No Processed Foods

1 Comment

As I was looking down the road this past fall at becoming an empty nester (again!), I decided it would be a good time to stop buying processed food. Now that the big appetites in my family have moved out, it seems like the right time. But, boy is this turning out to be a challenge and a commitment–especially as I’m saying it out loud to you all. But I’ve been inching towards it for a long time. For sure, this means I won’t buy a loaf of bread or a box of crackers or jar of peanut butter or a bag of tortilla chips to go with my sister-in-law’s phenomenal salsa. (More on that below.) Or even a container of my favorite mint chocolate chip ice cream. Yikes!

First, though, I have to determine what “processed” food is. I love definitions, and the definitions of the term processed food usually refer to food that comes in boxes, cans, or bags, or food that has additives, or food not found in nature. One food blogger I read defined it as any food with more than 5 ingredients, another as food without a label on it.

Will I have to go out and butcher my own chickens or only buy food that has one ingredient in it? Like tomatoes or apples or basil or flour–oops, that’s been processed and prepared by the miller. The more I think about what “processed” food means, the more I thought I’d have to go back to the stone age to fulfill my goal. Except didn’t the cave men and women “process” that mastodon meat they ate?

You’ve got to define the concept somehow, but for now I’ve decided I’m not ready to make rules or define in a way that requires a philosophy degree to identify a processed food. If my internal food conscience tells me it’s processed, I’ll pass. Believe me, it knows!

How about you? What’s your view of processed food? And how do you define it? And how do you live without tortilla chips?

In the meantime, try out my sister-in-law Jessica’s salsa. She makes it the best, but even when I copy her recipe, it’s much better than most salsas I’ve tasted.  IMG_1562

Jessica’s Salsa
1 or 2 roasted jalapeño peppers (keep the blackened, roasted skin on; scrape out the seeds for those of us with Midwestern palates)
1/2 yellow onion
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes
Cilantro (to taste, or optional)
1 teaspoon salt
Lime juice

Put all ingredients except tomatoes in a food processor and process (The irony of this just hit me!) until cut very fine. Add tomatoes and pulse until salsa is nearly pureed. (This is not meant to be a chunky salsa.) Squeeze in a little lime juice at the end.

Blonde Brownie Chemistry

3 Comments

Have you ever gotten a craving for something, but when you go to all the trouble to bake it, it doesn’t turn out the way your taste buds were envisioning? That happened to me recently with a craving for blonde brownies. I made a pan and was so disappointed to have them turn out to be cakey and a little dry. Just when I was dreaming of a soft, chewy butterscotch bar.

Since that craving wasn’t going to be satisfied until it got the exact kind of brownie it was hoping for, I set out to figure out what had gone wrong. After comparing about 5 different recipes, I learned the secret. It’s simple, but important to keep in mind. The crackly-top-with-chewy-inside brownie had only baking soda as a leavener rather than only baking powder or a combination of baking powder and baking soda. (No, I didn’t make 5 different recipes to find this out. I cheated and read the reviews of recipes that looked likely. You probably know this, but if a recipe’s reviews are consistently positive and, especially if they’re over the top complimentary, the recipe is worth trying. And I don’t mean the reviews that say: This recipe was awesome and I followed it exactly except that I was out of this and substituted that and added a bit more of such-and-such and I didn’t have the right sized pan and my oven was on the fritz, but other than that, this is a great recipe.” What do you even do with a review like that??!!  But, I digress.)

IMG_1355

For those of you science-minded cooks, the baking soda’s leavening properties need to mix with acidic ingredients to do their work. For this recipe, that would be brown sugar and chocolate. Baking soda neutralizes the acid and produces tenderness. Just baking powder made the bars rise too much and inhibited browning–which boosts the butterscotch-y flavor. While adding both baking powder and baking soda produced a cake-like texture. If your chemistry curiosity just lit up, check out this article in the Huffington Post. It really does matter which leavener you use.  

Otherwise, skip the chemistry lesson, bake the brownies below, and enjoy!IMG_1350

Blonde Brownies (adapted from Rhonda O’s recipe on food.com)
2/3 cup butter, melted
2 cups brown sugar (packed)
2 large eggs
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F.
Melt butter in a saucepan on top of the stove. Take pan off the heat. Add brown sugar and stir to combine. Let cool slightly. Add eggs and stir thoroughly. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to butter/sugar/egg batter. Add vanilla, then nuts if using. Spread batter into a greased 13 x 9 pan. Sprinkle chocolate chips on top of batter. Bake at 350° for 25 – 30 minutes. Bars will be soft to the touch and barely done in the middle. That’s how they should look and will then stay soft and chewy once they cool.

If you have a reasonably-minded appetite, you can halve this recipe and bake it for about 20 minutes in an 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 pan.

Croissants Chez Moi

9 Comments

I’ve never really considered myself the scientific type in the kitchen. I don’t take notes when something doesn’t turn out right. I rarely make something twice unless it succeeded the first time. And I haven’t considered my cooking as experiments to tinker with and improve. But something just changed.

I took a croissant-making class a couple of weeks ago and I’ve become obsessed with making a croissant worthy of a French bakery. I’ve made two batches so far. The first was a big disaster (no photos allowed!) and the second batch (below) not too shabby. Disaster is a relative term in the croissant-baking business, as any dough that involves incorporating nearly a pound of butter will knock your socks off no matter how much you screw up the process. Trust me. You will want to eat your mistakes.

Making croissants requires precision and attention to detail. To make a long, two-day job into a short description: you make some bread dough (from a mathematical formula rather than a recipe), let it rise, then refrigerate, roll it out to a precise width and length, place a large square of butter (mixed, refrigerated, molded, refrigerated again, shaped), also a precise width and length to match the rectangle of dough, fold it, refrigerate, roll out again, fold it again, refrigerate, roll out, fold, refrigerate, and roll out one last time. Then you’re ready to cut and shape the croissants. Let them rise again, and bake.

At this point, some bakers will tell you how easy and doable it is to make croissants at home. Don’t let them snow you. These are not easy, not simple, and not for the faint of heart.

But, wow, are they crispy, buttery, flaky, rich, and downright heavenly when you get them right! I wouldn’t let my French friends try them yet, but some day soon . . .

IMG_1303

Eating Oranges at the Kitchen Sink

4 Comments

Now that the holidays are well past and my children have flown the coop again, empty nesting has set in once more and I’m getting back in the groove of having no children at home. (Although, yes, I still miss you!) And I’m realizing why so many food blogs are written by younger women with small children at home. They certainly can’t have more free time than I do, but they have so many more opportunities and need for cooking and baking.

I have very few these day and I now understand why my grandmother used to eat some of her meals standing up at the kitchen sink. For which she was always reprimanded whenever she got caught.

But, why not? After all those years and decades of cooking dinners, setting tables, clearing tables, washing dishes, putting away leftovers, scrubbing off the stove top, and sweeping the kitchen floor, I can see the attraction of, say, eating an orange over the kitchen sink: the peel can go right down the garbage disposal, the drips of juice into the sink, a trickle of water from the faucet rinses away the stickiness from fingers and chin, and no plate to wash. Just the pleasure of a ripe, sloppy-juicy orange. It’s a liberating pleasure for those of us with scores of nightly dining-room-table family dinners of place settings and cloth napkins behind us.

This recipe for Moroccan Oranges is almost as simple and delicious, yet with a bit more class. In a pinch, you can skip the slicing, ditch the plate and still enjoy a mouth-watering dessert eaten at the sink. I won’t scold you!

IMG_1287

Moroccan Orange Dessert (from simplyrecipes.com)

  • 3-4 oranges
  • 1/4 cup orange flower water (Note: When I’m in a hurry or not wanting to spend time in the kitchen, I skip this part)
  • 1-2 Tbsp powdered sugar
  • 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon

Slice the top and bottom off each orange. Slice off the rind and all the pith and then cut the orange into 1/4 inch rounds. Sprinkle a little orange flower water in the bottom of a wide-bottomed glass or plastic container and lay the orange slices on top. If you need to do more than one layer of oranges to get them all in the container, sprinkle more orange flower water over each orange layer as you go. Add any remaining orange flower water, cover the container and set aside at room temperature for 1 hour.

To serve, take the oranges out of the container and arrange on a plate. Add a little of the liquid from the container. Just as you serve, sprinkle some powdered sugar and cinnamon over the oranges.

Gingerbread Professionalism

3 Comments

I know Christmas is over and it’s supposed to be time to move quickly on to the next holiday. But I’m still contemplating Christmas and its experiences and meanings–and still eating Christmas sweets!

Making homemade sweets to share with those outside your immediate family has gotten awfully intimidating these days, what with so many professional-looking food photos around. Since we tend to judge things by their appearance, beautifully presented Christmas treats can seem so much more appetizing than homely ones.

Not being all that gifted in the artistic, design-oriented skills, I keep my fingers crossed that the deliciousness of my Christmas goodies will rise above the homeliness of their looks. IMG_1263

When my two older boys were young, I used to take them grocery shopping with me. At the end of the last aisle in the store was the cake-decorating station. We stopped there every week to watch the cake decorator create his magic, piping stars and roses faster than you could blink your eyes. We were transfixed by his speed. And so impressed at how every cake turned out perfectly. Needless to say, after spending so much time watching him, we got to chatting with him and became Friday afternoon friends. One Christmas, I thought he might like some of the gingerbread people my boys and I had made and decorated that year. He seemed to accept them graciously, but a couple of years later laughed about how ugly they had been.

I was stung–realizing for the first time that not all homemade treats are appreciated. That experience has not stopped us from our annual marathon of Christmas-cookie baking, outlandish gingerbread creations, or from giving them as gifts.  We just do it with a little thicker skin.

IMG_1271Appearance has never been my forte, but it won’t stop me from baking.  And I hope it won’t intimidate you, either.

IMG_1276

IMG_1273

Happy Merry Birthday Christmas

3 Comments

Merry Christmas to all the Christmas babies (and especially to ours!) and to their parents and families making and eating birthday cakes today. We have four birthdays in our extended family between Christmas Eve and Dec. 27, so we know whereof we speak!

IMG_1256

Cup Eggs

2 Comments

My grandmother used to make “cup eggs” for us when we were little. I thought they were the most delicious breakfast food, and I was convinced it was a dish she had invented just for us, her special grandchildren.

IMG_1245She would put eggs–two each–into a pan of cold water and bring them to a boil, turn down the heat and let the eggs cook for 3 minutes. This is not the most efficient method for making soft-boiled eggs, but my grandmother liked to take her time, making toast and setting the table while the water boiled.Then she rinsed the eggs under cold water, and (efficiency and speed kicked in now as eating hot food hot was important) worked quickly to cut the eggshell in half with a table knife, and pull the egg into two halves– at which point we could see that the yolks were the perfect consistency of runny just beginning to thicken and gel. With her much practiced hands, she ran the knife along the inside of the shell to separate the firm white and let the egg half drop into a cup. She always served these in her yellow Melmac cups from the early 1960s. She immediately plopped in a teaspoonful of butter, sprinkled on a bit of salt and pepper and mixed it all gently for us to enjoy while the egg yolks were hot and oozy.  

As I said, I was under the child’s unselfconscious illusion that my Nana invented that dish. As I grew older, I learned that other people eat their soft-boiled eggs in cups. But most other people’s cups are egg cups, not your ordinary coffee cups. Then it dawned on me that she was playing a word game. Nana had turned traditional egg cups on their heads and had invented something for us. I believe in her Depression-era mindset, she’d decided we could still have soft-boiled eggs in cups and even if she couldn’t (or wouldn’t!) afford egg cups with such limited usefulness, we would still eat our soft-boiled eggs in cups.

Soft, runny yolks, melting butter, salty whites–and all the more delicious without a fussy egg cup to get in your way. Clever she was. Or perhaps stubborn and proud enough to wear her poverty with defiance and humor. I eat cup eggs regularly in my adult life, and I eat them in a Melmac cup my sister generously gave me from Nana’s set. All the better to recreate the unhurried attention my Nana gave to making a delicious hot breakfast for her loved ones–and channel her rebellious spirit. 

IMG_1249

Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 85 other followers