Category Archives: Weekend Cooking

bring to a boil

Worries go down better with soup.
~ Jewish proverb

Since the election, I’ve been attending our nearby UU church more regularly. (It’s helping.) The Girl also has been getting more involved with the teen youth group. For both of us, being among people who believe in the principles of acceptance, love, justice, equality, dignity and peace is providing some much needed sustenance during this tumultuous time.

On Sunday, The Girl and I helped out with a soup sale to raise money to support the youth group’s activities. That’s a picture of their efforts above: nearly a dozen slow cookers and stock pots simmering with Moroccan Chickpea Spinach soup, Potato Corn Chowder, a lentil soup and (our contribution) a gluten-free vegetarian Pasta e Fagioli.

The symbolism of many single ingredients commingled together to make this selection of delicious soups–ones based on ethnic flavors that are centuries old and that have been consumed by people throughout history and generations and under tyrants and dictators of their own–resonated with me on a weekend when the Celebrity President extinguished the lamp and slammed our country’s once-golden but now tarnished door on innocent people who had gone through the arduous legal process to come to America. Not to mention people living here legally and who happened to have the misfortune to be traveling home from visiting family or burying loved ones when they learned they were no longer welcome in the place they call home.

As I ate a nourishing bowl of vegetable soup and watched the teens serving the congregants steaming bowls of pasta, broth, chicken and beans, I thought of the analogy of the United States being a melting pot.  The teens are a composite of different life experiences and personal histories, of genders and of ethnic backgrounds. They themselves are a collective melting pot.

Barbara Mikulski, the former Senator from Maryland, once said that America isn’t a melting pot but a sizzling cauldron. She said those words in a speech about immigration in 1970. Almost half a century later, her words seem especially apt.

The funds the teens raised from their soup sale will support their participation in several activities–events for them to understand others’ stories and perspectives and to participate in social justice volunteer efforts to make our community stronger. Ingredients for a sizzling cauldron of a society at its boiling point and one where these kids are among our best hope and sustenance for the years ahead.

 

 

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Weekend Cooking: A Year of Food

 

I’m working on several Year In Review type posts and thought it would be fun to recap my Weekend Cooking posts and other highlights of 2016 in food.  If anything, it’s a way to remind me that there were some good things about this year (but not much).

Early in the year came the news that my favorite childhood bakery, Geiger’s in Northeast Philadelphia, was closing its doors. If there was ever a year that needed Geigers’ creme filled powdered doughnuts, 2016 was it. (Not that I could eat them anymore, but still.)

Both kids took a required cooking class in school (can I say how delighted I am that our school district requires this?) which led to them making some simple dinners on their own when they were unhappy with what I prepared. As a bonus, this class also gave me two nights off from making dinner, thanks to them having to plan and prepare a meal as a homework assignment.

Summer was all about the bounty of the farmer’s market (until the season ended in October), discovering the ease of overnight oats, and creating a gluten free bread salad. I gave quinoa a second chance and now, I can’t get enough of it (especially cold).  This Quinoa Salad with Corn, Tomatoes, Black Beans and Feta was perfect as a work lunch during the summer.

A friend from afar sent an incredibly generous food gift which we’re still enjoying and our next door neighbor shared his tomatoes with us.  Our backyard blueberry bushes produced enough berries for a Watermelon-Feta-Berry salad perfect for the Fourth of July and a Berry Banana Smoothie.  I tried to trim our food budget by identifying some possible homemade pantry items, like the Slow-Cooker Vegetable Broth I make occasionally — especially in fall for soups and sauteing vegetables.

Our financial situation this year prevented us from enjoying Pittsburgh’s dining scene as much as I would have liked, but I did have the chance to try two new (to me) establishments. After a Listen to Your Mother rehearsal this spring, our cast had a delicious dinner at Church Brew Works.  In the summer, a former coworker and I enjoyed drinks and appetizers at Sienna Mercato.

Given all the dreadful news that 2016 held, you’d think my wine consumption would have been off the charts this year. It wasn’t, but when I did imbibe, my electric wine opener proved essential — like when we returned from visiting family in Philly for several days only to find a broken refrigerator leaking all over the kitchen with hundreds of dollars of rotten food inside.

We celebrated Thanksgiving with family in Philly, complete with second helpings of gratitude and enough pie to make up for our scary Thanksgiving of 2015.  

Among the many piles of food-related books and cookbooks I checked out from the library, I reviewed these:

The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

Whiskey, Etc., short (short) stories, by Sherrie Flick

Sugar Crush: How to Reduce Inflammation, Stop Pain, and Reverse the Path to Diabetes, by Richard P. Jacoby, DPM and Racquel Baldelomar

Carb Conscious Vegetarian
by Robin Robertson

In regard to the last two, I made some lifestyle changes related to my doctor giving me six months to lower my cholesterol and triglycerides, and this year I became one of those people who track every calorie and carb with My Fitness Pal.  I need to get back on track with MFP but at this point, maybe that’s something best saved for 2017.

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads (who, as a coincidence, has a similar retrospective post up today) and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

 

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Weekend Cooking: Season’s End

farmers-market-10-29-2016It’s the last day of the farmers market season and because she isn’t able to pick up her weekly CSA share, my generous coworker has gifted me with her box of produce. She’s done this before and I’m always grateful. I have a pretty strict limit on our family’s food budget these days and this will help stretch that.

I step out of the office and into the kind of bright blue, crisp autumn Friday where the weather almost seems out of sync with the end of the farmers market season. Not quite yet, the day seems to say. Still, the chill is a harbinger of the cold that awaits us; in the gray of a Pittsburgh winter to come, this same mid-50 degree afternoon will be balmy enough to seduce a few hardy students to shed their Pitt and Carnegie Mellon sweats in favor of beach attire to sunbathe on Schenley Plaza.

I exchange a spaghetti squash for two onions, as I decide if our as-yet-to-be-determined weekly menu requires more than the butternut squash, apples, carrots, kale, lettuce, sweet peppers, garlic, and Italian parsley I’m carrying. (It doesn’t.)

I thank the woman behind the stall for a great season.

“Enjoy your winter,” she says, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.

I wish her the same and I leave, savoring the crunch of the leaves as I go.

Winter, you can wait. I’m not ready.

Not quite yet.

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

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Weekend Cooking: Slow-Cooker Vegetable Broth

vegetable-broth-crockpot-2

Autumn arrived this week, welcoming in another season of delicious soup. Starting on Labor Day weekend and continuing into the fall, winter, and early spring, I usually make a pot of soup every Sunday.  To me, nothing says fall like having football on TV (which we do, all day on Sundays from 9 a.m. until the end of the night game) with soup simmering in the kitchen — preferably in my Crock-Pot.

Soups can be hit-or-miss with the kids (The Girl is definitely not a fan), but served with some kind of sandwich/burger and perhaps a salad, it’s an easy meal with something everyone in this family likes.

(If not, they can make a bowl of cereal.)

I decided to kick off this year’s soup season by making slow-cooked vegetable broth, which I tried for the first time last winter. (Like most of us, I kept telling myself I really needed to do this.).  I keep a gallon-sized bag of vegetable scraps in the freezer. Whenever I’m chopping vegetables, I place the bag in the sink next to me and toss in the tops of bell peppers, slivers of onion, tips of garlic cloves, stems of mushrooms, stalks of broccoli, even gnawed cobs from summer corn. Same with wilted vegetables or ones nearing (or just past) their prime.  It all goes right into the bag and makes for easier clean up.

When the bag gets full, I simply dump everything into the Crock-Pot, cover with water, season with salt, pepper, a bay leaf or two, and some basil, oregano, parsley, etc.  (This is a good way to use up a bit of dried herbs lingering in the jar.)

It usually looks something like this (there’s more spinach than usual since I happened to have a decent amount in the fridge that we hadn’t used during the week):

vegetable-broth-crockpot

In addition to the spinach, this contained zucchini, yellow squash, red bell peppers, onions, sweet potatoes, green beans, riced cauliflower, a broccoli stalk, onions, garlic and corn on the cob.

I set the Crock-Pot on low for about 9 hours and left it alone.  Then, I lined a colander with paper towels, set it over a medium-sized bowl, and strained the broth into the bowl, discarding the vegetables. (I suppose those of you who garden could use the vegetable scraps for compost.)

The result? About 6 cups of broth, more than you get in the ready-to-use boxes found in the grocery store. Although they’re not that expensive, making your own is a simple way to save a few dollars and with less sodium, etc.

vegetable-broth-crockpot-2

I kept several cups in the fridge for a minestrone that I made the next day and the rest was frozen in ice cube trays. I’ll use a cube or two in place of oil when sauteeing vegetables or in recipes that require a small amount of broth.

Do you make — or have you tried making — your own vegetable broth?  (Also, if you’re curious about the difference between broth and stock, as I was when titling this post, the latter is usually made with bones. I guess it’s possible, then, to have vegetable stock but not vegetarian stock.) 

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

 

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Weekend Cooking: Home Cooking (97/99)

Weekend Cooking - New

A few weeks ago, our Weekend Cooking host extraordinaire Beth Fish Reads posted about food items that we make at home versus those bought in the store.  I’m on a two-fold quest to pare down our grocery bill as much as possible while trying to eat (and serve the family) less processed foods.

As I write this, I have a vegetarian taco meat mixture in the crockpot (lentils and quinoa) that I’m hoping will be an occasional replacement for Beyond Meat, which our family loves but (like most meat substitutes) is pricey. The recipe also called for taco seasoning, something I don’t typically use, but this recipe seemed like one that might benefit from it. Fortunately, the cookbook I’m using had one with all the spices I had on hand.

When thinking about what I currently make from scratch, I realized the list isn’t very extensive:

Guacamole – Mine isn’t real guac (like Beth Fish’s recipe) but instead just smashed avocado and tomato sprinkled with a pinch of kosher salt. Since I’m the only person in the house who eats it, this works fine.

Vegetable Broth/Stock – I started doing this last winter, saving up scraps of vegetables and freezing them in a big bag. It’s especially easy in the crockpot — just dump in your bag of frozen veggies, add enough water to cover them, toss in a bay leaf or two and maybe some parsley, and cook it on low for the whole day. I think I let mine simmer for at least eight hours. Making broth is on my agenda this weekend so I can get a head start on all the soups awaiting us this fall.  (I tend to make a big pot on Sundays in autumn. One of my favorite things about this season is football on TV and a crockpot simmering away in the kitchen.)

Chicken Tenders – For the same price (or less) than a box of chicken tenders, you can make your own. They’re also much less processed. I coat mine with egg and breadcrumbs (with some parmesan cheese sprinkled in) and try to make enough to have leftovers during the week. That never happens because the kids always devour them.

Marinara Sauce – I haven’t made marinara sauce for awhile, but I need to do so more often. This recipe for making marinara sauce in the crockpot was one that we really liked.

Muffins – I’m not much of a baker, but I do like homemade muffins. More importantly, the kids do, too. Banana Chocolate Chip seem to be popular and there was a pumpkin muffin several years ago that was well-received. Our oven hasn’t been preheating properly and I’ve been putting off getting it looked at, especially since we don’t use it much during the summer months.  I’ve seen some recipes where you can bake quick breads and such in the crockpot using a small loaf pan, but that makes me nervous.  If you’ve tried that with good results, let me know.

Other items I’d like to start making include hummus, pancakes and egg muffins. There are probably many others but those are all I can think of right now. What about you?  What do you make from scratch versus buying at the store?

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #97 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. 

 

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Weekend Cooking: The Edible Woman, by Margaret Atwood

The Edible Woman

Margaret Atwood, one of literature’s most beloved and prolific authors, is best known for her books such as The Handmaid’s Tale (one of my all-time favorite novels) as well as her nonfiction and poetry and so many other works in various genres.

Not many people seem to know about her first novel, The Edible Woman, published in 1969 but written several years earlier. I certainly didn’t until I spotted this at the library and was immediately intrigued.

Set in the 1960s, Marian is a 20-year-old professional woman living in Toronto.  She’s gainfully employed at Seymour Surveys, a market research/advertising firm. Early in the novel, she becomes eligible for being vested with a pension. Her ruminations upon completing the paperwork gives readers who are familiar with Atwood’s work a glimpse into the themes she is brilliantly developing in The Edible Woman.

“Somewhere in front of me a self was waiting, pre-formed, a self who had worked during innumerable years for Seymour Surveys and was now receiving her reward. A pension. I foresaw a bleak room with a plug-in electric heater. Perhaps I would have a hearing aid, like one of my great-aunts who had never married. I would talk to myself; children would throw snow balls at me. I told myself not to be silly, the world would probably blow up between now and then; I reminded myself I could walk out of there the next day and get a different job if I wanted to, but that didn’t help. I thought of my signature going into a file and the file going into a cabinet and the cabinet being shut away in a vault somewhere and locked.” (pg. 15)

There’s so much in just this one paragraph:  a self was waiting, pre-formed … perhaps I would have a hearing aid, like one of my great-aunts who had never married … the world would probably blow up between now and then … being shut away in a vault somewhere and locked. 

The Edible Woman continues along this path. Atwood’s writing is sharp and purposeful –especially when she cleverly uses food metaphors.

“–my mind was at first as empty as though someone had scooped out the inside of my skull like a cantaloupe and left me only the rind to think with.” (pg. 86)

Food becomes even more dominant when Marian becomes engaged to Peter. What should be a happy time becomes worrisome when, soon after the engagement, Marian gradually begins losing the ability to eat. No one can figure out why.  (Clearly, this was in a time before everyone graduated from the Medical School of Google.)

But it doesn’t take a physician or a prescription to know that the real issue eating away at Marian is the fear of being devoured by another person and being consumed, losing her sense of self in the process.

Suffice it to say if The Handmaid’s Tale resonated with you, chances are you will appreciate The Edible Woman for its similar messages of feminism, relationship issues, women in the workforce, male hierarchy — and, yes, for its innovative and timeless way of using food to bring these issues into our consciousness.

The Edible Woman
by Margaret Atwood 
Anchor 
1998 (first published in 1969) 
310 pages 

 

Weekend Cooking - NewWeekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

 

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #90 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project.

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Weekend Cooking: My New Pal (76/99)

Weekend Cooking - New

I swore I would never become one of “those people” who obsessively track every carb and crumb consumed — but I confess, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the past four days.

As regular readers of the blog know from my previous posts, I’m trying to lower my cholesterol level and reduce my carbohydrate intake. This is all thanks to numbers that are considered “borderline high” but are more like probably two bowls of ice cream away from landing me into the “high” category. We won’t even discuss my triglycerides.

At lunch on Wednesday, I decided if I was going to be serious about this (and I am), I needed a simple way to monitor my food intake.

So, I turned to my Facebook hive-mind.

Need your recommendations for apps (Android based) to help track one’s consumption of carbs, cholesterol, sugar, etc. and progress toward goals. I don’t really want (nor can I afford) a FitBit or any new gizmo. I don’t necessarily want to join a group of carb-abstainers or people counting cholesterol grams. I need something where I can enter what I’m eating and have it magically track how crappy it is for me or not.  Annnndddd, go.

The overwhelming response was MyFitnessPal, which I downloaded before finishing my salad. (Also a confession: it was a green bean and potato salad with pesto, a very small portion leftover from the previous night’s dinner. And really, with only a few small potatoes.)

I really like MyFitnessPal. It’s definitely keeping me accountable, if only to myself. And it is eye-opening to see how much cholesterol and how many carbs are in certain foods.

It is easy to get overly obsessed about this. I need to remind myself that our bodies need cholesterol and carbs, that they’re found naturally in many good-for-us foods. And even though my kids understand I’m trying to eat healthier, I’m very conscientious of the messages I’m sending to them. I don’t want them to think they (or I) can never have a potato ever again, but at the same time, I want them to know (if they ask) why I’m only having salad for dinner when everyone else is having macaroni and cheese.

I also tend to be my biggest critic, and I have to remember that just because I went over my daily goals in one or two areas doesn’t mean that the day was a complete failure. After all, small steps lead to big changes, which is what this is all about.

Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth Fish Reads and is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.

99 Days of Summer BloggingThis is post #76 of 99 in my 99 Days of Summer Blogging project. This also isn’t sponsored or paid for by MyFitnessPal in any way. (I’m just a happy user.)

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