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The things that make us different make us the same.

Yesterday was remarkable.

The fact that yesterday was so amazing leaves me with an interesting conundrum–I’ve been trying all day to organize my thoughts and feelings about what I experiences in a way that feels not preachy and interesting. The problem with these life-changing revelations is that they tend to apply only to the life of the person who experienced it.

So, yesterday, my local NPR station broadcast an extraordinary interview with a man who is both openly gay, and a faithful member–and employee of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You can hear it here. This interview led me to Wilcox’s pet project–beyond the film discussed in the interview–The Empathy First Initiative. The EFI Facebook page had this video of a TEDtalk linked to it.

First off–why had no one told me about TED? It’s amazing.

Second, I realize I just linked an hour and twenty minutes of media that, while I found utterly fascinating and life changing, others may not.  What follows is what I found apropos, if you don’t want to watch and listen to those links.  Or, even if you do.

So, here’s how I understood all of this. In Randall Wilcox’s discussion on what it means to be a gay Mormon, he talked about embracing his whole self. When he accepted who and what he was, he became more spiritual–contrary to what Orthodox Mormons tend to believe about homosexuality, and what it means to be gay.

The other thing Wilcox discusses beautifully is empathy.  Rather than looking at a person as an object–oh, he’s gay, or she’s a democrat, or their poor–he encourages us to look beyond, to see the person who has thoughts and feelings and ideas. To not dismiss someone as an abomination or a bigot, for instance, but to try to understand their thought process and the life-experiences that led them to those conclusions.

Brene Brown’s talk is on similar lines, in that she discusses empathy as well. But what stood out to me in her talk was the notion that when we numb the negative in our lives–the pain, the depression, the vulnerabilities–we numb everything. I think I’d subconsciously come to the same conclusion, at least in regards to my depression.  When I started to open up about the fact that I am depressed, and stopped pretending that everything was fine, I started to feel better.

Brown also talks about vulnerabilities–we are all vulnerable. Everybody has something that makes them vulnerable, but it’s the people who embrace their vulnerabilities who thrive, who can love and be loved, while those who try to hide their vulnerabilities struggle, blame others, and spend their lives searching for meaning.

This makes perfect sense, and it’s something that I’ve begun to put into practice.  I’ve been dredging up those deep, dark places within my soul and mind, examining everything and–and I think this is the important bit–not reburying those imperfections that make me vulnerable. I’ve realized that all the self-destructive things that I do are because I feel vulnerable, and I’m trying to either hide the vulnerability, or the shame that comes from being vulnerable.

But, by embracing who I am, the dark scary parts and all, I can become a better person, one who has the capacity to love herself, and by extension, others. I feel like I’m taking the first steps on an important journey.

Now, I do understand that this is all shiny and new, and in a couple of months, the shine will probably have worn off–this post is as much a reminder to me as anything. By getting the words down, it cements the way I’m thinking or feeling. I also know that it might be too much to ask that these few words might help someone else. And you know what? I’m okay with that. Right now, me becoming a better person is all I can ask for.

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Car Troubles and Casseroles

So…I managed a couple of drama-free days, which, unfortunately,  seem to translate into blog-free days.  So, blog=drama, right?

Anyway, I spent a quiet morning at home, studying and composing a shopping list so I could, you know, actually eat tonight.  When the time came when I could take a break from the studying, I headed down to my car, turned the key…and nothin’.

My car has been temperamental all winter, so I didn’t think much of it, it’s been taking two or thee tries to get it started.

After ten, it TRIED to turn over, but it still didn’t start.  A few more tries, and a jump-start attempt later I did what any responsible grown woman would do.

I called my Daddy for help.

My wonderful father drove an hour and a half to look at my car.  After doing some mechanical magic, Dad declared my battery to be fine,  and my starter being what  has issues.  Which means, a trip to my home-town this weekend, providing I can get my car started, of course. Fortunately,  every where else I’ll need to go this week can be reached easily by bus.

Dad was kind enough to drive me to the grocery store and back so dinner, at least, is right on track.

I decided to make one of my favorite comfort foods.  We call it tortilla casserole.  I don’t know if my mom found this recipe somewhere, or if she made it up–I’ve never seen her use a written recipe to make it, and I was taught to make it without  a recipe as well.

Tortilla Casserole 

the ingredents

1 lb ground beef.  (I used ground turkey.  If you ask, it’s to save on fat and calories and in no way simply because ground turkey was 75¢ a pound cheaper than the ground beef)

1/2 of an onion, diced

1 can cream of mushroom (or chicken, or celery, or whatever you have on hand) soup

1 4oz can of chopped green chilies. (er, here’s the thing about the chilies.  I usually use Hatch brand green chilies, but the store didn’t have any.  They did have the  4 oz cans, but in a brand I wasn’t sure of.  Now, I’m not particularly picky when it comes to brand names, but I’ve had a few bad experiences with off-brand chilies.  So, with great hesitation, I got a 7 oz can of the Wal-Mart brand of chilies.  It worked fine, but I’d still prefer to have used the smaller can of the brand I’m familiar with.)

4-6 soft taco sized flour tortillas

that looks about right

Shredded cheese.  Growing up, we usually used mild cheddar, because that’s what we had in the fridge.  Here, I used colby jack.  How much? Yeah, no clue.  One of those things that, because I’ve never seen this recipe written down, I don’t know how much to tell you.  I will tell you this:  I love cheese.  My dad doesn’t, so I’ll use more cheese when I’m making this for myself than I would if I were making this for my family.

Okay, on to directions:

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a large skillet over high heat.  Add meat (if you are using ground turkey, or some other low-fat meat, you’ll want to add a bit of oil to the pan first), onion and green chilies.  Stir constantly, until meat is browned and onions are clear. Add the can of soup to the meat mixture and blend throughly. In a line the bottom of a 9×9 baking dis with a layer of tortillas.  Now, tortillas are round, and the baking dish is square, and this can cause some issues.

issues

 

I thought I got a picture of this next step, but apparently I didn’t.  Grrr.

Anyway, tortillas are easy to crease and tear, like paper.  So, take another tortilla, fold it into fourths, and tear it so that you’ve got nice little patches for the corner.  The bottom is the only layer that you need to worry about covering completely.

Spoon some of the meat mixture on top of the tortillas, spreading evenly.  You should use about a third of the mixture.

 

yum. And yeah, I have very little counter-space. The stove often pulls double-duty.

Next spread a generous amount of cheese over the meat mixture.  Or not, depending on who your making this for.

I had to restart my computer twice before I could upload this image. I hope it was worth it.

Next, tear a tortilla in half, and line up the torn edges with opposite sides of the pan.   If it’s not on the bottom, you don’t need to worry about covering the whole pan.

Continue layering the meat mixture, cheese and tortillas like a lasagna, until you’ve used up all of the meat.  I can usually get three layers.  You’ll want to alternate what side you put the straight edges of the tortillas on, to give your casserole added support.

I like to end with a layer of cheese on top of  the last tortillas.

 

Hmmm. Maybe I should have grated more cheese.

Put the casserole in your pre-heated oven for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and everything is heated through.  Above is what it looks like before going into the oven, and below is what it looks like coming out of the oven:

 

Dinners ready!

And this is what it looks like after two little dogs got fed up with my not dropping food and decided that they needed to go for a walk, and I could come back in and actually sit down to eat:

 

Okay, so I'm not a food photographer, and the light in my kitchen is less than great. Still...are you curious, yet?

This casserole will serve about six, depending upon what you’re using as side dishes.

Taste wise, the chilies give a nice little kick, but not too much of one.  I’ve had people who only eat the extra-mild salsa rave about this dish.

Anyway, go, cook, enjoy!  And be grateful when you put your key into the ignition of your car and it actually starts up.

Cooking with Children

For all my talk about doing better on the blogging thing, I still missed yesterday.

But then, I didn’t really have access to a computer and time at the same moment, so there’s that…

Anyway, the bread was a huge success–to the point where we’re going to make some more today–the batch wasn’t big enough to satisfy me, my sister’s family, and still have enough to share with my sister’s neighbor from Winnipeg.

The whole rye berries–well, cracked would have been better, but oh well.

G had a lot of fun “helping” make bread, even when I wouldn’t let him stand on the counter any more.  Even though he’s a confirmed carnivore–no  superfluous starch products for that kid!  He was excited to taste it, and even more excited to make some more today.

So, here’s the recipe with my adjustments, and what I’m planning to do today:

Winnipeg Rye Bread:  The Cori Version

1/3 c rye berries

1/3 c water

Soak the rye in the water until it is absorbed (I honestly don’t know how long this took.  Somewhere between one and three hours.  I’m upping this to 2/3 c for today’s batch)

3/4 c milk

1 c water

1 tsp salt

1/4 c packed brown sugar

1 egg

3 Tbs butter

4 Tbs gluten

1 3/4 Tbs active dry yeast

Mix together until blended

1/3 c rye four (’cause I have a bunch that needs to be used)

4ish cups flour

Starting with the rye, slowly add the flour until the dough comes together.  Knead.  Let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.  Punch down, let double again.  Form into two loaves, place on a baking sheet, and let rest for 10 minutes.  Bake at 350º f for 30 minutes.

I decided yesterday that I need to talk to G when I’m hesitant about going to church–except his ward starts before mine, so I can’t just call him…

However, upon finding out that I didn’t make it to church yesterday, he told me “You need to go to church.  You have lots of friends at church.  Like Aunt Cori, and pickles, and cinnamon toast, and Jesus, and fish, and dogs…”

Rice Crispies and Turtles

Yesterday, I had a cacophony of bad smells descend on my house–and so, in order to escape, I loaded my two gassy dogs into the car, and drove to my sister’s house.

You know, the one with the 9-month-old who thinks he needs to exclusively eat grown-up food, and thus has very…interesting diapers.

They had been to the aquarium before I got there–I was slightly disappointed, because the aquarium had become the home of a sea turtle since the last time I’d been there.

I really did try to find a text version of that, but… oh well.

Anyway, I was so jealous, I went to the aquarium today, mostly to avoid washing all my clothes that had adsorbed all the bad smells from yesterday–that’s what Fabreeze is for, right?

And I have to say, I don’t think the weights are quite doing their job…

The red is a reflection from something outside the tank.

Anyway, before I went up to Salt Lake yesterday, I felt like I needed to bribe the B-I-L into letting me continue to come to his house, so I did my part to add to the weird smell in my house, by doing some experimenting in the kitchen–and had a resounding success, if I do say so myself.

So…I don’t really measure any of these ingredients, so they’re approximations.   That’s what I love about this recipe–you don’t need to be exact to get amazing results.

The best rice-crispy treats ever

okay, I’m not good at titles.

  • 1 c peanut butter
  • 3/4 c honey
  • 1 Tsp vanilla
  • 1 Tsp cinnamon
  • 5 c crisp rice cereal
  • 1 c trail mix (I bought a mix that had peanuts, almonds, raisins and m&m’s in bulk, and that’s what I used)
  • 3/4 c dried cherries
  • 1/2 c chocolate chips

In a large bowl, combine cereal, trail mix, cherries and chocolate chips.  Set aside.

In a heavy sauce pan, combine peanut butter, honey, vanilla, and cinnamon.  Heat over medium heat until everything has melted and blended together.  Carefully pour it into the bowl with the cereal mixture.   Mix well.

Pour mixture into a greased 9×9 pan, and press down firmly.  If desired, drizzle with melted chocolate.


Simple, right?  And they are so rich and decadent.  I love the combination of the dried fruit and chocolate–and I generally dislike mixing fruit and chocolate.

So, enjoy.  And go and check out the turtle at the aquarium.  But bring a child, because it was surprisingly boring without being able to talk to all the kids about the fish.

Fried Zucchini

It’s been one of those days when I’ve been busy, but unless you want to hear the details about cleaning bathrooms, I don’t have anything to post about.

However, Dad’s garden is continuing to produce bountifully, and for dinner tonight we had fried zucchini.  And fry sauce.  With watermelon for dessert.

So, I know there’s as many recipes for fried zucchini as there are people who fry zucchini, but I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with myself.  I don’t really know how to fry food–I don’t know what temperature the oil should be at, I don’t know what the consistency of the batter should be like, and I don’t know the best methods for putting the food into and taking it out of the oil.    This is probably a good thing.

Today’s fried zucchini is my very first attempt ever at deep fat frying something without someone looking over my shoulder.  And I’m happy with how it turned out:

Okay, the picture’s not that great, but you get the idea.

To make this, I took one large (and I mean ginormous) zucchini, and cut it into wedges.  The batter is 1 c plus a bit of flour, 1 c milk, 1 egg, 1/2 tsp of salt, and 1 c milk.  I also put some Mrs. Dash in the batter, and used a wire whisk to mix it all up.

I heated the oil until dropping water in it made it spit and sputter, then I coated the zucchini in the batter.  I found the easiest way to do that was to put the wedges in the batter and stir them around.  I the fried them until they were golden and crispy.

I probably should have cut the zucchini a bit smaller, because some of the larger pieces weren’t done, but live and learn, right?

As for the fry sauce…if you don’t live in Mormon-dom (Utah, and parts of Idaho and Nevada) or have never visited a Mom-and-Pop fast food joint in that area, there’s a good chance you don’t know what you’re missing out on.  Fry sauce is simply a mixture of one part ketchup and two parts mayonnaise, and is quite frankly, delicious with all things fried.

Happy Canada Day!

So today is Canada Day, the day in which we celebrate our neighbor to the north.  Yay Canada!

I’m kidding, of course.  I know that Canada Day celebrates the forming of the Canadian government, effectively turning them into a sovereign state, rather than a British Colony.  And I didn’t have to ask Wikipedia about it or anything.

Having served my mission in Canada, I’ve tried to organize my friends and family to Canada Day celebrations every year since returning home.  Usually, with little success.  Today, I’ve celebrated by drinking the last of my Canada Dry ginger ale, making tortillas (I should have made bannock, but I didn’t think about it until after I was done.) and debating if it would be worth it to go grocery shopping to get the ingredients necessary to make that quintessential Canadian goodie, the Nanaimo bar.

My wallet and my waistline got together and boycotted the idea of Nanaimo bars, the spoil-sports.   But, as the only other thing I have to write about today would be the can of worms that I opened between family members, I thought I’d share a recipe for them, so you, dear readers, can make them yourselves.

This recipe comes from my Great Canadian Cookies, Bars, & Squares book–in fact, it’s the cover model for the book.  It’s also the best recipe for Nanaimo bars I’ve ever found.  You can find the original recipe on page 21 of the Google Book preview that I’ve just linked to.  But, if you don’t want to click and scroll, (lazy buggers) I’ve typed it out for you, using html and everything!

Queen of the Nanaimo Bars

Bottom Layer

1/2 c butter, softened

1/4 c sugar

5 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla

1 egg, beaten

1 3/4 c graham cracker crumbs

1 c shredded coconut

1/2 c chopped walnuts (optional)

Place the softened butter, sugar, cocoa, vanilla and egg in the top part in a glass or metal bowl. Place over boiling water and stir until the butter melts and the mixture resembles custard. In a separate bowl, combine the graham cracker crumbs, coconut and walnuts, blending well. Ad to the custard-like mixture. Press evenly into a greased 9×9 pan. Cool to set.

Middle Layer

1/4 c butter, softened
3 Tbsp Milk
2 Tbsp vanilla custard powder
2 c powdered sugar (or, if you’re in Canada, 2 c icing sugar)

Mix the butter, milk, custard powder and powdered sugar throughly, and spread over the cooled bottom layer

Top Layer

4 squares semi-sweet chocolate
1 Tbsp butter

Melt the chocolate with the butter. When it is cool but still liquid, pour and spread over the middle bar.

Chill the Nanaimo bars in the refrigerator, making sure that they are completely chilled before serving

The story goes that the original recipe for Nanaimo bars was published in a newspaper in Nanaimo, British Columbia.  I don’t know if it’s true or not, all I know is that we were served (usually boughten) Nanaimo bars at about half of the dinners we’d have with members.  I was told that they were difficult to make, and that’s why they usually came from a bakery.  I even purchased a box of Nanaimo bar mix from a Canadian import store, because I missed them, and remembered how difficult I was told they were.  Finally, I found a can of custard powder in the grocery store where I usually shopped at the time, and decided to try it for myself.

They take a lot of dishes to make, and a lot of steps, but they are fairly easy.  You even have time to wash the dishes between steps, so you don’t end up with a sink full dirty dishes.

So, enjoy these for your own Canada Day celebrations, or, seeing as I’m a slacker and didn’t get this online ’til almost 6pm local time, enjoy them tomorrow for, er, birthday celebrations for Canadian hockey player Jumbo Joe Thornton.

Bread of life, salt of the earth.

I love bread.

I always have.  One of my favorite childhood pictures of myself features a 3-year-old Corianne wearing pink footy pajamas (the bane of my young existence–I still can’t stand to have my feet covered when I sleep).  I’d gotten into the bread drawer, and broken in to a bag, and have a half-eaten slice of Wonder Bread in my hand–still chowing down on it.  That picture sums up the relationship that I’ve had with bread for my whole life.

I love making bread.  I don’t have a bread maker or a stand mixer, so I make bread the way my grandmothers did–with a mixing bowl, a wooden spoons and my hands.

I love kneading.  Even when I’m making bread somewhere where I do have access to a stand mixer, I’ll usually turn the dough out early and knead it by hand.  I love the way that kneading unlocks the power of gluten, turning a sticky glob of wet flour and a few other ingredients into a beautiful ball of bread dough.  I love the workout to my hands, arms and shoulders that kneading provides.  I also love that kneading is a wonderful way to work out any frustrations. I love how when the dough has come together the way it should, just at the point when it is ready to rest and rise, it feels like a living thing.  In fact, I love that due to the yeast, it is a living thing.

Yeast holds a magic of its own.  In my fridge, the yeast appears to be a crumbly, beige powder that smells like it’s started to turn.  But, when mixed with warm water or milk, and a little bit of sugar or honey, it springs to life, raising the bread, making it light, airy and delicious.

I love the way, once the dough comes together, that you can cover it, and leave it in a warm place for forty-five minutes, it will double in size.  You can then punch it down, and come back in another forty-five minutes, it will have doubled in size again.

I even love the way that bread dough tastes–it reminds me of days spent at my grandmother’s house, when she would make bread.  She would slip my sister and I bites of bread dough–which, to most people, is pretty nasty stuff until it’s been baked.  To me, it tastes like childhood.

I’ve been wanting to make bread for a while, but it’s usually too late at night when I think of it. Bread is simple to make, but it takes a long time–however most of that time is waiting.

Yesterday, I thought about making bread at 7pm.  I thought about the three hours it would take, and decided that 10pm wasn’t unreasonably late to be pulling something out of the oven.

And so, I mixed, and scalded milk, and used up the last of my yeast. I happily stirred, then kneaded, and set the dough aside to rise.  At that point, I wondered if I had remembered to put in any salt.  So, I tasted the dough, and sure enough, I’d forgotten the salt.

What now?  The dough had come together, it was too late to mix anything in.  I pulled it out, and kneaded a little salt in, but I didn’t dare add too much, because I didn’t want to over-knead, and I didn’t want salty pockets of dough.  So I just hoped it’d turn out.

Long story short, it didn’t.  The bread looked and smelled beautiful, but the taste is off.

Salt is easy to overlook, as my recent baking misadventures have proven.  It’s only 1 Tablespoon of white powder in a recipe that calls for cups and cups of various other white powders.  It isn’t essential to the chemistry of baking, it doesn’t affect the appearance or texture of the baked good.  My bread is perfectly edible.  In fact, due to the over-abundance of salt in the processed foods that are so much a part of the western diet, it’s probably healthier than a normal loaf of white homemade bread.

But still, salt is essential.  Salt heightens sweet, and deadens bitter.  It adds the finishing touch to meat, vegetables, and yes, even bread.

In baking, I suppose, leaving out the salt isn’t as big of deal as leaving out, say the yeast or the flour, but it’s a big enough deal.  Salt may seem like a small thing, but without it, the time, energy and effort that I put into baking bread last night was wasted.

The little things are important.  Big things are just made up of a bunch of little things.

Thinking along those lines makes the big things easier to tackle.

White Bread

1 c milk

1 c water

1 Tbsp shortening

1 Tbsp margarine

2 Tbsp sugar

1 Tbsp salt

1/4 c warm water

1 Tbsp yeast

6 1/2 c flour

Scald (heat until just before it starts to boil) milk; add 1 cup water, shortening,  margarine, sugar and salt. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, put the 1/4 c warm water and 1 Tbsp yeast, stir to dissolve.  Let sit for 10 minutes. (This is called “blooming” or “proving” the yeast, it a) gives the yeast a head start before it has to raise the bread, and b) lets you know that your yeast is good before investing the next three hours of your life to the project)

Combine the cooled milk mixture and yeast mixture into a large mixing bowl.  Stir in 3 c of flour, and blend well.  Knead in enough of the flour to make the dough come together.  (this is hard to explain.  The dough shouldn’t be sticky, but it should hold its shape.  The best way to find out if the dough is coming together properly is through trial and error.  Sorry.  Kneading by hand is simple, you fold the dough in on itself, then push out with the palm of your hand.  Fold and push, fold and push.) Knead for 10-15 minutes. (Just think of how much more bread you can eat because of the calories burned by kneading!)

Place in a greased bowl, cover with a clean dish towel, and place in a warm, draft free spot.  Let the dough rise until double, (about 45 minutes, I start checking after 20) punch down (just what it sounds like; take your fist, and punch the bread dough once or twice. It should collapse on itself) and let double again.

Shape into two loaves, and place in greased pans.  Let raise, then bake at 450° Fahrenheit for 10 minutes, then at 350° F for 30 minutes.

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