pasta Thing

I have to be honest.  There is no recipe for this dish.  There's not even a name for it.  It's that simple and that versatile, and hard to pin down.  It's really a matter of opinion, and available ingredients and feel. 

There seem to be people who really prefer written recipes.  They want a detailed recipe with measurements and exact baking times.  I get this.  I really like a recipe.  One time I asked my mom for a broccoli cheddar soup recipe and she handed me a page that had a collage of 3 different broccoli soup recipes taped to one sheet of paper! It overwhelmed me.  I needed ONE.  The perfect one, preferably.  To which she replied, "Well, really the one I make is more of a combination of  #1 and #2, and then when I don't have all of those ingredients, I use the #3 (and tweak it a little)!" Clearly, written recipes are sometimes the way to go.

And then there are some people who don't really use written recipes.  They just add a little of this and a pinch of that.  They might even feel like recipes are restricting!  They want freedom.  Because of this, they can't easily share recipes.  It's not that they are being selfish or mysterious, it's that they don't have a recipe written down.  They just "feel" their way through the recipe and it may change with each time they prepare the dish.  

In An Everlasting Meal, (which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago), the author Tamar Adler writes about using our senses to assist in cooking. She talks about using your sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing in the kitchen.  She writes,

"You must taste and taste.  Taste everything and often.  Taste even if you're scared...  

Listen as though you could cook something just by hearing it...

When you touch the food you cook, you develop intelligence in your fingertips.  I cook mostly with my hands:  they're calibrated, by now, to turn things at the right moments, to choose correct amounts of salt."

I love this idea.  I do think my hands are calibrated to cooking certain dishes.  

On the spectrum of recipe-following, I probably land somewhere in the middle.  I'm best with a good, clear recipe to start with and then after I become acquainted with the recipe, I like to substitute, or add-in, or alter here and there.  
This recipe is one that I created a few months ago and keep changing it a little each time I make it.  I look in the kitchen and see what short pasta i have, and what veggies and cheese I have, and then I create something.  

Dave has been urging me to post this "recipe", because he thinks it is such a winner, and wants YOU to make it too.  I have hesitated because it feels too loose of a recipe to write out.  And it doesn't even have a name – as I have changed the name of the dish each time I've made it, depending on what ingredients I've used.  It can be served hot or cold or room temperature.  That makes it confusing as to whether it is a side dish, or pasta salad.

So, live in freedom, make it like you want and call it what you like.

Use your senses to make this recipe your own.  Roast the vegetables to where they look, smell, and feel right.  Cook the pasta until, when touched or tasted, it feels done.  Add dressing and seasonings to your taste buds' liking, add more veggies when your eyes tell you it looks balanced.

Pasta (tortellini, bowtie and orzo are the 3 I have tried) Dave votes for orzo.
Boil as directed on the package.

4 cups roasted vegetables – cut small (squash, zucchini, green beans, asparagus, onions, bell peppers, )
 (See HERE for further roasting instructions)

1 cup Sun dried Tomatoes and/or 1 cup sliced grape tomatoes

A few hands full of spinach leaves (cut into small pieces with scissors or sharp knife) – don't be afraid of this.  It shrinks into little pieces but adds nice color and "hidden" nutrients!

Cheese (feta or goat) – as much as you like 

Dressing – ½ cup olive oil, 3 garlic cloves minced, minced basil (fresh or dried), Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste. (You can add in other spices – I love the flavor of the Trader Joe's Everyday Seasoning Mill.  It has some red pepper which adds a nice kick). Place all of these ingredients in a jar or measuring cup and stir vigorously until well combined.

Toss all prepared ingredients together (except the dressing) 

Then pour dressing on a little at a time stirring and tasting, until you have the amount of dressing desired.  (You may have some leftover depending on the type and amount of pasta used).
Add seasoning to taste, if needed.  

Serve it as a side dish with a green salad or sandwich, 
make a meal out of it, 
top it with a piece of meat or fish and call it a pilaf, 
serve it chilled and call it a pasta salad,
or eat it with a fork out of the bowl before bedtime and call it Dave's Late-Night Crave.  

tortellini & bow tie version
orzo version

roasting veggies 

roasting other veggies

chopped spinach (which when incorporated shrinks into tiny pieces)

 orzo with different veggies

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lemon Berry Trifle: A Mother's Day Tribute

I have been baking and cooking a good bit lately and have had a hard time knowing what to post about this week.  I thought maybe a dessert, since it has been a few posts since I’ve written about sweet stuff.  I also thought I might write about something Mother-inspired.  Then it hit me – I have to write about the Lemon Berry Trifle! 

Trifles remind me of my mom.  And the making of this special trifle was done with a young friend who has a great mom.

Trifles are redemptive.  Trifles can be made out of broken brownies or torn apart cakes, or overdone cookies, or dry muffins, (or a freshly baked cake).  But when put in a pretty dish and layered with a little love and yumminess, something beautiful and delicious is created.  Mothers have the ability to do this too.

My mom has a trifle philosophy in life: When your cake sticks to the pan and falls apart, make a trifle; when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When you are feeling left out, include someone else. When you know how to do something, teach someone else (don’t keep it to yourself).

These philosophies have shaped me and on this day, I celebrate the impact that she has had on my life!

I was brainstorming with my friend Amy G. a couple of months ago about how I might could earn some extra money for my upcoming trip to India.  (I am preparing to go see some friends who live there with a small team from my church).  As we were brainstorming she asked if I would be willing to do a private baking lesson with her 10 year old daughter, Mary Grace, as a fundraiser.  I said I would love to do that.  I told her to talk to M.G. about what she might like to bake and to have her email me.  She is very into baking and watching cooking shows on TV (especially the cupcake ones).  When I got her email I was tickled and amazed at her culinary ambition.  She wanted to make red velvet equestrian cupcakes and a fruit trifle with a berry compote, “whatever that is”, she said. 

It was a good thing we had several hours, because we got serious.  We made both of these requested desserts and had a grand time.  Mary Grace is a great cook and was excited to try some new techniques.  (I think zesting was her favorite.  We zested the lemon for the pound cake and she enjoyed it so much she wanted to zest other things.  We ended up using it to shave chocolate for top of the cupcakes. She called it chocolate zest).

For the trifle, I suggested we make a pound cake and flavor it lemon.  She agreed.  So, we used my standard sour cream poundcake recipe and substituted a carton of lemon lowfat yogurt for some of the sour cream, and added the shaved zest of one lemon.  The cake was DELICIOUS! M. G. had seen her mom slice open the cake horizontally when making a shortcake, so we did that, and then broke the cake into pieces.
Meanwhile, we made a compote.  We did some researching about compotes and which would be good with this combination of flavors.  We decided on a blend of blueberries, strawberries and lemon. (P.S. it's strawberry season, make the most of it).

Then we made some fresh whipped cream and sliced some strawberries. 

And then we worked together to layer. 

It was a lovely trifle.

My mom’s trifles usually have a layer of pudding.
I have made trifles with a layer of yogurt blended with sweetened condensed milk.  You really can’t go wrong.  You just need some kind of bready/cakey layer, some kind of gooey layer and some whipped cream. It is versatile and beautiful and can be decadent (with chocolate and candy bars) or light (with fruit).  It has lots of textures and its own kind of serving dish.  What’s not to love about a trifle?

When I was talking to M.G.’s mom about this experience, she said as much as she likes to cook and contribute to her daughter’s cooking skills, M.G.  sometimes wants to go “beyond her ”.  She said, that’s where she benefits from having others get involved who enjoy this more and are skilled in a different way than her.  I so appreciate that and agree.  There are times you need another personality or skill-set to come in and invest in your child.  I believe that is a great strength in parenting – when you can see the gaps you have and seek others to supplement.

I am thankful to those women who have done this for me with my kids and continue to do so.  I believe it takes a village.

Happy Mother’s Day! Today I am thankful for my mom, who poured her life out for my sister and me, and continues to generously give us so much of herself.  I am thankful for my grandmothers from whom I learned much about loving and serving people.  I am thankful for Dave’s late mother who taught him how to love and serve – for that my children, I and so many others are blessed. And I am thankful for all the other women who have filled in the gaps and have invested in my life and the lives of my children... even with our broken pieces.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wheat Crackers: Cooking Lab #2

I became a fan of King Arthur Flour a couple of years ago, thanks to my friend, Steve - the bread-man.  This company produces great flour and a very useful website, filled with beautiful recipes.  So, when I saw online that they have published a cookbook, I was excited to get it.  I put it on my wish list and my sister and mom ordered it for me for my birthday.  When it arrived, I was quite surprised. It is HUGE. It’s Joy-of-Cooking-huge – a manual for baking!  I wasn't expecting such a large, reference style cookbook. It's a little intimidating and will take some time to get acclimated to it.  I am very excited--now that classes are over and summer is on the horizon--that I will be able to use it as a textbook for baking this summer.   It’s on my "summer reading list", along with 20 or so other books.  I am fully aware that a summer book list of this length is impossible to accomplish with 3 kids at home all summer.  However, I am determined to make a dent in my stack and make this a reading-filled summer!
My reading list is filled with books that I have been accumulating and stacking around my house, in hopes of getting to read them at some point.  Now it’s time to get focused on making it happen.  I see this as marathon of reading.   I cannot imagine running 13-ish miles (the ½ marathon, which many people I know just did), and I certainly can’t imagine running the full marathon – 26-ish miles (which a few of my friends did). This seems an impossibility.  I cannot imagine the months of training leading up to this event, with all of the sacrifice and energy day in and day out! Furthermore, the idea of doing this ALONE sounds impossible and miserable.   I have found that even my marathon-running friends deem going it alone to be absurd. How could you train for this, week after week without the companionship and camaraderie of partners?  So, I am thinking I want to attempt a READING MARATHON (okay, ½ marathon maybe). And I'm beginning to think partnership would greatly enhance the experience and increase the likelihood of me completing this. Not to mention a whole lot more fun.

(I am trying to find some friends who would be interested in reading a book from my list alongside me! We could set a goal date to have it read, and then meet to discuss it... like multiple mini book clubs.  It would help me to prioritize my list and motivate me to do what it takes to make it happen.  And make it even more fun!)  

Speaking of camaraderie, I have recently called on my cooking lab pals to help me redeem my failed attempt at homemade crackers.  A couple of months ago, I cracked open my King Arthur Baker's Companion to give a recipe a try (knowing I would have to wait until summer to study the book).  I decided to start with Crackers.  They seemed quick and basic.  The recipe is very fluid and loose, which is nice if you are craving creative license, and torture if you are wanting a clear and guaranteed successful recipe.  I made a batch to serve with homemade chicken noodle soup.  They were a little mediocre and my family responded with, “Really? Why did you make crackers, Mom?”  I then proceeded to eat them and they nibbled on them a bit. It was discouraging and felt pretty much like a failure.

So, I started looking around on Pinterest to see what cracker recipes I could find and discovered 3 recipes for crackers that looked especially tasty.  That's when I called in my reinforcements. Friends are what embolden me to experiment with something that feels beyond me. (Kind of like running multiple miles every Saturday morning – for some people).

I asked Blair and Caroline, my poached egg cooking partners, to join me in a cooking lab for crackers.  And it was a success!  
We looked at the 3 recipes and decided on two that looked especially good to us.  We then decided to make double batches of those two so that we could try different seasonings. 
We made “saltine-like” crackers and  “wheat thin-like” crackers.  We all voted on the wheat thins as the winners.  They are very simple to make and are delicious!  We all decided we liked the Wheat ones the best and there was a varied response on the favorite flavor: garlic/kosher salt was my family's favorite  and the rosemary/parmesan/kosher salt were the lab team's favorite.  

We learned some things along the way:
*Thin-ness is crucial.  You need to roll them really thin.
*Prick the dough with a fork, to prevent them from puffing up.
*Transfer dough to the baking sheet (or stone) before adding toppings, as the toppings might fall off during the transfer, if moved with the toppings (we learned this the hard way).

our taste test
When we had our taste test, I threw together a fruit and goat cheese studded green salad to have with our piles of crackers, and my family joined us. Dave asked, “now WHY would you go to the trouble to MAKE crackers?  Is this for fun or is it a whole lot cheaper?" I stumbled around with my answer, explaining that they were fresh, without preservatives, varied in flavors, and cheap to make.  He didn't seem convinced. I then said, "...and it is my hobby, so it's fun."  That answer seemed to make more sense to him.  After tasting them though, he agreed that it was a good idea to make homemade crackers, as these are super yummy! I think the idea of my homemade cracker-making began when I was a young girl and went to Darrell's restaurant.  Did you ever go to that bizarre restaurant that had a bus and a jail and an elevator in it?  They served free form homemade crackers as an appetizer.  They were salty and buttery and memorable... clearly!

Whole Wheat Crackers (adapted from – ironically)
1 ¼ cups whole wheat flour 
          (or whole wheat pastry flour)
1 ½ Tbsp. sugar
½ tsp. kosher salt
¼ tsp. paprika
4 Tbsp. salted butter
¼ cup water
¼ tsp. vanilla
seasonings of choice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (or use baking stones).
In food processor, combine flour, sugar, salt, paprika, and butter.
Pulse until the mixture is crumbly.
Add water and vanilla and pulse again until evenly combined.
Form dough into ball and divide in half.
Roll out as thin as possible.
Using a pizza cutter or good knife, cut into squares.
(Also, cut edges to make it even.)
Prick all over with a fork.
pricking with a fork

chopping fresh rosemary from the garden

    Place crackers onto pan and sprinkle with seasonings of your choice:

Kosher salt, grated Parmesan cheese, rosemary, 
Italian seasonings, garlic powder, etc. 
ready for baking
    Bake for about 10 minutes or until lightly 
    browned.  (Watch closely to see how it’s


8 varieties of crackers

Find a friend or two to join you in running a race, reading some books, making some crackers, or any pursuit that sounds more do-able and fun when done together.