home cooking

New look, new focus!

Foodie

I hope you like the new look of the blog!  I am not 100% finished, there will be a few more tweaks, but I am hoping it is more pleasing to look at!

We’re enduring yet another brief spell of the arctic vortex.  Super cold, lots of snow.  They are saying this is the snowiest January on record ever for Michigan.  I find that hard to believe, but clearly “they” have done their research!

Will get back to food blogging shortly, but wanted to explain what’s going on before I totallyc hanged everything!

Hope you’re having a nice warm Sunday!

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home cooking

Breakfast anyone?

Quick-Hearty-Breakfast-Recipes

True to form, I rarely if ever eat breakfast.  It’s usually a handful of medication and vitamins, glass of water, lots of coffee.  However, while I was off for the holidays, Hubby and I spent almost every day together, and he is one of those people that must eat at appointed times every day.  So, over the two weeks, and two snow days, I got used to eating breakfast, lunch and dinner each day.  I have ruined my usual routine!  But, I did learn to enjoy breakfast, and how it makes the rest of your day better fueled!

In my mad dash out of the house each day, I usually can’t remember to grab anything before I leave (thanks thyroid fog), but I have been trying to make a concerted effort to at least grab something like a Kind™ bar and eat it at my desk.  Enter Nigella Lawson and her delicious breakfast bars!  I am obsessed with her, have been for many years, but I have never really taken to her breakfast items (with the exception of pancake mix.)  When I saw her recipe, it seemed calorie laden to me, but considering she has lost a great deal of weight recently, I thought perhaps this could be tweaked in some way to suit someone that doesn’t want calorie and sugar laden food first thing in the morning!

My version is below, and it’s seriously good.  I tested it out on people at work, everyone loved it.  Even the Hubby, who generally likes healthy but not sweet food, has been secretly taking them when I am not looking!  High praise!

You can feel free to make this with either fat free, skim or regular full fat condensed milk.  It truly makes no difference, other than to the calorie count.  I did figure out, these pack a punch of 276 calories for full fat sweetened condensed milk, and 190 calories for fat free.  That’s not bad either way.  Once again, I am offering many alternatives for your tasting pleasure.  You don’t have to use sesame seeds, you can freely substitute hemp, flax or indeed any small crunchy seed.  You can substitute for the pecans with any nut, as long as it’s not salted, Nigella’s recipe called for peanuts.  I am not sure fond of peanuts, so I used pecans.  The pepitas can be replaced by sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, etc.  Dried cherries?  Use raisins, dried cranberries or apricots!  It’s seriously open to your own interpretation.  The bonus here is also that you can add any flavoring you like, cinnamon, cardamom, perhaps anise?  It all sounds good to me, and all the nuts you use are a great source of zinc.

Play around, try new combinations and let me know what you use.  I’d love to try your ideas too!

Breakfast Bars

  • 2 1/2 cups rolled oats (NOT instant… please!)
  • I cup dried cherries
  • 1 cup pepitas
  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 1 cup chopped pecans (or walnuts, or any nut)
  • 1 cup shredded coconut (if you can get unsweetened organic use it)
  • 1 tsp spice of your choice (optional)
  • 1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk

Liberally grease a 9 X 13 baking dish, or use a disposable one.  Alternatively you could line the base of your dish with parchment paper, but I don’t recommend foil, the resulting product is a bit sticky and you’ll have to peel foil off it.  Preheat your oven to 250° F.  In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients with the exception of the condensed milk and the spice.  Make sure everything is mixed and dispersed well.

In a small saucepan, heat the condensed milk.  It should just be a bit runny, no need for it to be scalding hot, and add the spice if you’re using it.  Pour the milk over the oat mixture and combine until everything is completely coated.  It will take some serious stirring.

Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and gently press it down so that it compacts a bit.  Bake for 1 hour.   When the hour is over, remove the baking dish and allow it to cool for about 15 minutes.  Here is the critical thing, don’t leave it any longer than that, I learned that the first time I made them.  If you leave them out too long, they dry out and are virtually impossible to cut.

Cut the whole into quarters, then cut those into quarters, you will end up with 16 nice sized bars out of this.  Honestly, the second time I made them, I cut it into quarters, then into fifths.  These are rich, and a big chunky bar is a bit much, so smaller isn’t that bad, plus it cuts the calorie count down to 221 for a full fat bar, 153 for a fat free.  Not bad!

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home cooking

Me, Irish? Oh, boy am I!

soda bread

My sister posted this link on Facebook, and I am 100% behind it all.  In particular the milk bottle legs.  I have those in spades!   And the complete aversion to the sun, yup, that’s me.  My husband says I never go outside, but that’s because the sun kills my eyes, so perhaps that part is true!

Read through the link and have a laugh, then I will give you my “Irish Mammy’s” super secret, and famously wonderful Irish Soda Bread recipe.

Top 10 Things the Irish Do Better

I have been working for a while on a post about ancestral food.  You know, the stuff your granny made, or if you’re lucky enough, still makes!  The holiday faves your Mom, or Dad, or Aunt makes passed down from generations before that give you the reassurance that, yes, it IS Christmas (or Kwanza or Hanukkah.)  I didn’t have the benefit of a grandmother near enough to have those memories growing up, my granny was in Ireland when I was small, so there wasn’t a huge amount of face to face contact.  I do remember my Granny Lambert making me very, very milky, sweet tea in a little cup, before my mother woke up, and just talking. Sadly she passed when I was about 6 or 7.

On my Dad’s side there was my Grandma Van Hemelryck (her maiden name).  Her legend looms very large, mostly because she was a legend and a commanding woman.  But, she was gone long before my parents met, so I only have stories and impressions from the rest of my older cousins and my Dad.  One day, I’ll post about the wonderful journey I have had looking back at her history and trying to trace her family in Belgium.  It’s been a blast, but in some ways disappointing.  She was a woman that had things to hide, apparently, so our stories don’t always turn out to be easily traceable.

My Mom, who is also Elizabeth, is from a little town in the east of Ireland called Woodenbridge.  If you blink on the road, you’ll likely miss it.  And her mother, Sara Deegan, was from Dublin.  My mother makes, what I assume is her mother’s soda bread.  And it’s highly prized.  It comes out for St. Patrick’s Day, of course, but also for work parties, and people visiting.  Hers can be made with raisins or not, and definitely NOT with caraway seeds.  They’re an abomination as far as I am concerned! (On a side note, I have to figure out where that ingredient came into the mix, I don’t think it’s very naturally abundant in Ireland…)

A few notes, as always about this recipe.  I use butter and buttermilk.  My mother never used butter when we were kids, she used margarine, so you do have that option.  For the buttermilk, she still uses a teacup of whole milk and some white vinegar.  It curdles the milk, and produces the acid that a buttermilk brings to the cooking process.  The vinegar doesn’t leave any different taste than the buttermilk tang does.  Both methods are completely usable, so remember that when you’re casting around for buttermilk.  I also use self raising flour, I like the extra loft it gives the bread, but you can use plain white unbleached, or bread flour.  Indeed, you can use half whole wheat and half white flour, and get a more toothy and healthy bread.  And again, the raisins are optional.  The Hubby doesn’t like them, I do, so I usually make two loaves, one with and one without.  This is seriously good, and so simple.  It makes for a lovely snack with butter slavered all over it, or some jam.  Or just on it’s own.  The crumb is very tender, so you don’t need tea to wash it down, but why mess with the tradition?  Anyone want to stop by for a cuppa?

My Mom’s Irish Soda Bread

  • 2 cups self-raising flour (see notes above)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, or margarine cold, cubed
  • 1/2 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or the above alternative)

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. On a baking sheet with a rim, lay out some parchment paper, or lightly butter it.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients and combine well.  Add the cold butter cubes to the flour mixture and toss so they’re coated.  With your hands and fingers, or two forks, or a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour.  If you use your hands and rub and squeeze the butter into the flour.  You will end up with a mixture that looks a bit like wet sand.  If you’re using the raisins, add them and toss to coat in the flour.  At this point, if you have room, place the bowl into the fridge to cool.  The key is to have the butter as cold as possible when you put it in the oven.  If you don’t have room, just set it somewhere cool for a bit.

After 10 minutes or so, make a well in the flour mixture and add the buttermilk.  With a good stiff wooden spoon, mix everything together until well combined, you’ll have to work hard to get all the flour in, but do.  It’s typically a very messy dough, so don’t be alarmed.  Turn it out onto a well floured surface and kneed it briefly, but not much, the less you work this the more tender it will be.  Once it becomes a little more cohesive, shape into a low round flat shape, and let it rest for 5 minutes or so.  Then, place it on the baking sheet, and cut a shallow cross into the top.  This will help it rise and makes it look pretty, as well as making it easier to cut.  Bake for 45 minutes, or until you hear a hollow sound when you tap the top and it’s golden all over.  Take the whole sheet out of the oven and tip the bread so the edge is suspended on the rim, to allow any moisture to evaporate while the bread cools.  When it’s just out of the oven, rub some butter over the top, this will keep it moist and adds some extra goodness to it!

Allow the bread to cool completely before you eat it.  I was told if you don’t, it will give you a stomach ache… but who knows!

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home cooking

Detroit, my adopted home!

scarab-club

Since this blog is about food and about Detroit, I offer you the below article.  “16 Reasons to Go to Detroit Right Now!” by Linda and David at The Delicious Day.

I can’t thank them enough for talking so sweetly about Detroit.  It’s all true.

http://thedeliciousday.com/traveling/best-things-to-do-in-detroit/

Come on out to visit, I promise you’ll love it!

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home cooking

This is just ridiculous!

We got a TON of snow, but the worst part of it all is that it’s currently -1 degree outside, which with this whipping wind feels like a bazzillion below.  Poor Hubby went out there to snow blow, and within about 15 minutes, he was back inside with numb hands and a terribly red face!  Poor guy!

I used to love snow when I was a kid.  In the first house we lived in, I had a room of my won, being the only girl until I was 13, and it had a big window in it.  I used to sit on it, half on the radiator cover, half in the window and would read for hours.  When it was snowing, I would turn off the lights and just sit int he window and watch it.  The peace and quiet that descended upon busy Main Street, Flushing was amazing.  All quiet, bright and clean.  Then, after a bit, a bus would drive by and kill the zen-like purity of it.  I can still feel that calm come over me when it snows for the first time every year.  It makes me want to sit my 46 year old body on the window sill and write under cover of the night.  So peaceful!

Here’s what our neighborhood looked like this morning:

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And here’s Big Fatty, AKA Bert keeping watch for any random birdies dumb enough to fly today:

 

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home cooking

Smoothies. It’s whats for breakfast!

My super awesome Dad /Santa gave me a Magic Bullet for Christmas.  I was over the moon!  I have heard so much about juicers, but I couldn’t understand how that’s good for you, when all the fiber is left in the juicer!  Enter the Magic Bullet.

Essentially it’s a blender/grinder that comes with lots of attachments, like mugs and small and large grinder chambers.  But, my idea of eating and drinking more fruit and veg is about to come true.  My one issues is that the overabundance of fruit entering my body isn’t really liking my digestive issues.  I will persevere though, maybe it will just get used to it!

I made smoothies this morning for the Hubby and I, his was banana, frozen peach, kiwi, watermelon, pineapple and coconut almond milk.  Mine was watermelon, pineapple, avocado, frozen peach, frozen cherry and coconut almond milk.  How delicious!

A disclaimer here, I am not paid or sponsored by Magic Bullet, I just love their product!

Do you smoothie?  What’s your favorite combo?

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brown, eggs, gourmet, home cooking, homemade cheese, Italian Food, kid friendly, lasagna, marinated artichokes, Meals, ricotta, vegetarian, winter

No pressure!

How many of you live outside of the Eastern seabord?  Ok, so of you, how many have heard of something called mostaccioli?  Am I wrong when I say that it’s the poor younger brother of baked ziti?  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good baked pasta.  My issue here is that the mostaccioli I speak of is a kind of bland, basic, tasteless staple at Michigan weddings, and in hot bars.  Truly, it’s not worth all your effort to turn out something so bland and kinda boring.

So, Michiganders, and Midwesterners, please see below for a few easy, and very tasty tips to turn your mostaccioli into a mouth watering and delicious baked pasta dish.  I am listing them as DO’S and DON’TS.

  • DON’T refrain from salting your pasta water.  The Italian tradition says your pasta water should taste as salty as the sea.  Listen to them, if anyone knows of what they speak, as far as food, it’s the Italians!
  • DO add luscious cheese and some good ricotta to your casserole.  Now, I am making an assumption here that most people know how to make baked ziti, or mostaccioli?  If not, I’ll give you a run down at the end of this list.
  • DON’T over boil your pasta before you put it in the dish. (Self explanatory.)
  • DO add vegetables, and all kinds of meat or proteins to your dish.  As a matter of fact, I use the very best jarred sauce I can find, or you can make your own.  (You hear me?  No sweet, sugary jarred Prego here, please!)
  • DO be liberal with seasoning, with the exception of salt.  Remember, you have made your pasta cooking water “like the sea” so the salt will be an inherent part of your dish.  I usually add ricotta cheese, and salt that rather liberally too, so there is that salt to remember.  Too much salt isn’t what you’re going for here, it’s mellow, cheesy and luscious.  (Maybe I should just call this Luscious Bake.)
  • DO use a large enough pan.  I was lucky enough to be gifted a set of new bakeware this Christmas (Thanks, Pop!) and it is non-stick and comes with silicone inserts, so no need for the pot holders or oven mitts to get it out of the oven!! My point is, even cooking and enough crunchy brown stuff to go around makes for maximum deliciousness!
  • My final DON’T is, DON’T NOT make this!  It’s so good, and so easy, and will feed you and your mid-sized family for several days.  This, a salad, and perhaps a good glass of wine and some bread?  That’s what will keep you warm in these ridiculously cold days!

Sooo, I forgot to mention above, have you heard of ziti?  Don’t we all know what that is?  It’s a tubular pasta, with ridges, although, I have to say that might be rigatoni, I’ll have to check my pasta shapes book.  But, you can use either, you can also use any stuffed pasta, like tortellini  (I would refrain from ravioli, simply because it will bust open and make a mess, trust me on this one)  I am also imagining how great this would be with elbows, spirals, pretty much anything that will catch the filling and sauce.

Here is the basic recipe.  You can add anything you like, but the bake time should remain fairly the same.  If you’re super adventurous, you can use fresh pasta.  In that case cut back the pasta cooking time, but then you’re probably experienced enough to know when fresh pasta is ready to go.

Bep’s All Purpose Baked Pasta (aka Baked Ziti)

Preheat your oven to 350°.  Prep a large baking dish, about 12 inches long by 3 deep.  You can rub it with olive oil, but you really don’t have to.

  • 1 pound uncooked pasta (ziti, rigatoni, etc) Usually one box/bag
  • salt, olive oil
  • 1 large jar spaghetti sauce (or 4 cups of your homemade. I really prefer Newman’s Own, or Barilla here, but it’s up to you) (*Not a paid sponsor)
  • 1 15 oz tub of ricotta cheese (whole or skim, makes no difference)
  • 1 whole egg, per container of ricotta (you can leave out, but it makes a huge flavor difference)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 16 oz shredded mozzarella (I have used provolone too, really good)
  • 8 oz Parmesan, shredded or powdery

Any or all of the below:

  • 1 pint cooked mushrooms (sliced thin, sauteed in olive oil with garlic until soft)
  • 1 jar artichoke hearts, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large bunch fresh spinach (or a packet of baby spinach leaves), washed and sliced fine (if using baby leave, just leave them whole)
  • Bunch of fresh herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, sage, to taste) washed, dried, chopped
  • Meat (1 lb ground meat, chicken cooked, pork sausage diced, you get the idea)

Bring a large pot full of water to the boil.  When it comes to the boil, add enough salt so the water is well and truly briney, taste it (probably about a tablespoon of Kosher, 2 tsp of table salt).  Add a good glug of olive oil, and let it come back to the boil.  Once it’s rolling boiling, add the dried pasta.  Cook it to the packet’s instructions, but my rule of thumb is, stir it until they’re all rolling around in the water.  Once you make the other preparations, it will be ready to drain and sauce (close to 12 minutes.) Now, I said above, don’t overcook it, and I mean that.  You should feel slight resistance when you taste and bit into it, but not crunch, just a nice solid resistance to your teeth.  It should above all be cooked through.

While your pasta is cooking, place your ricotta cheese into a medium sized bowl and add the egg, beaten, and salt and pepper.  Use a fork to beat this until it’s fully incorporated.  Now, you will need to taste it for seasoning.  A little tiny bit of raw egg won’t kill you.  Adjust the salt and pepper so it tastes good to you.  At this point, if you’re using the herbs, add them, and beat again into the ricotta mixture.  Reserve a tablespoon or so for later.  Set this mixture aside.  Prep all the other ingredients you’re adding, if any.  Check if your pasta is done, and if it’s ready, drain it in a large colander. Once the pasta is drained, it’s really just a matter of plonking everything in the baking dish, adding cheese and baking it.

Leave your pasta to drain for a few minutes, and add the sauce to the bottom of your baking dish.  Add the pasta to the baking dish and mix until all the pasta is covered with sauce evenly.  Take 1/3 the ricotta mixture and mix it through the pasta and sauce.  If your using the other ingredients, with the exception of the artichokes, swirl them into the pasta now too.  Once everything in incorporated, add the artichokes to the ricotta and mix well.  Then spread the mixture evenly over the pasta, it doesn’t have to perfect, it will get covered with cheese at this point!.  Sprinkle the Parmesan over it, then cover the whole thing with the mozzarella.

Once everything is done, put it in your oven and bake for 45 minutes, and allow at least 10 minutes of cooling time to be able to cut through it.  If you reserved any herbs, sprinkle them over the plate when you’re serving.  For the two of us, this will make 3 dinners, or at least 2 dinners and 1 lunch.  It’s so good, and honestly, isn’t that easy?  Mostaccioli, FEH!!

This is what ours looked like tonight!

YUMMY!  And so easy!

YUMMY! And so easy!

For all of you that will be getting into Winter Storm Ivan, be safe, and don’t spend much time outside if you don’t absolutely have to!  Cook something instead!

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home cooking

Pressure!

Think David Bowie and Freddie Mercury singing “Pressure!”  I have an inherent fear of pressure cookers.  It probably harkens back to my mother having one, briefly, when we were kids.  I was completely paralyzed with fear that it would explode, and take all of us, and possibly the house with it in a screaming blast of smoke.  But, since then, I also have come to realize that they’re much safer these days. 

How many of you rely on one for a good deal of your cooking?  I love Mark Bittman, and he recently had a piece in the New York Times Dining and Wine section about pressure cooking.  Take a look here:

http://nyti.ms/1c4178l

Doesn’t that sound amazing, and so easy, fun even!  I am thinking amongst my mother in law’s things there was a pressure cooker, and I am going to start looking for it. 

If you’re a pressure cooker, what do you typically cook?  Is it really true you can do a cheese cake in there?

Let me know, and I’ll try anything you say you’ve done!

 

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