26 December 2008

Piglets in a Blanket

We have returned home after a whirlwind of travel delays over the holiday. While we did get a little restless living out of a suitcase for nearly two weeks, we were fortunate to have the chance to spend so much time with our family and friends. One afternoon my mom and I made loads of fingerfoods to have on hand while a few dozen of family members came by to visit. We made a cheese plate with brie and blue, mini roast beef and cheddar sandwiches with horseradish and artichoke dip.

But knowing we'd have kids among the mix, I wanted to make sure there was something on the table they'd enjoy. I immediately thought of a favorite in our house, Pigs in a Blanket. It's a meal that, of course, isn't on the diet menu, but, wow, it's heavenly. I make biscuit dough and wrap it around a hot dog sliced down the center and stuffed with cheese. On a really good (or bad, depending on your perspective) day, I'll also make my mac' 'n' cheese to go alongside.

Of course mini-versions of everyday favorites are becoming poplar, perhaps thanks to this year's foodie fascination with all things Spanish, including tapas. It seems sliders, the cute name for mini burgers, have been the front runner even making it on to family chain restaurant menus.

I had a fabulous time making mini Pigs in a Blanket when I enlisted my 5-year-old niece, Lily, as my sous. We used the standby Pillsbury Crescent Roll dough instead of homemade biscuit dough. The taste is just as good, and it is actually much easier for little hands to work with. We served ours on a tray with small dishes of ketchup and mustard for dipping.

The only trouble was that I couldn't make enough. About 50 pieces disappeared shortly after the tray hit the buffet table. It turns out it wasn't just the kids who loved them!

Piglets in a Blanket

1 can Pillsbury Crescent Roll dough
1 12-ounce package mini sausages such as Lil' Smokies
Condiments for dipping

Unroll the Crescent roll dough on a lightly floured surface. Pinch together the pre-cut sections of dough to make one large, uncut piece. With a rolling pin, roll the dough slightly thinner. Using a knife or pizza cutter (the good option for kids), cut strips approximately one inch in length. Then, cut the inch-wide strips into pieces about 3 inches in length. Cut one test strip and wrap around a sausage to make sure the size is correct.

Continue cutting dough into strips. Wrap each sausage in the dough, leaving the ends uncovered. Place on cookie sheets, seam-side down.

Bake according to package directions, cutting the time down to account for the small pieces. Dough should be firm and slightly golden when done. Serve warm or room temperature.

04 December 2008

Family Thanksgiving

Since moving to the Northwest almost eight years ago, I've learned to spend holidays in an entirely new way. Growing up, my family always got together for the holidays. We typically spent them all with my dad's parents, and we had a Christmas Eve tradition with my mom's brother and his family.

So, when you move away from everything and your husband works a swing shift, the holidays can turn blue. The very first Thanksgiving I spent out here was actually before Seth and I were married, and I was just visiting. He had to work that evening, so I snuggled up on the couch with a frozen dinner. Pathetic, huh? Since then, my holidays have (slowly) progressed into our own traditions. There was the year I cooked one tiny game hen for myself and enjoyed a bottle of wine. Bad idea.

But as jobs changed and life moved on, we began to create traditions of our own. We enjoy quiche on holiday mornings and Lamb Popsicles on Christmas. We've roasted turkeys with friends and had many wonderful meals around our table. But this year was different. With the recent addition to our family, I can barely plan humdrum weekday dinners, so thinking about Thanksgiving was a little overwhelming. We'd let our friends know they were welcome to come over, but everyone was headed out of town or to a family function.

Then I got a call from cousin Nathan who recently moved to Oregon via Dallas; Togo, Africa; Boston; New Zealand; the French countryside; and, most recently, Northern California. Our dads are brothers and we grew up about three hours apart -- he in Dallas, and I outside of Oklahoma City. We played together as kids during holidays and summer visits, but as we got older, we saw each other less. Then after college he joined the Peace Corps and started a journey that would take him around the globe. He's an organic farmer, winemaker, carpenter and generally all-around-going-to-make-it-anywhere kind of guy.

Nathan and Amy

Somehow or another, we've both now landed fairly close to each other. He just bought some land and an old farmhouse that's about an hour from our home, and he plans on starting his own farm.

This year, it was Nathan who completed our holiday. He called the Friday beforeand said he wanted to come for dinner, and he also had a nine-pound turkey he'd raised that he wanted us to roast.

The extent of my meal planning was a trip to the farmer's market to pick up whatever veggies looked good. Then I ran by Julia Bakery to pick up their delicious challah to make a pumpkin bread pudding (which I served warm with some yummy homemade maple ice cream).

Thanksgiving afternoon, Nathan, Seth and I took turns entertaining Jasper, and we all helped with the cooking. It was a small gathering but one that won't soon be forgotten. We had great company, ate good food and drank good wine.

Of course this year we have plenty to be thankful for, but the opportunity to share a holiday with family who lives close was an added treat. Not to mention the fun of having the farmer and the winemaker at the table with us.

22 November 2008

Holiday Help

The holidays are a time when even the most kitchen phobic get the urge to bake, baste or broil. The tough thing is that those of us who do spend time in the kitchen feel our go-to recipes are bit too routine for the most wonderful time of the year. And those who don't cook, well they resort to terrible recipes that they will follow religiously no matter how insane (I apologize, Janet) -- like the legendary casserole my mother-in-law served that called for Cheez Whiz. Luckily, a close friend made her give up this particular recipe card before I married into the fold. The story, however, is still served up each holiday.

To save us all from recipe rut, I asked several friends to fork over their favorite recipes for sweet treats or brunch. It seems those are the dishes that we are likely to give as gifts or be asked to bring along to a festive meal with family or friends.

And to redeem myself and put me back in good graces with my mother-in-law I will share a recipe I got from her called Cranberry Apple Bake. It's delicious, easy and the perfect answer to the canned cranberry blob.

Early A.M. French Toast
Kim shares this yummy warm dish with us. It's the perfect fit for a busy holiday morning, and let's take it from this three-time mommy that anything that can be done ahead of time is a winner!

1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
2 tablespoon corn syrup
5 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 loaf french bread, cut into thick slices

In a medium saucepan over medium heat mix and melt butter, brown sugar and corn syrup. Spray a baking dish with non-stick veggie oil and fill with the butter mix. Mix eggs, milk and vanilla. Arrange bread slices in dish and pour egg mixture over the bread. Don't miss any area and use all of the mixture. Any extra will get soaked up by the bread. Cover dish and refrigerate over night. In the morning, simply uncover and slip into a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Cranberry Bread
A Thanksgiving tradition since I was in second grade: Cranberry Bread. My class made this recipe around Thanksgiving and we each got to take some home at the end of the day. My mom liked the recipe so much that she started taking it to our annual family T-day dinner in Philly. I don't actually remember making it in school that day - I just remember that we always have this on Thanksgiving! -- Liz Odar

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup butter
1 egg
1 tsp grated orange peel
3/4 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries, chopped

Stir all dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut in butter until crumbly. Add egg, orange peel, and juice, stir until evenly moist. Fold in berries. Spoon into greased 9x5x3 loaf pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 70 minutes or until done. Let bread stand in pan 5 to 10 minutes before removing to cool on wire rack.
Note: This recipe doubles easily. The loafs can also be made and baked ahead of time and frozen for a couple weeks.

Chili Cheese Egg Puff
As a kid, I vibrated from sugar overload all Christmas Day. We would wake up and eat the chocolate Santas from our Christmas stockings for breakfast, and lunch usually consisted of sweet holiday breads and cookies. That's probably why, as an adult, I have made it a tradition to prepare a savory, protein-packed breakfast. I often host a Christmas brunch for my family, and this egg casserole -- a recipe I found in the newspaper -- is usually on the menu. -- Erin Middlewood

10 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pint cottage cheese
1 pound (2 cups) shredded jack and cheddar cheese combined
1 stick butter, melted
1 7- to 8-ounce can diced green chilies
Preheat oven to 350 F. Oil 13x9x2-inch pan. Beat eggs; add all ingredients, except chilies. Mix well. Add chilies. Pour into pan. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Top should be lightly brown and center should be firm.

Aunt Joan’s Molasses Crinkles

We love to enjoy these cookies at holiday time—along with Russian Tea Cakes (what is it about sugared dough balls in December?)—dipped in hot chocolate, coffee, or peppermint tea (my favorite). Even though the cookies are named after Aunt Joan, I think the recipe belongs to Grandma Myrtle, who named them for the daughter who loved these cookies more than any of the other kids…though I suspect my dad would beg to differ. -- Bonnie Rough

¾ cup shortening or unsalted butter (shortening for softer cookies, butter for slightly chewier)
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg
¼ cup molasses

2 ¼ cup flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon cloves

¼ teaspoon salt
Granulated sugar to roll cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream shortening (or butter) and brown sugar. Add egg and molasses; mix well. In a separate bowl, sift together remaining ingredients. Blend dry with wet and refrigerate dough for 1 hour. Once the dough is chilled, hand-roll it into nickel- or quarter-sized balls. Roll the balls in granulated sugar to coat, then place on baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes.

Mashed Potato Cinnamon Rolls
I make these cinnamon rolls for Christmas morning. I usually serve it with sausage and fresh fruit. -- Dina Hovde

1 teaspoon sugar
1 package yeast
1/2 cup warm water (110 degreesish)
2 cups scalded milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, very soft
1 cup mashed potatoes (or substitute 1 cup of prepared instant potatoes)
1 egg, well beaten
5 cups flour (it usually takes more, for me)
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup cold margarine (not butter)
2 tablespoons cinnamon (or more)

Mix sugar and yeast together with warm water. Let sit 10 minutes. In large bowl, stir next four ingredients. Stir mashed potatos and egg into that. Then add yeast water to the large bowl. Add the flour after that. Knead 10 mins on a floured surface; adding flour as needed (up to 2 cups, sometimes) to keep it from sticking to you. Grease another large bowl and plop dough into it and turn it over and around once to coat the surface of dough with the fat. Cover and let rise (either at room temp for 2 hours or until double in bulk). My friend Hope says she has let it double in the refrigerator overnight, though I have never tried this. After dough has risen, place on floured surface again and roll into a large rectangle (about 1/4" thick). Cover the surface with the following mixed ingredients (use forks or pastry blender). Roll up dough like a jelly roll. Slice about 1" thick (this is easy to do using a string so you don't smoosh each little roll into awkward shape with too much force). Lay rolls on side in greased 9x13 and 9x9 pans. (Sometimes I use two 9x13s, depending on size of rolls). There should be a little space (not much) between rolls to allow for more rising. Cover with a cloth/dish towel and let rise about an hour or so. (About even with tops of pans.) Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until they look dry on top. Cool for 20 minutes (if at all possible), then add the icing. Recipe below. You should know that sometimes I skip the icing, opting for just butter.

1/4 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup (or more) powdered sugar, to desired consistency
Whisk ingredients until they come together.

Butter Cookies and Jan Hagel
My grandmother's butter cookies. I LOVE THEM. They are around the entire season. They are a hit with kids because of the colored sugar rim. Then there's my mom's Jan Hagel recipe. We are Dutch, so they are a must during the holidays. Can never decide which of these cookies I love more.
-- Dina Hovde

Butter Cookies
2 cups flour
3/4 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
Sugar for rolling

Mix all together. Form into a log and then roll in colored or plain sugar. Slice with knife carefully to maintain a circular cookie. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes or until slightly golden.

Jan Hagel
1/2 pound butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg, separated

Mix first four ingredients plus egg yolk together in bowl and press onto 9x13 cookie sheet. Brush with 1 unbeaten egg white (spread thin). Sprinkle top with slivered almonds or almond pieces. Bake at 375 for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Quiche Lorraine
My mom made this quiche for weeknight dinners occasionally when I was a kid. I always loved the recipe, and I found it even more endearing when she told me that a friend gave it to her in college. The friend, she said, was in a French class. Maybe that's why we can't learn a second language in this country! -- Amy Prince

1 small onion, diced
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup grated Swiss cheese
1/2 cup milk
1 cup whipping cream
3 eggs, beaten
6 slices of bacon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Unbaked 9-inch pie crust

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place pie dough in 9-inch pie plate and pierce bottom with fork or knife to prevent puffing. Blind bake pie crust for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Reduce oven to 375 degrees. Cook bacon; remove from pan an place on paper towels to drain. Reserve about 2 tablespoons of grease and saute onion in same pan with reserved bacon fat. Crumble cooled bacon. Spread bacon, onions and cheese evenly in pie shell. In a mixing bowl, combine milk, cream, eggs and seasoning. Pour liquid mixture into pie shell. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes. Quiche should be set in center, and slightly golden. Cool slightly before slicing.

Cranberry Apple Bake
Here is my mother-in-law, Janet's, Cranberry Apple Bake recipe. It's one I happily adopted to my own holiday table and with good reason. It's tasty, and, as Janet says, "If I can make it, anybody can." - Amy Prince

3 cups apples, finely chopped
1 cup sugar
2 cups whole, fresh cranberries
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup chopped nuts
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix apples, cranberries and sugar in a bowl and set aside. In a second bowl, mix butter, brown sugar, flour and nuts. Transfer fruit mixture to a 9-by-9-inch casserole or baking pan; spread evenly. Top with butter and brown sugar mixture. Bake for about 1 hour and cool slightly before serving.

19 November 2008

What do you call Chilaquiles?

Anyone who grew up in a house where someone cooked regularly knows what it meant to discover the way their mom makes a beloved dish isn't at all what you're served when a neighbor kid invited you over for the same meal.

For me, one of those memorable moments happened when I moved to Fresno from Oklahoma for a summer internship in college. I'd befriended a crazy but fun page designer who sat next to me. She was about 10 years older and had just moved from the East Coast for the job. Both of us looking for friends in the office, we often ate lunch together in the company cafeteria. One day she brought leftover tuna casserole, and I mentioned that the homey casserole was one of my favorite comfort foods. She said the next time she made it that she'd bring me some for lunch.

I was excited at the thought, well, at least of the memory of my mom's dish. While the leftovers my friend brought me weren't horrible, it just wasn't what I was used to. I smelled the cream-of-something-soup and was immediately disappointed that it hadn't occurred to me that someone would make the dish without a homemade white sauce.

I made a dish tonight that I now know as chilaquiles. I was introduced to it after Karly and Jose brought us a huge and delicious pan of it after Jasper was born. After searching online for a recipe, I realized that there are probably no two people who make this dish the same way. It's even gone chic with a deconstructed blue-corn version created by Bobby Flay.

Chilaquiles is a common Mexican dish often served for breakfast. It's basically a leftover scramble or casserole. The common ingredient in all of the recipes I came across is tortillas. Some called for tortilla chips and others for stale corn tortillas. After that, the recipes start looking as varied as the versions of tuna casserole. Some call for eggs, others for chicken; some produce a nacho-like dish and others a scramble. The heart of the dish is that the tortillas soak up a sauce and become soft chunks.

I attempted to replicate the dish I was served. In my mind, the dish Karly and Jose brought will always be what I call chilaquiles. It uses beans for the protein, but, of course, feel free to add or substitute as you like.

This is the type of dish that is produced by home cooks in every culture around the world. Cooks take an inventory of what they've got on hand an improvise. Eventually, that dish turns into Mom's go-to meal, often making them the comfort foods that remind us of childhood. It's resourceful and practical, and it's something we've forgotten. Many of us go to the grocery store to buy a list of ingredients to make one meal. Of course there are times when that's needed, but if we could take a lesson from the great pantry cooks, we'd learn to waste less, spend less and create some heavenly dishes.


1 pound dried pinto beans
1 medium onion, diced
1 15-ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 8-ounce can of tomato paste
1 10-ounce can of red enchilada sauce
1 4-ounce can of green chiles
12 corn tortillas
3/4 cup sour cream
Cheese for topping (cheddar or jack)

Seasoning to taste (salt, pepper, chili powder)
Corn or other oil for frying

Cook the dried beans in generously salted water until tender. Drain cooking liquid from beans, reserving for later use. If tortillas are not stale, place on sheet pans in a single layer in a 300 degree oven until beginning to crisp. They will need to be turned over once. This process should take about 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let tortillas cool -- they should harden once cooled. In a heavy-bottomed skillet add enough corn oil to fill the pan about 1/2 inch deep. Heat oil until it bubbles rapidly when a small piece of tortilla is added. Fry the tortillas about 30 to 45 seconds per side. They should become slightly golden on the edges. Place fried tortillas on paper towels to drain and sprinkle with salt. In another pot, saute onion just until it begins to soften. Add canned ingredients and about 2 cups of the reserved cooking liquid from beans. Let ingredients come together and slightly thicken over a low heat for about 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Remove from heat. Add beans and sour cream; stir until combined. In a 13-by-9-inch casserole, use six tortillas to cover pan. Top with half of the bean mixture. Repeat the process, layer the remaining six tortillas and then the remainder of the bean mixture. Place in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes or until heated through. Remove from oven and top with shredded cheese. Melt cheese under the broiler and serve warm.

Note: Canned beans could be substituted for the dried beans, adding both the beans and liquid to the mixture.

17 November 2008

To stuff or not to stuff?

I know some people are purists when it comes to stuffing the actual bird. After all, it's called stuffing, right?

The reason that is frowned upon these days is that during the butchering process, the cavity of the bird is exposed, making it susceptible to bad germs. To kill those germs, the temperature must reach 160 degrees inside the middle of that stuffing.

Basic science says that if you pack the cavity full of bread, by the time the inside is 160 degrees, the outside of the bird will be well above that temperature, drying out the meat.

So, do what you wish, but I prefer to bake mine in a casserole dish and save my guests the possible stomach ache.

14 November 2008

A great meal from a modest soup

I was in my early 20s before I ever tasted split pea soup. It was at one of the better restaurants in the dinky town where I had my first newspaper job. It was a cafe decorated in country kitsch. But not that country-blue-and-duck theme. It was an updated twist with lots of reds, blacks and whites and the classic camping enamelware dishes. They had great soups and sandwiches, and a group of us young news reporters would escape on dreary Northwest winter days for a long lunch to gossip and bitch.

It was at this cafe that I discovered I really loved split pea soup. It felt like a hearty soup for a cool day -- thick and rich with an appealing simplicity. And it is simple. It can be made with merely water, dried peas and seasoning. But add a few more ingredients and this humble dish can be elevated to a great meal.

Ham is the classic pairing with this soup, and smoked ham hocks would be a lovely addition.

I made a version by frying a few slices of bacon. Then I caramelized onions in the bacon drippings and reserved both ingredients for later. Deglaze the pot with stock and add the peas. Cook on a low heat, slowly bubbling for about an hour. Season soup as needed, and finish off with a little milk or half and half. Crumble bacon and warm it along with the onions. Top soup with a generous mound of the sweet onions and salty bacon. I also added some small croutons made with some leftover bread, olive oil, salt and pepper.

The dish was a welcome meal on a cool night, and the richness of the simple ingredients made it feel like a dish far from its humble roots.

11 November 2008

Roast Chicken

This posting is more practical than poetic.

The economy is in the tank, and, for the time being, at least, we're down to one income. Oh yeah, and I have a much different allotment of time to devote to cooking since Jasper's arrival. That means a shift in my meal prep habits -- instead of spending an hour after work on dinner, I now have 10 to 15-minute blocks throughout the day that I can spend doing little bits of prep. I also have to be mindful of when I can afford to leave something on the stovetop or in the oven, and when I can't.

So, in an attempt to feed my family well on a budget and with little time, I resorted to one of the oldest tricks in the home cook's book: the roast chicken. I did roast my own, just gave him a healthy dose of salt, pepper and olive oil and put him in the oven until he hit 150 degrees (poultry should be cooked to 160, so remove your bird at 150 and let it rest for 15 or so minutes under some foil, and it'll hit the right temp). Then, after the chicken cooled, I removed all the meat and into a plastic container it went. My mom recently told me she roasts a whole chicken in her slow cooker. Haven't tried it yet, but I will next time.

Of course, there's no shame in picking up one of the roasted chickens they sell in the grocery store. It cuts down on your time in the kitchen, and they are pretty affordable.

So what's next? Well, you could serve a perfectly acceptable Sunday dinner of roast chicken, a starch and a veg. Then use your leftovers later in the week. Here's what I did with mine. I got three dinners out of the bird, plus a lunch or two of the dinner leftovers. Not bad for $5 worth of chicken. Aside from the chickens, each of these meals basically has one other main ingredient: noodles, flour or rice. Notice these are all pantry staples. And for the list of veggies that go with each meal, it's pretty easy to simply substitute with whatever you've got on hand.

Meal 1
Peanut noodles topped with sliced red peppers, carrot ribbons, green onions, chicken and black sesame seeds
This dish is easily made in stages, and since it's best served room temp, it's ready whenever you are. The sauce for the noodles sounds complicated, but if you've got a food processor, it's actually very easy. There are lots of recipes out there, but click here for the one I use. Boil the noodles to al dente and let them soak up the sauce for a couple of hours for best results. Spend five minutes slicing the veggies, and then come dinner time it's just a quick assembly.

Meal 2
Chicken Pot Pie
This is a favorite of mine. A quick roux turns into a white sauce to create the heart of this dish. A quick steam of carrots and potatoes gives them a jump start on cooking. To the sauce, add the steamed carrots, potatoes, corn and peas (I use frozen for both of these). Then add diced chicken. Pour into a baking dish and refrigerate if not cooking immediately. Make a biscuit dough and cut out thin rounds. I then freeze my biscuits as you get the best rise and layers from super cold butter. Use store bought biscuit dough if you prefer. Bake the filling until warmed through and bubbling. Remove from oven, top with unbaked biscuits and return to oven to bake biscuits. Leave any leftover biscuit rounds in the freezer for breakfast.

Meal 3
Southwest Chicken Bowl
This recipe is from Mike. He made it for us on a trip to the coast a few years ago. It's basically a rice bowl with corn, black beans, onion, red pepper, lime, avocado and chicken. It's quite good and easy to make. It, too, can be made in stages and refrigerated. It is great served room temp or warm. If you have it on hand, add cilantro and sour cream for garnish.

22 October 2008


It's been just over three weeks since our lives were changed forever. Jasper Elliott Prince was born on Sept. 29, and it was then that time seemed to stop. We had a few setbacks that slowed our recovery a little, and when we came home from the hospital we were all in a fog.

That's when grace showed up at our doorstep.

In Elizabeth Gilbert's much-praised book "Eat Pray Love," she talks about grace, about how it percolates differently in each of us. If I had more time or patience, I'd search through the book and find the passage, but if I had more time and patience I might just use the time to do some laundry, clean something around the house, take the dog for a walk or just take a nap.

Gilbert mentions that her sister sees her as graceful, and she does so in a way that denotes she herself is missing the quality. But Gilbert says her sister does graceful things she'd never done. Specifically, she says that her sister is the type who takes a casserole to a friend or neighbor who's just had a baby.

That is grace.

And we were blessed to have so many graceful friends. In the days following our return home, we had a different set of friends showing up each night to bring us food. This is something my group of girlfriends has done regularly (well, as regularly as people have babies), but I've always been on the giving end, not the receiving. Until now.

I was overwhelmed at the generosity. A friend who pulled together a fabulous meal on extremely short notice the day we left the hospital. Another who made delicious, 18-hour homemade bread to go with her pasta figioli. One who made us one of his mother's best cake recipes and then confessed that he'd never baked a cake before. The soups, the casseroles, the lasagnas were delicious. We got spoiled, having almond bars, pecan bars and brownies after every meal as well.

We felt lucky enough to make it home after this incredible journey with a happy, healthy baby boy. But then again, I guess the blessings of our friends aren't luck. We seek them out, nourish our relationships and provide for them when they need, too. What we are is thankful to be part of an amazing group of people.

We are thankful that grace showed up at our door.

26 September 2008

Raw Apple Muffins

Today I needed to bake something. Waiting for a baby to come -- even when feeling awful -- can get a little mundane. And yesterday I noticed that we'd eaten the peaches and berries we'd bought at the market last weekend, but we hadn't eaten all of the apples. So naturally, while laying awake in best last night, I figured I'd make Raw Apple Muffins with them.

The muffin recipe was one that Christiane introduced me to, but it wasn't until I ran across the recipe in Marion Cunningham's "Breakfast Book" that I copied the recipe for myself. It's a simple recipe that seems fairly foolproof if you follow Marion's advice. The best part of this recipe is that I've got the ingredients on hand pretty much any time except the peak of summer when apples are hard to come by (at least good ones).

The result is a dense, fruit-filled muffin that has some depth to it that can be hard to come by in a world where muffins are often thought of as a super-sweet, cakey pastry made fake-tasting berries. (If this describes what you call a muffin, you are under strict orders to go to a REAL bakery -- not in a grocery store, you must be able to see people making baked goods and the staff should be able to describe tastes, textures and ingredients -- ASAP.)

Take the extra step and follow the directions to use three separate bowls. And if you've got disposable gloves in your kitchen, put a pair on and do use your hands to mix. Even if you don't have gloves, your hands still are the best option to combine the ingredients because it is a thick, chunky batter.

Here's the recipe. Enjoy, and don't dare cut the recipe down -- these muffins freeze really well, so any extras need not go to waste!

Raw Apple Muffins
from Marion Cunnigham's "Breakfast Book"

4 cups diced apple (peeled or unpeeled)
1 cup of sugar
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup oil (corn oil is very good)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup broken walnuts

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease 16 muffin tins.
Put 3 mixing bowls on the counter. Mix the apples and sugar in one bowl and set aside. Put the eggs, oil and vanilla in a second bowl and stir to blend well. In the third bowl, put the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt, and stir the mixture with a fork until blended.
Stir the egg mixture in to the apples and sugar, and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the apple mixture and mis well. (I use my hands because this is a stiff batter.) Sprinkle the raisans and walnuts over the batter and mix until they are evenly distributed. Spoon into the muffin tins.
Bake for about 25 minutes or until a straw comes out clean when inserted into the center of a muffin. Serve warm.

13 September 2008

Comfort Foods

Being two and half weeks from my due date, I now know how women get the courage to endure labor, perhaps even with gusto. I am so miserable most of the time that the thought of bringing this chapter to a close sounds delightful, even if it could involve hours of sporadic pain, hospital machines and perhaps even stitches (yikes!).

Of course I'm ecstatic to meet our little guy and that, too, is great motivation. But the yo-yo of lack of sleep one day and zombie symptoms the next coupled with constant but not-yet-productive contractions are driving me crazy.

So, if I find a couple of minutes of comfort in something as simple as pudding, don't judge.

I can't remember the last time I made pudding (given the above comments, of course I'm speaking of instant pudding). It's been so long I forgot how easy and fast it is. Just mix the powder with milk and wait five minutes.

Lime green pistachio pudding never tasted so good. Sweet, cool and creamy.

The pudding binge was a bit random for me, but perhaps it fits in well with my overall pattern of shopping, cooking and eating lately. My grocery bills have crept up in the past few weeks as I've thrown things in the cart that I haven't dared to buy in years -- Keebler cookies (Deluxe Grahams and Fudge Stripes), powdered lemonade, Saltine crackers and, yes, Jell-O instant pudding.

I've had several people ask me whether I've had strange pregnancy cravings. I wouldn't say that I've had cravings. I had the very common food aversions in the first few months, but I have never had a hankering for pickles and ice cream. I'm pretty sure this is a myth, much like pregnancy lasting nine months (it's actually nine and half, and if you think those last two weeks don't matter, I dare you to call me right now).

The foods I'm craving now aren't strange or gross. They are very much in line with things I've craved when I've been very sick. They're my comfort foods. By that I mean they're foods I found in my mom's kitchen when I was a kid. And these are just the packaged foods. I've also indulged in a dish my dad used to make us for breakfast, a poached egg on top of toast with syrup, and last week I made a mean tuna casserole straight from my mom's recipe one night and a heaping pile of mashed potatoes another night.

There is a deep connection between the foods of our childhood and those we crave when we're in need of something later life -- sick, sad or celebrating. That explains why ethnic foods are such a huge part of immigrant culture. And why, in nearly every culture, holiday traditions are closely tied to foods.

So make sure you've got something in your pantry that can pass as a comfort food in a fix. You never know when you need a little something to lift your spirits. If you're pregnant, I'd advise upping the rations -- you're gonna need it. In the meantime, I'll manage through the next few weeks with pudding what ever other quick, random dishes I can gather the courage to throw together. I'll keep in mind, however, that a few weeks after Lil P is born, my mom will come for a visit. I'm hoping she brings a hankering to comfort us with some great foods. Somehow, I think she'll be more than happy to!

04 September 2008

Casserole Kick

I'm on a casserole kick lately. Blame it on the final weeks of pregnancy or a recent late-summer dose of cool weather and rain. Whatever the case, I've made two dishes recently that while aren't new, they were new to me. Both were inspired by items I had in my pantry and veggie basket.

The first is a dish I'll call Just Veg Lasagna. It started with slices of zucchini, eggplant and carrots. The large chunks of vegetable sliced about 1/4 inch think got a toss in olive oil, salt and pepper and then headed for a trip under the broiler until lightly browned and cooked thoroughly. A red sauce combined sauteed onions, fresh tomatoes, canned tomatoes and their juice over a medium heat to reduce. Once about half the liquid was reduced, I popped that mixture into the food processor with a handful of pitted black olives and bread crumbs. Then I simply built my casserole, lasagna style, alternating layers of the veggies, sauce and cheese. A quick trip in the oven to melt the cheese (finished under the broiler for browning), finished the dish.

The second dish was a version of the old Tamale Pie. I cooked polenta with some salsa verde (the kind for enchiladas, not chips), frozen corn and a good dose of salt. Once cooked, I added in some shredded cheddar. I spread the polenta in the bottom of a casserole in an even layer. Then I combined some leftover cooked ground pork, a can of rinse and drained beans, sauteed onions, chili powder and salt. That mixture was spread on evenly over the polenta layer and then topped with cheddar. The dish was warmed in the oven and also finished under the broiler to brown cheese.

As Seth said, the dishes weren't quite gourmet, but he did ask for seconds.

04 August 2008

Butter, honey

I remember spending several evenings when I was a kid watching my mom make dinner. I don't remember what exactly drew me in, but judging by my vivid memories, I enjoyed it.

I remember my mom making a roux in a red, heavy-bottomed sauce pan. It was one of those pans that had very specific duties in our kitchen, and spotting it on the stove meant mom was making a cheese sauce she'd turn into tuna casserole. The dish is still one of my favorites, and probably without even knowing it, my mom also taught me how to make a great mac and cheese.

One particular evening when I was in elementary school, I remember watching my mom melt butter (OK, that's what we called it, but it was really margarine. It was the 1980s and my mom was a cardiac nurse. Sweet cream unsalted never stood a chance in our house.) in the red pan. The yellow tub sat on the counter crowded between the stove and the fridge. As she used a wooden spoon to move around the melting butter, I asked why we never ate butter by itself.

I have no idea what exactly she said to me, but I remember that she put some on a spoon and told me to eat it. I did. A spoonful of yellow margarine. While I can't remember what happened next, I'm guessing that my mom had a matter-of-fact, "Now do you understand?" response.

What I do remember quite clearly is that from that exact moment I understood that some foods were merely meant to make other foods tastier. This sounds simple when you use an example like butter, but think about all the things we keep in our pantries that are waiting not to take the glory themselves but to let some other food shine. Think of salt, garlic, spices and sweeteners.

I consider this tiny moment one of the first in my culinary education. Whether it was the quirky question or my mom's genius response, it's stuck with me for decades. I was reminded of it this weekend when I made some whipped honey butter and Seth, jokingly, asked me if he could eat it alone.

Instead, we enjoyed it slightly warm and easily spread on potato rolls. It was delicious with our oven-fried chicken, mac and cheese and green bean salad. I was happy to let the butter do its job, making by store-bought rolls into something special.

Honey Butter
1 stick of butter
Approx. 1/4 cup honey

Let a stick of butter sit out on the counter until softened. Place in mixer or bowl with a hand held mixer. Add honey to desired sweetness. Beat butter and honey until combined. Use immediately or fill molds and chill.

02 August 2008

About the Writer

I’m one of those people who grew up in the kitchen back when food TV meant watching Justin Wilson’s public access show with my mom on weekend mornings. I’m an Oklahoma girl who won’t ever tire of everything casual, country and almost-Southern about my family’s cooking. It’s larapin — slow, country food that’s just downright good.

I love food and cooking, and I love writing. I never dreamed either could be spun into a career, but, not surprisingly, I was wrong. I worked for about eight years as a newspaper reporter before ditching my notebook for the gritty, tiring and insanely fun days of working in commercial kitchens.

I spend most of my days in the kitchen doing the routine tasks of motherhood, but despite the constant work, I adore the chore of feeding my family.

Thanks for stopping by. Drop me a recipe anytime. You can reach me by leaving a comment or send me an email at mcfallamy@hotmail.com.

- Amy Prince

25 July 2008

Chop Chop Salad

It's been a strange summer in the garden. It seems like our sporadic heat, limited to a couple-day stretches here and there, has been playing havoc with my hot-loving plants.

By this time in July, we are usually plucking some cherry tomatoes from the vine and grilling summer squash. The plants are healthy and bearing fruit. It just won't ripen. You may soon see a recipe for fried green tomatoes here. Check back.

For now, I'll talk about the bounty at farmer's markets where experts display the fruits of their labor (ripe and all) each week. I've been trying to spend my shopping dollars more wisely. After reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle with the book club gals, I've been allowing myself to spend a little more for gorgeous fruit and vegetables by shopping at the markets instead of the florescent-lighted grocery stores. What I'm finding, though, is that I'm spending about the same amount of money. I'm just buying a bit less, and, in return, I seem to be wasting less. It's always a shame to throw out a rotten cucumber.

So when mid-week rolls around and I've got several random veggies, perhaps not enough of any to make a meal on their own, I've been turning to a chop salad.

There are lots of variations of chop salads all over the place. I have to say, though, that my favorite was always Christiane's with its big chunks of chopped veggies. It was not a traditional greens-based dish. It's a salad minus the greens. The beauty of it is that the combinations are endless. And add some leftover meat to the dish and it's transformed into a hearty dinner (and one that requires no ovens, stovetops or grills).

And for those of you still on the no-carb fad, this is a great recipe. I personally won't be giving up my baguette or pasta any time soon, but this seems to be a meal where I don't miss the starch.

Remember, this is a recipe I recently made, but he whole point of this isn't to go out and get these specific veggies. Use this as a guide and substitute whatever you've got around. What makes a chop salad is the bite-size chunks married into a tasty combination. That's it; it's simple.

Chop Chop Salad

1 Tomato, chopped
Handfull of fresh green beans, trimmed and sliced into 1-inch pieces
Green onions, sliced
1/2 Cucumber, sliced
1 small summer squash, sliced into bite-size chunks
Cheese of any kind in bite-size chunks or slices
Grilled meats or cold cuts such as salami
Basic vinaigrette
Salt and pepper to taste

Prep all of the veggies. Steam or blanch green beans and squash, careful not to overcook. Slice leftover grilled meat into bit-size portions or quarter sliced salami. Toss everything together with vinaigrette and season as needed. Serve room temperature.

- For a side dish or lighter meal, add no meat.
- Other ingredients could include carrots, onions, beans, artichoke hearts, chunks of cabbage, peas, grapes, melon, apples, fresh herbs.
- Try grilling several veggies such as onions, carrots, eggplant and squash, chilling and then giving the same treatment of chopped chunks dressed in olive oil and salt and pepper.

10 May 2008

A Food Op

Sen. Barack Obama visits Luis' Taqueria in Woodburn for a campaign stop and a fast combo plate Friday. To his left is Abel Valladares. Photograph by Michael Lloyd/The Oregonian

It must be a tiring life to be a presidential candidate. Traveling around the country, a whirlwind of planes and buses. If it weren't for the tough questions, unlimited stops and critics, the lifestyle might seem a bit rock and roll. I'm sure after months on the trail and months of being tailed, it's a lifestyle that would hardly be envied.

But even presidential candidates have to do the things all the rest of us do every day, such as grabbing a quick bite to eat. The big difference is that instead of eating while driving, like most of us, they're probably sitting in the back of a darkly-tinted bus for chow time.

Although I can't say for sure, I think that's what Barack Obama was doing Friday. Elephants catered a lunch out to the software company he visited in Beaverton. The meal for the candidate and his entourage was set up on his tour bus. Some grilled chicken and steamed broccollini along with a tray of sandwiches. Judging by the candidate's trim frame, I'm guessing he's the grilled chicken guy. The meal was set up in time for the bus to roll out of Beaverton about noon and headed for Albany, the next stop on the campaign trail.

Headed south on Interstate 5, the bus made a pit-stop. In Woodburn, a town known for it's Latino population and great Mexican foods, the crew stopped in at Luis' Taqueria around 1 p.m. A picture in today's Oregonian shows Barack enjoying a combo taco plate in the crowded restaurant. He looks happy, mid-laugh, his smile genuine. Maybe it's the tacos; maybe it's the company.

As I said before, I don't know whether Barack ate his catered lunch. It's just my job to make sure food gets to the right place at the right time. What happens after that is of little concern to me. But when I saw the picture in the paper today, it made me laugh.

I read something once that said some huge percentage of life's social interactions happen over food and drink. I believe that's true. We visit over dinner, chat about our impending day's work over breakfast and share celebratory moments over a beer with friends. We eat after weddings, we eat after funerals and we eat after Sunday church. Sure, it feeds a basic human need, but that's not what drives these events. We eat to relax and enjoy the company. Meals are a reason to gather, a reason to talk to another person. In every culture, food connects people.

I don't blame Barack for possibly downing two lunches on Friday. I'd chalk it up to a job hazard. The lunch on the bus was meant to keep the man nourished on a long day's work. The stop at Luis' Taqueria was business.

I wouldn't be surprised, though, if he felt more satisfied after the combo taco plate. The company, the energy and the moment were likely what he craved, work or not.

21 April 2008

My Big Salad

I love peppery arugula in great olive oil and sea salt. Warm spinach and a balsamic vinaigrette also ranks high on my list. Even the bag of mixed greens pairs nicely with some apple, cheese and walnuts.

All of these are respectable salads. They're the popular ones you'll spot on menus at restaurants across the country, and, if the bagged mixes sold in grocery stores are any indication, they're served in lots of our homes as well.

Sometimes, however, we miss something in a salad green. We get tired of pushing dark, dainty greens across the plate. We want crunch. We want to stab something with a fork. We want a Big Salad.

Elaine from Seinfeld was to The Big Salad as George was to the double dip.

Yesterday I was craving a big salad. Chunky, barely green, iceberg lettuce tossed with tomatoes, carrots, radishes and cucumber. Big, chunky, crunchy bites of salad drizzled with a creamy dressing.

It was fabulous. And despite whatever lame, low-brow, buffet-diving association you give to the least-noble of lettuce, it's refreshing. And it might just remind you of the salad your mom made. It may be different for my kids, but my mom never put mache or microgreens on our dinner plates.

My Big Salad

1 Head iceberg lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
4 Carrots, peeled and shredded
6 Radishes, rinsed and thinly sliced
1 Small cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced on a bias
2 Medium tomatoes, sliced into eighths or several cherry tomatoes

3/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon dried dill
Salt and pepper to taste

Whisk together dressing ingredients, cover and let sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours for flavors to mingle. Toss salad ingredients and either cover with dressing and toss or serve portions and leave dressing on the side.

01 April 2008

Pantry Soup

On Sunday night I hosted book club, and I got several questions from friends about one meal on my nightly menu for the week posted on the fridge -- Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup. They wanted to know what the recipe was like.

I had no recipe, I replied. Before my Saturday trek to the grocery store, I plucked through the pantry to see what I had on hand. Staring back at me were a fleet of cans of pumpkin puree. Months ago I'd stopped feeling guilt when I looked at them, thinking of the loaves of my mom's pumpkin bread not made for friends during the holidays.

I told them just that, I had the canned pumpkin and needed to find a way to get it on the table. I hadn't actually thought much about how I'd prepare it.

I came home tired from work today and just wanted something good, fast. I look at the piece of paper on the fridge that had attracted attention days before. It was Tuesday, and according to the menu, tonight was Pumpkin and Black Bean Soup night.

I have to say that although I was not excited at the thought of a soup night, the results were good. I'd even call them great if you factor in that it's inexpensive and took about 20 minutes to cook (take that Rachel Ray).

Here's a guide to how I made the soup. It had a Southwest take on it, making it seem a bit less fall-like.

1 15 oz can pure pumpkin (not seasoned pie filling)
1 32 oz box of chicken stock
1 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled, quartered and sliced
1 1/2 tsp ground corriander
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
Dash ground red pepper
Black pepper
Olive oil
Sour cream for garnish
Grated cheddar for garnish

In a stock pot, sweat onion and carrot in olive oil until soft. Add spices and stir, continuing to cook for a couple of minutes. Add the stock and stir, releasing any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add pumpkin and stir to combine. Add black beans. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The amount of salt needed will vary based on the brand of stock used, so be sure to keep tasting while seasoning.

27 January 2008

Pizza, Pizza

A couple of years ago I received a copy of great pizza crust recipe from former neighbor and chef Kim Mahan. Lately, it seems, I've been making it often.

Homemade pizza actually makes a lot of sense, despite the fact that you can get one delivered to your door in far less time than it takes to make. And it probably wouldn't be burned.

Last night I'd planned on making two pizzas for a group of girlfriends. I spent the better part of the afternoon making a red sauce, caramelizing onions, making pesto and, of course, making the dough. Now none of these things is difficult, and I've learned a useful trick to making the prep worthwhile. I use the leftover red sauce, sausage and cheese for a baked pasta dish the next night.

I popped my sausage and red sauce pizza in the oven about 10 minutes before guests were to arrive. Well, once they started to arrive, I forgot about the pizza. Needless to say, it was slightly overbaked.

Though quite pissed with my carelessness, I set out to make the pesto, gruyere, pinenut and red grape pizza. This time I was much more attentive, and the result was worth it. Seth saved the day and ran to the store for me to buy a store-bought dough, so I could make a second pizza. We all seemed to like Kim's crust the best. So, here's the recipe. Enjoy. And set a timer!

Crust Dough

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup of warm water
1 package (or 2 1/2 teaspoons) yeast
Olive Oil


Spinach-Basil Pesto
Pine nuts
Gruyere cheese, shredded
Red grapes
Spinach leaves, chopped

The dough is easiest made in a food processor fitted with a dough blade. It can be made by hand, but expect a more consistent crust with food processor.

Combine flour and salt in the food processor. Add yeast to the warm water and stir to combine. Turn the processor on and pour the water mixture in slowly followed by a light drizzle of olive oil. Process until the dough forms a ball, then process for about 1 more minute. Remove dough from processor work bowl and place in a bowl at least double its size. Drizzle olive oil over top and smear around with your fingers. This will keep the dough from getting an outer crust on the dough ball. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a dish towel. Let the dough rise for approximately 1 to 2 hours, until it has doubled in size. Once dough has risen, use quickly or store in the refrigerator in tightly-wrapped plastic for about 1 day.

To make pizza, roll dough on a lightly floured surface, so that it is easier to handle. Begin to work into a disc, and although it's not nearly as sexy as the perfected hand toss, I use a rolling pin to help create the shape.

Spread rolled dough with pesto*, sprinkle with gruyere, and top with caramelized onions**, pine nuts, grapes and chopped spinach. With a basting brush, brush the outer crust with olive oil. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted and crust is golden.

*Pesto is simple to make if you've got a food processor. Combine grated parmesan cheese, toasted pinenuts, 4 to 5 large basil leaves and about a handful of bagged spinach leaves in the work bowl. Turn the processor on and add olive oil until the mixture becomes fully combined and spreadable. Add salt and pepper to taste.

** Caramelized onions have a deep, subtle, sweet onion flavor that is a wonderful addition to many dishes and salads. To caramelize, slice one medium onion. Add onion and a generous amount of olive oil to a saute pan. It's pretty important that you not use a nonstick pan, if you have one. Turn the heat on to medium low and spread the onions out so they are covering the pan equally. Leave the onions alone - resist the urge to stir or shake the pan. It will take roughly 45 minutes to an hour for the onions to become fully caramelized. Once cooked, cool and place in a sealed container if not being used immediately.