Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Beets and Kale

A student of mine, Kelsey, was telling me that she tries to buy one thing at the grocery each visit, that is not on her list, as a treat to herself.  Sometimes it's an indulgence while other times it's an ingredient to use in a new recipe. I love that idea! I have been buying a challenge ingredient when shopping in order to try new things.  This week was bean sprouts (I'm working on that recipe and will unveil it soon).  A few weeks ago I bought beets and kale.  They have been on my mind recently.  Lately I have heard people talking about them, I have read people's blogs about them, yet I never buy them. I decided that if I put them in my shopping basket and brought them to my house, I might just prepare and eat them!

A bunch of parents at our school have cute green bumper stickers that boldly proclaim "EAT MORE KALE" on the rear of their cars.  When I see them I think to myself, "Yes, good idea!" Yet I can't authentically sport this exhortation on my vehicle since I never cook with Kale.  "EAT MORE APPLES!" or "EAT MORE GRANOLA!" or perhaps, "EAT MORE MUFFINS", yes, I could promote those themes and not be a hypocrite!  But I'm working on it.  I have taken their challenge to heart.

Pink Radio Cake (made with beets)
And Beets.  Beets have been on my mind because Fido, the local restaurant I mentioned recently (the place that taught me to love Oatmeal), has several baked goods in their case that incorporate beets.  Their fabulous baker, Lisa, uses them for the color (Pink Radio Cake), nutrition (Beet it Muffin) and oomph.  I have been inspired.  I just don't typically think about beets.

When I was in graduate school there was a little Vegetarian dive that my classmates and I would frequent. I always ordered this great salad with julienned carrots and beets on top of a bed of lettuce, along with sprouts and other tasty items.  I remember being a fan of the texture, color and juiciness.  Alas, my beet eating ceased when that place closed a decade ago.

Several weeks ago, my produce-loving, recipe-trying, inventive friend, Claire, sent me this recipe for Chocolate Beet Muffins and I was inspired.  I made them and they were fabulous! I am a fan.  I couldn't wait to share them with you!  I mean, add semi-sweet chocolate chips to anything and how can you go wrong?

So, here are my recent adventures with Beets- (Kale Adventures will have to wait for another post).

I roasted beets and sliced some for salads and pureed some for muffins.  (Muffins are, by the way, my favorite food to bake- for tips I've learned along the way, go HERE).

Roasting Beets:
(If you need to use canned beets you can, but fresh roasted ones are preferred)

Cut the stems off of the beets, rub them in olive oil, wrap them in a foil packet on a cookie sheet and bake at 375 or 400 degrees (depending on how hot your oven is) and let them roast for an hour.  Peel skins off.  
stems removed

ready for the oven
roasted and sliced

Salad with  Feta, Avocado, Berries & Beets

2 cups white whole wheat flour
1- 2 Tbsp flax seed (optional)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp kosher salt
½ cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips (chopped)

4 Tbsp. butter
2/3 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
¾ cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup beet puree
2/3 cup low fat buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Grease the cups of 12 muffin liners, placed in the muffin pan.
In a large bowl, whisk together the first 5 ingredients until well combined.  Stir in the half cup chocolate chips and set aside.

In a small saucepan, melt the other 2/3 cup chocolate and butter over very low heat.  Stir to combine and set aside to cool. 

In medium bowl, whisk together eggs, brown sugar, beet puree, buttermilk, vanilla and melted chocolate.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon until just combined.  Don’t over mix. Immediately spoon batter into 12 lightly greased paper lined muffin cups.

Batter should completely fill the cups. Sprinkle tops with Turbinado sugar if you want.
I wish they kept their red color when baked...so vibrant!
Place muffin pan in oven preheated to 375 degrees and bake for 18 minutes or until done- don’t overbake.
Let muffins cool on wire rack.

The post-it that came home from Lainey's teacher,
and our reply back!
YUMMY! They are so good.
I shared one with my kids' teachers and this was the post-it note I got from Lainey's teacher in her school folder.  I'm telling you- they are delicious!

Now if you are like my mother and are asking, "Why would you mess up a chocolate muffin by adding beets?" I would tell you, "because beets offer protection against coronary artery disease and stroke, lower cholesterol levels, have anti-aging effects and are a natural cleanser, removing toxins from the body and nourishing the bloodstream, " or something like that!

So take the challenge- add something daring to your grocery basket and see what adventures await you in the kitchen!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Easter-Resurrection Rolls

Easter is such a wonderful occasion.   It's a spring holiday, when things are in bloom and there is new life awakening all around- like the little birds that are nesting in the eve of my porch. (Interestingly, the 4th bird family to inhabit this same nest-home over the past couple of years ).   For me, this holiday signifies the hope and new life I have.  It is a joyous release at the end of a long Lenten season.  After the weeks leading up to Jesus' death and the sobering reality of Good Friday, the joy of the Easter miracle that He is alive calls for a glorious celebration!

We usually begin Easter morning with making and devouring Resurrection Rolls.

Resurrection Rolls are actually the Pillsbury Magic Marshmallow Rolls.  They are fun and easy to make with kids.  They "bury" the marshmallow, dredged through melted butter and cinnamon, inside crescent dough (analogous to the body in the tomb) and as they bake, the marshmallows expand and then melt.  When the rolls are baked, they come out as hollow, "empty tombs" (filled with gooey cinnamon-y sweetness).

This recipe was the 1969 winner of the annual Pillsbury Bake Off.  My mom began making them at that point and we made many of these rolls throughout my childhood.  (Mom reports that the recipe was published again in the 25th anniversary edition of the Pillsbury Bake Off because of its beloved reception when it was the winner.)

I don't remember when these Magic Marshmallow Rolls became Resurrection Rolls in my history, but somehow these yummy, easy sweet rolls gained religious symbolism along the way!  Now you can look around on-line and find recipes for "Resurrection Rolls".  The fun of making these is the process and the visual they provide of what was once there and is no longer.  (I recognize the limitations that this symbol contains, Jesus vs. a marshmallow; a Crescent roll vs. a tomb for the dead; disbelief and conquering death vs. a yummy breakfast treat, to mention a few).  But it is a fun, easy, inexpensive activity to do with the kids and a very delicious breakfast roll!

1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 cans (8 oz each) Refrigerated Crescent Rolls
16 large marshmallows
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup chopped pecans, optional
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tsp. (or so) of milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a small bowl mix together sugar and cinnamon.  Melt butter in separate bowl.  

Dip marshmallows in melted butter and then roll in cinnamon sugar.  Place each marshmallow on a crescent roll and wrap dough around so that the marshmallow is completely hidden, pinching it as needed.  (This is very important).
Place in greased muffin tins and bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes or until golden brown.  

Meanwhile, stir together powdered sugar, milk and vanilla until smooth and pourable, but not too thin.  
lots of hands 

ready to bake

some with pecans some w/o
Immediately remove from pans. (They may be sticky- use a spoon to loosen them). Place on a platter.  Drizzle with icing and top with pecans.  Eat while warm. (Makes 16 rolls).  To reheat, wrap in foil, heat at 375 for 5-10 minutes.
the mystery...the empty roll

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fruit Tea (From the Herb Garden)

A couple of days ago I wrote about planting an herb garden.  This is a follow-up post with a yummy treat you can make with Mint leaves.  My mint has been sprouting up in the bed after a snowy, cold winter.  I have welcomed its return by making some Fruit Tea.

I realize that Fruit Tea is a southern thing, an American southern thing (I should clarify the country since I have some International readers ((which, by the way, blows my mind))  Hello Africa, India, Brazil, Argentina, Russia...! )
So back to fruit tea.
I didn’t know!
I didn't know it was regional
I grew up thinking everybody drank Fruit Tea.

I grew up in Tennessee. (Born in Georgia, lived in Texas for a couple of years before landing in TN when I was 5 years old).  I have been southern all my life. It wasn’t until I went to college and became friends with people from Colorado, California, Ohio, New York, and everywhere in between that I realized that there are some foods/beverages that I grew up with that are local.  Like Grits. And Fried Green Tomatoes. And Sweet Tea. And Fruit Tea.  And there are some foods that I didn't grow up with that my friends did and I was thrilled to learn of their regional foods. So I realize that fruit tea is regional.  But I think it transcends location- it's so tasty!

I drink water all day long everyday.  I love water. I crave water.  My body feels wonky when I go without enough water.  I also love coffee.  I drink it everyday.   Coffee is my friend.  But Fruit Tea is my favorite special beverage!   In case you are confused at this point because this "fruit tea" is a foreign concept to you, let me define:  Fruit tea is an iced tea made with a blend of fruit juices and sometimes mint or cinnamon and other spices.  It is sweet and tart and refreshing.  Some people call it Tea Punch.  You might call it liquid dessert.

We always had it when we had a luncheon or fancy party growing up.  It’s served at some fru fru lunchy places around the south.  My favorite fruit tea is from Bread and Company, which is also one of my favorite places to eat.  I love their tea because it has mint in it as well as the sweetness and fruitiness of juices.  (And they have the good pellet ice at their cafes.  Don’t you love that ice?)  But the tea is expensive, for my frugal self, and it is hard for me to justify buying, though I do on a rare occasion.  It is really so easy to put together, and inexpensive and it makes a gob.  But, I have to make it when I can share it, because if I don't, my daughter and I will drink the entire gallon.  I especially like to make it in the summer when my mint is growing in the herb bed.  And to my surprise after having bad luck with growing mint for a couple of summers, it finally "took" last summer and now, this spring, it has come back and it is popping up in several spots!
this + tea = fruit tea
The recipe is one that is not very exact.  It is able to be customized based on what you like and what you have on hand.  Some people add cinnamon sticks and cloves to the tea bags when brewing the tea.  You can use whatever juices you like.  Pineapple, orange juice and lemonade are my favorite combination.
Some recipes add more sugar to the tea while the tea is warm, but I feel like with 3 containers of sugar-filled juice it is plenty-sweet!

Let us know if you discover a winning juice combination that you think we should try!

Fruit Tea

2 quart size tea bags
1 frozen lemonade
1 frozen orange juice
1 frozen pineapple juice
a hand full of mint

Prepare 2 quarts of tea, the way you usually do it (stove top, kettle, Iced Tea Pot, sun) with mint brewed with the tea bags, add the 3 containers of frozen juice concentrate and a couple of stalks of mint, crushed.  Stir until juice is melted.  Dilute the fruit tea to your liking.  It should make a gallon or so.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

How Does Your Garden Grow?

I must warn you: I am not a gardener!  I want to be.  I really do.  I want to be a gardener and a seamstress.  Those are my domestic voids.   We'll get to the topic of sewing some other day, but today, this spring day in Tennessee, despite my inadequacies as a gardener, I planted our cutting garden.  We have done this for over a dozen years, and have yielded enough herbs to use in the kitchen for the season and enough flowers to enjoy!

It's really amazing to think that those tiny shards could become daisies!
It is now planting time and I'm excited about sowing the seeds and seeing what they yield.

It really is such a spiritual process.  The weeding, the digging, the connection to the earth and the soil.  The waiting, and watching, and tending, and protecting, and relinquishing control, and receiving the fruit.  It is work and requires commitment but it is worth it.

My friend Connie taught me about planting zinnias and my friend Melinda taught me about growing herbs.  They each believed in me (despite my lack of skills) and provided simple tips that gave me the know-how and courage to pursue it years ago.  I am grateful for this.

Here are some tips for those of you who need some encouragement:

  • I have tried different plants and have had varied success.  I realized that I need to plant the herbs that I really use.  For me they are: basil, cilantro, green onion, rosemary and mint.
  • I also have learned that waiting until the predicted "last frost" in your area is a wise thing. (In Tennessee they say "tax day"- April 15th).
a handy regional guide on the back of the zinnia seeds

  • Readying the soil is important.  Weeding and adding some rich potting soil, tilling it, "amending it", is important for setting the stage.
  • Plant more seeds than you think you want, since the wind and birds might carry some away before the sprouting occurs.
  • Plant from seeds.  It is exciting and brings about a bountiful harvest (hopefully).  (Though sometimes I like to plant a couple of basil plants for "insurance" and to get things moving along in addition to my basil seeds.  Interestingly, though, I have found that the plants from seeds most often out-produce the transplants!)
  • When planting seeds, think about the predicted growth when determining where and how much room to place between types of herbs.
we've planted, now we wait!

  • Cover seeds with a light layer of soil after scattering them in the bed.
  • Water, Weed and Watch!

This Spring and Summer I'm planning on sharing with you some recipes "from the Herb Garden"- recipes that will make you thankful  that you have fresh herbs at your doorstep.

Oh and zinnias.  They are just the happiest things!
I love that they are "cutting flowers".  While flowers like tulips are elegant and lovely, they are just not very giving or practical- two qualities that are of utmost importance to me!  So, zinnias, are for me.  They are flowers that are meant to be cut. In so doing, they actually produce more blooms! How wonderful and generous- not to mention the brightest, happiest thing to have in your home or to share with a friend.

a gift from last year's  garden
I do love an cutting perennial, though.  I have daisies and black eyed susans that are from my mother-in-law's garden that she brought from Kentucky and transplanted into my yard a few years before she died.  They are a cherished gift.  They keep multiplying and growing.  I can't wait to show them to you when they bloom in the summer!

To get you inspired- just think about the Bruschetta and Salsa that can come from your little stash of Herbs!
Happy Planting!  Let us know if you have any other tips or inspiration to share!

P.S.  Fruit Tea with Mint is coming!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Go-To Cookie: Oatmeal Chocolate Chip

This cookie is my go-to cookie.  I have been waiting for the perfect moment to share it with you.  And actually any moment is the perfect moment.  I could make up an occasion in each month that could merit these cookies being served. They are my favorite cookies to make.  They are consistent, travel well, are versatile and de-li-cious! They are hearty and a little on the salty/sweet side (if you are into that, like I am).  They are chewy and buttery, but oaty as well (so I can justify eating one at 8 a.m. on a road trip- hypothetically).

packed and ready to go
When my friend Amy recently moved, I asked her what kind of food I could bring for the moving/helping friends.  She immediately responded with “THE cookies…you know, your sister’s cookies, the moving day, mission trip, road trip, just had a baby cookies”.  “Yes, I know!”, I replied.  I have made them for many occasions and they never disappoint. So that's what I did. Some classic oatmeal chocolate chip and some that I call "kitchen sink"-oatmeal, chocolate chip, pecan and Craisin.

This is my sister, Jennifer’s, recipe.  She actually made it up- drawing from several of the recipes she had to make the perfect one. So I asked her to share the story of how she developed this cookie and here is what she said:

Several years ago, I was making chocolate chip cookies and pulled a card from my recipe box entitled “Crisco’s Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies”. Sounds amazing, right? Well, they were okay. I decided at that point to play around with the recipe to make something more worthy of the word ‘ultimate’ in the title.  I like a cookie that is soft and chewy, not crunchy, crispy, or cake-y.

I tried different combinations of butter, margarine and shortening to get the mix of chewy and crunchy that I wanted. I added white sugar instead of only brown sugar as the recipe suggested. I have liked the addition of oats in chocolate chip cookies since I was a little girl, so I decided that would be another thing to try in this recipe. I finally got the consistency I was hoping to find and we have enjoyed many ever since!

There was a time, after we had been making these cookies for a while, when mine started to turn out flat every time. (Flat dough with chips sticking up - not what I was hoping for and not what they had once been!) Julie and our mom were both making these cookies and having great results. I was so frustrated!!! I would call Julie every time and ask again what combo of shortening, butter, etc. she used. I made dough and baked it in Mom’s oven and also baked her dough in my oven. I realized that the problem was with my oven and decided it was not hot enough.  I raised the temp about 15 degrees and they worked!
A couple of suggestions:
*I sometimes make the dough up to the point of the oatmeal and then add in different things to a portion of the dough. My daughter likes these with raisins and my son prefers chocolate chips. Sometimes I split the dough in half and make some of each.
*I make a batch of dough and scoop it out all out onto a cookie sheet. I freeze the pan of balls of dough and once frozen, put them into a freezer bag. Pull out a few (or as many as you need) and have warm cookies in a matter of minutes.
*For the “perfect” consistency, it is important to not over-bake. Take them out of the oven when they still look a little gooey in the middle. I leave them on the pan for a couple of minutes (but not too long or they will be stuck) to finish baking.

It’s fun how people develop their favorite variety of this cookie.  One of my kids loves Chocolate Chip, one wants chocolate and peanut butter chips, many friends (and I)  want the kitchen sink. Oh and M&M is a favorite too- and the seasonal colored ones are fun,  and the great thing is that one batch makes about 4 dozen, so you can mix in whatever you want for each pan!

The Go-To Cookie: Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
¾ cup Crisco
¾ cup butter, softened
1 ¼ cup brown sugar
1 ¼ cup white sugar
4 Tbsp milk
2 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
3 ½ cups self-rising flour
2 tsp salt
1 ½ tsp baking soda
2 cups oatmeal
3 cups chocolate chips (or whatever mix ins you choose- M&M's; pecans, raisins, peanut butter chips, or my favorite “kitchen sink”:  craisins, chocolate chips, pecans)

Blend together Crisco, butter and sugars.  Add milk, vanilla and eggs.  Add in remaining ingredients except for chocolate chips. Mix until blended.  Add chocolate chips.

Drop by spoon (or scoop) onto un-greased, cookie sheets. (I like to bake them on parchment lined sheets for ease and clean up). Bake 375 degrees 9 to 11 minutes (until golden).  Remove from oven and let sit on counter for a few minutes.  Remove from cookie sheets to cool.
Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Tool Tips:  

If you don't have a cookie scoop and you like to make cookies, you should treat yourself to one! It's what I call a cheap thrill! You can use it for many things and they come in a variety of sizes. I have a few sizes- you can make little cookies or giant ones, all consistent and perfectly round. It makes the process much easier and cleaner.

Speaking of easier and cleaner- another great tool to put on your wish list, if you don't have one, is a solid measure. This one is from Pampered Chef. It is an amazing and clean way to measure Crisco and peanut butter for recipes. (Sometimes I buy the sticks of Crisco, but the can is cheaper and with this tool it is not so challenging to deal with).

Okay, I can't stand it. I have to go make a batch right now. Surely I can come up with a reason why this is necessary today!