Monday, April 27, 2009

Glass of Milk, Anyone?

Dinner, dishes, maybe a tv program (a World Vision info program tonight)...a normal nighttime routine for a lot of people. Next come pj's, teeth brushing, maybe a book (Harry Potter right now). But, not usually mixing, frying, chocolate-dipping donuts. Especially when accompanied by letting little kids eat one minutes before bedtime. I didn't even realize the time until mid-donut. Oops...

But they were good. And I even had all of the ingredients...except an egg which was generously provided by my sweet neighbor.

The donut idea started earlier, before dinner, in fact. I can't really remember what precipitated it...oh, yeah...a flyer from my daughter's school inviting parents to a semi-annual donut and coffee party. But why stand awkwardly outside the school on a cold morning to eat a donut when you can lounge comfortably in your sweats for an even fresher treat? No fancy moms to impress, no small talk about what teacher your child has, no pretending that you can only eat half of a donut (as if it's really that hard to finish the other half or two).

My little boy begged to be the helper seeing as how his sister "always" gets to help. I think his real motivation was in licking the bowl...

I set out most of the ingredient so that he could easily add them in as instructed. And I only lost my cool once. Not bad (for me, anyways...).


2 c sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 c sugar
2 TB shortening
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 c buttermilk (or 3/8 c milk plus 2 TB vinegar...let it sit for a bit to thicken)

Combine the flour, soda, and salt in a bowl.

In a separate bowl, cream the sugar and shortening. Add the egg and vanilla, mix thoroughly. Alternating, add the buttermilk and flour mixture until all mixed together.

Roll out on a flour surface to 1/3 inch thickness. Cut with a donut cutter and let stand about 10 minutes.

Heat 1 quart of oil to 375 degrees.

Go answer the door and let your former neighbor in who was on a walk and thought she'd stop by (lucky timing for her!).

Fry the donuts until golden, flipping once. Drain on a wire rack over a paper towel. Dust with powdered sugar...or...

For the chocolate sauce, combine over low heat until melted:

1/2 c semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 TB butter
1 TB corn syrup

Dip in the donuts. Garnish with sprinkles if you son loaded his donut!

Make sure the kids get two or three to ensure optimum meltdown. Probably a few trips to the bathroom post-tucking-in too.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Day Five: Hunger Action Week

During the course of this week, I've focused heavily on the great and nutritious meals one can make on a small budget. I realize that I've done very little to "raise hunger awareness", though. Perhaps that's because I've never been truly hungry. I believe part of the reason lies in that my family has been on the lower income bracket for our entire existence. I've had to make-do since day one.

I think I've maintained a rather unhealthy sense of pride during this process, like if I can buy organic, prepare some meat dishes, and even invite company over that everyone should be able to do it. Although embarrassing to admit, I think I've even harbored the feeling that if anyone is getting this food assistance money and is still going hungry that they are to blame. You know, what's their problem?

But, I think I've failed to take into account the vast blessings in my life. For example, part of the reason our income is low is because it is important to us that I can stay home with our small children. If I had to put in 8 or 9 hours at work everyday (like most women I know), I know my energy would be too sapped to be creative in the kitchen.

Also, my mom cooked for me. I was exposed to cooking from the day I was born. Even though most of what I cook has been learned post-marriage, I still grew up under the influence, so to speak.

Furthermore, I live in such a wonderful place for fresh, local, organic produce. My friend in Dallas, Texas pointed this out to me recently.

And I realized that I've got a bit of a chip on my I can do all this without any help. In reality, I get lots of help. My husband lovingly picks up an extra this or that if I've planned poorly. He takes me out when I'm too tired to cook. My sweet mom stops by now and then with some extra bags of groceries just because she noticed it was the end of the pay period. My dad never lets me leave their house without some bag full of refrigerator odds and ends.

All this help is why I can be creative in the kitchen. Sure, I plan and organize and put in my time learning. But I want to say thank you for all the people in my life that have blessed my family with food so that we've never experienced true hunger.

Our family has recently sponsored a child in Bangladesh, a little girl less than a year older than my oldest daughter. People in her area of the world live on cents per day. It's been a good experience in generosity for our kids to be involved in giving money to those in need.

And we've long wanted to get involved in making meals for the homeless. I'd like for this to be the year. Maybe with a little more effort (mostly turning my eyes off myself and onto others), I can take the steps necessary to love on those who truly know what hunger is about.

So, after all that it hardly seems right to go into much detail about our meals today.

Breakfast was more of the same...toast with jam, fried eggs, yogurt, coffee (all paid).

Lunch was a tasty concoction of shredded chicken sauteed with onion and garlic and salsa (2.29). Wrapped in yummy organic olive oil tortilla shells (4.19) and garnished with red pepper slices (1.50) and o. tortilla chips (2.59).

Dinner will be more leftover chicken, tricked out with a piccata sauce of butter, lemon, and white wine (5.99). I'm planning to make some orzo pasta (1.50) with tomatoes and parsley (both paid). Leftover Herb Salad (paid) and some homemade pita bread using the same pizza dough (paid). We'll probably drink the rest of the wine and toast to our many blessings.

Grand total: $131.85

Leftovers include: 3/4 bottle of olive oil, a whole loaf of bread, several tortillas, a lemon, carrots, yogurt, garlic, onions, a bottle of soy sauce, a bag of tortilla chips, a load of chicken stock, two jars of chicken soup, and some milk. Not too shabby.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Day Four: Hunger Action Week

Last night's dinner high was followed by the "morning-after" dishes blues. We were already backed up having run out of dishwasher detergent the evening before. And if you hadn't picked up on it, I'm not the most disciplined dish-doer (although I'm vastly improved over the newlywed habit of leaving out the dirty dishes until they grew one will want to eat off my plates after that confession, will they?).

My morning consolation was a beautiful pot of stock bubbling away in my shiny red dutch oven. Tonight's soup is gonna be good.

Having cracked open the egg carton yesterday for the cake, I thought some nice fried eggs were in order for breakfast. But only for my husband, my oldest daughter, and myself...the boy is not a fan of eggs.

He got his favorite breakfast...yogurt (paid). But before I could catch him, he'd plopped a handful of granola on top. I wasn't planning on using granola this week to avoid entering it into the tally. I guess he didn't get the memo.

Thursday mornings are busy with carpool and preschool. My son got his snack at school, the baby got her snack from me (hey, it's recycled food so I'm going to go with "paid").

And thank goodness for leftovers. Lunch was cheapy-cheap. Fried rice using the leftover brown rice from Monday (paid), carrots (paid), a small onion (.65), a couple of cloves of garlic (paid), an egg (paid), and chopped chicken (paid). It was flavored with soy sauce (1.50)--I've never used dark soy sauce before! Soy sauce is pretty cheap for a bottle, but this can also be purchased in bulk under the name "tamari" at PCC (as can olive oil and maple syrup...but these products are fairly expensive when you buy organic). Some of you have mentioned the bulk bins at Fred Meyer. They do have a lot of organic products there. PCC is just so close to my house which is one reason I shop there so often.

The baby liked it, too. She insists on having a spoon which she holds in one hand while scooping food into her mouth with the other hand. She especially liked the onions.

Dinner tonight was essentially free thanks to the amazing stock from last night's roasted chicken. The bones simmered all night in the oven (set at 180 degrees). This morning, when I should have been showering and getting ready for my carpool day, I was carefully straining out the stock by pouring it through a lint-free kitchen towel. Cheesecloth would have been ideal, but I was out.

Then, I simmered it with a leek and a carrot and some black peppercorns for a couple of hours. At five p.m., I brought the stock up to a boil (with carrot and leek removed) and start chopping veggies. I love chopping veggies! It gives me a chance to practice my knife skills with my favorite sharp instrument...the Global 8 inch knife.

I decided to break from the normal onion and use another leek, discarding the dark green parts and thinly slicing the white and light green parts. Minced a clove of garlic. Diced a carrot. Into the saute pan with a little olive oil and a touch of butter and salt of course. All of this went into the simmering pot while I prepared the biscuit dough.

Flour (.76), sugar, salt, baking powder, butter (paid), and milk (paid). Knead a couple of times, roll it out 1/2 inch thick. Cut with handy dandy biscuit/donut cutter and place on my brand new baking sheet (bought with the proceeds of this lucrative blog, by the way....fruits of my labor) and bake at 400 for 15 minutes. Break open and slather with butter, honey, or jam.

But, back to the soup. After the veg simmered for a bit, I slid in some chicken meat rescued out of the bone pile. I boiled a bit of water and cooked up 1/4 cup of orzo (.43), served on the side for everyone to add into the soup (if I put them in the soup, they soak up too much liquid in the leftovers).

Oh, I almost forgot....I pureed the leftover root vegetables (celeriac and golden beets) to thicken the soup. It was a nice flavor addition.

One more day to go with more leftover chicken recipes...yes, I am growing tired of chicken, but that's the rub I guess. Tomorrow I promise to tally up my costs...I'll be squeaking very close to the big number! But I also expect to have lots of extras left like olive oil and bread and such. Those things will be tallied up, too.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Day Three: Hunger Action Week

This was the big coming over for dinner! With a house to clean, shopping to do, and dinner to prepare, I thought we had better start the day out right.

Oatmeal. While I love the texture of steel-cut oats, they take too dang long to make on school mornings. I keep a canister of rolled oats handy for mornings like this. Not the instant kind, though.

I'd like to take a minute to talk about the merits of buying bulk at PCC (my favorite "natural" supermarket). From flour, sugar, and oats, to rice, lentils, granola, or nuts, dried pasta, and trail mix...they have it all. You can buy just as much as you need (like the one cup of brown sugar I bought for 50 cents). The best deal are the bulk spices. Last Christmas, I saw a "Harry & David" type catalog selling 2 vanilla beans in a canister for more than $9! What a rip off!! I can buy them for $1.33 a piece. It's the best when a recipe calls for a spice you don't often use. You can literally buy 1 tsp of it (for like 8 cents) and not $5-6 for a bottle full that you'll never use.

Okay, so I made o. oatmeal (1.25), garnishing it with a pinch of butter (paid), o. cinnamon (.12), o. brown sugar (.25), and o. raisins (paid). Topped with a little milk (paid) and finished to the last creamy bite.

Lunch was a freebie of leftover pizza and veggies plus some apple slices (1.00). The kids snacked on pretzels (paid), bananas (1.00), and apples (.50). The baby ate an o. kiwi (.79). I had a slice of my bread with jam (paid). The baby also had some leftover brown rice topped with leftover bean soup (from last week, but she's a hungry baby who doesn't know I'm on a specific food schedule!).

After cleaning and arranging my house,

I trekked the neighborhood for some beautiful spring blossoms to spruce up the house. They're so fabulous right now.

While I was out, I foraged some thyme from a bush I planted at my old house (now one of my neighbors lives there). Then back home to prepare the roasted chickens. With five people in each of our families, I decided that it would probably take two chickens to feed us all. Check out my "how-to" video that I made a while back for the recipe. Regarding costs...two chickens (10.00), lemon (paid), butter (paid), thyme (free), garlic (paid), parsley (1.99).

I was really excited about the vegetable dish for tonight. It was inspired by these golden beets. The celeriac I bought awhile back, plus some sweet potatoes. Peel and chop into uniformish chunks. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. You can use Herbs de Provence, but I left mine simple. I roasted them in a separate pan but in the same oven with the chicken (at about 400 for an hour). The beets (2.99) were delicious, the celeriac (2.00) a little tough (it may have been too old!), the sweet potatoes (1.00) yummy. Oh, and I roasted 3 red potatoes (2.34) with the chicken.

And thank goodness my husband mentioned dessert, because I almost forgot to make anything! He suggested my Lazy Daisy Cake. Good call. I even had all the ingredients. Eggs (1.79), flour (.70), sugar (.68), vanilla extract (do I really have to count 1 tsp??? maybe .15), butter (paid), milk (paid), brown sugar (paid), shredded coconut (.86 in bulk). It was popular as usual!

Hospitality doesn't have to break the bank. I only added $5 onto the cost of a meal alone for that extra chicken. Totally worth it. And now we have some new friends. Who are you going to invite over next week? Everyone loves a dinner invitation...even for spaghetti.

The chickens are transforming into stock as I write.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Day Two: Hunger Action Week

With the birds chirping cheerily and the sun shining it warmth on us, morning on day two began. I sprung out of bed early, full of energy and smiles. Love radiated from my very being showering my family in cheer.

Then I woke up for real, slowly rolling over, trying to ignore my little boy's saliva swishing sounds as he laid there staring at mommy trying to keep her eyes open. Okay, I'm up. Rolling over, I can't remember why my whole body hurts. Then I remember the new exercise ball and pilates video that I used yesterday in an effort to get past this "I just had a baby" stage (when the kid is about to turn one, you really can't use that line anymore!).

Thank goodness I baked some great bread yesterday. Breakfast was a cinch. Thickly slice the whole grain homemade bread (paid), toast once for the kids and twice for the parents. Spread on butter (2.79) and jam (paid), slice a couple of bananas (1.00) and pour the coffee! Feel the life ebb into my body...

At least the warm and sunny part really did happen today. I managed to take a fabulous walk, baby and stroller in tow, during my son's preschool class. And even did the pilates/ball routine for a second day in a row. Almost a habit now!

Lunch was an inspired fare consisting of Trader Joe's frozen Gorgonzola Gnocchi (3.29) and fresh sauteed green beans. These beans are really delish. It's usually my husband's dish to cook, so this time I watched so that I could share the inspiration.

Sauteed Green Beans with Lemon

1 lb fresh organic green beans (3.49)
2 cloves organic garlic, chopped (1.00 for two heads)
1 TB olive oil (paid)
1 lemon, juiced (1.29 for the bag)
salt and pepper

Wash and trim about 1 pound of green beans.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over MH. Saute the garlic for about 30 seconds. Add in the green beans, season with salt and pepper. Stir around and add the lemon juice. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 7-10 minutes until the beans are a little tender but still bright green. Turn out onto a platter and serve immediately.

I had a wonderful afternoon knowing dinner was planned and required little prep. I even helped out the hubby by washing the car. My little boy enjoyed spraying it off. Being in charge of the hose is great fun. After raking the kajillions of pine cones in the back yard, I called it a day and came in to make dinner. Oh, and snacks included an apple (.50), two bananas (1.00), and loads of pretzel sticks (paid). The baby had a snack of organic whole milk yogurt (3.79).

As some of you know, I've been making dough from the cookbook Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking On Sunday, I made a new batch to use this week. It requires 6 1/2 c white (organic) unbleached flour (2.26), 1 TB yeast (paid), 1 TB salt (freebie), and 3 cups of water.

After preheating the oven to 500 degrees, I pulled out a couple of hunks of dough to let them warm up a bit while I prepped some veg. Trader Joe's Herb Salad (1.99 per bag), organic tomatoes (3.99), shredded organic carrots (2.77 for 1.75 lbs), a small handful of organic raisins (2.69), and some organic cucumber slices (2.00).

The kids also got a veggie plate consisting of o. red peppers (2.00), o. carrots (paid), o. cucumbers (paid), and o. tomatoes (paid).

I made two pizzas. The kids wanted cheese, of course. But I also chopped up some of the leftover chicken (paid). First, I rolled out their dough, drizzled it with olive oil (paid), a pinch of salt, a dash of chopped oregano (free from my garden). The o. pizza sauce came from a can (2.29). Into the oven for about 10 minutes.

Our pizza had all the above, plus some o. red pepper slices (paid), a sprinkling of basil from about 4 leaves left in the fridge (I know I'm not supposed to include leftovers, but the basil was past its prime and I'm too frugal to throw 4 good leaves away!), and also a few pinches of ricotta (also leftover and on it's way out). If I must include them in the about $1.00?

Even the baby ate shredded veg and pizza crusts, plus a few pieces of leftover chicken.

Hopefully there is just enough leftover pizza for tomorrow's lunch like I planned!

"There was morning and there was evening, the second day."

Monday, April 20, 2009

Day One: Hunger Action Week

Today began Hunger Action Week, bringing awareness to hunger issues in Washington (sponsored by United Way).

Initially, I thought my family of 5 would receive only $110 for the week, but I was informed that it was actually $132...which is very good. That $22 means some snacks for my kids!

My goal during this week is to show that healthy and delicious meals can be cooked on a small food budget. In fact, my own grocery bill only varies slightly from the above amount. And I generally purchase organic ingredients. So, I carefully planned the weeks meals to best use certain ingredients (like a whole chicken) over a period of days. This included having company scheduled to come over tonight.

But, wouldn't you know it, their plans changed and now Wednesday is a better night. Not a big deal in the unscheduled dinner world, but I was counting on a specific order of food to make it through the week.

I adjusted, switching a couple of days around so that we were going to have Adobo Chicken tonight.

But, then my lovely next-door neighbor invited us over for a BBQ to take advantage of the great weather. It sounded like fun, so I again adjusted my menu. I suppose you can mark your skills as a cook by how well you can adapt a meal to changing circumstances.

Let's back up the train, however, and start with breakfast.

Breakfast at Casa Julie Jams was supposed to be toast and bananas this morning. I had planned to eat my homemade bread, neglecting to take into account actually making that bread. It's my whole grain bread from a previous post and it takes an overnight fermenting of the starter dough. I'd done that step, but forgot about the whole rising and baking thing. I guess we'll eat it tomorrow!

Breakfast ended up being Vans frozen waffles (2.69) and syrup with berries (3.29). The kids drank milk (2.60) and us old folks sipped our coffee (5.00). These prices might seem a little strange, so let me explain. We only used about 1/2 cup of the berries, so there is still most of a bag left to be used later this week. Also, I've decided to include the full price of my half-gallon of organic milk. Later in the week, milk will be listed as "paid" and not included in the cost. Half a pound of organic fare-trade coffee is about $5.00. It will also last the whole week and be listed as "paid".

Lunch was also a mixed up affair. I planned one thing and of course that didn't happen. It ended up being a jam (2.99) sandwich and apple slices (1.00). My friend wanted to meet me at the park with our kids which happens to be across the street from Kidd Valley...the "milkshake place", as my 4-year-old son calls it. I spent 2.89 on a chocolate shake for him.

Let me say one more thing about lunch. My kindergartner usually takes a lunch to school, but in the interest of saving money she is "buying" all week. Normally, this is not cheaper or more healthy! But it just so happens that we are poor enough to qualify for free lunch at school. I figured that anyone with a child on food stamps would likely be using the school districts free lunch program. Therefore, I didn't think this was cheating!

Snacks included an organic kiwi (.79), a banana (.50), and some pretzel sticks (1.99).

Now to dinner. The whole chicken intended for company and then for adobo was easily transformed into BBQ pieces. I cut the chicken (5.00) into its respective pieces...legs, thighs, breasts (which I further chopped into "strips"). I drizzled it with olive oil (5.99 for the bottle) and seasoned it with salt and pepper (freebies). We grilled it with the neighbor's meat.

I also went ahead and cooked the 2 cups of organic brown rice (2.00) along with some organic bok choy (3.89) using a recipe for Yunnan Greens.

To cook the greens, boil a large pot of salted water. Put in the squeaky clean greens, bring to a boil and cook for under one minute. Remove the greens from the pot. Heat a skillet or a wok on high. Add oil (paid). Then add 1/2 tsp minced ginger (.20) and some red chilies (I omitted these this time). Saute briefly, then add the greens. Press them into the skillet with a wooden spoon and cook for about a minute. Add 1/2 cup chicken stock (homemade); cook 30 seconds. Add 1 tsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 TB of water; cook 30 seconds. Turn out onto a platter and serve.

It was fun to share a meal with the summer is almost here! The kids ended the night with a rousing game of Red Rover.

Also, I made bread today which will last us the whole week. Pricing out the whole wheat flour (1.30), organic white flour (1.13), yeast (2.29), olive oil (paid) and honey (.25). This recipe makes two loaves for about $5! Good deal.

Hopefully tomorrow will go according to plan!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Future of Food

If you've ever wondered why you should buy organic, then watch this video.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Is Pink the New Red?

Earlier this week, my husband notified me that one of his coworkers was having a birthday (one that divides evenly into 100 only a few times). And would I pretty please make her a cake. Well, as you know, we've been a little obsessed with the Red Velvet cupcakes from Sweet Cakes lately. Hmmm...maybe I could make my own.

One of my friends had offered m the recipe she uses for those luscious gems, so I went straight to her in email to find that recipe. Unfortunately, I didn't factor in the mom/3 kids thing and therefore didn't get the recipe until the next day---reasonable enough for those who plan ahead, but not for a last-minuter like me.

So while I waited, I checked out all my baking cookbooks from the gigantic "Baking" (Dorie Greenspan) to "The Art of Fine Baking" (Paula Peck) to various recipe compilations from church ladies my grandma used to know (there is some very interesting stuff in these books like "Scripture Cake"...but that could be a whole series of future posts!).

Would you believe that none of those books lists a Red Velvet Cake recipe??? I couldn't believe it! So, I went with a slightly likelier source...

Paula Deen.

I know, I know, commercial celebrity chefdom...I get it. But if anyone makes a good Southern R.V.C., it's gotta be the "add more butter" queen, right? Considering that it is probably copyrighted, I'll just post the link...Red Velvet Cupckaes with Cream Cheese Frosting.

But let's just talk about the frosting for a second.

1 pound cream cheese
2 sticks of butter
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups confectioners' sugar

This is the best part of any cupcake, I don't care how good the cake is...cream cheese frosting is what it is all about. The recipe makes 24 cupcakes, but this is enough icing for double that.

I stashed the extra frosting in my fridge, loathe to toss that much goodness. And besides, it was organic cream cheese. That stuff isn't cheap!

The cupcakes were a smash hit, I was told. The birthday girl got to take some home for her family and fiance. And not a crumb was left in the dish.

So what was I to do with all that deliciously creamy, sweet and tangy frosting? Well, besides dipping various things in it, I mean? The only thing to do was to make more cupcakes, of course!

Unfortunately, I was out of red food coloring. Would they taste as good if they were just regularly tan? Probably not. But I did have some Wilton Rose Pink in the cupboard. Maybe if I put enough of that concentrated color in, they would be red or at least deep pink.

They were definitely pink, but not like hot pink. Kind of brownish pink after they baked. Not quite as sinful-looking as Red Velvet is supposed to be. Part of what I love about this cake is it's elegant striking color (also my favorite color). Maybe brownish pink is the new red, at least for Spring.

"Lady in Brownish Pink, is dancing with me..."

No, I guess not.

But they were tasty.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Do the Gnocchi Pokey...

You know how I like to throw new meals into my menus, right? This week I wanted to try something else from Salt and Pepper: 135 Perfectly Seasoned Recipes Gnocchi seemed pretty tame, relatively pleasing to all at my table. And it didn't have a lot of crazy hard-to-find ingredients. Well, except green peppercorns packed in brine. I couldn't find those anywhere...maybe Whole Foods has them, but I didn't check there.

Plus, I was inspired by the photo of my friend Kelly's homemade gnocchi. Very impressive! Mine were not homemade, but someone in a nice Trader Joe's factory did in fact make them.

I had the lemons for all the zest I'd need. Ricotta was sitting in my fridge ready to go. Basil leaves still fresh from last week (I've been cutting them in a chiffonade to add to salads...a nice flavor boost). And...there are fresh chives growing in my garden already! Sweet...first harvest of the year!!

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Pour in the dried gnocchi and wait until they float to the top, then cook another 2 minutes (these were the Trader Joe's directions).

Meanwhile...combine in a large bowl,

zest from 2 or 3 lemons
4 garlic cloves, minced (this is A LOT of garlic, plus it's raw...half might have been enough for me)
2 tsp freshly crushed black pepper (not in a mill, but with a mortar and pestle)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 TB green peppercorns in brine, drained (I didn't add this, but I can see why this ingredient is here)
9 oz fresh ricotta

Drain the pasta quickly and NOT thoroughly (you want a little pasta water in there), then add to the bowl of stuff. Mix gently, then add,

1/4 c fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
2 TB snipped chives

3 TB olive oil mixed with 1 TB lemon juice and 1 tsp lemon zest

Combine and top with toasted bread crumbs.

It's bold and spicy and very strong in flavor. Like I said in the recipe, less garlic and less black pepper might have been a bit happier to my palate. But it was a really great combination of flavors. I had to eat something later that night just to get the garlic flavor out of my mouth, though! Whew!

And, unfortunately, the tame and pleasing-sounding gnocchi was not too popular with the kiddos due to the strong and biting taste. Us grown-ups took care of most of know, waste not want not.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Porky Leftovers Yield Yummy Soup

So did you make a ham for Easter? We spent the evening on Good Friday with some friends catching up and having a little impromptu cooking lesson. The delicious ham from a few posts back was on the menu. It turned out beautifully once again--I'm telling you, this is one easy recipe. As long as you don't crank the heat way up, it is quite foolproof!

Lucky for me, I came home with the bone (and a whole lot of meat...hams feed an army). It's been sitting in my fridge for a couple of days awaiting a trip to the store for a bag of beans. Last year I bought a giant assortment of beans at Costco...a rather lovely mixture including a really cool purplish bean. But, alas, I'm finally out.

I settled for a mere 15 bean assortment. They're soaking as I type. Tomorrow, they will be transformed into a fantastic bean soup.

Hearty Bean (and Ham) Soup

2 cups assorted beans
1 ham hock, I like it with some meat on it!
2 1/2 qts water
1 onion, diced
1 large can of tomatoes
1 TB chili powder (or adjust to taste)
1 tsp garlic powder or 1 garlic clove, minced
2 carrots, chopped

1. Wash the beans and rinse in a colander. They always say to check for pebbles, but I've never found one! Drain. Put the beans in a large pot and cover with water. Allow to soak overnight to rehydrate the beans.

2. The next day, drain the beans, then add the 2 1/2 qts water plus the ham hock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 2 1/2-3 hours.

3. Add the remaining ingredients, simmering 30 minutes more. Add salt to taste (it may take a tsp or more but be careful in case your ham was really salty!). And this soup can be frozen to enjoy later.

Of course, if ham and bean soup isn't what you like, you can always use the leftovers in sandwiches, omelets, or Smoky Ham and Corn Chowder, a recipe in this month's Food & Wine magazine.

Hunger Action Week

Hello Readers!

I just wanted to let you all know about an upcoming event. During the week of April 20-24, I will be participating in United Way's Hunger Action Week. In an effort to raise awareness about hunger issues in Washington, they have challenged local food bloggers to limit their weekly food budget to that of people receiving food stamps. I will be writing every day to share my experiences and also my menus. We've been commissioned to prove what we can do with very little money (as in...what can you buy besides Top Ramen?).

The maximum daily budget for a single person is $7, but it is significantly less for families with more people. My family of 5 would only receive $26 per day (that's $5.20 per person). So I will be attempting to provide nutritious meals 3 times a day, for 5 full days, while spending only $110. The rules stipulate that I can not use anything from my pantry and I can not accept any free food from friends or relatives.

Join with me to experience this project!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Taste Washington! 2009

A few months back I was lucky enough to go to my first food and wine convention. I was a novice, not knowing what to expect. But not this time. This time I was prepared.

When we got wind of Taste Washington!, we immediately submitted our proposal to FoodBuzz. This was an event worth covering. I printed out the map of vendors including wineries, restaurants, services, and some crafts. Thinking that I might receive a limited number of food passes, I charted out a course to hit the food stalls with the most interesting menus (they were conveniently preprinted on the vendor list!).

Seeing as how this was a "Washington" event, there was quite a bit of seafood listed...lots of smoked salmon dishes, chowders, grilled pieces of fish, even an oyster bar hosted by Elliott's Oyster House.

And a fair share of beef (Washington Beef was a sponsor). A coffee bar and a dessert bar, my oh my. It was going to be tough to choose.

But, Taste Washington! was so much better than the last convention...there were no food limits! One could try everything. And not only that...the sun came out and Seattleites were very happy. We didn't even mind standing in the very long entrance line. Thankfully, there was a media entrance with no line at all.

The convention center was decorated with many many wine barrels and had a good amount of tall tables set up around the place.

The ambiance was dark, the people well-dressed.

I was excited to meet the vendors at Fare Start, an organization that provides job training and placement for homeless and disadvantaged individuals. They've been around for more than 16 years helping more than 2,000 people transform their lives and also serving millions of meals to those in need. One great way to support them is to eat at the Fare Start Restaurant located on 7th and Virginia in Seattle.

And I did my best to hobnob with the various publications...Northwest Palate Magazine and especially Edible Seattle (one of my favs). The guys at Edible were really friendly and helpful. Hopefully, I'll be meeting them again in the future for an article write-up!

There's no way I could fairly assess the huge numbers of wine vendors. For one, I can't drink that much! Also, though I'm an appreciator of the fruit of the vine, oenophile I am not. However, I did have a very nice Pinot Grigio/Chardonnay blend from Piety Flats Winery of the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail in Yakima.

I could give you a rundown of every food vendor, the good and the bad. But, I know you have other things you'd like to do today, so how about the highlights?

Let's start with the age old question, "Where's the beef?"

Best Beef: Goes to The Capital Grille's signature dry-aged New York Striploin with Courvoisier Cream. Full of flavor and delicious. The Lobster Mac'n'Cheese wasn't bad either!

Best Asian: Wild Ginger's Fragrant duck bao sandwiches with plum sauce and peppercorn salt, artfully presented in a giant bamboo steamer basket.

Best Seafood (in a soup form): Oceanaire Seafood Room's Campechana, a Mexican style ceviche full of shrimp, scallops, avocado, cilantro, and plenty of lime. Wonderfully balanced and seasoned. Served with a tortilla chip (they were one of the garnish of choice...we saw them everywhere!).

Best Vegetarian (savory): Of the few vegetarian restaurants in Seattle, Carmelita is the one I have not been to, but they brought their A-game with this Wild watercress flan, garnished with sunchoke chips and spicy maple syrup reduction. Notice the beautifully contrasting microgreens (or micropurples in this case)? They were everywhere, too.

Best Meat Lollipop: Okay, so I'm making a very specific category for this one seeing as it was the only meat lollipop, but Picazo's Lamb Lollipop with Chukar Cherries' Cherry Chipotle Barbeque Sauce was amazing! The perfect balance of sweet and savory, succulent tenderness and crisp charred bits. Wow! Plus they utilized a local company for their sauce...this is Taste Washington!, after all.

Best Overall Dish (savory): Drum roll please...(come on people, this is the "Best Picture" of the event)...hands down, it goes to Suncadia's Kasu Sea Bass, Jasmine Rice Stir-Fry and Coconut Green Curry! Absolutely incredible flavors. And I wasn't the only one who thought so...their line was deep and full of compliments. Where, you may ask, is Suncadia? Well, it's a newish resort (by the same people that brought us SunRiver in Bend, OR) near Cle Elum off of I-90 where a very great chef runs Portals restaurant. Can't wait to stay there sometime!

Best Use of a Whole Animal in the Display: I love the Dahlia Lounge and had to figure out a way to give them an award, so here it is. Roast Suckling Pig with Green Garlic Sauce.

Best Cheese: I might be biased by my past experience with Mt. Townsend Creamery (the Trellis cheese plate!), but I'm giving it to these guys for their Seastack cheese. It is soft and creamy. Perfect!

Best Presentation (of an otherwise bland dish): Salty's on Alki's Potato Vichyssoise with Maine Lobster and Arugula Essence. Loved the three colors of the potatoes, but arugula essence? I don't know. It didn't do it for me.

Honestly, there were more than 59 food vendors, so this is truly a shortened list of highlights! Let's move into some sweets...

Best Chocolate: It's a tie.

Carter's Chocolates offered up some beautiful and tasty truffles flavored with wines, ales, and liquers. Plus, talking with owner Matt Carter was fun. How does he make his chocolates so beautiful? It's apparently a question he gets asked a lot. His answer? Two years of pastry chef school (and some cocoa butter transfers, specifically). His favorite is the chocolate-ganache filled truffle. And will you check out those Easter eggs (they're the size of ostrich eggs!!)? They are still available if you order by tomorrow (I think).


Oh! Chocolate win's for their fantastic Mango Habenero Tuffle. So often Mango flavor translates as "soapy", to quote the proprieter. But this was good with quite a lot of heat at the end from the chili. And the Honey Orange Caramel's were super, too. Very creative flavors.

Best Non-Chocolate Truffle: Purple Cafe and Wine Bar's Tiramisu Truffle. Light and creamy, yet rich and full of that familiar tiramisu flavor. I loved it!

Best Overall Dessert: From the dramatic demonstration to the last delectable bite, Anita's Crepes wins wins wins! A fresh crepe filled with slightly bruleed sugar, a squeeze of lemon juice, and garnished with Chantilly and a dusting of powdered sugar. I'd love to interview Anita for an article (maybe Edible Seattle). Please say yes!!

Best Coffee: Stumptown may have been the only coffee vendor there, but I know it would have been the winner of this category even if pitted against Starbucks, Tully's, Peet's, Tony's, or any other. They have been my favorite for many years ever since my sister hooked me on their Belmont Street store down in Portland. But, now it's a Seattle company, too (2 stores on Capitol Hill). Today they featured 3 coffees: an El Salvadorean bean called Finca Kiliminjaro, a Guatemalan bean, and an Ethiopean bean (very nuanced like a tea).

The woman at the counter informed me that Aida who owns the El Salvadorean beans, handpicks the peaberries off the coffee plants for this roast. Apparently coffee berries usually produce two beans per berry, but about 5% of the time they put all of their energy into only one berry. This is the peaberry which is supposed to have a bit more flavor. Very nice brew.

Thanks so much to FoodBuzz for letting me represent them at Taste Washington! I did my best to earn my ticket price.
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