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Thanksgiving Memories, Food, and Requirements

Growing up we used to spend Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house. She doesn’t live in a fancy house in a great part of town, my uncle is a chain smoker and my cousins were sometimes less than friendly.  However, I always seemed to have a good time. My aunt would cook the turkey, stuffing, and various sides while we would bring rolls, dessert and another side.  My grandparents would bring chow-mein and sekihan (a sweet rice that is cooked with adzuki beans).  Sure it was different, but I loved it.  Of course, once we returned home we’d all strip and throw our clothes in the wash.

At some point our tradition ended.  Now our thanksgivings are much more simple and usually involve fewer people, except for this year.  This year we are spending it with about 11 members of my husband’s family and more will join us for dessert. His family is much more traditional when it comes to Thanksgiving, but they all love dessert and lots of it, which I can certainly get behind.  However, when it comes to Thanksgiving I have two requirements.

1.  There must be jello.  The first time I had Thanksgiving at his parent’s house his aunt made this jello that was so delicious I became addicted to it.  It is strawberry jello with chunks of fruit throughout and a layer of sour cream in the middle. I know it sounds strange, and I’m not sure why I love it so much except that it reminds me of something my mom used to make when I was a kid.

2.  I must have apple pie and preferably my grandmother’s apple pie.  Most people use tart apples, usually granny smiths, but my grandma always used a sweet apple, usually golden delicious.  I think it has much more of an apple flavor and you don’t have to add as much sugar.  As much as I love chocolate, those desserts can wait until Christmas. What I want for Thanksgiving is warm apple pie.  Since we’re traveling this year I have only the crust made. The filling and baking will be done when we get there., but I am still dreaming about that first bite.
Happy Thanksgiving!

Cranberry Orange Scones

I love the holiday season. I love the smells, the food, even the air seems different. At any rate, this year we are driving down to California for our Thanksgiving. Lunches and dinners for the most part will be taken care of, but what to do about breakfast? We are staying in a house so we will have a full kitchen, but I thought some festive scones would make a great breakfast treat. They are easy to make and freeze very well. My favorite recipe so far has been from our trusty America’s Test Kitchen cookbook.

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Ingredients

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 Tbs. sugar

1 tsp baking powder

½ tsp. salt

5 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into ¼-inch cubes and chilled

½ tsp. orange zest

¾ cup dried cranberries (I used one cup of fresh cranberries and upped the sugar to 3 ½ Tbs sugar)

1 cup heavy cream

Directions

    1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 450°. Pulse the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a food processor. Add the orange zest. Scatter the butter evenly over the top and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal with a few slightly larger butter lumps. [Note: I don’t happen to have a food processor so I just mix everything together with a spatula and cut the butter in with a pastry cutter. I then put chill the mixture for about 5 minutes just to keep everything cold].
    2. Add the cranberries and mix. Stir in the cream with a rubber spatula until the dough begins to form.
    3. Turn the dough and any floury bits out onto a floured counter and knead until it forms a rough, slightly sticky ball.
    4. Press the dough into a 9-in cake pan. Unmold the dough and cut into 8 wedges. Place the wedges on an un-greased baking sheet
    5. Bake until the scone tops are light brown, 12-15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes.

Right now the house smells delicious!

Ramen

I remember when I was in college that I ate those pre-packaged ramen noodles pretty often because they were cheap and quick to make. Have you ever looked at the sodium content in those packages though? Yikes! After going to Japan and eating real ramen noodles I realized that I too could make ramen that was healthier.

So… here is it! It does take more prep work, but it really isn’t that much more difficult to make and can be done on a tight budget.

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Ingredients

4 pkgs. Dried Chunka Soba noodles (Guess what…I buy the pre-packaged ramen from the store for about $0.20 and toss the powder packet.)

1 piece garlic (minced)

½ lb. pork or 2 pieces of chicken breast. (Cut pork in thin ½ x 1 inch slices. Cut chicken in thin bite size pieces).

1 carrot cut in thin circles

1 bamboo shoot cut diagonally in thin slices (I omit this ingredient, but you can buy canned bamboo if you can’t find it in the store or if you don’t feel like cutting up a bamboo shoot)

3 dried mushrooms cut in quarters after soaking in water to make soft (I just buy fresh shiitake)

Green beans or spinach—cut green beans in ¼ inch diagonal pieces and par-boil. If using spinach, par-boil and cut into 1 inch length.

½ kamaboko cut into 1/8 inch thick slices

Hard boiled eggs sliced in circles

Cooking oil

6 cups cooking soup stock or water

Salt

Soy Sauce

Mirin

Aji-no-moto (they make some without MSG)

Directions

Place oil in pan. Add garlic and pork. Cook until Pork browns. Add 1 Tbs. of salt and cook for another minute. Then add 6 cups of water or soup stock, carrots, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and continue cooking until carrots are cooked. Season to taste by adding additional salt (If you use soup stock this isn’t necessary), mirin, soy sauce, and aji-no-moto.

While above is cooking, boil dried noodles in a pan of boiling water, drain and divide equally in 6 bowls. Pour soup over.

Garnish with green beans or spinach, kamaboko and slices of hard-boiled egg.

Eat hot and don’t be afraid to slurp!

Sukiyaki

The greatest thing about being over the first trimester (well almost, but we won’t count days), is I finally have my appetite back. So I decided to make something delicious and nutritious.

Sukiyaki is what one would call a one-pot dish. The only time consuming part is chopping all the vegetables, but the actual cooking time is quite quick.

Here is a list of what went into my sukiyaki: beef (sliced very thinly), onion, carrot, celery, shiitake mushrooms, napa cabbage, spinach, and tofu.

This is the recipe I used:

Heat the skillet and grease (I use sesame oil, but suet will work too). Add the sliced beef and fry. Add onion, carrot and celery; cook over medium-low heat. Add ½ c. soup stock (I made fresh for this, but you could also use an instant soup stock), ½ c. mirin, ½. Soy sauce and 3 tsp sugar (I only use about half because the mirin is already sweet). Add the mushrooms and cook until softened. Add cabbage and spinach and cook until wilted. Add tofu and heat through.

Traditionally you serve with raw eggs and each bite is to be dipped in the egg before eating. I don’t do this and you don’t have to either.

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Itadakimasu!

Slow-cooked Moroccan Spiced Chicken

Yesterday I was looking through the cook books for dinner inspiration. Sometimes just by reading a recipe I get a hankering for something and sure enough, something caught my eye. There was a big snag to the recipe…we don’t own a slow cooker. So my son and I went out in search of one. You can get anything from a programmable model to a basic model. For a very reasonable price, we picked up this…

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It was my first time using a slow cooker and it was a good one. The recipe was probably a bit more intensive than the usual, but the end result was very tasty. The chicken was tender and flavorful and the only thing I was concerned about was forgetting how long it had been cooking. Fortunately I remembered to set a timer. I paired the chicken with brown basmati rice and green beans to add some extra veggies.

Here’s the dish before serving. What I love is that it made a lot and I even halved the recipe!

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This recipe can be found in the American Test Kitchen cookbook.

Ingredients:

6 bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts (I actually used boneless and skinless chicken breasts and it was excellent)

2 TBS vegetable oil

2 onions, chopped medium

1 ½ tsp. hot paprika (I didn’t have hot so I mixed in about ¼ tsp of cayenne)

½ tsp. cardamom

6 garlic cloves, minced

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1 cup dried apricots, cut in half

1 cinnamon stick

1 (15.5-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed

¼ cup flour

¼ cup cilantro (I didn’t add any in)

2 TBS lemon juice (I didn’t add any of this either)

Directions

  1. Dry the chicken with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tsp. of the oil in a 12-in. skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown half of the chicken on both sides, about 10 minutes, then add to the slow cooker. Return the skillet to medium-high heat and repeat with 2 more tsp of oil and the remaining chicken. Discard any fat left in the skillet.
  2. Add the remaining 2 tsp. oil to the empty skillet and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onions, paprika, cardamom, and ¼ tsp. salt. Cook until the onions are softened, about five minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 15 seconds. Stir in 2 ½ cups of the broth, the apricots and cinnamon stick, scraping up any browned bits. Bring to a simmer, and then pour into the slow cooker.
  3. Cover and cook on low for 3 hours. Quickly stir in the chickpeas replace cover and continue to cook until the chicken is tender, about 1 hour longer.
  4. Transfer the chicken to a larger serving dish and tent loosely with foil. Discard the cinnamon stick. Set the slow cooker to high. Whisk the flour with the remaining ½ cup broth until smooth, and then stir into the slow cooker. Cover and continue to cook until the sauce no longer tastes of flour, 15 to 30 minutes longer. Stir in the cilantro and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the vegetables and sauce over the chicken.

Spicy Tomato Soup

The other day I was trying to figure out what to eat for lunch. My son was chowing down on an egg scramble, but I wasn’t sure what I was feeling like. So I went to the pantry and came up with a can of tomatoes. We had some cream and chicken broth in the fridge that needed to be used up and voila…tomato soup.

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Heat up 1TBS of butter in a pot

Add one can of tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes

Add about 1TBS of flour and cook for 20 seconds.

Add chicken broth ( I used about ¾ cup)

Simmer for 15 minutes

Take of heat and blend until smooth.

Add about ¼ cup heavy cream and bring to a simmer

Stir in ¼ tsp. cayenne and ½ tsp. chili powder

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cut a bit of basil, about ½ tsp. and sprinkle on top

Bananas for Bananas

My son loves bananas. It’s to point that if I am packing it as his snack he can’t even see it or else he wants it immediately. I have tried to explain that he will get to eat it later, but being 15 months he doesn’t quite understand that yet. Needless to say, we buy a lot of bananas. The unfortunate side of having a lot of bananas around is that they tend to age quickly due to all the ethylene they produce. Personally, I dislike a banana that has brown spots on it, which means I must re-purpose the banana or throw it away. Since I hate wasting food, there’s only one thing left to do.

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Banana bread. This is our favorite recipe, which I found online. It is moist and full of flavor. It is a great way to use up those overripe bananas.

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Since we had a couple extra after making the bread, I decided to make something easy and simple and every pyromaniac’s dream: bananas foster.

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Cut bananas into four pieces and cook for 5 minutes per side. After first flip sprinkle bananas with brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.

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Remove bananas and add brandy or dark rum. Scrape up bits from bottom of pan and then light. One the flame has been extinguished pour over bananas.

Unfortunately, the ice cream got put on the bottom of the dish so it melted pretty quickly once the bananas and sauce were added. While it was delicious, it wasn’t exactly photo worthy and I didn’t want to embarrass myself. As a note for next time and anyone else looking to make it, add the ice cream last!

Peach and Blueberry Cobbler

My favorite thing about summer is fresh fruit. It is addicting. When I worked at the experiment station south of Fresno, California for a summer I had some of the best peaches of my life. They used to put out a bin of fruit, send an e-mail and we’d flock to get the choicest peaches, nectarines and plums. It was heaven.

In the Pacific Northwest, the peaches aren’t quite as good as right off the tree as we got in Fresno, but they are still mighty tasty. However, the blueberries are extraordinary! This week my husband’s uncle and aunt from Southern California were visiting and joined us for dinner. The dinner itself was nothing note-worthy, but dessert…Yum!
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Ingredients

1 c. all-purpose flour

½ c. granulated sugar

1 ½ tsp. baking powder

½ c. milk

¼ c. butter softened

¼ c. packed brown sugar

1 T. cornstarch

½ c. cold water

3 c. sliced peaches

1 c. fresh blueberries

1 T. butter

1 T lemon juice

2 T. coarse granulated sugar

¼. Tsp. ground nutmeg or cinnamon

Directions

Topping:

Stir together flour, ½ c. granulated sugar and baking powder

Add milk and ¼ cup butter all at once

Stir until smooth. Set aside.

Filling:

In a medium sauce pan stir together brown sugar and cornstarch.

Stir in water.

Add peaches and blueberries.

Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly.

Add 1 T. butter and lemon juice.

Stir until butter melts. Pour into 1 ½ quart ungreased casserole dish.

Spoon topping in mounds over hot filling and spread evenly

Sprinkle with mixture of 2 T. coarse sugar and nutmeg or cinnamon.

Place a shallow baking pan in oven.

Bake cobbler in 350° oven for about 35 minutes or until bubbly and a toothpick inserted into crust comes out clean.

Serve with ice cream and enjoy!
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Grilled Stuffed Chicken with Succotash

A few nights ago we were stumped with what to cook. I didn’t feel like any of the usual dishes and wanted to try something new. But what? Since I hadn’t a clue and my taste buds weren’t pointing me in a particular direction, I decided to browse the internet.

I found this recipe on the food network and it sounded light, summery, and tasty. It took very little time to prep and despite our fear of stuffing something and then putting it over an open flame, turned out quite nicely. We also substituted edemame for the lima beans.

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It wasn’t a favorite of our son’s, and we could probably think of other things to stuff the chicken with, but boy was it juicy and tender!

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My Food Journey

Throughout my short life, my relationship with food has gone through many stages. I dislike the label “foodie” and therefore refuse to call myself as such. Also, I have never had an eating disorder, but there was a point when food didn’t matter to me.

When I was a kid, I ate to sustain myself. End of story. I was too busy with all of my other interests to be bothered with enjoying eating the food my parents were making me eat. Not that they cooked bad food, although the meat was like shoe leather, I just wasn’t all that interested. There were always moments of pure enjoyment when my mom or grandma would make something I loved. Onigiri and teriyaki chicken, Chow Mein with sekihan, tuna noodle casserole (I have no idea why, but it could be the addictive factor of potato chips, noodles, and a creamy sauce), and beef with Bok choy over rice come to mind. Mostly though, the food didn’t matter. By the way, dessert doesn’t count, because what kid (or adult) doesn’t love a little sugar?

As a young adult I had a somewhat better relationship with food. The first two years of college I lived in a dorm and ate whatever they cooked, for the most part. I had more choices, but nothing helped change my view of food. We are talking about dorm food after all. My third year I moved to an apartment and was thus forced to start cooking. I could boil and egg and knew how to make a few dishes and therefore was comfortable knowing I wouldn’t starve. Besides, just off campus there were a dozen restaurants that catered to the poor college student. One of them, a Korean place, made really good beef bulgogi. To this day it is still one of the best I’ve had. During this time I dated a guy who liked to cook and was quite good at it, although now that I think about it, nothing really stood out. What I do remember eating was a lot of grilled chicken salads because he wanted to lose a few pounds. I did, however, learn how to peel garlic.

After I graduated I moved down to California to pursue a Master’s degree. I became friends with several people in the food science department, and boy did they like to eat and drink. I think this might have been the start of my appreciation of food, but I was still reluctant. My parents would send me grocery gift cards and tell me to not skimp on food. I am thrifty by nature, but they didn’t want me to starve because I was unwilling to spend too much money. It was during this first year that I met my husband. As with all serious relationships, they change you. My husband loves good food and dessert. When I met him he was still coming into his own food-wise. This was good timing since I was just at the outer fringes of discovering the power of food. However, I think it wasn’t until I moved back to my home state for work that I really developed an appetite for good quality food.

I started working as a research assistant on pears and sweet cherries. We worked closely with the growers and that’s when I started to understand the business of growing food. Not subsidized crops, but high-value crops. I began to see how difficult it was to make money, find good labor, and the chain in which the fruit travels before it ever reaches market. When I was in California I often wondered why the produce was so bad since they produce so much good vegetables and fruit. What I learned was that the best quality was sent for export, where the money is. During this time my mom started getting really into food and began trying new recipes. Since I would visit often (my husband was still in California at the time) we would often experiment. It was also during this period of time that I started to get more interested in cooking. After we got married, bought our first house, and got dish network, I stumbled upon the food network. They must be doing something right because it whetted my creative appetite. Armed with a good set of pots and pans, kitchen knives, a couple of cook books and the food network, we started cooking up a storm.

Since then, my husband and I have grown to appreciate food so much more than where we began. I have such a different view-point of food and have learned that food can really bring people together. Price, while still important, isn’t secondary to quality of the product. I have learned to evaluate the ingredients and what goes into producing the food and to really value what I put in my body.

Now that I have a child, I don’t want him to grow up without appreciating food. Last summer, before he started solid food, I went to the farmer’s market to buy the best fruit and vegetables so I could to make my own baby food. I froze it, and when it was time, he loved it. Now he eats everything and loves everything. Sometimes I worry that I’ve created a food snob. But overall, I think it’s better for him to learn to appreciate food and not just eat to quiet the hunger pains. I have to admit that sometimes I eat just to quiet those hunger pains. Whether it is be because I’m just too tired to cook or I don’t know what I feel like eating, I’m not always certain, but I figure that’s okay…as long as I am setting my son up to have a good relationship with food.

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