Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Suppertime, You Used to be My Friend...

Recently, I realized that I am beginning to dread the hour or so immediately before suppertime at my house these days. Probably mostly due to the lack of planning on my part...but also because that time of the day has become vapid...I'm bored with food.  I don't even really want to try new foods. I don't want to bother with eating.

My family...well, they expect to be fed and fed well as I have set the bar high for myself. Now, I am bored with cooking simply because I am losing interest in food to some degree. There would be much more time in the day for snuggles and walks and splashing in the pool if I just didn't have to fool with meal preparation.

Like that's going to happen any time soon...

Today, the return of the familiar It's Five Thirty and I Have No Idea What to Make for Supper Villian came sauntering through my kitchen...well, dining room actually...that's where I was glued to the computer at the time. I finally decided to go face my arch nemesis...Suppertime.

Fortunately, I was armed to the gills with cookbooks and instant access to millions of recipes at a few strokes of the keyboard so my nemesis was doomed from the start. I also had my faithful sidekick Freezer on my side (though I wonder how well Little Freezer Over the Refrigerator will feel when Chest Freezer moves in this weekend...) who produced a bowl of chili thrown together a few weeks ago. Fire roasted tomatoes, navy beans, my secret mystery blend of spices (a mystery because I'm a "dump cook" and don't remember what I dumped in there), and some organic, free range, wild fed "forest beef" my husband bagged during deer season last year. Quite tasty. I had made it for some friends who came over to watch a race, and she (who is very finicky about chili and won't even eat her mom's) ate two bowls of mine. One bowl could be considered polite, but a second helping would indicate to me that it was good...or she was absolutely starving, perhaps.

Needing a side dish to go with the chili, I decided that corn bread sounded good. A quick perusal on the web and I realized I was woefully unprepared for making cornbread...I had forgotten to get eggs this week. And since I live in a rural town that apparently is infected with some kind of poultry bigotry, I can not have a couple of chickens in my back yard to keep me supplied with fresh, organic, free range chicken eggs. So, a change in search parameters to eggless cornbread dredged up a couple of promising recipes. Here's the one I went with (and my modifications):

courtesy of

  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Combine the milk and vinegar and let stand.
  3. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  4. Add the milk mixture and the oil into dry ingredients and stir until just blended.
  5. Pour the batter into a lightly greased 9-inch square baking dish, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Kitchen Magician's Tricks...
  • I halved this recipe, just in case I didn't like it...and since my hubby doesn't like cornbread anyway I didn't want a bunch of leftovers. 

  • I was also concerned that it just wouldn't rise well. I've made a recipe called "Eggless Chocolate Cake" that used mayonnaise. Not actually eggless, since mayo is made with eggs, but if you don't have an actual egg, you can still make a delicious chocolate cake. I added a spoonful (regular eating spoon) of mayonnaise, just for good measure. 

  • I used olive oil
  • I used sea salt (I think the minerals in sea salt help give nice rise to baked goods, just a theory)
  • I sprinkled crumbled co-jack cheese, onion powder, garlic powder and freshly ground black pepper on top
  • I "baked" this in a cast iron skillet (covered),  with a couple tablespoons of melted butter,  on top of my stove over medium-high heat for around 20 minutes or so. The bottom of the cornbread got kind of, well, let's say extra done, but we just didn't eat that part.

The end result was actually very delicious. The cornbread had a nice, crispy outside, delicious cheesy, oniony, garlicky flavor with just enough pepper flavor to not be overbearing. Inside was moist and fluffy, yet with enough structure to not crumble as soon as you touch it. I think it was one of the best cornbreads I've ever made.

So, in the end, Suppertime was vanquished to the far-off realms of Stretchy Waistband Land and Mom has lived to cook another day. Will Suppertime return tomorrow, begging for a rematch? Tune in tomorrow...same batter bowl...same stove...but hopefully, something excitingly different to eat!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Recipe: Italian Herb Bread (bread maker recipe)

Most of you know I love to bake bread, and although I am a big fan of doing it the "old-fashioned" way and hand kneading, I have also been using a bread maker. For one, now that hot weather has arrived, I don't want to heat up my kitchen any more than absolutely necessary. And for two, since I am now making all of our bread it's a wonderful time saver!

Instruction manuals for kitchen appliances can come with recipes, but I have never been all that impressed with them. I have to say, though, that the recipes for the West Bend Automatic Bread and Dough Maker are actually quite tasty. And while I would love to make 100% whole grain breads here all the time, I have to kind of ease the family into this healthier eating style I have decided we all need to eat. So, I make the Country White bread and reason that even though it is white bread, I at least use unbleached flour, sneak some whole wheat in there from time to time, and can pronounce all of the ingredients I put into the bread pan so it is at the very least marginally more healthy than anything I can buy at the store.  Baby steps...

This week, to go along with our delicious spaghetti and homemade sauce with organic, free range, wild fed forest "beef" (aka's a long, gruesome story!), I made the Italian Herb bread (on page 19 in this PDF file). Ok, I'll be nice and put the recipe here, too:

Italian Herb Bread 
1 Pound Loaf...see PDF file above for 1.5 Pound Loaf instructions

2/3 cup water, 80 degrees
1 3/4 cups bread flour
2 tsp dry milk
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 1/2 Tbs butter or margarine
1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast or 3/4 tsp bread machine/fast rise yeast

Put ingredients into bread pan in the order given. I set this for the "dough" cycle, then let it rise a second time in a deep dish stoneware pie plate until doubled (I wanted a round loaf, not a square one with a hole in the bottom), then baked in the oven at 350 until done, probably half an hour (we had company and I didn't pay attention to the time while we were chatting). I used a homemade Italian seasoning mix and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

The result was a very flavorful, soft and delicious bread that went very well with our spaghetti. It was still very soft the next day and went great with our seasoned dipping oil, cheese and pepperoni for lunch. I will definitely make this again! Maybe next time I'll try baking it in the bread maker...especially if it's hot outside!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday Night is Pizza Night!

This household is a big, big fan of pizza. We eat pizza every week, typically on Fridays. That started when I was doing grocery shopping on Fridays and getting home late in the evening and I did not feel like looking at any more food, much less preparing I'd grab some frozen pizzas for a quick meal.

Since I'm trying to accomplish two challenging tasks...preparing and serving healthy (or at least healthier) foods and spending the very least amount of money to do it, I started making my own pizzas all the time. I've been using a very fast, easy and delicious pizza crust recipe for years and it is very adaptable. I don't think I make it exactly the same from week to week, whatever sounds good while I'm making it is what I throw together.

It's just called "Pizza Crust" in my Amish School Fundraiser cookbook, but I have renamed it...

Instant Homemade Pizza Crust

  • 1 Tbs yeast
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 2 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 c warm water
  • 2 Tbs oil
Mix together and let stand 5 minutes. Press into pan. Makes 1 pizza.

One thing I don't care for in some of my Amish/Mennonite/Country cookbooks is that the people who submit the recipes apparently don't think about the fact that not everyone knows how to make things from scratch. Sometimes, people need detailed instructions. But honestly, if you followed this recipe exactly as I typed it, you'd be fine. I usually mix the dry ingredients together first, then add the water and oil, but I have made it by dumping everything together and mixing it up. It's very forgiving. Sometimes, I prebake the crust a little, if it's very thick. This is delicious as a deep dish pizza in a nicely seasoned cast iron skillet...the crust gets nicely crispy on the outside and soft and yummy on the inside.

One thing I want to do, to make it more 'instant', is make several batches of the dry ingredients and freeze them in freezer bags. Then all I have to do is grab a bag and add the oil and water. Easy just became ridiculously easy!

Now, how do I make this healthy/healthier? Let's start with healthier...
  • Even if I use all white flour, I'm figuring that since I'm not putting a bunch of ingredients in it with names I can't pronounce, it's healthier. Not the healthiest, but still better.
  • I've quit using vegetable oil and only use cold first-pressed olive oil, organic when I can find it reasonably priced.
  • I make my own sauce
  • I use sea salt
  • I use minimally processed sugars when available such as sucanat (I've found it works best to dissolve chunky sugar, such as raw, demerara, etch. in the warm water first)
  • During the summer I use organic veggies from our garden
And healthy would look like...
Well, I do the best I can with what I have. Just not buying food full of chemicals and overly processed ingredients is a step in the right direction. I try to sneak as much healthy into my dishes as I can get away with. A mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do...

Stuffed Crust Pizza tonight...mmm good!

The Instant Homemade Pizza Crust, pressed into a large cast iron skillet and stuffed with sticks of mozzarella cheese, approximately 1/2" square.

Size comparison

All mozzarella sticks are covered by the dough, which is pressed tightly to seal.

This is how I make every pizza...1/2 usually has sausage and mushrooms, sometimes it's 'supreme', 1/4 cheese, 1/4 whatever I want on it, typically one or two toppings. Tonight I went with the supreme minus the fungus.

Finished time I won't put as much dough around the edges to cover the cheese, almost too much!

Yummmy! The cheese in the crust was a nice touch!